On a raucous weeknight at Penthouse Executive Club, Yackow eyes me warily as I interview his dancers. But then a towering, tan blonde comes up behind him and massages his chest. “Are you looking forward to the Republican convention?” he asks her, playing journalist.
“Yes, and I hear you’re a Democrat!” she says, slapping him lightly.
When I ask Syra, a petite dancer with creamy brown skin, about her hopes for the convention, she says she doubts it will bring an uptick in business. “Why are they going to come in?” she asks. “They’re pro-family.”
Mary, a stripper who works farther south, at Ten’s Cabaret on East 21st Street, disagrees. She’s convinced that visiting pols will have their eyes on the shiny poles. It’s early, around eight, and I have just purchased a $20 dance from her—a slender, small-breasted 28-year-old who resembles Parker Posey. As she writhes down my chest, I ask what she thought of Fahrenheit 9/11. “If I had to marry a rich man,” she says, “I would marry Michael Moore.”
When she finishes her dance, she slithers back into her lavender gown and tells me she has been attending anti-RNC meetings at St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery and plans to protest the convention. But at night she’ll be working, since she danced in Philly during the 2000 RNC and made good money. “Everyone here expects it to be really crowded,” she says. “The girls have been talking about it literally since June.” Though she has strong political opinions, she tries not to bring them into work. Political talk at a strip club is reverse Viagra. “This whole occupation is based on the idea that you’re a blank slate,” she says. “One of the rules is that we’re selling a fantasy.”
The transsexual escort Starr also says she steers clients away from political conversations. “We might be watching TV or talking about the current headlines, and if someone’s ultraconservative, I know we’re not going to change each other’s minds.” However, on her Website, shemaleexotica.com, she frequently writes elaborate tirades against the Bush administration and Halliburton. A recent one read, “I would offer sexual favors if you don’t vote for Bush, but that might be illegal! So the next best thing I can do is ask you to register to vote NOW.”
“I get all this hate mail,” she says, “and I always think, What are you doing on my Website if you feel this way? They’re on the site looking at pornography, which is something the Bush administration clearly doesn’t like. But they’re there to jerk off, so they don’t think of me as a real person.”
L, a man-to-man masseur for the past seven years, says he’s lost clients as a result of political disagreements and has learned his lesson. Asked if the convention will bring him business from gay Republicans (closeted or out), he’s skeptical. “I don’t expect any Log Cabin Republicans to come to me, and if they do, I don’t expect them to tell me. If they show up at all, they’ll be closeted as Republicans but not as gay men.”
With an overarching perspective on people’s underground behavior, sex workers may be the ones best able to answer that age-old question: Which party is the kinkiest? Both Democrats and Republicans have had their share of scandals. New Jersey governor Jim McGreevey’s is just the most recent. Clinton aside, his adviser Dick Morris’s love of prostitutes (and their toes) was revealed during the 1996 DNC; former Republican senator Bob Packwood was forced to resign after more than twenty women, former staffers and lobbyists, accused him of sexual harassment; Representative Wayne Hays, an Ohio Democrat, famously employed a secretary, Elizabeth Ray, who couldn’t type; and Republican congressman Robert Bauman’s career was ruined in 1980 when he was charged with soliciting sex from a 16-year-old boy.
As the sex workers tell it, the consensus is that Republicans demand more outrageous acts. Mistress Natasha estimates that her clients are half Democrat, half Republican, but says, “Republicans are way freakier, probably because they’re way more repressed. They can’t be kinky with their wives.” She thinks it’s the submissive tendencies that create the conservative political identity, not the other way around: “In their everyday professional life, they are so scared that anybody would ever think they were submissive that they overcompensate and come across as this demanding, hard person. I believe that well before they knew whether they were going to be a Democrat or a Republican, they knew they wanted to be tied up and beaten.”
Eve, the sometime escort, says conservatives “are really interested in receiving anal sex or being spanked, or fetish or role play. I’ve often found that people who lead a more liberal life have already done all that or it’s not something they’re so fascinated with.”
One Republican speculated recently on an escort review site: “I’ll bet the providers [escorts] do a lot better at the RNC than the DNC event. Look at the difference in the average delegate, R (rich or comfortable male away from home looking to have fun) versus D (elderly or female looking to hold hands, bitch about Bush, applaud reverend Al, maybe a few verses of Kumbaya). We’re a fun bunch, Republicans, and we like women a lot. I bet we prove it.”
But posts on Craigslist during the DNC indicate that Democrats know how to have fun, too. One “m4m” (man for man) message said, “I’m a political organizer . . . Spent the last several months with no sex, no sleep, and want to unplug now that it is over. I just want to sit back and have a hot man satisfy me.”
Still, certain sexual tendencies seem to defy party lines. Starr says that if she had to guess which party most favored transsexuals, it wouldn’t be Republicans or Democrats. “The guys that are interested in transsexuals are probably independents.” She lets out a mischievous laugh. “We’re the third-party candidate.”