There are many wonderful traditions that accompany election years. There’s the October surprise, the completely misleading polls and the drunk-ass watch parties that make you scream at the TV. But of all the election-year traditions our country savors the most, the requisite political sex scandal is by far the most notable.
In 1987, Democratic Senator Gary Hart lost his bid for the presidency after it was discovered he was having an affair with a younger woman named Donna Rice. In 2011 and 2013, Anthony Weiner was caught sexting with women through Twitter, and again in 2016 (this time with a minor), when his wife was part of Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid. And in 2017, Alabama Republican senatorial candidate Roy Moore was accused of sexually assaulting three women, two of whom were underage at the time.
Sex scandals have become so expected around election time that people implore sex workers and mistresses to come forward if they have any dirt on the politicians running for or holding office.
To that end, a few months ago, adult performer Sean Harding tweeted that he wanted to out “Lady G,” a prominent conservative politician who he said frequently hired male sex workers. Harding claimed that nearly everyone he knew in the sex trade had serviced this Lady G, and that this person’s anti-gay politics had made holding onto this knowledge an untenable burden.
Twitter lit up with users gleefully parsing the tweets for clues as to who “Lady G” was, and within minutes, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham was named (though the connection was never confirmed by Harding). Nonetheless, #LadyG trended for a few days, and now, five months later, people still refer to Graham as “Lady G” in tweets.
Not everyone was happy about Graham’s so-called “outing,” though. Some sex workers and gay rights activists called it homophobic and whorephobic — so what if Graham’s gay and hiring sex workers? Others, however, were quick to point out that while there’s nothing wrong with being gay or hiring sex workers, doing such things while pushing legislation against these groups was a hypocrisy that needed to be outed. Like Harding, they believed that exposing him might lead to him losing his seat.
In response, journalists took to Twitter offering to help any other “Ladybugs” who wanted to come forward and tell their story about Graham. Most sex workers scoffed at the idea, saying that for too long, journalists have treated them like idiots who need their access and talent to have their stories told. Rather than trusting that sex workers might have a better understanding of their own condition and the nuances of power that’s often wielded against them, they tend to spin their own narratives, motivated more by traffic and viewers than by the truth.
As a result, most sex workers who could have come forward in the case of Lady G opted not to. After all, we were already exhausted by being oppressed and humiliated by the general public, so being told we suddenly had a “civic duty” to air someone else’s dirty laundry at a key moment didn’t sit quite right. In a country where the public never gets tired of wanting to use whores to advance their goals — whether it’s through anti-trafficking legislation or taking down Donald Trump — we were acutely aware that we’d get the shit end of that stick, and so, our lips stayed sealed.
Frankly, it’s for the best.
Well, I’d like you to consider, for a moment, what you’re really asking of sex workers when you wistfully invite them to come forward about the politicians they’ve slept with. First of all, sex work is illegal in most places. Thus, if you’re a sex worker, coming forward means subjecting your life and finances to legal scrutiny and exposing yourself to potential incarceration. Then there’s the trial-by-media you’ll go through, a crucible of online vitriol, harassment and discrimination waged not just against you, but your friends and family, too. You’ll likely also have to face a legal trial — if the target is a powerful political figure, they’ll have access to law enforcement and teams of lawyers who will use your profession to question not only your story, but your morality as a human being.
Likewise, you should be prepared to lose potential clients who worry you won’t be discreet. Coming out will put your name in the ether, possibly forever — future employers will now know you are, or have been, a sex worker. Many people engage in sex work sporadically and briefly to make quick cash on their way to bigger dreams, and a scandal can derail them for a lifetime. Sydney Leathers, the woman at the center of the Anthony Weiner scandal of 2013, found this out after BuzzFeed leaked her legal name. She was working for a law firm at the time — this is now a career she can never return to.
Meanwhile, the press, which so often offers to take great care with these stories, usually hijacks the narrative and reshapes it to fit with common myths around what prostitutes and tricks are like. In the process, the sex worker is painted as a conniving person looking for attention or a pitiful victim. Either way, they’re completely disempowered, regarded as little more than an object to be hurled at the enemy.
I got the chance to ask Leathers what the experience of doing her “civic duty” of coming forward was like, and her story should serve as a cautionary tale for any sex worker thinking of throwing themselves on the pyre in the name of revolution. “I never considered saying anything until [Weiner] was on the cover of People saying he was a changed man who didn’t sext,” she tells me. “[He] actually had the nerve to send me the cover, as if to boast, like ‘Look how I have everyone fooled.’ I just felt like he was a typical hypocritical politician. The public’s response to me was exactly as expected. Even though I was only 22 when I started talking to him and 23 when I was outed, I was treated like I must’ve been some evil mastermind who set him up because I wanted to be ‘famous.’ Even though he was a married rich, powerful public figure and there was a crazy unfair power dynamic between us, I was seen as the bad guy.”
“People also don’t consider that if you’re outing someone relating to a sex scandal, that person is forever unemployable,” she continues. “All the people who judged me for making money from porn or tabloids didn’t consider I had no other job options anymore. I worked at a law firm before this and could never go back to that career. What else was I supposed to do? The media basically forced me into a position to do public sex work and then gave me a hard time about it.
“Weirdly, the best thing to come out of it was a shift in my mindset. I had PTSD prior to this that I wasn’t managing well and this pushed me over the edge and forced me to get help. I think having everyone in the country hate me collectively made me decide I needed to stop hating myself. I went through a lot, but I’m actually a much happier, healthier person than I was back then.”
Moreover, Americans have grown so cynical that it’s become a given that men with power and means will sexually assault people, steal from charities, evade taxes, cheat on their spouses, have mistresses and pay for abortions. The bar for politicians in particular is so low that an actual snake could clear it as long as it was promising universal health care or closed borders.
Case in point: Stormy Daniels put her ass on the line to reveal that Trump had an affair with her while his wife had a newborn and then tried to pay for her silence. Liberals felt better that they had proof that Trump was wretched, but nothing happened to him. At best, it was added to the list of things about him that were terrible, but instead of that list item saying he “cheated on his wife and threatened the woman he had an affair with,” it’s that he “raw-dogged a porn star.” The implication here is that what was gross was having sex with a sex worker, not betraying his marital vows, which goes to show that those on the Left can be as casually misogynistic as Trump — they just want their kind of misogyny instead.
We know this because when the scandal in question is about one of “our” candidates, the first thing that we do is start in with the excuses and apologies. Monica Lewinsky or the other women who made sexual assault claims against Bill Clinton were badgered, shamed and harassed, and the humor at the time was “wink, wink, nudge, nudge, who wouldn’t fuck a hot intern if they were president?”
Along the way, the sex worker or woman in question has their support system torched to ash and their private lives dissected and put on display for all to see. Then, when the show’s over, they’re left to stitch themselves back together.
Oh, and what about Lindsey Graham?
None of it mattered in the end. He just got re-elected to his Senate seat. No one cared about Lady G. In fact, he just remarked in a speech that young women can have a place in America if they’re pro-life, embrace religion and “traditional family structures.” This was said by an unmarried, childless man who has been dodging rumors that he’s gay for more than a decade. But no one who voted for Graham cares if he’s gay and likes to hire sex workers as long as he keeps pushing anti-gay legislation.
In other words, as long this kind of hypocrisy continues to flourish, so too will Lady G.