Alana Massey

Alana Massey’s new collection, All the Lives I Want: Essays About My Best Friends Who Happen to be Famous Strangers, is a fucking love song to sex workers. Yet, Massey’s own erotic labor—both licit and ambiguous—is not the focus of the work. Massey interrogates “our collective ownership” of considerable female figures like Britney Spears, Scarlett Johansson, Amber Rose, Lil’ Kim, and others in 15 brief essays. Throughout the book, her own sex work plays a more subtle role in her analytic critique of what, exactly, it means to be owned. But being metaphorically owned—by the public, by stringent gender roles, by a lack of resources, etc.—sits at the intersection of class and race, and Massey isn’t afraid to have those complicated conversations.

In her examination of 25 female celebrities, from Anna Nicole Smith to Princess Diana, Massey looks at how the public consumption of famous women influences the construction of gender and sexuality more generally. “Britney’s body is everybody’s,” Massey says, before expanding on the public’s “particularly pathological focus on her [Britney’s] claim to be a virgin.” This pathological focus on virginity is of course in stark contrast to Massey’s own erotic labor, where her own virginity is never in question. While Massey does not belabor the point, All the Lives I Want is centrally about the organizing force of the Madonna/Whore complex in the lives of all women, using celebrity culture as its lens.

Notably, Massey writes of listening to Beyonce while dancing as a stripper. She reflects on the “curmudgeonly old-guard feminists” who lampoon Beyonce’s “Run the World (Girls)” because of claims that “women do not, in fact, run the world.” Standing in seven-inch heels and grinding on a crotch, Massey concludes that “girls run the world in the sense that they perform the invisible and unappreciated labor that keep the world on its axis. That is different from doing what everyone wants to do, which is rule the world.” She is neither overly optimistic about her role as a sex worker under patriarchy nor does she apologize for it. Likewise, she is not seduced by the pretty things of femininity but rather describes them as a necessary force of destruction.

Curiously, however, “sex work” is not Massey’s preferred term when delving into her personal narrative, despite her forthright descriptions of blowing sugar daddies and fucking strip club regulars. Even the dust jacket of All the Lives I Want references the juxtaposition of Massey’s sex work with her opulent cultural critique as, merely, “an exploration into the female economy.” While perhaps this is calculated, linguistic sorcery from the wands of editors, a means by which Massey’s work can be distinguished from the over-saturated genre of white, cis sex worker memoir, I could not help but notice the its omission. Similarly, at times Massey’s class status feels distracting. While I admire her truthfulness, I am admittedly unfamiliar with, for example, “low grade cocaine,” which she references in an essay about attending NYU with Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen. As a once seasoned coke user myself, I’ve never heard the expression. My understanding of the drug has always been that it is either “good shit” or “bleach.” To place the drug in a hierarchy of grades is completely foreign to me. This foreignness is just one example of the necessity for critical reflection on lateral whorephobia, a conversation that is thankfully happening more frequently. It is important to acknowledge these socioeconomic differences, even between sex workers. Massey has the choice to exclude “sex worker” from her self-identification, and that is a privilege that is not extended to all of us.

However, I do not wish to discount the ways that Massey clearly struggles. The title—a sorrowful plea from the notoriously melancholy Sylvia Plath—appears on the cover emblazoned in gold glitter. To the untrained, civilian eye, the use of Plath mourning, “I can never read all the books I want; I can never be all the people I want and live all the lives I want […]” seems like a nod to the alleged prettiness of female suffering. But only a sex worker knows that glitter can be as dark as the agony that precedes its application. In reference to a $900 antipsychotic prescription, for example, Massey states, “I knew the shortest distance between me and $900 was the length of a hot-pink nylon-and-spandex minidress covering a quarter of my body.” Indeed, these pretty artifacts of femininity—glitter the reigning objet d’art—are every bit as severe as the crushing insistence, whispered through the winds of patriarchy, that women stick their heads in an oven. And in this book, Massey demands a rearticulation of female suffering through the sparkling lens of sex work and celebrity, two cohorts of women whose lives and bodies are ruthlessly consumed by an unforgiving public.

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April Brogan (image via @brogan_rebecca)

April Brogan (image via @brogan_rebecca)

Melissa Gira Grant’s story about April Brogan’s death from withdrawal complications while in jail is a heartbreaking look at how little regard the justice system has for sex worker lives. Our Caty is quoted on the double stigma drug-using sex workers face.

A woman running an underground brothel in Germany has been busted; her workers, undocumented Chinese migrants, will be deported.

A new Cambodian study reiterates what the Lancet already proved: further marginalization and criminalization of sex workers, even in the guise of ending trafficking, only puts us more at risk.

Sex workers don’t owe you any answers” is a sharp, smart, and sadly necessary reminder by Alana Massey that we do not, in fact, owe you answers.  Not to friends, not to teachers, and definitely not to sad little clovers on the internet:

“The best thing sex work taught me was that men will take every opportunity to demand things they feel entitled to,” Bruiser told me in a direct message on Twitter. “I literally owe them exactly nothing.”

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The above screenshot is from A&E’s website this morning, where it appears the network has been busy removing all materials related to 8 Minutes.

In the face of increasing media interest and consistent pressure from sex worker activists, A&E has deleted the website for 8 Minutes from its site and pulled the next episode, which was scheduled to air this Thursday night. Tits and Sass left a message with the show’s publicist (and even spelled out the name of this blog), so if they choose to reply we will update this post. (Edit: the website has re-appeared sans video.)

On Sunday, reporter and sex worker activist Alana Massey spoke to On The Media about the A&E docudrama in which cop-turned-pastor Kevin Brown tries to convince sex workers to leave the business by offering them help getting out. The show is pure artifice. Supposedly, Brown poses as a client, calls workers to make an appointment, and then once they are in the room (outfitted with hidden cameras, Brown wearing a clumsy earpiece to communicate with his “team”), he has 8 minutes to make his case. In reality, the show was scripted, and producers identified themselves to workers to explain the setup and offer them compensation at filming. The premise was as much a sham as the offer of help, which took the form of phone numbers for counseling centers and hotlines rather than housing and job assistance.

Before the show’s premiere, Massey wrote about the show for the New Republic. “Any attempt to coerce them out of sex work in the absence of viable work alternatives is an invitation to starve.” In her On The Media appearance, she said that everything that sex workers had been saying about the show had proved true: Not only did it further an unhelpful and sensational narrative that all sex workers were victims, it failed to actually come through with meaningful help for those who wanted to leave the business and possibly put them at higher risk of arrest. [READ MORE]

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baltimore Hundreds of people protested in Chicago on Tuesday, in support of Baltimore and the many casualties of police brutality, including Mya Hall.

A Vietnamese restaurant owner turned her restaurant into a lucrative side business for herself and women being exploited by local factories, which, of course had to be stopped.

The San Francisco Sex Worker Film and Arts Festival is coming up, May 15th-24th.

Jessica Pilley, author of Policing Sexuality, the history of the Mann Act, goes over the history of anti-trafficking activism and its ties to racist immigration and border policies as well as the development of the surveillance state.

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Grindr screenshot, from Instagram user iamnastynate

This is new: a hyperbolic clickbait article about a rise in gay male sex workers.  Apparently—contrary to the hysterical Australian articles of a few months ago—hookup apps are facilitating paid sex, and not driving it out of business.  Whew!

The workers at Nevada’s Bunny Ranch are campaigning for Hillary Clinton under the slogan “Hookers for Hillary.”

Two very determined runaways who engaged in survival sex work have been caught by police and are being touted as trafficking victims.  One managed to escape, while the younger one was sent back to the family she ran away from.

Given the recent protests by South Korean sex workers to have the Special Law on the Sex Trade repealed, here’s a history on sex work in South Korea.

This for-profit company is claiming it can help trafficking victims by allowing law enforcement to skip the subpoena and instead pay Rescue Forensics for the online histories of sex workers. But, as Melissa Gira Grant points out,

In the eyes of advocates who work to support actual trafficking victims who may need emergency legal help, housing, or medical care, Rescue Forensics is a product built to solve a poorly defined, if not entirely nonexistent, problem: the lifespan of an online ad. “The assumption that advertising websites do not maintain information,” [Kate] D’Adamo explained, “or that this kind of advertisement is not accessible to law enforcement is not only absurd, it is a willful ignorance.”

In what makes a good tie-in to Lime Jello’s earlier post on Tits and Sass about studying sex work, Noah Berlatsky writes about the unique and necessary perspective sex workers bring to sex work research—when they’re allowed to do it.

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