Friday, May 27, 2011

The Colour of Money

Eva Rivera is a proud lesbian Chicana, daughter, sister and sex worker who can walk in 6 inch heels and twirl naked on a pole in front of total strangers but is still viciously afraid of moths. She hails from Fresno, CA and is a poet and aspiring film maker. You can find her more personal writing on her blog.   

Racism is a plague that runs through every vein of society and the sex industry is certainly no exception. Racism, at some point,is expressed in every type of sex work you can imagine and from every direction: those who produce, those who consume and even those who sell.  White (cis-woman) sex workers are something of anomaly to me. On one hand they are considered top dollar escorts. Generally they charge more because they can expect to be in high demand while also being treated as precious, delicate and "clean". Obviously, this is a direct result of a society that praises and upholds white standards of beauty and portrays white bodies as pure and, in the case of sex work, something of a holy grail.

One feeling is that white women are in the club as a side thing: a hobby, for a good workout, to pay for college, etc. While women of color in the business are in it as a long-term career and to support children. Women of color also talk about how difficult it is to get into a strip club in the first place. Pornography already has a reputation for producing films with many racist themes. These are just some basic examples of racism that affect sex workers. It pits workers against each other and makes it nearly impossible to forge a truly cohesive community. I will explore this topic more in the future but for this post I would like to elaborate on how sex workers respond to clients who are men of color and how this directly affects our ability to fight against racism.

 
My first time dancing I walked into a full nude strip club in the middle of an isolated Kansas town with my girlfriend. The bouncers listed the rules and a warning: "Stay away from the Mexicans. They think this place is a brothel like back home". The other dancers each had their own advice to give us: "I don't dance for black guys", "Mexican don't buy dances", "Black guys touch too much", "It's hard to talk to Mexicans so don't waste your time on them", "Black guys don't have credit cards", "black guys get rowdy, that's the main reason for the bouncers","Watch your drinks around Mexican guys", "young white boys don't want a dance from a black woman".....we also had a rule in the club that we couldn't play more than 2 hip hop songs in a row (we got to choose our own music) because it might cause a "riot".

Usually there are clubs that cater to specific demographics. In Kansas, where I worked, there were "black clubs" and "white clubs". The club I was at was considered to be somewhat mixed but mostly white because of the dancers and the clientele. I was the only Latina worker in the club at the time. As sex workers, we are also sales people. We tailor our product to meet our clients demands as much as possible. Or, simply profile our clients to see if they meet our criteria for a good client. In my experience, most girls considered an older white man to be a "good client". The same theme was following me from waitressing: Black and Mexicans don't tip. Same shit, different industry. Why were these tropes appearing again and again? Was it fair for the girls to make these assumptions and subsequently tailor their actions to fit them?

Being raised around Latinos in my hometown and being Chicana myself I feel like I naturally gravitated to the Latino customers who came in (and there were usually plenty every night I worked). I simply felt safer around them. Most of the time they recognized that I was Latina and that made my night in terms of money. My customer base was the very same clients I was told to stay away from. I could go into to details and examples of how wrong these stereotypes were (for the black men I had as clients as well) but that isn't necessarily the point I'm trying to make. Just for the record I did get propositioned for sex, just as I did from 90% of the men who bought dances from me. What I learned here is that even in an industry which divides gender into two separate functions and roles, there was more at play. Race crossed these lines and there were times when I honestly felt more comfortable in a group of men who were Latino than back in the dressing room with the white girls. 

One of the most memorable part of working at that club was my experience dancing for white men. I am light-skinned but my features often prompted men to ask if was Latina or Asian. An affirmative answer nearly ALWAYS produced a response of "How exotic" "Ooh I love Latinas, they are so....(insert ridiculous comment here)". I also noted that white men propositioned me for sex much more often than men of color and were much more persistent about it. Once again, a boring stereotype that is reproduced often in the media and carried out in the club (and online, in the street, etc) which paints women of color as exotic, and excessively sexual. Such bodies are so promiscuous that they are easy to buy - the sale of these bodies is assumed, even.

The lesson to learn here isn't "Don't judge a book by its cover" rather it expresses a need that goes deeper. In order for us to effectively fight racism and racist institutions, we must reach out to sex workers and begin a dialogue. This dialogue is necessary because sex workers encounter so much racism (in such blatant forms) and reproduce these racist behaviors as well. Without a connection to anti-racism efforts, change will not happen in this industry-not for sex workers, not for our clients and not for our community.