Storytime: Episode 4

People...I’m a quitter. I quit jobs with such regularity that I’m fairly certain I’ve had more last days than firsts. I’m pretty sure this makes me ripe fodder for an A Current Affair expose on the youth of today and how we’re the absolute worst, but so far they haven’t come calling. Bastards. Anyway, this is a story about why I quit the first brothel I worked at. Yup, a story, so you guessed it it’s time to grab the bucket of popcorn, cosy up on the bearskin rug and get comfy cos IT’S STORYTIME MOTHERFUCKERS!

I’d been working at My First Brothel (patent pending) for a while before I started realising there were things I didn’t like about the place. It was kind of like your first serious relationship, where in the beginning all you can see is the magic and wonder of sex and by the end you find that chiselling dried bodily fluids off the wall has become a little passé and you start wondering if this is really the person for you. I honestly can’t remember how long I was there for before the veneer of awesome started coming off. It happened slowly, starting with the brothel itself. I realised the place just wasn’t sexy. In fact, it was ridiculously tacky and the epitome of what my mother termed “all money, no class”. It looked like an ageing set piece from Scarface, the scene where Al Pacino has to turn to sex work to support his crippling coke habit. The blue neon lights everywhere started to grate on me, almost as much as the faux marble busts and the soft focus erotica prints framed on the wall.

As I’ve mentioned before, when I started at the brothel I had made a conscious effort to eliminate all of my preconceived notions about what the sex industry would be like. I spent so much time checking my privilege and determinedly defying stereotypes that I forgot that sometimes clichés have come about for a reason. My First Brothel was every inch a cliché. From the jaded ex-sex worker as the head madam, to the waxed chest, open shirted, gold chain wearing head manager, down to the incredibly garish and gaudy decor in every booking room. However all of this would have been tolerable if it had been in any way a pleasant or supportive work environment. It was not. My gold chain wearing manager was a living case study in “small man syndrome and I’m fairly convinced that he would use his large leather office chair and mahogany desk to re-enact scenes from James Bond when no one was looking.

 But Gold Chains was nothing compared to the other hostesses I worked alongside. They seemed determined that I should learn, as they had, that sex workers were nothing more than human cattle. My First Brothel (MFB) had no designated “break room” as most parlours do. The break room or girls room is traditionally a secluded lounge with a television, some couches and a collection of books to keep the service providers occupied in the time between bookings. The break room in most parlours is designed to be a safe space for the workers to unwind after difficult bookings, a place to socialise with their co-workers and a respite from the boredom of sometimes going a whole shift without making a booking. It’s a pretty crucial space to provide even though there's no government mandate that you do so. MFB did not provide this. The only room in the whole building that had remained free from the overtly gauche renovations was in fact the worker’s change room. I spent a large amount of my childhood on an industrial estate and following truckies around, and I can say in all honesty the workers change room at MFB was about on par with a decades old highway truck stop. It had the flickering fluoro lights overhead that were part way out of their casings, the locker doors were usually most of the way off their hinges and the floor tiles were cracked with mouldy grouting. If disappointment were embodied in a room, this would have been it. But even if they had wanted to, the girls were not permitted to spend time in here. If they were missing for more than five minutes a hostess was sent to give them the bums rush.

And woe betide you if you were a smoker! Smoking breaks were allocated to once an hour for a period of five minutes. If you were in a booking during this time or doing an intro, you could forget about getting your nicotine fix until the next hour rolled around. If you’ve ever held down any kind of paid employment, you’ll understand that for most people it’s impossible to be ‘on’ for the entire duration of your shift. If you’re an office or shop worker your time will probably be split between work and social media. If you’re a trade worker or even a medical worker, you’ll probably take time to duck out for food, cigarettes, check your phone, etc. But the point is very few people spend all of their time at work actually working. We do this to break the monotony of repetitive tasks, or to give our minds a break from intense concentration. If you were a sex worker at MFB then you were the exception. Because there was nowhere for them to escape and be out of the eye of management, the workers were expected to be in the lounge for their entire shift. They couldn’t read a book or play on their phone and if they started talking to their co-workers in groups bigger than two, they were told to break it off. All of this was done to perpetuate the fantasy for clients. MFB figured that when a client walked into the gaudy monstrosity that was their lounge, they wanted to be met with beautiful, semi-naked women lounging across the furniture, eagerly anticipating the opportunity to fawn over the client. Truth be told, it’s not a bad thing to aim for from a business perspective, especially since movies have taught us that brothels exist in another realm of existence where song and dance numbers abound. From a human perspective though, you’re reducing your workers down to props and set dressing and leaving them bored out of their minds for the majority of their shifts. You don’t want that. Because when you do that to people they will find a multitude of creative ways to distract themselves. The most popular of which will probably end up being social experiments involving hostesses and their feelings (but more on that another day).

 MFB didn’t just actively encourage us to keep our distance from the service providers, they openly forbade it. If a hostess was caught fraternising with a sex worker outside of work hours, or even just showing favouritism on the floor, then there was a good chance the hostess would be fired. The logic behind this was that if a hostess befriended a worker in their own time and the two became genuine friends, then the hostess would be more actively promoting the service provider to clients when she was on the floor. This would make the other workers jealous and create more social intrigue and therefore chaos. It wasn’t an altogether unsound theory, but it did create a new problem in the way the hostesses were expected to deal with the service providers. We were encouraged to dehumanise them. If a girl said she couldn’t work because a family member had died, you were expected to be sceptical and make a mental note of it the next time she cancelled a shift. Unfortunately I’m not particularly good at this and doled out the empathy like I would if it was any other workplace. This endeared me to a few workers for a while, but ended up getting me in a whole mess of trouble since I then became known as a bleeding heart who would let anyone go home for any reason, without consequences. This in turn got me a stern talking to from management. It became something of an ethical quandary for me and became just one more contributing factor to my impending departure.

I would love to say that when I left I did so in a storm of social justice outrage and left behind an establishment that had truly changed. Sadly, this was not the case. I caught a cold. I was used to working in office environments where, when you had a cold, people treated you like a pariah and expected that you would do the right thing and sit at home in your jim-jams until you were no longer infectious. MFB did not see things this way. I was expected to come in and work. In my mind, this flew in the face of any and all business logic. There was a very likely chance that I would infect not just my fellow hostesses, but a large number of the service providers and also clients, since they expected me to be making coffees and changing towels and sheets all night. I also highly doubted that the first thing a client wanted to see upon stepping over the threshold was myself, dabbing at my be-snotted nostrils and crying silently and miserably into their latte. But no, management made the decision to keep me on my feet for fourteen-hour shifts, day after day throughout my illness. The result of which was that a cold I could have recovered from in about 48 hours, lasted a week and a half. By which stage I’d had enough. All of the things that had been mildly irritating before now suddenly became insufferable and I told management where they could stick it.

Alas, my instructions for management vis-a-vie their genitals were a little premature as I had at that stage not received my pay for the fortnight. This meant I had to go crawling back to request my wages. I would like to say that I have much in common with the all black, all male doo wop group The Temptations, especially in so far as neither of us are too proud to beg. Unfortunately The Temptations are better people than me in many ways. I refused to return to MFB to get my pay check. So, and I hang my head in shame as I write this, my mother intervened. Dear old mum decided to take matters into her own hands and contacted the parlour to enquire as to where my wages were. They told her that I did not exist, I have never existed, and if by some mistake of nature I did exist then I certainly wasn't one of their hostesses and perhaps I had told her a lie and I had actually been working as a sex worker, which would explain why they had no record of me existing. And that was how I lost over $2k in wages, had an awkward conversation with my mother and vowed to never work in the sex industry again. Obviously that vow never quite stuck, because in a few years I was back, working at a different and in many ways much better parlour. What I learned from My First Brothel though, was that however much I checked my privilege and resolved not to succumb to stereotype thinking, in many cases the clichés and tropes I had been exposed to were somewhat rooted in truth. This didn’t make those stereotypes acceptable or something that people should be encouraged to fall back on, it made them a signpost that things in the industry should be changed for the benefit of the people working in it. I’m still waiting for that change to come.

 

That is all.

 

You may go now.