So Jetta Rae, also known as Doublecakes, is an incredible writer as well as acting as my guide into the worlds of pinball and lube wrestling. In one of those very San Francisco moments, I was telling a lover about Jetta’s work around pinball (and our subsequent flirtations). I told him what I had learned, about the illegality of pinball and the regulations around it. As I described it, he nodded and said “oh, I see, a lot like sex work then”. And thus was this article born. Jetta wrote it beautifully and I feel like it’s a fun and educational read about decriminalization and money. Always money. I mean, her wrestling name is Big Business.
Hope you like! Check out her further writing here.
Hark, hucksters and love slaves! Take to heart this harrowed harbingering:
I convene, ever still reeling, from my dying, dime store dimension of the internet, where I am but a modest pinball journalist.
I come to your comely corner of the digital cosmos to dilate upon the dire. It seems the plight of our pursuits are interconnected, their fates plied by the immeasurable impetus of a common oppressor. It finds form and shape in many names. Capitalism. Criminalization. The Prison Industrial Complex. It’s imperative we don’t run out the clock splitting hairs on the proper protocol on identifying our oppressor. Is “oppressor” too endowed a nomenclature for the legislators and hired municipal muscle that regulate the prevalence of a game you can play on your computer? Who’s to say, really?
Well. I’m to say. And I say “no”, for at the union of these concentric struggles is a vast and concerted effort to regulate the pursuit of autonomous pleasure and reduce a woman’s body to a commodity of equal standing with a machine that has a naked woman’s body painted onto it.
In June 2014, the City of Oakland decriminalized pinball. Verily, that benign pastime you see so imitated in Windows 98 or in your favorite video game franchises has an impressive rate of illegality across the US. Before flippers became the core focus of gameplay (they were introduced in 1946 with Humpty Dumpty), pinball was believed by the conventional wisdom of yore to be a game of chance, which squarely sequestered it into the Nice Things We Are Not Allowed To Have category. The Federal and State laws regarding gambling and liquor have an ire for “games of chance” that is rivaled only by their complete and utter fucking confusion as to what constitutes a “game of chance”.
Before the advent of flippers, multiball, and other in-game incentives, the real draw of pinball was in its potential for profit. A pinball machine in the old town watering hole was a catalyst for unaccountable earnings: in addition to the inevitable wagers between wayward patrons, some bars and arcades would pay out their “rainy day fund” to whoever’d rein in a high score. American lawmakers, still in mourning from having to put down their last hobby horse, alcohol prohibition, took sledgehammers to pinball machines and waged a war on gambling. In 1941 the military received enough scrap metal from destroyed pinball machines to make four 2,000-pound bombs to drop on the Japanese.
Prohibition is always about profit; a capitalist government cannot afford its citizens financial autonomy. Every avenue of income must be surveyed and QA’d to ensure it poses no threat or means of disrupting the top-down. If I can make an extra buck here and there beating you at Ballyhoo on the sly, I probably won’t enlist to die in a trench on foreign soil or wade past the starving strikers of a picket line. Are you picking up what I’m putting down? This is stuff they make poor people do.
Prohibition cleans up nicely, and it does, in its glowering gown of moral panic and crocodile tear compassion, befit a tiara for a belle, but once we get to the “questions” section of the pageant you’ll see it doesn’t understand or care for the poor.
Well I wouldn’t know anything about how a standard forty hour work week at a wage grossly disparate from the cost of living overcommits and burns out the proletariat, ensuring their non-participation in socio-political process and the pursuit of solace in entertainment and consumption of recreational substances, ; I’m just so busy trying to save these poor wretches from themselves. I wanna be a veterinarian when I grow up!
Pinball was illegal in New York City until 1976, after Roger Sharpe entreated them to the wisdom of lanky school kids picked last at dodgeball: a fucking thing that requires hand eye coordination is not a “game of chance”. Though his demonstration did trickle forth a trend of take-backsies on pinball prohibition, the game is still illegal and/or heavily regulated in American cities, including Alameda, where the museum is. To comply, for some inconcrete definition of the word, the PPM had to remove the coin slots in their older machines (most solid state machines have a “free play” mode in their programming) and register as a non-profit. Our patrons pay a flat fee ($15 for adults, $7.50 for children) for unlimited games. Remember that: it’s gonna be important in a second. I mean, it’s important now, too, but I have some more points to make before I forget and then I’m in the shower muttering to myself all morning and my roommate is late to work.
How does pinball find so notable of a niche in a city where it’s still illegal? I’m glad I asked; great question!
This is one of those “letter of the law” shits: Alameda is known to not enforce the ban on pinball to the degree of other cities in the East Bay. Oakland PD has been supplying Alameda with confiscated machines. As gifts! Oh god: did I just spoil the police state apparatus for you? I’m so sorry. No, contraband of value is never just kept locked up in storage. ESPECIALLY NOT WHEN THAT CONTRABAND’S VALUE IS INFLATED BY ITS CRIMINALIZATION.
Okay, back to Door Number 1: pinball law and how this is relevant to you.
As the law/s stand/s, you cannot pay a pinball machine to play it. Instead, you can play the machine “for free” and pay a 3rd party for access to the machine, and that 3rd party may observe you playing the machine.
And where’ve you heard that before?
No no, you got this one.
It’s on the tip of your tongue–
YEAH. YEAH. YEAH. That’s what that is.
Some of you are sharp: you saw where this was going when I mentioned the police employing the variances of jurisdictional enforcement to contain illegal activity within predictable parameters.
I’m a former sex worker who has paid for sex. And probably will again. Because it’s fucking great. It’s not even about the sex, really: I get gratification out of supporting people in my community. And I’m a great John: if I can host, I make tea, and sometimes I even pack ‘em a lunch to have later. The last person who I paid to top me? I made them soup. From scratch. Are you listening to me? What we do is safe, sustainable, and consensual. Also, illegal.
Conversely, I could: call a hotline, book a date through an escort agency, or visit either of the unmentionable dungeons/brothels hidden within the East Bay. I could buy a ticket to an SF play party. You know the place. I could even approach a woman at that self-same party and offer her money to cane me and call me a fag until I cry. I know this because I’ve seen those transactions transpire in full view of dungeon staff. We are only allowed milk after someone, literally anyone who is not the consumer or purveyor, has taken the cream off the top of my bottle.
“But DoubleCakes (if that is your real name),” I hear you proclaim, “those places don’t offer ‘sex’. They’re very explicit about it. At that one place you mention, they’ll kick you out if you even ask about ‘sex’.”
To which I reply in rebuttal: as if. Tell that shit to Oaksterdam. Ask them if following the letter of the law gave them a hall pass. Or, if youŕe looking for something less explicit of my specific agenda: ask the pinball arcade in Beacon, NY, which was shut down in 2010 because they realized hey, the law’s still on the books, why not. It’s not like some blogger in 2014 is going to point out that New York State was where it was proven that pinball is not a game of chance or even an effective vehicle for gambling anymore. Not when you have fantasy sports or the lottery, you know, that government-sanctioned gambling that’s been speculated to be just as addictive and completely hopeless for the average–
I apologize. I’m letting the plot get away from me.
And thus the Jessica Valenti-scented sect of feminism has churned out and bequeathed us a new Child-Like Empress to lead and legitimize sex work to the mainstream. Sex Worker Political Identity 2.0 has a host of Whorearchy-supported features: white, early 20s, college educated or comes from an educated home, well versed in all waves, eager to identify themselves as a sex worker to friends and acquaintances, and hates sex.
It’s a shame that MyRedBook has been shut down. There would have been an ample sample size of ads full to bursting of lusty loquaciousness of services rendered laid atop a very firm and very emphatic disclaimer of “I do not have sex. Do not ask me for sex.” I mean, I wouldn’t have posted or linked to any; the struggle is real and I understand that everyone is doing the best they can with what they have given their understanding of the law and solidarity within it.
Adherence to the law that has a flawed and specific scope of what “sex” entails is neither morally or politically advantageous. To lay it down like a layman: it doesn’t mean anything and it won’t protect you.
In 2012 I was asked to join the staff of Folsom Street Fair to set up and run the “women and trans” space. At our initial planning meetings, we were informed that no sex would be allowed on the premises of the Fair, per San Francisco law.
Now guess which of these constitute “having sex at Folsom”:
*Pleasuring yourself in front of a crowd.
*Beating someone with a flogger until they orgasm.
*Pissing in a stranger’s mouth*
*Tying someone up and–
NONE. NONE OF THESE. You’re two months away from pissing in someone’s mouth in public without reproach from the law. This is the future. Veni Vidi Vici.
You can also pay to have someone do those things with/to you at [Redacted] or [Not Redacted, per se; Don’t remember the name]. Truly lewd they may be, those things escape the legal definition of “sex”.
And yet: the modicum of cover this nebulous nuance afforded MyRedBook didn’t save it from The Man. And they won’t save you and they won’t save me. And trimming your resume with reassurances that you’re not that sort of girl serves only to muscle more marginalized sex workers out of the venue of visibility. You literally make sex work less safe for everyone else, (including clients) by plying the privilege towards erasing “sex” and those who have it from the manual of acceptable discussion in sex work negotiations.
And those other sex workers you are disenfranchising with La Vida Hugo Schwyzer: you’re going to need them when a cop tries to take you in because it’s 1am and your garter’s showing under your skirt, or a client’s gotten a little possessive and knows where you like to get a taco. And if you end up needing medical attention or get held overnight, it won’t be the Game Night Gang who visit you and bring a charger for your phone and tell you that it wasn’t your fault and there’s no shame in the work you do. Especially not the guy who lost because you wouldn’t let him have “horcrux” on the triple letter square.
The profit motive mobilizes forever. The goal of shutting down MyRedBook is not to curb the carnal market: it is to yield the crop and let the soil rest. Another site; another seizure.
Prohibition is not about justice or morality or any of that. It’s about getting the fattest harvest.
The Federal government stands to make $5.4 million dollars from MyRedBook’s seizure. Don’t allow the notion that your local DA will not try to seize everything you own when your number gets pulled to occupy your mind for one single second. It’s written in the law: you have no more standing or autonomy than a bunch of Rolling Stones-branded wires and lights.
The pinball community is being modified in realtime. There are women’s leagues in Oakland and Portland; within and between the two is a thriving, active community of people of color. The face of the game is shifting away from a prior paradigm of older white men with lots of money. I mean, those guys still more or less run the community, because pinball is a very intricate and expensive hobby on the other side of the machine, but I believe in time they can be the outlier. That is, of course, unless, you know, a bunch of women and people of color try to start hosting their own pinball spaces or parties in a city where it’s still “on the books illegal” (or requires the momentum-busting bureaucracy of getting approval from the entertainment commission) and suddenly there’s cops in someone’s garage and hey why are you taking my machines those are mine I bought those that’s personal property there’s still coins in there why is it illegal to have friends playing my machines and asking for something back in return I mean electricity isn’t free–
Thus: a practical pact is proposed.
The enemies of prohibition, in all its forms, must unite; pinball perverts and pervert perverts.
A woman’s body is worth more than all the pinball machines in Hi-Life; the heart and soul within it deserve dignity and autonomy and pursuit of, if not happiness, than survival, to suffice. But, as divided, we are complicit in the commodification of women’s bodies and ultimately our pursuit of pleasure and fulfillment on our own terms. Those of us with access to pinball spaces must make room for visible, tenable solidarity with sex workers. And those of you/us with access to sex worker space need to hammer down whoreiarchy and fight tangible sexphobia within the community. As long as any of us believes we are better than or worth more than another, we are fated to fail in presenting a unified front.
You may surmise that this isn’t your fight, and it probably isn’t. The presence or absence of a safe space for sex workers to negotiate and provide community has little bearing on my ability to re-skin Lasercue and make it into an adaptation of HUGPUNX. But: it’s the same boot kicking down both our doors. And if that boot thinks you’ll be at my house or I’ll be at your house, then he might think twice. Or he’ll bring friends. And we’ll bring friends. That’s not stupid or spurious: that is spitting image of solidarity in the face of struggle.
Divided we drain; together, we cannot be tilted.
They’re–they’re pinball terms. Just look ‘em up.