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Sex Industry Book Club: Porn Work: Sex, Labor, and Late Capitalism with Dr. Heather Berg

Sex Industry Book Club: Porn Work: Sex, Labor, and Late Capitalism with Dr. Heather Berg

. 26 min read

Note: Interview has been edited for length and clarity.

On this first episode of the Sex Industry Book Club, co-hosts Jessie Sage and PJ Patella-Rey talk to Dr. Heather Berg about her book, Porn Work: Sex, Labor, and Late Capitalism.

You can listen to the episode here.

Jessie: Do you wanna talk a little bit about the premise of the book?

Heather: The premise is that porn workers are exceptionally crafty at navigating the conditions of our moment. It's not that porn work has been under studied as work, but that peak scholars of labor and sex, and people who care about these things more generally, should be paying attention to how porn workers navigate them particularly under the conditions of late capitalism. Questions around gig work, around what happens when intimacy goes to the market, how to build solidarity in diffused communities, all these things I think porn workers are really smart at, so really the book is trying to convey that.

Jessie: You're talking a lot about the fact that porn workers are and have been operating in the gig economy for longer than we've collectively been talking about the gig economy with Uber and Lyft and everything else. I thought it was really interesting, the point that you made about how classed that is. The way that we could think about the gig economy is not that  it's like this new thing, but rather that people on the margins have always been living and working in the gig economy, and that this idea of stable employment was only for upper middle class white people. That was so interesting when I read that, because my first thought is I've actually only had a job, a job-job, like three years in my whole life, and I'm 44 - I've been gigging since I was 18. And so there's something that really resonated with me about that statement.

Heather: I'm glad that lands. I think also, you've been gigging since you were 18 and having heard you talk about that in other contexts, I take it that it wasn't something that was imposed upon you by some tech genius, Porn workers stories do such a good job of dispelling this idea that that Uber manoeuvring has created a gig crisis, that people would rather be working in 9 to 5; that's just so clearly not true. I'm interested in gig work, of course, as a place that introduces a lot of precarity and constant work and all of that, but also that people seek out willingly for autonomy and that's not nothing.

PJ: Yeah, and there's the positive and negative sides of flexibility, but I think also more than autonomy too, it's also survival. People seek out gig work because they lack access to traditional employment, for any number of reasons: disability or   discrimination because they’re  gay or trans. There's so many reasons that people are discriminated against or have a hard time sort of fitting into the very narrow culture of the nine to five. I think a lot of these gig jobs, and especially within sex work, are also kind of serving as a social safety net.

Heather: Absolutely, yeah. And I really think, of course, Angela Jones, who we both know, writes about that in exactly those terms, and I think that's so useful. Something I think about a lot is this balance of how to take seriously the exclusion part and the refusal part. So people are pushed out of mainstream jobs, but also a lot of people, including the folks in the communities that you mentioned, PJ, are also refusing the nine to five, even if they're also excluded from it, so it's like that. It’s that razors edge that I'm trying to convey.

PJ: Yeah, and that really does come across in the book. Maybe we can take a second, unpack that because there's a method here in the book, and academic folks will know the term  dialectic, but we're trying to reach a wide audience here. Could you talk a little bit about that method, or that approach, or tthat lens into porn work that you're taking?

Heather: Yeah, I think part of it came from an effort to avoid the kind of gotcha politics of a lot of methods. Particularly when talking about gig workers experiences, there's a tendency to say, “Well, they said they came here for freedom, but they got screwed in the end.” So part of the method comes from my effort to take seriously that people, through their own analysis, are acknowledging both realities at the same time. It's also a Marxist method— that to say, the dialectical thinking—which may or may not be interesting for all folks in your audience, but for me it matters to really center that history is made through class struggle, which is evidence of the fundamental contradictions of capitalism. If some of these realities seem to contradict each other, that's not because people are misguided, it's not because their analysis is wrong, it's because these are the contradictions of life under the system, and they won't be resolved so long as we exist this way, but people navigate them in really creative ways. There's a line that I love from the sex work for a writer Tamara MacLeod, who says, I'm paraphrasing “The way to hold two realities in your head at the same time is to tilt your head a little.” We read that one of the first weeks of my sex work class this semester, and throughout the weeks and students kept coming back to it, like, “Okay, this is making me tilt my head, that's good”

Jessie: Yeah, I like that too! It's really interesting that you brought up this notion of refusal to  work because Raechel Anne Jolie, who read the book along with us in preparation for this show,  sent in a question about a similar thing.

Rachel: “Hi, Heather and Jesse and PJ. This is Raechel Anne Jolie. I'm so happy that this podcast exists, and I'm so happy that ya'll are discussing Heather's amazing book to kick it off. So my question is, I know you've been asked a lot about how you would update this or what this book has to say about the of era of more online creators and how that shifts things as COVID  put more sex workers online basically. But I'm also curious about what you think this offers to not only workers, but those who are also refusing work, so I would love to hear you just sort of put this in conversation with what I know some people are calling The Great Refusal. This moment where we are seeing businesses of all kinds struggling to find employees and what  sex workers, especially porn workers, can teach us about how to navigate refusing work.”

Heather: Thanks Raechel, for that question, if you're listening. Yeah, I love this question. I think  there's, of course, the tension in organizing and writing around sex work, where on the one hand, we are trying to help people understand sex workers when they say , “A blow job is a real job,” and also be honest about the fact that a lot of people do it because it feels less like work. It was another tension for me in writing the book to think about how to tell both of those stories at the same time without messing with people's organizing. We're at such of crucial tipping point where I think these struggles for decrim are absolutely picking up steam and I'm really cautious about not wanting to tell the story in ways that make it harder for people to get their immediate policy gains, and at the same time, I am gonna quote an interview from more recent project who I asked about the risks of telling both of these stories, and she quoted Lenin and said, “Well, only the truth is revolutionary”.

I think we have to say both things, which is that porn work is work and that it is also an everyday practice of refusing work, and there's a longer history to that where sex workers have long written about taking on sex work as a refusal with other jobs, a refusal of jobs that take longer, take more from you. The book Alice: Memoirs of a Barbary Coast Prostitute does that really beautifully. To your question about how this might update to our current  conditions and the great refusal of work that we're seeing, I think there's so many connections, and I think one thing that really stands out to me, and I don't mean this in a kind of conspiratorial way, but when we think about the ways that sex worker strategies for pursuing online work are being undermined by policy and anti­sex worker lobbying, I see that as a direct response to the refusal of work that is embodied in turning to OnlyFans rather than working at a grocery store during a pandemic. I don't think that's a mistake, and I think we shouldn't take these phenomenon as separate. And you can see that too, in the early days of last summer's crisis over Only Fans and payment processing, these MRA guys were writing on Twitter, “Now you'll have to get a real job,” and I think they're not joking - they mean that, I think we should take that seriously and that's part of what's motivating this.

Jessie: On Peepshow Podcast, we interviewed Marla Cruz, who's a Texas-­based stripper, right after Texas pushed all 18, 19 and 20­ year­ old strippers out of the strip clubs and said they were no longer able to work there. One of the arguments that Marla made, in light of what you're saying, is that part of that was, she believes, a political motivation coming out of COVID. The fact that the restaurants were understaffed and a lot of other lesser paid jobs, that would cater towards 18, 19, 20­ year­ olds, they weren't functional anymore. Those companies weren't functional  anymore, so how do you get a bunch of 18, 19 and 20­ year­ olds to go to work? One of the things to do is kick them out of the strip clubs where they're making a lot more moneyI thought  that was a really compelling argument that a lot of this pressure to shut down sex work in its various forms, kicking younger people out of strip clubs, stopping payment processing from on Porn Hub and on Only Fans probably is in reaction to this refusal to work.

Heather: Absolutely, yeah. And again, thinking about this historically, you can see sex work of prohibitions emerging sometimes alongside, say, bourgeoisie  white women's inability to find people  willing to be their maid. These things work together.

PJ: We talk sometimes about the redistributive function of sex work, and I think that's something we're kind of also hitting up against here is the way in which it's threatening in part because it's a method in which people can demand a good amount of money from people who have too much money That, in and of itself, is threatening to our social order in some ways, or the existing socio­economic hierarchies.

Heather: Marla was saying the community of women who are working in strip clubs, the social order, such as it is, doesn't want them making even a few hundred dollars in four hours when, according to the status quo, they should be making that in a week working in fast food.

Jessie: We're talking about money right now, but one of the things about this refusal to work that I would like to touch on is your discussion of pleasure. I think it's really important because like you're saying, there's this “sex workers work,” “a blow job is a job,” and there's obvious political reasons to push that for worker rights, worker solidarity, all of those things, but sometimes I think that that comes at the expense of being able to admit that you also maybe enjoy it sometimes. I see this a lot in organizing circles where there's pressure to claim, in a full service context, that you hate all of your clients, and it's just a job, because there's a lot of push back against sex positivity and how sex  positivity isn't the way to frame sex work. You said, “This is not the least because the sex positive movement has little energy for questions of class, I am however interested in the material  analysis of how working people wrest pleasure where they can. We know that workers steal everyday pleasure in their working class jobs, camaraderie, unauthorized breaks, work play stuff, all these things can be pleasurable even when work is compelled, and our room to maneuver is limited. For the workers who gave their time and insight to this project, moments of pleasure did not line up with social privilege in any simple way. Pleasure can be a way to take control rather than evidence of already having it.” I think that goes back to what you're saying because a lot of the arguments that we get about why we can't talk about pleasure as the only people who experience pleasure in the job are people who are privileged. In this passage, you make it clear that its always been the case that working­ class people have tried to figure out how to  experience pleasure in their jobs.

Heather: Yeah, and I mean, I'll just say, and full disclosure, part of what  I'm arguing against is writing I've done in the past. I've made this argument. The 90’s sex positive, sex worker, feminist focus on pleasure, had a lot of blind spots around race and class, and I do think that that's true. But gentle and also firm pushes of interviewees for this book helped me understand how much I was missing in that framework, and really how I think condescending it is at the end of the day to suggest that people whose relationship to survival as closer to the bone don't find room to maneuver. So whatever that looks like that's actually not the kind of intersectional argument people think it is.

Jessie: I can't remember who I was talking to, but they said it very simply like, sex work is work but it's also sex.  I mean, it is a smaller percentage of the job then the administrative stuff, but still we could talk about the pleasure of getting paid, l,ike Charlotte Shane does, or the  pleasure of working with your friends, or the pleasure of doing things on your own schedule, or even having sex with scene  partners that you're really into.

PJ: I know in my interviews, and you can tell me if this squares with yours, a lot of people talked about the pleasure of creating the end product, like taking pleasure in their creative  vision and the realization of their creative vision. Even if the work was hard, there was pleasure  in it. I know you interviewed a lot of people who were working in a studio context where they probably have less creative control than the independent performers who are self­-producing their content.

Heather: I think even if you're working under a director, then again, wresting little bits of control and a creativity is important too, and it's really only in the sex work context that that's used as an argument that what you're doing isn’t actually work, although of course, academics and other creative labors know the sting of this. Again, this kind of sense that there's a gotcha hidden behind that, feels really disingenuous. I think to your point earlier, Jessie, about the things you can't say in this moment of organizing, I think in some ways, almost the contours of  respectability politics have shifted so that in the 90s and early oughts, you had to say that you were doing sex work for some sort of sexual liberation, and now it's just to feed my kids. Of course, there are all sorts of folks like refusing this in really interesting ways, but I mean the public face of organizing, there's this very austier vision of what sex work does for people, and that leaves out as much as the other kind of party lines do.

PJ: Heather, later in the book, you also talk about this kind of a double bind for porn workers, where managers expect performers to perform a kind of authentic pleasure to claim that their work is fun to stroke their egos, saying things like, “This is a really great set. This is a great time. I love all my co­workers, I love fucking. This is great!” Then at the same time, as soon as you claim that thing that you're expected to claim, then there is this gocha, which the manager can be  like, “Why am I even paying you if you love this so much?” So there is a double bind around  pleasure as well, that you showed us that a lot of porn workers are facing.

Jessie: Clients do too, right. They say, “You should be paying me for like how much you liked that.”

Heather: Yeah, absolutely. In either case, there's so much ego work involved. There's another side conversation maybe about the thin line between a porn director and a client, but yeah, I think one thing that strikes me about that dynamic is that it's anti-­porn feminists that are predominantly responsible forsetting that double bind up in the first place, and in this really perverse way, actually agree with managers and your most pain in the ass client, in thinking that money is a bad reason to have sex. Catherine McKinnon actually agrees with my least favorite porn director interviewee and the client who is most convinced that he shouldn’t have to pay. That just collides with this broader “Do what you love” discourse, making navigating this double bind particularly treacherous for porn worker.

One thing that a lot of people are surprised—or even perturbed—at my take on, this in the book, is that sometimes those dynamics are worse on ethical or queer feminist sets.

Jessie: Yeah, that was a really interesting part of your book. I've also heard performers say that they've had similar issues where if they could go into mainstream and also do queer feminist porn, that the mainstream paid more and required less. I  think that's probably true for people who can cross over into mainstream porn, but not everybody can cross over into mainstream porn, so it's not like a difference between like, “Oh, I can get $1000 in mainstream and only $400 in queer or feminist porn”, it's like, I could get nothing and not be in porn at all, or I could do queer or feminist porn and actually try to scrape together some living. I was wondering what you thought about that in terms of being a space for people who can't  necessarily access the mainstream.

PJ: Especially people who are larger, who are less white, who are more visibly queer, or disbled or gender non­conforming, those are the folks who are very unlikely to get cast in mainstream, I think is what you're saying.

Heather: Yeah, I would flip that question back on the self­-defined ethical producer and ask them what it means that their community of workers that they are creating space for, that they are making decisions to pay less when people are disabled, or people of color who aren't willing to work in fetishised scenes. I understand there are all sorts of financial pressures facing creators in that context too, but more of my concern is how feminist consumers and also academics have imagined in this unproblematic way that that's a better workplace. What it means on the ground is exactly as you're saying that folks who are excluded from not just mainstream porn, but also means to sectors of the labor economy more broadly, are being almost told that they're being done a favor by being under-paid to be an ethical porn.

Jessie: Yeah, I think that's a really good response because we're already talking about people who are further marginalized than the mainstream porn performers. I think that that's interesting and important way to frame it because I feel like in a lot of precarious work environments, not just porn, academia is a great example of this, but that there is this notion that if you get any  scraps, you're being done a favor.

Heather: Yeah, absolutely. Of course, there’s also this sense that if you're doing work that in some way speaks to your politics, to identities that are important to you, that to talk about pay is to distract from the real work.

Jessie: I want to bring in a question that was asked on Twitter by Lauren Kiley, “What are some contemporary examples of successful organizing in sex work communities, and how do they differ or not from traditional Unionist effort?” We've been talking about labor obviously, and she wants to know if you think that there are examples of successful movements.

Heather: One of the things we’re doing, and I know that Lauren Kiley would agree with me on this having talked with her, is questioning what folks mean when they say movement. To call something a movement doesn't  necessarily mean that it needs to be legible as a mass of people organizing in ways that are kind of obviously political to folks on the outside, and so that also changes how I would answer that part of  the question about what is a successful movement. I really do believe that the kinds of information sharing that you see along porn workers, for example, is successful and it is a movement, that is politics. One example of that is just to think about the incredible generosity that people shared in the early days of the pandemic, when OnlyFans and other online platforms were absolutely glutted. There was no economic reason except you're not wanting to drive conditions down more broadly, but most people don't think that far ahead. There was not a reason to help other people glut the labor market. Even then sex workers who'd been doing digital work took time to give people extensive tutorials and how to do it safely, how to make your money. And so for me, that is a movement, and it does feel like organizing. In terms of more traditional labor unionising models, the biggest obstacle—and I don't actually think that this is a problem, it's only a problem if we wanna stick with traditional models—is that most people would rather not have a boss than one disciplined by a labor union. As someone with a background in labor history, that was a really tricky thing for me to wrap my head around. At the end of the day, if we're trying to tell the story as a workers want it  told, I can't pretend that that's not true.

PJ: That's a really great point though. You talk about this in the book but if we go back to porn workers, farm workers also, so many of us in the economy are in flux and moving between spaces of having a boss temporarily to not having a boss and directly interacting with customers. So many of us now are in this kind of in­between space of not being in fully in conventional employment with a traditional boss, but not being fully self employed or removed from a boss, and I don't know if that kinda gets back to this dialectical thinking or not, but maybe it's worth thinking about how most of us don't actually live at either of those pools.

Heather: Absolutely, yeah, I think it gets exactly back to the dialectical piece, and that's to say, part of what's so rich but also conceptually tricky about this industry, is that people are  inhabiting, as you say PJ, multiple class locations at the same time throughout a work week,  throughout a day. And again, that's because that's exactly what they want. So in the kind of  workday that you've sketched out, I don't take it that you would prefer having a boss where your fight for 15 campaign worked. That’s not the demand, and I'm not comfortable with a kind of civilian labor scholarship that would claim that that's a miscalculation.

PJ: Just to kind of tease out that point, when you say porn workers are inhabiting multiple class positions, part of that is conventional employment versus freelance, but also sometimes they are the boss, sometimes they are the director, sometimes they are the producer. So it's really, really moving between class positions in a very dramatic way.

Heather: Yeah, what's an anti­-capitalist to do if one of workers’ best strategies for avoiding the worst of the wage relation is to become management. It totally explodes who I think traditional labor scholars think of as a sympathetic subject.

Jessie: That was really resonant with me when I read the book, talking about the rapid movement between laborer, boss, and owner. One of the arguments that a lot of sex workers like to make, especially leftist sex workers, is that the great thing about my work is that like I own the means of production, and I think that taking that power back is one of  the ways in which porn workers or sex workers play with categories of class that’s very different  than in conventional employment.

Heather: Right, yeah. And to bring back Lauren’s question, I'll just  bring it in. So we had had this conversation in a separate space, and one thing that she was talking  about is how that shifts the terms of organizing. I'm gonna quote her here, “So we have to organize for workers rather than against bosses,” and I love that formulation. And again, I think that that's challenging to a kind of labor left that is just hungrily looking for something that looks like organizing at the Ford factory, when that's not actually what people want. There's a real appetite for a very particular kind of traditional legible labor organizing, in spite of the reality that most porn workers make clear that this isn't the thing that they want or need.

Jessie: Yeah, one of the things that I love about your book is that you bring up very tangible examples of what that can look like and how you can kind of overturn workplace exploitation, that doesn't look like how we typically think of it. One of the examples that you gave is that there was a time in which wardrobe was provided on set and over time producers were like, “No, you need to bring your own underwear, you need to bring your own laundry, and your own stuff.” And the way that the workers resisted that was not to create a union and to force the producers to buy lingerie, but it was to get their fans to buy the used lingerie from their set. Like, “How can we circumvent this entire thing?” And I think that that's a movement in our terms, that's a creative restructuring of work. That's a way to do it, but it does not look like union organizing of a Ford plant.

Heather: No, no, and to be clear, I am absolutely for traditional forms of union organizing in the context for in which they make sense. As an academic, it's looking like I'll have a boss for the foreseeable future, and in my situation, we should absolutely unionize.

PJ: That’s interesting in and of itself, because it is like it's a strategy and it's communicable, and it's something that workers share with other. It's a collective process of figuring out how we can deal with this new obstacle and better our conditions collectively. It's not always framed that way, but I think you're right to the degree that there is information sharing. Even if people aren't explicitly framing it as labor organizing, it's still about bettering the conditions of porn workers given the current climate on set.

Jessie: I'm thinking about the cam context, if you go back like six or seven years and think about when the Lushes came into prominence and that almost felt like, “How can we get these people to actually tip?” “Well, we can make them feel as if they have control over my toys.” But you can't do that with one person doing it, you have to get all of the cam girls to buy Lushes and to get all of the viewers and the audience to expect it. That’s collective organizing.

Heather: Yeah, that's a level of market influence, like many capitalists themselves can't even imagine figuring out how to do. I think another thing that I always wanna push back on is this idea that because of the dynamics of independent contracting and such, that sex workers don't have a practice on workplace solidarity, but that's just so obviously not true.

PJ: Yeah, I think it's interesting too. There's this idea of collective authenticity… the experience of  authenticity or this idea of authenticity… it's interesting because it is, especially with the Lush example, there's collective work that's done in building an environment where it is seen as authentic.

Jessie: There was overacting at the beginning, and then people are like, “That's not real,  nobody's gonna buy it if we do this, okay, well, let’s scale it back a bit.”

PJ: I followed this both on customer message boards and on model message boards, there were deep discussions about authenticity around this practice, and there was, of course, a lot of skepticism from customers, but there was there was a range. Some people actually like those things and some people don't. Some people are loud during sex, some aren’t, but there is this discussion on what it means to authentically interact with this weird vibrating toy. And that was actually kind of a collective debate that was an unfolding. I think it's really interesting to think about authenticity work as collective work.

Heather: Yeah, I like that. And also just thinking about the kinds of conversations that people  have with each other around our responsibilities to each other, so it's not enough to say this is authentic to me, but people are actually thinking about how that sets up expectations for other  people, and now it's a profoundly collective exchange.

PJ: Yeah, definitely when cam sites were really at their peak and were the new hot thing, there was so much discussion about how our interactions with fans train fans to interact with other models, especially new models. There's so much conversation about these kinds of things. “How do you consciously interact with fans in ways that teach fans to be good fans, not just for you, but for all the models on the site?”

Jessie: Well, I have a funny story, this just popped into my head. I was thinking about the way that we interact in solidarity, but also in relation to clients or fans, and train clients or fans about how to be good clients or fans. I have this one regular client who doesn't drive and to make to make my life easier because then I'm not waiting around, I started picking him up and then I said to him, because I know I am not the only sex worker who interacts with him, “Do not ever tell anyone that I've picked you up because that's not a reasonable expectation and I don't want anyone to know that I do that.” And the funny thing is his response. He was like, “Are they gonna  take away your hooker union card?” And yes, they might! It was very funny because I'm thinking about this in relation to what we were talking about, is that there is some work that goes into setting expectations in solidarity with other workers that translates beyond just the workers, but also to clients and fans and people peripherally associated with the industry.

Heather: And again, I'm all in favor of traditional forms of unionising where it makes sense, but nothing that you're describing really would be improved by the interference of the NLRB.

Jessie: No, I don't want anyone telling me that I can or cannot do that, but I have an ethical sense of what's reasonable to ask for and how to set expectations for that.

PJ: Alright, We have another question from Raechel Anne Jolie about power.

Raechel: I would love to know how you define the concept of power and how that shifted, if at all, through the research of this book. There's a line in the intro where you say workers exercised significant power. You write so beautifully about how intrapolitics is not radical systemic change, and yet it's meaningful. Putting everything you write so wonderfully about in conversation with this bigger picture question of “What is power?” What does power look like for the proletariat or oppressed people, or any movement or people's devoted to liberation.

Heather: Yeah, I love this question. So, so beautifully put, and I think, for me, power looks like a few different things. On the one hand, it looks like room to maneuver, in ways large and small. In terms of the small ones, some of the things that we've talked about reappear for me here: the power to take pleasure where you can, the power to get your money, the power to take something from sex that's more than what a lot of civilian women, for example, take from it, the power to take more from wage work than what a lot of wage work gives. I think those are real forms of power. I mean that materially too. I don't claim that intrapolitics change everything, but they do make shifts. I'm really taken by John Holloway’s language of cracks: they do create cracks in the system, and those cracks sometimes spread. I don't just mean that in a symbolic way or in that everyday pleasures keep us alive way, but I think that we can see these real ways that the forms of power porn workers take shift the dynamics of the industry in a real way.

So back to your earlier question, Raechel, about how I might update this for the kind of digital era, thinking about the reality, and this was already starting to be true when I was doing my interviews, but traditional directors and producers are having a hard time getting some people to work for them now, and that's because they have taken power through what used to be side hustles and are now main income. That's not just everyday power, but that's like actual class power. Even one of my interviewees, who had been in management in the 2010s when we interviewed, is now ghost writing for OnlyFans creators now, there's an actual power shift. So I mean that too. The power to protect yourself, the power to take what you need to organize all of this, and then in a more macro sense, the power to shift the terms of who's in charge, which happens in a really real way here.

PJ: Yeah, one of the passages that really stuck with me is your discussion of power, connected with Lorelei Lee, who I think we all know. She described a strategy for resolving disputes with directors. Quote, “If something went wrong or the director was like, ‘Well, I'm just gonna add another dude into the scene,’ instead of being like, ‘Fuck you, we can do the math’ we were like, ‘Here, we're totally willing and excited to do everything all the time, I'm just gonna call my agent and  make sure.’” This idea of actually performing powerlessness as a way to assert power, I thought was really kind of profound and this idea of cracks finding power where you might not expect it.

Heather: Absolutely, yeah. Anyone who knows Lorelei’s work more broadly, might understand the true enormity of that moment because they are so brilliant, and the idea of them, of all people, faigning dumbness is amazing. But yeah, one thing that I'm teasing through and what I'm working on now is a kind of clients eye view that a lot of civilian commentators take, which is to imagine that the performance we give to clients is the only one.  Civilian commentators  imagine themselves as in the class position of the client. So of course, they imagine that  whatever you perform, whatever bullshit you serve a client, is the full story because that's their view of the world. One of the things that I love about sex worker politics and praxis is this  capacity to take something totally different from an interaction than what the person on the other end thinks they're getting.

Jessie: Yeah, I think that that's really powerful. I was just in conversation with Lorelei Lee recently because I remembered that the pinned tweet on their Twitter for a very long time said something to the effect of, “I didn't always wanna be a sex worker, but I wanted to slay with tits and brains.” That idea of slaying with tits and brains not only speaks to what you're talking about, but also overturns this idea of what power is and what can be taken seriously as power. This sort of almost like feminine submission as power, but also overt sexuality as power. Taking this power in all these places in which femmes have been told that they are weak, and I think that there's something so powerful about that.

Heather: Yeah, absolutely. That you could do that at the same time as getting your money because somebody on the other end of it thinks they're getting this performance of weakness and that kind of double movement is just so poetic.

Jessie: Do you remember when you were little and you saw a teacher at the grocery store and it blew your mind because you thought they lived at the school, you could imagine them outside of that context. I often feel that that's what a client eye view is like.

PJ: I love this, not so subtle and infatalitiesation of clients, but go ahead.

Jessie: No, but I do feel like there's a way in which it's impossible to imagine workers and  performers outside of the context of them working and performing.

PJ: Yeah, that specific stage in which you encounter them.

Heather: Yeah. Right, which is exactly what anti-­porn feminists do. They watch a scene and then imagine that the only thing happening in this person's entire life is for you see in a scene, which is a wild thing to call a feminist.

Jessie: Angelique DM’d and asked, “Besides doing your research, what are some concrete ways of finding reputable and ethical porn companies to partner and work with?”

Heather: I think talking to current performers is the best way to do this, the coordinates of who's in charge and what their practices are are changing constantly, so I wouldn't trust any kind of list about ethical companies, and again, the companies that market themselves as ethical for consumers purposes might be different from the ones that are actually good to work for. I think certainly nothing in an academic book that's taken a year to go to press is going to give you much information but, I guess, for the conversation we've been having throughout about how generous people are with information, I think talking to folks matters. That is part of why sex workers talking to each other is so surveilled and criminalized because there's real power behind it. I'm not really answering the question, but I do think the question highlights the importance of maintaining a spaces for sex workers to talk to each other.

PJ: Throughout the book, you talk about struggle, you talk about not using the word resistance. At the end of the book, you say, “Work means exploitation, but also a struggle.” I just wanted to wrap up by asking you to just unpack a little bit about why you give so much importance to struggle in the book.

Heather: Yeah, thanks for that. I think for me, resistance suggests reactivity, and I think we can really see that in porn workers stories and histories, but in sex work politics more broadly, that class struggle—and that's what I mean, I don't mean struggle like hardship—class struggle isn't just reactive, sometimes folks are reacting to the conditions that others set, but they are also creating their own conditions to which, then management and the state, reacts often in very grasping ways, and I think struggle really highlights that. So that's where I want to focus on, it’s not on just the fact that sex workers sometimes find ways to resist exploitation, though that's also true, but that their tactics are literally changing the course of sex worker history.

Jessie: Thank you so much, that is a great note to end on. Thank you so much for being the first one guest on our new show! Thanks for helping us work out all the kinks. We both  really love your book, and I appreciate everything that you have done for the community. Thanks once again for sharing your time with us!