Praying, not preying: A way station for sex workers at the Adult Entertainment Expo

HSS1Once you get past the friendly but businesslike dudes guarding the door, the Hollie Stevens Hospitality suite at the Hard Rock Hotel is very welcoming. Visitors are checked in, offered an array of drinks and snacks, and then led to an area where they can get their makeup and hair done against the rigors of the Adult Entertainment Expo (AEE) floor 13 stories below.

“Everybody needs a little time to get away,” says Laura Lasky, director of SolaceSF, a Bay Area sex worker aid organization. “I’m quoting both Tia and Chicago.”

The “Tia” is Tia Kidwell, Hollie Stevens’ real name. Before Stevens died of cancer last year, she asked for such a way station in Las Vegas, where she would celebrate her birthday week at the AEE in years past.

SolaceSF is renting and running this suite in conjunction with the Vegas-based Cupcake Girls, which provides similar services as Solace offers in San Francisco, but in Sin City and Portland. As women relax and recline throughout the multi-room suite, I hear words of encouragement from the staff: “Aren’t you beautiful!” “What beautiful eyes you have!”

The services SolaceSF and the Cupcake Girls provide their respective communities come in standardized form and as an a la carte menu. Legal aid, rides to the hospital, childcare, educational services, and the scheduled delivery of cupcakes to strippers are part of the daily routine of both groups. I know that Hollie’s struggle was eased with SolaceSF’s help.

But no matter how welcoming and friendly this place is—and perhaps because of it—I can’t help but wonder what the catch is. Why are women being offered these expensive services for free and then leaving with gift bags full of Sephora products and Starbucks gift cards? And why am I suspicious when I catch a whiff of Jesus?

“Within our foundational DNA at Solace,” Lasky says, “we are wholly relational. This work can be very isolating.”

When I ask Cupcake Girls’ Regina about the faith issue, noting the aims of other organizations to coax women out of the adult industry, Lasky tells me that neither company in its organizational papers is listed as a faith-based organization.

“We offer resources to workers in clubs and brothels,” Regina says. “GED tutoring, educational help, medical…everybody is the same at the end of the day.”

I ask if the Cupcake Girls are ever greeted with skepticism.

“Yes,” Regina says. “Sometimes we show up and the girls don’t know what to make of us. But then they realize we’re just there to help.”

Lasky tells me there are at least 30 people staffing the suite for AEE weekend, and the following day—prior to the AVN Awards—they are expecting even more women to come to the suite to get their makeup done for the red carpet.


If there’s time, the starlet can schedule a massage or even a breast exam with a trained clinician. This is what Hollie Stevens asked for—a room to get primped and ready, like a porn princess in a suite full of handmaidens.

My friend Nikol Hasler comes with me, and as I talk with Regina and Laura, Nikol is (Holy) spirited away to get her hair and makeup done. Then I leave for dinner because I’m perfect the way I am.

When we reconnect, Nikol tells me I left her with a cult.

She tells me she had an odd conversation with the woman in the next makeup chair, whose own mother calls her a “mattress actress” and who says that adult performers, even when they’re retired, should never be allowed near children. Nikol doesn’t know the name of this 18-year-old, but she is not the first self-hating porn performer I’ve encountered.

Nikol says the makeup and hair ladies were very complimentary, but that she walked out looking more whorish than when she went in.

Later, Nikol says the staff asked her if it would be all right to pray over her, and she said Yes, so they did.

I have an uneasy relationship with many people of faith who make it a point of professing it. I have learned to not trust them. This is an occupational hazard of growing up Catholic. So when Nikol tells me about the laying on of hands, I’m disappointed that this whole thing has been a Call to Jesus, and I tell her that.

“It didn’t bother me,” Nikol says. “It didn’t hurt me, and it seemed to make them happy.”

I’d had similar talks with Laura Lasky about this. Laura likes to say she has “horns holding up the halo.”

Because of the way we are raised and the way sex figures into our religious and moral code, it is hard to disentangle Biblical proscriptions against non-marital sex and prostitution from that book’s directive to love thy neighbor and judge not.

I think about the very real help Hollie got from an organization that may not have been faith-based on paper but is faith-based at its heart. And I think of the very peaceful set of rooms Solace and the Cupcake Girls provided during that frenzied week.

Then I think about the last time I went on a free weekend vacation that was ruined by the mandatory 2-hour timeshare pitch I had to endure; Hollie’s hospitality suite seemed like a much better experience, especially since the praying was voluntary.

There seemed to be a distinction between Solace, which is run by a former sex worker, and Cupcake Girls, which is not. I ask Sabrina Morgan for her perspective, and she writes:

When the nail tech asked me what I did, I answered as I usually do that I’m a sex educator and sex worker. Given the nature of the suite I was a bit shocked when she then asked me, in honest curiosity, “What’s a sex worker?”

The fact that she’d never been exposed to the term before told me volumes about what kinds of orientation she and the other Cupcake Girls volunteers may have been given.

Later Morgan availed herself of the breast exam and medical consultation.

The doctor was professional and informative, answering my questions about how factors such as age, menstrual cycle, and presence of breast implants affect self-exams. She slipped up once with my name in front of the intern but used my requested name smoothly after I mentioned it. The exam took perhaps ten or fifteen minutes and while my results were as expected, of the performers screened, eight were referred for additional medical follow-up care. On that point the Hollie Stevens Suite was a success.

I ask Nikol if she thinks sex workers might feel less violated than I would about the praying.

“Yeah,” she says. “Nothing bad happens when someone prays over you.”

Do these organizations secretly want the communities they serve to leave this life behind and find Jesus? Maybe. But they’re not being dicks about it.

Laura tells me a story about the Starbucks gift cards.

“This is one of the gifts Hollie wanted for the swag bags,” she says. “It’s enough for a Chai Latte. Hollie would demand people drink Chai Lattes, and I think she liked when people didn’t like their Chai Lattes, so Hollie could drink them.”

When I get home I unpack my own Hollie Stevens suite swag bag, which includes the Starbucks gift card as well as some manscaping products I have no idea how to use. There’s also a cigar—a good one. I plan to spike a Chai Latte with an appropriate liquor and smoke that cigar. Then I look at all of the other goodies I got at AEE, none of which I’ll ever use, and none of which were picked with my enjoyment in mind.

So what’s the matter with a little praying?

Previously on Porn Valley Observed: Searching for Solace in the Sex Worker world; Hollie Stevens—cancer, yoga “for pussies”; CatalystCon—in the room with sex workers and elephants
See also: SolaceSF, Cupcake Girls

About Gram the Man 4399 Articles
Gram Ponante is America's Beloved Porn Journalist

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