The Girlfriend Experience is back on Showtime for season 2, and the show is definitely trying something new. Instead of picking up where we left off with Christine Reade (Riley Keough) — the law student moonlighting as an escort in Chicago — who was at the center of season 1, we have changed protagonists and locations. The second season follows not one, but two women connected to the underground sex trade. Things got pretty intense for Christene in the first season, but producers Lodge Kerrigan and Amy Seimetz have upped the stakes even higher for the women at the center of their stories. Seimetz is responsible for Bria’s (Carmen Ejogo) story. Sent to New Mexico, Bria is a former escort forced into witness protection to escape an abusive relationship, but she is missing the perks of her former life. Meanwhile, Lodge has developed Anna (Louisa Krause), a GFE provider in Washington, D.C., who has been enlisted to help a Republican super PAC to take down a political donor. The stories don’t appear to intersect and guarantee viewers double the drama. But I would be remiss not to mention that The Girlfriend Experience is still missing the same thing it desperately needed last year: a different perspective.
A mostly underground economy fueled by sex and money is easily juxtaposed with traditional standards of whiteness, from political elitism to mundane day jobs. It’s part of the reason why shows like The Girlfriend Experience do well in the first place. A pretty white girl with a clean background getting involved in a shady side hustle is interesting for people. That sex work can act as a stepping stone from a normal, middle-class lifestyle to an upper-class one is alluring. The show has rooted itself firmly in that perspective. However, the realities of both sex work and human desire are far more complex, diverse, and interesting.
There is no lack of diversity within the sex industry. Predictably, there are class, race, and gender disparities. So much could/would change about Anna and even Bria (who effortlessly falls into racial ambiguity and could even pass for white) if either of them were Black or trans. Their access to certain clients, income, and opportunities would change. Sex workers, and their clients, come from literally all walks of life and are just as likely to be skilled at web development and SEO as they are at applying eyeliner in the car. If any of the women were fat, older, or even tattooed, The Girlfriend Experience would be a show transformed, and likely for the better. Sex work is all about customers gaining access to bodies that are normally unavailable to them because of a strict set of cultural norms, economic boundaries, and socialization. The Girlfriend Experience has done a great job of examining what happens when these social boundaries are crossed, but only a couple of them.
Despite its taboo, there aren’t many issues or industries that are untouched by the sex industry. Trans people of color are often forced into the sex trade because of a lack of employment opportunities. Sex workers at all levels are constantly up against scrutiny, bias, and violence from lawmakers and law enforcement. They are more likely to experience violence or harm at work than any other profession. Addressing some of these issues makes for more than good television, it’s opportunity to decrease some of the stigma and save lives.