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I want to provide the reader with an insight into the different facets of the adult industry — moving between sex work (at both escort agencies, brothels, 'rub-n-tugs' and private escorting), through to stripping and doing peep-shows. My goal is to share just how enjoyable any form of sex work can be when the worker is treated with dignity and respect, and is encouraged to express their own individual style and sexuality — rather than having one imposed upon them.
Highlighting the pros and cons of each facet of adult work at the beginning of my piece, I then delve into the wonders and misconceptions of peep-shows. Many readers would be unaware of the realities within the peep-show world. It is commonly viewed as the dark underbelly of the adult industry, or as a graveyard for retired sex workers and strippers. My experiences debunk this!
I complete my work with an acknowledgement to Sex Work Law Reform Victoria, as they have been an invaluable source of connection, education and sex worker resources to me throughout the COVD-19 pandemic. I want to share that this not-for-profit, peer-led advocacy group is hard at work advocating for our sex worker rights and provides sex-worker specific information in relation to the many, often confusing, Public Health Directives issued under lockdown.
I have always either stripped or escorted on the side since I legally could. That's spanning 22 years for me now – but 22 years ago, it was not so acceptable to be a stripper or sex worker. I was fresh at uni, studying just to people please, and at first trying to make ends meet washing dishes. I kind of knew I would end up in the sex industry. I knew that the flexibility would afford me the time and freedom to determine what I really wanted to do with my life, as well as provide the income that would allow me to live alone. Living alone was a desire I had had for some years, mostly to avoid other people's routines, expectations, and judgements when I chose to either smoke a joint then consume an entire tub of ice cream, or drink a few too many reposados (practices I continued into adulthood as I learned that engaging in either/both really nail insomnia on the head).
At the first escort agency I ever worked for, I started my shifts at 7pm and I worked until noon the next day a few times each week, and often back to back. I was busy but not making huge money. Driving between bookings could take up half the night, and for each booking I came out with $60 after paying the agency 50% and the driver $20. I did not know at the time that I could have earned a higher percentage at a brothel while avoiding driver's fees and two-hour long trips down dirt roads at 3am. I also did not know that I had a right to turn down bookings once I felt so tired my teenage eyes were glazed over, completely void of enthusiasm. I do recall an occasion when I wanted to knock off early, and the agency told my driver to pump me full of energy drinks.
Eventually, I became dependent on benzos to knock me clean out between shifts. Amongst other things, they had been prescribed by a psychiatrist to manage supposed bipolar disorder. Looking back, I think that anyone working those hours and hardly sleeping would appear manic and erratic. I soon started needing to mix the benzos with booze to pack more of a punch. Attendance at Sunday family lunches became unbearable, although they were compulsory for any extended family member of my strictly Catholic, Portuguese/Chinese grandparents. I was always scolded for being a couple of hours late; I was barely able to eat much at the lunch table, and I'd move to another room afterwards to finally regain some sleep in front of a heater. The worst occasion was when a UTI saw me squirming like a madwoman at the table and going to the toilet to piss knives every five minutes. It's likely the entire family thought I was on drugs, and they were correct as Ural and antibiotics indeed are drugs. Plus, anything I'd taken the night before was surely still in my system.
I started getting very, very sick all the time. I developed a horrible rash across my face that only strong steroids could treat. I began losing my hair as I was scratching at lesions on my scalp at night. Eventually I had to start wearing wigs to work, which only made the problem hotter, itchier, and me balder. Eventually I was diagnosed with lupus; an auto-immune disorder where the body kind of just doesn't recognise itself as friend but more as a foe it must attack. I knew something had to change. I had to get a normal gig, with normal hours, yet knew this meant I would not be able to afford to study and pay rent. I hated gigging at strip clubs – the hustle to me felt like begging, and this made me consider myself too proud (or ashamed?) yet again. Being forced to do full nudes on the podium for $20, where every punter in the club could see, made me feel desperate, vulnerable and want to cry. Most punters would want to wait for the free midnight mega-strip before booking dances, and by then my morale was so low I did not care about the hustle anymore. The impact on my self-esteem was enormous, but I only realised that when looking back many, many years later. In the clubs, the 'suits' were the worst. Girls would drape themselves all over them, thinking these punters had money, while the suits would laugh at their own insider jokes, lead the girls on and never book a dance. Nah, leave the big groups of fellas and suits alone, as they tend to be very good at entertaining themselves at a dancer's expense and time. I always found it was the solo fellas and tradie-types who were really good for the money. They came in unafraid to admit what they were there for, and they lacked the megalomania that convinced the suits they were too good to pay for it. So yeah, in short… Long nights and strip clubs were not on my list of ingredients for a good night's sleep, or a journey back to good health.
Eventually I learned that every gig has its pros and cons. I did daytime brothel shifts for a while – good money, but a lot of dead time, boredom and sitting around 'hanging out.' The unknown of whether it would be a busy shift also deterred me, as I was used to coming out of one escort booking, getting in the car and finding out where I was headed next. Escort bookings also extended more frequently, sometimes keeping you for themselves into the morning, while most brothel bookings appeared to be in-and-outs. I guess this is because clients are more relaxed in their own habitat. Day shifts at rub-and-tugs were okay, but the pre-massage component got old really early for me, as did the monotony of cleaning the showers and changing the towels after every client.
Fast forward to 2003, when newspapers still existed. Looking at the vacancies, I saw that dancers were wanted at peep show venues. Stage shows were involved, but they only ran for half the time they did at strip clubs and you were PAID for them by the house rather than you paying the house an exorbitant fee for the night. There was income guaranteed! Too good to be true, and yet it still took me months to make the call for an audition. This was my own self-doubt and anxiety, as I had envisioned any woman with the guts to do peep shows and stage shows in a cinema full of horny men as supremely confident, superbly gifted and jaw-droppingly stunning in an Amazonian sense... 6 foot tall, take-no-shit, strong-yet-lithe warrior women, with Western additions of gargantuan man-made breasts. I was intimidated already.
How wrong I was. The amazing women I met at the venue the day I auditioned (at the humane hour of 1pm) varied in age from 18 to 50 and were of all different shapes and sizes. Zero volleyballs in sight. Their distinct personalities and style made them each truly stand-out individuals (rather than the Step-ford wife-like stripper, which back then resembled a production line of tiny tanned blondes). Instead of names like Scarlett, Montana and Indiana, they used names like Toxin and Mistress Kink, or girl-next-door names like Kate and Amy. Some of these ladies were tattooed (long before tats became acceptable, if not admired, in strip clubs), pierced, fierce and VOCAL, while others were uni students who used downtime to wax lyrical about subverting the dominant paradigms. Our conversations were either long and heavy, short and hilarious, or entertaining exchanges of informative communication. Best of all, we could hear each other speak as there was no relentless background thump of over-cranked top-20 pop.
As these dancers were getting paid for their shows regardless, they were the ones in control of both the performance and the audience. Some yelled at customers mid-show if they dared to take out their dicks, some didn't, and most screamed at customers through the peep-show glass ("ONE PER BOOTH M-F-CKERS!!!!" and "CLOSE THE F---ING DOOR!" could be heard a few times an hour). They also gave a fair bit of shit to the managers, something that would see you, still in stilettos, kicked out of a typical strip club.. My favourite recollection was when a young lady named Toxic jumped off stage after being insulted by the manager about her heavy metal music. She bent over, stark naked except for platformed knee highs, and spread her arse cheeks so that she could manipulate her anus to mimic her words – "You're talking out of your arse, Mick."
The ladies were FUN to work with, due to the guaranteed pay there was no competition, and there was variety – shows, peep-hours, private dances, day shifts, night shifts and graveyard shifts. No boredom, no fines for having mismatched lingerie, no bar where a suit could goad you into having a few drinks but no dance, and – best of all – no hustling. Oh, you also got to choose your own music! Rather than the pop of the day I could roll back to rock classics, meaning I could truly enjoy my time on stage. The crowd could see that I was enjoying myself and tipped, even though I was already getting paid (did I mention that already?). Very quickly, fellas began moving to the front seats if they knew I was about to pound the catwalk. I simply loved it – the ladies, the punters, the managers, the freedom, the sheer out-of-the-box approach to providing adult entertainment, minus the bullshit disguise of being a 'Gentleman's Club.' And I got paid to make myself cum. Hah!
Over the years, I grew to love my regulars. Some spent all day on the premises, switching between watching porn, visiting peep booths and having private dances. Others could be counted on like clockwork to visit on a particular day at a particular time. They were a motley crew, from public servants to pensioners, labourers to lawyers. Mentioning the latter, let me share with you my encounters with a gentleman who, on good authority, was a barrister of some elevated status...
Mr Mushroom always came in the graveyard hours of a Saturday morning. His in-house title was due to the fact that he enjoyed revealing his mushroomy, smegma-ridden manhood. We found it curious that such a well-presented looking gentleman was unaware of basic cock hygiene. He was always still in his work suit and inebriated to some extent yet kept it together like a functional alcoholic with a well- developed tolerance. His fetish was dirty feet, the filthier the better. Mr Mushroom paid considerable amounts for dancers to walk barefoot down the street, and if you walked in the gutter or some comparably soiled surface, the reward was richer, provided you returned to the room and allowed him to suck the filth off your feet. It tickled a bit, but he smelled alright, was polite and, of course, he paid big.
There was one tiny old fella with enormous rimmed glasses who frequented the joint weekday nights. He didn't talk a great deal, only to communicate his humiliation requests, and was always smiling. He was both an eye-opener and a delight for me. His 'extra's' dollars paid for him to be led around on a studded collar and leash. He was rarely not on all fours. I made him lick the carpeted floors, led him to the male toilets to drink from the bowl (I'm fairly certain I cleaned it first), made him gag himself on sex toys and allowed him to fulfil his ultimate fantasy – scat play. Not being fond of engaging with my own faeces, I declined to partake, however we worked out an arrangement whereby he could go into the cinema, buy a dance, go to the toilet and save a little something in plastic wrapping. Once in our own private room, he would ask: 'Mistress, how can I please you tonight?' to which I would respond: 'Eat shit, you filthy scum…Eat your own shit, you worthless bastard.' I never judged him for it as I was just happy to see the mixture of joy and relief on his face. I have to be honest, although I felt supportive compassion at my end, the odorous stink when he unwrapped the 'present' was overwhelming and as such those sessions were frequently short.
Another client was a young guy who was a part-time manager at a department store. He was beautiful, soft, kind and sweet, and cared for his parents. Weekly he would book a private room for the two of us for 90 minutes, lay down a picnic blanket, and we would eat cheese, crackers and fruit. He was always so nervous that for the first 30 minutes his hands would tremble, and his speech was stuttered. I grew to be truly fond of him and promised that if he still remained a virgin at 30 that I would be honoured to take away that title. Unfortunately, I moved on from the club before this pivotal birthday; however, I did teach him how to softly kiss and caress a woman.
Clients aside, the girls and I all knew how to have fun together. Unfortunately for management there were a couple of good bars across the road, and once lunchtime strips were over, those of us not doing the next peep hour indulged in long lunch sessions and a bit of pool playing. On occasion we returned as a raucously entertaining gaggle of girls eager to make money. We peep ladies would also socialise after work, particularly if we had shared a day shift together. Maybe not-so-strangely, we mostly visited strip-typical clubs and supported the ladies on their podiums. We tipped and asked the dancers to teach us new pole tricks, bought them drinks and certainly did not waste their time. We knew our punter etiquette very, very well.
One night we all went out after a shift and, satisfied with our performances and income, decided to redistribute the wealth to those lovely ladies in the other non-peep, hustle, house-fee clubs. We were all feeling extremely generous, gregarious and gorgeous (we likely were not the latter after hours of sweating on stage and in the peep room, but we were oblivious). Some of us had either had too much to imbibe, were still jazzed by our busy peep hours, or maybe just had overspent on the lovely ladies at the other clubs. Whatever the excuse, we decided to show up at the peep venue in all our messed-up glory to visit our other friends doing the graveyard shift. There were about eleven of us crammed into a change room designed for the other five dancers already on duty. Most were tired and had been rostered to do alternating peep hours, so we offered to take over the stage shows without taking their cut. Rather, our brilliant idea was to do a whip-around amongst already seated audience members, with a large old coffee jar that we had cleaned out to collect coins and notes. Our selling point – a once in a lifetime, never before seen stage show involving eleven women interacting with each other. It worked. Jar full of money, we got set to writhe and wriggle on stage for the entertainment of both our lovely punters and our own giggling selves.
We were all such close friends that the somewhat simulated lesbian act involving all eleven of us did not faze us in the least. What did shake us back to reality, however, was when we realised we'd left a compadre behind on stage. Either that, or she'd left us. There were ten of us interacting with each other, writhing and grinding against each other, when we realised Pollyanna was on the far edge of the stage doing all of the above all by herself. The only true lesbian, and she was on her own at the edge of the stage performing a solo act! Was she doing us a favour by providing a split screen to our messy, entirely un-choreographed and simulated gay performance?
Regardless, the crowd was ecstatic with our intermingled, improvised on-stage mess, as were management that so generously allowed us to rake up some dollars without actually being rostered on. We each got a few private dances for the effortless display of true enthusiasm with one other, and so essentially got paid twice over to do what we love. And this is what punters need to know – we get as much enjoyment from entertaining you as you get from seeing us happy, carefree and entertaining you. Money may indeed be the middleman, but it is useless unless those at either end are truly happy, sexually free, entertained and walk away with deeply ingrained and fond memories.
I have since returned to sex work as a private escort and am loving it. Thanks to Sex Work Law Reform Victoria for educating me as to my rights and responsibilities when working as a contractor for an escort agency or as a sole trader. Their advice has been invaluable to the choices I've made as an adult within the sex industry. In particular, they have assisted me to make informed choices regarding my options during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially with respect to the legality of sex work as a private escort.
Claire is a a 41yo private escort who has lived with systemic lupus erythematosus for the past 20 years. During this time, she has moved between different avenues of the adult industry, including working in strip clubs, brothels and escort agencies. The industry has provided Claire with the flexibility she requires to deal with unexpected health issues.
Unsurprisingly, Claire has encountered poor treatment and practices at some businesses, and extremely generous and dignified treatment at others. Her experiences steered her towards postgraduate studies in law, and following this, to becoming a proud member of Sex Work Law Reform Victoria (SWLRV).
SWLRV is a volunteer, non-partisan lobby group comprised of former and current sex workers, who advocate for the decriminalisation of all forms of consensual adult sex work.