Today I know that the main reason for that is boundaries. They're a thing that most people have that keep them from crossing certain lines like the one in which you sell sex for money. Since my childhood and adolescence was one big boundaryless playground in I have wandered out into traffic as often as I have strolled along the sidewalk, this was understandably confusing to me.
I became a writer, which is a much, much easier job, but there was a time in college when I took a quick dip in the sex work Jacuzzi, and while most of those stories will remain private, I have lately been wanting to tell you about the time I bartended at a swinger's club.
xoJane HQ is on a particularly sexy block. On the corner, New York City's Museum of Sex, and just around the corner, New York City's oldest swing club, La Trapeze. I didn't work at Trapeze, although I did visit the establishment with a charming man who worked in the diamond industry and who liked me to wear white cotton panties and have sex while I was on my period.
The place I worked was far seedier than Trapeze, which isn't exactly the Ritz either. My place was in a railroad-style apartment done up to look like da club, which dim lighting and erotic art on the walls. Before us there had been an illegal lapdance club that had gotten raided and ended up in the NY Post, and for which confused customers still ocassionally came looking.
The owner was a man who looked like your kindly grandpa if your kindly granpa routinely greeted you by grabbing your ass or breasts. I had met him through another perverted grandpa type whose private sex party I had served drinks at. Sex Grandpa #2 was always looking for attractive young women to run the "bar," since it was a completely ineffective way to make money.
A small hourly wage + tips, which 90 percent of the guys, who had just paid 100 dollars to get in, didn't bother with. And Sex Grandpa once yelled at me for taking the starter dollars he'd taped to the rim of the tip jar to encourage the customers. I thought the three dollars was an eminently reasonable fee for his constant groping. I was like the Costco of free grabsies.
But what the job lacked in monetary benfits, it made up for in free booze and sexual attention. Plus, it was easy. Most on-premise screw joints are BYOB, which meant I really just had to open beers, mix juice or soda with liquor and hand water to the sweaty naked men who would appear from the back room.
The place had once been a legitimate swinger's club, but during the time I worked there it degenerated into a glorified brothel, fueled by SG's unorthodox decision to admit single men 3 nights a week.
Soon after, a motley crew of women -- mostly girls with unconventional bodies or faces that limited their sex work opportunities or veterans who had aged out of more lucrative jobs -- started to appear. They lounged around the place with garters unsnapped and dangling from their trashy lingerie, eating the free sandwich and donut holes SG always laid out at the beginning of each night and occasionally disappearing into a back room with one of the regulars.
SG eventually offered me a shift giving handjobs for 50 bucks an hour, which I declined less out of a sense of morality than that it seemed too exhausting a charade, pretending to be a regular girl who just loooved giving handjobs to strange men without allowing them to reciprocate or escalate the interaction. Plus, I knew I could make more money than that.
But I did graduate to taking my top off at the bar, using the promise of my naked boobs to egg the guys into tipping. The big reveal was exciting, but after that it just felt awkward, standing there with the stale air licking my nipples, trying not to bend unflatteringly as I poured.
It felt cheap, but I was into cheap, comforted then as now by the encompassing grasp of the degrading but familiar. Sex work for me reinforced my most damaging core beliefs -- that what mattered about me, more than mind or soul, was my 19-year-old body and willingness to give it freely.
When you don't get your essential needs met, don't feel loved, valued and protected, you turn to substances you can trust to make you feel better -- booze, drugs, food, sex, masturbation, porn.
Which isn't to say that my time at the sex club wasn't fun and sometimes sexy. But there was a sense of desperation about me then, an air of seeking something that couldn't be found behind a dingy bar with porn videos playing on either side of me. I wanted to be seen there, to be reassured that I had value, even if it was the empty currency of sexual availability.
Much like the telemarketing job I had in high school, one day I just couldn't stand to go back anymore, to swipe on my spidery mascara and pretend to be charmed by assholes while swilling vodka concoctions I never quite got right.
In the dark, I felt shiny and special. But when the lights came up, I was just a near-child standing in my Payless heels in a dingy room. It was 4 in the morning. I'd made 80 dollars. I wanted to go home.