Sex work is real. It’s happening all around us. eXXXotica, “The Largest Adult Event in the USA Dedicated to Love & Sex” just hosted their second event in Denver. “It was created for like-minded adults who are looking to ‘celebrate sexy’”. And celebrate they did, with educational seminars, exhibits, demonstrations, million of sex toys and products for your love life, performances (including the Miss eXXXotica Denver competition, see below), and after parties both on site and at local strip club, Platinum 84.
It would be easy to get caught up in the overwhelming amount of sex on display, but we were there with a purpose. With Backpage being shut down over sex trafficking allegations, and sex work the zeitgeist, we thought we’d introduce our new section: Red Scene. We showed up at this risqué event to ask porn stars one simple [read: not simply] thing: What do you wish people understood about sex work / sex workers? Here’s what they said.
Shay Evans, the “Puerto Rican Princess”, is 26 years old. She says, simply, “That we’re people, too. We’re real people.” We had actually spoke at length and I’d be lying if I didn’t say tat, off the bat, I was impressed by the depth of knowledge and passion in this community. Jade Kush, a 19 year old Chinese American porn star, is thoughtful, and her thoughts mirrored Shay’s. She added, “One of the things that bugs me the most is people asking for stuff for free. People don’t understand that this is work.” When she suggested that a fan buy her work, he asked why, when he can just download it for free. “To be told that to your face is really deflating. Like saying you’re not worth my time or my money. People are entitled.”
“Honestly,” says Sheridan Love, a 33 year old white American, “when it comes to the fans looking in on the porn industry, I want them to understand that it’s not big money. It’s actually hard work and there’s a million different things we do to make the money.” Which is to say, these women aren’t making millions (even if some have). They’re working tenaciously in an industry they love and, as workers, deserve protections and respect. #SWeconomicrealities.
Gia Vendetti is 26, an Italian American. She reminds us that, “We love it. There’s nothing negative about being in the industry.” But Gia wants more than a basic understanding. “I need people to know there’s a difference between sex trafficking and sex workers. People think sex workers are in the same situation, and it makes me sick.” Jezabel Vessir, a 27 year old African American, says, we’re “normal people who have normal lives.” Like Vendetti, she’s much deeper. “Normality is subjective so it all just depends what your interpretation is.” Psych 101.
Miss eXXXotica Denver 18 winner, Jade Baker, elucidated this idea by pointing out something every professional can understand: “The only reason most of us are doing what we do is because it’s what makes us most comfortable. I sucked at my “normal” job but I’m a great sex worker.” Jade is a stripper, a cam girl on myfreecams and she just finished her first porn shoot. She also dabbles as a dominatrix, the mix of which reminds us of Sheridan Love’s point that sex work is multi-faceted and girls do a lot to make money.
Jade’s experience is an interesting one because, in winning Miss eXXXotica, she learned some valuable lessons and dealt with some drama. She says, “After I won there was a lot of drama between the other competitors and I. I woke up to a million Instagram notifications the next morning that said I won because I showed my vagina, which wasn’t even true. Other girls even slut shamed me, which I thought was hypocritical. In the end I learned any publicity is good publicity.”
Finally, in a surprising bit of luck and graciousness, Tera Patrick (41, mixed Asian, retired) – one of the greatest, most famous, and wealthiest porn stars – talked to us about dimensionality. Say what? Oh yeah, before porn she was a chemist. Don’t judge sex workers (or books) by their covers.
Asked what she wished people knew about sex workers, Tera is clear: “the simple answer would be that we’re not one dimensional. We’re humans. We have other lives. I’m a chemist; I retired. I made millions of dollars from this industry. I’m raising a family and I live on another continent. This was a great vehicle for me. I’ll always be Tera Patrick; I’ll never get away from that. But I’m a mother, I’m a wife. People, of course, they’ve jerked off to me so they just think I’m a porn star. To put that only label on me is really…” One dimensional, I replied. She agrees. “There’s so much to each of us.”
It’s ok to find it reassuring that sex workers are critically aware, conscious of intersectionality, and prepared to defend their position. In fact, sex workers have been at the forefront of social change for generations. Vice recently wrote an article on “What we owe the hidden, groundbreaking activism of Sex Workers.” Stormy Daniels (a porn star) is about to be the person who takes down Trump after thousands have tried. She’ll be performing at Diamond Cabaret this June, if you want to see her work. The funny part, echoing Tera Patrick’s sentiments, is that sex workers are our neighbors, our mothers, our sisters, our friends, the girls at down the street, someone we’ve never met and would never guess does sex work. And sex work spans many areas. Read: it’s not all porn. There are massage therapists, exotic dancers, burlesque dancers, and many more. Now if we can just treat sex work like work, and show them some damn respect.