Hooking vs. Hookups – Damien Luxe

Craigslist - screen grab

I was on my way to a random lesbian dance party, in badly-concealed fetish gear, when she outed me as a ‘ho. Being a queer in a new, big and busy city and wanting dates, I had done what was expected of me: I’d used Craigslist to find those dates. Being broke in New York, I had also done what was obvious to me: used CL to find money. What I had found for these purposes that night included directions to a bar in Brooklyn – and first, my way to a pay-to-play fetish party.

There is a laundry list of ways to make money and you know them: they’re what you’re warned about as a girl, especially when all the hushhush of adulthood is rushing around you. They’re what you weigh, on a moral seesaw, when you’re broke. They require smart talk and fake names, tight clothes and a little bit of fearlessness. I was trying my luck as a Party Girl at a Foot Fetish Party.

The CL ad had read: $120 An Hour No Sex! Great: I’m such a dyke that what I do doesn’t count as “sex” anyway, so, nothing to fake! I called a few days before and got details. The gig was this: you show up early to dress-up hot – with a focus on revealing your tidy pedicured toes – in order to hustle $20s from guys who already paid $40 to get in the door for the privilege of your feet for 10 minutes.

It was surreal from the moment I got to the party: the loft in Manhattan’s East 30’s, painted red and orange, indicating a deep sexuality, which read a little gloomy in the giant gathering room full of couches and tall chairs. Off to the sides were little alleyways and private booths, meant to enclose brief intimacies, and then there was the main attraction, the ladies. We were treated to free alcohol there weren’t that many guys to interrupt us at the beginning of the night, so we drank. The party had an overall slow yet nervous feeling, like a new club that’s not hip yet.

I imagined getting really Girls Gone Wild, channeling the parts of myself that aren’t shy, and so I talked to everyone. Most of the girls at the party that night were new to the job, some trying to find rent in a bad city, some looking for Friday night blow money, some just trying a new gig. They talked about day jobs, boyfriends, and outfits; tricks of the trade like Vaseline on your toes, and good foot moisturizers. I took in everything the girls said, and thought how when I’m working, I was separated from the dirty queer I am on the street, in the bar, in bed. I am always as heterosexual as possible, a role that’s easy to play with my long hair and hard-earned ease around men. I do use moisturizer, I do want less cuticle. I need to know the Girl Game Tricks. I am a little bit of a faker and a little bit of myself, shaken and stirred, a new beast.

The girls told me about the regulars, men who lost their anonymity because they talked too much and to too many girls. Ed who just wanted to kneel by your feet. Jerk Off Joey who would pay and pay if you played with yourself. Experienced girls talked and laughed in hushed tones about who drooled and who had dry mouth, all in between flirting with the business-casual dressed men loitering at the edges of our inner circle. I wondered if some of them had come directly from their fancy day jobs, harbouring the secret of their evening plans like a concealed weapon. The guys were strange and awkward, except for Al, who was funny, sociable, and all right. David told me he’d come without money, and wanted to get a free feel of my feet to see if he wanted to come back next week. Several men just sat on the couches watching all night, having missed the memo that you’ll never get what you don’t ask for in life.

Whenever one of us made a connection and went to a private room with a guy, others secretly cheered. It was like being in a room full of best friends. Drunk best friends who are profiting. I learned that I can make more than $20 if you’ll give a “foot job”, and I didn’t make more, though, not for lack of trying: I kicked a man in the balls, I stepped on someone else’s face, I let a man wash my feet, someone else bit my heels. And they tried to get their $20 worth, men with their watches on. I thought that I deserved a tip for my ball kicking session, the guy said his balls were sore, and I thought to myself: no, from me you will get your $20 worth, so I said “Fuck you! You said you liked it!” and kept going. He seemed pleased. I was impressed by my improvisation.

These men don’t know my real name, because that’s half the point: we are strangers, and our interaction is boiled down to an essence: your money, my time. Getting to pick a name is the sex workers’ self-christening, and it’s a complicated choice. Like Erin Markey says: you can’t pick your own name and just like on Craigslist, you can’t pick your roommates’, best friends’, or lover’s name: too awkward or too close.

The music mix was eclectic R&B/Dance on shuffle. First, slamming house music almost too loud to talk over, and gradually Grandmaster Flash and Snoop were mixed in, and later, the music was exclusively 80’s. When “Two of Hearts” came on, I involuntarily started my dance moves from a gay performance art show I used to be a part of, which had used that song during a piece about stripping and gender. I wanted to tell someone what was happening. In my head it was a moment of beautiful collision not a drunkenly vague choreography as it may have appeared, but the volume rendered no chance of that.

The party started to pick up, but I was getting little play, and the numbers swirling in my head insisted I lower the bar. I had started with triple digits as my goal but was reduced to beer money and possibly, a taxi home.

I nibbled at the straw in my bottom-shelf rum and diet coke, and thought about the other tricks I could be turning, instead of killing time on a Friday evening in Midtown Manhattan with strangers. In other incarnations, I mirror queer sex at my fetish job – nipple play and ass fucking, sometimes even anal fisting using poppers and slings, activities synonymous of GAY, through back rooms of the bar world. For me, sex work is as a queer acting straight then acting queer again, using my skills at queer sex to transform them into a straight-enough for the men who really needs it to be, wild eroticism made safe because it’s a man-woman activity partaken with a strange and beautiful woman. It might be a mess for them, but it’s a game of semantics for me.

I never worried about being queer as much as I’ve worried that people won’t read my femme for the queer that it is. But I have definitely worried about being a ‘ho. I’ve seen Fox news. I read the Bible. I know that a hooker doesn’t need a name, not even the one she picked for herself: women who turn tricks immediately get socially mutilated through a drop-all-the-way-out from society. We don’t fit in anywhere but in the bedroom – or fetish party, or alley, or dungeon – and are ruined for life because we lose all titles except one. Yeah compared to sex work, being queer feels easy.

But DOING queer, well, that’s another story. Craigslist is to blame for this moment: the faceless pictures with my various Internet ads, that I have used to find things that I want and need: Tricks. Apartments. Jobs. Dates. I will give this statistics for my successes:

Craigslist Personals W4W: 5-10% success rate [after deleting straight men’s emails]
CL Erotic Services W4M: 25-33% success rate [after deleting timewaster emails]

When I used CL to look for sex from within the lezbigaytrans community, I encountered my friends’ exes, my roommate, girls who needed me to be height-weight-proportional – whatever that is – in order to consider getting licky lez with me. Ads for butch tops, transmasculine fuckbuddies, first time with a woman bisexual femmeonfemme sexploration. People who never write back. People who write back from fake emails. People who don’t live here, people with no idea of what a safeword is, people with no boundaries, people who want you to pay. The obscene plethora of a feminine spectrum seeking a masculine spectrum, and the asymptotically related dearth of the inverse.



My forays into the world of the unknown sexual partner have been mediated by this exact dualism: the awkwardly anti-queer, anti-femme horror of W4W hookups, and the successfully empowering Gay Straight Alliance of the time-consuming hustle of W4M hooking.

When I am looking to get paid, to provide fantasies to men who prowl the internet because they know they must pay to get what they want, that makes it simple. What they want is activity, any pretense is just to heighten the pleasure. I am always surprised because I often encounter gracious strangers who compliment my size 12 proportions, big but acceptable in the world of erotic services, and just plain and common everywhere else.

I felt it was highly probable that I was going to be disappointed, but I decided to leave the hustle bar to go to the gay lady party whose ad I’d seen on CL for that evening. If I had stayed late at that Fetish Party I *might* have made better money; the girl who ran the place said, “The last cracker standing gets the last dollar.” But then I never would have met Jessie on the bus.

I left slightly drunk and in a rush a little after 11 because I remembered that subways are always under construction after midnight, and I wanted to be sure to get to the dance party before it was too hazy and lurid. I threw my Normal Drag on over my Sex Worker Drag and skipped out with my heels and cash in an oversize oxblood purse, just another person on the street going somewhere on a Friday night. On a bus from the subway to the venue, a woman walked down the aisle looking at me queerly. After we locked eyes I felt my PVC mandarin collar getting sticky against my neck in the October air, and astutely understood that she was seeing more of me and my hastily covered attire than I meant to give non-paying strangers. She came right up to me, her curly hair smelling the kind of punk sour that is sweet to me, and said, “Hey – have this flyer. It’s for a magazine for sex workers called $pread… you should come to our party next Saturday.”

It struck me severely: A Ho Knows A Ho. Much like other truisms [A Faggot Loves A Femme; A Masculine-Spectrum Homo Loves The Forest; There Will Always Be Weirdos I Love Who Act Like Thoreau]. A Ho Knows A Ho.

Being seen wasn’t as bad as I’d worried. It was one of us who’d seen me. I blinked, she smiled, “I’m Jessie,” Which name should I give her? It was my stop so I frantically said “Thanks!” and hustled off.

I got into the bar with my giant bag making sure to tuck the flyer safely into my sticky sexy underlayer and looked at the asymmetrical haircuts, the pants, the tilted baseball caps; I got the cell phone-pull-away-then-back-to-the-phone glances, the sideways looks that don’t linger, the up and downs that go too fast. I stood at the bar fisting a $20 and I realized: I am an alien here. The girls were nicer and friendlier to me at the fucking foot party. The difference was solidarity versus competition. I was half drunk though, and decided to run with the mood, being: Fuck. It. I was a goddamn foot fetish girl, and no judgy lesbo who also probably got here due to Craigslist is going to ruin my night. As the minutes ticked by, I made small talk with girls who pulled away quickly, thinking someone would see them getting talked to. I worried that all the sex I was going to be having this year would be for money because the girls the masked internet version of me was finding were not going to get me off, and then I looked at the sea of tacky hats, and half buttoned men’s shirts and thought: if I am going to be nameless in my sexuality, I sure as fuck won’t be doing anything that depresses me while at it. I went home.

The next weekend, I followed Jessie’s directions, and went to the event, watched the performances and got the magazine. Inside was a little call for volunteers, and I was so glad to be seen in my natural nighttime state that I volunteered. I learned InDesign. I made friends. I ended up Art Director and threw fabulous parties, where fake names or real names or names for a night were all game.

Damien Luxe is a Brooklyn-based, often-touring community activist and cultural producer in sex workers’ and queer femme communities. Her work focuses on celebrating extremes of femininity; feminist/queer archiving and storytelling, and on building and skillsharing a new framework to effect change and enjoy life from. D’Luxe is co-founder of New York’s Femme Family [femmefamily.com], she’s the co-creative director of the Hart Collective [hartcollective.com]; and she Art Directed the award-winning $pread Magazine [spreadmagazine.org] for three years. A repatriated expat by way of Toronto, DIY tech geek, communications designer [heelsonwheelsdesign.com], and working-class gone hustling-class high femme fatale, Damien loves rhinestones and anything dramatic on wheels. Download tracks, read stories and her how-to blog: www.axondluxe.com