A personal essay in which Lily Burana, a former teenage peep show girl, looks back on a queer love story that began in New York’s notorious red-light district.
Lily Burana | Longreads | January 2019 | 8 minutes (1,880 words)
Before Disney sprinkled corporate fairy dust over Times Square and turned it family-friendly, Josef and I worked there. Not together, but at the same time. Not underage, but barely legal. He was a go-go boy at the Gaiety on 46th Street. I was a peep show girl at Peepland on 42nd. Those were dangerous days. Between crack, AIDS, heroin, and that old stand-by, booze, if you weren’t leveled, you were blessed, watched over by some dark angel. We believed we were among the lucky ones.
We didn’t have anything resembling guidance or even common sense to rely on. What we had was the dressing room tutelage of elders scarcely old enough to drink, and the backbone of every sex industry transaction — commodified consent. Customers grabbed whatever they could, based on whatever you were willing to endure. We coped the best we knew how, and what I couldn’t handle has bubbled up, decades later. Just because money makes you say Yes doesn’t mean the body doesn’t store No in its memory — as sorrow, as trauma.