The H-Word presents first person stories from current and former sex workers across the U.S. Jessie Nicole describes herself as a queer, stubborn, and committed anarcha-feminist. A former prostitute and dedicated activist, she lives in West Hollywood with her longterm partner. I asked Jessie to talk about why she no longer sells sex.
"Retired" feels like such an odd term to use when I'm about to turn 25 but, yeah, I can talk about retirement. If 1 is "I'd go back tomorrow" and 10 is "I'd rather starve first," I'm somewhere around an 8.
A sometime writer, social worker, dancer, artist and yogi, Dylan Ryan is also one of adult entertainment's favorite feminist porn stars. She has been the recipient of The Feminist Porn Award's Heartthrob of the Year Award and was named one of Fleshbot.com's Crush Objects. An avid defender of sex worker rights and a queer-identified activist, Dylan is currently working on her first book. Here, Dylan speaks to the "strangeness" of being a queer person in porn.
Not so good morning, America. I woke up yesterday to discover that on Monday night the police had cleared Zuccotti Park. As of this morning, Zuccotti Park remains largely unoccupied and quiet, thanks to a judge's ruling that the city needn't allow them back in. At a press conference yesterday, NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended his decision to effectually shut down the protest, which had lasted 61 days and counting, saying that the "health and safety conditions became intolerable." In a statement made yesterday morning, Bloomberg said: "I have become increasingly concerned ... that the occupation was coming to pose a health and fire safety hazard to the protestors and to the surrounding community." Hey, disease is no joke, Bloomberg seems to be saying. Politics aside, you've all heard of the black plague, right? Who wants that to happen again!!? Certainly not our mayor! Sounds pretty rational, until you consider how sanitation and the interest of public safety, including fear of the risk of communicable disease, is a rationalization our country has relied on historically to control its population, particularly minorities.
The first time I met Essence Revealed was two years ago at the Sex Workers Cabaret, an annual event in New York City where sex workers take the stage to tell their diverse stories through performance, narrative, puppetry, burlesque, comedy and more. Essence is a dual degreed, former lap dance engineer from the upscale gentlemen's club scene. Her performance that night reminded me of the girls I used to work with at Flashdancers, women who took their business seriously and were so skilled no one would dare consider them anything less than performers. Dancing in a red velvet floor-length gown to Michael Jackson's Princess Diana, Essence elevated striptease to an art. I was as enamored as a customer. Not unlike a customer, I wanted to meet the woman behind Essence.
"Sometimes it was very sexy and sometimes I was attracted to the person and sometimes I had great sex. And sometimes I was just going through the motions and it was neither good nor bad. And sometimes it was really unpleasant and I just got through it."
TRIGGER WARNING: The following story includes a description of a sexual assault.
As important as it is for activists to establish sex work as work, it is equally important we acknowledge that not everybody who sells sex calls themselves a sex worker. As the current feminist debates about the Slutwalk march make all too clear, there is power and privilege in reclaiming a word and—like slut—to call oneself a "hooker" or even a sex worker is not everyone's preference, nor is it a privilege everyone can afford.
I did it for the money but it was also true that I enjoyed it. Like no job I'd had before, stripping took skills. Yes, it was physically strenuous, but it was not only physical. Interacting with customers required intelligence and personality. I was free to be myself—or, at least, a part of myself. Indeed, of all the jobs available to me at the time, there was no question: stripping was, by far and in many ways, the best. It had the best uniform. I could make my own hours. I liked to dance. I felt genuinely good at it. And then there was the money.