BUT WHAT IS YOUR REAL NAME?

It’s gotten pretty late in the morning. The bartenders are wiping the tables and emptying the ashtrays, but my customer hands me more cash to extend the private dance. He is a local and his flat is just nearby – I know it for a fact because he told me nine or ten times. I hesitate, but eventually I take the cash and put it in my purse. I straddle him and start grinding on him with an automated motion, dry and passionless. My hands are heavy around his neck, my lips pursed together. Smiling costs extra.

“Will you give me your number now?”

“The answer is still the same.”

“Why not?”

“We spoke about it already.”

“My flat is just around the corner. I will make you breakfast if you come home with me.” He winks. “Eggs and avocado. Just think of that yolk melting on the toast bread when you cut the egg.”

“You said you are an ass guy, right?”

I turn around and wiggle my butt against his lap. If I stay in this position, I won’t have to see his face. As I lean back and rest my head in the nook between his shoulder and neck, his mouth articulates sounds straight into my ear.

“Breakfast… Eggs…. Avocado.”

I stop the automated motion and turn around, grabbing his arms to immobilise him. 

“Will you stop talking? You just spent one hundred Euros for a dance and I am grinding my naked body on you. Can you just enjoy it and make your money worth it, instead of wasting your energy trying to convince me?”

His eyes pop out for a second, startled at the stripper who dared to break the fantasy.

“What can I do to convince you?”

Every night I work at the strip club I get asked at least once for my number and what I do when I finish my shift. Considering that I finish at six in the morning, it’s bold of them to even think I want to do anything else but collapse into sleep in my own bed, alone. I call it cis-male entitlement. They ask me because they are interested in me, but what makes me interested in them? To put it bluntly, the interest I have in them is the financial transaction. If you take that out, I am left with no interest in having an interaction with them. Although it’s true that some work encounters can result in a real mutual connection, the problem with most of the customers who want to see me privately for free is that they make everything about themselves. They think they can convince me by repeating how sexy I am, but that’s about their object of desire. What about you, boy? What could make you my object of desire? Offering to make me breakfast sounds like a pretty low standard to me – I can afford to buy my own avocados.

It’s as if they all read the same script, printed on recycled paper, right before entering the strip club. On page two the script goes: But what is your real name? Many customers are so obsessed with knowing your real name that they wouldn’t change the topic until you tell them. I recently approached this business man at work. He had good manners and he was charming, but to any sentence I spoke to him, he would reply But what is your real name? At some point, he took his I.D. out of the pocket and showed it to me. 

“Now that I showed you my real name, you have to tell me yours. So that we are on the same level.”

“I will tell you my real name if you buy me a bottle.”

“I want to see your I.D. though. To be sure you are not lying.”

He handed me three hundred Euros, I called the waitress to order a bottle of champagne, and I showed him my I.D.

No, Jack, we are not on the same level now. We are not on the same level, and we will never be, because the chances of you using my personal information to stalk me, blackmail me, or harm me, and much higher than the chances of me doing that to you. We are not on the same level, because sex work is a highly stigmatised profession and many of us have to hide what we do to avoid micro and macro aggressions, and to safeguard other jobs, relationships, flats, and families.

Society sees us as deviant and less deserving of respect, and it is in this framework that violence against sex workers is thriving. It is when our customers (and not only) see us as less human that we become an easy target, and that’s why it’s essential for us to hide our real identity. It’s not the same as being discovered visiting the strip club as a customer.

Plot twist: a name is just a name, and knowing my real name won’t make them know the real me – because I am at work, and my job is literally to provide a fantasy. What this kind of customer shows is that there are still many people who fail to see what we provide as a work performance. If a flight assistant smiles while she is serving you your pineapple-or-orange juice, it doesn’t mean she really likes you. If I flirt with my customers, it doesn’t mean I am attracted to them. People don’t enter a cinema complaining that the actors weren’t their real selves in the film. Entering a strip club to look for realness is out of place, and there are other spaces that are more appropriate for that. We are paid to make customers feel good, not to be our real selves. 

When it comes to hiding our real identities, there are other aspects to consider besides safety. For me personally, having a working persona protects me from burning out (especially on a social level) in my private life. I lose count of how many people I interact with every night at work, and the conversations are always the same. Where do you come from. What brought you here to this city. What are your hobbies. What did you study. Answering these questions with honest information was having an effect on my social interactions outside of work.

I didn’t want to meet strangers anymore, because I knew I would have to tell the same stories, on repeat, my voice spitting out words automatically, echoing between the bones of my skull. When I was on holiday, I was the weirdo who would always walk out of the hostel kitchen whenever someone came in and said hi. Now, it’s been six years in the industry, and I allow myself to make up stories at work. Every time I can be someone different, come from different places, study something new. If I don’t keep some bits of myself private, work will drain me from every drop of social energy.

If separating our professional identity from the real one is a necessity to make our jobs safe and  sustainable, pushing strategies to convince us to do otherwise makes our job unpleasant. If a customer wanted to get to know a sex worker outside working hours, I think they shouldn’t be the ones asking. They should wait for us to make the first move instead. If we wish to go beyond the customer-provider dynamic, we will let you know – and if we don’t, we are most likely not interested.

Edie Montana

Edie Montana (she/her) is a Berlin based sex worker, performance artist, and writer. Her work combines politics and activism with arts and performance to destigmatise sex work.

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