by Cameryn Moore
I was going to write something about my Sidewalk Smut sessions this week, in which I really found my groove and got some decent writing out of it, but I don’t actually like to brag about stuff like that (oh god, writer’s jinx is predictably horrific), but then I got a request from the Internet on Thursday, and it was like a big, delicious bowl of manna dropping right in my lap.
(Let this be a lesson to you: if you ever approach a writer whom you don’t know with a request for anything, it may wind up in the public sphere. That may happen even if you are best friends and/or seriously romantic with said writer, but at least in that case you have the opportunity to liquor them up before the request and yell at them when the blog post goes viral.)
Someone pinged me on multiple channels yesterday asking if I would be willing to answer questions about phone sex for their drama school project. Here is what they wrote:
My name is XXXX and I'm a university student studying acting, in London. I'm in my final year and I'm doing a final year dissertation by putting on a play about phone and webcam sex. I've read loads of reviews about Phone Whore; and as you've experience phone sex I was wondering if you'd be able to answer some questions. I want to use real testimonies in the script (keeping them confidential) but from a phone sex worker’s point of view. It would be great if you were interested and could get back to me. Thank you!
Immediately what jumps to my mind is my intense loathing of most entertainment consumables—whether theatre, film, books, whatever—that purport to show true stories about sex workers, but whose creators either haven’t lived those stories or they haven’t done the research in a thoughtful, thorough manner. Why would I want to contribute to the perpetuation of shoddy, inaccurate, lazy stereotypes of my people, even on a student level? Hell, especially on a student level! This is presumably where formally trained filmmakers and actors and writers learn this shit to begin with, right? Why would I want to assist with that, without even appropriate credit? (Hah, “confidential”, well played! It sounds caring, but in this context it suggests CITATION NEEDED.)
Sorry for shouting, but MY BLOG FOR FUCKS’ SAKE.
And then, even if we set aside for a moment the delicate challenge of creating and portraying believable, well-rounded sex worker characters, I mean… THIS PHONE SEX WORKER’S POINT OF VIEW IS ALREADY EXTREMELY WELL DOCUMENTED AND AVAILABLE ON THE FUCKING INTERNET. Sorry for shouting, but MY BLOG FOR FUCKS’ SAKE. That is a pretty well-stocked archive for people to dip into. It’s free, it’s indexed, and it covers many, I dare say, most of the questions that people might have, both about the work of phone sex and my life.
So, I felt pretty strongly about this, clearly. But just to make sure I wasn’t overreacting or missing something, I mentioned this request in my Facebook status update the morning I received it. The response--gtfh was fascinating, because my friend network includes performers, sex workers, sex workers who are also performers, playwrights, directors, writers, people who research sex workers, people who review performances, and then of course other people who don’t fit into those categories but are opinionated and articulate as hell.
I don’t seem to have a lot of people in the lazy-student lobby in my friend network, but there were a few voices saying, be generous, spread the love—as long as it’s credited!—share your experiences, help a student out. And as several of my performer/writer colleagues have pointed out in the past, it is not necessary for a good writer or performer to have lived the experiences of their character in order to do it convincingly and well. I do think, in the case of Phone Whore and other sex-work narratives, it’s nice if the convergence of life experience and creative talent happens, but I think I can sit with the proposal that it’s not necessary.
It was suggested that I ask to see the questions, that I tell them to fuck right off, that I counterpropose that the student bring ME in, for a fee, as their class project, or how about a consultant’s fee? Several people pointed out an excellent post by Laura Agustin, in which she explains her stance on this sort of situation. I will be referring people to Agustin’s post often in the future, very useful.
In the end, I decided to write a polite email back to the student, asking for her synopsis, encouraging her to read my blog, and inquiring about what credit would be offered, if I did decide to participate. So, great. That worked out well. Action item, check. Future action, check.
But the expressions of support, the reminders, that I received from my friends and colleagues were just as important: I already DO give a lot of my experience for free, through camerynmoore.com and on Facebook. Sex workers’ experiences ARE frequently co-opted and sanitized, if not outright manipulated, and I am right to be suspicious. (This is true of any marginalized group.) And I HAVE put a lot of energy into writing, producing, and performing about my life and work and it is not unreasonable at all for me to own sole, final, and incontrovertible say about where the fruits of that labor end up, and under what terms.
PS: I’m filing the formal copyright papers next week.
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