One encounters a lot of tourists in the sex industry. While many clients are technically tourists–visiting from other cities, states, or countries–I’m talking about working tourists.
Work tourists are young women, usually either college educated or in the process of getting a college education, who hear about how empowering sex work is, and decide to jump on the bandwagon. They’re different from girls who strip or escort their way through college, in that that they don’t really need sex work. Their education is usually paid for by their parents or scholarships, and the income they earn from their erotic labor is usually money to go out with friends or buy designer bags and shoes. Sex work is a game to them, not a livelihood, and certainly not a career choice.
The tourists are the women who believe that all it takes to be successful in the industry is a pretty face and a nice body. They have no concept of sex worker stigma, beyond some fuzzy concept that stripping will be “cool,” “edgy,” “fun,” or worse, “empowering.” Sure, the industry is somewhat forbidden to nice girls like them, but their dabblings in sex work are all about not being a nice girl anymore–about going home for Thanksgiving dinner and thinking, “nobody knows I’m a sex worker” while they get a second helping of mashed potatoes from Uncle Jerry or Aunt Jane or whoever.
It’s very rare for these girls to go into more intimate fields of sex work, they generally go with stripping, or sometimes fetish work. They tell their friends what they do in hushed tones, and their eyes pop out of their head when they ask career girls like me how long we’ve been doing this and hear five, ten, fifteen, or even twenty years.
It sounds, great, right? These girls are probably unconsciously normalizing the industry! More nice girls means less stigma, right? Wrong. The problem with tourists is that they don’t want sex work to be destigmatized, because they benefit from the stigma. If sex work were viewed as any other service-oriented physical profession like personal training or massage therapy, there would be no rebellion. If sex work became just another job, they wouldn’t have a tawdry secret to keep at family gatherings or an aura of the forbidden for their friends to gasp at. The nice girls who infiltrate our profession don’t want us to be legitimized in the eyes of the world, and because they tend to stick with work that falls into, at worst, a legal grey area, they don’t really care about decriminalization. That’s a battle for the nasty girls who actually touch their customers’ unclothed bodies, or god forbid, fuck their customers–not nice, respectable girls who just want to have fun and buy a few Prada along the way.
Even the least politicized sex worker probably believes her work should be legal, and that they shouldn’t be persecuted for the choices they’ve made, but often these issues don’t even occur to tourists. Tourists have just seen Pretty Woman or Showgirls a few too many times and often think the greatest issues facing sex workers are being thrown out of posh boutiques or pushed down stairs. They want to take the glamor of being one of us, the beautiful girls, the girls who people pay to look at and touch, without fighting for the right to be considered a normal person… because tourists rarely get far enough in the industry to realize that their work makes them, in the eyes of a lot of people, human trash.
In addition to this, there’s the problem of professionalism. Tourists are rarely very professional in their approach to sex work. Because their forays into the sex industry are youthful experimentation rather than attempts at a legitimate business practices, they don’t treat their jobs like jobs, and instead flail around like Miley Cyrus at the VMAs. They feel so cool trying out twerking for the first time, but they’re unaware of how ridiculous they look to those of us who have been twerking professionally for years. They flake out on appointments, they fail to show up, they undercharge, or they use inconsistent price structures based on how they feel about their individual clients, rather than what they feel their time and labor is worth.
Still worse, they rarely have the knowledge necessary to excel in the field they’ve temporarily chosen. While this isn’t much of an issue in the strip club, it can be an issue in other fields where technical knowledge is of utmost importance. As kink and fetish become more widely accepted by the mainstream, more and more little girls think they can make it as a dominatrix. This can be a serious problem–not so much for those of us who know what we’re doing, but for our clients. Who wouldn’t want to try out a visit to the pretty new Mistress in town? But when the pretty new Mistress doesn’t understand that it’s a really bad idea to flog or cane someone over their kidneys, you have a potential disaster on your hands.
In a strip club situation, no-one’s going to get hurt. The little girl trying to add some grit to her image will either learn to hustle or be driven away by low earnings and high house fees. It isn’t really possible to keep stripping if you’re no good at it, but it’s very possible for a tourist to fake her way through fetish work for months until she burns out hard and never comes back.
What bothers me more than the lack of technical skill, though, is the fact that tourists piggyback off of us, the career whores, without having to deal with the day to day issues that come with being a long-term sex worker. They whisper to their friends that they’re a stripper or a camgirl, and then leave it behind when the going gets tough. The very real, very difficult stigma that we face throughout our lives slides over them, not sticking the way it sticks to us, but just giving them that bad girl gleam. If they get outed, it will be little more than an inconvenience to them, because sex work is just something they’re trying out for fun. Their parents might have a little heart attack, but it will all blow over when they move on to their next straight job.
The rest of us are left out in the cold, trying to explain to our families and friends why we’ve been whores for years and don’t have an interest in moving on any time soon.
There are plenty of us who use sex work as a means to an end, to an extent even I can be counted among those, but tourists are different. Most of us have plans for how we are eventually going to do something else–for me, it’s writing; for other girls, it’s owning a straight business; for others it’s some other artistic pursuit, but we still see ourselves as whores. We aren’t dabbling or testing the waters, we aren’t playing games with the forbidden, we have to deal with the disapproval of the world, and we don’t all have the luxury of walking away whenever we want.