Some of you might know that one of my personal goals is to never, ever stop learning (this is why I sometimes need to schedule dates around classes I’m taking, even though I’ve finished school). And some of you might also know that I love local history, especially the history of the “adult professions” in New Orleans. I’ve written a bit about the era of Storyville in New Orleans.
Storyville was the red-light district of New Orleans between 1897 and 1917, and it was just across Rampart Street from the French Quarter. Of course, the “ladies of the evening” had been working in that neighborhood long before then, and its closure didn’t stop them–as Martin Behrman famously stated upon learning that the Navy had ordered the district shut down, “You can make it illegal, but you can’t make it unpopular.” Storyville is, of course, a fascinating topic, and it’s a neverending source of subject matter for a variety of stories and films set in New Orleans, both fiction and nonfiction. But it isn’t the end-all be-all, even for its time period. It’s actually just a small part of the story.
New Orleans is a diverse city, and it always has been. In Storyville, white gentlemen could visit white, black, or creole “ladies of the evening” in small rooms they’d rent called “cribs.” But Black men weren’t allowed to visit these ladies Storyville. In fact, Black men in Storyville were usually there to perform as musicians–they weren’t allowed to play, as it were, with the ladies of Storyville, but they could play for them and their clients.
So, what was a Black gentleman to do? Well, just uptown there was a neighborhood called “Black Storyville” where he could find a lady willing to spend a little time with him for a price. It wasn’t technically legal (like it was in Storyville), but officials turned a blind eye.
A sort of Mardi Gras rivalry between the ladies of Storyville and the ladies of Black Storyville developed, and the Baby Dolls tradition grew out of that.
It’s a really fun and fascinating read about a subject most people don’t know much about. Highly recommended to anyone who’s interested in learning more about the history of New Orleans, and much appreciated by me. So thank you–you know who you are ;)
Recently, on one of the local internet forums, I came across the following question from a client. Never one to pass up a conversation even tangentially related to the criminalization of sex work, I started to answer his question, but my explanation quickly grew and kind of veered off-topic. So, I decided to post it here instead.
I wonder though, that if sex work was ever legalized, if the value of your time would decrease? Just a question… As supply increases, demand lowers.
This is a great question. The short answer is “probably.” But…
Here’s the long answer:
There’s a huge difference between legalization and decriminalization.
In legalization, our work is legal, but only under certain conditions determined by the state. The problem with this is…well, just look at Nevada. Well, no. First, let’s look at Storyville.
Storyville: The “Red Light District” Approach, Exploitation, and a Two-Tiered Legality
As much as we in New Orleans (myself included) romanticize Storyville, New Orleans’s legal red light district between the years of 1897 and 1917, legalized prostitution was similarly problematic back then. Women were only permitted to sell sexual services in one part of town. A girl could not legally, say, meet a client in her own home, negotiate a price, and accept payment for the time she spent with him. The only legal way to accept payment for her erotic labor was to pay a brothel owner/manager in Storyville for the privilege of working there, and pay grossly inflated rent prices to the building owner, who rented out “cribs” (tiny closet-like rooms for the purpose of prostitute/client meetings and transactions) to working girls by the day. Needless to say, lots of people got filthy rich between 1897 and 1917, and most of them weren’t the actual working girls.
OK, now jump forward 100 years and to the West 2,143.9 miles (according to Google Maps), and let’s talk bout Nevada. In a couple of counties, full service sex work is legal, but only in licensed brothels. Workers must also go buy a license from a government office ($$, and the worker’s information becomes public, btw), and they can only work for a brothel that has permission from the state. While working for the brothel, they cannot leave the premises. They must also
pay for rent and meals at the brothel–you’re not allowed to get an apartment or buy your own groceries,
pay for weekly trips for STI tests at a doctor the state has chosen for that purpose,
pay for the van trips to that doctor,
allow the brothel owner to see their medical info before they can,
give up (I think) half their earnings to the brothel owner, and
rely on the brothel owner for pretty much anything they need for work, which means prices are inflated, etc.
Basically, it becomes a get-rich-quick scheme for the state, the brothel owner, the doctor and his/her staff, and everyone but the people doing the actual sexual labor. Ironically, one of the justifications given for this type of system is that providers need protection from exploitation (“pimps”). So, instead of allowing a provider to work independently (advertising, screening, negotiating with and meeting clients without anyone else interfering in that process), the state requires the use of a 3rd party, who is involved in (and profits from) the transaction.
Criminalization of the Most Vulnerable, Legalization for the Privileged
And let’s not forget the fact that not everyone will be able to afford that license or all the fees required to get start working at the brothel (licensing fees, transportation costs, required brothel-owned transportation service from airport to brothel, required up-front rent, required up-front food money, etc.). Nor will everyone who wants the job be hired to work in the brothel.
So basically, there are a few people who can work legally, as long as they give quite a bit of their earnings to a bunch of people who don’t have much to do with the actual work being done. And everyone else goes to jail if they get caught.
This is only one form of legalization, but it shows how problematic legalization can be. On the surface, it sounds great, especially to those who have no experience working in this business or meeting with escorts. Keep hookers hidden away from good, regular folks in society? Great! Force them to be tested weekly? Awesome–lord knows they’re vectors for disease otherwise! Require that they work under the supervision of a babysitter who knows what’s best for them? Fine idea! Mandate a government-issued license to fuck? Sounds logical to me! (This is sarcasm, in case you can’t tell).
In reality, there are several problems with the “legalization” type of approach. As I said before, those who are most vulnerable (poor people) will not be able to afford to work legally, and will continue to work illegally and suffer the consequences. And providers who may not be the brothel owner’s “type” for whatever reason (race, age, body size, looks) will also not be able to work legally, and will continue to work illegally and suffer the consequences. I don’t think it’s fair to set up a system that punishes poorer, or fatter, or older providers for doing the same thing their wealthier, thinner, younger counterparts are doing, nor is it an improvement on the system we already have.
In addition (and to me, this is the most important part), I think it’s flat-out wrong for the state to legislate who can fuck whom, as long as everyone is of legal age and is consenting. It is absurd to say that it’s OK and legal for consenting adults to have sex for this reason (love, horniness, the desire to get back at an ex, etc.) but not that one (the need to pay one’s rent or phone bill, the desire to buy a fancy new dress, etc.).
Decriminalization: What Sex Workers Want
Now, with decriminalization, it’s no longer illegal to trade sex for money. You can pay for it. You can sell it. As long as both parties are of legal age and consenting, it’s your business. There will still be certain regulations, of course, but no new laws need to be made, because laws covering those issues already exist. For example, most rational people would object to allowing the buying and selling of sex in a park or at the grocery store. Well, we already have laws prohibiting public nudity and public sex. The same goes for forced sexual labor–we already have laws against rape.
What most individuals working in the world of erotic services want is decriminalization, because then it ceases to be illegal for providers to do the work they do. And it ceases to be illegal for our clients to…well, to be clients.* All we want is to have the right to have the same sexual encounters that everyone else is free to have without fearing arrest because someone leaves us a little monetary compensation for our time and attention.
*Please don’t confuse decriminalization with the “Nordic Model.” Advocates of the “Nordic Model” will often use the term “decriminalization,” perhaps out of ignorance, or perhaps in an attempt to obfuscate the truth–that the “Nordic Model” is almost universally opposed by sex workers themselves. The “Nordic Model” takes an “end demand” approach–sex workers are no longer criminalized, but clients are. Obviously, that’s a really shitty situation for us–would you want the purchase of your products and/or services to be criminalized? Do you think a doctor’s practice could succeed if it were illegal for patients to visit? What about financial advisers? How profitable would that business be if it were illegal to seek financial advice? What if it were legal to sell alcohol, but not to buy it? Do you think bartenders would feel “safe” and “protected,” or would they just want to go back to slinging beers to their law-abiding customers in peace? You see, we do want to right to work without fear of arrest, but we don’t want our clients to be criminalized. Not only would we have a more difficult time finding clients, but when there’s that much of an imbalance re: risk of arrest (as in, we would be taking no risk by meeting with clients, but they would be risking arrest every time they chose to visit an escort), all kinds of unexpected consequences arise. And of course, the majority of them ultimately put sex workers at risk.
The Rates Question
So, your question was whether our rates will have to drop if and when this work is legalized. Legalized? Well…probably not. Legalization comes with all kinds of “you can do this, but…” caveats, and those caveats cost lots of money. Those brothels in Nevada? Those girls’ rates aren’t cheap, unless they’re desperate because they owe the brothel owner $$$. Decriminalized? Maybe. Once there’s no fear of arrest, there will probably be more supply–more people will join the profession. But remember, there will also be more demand. Less people will be afraid of visiting a provider.
I have a feeling our rates would have to drop some…or at least, many of us would have to drop our rates somewhat. However, that’s a small price to pay for being able to work without worrying that you’ll be arrested and lose everything you care about–your home, your day job, custody of your children, maybe even friends and family. And it would almost certainly be easier to meet with clients safely because I’m betting clients would be more willing to hand over the necessary screening info if they could be sure we weren’t cops posing as providers for a sting.
Equal Power, Equal Protection
Just think about it…No one could threaten to “out” us (clients or providers) to the cops. If a provider stole from you, you could go directly to the cops and report the incident without them giving you a hard time. If a provider was sexually (or otherwise) assaulted by someone she met with, she could report it without worrying about being arrested for the type of work she does.
The “But Taxes!!!” Argument
People bring up taxes as justification for legalization. Many, many, many of us already report earnings and pay taxes. Of course not everyone does, but that’s common in lots of service industry jobs (waiting tables, bartending, etc.) and lots of informal labor (babysitting, cleaning houses, fixing people’s computers in your home, etc.). Decriminalization would make it even easier to do that–either as a business owner (independent provider), or as an employee at an agency or brothel (depending on how it’s done, a provider could be an independent contractor or a regular old employee). Imagine if doing taxes was as straightforward and easy as walking into one of those tax prep places in a strip mall and saying “I’m an escort. Here are my receipts for the year. I saw this many clients and made this much money and spent this much on advertising and supplies.” So many providers would find it a lot easier to, I dunno, be approved for a mortgage and become property owners so that they have something to show for all the work they’ve done over the years, and a real asset to hand down to their children or to cash in on when they retire. Wouldn’t that be nice?
“Sexually Deviant Fallen Women” or “Desperate, Misguided, Helpless Victims”?
For as much as society loves to either demonize us or paint us all with the “poor, helpless victim” brush, they sure don’t seem willing to do the one thing that would actually empower us–that would enable us to show that we are so, so much more.
Update as of 3/2017:
I’ve recently come across the writings of Missy Mariposa, a former independent escort-turned-legal brothel worker at Sheri’s Ranch. Her experience at Sheri’s Ranch has been overwhelmingly positive, and doesn’t resemble the restrictive and exploitative environment I imagined. I fully admit my image of brothel work was based on a couple episodes of a reality show I saw way back when, and a few descriptions I had read by workers at another legal brothel in Nevada (not Sheri’s Ranch). Missy has fully embraced brothel work, and she explains why in this post: Why I hung up my heels as an independent and embrace the brothel. Color me enlightened!
I’ve been thinking of doing this for a while. I occasionally receive gifts and/or flattering emails from readers of my blog. Some are potential or former clients; some are simply folks who either stumbled upon my site accidentally while perusing other sites or found it while searching for tell-all blogs full of racy stories written by professional companions (if you read this blog regularly, you know that’s not what they found here, haha).
Sometimes I feel like when I’m writing this blog I’m sending posts out into a void: a vast and empty space on the internet where no one actually reads anything, they simply click around in search of free photos and spammable email addresses. And because I rarely receive comments (hint, hint–I love comments, people. I even have it set so that you can leave them anonymously, jeez.), it’s easy to convince myself more and more often that that is the case. So, it’s always nice when someone drops me a line to let me know I’m wrong ;)
Anyway, these generous gifts and thoughtful emails always brighten my day (or week, as it were). And, ya know, I don’t want to brag…well, yes I do. So, I thought I’d share a few with you.
I would be ashamed to admit how many courtesan/escort websites I have
perused (and admittedly judged). You have done a magnificent job of
arranging yours. It is one of the few that I’ve seen that is FUN to
explore. From the alluring photos that make you a very desirable woman
to trying to guess where the photos taken, it rates as one of the
best. Your personality flows from page to page.
When I sent the link to my girlfriend, her reply was “She’s Funny!”.
High praise from someone who is difficult to impress.
Folks…If you are looking for a young lady who is sexy and well educated, then Annie is a must see in New Orleans. — from TER
Hi Annie! :)
My name’s ____…and no, this isn’t what you think. I am a hobbyist and have more than a few references that can vouch for what kind of gentleman I am…
in (city that’s really far away from New Orleans)!
I just started reading your blog and really enjoy it. (Insert semi-identifying info about this gentleman’s connection to New Orleans).
Hopefully I’m not wasting your time with this email. Obviously, it would be difficult for us to schedule time together because of our distance issue. I am hoping, however, that I may call you a “blog friend” and fellow New Orleanian and continue to enjoy your writings. Maybe someday in the near future, a meeting could take place.
Until then, thank you for the enjoyable blogging, and stay safe.
I hope this message finds you well and in good spirits.
Up front, with 2 kids in out of state private colleges to the tune of
100K a year, I’m not a potential customer…I feel like it would be
taking something away from them if I was. I just wanted to share a few
Anyway, I divide the world up into two groups of people. Interesting
and not very interesting. Money, power, or social status have nothing
with my decisions, you are either interesting or not.
Well, this past week has been pretty surprising. Let’s review, shall we?
First off, I got an email from a woman whose partner had sent her the link to my blog. The subject line reads: “Add me to the fan club!” (I ain’t too proud to admit that flattery will get you everywhere.) Turns out she’s something of a kindred spirit–not only does she have the same fond memories of being absolutely perplexed by the advice in Cosmopolitan Magazine when she was a teen, but she also shares my passion for Bellocq’s photographs of the Storyville prostitutes.
And who doesn’t love positive feedback?
Speaking of which, I got another type of positive feedback this week, this time in the form of a very flattering review on TER (The Erotic Review) from a client who was an absolute pleasure to meet with.
And then, I realized that I hadn’t even noticed a positive review I received on ECCIE a few weeks back.
And! A client bought me a gift off of my Amazon Wishlist! He got me a year’s subscription to The New Yorker!! It was perfect timing, too, because my subscription was just about to run out. It’s my favorite magazine, and I don’t know how I’d ever convince myself to work out if I didn’t have it to read at the gym. Anyway, he scheduled an appointment and I met with him, and it turns out he’s just as awesome as his taste in gifts :)
I don’t have many reviews at all, but I like it that way. While I do allow reviews (I address this briefly on my FAQ page), I don’t want a ton of explicit descriptions of my time with clients floating around the internet. For one thing, I feel like it’s disrespectful to me, and it cheapens our time together (it’s called “intimacy” for a reason, lol). Why should a bunch of men I’ve never met get to be titillated by the time I spent with you, that you paid for? Also–and this is purely from the standpoint of a writer–I believe that, ultimately, these review sites are more predatory than helpful. What it really amounts to is that clients are basically writing porn for the sites, for free, and then the sites turn around and charge other clients to read it. So you’re supplying the content for a site that is selling it, and you don’t even get a share of the profit. Yeah yeah yeah, I understand that everyone profits by getting access to the reviews, but still. If they were really there only for review purposes, they wouldn’t demand in-depth, detailed, explicit play-by-play descriptions of dates. They’d simply require a yes/no recommendation and a short explanation, and leave it up to the reviewer to decide how much to include. That being said, I stand by what I say on my FAQ page: if you’d like to write a brief, tasteful review of our time together, please feel free ;)
A while back I met with a gentleman, and one of the topics that came up in conversation was New Orleans’s “sordid” history–namely, the period from 1897-1917 when the city set up Storyville, a red light district where prostitution was legal.
We discussed my fascination with E. J. Bellocq, a photographer working at that time who, despite earning a living photographing (among other relatively mundane things) Catholic school students’ school pictures, was drawn to the…less wholesome side of New Orleans in his art. He is now best known for his Storyville Portraits, a collection of photographs of Storyville prostitutes taken around 1912, just five years before Storyville was shut down. These pictures weren’t found until after his death, but they’re wildly popular now–so much so that they have completely overshadowed his other work, such as his photos of the opium dens in what was then New Orleans’s Chinatown (now the CBD).
Anyway, a couple days later, after he’d left town, I got an email from him with a link to this site. It’s a fun little site with lots of info, but I think the most interesting thing about it is the collection of photographs of Blue Books. Blue Books were basically guides to Storyvile–like the Eros-nola.com of paper.
It’s striking how similar the Blue Books are to the advertising methods used in the industry today. Look at Clara Miller’s ad–her main selling points are her lovely disposition, her worldly (she’s traveled to Europe) yet relateable (she’s a local girl born near Baton Rouge) personal history, and her eagerness to please (she “can sit up all night if necessary”). And of course, she’s a beautiful octaroon. Sounds a lot like an elite professional companion, seeking extended dates, no?
I love the intro, in which the publishers swear that the listings contained in the book are truthful representations of the ladies and services they advertise. “This book contains nothing but Facts,” they write. Oh, I wonder how many men were duped by the ol’ bait-and-switch back then. The predominant business structure in Storyville was the brothel arrangement, where several women worked in a house under a single owner/employer. It was basically the equivalent to today’s agencies. And the brothel owners (Madams) could really submit whatever information, real or false, they believed would attract customers (is this sounding familiar yet?). I hope they made sure the girls had a chance to read the ads first!
And on that topic, what of the bait-and-switch? Back then, since the business was legal, I guess situations like that one were much less problematic–it was just a matter of the gentleman saying, “No, thank you, that’s not what I was expecting,” and moving on to the next available lady that struck his fancy.
And what of brothels? There weren’t really any “independent escorts” in those days; women worked for business owners, who charged them a fee for the room, the advertising, security, etc. (again, like an agency). This is one of the reasons I’m against “legalizing” sex work–once there are strict regulations, we basically lose all control over how and where we work, and what we do with our own bodies. Look at the situation in Nevada. Sure, the brothels are legal, but the women working in them are dehumanized to the point that they are simply equipment, and the laws are such that the person who benefits most from their work is the employer (brothel owner). The women are not permitted to leave the property (?!????!!!!!??), they are subjected to–and charged for–weekly medical exams*, they must pay rent, a flat grocery fee (regardless of what they eat), and several other miscellaneous fees for services and items they are forced to buy, and they are forced to directly compete with the women they must work and live with for the duration of their stay. And before they receive their paychecks, the employer takes (from what I understand) about half of their earnings. Continue reading “Blue Books and Brothels: Storyville and the Legislation of Morality”
Look what came in the mail today!!! It’s my new Bellocq book!
I’ve wanted to get my hands on this book (and that girl’s stockings!) for so long. I remember the first time I saw these images. I was taking a Sophomore level Louisiana History course in college–a course for which I had to memorize the names and locations of all 64 parishes in the state (oh, how I cursed that professor the night before THAT test…). Imagine my surprise when I walked into class one Monday morning, and instead of being met with another lecture on Huey P. Long or Earl K. Long or one of the other many Longs involved in Louisiana politics, I was treated to century-old photos featuring scantily clad ladies. Was I dreaming? Had I overslept through my alarm again? Nope. My lovely professor (I wasn’t cursing his name that day!) had prepared a lesson on Storyville, New Orleans’s own red light district, and the first in the United States. See–I knew my hometown had more to be proud of than our music, parties, and food!
I remember being so impressed with those photos back then. I didn’t even realize that there was a book of Bellocq’s portraits until later. I’d see the images here and there, on local-access TV shows or in advertisements for bars in the French Quarter. And I more or less forgot about them.
Enter the internet.
One day a couple years ago, I randomly thought about those pictures when I saw a pair of stockings with thick stripes. I bought the stockings immediately, even though they weren’t nearly as cool as the ones this girl is wearing in the photo. When I got home, I fired up the laptop and used the research skills I learned in graduate school to find that photo online (I am quite the Google ninja.). And when I found it, and I finally had Bellocq’s name, I hopped on over to Amazon to look for the book and…realized that it was out of print, and the only copies listed were going for well over $200. Wow. Not an expense I could justify, seeing as I was a graduate student studying the arts, and student life (especially grad student life) isn’t exactly conducive to a life of luxury.
Alas! A couple weeks ago, I randomly thought of checking up on the price of Bellocq’s book again. I found it for a pretty good starting price on Ebay, and set the alarm on my phone to alert me when the auction was closing. Those last few minutes were brutal–I was fighting it out with someone who, like me, really, really, REALLY wanted those pictures depicting legalized prostitution in New Orleans circa 1912, hahah. But in the end, I got the book for an amazing price. I still can’t get over it!
In the days of anticipation between the auction’s end and the book’s arrival, I read a lot of what others had to say about it. More often than not, I found their assessments patronizing. There’s one in particular that I’d like to share from a reviewer on Amazon, who “continue(s) to be intrigued by the sad faces, and what those expressions said about the tragic life that the ‘soiled doves’ lived in those days.” Continue reading “E. J. Bellocq’s Storyville Portraits – Prostitutes in 1912 New Orleans”