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  • Valerie Stunning

The Other

We were dying a slow death in the back of our ride-share. Our condition, post-thanksgiving agita. Slumped in a pile of gastro-intestinal regret, my good friend and I continued to chug water and swap sea stories as the driver weaved his way toward the Lincoln Tunnel.


It was a long day spent going hard as one does when catching up with extended family in northern Jersey. All the markings of a holiday were present. There were games and hugs, music and laughs, and a slinky canine out for whatever scraps he could hustle. A low level of stress pulsed around the roasting bird. Would it reach its intended succulence? Did anyone remember to remove the gizzards? Generous portions of home cooking were passed around, seasoned to perfection by (the seemingly requisite) unaddressed familial feuds. And the oven caught on fire. I felt grateful for a full belly and the effort each of us put in to not only showing up, but engaging.


In the back of our hired Tesla, my good friend and I began discussing banks. We’re both sex workers and can commiserate that trusting a banking institution is like trusting the guy hocking a $40 Louis bag on Canal Street. You just don’t. It was during this conversation I was reminded of an incident from this past summer:


There are three strip clubs in Colorado Springs. And they are small. Small towny clubs where in this instance the club’s part time DJ also doubles as the manager of my bank’s local branch. When I first discovered this I was super annoyed. Annoyed that my private life and work life now intersected in an environment that as a sex worker I am already on edge about. The bank*.


*For those of you who aren’t aware, current policies such as FOSTA/SESTA make it possible for banks and payment apps to restrict our, not just SWers, but all of our access to funds and/or freeze accounts should they suspect that the money we deposit and/or receive as payment is a result of suspicious activity. There is no warning before this happens. No legal warrants are served, backed by concrete evidence. And in fact often times when this occurs there is no recourse. One day your rent is sitting in your bank account or payment app, and the next day it’s gone. See here for an explanation of FOSTA/SESTA I also encourage you to google it's additional impact on all of our freedoms.


What further annoyed me was how it didn't register to the club’s hiring managers or the DJ himself that the DJ’s day job might pose as a conflict of interest. And it became evident that there were no discretionary measures discussed about how the DJ should behave if he were to see any of the women he works with at the bank he manages. You know, little things like not acting like he knows us, not mentioning the club ever, and certainly not standing over the teller’s shoulder eyeing the screen that reveals all of our private identity and account information as he’s engaging us in conversation. All things that, you guessed it, I actually experienced. Though I wish it stopped there…

One summer day, I waltzed into the bank as I often do post work-weekend to make a deposit. I previously used the ATM to make deposits, but after the machine ate a $100 bill and falsely told me it returned it to me..But did not..Nor did the bank agree with me after I filed a formal complaint with the their corporate office and they completed their “thorough investigation.” Instead they kept the $100 dollars that I traded back breaking labor for, and so I no longer use the ATM. Instead, I now walk my ass in the building and look a human in the eye as they confirm each and every deposit.

I digress.


On this particular day I was wearing a vintage 70’s halter top that I’ve prized as a summer staple since I thrifted it in my early twenties. It’s clearly home made and I like to imagine that some righteous anti-military-industrial-complex working woman made it in her humble apartment to wear at her next rally. Women love it and compliment me often when I wear it. And the teller was quick to do the same when I walked up to her window.


We exchanged pleasantries. Then somewhere between me placing a stack of mixed bills in the tray, instructing her to deposit it into checking and her counting said bills, her initial small talk about my top began to wane. She slowly cocked her head. I recognized this cue. But by the time I translated her shift in energy and body language as her having misinterpreted my politeness for an invitation to pry, it was too late. I braced myself for impact:


Teller: Are you a bartender?

Me: No.


(Silence)


Teller, lowers voice, looks up at me: The other?

Me, as my blood begins to boil: The other? You mean a Stripper?

Teller, nods tentatively. begins to pick up on my energetic shift into a murderous cat about to pounce

Me: Yes


(I sharpen my claws. My pulse slows)


Teller: Oh I usually ask bartending because I don’t want to offend anyone

Me, screaming internally, you’ve asked this before?!!, externally: I’m not offended by the work I do. It’s a good job.


(I wait for her to process my transaction and offload more ignorant comments)


Teller: Oh, umm, I didn’t mean it that way


(Enter Teller Number 2. Sat beside Teller Number 1. and clearly overhearing this go down)


Teller Number 2, gleefully: What club do you work at?

Me, contemplating double homicide: There are only 3 clubs in town.

Teller No. 2: Yeah, I know the manager of one…



Teller No. 2 continues to babble about some towny degrees of separation that I couldn’t care less about. I nod and calculate that as long as she continues to have a one sided conversation, I can escape without saying another word. Finally the transaction is complete. Teller No.1 asks if I want a receipt. I decline.


I head for the exit just in time for the DJ who had been lurking on the other side of the room to start making his way toward Tellers 1 and 2. We lock eyes. He says hi, I acknowledge him and leave.


My fury festered on the 9 minute drive home and by the time I arrived to my partner going about his day in the kitchen, I completely lost it. I yelled the injustice. I gesticulated and questioned “what ifs” regarding safety and legalities. I lamented that I had to be the one who took the high road instead of committing murder. It felt unfair. And I felt powerless.


A few days later I was back at the club. Upon finishing my stage set I spotted the DJ sitting off duty at the bar. I arranged my ones, steadied my breath, and approached him. Before I could get more than a cursory greeting out, he started in about that day at the bank. He said as soon as I left, Teller No. 1 asked if he had worked with me at his other job. To which of course he confirmed. Then Teller No. 1 asked him to tell me that she “felt bad.” That she “has social anxiety” and “is awkward” and that she again “felt really bad.”


My instinct was to track the Teller down and shake the fragility out of her while simultaneously over annunciating that I do not give a fuck about her awkwardness or social anxiety. That her culpability has nothing to do with her pathologized behavior. Instead it has everything to do with her accountability.

Instead I swallowed my disgust.

I calmly told the DJ that her behavior was beyond inappropriate. I questioned why it was even her business to know where my money came from? I told him that both Tellers could have put me in danger. I gave an example that someone standing in line behind me could have overheard them and followed me to my car, deciding that I was a soft target to rob or worse. I reminded him that people commit violent crimes for less all the time. I also reminded him that it was none of her business and that her prying was a violation of my privacy.


As I spoke I saw his eyes glaze over. I watched him think about how he was going to respond and absolve himself and his staff from responsibility. I deduced that for him the only thing at stake here were both his and his staff’s discomfort over my direct challenge to their behavior. Other than that, no one cared.


When the DJ could no longer deal with his emerging discomfort, he cut me off and began minimizing my concerns. Customers began walking in. I reluctantly accepted that their defensiveness would take precedent over their accountability and I went back to work.



BTS Photo: Valerie Stunning

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