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Her Survivor’s Instinct: Paul Frankl on Roxanne

(Screenshot from Roxanne, courtesy of Paul Frankl)
Roxanne and Lily negotiate breakfast. (Still from Roxanne, courtesy of Paul Frankl)

Roxanne, a short film about a trans sex worker who reluctantly takes in an abandoned child, was recently selected as a Vimeo Staff Pick and has been accepted at 14 international film festivals, including two Oscar qualifying fests.  It will soon be made into a feature film. The following interview was conducted by Sarah and Caty with director Paul Frankl over e-mail. 

Roxanne is played by a genderfluid drag queen performer, Miss Cairo. That adds an interesting layer to her portrayal of Roxanne, because a lot of trans workers exist in gender variant spaces. Sarah noted that Roxanne is a character she could actually imagine working alongside her in a trans parlor, and she’s never seen that done on film before. Can you tell us more about this casting choice?

Casting someone of fluid gender was not something I initially set out to do. I auditioned eight trans and genderfluid women (because I knew I wanted someone from the trans community, as an ethical choice), and of them, Cairo was the one I wanted for the role. We then had many discussions around gender (her own and Roxanne’s) and it was her who brought the genderqueer aspect, which I wanted to embrace and thought made a great extra dynamic to the film. Exploring someone as genderfluid is something that’s rarely seen in the media (even less than representations of trans people given the rise in awareness over the last couple of years), and something I think is definitely worth exploring more in film.

Another thing we loved about the short was the way you holistically represented all the aspects of Roxanne’s life—her morning run was given just as much if not more film time as her nightly sex work.  In your Hunger TV interview, you stated that, “by pushing the fact that she is a trans sex worker to the background, I hoped to humanise her and make her a character that everyone can relate to.” Why do you think it’s so hard for mainstream audiences to see beyond the label of “trans sex worker” and understand trans workers as whole persons beyond their jobs and gender identities?

I think films can allow people to connect with others on an emotional level, in a way they can’t through many other mediums. This is why it’s a great way to help change attitudes towards trans people and sex workers, because the audience can see their hopes, fears, and daily life—things that we all have—and relate to them. Too often, trans sex workers (and sex workers in general) are presented as victims, crazy, or drug addicts. I wanted to show a trans sex worker who was in control of her life—with her own issues, but ones that don’t revolve around her gender or career. In this way I hoped to be able to change some attitudes towards sex workers of those watching. Hopefully, this can be done more (to a wider audience) with the feature.

We were surprised by Roxanne’s agreement with Lily’s statement that she puts on her makeup to be someone else, rather than telling Lily that the makeup is just part of being the woman she is. In the Hunger TV interview, you also said that “[p]art of the key to the film was differentiating between the light and dark aspects to Roxanne’s life. We wanted to visually separate the day from the night scenes, and show the duality of her life—her real self vs. her masked self…” What is Roxanne’s “masked self”? A common stereotype about trans women holds that they are pretenders to womanhood. How is Roxanne not being her real self when she puts on makeup and displays her femininity?

Her ‘mask’ relates to the glamorous role she feels she has to play on the scene. The line about her “being someone else” when she puts on all the makeup, refers to her playing this glamorous person that doesn’t connect to her daily self—the one you see in the day time, who has interests outside the clubbing scene. It can be lonely to present a beautiful and glamorous person all the time. This is her mask—it has nothing to do with her womanhood or transness. But I think in general, makeup does disguise who you are somewhat—it physically changes the way you look. She feels she has to portray this person in order to get clients, rather than presenting herself as the sensitive, (hurt) person she really is.

Talking Dirty with Tonya Jone Miller


I was flipping through BUST magazine last month when I came across a story about a Portland-based phone sex operator who makes all sorts of cash talking about food fetishes. Impressed and intrigued, the first thing that came to my mind was my all-time favorite South Park episode where Stan’s dad gets caught jerking off while watching the Food Network late at night. After his wife blocks the channel, he starts calling the Food Network hotline and talks to a sultry-voiced woman about deglazing and how moist the pan roasted chicken is. So when I heard about Tonya Jone Miller, I was beyond thrilled to think that conversations like this really happen in the non-animated world, and that a real live woman might be getting rich bringing foodie fantasies to life.
To my disappointment, Tonya tells me that the food fetish thing isn’t super-common but was a fun angle for the story, which appeared in BUST’s food issue. She is, however, a successful, full-time indie phone sex operator with plenty to say about her business.

Everybody Has Their Own Hustle: An Interview With Jacq The Stripper

Jacqueline Frances (Photo by Danielle Rafanan)

Jacqueline Frances has drawn attention and acclaim with her deceptively simple cartoons of everyday strip club doings.  The simplicity of her comics draws you in, and before you know it, you’re seeing men and masculinity from a sex workers’  view that few people can bring themselves to take on consciously. Frances toured last year with her baby-stripper memoir The Beaver Show, and is touring this year with her new project, Striptastic!, a comic book celebration of strippers.  She’s traveling the country for the next month and a half on the Sex Witch Tour.

Red: So, early on in Striptastic! you have a great illustration of a woman onstage saying she’s smashing patriarchy, and then you write a bit below that about how stripping is feminist and against patriarchy.

And I wanted to ask if you think it’s that simple, because there are later illustrations of “bad nights,” and one of a girl being groped where the caption is something like, “for every Instagram picture of a stripper with stacks, this is what she had to put up with” (which is WAY TOO REAL). These illustrations hint at a different reality, one where women/strippers don’t have all the power—or much power at all—and the work is a complex negotiations of boundaries with customers for cash and then with management for their respect (or for them to at least act like it) and with some management beggaring dancers before allowing them to leave after a slow night.

So, given these illustrations, I was wondering how you see stripping now, if you still see it as a patriarchy-smashing activity, or if it is in fact just another job with compromises like everything else, or if it can be both. Can it be patriarchy-smashing if the clubs are set up to profit men with as minimal benefit to the dancer as possible? Is a woman with low or no social capital being able to earn a living radical (I think it is!), but can that also co-exist with the fact that she’s able to make this living by working in a space that expressly centers men, male desires, and male conspicuous consumption of female energy, bodies, and services?

And is her work that benefits all these men, is that still smashing patriarchy?

Jacqueline Frances: No, it’s definitely not that simple. We exist within it and all have bills to pay. There are many ways to chip away at and/or smash the patriarchy, and I don’t believe there is one pure and simple way to do it.

Red: What’s your ideal outcome with the book? Are you trying to build stripper solidarity? What would you like to do with that, if that’s your goal? What are your visions?

Jacq: Yeah, I totally want to build stripper solidarity! Hmm, what was my goal with the book? I don’t know—the book kind of just happened organically, I started drawing and I knew that people were disappointed that The Beaver Show wasn’t illustrated—

Red: [laughing] Did you see the review—someone posted a review of The Beaver Show and it was clear they hadn’t even touched it, they describe it as a comic book and I was like, “Mmmm…”

Jacq: No, it’s not! But yeah, there are a lot of typos and it is a baby stripper memoir, it’s how you start. And so I was like, “I guess I should make a book of pictures!”

So I made it, and the survey made it not so much a book about me, more about other people. And I was talking to my mom today, [telling her that] I want it to feel like a yearbook, I want other strippers to open it up and relate to it and be happy about the positive memories and the strength they’ve discovered through stripping and sex work. I really want it to be an artifact for the women who’ve done the work, to celebrate their achievement. And I also want it to be educational for people who don’t do it, but that’s not my MO.

My MO is not teaching dudes, that’s all I do at work all day. I’ll offer some pearls of wisdom, or my zine, How not to be a dick in the strip club, which I just made available on Amazon again, but this is a gift for strippers.

…I’d love to usher in more women telling their stories. I know it’s not safe to come out, I know I have a ton of privilege that makes it safe—stripping is legal, I’m white, I’m educated—I have a lot of privilege that makes it easier to come out, so I want to use that. I want to start a dialogue.

What is Bike Smut?: An Interview With Poppy Cox

I was first introduced to Poppy Cox when fellow T&S writer Kat and I attended an amateur porn film festival. Poppy’s cleverly crafted skit made an impression on us because it was one of the more explicit, yet still charming mini-films. In it, Poppy wakes up beside her male lover and tries to tempt him into a morning romp but he rolls over to continue snoozing. She dresses for the day, mounts her bicycle and rides to a serene grass field, where she masturbates happily in the grass, her two wheeled companion beside her.

So I was a bit familiar with bike smut when I drove to sit down with the vivacious woman at a small coffee shop in SE Portland. Upon entering, we recognized each other immediately.

Can you explain Bike Smut?

Bike Smut is an international touring film festival celebrating human powered transportation and sex positive culture. Each year, we present a new program of short films about bikes and sex made by cyclists, queers and perverts from all over the world. I would consider myself a “bike-sexual.” I’m mostly straight, however one of the things I consider before I’ll date anybody is: do you ride a bike?

Pedalpalooza is 3 weeks of (nearly all) free bike events that happen every year in June in Portland. They are not organized by any one or group of people, but instead are totally open source. Anyone can organize an event and it will be put on the official calendar. The world naked bike ride is the biggest event that happens as part of it each year. My bicycle is a huge part of my life. When I go out or go to work, I ride my bicycle. I know how long it will take me, and I know how I’m going to get there. And if I had to guess, I bet 90% of bike commuters would agree with how I feel.

And how does that relate to your work?

In this car-centric, patriarchal society, it can be considered one of the biggest oppositions to that, to ride a bike. I consider it an act of freedom, to refuse to drive a car. All different types of people are bicyclists, so there’s a great deal of diversity but we have that major thing in common.

Both Transphobic and Whorephobic: The Murder of Dora Oezer

R.I.P. Dora Oezer (photo courtesy of Cristianos Gays)
R.I.P. Dora Oezer. (photo courtesy of Cristianos Gays)

On July 2nd, 24-year-old trans sex worker Dora Oezer was murdered by one of her clients. On July 12th, there was a protest against transphobic violence Istanbul, while similar protests were held in Berlin and Eskisehir. Meanwhile, the Turkish sex workers’ rights organization Red Umbrella Sexual Health and Human Rights Association held a protest and read a press release in Ankara. On the 19th, Dora’s murder and the murder of Swedish sex worker Petite Jasmine inspired an international wave of protests against violence against sex workers in thirty six cities across the globe outside of Turkish and Swedish embassies. Kemal Iffetsiz Asyu Ayrikotu, chair of the Red Umbrella Sexual Health and Human Rights Association, answered some questions about Dora’s murder and conditions for trans sex workers in Turkey for Tits and Sass.

Caty Simon: Do you mind giving us some background on how the laws operate in Turkey re: sex work and what it’s like for sex workers there?

Kemal Iffetsiz Asyu Ayrikotu: Sex work is not illegal in Turkey, at least in theory. The only group of people who are registered are female sex workers who work at brothels which are regulated by a special Charter called “The Charter to Combat Prostitution.” Based on this legislation, several brothels operate in different cities of Turkey. The overall number of brothels and registered female sex workers who work at these brothels has changed in the last 10 years, as many brothels have been closed down. Currently, around 1500 registered sex workers work at these brothels, while the number of brothels has decreased to around 35 – 40. Both cisgender female sex workers and transsexual women can work at brothels as they both hold female ID cards.

The important issue is unregistered sex workers. These workers face a challenge coming from The Charter to Combat Prostitution, Turkish Penal Code and some laws that has nothing to do with sex work; such as the law on misdemeanors and the law on traffic. The charter gives authority to governorships, the higher local administration which governs cities in Turkey, to carry out investigations on people who do sex work in their apartments, bars, clubs, etc. and to close down these spaces for certain periods of time. The governorships, commissions assigned to combat prostitution under the governorships, and the police are the implementing bodies of the Charter.

The Turkish Penal Code is a big barrier for unregistered sex workers, as several phrases in this law target sex workers, such as the clauses on “obscenity”, “exhibitionism”, “providing a space for prostitution”, “soliciting”, “acting as mediators”, and “human trafficking.” All of these clauses are actively used against male, female, and trans sex workers, who end up with their apartments closed down, imprisoned, paying exorbitant fines, etc.

The police are some of the main perpetrators of human rights violations against sex workers, especially street sex workers. They make use of misdemeanor laws to harass sex workers on the streets by charging them with arbitrary fines every night. This is perceived as a strategy to deter people from sex work. Yet, when a sex worker is fined, they are more likely to go back to the street to re-earn the money which was taken away from her/him. Also, the law on traffic is used against those sex workers who drive down the streets to find clients, and they also end up charged with arbitrary fines.