By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
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LOS ANGELESNow that breakout indie film Hustle & Flow has made pimps all cool and three-dimensional and shit, I thought it was time to delve deep into the world of another kind of 'ho management, into the mind of a personality that populates the San Fernando Valley (where, if you haven't figured out by now, I've been residing for the summer). He's a person who is integral to how the adult industry works, whose background and motivation are complex. He is ubiquitous, yet underrepresented in the media and mysterious to the point of being almost mythic. I'm talking about the porno archetype known as the suitcase pimp.
A suitcase pimp is the significant other of a porn star, who does, well, what he does depends on who you ask. The pimp himself would say he manages said performer's career. (I use "he" for now, although more on the politics of gender and pimps later.) The general consensus among industry insiders I spoke to, however, is that he doesn't even do the work of a regular pimp, useful things like making deals and managing money.
Says 20-year industry veteran Ernest Greene, "A suitcase pimp is an individual who attaches him or herself to a porn star or other sex worker, generally through some sleazy form of emotional manipulation, and performs a minimum of useful labor on the worker's behalf in return for financial support." Carly Milne, former porn publicist and editor of the forthcoming book Naked Ambition: Women Pornographers and How They Are Changing the Sex Industry, adds, "He drives the girl to set, carries all her shit, wipes the cum off her face at the end of each workday, then takes her money under the guise of either a management fee or for savings, but tends to spend it on himself, usually some kind of combination of alcohol, cigarettes, or narcotics." That's just a taste of the negativity surrounding suitcase pimps. They beat their girlfriends. They make them work in porn against their will. They take all their cash. It's not surprising, then, that calling someone a suitcase pimp is a hefty insult, one meant to indicate that he's a hanger-on who makes his girl do all the hard work so he can stay home and live the good life.
I think in general it's pretty hard to be the other half to a porn star, especially if you're a guy. Digital Playground director Robby D says a suitcase pimp is "a guy who can't get his dick hard in front of the camera. If he could, he'd be a performer." Unless you're a current or former director or performer, there is this stigma attached to being with a girl who gets gangbanged for a living, which contributes to all partners of porn stars being labeled suitcase pimps until proven otherwise. And while there are said to be hundreds now in existence, finding self-identified suitcase pimps was a tough proposition. I interviewed several alleged candidates and asked them all the simple question "Are you now or have you ever been a suitcase pimp?"
I could only find one willing to say yes on the record: Tim Case, suitcase pimp to his wife of 11 years, adult-film star Felicia Fox (feliciafox.com). Early in Fox's career, Case arrived on a set carrying her bags, and a director gave him his nom de porn. He was told right away that it was a put-down, but he decided to turn it around and embrace it, "very much like the homosexuals did with Queer Nation," he told me. "I grabbed hold of it and made it mine. I think other suitcase pimps should follow suit. Of course, we're a much smaller subculture."
Case has happily reclaimed both the term and his role, although he wants people to know he's not a bad suitcase pimp: "We have a mutually supportive relationship. It was her idea to get into the business and I supported her. I'm not calling producers to see who'll book Felicia for a double anal so I can get myself a new leather jacket."
Experts agree that suitcase pimps can play a useful role: They can make sure the girl gets to the set on time (a not easily accomplished feat in the land of porn, trust me). And the good ones can do the work of an agent or manager. "Though I've painted them out to be an unseemly bunch, not all suitcase pimps are horrible pockmarks on society's face. I know a couple that, while still dragging suitcases and wiping cum, love their girls to death and would do anything for them, and not just because they're bringing home the bacon," says Milne. "They actually support their significant other's career because if that's what she wants, they want her to be happy." And support comes in many forms, as Milne illustrated with a story about one suitcase pimp who "was so supportive that he'd pleasure himself to her scenes as she was shooting them. Now that's dedication."
As with any profession, there are downsides. The main one for suitcase pimps seems to be the difficulty of commanding respect from those around them. The disdain for them as a group is intense. But maybe, just maybe, the suitcase pimp's skills, intentions, and value have been misunderstood all along. What about the guy who does not aspire to be a performer but simply strives to be the wind beneath his girl's wings (or the baby wipe under her ass, as the case may be)? How can we not acknowledge the usefulness of having a personal assistant, bodyguard, roadie, salesman, publicist, manager, and husband all rolled into one?