The personal becomes the political in ‘Life After Sex Work’

Life After Sex Work

Perzine, Aitch Elle, 8 pgs,

Have you ever wondered if body glitter is tax deductible? You can bet your seven-inch Pleasers that every stripper has. Sex work of any kind can be demanding on the body, especially dancing. Plus, it’s not cheap to maintain the illusion of perfection. But isn’t it worth it to walk away with a stack of dollar bills at the end of the night? Depends.

In Life After Sex Work, author and retired stripper Aitch Elle shares her personal experience quitting the sex industry, and offers advice to anyone looking to leave the club. The lure of the industry is fast money, a flexible schedule, and a sense of sexual empowerment. “At it’s best, you’re autonomous, wealthy, and desirable” Elle writes. But the job is much more than just strutting around collecting cash from your waistband. It is complex physical and emotional labour, and, over time, has the potential to damage a person’s self-esteem and psyche. Being a sex worker comes with inevitable social stigma including the assumption that all strippers are either nymphomaniacs or victims. At some point, leaving the game might be the best option.

Each vivid, collaged page of the zine contains pastel images of femininity — a lipstick-painted mouth, blooming flowers, Hello Kitty — interrupted with political symbols and religious iconography. However understated, the images complement Elle’s reflections. This work, though brief, is dense with overlapping and conflicting themes. The personal becomes the political, the body simultaneously liberated and oppressed. Elle is radically honest, describing, for example, the expectation to conform to ideal beauty standards that “don’t consider black & brown folks as being desirable.” In her own career, Elle explains, she refused to alter her body, even at the risk of making less money. “The joy that money brought me was real, but it was short- lived,” she writes.

In her closing hot takes, Elle reminds us that sex work is a lot of things at once — exploitation, emotional labour, a valid profession — but above all, sex work is work. Hard work.