“I’m a sex worker,” said Elle Lynn Stanger, who at the time of writing worked as a stripper in Portland, Oregon. “And I experience more harassment as a civilian.”
Surprised? Perhaps not if you are a woman or transgendered person in America and have been at the receiving end of men’s catcalls, uninvited touching, aggressive harassment and threats. In a 2015 essay she wrote:
“I feel much more safe in my place of work as a stripper, than when I walk to the grocery store, drive to the hardware store, sit with my back to the wall at the coffee shop.”
Those words take me back to my 20s and 30s living in college towns and a couple big cities when I regularly felt fear walking down the middle of the street at night, swinging my arms wide and holding a weapon.
” When I compare civilian life to the interactions with hundreds of intoxicated strangers in a highly stigmatized industry, my amount of negative experiences in the strip club pale in comparison.”
Almost all of the men with whom I have spoken while working the Niteflirt lines since 2009 have been gentlemen — whether early on when I did phone sex or since I started doing only Sexual Psychic Readings. In fact, my customers on Niteflirt are much better behaved than the women and some men who call me on straight psychic services. Often those customers are demanding, impatient and cheap.
Stanger describes the many times men threatened or tried to humiliate her just for being a female. As a girl as young as five she knew she wasn’t safe from boys who wanted to see her panties. Throughout her childhood, teenaged and adult years, time after time men treated her like an object.
Her mother worried about her daughters’ safety. Stanger’s father promised to kill anyone that hurt her. The impact of those ineffectual expressions was the same as what happened after my teenaged boyfriend threatened to beat up the boy who raped me: Neither Stanger nor I told any adult when our parents’ worries became reality:
“Because I was afraid of upsetting my mother, or unintentionally putting my father in prison for retributive homicide, I never told them a thing.”
If you think sex workers are victims, then read Stanger’s take on how her sex work is safer and less worrisome than going to the grocery store. “A strip club is an excellent example of how well consent can work,” she says. “Sex work can be truly liberating.”
“There is an understanding among many strip club goers, that if you want to interact with the half-naked woman, you compensate her for your time. Our nudity, our sense of humor, our empathy, and our beauty is traded for those who will literally give something of value in exchange.”
Not so, living in the “civilian” world:
“Most days that I don’t go jogging is only because I can’t stand to be screamed at by men, or even teenage boys. This happens about once a month, sometimes a couple of times in the same day. When I asked my husband, “How many times has anyone shouted at you when you were jogging?” He blinked and thought. “Once, and I think the guy was on drugs.” “
Stanger entered her essay into the 2015 writing contest associated with World Sexual Health Day, which this year is co-hosted by the Weiland Health Initiative at Stanford University on September 29 in Palo Alto, CA. Since its founding in 2010 it has engendered events in 35 countries. It was published under the title, “I’m a Sex Worker and I Experience More Harrassment As a Civilian.”
She finished her essay with this:
“It’s Friday night in Portland, as I type this. I’m toasting a sandwich for my daughter, and I’m warming my g-strings in the dryer. I work tonight. I’m looking forward to work. I wish I always felt this good about heading to the grocery store.”
Stanger’s essay can be found on WorldSexualHealthday.com.
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