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The Mass Media

Progressive porn? No such thing

Poster+for+the+Progressive+Porn+event
Poster for the ‘Progressive Porn’ event

Hello, I’m your fellow student, and I used to have sex with lots and lots of men who I didn’t know for money. Lots and lots. I really don’t remember all of them.
I’m pretty open about this when people ask, but I’m a straight-A student who is obviously from an upper-class background. Nobody asks.
They don’t know that being raised with money is, in its own way, crippling, that at the point when I stopped talking to my parents I had no idea how to apply for a job because at 19, I had never had one. I also didn’t know how to budget, cook, order food from a deli, or feed myself meals. Instead I lived off bagels and candy until I was sick and broke.
Then I started working for an escort agency. A lot of people don’t fully understand what that was like. My classmates don’t know (and my customers didn’t know) that I was severely depressed and barely aware of what I was doing most of the time. That I had been put on high doses of psychiatric medicines that I didn’t need when I was 12, didn’t get off of them until I was 18, and barely remembered most of high school. That I felt scared and alone and hungry.
I didn’t like it. God, I hated it. I told people I liked it at the time because I didn’t want them to intervene. I told them it was fine because what else was I supposed to tell them? “Of course I don’t enjoy fucking old men all day every day. Please feed and house me until I find something else or kill myself.” Yeah, that would have gone over great.
Instead, I did my best to maintain what pride I had, even to benefit from social cachet of it all. In my circle of friends I was seen as somehow more edgy and interesting because old (or just plain socially dysfunctional) guys sometimes paid to use me as a masturbatory device in fancy hotel rooms.
I referred to myself as a “sex-positive sex worker.” I can’t tell you whether all women who call themselves by that name are lying (though many almost certainly are), but I do know that in my case, the whole thing was a crock. I do know that even if the women who say this aren’t lying, these women constitute a teensy minority of women in the sex industry who receive disproportionate attention because they are whiter and of higher socioeconomic status than your average streetwalker. To declare them representative of everyone in the sex industry is silly. We may as well declare everyone at UMass Boston to be Chancellor J. Keith Motley.
It’s important for me that you understand that this doesn’t define me. I have been changed and reborn. I became a real, functioning human via a process that is none of your business and has nothing to do with this article. I recovered, and I stopped talking about it. Until now.
Now, I’m getting invites to hear Carol Queen talk about “progressive porn” at MIT. The Women’s Studies Department at UMass Boston is pushing this event, I guess, because Women’s Studies faculty sent the email that my friends have been forwarding to me, asking me if I want to come to the event. The Women’s Center’s coordinator threw an announcement on the center’s Facebook wall and posters are up in a couple hallways. “What do we want from our smut?” the poster asks.
So if the Women’s Studies faculty at this university want us all to have a conversation about what women want from porn, hell, I’m happy to go first. Here is what I want: I want you to shut up about what turns you on and focus on the very real humans in the sex industry.
Nobody cares what makes you horny. Let’s talk about how people like me, people who you go to school with, are often broke and desperate and sad and doing dangerous things that make them want to die. Let’s think of some ways to fix that, because frankly, that problem is a little bit more pressing than your not being able to pay to see sex acts that make you feel extra hot.
Hey, how about instead of watching all this sex, we just have sex instead? How about instead of paying to see strangers have sex under exploitive conditions, you negotiate ways to see people you have vetted have sex for free, under conditions that you know don’t involve the kind of horror that many of those who have been in the sex industry keep telling you exists there?
How about you stop focusing on the consumerist wants of the people purchasing porn and start focusing on the human rights of the people making it? As a woman whose naked pictures are still floating around the internet and probably will be forever, I need you to stop making this about you.