by Furry Girl
The first sex work I did was a solo porn shoot for a big "naughty teen" company based out of Los Angeles. That photo is from my very first shoot, taken in a park in LA that I've since recognized in many movies and TV shows as a generic "wooded area". (We worked fast, because the photographer would have gotten fined if he'd been caught shooting there without a permit.) I've seen the park several times in Star Trek: The Next Generation, and it always makes me laugh to see it. "Hey, look at Picard and Riker on the alien world/holodeck where I first dropped my panties for cash!" I've never really written about my first experience in porn because it's embarrassing, tacky, kinda gross, and not very interesting. And besides, memoir-y shit isn't really my thing.
That first day of porning was in 2002, when I was freshly 18 years old, and at a time that I would have been a senior in high school had I not dropped out years earlier. (High school porn star!) I'd started exploring the idea of working in the jiz bizz when I was 17, browsing "amateur teen girls" web site for casting calls, trying to get a handle on how much money I could make in the sex industry. Porn seemed like a good balance - far safer seeming than prostitution, but still paying a hell of a lot more than the jobs I was qualified for. I wouldn't say that I was "financially coerced" - that term is silly and obtuse, but feminists love it because they thrive on denying agency to other women. I made a choice for a job I found far less repellant than the idea of community college or waiting tables. I was comfortable with my body, ballsy, exhibitionistic, and "sex-positive" before I'd been aware there was a label for it. I was going to find a way to have a cool job in the sex industry, make money, and have lots of free time.
I'd spent my last two "high school" years bouncing around the west coast after my violent nutball mother kicked me out when I was 15. There were great times, like when I cobbled the money together to rent a rustic cabin on a river in the middle of nowhere for a couple of months. And then there were times when I just stayed up all night, wandering around and cold because I had no place to go, listening to music on a Sony Discman CD player. Everything worked out in the end, I learned a lot about the world and read a ton of books, and the one time I ever felt in real danger while hitchiking, the guy was too drunk to chase me after I fled from his car. I accepted at a young age that we are totally alone in the universe and can't depend on other people. That the sort of radical self-accountability I felt was both terrifying and liberating. It's because of my teenage background that I always found "naughty teen" websites to be especially absurd in their portrayals of "teen life."
After emailing various companies, and getting some rejections, I found a company that wanted to hire me for the day. Much to my happiness, I learned that hairy pussy is actually appealing to some porn consumers, so I wouldn't even have to shave. Bonus! The rate was $750 for 20 photo shoots, which was all done in an insanely long day where I looked exhausted and pissed off by the end. I've always hated it when someone recognizes me from that web site, because the photos aren't very good. "Hey, aren't you ____ from _____!?" I'd get it occasionally from cam customers and web site fans, since the hairy pussy market is small enough that you might actually be able to remember the models.
As a photographer, I shoot many more photos than I need, whether I'm shooting myself or other people. Then I delete the ones that aren't good. I think that's how basically every photographer operates. My first porn photographer - a balding, profusely sweaty, middle aged white dude whose photo should have been in the dictionary under "creepy pervert" - shot only the minimum number of photos required by his boss for a publishable photo set. He'd count to 80 or 100 (or whatever it was) and then we'd stop and set up for a different shoot. Oh, how embarrassing it was to see some of the things that made it online. I didn't even save the worst ones because I was ashamed of how bad I looked, but here's one example:
There were so many unflattering photos: of me blinking, looking tired, looking angry, or mouth agape oddly because I was in the middle of speaking. By the time we got to the following set on his balcony, I hadn't eaten in 8 or 9 hours, and I just wanted to leave so badly. Isn't that the face of a teen who desperately wants your cock? Look how horny and excited she is!
That's why I describe my first foray into porn as an "anti-sexual" experience. I wasn't oppressed or molested or anything exciting, but it was just so tedious to go through the poses the photographer requested, all while he kept asking me, "Why aren't you wet yet? Are you wet now?" Yes, so wet. So horny. The photographer reminded me every so often that "most" of the girls he photographed got so excited being naked that they just had to give him a blowjob. Yeah fucking right, weirdo, I thought to myself.
One thing that embarrasses me to this day is the fucking panties the photographer required me to wear. I'd brought a bag of my own clothing, but he declared almost all of it to not be what a teen girl wears, so in most of the shoots, I'm wearing these hideous floral granny panties. I was also wearing one of the gross photographer's shirts in several photo sets, because yeah - a large men's polo shirt and granny panties is totally a normal outfit you'd expect of an 18-year-old. It still creeps me out that he saved the ugly panties from each shoot as his trophy from each model. I wish I'd gone and caught scabies before the shoot.
He tried to talk me down to $600 at the end of the day even though we agreed to $750, but I held firm, and he acted like I was the one being rude. I googled the photographer just now, and it looks like he's still employed by the same porn site, still taking the same old photos of bored young women. [Update: in looking for an email from someone else, I found this message from my photographer from 2011: "furry girl, you want another shoot? can get you $1000-$1200 for 2 short easy days you still hairy etc.." Wow, what a deal! I could make less than I did the first time! I like how he considered having a sweaty dude pester me to get wet while trying to get me to suck his dick as a "short easy day". I never replied to his email.]
My first day as a sex worker was long, boring, and fairly uneventful. I realized, though, that this was not what I wanted to do for a living. Maybe I would have gone into mainstream porn if I'd had a better first experience, rather than being in some weird dude's ugly apartment all day hoping he didn't try to stick a finger inside me. I started researching how to build your own porn site, and decided to go that route. I taught myself everything. It worked out pretty well for me, and I don't regret it. I built a rad little business that sustained me for over a decade. I'm proud of what I accomplished in the porn industry.
Yesterday, I concluded my porn career. I didn't even plan for it to be the last time, so there was no big blow-out sale on my pussy. After I stopped updating my porn site regularly so I could focus on building my second career, I'd pop in and do some cam shows when I had the time and needed the extra money. But, as time went on, and I logged in less frequently, so disappeared my regulars, and therefore, my reliable income. (My websites are staying online for now, since there's no sense in not receiving a trickle of residual income.) I'm currently between jobs for a month before things really kick in with my awesome new career and consume my life (in a good way), and I planned to spend a bunch of time camming. Things had been going slowly, and I wasn't making much money. On my final night on cam, I had one guy gush about how he was excited to see me, tell me how much he loved my web site, and he thanked me for blazing trails for unshaved porn. There were half a dozen forgettable striptease sessions, and one with some pushy prick who signed off, "FUCK YOU!" because I wouldn't comply with his requests. Fairly uneventful, just like my first time. I meant to log in again tonight, but I just couldn't do it. I don't want to spend my last couple of weeks of free time entertaining other people for barely more than minimum wage. I want to read some books, binge watch some TV, ride my bike around and enjoy the springtime weather, and do basically anything that's not sitting at my desk being flirty and cute for spare change. I sat down and wrote this blog post instead, and now I'm going to go enjoy some wine and Netflix with my cat.
Don't worry, internet, I'll be your naughty cheerleader (in the world's ugliest panties) forever.
by Furry Girl
"'Authenticity': It's one of feminist porn's favorite words. It pops up frequently on Bay Area-based websites such as The Feminist Porn Network and The Crash Pad Series. The Feminist Porn Awards decree that in order for a film to win, it must 'depict genuine pleasure, agency, and desire for all performers.' But I'm beginning to wonder if "authentic" is just another genre of porn, like 'MILF' or 'casting couch,' that places performers in a box for marketability...
Along with [Arabelle] Raphael, I fear that the concept of 'authenticity' has entered the feminist porn movement into a dangerous game of respectability politics. I would like to see more emphasis placed on fair labor practices than on whether or not I have a 'real' orgasm.."
-- Siouxsie Q in Authentically Yours: Feminist Porn Gets Political on sfweekly.com
The piece would have been more aptly titled, "Why feminist porn is just another apolitical industry that sells stuff."
by Furry Girl
"If you make a thousand dollars a week, every week, you’re still only making around $50,000. This is by no means money to sneeze at; it’s more than my mother ever made, and she had a Master’s degree. But consider that according to Wikipedia, in 2006 the average weekly wage in Manhattan was $1,453. A thousand dollars a week is good sex worker money. It feels rich to me and always will. But in New York City, it doesn’t even make you average. You will be able to pay your bills. You can save. You might even be able to afford health insurance next year. You will not be able to go on shopping sprees at Nordstrom’s.
Writing checks to my landlord and Time Warner certainly feels luxurious to me, but it’s not … seductive. It’s just baseline what I should be able to do with a fucking job."
-- Calico Lane in The Myth of Seductive Money on misscalico.com
The comment I left:
I have never made the sums of money everyone assumes from the insta-rich reputation of online porn. I started in 2002, not 1996, so the bubble for my part of the industry had already burst by the time I was 18. I was happy to make a lower middle class income at a job I love (because I’m a genuine pervert), but as you said, a grand a week doesn’t add up to an income that hooks you like heroin. I went on a date once with a guy who assumed I must make “a few hundred thousand” a year. I burst out laughing. My best weeks were when I earned $2000, but then I also had plenty of $500 weeks, too. I know so many other sex workers who are also approximately lower-middle class, but no one ever thinks of us when drawing up the dichotomy that the only two ways to be a whore are if you’re a destitute, abused street-based worker selling $10 blowjobs for crack, or an elite escort who accompanies celebrities and bankers on trips to Dubai. Most sex workers seem like we’re somewhere on the spectrum of working-to-middle class.
The punchline is how often professional feminists and other such types (who often quietly came from wealthy families themselves) and who make more money than I ever did in porn accuse me and sex workers like me of being some sort of privileged elite who, unlike “real” women, don’t “really” work. Shit, I wish!
by Furry Girl
Yesterday, I went out to lunch with one of my nerdy friends from my new "straight life." (He's the only person in that sphere who knows that I've been working in porn for the last decade, a "big reveal" that I decided to allow to organically manifest itself in conversation as though it were nothing bizarre or noteworthy.) On our break, we lamented how frustrating it is to have to work with people you can't stand, or to make smalltalk about the weather because that's considered polite.
"I went to a big university, so if I didn't like someone, I'd never have to interact with them again. I could completely choose who was in my social circle."
"I've spent a decade running my own business, so I haven't been forced to spend time with people I don't like. I can jettison anyone, and it didn't matter to my bottom line. Now, I'm making an effort to not rock the boat because I'm the lowest person on the ladder and I need the good reference for later."
"It's so frustrating..."
"...now that we have to have to completely relearn our social skills."
We laughed, but it's true. One of the things I've been dealing with as I've been moving out of the sex industry is a longing for the shocking degree of freedom one has as a sex worker. Even if you're not fully running your own business the way I have been, sex workers generally have the ability to reject clients, to move to another strip club, find a new escort service, work for a different studio, and overall, set a much greater number of boundaries than your average worker. While that statement seems bizarre - how can you have "boundaries" if a stranger can see your naked body or is even having sex with you? - boundaries come in more forms than ones based on chastity.
With the vast, vast majority of jobs, a worker has very little control over their working environment, boss, coworkers, and upward mobility potential. A typical waitress doesn't show up to shifts only on days she feels like working, bouncing between various restaurants depending on which she prefers at the moment, the way a stripper might. A nurse knows he'll never be able to start his own hospital and declare himself its chief of surgery, unlike a porn star who works hard and invests his money in starting his own production company. For all the endless criticism lobbed at the sex industry for being a measure of last resort and misery, there's a huge and unrecognized amount of freedom in it, both freedom of association and the ability for your hard work to propel you upwards. The sex industry is the true "American dream," in that tenacity, hard work, and creativity can take a person (usually with no formal training and little startup capital) from poverty to the middle class more easily than any other industry.
One of the things I've been thinking about more lately is the issue of "association privilege," both how I've been lucky to have it as a sex worker, and how it remains perhaps the most invisible privilege. When framed in that way, it makes obvious a particularly strong correlation between the shrill lefty feminists who rail endlessly about how everyone is too "privileged," yet themselves possessing the privilege to choose their work environment, bosses/editors, and business/activist contacts. (I've long maintained that nothing is more indicative of privilege than spending all day on the internet picking fights with strangers about how privileged they are.) If someone wants to refuse to associate with anyone who isn't also a socialist feminist wannabe-academic that adorns their virtual spaces with Audre Lorde quotes and Foucault references, they can easily live in such a bubble. There are plenty of such bores in neighboring regions of the blogosphere. (Where all of these people make money remains a mystery. While I know that two big names in the sexy feminist scene have secret rich male partners/husbands who bankroll their lifestyles of being internet pesonas, I don't know how the others do it. NGO jobs? Sporadic paid writing gigs? Trust funds? Secret sex work?)
It all reminds me of a favorite section from a piece in The Atlantic a while back, which perfectly sums up the completely un-checked privilege that runs rampant among those who have declared themselves the enforcers of privilege-checking.
According to [UC Berkeley sociologist Neil] Gilbert, the debate over the value of women’s work has been framed by those with a too-rosy view of employment,
mainly because the vast majority of those who publicly talk, think, and write about questions of gender equality, motherhood, and work in modern society are people who talk, think, and write for a living. And they tend to associate with other people who, like themselves, do not have “real” jobs—professors, journalists, authors, artists, politicos, pundits, foundation program officers, think-tank scholars, and media personalities.
Many of them can set their own hours, choose their own workspace, get paid for thinking about issues that interest them, and, as a bonus, get to feel, by virtue of their career, important in the world. The professor admits that his own job in “university teaching is by and large divorced from the normal discipline of everyday life in the marketplace. It bears only the faintest resemblance to most work in the real world.” In other words, for the “occupational elite” (as Gilbert calls this group), unlike for most people, going to work is not a drag.
As an impolitic creature by nature (or hateful cunt, depending on who you ask), I've greatly enjoyed being in the "occupational elite" myself. As I shed this awesome privilege in order to start over, I wonder how many people in the world I'm leaving - both sex workers and/or feminists - realize the degree to which they hold this significant privilege themselves. Enjoy it while it lasts, because you'll miss it like crazy when you're making obligatory workplace smalltalk with people with whom you have little in common.
by Furry Girl
I've noticed my local government's anti-trafficking ads on the sides of buses, but haven't mentioned them on my blog. Then I really saw one yesterday that did something I have never, ever seen before from a mainstream anti-trafficking campaign: declare that women can be traffickers and men can be victims. Sure, this dynamic is no shocker to people who actually know anything about migrant labor, but to see it in a county-funded ad campaign blew me away.
King County's anti-trafficking campaign has many flaws, of course, but I will say that I appreciate that the ads are not just about sex slavery. The campaign uses the Polaris Project, a Christian morality NGO as a "fact" source; is partnered with the Somaly Mam Foundation, which sends Cambodian sex workers to private prisons where they are sexually abused; and links to a Shared Hope International anti-prostitution page as a resource. So the campaign is deeply problematic and based in the lies of anti-sex worker hysterics and religious nuts, and I'm not defending that.
But I think this is still a tiny, possibly hopeful step in the right direction, because the campaign is about the many faces of forced trafficking, not just the sexy sex trafficking for sexy sexual abuse thing that we normally see. There are three ad designs, and only one is about sex trafficking. The other two imply domestic labor.
by Furry Girl
I am pleased to see that a new fight is gearing up against the United States' horrible 2257 regulations, and I want to tell my readers about why "a porn regulation" should matter to them as sex workers, sex workers' rights activists, and privacy rights supporters.
"2257" is shorthand for the numerical code of the irritatingly-named Child Protection and Obscenity Enforcement Act. You can read about it in detail on Wikipedia, but the short of it is that when you appear in adult productions in the US, you as the performer/model must give the production company/photographer two forms of identification and sign a bunch of paperwork promising that you are over 18. (Which is its own absurdity, because there have been a few instances of 16 or 17 year olds getting fake IDs to work in porn, and any contract a minor signs is void anyway. The contract doesn't do a thing to guarantee age, and does not prevent a determined teenager from working in porn. It's the producer who is punished, even if they do everything they possibly can to screen out a lying underage worker.) 2257 laws, like all ridiculous, anti-privacy, anti-free speech measures, are "to save the children."
There are many good reasons to oppose 2257 regulations as they stand now, not the least of which is that it's an attempt by the government to strangle the sex industry and stifle sexual expression online through red tape and excessive paperwork-keeping requirements. As someone who both appears in and produces online porn, 2257 is a problem from all sides for me, but there are two facets which I oppose the most. (I covered this topic in my talk in privacy at the 2010 Desiree Alliance conference, and I really wish more sex workers understood what happens to their information once they sign waivers and let their IDs be photocopied.)
First off, 2257 laws are a horrifying problem in terms of privacy for models and performers. I am required to keep records of the name and legal address of all people who appear on my websites, and to keep copies of two forms of ID, one of which must be government-issued and have a photo. If I pay them over $600 US in a year, I am required to note their social security number for tax purposes. I am required to keep these model releases and IDs organized by legal names and stage names, and where the images appear. I am required to have these records available for inspection by the federal government to prove that my web sites are not actually filled with child pornography.
As a small-scale pornographer who only produces exclusive content, I keep all of these records to myself, but with the vast majority of porn, content is shot with the purpose of re-selling and licensing it out to many sources, which means a performer who thinks they are entrusting their name to one photographer may end up giving it to hundreds of people. Any random person can search for companies reselling and licensing adult content, and with a purchase, buy performer's legal names, social security numbers, and addresses. I've even seen online content sellers that allow new customers to try their content for free, meaning they are literally just handing out copies of performer's personally-identifying data to anyone who asks. This should rightly scare anyone who has ever signed a model release for an adult company. I even hesitate to talk about it this part of the porn industry publicly, because it's the easiest way for a stalker to find a porn performer. It's not as easy as Googling, "Sally Sweetsucker home address," but a determined stalker can comb through enough adult content resellers and have a good shot at finding their target.
My second main problem with 2257 as a small-scale pornographer is that I am required by law to list my legal name and home address (because that is my business location and primary place of production) on the front page of my web sites. (This is not allowed to be a PO box or an office you rent just for the purpose of record-keeping. It has to be staffed during business hours, and where you actually shoot your content. That might work for a big studio with a building with security, but not for small-timers.) In my decade in the business, I have only ever met one small-scale producer that complied with that portion of 2257 regulations, and I was shocked that they did. Independent pornographers and sex workers like myself should not have to choose between a fear of federal prosecutions and prison time for violating this aspect of 2257 laws, and a fear of overzealous stalkers coming to our homes to rape or assault us. When I started in 2002, it was allowed to have an attorney serve as the official record-keeper of your 2257 documentation, but that changed years ago during the Bush administration. Many small-scale pornographers simply pulled out and found new jobs, too scared of making the horrible choice of federal prison or being attacked by stalkers. No one should have to make that choice. No one should be put in such an extreme a lose-lose position.
There have been legal challenges in the past to 2257 laws, but the fight continues. The Free Speech Coalition has launched a new web site asking for help funding their battle, and you should support it. 2257 laws endanger the lives and safety of sex workers, but this issue is never discussed in sex worker advocacy circles. Porn production regulations are more institutionalized and abstract that the immediate concerns of escorts/prostitutes/etc who fear arrest, assault, and rape, but it's just as real, as just as serious. Please support the effort to fight against 2257 laws, and spread the word.
by Furry Girl
Last night, the feminist porn bubble erupted in girlie squeals of "OMG, a cute boy looked at us!" on Twitter because it has found a new celebrity hero: Justin Timberlake. In a skit on Saturday Night Live, a character Timberlake was playing made a joking reference to feminist porn, which the feminist porn scene have been quick to appropriate (inaccurately) as some sort of serious celebrity endorsement of their genre, with Tristan Taormino now using Timberlake's face with the line from the SNL joke as marketing for her latest book. An image of Timberlake's face and the quote is currently being widely retweeted, reblogged, and celebrated as a victory. (On what planet does a joke on SNL constitute a celebrity's endorsement and interest in you using their image to sell you products, anyway? Should the piss porn genre should start using Patrick Stewart's face to sell their products because he once did a skit on SNL where he played a man turned on by women urinating?)
However, implying a celebrity endorsement of your products where none exists and using their image without their permission so you can make money isn't why I take issue with Taormino and others fawning all over Timberlake. (Though those are perfectly problematic issues in themselves.)
Timberlake was one of the celebrities who appeared in advertisements for the now-defunct Demi N Ashton Foundation, an anti-sex worker organization that regurgitated the same old lies about how the average age of entering the sex industry is 12, and how a whopping 1% of the population of America are trafficked child sex slaves. If you follow sex workers' rights issues even in the most passing way, you'd remember what a big deal this celebrity-led campaign was, and how it launched the biggest-yet mainstream media coverage of the rescue industry in the form of a series of Village Voice articles debunking the Foundation's claims. Like it or not, celebrities get more attention that any normal person ever could, including most politicians, so when celebrities pick up a cause as a trendy new way of earning themselves some good PR, millions of people will hear about that cause. It's because of the instant credibility which Americans assign to celebrities that their campaigns have so much power to undermine grownup-level conversations like sex workers' rights. I'm infuriated that Tristan Taormino and the rest of the sexy feminist team are currently heroizing a man who was very recently making the rounds as an anti-sex worker campaigner. Justin Timberlake has contributed to setting the sex workers' rights movement back by popularizing the worst lies about us, and no amount of jokes about porn can right that wrong. Feminists like Taormino couldn't care less about Timberlake's anti-sex worker activism, though, apparently finding it perfectly acceptable to throw normal sex workers under the bus so they can grasp desperately at the exciting straw of a celebrity knowing their porn genre exists.
This spat with an obtuse feminist pornographer reminds me of why I hate the feminist porn genre so much. No, not the products it makes, since I think a lot of it is sexy, but the way the genre works. It adds insult to injury that so many people see feminist porn as an extension of and solution to sex workers' rights, when it's really an obstacle.
Feminist porn is the anti-sex worker sex work, and its marketing commonly slams other sex workers and their appearance. One of the first feminist porn sites was Nakkid Nerds, whose motto was "Smarter than your average porn star," and it's only gone downhill ever since. Feminist porn has an aesthetic, and that aesthetic is marketed as the definition of being "empowered," as though a woman's intelligence and value as a human being is to be judged solely by whether or not she has tattoos and thick-rimmed hipster glasses. I can't tell you how many times I have seen feminist porn marketed with insults, catty little jabs about how their company doesn't have those brain-dead bleach-blonde drugged-up bimbos you see in regular porn, it has artists and lovers and manic pixie dream girls. As someone who makes porn with a similar "not traditional beauty standards" aesthetic, I have always tried to avoid that kind of vicious marketing copy, and while I do want to differentiate myself from a mainstream porn site, I prefer to use terms like, "not another cookie-cutter porn site," rather than launch an attack on how mainstream porn performers are ugly and stupid. You don't have to insult the appearances and intelligence of other sex workers to show that you're different, but it's endemic to feminist porn.
Feminist porn excludes normal sex workers by screening out applications from anyone who dares to be motivated by money, and the genre has long been inconsistent when it comes to actually paying performers. Feminist porn sites try and avoid hiring people who are "just in it for the money," as though there's nothing more disgusting than being a sex worker. One of the largest feminist porn companies used to openly claim that you could only get paid modeling work if you did some free work, so they could deter those awful people who were in it for the money. Another famous feminist porn director is renowned for financially screwing over her performers by trying to talk them down to accepting a lower payment after they've already shown up for work, or have already performed their scene, or simply not paying them at all. Most feminist porn sites start not with some investment capital, but by asking performers to donate their labor on the vague promise that they will be paid if and when the site ever makes a profit. (And many sites fail, which leaves a lot of hurt feelings.) I've watched as this business model has lead to plenty of behind-the-scene drama over the years when models don't get paid. This is not just about one feminist porn company, it's how the genre works. This financially exploitative relationship to workers is their normal, and it only continues to work because there will always be plenty of cute college-age punks and hipsters who are motivated by the fun and rebellious aspect of the porn industry, but aren't trying to make it a reliable source of income. Many feminist porn sites also expect workers to donate unpaid labor in the form of writing blogs for the site, participating in the site's online forums and flirting with paying subscribers, responding to fan emails, and doing member chats. Those precious "social networking" and "community" features, of which the feminist porn genre is so proud, are built on the labor of unpaid workers, who are well aware that doing free work might lead to being hired for paid work again.
Feminist porn splashes the word "revolutionary" all over everything it does. This might seem like I'm nitpicking semantics here, but I take deep offense to corporations using the term "revolution" in order to sell things. After all, let's not forget that feminist porn is a business, and as a business, its goal is to make money. It's fine by me to make money, I like making money, too, but I would never insult all the peoples of the world who have engaged in lengthy and costly life-or-death struggles by touting my collection of tit pics a "revolution." Using that word to market entertainment products shows a profound ignorance of and giggly insensitivity towards countless historical and global struggles where vast numbers of oppressed people have died in horrible ways while fighting for freedoms like ending racial segregation, to buck off colonialism, or to overthrow dictators. Feminist porn sellers are not "revolutionaries" by any stretch of the imagination.
People who dabble in feminist porn are regularly handed paid speaking gigs at colleges around the country to speak on sex work issues, even though they only rarely engage in sex work, and do so mostly for fun. This would be akin to having an event about labor organizing for farm workers and hiring as your speaker someone who occasionally helps with a friend's garden on summer weekends. People are drawn to sex work for all sorts of reasons, and one of them is that it's naughty and exciting, but it's deeply troublesome to have most of the public faces of sex work be feminist porn models who are motivated by an interest in transgressive fun. The vast, vast majority of sex workers are not in the business primarily for personal growth and sexual fulfillment, so it always bothers me to see such people actively seeking so much attention as sex workers. I doubt any of these feminist porn dabblers claim to represent all sex workers in their lectures, but that doesn't negate the fact that when the public is handed a token sex worker at an event, they will mentally assign to them the status of "spokesperson for sex workers." It's because of the fact that representatives are taken as representative that the onus should be on people invited to speak before large groups as a token sex workers to ask themselves, "Am I really the person who should be addressing this group? Might they be better served by someone who is a full-time sex worker, or who has more experience than I, or who is a more typical sex worker?" I have refused plenty of chances to be on TV or in the media because I felt like I was not the best spokesperson for whatever a journalist wanted to discuss, and I always referred them to people who are better suited than I. I've dabbling in pro-domming work, but I certainly wouldn't be marketing myself to universities as someone they should hire to speak to students on what it's like to be a dominatrix. Dabblers shouldn't be spokespersons, period, but the lure of fame and being able to add "college speaker" to one's resume is too irresistible to feminist porn people.
And the biggest one: feminist porn hinges on the idea that sex work is only ethical or acceptable if it's done by people who are doing it primarily for personal fulfillment. This "let them eat cake" attitude is such profound bullshit, and it's completely antithetical to the idea of sex workers' rights. The feminist porn scene trades on (and profits from) marketing copy that implies that sex work is unethical when it's done by normal sex workers, who are no doubt exploited and degraded. This is so insulting, especially when some of them obtusely throw out the argument that feminist porn is some kind of "solution" to sex workers' rights, as though the millions of sex workers around the world could sustain their incomes by traveling to San Francisco to do a couple of porn shoots a year where they may or may not ever be paid. (Feminists have deployed a similar argument about how the "solution" to large stage fees and mandatory tipouts in the strip club industry is that everyone instead works at San Francisco's small worker-run Lusty Lady punk/chubby girl strip club where everyone earns an hourly wage.)
Along with decriminalization, the goal of the global sex workers' rights movement is to gain public respect for our work and to be recognized as workers, and feminist porn is fighting for the exact opposite: that sex work is only acceptable if it's done by not-workers for not-money, and that being motivated by money to do sex work is a problem in itself. Every business needs its marketing angles and to differentiate itself from competitors, but feminist porn needn't put its own profits and feel-good image ahead of the struggles of sex workers to convince the public that selling sexual services is a legitimate job and should be respected as such. The real insult of all of this is that any advancement in sex workers' rights also benefits feminist porn performers, but feminist porn believes it can only succeed by disparaging other sex workers.
by Furry Girl
"One thing I do not see, sadly, is performers as a group making common cause with other sex workers, whether strippers, escorts, massage parlor workers or street walkers. There is a cultural problem inherent in this climate that makes that an unlikely outcome.
Identifying with the oppression and the struggle of less privileged sex workers is not a pleasant thing to contemplate for someone who prefers to see him or herself as a 'star.'
This is a wedge that [anti-porn feminists] effectively drive between us all the time. They love to go on and on about how a lucky few of us get all the rewards while vast numbers of 'enslaved, brutalized, prostituted women' suffer all the miseries into which our visible good fortune has seduced them.
Somehow, we need to take that wedge out of the hands of those who want to see sex work abolished and those who profit by keeping it divided and powerless. Between them, our common enemies make a formidable opposition to be conquered, and before we can take them on, we have to rise above our own misgivings from within."
-- Ernest Greene, in Labor Organizing in the Sex Industry - Hopes and Realities on bppa.blogspot.com
by Furry Girl
Karl Marx's headstone: "Workers of all lands unite." I approve this message.
I am often asked what I mean when I say "sex worker." Here's my short and long-form answer, including why I don't have as expansive a definition as some.
I maintain that sex work is exchanging one's own sexual labor or performance for compensation. It doesn't have to be actual sex for cash, it doesn't even have to be in person (like web cam or phone sex) or with direct compensation from the end customer (like being paid by a producer for doing porn). But it does have to involve your own sexuality or sexual performance. That's the sort of definition I'll be using in my outreach project, SWAAY.
"Sex worker" should not not a term for people who simply profit from the labor of sex workers, or have a job/hobby that is related to sex in some way. As someone who does both sex work and other sex industry jobs in my tiny empire of revenue streams, I have zero ethical or personal qualms with business owners, photographers, writers, managers, or retail employees in the sex industry, so long as they're not treating anyone poorly. Serpent Libertine (autoplay video/sound warning), whose work I love, has a definition on her blog what constitutes a sex worker that includes lots of job titles that I don't even remotely consider to be sex work. [Edited to add: Serpent clarified in my comments that the list was a collaborative definition written in 2008 by her and other sex workers rights organizers, and is not her own personal definition.] Here's the list, in grey text below are ones that I absolutely would not consider a sex worker:
An Erotic Masseuse
A Full Body Sensual Masseuse
An Exotic Dancer
An Adult Film/Porn Performer
Someone Who Shoots, Directs, or Produces Porn
An Erotic Writer
A Phone Sex Operator
A Tantra Provider
An Agency owner
Someone supported by A Sugar Daddy/Mama
Someone who has had sex for food, drugs, or to get the money you needed to survive
A Clerk at a Sex shop
An Owner of a Sexually Oriented Business
A Peep Show Dancer
A Webcam Performer
A Fetish or Nude Model
A Fetish/Erotic Photographer
An Online Domme
An Adult Webmaster/mistress
A Burlesque Dancer
A Sex Advice Columnist
A Sex Toy Reviewer
A Sex Worker Advocate/Activist
A Publisher/Editor of A Sexually Oriented Publication
A Waitress at A Strip Club
A Phone Operator at an Escort Service
A Fantasy Sex Provider
A Curator at A Sex Museum
A Sex Educator
A Sex Surrogate
A Sex Therapist
(A lot of the terms are duplicates to take into account pretentious or fussy people who would rather call themselves a "sex surrogate" or a "tantra provider" than a prostitute, or a "fetish model" rather than a porn model.)
Half of those listed people - those I put in grey text - do not sell their own sexual energy or physical sexuality. Dan Savage is a writer who offers people free advice about bettering their sex lives, he doesn't offer to come over and provide them with good sex for $500 an hour. A clerk at the porn shop isn't being paid by customers to act out their wildest fantasies, he's being paid by the owner of the store to man the cash register and sell DVDs and vibrators. A woman who writes dildo reviews on her blog is paid in free sex toys by sex toy companies in exchange for the exposure, she's not working in a peep show where an audience is paying by the minute to see her masturbate with the toys. All of these dynamics are not about sex work, they're about having a job or hobby that relates to sexuality. There's a large overall sex industry - in which sex advice columnists, retail clerks, and reviewers could be included - but sex workers are a distinct subset of the sex industry.
I love that sex workers rights ties together so many threads I enjoy. Sexual freedoms. Privacy rights. Free speech. But when it comes to the key terminology for the movement - the definition of sex worker - that has to be defined from a labor rights perspective. Organizing around labor has always been about actual workers, not the managers and bosses, not the outside contractors who refill the snack machines in the break room, not the artist who created the logo for the product's advertisements, and not the journalist across the country at Consumer Reports who tested out one of the company's widgets for an article they were writing.
To put "escort" or "stripper" in the same category as the person who designed a dominatrix directory web site dilutes and erases the special and complex challenges faced by sex workers. Unlike webmasters or publishers or photographers, you can't just swap out the sex part of my work and have it be basically the exact same job. Whether a clerk is being paid minimum wage to stand fully-dressed in a retail store ringing up purchases for anal gangbang porn on DVDs or Hollywood's latest blockbusters on DVDs, it's not a fundamental change in what the worker is doing. They're still a video store worker being paid to sell tangible items they had no role in manufacturing.
What sets sex work apart is that you can't just take the sex out of it and still have a job. People don't pay a $20 monthly fee to see thousands of clothed and nonsexual photos of me. People don't pay me $4 a minute for random video chat. People don't pay me $300 an hour to hang out in their living room. We'd all like to think we're so charming - some sex workers even desperately clinging to the idea that they are truly paid only for their time and presence, not the sex - but we all know the real score. Even though we all do get customers sometimes that just want someone to keep them company, if that's all we offered, every one of us would be out of business.
Let's be honest about something else - the people who enthusiastically consider themselves sex workers when I would not are hardly your typical porn store clerks, photographers, and bloggers/webmasters. They're sex-positive feminists, sexual intellectuals, kinksters, already somewhat in the public sphere or trying to get more internet famous, and generally living in pervert-friendly cities. What I see is the same dynamic I've seen in many different places: liberal/lefty folk falsely claiming life experiences that they've never had because their social circles make it stylish to be part of marginalized groups. Widening the definition of "sex worker" to include everyone with a sex-related job or who does slutty things for fun online doesn't build solidarity and create a stronger/larger political movement. When you look at who actually seizes on the opportunity to label themselves a sex worker under more far-flung definitions of the term, the attempt to be "inclusive" only facilitates the hipsterization of sex work by giving people in certain social circles a chance to add another trendy term to their list of descriptors of why they're such a sassy nonconformist.
Rather than falsely inflate our numbers by expanding the meaning of "sex worker," how about we try to empower and activate the huge numbers of actual sex workers who feel alienated from the current feminist-/pagan-/left-wing-/sex radical- dominated activist scene in the US? (The types of people that alienate many sex workers from getting involved in their own movement are the exact same ones that are allowed in when we have a more liberal definition of "sex work"!) Our problem isn't a lack of people who could be considered sex workers, it's a lack of overall direction and strategy, money, public outreach, and organizing/lobbying experience.
by Furry Girl
People, and social movements, cannot grow without dealing with their shortcomings, especially if those problems are uncomfortable, dramatic, or awkward to fling into the open. This lengthy post is me throwing a molotov cocktail of things-that-have-gone-publicly-unsaid, but I wanted to start my critique only after I give some quick context of what else has been said recently.
For backstory on "this month in sex worker blog controversy", start with Amanda's post about excluding women like her who are mainstream sexy and heteronormative. Snippets:
There is a deep prejudice permeating the sex worker rights movement in the US. Just because some of us have a mainstream appearance doesn’t mean we don’t deal with the same stigma that every other sex worker does, that we somehow work under a different set of laws. Just because we look much like the “pretty” depictions of sex workers in mainstream media doesn’t mean we’re not “real,” it means we’re making money (most sex workers are in sex work to make money).
“Inclusiveness” and “diversity” are such huge preoccupations in the movement that they often derail energy and focus on the real-world issues staring all of us in the face. In the stampede to be inclusive and make sure that all ethnic/gender/occupation/whatever boxes are ticked and that a token representative is present, a huge majority go unnoticed and unwelcome.
Then, she called out two of the biggest names in sex blogging, Susie Bright and Mistress Matisse. Single sentence summary:
The Craigslist debacle of 2010 really separated the in-the-trenches sex workers from those quite obviously above it.
Amanda's posts are the tip of an iceberg, and it's not just her, and it's not just about any one or two famous sex bloggers saying detached or offensive things. Overall, the big issue I've seen floating around America in the last 6 months is that there are a number of sex workers who aren't happy with the Big Name Visible People in sex worker politics, Big Names who notably couldn't even be bothered to attend this year's Desiree Alliance sex worker conference. Many sex workers I've talked to aren't thrilled with the increasing inaccessibility and academic-esque nature of sex work dialog, don't feel like their world is being well-represented, and are privately whispering things like, "Wait, what was it that so-and-so actually did that makes them a sex worker? And how many years ago was that?"
In sum, it feels like there's a lot of important and exciting shit brewing just under the surface in sex worker politics, and more people looking to get involved in some sort of political stuff - if they can find a way to do so.
For those of you who don't know me well: this is coming from someone who got started in sex work almost 9 years ago (full-time for 8 years), is not involved in any sex worker rights groups and has a semi-outsiders perspective on sex worker activism, but who considers herself to have a pretty good grasp of the history of social movements and activism in the United States over the last 50 years.
Here's what I see from where I'm sitting:
1.) The sex worker rights movement should be led by experienced and current sex workers. No one should be excluded, but we sorely need more voices from folks who aren't hipster feminists with only brief involvement with sex work.
It's truly great to have part-timers and people who did/do only a small amount of sex work speak about their experiences. I am glad that people who don't "need" to be involved in the fight for sex workers rights care to do so anyway. It also testifies to how sex work is not a monolith and can often be something people do once in their lives, or for a few months, or a few years, or with one special patron they see twice a year. I am not dismissing those folks and their stories or their work as activists, but for people who have flat-out spent less time sex working, they sure do comprise a whole lot of our tacit leadership and spokespersons.
The vocal sex worker scene needs more people whose primary motivation wasn't a quick bout of fun self-exploration. That's a totally valid reason to do sex work, and I'm not saying you're bad or irrelevant if it describes you, but it's simply not representative of sex workers in this country as a whole. (I enjoy the explorative and creative aspects of my work, but it's still my full-time job that I do for money.) The over-representation of sex-positive dabblers also contributes to the anti camp being able to dismiss sex worker activism as something by and for a tiny minority of the most privileged and "happy hooker"-esque. Even if we love our work, as I do, I think we do ourselves a disservice by over-selling the erotic/transgressive/feminist aspect of it in an attempt to counter false stereotypes that all sex workers are abused addicts who hate their jobs.
When I feel extra cynical, I wonder if there's some kind of unwritten rule that says the less sex work you've done, and the longer it's been since you've done it, the more aggressively you ought to shout about how you're a sex worker and thrust yourself into public conversations as such. (Of course, this rule does not apply to typical sex workers, it applies only to the educated feminist types.) I've been a full-time, no-"real"-job sex worker my entire adult life, and frankly, I think this buys me a bigger seat at the table than someone who appears in a few porn videos a year, or was a stripper for a semester a decade ago. (Just as, of course, I think people who've been sex workers since before I was born deserve an even bigger seat at the table than I do.)
This doesn't mean I dislike part-time or former sex workers (I adore many of them and think they've made some amazing contributions!), nor do I think that they shouldn't be included, or that they aren't "real" sex workers. I simply want the folks with the most at stake and the most experience to have the most say in what's going on and how their jobs are portrayed. Radically offensive perspective, I know.
2.) The sex worker rights movement needs to make itself and its issues accessible to more supporters and sex workers, not just feminist bloggers, the kinkster/sex-positive scene, and academics.
If you were to casually surf across popular sex workers rights blogs and articles, you'll find stuff like how to reframe human trafficking through a lens of post-colonial theory, impassioned calls to stop cis-sexist language constructs, and the forced rehabilitation centers in Cambodia. These are all excellent and fascinating topics of discussion to me, but (sadly!) they only interest a very small amount of other people. Sex worker discourse is dominated by people who chose to forget that most folk in America aren't familiar with the idea of being "cisgender", can't find Cambodia on a map, and all they know about "colonialism" is that pilgrims wore funny hats.
Your average person (sex worker or potential ally) does not have a graduate degree-level understanding of gender, feminism, or immigration politics. They don't even possess the vocabulary to join the conversation we're having amongst ourselves. Think of it this way: we're trying to implore people, "Save the whales from extinction!", except their concept of what a whale looks like is "a grey cow that can breathe under water", they don't know what save implies in this context, and they need to look up extinction in a dictionary because they've never heard the word before. The steep learning curve is alienating. When I see so many sex worker rights discussions going on, I wonder if some people have ever ventured outside of the intellectual pervert cliques of New York City and San Francisco.
It's not like I disagree with what most of the brainy clique is writing, or think they should stop saying it, but I'm a pragmatist who knows that deconstructing every facet of hetero-normativity is not the most pressing issue for most sex workers. Yes, everything is connected, "let's not be single-issue", I get that - but some people are like a chef so busy trying to explain how to make impressively intricate fondant cakes that they forget that their audience hasn't even mastered Jello instant pudding yet. I'm not anti- fondant cake, but let's start with getting everyone on board with that just-add-milk-and-stir thing, and then work our way up from there, shall we?
If you want to change the world, you have to be able to meet people where they're at, to explain things to average people using plain language. Broad-based social change is not a competition to see who can talk the furthest over the heads of the general public. That famous quip about how "the only thing that's ever changed the world is a small group of committed people" is complete bullshit. You do need those core instigators, but if it starts and ends there, your cause is doomed.
Further, sex workers really need to reconsider what it means to "build bridges with other communities." We can get every last feminist sex blogger and BDSM enthusiast to say they agree with our cause, but, well... that's not really progress. The way I see, the root thing we're working to change is public opinion and stigma before we can do anything else - like changing or repealing laws - and sex workers need to actually reach out to the general public. I love sex bloggers and kinksters and think they have been great allies, but they are members of the choir, not the people that we most need to reach. It seems like 99% of outreach efforts are focused on influencing less than 1% of the population. We need to stop kidding ourselves and acting like it's a major accomplishment to convince someone who's already devoted to transgressive sexuality that they should support sex workers, too. (I'm not dismissing our cool allies in the pervert scene, I'm stating that we need more allies.)
3.) The "working" class needs to be at the forefront of the sex workers rights movement.
In Jim Goad's polarizing book, The Redneck Manifesto, he lays things out thusly:
The working class doesn't write a lot of history books. The working class doesn't produce many movies or radio shows. The working class doesn't need to hire media consultations or theatrical agents. The working class has played an itty-bitty role in fashioning its public image.
That's because the working class was too busy working.
I might not be "working class" in the sense Goad means it, but I'm "working" class within the sex work scene in that my focus has been on actual sex work, not on writing about it for liberal news sites and academic journals, debating anti-prostitution activists on TV, or promoting myself as a guest lecturer available to talk to college students about "feminist porn". Even as I blog, consider writing a book, and start expanding into doing more political stuff, I'm still working a full-time job as a pornographer and web cam performer, which is where I devote most of my energies.
I know we're all busy, but I'd like to see more sex workers take just a bit of time to get involved in something, or speak out, or share their stories. I don't want sex worker politics to belong only to a handful of feminist intellectuals, I want to see blogs and contributions and stories and ideas from people sprinkled all over the country, doing all sorts of different work, especially those who have no prior experience with activism and political organizing. I want to see new faces. I want these faces to be diverse, but without refusing to acknowledge the reality that most sex workers are able-bodied cisgender women who adhere to mainstream beauty standards.
It saddens me to see any sex worker feeling like there's no place for them because they're not a punky queer hipster (pseudo)intellectual. It's such a bizarro-world scenario where a a teeny little minority of (ex) sex workers can make the majority feel like they are the ones who don't fit in. I know a number of long-standing, smart, politically-minded, and/or boundary-pushing people whose work and opinions don't get mentioned in political sex work and "feminist porn" discussions because they don't fit into the established superficial mould of what a "smart sex worker" is supposed to look and act like. Is sex worker activism a momentum-gathering social movement or a temporarily trendy subculture, like ironic mustaches?
I stated that I'm calling for a "working" class uprising, and I chose that word for a reason. I didn't call for a coup. I don't want to silence anyone or tell anyone to stop doing what they're doing. I am calling for the rest of us to literally rise up, to become the dominant voices not because we take voices away from others, but because we are speaking up for ourselves. If you don't like how things are going, or don't feel represented by the current sex worker political scene, it's up to you to make sex worker politics yours through your own participation.
4.) I live up to what I ask of others, so I'm starting a new project. Its focus is on providing accessible information about sex work to a general audience.
I've had an idea for this independent project floating around in my head for a while, and decided that now is the time to finally get on it. Independent as in something I can operate mostly by myself, without joining an existing group and devoting time to organization meetings, worrying about consensus processes, and frankly, having to rely on other people - who may end up flaking out on me. While I will be asking for input, advice, and help from other people, I'm a ultimately a lone wolf, and I want something that's mostly operated by me, because then I know it will get done.
The political work (I sort of hate the word "activist" because of the subculture scene image it implies) I've been involved with off-and-on over in the last decade has been of a very different framework than general education and outreach. My experiences are with more targeted issues where there's some clear goal and there are more definitive metrics to gage success. Changing the big picture for sex workers is fucking hard. This isn't "let's get this company/person to stop/start doing this specific thing." Sluts and whores (and women falsely perceived to be so) are some of the most hated people across every human culture in the world. Every single religion is anti-sexuality, and that affects our global psyche in ways I don't think all people realize or care to admit. So, while this isn't little Furry Girl's first try at doing something political, it's a truly challenging construct due to its vastness and how much it's ingrained in our world. Also, it's funny to me that I generally agitate for more "radical" positions on issues, but what most needs to be done for sex workers is providing polite, 101-level basic public education, so what's what I'm going to do.
The launch date on my project hasn't been determined yet, but some time in the spring. I promise, it will be good, and I'll write more about this soon. In the mean time, if you have a fancy-pants job and aren't hurting too badly from the recession, I would appreciate any early-bird donations to get the ball rolling.
I've decided on what I have the skill, time, and interest to contribute. What will you start doing this year?
[Edit to add: this project is now launched at SWAAY.org]
Furry Girl: legs now closed for business.
My adult sites
- Cocksexual.com: Strapons
- EroticRed.com: Menstruation
- FurryGirl.com: Unshaved
- TheSensualVegan.com: Store
- VegPorn.com: Herbivores
More of me online
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New to my blog? Some favorite posts
- "You have no right to dislike feminism after all it's done for you!"
- "You misrepresent true feminism by focusing on the bad feminists. They're not real feminists anyway!"
- An argument for more sex workers to be out?
- Degrading, violent desires
- Do you have what it takes to be an empowered sex worker?
- Feminism is the shitty relationship you had in your early 20s
- Feminist porn isn't a branch of sex workers' rights, it's an obstacle
- How are we branding sex workers rights in the US? (Let's focus more on *worker*, less on *sex*!)
- How to do your homework on trafficking, "rescue", and the affected communities
- Let's stop pretending that "objectification" is a thing that exists
- Musings on ethical porn and the red herrings of "feminist porn" and "violent porn"
- My call for a "working" class uprising against inaccessible discourse and the over-representation of dabblers
- Sex trafficking is the new crack: manufactured "epidemics" as political tools
- The common logical fallacies deployed by anti-sex worker activists
- Things I've gained from being a sex worker: an anti-paternalistic perspective
- Vigilantism and 'crushing bastards': in praise of anger, hatred, and taking joy in the smiting of one's enemies
- Want to play BINGO with the antis?
- Watch out for psuedoscience: my long-time nemeses of concern trolling and "teaching the controversy"
- What do I mean when I say "sex worker"? Why I'm against an overly-broad definition
- Why I call them "anti-sex worker" rather than "anti-porn" or "anti-prostitution," and why you should too
Vaguely similar blogs
- Amanda Brooks
- Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers
- Belle de Jour
- Born Whore
- Bound, Not Gagged
- Dan Savage on SLOG
- Danny Wylde
- Jiz Lee
- Laura Agustín
- Lux Nightmare [2006-2007]
- Maggie McNeill
- Our Porn, Ourselves
- Sequoia Redd
- Serpent Libertine
- Sexonomics by Brooke Magnanti
- Shit They Say to Sex Workers
- Stuff Sex Workers Eat
- Women Against Feminism