Posted at 15:00 on 19 Oct 2020 by Pandora / Blake
Image is from Oh Joy Sex Toy, who are definitely not who this post is aimed at.
Over the years many journalists, television producers and documentary makers have wanted to talk to me about my work in the sex industry. In the past I did my best to give them the benefit of the doubt. I’ve spent hours on the phone giving interviews, I’ve helped producers sort out venues and performers for documentary work, I’ve sent backstage content for TV companies to use. I believe strongly in demystifying and destigmatising sex work, and I’ve tried to help when I can.
But I've reached a point where I'm extremely wary when it comes to my dealings with the mainstream media. And I've never once said yes to one of their most common requests: to shoot a behind-the-scenes documentary about ethical pornography on a set where I am the director.
This might not seem like such an outrageous idea in theory - but believe me, it's a terrible one.
I put a lot of effort into creating a relaxed, comfortable and above all safe space for the performers I hire. When I'm directing, the wellbeing of performers is my top priority. I'm not perfect, but it's something I really care about, and am constantly working to improve. I’m mindful of everything from the environment we’re in, to the schedule we’re working on, to the food we have available. I’m careful to make time for breaks, and to let people really be ‘off duty’ during those breaks - to phone their partner, to go to the loo, to read a book quietly for ten minutes.
I check in with performers frequently to ensure everyone is operating within their own comfort level and with informed consent. I do everything in my power to help my performers enjoy themselves, and leave at the end of the day feeling properly taken care of, knowing they’ve been well paid, and that any concerns or discomforts were heard and taken seriously.
The last thing I need is a bunch of strangers with their own agenda distracting everyone, interrupting performers' precious downtime, and potentially crossing boundaries with the questions they ask or the actions they take.
If we want to be able to switch off for any portion of the day at all, we’d have to schedule in twice as many breaks - and who knows if those would be respected? I would need to shoot with performers who had pre-agreed to multi-task a paid porn shoot with an unpaid documentary shoot. I'd have to pay everyone out of pocket to get less done in a longer period of time. At that point, aren’t I the one funding this documentary?
Except the documentary maker never sees it this way - so of course I won’t get any creative control or any power of veto over the story or details shown in the final edit. Nor have I yet to negotiate any compensation for myself or the performers. I’ve tried asking - “Sure, if you’ll pay for the day’s shooting” - and it’s always met with a baffled response. "Why on earth would we pay for that? Nobody else does." Nobody else is allowed to disrupt my set, either. Inviting a quiet, trusted person on set, with full informed consent of the performers, to unobtrusively observe is one thing - especially if they then write about how beautiful and humbling the whole experience is. That's what Oh Joy Sex Toy did when they visited Crash Pad Series, and honestly, Erika and Matthew are welcome to come watch us shoot any time. But filming performers' private moments and asking them intrusive questions is quite another.
It's about trust. I've seen too many documentaries about sex work which patronise workers, perpetuate stigma, and turn complex issues into salacious soundbites.
I’ve worked with documentary makers half a dozen times over the last ten years. Over and over again I’ve come away feeling like I’ve just dealt with a boundary-pushing sex work client. Promises have been gone back on, agreements have been ignored, pre-agreed expenses have gone unpaid. Even when the documentary maker was sound and on-side, I ended up feeling like my time was being taken for granted.
Here's what really makes me feel like my time is being wasted: when I go to the trouble to help you shoot a documentary, and none of the resulting footage is ever actually used. They didn't get a release from someone else so the whole project is scrapped. Or they cut my part entirely for not telling the story they wanted to hear. Or they took my free 'consultancy' and went ahead and made the documentary with someone else. I’ve felt more used and exploited by documentary makers than I have by any porn producer I’ve ever worked with.
So no, I don't want to put my performers through that on a day when I'm responsible for their experience, at my own expense, when I don't even get a say in whether or how the finished product will see the light of day.
It’s actually not just producers and journalists who make these mistakes: academics can be just as bad, though usually with a fancier-sounding excuse. Academics and journalists are both professions more universally respected than sex workers', their voices are better amplified than ours. Their jobs do not put them at increased risk of being arrested, of being stalked, of having their custody of their children threatened, of losing their rented accommodation, of having their earnings withheld by banks or payment platforms or law enforcement.
Somehow though they have the audacity to expect sex workers to be available to them for endless uncompensated, unboundaried interviews where they ask us about our traumas, our vulnerabilities and our finances. It’s harmful, it’s exploitative, it benefits nobody but them, and I for one am over it.
If journalists and academics want to continue to work with sex workers, research us, and engage with us for their own ends, they can do what everyone else does when they want our time - pay for it.
And until then, no: you cannot shoot your documentary on my porn set.
This post was funded by my 106 Patrons. To power my activism and my writing on sexual freedom and social justice, join my Patreon community here.