The In-between: Leaving On a Jet Plane

7/18/2018

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I had only been stripping at Le Girls in Phoenix, Arizona for a couple of days before I met Sarah. That wasn’t her real name, of course, but she didn’t know mine either, and the truth was that it didn’t really matter much anyway. What did matter was that she was nice and funny and a non-judgmental listener, and so over the next couple of weeks we got to know each other a little. In between lap dances and performances up on stage, I told her about how I had recently moved to Arizona to be with a guy, and how, now that we had broken up, I was sleeping on the couch and becoming increasingly desperate for a new place to live.

One afternoon, Sarah and I were both getting ready for our shift in the dressing room when she mentioned an ad she had seen in the local alternative newspaper about being a stripper in Guam. It promised $2,000 – $3,000 a week, she said, and the club would pay for your airfare there and back if you signed a three-month contract. I told her the opportunity sounded interesting and asked if she would bring in the ad next time she worked so that I could take a look at it.

A few days later, after meeting with their recruiter and doing some research, Sarah told me that she was definitely going to Guam, and asked me if I wanted to come along too. Apparently, she had already talked to the recruiter about me, and if I agreed to it, everything was set for both of us to go. She even assured me that one of her ex-military friends/clients had checked the place out ahead of time and verified that it was legitimate. So, without much additional information (or any other appealing options), I said yes to her and packed my bags for a three-month trip to the other side of the world.

Looking back on this decision now, I realize just how crazy it was. I showed up to the airport that morning with twenty-two dollars in my pocket, and no actual idea of what I was getting myself into. I had just met this girl (whose real name I only later learned was Nicole), and I had absolutely no idea of where Guam even was. All I knew was that some Filipino woman named Josie was supposed to pick us up from the airport when we landed, and that we would be dancing at a place called Club Cosmos.

In hindsight, this could have very easily been how I became a victim of human trafficking. According to a report put out by the anti-trafficking organization Polaris, there were over 8,700 cases of human trafficking reported through the National Human Trafficking Hotline and BeFree Textline in the United States during 2017. Of these cases, over seventy-five percent involved sex or sex and labor trafficking (as opposed to labor trafficking), and the overwhelming majority of those folks being trafficked were women (roughly eighty percent). Additionally, the average age of sex trafficking victims at the time their trafficking began was nineteen, which also happened to be the age I was when I first hopped on board that airplane headed to Guam.

Luckily for me, however, a Filipino woman named Josie really did come and pick us up from the airport. After giving us a brief tour of the island she drove us to what was known as “dancer housing,” which for Club Cosmos girls was a clean and spacious two-bedroom apartment in Tamuning, with two twin beds in each room. Nicole and I were given the front bedroom, for which we were each charged $25 a week by the club, which covered not only our rental of the room but also the apartment’s electricity, cable and telephone. This small fee came directly out of our sizable weekly salary, which we received in cash at the end of our sixth shift each week on top of our nightly earnings from stage performances, private dances, and drink sales.

Over the next three months I worked that pole at Club Cosmos six nights a week, making well over the amount promised in the advertisement that had originally sparked my journey there. I made fast friends with practically all of girls working at the club, and was also popular with the clientele made up of locals, cute military men, and Japanese tourists. The tourists, in particular, were a happy coincidence for me, as I spoke Japanese somewhat fluently at the time, and had also recently bleached my hair platinum blonde, which, as it turned out, was seen as a particularly attractive hair color in Japanese culture.

As a result of these trends, I managed to save up a nice little chunk of change during this three-month period, all while enjoying and learning about myself on this little tropical island paradise. In fact, I enjoyed my time there so much that two weeks after my contract expired with Club Cosmos, I was already back in Guam again, this time as a dancer at the most popular club on the island called Club G-Spot. There, I became one of the premiere girls on the island, and for the next seven months had the time of my life, flirting with hot men and women, making stupid money, and building relationships with my first ever set of real girlfriends. It was also there that I finally began to feel free and whole for the first time in my life, and why I now often get nostalgic when I think or talk or write about it.

However, the fact that this story turned out to have a happy ending for me does not negate the reality that for many other women and girls it does not. A few weeks after my first article came out on Bi.org, my mother and I got into a conversation about my time as a stripper in Guam. She said that when she found out I had taken off to Guam with some random girl she (appropriately) freaked out and started calling around to various investigators and law enforcement folks.

Surprisingly, she had a very difficult time getting anyone she talked to, to care. Initially, she struggled to get ahold of anyone at all. Then, the first person she spoke with basically told her that I had probably already been sold into sexual slavery and that all she could do now was to wait until I got used up/worn out and was sent home. Ignoring the advice to give up, she finally got ahold of a retired police officer, who advised her to call the police in Guam and have them bring me in, which she did. In addition to seriously pissing me off (our relationship was not so great back then), she was told to do this so that if anyone at the club I was working at had been thinking of trafficking me, they would now suspect that I might be in contact with the police and leave me alone.

To be honest, I have no idea if this tactic worked, or if I was actually in any real danger in the first place. I do know that having two police officers show up at my door certainly did scare the crap out of me, and also that as a result of their visit I ended up doing a bachelor party for one of the officers a week or so later. When I tell the story of my time in Guam to friends this bit always gets a good laugh, and I myself often look back on this experience with the officers and chuckle. However, I also realize that my story could have very easily not ended up the way it did, and for many other, less fortunate women and girls, it doesn’t.

So, the question remains: how should I present my experiences as a stripper and my journey to and from Guam? How do I maintain the notion that there is nothing inherently wrong with being a sex worker, without at the same time also ignoring the dangers that often are associated with it? How can I frame my time stripping as the positive and rewarding experience that it was while still acknowledging the fact that for many, sex work is not a choice?

The answer, I believe, is by once again choosing to settle in this middle space, where I can maintain a clear view of all sides. My job, as I see it, is to point out that one’s story as a sex worker doesn’t always have to be tragic, but that it sometimes also is. This, I believe, is the true power of the in-between, to always be able to not only recognize but also to understand the nuances and complexities of all sides, and to ultimately be okay with a reality that is not entirely black or white, but falls somewhere in the middle.

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Lorien Hunter
Lorien Hunter is a writer, researcher and aspiring world traveler who currently lives in San Jose, California. In 2017, she earned her Ph.D. in media studies from the University of Southern California, where she examined digital media, popular culture and marginalized communities. Today, she is a regular contributing writer at Bi.org, where her weekly column, The In-between, centers on her experiences as a biracial bi woman finding comfort and belonging in the spaces between worlds.