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Being A Fake Sex Worker Surprisingly Not Great For Young Woman’s Writing Career

Remember Jessica Pilot’s “Secrets of a Hipster Hooker” article in Radar a few years ago? There was quite a bit of outrage in the sex worker community over that, in the words of one blogger, “steaming pile of horseshit.” Jenny DeMilo curated quite a few of the reactions in this post.

It’s been nearly three years, and a lot changes for a young woman between 23 and 26. Now it’s time for her entry into the “I’m sorry I wrote something racy” essay canon and Pilot’s got a piece on xojane.com about the repercussions of her public adventure. “I Was A ‘Hipster Hooker’ (And It Sort Of Ruined My Life)” covers the professional and personal tribulations she went through after the publication of her article

It’s mean to shit on the actions of a young woman who couldn’t possibly have known better, and I don’t doubt that the harassment she received was truly nasty. But I’ve always been hesitant to fully trust the veracity of her original article, thanks to the sort of way-off details listed in the above “horseshit” post. What she makes clear in this post is that it didn’t turn out the way she hoped it would; she kept getting approached for sensationalistic pieces instead of being treated like a Serious Woman Journalist.

I couldn’t help comparing Pilot’s experience with the career of writer Sheila McClear, an actual sex worker. McClear worked in the peeps of Times Square and in strip clubs for—imagine!—the money, not as a tourist. She kept her moneymaking sideline to herself while working at Gawker and the New York Post, and was only outed when news of her book deal came to light. No one’s questioned her writing bonafides, her veracity, or her talent, probably in part because she stayed closeted while making a writing name for herself. Which is kind of a bummer because it would almost certainly have been harder for her had she been out, and kind of cool because she didn’t go to it for immediate sensational subject matter.

Melissa Gira Grant wrote about Pilot for Gawker when the story was published, and has, in her own words, “been getting paid to write about sex work now for nearly as long as I did sex work.” I asked her via e-mail what she thought of this debacle.

Do these “so I became a ho!” stories do harm? I’d never say, let’s stop telling stories about the sex trade — no matter how unrealistic, confusing, and wrong they are. Maybe I’d feel differently about their potential for harm if there weren’t talented sex worker journalists like Lily Burana and Sheila McClear also on the beat, and always more of us coming up who can work to complicate whatever sex trade angle is sexy this week….The “I learned my lesson” pose never sits well with me. Maybe because I haven’t learned my own? To me, so far, it’s worth it. Though you need supportive people rallying around you to do it. And to not believe your own heroic hype. It’s a fucking job, you know?

“It’s a fucking job” holds true for escorts and journalists, and neither job is for everyone. And if you’re going to write about sex work as a participant observer, it’s really beneficial to be an actual participant. Not only is your cred set, you actually GOT PAID. And you don’t have to say you’re sorry and write a regretful article about how people treated you. Gira Grant, McClear, Elisabeth Eaves, Lily Burana, Brooke Magnanti, Ruth Fowler, Tracy QuanDiablo Cody: All of these women have written sex work memoirs, all of them have written about other subjects. Not one of them has come forth with a mea culpa or written about editors making sleazy jokes about their prior jobs. I wonder whether or not an editor or publisher has spoken to any of them like that, and whether their actual sex work experience made them unfuckwithable to the extent that they wouldn’t dare. Any actual sex worker will tell you there’s no better crash course in boundaries and assertiveness. It’s unfortunate that that wasn’t part of Pilot’s experience.


  1. That’s interesting. I actually had to fight really hard for people to take ‘stripper’ off my byline for a writing job – not because I’m ashamed, but it’s not something I do anymore, and it was unrelated to the opinion pieces I was writing, which were predominantly commentary on current affairs. I was also a waitress, a bartender, a college student, a chef, a sailor, a supermarket checkout girl – that’s not on my byline, so why stripping? It’s not as if stripping was related to the subject matter I wrote about. I lost the battle and to this day my Guardian byline reads: ‘Ruth Fowler was a stripper in Manhattan’. As if that is my only qualification, and the only justification for my existence as a writer on their site. Fuck them. I often feel that sex work is the only thing the publishing world finds valuable about my words, the only thing that gave me a heads up over the other women jostling to be a writer. I don’t know if this is a real fact, or an unfounded fear. My ego wants to think I’m a fantastic writer, but I still wrestle with the sad truth I commodified myself as ‘Mimi’, and then did it again when I write a book about everything, and had I not had that experience as a stripper – would anyone have read my words? I had to fight and fight and fight for HarperCollins UK not to ‘sex up’ and glorify the world, package my book in pink-and-glitter – I also lost this battle, and ended up walking out of a book deal with them because I wouldn’t make up parts of the memoir, and change my name to “something sexy”, among other requests I could not agree to. To this day, my book has never been published in the UK because I would not submit to packaging my book in a frivolous, inane way which belied the fact it’s a dark, nasty book, about a dark, nasty time in my life.

    In the screenwriting world, my past work is never, ever mentioned, and no one gives a flying fuck. I love them for appreciating that whilst stripping is an important component of who I am today and my attitudes when writing non-fiction, it does not take predominance over me as a writer. In screenwriting I’m Ruth Fowler. In the publishing world, I’m still ‘that chick who’s kind of a British Diablo Cody and cusses a lot’.

  2. The comments on this are making me giggle. Although, as a woman in pursuit of a Philosophy degree, I do wonder if my dalliances will affect my future. Then I look at my life now and wonder if I’d be willing to give it up even if it would affect my future, and the honest answer is no.

    I suppose actually being involved in the trade is the thing that keeps one from writing those apologies, yeah? I mean, I wouldn’t apologize for waiting table to support myself, because it keeps food in my mouth, why apologize for this? If I stop spanking old men I won’t be able to pay for my degree(‘s), and I won’t end up teaching, which means I won’t be able to write the things I want to write, it’s kind of all connected.


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