Episode 35: Sex Work & Sexual Liberation
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[ INTRO FROM EV’YAN ]
EW: [00:01:34] Hey everyone. I’m Ev’Yan Whitney and this is The Sexually Liberated Woman. I am so excited to share today’s episode with you. It’s a conversation between me and my amazing friend Allie Oops about sex work, porn politics, and how we can’t talk about sexual liberation and sex positivity without talking about and supporting sex workers. But before we get into all of that, I have some shout outs to give.
EW: [00:02:09] Every episode, I like to take a moment to highlight all of the people who are supporting The Sexually Liberated Woman. People who are giving this podcast literal life with their precious coins via Patreon. So shout outs and big love goes to Lydia S and Madeline S for becoming new patrons of The Sexually Liberated Woman. Thank you so much. I appreciate you both. And if you want to support The Sexually Liberated Woman, go to patreon.com/slwpodcast and become a patron.
EW: [00:02:47] By becoming a patron, you help cover all the expenses of operating the show and in exchange you’ll join my community of rad sex posi folks who are on this journey of sexual liberation just like you are. You’re welcome to chip in as little per month as a dollar. But I will say that if you donate five dollars a month or more you’ll get some pretty special perks, like 15 percent off all of my courses and exclusive sneak previews of upcoming episodes.
EW: [00:03:18] But no matter how much you give you’ll always get a shout out on the show. So if you’ve been listening for a while and you love what you hear, go to Patreon dot com slash S L W podcast and become a patron. It helps not only keep the show going, but also allows me to continue having incredible conversations about sexual identity and expression. Just like the one you’re about to hear right now.
EW: [00:03:46] So as I said a moment ago, I’m chatting with sex activist and porn performer Allie Oops who was actually on The Sexually Liberated Woman a few years ago. When she was on last time, we talked about taking and posting nudes on the Internet to reclaim your erotic power and also the frustrating politics of Instagram censorship which I actually just had one of my posts wrongly removed from Instagram and I am still pretty bitter about it.
EW: [00:04:18] Anyway, the first conversation I had with Allie about sexy selfies is still one of my favorite episodes to date. And if you want to revisit it, check out Episode 15. But this time I brought Allie on to talk about the sex work she does as a porn performer and producer and how it was she got into this work. We also get really deep on the subjects of porn literacy, the history of feminist porn, and what the difference is between that and ethical porn, and also how to support sex workers. This conversation is filled to the brim with some amazing gems, and I actually just want to shut up and get right into it. But not before saying a couple quick things.
EW: [00:05:10] First, as we’re talking about sex work here, I want to remind you if you don’t know that there is a huge difference between sex work and sex trafficking. And if there’s any part of you that is trying to equate the two, please take a moment to do a Google. Cause that misperception is ill-informed and dangerous.
EW: [00:05:32] The other thing, if you consider yourself a sexually liberated person and or a feminist and or you believe in the sexual liberation and sexual agency of others and or you’ve made it your job to instigate sexual liberation in others through things like sex coaching, pole dancing, sensuality courses, or any other forms of sexual healing and you’re not using your voice to stand up for and support sex workers, you should be. And if you want to know how to do that, keep listening. Sex worker rights are human rights and we ourselves aren’t sexually free until all of us are sexually free.
[ INTERVIEW WITH ALLIE OOPS ]
EW: [00:06:27] Allie thank you so much for coming onto the podcast. I’m so excited to have you again.
Allie Oops: [00:06:34] Yeah I just want to say thank you so much for having me back. It’s really cool to have grown together over the last three years and watched each other grow. And it’s really an honor to be back on the show.
EW: [00:06:43] It’s so crazy to think that like our first conversation was three years ago. Like it simultaneously feels like not that long ago, and then like decades ago.
AO: [00:06:54] I know I’m happy because I feel like my politics have obviously evolved or hopefully have evolved in the last three years so I’m excited to, yeah, revisit everything.
EW: [00:07:04] Yeah, well I mean one of the things that we kind of touched on a little bit in our first conversation was about the sex work you do. And we didn’t get super into it because we were definitely talking about Instagram politics and nudes and things like that which was so great. But I’m really excited to dig more into the work that you do which is really radical, really sex-positive, and something that I think more people should know about.
EW: [00:07:32] So one of the things that inspired me to want to do this conversation with you is there’s so much talk about sex workers right now. Sex worker rights, support sex workers, and obviously a lot of things that are being said against sex work. And I feel like we cannot have a conversation about a sexually- sexual liberation and not speak about sex work. And so what I want to do with you is just kind of lay a solid foundation as to why sex work is so important in this realm of sexual liberation and specifically it’s important for people who want to be sexually free and who are so jazzed about being sexually liberated that they recognize that sex workers are a huge part of maybe why we are inspired to be sexually liberated. Maybe one of the reasons why we want to have better sex.
EW: [00:08:32] I mean I have my own theories about this just because I recognize that one of the things that really inspired me to check my own sex negativity and check my own sexual dysfunction was the porn that I was consuming. Like I was witnessing these women who were in total control, or so it seemed they were in total control of their sexuality, and it was incredibly inspiring for me to see that. And then also was like, oh shit like I don’t have my shit together. Like obviously I have some super big hangups with sex and so my theory is that a lot of us come to sexual liberation through the understanding and through the inspiration of sex work.
EW: [00:09:15] And so yeah it just, it seemed like a really great place for us to start that conversation. And also just a way to, I don’t know, highlight how important it is for us to acknowledge sex workers when we’re talking about sexual liberation.
AO: [00:09:31] Yeah I just want to say that I really appreciate you even saying that at all because I think a lot of people when we talk about objectifying, like sex workers being objectified, I think that we often think about it through this like quote unquote male gaze of men, cis men, objectifying cis women. But oftentimes I do think women are just as capable of objectifying sex workers as men. And I think a lot of that is through like wanting to be the porn star, wanting to be the whore but like not wanting to be at all as well and distancing themselves from it.
AO: [00:10:08] And I think that is a form- where I find that sometimes women live vicariously through me and through my experience of that sexual liberation while at the same time disregarding my humanity or my worth as a human. And in the same wrapped up way that it feels like men or cis het men also do. So it- all that to say it feels really cool to have you recognize that, yeah maybe sometimes people’s first step into the realm of sexual liberation is through witnessing sex work in some capacity whether it’s online or in a strip club or however people- through your dad’s Playboys from the 80s. Usually our first kind of entrance into sex as young people, or older people, or whatever, can be through sex work. So yeah I appreciate, I appreciate just recognizing that. That alone is important to start the conversation.
EW: [00:11:01] Yeah. It’s so important because I mean you’re absolutely right. I- who- I was actually thinking about this right around the time that we did our first conversation, we did our first interview together, and I was thinking about like who would I be as a sexual person if I didn’t see those sexual images in porn or in Playboy or those erotic images on Tumblr.
EW: [00:11:27] And I mean there were like two different answers one would be like, well maybe I wouldn’t have so much comparison. But then the other answer was like, I don’t know if it would be possible, I mean I’m sure there is a way, but I don’t know if I would have been able to know that I have access to certain types of sexual liberation or certain types of sexual expression if it weren’t for sex workers. If it weren’t for the porn that I was watching. I mean the porn that I watch is a reflection of the kind of sex life I want to have. And so yeah it just it means a lot to me to highlight sex workers in that realm. And it’s also, I don’t hear a lot of people talking about that. Which kind of brings back to like what you were saying earlier about how like, we idolize and obsess over and are inspired by the whore but we also don’t want to be one.
EW: [00:12:19] And I remember like seeing something, I think it was on Twitter, about like everybody wants to be a hoe but nobody wants to be a hoe. And like that’s it right there. You know?
AO: [00:12:28] It is so interesting how I live my life navigating that. Like I was joking about it last week how some of the best allies to me I’ve found in my life have been, or accomplices, whatever word you want to use, have been the people who know literally nothing about sex or sex work. And come in with just such a genuinely pure approach to me, versus some of the most like sex-positive like art girls, like it girls who are appropriating so much about sex work while also screaming from the rooftops that they’re not doing sex work. And it’s so whorephobia, it reproduces the whorearchy by saying like, “I’m sexually liberated but I don’t do porn.” And, “I’m sexually liberated but I would never have sex with you for money.” And I’m sexually- and not in a way that’s like, I’m setting my boundaries which are totally valid and fine, but in a way that’s saying I can be hot and naked but I’m not those people who are hot and naked.
AO: [00:13:25] And it’s so funny because to look around my life now after being out as a sex worker for, I don’t know, four or five years now, and how much my circles have changed from kind of the surface sexually liberated people to sometimes the most kind of, I don’t know, the pure and vanilla or maybe beginning in their sexual liberation come at it- come at me with just such more open arms and open ideas sometimes. Because they’re not pushing me away as a threat or comparing myself to them or saying like I’m smarter than you because I’m a sexologist not a sex worker.
EW: [00:14:02] Yeah.
AO: [00:14:03] Or I’m better than you because I make a podcast. I make a podcast and you make porn or whatever. It’s the people who see it all as that creative medium in some capacity or people who understand how capitalism works in a very like nuanced way, which is obviously privilege to see that stuff but how we’re all just trying to get by and make it work. So if you’re shooting e-commerce for one of the biggest corporations in the world or I’m sucking the CEO of that corporation’s dick, like both of us are playing into the same system and not one is better than the other they’re just different.
AO: [00:14:37] I would also say that my politics have changed so much. Like I think when we were talking three years ago, I was like I take naked selfies but I would never do porn. And I would fully go on record being so porn phobic and making sure that everyone knew that I was not doing porn. And that is part of the whorearchy and part of the reason I bring that up a lot now in talking about my work and the fact that I’m doing porn now. Is that we can all grow in our politics and that I think that we’re taught and internalize a lot of this whoreaphobia. And I want to create space for the fact that we can unlearn that. And it’s taken me years to unlearn that and even within myself. And the best way to explain whorephobia to people is like the people who say they want to do porn but won’t because X Y and Z, well those “becauses” are why, like, because your family might find out, because you might not get a job ever again, because it threatens your career in some sort of way, like that is the stigma around sex work right there. Those “because.” I want to do this “because.” And we often ignore that.
AO: [00:15:46] And so the sex workers who are out and who are doing that work, we do experience that “because.” And I was scared of that as well. I was scared of losing my family, losing opportunities outside of a career scope that I was excited about, and I can say that some of those worst nightmares came true and some of them didn’t. And it’s always going to be hard every day navigating being in such a stigmatized and yet visible industry where everyone consumes us and everyone hates us.
AO: [00:16:16] So it’s like such a weird place to be. And you can see it in suicide rates among porn performers. It’s like quite high statistically within our population. And you have these like, you know, 20 something year old girls who are as famous as the Kardashians and who everyone hates and thinks are disgusting and gross and trolls them everywhere throughout the world. And hearing some of the stories of mainstream porn stars, you know, who have five plus million followers on Instagram, like full on cultural icons, who like can’t get any kind of advertisements or features. And so we see the ways that those worst nightmares do come true. Is that, you know, you can be 35 you can be one of the most famous people in the world and no one will work with you still to this day because of your past in porn. And that really stuck with me. That story and I was like, that is your biggest fear is like when you leave the industry I’ll never be able to do something again. And so it’s important for us to center that as well in people’s work. And understand like why I was so adamant on not doing porn which seems so silly now obviously.
EW: [00:17:26] I’m, I’m curious actually like, I mean because you’re talking about how you had your own whorephobia like internalized whorephobia. You knew that like to do porn would be like an isolation. It would be a big deal to people. You would lose friends. And you know a sense of safety would even be lost, like why did you decide to go into porn?
AO: [00:17:50] I don’t think it was a conscious decision. I think I kept pushing my boundaries a little bit at a time. So I started off doing just like hot girl naked selfies and then that moved into like showing my vagina. Which moved in to playing with my vagina but still in a photo medium. Which moved into sometimes having lovers in photo mediums but still focused on me or no like penetration. And then slowly there’s toys in the photos with penetration. And then my platform I was on which, I mean now Only Fans is a huge deal and everyone knows what it is and like Patreon and all these different platforms, but when I was started off this was not at all the phenomenon on the Internet. It was a very niche site I was on, selling these photographs and the platform itself changed and they said we have videos now. We implemented a video medium, which they didn’t even have at all as an option when I started. And they were like, making videos you can earn up to 150 percent more than you’re making now.
AO: [00:18:57] And it took me a while to get into it because I was like, you know, I was really into photos as a medium and I didn’t want to do porn. And then I started, you know, okay I should try it. And so I did like the worst masturbation video ever actually I need to like go through and delete all this old work. It’s like so embarrassing now. Because it was just, I didn’t know how to edit it so it was just like one shot of me like awkwardly like dancing and like stripping. I’m not a dancer. So it’s very weird to watch. And then moving into masturbation and I couldn’t even edit them. So they were just these like one shot, like nine minute, horribly lit, horribly framed videos and I started making good money like right away.
AO: [00:19:40] And I was like okay I’m like doubling my income. That’s cool. The videos weren’t that hard to make. At the time it felt like, oh if I’m going to masturbate I’ll just turn on the camera and make some money off of it. And so for a while that was working. And then this person walked into my life, Julia or she’s Miss Scientwist, and we actually met on Instagram because I was like, you’re using porn stars and you’re using like sex workers in your art, can you like make me this like sex work- international awareness of sex worker like posters. I don’t know how to use Photoshop. And she was like, yeah. And that’s like how we met. Me kind of coming in hot and being like you need to do this thing for our community. And she was like-
EW: [00:20:20] Wow I didn’t know all of this. I love The Scientwist.
AO: [00:20:24] Yeah. So then- so we ended up meeting and clicked really well because we’re both very chill people and she was just the first person I had met who was a woman who was super interested in what I was doing. So I was making all these naked selfies and I would try to like send them to my friends. And they were like, Allie I really don’t want to see your vagina. And I was like no like that’s like- that’s really valid.
[00:20:44] And now I know a lot more about consensual pornographic sharing. Obviously. I don’t think at that time those conversations were necessarily happening or at least I wasn’t aware of them and didn’t- it was very much like, “Dick pick, no.” But I was like, why can’t I just send my vagina to my friends? But like now I understand why that is. Another way I’ve grown a lot. So Julia was kind of the first person who was like I want to see the pictures of your vagina. I want to see all the pictures you’ve ever made. She like sat through and clicked through every photo on my site. And again this is in a transition time for me where my circles were changing into a more sexually liberated community. So she was just like the first person who’s super down. She was like I can take these. I can- I want to take some photos.
AO: [00:21:25] And so she lived with me, she moved in with me and we just started shooting everything. Started shooting my masturbation videos. She was shooting a lot of my stills. It was like really fun and exciting and it felt very liberating for me because I felt a sense of community I hadn’t felt at all before. And then one day you know we are making videos, and Julia’s super business focused. Like I’m like such an air sign. So like out of it and don’t really care and like floating through the world. She was like, let’s make you money. And so we both talked about doing a happy ending video I didn’t even think of it as porn.
AO: [00:22:01] We shot it on an iPhone 6 at- my friend had a massage table and we like got this- we brought this guy over that I hooked up with like many, like six months before. And he had done a couple of porns. And I was like, hey if I pay you 50 bucks will you like come do this happy ending video. Which for users who don’t know is a massage that ends with like a hand job typically on like a cis man’s body or on a person with a penis’s body. And so we shot it on the iPhone 6. Same thing like horribly shot, horribly made, so awkward. I think we were in the room and the cameras were rolling and I said I don’t know how to give a hand job. And everyone just started laughing.
AO: [00:22:41] They’re like Allie, what? Like you waited until now? And I was like, yeah like I don’t know I just always figured like guys can do them better themselves. And now I can say I’m a proud proud expert at hand jobs-.
EW: [00:22:56] Yes, girl.
AO: [00:22:56] I got really great at them. But we literally had like three people on the set trying to like describe the best way for me to give a hand job and the guy just like shaking his damn head like, what the fuck is going on. And it was bad. I mean this is not a great video but we made so much money and people freaked out because it was just so unexpected. So it wasn’t like- all of this is is to say- it’s a very long story but it’s all to say that I started pushing my boundaries by doing a hand job video. Then next we decided to do a blowjob video like super last minute. And then from there we did a few more blowjob videos. And then I got hired by a German company who I love who did the Tinder challenge which is my like claim to fame in Europe. Everyone knows me from this porn. And that was the first time I had sex on camera. So it wasn’t actually for my own work. And for better or for worse.
AO: [00:23:44] I think it just was like, okay well if I’m online sucking dick like why shouldn’t I have sex? And now I’m at the point in my career where I’m like, okay I’m online having sex, why not have anal sex? Or, you know it just, it sort of was, it was not a conscious decision and it was, it was kind of accidental. And it was almost in response to the community responding so well to what I was doing. And I didn’t wake up one day and was like, I’m going to be a porn star. And actually I think I’m at the point in my career where I never wanted to be this visible. And I never thought I would be. And I’m having like a whole new relationship to like, do I want to be in front of the camera anymore? I don’t know if I’ll stay performing long term just because I don’t think I’m particularly the best performer but I think that the porn industry has been incredibly fun to be in at least the side that I’ve been in.
EW: [00:24:39] Yeah before we, before we hit record, you were talking about like porn literacy which I would love to hear more about like what porn literacy means to you. But I’m also curious about the difference between “mainstream porn” and “feminist porn.” Because I have a feeling that like, I don’t know. I personally, when I heard feminist porn the word, you know, or the phrase come out, I was like oh I can dig this. And now I just feel like it, I don’t know what that means anymore. And so I’m curious about like what you think of that and also if you could talk about like what porn literacy means to you.
AO: [00:25:21] Well I think you’re picking up on such an important phenomenon that’s happening across all disciplines and industries right now which is feminism being co-opted by a corporate agenda for advertisement and money making. And I think it makes all of us have complicated relationships to the word and the phenomenon as it exists now in 2018 in late capitalism. Yeah, I think that is such an important point to bring up. And I think actually the same ways in which we’re critiquing feminist advertising or feminist branding as a means to sell in other industries is the same exact critique in porn. And feminist porn.
AO: [00:26:08] So a little bit of context on feminist porn is it really started around the 80s. Candida Royalle is one of the pioneers of feminist porn and she was one of the first women to make her own production company basically. And was catering towards the like quote unquote femme gays. And Candida Royalle heavily employed respectability politics to create feminist porn as a genre and said, this is why we’re different than mainstream porn. And Candida Royalle of course is coming from mainstream porn where she started performing I think around 21 in San Francisco and LA. And you know I think by the time she was around 30 she was sick of it. And she had a lot of privileges in even being able to do this because, to even understand the context in which why women weren’t able to own or distribute porn you really have to understand the historical context that porn distribution was heavily mob run.
AO: [00:27:05] And was this kind of gray area legal not legal experience where lawsuits were happening, people were going to jail, there were huge scandals. And the United States’ landscape was trying to figure out what to do with porn. So it didn’t really exist in this super on the table way. So yeah you could make porn as a woman but where would you distribute it? It wasn’t the Internet. It was VCR catalogs. You need people who are going to distribute that work. So Candida at this time did something really radical and she was able to kind of intersect in a very hard way partially because her husband’s dad owned one of the biggest distributors which is important to understand about why she was able to do that. But she started pioneering. She’s known as one of the pioneers of this genre of feminist porn where they created it, basically. These young porn feminists, sex-positive feminists of the 80s and early 90s. Then now mostly feminist porn is associated with Erika Lust probably is the most important person known with feminist porn.
AO: [00:28:06] And then kind of in reaction to feminist porn, which kind of stayed for like cis white women, cis white straight women, there was a queer reaction to feminist porn. So then queer porn was birthed maybe in the 90s, early 2000s in reaction to feminist porn saying we want to include fat bodies, queer bodies, trans bodies, POC bodies, different marginalized bodies, different abled bodies in reaction to that. So there’s been like many kind of sub genres of porn that you could- and then I think right now, in reaction to everything, there’s ethical porn. So ethical porn is the new hot word that everyone wants to use.
EW: [00:28:48] Which what does that even mean? Do you know what I- I mean I think I know what it means. But like do we have to have all of these goddamn words? Like can it just be porn? You know? I don’t know.
AO: [00:29:01] So ethical porn is exciting because it’s- to me- so I’ll say, ethical porn means something different to everyone you ask. To me, ethical porn in its ideal landscape would apply to the entire industry. Which is basically just a set of labor rights in the ways in which porn is created. So like who- are the performers being paid well? Who is on set? Is- how are things being negotiated? How are they being treated? How are things distributed after the fact? How are things marketed? Et cetera et cetera. So there’s many things that can go into ethical porn and I think also for a lot of people, ethical porn is including different sexualities, bodies, et cetera. So like diversity is an important part of it. But again, everyone you ask about ethical porn is going to give you a different answer. But to me I don’t think ethical porn should be a genre. I think it should be a standard.
EW: [00:29:59] Yeah.
AO: [00:30:01] Held across the entire industry.
EW: [00:30:01] Agreed.
AO: [00:30:02] And so that’s why I think people are getting excited about ethical porn. Because I think feminist porn was literally birthed out of being like fuck you to mainstream porn and has actively, to this day, participated in a fight against each other including Erika Lust participating in like Hot Girls Wanted for example. Right. So like you, or Erika Lust, speaking out against like mainstream porn, right. So you, you have these active agents who are saying we’re different. And I think ethical porn can be a way to bridge the industries and say we kind of have more common than we have different in the sense that like we’re both, why are we fighting each other when everyone hates us? Like, how can we come together and work together to create a safer space and also recognize that to be in quote unquote feminist porn is such a privilege. That’s why it’s important for me to point out my privilege of working with my friends, for example, when people don’t understand that being able to say no to a porn job is an immense amount of privilege. To only have your repertoire of work be feminist porn is an incredibly privileged place to be. It basically means that money is not your main, not your main incentive. Because feminist and queer porn just doesn’t make as much money as the mainstream industry.
AO: [00:31:19] Also a lot of marginalized people are still not allowed into feminist porn. Like I don’t see trans women represented on feminist porn sites like Erika Lust. You know? Like I don’t, I personally don’t see that. I don’t- I can’t speak if that’s not happening at all. But it’s like, it feels like trans women still are confined to performing in mainstream porn. So have we even opened doors really for, in the feminist quote unquote feminist porn industry, for people who aren’t cis white women. Cis white straight women. And that it’s such a privileged place to be in general. So it’s just really important to like recognize privileges with feminist porn. It’s important to recognize how feminist porn use respectability politics to say porn could be good. And we might not be having these conversations right now without our kind of foremothers or whatever having those conversations and saying, hey porn can be good.
AO: [00:32:18] But now we’re at a point in 2018 where we’re saying why are we fighting each other? Why, why do you think you’re better than? Why do you think like a feminist pornographer deserves more respect than someone we see on Pornhub’s front page?
EW: [00:32:35] Right. Right because it’s all respectability politics. You know?
AO: [00:32:38] It is. It is. So- and that’s been really hard for me to unpack as well in my own internalized whorephobia is like giving humanity to mainstream porn performers. Like the second I started following porn, mainstream porn performers on social media it like changed my life. Because it actually humanized them. And there was this one point when I was watching- it was like this lesbian porn and it’s with Abella Danger and it was like my go to one, you know, if I like wanted to get off really quick. And I always felt so much shame afterwards because I was like this is so exploitative, like all the things that I’d been told that mainstream porn is.
AO: [00:33:12] And then I started following her on Instagram recently and she’s like in a lesbian relationship and like is so cute and cool and awesome. And like also posts really positively about her work and is just like a full like complex human being. And it was like all the shame was like washed away from me where I was like, that was totally learned and internalized narratives when like this person is more similar to me than she is different. She’s like just a queer, young, like maybe not identifying as non-monogamous I do not know her she’s a full-on celebrity. But like just having sex work and then having a partner. And I relate to that. And yeah I was just like, wow this person that I was really aroused by and I have gained so much from this person’s like erotic performance in my life throughout years is- and I felt so guilty about consuming it, is really just this like cool person who has like so much more in common with me than different.
EW: [00:34:11] I’m wondering if that like would help like I don’t know dispel whorephobia. Like just remembering that like sex workers are humans. You know? Because like we can so- because we’re a culture that objectifies very easily sex workers. And I mean I guess in some degree it’s understandable or it’s built in as part of the viewing process. But we can so forget that like these are people. Like sex workers are people. They are humans. And I- yeah I just that was a thought that was coming up for me as I was listening to you talk about this moment where you were like, oh wow this is like a person. Like she has like she has feelings, and she has desires, and she has a life, and she loves, and how that kind of, that kind of mindfulness and that kind of awareness can- I know for me it’s really helped me dispel and just like dismantle my whorephobia. Remembering that like sex workers are fucking humans.
AO: [00:35:12] I know and it sounds like such a basic obvious thing.
EW: [00:35:16] Right?
AO: [00:35:17] Yeah duh I know they’re humans but like it is the humanizing process of all marginalized voices that have helped me dismantle so many different stereotypes or internalized whatever that I’ve gotten throughout- like I wasn’t born with these politics. Like I have worked very hard and have access to so many different like privileged spaces to be able to like evolve my politics. But yeah it’s like humanizing any marginalized person is so important.
AO: [00:35:44] And I think it’s one of the coolest things about social media is that it’s like ways to learn about people who are different than me. Like maybe I don’t have very many asexual friends in my friends circle right now that I know of. But like I can learn so much about asexuality just by like logging online and listening to someone whose experience that is. And like even following so many like trans women porn stars on Twitter and just scrolling through my feed and just constantly seeing trans bodies. Like naked. And now it’s like erased so much internalized like weird transphobia and like genital focused gender stuff where it’s like so detached from me. I mean also obviously like being in a partnership with a trans person that kind of mixed in with everything has like- but it’s like so cool and like I literally see every different kind of gender and body having sex every day just scrolling through Twitter.
AO: [00:36:38] And sometimes at the airport it’s like kind of embarrassing and I’m like I can’t really go on Twitter right now because people are going to think I’m such a freak. But it’s normalized so many different bodies whether it’s fat bodies having sex, differently abled bodies having sex, whether it’s trans bodies having sex, like I feel like I’m so immersed and so humanized now and it’s actually had a really good impact I think on my life. Overall, those simple things just like following sex workers on social media and like listening to us seems so easy. But we can see from just our analytics on our page that we’re not even there yet.
[ AD BREAK ]
EW: [00:37:36] Hey, so since we’re on the topic of sex work and porn and sexual liberation, I wanted to take a moment to recommend a podcast I discovered that I think you’ll enjoy. It’s called The Oldest Profession and it’s a podcast that highlights the heroic stories of well-known and obscure sex workers that have shaped our history. The oldest profession is part history lesson, part sexual liberation, part adult story time. And the old pros they’ve highlighted so far will likely surprise you.
EW: [00:38:10] They’ve done episodes about Anais Nin Bettie Page, the sex and fertility goddess Ishtar, Santa Claus and Maya Angelou. Which, yes indeed, your fave was a sex worker. So if you want to learn about some rad sex workers, check out The Oldest Profession on Apple Podcasts and Stitcher. One of the best ways to support sex workers is by listening to them. So check out The Oldest Profession podcast and let me know what you think.
[ INTERVIEW CONTINUES]
EW: [00:38:52] I have kind of a weird question. It’s something that I’ve been thinking about a lot because I feel like the work that I do is, I mean it’s work in like the sexuality realm. The sexuality field. And I’ve been thinking a lot about who gets to call themselves a sex worker. And there is this really interesting conversation that I had a few months back about- I was listening to a podcast, Marsha’s Plate and Diamond Stylz, who is also a sex worker she’s a trans black woman, she was talking about how sex work is like basically the exchange of any kinds of sexual energy whether that is in taking a sexy photo or sharing a sexy photo, that may not actually like have sex happening in it. But like basically anything that has that kind of, that kind of essense of like I am exchanging something sexual with you even to the degree of sending like a sexy selfie or like sort of like the things that I post on my Instagram.
EW: [00:39:55] She was saying that that involves- or that is a form of sex work. Now I at the beginning of this conversation was like, hell yeah I can totally see that. But then what was really troubling for me is that as I was posting this and processing this on my Instagram story I was getting people who were like, “Yeah I’m a sensual dance instructor so I would- I believe that I am a sex worker.” And then I was getting people who were like, “Yes I’m a sex educator so I believe that I should call myself a sex worker.” And then I started thinking like oh no no no no this is really problematic. So I’m wondering like what your thought process is about that. Like who gets to call themselves a sex worker?
AO: [00:40:40] This is a really great and difficult question because-
EW: [00:40:44] I figured.
AO: [00:40:46] Because every sex worker you ask will have a different answer. And I think sex work is an umbrella term, just like maybe trans is, and it’s not really up to anyone else to decide who fits in that besides the people who are telling us, right? But I do think about this a lot and I do have feelings about it that I can share that are only my opinions and that does not make them correct. That makes them personal.
EW: [00:41:12] Yeah, thanks for that disclaimer.
AO: [00:41:15] That’s my disclaimer. I think there’s a difference between- first I want to make a distinction between a sex worker and someone who has done sex work. So to me a sex- to be able to be like, “I’m a sex worker” is someone who’s making the majority of their income off of sex work. Let’s define that in a bit. And I think someone who’s engaged in sex work may have done or participated in sex work at a point in their life but are not either currently a sex worker or are not making the majority of their income from sex work. This is not a definition that is established by anyone. This is just how I feel as a sex worker or as me an individual person.
AO: [00:41:55] And to me this is because, it gets complicated because like I know people who have done like one porn with me and then are like, “I’m a sex worker.” And I’m like, “No you’ve done sex work.” You’ve made one porn. And therefore you have participated in sex work but to claim a sex working identity to me is to understand that like we are an incredibly marginalized community and live a systematically oppressed and marginalized life based on our work. So it’s it’s- that’s somewhere that it gets tricky to me where people are, or at least maybe not, I mean sure, call yourself a sex worker. I guess. I guess sex worker to me is something that’s continuous.
AO: [00:42:35] And you’ll see a lot of people like even like Melissa Gira Grant like one of the most iconic sex work journalists and writers probably would refer to herself as a retired sex worker. Or used to be a sex worker. So you see like even the older community not claiming like that they are a sex worker because that’s implying that you are doing it right now. But they’ll say like, “I used to do sex work” or “I’m a retired sex worker” or things like that. So you see the change in that language among our elders in the community as well. So I think like that’s something really important to tease out in like the beginning that, that if, for example, like an article’s asking you to speak on sex work, to think about what your relationship to sex work is, and are you the most qualified person. Because I do think, and this is more for like publicity stuff, like if you want to call yourself a sex worker in your personal life I doubt it like hurts anyone. And that’s kind of where the conversation can split off among sex workers where there is no agreement where some sex workers believe that the more people can identify with sex work the less stigmatized we’ll be.
AO: [00:43:39] So like if everyone can see sex work in themselves like if you’re a stay at home mom to like a corporate CEO like you’re a sex worker. And like if you work at Hooters, you’re a sex worker. And if you send a sexy selfie like for 20 bucks one time you’re a sex worker. And I think some people do believe that that will like normalize sex work. I think for those of us who, and again sex work is an umbrella so maybe, I mean it’s hard to define because I do think sex work is the exchange of sexual services for money. So I don’t think like posting naked selfies on your Instagram if you’re not making money off of it would qualify you in my book as a sex worker. But if you are like, you have a business around sex and sexuality, then we’re kind of in a different sticky territory right.
EW: [00:44:28] Right.
AO: [00:44:29] Where it’s- where finance and money and goods, maybe not cash money but like for even like a Prada bag or like whatever it is, it’s the exchange of services for some sort of compensation. So that’s really important. The most famous sex workers, or the maybe most defined, are dancers or strippers, cam girls, porn performers, escorts, street-based workers or we’ll call them full-service workers is kind of, I think the most appropriate name for people who are doing like in person work, we have massage workers, we have, you know, we have people who are doing like tantric healing, whatever you know. There’s so much obviously in that umbrella that it would be hard to say like, yes you’re a sex worker. No you’re not.
EW: [00:45:12] Right.
AO: [00:45:13] For me as someone who’s in a very marginalized part of sex work, so being A like out and visible as a porn performer and then B being an escort in a very incredibly dangerous cultural climate for full-service workers, it’s hard for me to see educators claim sex work. Because I’m like you have no idea what it’s like to show up and have your life be at risk. And you have no idea what it’s like to lose your entire family because like sex educators are viewed as like, wow my daughter is a sex educator. Like my mom is not telling people my daughter is in porn. My mom tells people she doesn’t know what I do for work. That’s where it gets hard and I think that it doesn’t make it right. And I can be accountable that like my territorialness over sex work comes from a place of marginalization and saying like, hey I don’t feel like I share this experience with you, a sex educator, but I do feel like I share experiences with dancers or different you know cam girls or whatnot.
AO: [00:46:18] And also I think it’s important to say that every subculture of sex work has its own politics and its own cultures and its own stigmas and things to navigate that I don’t even know about. But I think it’s important when taking on a marginalized identity of any kind to really weigh how that affects, how that affects your life and how it affects other people’s lives. And especially if you’re speaking publicly and holding space publicly as a sex worker to really weigh your privileges and who else could be holding that space potentially.
EW: [00:46:57] Yeah I so appreciate you saying all of that. I mean I have since backed off of- I mean when I was processing this on my Instagram, it wasn’t like, “I’m going to call myself a sex worker now” it was just this thought of like, oh wow like this is kind of under the umbrella of sex work because I do- some parts of my work revolve around me showing off my body and me making money off of it. Maybe not so direct as like I’m taking a sexy photo and someone is paying me for that photo. But I mean obviously like that photo brings people to look at like you know the work that I do which also brings people to potentially buy one of the courses that I sell or whatever.
EW: [00:47:38] So I was in this frame of mind, but the more that I’ve thought about it the more, even if it is true, like I personally don’t feel comfortable calling myself a sex worker because you’re right. Like I don’t live the same kind of life that you do. I don’t have the same kinds of threats on my life and my livelihood as you do. I will say that the FOSTA SESTA stuff has been pretty scary I think for most people who do work around sex, sexuality. And there have been many times, I mean to this day like I open my Instagram and I’m holding my breath because I don’t know if I’m going to be banned or like completely taken off like without warning. You know? So like there are certain aspects of the work that I do that is within alignment to some of the challenges that you face. But it’s not at all the same. And so yeah it’s really important for me not to claim a title that doesn’t really like, it doesn’t really speak to the kinds of experiences that I’m having.
AO: [00:48:40] But I think you’re talking about something really important which is, which is that sexuality is itself such a taboo and fear mongering part of our culture that all of us who engage in sexuality in any capacity, especially if we’re doing like pleasure-based sexuality work of any capacity which like our entire culture is like, do not do that. You know like, don’t talk about pleasure. Don’t talk about what feels good. Don’t talk about like taking down the cis het white mono-normative society. Like we’re when we are working in these spaces- I’m reading a book called The War on Sex and they argue that sex itself is a tool of oppression in which we interdisciplinary view the world through. So it should be studied on its own as like its own interdisciplinary subject of oppression. I’m probably like totally ruining how these like really cool authors said something really smart.
[00:49:41] But anyways that really changed the frame for me where I’m like, yeah everyone in the sexuality community, especially pleasure-based sexuality, share so much in common. We share censorship in common. We share of course with SESTA FOSTA that affects everyone and the platforms that you’re allowed to use and share are similar with sex workers, right? Like Skype or Male Chimp or Google Drive or whatever. All these different platforms.
EW: [00:50:09] Facebook. Like I’m not allowed to buy any ads on Facebook because I have sex in the title of my URL. It’s mind-boggling to me. Mind-boggling.
AO: [00:50:20] It’s so funny. I mean it’s not funny but it is.
EW: [00:50:23] It is. It’s comical.
AO: [00:50:25] It’s just so surreal that that’s where we’re at. And even YouTube like last month kicked off every porn performer’s profile even if they weren’t doing anything wrong which was so real. Like they kicked off Erika Lust’s YouTube and these are people- I mean it’s not like, it’s not like Erika Lust or Pornhub are putting up porn on their YouTube account. Like they know better than anyone how to play the line. And YouTube made a very clear statement which is we don’t care if you’re putting up censored work. You work in porn and you’re not allowed on our site. Like it’s actually surreal I’ve been kicked off Tinder like three times for being in porn.
EW: [00:51:00] Wow.
AO: [00:51:00] I’ve been, I’m like, it’s everyone. It’s everywhere. So censorship 100 percent. I think everyone in sexuality shares the- we have a shared experience of sexuality being an oppressive force by these systems that have created sexuality as an oppressive force. So I think we- yeah I think we share a lot in common and I have a lot of camaraderie and like a lot of my- most- a lot of my friends are not sex workers but will work in sex in some capacity. And I think we can like share experiences. And then there’s other experiences where like, we don’t share them. Like when you’re getting invited to an art party that like I’m not allowed to go to. Or like I can’t put my job up on AirBNB without being scared it’s going to be deleted.
AO: [00:51:44] You know stuff like that. Like we’re all being discriminated against. Where like people- sex educators are a lot more like hot and like trendy in like more liberal circles of course. But being a porn performer like fully moving through the world as that can censor my ability to even travel borders. Cause like when I went to Singapore this last year, porn is illegal in Singapore. That’s a place where you can get turned away for being in porn or having any porn on your phone et cetera. And now with like the resurgence of facial recognition, it’s important to recognize that even like out sex workers move throughout the world now with potentially not even being able to cross borders.
EW: [00:52:22] Wow.
AO: [00:52:23] So yeah it’s like it’s interesting because it’s like my friends who are like sex artists and so cool or make their work off sexuality as a living we share a lot. But then on the other hand I’m like you’re never going to be denied entrance into a country because you like do like sex ed. Or you’re never gonna you know, again like family stuff or community stuff. I mean me doing porn everyone was like, “Are you okay?” That was like the response I got. And I was like I’m happier than I’ve ever been in my entire life. Like I can’t believe I’ve spent 10 years having the worst sex and now like it took me to my late 20s to realize like how liberated liberated could even be. I didn’t even know sex that I’m having now could have existed three years ago.
AO: [00:53:02] And so that’s, and I was a sex worker three years ago. So watching myself continue to like grow and evolve and like be liberated while everyone’s being like, “Are you okay? Like do you need help? Like I’m worried about you.” is the response I get. I’m like I’m happy but there’s no. And then I do that weird respectability politics thing where I get that urge to be like I’m in porn festivals and I’m celebrated and I’m like this and I’m that and I’m like changing the world and I’m like a queer eye and then I’m like woah like come down off your ego horse and realize that like you sending that text message to like your mom or whatever is like you engaging in respectability politics and therefore like is so hypocritical of what I’m fighting for in the first place. So I sometimes do find myself in those spaces where I’m like desperately crying for respect in these like really fucked up ways and then I like look at my screen and I’m like I can’t send that I have to find a new way to ask for respect.
AO: [00:54:02] And so for me that’s where my like passion with mainstream porn has become it’s not that I like- I don’t really watch mainstream porn. And I don’t as like a queer person and like who like watches way too much porn for my work and I don’t know much about mainstream porn in terms of like I don’t really know that many mainstream porn performers or anything but I’m like so adamantly focused on advocating for mainstream porn in the indie feminist sector. Which is like, it’s so demonized because I feel like that’s the only way I can balance out my instinct for like respect is I’m like everyone deserves respect. This person deserves respect. We deserve respect. And we don’t have to position ourselves against each other or better than each other when we are all being marginalized. And it’s been so challenging. I like literally my friends will watch me write those emails or write those texts when I’m in a passionate argument with a family member or friend trying to like desperately gain respect from them. But, and then it’s just like laughing and hitting delete and being like okay how do I reframe this in a way that’s not oppressive to other people in the process.
EW: [00:55:06] Yeah
AO: [00:55:08] Which is hard. It’s very hard. Especially in sex work to be like they deserve respect too. You know? The most, the lowest people on our cultural whorearchy you could say. So that’s how I refocus that energy lately.
EW: [00:55:25] My last question for you. I am a person who supports sex work. Like I support sex workers. I’m- I do the best that I can I could absolutely do more to talk about the importance of us supporting sex workers and like putting our bodies where our politics are, you know? Because I think it’s a- I think it’s really strange that we can say, “I’m sexually liberated” but also not support sex work or like support the people who are doing sex work. And so I guess what I want to know from you is how can we support you? Like people who are not in sex work, people who are claiming to be sexually liberated who aren’t that surface level sexual liberation but are full-fledged sex-positive, sexually liberated beings, like how- what are the best ways that we can support sex work and sex workers?
AO: [00:56:22] So there are like a few incredibly underfunded nonprofits like sex work grassroots orgs that you can donate to who are already doing that work and are usually run by and for sex workers. So the Strada is one of them where you can just literally Venmo them money and they are like for sex workers by sex workers. We have like The Sex Workers Project, we have The Red Umbrella Project, we have like a few staple- and usually they’re best like locally obviously. In any nonprofit context like grassroots local orgs are your best bet to get involved but instead of trying to like-Instead of trying to like post about it on like social media or like loudly show that you’re like a supporter of sex workers like donate money to these orgs if you’re able to. Buy porn from these performers if you’re able to. Financially sex work really needs a lot of help. Where the people who kind of like monopolize sex work politics which is what we see in like SESTA FOSTA are like incredibly well funded anti-sex work sex trafficking orgs and so by giving money away from those orgs and into the hands of like sex work communities is so important on like a base level.
AO: [00:57:37] And I think like recently what I have been feeling is a lot of people have their sex work knowledge kind of very surfacey from the Internet and stuff so part of like learning is like go get Melissa Gira Grant’s Playing the Whore. Go read a book. Go access like resources like tits and sass dot com for example is all by and for sex workers and it’s full of articles and archives on like every topic you could imagine. Like do your research and like listen to what sex workers are saying. Do your research and like get involved in ways that already there’s already infrastructure for them to exist. And then I think like a huge thing we’ve been seeing in New York which is you know my community so I can really only speak to like that experience is sex workers are really rallying behind politicians who are taking an anti-SESTA FOSTA platform. So like showing up to vote and starting to vote for our House and Senate is really important as well.
AO: [00:58:38] So I know it sucks because I feel like how I feel in the climate of America in the United States of America is like how can we do anything? Sometimes it feels so hopeless and like so fucked for everyone that it’s almost feels privileged for me to be like, “Sex work!” when I’m like we fully- I mean there’s so many, when it comes to even the borders right now, when it comes to like immigrants right now, when it comes to like black people, black women, incarceration, like education. I mean there’s so many layers that it sometimes feels like it sometimes can feel for me at least debilitating or powerless. Maybe debilitating is the wrong word. I can feel very powerless in the cultural in the cultural climate right now.
[00:59:22] And it’s those little things like that make a huge difference. Following a sex worker. Listening. Sending us a DM that you know like- you did that to me during SESTA FOSTA and like I wasn’t able to respond to everyone right away but I totally clocked and recognized every single person who said something to me and every single person who didn’t. So- and not expecting a response. Sometimes it’s like people want like the golden like ribbon for being like the best ally ever. And I talk about this with like my trans partner all the time because like sometimes people will be like, “I want to support you” and then you like don’t respond and they’re mad at you because they’re like, “I was just trying to support you.” And you’re like it’s not about you right now. Like it’s about like what I’m going through and like, so I get that you’re opening up a space for me to talk about my feelings which I really actually appreciate and love as long as it’s like not- as long as there’s not an expectation that I have to necessarily engage or respond until I’m like able to or what not. Just like you did with the start of this podcast. Like say what you want, say what you don’t want to say. And those kinds of contexts that just like make me feel safe. And make me feel cared about but not like required to do more labor.
AO: [01:00:33] Because SESTA FOSTA it was like, I felt especially as kind of a sex work figure it felt like everyone was like, okay say something. And I was like fully crying for four weeks in a puddle. And I was like I can’t say anything. Like I physically am so distraught by what’s happening that like it’s the second everyone’s looking at me. And it’s like the first time I was like I can’t be this person for social media or for the community today. And then the people who I did see speaking out against it right away were kind of in their 30s or 40s like more O.G. sex workers who this isn’t their first rodeo, and this isn’t their first like legal dance so to speak, like really took the mic. And I think that is important to recognize too is that there’s so many sex workers who are doing this work and who’ve been doing this work so much longer than me and there’s going to be so many cool bad ass like young sex workers who are coming around right now who are going to like totally do even cooler and more bad ass work than like me and my elders. And challenge everything I say in this podcast and I’ll like live for it. Because I know that like, if we’ve contributed to the conversation at all that being challenged is like the greatest part of history. Like prove me wrong in every way. You know like I’m excited for the next gen to like come up and just and be little geniuses that they are. So yeah I don’t know. I mean I know that’s kind of like a really disappointing answer. Because I wish there was like a magical magical answer.
EW: [01:02:08] No, I actually really appreciate that answer. It’s like it’s really doable. And it really, it’s important to remember that like posting on the internet about something is not as impactful, if at all impactful, as like giving your coins to people who actually need them. And like really showing up and supporting the sex workers that you know and letting them know that like, hey I see you. You’re safe with me. Like let me know if you need anything. Like that shit, that’s really helpful. Thank you.
AO: [01:02:38] Yeah with all the information out there doing that homework and just really listening right now. Like really listen to what the sex workers are saying whether that means following, going online right now and following ten sex workers. Like just click on who I follow and scroll through and you’ll be bound to find some really really cool trans, black, POC, indigenous, differently abled, fat, femme, whatever sex workers I follow so many different kinds of people and different kinds of sex work and it’s changed my life personally and changed my politics.
EW: [01:03:15] Ah, Allie, thank you so much for sharing your wisdom, for giving us space to ask some interesting and complicated questions and just for being so graceful and patient with me as I learn.
AO: [01:03:31] Yeah. Thank you for having me and thank you for teaching me so much and continuing to hold space on the Internet in a way that the Internet doesn’t want us there.
EW: [01:03:39] Where do you want people to find you and the work that you’re doing and the projects that are coming up for you?
Allie Oops: [01:03:45] You can find me on Twitter or Instagram @cummanifesto. You can also check out my trailers if you want on Vimeo under Allie Oopsie. And you can check out my porn if you want you’ll find it from any one of those platforms or just by googling my name.
EW: [01:04:07] Well thank you. Thank you so much again.
AO: [01:04:10] Yeah, thanks for having me.
[ CREDITS ]
EW: [01:04:21] The Sexually Liberated Woman is produced edited and designed by me, Ev’Yan Whitney. With editing help by Justine McLellan and community support from each one of my very special patrons on Patreon. If you love The Sexually Liberated Woman, I’d love it if you left me a review on Apple Podcasts. And if you want to help sustain The Sexually Liberated Woman, go to patreon.com/slwpodcast and become a patron. I would love that too.
EW: [01:04:55] As for me you can find me on my website sex love liberation dot com where you can subscribe to my newsletter and learn more about my work as a sexuality doula. I’m also on Instagram: @evyan.whitney. Thank you so much for being here. And I’ll see you in the next episode.