By DL Haydon
Phoenix is a self-described heaux.
It’s a term of endearment. A statement about offering sex for money in a world of anti-prostitution and human trafficking.
“I like to describe it like cooking,” she said. “Cooking is something you do for people you’re close to. It’s an intimate, emotional thing. But also some people cook for other people as a job. Some people can’t cook, so they go to a restaurant and someone cooks for them.”
Among the never-ending debate between safety, liberty, morality and ethics, Phoenix has one distilled argument for pro-prostitution:
“Our sexual needs deserve to be served,” she said. “And there are people willing to serve others’ sexual needs. Hiring a prostitute is self-care.”
She didn’t stumble her way into the business.
"In 2016, a year after I quit modeling, I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do next with my life. So I asked myself what was the thing I think about most of the time. My passion. Something that always interests me."
The immediate answer? Sex.
Despite the taboo surrounding it, and the legal ramifications, Phoenix decided it was worth looking into. She spent a year studying sex work. The industry. The legal aspects. By winter 2017, she decided prostitution was for her.
“I am a straight-up prostitute,” she said. “It’s my most authentic self. I’m happy, and I’m making a lot of money.”
A brief stint at a Houston strip club was an early experiment. After three shifts she realized it wasn’t the right fit. Lap dances were a frequent part of a shift, which Phoenix said was a logistical issue when you’re 5’11’ wearing 6-inch shoes.
“I gave a lap dance to a guy who was like, 5’6’’ or 5’7’’ and I felt like a giant, just towering over him,” she said.
The average stripper is short, their center of gravity in the middle like a gymnast. The work is perfect for those with athletic backgrounds, as well as those used to the service industry up sell.
“My strength lies more in my personality,” she said. “And of course strippers have to use their personality too but it’s much more of a hustle. I’m not a sales person, I’m not going to try and sell myself . . . well I do (laughs).”
Despite the fact that prostitution occurs in strip clubs, Phoenix didn’t want to deal with legal prosecution, or judgement from what she described as the totem pole of sex workers.
“There is a whore-archy,” she said, describing the discrimination that prostitutes face at the bottom. The less physical interaction required, she said, the higher up your status. It’s industry-inside discrimination that she doesn’t agree with.
She also considered taking the more modern route of working as a cam girl, but didn’t agree with most of their ideas.
“Most of them stress that they’re not prostitutes,” she said. “I understand what they’re saying, it’s generally a demeaning word. But the thing is, prostitution is the ultimate sex work to me.”
Deciding to “jump into the deep end,” Phoenix applied for a legal brothel in Nevada. A week later she was flying out for a face-to-face interview. Almost immediately, got an email saying she was hired.
She said she’s much more comfortable with the procedure that goes with it.
“The energy is not like it is at a strip club. There’s no loud fucking music. We have to talk in the bar area. That’s where we meet guests. Potential clients.”
There's also a by-the-book format in order to comply with federal statutes. Although a step-by-step process might seem less sexy than jumping right in, Phoenix said it’s a necessary piece of the overall process. STD testing is habitual and conducted on-site. Condoms are mandatory, and signs throughout the brothel to remind everyone of the fact.
Following a successful negotiation, there’s a “dick check” to look for obvious signs of STDs. As Phoenix put it, there’s no such thing as “safe sex,” only “safer sex.”
“There’s a lot of rules. A lot of procedures,” she said. “But it’s great. What I love about it is, I’m safe. I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to do.”
The worst that she knows of is a girl getting slapped in the face because she wouldn’t haggle down.
“But of course security was there in one second,” she said. “You’re not going to get beaten, raped or killed.”
Safety is a large reason why she entered the brothel as opposed to becoming a stand-alone escort. Likewise, as a sex industry activist, Phoenix said she felt the need to engage in legitimate, legal sex work. Despite the fact that sex is one of the oldest mediums of exchange, Phoenix said people today just don’t accept the idea. It’s a mindset she wants to help change.
“It should be allowed,” she said. “Sex work allows socio-economic mobility. For marginalized groups especially.”
One of the biggest reasons Phoenix advocates is an often-cited argument: Decriminalizing prostitution reduces sex-trafficking.
“There’s less of a demand for force,” she said. “You don’t have to ‘steal people’ if there are people like me who will do it.”
The Department of Health and Human Services cites Texas, and Houston in particular as one of the largest hubs for human trafficking. The blame is partly due to Houston’s physical proximity to the US/Mexico border combined with its status as a major international city. Sex trafficking is such a major issue in Houston that groups such as Elijah Rising offer tours through the city to raise awareness.
But the problem with anti-sex trafficking activists, Phoenix said, was that they’re also anti-prostitution.
“They’re ALWAYS anti-prostitution, always ‘end the demand,’” she said. “You’re never going to fucking end the demand.”
Still, there’s a balance to be struck between the law and the lay. Though Europe tends to have a more accepted sex industry, many have described it as regulated to the point where you’re ordering from a vending machine.
“It’s not the environment I would want to work in,” she said. “I give a lot. It’s not just straight-up sex. It’s an experience.”
She also noted it’s an experience she wouldn’t mind having.
“That’s another thing: I want prostitution to be decriminalized because *I* should be able to hire a prostitute if I wanted to,” she said. “I want them to bang the shit out of me and leave, and me not be all ‘Oh, does he like me?’ and all that.”
Or, she said, maybe she would like to hire someone for the boyfriend route: Eat pizza together, watch a movie, have sex, leave.
“It can be a therapeutic experience,” she said. “And some people wouldn’t be able to enjoy a certain sexual experience otherwise, for whatever reason. They’re anxious, or they have a disability.”
Though she considers herself a prostitution advocate, she said she’s a sex advocate first.
“That’s the root of why sex workers are so discriminated against. People are ashamed of their sexuality,” she said. “We’re embracing our sexuality, and profiting from it.”
She’s still aware that her experience as a sex worker is extremely privileged compared to the average.
“But that’s why advocacy is so important,” she said. “I want all sex workers to have these options. To work safely. It’s dangerous because it’s criminalized. It doesn’t have to be violent, and my experience is nothing like that.”
Phoenix is still diversifying who she is as a sex worker, offering the “girlfriend experience” while at the same time listing her likes, interests and kinks on the brothel’s profile page. She’s in the middle of interviewing with an indie feminist porn company, and performs at sex-positive shows and events when the opportunities develop.
“Making people happy is my specialty,” she said. “And I love it.”
DL Haydon has been writing, reporting and shooting photos in Houston since Hurricane Ike. When not conducting journalism, he can be found (in various bars) people-watching, shooting pool or absentmindedly scribbling on cocktail napkins. DL focuses on politics and underground culture.