References to Explore
- Follow @thotscholar and @ArchivalSex on Twitter!
- [Book] Sex Wars – Lisa Duggan (NYU)
- [Video] Carmencita, 1894, the first woman in front of a Thomas Edison camera, and the first thing to be banned
- [Short Story – and not a very good one] “Hatrack”, a short story about a sex worker who takes her Catholic clients to a Protestant cemetery and vice versa. The story was banned, but HL Mencken reproduced it in his literary magazine. He was arrested in a public spectacle which he orchestrated, making it one of the most famous arrests of a magazine seller during the Comstock enforcement.
- [Video] Papa Joe’s Go Go Controversy, Roanoke, VA, 1965
Magazines, Backpages & Obscenity
May 14, 2021
Kate D’Adamo: And we’re recording. Awesome, thank you all so much for being here. This is the second of a four-part series that we’ve been doing called Trains, Texts and Tits: Sex Work, Technology and Movement. And today we are gonna be building on our panel from last time and moving into a bit of the mid century, moving into the 19th century with two brilliant thinkers in the movement who I’m so excited to have in conversation. Thotscholar and Stephanie Kaylor. And Blunt, could you share a little (distorted sound).
Danielle Blunt: Yeah, so Hacking/Hustling is a collective of sex workers, survivors and accomplices working at the intersection of tech and social justice to interrupt state surveillance and violence that’s facilitated by technology. The work that I do with Hacking/Hustling is largely research and programming like this. And we’re really excited to have some of these conversations that will lead into some of the bills and laws that we’re going to be seeing in 2021 coming at us. So I think learning about our history is really incredibly important and I’m super excited to be here and to learn with you all. And if you wanna learn anything else about Hacking/Hustling or see more of our work, you can visit us at hackinghustling.org.
Kate D’Adamo: And we really also wanted to… We’re talking about history and we’re talking about our movement. And unfortunately in the last week we lost a beautiful, bright organizer, thinker, scholar on this work. And so we wanted to take a moment and recognize the passing of Mistress Velvet last weekend who was one of the executive directors of SWOP USA and was a longtime brilliant advocate for intersectional black feminism and really incorporating that into this movement. And so we would like to invite everyone to just take a moment of silence together in honor of Mistress Velvet’s contribution and life and in committing ourselves to live into the incredible values as part of their memory. (silence) Thank you for that. And so today we’re here to pull this conversation forward.
We’re gonna start with just some quick introductions about our panel, our community agreements and what we’re gonna be talking about this month. We’re gonna set the stage a little bit and I will update that agenda for the timeline by looking at about 1910 to about 1970, and then talk to our brilliant experts that we have with us today and really have some great conversation about that moment and what sex work meant in that moment. And then we’re gonna switch to opening up questions and answers. And then at the 90 minute mark, so 1:30, 10:30 and everywhere in between, depending on where you are, we’re gonna shut off the recording and switch to an open conversation. We know that even if we’re talking about history, so many of these threads pull on things that exist in our lives and that are coming up. And so what we wanted to do is just have a half hour of kind of debrief and processing together where we get to talk about what came up, what we’re seeing and really just connect to each other.
So here are our community agreements that we’re hoping everyone can commit to. Bring in your histories and speak from your own experience, all of us bring something unique and it’s all special, it’s all beautiful, and it’s all necessary to have a fuller picture. Be conscious of the personal nature of direct questions. If you do have a question for someone, be thoughtful about what that might entail in answering and the space that it gets answered in. Be committed to each other’s collective learning and growing. We all have our learning curves and we honor that. Consider the space that we take up and the space that we leave for others, whether it is in the chat section or in the open dialogue, we wanna make sure that it is accessible. And so we’re asking everyone to just be conscious. Be open to learning. Sometimes we hear things that might land in a way that we didn’t realize. And so we are always open to receiving more information. We ask not to share pirated work, including books, porn or any other form of art. Please get explicit permission from the author before it’s shared.
We wanna respect the diversity of identities, which for this conference really means not assuming organizers or activists for whom sharing details of our lived experiences is not necessarily safe. That also means we don’t deadname, we don’t dox, and we don’t make assumptions about how people want to show up and the information that they wanna share. We prioritize care for ourselves and for each other. Take a break, step off. If you need to go get water, go get water, please. We invite you to care and love yourselves. And then finally practice not using ablest language which we can put a link to that in the chat but including both physical and mental ableism we want to try to avoid. And Blunt, could you share a little bit about what we were kind of talking about for the chat section of this conversation?
Danielle Blunt: Yeah, we really wanna invite you to use the chat as a way to connect with each other and to connect with the material that’s being spoken about. Sometimes the chat can be, can add a lot to the conversation and it can also kind of go in tangents that are distracting. So just being mindful about what’s going into the chat and what you’re hoping to get out of those interactions and really encouraging you to connect with each other and to connect with the material that we’re talking about. And also a reminder that we will have time at the last half hour to stop the recording and turn on our cameras if we feel so inclined and to be in community in this capacity with each other.
Kate D’Adamo: And so today we have two really incredible presenters, folks we’re putting in dialogue. First is Moses Moon, better known on Twitter as Thotscholar, who uses they/them. They’re formally known as Femi Babylon and they are a sex intellectual, a gorilla eroticist, a who do American conjure and low-end theorist. She is a co-founder of the Disabled Sex Workers Coalition and a board member at SWOP USA. Her writing has been featured in the Columbia Human Rights Law Review. “We Too: Essays on Sex Work and Survival” Vice, Autostraddle, Afropunk, Wear Your Voice and Yale University’s Law and Political Economy Blog. She is currently at work on her second book, “Low End Theory.”
We also have Stephanie Kaylor who is a PhD student at the University of Feminist Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She holds a master’s in women’s gender and sexuality studies from the University of Albany and has completed coursework in library and information science at Simmons College. And Blunt and I are gonna be your hosts today. So please feel free to shoot us a message in the chat and we will try to facilitate this conversation.
And so what we’re talking about today is really the idea of sex workers as early adopters. And what we mean by that and Blunt already kind of touched a little bit on it was that in the context of, we’re seeing all of these policies and bills that are happening about being kicked out of digital space. We really wanted to have a conversation that starts with the idea that this actually isn’t new. This is just kind of the digital formation of the gentrification that sex workers have been experiencing all along. And so our thesis for really pulling this together was that sex workers are early adopters. Sex workers move into, are pushed out of existing space or leave existing space looking for something new. They become early adopters of new spaces and new frontiers and then create and shape that space to make it welcoming, to make it accessible because you just still have to find clients. And then once that space becomes desirable, are then regulated out. And that is true, whether we’re talking about physical space, digital space, media space. And that’s what we’re really hoping to explore in these conversations.
So today we’re gonna be talking about kind of a mid-century period. Last time a lot of things came up that are just dominant themes running through this. We talked about immigration, we talked about movement and physical space exploring trains moving out into the west, facilitating colonization, but facilitating a new frontier of possibility for many people. We talked about industrialization and how jobs centering in very specific locations brought and facilitated movement and encouraged different types of movement and how that led to a growing urbanization to create the modern cities that we’re much more familiar with today. We also talked a lot about the creation of narrative and especially the ideas of who is a victim, who is a criminal, what does it mean to be an American. What does it mean to be an American woman. And how those are utilized and weaponized by different people who are looking to enact different stories and narratives.
And then finally, we talked a lot about the independence of open spaces, what that allows and what that facilitates and then what it means and how we adapt when that cracks down. And so I’m gonna give a little bit of context for how we’re shaping this conversation today. And I like to do that in kind of three ways. First and foremost, the context of social upheaval. Movement and freedom and then the facilitation of that is gonna cross a lot of changes in how we understand the world. Second, the context of policing, even though it’s delayed, it always comes on the heels of these changes. And then of course the facilitation of these grossened changes in technology and industry and in movement. So in this period, one of the… It was a period of incredible social change and resistance.
We had just moved into the 19th century. And so we’re looking at not necessarily the birth of these, because resistance has always been existing in the face of oppression, but a centralization and a visibility that was new. So we were seeing the civil rights movement forming as we understand it as a civil rights movement, but really especially around black liberation post-chattel slavery and then post-failed reconstruction. And so the growth of the NAACP leading to moving into these dialogues around that turned into the founding of the Black Panthers. We’re also seeing a great migration in the Harlem Renaissance as people are moving into new spaces, they’re taking up space and they’re creating these spaces.
And then of course the legislation that comes on the heels of that incredible activism or things like the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Act, the Fair Housing Act, which were all trying to facilitate and respond to these demands for liberation. At the same time, we were also seeing the same kind of concretization of these identity-based movements and LGBTQ resistance. The Compton Cafeteria riots and Stonewall happening in such close proximity to each other. And right at the same time two sex workers of color, Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera are at the forefront of this movement and are doing the most progressive liberation work and utilizing sex work to do that, I think the history of resistance is also a history of how people hustle. And I think perfectly displayed in that are folks like Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera for whom sex work was central to what was possible.
And of course, when you have these kinds of movements forming around identities, singular identities are not possible, no one lives a singular identity life. And so in 1989, Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw coined this term “intersectionality” and really names it and develops it as a formalized theory where these unique experiences are not simply overlays, they’re not layers, they are actually creating unique experiences of the world. After that, and I found this this morning, actually, this is a still from a stag film in 1906, the picture on the side called “No Swimming.” And at the same time women and families and the role of women and families was changing as well. When women have greater access to independence, you can no longer use the unpaid care labor that facilitates capitalism.
And so this was also underscored by gaining greater access to education, employment opportunities, schools of higher education are allowing women to literally just enroll. And at the same time, employment was facilitated so much by World War II, by World War I, by the fact that you had men in industry going offshore and still having to fill those roles. (distorted sound) the first reaction to that being the 1950s, being the concretization of the nuclear family identity, which wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t needed to facilitate the kind of structural capitalism that is part of an American story. And then of course, greater access to reproductive control with the pill, with Roe v. Wade, with what was called like “sexual liberation.” But of course, all of this really being mediated by a women’s movement that is predominantly white, predominantly straight and predominantly middle and upper class. What would a sexual revolution look like if it actually incorporated women of color, queer folks, femmes who were non-binary and actually centered those experiences? We might’ve had an actual sexual liberation.
And at the same time, policing always follows change. And so policing was also being concretized, especially in the ways that we know it now. So at this point, major metropolitan areas are going to have a formalized police force. Police forces in the way that we know them are actually not that old. 1845 was when the NYPD was founded. We’re literally talking about something that’s less than the age of many buildings in New York. But by this point there was this like professional police force in major cities. Around 1905 is the first time that a vice squad was actually used the way that we understand it now. So that’s a really still kind of a new concept and idea, the policing of vice and the way that we police other things is still a growing and forming concept. And morality policing at this time is merging with this kind of carceral approach. If you see something, it’s bad therefore we send in the cops. And at the same time, and so you had these suppression of vice societies that had popped up, especially in Chicago and New York, which became very intertwined with the concepts of policing that have since really been naturalized but were kind of invented like 100 years ago.
And at the same time, the Federal Police Department as we know it now still is kind of finding its footing. At the beginning of the 1900s, there wasn’t necessarily a federal police force. The criminal law on the federal level is also something that kind of had to be figured out. The federal government was about like the mail for a really long time. And then all of a sudden there was this decision to move into criminalization as the role of the federal government. And so when you’re seeing things like the Mann Act or the White-Slave Trade Act, which is crossing state lines for the purposes of prostitution and it’s still used now, it’s still used fairly frequently, that was passed in 1910.
And that as well as prohibition exploded the size of the federal government because those are federal laws that all of a sudden have to be enforced. And so this is about the same time that you’re seeing the creation of the FBI, the expansion of the FBI. It responds with these huge budget increases and then just never shrinks back down. Prohibition in particular was a federal government that grew and grew and grew and grew. And at the same time, we’re contracting with groups like the Klan locally to enforce prohibition. And of course enforce it in ways that were not necessarily about Gatsby but a lot more about like local pubs where low wage workers were meeting and were organizing.
And then also you were seeing sex workers becoming framed as vectors of disease very often. And this is something that is really interesting, especially now that we’re talking about like public health and this and that and the criminalization of public health, was the Department of Defense was actually incredibly involved in local sex worker policing, specifically as military bases were growing up. Sex workers were being framed as vectors of disease really compromising, through this lens of eugenics, the idea that you could create this like perfect soldier and perfect soldiers do not have venereal disease. And therefore rounding up of sex workers was actually highly funded by the Department of Defense. And at the same time as new media is coming up, they’re cracking on new media as well. As things become more visible, people react to that. And so you’re seeing a lot of prosecutions of obscenity around the beginning of the 1900s, especially around,starting in like the 1910s and 20s, the first amendment began to be explored. What it means today started to develop in law in conversation with things like obscenity. What was puriant, what can we police and enforce? And then they are also starting to target bookshops and sellers of this material.
And at the same time as the movie industry kind of grows and begins to form, the Hays Code is developed. And that was actually a self-policing of the movie industry itself, of the movie industry where they said, “All right, we’re gonna adopt this morality code and that’s gonna control everything we produce so that you don’t come in and enforce your laws.” But it still had the same kind of censorship background to it and interest and effect. You’re also seeing new temperance movements grow. After prohibition, after the Mann Act and after white women got the right to vote, there was kind of this reformation and trying to figure out what to do now, especially in the 50s when everything was about purity, when everything was about this like good wholesome white nuclear family that lived in the suburbs. Vigilance movements didn’t necessarily know what to do.
And so as we see these women’s movements grow through the lens of like, what are they against? We’re still seeing the same narratives that were around with white slavery. They just begin to evolve around porn, around new forms of media then. And so you see groups like women against violence in the media, women against pornography start to grow in the 70s as a reaction to these new forms of sexuality on film. And then of course our new technologies and our new industries. As I was saying, the growth of media is not just about the invention of technology, it’s about the accessibility and distribution of technology. And so newspapers and we talked a little bit last time about how this new form of journalism that evolved at the very beginning of the 1900s really married capitalism and storytelling and narrative and newspapers and the idea of news and storytelling, as this like locator of truth in a very objective way.
And so as these newspapers and magazines are getting out there, they’re also just exploding as far as an industry. So you’re also seeing new gossip columns coming around and things like yellow page, I think they’re called yellow pages actually. I can’t remember now. But using like gossip columnists around Hollywood to tell these stories, to be able to just make more money. Televisions and movie theaters are also popping up. The movie industry is growing and of course there’s gonna be things like stag films, which are early porn, they’re wild. If you wanna google stag films, it’s absolutely the cutest thing in the world, I think. But there are these like short black and white films which are… They’re racy, they’re sex, they’re explicit. We’ve never had a form of media where someone didn’t wanna put sex on it. And so those are becoming more accessible and kind of proliferating.
Communication is also changing and the ability to communicate is shifting. We’ve had the telephone for like a hot minute, but by 1920, there were 13 million phones and almost 40% of homes had one, which is new, which changes the way we communicate. And then of course, movement has always been really important. In 1916, 1921 and 1956 the federal government starts to seriously invest in what it means to have an interstate highway system, which is complemented by the fact that people are able to access cars. And so as we think about interstate roads, the expansion of petroleum production, how that fuels industry, how people can get to places. And then of course, how people can access private space. Having access to cars changes what it means to have an urban space where people can loiter for the purpose of sex, where people can have sex not in such public spaces, but now in their cars where they can go somewhere in their cars. And so facilitating these changes in the sex industry are these new mediums.
And then of course, the forms of sex work, they all say the same and they all change. Of course, there’s street-based sex workers, especially as we have these urbanized areas where people are closer together. Brothel based work has continued. It continues to be, it is more and more criminalized in the west, but agencies are popping up as well, especially around the ability of people to access phones. In 1977, Nevada is gonna legalize its brothels and remain the only state in the country with regulations where local counties can have legal brothels. Dancers in strip clubs have always existed, but also are kind of responding to the time. So you’re seeing the Playboy Club unionize in 1972. Porn is growing, the age of porn is the 60s but stag films have been around since 1915 and accessible. And so we’re already seeing sex on film. And then Gloria Leonard launches the very first phone sex company in 1977. So of course alongside, honestly like everything we’ve talked about, it’s always women at the forefront of these really deciding to innovate in the sex industry and really have control over that.
So that is a very quick background of like 1000 things in 60 years. But most importantly, we’re here to listen to two brilliant speakers, Moses and Stephanie. And so I’d love to start with some questions and I’m gonna stop sharing my screen so we can see you two mostly. And so first I would love to begin this with, is there anything kind of from this context that you want folks to keep in the front of their minds or that you wanna add to this conversation. That was a lot and so what do you think is most important to kind of remember in the moment that we’re talking about today? And that’s open to either whoever wants to go first.
Stephanie Kaylor: Well, first of all, thank you so much for that really informative introduction, efforts, many pieces. And I think that that’s really helpful for grounding this because a lot of times when we’re looking at like sex worker history, both in terms of activism and criminality, we tend to kind of jump over a lot of the mid 20th century. So a lot of times we’ll discuss the xenophobia and racism, the white slavery movement and then we’ll go straight to the like late 1970s. And there’s just so much you’ve touched upon in your introduction. And I think that keeping that at like the forefront is really important and that’s part of the reason why I’ve began looking at this era in particular. So thank you for that.
Kate D’Adamo: Absolutely. And Moses, how are you?
Moses Moon: I’m really bad at dates most of the time, but I’m getting better. I think what’s important is remembering, like I guess like getting… For me, it was about getting better at dates in general and getting better at tracking like the lineage when it comes to technology and sex work, what I noticed is that like history always repeats itself. So basically, I wanna say like in black vernacular and our connection to West Africa and West African languages what people notice is that like the tenses are used differently, the past is the present basically. And that’s what I think about when I think about this history is that the past is the present. And so when you go back throughout history you will see that with the advent of technology or migration or any type of like large-scale change, even the things that you think are small, like getting beepers or like voicemail and things like that, or freeways and highways, and when you think about all of these things, people were like trying to prohibit at every turn and people were fighting all the way through history and it hasn’t stopped and it happens over and over again.
The other day I was reading a paper about phone…I was looking for something else and I accidentally happened upon a paper about people’s outrage around phone sex. And like dial-a-whore or dial… It was something like that. And it was like in the 60s or 70s or something, they were like, “Yeah like, they’re gonna corrupt our kids. You can just call a phone sex operator and like, you know.” It was the same exact things that they were saying about that are literally the same things they’re saying about the internet and Backpage and Twitter and social media. Like it was the exact same language. It was the exact same concerns. And it was using the children as like this, “Oh my God, we’re so concerned about these kids.” And like, it was just like so weird. And that’s like, if you study history, that’s the type of stuff that you’ll start to notice, like these patterns of engagement with sex, sexuality, sex work and everything. And it, it’s across racial and class lines. And everybody is just so concerned.
And the thing about the thing about like with race and like particularly black people since I’m black, obviously, is like there was a lot of stereotypes about the black community, particularly low income black communities and shootings and drugs and prostitution and all of this stuff, even today. And yet, like a lot of the time if you go back in the history, like I was just looking at “I’ve Got to Make My Living” by Cynthia Blair. And she talked about how she, because her book focuses on Chicago, how like on the south side and in certain areas, vice was just allowed to flourish because they felt like if you could keep it over there, then it won’t be in our neighborhoods. So like in Chicago, they kind of like zone out areas where they don’t want strip clubs or they don’t want certain things or whatever because they feel like it attracts vice and they kind of like push that stuff into like marginalized neighborhoods, not just black neighborhoods, either. Like these, it goes into Mexican neighborhoods or like immigrant Italian and like all of those, they just kinda like push the vice into those neighborhoods. And then they say those people are the problem.
But then like, they start trying to regulate around it because they don’t want… Like back then and it’s a little less obvious now. They are a lot more vague and a lot more careful with the language and how they do things. But basically like back then, they were like, they didn’t want like sex workers. I mean, like, they didn’t want black people and white people mixing. You’ll see this in books like “Slumming.” They didn’t want them like ’cause people would go and they’d be like, “Okay, well the party shit is over here. So like, we’re gonna go over there and we’re gonna do all this fun stuff underground.” And it’s like, it’s exciting. Like there’s this touristy kind of feeling. And that still kind of exists today but it’s more on a global scale.
You’ll see, like middle-class women, whether they’re black, white, or other and whatever. They will travel to like the Caribbean or the Virgin Islands or Brazil or what’s that, there’s a new place that people are starting to colonize. I saw it on HGTV. It’s like somewhere in South America or Mexico it’s a really, really pretty white beaches. I don’t know, you guys know, probably. But they’d go down there and they like have sex with like these male prostitutes. And like, they have like this whole thing, like I read this in like either Essence or Ebony Magazine at one point, like one of the black magazines. I read about this group of black upper-class living who just like every year go cheat on their husbands and like go to fucking Brazil or something and like have sex with these men. Like, it’s just like crazy. And then like, there’s white men who are like sex tourists, it’s Belize, it’s Belize. Yes, Belize. Like people are starting, rich people are starting to colonize Belize. Oh God, that was bothering me.
So yeah, like these are the things we wanna keep in mind, I guess I’m kind of long-winded, I’m so sorry, you guys. But like, these are the things we wanna keep in mind, all of these patterns and everything, because it all repeats and like obviously prohibition doesn’t work and yet here we are and they’re still trying to prohibit people. And I think it’s just, you know, I think it’s like it’s very clear, at least to me that it’s kind of like a cover for like just kind of like keeping marginalized people in their place. And sex workers, like legislating around sex workers is kind of like a vehicle for that. Like the Walking While Trans stuff is not even new. There’s like a whole history of it from the early 20th century, like trans women who were just back then “cross-dressers,” drag queens. They could be minding their own business and walking on the street and whatever and they’d be accused of being a prostitute, whether or not they were. And so that’s why when you read trans history, bisexual history and stuff like that, like you’ll see that the bisexual and trans and sex worker communities intersect all the time like heavily. For bisexuals in particular, like it’s almost impossible to find reference to bisexuals and lesbian and gay history unless you look for specific terms.
Like if you look for, in like gay male history, if you look for the term trade, that’s where you’ll find bisexuals, like dialogue about bisexuals. And if you go in lesbian literature, they’ll just assume bisexuals who aren’t men into under lesbian. And people will argue about it nowadays and they’re like, “Oh no, you don’t…” Like it never happened, like bisexuals weren’t a part of these communities, but they were and it’s like, back then, it was just like the identities were kind of used to identify behavior and they weren’t like static. So yeah, this is like a whole, like a lot of stuff.
Kate D’Adamo: No, and I love “the past is the present” and thinking about the way our language shapes that. I think is a beautiful way to actually construct so much of this conversation. And touching on the role of miscegenation and how that comes up. And like how many times do we see end demand campaigns that are so hyper racialized in their language about…we were like how much of this problem is actually about cross racial mixing for you? So I love those ideas. It’s kind of already sex work really looking like around this period.
Stephanie Kaylor: And if you’re looking at the policing of sex work, especially around the military bases as Kate hadn’t mentioned, during the early 1940s there were actually plans in multiple states to create detention centers specifically for sex workers. That’s what they referred to as, I can share my screen for a moment.
Kate D’Adamo: Yeah, would you be able to kind of paint a little bit of a picture for us of like what sex work was looking like and kind of that mid-century period?
Stephanie Kaylor: Sure. Give me a second. All right, so (distorted noise) just mentioned because even in these detention centers where we’re seeing the past is the present and still fighting very very fiercely for decriminalization of the sex trades, it is still segregated by race. So even in these jails or these facilities, it was still white sex workers in one sphere or one facility and black sex workers in another. So I think like keeping that in mind too, both like today in contemporary work on decriminalization, but also in its history, it’s where it’s like very stark. We can talk about this criminalization and these things we need to like look at that particular phenomenon as well. But yeah, there were, again, like a lot of times, work on sex work during World War II is framed as something that happened elsewhere, especially if we’re looking at the U.S. military and we see all the posters and things at the time, like women of the global south are represented as like being as like emblematic of VD or it’s like a threat to U.S. nationalism.
But there was this, obviously sex workers didn’t go anywhere, like we’re still here in the U.S. during that time as well. And there were these efforts to create like again, like these very segregated areas for them. So that is one thing that happened during this time period that I think can really shed a light upon how we’re looking at these divisions and class structures. What we work is like looking a little bit later in the 20th century. So like in the 60s and 70s, but to underscore that, I think that another thing to keep in mind would be sodomy laws. So a lot of times for talking about like the first cases related to a male sex worker, like it might be on the books, like in a particular state you know, the first man that’s arrested for sex work until 1970 something. But that’s really only because sodomy laws had maintained their grasp throughout the late 20th century.
So for a while, like, yes, like male sex workers had actually been targeted for a very long time or “cross dressers” or other queer people like in sex work or who were believed to be sex workers. It’s not targeted like under sex work laws, it could be sodomy law. It could be loitering, it could be many different things just not like sex work in particular. So one thing, like one area where that comes up would be like nude modeling for men. So here’s some examples. I think it’s important to look at like, obviously like the work aspect, but also like what it meant to consume the laws surrounding that because that’s been like what’s a Nordic model like that really structures, like how you’re going to work.
Because if there are laws related to what it means to engage in nude services, workers have to like hustle around that. So you kind of like in the 1960s, early 60s in particular, you can’t just do like a full nude, like shoot if you are a man, nothing to… It couldn’t be like that explicit… it’s like for that purpose. So you would see things like this and it would be like very coded, like you know what’s what, but it would be like art modeling or you know, fitness, even though it’s clearly not. So just like the way that people are working around these walls and like, it can be like, you know, we can face like these different kinds of criminalization and these different parts of like industry, but still like finding ways to go around it and circumvent it. And I think, I don’t know, like again, like past being the present and seeing how we have to do that today. And we still are doing that today. I think it’s obviously like we’re tired and frustrated but also like fascinating.
And even here too, like these for like cheesecake pulled magazines. I looked through one of them and you’ll see like, it’s very voyeuristic and like, scandalizing like, “Oh my God, homosexuals are the fourth sex.” But it’s like depending like look through the pictures. And it’s like clearly like it’s like kind of like trying to mask that curiosity with like a veneer of heterosexuality. And again, going back to how it relates to today, just last week, eBay announced that they have to get rid of or they are going to get rid of their adult section. So, all of these magazines that like archivists buy or people buy ’cause they’re like hot and wanna get off to them. Like they’re under threat of being inaccessible now because it’s like even this is too scandalous today, which is just wild to me. But again, it shouldn’t be surprising.
Kate D’Adamo: That’s fascinating. And I think the coding is something that so many folks can relate to of how do you do the same thing and call it something different. And especially as we’re shifting these things. So Moses, if you were gonna paint us a picture of kind of what sex work was looking like at that time, how would you kind of describe what sex work was happening in this period?
Moses Moon: Well, like if we’re going like for the earlier 1900s or whatever, I always forget like the 20th, 21st century things, like I’m just like really bad at this. But we’re going… Oops, I hit my knee. If we’re going for like that time period and whatever, most of like what I tend to focus on is like the big cities. So like Philly, Chicago and New York, where they have like more research and more archives and everything like that, that you can find, you can just find a lot more. I guess you can probably find some stuff about Atlanta and everything like that, but because I’m Midwestern, I just like, you know, I focused on Chicago and branched out to New York and Philly. And so like, I know that for a lot of people, like I just saw someone on Twitter actually kind of like, bring this back up for me.
There’s people nowadays, like they’re like… I don’t know if you all have ever heard of like the politics of transgression or like this idea that like there’s these… It’s very like individualism based, like very neo-liberal, like this idea that your individual choice to like become part of a like a sexually dissident community by being a sex worker or just already being part of a community that it’s stereotype in sexually dissident. Like that is like a type of praxis. And it can be, but like this idea that being transgressive is like the thing. And it’s like a really big focus right now because of social media. But like back then, back then it was just like, we didn’t have the internet. And so people were like, you know. So I guess like empowerment was kind of framed a little bit differently in the 1900s and framed in the way that a lot of us still kind of think about it back then. And I tend to focus on black women and Asian women.
Back then, there was a sense of empowerment around being able to take care of yourself, being able to pay your bills, being able to provide for your kids and things like that. But there was still like there was… I had brought up the zones earlier and the fact that this kind of like vice and underground was kind of pushed into undesirable neighborhoods and caused like a lot of people to stereotype black people and Asian people like about… And poor like white immi… Like there was immigrants, but they weren’t like all the way considered white back then. So like, that’s why it’s like kind of back and forth because there was like Italian, Irish, Sicilian. I’m in Chicago, so there’s like a lot of Italians and Sicilians here. And they were not considered white, they had their own slurs and they had their own stereotypes. And like, they also had stuff just kinda like pushed into their own neighborhoods. So it could be like, oh, those Italians, oh, those black people.
And so like… God, I keep losing my train of thought. But I brought that up because like there was this idea that this stuff only happened there. And so what happened is that like when you do that, it causes like all this alarm and all this hysteria. And they’re like, “Let’s create this policy” or “let’s create these laws so that these people stay out of our area or so that we can stop the vice “and then we can save the children and all of these.” Like Americans don’t care about children, but like, they use children as kind of like this beacon and this like a dog whistle. It’s like, “Oh, you know, let’s say these kids. Let’s keep these kids off the street.” And even before like contemporary times, I’m trying to think was it in like the… It was like in the 1800s but it might’ve been earlier than that, again, I’m really bad at dates, but I know it was before the 20th century that this idea was sort of seeded, the idea of childhood innocence and the idea, like that kind of like was like, it was still being like kind of formed in the 1900s. Like people didn’t think children were innocent before that. They were biblically inclined. They were like, yeah sin, everybody’s sin, like sin everywhere. And children were included in that. And then it kinda got moved to like, okay, like when you’re 12, you reached the age of knowledge. And like, a lot of people get baptized, bat mitzvah, bar mitzvah, all of that around like 12 or 13.
But before like the idea of like childhood innocence It’s like it intersects with the idea of like of racial. It’s racialized, I don’t know what I was trying to say before, but it’s racialized. The idea of childhood innocence is racialized. And it makes it so that certain kinds of children, especially non-white children are never innocent. And yet like black people, Mexican, Latinos. I’m in Chicago, so this just Mexican. So and Asian, like these children, all of our communities are always trying to like, are always fighting between assimilation and like resistance, you know what I’m saying? And so like, they pushed all this stuff. And so those areas, but like the people in the communities were like, “We don’t want this here.” And so like, there’s always like this back and forth during these time periods, like when you… I’m jumping around. But when you think about like the freeways and how they built like all these different, put a lot of money into like the infrastructure and around the country and stuff, then you have to, again, you can go back to like in sex work journalism or journalism around sex work.
And the fact that they created all these laws about trafficking, like the Mann Act and all that stuff to keep white women, and then like it affected other groups. But they wanted to like keep white women from being able to cross state lines with men that they weren’t married to. All of them were not sex workers, but some of them were. Some of them were just like circumstantial whores, like they were like, “I gotta get to like this state.” So they’d be traveling with their boyfriend and they’d like have sex for money on the way, just kind of like, that was their contribution, like how you pick up work when you were like, I don’t know, backpacking and you’re for something or whatever your expat or whatever. But yeah, so they created a lot of laws to kind of like control white women’s sexuality during this time period. This was like the beginning, like the foundation of like a lot of the laws that we have today around trafficking and all of these things. Like it was seeded back then because they wanted to control white women’s reproduction and white women’s like movement.
And so like the laws aren’t necessarily… Like they’re not all necessarily about like marginalized people of color. A lot of these laws start with like trying to control white women and like other groups of people and then they trickle down and they affect everyone else. So it’s basically all these laws start out as like trying to reinforce white dominance and heteronormativity. Like that’s really just like what it is.
Kate D’Adamo: Yeah, and so much of what you’re saying I feel like touches on at that time, if we look at that period, we’re really looking at periods of the World War, where they’re coming back, where we have these cities built around industrialization and then you have to create these like perfect cities. And then we’re seeing white flight and all the things kind of move, facilitating that. And so everything you’re talking about around the vice policing, around pushing vice into these areas tie so well into this idea of like everyone getting a car and being able to move to the suburbs, about white flight from the cities that leads into the 70s. And I think really provides us with such an important context for understanding what you said, the purpose of these laws is never actually about the law, it’s about the impact of the law and the society that’s created through the policing of the law.
And you guys have kind of already touched on this, but I would love to hear about, you know, we have these new forms. I love those old pictures of old like sex work ads that are coded, I think they’re fantastic. And so we would love if you guys could talk a little bit about how sex workers were kind of moving into these spaces and how, Stephanie, you talked about and we do it all the time. It’s not dollars, it’s roses. How were sex workers kind of going into these spaces and being coded in ways that they could exist and be very hyper-visible and very invisible at the same time ’cause I feel like that is like the story of so much of how we shape our behaviors and our lives, is like how do you be seen but only by the people that want to see you. How do you toggle that, like OkCupid, I don’t wanna be seen by straight people in your day-to-day sex work life.
Stephanie Kaylor: One example that I love, it’s in the 1970s. There are all of these like very experimental things going on, like different kinds of therapy and just like trying out like different alternative whatever and these psychiatrists try it out this thing like nude therapy, it’s kind of a wash and didn’t last long. They were able to like do it their entire lives. Sex workers in the Bay Area were like, “Okay, we’re nude therapists, like come on over you know, like this many dollars for a minute and like talk to us while we’re naked.” It got shut down pretty quickly, but like trying to take these tools and be like, you know, like “if you know, you know.” But also like that veneer of like respectability on us or not even like respectability, but like trying to like code in a certain way. Can you pull it up? And then also something that I didn’t know until very recently was that like there is always the discussion about like massage parlors and like is it sex work, isn’t it, how can you tell? And, you know, workers have kind of like made that clear, like if you’re in community, you know. And it’s like a whole discussion.
But if you look at ordinances, and again, I’m try pulling one up right now. In the 1970s, you had to get screened for STIs to work there at least in one place. But that goes to show like how common it was. Yeah, so here at Panama City, 1977, it’s like a whole like newspaper page and it’s like fine print, like all of these different rules and regulations, like get screened for VD, like all off these tests and it’s like, of course like you’re not gonna be nude and you’re not gonna have sex, but like it’s screened for VD and like, you know, like be up date and like, you know you could be fired if you aren’t screened for VD.
So again, it’s kind of like, not really sex, sex work isn’t really going on here, but it absolutely is. Here’s the nude therapy also in the 1970s. So there are things like that going on. Yeah, just trying to just take these tools and be like if civilians can do this, like why can’t we? And I think it really opens like a lot of political questions that anyone should be grappling with. And yeah, I’ll leave it at that for now. Well, actually, you know, here’s some of the advertisements. This is also the Bay Area in 1982. There would be like circulars, like whole kind of like a newspaper, but like just for this. You could place an ad and yeah, they’re great.
But one thing that really stood out to me was a page just about outdoor sex workers. And I don’t know, I don’t know what to make of it ’cause on the one hand, it’s like review board guys, what’s going on here, but I think it is really important too because it like reminds us that outdoor workers aren’t a monolith, a lot of times, especially in academic work. We think of outdoor workers, it’s just like one class. And actually like outdoor workers like any other sex workers are workers of different classes, different races, different backgrounds, genders and so on, kind of like disrupting that idea of like outdoor workers is just being like one, like “the” outdoor worker. Like there is no such thing. So that’s another thing that we see going on here in the 80s.
And on the same note, it’s circulars, let’s see, I have it up. These two badasses, four mothers are based in Vancouver and they created the first, what might be the first bad date list that was published. It was called The Whoreganizer. We had this information from the NSWP. But yeah, it’s another circular. So like before, you could go online and warn people on websites or Twitter. And you know, if we wanted to get like further than word of mouth, they had this circular and apparently it’s for like every stroll in the area. They were like very much on top of it. And they also fought gentrification because as we know, like gentrification and outward sex work go hand in hand. And if we’re fighting for sex workers’ rights, we need to fight against gentrification and vice versa. So that’s another use of technology, even though we might not always think of like paper as technology, but it was very effective and something that we still see like a model we still see used today.
Kate D’Adamo: That’s so… I love connecting that to like the first review borders and having those maps. And so, I think that’s something that’s always really interesting and talking about those bad date lists are definitely something really, I think, key to this, because at the same time that sex workers are utilizing these new mediums to advertise and to kind of figure out how to find clients, at the same time, utilizing and figuring out what new technology looks like also means utilizing that for resistance. And so at the same time, we’re figuring out how to print our advertisements. We’re learning how to print bad date lists at the same time that we’re figuring out how to connect with clients on Twitter, we’re also figuring out how to use hashtags to organize with each other back when that didn’t get us blacklisted.
And you talked a little bit about this already, but you know, in terms of gender and in queer spaces, I would love to hear a little bit of your thoughts on you know, how that was mediating things. Since we’re also talking about the concretization of and the seeds of our modern queer movement. How is that playing in ’cause you’re also talking about people who are necessarily connecting to each other constantly under having to be coded in all of these spaces. And so what… I was just wondering if you wanted to talk a little bit about that, about this relationship between queerness and sex work and visibility and having to be coded, were all kind of interwoven within each other.
Stephanie Kaylor: Sure. A lot of times from what I’ve seen, specific cases, again it relates a lot to gentrification, like there’ll be movements to like clean up a space and it’d be like “clean up” the beaches in Florida. There is a movement there and it was just like how much male homosexuality and sex work were very much conflated. So it’s something that’s like on the one hand like the way we looked or like people were looking at sex work, it’s like a woman’s thing but also like inevitably like something that gay men did. I think (distorted noise) said, I don’t know if the quote in hand, but like, you know, it’s just like, they’re having like just a couple of guys having to romp and then they might like pass cash afterward.
Like it’s not as formal or organized. And I think that was part of it. Like, I don’t wanna like attach my analysis too much to it, but it seems like a very big part of the movements against like women and sex work could be like the organization of it, where it’s with like their perception of like gay men like on the beach, which is what they’re going against. It’s just like because it’s not like it’s planned in their minds. Like it’s not as like much of a threat to the cultural fabric. And that relates a lot, I think, to how we see like sex work and technology and like that pairing seen as a threat ’cause there are so many cases too where it’s like we shut down this ring and you won’t believe what they were doing with their answering machines. And just like it’s not even like the sex work itself, that’s framed as you know, being bad or the crime, but just, it’s like an anger of being outsmarted or the threat of that. So, yeah, that’s the thing that has come up. And I think it’s really interesting to tap into.
And later on, of course, like HIV/AIDS crisis really changed a lot. The first sex worker who was charged for working while having HIV though, she was actually like a cis woman, cis white woman in Florida. And they had said that her like having HIV “was her punishment enough” and she passed away very young shortly after, because of course at the time, like, the lifespan wasn’t long and she like only had a middle school education, and was very low income. But yeah, there’s a lot going on there in the 80s, especially that like, it’s definitely worth looking into more and like a lot of people are. I think we have to if we’re looking at queer sex work.
Kate D’Adamo: Yeah, that I love the…. I love the framing of like sex workers being duplicitous and this idea of utilizing technology in these new ways as evidence of not being able to be trusted as opposed to like, no you just make us do it like this or we’re gonna do it like this. And especially, you know, how much that is also about having to have different identities, the idea of being forced to construct something and then being blamed for it. And Moses, I know you wanted to talk a little bit about that idea that Stephanie mentioned around outdoor work and not being a monolith. And I would love to hear some of your thoughts on that. And also one of the other things that came up was this idea of modeling respectability in sex work and kind of what that means. And I know you and I had a really interesting, a little bit of a conversation about it. And so I would love your thoughts on that piece as well.
Moses Moon: Okay. So, Stephanie, you had, like I had had like a light bulb when you talked about outdoor work, but I had to go take a bathroom break ’cause of this coffee, but I loved what you said about outdoor work not being a monolith and kind of like there being a lot of diversity and a lot of people not really being aware of that. I think that nowadays on social media, there’s like this fetishization of poverty and struggle that I find very gross. I know that, like I wrote about this recently and then I saw a question today where I got tagged in the replies where someone was… A sex worker, I think she is Asian or Latina, I’m not entirely sure, but she’s very brown. And she was talking about how she’s kind of being maligned in this group and called like privileged because she has a vanilla job on top of being a sex worker.
And so there’s this Elisa Glick wrote a really good paper that I always kind of like reference. I can’t remember the title of it right now ’cause I’m tired, but you’ll be able to find it. It’s about like the politics of transgression. So if you search that and Elisa Glick you’ll find it. It’s one of my favorite papers on this because it talks and it talks about it in reference to like the queer LGBTQ community, but it applies to the sex worker community as well, particularly in the days of the internet, this idea that like you, like I said, a fetishization of like poverty and struggle and “survival sex.” And a lot of people aren’t even aware of the fact that the term “survival sex” was not really applied to adult sex workers until recently. It was conceived of, or like conceptualized by academics who were studying youth in the sex trade, youth being from ages 15 to like 24.
So like basically like all the way from older adolescence into like young adults. I know there’s like a trend too nowadays to kind of like make a really deep separation between the younger end of that and the older end of that, and this idea that in order for people to care about what’s happening to that age group, they have to be children. So they kind of like, and that happened… That’s a class thing because of like the “invention of the teenager,” which is like not a… It’s a social category, but it’s like not a real thing because that’s not how humans, humans or animals, that’s not how we work. But this idea that like we want to help all these downtrodden street workers and street-based workers. And then there’s like a vague element of classism because they kind of like, like I said, they kind of like appropriated the term “survival sex” from youth studies and from studies of using the sex trade and kind of like reapplied it to sex workers who are housing insecure, who are drug users or do street-based work.
And what it did is it created this picture of street-based sex workers who are just like drug addled or they’re like, just like… Like people think of like outdoor and they think like, oh, they’re on the street, they’re struggling and suffering because they’re like on the street and they’re like homeless or they’re on drugs. And a lot of people don’t even realize that like painting this picture of like street-based sex workers is like this one downtrodden group is the stereotype. And it reinforces all of these negative tropes and this savior complex that some people tend to have. I remember a white Latina sex worker who was like, she hates me, so I’m not gonna mention her name. But she was talking about like how much she helps like all the stuff that she does, like passing out needles and like certain drugs and like helping people. And like, I think that’s really admirable work, but the way that she framed it, it was like she’s doing all this work and here I am just sitting online talking ’cause like, I don’t feel safe sharing like anything about any current in-person work that I may or may not be doing because I have children and I’ve been threatened a lot.
And so there’s this idea that like, people come up with all these different ideas about like, oh if you’re on the internet, then you’re privileged. If you have like… Like in 2021, if you have internet access or if you have a cell phone. Like there’s these questions, like how does the homeless person have a cell phone in 2021? And like, you see discourse like this and you see people trying to delineate like who’s the most oppressed, like all the time, this idea of like, you can’t work a regular job, like regular, like vanilla job and be a sex worker at the same time. Otherwise you’re like privileged and you’re taking up space. This idea of the full time, full service sex worker that is mind-boggling. Someone tried to accuse me of taking up space and they were like, “Yeah, you know…” Like I wrote about this in Peepshow Magazine recently, they were like, “Oh you know, like this person is talking over all these sex workers who are full-time full service sex workers, and they don’t work full time.”
And this idea of working full time comes from work culture and vanilla culture where it’s like this, and that’s why I critique the term “sex work is work” all the time. And it’s like, you know, like, what are you even, what exactly are you saying when you say that “sex work is work,” are you saying that it’s valid labor or are you taking that phrase and moving it into a respectable place and saying that and then trying to apply like vanilla work structures and work culture, work cultural like things to sex work, because that’s what that phrase does, like this full time thing. Like, what does it even mean to be full-time as a sex worker? I’ve been a stripper, I’ve been a street-based worker, I’ve been a sugar baby, I’ve been a phone sex operator. Like I’ve been all throughout the industry. And yet if I talk about those experiences, I’m a “dabbler,” as if I’m some college girl who’s just doing this for fun.
And so it’s these very limiting ideas based in like this kind of like, because we have like a celebrity culture now too. Like, I don’t know if you guys have ever heard of the Society of the Spectacle, you know, like by Guy Debord. But like, I read that like in, I don’t know, I’m getting old, it was like a decade ago. But I have a copy of it because I was so like, I was like, wow, like this is just like “the past is the present,” like it’s here. So the Society of the Spectacle describes exactly what kind of society we’re living in today where we fetishize celebrity and now we have the internet, so we all have like these platforms. That’s what we call it. We have a platform and we have fans and we have people who follow us and all of these things.
And I just kinda like got online and started bullshitting and talking about myself. And I just, you know, like, like it into an echo chamber because I was used to the internet after a while and just feeling like I was talking to a small group of people and now I have like 20,000 something followers. And like, you know, on accident. And so, like we have this idea of like branding ourselves to a certain degree. And so when we get, because we have like this idea of all of us being a brand and all of us being like social and everything like that. And that’s not a new idea, it’s just like the internet is newer, right. Because people have branded themselves before in the early 1900s, you know you have these specific types of workers, you have these specific areas, like you were talking about all these different zones of where street-based workers were located and what kind of services they offered and what it would cost and the type of clients they took and all of these different things. They were all different zones.
You had areas, you still have this nowadays, you have areas where cis women are, you have areas where trans women are, you know that trans women are on this street, you know the cis women are on this street. You know that you can find men on this particular street and then there’s different income levels and different prices, right. But a lot of people aren’t even aware of that. Like, when I was a street-based sex worker, I was not located in any one place because that was something that I was kind of dabbling in because I usually took clients from the strip club, like regulars that I had. But when I was like really short on money, I would just go walking around certain areas where I knew there would be like men, friendly men, you know, “friendly,” because Indianapolis is a little bit Southern in a way. So like, men will just like drive passing, you need a ride and they’ll do that. And then, you can kind of like go from there. And that’s what I did. And sometimes it would be something where I would chill in the car and do some stuff and then other times we’d go to a motel. I prefer the motel route because it’s just more comfortable. And like I took a lot of risks and I was 19. So I took a lot of risks, but like I ended up mostly okay, don’t do that though. But like, that was like my experience and it wasn’t just like, I was very poor, but I was single. I didn’t have any kids and so I was having fun, but I also needed money for basic expenses. You know, it was a lot of different, it was very complex.
And there’s a lot of street workers who just kinda like the environment, just like working out on the street. It’s quick money or you know the people after a while. And so like, you know, you kind of like, you might do street work. And like, when I was doing street-based work, I was working in a strip club too. And so like, I was back and forth and I also traveled to dance. And like I had a lot of different things I was doing to try to keep money coming in, that’s hustling. And so that’s what that kind of brought up for me.
And this idea of like a full-time, like respectable idea of like a full-time sex worker, like, what does that even mean? Like when I really needed money, I would work every day when I was dancing, like every day. And then I would take like a Sunday off and sleep all day. And when I was doing street-based work, I just kind of like would go out when I needed money and see the same guys over and over sometimes. And then when I was in these different spaces, I would pick, like when money was low, I would pick a way more hours. And then when money was good, I would try to work as little as I could.
And so then there’s this idea of like, this full time, that is just, it’s very confusing. And it’s like a newer thing, just like the term “full-service sex worker,” which I just really hate. And I know people are like, “It’s a necessary term “because yada, yada, like, honestly it’s an ad term, it’s a marketing term. Like it’s not something that was supposed to be applied to just like, ’cause like what does it mean when you say like… A lot of people don’t know what it even means when you say full service? Like they don’t what it means ’cause they hear sex worker and they’re like “hoe.” And that’s what they think. You put sex worker and they’re like, “Prostitute, okay, I know what that is.”
But when you say full service sex worker and add this compound term on and they’re like, “Okay, what does that mean?” And people were getting like annoyed with me, I think because I said I was picking it apart, like, what does it mean outside of the ad industry, you know, like the marketing and stuff. Like what does it mean? Because a full service to one person is not a full service to another person. Like one guy might think of full service as like penetration and a hand job or some little girlfriendy type of stuff, kissing, is there kissing? Like who knows? Like the average person is not gonna know that. But a hobbyist, that’s what they call, like, you know, Johns, I don’t like the word John. But a hobbyist is gonna like know kind of what that means, just like they’re gonna know like the other acronyms and stuff that are supposed to remain in the ads. They’re for the ads, they’re for ads, they’re not for everybody else. And so it’s a weird thing, but I’m not gonna go on and everything. I did have something to say about like the magazines during like the 60s and 70s, but I mean, should I stop?
Kate D’Adamo: No, no, we have… You said so many fantastic things and I really want to pull out one of the things that you said and just like co-sign, highlight, retweet, whatever we’re doing now about the idea that like as we move this movement forward, have we internalized respectability politics so much that liberation is now turning into this idea of like, no, it’s a job like everything else, like the “lean in” culture. And I think I love that framing of really critiquing the ways that we are trying to make sex work respectable as opposed to, which only underscores these things that kind of don’t work for us. And, yeah, definitely. So we have four minutes before we’re gonna switch into the chat. I would love to hear your comment about the magazines and then Stephanie, there’s one picture that I know you have that I love the story of and I want you to explain before we switch into that. So those two things and then I we’re gonna transition. Moses please.
Moses Moon: Oh, okay, I’m sorry. I thought that Stephanie was gonna come up. And oh, okay, so I just wanted to mention like a little bit more about the magazines because Stephanie had brought up some really cool stuff and I was just thinking all this stuff while she was talking. And I was like, oh, you know, and trying to hold onto it. So, before internet porn and everything like that, there was magazines. And magazines became like a really big thing in the 60s and 70s on the tail end of the time period we’re talking about. But before like the magazines and different things like that, there was stag films. And like there, like some people call them blue movies. And like, so like stag films, blue movies, smokers, they were like this really, this like really like, kind of… I don’t wanna say they were niche, but they, like they were guys making films for guys. And so like, people there’s a lot of papers or books exploring like the homosociality of these films and how men were, like mostly white men, but like later on, like men of color did get into these things, making films that they wanted to see. They would make scenes and they were really short films, like 12, 10, 15 minutes or something of like scenes that they kind of put together as amateurs. And they’re like, this is what men wanna see.
And so you can get a lot of like, you can pull a lot from like what they thought of like sex and women and themselves from these short little stag films. And porn became like really just like porn in the 70s. But like before that there was these like little films and they would be kind of screened in like brothels and like little small theaters and, what is it, smoker houses and stuff like that. Like they would be like, really like… So like I said, you were like, I guess they were “niche” but not all the way, like people knew they existed. And I guess like, there was, they were like, just like, this was before hardcore. And so after that, I’m really bad with dates. But like, after that, there was like the magazine, or during like kind of like concurrently, there was these magazines.
And I had put a link in there in the chat, but I don’t know if you all saw it. And it was about Gloria Leonard. So like Gloria Leonard is like, she was like a… She was like the first milf. Like the first really like wine-o milf. She didn’t make her first porn film until like her mid 30s, like, she was like 35. And so she started one of the earliest porn performers, like adult actress support groups. She started Club 90, I mean, she didn’t start it. Well, she helped found it, she was a co-founder and she was also like… She was like associated with Annie Sprinkle and Candida Royalle and like Veronica Vera and stuff like that. And she was a single mom when she started, she was divorced. She was like, you know, she became an activist and all of these other things.
But one of the biggest things that was interesting to me is that she became like this, I think she was like… She was helping publish. I think she was like at one of the first female editors of like a men’s magazine, like a porn magazine. It was called “High Society.” And she curated a lot of different things and she became like this really big, phenomenal editor for like, I don’t know, like five years or something. She did a lot and she was doing like film work concurrently. And it was really it’s really cool. You gotta look into it.
Then there was this other magazine that I like randomly saw mentioned in a book about I have about like comics. And it’s about like black comics and constructions of black identity. And they just like mentioned this comic that was in one of these porn magazines. It was like the first all black porn magazine. And I was like, “What?” It was called “Players.” And it was Holloway House was like the publisher of it. They had done like a bunch of different erotic and pornographic, periodicals and like different things before that. And “Players” was like an offshoot of it for black men. And it was like a really big deal. There was like these comics and there was like… The “Players” went on for like over a decade. It was like great, it was like this comic called on like Daddy Cools, or Daddy Cool or something. And it was like a really big deal. And like, it was like… Holloway House was founded in 1959.
And like, it had like these…. It was like a bunch of different high and low brow like magazines, like skin magazines, like Adam and like these biographies about like different people. There’s like, it’s just like replay where you, like, you hear about writers, they started in Playboy and they wrote these fantastic articles and you’re like in Playboy. But like really? And like, there was like the, you know, it was two white publishers, but they really just like, they started to see like these different things going on in black neighborhoods and they were like, “What if?” And so they started, they pulled some people in and they started a black themed, like pornographic magazine. And then they had a black themed novel, it was called “Some Like it Dark.” I love the names from back then…I know people, I know some people like get cringy or whatever, but it was the time period! And they’re so funny to me. It was called “Some Like it Dark: The Intimate Biography of a Negro Call Girl.” And it was ghost written by Leo Guild.
And it sold like really, it made like $6 million for Holloway House. And it was like that book confirms like there was like, there’s this untapped market of black readers living in “America’s ghettos.” And so they were like, “You know, we’ve gotta get aggressive about this.” So they started like, you know, advertising in the Los Angeles Black Weekly and like the Sentinel. And they went and they sent editors to different places. And then they did like, they started publishing underground black literature. I don’t know if you guys have ever heard of like Iceberg Slim. But the book “Pimp: The Story of My Life.” It sold millions of copies. And then like, that was really where the black urban novel, I know you’ve seen them. There’s a bunch of them on Amazon now. Some of them are really good and a lot of them are horrible. Just like the writing quality, you know. It’s like fan fiction, you kind of got to like sift through ’cause anybody can publish anything now.
But like, these are like all these, like that was the start of like black urban novels. And it started with porn, it started with like erotica and stuff. And like now we have all these stories about pimps and prostitutes and the hustlers and junkies and stuff. And it was all coming out of Holloway House at first. And then in the early 70s, there was like all these different writers that came out. It was Donald Goines, Odie Hawkins. And then like all of these people who were publishing street-themed literature, and like, you know. And like this, this is the stuff that led up to Zane, you guys like. And Eric Jerome Dickey, like this is the stuff that led us there. It was porn, it was porn. And like, there was all these like black, these novels about black experience and like now, everybody knows Sister Souljah and whatever. I don’t really personally like her like that. But, you know, like we had the coldest winter ever, like it started back then. That was like the lineage and everything. And then like with Players, that was like a really big Playboy type of magazine but it was specifically for black men. And that was like a new thing. Like, this was the era of like all these new magazines that like seeded all of these other things that we kind of take for granted nowadays. It’s really cool, check it out.
Kate D’Adamo: That’s awesome and I feel like that is so the story of like sex work and this commercialization of transgressions kind of fuels and enables growth in so many places, whether we’re talking about star house being run on sex work money, or whether we’re talking about publishing houses being run on porn money. It’s very much the same story. And actually Gloria Leonard was the first phone sex hotline and it was about the magazine. It was where you could call and you can listen to her read about the next magazine in 1977. And actually to wrap that up, Stephanie you have a picture that I absolutely love, that I think kind of encapsulates and also transitions us a little bit into next week’s panel. It’s the picture of the woman with all the phones. And I was just wondering if we could end kind of on that story and on that photo, and then I’ll share some resources and then we’ll stop recording and shift into a discussion for our last 20 minutes.
Stephanie Kaylor: Sure. So this is Bessie Winkle and so she was a madam in Hollywood, Florida. This is 1965 and she was kind of famous for a while or like locally well-known. And so people would call and she had this whole system and she had all of her phones and she needed like six phones to keep up with the volume of calls. And if you called to make the appointment, you would say like, “Is this the funeral home? May I please speak with the funeral director.” So again, like assuming there might be like, there might be like wiretapping or anything, like very careful. But what happened was a new police chief ended up moving next door to her. And isn’t that like, because of the proximity, he then found out, like she’d been known that newspapers had reported this and it’s like kind of a emasculating for him as the police chief. They reported there were like, well-known “gangsters,” whatever they meant by that and they were fine. They could even like help out the police and it wasn’t a big deal. Like they kind of let like crime go, as we do today, like, there are different, like a lot of different crimes we turn a blind eye to or we ignore, I should say. I’m sorry for that language.
But then it was like, well, what does it mean if police chief lives next door to like a famous Madam? It’s like, he’s not doing his job. So they ended up doing a raid, the FBI was involved. And so you see her here, they took all of her phones. They collected them as evidence. But not only that, they wouldn’t allow her to have a landline the rest of her life. And she was like older here and she ended up passing away not too long after, I forget the exact date. She has like, “You know, my mental health is deteriorating. Like, it would be nice to call a doctor.” Who knows that that was really true, but she tried and they’re like, “You know, you can like walk over to your neighbors and use their landline.” So you see her here with all of her phones and anyone who’s had the joy of working off of burner phones probably recognizes this, unfortunately it was a sting. But yeah. So, you know, landlines seem like very archaic now, but at the time it was like the very, like high tech thing. And again, like using the coded language, “Is this the funeral home?” So yeah, we’ve been making progress and madams and whoever else like hustling for a long time.
Kate D’Adamo: Thank you so much for that. And thank you to both of our amazing panelists. You guys are fantastic and just so brilliant and we’re so honored to be able to be in conversation with you and share space with you. Before we turn off the recording, you’re gonna get these resources, but please follow both Moses and Stephanie on Twitter. It’s fantastic, it lightens my day to see these photos. It absolutely makes me think to listen to the conversations that we’re having and makes me critique my own work. And so I have such gratitude to both of you for what you bring to this movement and this space and this dialogue.
There’s also some other, just like little pieces in here of stuff that was banned, stuff that was viewed as obscene. The video is like a 10 second clip of a woman dancing, the very first movie that was banned for being obscene ’cause you see her ankle. And then the last video is a really interesting just short little newsreel that I thought it was really, you know, there was the typical, “Oh my God, there’s a strip club. What do we do? We protest at the city council.” And it has great accents first and foremost, but also you see some of the dancers just talking about what their lives are in 1965. And it reminds me so much of the same conversations we’re having now and having “the past is the present” I think is so much of the theme of this.
Next week we are going to move another decade or two forward with digital stimulation. So the early internet, the Netscape browsers and the AIM away messages. And we’re gonna talk about what that was for sex workers who were going online for the first time and what that development looked like. And we are so excited to have Sinnamon Love, Melissa Gira Grant and Tina Horn having that conversation together and we invite you all to join us in that. And so now we’re gonna switch into a conversation. So, Blunt, can you…