My colleague at The Rumpus put me in touch with Melissa Gira Grant about a year ago because her colorful and fastidious coverage of all things sex work related. Her nonfiction work was complementary to my column and essay writing on The Rumpus, which features sex workers and their lives. Grant is very direct in her quest to create positive change regarding how sex work is viewed in society and what the work means in general. Through an email exchange, we discovered we had books coming out at the same time and decided that if we couldn’t take our show on the road in tandem (she resides in Brooklyn; I live in Los Angeles), then we should plan to read together or interview each other about the issues that impassioned our writing. I was thrilled when Firedoglake approached me to initiate this discussion.
A worker bee by nature, Melissa Gira Grant is a busy woman. Primarily a freelance journalist covering sex, tech, and politics, in the streets and everywhere else, she came to reporting by way of writing creative nonfiction (for no money), labor organizing (for almost no money), and sex work (to make up for the no money). She writes true stories, mostly about living people, and only incidentally about her own life, although the media loves to construct her biography and make assumptions about her personal life due to her subversive subject matter.
Her latest book and the focal point of today’s discussion, Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work, challenges the myths about selling sex and those who perpetuate them.
When I asked her what she hoped to accomplish with this book, she responded that her main goal was
to turn our rather limited public debate about sex work away from examining sex workers’ lives and experiences, and instead use sex workers’ analysis and expertise to make sense of the people who aren’t sex workers but who play a huge role in how we understand sex work: that would be the police, the press, and policy makers.
Changing society’s worldview about sex workers is a huge job and Grant is up to the task. Her personal and professional life is geared towards flipping the script on the stigma attached to sex work. She pointed out that when on assignment, often the media refers to her as a “former sex worker” instead of “writer” or “journalist.” And, it’s not simply the media pigeonholing adult performers who are also writers, but also Progressives who often use pedantic, condescending language and spotty logic in an effort to shut us up by deciding who is allowed to speak about sex work.
When Grant is not on book tours, she is diligently reporting and writing for: The Nation, Wired, The Atlantic, Glamour, The Guardian, In These Times, The Washington Post, Dissent, Slate, Salon, and Valleywag. She’s also a contributing editor at Jacobin. As part of the union effort to unionize dancers in the 90’s in San Francisco (1995-1998), I was pleased to note that Grant has been on a pragmatic quest to create real and positive changes in the sex industry and was behind our efforts. She was a member of the Exotic Dancers’ Union (SEIU Local 790), and was a staff member at St. James Infirmary (the only occupational health and safety clinic in the United States run for and by sex workers). Our email exchanged has inspired our forthcoming discussion where I hope to encourage her make a huge ruckus and be totally unwavering and loud about her views about sex work, identity, media pigeonholing, and how we can continue to dispel the negative stigma that society associates with sex workers; and by doing this, how we can be better people and change the world. Help me, help Grant, make a ruckus and chime in.
[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. – bev]