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January 24th, 2008

Sex Worker Solidarity: Rachel Kramer Bussel

Rachel Kramer Bussel

Rachel’s bio:
I’m a writer, editor, blogger, and reading series host. I mainly write erotica and nonfiction centering around sex and relationships. I’m a former sex columnist for The Village Voice, and host In The Flesh Reading Series every month in New York, and have edited 15 erotica anthologies.

What kind of sex work are you currently doing?
I was a bit surprised to be asked to participate in this interview series because I don’t really consider myself a sex worker, even though I do work in the field of sex, as a writer and editor. But I guess in the sense that I create and edit stories that people jerk off to and write about sex, I’m somewhat of a sex worker. And on a very minimal scale, I’ve done some nude modeling, but mostly for free. I’ve toyed with the idea of some kind of professional BDSM, but don’t really see that happening in my future.

Are you active in sex worker activism? If so, what are you doing?
I wouldn’t say I’m really active in sex worker activism, but I do try to keep up with political developments and what the sex workers I know are doing and support them as best I can. I think sex workers are one of the few groups it’s still perfectly okay to talk poorly about and generally stereotype and disdain en masse, which is ironic considering how many people hire sex workers. When I cover sex work, such as I did in this old Village Voice column, “Whore Pride,” and this one called “Big Bucks for Pain Sluts” on professional submissives, I try to do so in a way that doesn’t sensationalize the people doing the work and lets them speak for themselves.

What do you think is the best way to promote solidarity with fellow sex workers?
I know in my field, sex writing, what I get the most out of is just talking to people who do what I do. Even though I don’t consider myself a sex worker in the traditional sense, I do think anyone working professionally in any sex-related field is stigmatized in much the same way sex workers are. To some people, sex itself is dirty, and belongs only in the home. Once you take it out into the public arena, you face people from across the political spectrum tellling you sex is not a worthy topic of inquiry. I’ve been writing a bit on sexuality for Alternet and even there you get liberals saying, essentially, “Why is sex even an appropriate topic on a political website?”

I think it all ties together - the fact that people want to keep sex in its own neat, tidy place, and want to deny that sex workers are real, living people. I find a real disdain for sex workers, especially prostitutes and porn stars, across pop culture and even academic writing, like those are the worst of the worst professions a woman could enter. I think often in the name of feminism and trying to create more opportunities for women, some pundits don’t mind putting sex workers down and denying them their humanity. So I think two of the best ways (for all of us, sex workers and non-sex workers) to promote solidarity are to be willing to listen and learn, and keep an open mind.

What project(s) are you working on now?
I’m always editing some anthology or another - my latest releases are Sex and Candy: 22 Succulent Stories, Crossdressing: Erotic Stories, Hide and Seek, which is about exhibitionism and voyeurism, and the one I’m most excited about, my first non-fiction book, Best Sex Writing 2008. That one has some fascinating pieces about sex work, including “The Pink Ghetto” by Lux Nightmare and Melissa Gira, “Menstruation: Porn’s Last Taboo” by Trixie Fontaine and “Buying Obedience: My Visit to a Pro Submissive” by Greta Christina. It was really important to me to include sex work, from both the workers and customers’ perspectives. I think all in all sex work is still so hush hush and outside the mainstream that people don’t even know how to distinguish amongst types of sex workers or have a real sense that there is a sex workers rights movement.

I have a lot more anthologies coming out in 2008, and will be starting a podcast focusing on audio versions of my erotica, and am finishing up my first novel, Everything But… - the best way to keep track of what I’m up to is on my blog.

When I was sending out emails to sex workers for this series I started wondering about the definition of a sex worker. I emailed fellow psos, strippers, escorts, mistresses. But a few people I wanted to interview were in a sort of gray area. They wrote about sex, sometimes their jobs dealt with sex, but were they sex workers? I wasn’t sure if Rachel considered herself one or not. Even though she doesn’t I’m glad she wrote back because she brought up a lot of great points.

Where is the line that defines a sex worker? Does the act have to be part of a job or can it be a one time thing? What about a trade? And what acts make a sex worker? Porn stars are obviously sex workers. But A-list celebrities that do a hot sex scene are not, even though they are getting paid to portray sex for an audience. Peep show girls get paid to portray sex for an audience and are considered sex workers.

I think it comes down to personal choice. Does the individual see themself as a sex worker? When I first started pso work I didn’t. I saw myself as just talking over the phone about kinky sex. PSO work can be isolating and after a few months I started seeking out others online to talk about the work. When I found a pso forum I was exposed to the idea that my work was sex work. I don’t know why I never made the connection beforehand. But when I read another pso referring to herself as a sex worker something clicked. I knew I was one too and have identified as a sex worker myself ever since.

I think Rachel makes an excellent point about how “anyone working professionally in any sex-related field is stigmatized in much the same way sex workers are”. Sex workers, and people who work with sexuality, challenge people’s assumptions and can bring up a lot of issues-people’s personal beliefs on sex, issues in their own sex life and of course sex and politics which seems to be a timeless hot button issue. Breaking that stigma is important work for all of us.

Sex Worker Solidarity Series
Sex Worker Solidarity: Introduction
Sex Worker Solidarity: Audacia Ray
Sex Worker Solidarity: Dallas From Babeland
Sex Worker Solidarity: Secondhand Rose

Posted by Vixen in PSO Confessions, Interviews, Sex Workers

This entry was posted on Thursday, January 24th, 2008 at 5:26 pm and is filed under PSO Confessions, Interviews, Sex Workers. You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

3 Responses to “Sex Worker Solidarity: Rachel Kramer Bussel”

  1. Justine says:

    I enjoyed the interview, another side to our Rachel. As for stigmatizing sex workers, well, that’s just part of the American hangup about having fun with sex. You CAN do it, y’know, but there’s something wrong with enjoying it!

    I have a gf who takes something of that view. Like she can’t admit she wants it; sex is just that thing that Justine gets off on. (Billy Joel nailed it with that “catholic girls” song.)

    But don’t get me started on religion!

    Anyhow, good column, Vixen.

  2. Curvaceous Dee says:

    A very interesting interview. I’ve also had fun with the definition of ’sex worker,’ and tend to consider it as: someone is involved in the sex industry, as a writer, performer, columnist, ‘professional’, etc. So I’m very glad RKB replied!

    “anyone working professionally in any sex-related field is stigmatized in much the same way sex workers are”. Very true. Thus anyone stigmatised by being in this field should be supported by those of us in, or adjacent to, this field. IMO, anyhow :)

    xx Dee

  3. Vixen says:

    Justine-Thanks! It seems like a lot of stigma put onto sex workers are really the issues the stigmatizer has about sex themselves.

    CD-I like your definition. With the internet and sex blogs I feel a lot of support for sex workers which rocks!

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