by Furry Girl
I was reading some recent thoughts on sex work from Brooke Magnanti, which carried the obligatory disclaimer, "I am by any measure an incredibly privileged white, well-educated, successful ex-sex worker & as such a poster child of choicey-choiceness." Having not done much of reading of sex worker blogs in the last few months, I was especially struck by this standard opening many visible (ex) sex workers use.
I've seen these disclaimers countless times, and generally tried to avoid them on my blog. It isn't that I don't acknowledge that I have more privilege than most of world's population - I'm white, middle class, and have had a reasonably successful life, free from famine, displacement, violence, illness, and disability. However, I avoid privilege disclaimers of my opinions for two reasons: the way the left deals with "privilege" is simply as an insult to be avoided and defended against rather than an evolving dynamic to ponder, and because admissions of privilege are starkly one-sided in sex work debates, and I don't want to contribute to that.
Why is it that "our side" feels so constantly obligated to disclaim our ideas as coming from a position of privilege, but anti-sex worker activists - many of whom have much higher salaries than the sex workers they lambast as "privileged" - never say a single word about their own economic/racial/education status? When you have a debate and on one side are all these "I am privileged, but..." arguments, and on the other, no such acknowledgement ever, then it sets up an appearance that professional feminists and anti-sex work activists are the down-trodden victims. And we all know it's bullshit, but we still perpetuate it be defensively prefacing everything we think with, "I am privileged, but..." This disclaimer has the effect in lefty circles of being read as, "My opinion doesn't matter because I am actually an oppressive, obtuse, and shitty person."
Most of the sex workers I've known have been from lower and middle class backgrounds, who have gone onto to become the same or inching up the economic ladder a notch or two. We are not a very privileged or powerful group, honestly. Being a sex worker, even a "privileged" one, is less profitable than being a feminist academic. The wealthiest and most successful sex workers I know of are ones who own homes. Not 6 bedroom palaces on the water with yachts in front and a collection of designer furniture and appliances inside, but basic middle class homes. Think about that - you are held up as an icon of economic eliteness and ruthless capitalism because you can afford the things that other middle class adults in your country can also afford.
To me, there's actually nothing more emblematic of the concept of privilege than being a professional feminist - whether an academic position or working for an organization that campaigns against sex workers. I can't imagine a better job than to get paid a large salary with benefits to read and think about the things that interest you, and then to tell others your opinions. I do that every day, but for me it's a hobby, it's not a high-paying career with tenure. Which is why it makes my blood boil that professional feminists - who, again, have a job which is easier and pays a lot more than just about any sex worker makes - are the ones droning on about how people like me are "privileged," and "not representative." (As though there even is such a thing as "representative" for sex work. Sex workers are not a monolith, spanning all cultures, all races, all social strata, all sizes, all genders. Sex work is perhaps the most diverse occupation, so any one is "not representative.")
Is there a better way to handle these things than our current method of prefacing everything we say with, "I admit I am privileged, but..."? I don't know. I'm in favor of honest discussions of the ways privilege affect our lives, but think the left botches this issue by invariably turning it into a shouting match of accusations and insults. I do hope we're aware of how we're tacitly creating this absurd framing that it's sex workers and sex workers' rights advocates who are the ones in a position of privilege, whereas moneyed and powerful feminist academics, lobbying organizations, and celebrities are representatives of the weak and voiceless.
It's an upside-down world when we are expected to apologize constantly for our "privilege" when we advocate against criminalization policies that enable violence, rape, and abuse - policies which disproportionately impact the least privileged sex workers.
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
"One of the more remarkable results of the rise of industrial capitalism was that, for the first time in human history, the poorest classes of people gained access to luxury goods. Another remarkable result was that wealthier people who claimed to be allies of the poor told them this was bad for them. Recent developments in American popular music demonstrate that this paradox lives on. Last Sunday night, Macklemore and Lorde, artists who have built their careers upon songs attacking the desire for luxuries among African-Americans, received the highest commendations from the music establishment in the form of multiple Grammy awards. Their songs continue a long tradition, rooted in progressivism, of protests against the pleasures of the poor."
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
Anti-sex work activists endlessly harp on the specter of the multi-billion dollar sex industry. They never want to talk about how individual sex workers only make fairly modest incomes, and for generally short periods of time. It's easier to set up all of us sinners as obscenely wealthy, because it makes it easier for average people to resent us. This contributes to a culture of disrespect for sex workers where the public thinks we're not only lazy and gauche, we also get a 6-figure check every time we disrobe. It's a tactic of othering sex workers to a country that has been struggling a lot financially since the recession. And it's a very successful one.
When I was making the opposition tracker on SWAAY.org, I thought about trying to create a comprehensive list of how much profit there is to be made in anti-sex worker activism. As sex workers, we're constantly having our campaigns dismissed on the grounds that everything we say must be a lie because we have a financial stake in sex work. It drives me crazy that it's a one-sized argument, as though only sex workers profit from sex work. Your average sex worker makes substantially less than an anti-sex worker academic or nonprofit, so who really has a "financial incentive" to say what they say?
Some Twitter exchanges made me realize I should post the data I already collected, and I decided to update the tax returns for some popular foundations that oppose sex workers rights. Catherine MacKinnon's base salary statement was obtained a couple of years ago with a FOIA request against her employer, the University of Michigan, a state-funded university. (They have to disclose if you ask, google for "FOIA template" for the format.) The other tax returns are from 501(c)3 nonprofits, which make them public information.
Catherine MacKinnon's base salary (not including bonuses, insurance, speaking engagements, writing, and tours) was $273,000 for 9 months of work in 2009 (page 386, huge file) and $280,000 for 9 months of work in 2010 (page 394, huge file).
The biggest winner is, of course, the Hunt Alternatives Fund, which took in a whopping $12,976,136 in 2012. A 20-hour a week job at this foundation paid one "advisor" $101,562 in salary and benefits! Under "direct charitable activities," HAF say they spent $1,409,171 "eradicating the demand for purchased sex." While Swanee Hunt and family were the top donors, this foundation also received an even one million dollars from Norway's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Shared Hope International (which campaigns against prostitution among other activities), which raked in $2,253,367 in 2011.
The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women raked in $1,161,729 in 2012.
Fireproof Ministries, which runs XXXChurch, raked in $610,719 in 2011. $102,350 of this went directly into the pocket of Craig Gross in the form of a salary. (I've never netted that much as a pornographer! I should have gotten into running anti-porn sites.)
Shelley Lubben's Pink Cross Foundation raked in $137,183 in 2012. Shelley officially draws a modest $57,640 in salary and compensation.
Melissa Farley (who has glowingly referred to sex workers as "house niggers") heads a group called Prostitution Research and Education, which raked in a mere $81,958 in 2012.
Cite these figures when you're talking to people who think that our side is the only one with something financial to gain. I wish I knew more about individual anti-sex worker activists. I still want to flesh out the anti-sex worker activist tracker. Let me know if you have links to add.
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 of the things I've stridently maintained when it comes to sex work activism and debate is that the voices of current and long-term sex workers should always be privileged over those of former sex workers and occasional dabblers. It's in that vein that I feel obligated to disclose changes in my own status: after 10 years as a full time sex worker, I'm transitioning out of sex work. Well, half way, for now. It's not the sort of rapid exit process I've seen others undergo, such as getting a new boyfriend/husband and suddenly deleting their web presence. Since I have dealt with stalker problems throughout my career, I'm not going to disclose the details of what I'm doing in the new "straight" part of my life, but I'm not going to leave you totally hanging, either. I'm still one foot in, one foot out, as I work on creating a second career for myself - it's the hokey-pokey method of leaving the industry. (I've wondered if this is more normal, or the sudden exit method? Do most sex workers start a second career secretly towards the end of their stint as sex workers, and just never mention it?) The only thing I feel like saying about Career B is that it involves using science to make the world a better place. Since this has been a big decision that I didn't make lightly, I thought I'd share my reasons and some things I've been discovering.
The big question: why are you leaving sex work?
First, porn simply doesn't pay very well any more. Even though I am a sexually open person and a natural exhibitionist, I got into sex work for the money. (I can be a pervert for free any time, though.) The money's just not there any more, at least in my part of the industry. It's been a struggle to come to admitting this to myself, but the golden days of internet porn are long over, and I'm not willing to continue with the stress and responsibility of running my own business - and one that could land me in prison! - for so little pay. Though I've given it a lot of thought, I'm simply too much a scaredy-cat to be an escort or dominatrix. I've dabbled in offline pro-domming, and had totally safe experiences, but I just worry too much about drawing the short straw and going into a hotel room with a dangerous person. No amount of screening makes you invincible, and while I have friends who've never had a violent client, I have also met people who have been raped, robbed, assaulted, or otherwise harmed on the job (sometimes by police officers). It shouldn't be that way, of course. We should have decriminalization, sex workers shouldn't have to fear reporting crimes against them, and sex workers shouldn't have to fear being robbed and raped by cops, but we're not in that world yet.
The second reason I'm starting to retire is that I feel like I have done everything I could ever possibly want to do as a sex worker. There's no room for growth, other than in quantity. I've done a fucking awesome job of going from being a high school dropout to having a successful small business that allowed me to make a middle class income so that I have free time for travel, adventure, learning, and taking on all sorts of hobbies. I don't exaggerate when I say that porn has been my dream job. I wouldn't do it differently other than make some smarter business decisions when I was younger, but on the whole, I am incredibly proud of my work. I feel like I have taken off every possible color of clothing in just about every way I could, and now I'm just repeating myself.
I came, I saw, I kicked ass, and now I'm ready for something new. I don't feel challenged by my work any more, and fully realizing that helped me make my decision to find a second career.
I have no intention of deleting any of my web sites.
I've spent 10 years building a number of awesome porn sites, this blog, and SWAAY, and I'm proud of them. Further, lots of other people have also put plenty of blood, sweat, jizz, research, and time into my web sites, and I'd hate to erase their efforts, too. And even if I did want to erase my past (which I do not), deleting my work only means that I am ensuring that I will never profit from my labor, even though images and videos of me will still be floating around the internet until civilization collapses. Unlike strippers or escorts who would never do porn because it exists forever, I enjoy that the products of my labor will exist forever and continue earning me residuals, even if it's not a lot of money. Residual income is rare in the sex industry, so I'm glad that 18-year-old Furry Girl picked a career path that came with a little retirement income. (On the official social security and payroll taxes front, as a self-employed person, it's damned near impossible to claim unemployment benefits, so while I've paid significantly more in federal taxes than your average worker, I am unable to access those funds to which I should be entitled. It's one of the many insults upon injury sex workers deal with when it comes to the US government.)
Moving on from sex work: the good
For the first time in a decade, most of the compliments directed at me have nothing to do with my appearance. This isn't to say that I think I've been "coasting on my looks" for a decade, especially since I know I'm not a major head-turner. People ignore all the invisible labor that goes into being a successful sex worker. If I shoot a particularly awesome set of photos, the praise I receive is invariably along the lines of, "You're so hot," not, "You're a hard-working photographer!" "Being sexy" is the smallest part of what goes into running your own porn site, but it's the only part that people acknowledge. (The same extends to other forms of sex work: the visible part of your work is always dwarfed by all the preparation.) As much as I stand by the fact that "being sexy" is a hard-earned job skill and that it takes smarts and ambition to be a successful sex worker, I have to admit that it's awesome to be praised regularly for my intellect or work ethic. (This isn't to say that there's something wrong with being a professional piece of ass: that's exactly the job we sign up for upon entering sex work. All humans are all "reduced" to one-dimensional beings by those with whom who we have only fleeting contact, but that fact has no moral component.)
I feel challenged. Sometimes too much! Ha. Seriously, it's awesome to have new things to do, even though some of them are tedious and annoying. While I've always had an array of interests, sex work and sexuality issues have been the focus of the last ten years of my life, and it's refreshing to give some of my other interests free reign and really see what I can do with them.
Just like my first career in porn, I've found a second career where I can make an interest into a paying job. I'm glad that both of my careers are the sort of things I could have written down on a typical high school "how to decide your career" quiz that asks, "If you had millions of dollars and didn't need to work, what would you do with your time?" That's not to say either porn or the new career is easy and always enjoyable, but both tap into my passions.
Moving on from sex work: the bad
Starting all over in building your resume, especially when you're almost 30. Ugh. While being smart, motivated, good with computers, and possessing an ability to learn new things are traits I bring to any job, the rest of my skill set doesn't transfer over. This also means I will not be making much money for a while, hence, staying a part-time sex worker as a financial bridge.
Waking up at a certain time of day. As someone who has been mostly waking up whenever I feel like it since I was 16, it's jarring to need to be somewhere precisely at a certain time. One of the biggest reasons many people choose sex work is the flexibility and ability to set your own schedule.
Working with other people who are not of my own choosing. I'm not the most enthusiastic team player. I can do it, but I am regularly examining my behavior to make sure I am doing it right. Running my own business from home for so many years has made me forget all the required social niceties we are supposed to engage in, like asking everyone how they're doing all the time, and them being required to say, "I'm good, and you?" no matter how they are actually feeling. It's so artificial, but it's apparently the lubricant that keeps society functioning. I've wondered, "Do I have a touch of Asperger's, or am I just kind of an antisocial weirdo?"
Not being out as a sex worker in all parts of my life any more. This one bothers me a lot. I'm used to being out out to just about everyone I interacted with, but I'm keeping that under wraps for now with Career B. It's not at all that I'm developed a sense of shame, but because I am the lowest-ranking member of a group, and because life is a competition, I don't want to do things right now that would prevent me from being given a shot at opportunities. (I'm also not out as poly, kinky, or pro-guns, so it's really about not courting controversy in any form.) I made the decision that I need to build up new "credit," and once people see that I am not a cliche sex worker stereotype of an untrustworthy drug addict who can't handle hard work or intellectual challenges, I can be open again. I'd rather demonstrate my competence and then surprise people later than start off by "making myself look bad" and then trying to fight an uphill battle of convincing people I'm capable, or not having a chance to try and convince them at all. It's not ideal, but it's not how I am going to live forever. For now, new folks know me as someone who ran a small web design company and has decided to switch careers.
Moving on from sex work: the random
I am not transitioning out of sex work for a man. Without trying to sound too judgmental, I have to say that it always bums me out when women leave sex work because they got some controlling, jealous boyfriend. I always swore that I would never do that (although that didn't spare me from dating some assholes who had problems with my job), and I'm glad I stayed true to that goal. (As a bisexual/pansexual woman, I will add that I would not have switched careers for a lady, either.) I do have an awesome dude in my life, but he's secure enough that he isn't reduced to fits of terrified panic at the idea that other men have seen me naked.
I am not transitioning out of sex work because I think I'm "too old." Without sounding vain, I think I'm aging just fine, and would have no problem continuing to work in the sex industry for years to come. Sure, I'm about 15 pounds heavier than I was 10 years ago, and I get occasional grey hairs, but I'm so far happy that I'm not one of those people who "hits the ugly wall" and suddenly ages 15 years in 6 months. (It pleases me that this category includes some of the "pretty girls" who bullied me when I was a youngster in school.) Also, unlike some cranky feminist sex workers, I haven't been exercising and eating healthy only because I am trying to cater to mainstream beauty standards to extract money from men, excitedly squealing upon quitting the industry about how I can't wait to get fat. I think people can be sexy at any size, but purposefully gaining weight (and increasing your risks of all sorts of health problems) just to say "fuck you, male gaze!" is as stupid as starving yourself to attract the male gaze. I'm hardly as athletic as I wish I were, but there are reasons to stay fit other than sex work. (Click see to two NSFW photos, one from the most recent photo update on my site, one from the very first.)
I'm not sure about my plans for SWAAY, but I'm not interested in trying to turn it into my career. The debate over whether to be agitators or paid mainstream NGO employees has long been going on in grassroots activist circles, and every scene has watched people lured away with the promise of a steady paycheck if they'll only tone down their rhetoric and get in line with the "proper" nonprofit establishment (ie, become less effective and more palatable to big donors). I know that a number of sex workers' rights activists are trying to turn (or have turned) their passion into careers as professional social workers with official tax-exempt charity statuses, but I don't want that.
I'm not quitting sex work so I can try to have a "real" writing career where I write puff pieces for HuffPo and ladyblogs about how I used to be a sex worker. Doesn't interest me.
I'm still maintaining my web sites, and will undoubtably still shoot new content sporadically, as well as continuing doing cam shows around my new schedule. I don't know when I'm going to stop doing anything new entirely, but I'm guessing in a couple of years. No sense in abandoning ship before the next ship is fully launched, and I'm giving myself a long timeline.
So what am I, a half-retired sex worker? And does this mean all sex workers are considered half-retired if they're starting a different career or going to school? (Because that's a sizable chunk of people in the industry.) I still think of myself as a current sex worker, but I feel like it's dishonest to say I'm a full-timer. I'm going to keep on being a supporter of sex workers' rights, and blogging/tweeting about these issues as Furry Girl, but the sexual politics world is definitely not my top priority any longer. It's a bit sad to think of that, but I am also excited about what's still to come. I have one final big project I want to do as "Furry Girl the sex work blogger chick," while I plan to announce soon.
by Furry Girl
"The Web sites I found, trolling through hundreds of Google hits for 'egg donor' were similar, placing heavy emphasis on the motivation of donors. They spoke of fulfillment, of 'making a difference,' of 'one of the most loving gifts one woman can give to another.' The pictures were of babies, clouds, building blocks. The site I chose was among the most thickly written, its invitation to donate dripping with hyper-feminized expressions of motherhood and generosity. It was the linguistic equivalent of a doily.
The application also asked, 'What is the least amount of compensation you will consider accepting for an egg donation?' Elsewhere, the agency stated that it would not accept requests of more than $10,000. So I typed in: $10,000.
When I suggested later that the egg-for-dollars swap is hardly a donation, [the doctor] looked genuinely confused and changed the subject to my egg-producing potential.
The mainstreaming of fertility treatments contributes to a larger concern among cultural conservatives, who worry egg donation is a step on the way to the much-feared designer baby. 'Do you really want to pick a kid the way you shop for a car?' Reader's Digest asked in 2001. Feminists, too, find the mixture of capitalistic enterprise and female bodies disturbing. The Nation's Katha Pollitt has called surrogacy 'reproductive prostitution.' Sexual anxieties make for strange bedfellows: In 2004 National Review’s Kathryn Jean Lopez wrote a column slamming egg donation, approvingly quoting Pollitt.
While egg prices range from a few thousand dollars to $30,000 or more, ASRM guidelines recommend donors receive a maximum of $10,000, above which compensation is deemed 'inappropriate.' Paradoxically, such guidelines are sold as being in the interest of the donor, usually portrayed as cash-strapped and naive. In the words of the President's Council on Bioethics, such women tend to be from 'financially vulnerable populations,' which implies they need protection from the temptation of incurring bodily risk for profit."
-- Kerry Howley in Ova for Sale on reason.com
I support the consensual selling of organs, bodily fluids, tissue, and eggs/sperm, as well as women renting out their uteruses for surrogacy, or people being paid participants in medical research. The same arguments hurled at sex workers are also deployed against other "weird" or "possibly dangerous" uses of one's body for income. (Though very few people will apply that condemnation of occupations with physical injury risk to sports, agriculture, construction, the military, manual labor, or any number of blue collar jobs.)
Also: the euphemisms and bullshit parade that accompany egg-selling remind me of the prostitutes who put on airs about how they are "erotic journey facilitators," "tantric healers," and "sacred goddess practitioners."
by Furry Girl
It being tax season, I realized it would be appropriate to post a financial summary for SWAAY. Here's a copy of what's now on swaay.org/about.html:
Are donations to SWAAY tax deductible? Where does the money go?
SWAAY is not a federally-registered 501(c)3 nonprofit, and your donations are not tax deductible. Becoming an official nonprofit costs a lot of time and money, and requires having a board of directors that disclose their legal identities. This is an additional barrier to sex worker organizing, because most sex workers do not want to publicize our legal names.
As of April 2012, SWAAY is currently $2297.32 in debt for what has been spent to establish the project. During our first year of operation, 2011, expenses broke down as follows: 65% for printing shirts, stickers, and buttons; 14% of for office supplies and shipping; 12% for web site related costs and advertising; 8% for bank fees and credit card interest; and 1% for miscellaneous expenses.
SWAAY is a genuine volunteer-based grassroots project without a paid staff. No one who has worked on SWAAY has received payment other than stickers and/or a complimentary SWAAY shirt.
I've had detractors (who've never even met me or been involved in activism themselves) accuse me of using SWAAY as a personal profit-making project, as though there must be untold riches to be made selling sex workers' rights shirts. Nope, I've never paid myself a penny, and I have no plans to draw a salary. My goal as an activist is always to just break even with what I spend, and I would feel weird drawing a salary for my "volunteering" endeavors. I think it's a good thing for nonprofit and activist projects to disclose whether their organizer(s) makes their living from running the project. (That doesn't mean they're bad people or the project is corrupt, but I favor transparency.)
So, as I said, SWAAY is about $2300 in the hole. (It has its own credit card which I used to start the project, and am now working on paying off.) If you'd like to donate or buy some awesome merchandise, it's appreciated. I would love to do more public outreach projects like the sex worker billboard, but all those things take money, and I'm not willing to rack up any more credit card debt at this time.
by Furry Girl
Something I often hear from my blog and Twitter readers is that they love my writing, the news links I share, or my perspectives in general, but that they're not into porn, or their wife won't let them buy porn, or that the kind of porn I make just isn't their taste. (I'm not offended. I know that armpit hair, blood, strapons aren't exactly the most popular niches of erotic material.) Or maybe the $20 price tag is too high for them in the recession, or they're scared of using their credit card to make adult purchases. There are all sorts of reason that someone might want to tip me in some way, but they're just not keen on what I'm selling or how I'm selling it. This kind of thing is even more problematic for sex workers who aren't pitching anything online, such as strippers with a Twitter fanbase mostly outside their own city, or escorts who don't connect their "internet blogging persona" with their work persona, and stand to gain nothing financially from their writing. (Not to mention all the former sex workers who still have a strong online presence as such.)
Sex workers do a lot to amuse the world for free through our blogs, Twitter accounts, and other writing outlets, but most of us don't seem to be getting much out of it, on a bottom-line compensation level. Sure, some sex workers get occasional pieces published on large mainstream web sites that pay a pittance, and others are able to parlay their popularity into books, but for the most part, we spend plenty of time as free entertainers in our "off time" when we're not entertaining people for money at work.
What I've been curious about this week is how other online sex workers prefer to get tips, how well those avenues work, and how much time people put into trying to drive their readers to these "tip jars." After asking about it on Twitter, it seems like the most popular thing by far is having an Amazon wishlist. I thought I'd make a list of ways that blogging/tweeting sex workers can pull in some extra money, in hopes that more of us can get a little something tangible for our awesomeness.
Of the methods I use, my Amazon wishlist is the best for my blog and Twitter worlds, and I generally get a couple of books a month. (Which I would be buying anyway, so it saves me money.) I get maybe $5 a month from linking to books I recommend via my Amazon affiliate account. I make $50-100 a month linking to porn affiliates from my porn sites. It's not a lot, but I put zero effort into promoting my affiliate links, nor do I push my wishlist heavily, so I'm happy with my returns. There are definitely sex workers who get a lot more out of their wishlists than I do, and bloggers who make a part-time income on promoting sex toy and porn affiliate programs, so the potential is there.
If you have a suggestion or addendum, post it in the comments.
- Setup, privacy, and hassles: You do need to disclose a mailing address in order for things to be shipped to you. Your full mailing address is not revealed to the public, just the mail-to name and your city/state.
- Pros: People are very familiar with using Amazon wishlists, and there's high customer trust that their purchase is secure. The checkout is easy, and most people already have accounts with Amazon. Pretty much everything is for sale on Amazon, from butt plugs to cat litter to gourmet food.
- Cons: You need a post office box or other mail service. You can also use initials or another fake name to protect your sex work identity from the mail box company. (Let's say you are known as Tammy Tittyfuck. Get a mail box for Tammy's Telephones, and having Amazon send things to "Tammy" or "TT.")
- This method seems to work the best: I think that guys most like sending women "sexy" things, like clothing and shoes. My own wishlist is pretty much all books so they don't have a choice, but I've seen others have success with getting their fans to buy their work outfits. Try a mix of items and see what works best for you.
- Setup, privacy, and hassles: Depends on the business. Lots of stores do online gift certificates, so you only have to disclose an email address.
- Pros: No mail box required. Also, let's say you like Amazon, but don't want frilly panties and sexy things, and instead want to buy food and tampons and boring stuff. This allows you to use tips more like cash. You could also resell these, but the eBay resale value on gift certificates is usually less than 50% of face value.
- Cons: People can feel like it's less personal, and may prefer to get you an exact item that you'll be using in your life.
- This method seems to work the best: (I'm not sure! Any tips on making the most out of gift cards?)
Sex toy and porn affiliate links
- Setup, privacy, and hassles: You need to disclose a legal name (or business name) and mailing address and/or bank routing information to receive your payouts. They have to put something on the checks/wire transfers, and unless you're incorporated as such, you can't cash a check made out to "Tammy Tittyfuck."
- Pros: Cash money. Some sex toy stores give out free products in exchange for coverage of them on your blog, so if you don't have enough sex toys, here's your chance. Weekly or monthly payouts, depending on the affiliate programs.
- Cons: May be taxable income, consult your accountant. How much you make really depends on how well an affiliate works with your own traffic and readership. Try a bunch of different things, but without filling your blog with too many ads and alienating readers. Affiliate links have minimum payouts, such as CCBill's $25. It could take you a while to reach the minimum payout required.
- This method seems to work the best: For people who want to pitch sex toys, porn movies, and such on their blogs as reviews. Make sure you're sending traffic to an affiliate program that is appropriate with your audience. Check your stats, and jettison affiliate programs that aren't making you much money, and try something else.
Amazon affiliate accounts
- Setup, privacy, and hassles: You need a legal name or business name to receive payments, just like other affiliate programs.
- Pros: Amazon sells everything, and they have a low minimum payout. (I think it's $10, and payouts are once a month.) You can link to a book you like, and hope your fans will go buy it through your link to Amazon. You can also ask people to do their normal shopping on Amazon after clicking your affiliate link, so you can make money on products that you don't even promote on your site.
- Cons: The payout percentage is very low, starting at just 4%. May be taxable income.
- This method seems to work the best: If you recommend books or other items, or if you pester your readers to do normal Amazon shopping after going through your link. If you're already mentioning books, albums, or basically anything on your blog, why not use an affiliate link?
- Huh..? Flattr is a new-ish micropayment system. The point is to get enough of your readers to "flattr" you by giving you a tiny monetary tip, and having it all add up at the end of the month. It's a great concept, but it hasn't hit serious popularity yet. I've received only one tip in months of having a Flattr link on my blog.
- Setup, privacy, and hassles: Easy signup, but since I haven't withdrawn money yet, I don't know what I have to disclose for a withdrawal.
- Pros: Possibly the wave of the future?
- Cons: You need to have collected at least 10 Euros to be able to withdraw your tips from your account. At this stage in Flattr's life, that will probably take a very long time.
- This method seems to work the best: (No idea. Any suggestions from those who get decent returns via Flattr?)
Team ho: what's been your experience? Which "tip jars" work best for you, and how do you get the most out of them? If you're in the fan/reader camp, which methods do you prefer for tipping your favorite sex work writers and bloggers, and why?
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
Enjoy my writing? I enjoy presents!
Browse by topic
- (Anti-) Beauty Standards
- 80s Movies' Wisdom
- Add to Your Lexicon
- Advice for Sex Workers
- Allies and "Allies"
- Atheism / Religion
- Book Reviews
- Crab Mentality
- Events & Happenings
- Frequently Addressed Accusations
- Government & Law
- Infographics, Memes, & Ads
- Kink / BDSM
- Labor politics
- Leisure of the Theory Class
- Love, Relationships, & Family
- Nutters & Moralizers
- Other Political Issues
- Privacy & Anonymity
- Queer / Gender
- Seattle / WA Local
- Sex Toys & Products
- Sex Work
- Trafficking / "Rescue"
- Transitioning Out of Sex Work
- Violence Against Sex Workers
- Women as Oppressors
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