In a recent BuzzFeed Politics article, Cory Booker, Mayor of Newark, New Jersey, was ridiculed for tweeting with Portland-based stripper Lynsie Lee, a sex worker who dances at a local vegan strip club Casa Diablo. The two public figures, who had met while working on the same film about Twitter (Follow Friday: The Film) exchange frequent Tweets.
The subject matter is largely harmless—the messages are casually flirtatious, hardly any racier than banter between other public figures, or any more salacious than the latest tabloid heading. In one Tweet, Booker jokes about becoming the “president of the New Jersey Star Wars Club”, to which Lee responds that she would like dibs on being First Lady. At which point, another Twitter persona is introduced, Calla, who states that she and Booker DM on the regular. (DM refers to: Direct Messaging).
As with many BuzzFeed articles, the content is presented in vignettes in the regular caption-gif format. Because of this presentation, which largely relies on the visual representation of gif/photo, the interactions between Booker and his stripper friend come off as coy, silly, and scandalous. The issue BuzzFeed seems to present is not that these two comrades are engaged in a growing internet relationship, it is instead skewed to showcase that Lynsie Lee is a disgraceful or disreputable person to be associating with because of her profession, and that Booker’s political integrity is compromised by keeping her company. Though I find particular amusement in the fact that Lee works in a strip club that is vegan (seriously, how is this so cavalierly glossed-over?), I find no fault with her dealings with Booker. In fact, the compatibility of sexualized icons and politicians is a tale as old as time; where would we be without Marilyn Monroe’s breathy “Happy Birthday, Mr. President”, the over-wrought Clinton scandal, or any other juicy sex scandal of the 90s (and before!).
It is true that we live in a Kantian society that finds great fault with the traditionally questionable morality of sex work, however it is a much-overlooked fact that our nation has a deep history of sexual deviancy. If you look at every movement West, every colonial conquest, every capitalist venture that required men to pack up and seek riches in the form of natural resources or precious metals, you will find that almost every expedition has been accompanied by prostitution, sex or flesh trade, and sometimes unconsentual or assault-driven sex. From the Everleigh sister’s Chicago brothel to the houses of ill-repute in the Yukon, sex has long been a lucrative and robust trade, attracting men (and most famously, politicians) from all walks of life.
The question we should be asking ourselves as we gaze upon the problematically-humorous gifs that BuzzFeed puts forth is: why is it so horrible for public figures to enjoy the company of private entertainers or female escorts? We at Slixa have a large community of stand-up adult service providers who make up a population of fierce, fabulous, empowered, and multi-faceted entertainers that any number of politicians should be grateful to have in their friendly repertoire.
Many of us have either engaged in sex work at some point in our life, know and love friends who are adult service providers, or are somehow peripherally connected with folks who deal in the flesh trade, and yet somehow Cory Booker, as a politician, is desexualized?
The whorephobia and slutshaming inherent in the article is largely the most offensive aspect of the piece; particularly malodorous is the last section and accompanying picture, which features a conversation screen shot between the stripper and the politician, in which Lee responds that Booker has “made (her) blush”—to which BuzzFeed enacts a bro-like response: LIKE A BOSS! It is clearly a subhuman feat to make a stripper blush, because surely strippers have lived lives so full of sordidness and filth that they are virtually unfazed by the majority of life. Sex workers, by definition, are those who live without virtue, right America? So therefore they should not be able to feel embarrassed or scandalized by the attentions of flattery.
The idea, and article, are ridiculous, and assume that what one does as a profession is somehow an integral part of their identity, and yet sex work is one of the few professions to which we hold such impossible expectations. If a person chooses to willfully pursue a profession in the sex industry, then we automatically assume the person to take on a subhuman role: they are not allowed to get embarrassed, have intimacy, find love, believe in God, wear turtlenecks, or follow any other mode of what we have, as a nation, deemed as appropriate for decency. And, by default, Booker’s association with the damned Ms. Lee is additionally complicated. What BuzzFeed fails to articulate is that, at the end of the day the two public individuals are simply interacting in the same publicly flirtatious way as any two other individuals on Twitter.