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 11, "Fabrication" (check out her pieces on episode one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight/nine, and ten). Follow along, and read our Girlfriend Experience recaps here.
In “Fabrication,” Christine finally heads home, but with the Kirkland & Allen drama heating up, she decides to take a break from escorting. While she backburners her full-service sex work, Christine turns to camming, one of the newest entrants in the age-old sex industry. If you’re unfamiliar with the world of erotic webcams, they’re basically a peep-show broadcast to the internet, sometimes for the benefit of an entire crowd, and sometimes just for a single individual. Cam girls have been around since the late 90s (when, due to limited bandwidth, cam shows were often just a series of auto-refreshing still images), but as streaming video has gotten better — and prerecorded porn less profitable — they’ve become a much more popular platform for erotic entertainment.
But how many GFE escorts are turning to camming — and does Christine’s set-up make sense? I reached out to cam girl, blogger, and podcast host N’jaila Rhee, who started camming back in 2006 as a cash-strapped college girl. We chatted about keeping your anonymity as a cam girl, the importance of good lighting, and what it’s like to spend hours on cam making sub-minimum wage.
It’s interesting to me that she’s apparently laying low by becoming a cam girl.
I found it a bit hilarious, the idea that laying low means broadcasting yourself to hundreds of people. The very first time I was on cam, I had somebody say, “Hey, you’re an impostor. You’re not N’jaila Rhee! Because I wrote an essay based on her essay in class, and she’s a writer.” And I had to say, "Yeah, that’s me!" There’s no hiding who you are. Even if you’re like, “Oh, I’m not going to put my face up," there’s not that much anonymity. A lot of websites say that you can geoblock so people in your home state can’t see you, but usually that doesn’t work — somebody is probably going to be recording you. There’s very little privacy in being on cam.
I’m wondering why they would position it like, “Oh, well she’s making hundreds thousands of dollars with ‘high-class’ customers and then she’s going to do camming” — the market for camming is not the same market for a $5,000-a-night escort.
She’s very big on how she’s not going to show her face on cam. Which, you know, I get escorts not wanting to show their faces on their escort website, and I guess if her camming is connected to her escorting, then maybe she wouldn’t want to show her face.
On my site, I don’t have my face because I upsell — you want the picture with my face in it, there’s a premium on it. I’ve seen people who don’t show their faces, but they’re usually people who are just nude — they’re already nude, and it’s very much, get as many people in your room to see and pay, and then go. It's not usually like, I am selling a personal erotic experience that I’m going to have with this person. Which I think is funny because the name of the show is Girlfriend Experience, but she’s selling the most detached form of cam entertainment. By the end of the episode, she’s like, “Don’t talk, just watch me.”
How common is it that someone would do a one-on-one show without showing their face?
There are people who do that, there are people who wear masks, there are performers who angle the camera so you can’t really see their face. I definitely can’t say that would work for me, because I think my personality is what draws people in and what makes it exciting and worthwhile. But I’ve seen girls where it’s always just, you see their bra and their panties and they show off their lingerie but they don’t show their face.
But if she is trying to make the type of money that is going replace her escort income, I’m not sure how much she would make not showing her face.
It seems like she’s definitely trying to make a lot of money if she’s investing in all these expensive lights and expensive toys. Do you see many cam girls who seem like they have pro-quality lighting set-ups?
I have pro-quality lighting. I have had a lighting set for a while, but I realized that if I’m doing a girl-next-door show where I’m not wearing all the makeup and the fancy lingerie, and I’m just adorkable little me, I put the lighting kit away and use as natural lighting as I can get so it looks like you’re on a Skype call with a girl that you’re into, who’s into you, and it’s not as big a production. Because once you have the professional lights and you have to do the professional makeup and you have the fan going, it’s a lot more performative. You have to pose and make sure that the light is catching your face so that your angles don’t get hard. They’re presenting it like she’s putting all this effort into it, but then they don’t show her show any effort.
So my takeaway is that they give her all the trappings of someone who is really making a go of it, except for in her performance.
Usually if you’re doing a cam performance, you negotiate. The guy knows what he can and can’t see. I don’t do many indie shows because it’s very tedious to do this whole negotiation. I usually work through Streammate, where it says, This is her profile, she is okay with X, Y, and Z, she will not do 1, 2, and 3, so don’t ask for that. There are very clear rules. But the show doesn’t get into the minutiae of camming.
Do you have any other thoughts about the show?
It struck me as weird that you had someone who fell into escorting and then she’s like, “Oh, well I’ll do cam.” Because that’s two sets of skills that might seem the same, but they are very much not.
I don’t really see her as a person that would even want to be on cam, because it just seemed like she doesn’t have the personality for it, nor does she have the wherewithal to deal with the amount of harassment and negativity that happens on cam. I thought it was a very sanitized view of what it’s like to be a cam girl. If it were that easy, everybody would be on cam, making all the money. But that’s just not what it’s like. I would love to see her be on cam for an hour and make 70 cents and have the worst day ever. Because that’s the reality. There will be times when you make 300 bucks an hour, and then there’ll be times when you make 70 cents. It made it seem like you just sit there and you make all the money. If somebody watched that show and signed up for a cam site, they’d be very disappointed, and maybe mentally scarred.