Presenters: Sinnamon Love, MelissaGira Grant, Tina Horn, Kate D’Adamo
Resources to explore:
- Graphic Sexual Horror – 2009 documentary on kink streaming website Insex
- [Book] Naked on the Internet: Hookups, Downloads and Cashing in on Internet Sexploration, Audacia Ray
- The End of the Net Porn Wars, Jason Kruse, ABA Journal Feb 1, 2008
- Terrorism and trafficking (Pardis Mahdavi)
- How to Live With the Internet and Not Let It Run Your Life: https://gabriellealexa.com/about/
- Fetishes – Nick Broomfield’s documentary on NYC Dungeon Pandora’s Box, 1996 (free to watch on Youtube)
- [Trailer] Zola (2020)
Digital Stimulation: Sex Invents the Internet
May 21, 2021
Danielle Blunt: Ready to go.
Kate D’Adamo: Hi everyone, thank you guys so much for joining us for the panel in this series, Trains, Texts, and Tits, Sex Work, Technology, and Movement. I’m super excited for today’s conversation. It’s gonna be a really fascinating discussion about the beginning of the internet and really lead us into our last discussion next week which is about kind of the moment that we’re in now. And so just to start, Hacking/Hustling as a collective of sex workers, survivors, and accomplices working at the intersection of technology and social justice to interrupt state surveillance and violence facilitated by technology. And so today, once again, we’re gonna start with some quick introductions and community agreements. We’re gonna spend a few minutes really setting the scene and bringing us up to this moment in time which is about the early 90’s up through about 2010. So kind of up through the crash is kind of what we’re talking about here.
Then we’re gonna have three just incredible panelists present and then be in conversation with each other. And then as we’ve been doing, at the 90 minute mark, so just around 1:30 Eastern, 10:30 Pacific, we’re gonna switch to an open conversation where that’s not recorded. We’re gonna ask folks to turn on their cameras and their mics, if they feel so comfortable and just kind of process together especially when we get into this conversation. There’s so many different things that I think are gonna resonate in a really personal way with a lot of folks. And definitely bring us up to the moment that we’re in now. And so we’re really, we invite everyone to be in discussion, to lurk, whatever makes you feel comfortable.
And so just to start with our community agreements, first bring in your histories and speak from your own experience. We all have such a wealth of knowledge and it’s all unique, and it’s all important. Be conscious of the personal nature of direct questions especially in the chat. Just be really thoughtful about the space that we’re in and the way that we engage with each other. Be committed to each other’s collective learning and growing. Every single one of us is at our best on a learning curve that should constantly be evolving and growing. And we not only offer that grace to ourselves but we offer that grace to each other. Please consider the space that we’re gonna take up in the chat, it can get really difficult to follow sometimes. So if you’re contributing a lot, thank you, that’s fantastic. And just be aware of how much that can literally fill up an entire block of text.
Please be open to learning. All of us have different experiences, and we all understand that other people have different experiences as well. And collectively we share so much knowledge. We’re trying to not share pirated work which includes books, pornography, and other art forms. So if you’re gonna share something just be aware of the author or the producer, whether or not that person would want that to be shared and is comfortable with that. Respect the diversity, we respect the diversity of different identities. And especially for purposes of this conversation, it means we’re not gonna assume the identities of other people we’re in conversation with. Whether people show up as activists, as organizers, as workers, that is their choice. And that might not be the entire context of their identity, and it also might be just the way that people feel safe showing up in a space. So we’re just gonna be really conscious of that. And also no dead naming and no doxxing. So don’t share someone else’s personal information or information about their lived experience without their explicit consent.
We prioritize care for ourselves and for each other, you know it’s two hours that we’re gonna be in conversation. Please get up, get some water. Everyone needs to hydrate, especially during changing seasons and especially while we’re inside. So please feel confident in taking time and space away in the way that works for you. And then finally, please don’t use ableist language and that both is in reference to physical, but also emotional and psychological ableism. And we can put a link in the chat, thank you for what that means as we talk. And also sometimes we do, sometimes we totally slip up and say things that if we had taken a minute maybe wouldn’t have been phrased in the same way. So totally feel comfortable to call yourself out, to ask someone else to reframe their language, and know that we’re all learning, and we’re all trying to live into our values every single day.
So today we have three amazing panelists that are gonna share some incredible wisdom and be in conversation with each other. First off is Sinnamon Love, who uses she and her pronouns. You can follow Sinnamon. I put everyone’s Twitter bios in the chat. These are three fantastic people to follow on Twitter. So I encourage everyone to do that. Second, we’re gonna have Melissa Gira Grant and finally Tina Horn. All of whom use she and her pronouns. I’m Kate, I use she/they pronouns and I’m co-hosting with Blunt. And so if you wanna DM, either of us, Blunt is probably gonna respond a little bit faster in the chat, but please feel free to contact either of us or reach out to either of us. Either with questions, comments, or feedback.
And so just to kind of put us in conversation, this entire, this entire series really rose out of discussing about a lot of the regulations, a lot of what’s happening right now. And really realizing that this was not a unique moment and it’s not actually a new moment. What we wanted to do is have a dialogue that started 200 years ago, with the idea that sex workers are early adapters. Sex workers go into frontier spaces, to brand new places, to this week, digital spaces, which are being created for the first time and become not only early adopters but to shape that space into someplace welcoming, someplace accessible. You go into a mining town in 1860, and turn it into a place where people wanna be and wanna spend money. We go into OnlyFans and turn it into a useful medium where people wanna visit.
And then what happens is once that space becomes desirable and accessible, sex workers are overwhelmingly criminalized and regulated out of that space, as we’re seeing now with digital, with so many different digital platforms. And so in the context of that, we originally started talking about trains, talking about the frontier, talking about the beginnings of migration, global migration. And last week we really moved into especially brand new mediums of publicly accessible, easily publicly accessible newspapers and different ways that sex workers colonize that space too and turn it into something that was commercially valuable. And then of course, we’re regulated out of that.
This week we’re going to move into digital space. And so we’re calling this week, Digital Stimulation: Sec Invents the Internet. And so just to kind of set some of the context of what we’re talking about, because you can’t talk about any of these things really in a silo. And especially when you’re talking about legislation there’s so many other things that are happening at the same time. And so this week, first, I’m going to talk a little bit about technology and how that changed up to the 1990s and then talk about global movement and migration and why understanding that is actually really really important to understanding the rise of trafficking and terrorism discourse. And then finally how this is also a moment of sex workers’ rights really taking shape in the way that we understand now.
So, you know, if we look at the big technological innovations over the last 40 years, a lot of that is really concentrated in the creation of the internet. So first and foremost, this, there was the ARPANET which was this network that was developed by the department of defense, but it was really internal. It was really specific to the department of defense for a really long time and completely inaccessible, not even public. And so in 1990, the ARPANET is decommissioned to really create the internet in a public forum in the way that we understand now, and immediately after that, what you’re talking about is companies going in and kind of making it a space to navigate. So by 1995 or in 1995 was the creation of Microsoft, Yahoo, Internet Explorer, and eBay. And right around the same time was also the development of sites like Craigslist which were about really becoming open to the public, really about an accessibility and a space that folks could navigate.
And I put eBay at the last of that list because yes we’re talking about Microsoft, we’re talking about Yahoo but what follows in the internet is not just this amazing beautiful open space, but commerce. So not only was this space invented at the same time but monetizing this space was invented basically the next day. How do you make money off of this? And of course, deeply important to this, the first internet cat video is released in 2005 and changes the landscape of the internet as we know it. At the same time, one of the other things that was happening was phone technology. Last time we talked about how phones over the mid-century period, so like by the thirties, 40% of households already had a phone, but you know we’re generally talking landlines. What happens in this period is that we move really from landline technology to cell phone technology. And what that means is people don’t have to sit at the phone anymore. All of a sudden people become not tied to that house where the phone is, but tied to the cell phone and the cell phone is tied to the person.
And so around 2000, we really start seeing the shift in the growth of people owning their own cell phones. And as many of us know, owning our second disposable cell phones. So right around this time, kind of post mid century. We’re also seeing migration shift again for folks that were on our very first webinar or conversation, migration was really important. The beginnings of global migration and those shifts were really impactful especially developing something, developing some of these narratives around who was an American. What does whiteness mean? What does whiteness mean in the context of global migration? What does an “America” mean? Which is not grounded in the location of where we are, it’s a colonized land. And so what does this mean as what — what do those things mean? As people begin to shift across borders, as race, as there becomes much more racial integration and changing who is on what land and why people move.
And so where we were talking a lot about in the 1800s Asian migration being, you know, post opium wars being, coming here and then ending up in things like the Page Act, the Chinese Exclusion Act around the late fifties, up through the 70’s. What we’re talking about is Vietnam and the Korean wars, which we’re disrupting. And we’re just one part of a lot of the disruption that was happening in Asia at that time, both politically and socially. And it meant a lot of displacement, a lot. It meant a lot of people forcibly crossing borders. A little bit later and kind of at the same time we’re also talking about the fall of the Soviet Union. And so what happened in that period was that borders were opening up, you know the Soviet Union was, most of Eastern Europe and all of a sudden it goes from one country to a lot of smaller countries which are still trying to find their footing at that time, and still trying to figure out what borders mean.
And so what these two things mean is that migration into the United States and especially migration into Europe is going through massive changes in the 1990s in particular. And so what we’re seeing is higher rates of Asian migration than we had previously, especially when you’re talking about post-Chinese Exclusion Act. Major immigration reform in the United States happened in 1950 under Dwight Eisenhower. And so the way that people are coming into the country is really different. And the racial makeup is really shifting. And so what happens immediately after the 1990s where the European Union formed, right, why that’s really important to this conversation is that migration into Europe and especially migration into Nordic countries becomes very different. So before you had like Norway and they were dealing with migration in a very specific way, and Italy was dealing with migration and with its proximity to other countries and other regions in a very different way. As the union, as the EU forms, that becomes one discussion, and it becomes much easier for people from different regions to move farther north and farther west in, in a faster way than they ever had before.
And so what happens after this is really you’re talking about the rise of the trafficking discourse as we know it right now. So throughout the 90’s, there was a lot of conversations about migration and what migration facilitates is, yes people crossing borders and it facilitates a lot of social change as well. And so when we’re looking at, you know trafficking is we’re looking at the narratives around trafficking, which have not changed very much. So the ones that you see today are very similar and are really forming in this space and as much as you know, people, and so, the dialogues that are happening especially around migrants who are taking low wage jobs, migrants were taking very physically demanding jobs where who don’t have a lot of options, maybe facing exploitation, maybe facing debt bondage, maybe facing the circumstances where, you know you have someone pay your way to go there and then you work it off.
The response was not necessarily to say we needed to make migration easier, we need to make options for migrants better. The response was to criminalize and problematize the industries and the ways that people are crossing borders. So there’s a lot of conversation about how bad human smuggling was and the result was not to make migration easier. The, the response was to make smuggling across borders harder and to criminalize it and to really try to take away the mechanisms that people were using across borders. And so by 2000 internationally you see the UN protocol against trafficking of persons. And in the same year the trafficking victims protection act which defined trafficking as a crime of exploitation through force fraud or coercion. And the big fight in there was, as internationally as it was domestically, whether or not anyone could consent to engaging in sex work. And so that’s why in the trafficking victims protection act there’s actually two pieces: there’s exploitation through force fraud or coercion in the sex trade, and there’s exploitation through force fraud or coercion in every single other industry, and there are actually two different crimes on the books.
At the same time, oh, and that year’s wrong. At the same time, we’re talking about 911. We’re talking about in 2001, you know, experiencing September 11th led to a conversation on terrorism in particular. And why that’s important is because it is speaking to this globalization and the response being one fueled by criminalization, fueled by increased surveillance, increased police presence that as we’ve been talking about historically has grown and grown and grown. In the very first webinar, we talked about how this facilitated the growth of police units as we know that, about how low-level crime was being formed.
Last time we talked about how the Mann Act and prohibition led to a massive expansion of the FBI as a police force, but it wasn’t a police force before, then it didn’t really exist. And all of a sudden the feds needed cops and what this period looks to is a further expansion of policing but one that is global and local because they are interlinked within each other. At the same time that we’re seeing these changes, the rise of technology and the rise of inhabiting this technology immediately ends up resulting in wanting to regulate this technology. And so in 1996, we see the Communications & Decency Act which is a lot about obscenity and pornography. And this was the act which created section 230 which I’m sure we’re going to talk about which says that internet platforms are not legally liable or responsible for what gets posted on their platform. Second was the Child Protection and Obscenity Enforcement act. Once again, it’s really about obscenity. It’s really about what gets posted with this idea of trying to protect children. And this was what also created 2257 regulations which I’m sure we’ll also talk about, which are specific to online, which are specific to filming porn and what information you have to keep about actors, and, in really thinking about minors in terms of what in terms of the information that they’re trying to access.
And at the same time. And I’m really excited that we get to talk about organizing even more on this. We’re also talking about sex work really coming up through the 70’s and the late 70’s and the 80’s and then really forming in the way that we know now in the 90’s and the early two 2000s. And of course, you know, anytime there is marginalization, there is always resistance. And so this is not to say that before there was the term sex work, that sex workers were not unionizing, were not collectivizing, were not fighting back and pushing back and demanding rights and space. This is simply to say that this as a movement and the way that we kind of understand it, had a lot of formation during this time, a lot of concretizing during this time. We’re also talking about a moment post porn wars.
So through the 70’s and 80’s, the feminist movement really decided that the number one enemy and everything that was going on was really porn. And second wave feminism at this time, really focused in on obscenity on the idea that pornography was inherently exploitation and that it was inherent violence. And so there were, we didn’t really cover this, if you wanna read more, “Sex Wars” is a great book on this. And it talks about kind of these internal fights that ended up really fracturing how we understood the feminist movement at that time. In 1979 Carol Leigh coins the term sex worker, as we know it. And I love this list really specifically because there is a number of different organizations existing now, back then and everyone decided to name themselves after animals. And so organizations such as Prostitutes of New York, PONY. Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics, COYOTE, SWAN, PUMA and then SWOP, which was actually a borrowed term from Australia, all form in this period. Spread Magazine, and actually it’s literally sitting right next to me, if you want to read more about Spread Magazine there’s actually a collection. It operates from 2004 to 2011 and actually operated out of the back of a Dungeon in New York City. Danzine popped up in 1994 based in Portland, Oregon. And there were a number of different publications that arose because as sex workers use technology for work, sex workers also use technology to organize.
And then of course, online forums start allowing sex workers to connect as well. Once — sometimes connected to advertising spaces, such as for My Redbook and then sometimes independently such as the listservs that we use or there was WhoreNet back there again, another animal term which if anyone knows why that came about if it wasn’t just like, cool and that’s what everyone did, please share. ‘Cause I actually don’t know the history of that, but, but yeah. As we’re using technology to advertise and to find clients, technology is also the space that everyone starts at organizing to, to connect with each other and to share that. And so as this, as forms, as we’ve been talking about you know, forms of sex work are similar and slightly different, but utilizing technology.
So there’s sex workers who work in physical space and this distinction all of a sudden becomes very different. So, you know, there’s folks that do street based work, who do bar based work, who do hotel based work, but there’s advertising finding your clients and meeting your clients in a physical encapsulated space which becomes different only as soon as people begin advertising and digital space. That distinction doesn’t matter when there isn’t non-physical space to advertise it. And so there are sex workers who work, who advertise primarily in digital space, all of a sudden. And this also is, they’re not two distinct circles. They have never been two distinct circles. Even now, there are people who either work and advertise both in physical and in digital space. There’s people who use online platforms to say like, Hey I’m gonna be hustling on this corner. So it’s definitely a Venn diagram and not two distinct spaces.
Porn actors definitely grow as the industry goes, more and more actors grow and more and more unionizing and organizing happen. There’s phone and cam based workers. So there’s 1977 was the very first 1900 number. And it was just one person, but that becomes an industry. And then very similar dynamics happen as cam workers start to grow. There’s brothel based workers (cough) apologies, there’s browser-based workers and agencies which are still operating as, as they historically have been. And there’s strip clubs, of course. And we haven’t really talked about the history of strip clubs, but it’s still important to include. And so we’re actually going to start not necessarily with questions, but with our incredible panelists. And first up is Melissa Gira Grant.
Melissa Gira Grant: Hi, Kate, you sent me to my bookshelf which conveniently like we’re all home, so this is, this is kind of jumping back in our timeline. This is Coyote House, this was COYOTE’s newspaper. This is actually Carol Leigh’s copy that she lent me a really long time ago and I’ve been defunct on mailing it back to her. So I’m sorry, Carol if you’re watching this, I need to mail this back to you but this is the, all the sister organizations from COYOTE had animal names. And there were some in here that I hadn’t heard of before. So in California, there was CAT, California Advocates for Trollops in Spokane, Washington. There was PROWL, Professional Resource Organization for Women’s Liberties. In Washington, DC, tere was the Spread Eagles, New York had a group called Scapegoat, Massachusetts had Puma, Missouri had Kansas City Kitties. So, and, and if you sign up for COYOTE membership in here it also asks you to choose an animal name for example, Shimmering Unicorn. I don’t know why the animal, I don’t know, but it was, it was a thing. And it was like kind of a national thing.
And then just for comparison, I dug this up too. This is the very first issue of Spread which is very modest, but beautiful. And like, you know, the spread is interesting cause like this comes out in 2005, which in some ways is sort of like a peak moment for sex workers communicating and hanging out online, but a magazine was still really fucking important. Because a magazine could like hang out in the strip club dressing room or like you could like take it off a friend’s shelf, or like it had this like physical life in like organizations that like, you know, at the time it it actually felt like, you know, we hadn’t chosen, right, like we weren’t like sort of privileging like digital media versus print media. And if anything, like this was as much of a community building tool as anything that we were, we were doing online.
So I’m gonna start with something from 1995. We talked about the idea of the frontier, a little bit. And one of the main internet freedom organizations at that time was called the internet freedom. I’m sorry, EFF Electronic Freedom Foundation, And they had this idea of the, the frontier sort of built in. And there was this idea that like the internet was this wild west. I think it was framed without a lot of awareness or understanding of sort of the colonial and settler implications of framing the internet that way. And also, you know it started this mythology of like great American expansion. Like we’ve expanded across the entire country. Now we’re gonna expand across the internet. I don’t think it would surprise anyone to hear this was primarily an organization of white-cis men, many of them libertarians, many of them in the San Francisco Bay Area.
So, at the time Carol Leigh had a website, one of the very first sex work websites that you can still access at (jumbled sound). And she did this Q and A with Mike Godwin who is one of the early people..if you’ve ever heard of Godwin’s Law on the internet, the idea that any internet argument ultimately devolves into somebody invoking Hitler, it’s that guy. So, yeah, she asked him, “are there any protections that would discourage police from becoming cyber decoys? I have heard that many officers enjoy playing computer games at the station during work hours. This form of entrapment could be that sort of game.” And his response is “I doubt they’re staying after hours to play this game.
Fortunately, the skills it takes to hang out on the internet are greater than the ones it takes to play Sega.” Which in 1995, the idea that cops were too stupid to use the internet to entrap sex workers like seemed actually pretty reasonable. But of course we were like really quickly disabused of that notion. And, Mike also didn’t have like illusions about this. And his ultimate recommendation was like maybe don’t use the internet to meet new clients, use it to maintain relationships with existing clients. And of course use it for political purposes ’cause that’s protected speech. So in a way like it wasn’t, it wasn’t totally off base except for the whole part about the police, not understanding the internet. Kate talked a little bit about like the early era of the internet, precursor ARPANET and just for my own personal experience like my first boyfriend’s father worked on ARPANET. And was the first person to show me a web browser when I was in high school in the 90’s.
And so for me, like my relationship to the internet was always like real people that I know built this and real people that I know are making this. And at the time, like there were so few webpages that like basically everybody who was hanging out online was making something online. There wasn’t like a hard and fast distinction between like users and creators. Like we were all involved in sort of creating this thing. For sex workers purposes, the kind of two main parts of the internet that we were using were the, were Use Net which was newsgroups, if you’ve heard of those, and then the worldwide web itself which was like not taken for granted as like the internet in the way that I think today we talk about whatever was going on in our web browser as the internet. That was just one component of it.
And there were early Usenet conversations about sex work and in sex work specific usenet groups. Sex prostitution was probably the biggest one of those. And then later we get into this era of personal websites, you know porn performers are certainly at the vanguard of that. And like the whole idea of having like a personal website with a membership option as an individual brand, like this is when that was sort of like very dominant. And then the first kind of sex worker-only online communities where we presumed we were just talking to ourselves, were happening on Live Journal. And a lot of the webcam girl community was all focused aroundLlive Journal. But there were also escort and stripper communities there too.
And, and so it means like by the time, like we get to like Y2K, the landscape online for sex work is like these membership sites are super common. Cam sites are super common, and also these like large escort ads sites, things like Arrows, which launched in 1999 I think. So why is all this possible even, right? Because that was sort of the question for Mike Godwin. Like, well, wait a minute is it legal to do this stuff on the internet? If it’s illegal, offline, is it illegal online? The short answer is yes, but you know speech about these things is different than doing these things, right. And porn is protected in some ways, even beyond prostitution. So Kate mentioned CDA 230.
Ironically CDA 230 comes out of the Communications Decency Act which was this attempt to sort of use the idea of children looking at porn as a way to do a really onerous wave of anti internet regulation that would have really harmed free expression online. And 230 was sort of drafted as an amendment to help mitigate the harms of that. Everything else in the CDA has since been ruled unconstitutional, all that’s left is 230. So think of it like this anti-porn bill essentially the only provision in it that preserved free expression is the only part that survived. And that’s also sort of still a flashpoint, right, Like around Backpage, for example, the drama around that, that was a huge component of it. And Ron Wyden, who was the only senator or one of two senators who voted against SESTA-FOSTA in 2018, he was one of the co directors of section 230. I don’t think you could describe him as like a sex worker right’s advocate, but he’s certainly aware of the collateral damage for sex workers caused by the rollbacks on free expression. And he opposed SESTA-FOSTA for lots of reasons. But, but that was certainly one of them that he saw it was gonna harm marginalized communities online who didn’t have the same power as these big tech platforms have now.
But almost none of the big tech platforms that we think about now really even operational in this time, right. This is before Facebook, before MySpace, is certainly before sort of like web 2.0 user generated content. Like our personal websites or user-generated content but like the entire internet was user generated content. Like this was, this was a very different moment in a very creative and sort of like all bets are off moment. And the moment I think when that starts to shift is 2000, 2001. So 2000 does the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, 2001 is the Patriot Act. And at the time I don’t think I thought of them together but I do now. And I think it’s useful to think of them together. I’m not gonna get that deep into the particulars of the Patriot Act, but what’s useful for this conversation to think about is they’re both premised on this idea that there’s these dangerous global networks that spread all over the world of criminals. And, you know, they’re beyond the reach of the conventional law enforcement mechanisms that we have right now. And so we need new laws to go after them, but not only do we need laws to go after them but we have to also go after anybody who aids them or helps them.
And TVPA, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act passes October, 2000. So, you know, before 911, but the kind of war on trafficking as we know it doesn’t really ramp up until George W. Bush was in the White House. And you see in sort of like shocked doctrine way that 911 opens the door for the Patriot Act. That kind of idea that there’s nothing we shouldn’t do to fight terrorism. And if you stand in the way of that, you somehow support terrorism. You see that same rhetoric around trafficking. And, and the thing to know, just as like the Patriot Act is like “a response to 911” but of course it goes so much further and it whips up a lot of racist sentiment, anti-immigrant sentiment, it’s rooted in a lot of things that came before 911, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act isn’t really a response to like trafficking going up or trafficking becoming more visible.
It’s a very specific effort by two groups who were sort of on the outs at the time, the religious right — this is the very end of the Clinton years, and then anti-sex work women’s rights groups that folks Kate was talking about who were sort of like left adrift after the porn wars when they lost. And so these two groups come together and they politicize these two separate things. One is migration for the purposes of prostitution. The other is what at the time was still probably mostly called teen prostitution or minors who are engaged in sex trade. And so trafficking becomes this unifying framework to talk about all of these disparate things. But what it’s actually used to do is to further criminalize sex work. That’s how we experienced it at the time. I think the fear of government surveillance between both of those things for sex workers lives is almost inseparable. There were a lot of fears that the Patriot Act for example was used to make it easier to wire tap escort agencies which were a big target at the time like individual sex workers I don’t think necessarily were as fearful. But if you were part of an organized business or if you even traveled the circuit from city to city and worked for different Madams and different places, like those are the kinds of things that we’re dealing with a lot of scrutiny. And so like the ways that financial transactions would be tracked to sort of like fight terrorism, you see the same sort of methods used to fight trafficking but what they’re actually doing is surveilling what sex workers are doing.
And you also see at this time a massive amount of federal money going to local law enforcement. And local law enforcement is where your prostitution policing is mostly happening, right. So now you’re getting federal anti-trafficking money going to local police departments to regulate prostitution by arresting people. And that’s when you start to see cops hanging out online all the time. As we didn’t think they necessarily would be in the 90’s. But you know, they’re very incentivized now, to do these these decoy stings and to arrest sex workers and call that “fighting trafficking.” So it’s this mix where like, as soon as we have the web sort of open up our possibilities for making community and working together and making this industry safer and making this industry something that like we didn’t have to rely on exploitative business practices that you know, in the past like you couldn’t necessarily start your own business.
So all that’s going on that’s a very good and at the same time, the opportunities for surveillance and policing are going up. And it’s always been this sort of like cat and mouse thing of like what can we do before it gets rolled back? And I think that’s still very much the dynamic that we’re living in. You know, there’s also the slipperiness at the time around anti-trafficking and anti-immigrant policing. So 2003 with the Patriot Act is the creation of Department of Homeland Security, which did not exist before, that’s also when INS, which was civil immigration enforcement, it’s moved into DHS and made criminal immigration enforcement and the new agencies of course called ICE. And so within that framework there is the Homeland Security Investigations Force which is new. And they are engaged in both anti-immigration enforcement and anti-trafficking enforcement.
And I saw that all come together for the first time in San Francisco whenI was living there in 2005 with something called “Operation Gilded Cage,” which was a very racist framework for talking about Asian massage workers. So the idea was Asian massage businesses are “hotbeds of trafficking.” We don’t, you know, not because, you know people went in and were talking to workers and hearing about what was going on, not because workers themselves were complaining because like the presence of these businesses were seen as organized crime. So at that time our vice president Kamala Harris was the district attorney in San Francisco and she and other law enforcement agencies, including ICE collaborated on this raid essentially called Operation Gilded Cage. And at the time there was a story in the San Francisco Chronicle, which I would not describe as like all that favorable to sex workers generally, but they did interview a neighbor of one of the massage businesses that was raided. And the neighbor said when they came in here and did the raid, they came in like they were going after Osama Bin Laden, right.
There’s just this like very scary environment where this this slipperiness between crime and terrorism and trafficking and gangs and immigration, where the level of surveillance and the level of policing was so oppressive particularly for Asian immigrant communities, particularly for Muslims and particularly for sex workers who crossed into all those communities too. Say what did it all feel like? Right, ’cause that’s a sort of like okay, here’s like the politics and the legal framework of that time. I mean, one thing that we were seeing as we sort of get into the two thousands is this shift of like an internet of early adopters, including sex workers to an internet of everybody. Like all of a sudden now, like even clients who had no idea how to use the internet were on the internet, basically. There were spaces where I never thought clients would hang out like Twitter, but all of a sudden become very important. At the same time, the media becomes very obsessed with the visibility of sex work online as a way to write stories about sex work as like a social problem. So you start getting things, ridiculous things like live tweeting of brothel raids by New York Times reporters. They use our visibility as a way to sort of turn us into a problem. Reporters like police who would be too lazy to go out and actually meet people in the community and see what their concerns were, not the police ever do that or reporters, frankly. You know they could just like surveil us from the internet. And the entire internet just sort of became this like peep show for people outside the sex industry to gaze at us and essentially be in the role of customers, right.
It was, they would look at our advertising and think that that was like who we were, you know, they, they didn’t really see a distinction between how people talked about the work that they did to their own communities, their own lives and like the ways that people would advertise. And you see that through to this day and the Backpage prosecution, where if someone said she was barely legal or new to town in her ad, that was interpreted by Congress as a minor, that was interpreted as trafficking. There’s just no competency in sort of how our community works and how we talk to one another. And no understanding the ads are ads and they aren’t like the same thing as a human meeting. So yeah, I mean, I guess I’ll leave it there to have other people sort of pick up from the, the early, the mid two thousands and onward.
But I’ll say one more thing before I wrap up, which is one of the I think the transformative things in this era was the first Desiree Alliance conference in 2006, which was just in Las Vegas. And even though it was 2006, and even though a lot of us were online and even though a lot of us met online, right. Like I met all the Spread people online before I met them in person. This was like the first I think U.S. sex worker conference or gathering where people who mostly had experienced working online and only online were meeting each other in real life. And a lot of the relationships that were built there, I think developed into just really focused and really powerful activism when it came to things like dealing with Eliot Spitzers’s very public scandal around sex work or dealing eventually with things like the war on Craigslist and then the war on Backpage and SESTA-FOSTA. A lot of those networks started there.
And what I take away from that is like as important as the internet was because of the risks and the dangers around the work that we do, even the organizing work, we needed those in-person spaces to build that trust first. And once we had built that trust it made the way that we used online spaces really different, and it actually took some of that fear down. So I’ll, I’ll leave it there and let other folks jump in and talk about like porn and phone sex and the iPhone. I don’t know, I was gonna try to end on the iPhone and be like, well there was the financial crash and the iPhone but you could just watch Hustlers to hear, you know how that story turned out.
Kate D’Adamo: Thank you so much for that. And you know, you’ve talked about so many things that are really continuations of threads and I think are, are also going to continue in the rest of our conversations. I you know, thinking about what it means to work in digital space and to work in personal space and how that changes our organizing and, and, you know sometimes it makes it easier to get information out there. And also our, what does it mean when we develop these relationships with people’s sex work personas. And when our organizing personas are very different, and our personal personas might even be a third experience. And I love how you described talking about, you know, seeing massage parlor businesses not as massage parlor businesses but simply as the presence of organized crime. And, you know, there’s so many different ways to talk about policing and to talk about the sex industry and regulation of the sex industry. And, you know, one of the things that gets brought up so much, especially in this era, in this moment is talking about organized crime and what that means, as opposed to being like, wait, if we are all criminalized, we’re all working together, that’s actually just what organized crime is. And to see that in the visibility of that becoming, you know, the internet as one big peep show, I think is a fascinating evolution from this idea of the internet as content creators. And so launching into the next, Sinnamon, do you wanna take it away?
Sinnamon Love: Yeah, absolutely so I started working as you know, I started off doing porn. I answered an ad in the LA Weekly in the back of the LA Weekly when I was 19 years old and in 1993 to, to find my first porn gig. And through that, I met my first set of fairy whore mothers who were also doing porn, but later, but also were dancing and, you know, feature dancing and doing in-person work as well. Through meeting them I learned how to advertise in the weekly escort papers that would be in the little red boxes on the corner of Hollywood or sunset and La Brea and, and they, you know they really taught me how to one, like, you know spread out the type of income that I was making across various different ways but also how to screen.
You know, back then you would have a second landline that came into your apartment. You know cell phones were not readily available for everyone. We still had like pagers and, you know (laughs), but you’d have a second phone line that would run into your apartment, that you would use to then screen. You would get someone’s office number to be able to call the main office line and, you know, look for their number or their name in the directory and then call their, you know, ring their office to see that they actually work at this place. This was like really rudimentary, like you know, screening process. But one of the things that did was it eliminated blue collar clients because there was no way of being able to verify that they were in fact working, that, that they had a job that this is what their job was.
Later on we would see that with the advent of the internet and with, you know with email becoming much more, you know, free, you know much more easily accessible and and cell phones having cameras, you know you could have someone send you a photo of their union card that you could then verify that they’re a member of a union. But I think, you know, but part of the ways in which we were screening at that time, I think really, you know lent to this idea that most clients were, you know, wealthy middle-aged white men, who had office jobs. Because that’s how you were able to verify someone, unless they had a particular type of, unless you, you know you were bold enough or brave enough to call someone’s union and pretend to be a apartment, you know someone for an apartment or whatever, to verify that they work at this place or that they were, that they had, you know that they were a member of this, you know, this union or what have you.
As we started to see legislation really go after quality of life crimes of street-based sex work, as well as, as well as cannabis we started to see the, you know, the these things started to happen right around the time that the internet was really, really booming. And so what we, what we saw happen was folks started to move out of the papers and off the street and onto the internet. This eliminated the quality of life issues that would have people arrested for, for loitering or for, you know, for walking, you know in a neighborhood that was a well-known stroll. That early age of the, of websites was really interesting when I think back on it because one of the big issues with porn sites back then was, with porn design, was privacy. So you, it was very common to design websites with a black or dark background because there was this assumption that all porn consumers or porn surfers were married men who were looking at the internet while their wives and kids were asleep.
And so the idea of having a dark background so that if the wife came into the room while the husband is sitting in his computer room, because folks had computer rooms back then, that the glare of the white screen wouldn’t bounce back on him. And then you would see, you know you could potentially see what it was that he was watching. After, after the, you know the early websites were built with HTML coding, very you know, HTML coding, but after that, but before Wix and Squarespace, what you see is what you get technology like Macromedia’s Dreamweaver allowed sex workers and webmasters with very little coding experience to be able to edit templates and build a web presence.
Where there are sex workers, there’s always going to be new investors, and companies begin to pop up with templates that you could edit yourself, and then later escort website companies would create these packages of templates that you could choose from to have a specific, escort website. That didn’t necessarily have to have all of the same types of things that a porn model’s website would, would have. But you didn’t have to have a member section, you only needed to have very basic four or five pages of information to direct customers from advertising to find all of the information that they needed about booking you.
As more and more, you know, these, these escort websites, web design companies would edit your, your template with your images and host your website for a nominal fee. As these companies began to pop-up with templates that you could edit yourself, oh, I’m sorry, as more models moved online, the webmaster industry began to boom offering porn performers with a higher earning potential the ability to have someone not only custom build a website but also update and manage it as well, and, and also cover the cost of the really outlandish website hosting fees and then cutting the model a cheque by paying, you know by taking a percentage of the fees.
So when I think about that, I think about sites like OnlyFans and all of these other, like, you know current existing platforms that we use, this idea of another company taking on these fees is nothing and charging or charging the model for the fees is nothing new. It’s something that we’ve been experiencing since the beginning of time, since the beginning of the internet. I mean, prior to the webmaster industry coming into play it was very common to have hosting fees of two or $3,000 a month or more depending on your traffic. A lot of times, and we’re talking about a time when you really only had photos on your website and texts. You couldn’t post audio because the, the audio would eat up your bandwidth and it would just shoot your hosting bills through the roof.
So, you know, imagine paying two to $3 thousand dollars a month just to post photos of yourself, not even to post like video or to post audio, or to be able to even webcam. Because web camming was still really new at, you know in the late 90’s, websites like iFriends and Cam Girls Live were the early adopters of web cam technology. Often, like I actually had a webcam studio, and my guest house in North Hollywood at the time. And, you know, we had to run a T1 line into my guest house in order to be able to stream. And even then the technology had not caught up with what we were doing. There were people who were still on 28 K dial up. And so even training the models to be able to perform on webcam, you had to really train them to kind of move very slowly and almost robotically so that their image on the other side of the screen would come across fluid.
And so, but each of the, with this technology, the ways that the amount, of money that you had to pay to be able to cover the cost of a T1 line going into your house so that you could have high-speed internet to stream was really, really expensive. And you know, while you know those early sites which I believe iFriends is still around actually. But those, you know, those early websites, you know, again, here was a way that you were able to, to you know, work for a company and collect a paycheck without having very much experience and not having to have like another bit of money, you know, having all the money for the hosting.
Let’s see, so with these companies, these, these website, these webmaster companies the models were really only responsible for producing the content and then, you know, handing it over and the web companies would do everything else. If you wanted the content edited, if you wanted the photos edited, they would pop your website address on there. And, but that barrier to entry for people without tech skills, without the ability to edit a Dreamweaver template, and without the money to pay these high hosting fees moved a lot of sex workers who were already performing in the porn space online.
So one of the things that I’ve been thinking about lately is how telegram groups allow sex workers to repost content of one another to drive traffic. You know, it because of the ways in which Google has made it very difficult for sex workers to be able to be found through a Google search these days. The predecessor of this was a form of content trading, where models would exchange galleries of images and use them as filler content for their posting schedule. It was from the very beginning, we understood that it was unrealistic to post content every single day. So by bringing in, by getting galleries of images from other models, you would be able to post your friends, your friend of the week, or your “woman crush Wednesday,” which was our version of a woman crush Wednesday prior to hashtags. But you could post other models every week on your content schedule.
One of the ways, these models would also be listed on your links page. So later the term links are very quickly, the term “links” shifted to “friends” and in order to give the content a more personable feel which plays into the consumer fantasy that all sex workers who have sex with one another know each other well, and frequently have sex with one another off camera. For those who also do in-person work, the friends page doubled for those who might be available for partnered sessions or in cities that one might frequently visit. There was an understanding that surfers didn’t want to click links that would take them off their websites. Keep in mind that ad block, the very first ad blocker was created as a side project in 2002. It didn’t become a popular thing for your website to have ad blockers until 2009. So we’re talking about like my first website went up in 1999, (indistinct) If you wanna look at the way back machine, actually. (Sinnamon laughs) But so imagine from 1999 to 2009, there were no ad blockers, really. So these, the pop-up website ads often contain viruses that would destroy your computer. Laptops were really expensive, desktops were really expensive still.
And so these, what we would do at that time is we instead of having text links of your friends’ websites we started creating these gallery pages that featured thumbnails of the models on your friends list. And then when someone would click that image it would take them to their website. So this was a really innovative way of being able to drive traffic that does, without having to let people know that they were leaving your website. Let’s see, early forms of social media like Yahoo Groups, Friendster, MySpace, Black Planet and Mi Gente allowed sex workers to have direct contact with fans and to let them in on their day to day lives. The very first sex worker blogger that I remember is Christian XXX ana openly by male porn performer who blogged daily for one year on my space.
Later sites like live journal and bloggers integration with WordPress granted all sex workers the ability to blog and generate traffic via Google to their websites. In the late 90’s we saw the you know, you know, as the, you know folks were starting to use the internet to travel, you’re using the internet for, for sex work people would, message boards were popping up. We would see clients would reach out to models in adjacent cities or in other cities, and they would, they would, you know, pitch models to travel to their city by them organizing together to be able to promise a model like a certain number of bookings in order to travel to that city. From that we would see escort ad malls pop up that would the, the escort ad malls were really created to showcase the models in or the sex workers in those cities for traveling businessmen.
But what we quickly saw was that the clients would contact the sex workers and say, “Hey, would you travel to this city? How much money would you need to be guaranteed in order to travel?” And that started the touring escort. Later we’d see you know ad malls like Exotics, USA and Arrows pop up and they would then, I’m sorry, let me back up. Yeah, so we’d see these ad malls pop up and they would then give us our, you know they would give these escorts the opportunity to be able to tour. Because, you know because there were so many people touring, there were escort agencies like Exotica 2000, Body Miracle who specifically were looking to work with either, you know, models from the Eastern block or porn performers who they quickly realized that because of their name and their experience in the industry and their star power that they could charge double or triple the amount of money.
Exotica 2000 was a Russian mob owned escort agency who had two separate divisions. They would frequently bring in models from the Eastern block, who they could bill as you know, because of their, their looks they could build them as, you know, bikini models. Victoria’s Secret models. Like they could, you know, whatever they had they could build them as models and charge on par with what they were charging for porn stars. And then they had a separate porn star division that exclusively toured porn stars from state to state. Exotica 2000 was, was, was shut down in the, I can’t remember what year, but they were eventually shut down by the, by the feds for money laundering and their ties to the Russian mob.
We would see they actually I think it was, they had to, there were two of their Eastern European models who were arrested and because of their visa status, they were able to, the FBI was able to use them to flip on the agency. And the agency eventually was shut down for, for really tax evasion is what they were shut down for.
So it’s, you know, I think it’s important also to note that as you know, when you are, anytime you cross state lines with the intent to commit a crime, it is a felony. So for a lot of models, for a lot of sex workers, it was ideal to work for an agency who you could entrust to screen your bookings and also take deposits. So the cost of travel is so expensive, you know regardless of whether you are someone who is just starting out or you’re someone who’s more established, when you when you think about things like, like you know, flights, hotels, all of that. And it’s never guaranteed that people are gonna show up. People will get cold feet, people will change their mind, and so deposits became a really important part of the the touring sex work industry.
You know, one of the things that, you know sex workers quickly discovered was that, you know the law enforcement will not send money ahead of time. And so it became a really, you know, it became a thing where if you take a deposit you’re less likely to be running into a cop than you would if you were not taking up a deposit. People started using prepaid debit cards in order to collect their deposits. At that time, you could go to any 711, any drug store and you could pick up a refill card that would, that you could then send someone the number on the back of it, and they could add it to their prepaid debit card. This allowed sex workers to collect their money, you know without it being, you know this is like kind if pre electronically collecting money.
And then they would, could, would also have that debit card that they could then use to be able to check into a hotel, purchase their flights and so on and so forth. So this is kind of like, you know if you think about this is pre cash app, Venmo, PayPal, sex workers were already finding ways to collect money from clients before going to an appointment or before getting on a plane or a train. The, one of the other ways that sex workers were collecting deposits were through Western Union because Western Union, you don’t have to have ID. You only have to have a, an ID question. So you could use any name that you wanted and tell them that the person that’s picking up money doesn’t have ID and then give them a question and answer that they could use to pick up the money.
The thing about that is that Western Union, like, you know is a, you know, is also, has to be responsible to the federal government in terms of financial reporting. And so there have been sex workers who have run into some issues with collecting large amounts of money from Western Union. And that money is, you know if you are receiving, you know, it is, it is subject to suspicious activity tracing the same way that any other banking system that we use. And I wanted to talk about, yeah, I mean and I’m going to stop there actually. So, because I think I just gave everybody like a lot of information. (Sinnamon laughs)
Kate D’Adamo: But it’s such fantastic information. All of that’s super fascinating. And you know, so many of the things they, you mentioned I think really resonate with a lot of folks like what it means to meet your fairy whoremother, learning how to screen, and how will you learn how to screen from each other. You know, I feel like we talk all the time about, you know if you wanna become an accountant, you’ll learn how to become an accountant by going through the program. And there’s not that for sex workers.
And so, you know there’s the times where you’re like making it up as you go along. And, and so connecting with people and especially online and in person is also about just like learning how to do this in a way that’s not accessible otherwise. And, and I think what you were saying about how sex workers’ creativity and innovation it’s making me think so much about how it’s created our algorithms. That, we no longer, that are then kind of weaponized against folks to be like, well, you’re doing this. And that means you’re a bot, as opposed to like, you’re doing this. And that means actually you’re an innovative brilliant person who’s navigating the internet. And so last, but certainly not least Tina, do you want to bring us home?
Tina Horn: I’ll bring you home, I don’t know, I’m a sleazebag sorry, not sorry. (Tina laughs) I’m feeling so emotional about how fucking amazing the people that I know are and how we’re talking about the internet and how like frustrating and alienating it can be. But also like here we are being able to connect, it feels really good. Here’s where I wanna start, I started doing sex work in 2005 which was the year that Spectator Magazine folded. So Spectator Magazine advertised themselves as California’s original adult news magazine. It was founded in 1978 and it was both a, you know, a BDSM and kink subculture rag. The kind that you would find the way that you used to be able to find the Village Voice or East Bay Express in these like metal boxes, right. And, and, you know, of course it, like the Village Voice and many other local weeklies, the Spectator Magazine had had all kinds of sex work ads in it.
And so the fact that, I’ve always found it very significant that I started the year that that magazine no longer existed. And it was very, and I think that this is indicative of so I was born in 1982, and now I’ve been calling myself like a gen X millennial, like generation straddler for a while. Now they’re calling us geriatric millennials which is great. But so I have always felt like in between a lot of those things, like, we got the internet in my house partially because my family worked in, in, in cable which was the internet of the 80’s and 90’s but like media and communications technology. So we got it probably earlier than a lot of than a lot of other people. My age, we got it when I was 13. So my like adolescents is very pegged if you will to the like nascent internet.
But so going fast forward to 2005 when I was 24. I found my first jobs working in Dungeons by typing the word dominatrix into the adult gigs section of Craigslist. And the dungeon that I ended up working in, in the East Bay, the San Francisco East Bay for close to five years, had been open since the early 90’s. And they had a very basic website. I actually looked at it the other day cause they’re still open and the website is still up and it is still pretty basic. And the website just had profiles and booking instructions. Now there’s an email on the site and I have no idea who monitors that or how they manage it but at the time we just had a phone number.
So you could, when I, when I started working in Dungeons, you could, you could not email the dungeon to book and the dungeon advertised on Aero Sky. We, we paid an, when I say we, I mean the owner, my boss paid for one ad in Aero Sky and I believe that she consistently paid for it. You could pay to be like in the top three ads that, that or the first three ads that were seen. And we had a system that rotated through whoever was working in the house. So everybody would get featured on that. And then you could also pay for your own ad. I think that there was a period of time also where she paid for the ad for the house and then like three individual ads as part of working there. And that rotated as well. But then there was also at the time, the ability to you know, and like Kate was saying, you know, I learned all of this about this world, like through experience from my whoremothers and from my, my domme mom.
And I do, I did actually ask my domme mom who is on the cover of Spectator Magazine twice if she had pictures of those and she did send them to me. So I can drop that in the chat when we’re when we’re done, if you guys want to see that, she looks great. But so, yeah, and it was learning about how people were also how you could advertise on My Red Book, on Max Fish. There were early blogs. You, there was also a website I’m actually I didn’t check to see if it’s still around called Model Mayhem where you could find photographers to take your pictures which you needed to do in order to in order to advertise your services. And there were a lot of what we called a GWC, which is Guys With Camera, guys who considered themselves professional photographers because they had a camera. And this was before I would have considered, I mean I didn’t have a smart phone. I got a smart phone in 2013. So, but nobody that I knew was like taking pictures of themselves on their smartphones to advertise. So you needed to find somebody with a camera and do something that we call TFP, which is Trade for Print which is basically just these guys, most of whom were hobbyists, who figured out that they could essentially get a free session of hanging out with babes if they took pictures of us which were usually not very great.
So, you know, that was an example of an early thing that we had to figure out how to navigate in order to get everything that we needed which was pictures of ourselves so that people would know what we looked like. So the clients would know what we looked like so that they could book sessions with us. And, you know, I, I distinctly remember, and a big part of what I really want to talk about today is this particular generation and this particular era that I was a part of, my friend Lorelei Lee, who’s very involved in Hacking/Hustling, often jokes that like, you can, you can really tell somebody’s age in, in the industry like in sex work years by like whether or not you have like a VHS copy of a porn that you were in, which she and I both do. And you know, and then also not to get too far afield, but also like what what you remember your like, session, like music being on. So like, I, I like have a lot of very bad memories of like Portishead burned CDs, you know and like the Lost Highway soundtrack burned CD.
So anyway I remember being advised to start a blog to advertise like as a I, and also to like get on like Max Fish and like other message boards and like interact with clients and like erotic review and like interact with clients. And this was like my, my earliest experience of bristling at the idea of like offering free labor, like what I what I felt like what Melissa was talking about with like user generated content. Like I just, I felt like, and maybe it’s also because I’m a writer and I’m not a professional writer but like I was, I had like sort of already like transgressed in this way where it was like, okay I’m going to like charge for my time for like intimate interactions. And I’m gonna like, learn how to do all this like depraved shit, like as, as, as my as my work, as my survival. And then like the idea that then I would give away, like my my off the clock thoughts for free it was just like anathema to me from the beginning.
Caveat to all of this is that I have no judgment of people who figured out like, for whom that worked and like figured out, like even if they didn’t like it, that it, that that they were pragmatic about it and could make it work. not to get ahead of myself. But obviously this is something that sex workers today are. I mean, I can’t even, I can’t even imagine somebody like trying to be a sex worker today without giving access to all of their, off the clock, thoughts and pictures and also like the raw material of like, facts about who they are, but I will, I will get into that more. And I would love that to be a discussion topic as well. But anyway, so I never did that. I hated, I hated the idea.
And I think that the way that, that particular, the culture of that particular dungeon worked really sort of helped me to build my own sense of, of like how what raw material of myself I use to create the persona of Tina Horn and how I felt comfortable. But that was something that I could market. And that was something that was “for sale” or that, that that service was something that was available to rent. And, and that the, the idea of being, and I had I wrote sort of a piece about this, actually I’ll just go ahead and drop it in the chat now for a feminist blog called The Establishment about how I felt that I learned about that emotional compartmentalization because I worked in a place where like a client could book me and then I was like a jukebox. And you could like, I would like play songs as long as you were like putting coins in the jukebox. But like, if you didn’t have any more coins to put in the jukebox, you can’t hear any of my songs.
And, and so talk a little bit more about the technology mediated like structures that I inherited at that dungeon our booking system was a client would call on the phone on the landline and we would pick up, and by the way everyone was required to have a different name for how they, for how they answered the phone, right. Because mistresses don’t come to the phone (indistinct), because mistresses are like eating each other’s pussies and eating chocolate all day, and like, can’t, like aren’t gonna like come to the phone right and take your booking. But it actually also had, so, so that that facilitated the fantasy while also protecting art safety but also like facilitating things working more efficiently because if a client is talking to someone that they know that they can potentially book with they’re more likely to be a wanker. They’re more likely to just get off on that experience of talking to that person. Whereas if you make it really clear, like I’m not available, I’m the person that you have to talk to in order to see the person that you want to see now as we all know, everybody wants the thing that’s not on the menu. So that’s like something that you always have to manage but,I found it personally easier to like, be Kylie with my Laura Palmer voice and be like, oh, no, no, no. Like I know that people always say that I sound like Tina, but I’m not Tina. Anyway, when would you like to book? When would you like to book? When would you like to book?
And we so a client would call and then they had to call back at a particularly we would give them a time they had to call back. And then on their first bookings they had to go to a particular intersection in the East Bay and they, this it had been this intersection for many, many years. And the reason that we use this intersection is that at this intersection with something called a payphone. And the clients had to call the house from the payphone. And during the time I was there from like 2005 to 2010, that we, we started to like slightly like allow people to call from their cell phones because what they did when they called from the payphone was they had to describe the intersection right. So they had to prove that they were actually at that intersection and what this did. And I actually think it was brilliant and worked really well, was start to put the client in a frame of mind of following protocol. And by the way, some of these clients were not submissive. Some, sometimes they were, sometimes they wanted to come to the house to do a session where the where the worker was, was submissive or switched or sometimes they were just fetish sessions. So it wasn’t necessarily putting them in the frame of mind of being dominated, but following protocol and realizing that they had to engage with us on our terms, and they had to pay attention if they want if they wanted to get what they wanted.
And Iactually think that it was very effective because by the time a client would then show up and be letting the door and sat down and then the negotiation room, they were already used to following our lead. And, you know, Sinnamon’s verification story reminds me of, to jump around in time, how later around 2013, 2014 when I’ve worked in massage parlors in Midtown Manhattan. We were instructed to screen clients based on their Facebook profiles. And I’m going to come back to social media and early social media in a second. But I think again, that my, like whether it’s my personality or like how much it has to do with my personality and how much it has to do with my generation like remains to be seen, but, or will forever be a mystery, but I just, I, I don’t, I found that very stupid, frankly. I found a lot about the way that those places were run very stupid including the fact that we were actually really at the mercy of what clients said are review boards which was not something that I was used to in the dungeon culture in the East Bay. They could say whatever they wanted on message boards. And we did things our way, which I appreciated. And so then at the massage parlors like, yeah we were much more at the mercy of like guys writing reviews on the internet, which is like not human beings at their best or more, or like least vindictive. I think we all know that.
But yeah, I think that the idea that if you could find a client’s Facebook, that that demonstrated something about their like veracity or like how safe they would be as a client again, was anathema to me. So, so after working in person for many years I moved into making content that would live online when I started making porn. I was very lucky to live in the Bay Area during this very short boom of what sort of was like had like an umbrella term or like genre that were like still deliberating about a feminist porn partially because in Toronto, Good For Her which is a small sex positive boutique pleasure product store had started the feminist porn awards which ran for about a decade. I think 2006 to 2016, which had a conference for a couple of years. And, and, you know, so I was really lucky to live in the Bay when there was actually like some money being put into, you know, other pleasure positive shops, like good vibrations into, you know making what was like seemed genre wise in terms of aesthetics. And then also considered in terms of like ethical production to be feminist porn, you know which was like indie artsy, political, queer, kinky. And so myself and other people who are used to in-person sex work, you know, had the ability to, you know get paid a few hundred dollars to fuck our friends and then like be a talking head like say whatever our like 20 year old brains like thought about sexuality at the time.
And then of course there was kink.com which was a little bit more like getting paid by a client but people had all kinds of experiences working for kink.com. But one thing we can say for sure is that it was an opportunity for sex workers to make a decent money in the Bay Area at the time. Or like in the, again, they, they owned the armory for there. They still exist, but kink.com was in The Armory. So for about a decade around the same time I am running a little bit short on time. So what I wanna say a couple of things really quick. I just want to note something that doesn’t really get talked about that much, which is that Pink and White productions who are known for crash pad series another queer indie POC owned porn company that got its start in the Bay Area or around this era and is still around, and they also run something called Pink Label TV which I personally is like one of the top like subscription or VOD sites that I recommend to people if they’re looking for porn that is curated to be ethical or feminist which is super complicated, but that’s another panel.
But something that, that Pink and White and, and (murmurs) did in 2009 was choose about half a dozen sex workers or sex educators and give us these things that were called flip cameras which were about the size and shape of a smartphone like a little thicker and heavier. And they basically give us a very small budget to make whatever porn we wanted. And it was called, it was a project called Point of Contact which you can still see on, on Pink Label TV. And in some ways I think that they were really kind of at the cutting edge of the idea of porn as reality TV. And, you know, it really actually did, you know, put the means of production in our hands as workers and performers. And, you know, we had to figure out things like, you know we would perform in, in the way that people who have, who run clip stores and OnlyFans and their own membership sites now with, as video consumer technology has really changed from the world of these like flipped video cameras which like became outdated in like six months and are basically junk now.
But the way that we would like perform in each other’s videos to, to save money. And, and then also, I just I can’t express to you how novel it was to me in 2009 to have a camera this big and then to like stage a kink scene or a sex scene. And to just like point this thing at what was happening and like try to get some close ups and try to get some wide shots and like try to do all of this stuff. And, and you know now this is the way that people make adult content on the internet. I mean, pretty much everybody. So, and Kate mentioned 2257s, and this was another big lesson that I learned from that project was you got to get people to sign their 2257s or like whatever industry you’re in or whatever you’re doing. Like if you need people to sign a release form of any kind, like, please do it while you have them there. That’s your protocol as part of the moment because I spent a lot of 2009 riding my bike around the East Bay going to people’s straight jobs, where they were very grumpy about having to like come outside and like sign a porn form cause I had like forgotten in my horny filmmaking moments to have them sign that paperwork.
So again, I am, I think I’m at time and that brings us to about 2010 which I think is where we were supposed to be. I did also want to talk a little bit about what about like sex workers and social media. So I’ll just go ahead and drop a couple of articles that I have written on the subject in the chat. And just end by saying that I never wanted to join. I never wanted to join social media for the same reason that I was talking about earlier that I never wanted to blog as Tina Horn in order in, or in order to get clients because I just saw it as like giving away labor for free. And then some of my like queer porn friends in 2009 I think started a Twitter account @ Tina Horn’s Ass and started like tweeting as my ass which is my most famous and noticeable asset. And after a while I was like, all right just give me the password. And like, I’ll start tweeting off that. And that’s still my Twitter handle and now it’s my Instagram handle. And it’s, it was the only way that I could understand who Tina Horn could be on social media was by it just being very direct that it was about my ass first and foremost.
Kate D’Adamo: Thank you so much for all of that. And I’m just going to really quickly get some housekeeping out of the way and then turn it back, and Sinnamon you wanted to say something about screening and then I have one question for everyone and then we’re going to turn it over to a conversation, hopefully actually with that question in mind, but just to wrap up with the pieces we have to. So we’re going to be sending out some resources to explore on here. Actually, you know, the kink.com conversation is really key into our first piece, which is a document, or the first resource here, which is a documentary about the pre-kink website insex.com which like if kink.com is like the shiny version, graphic sexual horror is about insex, which is like the message boards. Next is a book Naked on the Internet by Audacia Ray who is, not only kind of talks about being naked on the internet, but is also the founder of The Red Umbrella project in New York.
The next article is a really interesting piece if you’re thinking about and talking about regulation, especially obscenity regulation. This is specifically about a time at the DOJ where they were looking at that and featuring someone who was the DOJ who really pushed back on the idea of only going after child pornography and wanted to really tackle obscenity, who is now if you’ve heard of INCOSE, the executive director. So that is a fascinating article to read. And then as a few more pieces, kind of about the history of the internet and, and talking about sex work on it, another documentary, which is about Pandora’s Box, it was a dungeon in New York back in 1996, it still exists. But a really interesting moment in time and a really unique level of access for a journalist who is a little bit challenging. And then we’re hoping to also have a few minutes to talk about the trailer for Zola. If you guys haven’t seen it you’ll get a link to it, please Google it. And the conversation about social media and what that means in translating sex workers’ lives.
And then we’re hoping everyone will join us next Friday where we’re gonna have Gabriela and Lorelei Lee talk about kind of the moment that we’re in now and what this moment is around post SESTA-FOSTA, post, pre earn it, whatever, you know the Russia stuff, the Facebook stuff. What does regulation of the internet regulation of digital spaces, regulation of the sex industry mean when it comes together in a moment where we have more visibility and more organizing around federal political issues than has ever been true in the history of the United States. So it’s going to be a great final conversation to bring folks in and to talk about where we are right now. And so Sinnamon, you wanted to say something about screening, and then I have one more conversation, one more question for our panelists.
Sinnamon Love: Yeah, there were two things, two things that Tina brought up that I just wanted to kind of like to piggy back on you know, where the ways in which Tina described people being sent to the corner to call the dungeon as a checkpoint. In New York in the, in the early 2000s most of the, I guess they, they would be called brothels but most of the like escort booking locations would always, they would always rent the, the front apartment so that they could actually look out the window to see the person on the corner, whereas the Dungeons didn’t have that, that that ability to do that because most of the Dungeons in New York city are, you know underground or were at that time underground you know, basement, you know, locations. So that was something that I wanted to like kind of point like how it went from, you know calling to describe the location, to like calling to, and then looking out the window to see the person.
And then the other thing that I wanted to mention was let me just look at what, oh, the same way in which like you know, Tina described using Facebook to verify people, as soon as LinkedIn became a thing here, you have people are providing all of their work information, right in one spot on the internet. And it became a very easy way to like follow. It’s like you can look at their LinkedIn, ee how long they’ve been working look at all of their other, their other information see that they really have some engagement with other people from their company on the, on the page. And so this was, you know, sex workers, most sex workers that I know now use LinkedIn as a secondary form of verification. So I just wanted to touch on those two things. Oh, and also like Tina was talking about the flip cameras. Prior to flip cameras, we used to have to, like I actually used to run my FireWire cable from my Sony handy cam into my MacBook in order to stream like web, you know video live or to be able to record and directly, you know to dump it onto my laptop as well. So we’re seeing this kind of progression of the technology in like the same in various different experiences at different time.
Kate D’Adamo: Yeah, the conversation about screening is so fascinating and the ways they, you know, trying to work around that. And so one thing that all three of y’all brought up. And Tina, I love this phrase what raw material of myself can I market? And so the question I would love to post to the three of you, and it’s kind of like a half baked question anyway, is, you know in the conversations about developing these personas, about marketing these personas, about having media around them, about having access to the day-to-day lives of a persona that kind of against the fact that all y’all are also real people and organizers and as we’re developing relationships with each other, with other workers, with clients in these different spaces at the same time that surveillance is increasing and often using the same mediums to do it, what was navigating like that.
What was navigating some of those challenges like, and what has it been like, especially because you know, I also love this panel because I, I everyone’s kind of, of the same age-ish and you know when you start your sex work persona you’d never at least 15 years ago it wasn’t the same that it was now. And there were a lot easier, it was a lot easier to kind of draw these lines. And so I was hoping you guys could kind of speak to what that means, especially within the context of like increasing surveillance where, you know we open up our signal and four clients have now joined signal and it alerts us. And so, yeah, I was hoping you guys y’all could kind of talk about that and then hoping that could pivot us into a broader conversation with everyone who’s sitting here with us.
Tina Horn: Oh yeah, like you’re, you’re you open up signal and it’s like the name that you’ve given the client in your phone. So it’s like Steve cross dressing, Steve, like wanker, Steve Never Call Again, Steve like dollar sign, dollar sign, dollar sign. They’re all Steve. Well, one place that I really wanna start is that I feel like you can really tell, when you interact with someone online, which isn’t, I mean especially in this past year, not to put too fine a point on it is like what public space is and how we interact with people, you can really tell if someone has participated in an informal criminalized economy based on their relationship to again, like what raw material of themselves they’ll just like let hang out there. And apparently like, we’re the ones with bad boundaries but like when people are like here’s a picture of me in front of my house. Or like, yeah, so, so I want to say that. And then another thing that I wanted to say that like, I’m at the point, I’m at the cynical point now where I literally don’t understand why people have social media if it’s not to sell something.
Because like, I feel like as sex workers we understood intuitively from the, from the beginning of social media, maybe even from the beginning of the internet that like the reason to be online is to sell something. And like now if at, and to sell like this to sell ourselves like to sell, you know and obviously there’s, we, we pushed back a lot against the idea of like, we’re selling our bodies or we’re selling like the rights to like look at our bodies and we can problematize that here and everywhere forever, but like when like other people are using your online presence to sell shit. So that’s not, you know, everybody here knows that that is not like tinfoil hat talk. That’s just a fact. And like, but I feel like I, in terms of like like Elliot mentioned in the chat like that they are studying the psychological effects of like persona making on workers. And like, especially what that means when people are constantly being deplatformed and decriminalized or criminalized, should be decriminalized.
But like, I’ve always said that, for example like I know exactly how to talk to @ Sinnamon Love on Twitter when I know that we, I know, and I think it’s important to always acknowledge that we are being voyeured, that our conversations are being voyeured to. And that if, if I have something that I want to say to Sinnamon, if I think that there’s any possibility that it will help either of us make money, I’ll say it to her on Twitter, same with, @ Melissa Gira. And like, but if there’s something that I wanna say to them that that may in any that I just prefer like not to make available for as part of our brand like I’m gonna send them a signal. And like, I, I it’s. So it’s really weird to me when people are on social under their legal names and they’re behaving in ways that I think of as what you would use to sell something. But, and they’re, I guess they’re just in it for the dopamine, which again, it’s like no judgment but I just, it like, it’s unfathomable to me
Melissa Gira Grant: Especially this year, right. Like I’m gonna kind of start with this year and work backwards. So I wrote this, I guess like a year ago. Yeah May 13th, yikes last year The Coronavirus is Making Us All Cam Girls right now. I was so fucking alienated. Like, okay, I have like a light now. I haven’t like lit myself at my computer. God, I think I probably use like a gooseneck desk lamp to be honest, when I was camming. Cause that was a really cheap, adjustable light. I remember you know, Steve Jobs fucking sucks because he put, here is the webcam in a place where we all look like shit on a laptop, right. This is much, but this is my very first webcam. This is from the year 2000. And, and so having a camera on a tripod, like why wouldn’t you wanna control your angles. And so I’m watching all these people on Zoom. Who’ve clearly never had this experience before but on the other hand, I’m super hostile to doing it well because I am not being paid to do that well.
I’m just in a work meeting where we’re talking about what we’re writing this week, why do I have to look cute? And so I was like aggressively ugly I feel like for the first year of the pandemic I just couldn’t handle it. I was like, I’m not, I’m not gonna be cute. Like I, you can’t pay me to be cute at work. My job at work is to show up and write. That’s what I do for a living. And then at a certain point, I was like this is going to go on for a really long time. I should figure out how to be a real person in this moment. And for people, who’ve never had to figure out how to be a real person on camera in their house, I don’t know how you just made it through the last year. Honestly, I don’t know.
People, who’ve never had to think about how to assemble a backdrop. Like I just settled on something ridiculous because it’s I don’t have to think about it. So I, I was born in ‘78 but I got online in ‘94 when I was 16 years old. So I also feel that it’s like I’m Gen X in age 100% but I’m a millennial in internet years because I’ve been online since I was a teen. And, and I was also online at a time where it was just purely creative, non-commercial like you were here to express yourself but not under your real name. Cause that’s like, why would you do that. There’s too many creeps and.
Tina Horn: Also if you were, if you were a teenager. (indistinct) I was just going to say like, I don’t, I don’t know about y’all, but for me it was definitely like, oh, there’s there’s there’s porn here. I can, I can be naked. I can make like, you know, erotic fan fiction about the X-Files and then upload it to a server. And then, and then unload, you know erotic drawings of the characters from Animaniacs like that.
Melissa Gira Grant: I, you know, there was a lot of weird Disney stuff, you know like, yeah, I’m just gonna leave that there. And you would have to go on a Usenet newsgroup to download it. And you would literally get like 10 pixels at a time, you know, loading, loading. The idea that porn is really easy. Originally 90’s is like. (indistinct) Yeah that wasn’t easy at all. Yeah, it was, it was literally a peep show on your browser. It was moving so slow. Anyway, I spend most of my first, I don’t know decade on the internet, not under my own name and doing sex work under a different not my own name, several different, not my own names. And then I just hit this sort of point. Like you were talking about Tina around writing, where it’s like I’ve always known that this is what I wanna do. And the internet has changed such that I probably have to pick with one identity to go with. There was just like a moment somewhere in the mid aughts.
And when I started working for Valleywag which was Gawker’s tech blob is essentially when I took the one name that I have and will always have that’s mostly my real name but actually not entirely. So I still feel like I have a little, a little cover, even though the government is happy to pay me under that name. So it’s a mess in terms of my tactics, I chose a name where I knew I was gonna have max SEO value to change it, which Gawker.com and 2007 it’s pretty good in terms of SEO if you’re gonna change your persona. And so, as a result, my entire time on social media, even though I was doing sex work while I was on social media I only ever used it under that one persona under my actual name, the name I wrote my book under, the name on here under like, I just, I had to have that division. And I even tried to have like a sex work tumblr like a domme tumblr. And that was a mistake. Like I just, I, I was seriously very low tech as a worker the more I wanted to use social media as the rest of my life.
Sinnamon Love: Yeah, I, yeah, I totally relate there. I mean, Model Mayhem, and One Model Place, you know they really allowed me as a performer, particularly like as a marginalized performer, we do, you know, it, it’s there’s a couple things, right. So I’m trying to figure out how to start this but there’s no innovation in porn. Like really, you know, when you walk through the door as a performer, you are only cast for roles that you look like when you walk through the door. And so, you know, there’s, the directors are not looking at someone who is 18 and looks like a cheerleader thinking that they could make them into a glamorous model. Right, so websites like for me, (indistinct) and only one model for, I keep wanting to say OnlyFans and One Model Place like really allowed me to be able to have exposure to photographers that allowed me to rebrand myself in a in a way that could, so that I could get jobs that were not, that, you know fit other kinds of, you know, other ways like that was the reason that was the way that I was able to to stay in the business for so long, because, you know you can only be “barely legal” for about three or four years and then, you know, it’s just not believable anymore. And then you have to do something else.
And so for usually that’s when people get kind of pushed out or edged out and, you know, back then the
“milf” you know wasn’t really something that was a thing yet. And so by, by using these kinds of platforms I was able to shoot with these photographers. I was able to, I discovered that, you know, playmates as a part of their contract could not do hardcore porn but they could do like fetish stuff. So if I shot with these photographers that are shooting playmates then I could you know, by doing this kind of glamour fetish photography, then now I’m on websites with other glamour you know, with these glamour models. And it ups my, my value as a brand. Like for me, like, you know these days we see like with escorts creating these luxury you know, luxury brand personas like that’s essentially what I was doing by shooting with people like Christine Kessler and Ashley Fontanon. And, you know, (indistinct) Jabari and like there’s all these different people that I was able to work with, who they, who gave me images that I was able to then use to pitch myself to porn producers, to get those other kinds of roles and also to book with clients at a high, at a higher rate.
And so for me, like that was a big part of it for me but also because I had a lot of early exposure to message boards, these a lot of the porn message boards where people were file-sharing, they were ripping content off of your website and reposting it. And I had these kind of like very, you know you know, tense, tense relationships with these with these forums where I’d go on and be like, yo like I don’t have a ton of money like stop stealing from me. And so, and, but that, that created this pathway to like kind of opening the door to talk about like the reality of my life and the reality of what it means to be a porn performer. And, you know, the fact that I’m, you know I’m a single parent and I’m raising these kids and I’ve got like to really allow to, I started to humanize myself with my consumers mostly to get them to stop stealing from me and also to like report back to me when other people were stealing content, because you know, there was, it was, it wasn’t as easy to track your stolen content, like, you know back then as it is now.
And so, you know, so that, that was really important for me. And, and, and, you know when I started porn, you know, blogging and then later when I joined Twitter in 2007. It was really, you know, allowing people to see me as a human being became part of the brand, you know because I am a you know, it’s like, I really pushed for authentic branding because from the very beginning when I first started in the business I was told only do things that you wanna do because you can only fake it for so long. And so like that became that, that was my and still is my branding. It’s, it’s just so much easier to be myself. Like, I’m just not that good of an actress and I’m not trying, it’s just too much work to try to pretend to be somebody else. But I will say that, you know, there are parts of that that I regret because when I was, when I was doxed back in whatever year of the big AIM, healthcare debacle. You know, people, you know, they listed the real porn Wikileaks listed my children’s, my then minor children’s links to their Facebook pages.
My then 11 year old daughter got a DM from someone telling her that she was telling them that they were gonna be “a dick sucker like mommy” you know, it’s like the kinds of, you know my address was posted online. My real name was posted online. People were contacting other family members. It’s like, you know, it’s like, that was, you know I could have never have foreseen that by simply existing as myself but using my stage name that the fact that I was bold enough to talk about being a parent and a whore in the same line would get me on this list of doxxed sex workers. And so, so there, there is a huge, there’s a lot of risks to being that, that open about who you are and your reality but at the same time, like I, you know, it it is beneficial because, you know, you know people talk about, and Tina, Tina kind of touched on this, people often talk about like that we, you know sex workers are selling their bodies really we’re selling an experience. Even if that experience is casual sex, we’re still selling an experience.
You know, people who are interested in, you know cheerleader porn by and large are interested in the girl, the guy got away, right. Or the girl that they did, they didn’t have when they were in, in college or in high school. People who are interested in the milfs are and Tina knows a lot about this stuff because Tina has had a long running pod, show on why are people into that. But it’s, you know, it’s, you know, really, you know when you start to look at why are people into the types of sex that they’re into, what kind of porn, you know of porn and thereby porn performers or what kinds of escorts are they booking. It all boils down to some psychological attachment to that particular thing that, that their fantasy is. And so really sex workers are selling all sex workers are selling a fantasy. The type of fantasy that they’re selling will determine the kind of client that they get. It will determine the kind of money that they’re able to make and the branding and marketing, it really is. I mean, sex work, the, the most successful sex workers are the ones who really should be working in you know, on, you know, in these high-end marketing firms teaching people how to like, you know, you know sell to, you know, sell ethically to customers, right so. (Sinnamon laughs)
Kate D’Adamo: Thank you for sharing that. And so we’re going to turn off the recording and kind of open it up first and foremost thank you to our panel. This was phenomenal. And this conversation I think has sparked so much and has resonated so deeply. And as we shift over into the conversation, you know so many of the things that you mentioned and that we just talked about around these different personas about how our workers are also like they’re authentic and they’re also responsive to clients. And so what does it mean to connect across something that is actually a reflection of a client base and the pieces of raw material that fit into that. And then, you know, what you just said I think was so impactful that very often that gets taken up to be like sex workers are X and, you know and we’re gonna create legislation based on this concept of victimization and these narratives of victimization which sex workers can’t be because we’re reading these personas. And then at the same time when we let people in just a little bit it gets weaponized against us so quickly. And I know that I, I know how deeply that resonates. And so we’re gonna shut off the recording and we’re going to ask folks to, we know we only have—