Lust Cause

Bestiality! Incest! Torture! Golden showers!
All things considered, the job just wasn't all it was cracked up to be.
"As if that were not enough, the money sucks!" gripes the ex-phone-sex operator, a woman whose daily workload resembled a verbal version of Marv Albert's datebook.

While her complaints are reminiscent of an old Woody Allen gag ("The food was lousy . . . and the portions were so small!"), the Valley woman who calls herself Madame X claims there's nothing funny about "inhumane" working conditions in the industry she describes as a "human strip mine."

With no apparent irony, Madame X compares the plight of her phone-sex sorority to that of Appalachian coal miners.

"Nobody gave a damn about them because they were underground and poor," she says. "Then, when people found out about the horrid working conditions in the mines, the laws changed."

Earning slightly more than minimum wage for a service for which customers were billed up to $5 a minute, Madame X estimates that on a good night, she generated between $2,000 to $3,000 for her former employer. Her own cut of the take? About $6.40 an hour--and all the verbal sexual abuse she could handle.

Seductively guiding callers through several dozen fantasies a night, X estimates that she's "serviced" more than 40,000 clients during her phone-sex career. Multiply that by thousands of other operators scattered around the country and it's easy to see that billions of dollars are at stake. Just how many is anyone's guess. Although phone-sex operations are legal, the Wall Street Journal has characterized the business as a "shadowy" industry dominated by perhaps fewer than a dozen companies, none eager to publicize its inner workings.

All of which infuriates Madame X, who perceives herself and other operators as crucial players in the industry.

"If Michael Jackson does his dance on the stage, you pay him," she says, fuming. "If Michael Jordan puts that damn ball through the hoop, you pay him. In this business, I'm the one who makes the payoff, so give me the money. And stop treating me like trash just because I'm in the sex industry."

Outraged about a variety of other job-related injustices--long hours, low wages, no rest-room breaks--that eventually forced her out of the business earlier this year, Madame X now hopes to do for aural sex what Norma Rae did for the textile industry. To that end, she's just mounted an ambitious one-woman crusade called SWEAT--an acronym for "Sex Workers Enlightened Attitude Training."

Operators are standing bi.

Who am I in this land of lust and lascivious liars? Retired! I do not miss it, but I am not ashamed of it, either. Personally, I think of a phone-sex operator as a sort of sensual Florence Nightingale. Like a nurse, she takes care of those intimate, often disgusting physical needs that umm shall we say arise in the middle of the night. No one gets sick, no one gets pregnant, and if company management provided the operator some support, nobody would get hurt.

excerpt from The X Trials,
an unpublished manuscript by Madame X

Eleven inches of hard plastic clutched in her hand, Madame X remains true to the instrument that led to her social activism.

Fearful that employers at a non-sex-oriented job she recently landed might take a dim view of her rabble-rousing, she insists on protecting her identity via phone interviews.

Faced with personal questions, this unlikely labor leader is clearly more comfortable with fantasy than fact.

"What difference does it make how old I am?" she asks. "How old do you want me to be? This issue isn't about me."

Over the course of many phone conversations, however, a sketchy profile emerges. A self-described "phonic femme fatale," X reveals that she's 30-something, divorced with children, has some college under her belt and has done some writing. She also suffers from a variety of problems--both health- and financial-related--that makes working out of her home not only attractive but almost mandatory.

"Single moms are often drawn to [phone sex] because they do not need a car, child care, work clothes or worry about their appearance," explains X, who fielded calls out of her East Valley "ghetto apartment." According to her, a high percentage of her co-workers reportedly have such marginal skills or suffer from such severe physical or emotional problems that employment in a normal work environment is impossible. Case in point: "If your boyfriend beats you up occasionally," says X, "you may not [go in to] work because of your injuries."

Describing most of her colleagues as "flawed gems"--women with highly creative minds but no formal job skills--X contends that many operators would probably be on welfare or disability were it not for phone sex.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Dewey Webb