The world has been in a state of trepidation due to the Coronavirus, otherwise known as COVID-19, over the past four months. Many of us in the United States first heard of the disease via social media as the virus began to take its toll on Wuhan, China,before spreading to over 170 other countries in a matter of months. The U.S. caught wind of their first case of the novel virus at the beginning of March, and from there anxiety and panic set in. Sports events – and even whole seasons- were cancelled as players tested positive; along with them all bars, conventions, venues, and festivals have been closed until further notice.
Sex Workers around the globe are getting financially creative and tackling the Covid-19 pandemic head on. Sex workers, no matter the specific occupation, are almost universally, and with very few exceptions, considered independent contractors. Colorado state law prevents independent contractors (specifically exotic dancers, due to the fact their pay is solely tip based) from collecting unemployment. These workers are left in the dust without assistance from the state, so these girls got creative. We talk to sex workers in various fields to understand how they’re surviving the pandemic.
Sexworkers: In their own words
Meet Liz, she is a 28 year old exotic dancer and Youtube influencer residing in the mile high city. Liz has been a dancer in Denver for 4 years. “Typically the clubs I work in are really nice. We have good local clientele and we get quite a bit of business from out of town. We get a lot of our business from the Denver Convention Center, so we see a lot of businessmen. I love working in Denver.”
In downtown Denver a professional exotic dancer could typically expect 500 to 700 dollars or more from each shift up until a couple months ago. “It was pretty consistent. I was making really good money almost every night, obviously not every night is going to be amazing but most nights were pretty damn good.” Earlier this month Liz arrived at Denver’s very own La Boheme Gentlemen’s Club for what she thought would be another typical night. “I remember coming to work on a Saturday night and it was very dead. The customers were even talking about it. People were scared to come out because of the Coronavirus. That was when I was like okay, wow, this is really going to affect us.”
Liz glanced down, looking uneasy, “I first heard about the Coronavirus on social media but the stores are what made it real for me. When people started going out to the grocery stores and emptying the shelves that was a reality check for me.When they started shutting down conventions and the sports events I realized this was going to directly affect our customer base. They cancelled sports. This is big and it’s kinda scary.”
Just like anyone, it took some time for Liz to adjust to being under self-quarantine. “This week I have finally started to calm down and get into a routine. Last week I had anxiety from the moment I woke up until I would go to sleep. At that point my peers and family weren’t really thinking this was a big deal, but I knew better. My mental health is doing good. I have been taking the time to focus on my Youtube channel to provide some entertainment.”
Liz reached out to her Youtube following of nearly 5K, and touched on how the Coronavirus has had an effect on Denver strip clubs and how to tackle the financial situation hands on. The up and coming influencer has created content pertaining to entertainer’s temporary employment options such as safely camming, creating an OnlyFans, and selling content to online clientele. “The biggest thing I want to say is ‘hustlers: do not panic’. We always figure it out.”
Say hello to Kayleigh, a 22 year old exotic dancer and freelance model residing in Colorado Springs, Colorado. “I have been exotic dancing for three years but I primarily work at Denver’s Shotgun Willies and have always done modeling on the side.” Like most professional entertainers Kayleigh started dancing young, perfected her skill, and made it into her primary career. “When they closed down all the clubs I, and practically everyone I work with, were forced to think of an alternative form of work that pays just as well. Most girls are turning to selling nudes online or camming.” Kayleigh began to hear of her peer’s success and decided to try selling content for herself.
“I heard about OnlyFans from other dancers. I had been afraid to use it. I was afraid to have my nudes out there forever online. But I have gotten more open the last couple years. I was in the process of making an account for the past couple months, but I began to drag my feet and left it under construction. When the outbreak happened, I got right on it. I finished the site, posted content, and started advertising immensely.”
Just this week (March 25th, 2020) the Colorado governor, Jared Polis made a statewide announcement saying that the state of Colorado will be under a statewide lock down until mid April of 2020. “To my surprise, my OnlyFans took off extremely well. Everyone is home from work, sick, or under quarantine. Everyone is online. It seems like a lot of guys miss show girl clubs just as much as I miss the paycheck.”
Kayleigh went on to give unemployed sex workers everywhere her much needed advice: “If you need money, you need to get online and start self promoting as soon as possible. I had to push myself to do so, discipline is key. It’s the best option for dancers, especially because they can advertise their sites to their clients from their club! We have no idea how long the clubs are actually going to be closed. All of our bills still need to be paid, so we have to find something that is still good money.” She points out that, “OnlyFans takes a percentage of what you make, just like most clubs do. I advertise by using all of my social media platforms and I safely advertise on Linktree.”
Unfortunately Denver isn’t the only city suffering from Coronavirus’ social distancing, Boulder’s night clubs have taken a major blow as well. Boulder strip clubs like Nitro Nightclub were forced to close their doors.
Allow me to introduce you to Noemi (not her real name, and she decided against a photo for anonymity). She is a 28 year old Colorado resident looking to make a difference during the ongoing pandemic. Noemi hopes to hang up her heels for a while and use her skillset as a certified nursing assistant for Colorado’s hospitals in need. “The defining moment for me deciding to go back to work at the hospital was when I saw what happened in Italy and how severely they were hit with the virus. I was shocked to see how the President was still not taking this seriously. I knew that kind of attitude was going to put a lot of people at risk, especially health care providers.”
“I know what it feels like to be understaffed and overworked at a hospital and I decided that I would help be a part of the solution that way,” Noemi went on to say., “The way that hospitals function is every individual doing their part, and doing it well so that the whole team is able to move forward together in taking care of a patient. As a CNA, a part of my job is to monitor a patient’s vital signs and report anything unusual to the nurses, who then report to a doctor. I would feel like I wasn’t doing my part if I didn’t go back to help out. I guess I feel a responsibility to go back simply because I can, so I should. I can help my former coworkers by easing the workload. I can help save a life. I just can, so I’m going to do it. I could not have a clean conscious otherwise.”
Colorado strip clubs aren’t the only ones to take a hit. Boulder Burlesque’s very own director, Crista Reid, stepped up to speak about how she and her performers are tackling obstacles brought on by the pandemic. “As a full time producer, the changes surrounding the outbreak of COVID-19 have significantly impacted not just my income, but the way I conceive of how to bring forward live art and interaction when new barriers show up.”
Reid made the tough call to get ahead of the problem and close her doors a bit early. “When I made the call on March 13th to shut down all upcoming events, things hadn’t really intensified here in Colorado. The cancellations brought a lot of sadness due to the loss of those creative endeavors, and some crew members were disappointed. Rather than just getting stuck with the cancellations, my first thought was, Okay, how do I keep my work alive right now, maintain direction, and offer purpose to the performers I work with through all of this?”
Reid hopped onto the phone and began to reach out to talented collaborators who were going above and beyond to support online events. “Last week, I co-hosted a workshop around how to connect with sensual touch over internet distance. We got really positive feedback, with people mentioning how grounded they felt, and excitement at the potential creative ways of connecting to each other despite not being in the same room.”
Boulder Burlesque is currently developing a full-length online burlesque titled “Shelter In Place”. The online showcase will be featured as a flow-presentation with embedded videos, featuring performances inside of each performers’ homes. For more information on “Shelter In Place” visit Boulder Burlesque’s website.
“I’m going to try to keep thinking of the shut down of live event space not as a limitation, but as a new challenging context to work within. That mindset is allowing me to stay afloat, through the best and worst of this,” Reid says. She continues to reassure her performers that they can overcome the obstacle of creating a performance at home. “It can be hard to bring together a creative idea with so many new rules in place. How do you film a dance in your living room? How can you make that look good? What can that even look like with only the tools you have at your disposal?” No matter the obstacle, Crista Reid and her performers are living by the ultimate rule of the theatre: “the show must go on!”
Portland, Oregon is setting an example for the nation with their brilliant launch of “Boober Eats”. Lucky Devil Lounge’s entertainers are now giving customers what they really want by delivering both food and boobs. The venue’s lounge takes and makes the orders and then sends their topless entertainers in pasties to deliver orders to eager customers. The Boober Eats menu includes a variety of pub food like pizza, corn dogs, steakbites, and more. Your food is delivered by two piping hot babes, the delivery fee is set at 30 dollars, and the delivery girls keep their shared tips. If only more states would follow suit and go above and beyond for their employees.
Denver’s infamous Shotgun Willie’s Show Club is picking up the slack in the same vein as the Lucky Devil to ease the financial blow on their entertainers. Earlier this month (March 22, 2020) Shotgun Willie’s launched their “Boob-Hop” drive thru service allowing customers to drive up, grab a bite, a drink, and a show. The show club has closed their doors and opened T-Bar’s parking lot for a curbside delivery service for eager customers. Boob-Hop requires all customers who seek to buy alcohol to buy a food item as well. The Boob-Hop menu provides an array of options like 5 dollar brats, a 5 dollar half pizza, 3 dollar hot dogs, and 4 dollar ham and cheese sandwich, a 4 dollar Peanut butter jelly, and lastly a 9 dollar meat and cheese plate!
One of Shotgun Willie’s very own entertainers and temporary curbside delivery girls, Charlotte, gave us a look into a typical day working for Boob-Hop. “Working for the food delivery service reminded me of my food service days, which started very slow. A lot of people would stop and take pictures.” She said she worked from 11 to 5 and made around $100 in tips. “I have heard girls saying they’ve made anything from $10 all the way up to $200,” she tells us. “Honestly, it all depends on how many girls are working that day and if a regular of theirs comes in.” If you are in the Denver area and need a snack pull up and get a snack at the T-Bar!
Final thoughts: Solutions
In all seriousness, the Coronavirus has caused a panicked pandemic. There is currently no vaccine to prevent the virus. As of the time of this writing, the virus has produced just shy of 2.1 million cases worldwide and numbers are rapidly rising. No matter your age, ethnicity, or gender, this virus does not discriminate. COVID-19 has killed nearly 135,000 and the number is rising daily. Unfortunately, out of the reported cases, only around 500,000 people have recovered.
There are multiple actions any independent contractor – sexworkers – can do to protect themselves financially. First and foremost each independent contractor should file for an LLC and you should pay your taxes. If you are an exotic dancer your house fees, tip outs, and costume expenses are nothing new, but did you know you can file all of them under a good ol’ tax right off? Be sure to keep a record of every expense (travel, meals, etc) and keep a log of every night. By the end of the year, you could receive a full tax return. Under the current pandemic (or future national emergencies) you’d be eligible for unemployment and other supports. The Westword wrote a very good, if technical, piece about legalities around sex work and what can be done. It’s a great resource.
As of March 27th, 2020 the United States Congress passed the “CARES” Act. (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act) has been set in place to protect any and all workers, including gig workers. The temporary benefit provides nationwide eligibility. If you are an independent contractor then your weekly unemployment check would be half of your individual state’s average unemployment check, plus a bonus of $600. The benefit lasts from 26 to 36 weeks depending on what state you personally reside in. The best part of the “CARES” Act is the fact that it is available regardless of if you have filed taxes over the last four years; typically if you have a social security card you qualify for a benefit check. If you are looking for instructions on how to apply click here.
The novel Coronavirus will more than likely keep the world in its grasp for months to come but one thing is absolute: Colorado, specifically, is set to “go back to normal” by May 1st if Governor Polis isn’t forced to extend his statewide stay-at-home law. One thing we have no doubt about is no matter the lockdown in place, hustlers nationwide will get creative, and make that dollar by the end of the day.
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