This post has been germinating in my blog drafts since I started doing press for Naked on the Internet, but I’ve been biding my time… you know, the old thing about biting the hand that feeds you. I guess this is why people write anonymous blogs, so they can be honest without being held accountable. I’ve wondered whether it might be stupid to complain about my treatment by the media, “all press is good press” and all that garbage. But while I’m grateful for the coverage I’ve gotten, I think the bad stuff is worth blogging about – this is actually, in essence, what blogs are good for in the media landscape.
I fully expected to be treated like a ho, and for media folks (especially those who only looked at the intro and read the table of contents) to hone in on the personal stuff in the book (of which there is about 20 pages, compared to the 250 pages worth of stuff about the 80 ladies I interviewed). But I really didn’t expect that I would consistently feel like I was being exploited in a deeply creepy way over which I had no control, and furthermore, couldn’t say no to. I’m not stranger to doing press, so I didn’t go in totally naive – I’ve been doing press for $pread for the last few years, and those interviews are often chock full of weird assumptions, unintentional (and sometimes intentional) offensive utterances by media personages. But I’ve also never really had a problem with saying no to weird press, which is why I’ve turned down NBC, the Washington Post, Tucker Carlson. But its different when you’ve got a book to sell, and being on the map and controversial is a good thing, instead of a risky thing for the sex workers movement.
Here are some of the fun assumptions I ran up against time and time again, along with things that were actually said to me:
“Your book is actually very impressive” – Many writers who don’t ordinarily cover sexuality were really surprised that the book wasn’t “just” smutty tales, that its actually thoughtfully written and critical. I’m not sure if this is because the book is about sex or because it’s by someone who works in the sex industry (read: stupid, damaged, nympho), but the combination of smart + sex (with a little snark and fun thrown in for good measure) seems far beyond the pale for many folks.
“I know you’re a porn star, but you’re being very demure. We really need you to be a lot more over the top and outrageous.” (To which I respond, “I’m not a porn star, and this is my personality.”) – This happened on the radio show of an aging shock jock, very early in my press blitz. Shows like that are so not my demographic, and instead of being funny and engaging on this show, I got withdrawn and bitchy. Sometimes I can meet obnoxious judgment with pithy remarks, but a lot of the time it just makes me feel sad and disrespected, and I can’t make with the snappy comeback.
“Do you look like a sex worker?” – I got asked this question on a feminist radio show with the tagline “talk the way women want”. I answered it with a very “teachable moment” kind of answer – yes, I am one. But no, you wouldn’t know from seeing me, and that’s pretty common. You see sex workers every day, you just don’t know it.
As a sex worker, I had little expectation of grandeur – whenever a client got all promisey about future good things, I was wary. But whenever press is involved you get duped into weird situations because you think itâ€™ll be good for your career, and after this exposure… When I was a sex worker, I could always say no – but most media is structured in this aggressively non-consensual way. In a sex work session, if the client wanted more than I was willing to give, I could say no, cut the session short, etc. Media interviews are structured so its very difficult and feels very risky to say no or walk out.
Being a sex worker really did teach me how to say no, how to have boundaries, and to get mad and defensive – and not feel guilty about it – if my boundaries were being pushed in a rude, disrespectful way. I suppose I need to suit up in an even harder kind of armor for the media. Relevant or not, I will always be the “former streetwalker” (not quite), “pornographer” (accurate), “adult magazine editor” (not quite) – whatever sounds like scandalous music to a media outlet’s ears.