brothels, clients, consent, discrimination, laws, mandatory testing, Melbourne, personal stories, safe sex, sex industry, stigma, the boss, Victoria
After the raid at Karma Therapy I felt lucky. I had gotten away without being arrested or even charged, but it was the second one I had been through. The first one had left me with a criminal conviction that stays on my permanent police record and I didn’t want to know what would happen if I was caught in a third raid. So I began to think about other options.
I had heard that there were legal brothels in other states and I had met sex workers who had gone to Melbourne and made decent money. I was single and without responsibilities at the time and so after chatting with my friend we decided to travel to Melbourne for a working holiday. This was before everyone had the internet, and the only way to get information was to get our hands on a Victorian Yellow Pages and “let our fingers do the walking”.
Choosing a brothel in Melbourne to work at was as simple as calling up the first couple of ads that appealed to us for whatever reason and making some enquiries. We settled on the the place that seemed the most welcoming and didnt make us jump through too many hoops. That was “The Main Course”.
I just looked it up online, it still exists, but looks a lot classier than it was back then. Maybe I should have changed the name but I chose not to because, well, you can’t make up more a amusing name than “The Main Course”, but my recount about my time(s) there is from 15 years ago, so please, don’t take this post as some kind of “review” or description of the current establishment in any way..
And wow. It was an eye opener for me. It was the first time since I began in the sex industry, that I was working in a place that looked like what I had always pictured a brothel to look like. It was an old terrace house, with about 4 levels and 10 work rooms. All the work rooms had built in showers showers and buzzers and other brothelly conveniences. We had a staff dressing room and our own lounge and bathroom and there were cupboards and cupboards and cupboards and cupboards of clean fluffy towels everywhere. On a busy Saturday night I would be on shift with up to 20 other workers. It was a change compared to what I was used to, which was very small discreet settings with only two of us on shift. I have this vivid memory of the main course where I was leaning into the long mirror, the kind of mirror with stage lights all around, I was fixing my makeup along with a bunch of other women in various states of undress and lingerie, there were racks and racks of costumes and fetish wear behind me, and I could see into the lounge where there were even more women reading, knitting, passed out, eating, gossiping, and I just wished I had a camera. Well I wished I had a camera and was allowed to use it. I knew this image belonged in my future book. It’s ingrained in my memory as one of those… picture memories that signify a whole section of your life. It was so….. surreal.
I was young, shy, baby-faced, fairly innocent and good girl looking and here I was amongst these seasoned, sexy, confident, experienced women. It took me a while to settle in.
On our first night management showed us around, told us the prices and introduced us to the other workers. We had to show our ID, which we weren’t used to (being from illegal Adelaide) and that made us a little nervous, but we quickly got over it. As soon as the manager left us alone, the other workers grabbed us and starting whispering to us: “They say its $120 for half an hour but its $150 for half an hour, we all charge $30 more than management say, and we keep the extra money, we all do it, the clients expect it, and if you don’t do it, your undercutting us and then there will be issues”
(haha I notice according to the website that price hasn’t gone up in 15 years)
“but what if the client says he was quoted a lower price on the phone, wont we get in trouble?”
“No, if they demand the cheaper price, then just accept it, but give them a shit service, we all do it, you wont get into trouble”
“So I get my half of $120 plus the extra $30, sounds fine to me!”
And that was our orientation to our new workplace. But our initiation was yet to come. In Victoria, brothels are legal and licensed and one of the laws is that sex workers have to get tested for sexually transmitted infections regularly. I think it was fortnightly back then. As we had just arrived from Adelaide and come straight into work without our ‘pink slip’ (the medical certificate), our boss had been so kind as to book in a nurse to come to the brothel to do our tests. Now even back then, I could see the ridiculousness of this. For a start, it would be weeks before I got the results, by which time I would be back in Adelaide, so what was the point? Secondly, things like HIV take 3 months to show up in your blood, so really it was only going to tell them an accurate result for 3 months ago, if I had contracted something yesterday, it wouldn’t show up until 3 months time. And also, I use condoms all the time, so whats the issue? And I got tested regularly by myself back home, I knew i didn’t need to get tested, I hadn’t broken any condoms, I hadn’t taken any risks. But, we went along with it because we wanted to work.
The nurse took me into one of the workrooms, got the bright light out, had me strip off below the waist (no discreet little privacy sheets or towels for a whore) and I layed on one of the brothel beds. Once in position she began poking and prodding me and shoving things into me. It was awful, I mean, pap smears are kind of invasive at the best of times, but in this context? almost under duress? it was very undignified. But the worst bit was when she explained she was about to do an anal swab! I protested! Why did she need to do an anal swab? I don’t do anal sex. I don’t allow my clients or anyone in my personal life to go near my bum. But she insisted. I cried. The sensation of the swab being pushed into places where I didn’t want it. It was…….. confronting, and pointless, and when I think about it all these years later, it makes me angry. A whore’s holes are NOT public property!
I felt stupid for getting upset about this invasion of my body, but it didn’t detract from my desire to make money. I was lucky to have my friend with me who made me feel justified in my emotional reaction. But in the end I just wanted to get on with my job. I mean, I HAD to make money now, I’d just had a nurse unconsensually shove objects into my anus so that i could have permission to make money. And so a money-making we did go.
Intro’s at The Main Course were a whole new thing again. I was used to us workers meeting the clients one at a time, having them tell the receptionist which worker they chose and then taking them to the room and beginning the service. And anyone who did the math earlier might have realised 10 work rooms and 20 workers on shift could occasionally present problems.
For a start, it was competitive. Very. And I’ve never been good at competitions. How could a quiet, innocent looking me in my cute little office attire and full brief undies compete with these sexy g-string clad vixens with a skill for dirty talk? And then when a client did choose me, how do I hang on to them since usually we would have to wait for a room to become available, and in the meantime every other worker in the place would walk past with her bedroom eyes and wandering hands and before you know it, my client would abandon me for them.
I spent the first night working hard and not making a lot of money. I watched the other workers, i tried to be like them, I was pashing clients before I even got a room just trying to keep them. I couldn’t compete. I gave up. But by the end of the first night I had figured it out. I didn’t need to compete. I had my own thing. All that stuff I was trying to play down, I needed to play it up. “I’m shy, innocent and the good girl next door, no I can’t dirty talk, but pick me, im super sweet.” And it worked. I had found my niche, and I liked it. Much easier than trying too hard to be something so far from what felt comfortable.
The main course had a good deal going for the workers that on the 10th job, you got to keep all the money. I hit that target plenty in my first week there. $1000 a night was a good night at the main course. Who can argue with that?