Chicago is home to supposedly the only sex tour in the United States. And since I think sex is quite interesting for a variety of reasons - personal, political, philosophical, and ethical - and am new to Chicago, it seemed appropriate to go on such a tour. I was quite excited by the prospect of such a tour. I anxiously awaited its arrival and could not believe when the day finally arrived. I, of course, was a bit concerned that it would be cheesy and sanitized, but I let go of my concerns and toured the history of sex in Chicago.
I was not that impressed by the tour. I was, in fact, more disappointed in the tour than I was impressed...but this, I did not fully realize until after the tour ended and I discussed it with others. Yet, the tour was not a complete waste. I learned where the Leather Archive and Museum is located and was able to talk with Mistress Xena, a professional dominatrix, and see her BDSM dungeon. As a side note, in the dungeon, a volunteer was requested to illustrate how a particular piece of equipment worked. Since I cannot handle the awkward tension when such a request is made, I raised my hand and was to my surprise spanked by a professional dominatrix...which may potentially be the highlight of my time in Chicago.
Back to the tour though. I was disappointed in the tour because it seemed to rely on the glitz and glamor of being a "sex tour" without having much substance beyond this. The tour guides clearly knew what they were talking about (e.g. the history of prostitution in Chicago) and were practicing members in different sexual subcultures. They practiced what they preached. However, there is a balance that in my opinion needs to be struck in such instances so that the tour does not become personal story time about one's own sexual practices...after all I did not pay the money I paid to simply hear about someone else's sexcapades nor feel like it is a competition to see who is the "kinkiest" person...after all, fetishes abound and one could argue it's all a fetish. We all choose particular things to focus on - some are just seen as more "normal" than others - but all sexual desires, from "kinky" to "vanilla," are fetishistic.
Yet, this is a minor concern and a preference. My larger concern is what felt to me to be mild misogyny on the part of one of the tour guides. To some, it may seem odd on a tour that requires open-mindedness that misogyny might rear its head, but with the complexity of sexuality and its history such is perhaps not that strange. Here is where I saw misogyny rear its head. On the tour, we played a game called "Spot the Ho" where we were supposed to point out prostitutes. It seemed problematic to me that the guide would ask us to "Spot the Ho" - a game that singles out a population that is already ridiculed and "spotted out" - on a tour where we are supposed to be open-minded about sexual possibilities.
However of course, since it seemed rude to point and yell "there's a prostitute" we were to instead yell "CVS" which stood for "Common Variety Skank." The ingenuity of CVS is not lost...I do have a sense of humor. And I am not sure how the tour guide was using such terminology - so my accusation of the guide being a misogynist is perhaps a bit "early". Yet, since sex - especially prostitution and particular sexual subcultures - is so complicated, it seemed to me rather problematic to not at least footnote the ways in which the tour guide is using such terms (i.e. I am using the term "Ho" in reverence). Such a move, seems to me to then at least allow for a pause and for the participants to think about why reverence should be given to "ho's" or "skanks." To note that, we are spotting hos not to ridicule them and win a free ghost tour, but to make them visible, to see them as persons, persons who deserve respect and legal protections carries a drastically different purpose and feeling. It does not fall into the pointing prostitutes already experience, but into a category where such pointing might fleetingly be seen as a point that says "I see you, I recognize you, I respect you." Of course, how others seeing the pointing complicates this and gets us into bigger issues about perception, intention, and meaning...but I will not go there.
Now of course this may seem minimal and a bit idealistic...I am a philosopher though and I like to think about the symbolic meanings and possibilities. But what furthered my concern was the guide discussing how he knew more high-end call girls - individuals who clearly would not be victim to the came of "Spot the Ho." He did not, at least how he discussed it, know or talk to a lot of street walkers. I wonder then, would he play this game if he knew he might be pointing and inevitably laughing (because that is what we did when we first learned about the game) at friends or acquaintances?
Was the sex tour then merely a story telling about the guide's sex life? Was it what it's description said it would be? I think it was a combination of both...it bordered on being more glitz than substance. Yet, sometimes glitz is good so I don't want to downplay it. But the tour seemingly failed at providing depth and thoughtful engagement with a complicated subject matter. It at times seemingly maintained the problematic gaze at the "freakish sexual other" that it sought to challenge by calling for open-mindedness. But, of course such things happen. We are not immune to falling into such norms...the task though is to recognize it and through critique open up possible ways of touring sex without making it a tourist trap.