Saturday, December 5, 2009

GAATW Call For Submissions

Reposting a message from Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women

Dear Members and Friends,

The Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW) is launching an international Art Action contest titled Rights! Art! Action!

Almost without exception anti-human trafficking campaigns have used words and images of violence, distress and horror to draw people's attention and provoke them into taking action. All too often we have shown women's fearful faces and crouching bodies. And yet many times we have been concerned with the ethics and voyeurism of those depictions.

We think it is time to move beyond images of victimhood and vulnerability. We invite you to draw on visual imagination and rights affirming politics, to create empowering images with strong messages. Take up the challenge, think creatively to show the strength and agency of women.

Who: Human rights advocates from around the world.

What: You can submit paintings, photographs, posters, drawings, banners ... or any kind of visual art. Email us the photograph of your entry.

Please be sure to fill in a submission form and send it to

A roundtrip ticket to Bangkok and entry into GAATW's international members' congress in July 2010. Selected submissions will be displayed at the congress.

When: Deadline is 20 February 2010. Winners will be announced on 8 March 2010
We need your help to find ground-breaking, positive and inspirational visual representations that depict the strength and agency of women.


GAATW International Secretariat

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

3 Naked Ladies

I'm a guest on this week's edition of the always-fascinating 3 Naked Ladies with Jodi Sh Doff and Lauri Shaw.

You can read it here

And at Lauri's own website

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Iceland 2006

I made it to Iceland before the nationwide crash, although I was there to witness the micro-crash--the caving in of my club. The misfortunes of 'Club B'Iceland's First Stripclub were heralded by the arrival of two burly thugs who marched in a few hours into a Thursday night, spat out something incomprehensible, sent the manager running away and forced the club to a halt.

"Get out of here" the house mom insisted, sensing violence.

She took Chantal and I--the only two dancers she liked--for a drive through Reykjavik, ending at a different club, where she advised we might think about working. I never asked who the thugs were and why they had chased us out of Club B. It didn't really matter. It closed soon after.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Guam 2006

I decided to go to Guam while smoking opium by the Mekong River in Laos. I had come to South-East Asia to break from my increasingly toxic lifestyle in Tokyo. Erika had been there for two months already, mostly alone on a Thai island, she had been working in Tokyo for even longer than me and I suspect had hurt herself more there, she needed the time away. We reconnected on a sultry evening mid December in Bangkok, she received me with an embrace and I felt as if I had been pulled from a car-wreck. She examined the damage thoroughly, my face was swollen, my eyes sunken, for myself I felt that my body was screaming; it was used, hurt, broken. I had had a lot of fun in Tokyo but what had I done to myself?
We stayed in Bangkok only to see Christmas through, which she, an Israeli,threw herself into celebrating with far more enthusiasm than I. Boxing Day we took a bus up to Laos. The next few weeks were a cloud of opium, rivers, temples, smiles, singing voices, yoga, hash milkshakes and, disappointingly, Friends episodes. At some point I decided I’d go work in Guam, I already had the information, I knew that they would pay for my ticket, give me a place to live and a salary, rationalizing it as a paid vacation, I decided I had nothing to lose.
The club manager had never answered my emails requesting an address to mail my stripper clothes to, so recklessly I packed them in my suitcase and strolled up to customs with them anyway. The officer eyed me suspiciously--looking back it must have been obvious--but it was late at night, she looked tired, so she told me that it was my lucky day and let me through anyway. I called the manager and got a message telling me that she was in California for the next few days, which left me alone in the airport with only the name of the club I was supposed to be working at. I went outside to look for a taxi, there was only one car there out of which I watched a hulking, tattooed Chamorro get out, he turned out to be the club’s bouncer sent to the airport to pick me up.
I was received warmly by the club owner, an energetic Chinese man whose short temper and fury I would not have guessed at in that moment. After welcoming me and gathering that I had no desire to work that night, he produced a roll of bills from his breast pocket and slid one in to the bouncer’s hand ordering him to take me out to eat. The single bill would easily have covered more than the Denny’s Grand Slam breakfast I was treated to but I kept quiet. The conversation over the meal concerned the bouncer’s recent jail time and trouble with the ex wife, his responses to questions about the club were minimal--besides letting me know that I needed to get a tan.
I met my roommates the next day, one heavily tattooed woman who had not been as lucky as I at customs; she had been found in possession of a crack pipe and was unable to leave the island due to jail time, court proceedings and rehab. The other roommate was quiet--sweet but very paranoid. We were a small group of dancers at the club and while there was never any shortage of drama, we were quite close.
I went to Guam with the intention of having a paid vacation and that is how I treated it, I made money but not as much as I would expect nowadays, I was lazy and confused, it was my first time working in the American system, in Japan the Mama-San seats you with the customers, you do not approach them yourselves, this took some time and reluctance on my part in overcoming.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Interview with Lily Burana

My interview with Lily Burana is over at The Rumpus

(I like the bit about the salmon.)

Coming Out - My Place in the Water Trade

Posted at Harlot's Parlour

Many years ago I travelled to Japan and accidently became a hostess. Not so many years ago I went back to Japan to be a hostess again, arriving this time in a dimmer Tokyo picking up the dregs of a recession and the slashing of the expense accounts that had fed me a few years earlier. I wasn’t going to get rich hostessing this time around.
After being fired by two clubs for not getting enough dohans, and then suffering through three weeks at one of the worst clubs on the block–-run by a megalomaniac ex-boy band manager and a mama who made us wear her old dresses then accused us of tearing them because we were all so fat --I did the sensible thing and started at a strip club instead.

I though this was pretty interesting: me working at a strip club, who would have thought? I couldn’t wait to email my friends back in the UK with the news. I was pretty gutted by the reaction.
Talking about stripping lost me friends, set me up for derision, concern, and anger that I was selling out women. Stripping hurts all of us, I was told.

There is much to say about coming out as a stripper, but in my case what intrigues me is the comparison to the disclosure of my first foray into nightwork/sex work/adult entertainment, whatever you want to call it (I like the Japanese term mizu-shobai—“water trade”--its fits me because that’s where I got my feet wet.)

The first time I went to Japan and got a job as a hostess my stories were received with fascination, excitement and questions from my friends about how they could get such a job. Huge contrast to how the same people reacted when I told them I was a stripper. Now of course hostessing and stripping occupy quite different places within the sex industry. You might say that hostessing barely belongs there at all in that there is no inherent nudity or real/simulated sex involved. However the basis of my friends’ concerns (whose innocent minds didn’t know about lap dances--they thought that stripping just meant prancing around topless) seemed to be that I was setting women back by catering to men…and so on… Much of their concern could have equally been directed at my hostessing years before, but it wasn’t.

Example: In the strip club I undress for customers who don’t have to go through the standard courtship. Regardless of any lack of social graces, or hygiene, all they have to do is pull their wallet out.
In the hostess club a customer asks for me--through the request system (shimei)--or I am told by a manager--through the rotation system--to sit with him and drink together. I do so and it is expected that I will not refuse, no matter how rude or repulsive he may be.
Which is what ultimately convinced me to stay at the strip club and not go back to the hostess bar. In the strip club I worked for myself, the club did not give me an hourly wage and so was not in the position to tell me whom to sit with. If a customer was rude to me I was allowed to walk away; in the hostess bar I was expected to grin through any comments a customer might make, no matter how rude or offensive. “You’re too fat”, “your tits are too small” are remarks that I would respond to with a cuss, hair-flip and spin on the heel in a strip club—in the hostess club they were tolerated, and standard. Similarly in the hostess club if a customer made a lunge for my boobs my response was supposed to be to playfully hold his hands and gently tell him what a “naughty boy” he’d been. Similar behaviour, depending on the usefulness of the bouncers, got him thrown out of the strip club. Or I might have just slapped him—the hostess club would have fired me for that.

When I asked my friends why they were opposed so strongly to stripping they protested that I was letting women down. That this was never a concern when I was a hostess makes me wonder if there is something inherent in the nudity that plays into the hands of our enemy. If I had kept my clothes on would it have been OK?

But all that’s not the point, I’m not saying that one job was better than the other—in some ways I liked them both. What I meant to talk about was the delicate line you have to toe when you are talking about your work.
When I started stripping I had never really heard of sex worker’s rights or sex-positive feminism. I wish I had because I could have used the support of a community, at least to know that there were others out there like me. The message I got was that it was all wrong. So I shut up. I felt marooned, over the edge of what was acceptable. So I just kept quiet and hoped no one would find out. But it is in this silence where dishonesty breeds. If we can’t tell our stories then no one gets anywhere closer to understanding—the stereotypes just continue along unchecked.

Then there’s my own dishonesty. When I did speak up I felt like I had to pick a side and stay on it--I had to defend stripping against popular opinion. To my friends I was the spokesperson for the industry so I wanted to paint as pretty a picture as possible. My true feelings are a lot more ambiguous than that—there are a lot of shitty things about stripping, but I didn’t want to mention them so not to give the ‘other side’ leverage.

I remember one customer sneering that all the strippers at his club traveled miles from their hometowns to work there “they’re not exactly proud of their jobs” he said. I wanted to scream at him: “No it’s you that does this to us. You force your stigma onto us and tell us that we should be ashamed to be strippers. You silence us and then take our silence as proof of the shame we should feel for working in the sex industry.”
My silence wasn’t shame. I’m not ashamed. I don’t know if I would say that I am proud to have been a stripper, I’ve never been particularly proud of any job I’ve ever had. What I am proud of though is making the best out of what I had--on my own and on my own terms. For that I can say I am proud. I wish I could say it louder.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

'Three Stripper Memoirs' at The Rumpus

I actually put this up months ago, but I'm trying to put all my stuff back together..

Early on in her stripper memoir Diablo Cody declares “strippers are the most fascinating, inscrutable animals I’d ever observed.” If the number of stripper memoirs that have appeared in the past few years are anything to go by, publishers agree. For a marginalized profession strippers are surprisingly willing to publish their stories. Keep reading

Friday, October 2, 2009

Allison Anders: Art is Not Enough

I always loved Allison Anders, Gas Food Lodging was one of my favourites films as a teenager, so it pleases me to read this piece from her. Posted at Miss Whistle

Allison Anders on Polanski: Art Is Not Enough

"Art should never be held above our decency to each other. And when an artist commits a crime, especially a sex crime and especially against a child, we do art no favor by giving artists a break we would never give to anyone else."

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Hostesses and Sexuality in Japan

--Originally Posted at Harlot's Parlour--

In the past month there seems to have been a piquing of interest in Japan’s hostess clubs. Having worked as first a hostess and then a stripper in Tokyo between 1998 and 2007, I was curious to see what was being written.

First of all there was the NY Times article about Japanese women “turning” to hostessing in a recession for lack of other options. The article was picked up by many sites, including Gawker who supplied this headline: Downtrodden Japanese Women Turn to Almost-Whoring in Droves and then there was the serialization of (in the Daily Mail of course) and publication of this book: Tokyo Hostess: Inside the Shocking World of Tokyo Nightclub Hostessing by Claire Campbell.

Firstly, I find judgments on the Japanese and the Japanese sex industry and how ”weird” they are tiresome. Going beyond that however I’m not sure exactly what point the NY Times was trying to make with this piece. Hostessing is far from new and it has been a long time since it was quite so ostracized as the article wants to make out. To give an example; Lisa Louis in her 1992 book Butterflies of the Night, quotes one mama-san as saying “There is much less prejudice than there was twenty years ago. Nowadays it’s just another occupation”. However the NY Times did an OK job of showing that hostessing can bring wealth and respect to women, without making it sound like a desperate, dangerous, miserable situation (the approach Gawker preferred to take.)
They then followed up the article with commentary from “experts” – several Japanese scholars, were any of them hostesses? Of course not. Rather they gave us academics worrying that such a profession as hostessing is getting “glamorized” by the media. I am of the opinion that a job “which can easily pay $100,000 a year and as much as $300,000” does a pretty good job of ‘glamorizing’ itself. However sociology lecturer Aya Ezawa sees it as a societal issue, that there is something wrong with a society in which a woman can earn great money by entertaining men.*

“At a time of economic downturn, it is worrisome that the media in Japan and abroad portray hostessing as a glamorous job and a woman's road to success. Instead of focusing on the hostesses, it would make more sense to examine the attitudes of the men who are willing to pay a high price for being entertained, served, and pleased by women with short skirts and heavy makeup.”

Anthropology professor Nobue Suzuki seems to try to equate the hostess business with something that poorer women with fewer opportunities do, again hinting at ‘desperation’ in taking such a job.

“Prior to the current boom of hostessing, for the past 30 years or so numerous immigrant women and men from Southeast Asia, Latin America, and the former Soviet bloc have also taken up this job.”

She fails to mention that for decades Japanese hostess clubs have been filled with Western European, American, Australian and New Zealander women. Less so in the past few years due to an increased focus on illegal immigration, but there are still many there.

The white Western woman in Tokyo is the theme of Campbell’s book. It takes as its focus the 2000 murder of an English woman working in Tokyo as a hostess (Lucie Blackman) and tries to draw conclusions about Japanese ‘perversion’ from it. Anyone who remembers the Blackman case may recall the prevalence of the articles and TV specials that came out around this time like the Australian 60 Minutes special “Predators in Tokyo” discussed here.

“Every year, hundreds and hundred’s of bright eyed young Australian girls head for the bright lights of Tokyo, every one of them is in grave danger.”
— 60 Minutes, 27 February 2005

And this article from Time discussing Blackman’s murderer Joji Obara:

“Susumu Oda, professor of psychiatry at Gakuin University… says Obara is a "peculiar symbol" of men of his generation, "because he was obsessed with Caucasian women." “
-Death of a Hostess, Time Magazine 7 May 2001

Opinion at the time seemed to be that Japan is an inherently dangerous destination for young white women because Japanese men are ‘obsessed’ with them, and sick and perverted of course too. Campbell seems to take this approach as a basis for her book. Here’s some of the blurb from the publishers:

“… she did not know that behind the lights and excitement of Tokyo's nightclub scene lies a terrible darkness. Many beautiful blonde Western girls have found themselves lured into performing sexual acts for money, seeing their job slowly change from nightclub hostess into that of high-class prostitute. …. Clare Campbell lifts the lid on the often horrifyingly sleazy world of Tokyo nightclubs.”

As I was starting to write this, I found Susanna Jones’ review of Campbell’s book in The Guardian Jones rightly notes that writing on the murder of a British teacher in Japan does not fit in to a book called ‘Tokyo Hostess’. Lindsay Ann Hawker was murdered in Ichikawa, far from Roppongi where most foreign hostesses work. Including her murder in this book and somehow attempting to connect it to Blackman’s, because they were both foreign women in Japan, is really perpetuating the racist cliché of ‘Japanese man obsessed with gaijin.’ On Hawker’s death Campbell writes "Was it exquisitely Oriental or just plain barking mad?" Jones counters this by mentioning the murder of a woman in Brighton, UK “Was it exquisitely British or just ‘plain barking mad?’”

Both the NY Times and Clare Campbell are taking something very specific and trying to draw conclusions about an inherent Japanese-ness in them: the “subservient” role of the hostess means women are oppressed in Japan; the murder of white women means the Japanese have a perverse fascination with Western women.

I have to agree with Susanna Jones when she concludes her review by saying that instead of thinking of it as “a place of murderous sexual deviants… we should grow up about Japan, stop wondering whether or not we can comprehend it and just try to get to know it a bit better.”

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Stewardess Fantasy Sex Club

From Pink Box: Inside Japan's Sex Clubs by Joan Sinclair

Tokyo Stories: 2

I didn't last long at Greengrass either, and I truly hated that place. This club had a stiff atmosphere and a skeleton in the closet.
Greengrass, or Casanova as it was called then, was the hostess club where Lucie Blackman had worked. This was where she met the man who killed her. Lucie, a 20 year old former British Airways hostess from Kent, England came to Tokyo in 2000 intrigued, as many girls were, by travelers' descriptions of Tokyo as a goldmine for young Western women. The rumors, and they were true, told that you could make a huge amount of cash by just hanging out in bars with old rich men. Working as a hostess in Japan involved topping up the customer's whiskey glass, lighting his cigarette, singing karaoke, listening to and feigning fascination at his stories, all of which was to be done with elegance and dressed in an evening gown. The hostess was supposed to make the customer like her so much that he would take her out to dinner before coming in to the club together; this arrangement was called a dohan. Securing dohans was the point of all the smiling and feigning in the club, for a hostess would be penalized for not meeting her weekly quota. A customer upon whom you could rely for regular dohans was your customer, Lucie Blackman was murdered by her customer, Joji Obara. The misfit son of Korean immigrants Joji frequented Tokyo's hostess clubs. He was known in many, including Cadeau whose owner Kazuo later appeared in the press with a story about how he had personally rushed one of his hostesses to hospital with suspected poisoning after dinner with Obara. I didn't believe this story as I couldn’t believe that Kazuo would care so much about any of his girls.
It was in Casanova/Greengrass where Joji met Lucie. She disappeared after their dohan and was not seen again until her dismembered body was found buried on a beach. Obara was charged with drugging, raping and murdering Lucie and of the manslaughter of a Canadian hostess in the early 90's. He was acquitted of Lucie's murder, despite a mountain of evidence against him.
In my native Great Britain this story understandably received a lot of attention: pretty young blonde butchered by foreigner so far from home. Perhaps it was insensitive of me to worry that the intensity of coverage; the news reports, TV specials and magazine articles would lead my parents to figure out what it was I had been doing in Tokyo in the summer of 1998 when I said I was just working in an ex-pat bar. Fortunately the subject has never come up, our family does not talk about things that make us uncomfortable.

In a half-hearted attempt to distance itself from the murder, Casanova changed its name to Greengrass. But that is all that it changed, many of the customers and all of the staff were the same in 2005; the same unsmiling Burmese waiter and sour manager. We all knew but we were forbidden from saying it, a whispered "don't mention Lucie" hung heavy in the air. Occasionally at the sushi bar after work a few words could be teased out of a few; "yes, I knew her", "I took her for sushi one night", "I saw her the night before she disappeared".
In truth, I didn't last long enough at Greengrass to pry any further, I was fired on my way to the dressing room at the end of a quiet Monday night, presumably in retaliation for the evening’s poor takings.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Tokyo Stories

Club Cadeau, my hostess club, had a reputation for firing girls, the reason they gave was usually that these girls weren't making enough 'dohans' but who knows, it was possibly just the whim of the cokehead, gambling, yakuza affiliated owner; Kazuo. I got the chop barely one month after starting. I wasn't very good at getting dohans, I didn't have the patience for the tricky negotiations it took to get one; I hated calling my customers and pretending to like them/miss them/ really want to see them tonight; mostly I hated the dohans. After the initial thrill of being treated to dinner in some of Tokyo's best restaurants, and the anticipation of a bonus subsided, I just felt embarrassed being there, in public with these men twice my age.
I wasn't very good at getting dohans so Club Cadeau fired me: "tonight last night" were manager Hatori's exact words. Poor Hatori, the task of getting rid of girls fell to him. He was unsmiling and distant in the club, highly professional; he didn't want to become friendly with girls he would inevitably have to fire at some point.
After Hatori's news I went into the closet which functioned as our dressing room with tears in my eyes and filled with panic. Jasmine, a platinum blonde Australian whom I had partied with a few times, calmly instructed me to immediately go up the street to Greengrass, another hostess club where two previously terminated Cadeau hostesses were now working. I didn't change out of my work clothes, a knee length silky dress now groaning at the seams thanks to my increasing alcohol intake and post work snacking, and hurried over to Greengrass. After some confusion on the 6th floor of the building; the club is opposite a ladyboy club whose door handle is an impressively large brass cock and for some skewed reason the sign saying Greengrass is next to the cock handle, I went in. I filled out an application, lied about my number of regular customers and was told to start on Monday.

Raki Raki The club opposite Greengrass.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Venues I Have Known: Foresters, Southend

I am almost embarrassed to admit having worked there; no wait, I am most definitely embarrassed. This place was a pit, it almost certainly remains so, located in the English seaside resort of Southend. Southend, like most English resorts, has declined considerably over the past few decades, it's a pretty miserable and neglected place, especially during the winter which was when I worked there. The Foresters bar was unchanged since it had opened in the late sixties, everything was a relic from that era; the decor, music, staff and customers. I had to drag myself onto the train every Friday night I went there and I cringed each time I walked down the promenade to the bar, past the games arcades and teenage drunks, but I never missed a booking because the money was unfathomably good, especially for a two and a half hour shift.
While living in London I worked solely through strip-pub agencies, staying away from the big London clubs because my Graduate studies would not allow for their scheduling demands. The agency with whom I got most of my work banned their dancers from working at Foresters which was booked through another agency due to some legal wrangling over who had the contract and why. In my defense I wasn't aware of the ban until after my first shift at the Foresters and then only from second hand knowledge, anyway I continued to take bookings there, keeping them very quiet. Most of the venues booked were outside of London yet still generally easy to get to and from by public transport. Southend, however, was a little further away and the last train back to London left 50 minutes before the bar closed meaning that I had no choice but to hire the services of a driver. Agency dancers are fiercely protective of their drivers and their drivers' numbers so I was left with Smelly Paul, the only available driver. Smelly Paul was always available, even at the last minute for reasons which his nickname explains. The journey home with him was a misery, the window had to be opened wide even in sub-zero temperatures and delusional stories of his affairs with previous strippers had to be tolerated. He even recounted the story, later verified by a friend, of his arrest on suspicion of the murder of a dancer. He was creepy, so much so that he was not allowed in the bars I worked having been banned for allegedly trying to photograph strippers. Worst of all though was the smell. Oh the smell, it was the kind of smell that got trapped in my nostrils and couldn't be shook for long after I slammed his car door shut and ran up to my flat. Kinder strippers had presented him with toiletry sets as gifts hoping he'd get the hint; less kind strippers had just let him know straight up: "You stink Paul!" Neither approach had made a dent in the stink, leaving me with a test of endurance in the hour long journey from a bar I despised.
My shifts at the Foresters came every second Friday which coincided with my MA Borges course, already a cause of anxiety for me, being taught entirely in Spanish, my level of which had deteriorated massively. Every second Friday was a difficult end to the week for me. At the end of the class I had to fly out of the UCL building to Euston underground station to Fenchurch railway station to Southend-on -Sea, skimming my class notes on the way. I walked down the promenade to the sound of the whirring video games and the din of pennies chugging out of the slot machines, past the shuttered ice cream and souvenir shops with the wind off the sea whipping at my face. I never drank when I worked in England so the memories of the bars are clear. Foresters, like all South East England strip pubs operated on a jug collection system; prior to performing a striptease the dancer would walk around the bar with a pint glass in the expectation that each customer would drop at least a
Pound coin in it. Sadly the Foresters did not have a minimum donation policy, it was the only pub I worked in that did not eject patrons who tipped below the Pound minimum or did not tip at all. Foresters did not have an entry fee either, nor functioning bouncers; three elements which combined to create a few exasperating nights; squabbles over the indignity of 'shrapnel' being put in my glass, young chavs insisting that they would not be tipping because they 'didn't have to'--the notion of paying for the entertainment being somewhat lost on them--I mean really, would you go to the cinema and expect to watch the movie for free? Anyway, as I said, the money was good, despite these setbacks.
The London area strip pubs are very different to the stripclubs with which you are likely familiar, they are generally dives--crappy decor, lapdances done on a bench in a corner somewhere, no stage (you dance around of the pub floor) and a lingering smell of stale ale. I don't know whether or not club dancers look down on pub dancers, or if the dancers from the higher tier pubs Browns and White Horse look down on agency dancers with their flighty nature and unwillingness to commit to a schedule, but I was happy working the pub circuit. I almost always preferred a neighbourhood dive bar to the upscale classy gentleman's club experience, that's just where I was comfortable.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Friday, June 12, 2009


Friday, May 29, 2009

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Who me?