Sex & Relationships

Diane Sawyer Doesn't Like What I Do

My interview on ABC made one thing clear: In our society sex workers are still presented as tragic, lost, Dickensian characters.
So, I did this interview with Diane Sawyer. It was an anonymous interview in silhouette, with a distorted profile and an altered voice and a few other anonymizing tricks. A few of you already know about this -- one of you said I was identifiable by the way I used the word 'yeah' and the way I touched my hair. Another said I wasn't recognizable at all.

When Sawyer asked why I agreed to speak with her, I said, "I don't know." But I do know. I did it because she asked. It was flattering, if a fucked form of flattery, but I was mostly interested because her perspective stands in diametric opposition to my own. She represents the view of middle America; she works for a family-friendly network with no tolerance for grey area in a subject as inflammatory as sex work. It was clear that there could be only one slant for her documentary, being the old Victorian trope of the broken, dysfunctional, fallen prostitute, incapable of forming her own opinions or making her own decisions (and I find it interesting when self-described feminists reinforce this). A network like ABC wanted Dickensian sex workers and that's precisely what they were going to show. But here I was being given a chance to offer my own take and experience, which runs counter to their thesis, and more specifically, I was being offered the opportunity to sit down and talk with this woman personally.

In reality, Sawyer was much more even-handed than she appeared on-screen, though her questions reflected a set of very backward assumptions. As I said to her then, I knew that one interview wasn't going to change anything, but I was hoping it might make a dent in the assumptions some people have about sex work.

I have strong feelings about that interview. I think they should have spoken with other women who represent my perspective, since I know I'm not alone, as well as with (real) sex worker activists. I also have strong feelings about the general response to that interview, from all sides. I'm mentioning the interview now because last night I learned that my parents tuned in to ABC that fateful day and promptly recognized me, in spite of the silhouette, the altered voice, the distorted profile, the vague and thoroughly dated details. I received an email from my mother saying that she knows. She saw the interview and decided to sit on this knowledge until she could see it again, and then she decided to contact me. What tipped her off exactly, I don't know. Maybe my mannerisms or my tendency to mumble or the few details that were mentioned. Whatever it was, it was clear to her. I'm sure that while she knows nothing about me personally, she can recognize my speaking habits.

And I'm not sure how I feel about this, my parents knowing. I haven't spoken to them. I haven't responded to her email. My father hasn't said or written anything -- I doubt he ever will. I'm stunned, but I'm not ashamed of what I do or what I've done. I feel exposed but I don't feel apologetic. I should feel mortified, but I don't. Instead, I feel like a very private part of my life has been exposed, like they've just caught me in the middle of some sex act. So I suppose I feel awkward. And because I have an especially curious mother who isn't so clear on boundaries, I'm sure she's combing the internet right now to identify every trace of my whorish self. She might be reading this right now

A few sentence fragments from her note:

"I have to say that it wasn't a complete surprise ... "

"But I was in a state of denial ... "

" ... it explains a lot about many things ... "

"I listened to what you had to say in the interview and I expect you feel you have thought all of this through."

In some ways, I feel the way I felt when I was sitting across from Sawyer. I feel like I can only sigh, because I doubt I can begin to penetrate the many layers of misunderstandings and preconceptions, let alone that relentless working assumption that a woman's value as a human being decreases as she gains sexual experience. (Sawyer asked me about preserving the 'sanctity' of my body, as though sex without the imprimatur of love were inherently degrading.). I'm glad my mother didn't lash out in anger or patent disgust -- what's come across in her note is some mix of restraint, confusion, and extreme discomfort. That deserves some kudos, even if I still feel miles away from having a real conversation with her about this, which, unsurprisingly, is exactly how I felt when I sat down with Diane Sawyer. We just don't see eye to eye.

So, today I was dazed. I went to grab some dim sum with some of New York's fine sex writers (thank you, Viviane) and then spent some time talking with Chelsea as we walked through the Lower East Side. While we were walking, I was thinking how relieved I was to be in such pro-slut company. And later in the day, I saw Gabriel, another blissfully pro-slut individual. He told me to take my clothes off, and this made me smile, which made him smile. While we undressed, I thought about how good this is, even if I have to battle my urge to shut down.

My mother wrote, " ... I expect you feel you've thought this all through," but nothing is thought through. I'm just thinking. And learning. He fucked me over his sofa, the flat of his hand pressing down into my back. I felt him take my hair in his hand before he pulled out to come across my lower back, which splattered in a thick, swerving pattern. After, he took a snapshot of his come against my winter-pale skin. Once he toweled my back down and we both dressed, I took a look. It was a beautiful shot.