Writer and sex educator Lux Alptraum will be walking through each episode of Starz’s The Girlfriend Experience for Vulture, gauging how closely it approximates what it’s like to be a sex worker, in a series of essays and interviews. Here, she breaks down episode four, “Crossing the Line” (check out her pieces on episode one, two, and three). Follow along, and read our Girlfriend Experience recaps here.
“Crossing the Line” finds Christine completely independent — at least as far as escorting is concerned. Avery’s long gone, and Christine’s successfully severed ties with Jacqueline, taking a handful of clients with her. As a result, she’s on her own when she faces two different on-the-job issues: one relatively unique to escorting and the other, well, pretty familiar to anyone who’s ever been an independent worker.
For this episode, I reached out to Ayna, a part-time sex worker who got into escorting about five years ago. In school, and living overseas, Ayna found herself in need of cash when a family emergency depleted the money that had been set aside for her tuition. While attending a book signing, she connected with a woman who happened to work at an escort agency, and found herself drawn to sex work. After returning to the States, Ayna continued escorting, though she now works independently rather than with an agent.
But back to Christine. As the episode opens, we find her with Kevin, who seems to have become a regular. Something’s off, though: Kevin can’t come, and seems distant and distraught. When Christine presses him, he reveals he’s not quite as wealthy as he’s led her to believe. Regular sessions have been stressing his finances (even apparently causing him to take out loans), but the thought of ending the relationship is too much for him to bear. Christine suggests they see each other less, Kevin asks her to lower her rate, and she offers to figure out an arrangement that’ll offer some sort of happy medium. Later in the episode, the two regroup: After giving it some thought, Christine’s decided she has to cut Kevin loose. “I just can’t make exceptions,” she says as he pleads with her to reconsider.
This is a familiar scenario for anyone who’s worked for themselves — and an especially familiar one for sex workers. “My escort nose sniffed out emotional manipulation,” Ayna said of the opening scene; and when Christine ultimately stood her ground, “my internal fairy ho mother was so proud.” But it’s worth noting that not every sex worker is able to walk away from cash, even if it’s less cash than she’s used to: “Knowing your worth and following through on choices that reflect that is an immense privilege,” Ayna continued, noting that survival sex workers might be more likely to cave to pressure from a client.
Indeed, I’ve had a few friends who’ve shifted their rates if it meant getting more work; the idea of running “specials” or reducing rates is popular enough that a few years ago sex-work blog Tits and Sass ran a piece explaining why they’re a bad idea.
Would a newbie sex worker in her early 20s like Christine — particularly one who doesn’t seem to have a network of other sex workers to chat with — have the confidence to stand her ground on rates? It’s hard to say. Ayna noted that the conversation Christine has with her sister, Annabel, over lunch struck her as strange. When Christine comments that she doesn’t like spending time with people “unless it makes me feel accomplished,” Annabel notes that she gets it, that Christine values her time. But “early sex workers don’t value their time,” Ayna told me. It can take years to develop the confidence needed to really negotiate and refuse to back down on rates; someone with Christine’s level of experience seems less likely to have that skill. (That said, Ayna didn’t think that no sex worker would make that claim: “The line is delivered with such honesty, I can only surmise that one of the writers heard it from an actual sex worker — unlike the other dialogue, which is wooden.”)
Then there’s the issue of Ryan, Christine’s hot young client. The two have been getting close — so close, in fact, that they’re affectionate in public, something Ayna was surprised by. “One of the things I noticed most about Christine’s interactions with her clients is there is zero to little discretion. She hugs and kisses her lunch date in public, which to me is a huge no-no.”
That lack of discretion catches up with Ryan and Christine. While out to lunch, they run into some of Ryan’s out-of-town friends, who surmise that Christine isn’t just some business contact of Ryan’s. The friends give Christine the stink eye, Ryan’s good mood disappears, and, later in the episode, Christine’s forced to deal with an angry wife who’s none too pleased about what her husband’s been getting up to.
Does it ring true? Yes and no. Ayna wasn’t convinced that a chance run-in with friends was all that likely. “Believe me, this has never happened to me or any sex worker I have ever talked to,” she told me. But getting contacted by a client’s spouse? That’s something she has familiarity with.
“I have been confronted over email a few times,” she told me, though, unlike Christine, no angry wife has ever offered her a cool 20 grand to stay away from a client. In fact, her most memorable encounter with a client’s wife didn’t end with snide remarks about pitying her for being a sex worker, or threats; to the contrary, Ayna ended up on the wife’s side.
“One time, a client’s wife emailed me, confessing her husband’s sex addiction and her fears of being unattractive to him. I have training as a social worker, so my bleeding heart struck up an email relationship with her. We got her husband into sex therapy, her a spa day,” she said. “She divorced him and took 90 percent.”