17 Sep 2017

Paying For It: stories from the sex industry

From Standing Room Only, 12:30 pm on 17 September 2017
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Photo: supplied

Blair* and Satine* share stories they've gathered from fellow New Zealand sex workers in the documentary theatre piece Paying For It, which plays in Wellington next month.

The pair hope the play will help humanise sex workers and break down public preconceptions about the kind of people who work in their industry.

The common concept of a prostitute is a conventionally attractive white woman, Blair says.

"It's always the high-class escort who sees politicians blah-blah-blah or the street worker who was killed in the gutter - and you never get the in between, which is a massive part of the sex industry … We just wanted to be like 'Hey, it's a job, and there's lots of us'.

After Paying For It premiered at the NZ Fringe Festival in March, the show won a development grant and was extended to 90 minutes. It now includes the voices of a street worker, trans workers and "pre-decrim" sex workers.

Audience members came up to the performers after the Fringe Festival performance to say they had a new view of sex workers and felt sorry for stigmatising them in the past, Satine says.

"That was really cool. If we could reach one person and make them understand it's just a job, it's not a definition of who we are as a person… I think we absolutely achieved it."

There are positives to working in the sex industry and the show's creators wanted it to present a balanced view of the industry, she says.

"I live in a bubble. I live in a beautiful, liberal odd little world where being a sex worker isn't a problem, but I realise a lot of people have different thoughts and different feelings about the job."

Most people only encounter sex workers if they're booking them, so their concept largely comes via the media, Blair says.

"They don't actually get to just meet a sex worker and be like 'Oh, you're just a person. You like flat whites, as well."

In general, female sex workers "get a lot more hate" than males, he says.

"I'm a man, I'm allowed to do with my sexuality what I want, whereas with women it's like 'giving it away' type thing and they're losing a part of themselves."

Sex workers are "amazing strong people" because they have to be, Blair says.

"It's great and wonderful but it can be very difficult at times."

Blair - who says his youngest client so far was 18 and his oldest 89 - shares "everything" in the show.

"It's really kind of relieving because there's nothing to hide anymore. It's the hardest thing I've ever done in my life but also one of the most rewarding things."

When it comes to fun in their line of work, niche roleplay jobs are up there, Blair says.

One of his favourite bookings ever was with a guy who thought he looked like the Game of Thrones character King Joffrey Baratheon and even sent him a script to learn.

"I was so into it. I binge-watched a lot of Game of Thrones just to make sure I had the character down. I tried the accent, I can not do accents to save my life. I had to give that one up like ten minutes into the booking. This is so weird, I just happen to look like this character in this TV show and now I get to do a roleplay session about it - and that's so much fun. Bookings like that just don't feel like work 'cause you walk away and you're like 'That was so fun'.

Satine once had a client who desired to play the role of a Trump voter.

"He'd seen the errors of his ways and he wanted to be admonished and punished. It was a political domination scenario. I had to exact revenge upon him. It was a very, very specific client request, but it was fun … You're just like 'I can't believe this is my job. This is ridiculous and amazing and I love it'."

*Blair and Satine are not their real names.

Paying For It - An Insider's' Guide to the NZ Sex Industry Vol 2 opens at Bats Theatre in Wellington on the 10th of October.

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