By Hugh Ryan
Originally published on Advocate.com October 14 2009 11:35 AM ET
On October 11 the Hustlaball returned to New York, the city where it began. Now in its 12th year, the Hustlaball, according to its organizers, "brings the world of porn stars, hustlers, hookers, pimps, streetwalkers, flesh-peddlers, and other scandalous sorts to the stage and dance floor under one roof.” As hundreds danced, talked, and worked the night away, The Advocate spoke to a number of sex workers about their careers, the economy, and life under the red light.
How much do you charge? $250
What do you like about your job?
I love my job. I love being inside the very private thoughts these
people have. They hire sex workers to get something they can’t get in
the real world, and the fact that I can attend to that is amazing. As
an artist it really feeds me. The stuff I see is so valuable and
personal. When people hire you they want a specific fantasy. They hire
you to make that happen for them. It’s made me love gay men -- hell,
humanity -- more in general. It’s also fun. I wouldn’t do a job I
didn’t want to do. If I don’t like someone, I leave. I don’t need this,
but I love it. I don’t condone degrading yourself or doing something
you don’t want to do, because it is your body. What we do is very
emotionally generous, because you feel things when you’re with clients.
You give a lot. It’s risky to be so open, so willing to be hurt, to put
yourself out there for sale. It’s very generous on the sex worker’s
part. That’s why it’s so fucking expensive.
How is sex work different in the different cities you’ve worked?
Los Angeles is awful because it’s saturated with sex workers and the
porn industry. People are all pains. It’s really gross. Miami is awful
because people are so cheap. I’ve had guys be like, “What can I get for
$150?” And I’m like, “You can go fuck yourself for $150. I’m not even
going to touch you.” In Boston people are great. In D.C. people are
fine. The West Coast? Not so good. The South? Awful. In New York
people are professional. They sense that it’s a business. They’re
paying for it, no questions. Whereas in places like L.A., they think
I’m some broke-ass hooker doing this for crack, and I’m not. I’m a
professional, just like they are.
Name: Master Avery
How would you describe what you do? I do domination, so I tie people up, restrain people, tease them sensually and with pain and different kinds of sensation, I use sex toys on them. It’s erotic or nonerotic, although it’s mostly erotic.
How did you get started? I ran away from home when I was 16, and I met this stripper lady who took me in for a couple of months. She said if I wanted to make real money I should strip for men, because women wouldn’t hire me -- I was too skinny. Six years after that I finally decided to give it a shot. I went to the local gay club and asked them if they had dancers. Ten minutes later I was up onstage with a G-string on. They taught me how to put a rubber band around my dick and make it look bigger. I loved it.
What’s the worst part of your job? Not knowing what I will do to make money when I’m 45. At 45 you retire from this business. I saw a guy at 60 advertising in Seattle, so you can still work, but his rates aren’t as high as my rates.
Are you out about being a sex worker? Yeah. It’s challenging because I turn a lot of people off. I’ve lost a lot of old friends. But I’d rather have more honest relationships with the people that I do end up keeping close to me. So I just tell everybody. It’s really hard to seduce people when I divulge this kind of information. I know it’s easier if I lie or keep things secret, but I’m an idealist and I just put it all out there.
Name: Strap-On Jo
What’s the experience like as a queer woman working with a mostly straight male clientele? There’s been an anthropological aspect to it. In order to have my marketing materials be effective, I’ve needed to understand how straight guys think about the experience. When they go to my website, it’s this huge revelation of, “Oh, my goodness! She understands.” And that’s what brings them to me.
How many clients do you see a week? It depends on whether I’m traveling or not. I don’t work a huge amount when I’m home in Boston. When I’m traveling, the max I can see is four new clients in a day. If some are repeats, I can do about six, but four is my max, not because of time or physical energy, but emotional energy. It takes a lot of emotional energy to connect with each person and create a safe, warm, comfortable environment for them, because my whole -- for lack of a better word -- shtick is creating a safe space in which to explore anal sex with their own ass.
Are you out about being a sex worker? I’m out to my family about being a sex worker, just not what kind of sex work. Their big thing is that they’re worried about me being arrested or injured or attacked and hurt. In terms of how I conduct what I do, I actually expose myself to zero STD risk. I wear latex gloves, latex shorts underneath my harness, so there’s no skin contact even in the general genital area -- that’s not just the actual genitals. I don’t engage in any oral anything. So as a result, I’m really not just low-risk, I’m no STD risk. And for me that’s what makes me comfortable with what I do. I respect people who choose or don’t have a choice to expose themselves to low-risk activity -- or even high-risk activities, if that’s their choice or nonchoice in what they’re doing. But my circumstances are that I have the freedom -- the privilege -- to be able to do zero-STD-risk sex work.
Has the economy affected your job? Without a doubt. Prior to the drop, I was making enough that I was able to set aside money for savings. Since the change, I’ve cut costs in terms of my travel -- I take the bus instead of driving and parking in midtown. I’m seeing fewer people. Also, whenever anyone complains about my rate I automatically drop $50 off of it. It’s like a coupon. I’m actually applying what I learned as an economics major at MIT in terms of price discrimination, to capture all the excess demand in the market. I also have a master's degree in social research methods, which is how I did the research that determined the shape and form of my marketing materials, and decided to target the specific market I’ve targeted.
Name: William Rockwell, editor of $pread; Mistress Veronica, distribution director of $pread
What is $pread? $pread is a magazine that is completely run, written, edited, and distributed by sex workers for sex workers. It was founded about four years ago by a group of women, sex workers, strippers, and escorts in response to seeing how Hollywood and mass media project what sex workers are. They wanted to have a voice where we said who we are, not some third party who wants to stigmatize us.
How did you get involved? I became a pro domme and was looking for other people who were proud of being pro domme. People who were out there purposefully, proudly. I looked online and I found $pread just from searching for “sex worker empowerment,” and I immediately contacted the people involved and they were very happy to have me contribute because we all do it for free and in our spare time.
Do you think it’s important to be out as sex workers? I think that’s a personal decision that people need to make. I think the magazine is important in terms of humanizing the industry, having different perspectives, and bashing preconceived notions about the drug-addicted street hustler person who is so oppressed -- that definitely exists and is part of the industry, which we take very seriously, but that’s one aspect of a much broader spectrum of people.
Would you say the economy has affected the sex-work industry in New York? I have experienced a little bit of a dip in my own work, but I haven’t noticed more people coming into the industry. That’s all over the news now --you see, like, “women who were executives at a high-powered company are now becoming pro dommes,” but I haven’t experienced that too much. But yeah, it’s definitely affecting me.
How long have you worked with $pread? For about two years now.
Does $pread have a perspective? As long as you’re a sex worker who has experienced whatever portion of the industry you’ve experienced, your opinion is valid to us. Our aim is to legitimize people’s actual experiences, whether it’s in the classroom or the courtroom or the Senate. Whenever someone is talking about a prostitute or a pro domme or a stripper, they should be there to be able to speak for themselves, and that’s the bottom line.
How did you get involved in sex work?: When I was 15, I was kicked out of my parents’ home and living out of friends’ and tricks' houses. A lot of the hooking up I did is what I would now consider informal sex work. Down the street there was a Human Rights Campaign building being rebuilt for a $3 million addition, and there wasn’t one LGBTQ-sponsored place prepared for me could go to sleep as a youth in need. Never once did the HRC open their doors to me.
Talk to me about your outfit tonight: This is a manifestation of Binky, who is a sex clown shaman that I channel. Let me make it clear: Binky is not me. Binky’s totem animal is the tick, to suck out bad blood, so he’s an ass-(in-your-face)-hole to make you realize that what’s really real is deep within and from the inside out, as a way of altering your perspective on what you think is what you know.
What’s the best part about your job? Being satisfied with a job well done, depending on what is desired by the client. Being able to communicate well and understand each other, and also, from my perspective as a radical faerie, it’s bringing a subject-subject consciousness in order to drop judgment of both of us and just be there with each other in that moment of desire.
What other jobs do you do? I’m an artist, primarily. I have a whole line of “Binky” art, a lot of erotic photography of myself, and also I work on eggshells, so I’m mixing eggshell work and encrusting frames for painted erotic photography.
Name: Cory Koons
Do you hang out with other sex workers? I don’t think a lot of sex workers hang out with other sex workers. I think most sex workers spend most of their time in their heads. Plus it’s easier when you’re used to detaching yourself from friends or society or family to do your job because you never know when you’ll get a call or what that’s going to interrupt. And you know, instead of making weekend plans, some times you want to make some money -- which means staying at home and sitting in front of your computer.
So in some ways it’s pretty isolating? It can be.
Would you say events like the Hustlaball are important in that regard, to have a night to talk to other sex workers and be out? I think in the age we live in, any time people get together outside of behind their computer screens, it’s a good thing, because we as gay men are forgetting to how to socially interact with people. It’s really easy to get laid on the Internet; it’s a lot harder to get laid at a bar. And we have a community built around sex. So when the venue for finding sex becomes the Interweb, we lose out on all that socializing. Home schooling will only take you so far!
How do you handle clients who want something you don’t want to do? I’m very clear about what my limits and boundaries are before we make the appointment. When we confirm it I reinforce those boundaries. I don’t generally have much of a problem with clients who want to push those boundaries, but when I do I’m pretty good at diffusing the situation and steering the encounter to a place I’m cool with.
Would you say you have a diverse client base? Most of my clients are men in their 50s and up who have a lot of money, and mostly white. I see a lot of repeat clients.
Do you get to know the clients? It depends on the client how much we actually talk. Some have absolutely no interest in having a conversation with you, and others want to spend maybe half the appointment having a conversation.
How much do you generally charge? My starting point is $200/hour. It goes up from there depending on levels of kink and what you want. So things like straight-up vanilla sex, that’s $200/hour. If you want me to do something like tie you up and flog you, that’s going to be $250.