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 seven (check out her pieces on episode one, two, three, four, five, and six). Follow along, and read our Girlfriend Experience recaps here.
The seventh episode of The Girlfriend Experience trades in fear and paranoia. Jack seems to be stalking Christine, who, in turn, deepens her investigation into the impropriety at Kirkland & Allen, all while being pursued by Simon Burcher, a private investigator hired to intimidate her into dropping her claim to her share of Michael’s will.
It also offers a chance to discuss one of the most essential elements of any sex worker’s safety plan: screening and vetting clients. How do escorts make sure a potential client isn’t a private investigator secretly plotting against them (or, more likely, a police officer)? What are the signs that a situation might be somewhat dangerous? To find out, I turned to escort-turned-writer Charlotte Shane, best known for her wildly popular TinyLetter, Prostitute Laundry (now available in book form!).
Just to begin with: initial reactions?
It feels really dated to me, like this idea of so-called “high-class” escorting that’s very much a holdover from the pre-recession era when there were a lot of women charging $1,000 an hour, or more, and working on referrals was a little more common. But it’s not how things are done anymore. The vast majority of escorts, whatever they’re charging — they have a website, they advertise online, they do most of their screening online. They’re not on the phone all the time with clients and getting lots of clients who are like, “You should see my buddy.”
I found it strange that she gets a call from her client who’s like, “You should see my friend,” she looks at his website, and that seems to be the extent of any vetting that she does. To me, it seems like the vetting you’re going to do for a new client is not going to be about what your current client says, it’s going to be going to VerifyHim or Pipl.com, researching him that way.
As I was watching it, I kept thinking, “Could this happen?” And yeah, it all could happen. Truth is always stranger than fiction. I guess it’s convenient that she’s as new as she is, because you can pass off a lot of weird or stupid things she might do as being ignorant and unfamiliar. You could maybe say that because she’s new, it doesn’t seem weird to her that he’s like, “Here’s the fee, $2000 in cash, I’m setting it down on the table.”
When I first started in-person sex work, which was not even full service, talking about money was the number-one red flag I was educated about. When a guy makes a point of articulating, “Here’s a financial transaction that’s about to take place,” that is a big red flag. She doesn’t seem thrown by it at all.
Do you feel like a lot of madams would say, “Hey, here are the top-ten red flags with a client, and number one is if they tell you, “Here’s the money”?
I’m trying to remember the stuff mine told me. You shouldn’t tell a client to get naked. There was a whole protocol when I first started working for somebody, because it was an in-call agency. You would take them to the bedroom and you would say, “I’m going to give you a moment, I’ll be right back, make yourself comfortable.” And what was supposed to happen was they were supposed to pay you, you were supposed to leave them alone in the room and put the money somewhere safe, and then you come back and they should be naked. And if they weren’t naked, you weren’t supposed to be like, “Don’t you want to get naked?” You were supposed to be like, “Okay, I’m going to give you your massage,” and not push it.
What are other red flags for you?
When I first started escorting, I always really liked the idea of getting to a point of working only on referrals. Totally underground, just this network of guys recommending me to other rich guys. That was a sign of having made it. But the longer I worked, the more I’m like, “This really doesn’t happen that often."
So to me the first red flag would have been that guy leaving that message where he’s just like, “There’s a friend who wants to meet you, Simon Burcher.” End of message. What kind of message is that? It’s so weird, it’s not even, “I told him to contact you.” How does she not hear that message and think, “That’s really weird”?
It seems like she didn’t get references. She’s not asking other escorts, “Did you see this person?” She’s not asking him, “Have you seen other escorts? I need another escort to vouch for you.” That’s the way most women work. They need another woman to vouch for you, not some guy. The mode of introduction is hugely suspicious. Then his whole fanfare about the money and everything, that would have had me really on edge. I might not have walked out then, but that would have already made me really uncomfortable and uptight. She sort of sits down and is like, “Let’s talk about what type of sex you like.” Which is weird. And it takes her a while, when he’s like, “What are my options?” that again, that’s not something ...
That’s a red flag.
He has to repeat it like three times before it finally gets through to her. When we were watching it, I was like, “Is she starting to freak out yet? Because she should have been freaking out a while ago.” Because he isn’t touching her, and he keeps insisting ...
Although, given the way the episode ends, his whole setup seems weird. He has her escort name, presumably he could just find out that she’s an escort by going to the internet.
Right! Does she not have a website?
It still is just baffling to me, her thinking it’s a good idea to pursue this will thing. For her to get the money, she’s going to have to give her legal name somehow, because no one’s going to write a check to Chelsea Rayne.
There’s no way it would not be a risk. Her legal name would always be tied to that transaction. And then her legal name would always be tied to her work name.
Just doing the math, if you’re getting $2,000 every time you see someone, and that’s your minimum fee, half a million dollars is not that much money.
It would be hard to walk away from, but if her legal name is then associated with it, it’s basically her saying even more, “I’m really doubling down on jeopardizing my straight career.” Which presumably could make her a lot more than half a million dollars in a lifetime, if she’s going to be a lawyer.
This interview has been edited and condensed.