my 36 hour context within which i am dis-invited from speaking on a film critics panel

i get invited to a baby shower of a friend and i traipse upon their baby registry. i marvel at how many gadgets there are for babies and how much they cost. mostly i marvel at the fact that no one i know who had a baby in my immediate community worked within this kind of framework of financial and material support. maybe they could have asked for it but i don’t know anyone who did. i found my kid’s highchair on the street and the other day her mama found a kids tool bench on the street and now its inside my studio. there were and will be other things too, like when my co-mama and I rummage around in a box of free clothes on the street and laugh at ourselves, thinking, maybe our kid will be embarrassed by this, but we do it anyway.

my partner is dumpster diving and I met her there with my kid, on the backside of the EDEKA, and it was just in time, cause there were boys there harassing her, calling her names, stealing her clothing from her bike rack which was parked outside the fence. She was in there with pink gloves and pearls almost like tim curry in rocky horror picture show looking just so beautiful and they were taking every advantage. and then i showed up with my kid and asked them what the hell was going on, they lost their nerve a little to see “a woman and a child”. One slammed past me with a piece of my partners clothing, his body slamming into mine. I temporarily lost the hand hold I had on my kid and grabbed the sweater from his hands and that stopped him. Then he said he was calling the police and I said why why why do you care that we are taking this food out of the trash and he said cause its illegal. I said, don’t you ever do anything illegal, no one is going to use this and we can use this. And he said you’re gay and I said being gay is not illegal.

i volunteer in a refugee center which is actually in tempelhof airport, the airport that used to be shaped like a swastika. Now there are over a thousand refugees living in there, in tents, and there is a clothing center where donations—things you might see on the streets of Berlin, or at the flea markets—are earmarked for refugees. Refugee can have them, but only if they follow all the rules. Like not taking too much, or too often. Like letting the volunteer bring it to them, as opposed to going through the boxes of donations themselves. As though this were some kind of privilege for them. As though rich people would even ever consider taking something for free out of a box of strange clothing.

i help a thirteen girl pick out a headscarf and some jeans. Me? Helping her choose a headscarf? It was ridiculous and we both knew it, but I wasn’t allowed to just let her wade through the box of mostly Western cut scarves, which she made faces at as she discovered most weren’t the right width. I’m moved and warmed in my heart about how universal it is that people just want to feel good in their clothing and pick out the things that are right for them. Even during the hardest times in life, people won’t just accept anything, especially young ones. The kids, especially–so picky about the clothing they would take or not take. Their picky, bored or angry faces were so sweet as I presented them with various clothing items they turned down, over and over. Again and again. This? No. This? No. This? No.

I had to wonder why they weren’t allowed to just shop, as in a free store, instead of us behind a counter having to bring things one by one to them to be turned away, as though to enforce the idea that “beggars cant be choosers”. Fewer volunteers would be required if things were simply kept in stock and people were granted autonomy to pick out things for themselves. As though mass produced old clothing is some kind of scarcity! Instead we have to regulate to the nth degree whether or not and how these “needy people” get things. Some people are asked to move out of the store faster—sometimes this is enforced by people who speak Arabic or Pashto—the implication being that they should be grateful for what they get. Its so embarrassing, to watch, to be part of this paternalistic and neurotic management of bodies.

And should they be grateful for what they get? Their homes bombed to ashes; a harrowing trip they have to pay for—100 times more than what they’d pay if they were just allowed to board a flight, not to mention the price they pay in the physical risk; the racism and hatred they face from those who should welcome them; the loss of freedom they have to submit to in order to stay; the inability to work; the forced internment in temporary housing units where they are forced to eat and take the used and discarded clothing of others who want them to feel grateful. Should they be grateful?

I get a text message from a client that says something like, i want to play sex games with you for three hours. tie you up and fuck you hard. how much will you charge? He knows my hourly fee so presumably I’m supposed to write him back and give him a good deal for three hours. but you know, I think about it and I realize, I don’t want to give him a deal. There is a trust issue here. I want to feel safe, I want him to pay for my slavery. There is a little glimmer of caution as I thumb a reply on my old nokia phone. He doesn’t text back.

I get an email telling me I’ve been recommended for a gig as a sub and I write the filmmaker and the filmmaker writes me back and says that he thinks im not young enough or good girl enough for the role but he’d maybe hire me as as dom—some other time. and i was thinking about it, like, okay now im supposed to write him back and tell him what a good little submissive i am and will he please please hire me. Which of course I do, gritting my teeth; but he doesn’t hire me.

I practice being the domestic person I am NOT, cooking and cleaning and taking care of all the normalcy around my place so that my kid has some fun when she is with me, has space to move around, has food in her stomach, gets enough sleep, has new paints to paint with. And we wake up early when i’ve been staying up late. Us coparents meet with each other to discuss parenting and we meet with her preschool to discuss the fact that we are three parents, that we are mama and papa and dada, and these are distinct, gender-in-dependent, names that our child understands us as. And after the meeting I am exhausted because I keep burning the candle at both ends but im grateful because they just understood us and accepted us. Nodded their heads and said they would reinforce those three identities as family.

Im getting ready to head over to the screening of a film for which ive been asked to be on a critics panel. And about two hours before Im on my way, i get a message from the head of the critics board saying that they’ve decided on a “new constellation” and that they can no longer invite me on stage to be part of the critics panel. He says the the film maker would prefer that given my work as a sexually explicit performer, that i don’t bring in any kind of socio political commentary, as it could potentially “label” his work. He doesnt actually say in what way I would “label” his work. He says I can come to the screening, anyway, and sit in the audience.

When I tell him I find this terrible and silly, he tells me “its sweet”, that the director is just trying to take care of the feelings of his main actress. He says that the film maker wished to “protect” his main actress who has played a submissive in this movie, her first time in such a role. i had watched the film some weeks ago in order to prepare for tonights debate; had to submit myself to taking a nuanced look at the movie. in the first several minutes of the film a woman in a porn shoot is approached and “asks” to be fucked, then left practically for dead in the forest. In a later scene, an anguish-faced actress gets fire-hosed. One can only get through it thinking, this would and will be okay if it is consensual. i assume this is part of a consensual sex game. having been beaten consensually myself, fucked hard and humiliated, I can understand what it means to be part of a consensual d/s scene. it would make sense that i would have something to say about the portrayal of persons in these d/s scenes, a movie that is full of actresses playing women like me. but my voice is asked not to be there. I’m so shocked that I spend the rest of the evening in doors, unsure whether to go and sit in the audience, raise my hand like any other audience member. Should I raise the fact that Ive been dis-invited? Wouldn’t I then come off like the “hysterical woman who was jilted”? I feel trapped and furious.

it was uncanny timing because i had just finished writing an article about how sex workers are not invited to the table to speak, not invited to the places of policy making, to the academy, within the hallowed halls of academia. And here at this film festival, the filmmaker, who happens to teach temporarily at an ivy league institution in the united states has tried to make his critics “stay on the topic of the art itself” even though the film is saturated with porn and sex work.

i had just finished researching about how the red umbrella is being inadvertently appropriated by activists who don’t even know that the umbrella symbolizes solidarity for sex workers and might even think twice about carrying a red umbrella if they knew that it means: I’m a sex worker and proud of it. but what sex worker is asked to the table when there is a discussion about trafficking, about whats good for them?

It was only just on monday that i had gone to a film at the festival and there was footage of protesters In Argentina cheering for Eva Peron and the overdub said, “the workers were there, the toothless laborers were there, the hobos and crazies were there. even the whores were there.”

yes. even the whores were represented in this big mass of a public demonstration. yes. even the whores were there. imagine that. Why mention it? Well because THEY ARE NOT NORMALLY MENTIONED, not normally invited, allowed, made space for.

Ah but presumably this “sweet director” was protecting his main actress because she is not “actually” a sex worker and needs his protection against those who would discredit her? But whom, exactly? People who think sex work is wrong? People who think that playing a sex worker is wrong if you are NOT one? People who want to hate on women who play the role of a woman who is hated upon? I assured him there was absolutely no way I would wish to criticize this woman herself; my body was currently on display in a porn being screened across town. Why would I critique the body of this woman? i would never dream of bashing this woman, who might have barely been paid for this role. The director must have been mistaken about who exactly he needed to protect.

And in any case, whats this argument i even allude to about “authenticity”? After all, i myself struggle constantly with the idea of authenticity, i mean who are we really fooling here. It feels more like I’m an “out- of-work-sex-worker” constantly looking for and not getting work. And in any case, does seeing one client one-on-one suddenly make me a sex worker, whereas before, masturbating behind a sheet of glass or making porn were NOT sex work? Is doing more of it making me more of a sex worker? Does doing more of something make us more of something? its not like there is the black and white line between authentic or not. and most women i would say have some kind of experience being sexualized on screen(s)–be they laptop, phone, or film screens.

I did not go out tonight. i simply did not want to go tonight, I simply was so depressed about it. i was depressed because this is why i left the academy, precisely this reason, that i didnt want to be involved in such basic frameworks of privilege as the academy itself. here this male film maker making a film full of sexualized women, able to escape even being questioned by a female, let alone a sex worker. being lauded by the top university in the united states for his daring topics. (Meanwhile a woman on another ivy league campus drags around a mattress on her back to remind us about the normalizing of rape culture. meanwhile people, mostly women, i might add, are fighting desperately in the united states to hang on to the right to seek abortion).

He makes a film where all his characters delve directly into the porn industry, into various sex “rings”, taboo sexual worlds of d/s, about women who work and play within and outside of the industry, presumable with consent. And then one—just one– is invited to speak about his film and he feels the need to control the jury so much as to dis-invite her.

i am just reeling out of shock that this kind of thing goes on in 2016, when the voices of sex workers are so often silenced; repeatedly silenced and told not to come, not to show up. i am expected not to go, or to go and simply shut up, to listen to the panel masturbate the director? what a farce! i am simply expected to go and to sit in the audience and listen to the critique which is meant to be “purely” about the ART, “free” of socio-political commentary? Ah HAH! And then i am supposed to then talk to the director who is apparently “curious to meet me and very interested in talking to me about feminism”.

I am completely flabbergasted at this. Given the context of the world. Of refugees being managed and controlled. Their bodies told what to do and where to go, what they can and cannot do, of what to be grateful for. Of homophobia spat out of the mouths of young boys who know nothing of sex. Of the surplus of items laying in boxes for free on the street, made by hands in other countries for pennies, whose currencies have been devalued by international forces of manipulation, while others with only slightly larger incomes consume new items. Of sex workers being “rescued” and forced to work in factories to make that very clothing at the cheapest prices. Women being denied access to safe abortion. Of people just taking free apples out the dumpster to survive–if the dumpster is not locked. Of women just getting paid maybe a few hundred to appear for one scene in a film where they get hosed down in a forest while standing nude. Of getting paid maybe a few hundred to get dominated and fucked. And this film maker, sitting on a panel. Talking about how not to talk about the context of the rest of the world. That I shouldn’t bring in the context of my 36 hours.

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