Consent

 

I want to believe with all my heart that material can be made about sex workers that doesn’t demonize or belittle us. I want to get the same feeling chefs get while watching Chopped or car enthusiasts feel watching Top Gear UK. Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On is not that feel-good series—there is no perspective through which it is not problematic.

The show eases you into the material in the first episode with living legend producers Suze Randall and her daughter Holly working on photoshoots and erotic film. The episode focuses on their business practices, how they treat the talent, and their issues with male producers. This segment is the only redeeming portion of the show. Savor the mother-daughter bonding and camaraderie; no warm and fuzzy feelings lie ahead.

I could give you a blow-by-blow of the other five episodes, but to be perfectly frank, it’s a waste of time. This docu-series is even more harmful than its predecessor, 2015 documentary film Hot Girls Wanted, which covered amateur porn. Creator Rashida Jones and the other people behind this film are not sex workers. In fact, Jones has a long Twitter history of belittling women and out-right slut shaming other celebrities.

 

The show creators have no experience in sex work and aren’t even close to anyone who uses the sex industry as their main source of income. They use adult film star Lisa Ann as their poster girl, but she has never dealt with stigma the same way transgender performers or performers who are people of color do. In fact, she is apathetic about the plight of more marginalized sex workers.

The series features screen caps of people surfing cam girl sites. Though these cam performers signed up to be on those platforms, they did not sign up to have their identities exposed on a Netflix documentary. When sex workers on Twitter saw this, they exploded in response, and soon tweets by other sex workers roped into the project revealed further outrages: Not only did HGW:TO reveal screen caps; they showed the legal names of other performers; interviewed workers and agents under false pretenses, insisting the material wasn’t for Hot Girls Wanted; and even used interview footage of someone who’d changed their mind about being involved. Lisa Ann has been less than sympathetic about this, stating on Twitter:

 

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Thandie Newton as Maeve, the badass robot Black sex working heroine who keeps us invested in this glossy Game of Thrones replacement wannabe.

by Clara and Caty

[Content warning: some discussion of rape. Also, spoiler warning.]

Clara: Westworld is a science fiction western thriller created and produced by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy. JJ Abrams is also a producer, so think Jurassic Park meets Firefly with a dash of Lost. As with its predecessors—Blade Runner. Battlestar Galactica, etc—Westworld uses human-like robots to tell us a story about humanity. Questions like “How do you know you are human?” “What is consciousness?” “What are dreams?” “What are memories?” “How does does your past define you?” “What is free will?” “What is consent?” are asked but not always answered.

The titular Westworld is a Western theme park where life-life robots—”hosts”—act out stories called narratives in a controlled environment for guests of the park. The park is marketed as “life without limits.” The idea is that because the hosts are robots you can do anything you want with them and it doesn’t matter.

While not a show directly about sex work, Westworld in its over-all arc is about the push/pull of market forces between client and worker. It is also about the uprising of a group who is fed up with being used. Sex workers who have to constantly prove their humanity to society and deal with client entitlement every day might find the show reminiscent of their lives.

Caty: I would argue that this show is about sex work. It’s about a separate, disposable class of people who perform reproductive/emotional labor so that guests can enjoy their leisure. The hosts’ very lives are this labor, so they can’t even be compensated for it. And they literally have false consciousness.

As the show reminds us constantly, the hosts’ purpose is to be fucked or hurt, or at the very least to immerse the clients in a fantasy, which sounds like the sex worker job description to a T. In fact, the hosts are the ideal sex workers from a certain client perspective. They are the ultimate pro-subs, who can be beaten, stabbed, strangled, and shot, only to be refurbished, resurrected, and brought back as a clean slate in terms of both their memories and their bodies, ready to take those blows again. They are entirely “authentic,” programmed to believe that the role play they engage the guests in is what is actually happening. If the Westworld story that the guest is indulging in is that Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), the damsel host, is in love with him, she actually is in love with him.

But what Westworld actually does best is reflect the client mentality—an Entertainment Weekly recapper quipped that the Man In Black (Ed Harris) sounds like “a dork playing Dungeons & Dragons who yells at other players for asking for a bathroom break” when he gets pissed off after some other guests refer to his work in the real world. But to me, he actually sounds like the BDSM client I used to have who would shriek “WE DON’T TALK ABOUT THE MONEY” if I ever said anything which derailed his fantasy of being a scene elder teaching eager young acolyte (unpaid) me about kink.

And who does William (Jimmi Simpson) remind us of most but a stalker regular when he turns (even more) murderous and rapacious after realizing that Dolores doesn’t remember him—that he isn’t special enough to her to override the programming that forces her to forget him after each go-round? At first, he’s a Nice Guy—that trusted reg, the one who believes Dolores is sapient and Not Like All The Other Hosts. He’s Captain-Save-A-Host! But later, after his embittered violence runs roughshod over the park for 30 years, after he assaults Dolores over and over, and then grows “tired” of her like the most jaded hobbyist, Dolores tells him, “I thought you were different, but you’re just like all the rest.”

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Stoya in 2012 at the AVN awards. (Photo by Michael Dorausch via Flickr)

Stoya in 2012 at the AVN awards. (Photo by Michael Dorausch via Flickr)

Content warning: this piece contains general discussion of rape.

I got a call from a reporter from Mother Jones the other day, her voice nervous. She was one of the many journalists who called the sex worker health clinic I work at, St. James Infirmary, looking for comments about the public sexual assault accusations made against James Deen over the past week.

She told me, “I’m learning about this world from this story, let me know if I say something wrong.” We tried in stops and starts to lay a groundwork of understanding about what Stoya’s tweets meant. It seems hard for people outside the industry to digest this story. This time around, most journalists seem to want to be survivor centered, and they want to be clear that they know a sex worker can be raped. But their understanding of the environment of porn is always one with contracts which, once signed, mean that anything can happen to you. Where all men on set are lurid in their gaze, and the sadistic domination they demonstrate is heartfelt and misogynist. It’s a world view in which porn shoots are a battle field where women try to keep as many of their boundaries up as possible.

For the survivors of James Deen whose stories are told and untold; for the sex workers whose perpetrators used the stigmatized environment of the profession to prey on their vulnerabilities; for the sex workers who have been assaulted and then continued to work, sometimes with the same person who assaulted them, because at that moment that was what they had to do to survive; this news cycle has been hell. The only thing more unrelenting than the new stories of James Deen’s violent misogyny cropping up every day is the understanding that these reports are only the tip of the iceberg, that there will be more stories of his attempts to “break women.”

There is a way in which these revelations are also exhilarating. I’ve never seen such public furor around the assaults of sex workers. It’s left everyone I know drained thinking, talking, or reading about it. Waiting to see what direction the narrative will take—will the news coverage continue to slant in favor of the survivors? What will the consequences be for Deen after the scandal of this story is dusted over by another? Will any long term systems be created to ensure worker safety, and will those be driven by performers themselves or placed on top by an outside enforcement agency?

These questions will take a long time to answer, but what is clear is the deep breath many took after Stoya’s two tweets were posted. It spread across my Twitter feed and it felt like witnessing a spell break. Arabelle Raphael said in an interview with Melissa Gira Grant that, “It was a big relief. Finally, someone had put it out there.”

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amalefeministryangosling

This piece was originally posted by the author on Medium. Content warning: the links in this post lead to articles detailing the rape and sexual assault of sex workers.

We need to talk about the ever increasing number of men like James Deen who utilize feminism as a marketable identity to cover up their abusive behavior.

When performer and writer Stoya tweeted that her ex, porn darling James Deen, had ignored her safewords and raped her, I have to admit I wasn’t terribly surprised. As a porn worker, I’d heard rumors that he was not necessarily safe to work with. Another ex-girlfriend, Joanna Angel, tweeted in support of Stoya. As of December 4th, Tori Lux, Ashley Fires, and an anonymous fourth woman have come out with statements on their own experiences of assault from Deen. Kora Peters and Amber Rayne spoke out about how he raped both of them on set on separate occasions. On Wednesday night, Joanna Angel went on the Jason Ellis Show telling the harrowing story of being sexually and physically abused during her long term relationship with Deen. With Nicki Blue coming forward yesterday, at least eight women have now made public statements about Deen sexually assaulting them. Additionally, Lily Labeau told Buzzfeed that Deen physically assaulted her and deliberately used elements from her “no” list while filming, while Bonnie Rotten recalled how he intimidated and ridiculed her on the job. Also notable is this older article in which Deen pushes sexual boundaries with writer Emily Shire during an interview, though this incident did not end with assault. Deen has responded on Instagram and Twitter saying Stoya (and anyone else speaking up) is making “egregious claims” against him, receiving support from his many fans. Kink.com has severed ties with Deen… a bit of a surprise considering their track record. (Nicki Blue noted that Kink.com actively covered up the fact that he raped her during a party at its Kink Castle headquarters.) Evil Angel also stated that it will not to sell any newly created scenes featuring him. And Deen has “voluntarilyresigned from his chairperson position at the Adult Performer Advocacy Committee.

Stoya’s two tweets gave rise to the hashtag #solidaritywithstoya, and a flurry of people expressing disappointment, shock, and a sense of betrayal. Deen was supposed to be “one of the good guys”—after all, Deen has spent some time cultivating a brand as a male feminist in the porn industry. He’s even actively been a part of Project Consent. He’s mad about racism in the industry. He’s been called “the acceptable face of porn,” hailed as being a male porn star women can feel good about watching because he’s just so ethical.

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(Image by CarpesTreasures via Flickr)

(Image by CarpesTreasures via Flickr)

Working as a professional submissive often makes you feel like an outsider.

Pro-subs and pro-switches are a relatively rare breed of service provider, which makes our work feel pretty esoteric from the get go. For every one of us, there are many more vanilla, in-person, indoor workers. In part, this could be because the need for resources like fetish equipment and dungeon access means that subbing isn’t an accessible entry point into sex work. However, there is undoubtedly greater stigma and misinformation surrounding the work which deters many people from working as subs. Because we offer services such as restrictive bondage, sensory deprivation, corporal punishment, and erotic masochism, subbing is frequently thought of as intrinsically unsafe. Far too often, we are perceived as having knowingly “put ourselves in harm’s way”, and into the path of sexual violence as an inevitable consequence. I’ve lost track of the appalled responses from both sex workers and civilians when I tell them I let men tie me up and hit me for a living. They fail to grasp that there is a fundamental difference between consensual, pre-agreed upon pain and abuse.

The consequences of this stigma became apparent very quickly when I first started working as a pro-sub in a professional dungeon. The management created an environment in which clients paid for the privilege of foregoing boundary negotiation with subs, and we in turn were paid to ignore these boundaries. By treating us subs as if we had minimal agency, both our clients and we came to believe this was the natural order of things. In my 6 months at my first dungeon—and in the previous years when friends also worked there—none of us could recall a single client being blacklisted for sexual violence, despite the fact that colleagues experienced numerous incidents of assault.

As pro-subs, our work is affected by stigma from within and outside the community. As sex workers, our labor is more stigmatized than other types of work, and as pro-subs, our job is often dismissed by those working in other parts of the sex industry. But why is pro-subbing so marginalized, and what effect does this have on us and our work?

At my first dungeon, the effect was extremely negative. Ostensibly, the setup appeared professional. For a total newbie with no savings, it seemed ideal. Unfortunately, it was a deeply unpleasant place to work. The management bullied and coerced workers, and kept us all isolated and competitive with one another in order to maximize profit. They also went out of their way to appease clients. A key component of this was issuing explicit statements that we subs would willingly take any punishment they wanted to dispense. It was here that I first encountered the attitude that submission is an inherently high-risk service, in which subs are paid to tolerate the non-consensual violence presented as an unavoidable part of the job.

As a skittish baby hooker, I quickly internalized the view that my job was essentially an exercise in mute endurance. If something scared me or hurt me in a way I was not comfortable with, or even if I changed my mind about a scene halfway through, that was my problem.

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