New Magazine Focuses on True Stories About Sex Work
Camille Paglia once wrote: “The prostitute is not, as feminists claim, the victim of men, but rather their conqueror, an outlaw, who controls the sexual channels between nature and culture.” It’s hard not to think of her essay that subverts the cultural precepts of sex work from which this quote comes when reading Prose & Lore, a bi-annual journal founded and edited by Audacia Ray, that centers on men’s and women’s stories about trading sex for money or favors—or survival.
Prose & Lore is published by the Red Umbrella Project, a New York-based grassroots organization which hosts memoir writing and theatre workshops, storytelling events, podcasts, and media and advocacy training for those in the sex trades. The journal, which is entirely nonfiction, is aimed at those personally or professionally researching sex work.
For most writers who read a cornucopia of lit mags, this isn’t an everyday read. The stories come from the trenches of sex work, and therefore the editor would not consider a story, especially any fictional work, without a direct connection to it. Think, for instance of journals that publish prison writing containing work written by (though not necessarily for) present and former inmates. For another example, think Creative Nonfiction’s Mental Health anthology, again nonfiction work based on a general yet solidly defined theme.
Most of those published here are new writers. In fact 75% are. This journal’s contributors section doesn’t present a list of university affiliations as student or professor. That’s not to say there are none, but credentials in the list are far more likely to include an international hooker, dominatrix, erotic energy worker, cross-dresser, Pro Domme, and so on. Some of the contributors, however, have indeed been published in The Rumpus and Salon, while other writers are at work on memoirs, short films, and blogs.
The first-person, conventionally written accounts that comprise this journal are straightforward without a lot of literary tropes or tricks yet their harsh and sticky realities pull readers in. A testament to Red Umbrella’s workshops, from which most of these works hail, they’re entertaining and edifying, even enlightening, at times. They are not by any means self-pitying stories but come from perspectives that are often humorous, seductive, pissed, confused, and psycho-sexually indignant. In fact some stories, such as Clementine Morrigan’s “Real Sex and Real Work,” reveal an excitement and giddiness about a sexual encounter in a way any reader can understand, from the moment the doorbell rings to commence a date (as such) to the verbal and nonverbal clues that signal a desire to copulate as honest and biologically natural as two birds playing at the mating game dance.
The writers don’t bother sugaring up the average non-sex-worker’s judgments and questions. Take Fluffy LaMirada’s “Damaged Goods,” for instance. In it she writes, “People, mostly customers, ask me all the time if I became a stripper because I am working through some issue or if I am broken inside in some way.” For LaMirada, who explains that she’s “’on the spectrum’ of Aspergers/Autism,” the choice of sex work was a matter of having her own needs quelled, of wanting to touch people, meanwhile earning a living doing so.
We’ve all heard the cliché about the stripper or sex worker who’s just doing it to put herself through college. Dragonfly realizes that cliché. In her story, “Come On Entertainment,” she tells the tale of getting arrested while working in a brothel that sold sensuality, not sex. Teaching others in the Westchester, New York, brothel about massage and dominatrix techniques afforded her the chance to buy a book needed for one of her university classes. Her story raises a valid point about those dealing in sex: “We give pervs legit alternative to slipping mickeys or cheating. We keep horny bastards from turning sexual frustration into destructive aggression.” Later she stresses that she’s not a prostitute, that she even hates the word, and that men often demonize her and her fellow sex workers for servicing men’s needs.
There’s more than a little male bashing by the writers—both male and female— which once again harkens back to the Paglia quote. Through their writing a reader can practically hear these workers laughing at their clients, whom they claim to treat like nurses or mistresses, rescuing them from boring marriages. Married men, according to these writers, are more polite; physically and/or egomaniacally well endowed men reliably act entitled, brainy and brawny men both often and easily turn into children.
Regarding the visual aesthetics of Prose & Lore, content rather than sparkly graphic design is at the heart of this publication. That is to say, it’s pure content, unaccompanied by photography or paintings or any other art forms. There are 26 short stories, usually under 10 pages, and the layout is simple, so much so that it appears to have been an afterthought. Production quality, however, is as good as most university press publications.
Prose & Lore is available in print and ebook forms. Submission and purchase information is available at http://www.redumbrellaproject.org/create/proseandlore/.