I love it when a plan comes together, don’t you?
So, here’s the tea: I went from Dallas, TX, to the Desiree Alliance conference in Las Vegas on a bus last summer. By myself. Twenty-four hours or so of quiet and calm before the storm that Las Vegas always is. I remember sitting somewhere in New Mexico thinking, “I hope I meet some interesting people here,” because I don’t know any sex workers in my city.
Scratch that—I know a couple, but they don’t use this as their primary source of income, and I rarely see them. I suppose putting things like that into the universe was smart, because I met some amazing folks and have even kept in touch with some of them. If you knew what kind of hermit I am, you’d know how huge that is. One of those folks was Lusty Day.
I had seen her flitting about with her fun colored hair and chest piece, but hadn’t made an effort to interact until I saw the flier calling for people to participate in a film she was working on for partners of sex workers. As someone who’s had a relationship end because I give spankings for a living, I felt obligated to participate—Mama had some shit to get off her chest! The filming itself was pretty quick, and when I got in touch after the conference it was mostly because I’m vain and I wanted to see myself in the film. I’m glad I did though, because this woman is interesting and she’s doing some really great work in her community. Plus, “Every Ho I Know Says So” turned out to be pretty amazing. Interviewing her was an honor for sure.
So, what prompted you to create a video on things sex workers would say to their partners?
I was in a long-term relationship when I started doing sex work and at the time my partner was really floundering on how to accept and understand my work. We had such a difficult time finding resources, not only resources on how to be a good ally and support to sex workers more generally, but that also addressed some of the specific issues that come up in intimate relationships with sex workers. I wanted to support him, too, and acknowledge that it wasn’t easy, but to do that in a way that didn’t mean I had to give up my work, or change it to suit him.
Eventually we broke up after four years and I think that whore-phobia played a major part in that — not just his whore-phobia (which of course was apparent), but also the ways that structural whore-phobia meant he had so little access to support from friends or family on what he was going through. Basically everyone told him that of course it was almost impossible to deal with dating a sex worker, and of course it was going to go bad, and that he was oh-so-brave for putting up with it all. Yech.
Ugh, yeah. I got some of that when I was dating.
So structural whore-phobia meant he had little access to support, few resources, and so much jealousy and shame about what I was doing. The break-up was one of the hardest ever for me, and I made this video as part of my healing from that. You know what was so healing about it? I got to talk to so many sex workers about the shit they faced, but so many also wanted to thank and celebrate their lovers and sweeties for being supportive — and it made me realize that it was possible, and that I deserved that, too.
I have to wonder how this kind of thing gets made, did you initially plan on taking it to the conference or was it going to be something local but grew?
When I was working and living in Australia, I made friends with Jackson, my co-video maker. A group of non sex working people in Melbourne had started a talking group for lovers/supporters of sex workers, and he felt really put out by some of the conversations in the group. He wanted to give them some resources and of course, upon Google search, found nothing. Zip, zero, nothing.
So, he approached me with the idea of making this video and to make it accessible by having it on YouTube. He was going to come to the Desiree conference and tape it but his visa got denied, so I did filming in Vegas, he did filming in different parts of Australia, and then I also taped some people when I got back to Toronto. We planned from the start to interview people from all over.
Nice. I am jealous.
The community it takes to create something like this, and the fact that I do not have that here.
Ahhhh, yes. Sex worker community is a tricky thing. I feel isolated and alone sometimes, too. But oh, man, in Australia they are so on the ball with it.
They really support and look after each other there!
I think that’s whore-mecca.
Haha. For some whores, I think. It’s pretty queer-focused, the political and organizing sex workers, but it is also very white.
So many people I met at Desiree were talking about working there like it would be the last thing they ever needed to do.
I have never wanted to go to Australia, until now.
I think that decriminalization really plays a part in the way that sex workers come together over there.
It’s probably the only place I would be an actual prostitute again. I can’t see the point in America.
Ah. I can’t fucking imagine whoring in the U.S., to be honest with you. It terrifies me.
I did it for a while, and it terrified me too! I imagine that with quite a bit more community, things would be so much better.
And legal protection. But it isn’t perfect — they are still always trying to pass bylaws and shit that move the law backwards for sex workers. They are organized to be super vigilant — Scarlet Alliance is a powerhouse political organization.
Yes, so much protection. But after thinking about it quite a bit, I find I am more disgusted by stigma than a lack of legal protection.
And yes, of course stigma continues to exist over there!
I have a feeling that stigma is everywhere. And it’s killing us. The situation is dire as fuck.
And the laws aren’t uniform across all the Australian states. Yes, people are dying.
Ok, I have to say I really appreciate you having sex workers of all stripes in you guys’ video. I was so frightened about that.
About being tokenized?
Honestly? Yeah. And that’s why I was pleasantly surprised.
Well, the sex worker rights movement is largely white-supremacist after all, and so often when people organize around safety and fighting violence against sex workers it becomes a violence against women campaign – erasing the many genders of sex workers.
Yes! Because ladies aren’t the only folks working!
One of my major organizing goals always, in sex worker rights movements and others, is to create multi-racial coalition by trying to centre the experiences of racialized and Aboriginal peoples. I’m glad you didn’t feel tokenized.
And I totally appreciate folks who do that, who are intentional about creating a realistic representation of our communities.
I showed the film to a conference on violence against women of colour last weekend, and a few Black women wanted to know more about how experiences of sex work for some are intimately inked to decolonizing Black women’s sexuality. I said, “That’s a video to be made!”
One that I get asked about a lot: so many people want to discount sex work because of the history of sexualized oppression against Black women, specifically. And I want to acknowledge that, and also acknowledge how racist the sex industry is—but what industry isn’t?
I asked about how you went from idea to product because I had an idea to make a film on women of color in sex work, and couldn’t think of how to make it happen. Whoa, explain what you said a bit.
Ahhh! We can talk shop any time! Well, people want to say that only white people get “empowered” doing sex work and they ask me if I interviewed any of the “real victims” aka women of color — usually Asian women, I think, is what they mean.
Hmm, because Asian women would only be coerced into this and not make a choice to do it?
But in terms of Black women’s colonized sexuality, I think these women feared that Black women sex workers were feeding a cultural idea of them as “hypersexualized” and “animals for sex.” And for Asian women, I think people can’t imagine them as anything but victims because of racism. They don’t see that their concern for Asian women’s victim-hood is actually another face of racism, because they can’t imagine them as able to make their own choices, and be experts in their own lives.
I get that. I have clients who need me to be that person. I find that as I grow I cannot do it anymore. Even if it’s for money, I feel like I’m betraying myself, which is not empowering.
Yes, I find that as I change and grow my own sexuality, I offer different services and fantasies based on my own interests, that reflect my own needs, pleasures, and politics
Which is how this work should be done!
True. But when you start, I feel you are more concerned with what clients expect you to be, because you don’t quite know what kind of a sex worker you are yet! And for me, that meant being the typical shy-white-girl-next-door who will be a bad girl for the client. I don’t really do that anymore.
And this is where communities come in as far as helping folks on their way. Who wants the men who need to feel like they’re corrupting you anyway? Screw Those Guys.
Yes, exactly! Communities of sex workers to show you the ropes, to help you see what is possible, how to develop your own sexuality within your work! Well, sometimes it turns me on. 😉 But I am in charge of the fantasy.
That’s when you want it.
And agency is always sexy in my book.
As is consent!
What are your plans now that you’ve finished the film? I know you guys have it on YouTube, and you say you’ve shown it elsewhere?
Haha! We hope to submit it to sex worker festivals and queer video festivals. At first I thought it would mostly be a resource for sweeties of sex workers, but I have been proved wrong. It has been powerful for so many others, as well I think because there are so few opportunities for people to hear sex workers talking for themselves about what they want. Everyone needs to hear that! So I hope to take it to community events, and not just ones for sex workers, but to make links with others, like migrant workers justice groups, psychiatric survivor groups, HIV/AIDS activists, etc.
I almost cried saying my little bit, so I know it’s not just healing for the lovahs.
I love your bit in the vid!!
I wish I’d been brave enough to say that stuff to my ex. I needed this in 2008!
Oh fuck, me too. 2008 was rough. I wish I could have said “no” to my partner before he climbed on top of me and I just laid there thinking he deserved to fuck me because I could manage to fuck clients while we were fighting. It was awful. I hope my ex sees the video. I asked people to forward it to him but who knows.
I have a feeling mine will.
Oh, so next stage. Next stage is we want to set up the video on its own website and then accept submissions of more videos from people giving more advice.
I was going to ask about that!
So the project will continue to catalogue all different types of sex workers, and then people will have more agency to represent themselves in the videos. That part was hard – to edit and shape the video to meet our needs, to keep it under 10 minutes for YouTube, and we all know that so often media representations of sex workers don’t exactly meet their own self-images, so we worked hard to understand how to do that respectfully. But, I want to be able to create more opportunities for sex workers to say their piece … and to learn skills to make media. So hopefully that will be the next step . We just need some tech help.
I think it’s really exciting to think of people submitting their own stuff.
Me too! That way they can decide how/if they want to be identified, and we will just post it up. That way we could reach more people than who we managed to physically get near to tape for the vid, and reach people who aren’t in our networks, who might not share all the same cultural ideas, who have even more things to say. By the way, we taped the whole video using iPods.
Yes, I know. I thought that was crazy.
Very low tech!
I remember you said a client gave you that.
Yes, he did! I want to say that so people don’t get intimidated by the medium of video. You don’t have to have mad skills to make something.
Yeah, not at all.
And the vid has gone viral—last time I checked it had over 9,000 views. And soooo many people are writing me about it!
It’s only going to keep growing, do you know how hungry we are to see something honest, something that’s not presenting us as caricatures? This is fabulous!
Yes, it seems there are a few stereotypes—crack-addicted street whore or high class escort—and we all fit somewhere in the muddy middle. This vid shows that.
Some people still can’t believe it, though. That is how powerful these stereotypes are. They still want to know where the “real” prostitutes are, when I will interview them…
Hah! I’ve had people go right to streetwalker when I tell them I do sex work, so I get it.
I hope to make another film about that! I want to go in search of the hooker that everyone thinks exists. I hope to make it a bit irreverent funny. Needless to say, I’ve felt really inspired and empowered by making this vid. I learned so much from the interviewees.
You’re inspiring me with this interview. OK, last question.
Is this film something we can show around? I go to conferences and want to show this to people but don’t want you suing me because I am not rich.
It’s on YouTube so that everyone can use it! I would love for you to share it in whatever way possible! And to make suggestions to me on festivals and events to submit it to as well!
Keep me informed about where you share it, so that I can keep learning from it : I’m flattered that you want to use it, and I feel especially good that you felt powerfully represented in it! I am not a litigious type, girl.