Like Many Sex Workers, Tilly Lawless Has Her Own Critique Of The White Lotus

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The White Lotus characters Mia and Lucia
The White Lotus creator Mike White has often vocalised his fascination with wealth, class and the ensuing power dynamics they elicit. Season two has another very conspicuous theme — sex. It's impossible to examine the collision between class and sexual desire without addressing sex work.
It's natural for sex workers to be distrustful of representations of us in the media. I've seen many sex workers critiquing the depiction of Lucia and Mia (though for me, I would argue Mia isn’t a sex worker and rather just dabbles in it. She doesn’t have an ad up and simply joins her friend for doubles, letting the labour of penetrative sex itself fall on Lucia). 
It is true that Lucia is messy and unprofessional. She engages in ways that would be absurd for a private worker to engage in. Acknowledging clients in public when not in the midst of a booking with them breaks one of the main tenements of sex work — discretion. But what's far more unrealistic and concerning is her asking for payment after sex. Collecting money upfront is the first thing you are told about, and the first lesson you learn the hard way if you don’t stick to it. At times, it was hard to tell if it was bad writing that didn't have the consultation of a sex worker, or if she was meant to be a baby hooker — making mistakes and working things out without the benefit of more experienced colleagues. 
And she wouldn't be the only messy and unprofessional character. After all, Portia is also messy and unprofessional — yet we don't see her as indicative of what personal assistants are like. Other sex workers' concerns are valid though — the average viewer would assume we operate as Lucia does, albeit frustratingly, in those initial episodes. At the same time, I appreciate that Lucia was shown as having a personality and interests beyond her work, and that it was clear she was using sex work as so many women do — to climb the ladder of class. 
As the season progresses, we find there are other sex workers hiding in plain sight; Jack (though I think many queer people immediately clocked him as a gay-for-pay rent boy), and Niccoló. They are hired hands and bodies, both a paramour and a quick fuck, but also a co-conspirator and killer. Jack has to do many things he doesn’t like doing for his ‘uncle’, as he tells Portia when he’s drunk. Sex is not necessarily the worst or most degrading thing out of all of those. It’s certainly less deceptive than the role he plays with her — "Just let me do my job", he says when she begins to see through him.
Hardly any of the sex in The White Lotus is sex for the sake of horniness. We see other kinds of transactional sex — Mia tries, and fails, to further her singing career by fucking the aged male singer. She then nails it — quite literally — when she nails the lesbian hotel manager. We see sex used for vengeance (in Harper, Daphne and, presumably, Ethan) and for validation in Portia. We also see it alongside financial need, ambition, ego and control. Amongst all of these motivations, money is hardly the dirtiest and is often the most transparent. 
In the sex industry, escorts often use dress to signal class and wealth to clients, as well as attract the kind of clients they want. Their clothes are not just aspirational, but also bait — to catch the right fish. It was fascinating to see that the rich gays were also using aesthetics to catch fish, drawing Tanya into camaraderie and a false sense of security. In this season, we see that rich people may live off the labour of the working class, but in turn, they can become a target to rinse — an unpleasant truth they don’t want to be reminded of. Tanya chases out the tarot reader who warns her of betrayal, though she is actually constantly aware of her life as potential prey, only feeling safe with other rich people. Tanya and Albie are both marks, and by association, Portia.

I appreciate that Lucia was shown as having a personality and interests beyond her work, and that it was clear she was using sex work as so many women do — to climb the ladder of class. 

When Lucia picks out Albie as a mark, she adapts her game. Albie has a saviour complex and is willing (and ready) to see all women as victims. He also has preconceived notions and prejudices around sex work — it's these ideas that Lucia manipulates to use against him, getting a friend of hers to pose as a pimp so Albie believes she is under threat and needs to pay her a large sum of money to free her. In this, she is more of a scammer than a sex worker. Yes, she uses sex work to benefit her position. But more importantly, she uses Albie's own attitudes to sex work, to land a whale. "She played me," he says, which is true. But he also played himself in thinking that just because the wealth lay in his favour, so did all the wits. It’s a misapprehension many rich people have.
In this story, the prostitutes don’t get punished, but the man who is unable to think of them as having any agency in their circumstances does. The man who believes that his American-college brain is smarter than their perceived parochial Italian sex work brains gets a tap on the knuckles that he can well afford. 
The White Lotus then is partly about transactions, the covert and overt, and whether they can occur without both parties being aware of them. Dominic is one of the few characters who is successful in the season, coming home to possibly better prospects than when he left. That’s because he sees his transactions with Lucia and Albie for what they really are. The playing field is evened out through transactions, and characters are also just about getting even. The two couples use sex as a method of revenge, and Ethan gets even with Cameron through his fists — a violence that leads Cameron to finally pay Lucia (though maybe he had been intending to all along). 
Sex work is one of the more honest and upfront transactions that occur in our society. Yet it's terrifying because of what it can reflect back to us — we are often engaging in transactional relationships without even realising. People might fuck you for reasons other than desiring you. Class is not as static as we would like to think. And the dynamics between us all are laid bare because of it.
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