ethics

 

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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writingishard4New sex worker writers often justify their sex work with respectability politics.

I did it. I fucked up with my very first piece, in a big venue, the Guardian, contrasting my sex work to that of hypothetical trafficked workers, so-called “miserable slaves.” Even after taking feedback about that mistake, it took me a while to quit using my own favorable personal circumstances to make sex work more palatable to my readers.

I think that I did it because I was intoxicated with the power of my writing, and I thought my experience was important. Guess what—sometimes it’s not. My education and my privilege and the good working conditions I enjoy doing sex work are far less important than the broader picture—the narratives of austerity, migration, and marginalization that are the true story of sex work, the one that needs to be told in order to defuse myths and build support for sex worker rights. While I campaign for sex workers’ rights, in part, because they would benefit me and my family, I need them far less than the most marginalized, criminalized, and stigmatized among us.

I hope to educate others with an account of the process of making my writing better reflect the sex worker community. This essay is meant to be a start of a conversation. I invite reply, correction, and contribution.

Tell all the stories.

A sex worker writer should learn as much as possible about the conditions of all kinds of sex workers, from porn stars to street-based workers to parlor workers. This is not only essential for a good perspective, it’s good journalism: keeping track of multiple streams of information can produce great story ideas. I learned about the Merseyside murders and the Soho raids; about the rescue industry and about the party politics behind recent parliamentary debates on the Swedish Model and decriminalization. Through Google alerts, blogs like this one, and the indispensable Honest Courtesan, Sex Work Twitter, and Facebook groups like COYOTE and My Favorite Abolitionist, I keep track of sex workers’ rights news across the globe. Even when I am not covering an issue, perspective gained through continual study has helped me to put my reporting in better context and choose better stories.

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