The other day I attended the sexual health clinic at Homerton University Hospital. I was impressed. The clinic was clean, modern and well staffed; I was seen quickly, and the care I received was non-judgemental, helpful and thorough. In fact it was probably the best experience of attending a sexual health clinic I've ever had in London. During the short time I was sitting in the waiting room, I saw posters and leaflets advertising the other free services Homerton University Hospital offers to the public, including Out There, the walk-in center for bisexual and gay men, and Open Doors, a free and confidential advice service for people working in the sex industry.
If you look at the Open Doors website (there are three other Open Doors NHS clinics in London, but I think the Homerton one is the longest running) their mission statement is clear:
Since I last blogged about the Sex Workers Opera it has had two years to grow and develop under the direction of Siobhan Knox and Alex Etchart. I watched it last year at the Arcola Theatre; a longer run than its two-night debut in 2014, with new scenes and polish added. Since then, they have crowd-funded the budget for a bigger, better-rehearsed, more ambitious production - and they have also, incredibly, received Arts Council Funding; a fantastic validation by mainstream culture of a marginalised community production, and a useful boost in terms of perceived respectability, as well as being practically useful in providing much-needed extra cash. The cast and crew made incredible use of their budget, and as a result the show has significantly leveled up. Who knew that with adequate funding, artists could produce their best work? It's almost as if money made things easier.
It was, more or less, watching the Sex Worker's Opera - and picking up an invitation to sex worker breakfasts in the ladies loos - that got me involved in the sex worker activist community. Since then, I've organised with the Sex Worker Open University and the English Collective of Prostitutes; I've attended breakfasts and the poledancing class run by the same community enough times to form intimate friendships, although not as much as I would like. So this time, watching the Opera was a much more personal experience. I knew almost everyone on stage (and already had crushes on nearly all of them, which were made all the more acute by watching the sheer talent exhibited during the show) and consider many of them good friends. I felt like a proud sister, beaming with pleasure at the skill of the performance. As a sex workers rights activist I felt included in the solidarity and community that we were invited to witness among the cast members - in fact a clipping of my voice is used at one point in the performance, ranting passionately about the stupidity of the UK porn laws, so I really was, literally included.
Last November my friend Nimue Allen and I got together with our partners for a week to shoot some porn. We’ve both worked in the BDSM porn industry for years as performers and producers, and we were ready to delve deeper. We spent three days shooting a feature-length explicit documentary about our queer, kinky, polyamorous sex lives. We filmed interviews, video portraits, narrative sequences and hardcore sex scenes, capturing the intimacy and affection of BDSM play between people who love each other. The scenes were spontaneous and unscripted, a natural representation of the sex we have in private, and in the natural course of events they ended up including facesitting, fisting, squirting, caning, needles, breath play, dominance and submission and plenty of hardcore sex. It was authentic, caring and beautiful.
A week later, full of happy excitement about our new project, we learned that every scene we had filmed had just been criminalised under new UK porn laws. It would now be illegal for us to publish any of them. These honest depictions of our sex, pleasure and intimacy had been deemed so extreme that even informed, paying adults couldn’t legally watch them.
The week before it went out, I dreaded an unsympathetic edit. The debate audience had been dominated by members of feminist groups such as Object and Stop Porn Culture, who are vehemently opposed to the existence of pornography and consider any woman who willingly participates in it to be either an abused victim or a gender traitor. Sitting on the stage, I was all too aware that the first few rows of audience members were very hostile towards me - not only towards my political position, but towards me personally. There was a lot of jeering, heckling and yelling, and from where we were sitting the atmosphere in the room felt very tense. When the debate opened to the audience members, individuals from these groups seemed to spend twice as long on the mic as the rest - and some even started preaching, delivering emotive impassioned rhetoric which felt very out of place.
Last Sunday I participated in a debate at the Women of the World festival entitled "Can porn empower women?" In my three minutes I didn't have time to go into the full complexities of that question - so I'm going to do so here.
Debating "porn" is difficult because the word means different things to different people. Some people use it to mean "sexy media I don't like", and the word "erotica" to mean "sexy media I do like". So I want to start out with a definition: porn is media that is intended to sexually stimulate the viewer. It doesn't necessarily have to involve nudity, or sex (whatever THAT means).
You have all probably seen this already, but I haven't mentioned it here yet - on 12th December after the facesitting protest outside Parliament against the new UK porn laws, I was invited to debate the issue on Newsnight. This was my first proper TV appearance and it was a big deal for me.
So, you might have seen: I was featured in the Guardian. I'm really pleased with the article (kind of a relief, because if I hadn't I'd have had to lump it), but then I wouldn't have given Zoe Williams an interview if I didn't trust and respect her as a journalist.
I think the piece is intelligent and balanced, and I'm not just saying that because she says nice things about my work. (She also says the acting is like a school play, which made me chuckle.) She's not preaching to the converted (unlike, say, this blog), but she doesn't set out to persuade the anti-porn camp either. Instead the article is aimed at the sort of educated well-meaning lefty who reads the Guardian and doesn't really watch porn. With her trademark self-deprecating wit, Zoe positions herself in that category before describing how she became convinced that porn was not, in fact, a monolith of misogynistic degradation - and that a lot of it is not only ethical, but watchable.
Some responses to Zoe William's Guardian article on ethical porn (on which more later, but meanwhile you can read my first impressions here). Erotic Scribes: "Porn is here to say 'Your fantasies are OK' when nobody and nothing else is going to say it." Yes = even if those fantasies are totally pervy. And the Telegraph acknowledges that "times are changing" - the radical idea that porn might not all be universally misogynistic and unethical (even though Gail Dines is still claiming women don't watch it). Also, apparently I'm the future of capitalism. Hokay.
I love this new sensual film by Ms Naughty, which screened for the first time in Berlin: Tactile. Watch the full film at Bright Desire.