Letters from Working Girls

Hi:

Susannah Breslin here; I’m a journalist, blogger. I’m wondering if any of your readers/members may be interested in contributing their anonymous stories to an online project I’ve created, Letters from Working Girls, featuring, well, letters from working girls about their experiences in the business. Feel free to spread the word, and thanks much.

http://lettersfromworkinggirls.blogspot.com

Best,

Susannah

25 Responses

  1. Maybe I’m splitting hairs here, but I really value sex worker run, written and edited spaces. Instead of sending your stories about being a sex worker to that blog, we should encourage sex workers to start their own blogs or participate here on Bound, Not Gagged. There are many other sex worker bloggers who I’m sure would love to give a platform or guest blogging spot to sex workers who don’t want to start blogs but have a story to tell. I personally would rather see that than see sex workers send their writing to a blogger who, to my knowledge, isn’t a sex worker. This isn’t to say that Susannah has evil intentions for our words, but I’d rather see those words in sex worker run spaces.

  2. I’ve known about the project for a week and I have not done anything with it because my instincts were iffy about it. Ironically, she sent me an invite through my personal blog.

    Thanks for articulating some of my doubts, Audacia.

    XX

  3. […] when Bound, Not Gagged reposted Susannah’s call for submissions in this post Letters from Working Girls, I posted a comment: Maybe I’m splitting hairs here, but I really value sex worker run, written […]

  4. I agree with Amanda.

    I found the sites earlier this week, following links from the $pread blog, and had a bad gut feeling about it.

    Again, not that Susannah’s efforts/intentions are dubious, but more, ‘Doesn’t she know our community is working hard to establish our own outlets on the web?’

  5. If you follow the link to her post from Audacia’s post, you’ll see that no comments are allowed. What? Is she afraid “working girls” would have something to say about her attitude and lack of explanation for a completely unmotivated anonymous forum?

    If her desires were to give a voice to the (usually) voiceless, then I would expect an explanation to allay our concerns. Someone motivated by exploitation might simply have an ugly knee-jerk reaction.

    XX

  6. I’ve been going back and forth on this. My initial reaction was similar to Audacia’s and Amanda’s. And I still think that the first place anyone should go to hear sex workers tell their stories is to sex workers themselves. That’s why in my post on DLS I recommended BNG and a couple other sites ahead of Letters from Working Girls. However, I do think Letters from Working Girls serves a purpose, for people who might not yet be comfortable posting elsewhere. It might seem silly but I can relate to the feeling of wanting to slowly dip your toe into something, and being so terrified of the possible (real or imagined) repercussions.

    So while I think Letters from Working Girls shouldn’t necessarily be a *primary resource*, I think it does serve a good purpose, as long as everyone realizes it’s not intended to be a *substitute* for places such as $pread and BNG.

  7. When Susannah first launched her Letters from Johns, she wondered if there also needed to be a parallel Letters from Working Girls. I offered to her (in a personal email) that the reason she may not be getting a big response to her request is that many sex workers are already blogging on their own as part of business. And to date, there’s only been three letters posted to Letters from Working Girls.

    My flip response at first was, Whores don’t own whoring. From Fanny Hill on up, artists have been trying to capture the demimonde for a host of filthy reasons, and some of those attempts have produced work I find resonance with, even if they don’t accurately reflect my own experiences as a sex worker. So while I wish for every sex worker who wants to tell or sell his or her story to have the opportunity, I also really do want to hear from those outside our culture — outside the daily bump and grind — reflecting back what they see. I would guess that most of the women writing in to Letters from Working Girls don’t have sex worker community, and that even if they do, they aren’t at liberty to tell those stories there. I know I haven’t been able to tell the vast majority of stories I might like, and I have an online venue to do so, and have for almost a decade — it’s just a matter of wanting to do justice to the story, too, to tell it in a larger cultural context and not just to my own community.

    Throw money and notoriety into the mix and it gets even more heated and maybe that’s part of what stings about Letters from Working Girls — for a sex writer (that I consider a fellow traveler) who uses her blog to get work (like many of us do, whether that’s sex work or other) can anything she blogs be divorced from her effort to make a name and a living for herself? Like Trixie said somewhere else, what would happen if more former working girls could make profit off their stories themselves? (The whore memoir as retirement plan is already feeling very last century, though.) What’s a story’s greater value for a sex worker — in the getting out there, or in the getting a check from it? I’d offer an answer, but I always found it harder to place a price on my writing than on my sex work.

    I don’t want to be so cynical, but I’m sure it won’t be long before someone decides a great reality show will be to get six young women to be strippers for a month and see what happens. Maybe that one’s already being prepped at VH1. It really just feels like a matter of time before everyone wants to talk about us. I just wish they’d stick around when we aren’t only “being interesting” — read: fucking — and wanted to investigate, with as much fervor, the rest of the time when we’re getting down to the business of our whole lives.

  8. My reticence with the “Letters” blog was because it seems every sex worker already online knows how to create an anonymous blog, if they wanted to. And the total lack of explanation for the project, along with the kind of stereotypical titles, made me step back.

    It wasn’t until yesterday that I looked at Breslin’s home site. While I have no problem with someone being a successful sex writer, I immediately got the sense she was gathering material for free to make a profit. (Whether she is or isn’t remains to be seen, this is just my opinion.)

    Since stripping is becoming passe, actual prostitution is the next trend to hit. It’s going to become cool and edgy to associate with or call yourself a prostitute, but of course, not actually be one (because that would be going way too far). Of course, someone only toe-dipping doesn’t have to deal with the real problems prostitutes have to deal with — even years after the fact.

    And the whole issue ties into the issues of using sex workers for research. And I certainly feel that sex workers should profit from their own juicy stories, one way or another.

    XX

    PS: BnG could create an offshoot blog: the Anonymous Vent Club for Sex Workers. Fun and a totally safe space.

  9. ALso, to expand on something Melissa said above, sometimes you can’t tell the stories you want to precisely *because* you have an online community and presence. Personally, sometimes I want to be anonymous for just certain things, to avoid drama and hurt feelings and putting myself in jeopardy (but where I still think the story is worth telling bc it may have merit for others reading).

  10. Of course, someone only toe-dipping doesn’t have to deal with the real problems prostitutes have to deal with — even years after the fact.

    To clarify something I said above, when I said “slowly dipping your toe into something,” I wasn’t referring to stripping, prostitution, etc. I was referring to writing and talking about parts of your life that you may feel like you can’t or shouldn’t talk about. It can be scary (at least for me) and so I can understand taking it slowly and wanting to start out anonymous.

  11. But someone could send a story to the BnG account and have it posted anonymously here. Right?

  12. We can post anonymous stories, absolutely. But most folks who have wanted to remain anonymous have opted to open an email account they use just for BNG and then they can blog here under a username of their choosing. We could post a Resource Page up on the top about maintaining anonymity online for workers, re: blogging. It’s something I’ve been working on for some time but have been a little cautious about releasing as to many suggestions about anonymity online don’t have much to do with tech as they do about what information we share about ourselves and where and in relationship to what other information can be found about us. Would that be helpful to open up a discussion around?

  13. (I tried to post this but got a server error; my apologies if it winds up as a dupe, plus I see everyone’s already talking about this so . . . yeah):

    I already posted some comments on WakingVixen and my blog, so the only coherent thing I have left to say/ask is if this is giving BNG and posters here food for thought about what can be done here (and by $pread, etc.) to solicit more stories (making the invitation bigger, simpler, and more obvious) and perhaps present some of them in a way that is more topical and drums up more exposure. If that’s not something that “we” want to do, then of course that gives Breslin’s blog reason to exist (not an intrinsically bad thing, but I’m just saying).

    One thing I have learned by selling porn online (and keep forgetting to better apply) is that if you want surfers to pay to join your site/see your smut then YOU NEED TO MAKE THE JOIN BUTTON REALLY REALLY GIGANTIC AND OBVIOUS AND ALL OVER THE PLACE AND IN THE MOST-LIKELY-TO-BE-CLICKED AREA. Is BNG and $pread’s metaphorical join button big and obvious enough to everyone? If a “working girl” wants to tell her story, is she automatically going to recognize this place or $pread or wherever as a place to do it (and easily)? Is s/he (Breslin’s blog doesn’t seem to make room for working GUYS) going to feel her exhibitionist (yet, perhaps, ANONYMOUS) streak is satisfied by publication in one of “our” outlets?

    Maybe this is a good opportunity to think about how to make it really really easy and really really obvious, via design and tone, that our community(ies) invite everyone (if we do) to contribute. Not just invite but BOLDLY SOLICIT in really obvious ways that make it easy for everyone to contribute. Communities naturally create outcasts without even intending to; there might be a reason why contributing to a blog like Breslin’s could appeal to more unheard sex workers than BNG or $pread or whatever and so maybe we should figure out how to change that and make sex-worker created publications and sites the most appealing and obvious choices.

  14. “PS: BnG could create an offshoot blog: the Anonymous Vent Club for Sex Workers. Fun and a totally safe space.”

    BnG already is that space, no need for an off-shoot!

    Yes Melissa! Let’s work on a tab related to posting here at the blog and some general guidelines/clarifications. My goal is to make this site as accessible to as many sex workers as possible- both to post information and to gather information.

    We should be a resource to help sex workers make informed decisions about how/where they participate on the web and beyond.

    I’m thrilled to see Audacia posting over here!

  15. Amber,

    I was using “toe-dipping” as a general term describing those who like to dabble but not commit to something, not specifically referring to anything you said. Sorry about any confusion.

    Stacey/Melissa,

    Is BnG a forum for any and all sex workers to air grievances or stories? Or it is more activist-oriented? Nothing wrong with either, but I think the vibe is clearly that it’s activist-oriented. Trixie made a point about making an invitation very clear. It is something to think about.

    XX

  16. I think BNG is definitely activist oriented more than it is about sex workers telling their stories – and as much as I like to see those stories, it would be weird to see personal tales pop up in my BNG RSS feed.

    A commenter (male, who says he’s a reader of Breslin’s but nota regular on Waking Vixen or on BNG) made a good point on my blog:

    “What I have seen here is an emphasis on the political aspect of sex work and whether Breslin is an ally or not. But what if people submitting stories don’t necessarily want to be involved in a political movement? Why, as Amber points out above, does Breslin’s site need to be a “resource” for anything? Although to many the practice of sex work is inherently political, isn’t there room for good stories to just be good stories?”

    This is a really valid point, and though of course I’d argue (and I say this in comments on my blog) that sex workers telling their stories is a political act, I’m sure many sex workers are put off by the political nature of BNG and $pread. Incidentally, that’s the reason for $pread being a glossy mag with non-political articles – to try and reduce the alienation factor.

    Maybe a sex workers creative writing or story-telling group blog is in order? Co-sponsored by $pread and BNG? In many ways I think the Sex Workers Art Show has been this, and there’s a lot of story-telling in the SWAS anthology, Working Sex, as well. Maybe a separate space without overt politics is needed?

  17. I think that when we’ve had focused blog parties/rallies/virtual press conferences etc we’ve had very direct invites for specific topics.

    In general, the blog is completely for any and all sex workers, regardless of political orientations. Personal stories are completely relevant in this space. The point is to be a collective voice- which is political in and of itself, but that does not have to dictate the material posted here.

    This is a space where individuals can make or reply to posts and get feedback from other sex workers who may, so having comments open on the blog and our commitment to not censoring people is important. Also- we link to sw blogs where many other topics are covered and we encourage those folks to participate over here periodically.

    One of the significant things with BnG is that for me as a blogger, I actually am really drawn to the collective/community voice element. I could set up my own blog, but I enjoy participating far more here. It’s a way to be present as a sex worker voice at my convenience, without fear that if I disappear for 3 months we’ll lose readers because so many others are contributing and keeping the blog current.

  18. “Maybe a sex workers creative writing or story-telling group blog is in order? Co-sponsored by $pread and BNG? In many ways I think the Sex Workers Art Show has been this, and there’s a lot of story-telling in the SWAS anthology, Working Sex, as well. Maybe a separate space without overt politics is needed?”

    I appreciate all of your points in this comment Audacia. We’d totally support development of a separate blog as described here- but really- can telling our stories be separated from politics? Personal stories do pop up here from time to time, and they’re actually our top-read posts- I’m thinking stuff like “Of Brains and Breasts” where personal stories naturally illicit political analysis for many of us.

    Is it because we’re sexy web geeks and it’s in our nature to think this way about our sex and our work? There is clearly a generation thing that I see with BnG, just sending in an anonymous submission may be less daunting for some than actually going through the WordPress process to become a commenter/contributor, etc.

    My feeling about blogs is a bit like email lists- I see the need but ugh- another one to participate in and deal with the administrative needs? Hard to get excited about that, but I would support in full force a team-driven project.

    I’d like to see more of those personal stories here though…

  19. Then to make BnG more open, we need to make it clear that personal stories are welcome and politics need not be a part of it. Because the general impression of this blog is political. (Witness the recent debate over posting Devinity’s personal video.)

    XX

  20. Oh- and I forgot to say that I’d be thrilled to link up with SWAS folks and collaborate on stuff! Thanks for mentioning that!

  21. I have been following Susannah’s blog for some time now. Initially, I was charmed by her writing. However, more and more, I get the feeling that it’s lacking a particular self deprecation that’s necessary to make any writer readable. This recent project–while interesting for readers–does seem exploitive. It appears far too easy on her part. I mean, it’s not like she’s even conducting interviews; people are handing these stories over to her. It’s as simple as copy/paste.

    I think she ought to re-think the dynamics of the “project.” It has potential, but at the moment, just looks ill-thought out. I think she may have a case of over-confidence.

  22. […] Another good discussion about this can be found at Bound, Not Gagged. […]

  23. […] was being questioned as potentially exploitative. In the comment section of the sex worker blog Bound, Not Gagged, Ray wrote: Instead of sending your stories about being a sex worker to that blog, we should […]

  24. […] *The discussion on Bound, Not Gagged […]

  25. I don’t dislike the idea, but what has been published so far on “Letters From Working Girls” reads like of a collection of neatly polished college essays bordering on prose.

    They seem a bit fluffy and self-censored and don’t give me the sense of raw authenticity I’ve found in other blogs. If I could read it in “Vogue” I don’t want to read it on the internet.

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