Photo: Vivian Giang
When you grow up in Eastern Oregon and win an athletic scholarship to college, an international career in the sex industry may seem a little far-fetched. But that’s what happened to Amber and Heather in 1997 when an injury and financial problems became the catalysts for their decision to become exotic dancers. International burlesque performance shows soon followed, their publishing company Porcelain Publishing, the book The Porcelain TwinZ, Our Life In The Sex Industry and erotic art film “The Masked Charade.”
We sat down for an interview with Heather and Amber to get an insider scoop on what really happens in the sex industry.
Q: How did your career in the sex industry begin?
A: Well, we were going to college on athletic scholarships. Amber got injured and we were going to school in California. Amber came back to Portland and she couldn’t find a job. All of her financial aid and scholarship — she had exceeded the limit so she didn’t qualify for any more money, had to find a job and she couldn’t find a job because she had no job experience and punk rock hair and piercings so no one would hire her.
Then someone said, “Why don’t you try stripping?” It was the amoeba of what was to come. We blew fire and did all kinds of crazy stuff, didn’t really know what we were doing, but it started to take shape as we went along and in 2000, Dante’s Sunday Sinferno Cabaret opened up so it was a once per week venue. They gave us an outlet to be creative, put together shows and that’s really where it began.
So we started creating performance art pieces, which kind of turned into fetish mixed with burlesque which is where we came up with “fetish burlesque.” I don’t think we were like, “Let’s create a new genre that’s never been done” when we were doing it. We were just doing it.
Q: What’s the difference between burlesque and fetish burlesque performance?
A: Burlesque is a traditional art form derived from the ’30s, ’40s. But it’s very specific. There’s very specific guidelines. It’s very traditional and we kind of modernized it. We had other ideas that we just incorporated and really didn’t want to follow any rules or guidelines. But we really were inspired by burlesque and we were inspired by fetish and we just combined it without really thinking about it. It was like our artistic expression.
Q: Do you think fetishes are healthy? To what extent are they healthy and to what extent are they unhealthy?
A: It depends on the person. If it’s something that’s consuming their every moment of their life, then, of course, that’s not healthy. I’ve met people where it’s super unhealthy. They have low self-esteem, low self-worth, they want to be punished and I feel like that person needs help. But then there’s people that just do it as a release. It’s so situational.
Q: How do you think running a sex business is different from a standard business? How is running something sex-related different from running a hair salon or a clothing store?
A: You’re probably not going to feel the need to drink or do drugs, because the sex industry is 99% alcoholics and drug addicts. It just swallows girls alive. Young girls — they don’t know what they’re getting into and then, to cope with what they have to do to make a living, it’s what happens, you just get sucked into it, really fast women. But it’s not always fast money. People think it’s really easy money, but it’s actually really hard work. It’s a really, really physical job.
The sexual harassment that goes on … tons of it. Depending on the avenue of the sex industry you are in. Like in strip clubs for example, women don’t get a paycheck, they have to pay to work, they have all these fees to pay.
Q: What kind of fees do you have to pay?
A: House fees. If you’re working at a certain club here in New York City, it’s like a $200 a night minimum to work and I don’t know if there’s any other fees on top of it, but it’s like, just to work you have to pay $200. And maybe you’d make that, maybe you won’t. I don’t know how much you’d make in New York — we haven’t actually danced just as house girls in New York. You have to pay the DJ, you have to pay the bouncers, if you get drinks, you tip the bartender or whatever, and then usually you have to pay a house fee. You have all these fees to pay before you make any money.
Q: Do you have someone who represents you or takes care of your money or do you do it all on your own?
A: We do it all. We always have. We have agents that book us for certain gigs, but when it comes to business, we do everything ourselves. We have a lawyer. That’s all you need.
Q: How do you market yourself?
A: The Internet, Web sites, word of mouth. I mean, it’s been our shows that have kind of spoken for themselves and that’s what’s given us the opportunity to travel all over the world. We toured really, really heavily for five solid years. Toured, toured, toured. Promoted. Passed out a lot of cards everywhere we went so we got really well-known that way. If you have the big shows to back it up, people will want to see more. The shows are what propelled the career…and having the internet. It’s walking the walk.
Q: Why did you decide to venture into your own publishing company instead of using something that’s already out there?
A: Basically, what we do is really controversial and taboo because we’re identical twin sister and the sex industry is a very … I mean, we titled our book, “Our life in the Sex Industry.” It’s very in-your-face and it’s kind of a conservative world when it comes to book publishing for the most part. So we said, “We want all creative control, we don’t want anything getting cut out.” We had an artistic vision we wanted to be able to express.
There’s so many more alternatives now than when we published back in 2005. You don’t even need the real paper. You can just have it online — an audio book, ebook, or whatever.
Q: Where did the capital to start your own publishing company come from?
A: We toured our asses off on the road and saved all of our money.
Q: Why is the sex industry so profitable?
A: Sex sells. I mean, its been glamorized a lot probably in the last decade from music videos. Basically, you have all this overly glamorized image of what being a stripper is. Like young girls are seeing this and they turn 18 and get into it and it’s a totally different story. I think it’s been sensational in a way. People don’t realise, once you’re in it, it’s gritty, you have to do things maybe that compromise … It’s the closest thing you can get to prostitution without it being prostitution. You’re exchanging a sexual service for money.
As a performance artist, we could be touring all over the country and pretty much making as much or the same as if we just stayed home. Or maybe a little more. They’re both good money, but it’s all hard work. It’s a matter of preference. Quality of life. We’re working on other stuff.
We’ve adapted our book into a feature film and we’re in the process of trying to make that happen. And we’re writing another book as well.
Q: How much time goes into preparing for a burlesque show?
A: If it’s a totally new show, probably a few weeks before it’s dialed in, but once it’s dialed in, it’s done. We have a process. It takes about three days to get it done. We have a vision, we orchestrate it, and we start choreographing it, coming up with ideas of how we want to create it. And then we have to practice, practice, practice.
Q: What made you want to go beyond exotic dancing? Was there a tipping point that made you decide you wanted to become international performers, write a book, make a movie? Or did you just kind of fall into it?
A: We were back in school and Playboy TV came into town and threw a wrench into everything. It changed our whole direction. There was a producer who wanted us to come to L.A. We started shooting for adult magazines. It’s not like we wanted to be in the adult industry. We just got ripped into it. I think our adult magazine experience was really degrading and demeaning compared to being a stripper. [As a stripper] you kind of have a little more power than you do being in the porn industry.
I think Playboy TV was the turning point where we said, “Ok, we want to do something, make some kind of career.” There was a driving force inside of you that said to you, “I can’t just sit in a classroom and study whatever. I feel like I’m wasting time. I’m meant to be doing something. Something bigger, better and greater.”
Q: If you weren’t doing this, what else would you be doing?
A: We’d probably open a holistic spa. But I think that’s something we might do down the road. But I can’t imagine not doing this. I mean, this is just kind of the segue into fim or more books. It’s just an artistic expression whether writing a screenplay, or another book or a photo shoot. It’s just another way to express yourself as artists. But definitely holistic spa. But we can’t tell you our ideas yet.
Q: What is the biggest challenge of being in the sex industry?
A: Judgment. You can’t really put it down on your rental application.
Q: Where do you see yourselves in the next 10 years?
A: Making films. Making feature films. Like the big screen and music. We’re really passionate about music.
Q: So, no more performing?
A: No, there will be dancing, it’s all incorporated.
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