A little over eighteen months ago, I published a book entitled Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work. In it, I relate the cultural fantasies we hold about sex work and who performs it. I call these collectively, the prostitute imaginary. I identify those people who most gain from these fantasies, and how they put them to work for themselves to marginalize, contain, and discipline sex workers’ livelihoods, bodies, and self-representations. In particular, I nod back to theorists of sex work like Jill Nagle and Gail Pheterson, who explained in the 1990’s how the character of “the prostitute” as narrated by outsiders is used to alienate any woman engaged in sex work from the production of her own image.
I have done, in these months, dozens of interviews in print, radio, television, and for online publication. I have written thousands of words in the service of advancing these ideas (that is, the sale of my own). My work has received international critical attention; I have given invited talks on the subject in half a dozen countries. I have used my platform to debate politicians and confront NGO’s, used my journalism to expose human rights violations, and I bring a deep and interdisciplinary knowledge of the current research to my criticism. I am one of the most recognized and original thinkers on the subject. On this, there is little dispute. I have also encountered – mostly from other journalists – all manner of presumptions about my own body, what it has done, and what it is capable of. I have had to defend my ability to do this work as I have carried it off masterfully.
Since I first published and was paid for a piece of writing on sex work more than ten years ago, I have performed these two jobs: the work of writing, and the work of carving out a space for that writing (and its sale). I have watched as, at least once each year, a news cycle winds up concerning sex work, for a time attaching a more recognizable name to an issue few value: the DC Madam, Eliot Spitzer, Craigslist, Backpage, the Secret Service, Nicholas Kristof and Somaly Mam, Amnesty International. Though I do this work daily, in these moments of media flash I am introduced to writers, journalists, and producers who are have only just arrived on the topic, and who I will never hear from again. I understand the paucity of newsroom resources these days – the disappearing of newsrooms themselves – and that any good reporter is going to sniff out those who have more to offer her than her colleagues close at hand, to turn and churn out copy before she is on to the next. I am sympathetic, though these days, I am unmoved.
I turn down more of these requests than I accept; the ratio is likely 5 to 1 in favor of no, a decision necessary to keep my time to myself to pursue my other research and writing interests. Perhaps my apparent success makes other writers and reporters think I have ample time to direct them to books (buy my own), related texts (bibliography appears in my own), subjects to interview (use the internet). Worse, sometimes they think I owe it to them. They are incorrect.
To the writer at the well-known web explainer outlet who asked me to offer critique of his article, after I declined to be interviewed, who told me “no one else” at his website had an interest in sex work, I would direct you to your own archives, which contain – among other things on the subject – an interview I gave several months ago.
To the young feminist making the Sunday show rounds, who emailed me less than twelve hours before her next appearance seeking to “pick my brain,” I didn’t reply to you, intentionally. If you didn’t take it on yourself to read the stories I had sent you earlier in the week, I am not going to make time for you by phone.
To the network television producer who wanted me to introduce her to sex workers from Craigslist so she could tell their stories, and who told me “It’s not work I’m asking you to do, it’s an introduction, and a way to shed light on an important and under-reported issue,” I know it is important and under-reported; that’s why I do my job. The time has come for you to do yours.
Not only from these three incidents, but from what they say about this moment in this media economy: I am on my own kind of strike from doing anyone else’s work on sex work. I will not answer your requests. I will not give you interviews. I will not be a token on your program. I will not direct you to resources. I will not introduce you to subjects. I will not do work you are paid to do. I will not do work which has value to those who employ you. I will not do work which has value to those who place advertisements around your work. I will not, and if you ask me to more than once, I will direct you to the following, now published for you to refer to in the future and to share with your colleagues, too:
To acquire my time from my own writing, research, and public speaking, my consulting fees on the subject of sex work begin at $1000.
Best of luck in this business,
Previously: Dear Producer
Follow-up: Reactions to My Strike Notice