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      Giving Handjobs for Money Is My Least Favorite Kind of Sex Work

      March 9, 2014

      Photo of the author by Ellen Stagg

      I’ve been a sex worker for about seven years. During this period, I have mostly worked as a dominatrix, and my approach has always been the same—I've thought, I’m always going to be me, and you’re always going to love it.

      I have taken pride in my ability to learn new tricks, like attaching garter belts to stockings and applying a perfect cat-eye while in a cab rushing from school to an appointment with a client. Playing femme allowed me to do the things I truly loved about being pro-BDSM, like spanking the shit out of men who deserved it.  I was happy to talk in my Laura Palmer voice—giggling and making concessions to people with different politics than me—but I refused to lose weight or shave my legs. With these rules, domming was extremely lucrative and fun for a very long time, but I recently finished graduate school and turned 31. This means I’m a senior citizen in sex worker years, so last fall when a friend invited me to work at a “massage salon” in Midtown Manhattan (a.k.a. a place where dudes pay for handjobs from pretty ladies), I figured, What the hell? I’ll try my hand at that!

      I thought giving handies would be similar to acting out kinky fantasies, but from day one, I didn’t mesh with the handjob scene, which operates throughout most of Midtown. If you’ve walked around Midtown, you’ve probably looked at the apartments above the bars and bistros and thought, Who the fuck lives there? Well, nobody lives there. Most midtown apartments are handjob parlors.

      Each parlor has its own unique style. At the place I worked—let’s call it Slumberpartyville—the pretense was that we were a bunch of girlie girls hanging out in an apartment watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer and doing our hair. If you wanted to come over and hang out with us, you simply needed to bring a small donation that would make it affordable for us to lay around looking hot. We would probably make out with each other if we were bored, but what we really liked was cock. If you’d bring your dick over—along with your tribute—we would love to play with your balls, laugh at your stupid jokes, and pamper your muscles, skin, and lymphatic system that you don’t take good care of.

      Each session worked the same way. I greeted the client at the apartment door wearing makeup and lingerie. I put on Portishead, feigned enthusiasm about the client's job and hobbies, sidestepped everything he said that offended me, touched his dick, and pretended I loved when he violently sucked on my nipples. (Although the sessions were highly physical, I was expected to somehow never break a sweat.) After teasing and touching him until he orgasmed, I gave him a full body scrub with warm water, peppermint soap, and loofah gloves. I smiled demurely while he put his clothes on, told him I hoped to see him again, and then pretended to ignore the wad of bills he left next to the iPod stereo.

      I soon began to think of my job as being the facilitator of adult males' naptimes. After one client came in my hand, he looked at me and then said, “I met my newborn nephew the other day. When I looked into his eyes when his mom was holding him, he looked so pure—so happy and completely innocent and alive, with no responsibility—and I was like, That baby has got it made.”

      After a few months of giving handies and loofah scrubs for six hours several times a week, I felt confident about my handjob skills.  I made decent money and got along with my co-workers. It definitely wasn't as creative or fulfilling as working as a dominatrix, but it also wasn't as time consuming—it was as if I'd gone from being a freelancer to working for an agency.

      After working at the parlor for a few weeks, I realized the managers monitored clients’ discussions on message boards. Within about four months, the clients started posting that I was too “alternative” for Slumberpartyville, which meant they thought I was too curvy, had too many tattoos, or was too obviously queer to love dick despite my excellent handjob skills. I understand I am not everyone's ideal partner, but I know from my experiences that I have everything it takes to show a client a great time.

      Based on these complaints, Slumberpartyville fired me.

      I thought this was ridiculous. The managers constructed their business around message boards—that’s like a blog deciding what content to publish based on trolls’ comments. Of the hundreds of satisfied customers I've sent on their way over the years, I've concluded that entitled handjob clients may have the narrowest ideas about female beauty.

      In my early 20s, when I first started working as a pro-domme, I was open to being malleable, and I was fucking good at it. I can still see my 24-year-old self—a baby with a quicker metabolism, longer hair, and less tattoos referencing 70s science fiction—riding my bike home with $3,000 hidden in my sneakers and an adrenaline rush of power coursing through me.

      I thought I would be this girl forever, but I now realize I was naive. For the first time, I am considering retiring from sex work. It makes me sad, but I’ve realized that my perception of myself as a sexy superhero was as much of a fantasy as the fantasy men had about me. The glamor of sex work affects sex workers as much as it affects clients. When I was 24, I was comfortable pretending I was someone I wasn’t—I pretended to be someone else all the time. Giving handjobs professionally taught me I’m no longer good at pretending.

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      Topics: sex work, handies, Midtown, NYC, personal essay, histories, 30s, 20s, Young Love

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