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17) The Art of Flipping

It's all in the eyes--the eyes. That's what the sex workers used to say. They would stare men down as they walked down the street--locking and holding gazes as the individual would approach. The men who weren't interested would simply look askance or keep their eyes pinned to the ground. But there were others. Those were the men who the women targeted. These "others" who weren't looking at anything in particular, but who glanced at the sex workers lining the streets of the historic center. The women would make lasting eye contact with them and then nod towards the brothel, as if to say, "Let's go." They would wink and flirt with their smiles. As men approached, sex workers would hiss and call out, "hey baby" in soft, but firm voices. Sometimes they would whistle or even catcall, in a reverse of gendered social practices. The sex workers would make gestures with their hands, pointing towards the brothel, asking men, "What do you need, baby?", "Can I help you with something?" or simply, "Come, Come with me."

In previous posts, I've pointed out that the vast majority of the sex workers' clients were loyal patrons with whom they had formed lasting relationships. It was a minority of men who they "flipped" on the spot to become new clients. But it happened. The women who were seductive, but also aggressive, knew how to get the most new clients. Women with bigger personalities, who could channel their charisma into two minute interactions, had a better chance at "flipping" men. Timid or shy women had the disadvantage here. But even the quiet women learned to be persistent--their livelihoods depended on it. It took them time to learn how to entice these strangers, but if they wanted to be contenders on the streets, they had to adapt, quickly. When it came to flipping men, it wasn't always the prettiest sex workers who were the most successful. It came down to personality and the powers of persuasion. That's why I call it an "art." It truly is an art to convince a man into having an intimate encounter when he is simply going about his day. Indeed, the women with the most charm won this game.

Usually, the women would offer a deal or discounted rate in a flipping scenario, as pulling in new clients was very difficult. The sex workers might start by offering a common act, like oral sex, for a discounted price. Once the client agreed to oral sex, the women usually tried to sell other services as well. Time was also a factor, as the sex workers sold their time in ten minute intervals. All services had to be enacted within ten minutes or there were penalty fees. The client would have to pay for another ten minutes, if he didn't "finish" in time. Obviously, some women ran a tighter operation than others. Some allowed clients to stay a few minutes late, but it was a big deal to start breaking the rules that governed the women on the streets. The community had agreed, at least tacitly, to all sorts of rules about how to treat clients. If one woman started disregarding the norms, she would essentially be putting the work conditions of all the women into jeopardy. For instance, we saw this all the time with prices. There was a strict price list of all the services performed. The sex workers all agreed to these prices and it was problematic if someone started offering certain services for cheaper. She could undermine the legitimacy of all the other women--it would push the prices down of everyone, creating a rush to the bottom (no pun intended). These rules were not written down anywhere nor were they readily spoken about, but all the women on the streets knew them. The women knew what was expected of them from the sex worker community. Flipping clients was an area in which rules could be bent, but if a sex worker took things too far, she would hear about it immediately. The veteran sex workers had their eyes and ears alert on the streets--they knew when a deviation happened, as soon as it happened. How? I don't know but, they always seemed to hear.

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