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Lady Business Interviewing: Audacia Ray on Sex Worker Literati

Along with Hos, Hookers, Call Girls and Rent Boys – hey, remember when I covered that? That was fun! – comes a new reading series, “Sex Worker Literati,” which takes place at the Manhattan bar Happy Ending on the first Thursday of every month. The reading is less an offshoot of the anthology than it is a different, and equally vital, take on the same project; both focus on introduce a wide range of voices from inside the sex industry. I recommend going to both, if you possibly can, not least because at Sex Worker Literati there is music, and a bar.

I got to see the inaugural event, on August 6, and to talk afterward with the wonderful Audacia Ray, who co-hosts the series along with Hos, Hookers, Call Girls and Rent Boys co-editor David Henry Sterry.
“One of the things that gets oversimplified about the sex industry is that it’s a monolith, there’s this idea that all sex work experiences are the same, there doesn’t seem to be much room for nuance,” she said. “The intended effect is to give people a point of reference… anecdotal, sure, but anecdotes are valuable. Most people relate to anecdotes, not to statistics.”

Did she think the reading was valuable for building community among sex workers, I asked? Or was it intended more for people who were outside of that community?

The reading would, she said, “show other sex workers what is possible, and that they are accepted and loved within this space.” But, she added, it was also “for people who are just curious. Sex work attracts a lot of people who are curious, or creepy onlookers. This scrambles their perceptions.”

Ray mentioned that she had gotten responses from people who were interested in her “new erotic reading series,” in spite of the fact that a lot of the readings were not at all erotic.

“Like the piece I saw Jodi Sh. Doff read,” I said. “Which is really harrowing.”

“I wouldn’t want to meet the person who would eroticize that,” she said.

On the community tip, Ray said that “Sex Worker Literati” is continually working to find more diverse voices – more people of color, more men, more trans folks. There were a lot of trans women, she said, working within the industry, and she particularly wanted them to be more represented. They would be donating to an organization that worked specifically with trans issues, and wanted to show that they were serious about working with communities within the sex industry.

Still, I said, the creepy onlookers worried me. There was a lot of good work being done – but I was afraid that some of the people who came to the readings wouldn’t be able to engage with it, would just be looking for a cheap thrill or something to fetishize or giggle over. Did they worry her?

“I want those people there,” Ray said. “Talking to our own people over and over again is not that useful. You can’t accomplish anything political when it’s just sex workers talking to each other.”

“I always tell people, if there’s someone who makes them uncomfortable, send them my way,” she said. “It’s a teachable moment.”

For more information about Sex Worker Literati, including footage from the events and news about events outside of New York, go here. For more information about the eminent Audacia Ray, go here, and also here, and also here to this really excellent recent guest post on Feministe. Oh, and also: go to Sex Worker Literati. I am serious about this, you guys!