When I was out of the sex trade, I still kept an eye on it, kind of like those retired Mediterranean tradesmen who lurk at the periphery of construction sites shaking their heads at all the newfangled technology.
When I got back in the business five years ago, I set up a website but promised myself that I would not bow to one seemingly inescapable trend in sex work: online reviews. The Toronto Escort Review Board has been running for many years, and while many review boards started with men simply leaving perfunctory messages to one another about their encounters with workers, the boards have has since turned into Yelp for sex workers.
Men strut about on the boards bragging explicitly about their conquests. For women working in places where sex work is criminal, these details may provide evidence of illegal activity and, if they’re exaggerated, create awkward negotiations or situations with potential clients.
A woman who is precariously employed can’t necessarily afford to be picky, but I was certain I would not be interested in a self-identified hobbyist with an uninspired screen name like Kingpussyslayer69 boasting about how he regally slayed my pussy.
No, no, my pussy would not be discussed publicly in such terms. My pussy would have what is known online as an NRP (no review policy).
Despite this request, I did receive one review in the MILF section of a site, and I have to be honest, I was absolutely gobsmacked by its contents.
This fellow said I give a good blow job, in his top three, apparently. This is an outright lie. I give a terrible blow job. My technique is really better described as oral castration.
Also, I’m not a MILF. I’m more of a TILF. As I have terminated a pregnancy, I am a terminator you’d like to fuck.
Reviews may have been useful for clients when they first began popping up online to confirm that the worker was within reasonable range of her description, that you left satisfied and so on.
But the problem is, many of the most active reviewers are not actually what sex workers define as great clients. They might use your services once and then spend the next three years waiting for a worker’s other reviews to pop up, chiming in and cyber-pissing on the writer with their superior or inferior experience.
Over the years, these review boards have turned into competitive displays of some of the most unintentionally absurd writing on the internet.
Etched in my mind is one client stating he had to post his evaluation quickly because another provider was knocking at his door. Sir, are you a war correspondent? Is the news so urgent that you can’t wait a few hours to file your copy? It’s an escort review, not the invasion of Poland.
I imagined him ticking through his current session, unable to focus on his next overwrought missive because he couldn’t wait to receive the cyber-high-fives from his coterie of virtual flâneurs on the last one.
Because I find these reviews offensive, my opinion may be taken to imply that sex work isn’t like other service work and shouldn’t be subject to consumer scrutiny. But the truth is, I don’t like anything that has the potential to take more control out of the hands of already precariously employed women. Internationally, prescriptive sex work laws already endanger us enough.
And my conversations with workers suggest that in so many cases, reviews do more harm than good. There is too much opportunity, in a business that remains criminalized, for manipulation and exploitation.
Can you imagine if someone booked me based on my stellar blow job review and ended up paying me to scrape 10 layers of skin off his dick?
Workers also complain that when they decide to go offline with their services, they’re forced to take down their entire internet presence in order to get the major review sites, which make money by hosting these explicit appraisals, to remove their reviews.
Some reviewers claim to only provide “tasteful” details of their encounters with sex workers. Fair enough. But this points to a more generalized judgment on female sexuality, setting itself against that which is commonly understood as “tasteless.”
So, for example, when someone describes a nude photo as tasteful, we may take that to mean that no inner pussy is revealed, or perhaps that the woman’s expression is simply neutral, no ecstasy. When we use the word “tasteful,” in a subtle way we are once again arbitrating the complexity of women’s sexuality and women’s bodies.
Several years ago, another worker told me about a friend who had a distinct scar that a client mentioned disapprovingly on online review boards. It had an unbelievably negative impact on her business.
Stuff like this can be traumatizing and costly. A worker may have to completely rebrand herself to get away from these comments, which are often online forever.
I don’t like that sex workers have to worry that their business – one they choose for a variety of reasons, though it’s often because other opportunities are not accessible – could suddenly be impacted by this type of nitpicky bullshit.
Review boards affect the work climate more generally, in that women who prefer not to be publicly evaluated become practically invisible if they are not part of this very specific conversation.
Sex workers may discover that although their best and most regular clients are not very active on review boards, many read them anyway to garner information. So if you’re not enthusiastically spoken about in great detail, you stand to lose business.
But what I most detest are clients who state at the end of a favourable assessment, “Treat her right, gents.” As if it’s through their good graces, their magnanimous release, that a sex worker will be properly treated. Or as if there is any other fucking way to treat a sex worker.
The French feminist philosopher Luce Irigaray devised the term hom(m)osexuality. “Reigning everywhere although prohibited in practice,” she argued, “hom(m)o-sexuality is played out through the bodies of women, matter or sign, and heterosexuality has been up to now just an alibi for the smooth workings of man’s relations with himself, of relations among men.”
Irigaray’s words sum up the climate on review boards perfectly: guys knocking dicks with each other, showing off for each other, knowing their most coveted audience is watching and that they have found a way to insert themselves between her professional sexual currency and her earnings.
Gratifying for those of us who have refused reviews all along are the women who have begun to make their own public evaluations of these men, branding them “slobbyists” and taking their grievances to Twitter feeds like @FCK_TER_ and @ShitPunters. Have a read. Scintillating stuff.
Fleur de Lit is a pseudonym.
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