Preamble: No Filter is a podcast series hosted by Mia Freedman where she chats to ‘really interesting’ people about careers, families and all the complicated things in life. And as the title suggests, there’s no filter. That means the conversation isn’t rehearsed, it means people say what they mean to say on the spot; a sort of one on one truth-talk.
To keep true to the spirit of the title I’ve also adopted this no-nonsense approach to write this review. You can listen to the podcast here. The sex industry is a touchy topic, so I expected insensitive words or thoughts to be thrown up in the air as much as condoms are in a booking. I found it important to independently assess Freedman as a journalist approaching the topic of sex work and Missina as an advocate as this podcast is aimed at a broad public audience. The industry relates to, and is relevant to thousands of women, men and trans*, and I find it fine to talk about our industry within our own circles, but when the doors open for the public to have a little peek it’s imperative to consider what you say and make efforts to curb thoughts, suspicions, or wonderings that could have a negative impact on vulnerable populations. Whenever someone speaks up about it they need to seriously consider the volume in which they speak, and make sure they’re not silencing someone else, and that they have an educated opinion. Missina has had her fair share of airtime, which automatically dampened my spirits as the microphone could be passed along to another sex worker who may have needed their story to be told for the very first time. And I was concerned about Freedman because, while having an opinion is fine, having an ill-informed opinion about sex work can be dangerous for the workers. It’s like ringworm, it’s contagious, it’s messy and it thickens that tension between the sex worker community and the general population. It creates a divide and that’s not attractive for our globalising society.
As a society we place a level of trust upon arts and media to educate us about things we haven’t been exposed to, or have yet to consider or process completely. So when you’re in a position of power in the realm of arts, entertainment or media it’s always important and professional to remember the line between personal curiosity, and inflaming or exacerbating misconceptions, injustices, and stigma within your respective platform. So here’s my take on the conversation between a sex worker and a non-sex worker.
Background: Mia Freedman is not a figure celebrated among sex workers for a variety of legitimate reasons. There was the popular furore that appeared on Australia’s Q&A between her and Brooke Magnanti, and then a series of blog posts trying to justify each other’s position. I’ll leave the past where it belongs. End line is simple: Magnanti speaks about her personal experience and Freedman feels the duty to save the impressionable public from seriously considering sex work as a viable job prospect. One could say this may be why sex workers are hesitant to communicate and make associations with the media, or anyone that’s not in the industry. Often and in a similar fashion our experiences are involuntarily entwined and compared with what someone else thinks should be the legitimate sex work experience. In later blog posts by Freedman whorephobic tones can be read in between the lines and we already know the recipe of how this works: stigma>sufferance>hardship>why am I hated so much>this is bullshit>why are they talking about me. I could go on but I’ll leave it at the notion that everyone is entitled to an opinion. No matter how shitty it is.
Then we have Madison Missina, a sex worker, porn performer and activist. Having personally met Missina, I can concur she’s a real person with feelings not unlike others; and she seems the type to not shy from unconventional life experiences; in fact she might just go chasing them. And she’s a passionate person when it comes to sex work but how she goes about expressing those passions have been criticised by the sex worker community. Sex work isn’t a science, it’s an experience, so there isn’t a wrong or right way to talk about it when you talk about your journey. But by talking to any media outlet about sex work, you are expected to know something about all the elements of sex work and that’s when things get tricky. I was hoping Missina wouldn’t be baited or jump the gun.
And thereby the discussion begins; one party has gathered her knowledge as a media figure from books, feminist critique, personal values/morale, a minor in woman’s studies I’m sure and Sunday mum morning breakfasts. Missina has a similar background but with the added bonus of experience collected by the sheer willingness to explore the topic hands on.
The Podcast: The interview begins with Freedman declaring how fascinating her homework was, having been exposed to sexually implicit images of Missina. Of course sex is Missina’s forte so I guess there’s an implied consent to talk about her sexual nature in every sort of setting. I squirmed in my seat probably as much as Freedman was when she was seeing vagina flaps, it didn’t seem appropriate to open up the conversation by blatantly stating the obvious. I’m sure anyone can understand the sentiment when something is so painfully obvious it doesn’t need to be said, like when tall people are asked how the weather is up there.
Very quickly the tone turns amicable as Freedman acknowledges she’s not a celebrated figure among sex workers, but, she wants to reconcile this. I’d like to extend a personal ‘it’s okay mate, as long as you don’t do it again’ to Freedman for not understanding the ways of sex work, having not been a sex workers herself, but I do hope she understand that’s not the crux of the issue the community has with her. As Missina explains, it all began at Q&A and sex being the fluid, fickle subject that it is, it makes its way into all sorts of conversations that have more to do with sex and less to do with work. Freedman explains her stance that it was surprising to her, almost expected, that violence should be brought up with any conversation about sex work (regardless if the sex worker has experienced abuse in the workplace), and she digs herself another Mia-hole. Oh Mia. We know that violence can occur in an array of settings, but I also don’t talk about all the violent and abusive relationships someone has experienced on live television if this is not something that’s brought up by the victim themselves. The subject matter shouldn’t be a gateway to talk about such things because violence and abuse is something that’s experienced in a number of relationships and it’s intrusive to even bring it up; but maybe that’s just the nature of journalism, maybe that’s Freedman’s personal curiosity bleeding through.
Without going into a deep analysis of what happened on that screen that night what I will say is that Belle De Jour wasn’t advertising or promoting sex work and the possible dangers any more than say… me match making two friends while omitting the statistics of abuse and dangers that can occur between spouses. In the same way I might talk about safe sex without dwelling into the topic of everything that could possibly go wrong. Yes, we know it can happen, let’s move on to something a little more advanced. Freedman acknowledges she did a boo-boo, but at the end of the day as she puts it: sex work isn’t always a choice. So therefore, somehow, her opinion has merit?
Mic to you Missina. Missina details her experience as a young girl, of being naturally attracted to a woman of lady of night who was radiating glamour, charisma and just ‘loving it’. These were characteristic that Missina highly admired at that age and aspired to become. Missina takes things into her hand and investigates sex work when her parents are reluctant to talk about the subject with her. She finds empowerment among one of the topics she comes across, and what girl doesn’t want to be empowered in a patriarchal society? The conversation turns to age and when exactly sexuality becomes relevant and apparent. I can almost hear the alarm bells ring in mother hen Freedman’s head. Of course Freedman gravitates to what age children detect and identify sexuality. I’m sure Freud would have a few things to say about that, but for Missina this awareness occurred in her early teens which is not that much of a surprise if you consider how curious children are of the world and of themselves (even if we like to think of them as our precious little innocent angels). Last week a four year old noticed that you’re upside down in the reflection of a spoon on one side and not the other; they’re receptive creatures I find. Doesn’t mean they’re going to be damaged for life by spotting sexuality. ‘
Freedman likes to keep reality right at her sleeve, and she brings up once again the reality of the work: but what about the sex part? Personally, when someone asks this question, I’m not sure if it’s a question where they’re projecting and asking themselves, as in: how do I feel about sex if I were a sex worker? Or if they’re genuinely curious about how other people engage with sex as work. For Missina sex entails a number of things; intimacy, connection, companionship. But it’s sort of a burger, you might really want beef but you want it with lettuce and cheese, and onion and tomatoes. That’s how Missina perceives it (and who could say no to a burger really) so you can bring that all together into your work if it so pleases you. Or you could have beef with just the cheese. Whatever your diet demands.
The conversation moves onto a time where Freedman watched a play with her children where there’s a ‘sex worker by circumstance’. Tactfully, Missina tries to keep the topic at hand, in which Freedman tries to recoil her whorephobic thoughts with reasonable justifications like ‘no, I don’t want to ruin the person, I just want to ruin the circumstance around that person, the problem, and just hope resolutions appear.’ Missina explains that circumstance is an inevitability of life; what you make of it is just that. But the loss of choice is a robbery of freedom and that’s a call no one can make on behalf of another (especially uninvited). Freedman brings up the analogy of organ donating (i.e taking ones liver) and Missina, I imagine at this point, looks down at her vagina and realises that her vagina is indeed intact and attached to her biological composition. Freedman argues that there shouldn’t be laws to what people can do but we must preserve life and inadvertently suggests that sex work essentially deprives workers of this. Choice becomes a matter of desperation.
Off topic, but on the matter of desperation, I purchased a funnel and bottle to pee in just in case there wasn’t a nearby lavatory from my campsite at Burning Man (a festival I’m going to again in 2 days!). Not because I was a huge fan of this, but because I knew I would be camping in harsh conditions, and there was the possibility that the toilet would be too far away for me. I did what I had to do. I survived the experience, as did my dignity. You got to do what you got to do. Desperate times call for desperate measures (or maybe lazy times call for lazy measures?). Having sex for money isn’t nearly as desperate as it’s suggested to be; it perhaps is when the worker is having an internal moral dilemma, that it becomes desperate. But again: this is projection which is why I always wonder if people mean to ask questions to sex workers or themselves.
Then the topic moves onto language and I’m mildly impressed with Freedman for realising there’s a disagreement on how people talk about the industry, to the industry. There’s a difference between selling a body and selling a service and she warms to this idea. Pat on the back for Missina and Freedman for coming to this revelation together.
The question then comes up: how do I explain prostitution to my children? I paused the podcast to insert my little thought that maybe, just maybe, you explain sex work for what it is (and not what you think it is). If a child understands what work is, that’s great. If a child knows what sex is, that’s great. Now put the two together and there’s your answer… I press play and Missina resonates my thoughts. Believe it or not, children can understand concepts so long as the teacher is willing and capable of explaining the topic. There’s a consensus that children are a lot more ‘open minded and understanding’ than the rest of us.
Conversation moves on to Missina’s first client when she was 18. I’m not going to review a person experience but I’ll pick out elements of interest. She highlights that sex workers are supportive of their peers and that they guide them upon entering this world. Missina reiterates common procedures used in any interaction to avoid an awkward or uncomfortable encounter. For example, when in a booking, redirecting the client’s attention from your bum hole to your sexy eyes, because you don’t want them focusing there. Or a more everyday example I’m sure we can all relate to: Netflix and chill. Yes we’re going to have sex by the end of the day, but we both need to warm to it first.
Missina then explains the level of autonomy she has on a set when performing porn. Such as, I know we have to do anal, but this way ensures my comfort. And of course since the conversation is about porn and thus anal, there’s a ripple of impressionability: is anal now a thing because of porn? My answer: Freedman, how long has anuses and sexuality been around for, do you really think it’s taken us millennia’s to put the two together? Missina points out that porn is a successful expression of sexuality but that it moulds around its very context, that being media, and implies that general media has the greatest inferences on porn production. We know that a picture can speak a million words but it’s the responsibility of the consumer to decode and interpret that, and it’s the consumer who is going around looking for a specific type of porn. How they take that porn and impose it in their everyday lives is up to them. The two consider the impact of watching anal and subsequently desiring it; may that be from your spouse or from your sex worker. And roundabout we go to consent.
The podcast now investigates the porn industry itself, a natural curiosity of anyone that’s not a porn performer. How does one apply to be a performer and what is the process? Can exploitation occur during that process? Short answer: yes. Exploitation can occur everywhere, if you want to use that word although it’s heavily overused. I wouldn’t use that word, it’s not like the porn performer is unidentifiable and swept under the carpet, they are literally on screen. But what mostly occurs, as with any profession, is an assessment as to whether someone is professionally and morally committed to the role they’ve applied for. Because if they’re not, then they’re going to have regrets and a company is investing in someone that’s not sustainable, and no one wants that. The more looked after a worker is, the happier they are to stay in the industry, so you’re going to be focusing more on keeping them happy then exploiting them. As for pubes in porn? That’s up to the actor.
Let’s take a step back to Missina’s first booking as a sex worker. Her client is older (83) and believe it or not, her client notices she’s uncomfortable and awkward, and he cares to change that. It all works out when he explains where he’s coming from and why he’s seeing her. Her willingness to provide intimacy seems to be the highlight of the day for her client who, as a matter of circumstance, is jaded on how to access intimacy in their life. Missina suggests the idea that sex work provides relief to citizens who don’t know how to or can’t access sex, and in the grand scheme of things, this makes for a happier, more functional world. Hence sex works history and the reason why it might have survived so long.
Freedman manages to shovel herself a little deeper into her Mia-hole by suggesting that sex workers who are articulate are automatically empowered. She suggests that there is a two tier hierarchy with sex workers: tomatoes, tomato, call it what you will, it’s the same thing but it’s different; there’s just a stagnant status quo. What seems to amaze Freedman is that sex work is not in fact as linear and consistent as she has led herself to believe. Maybe there is different levels, just as there are with any industry, which is counterproductive to her efforts to be un-whorephobic during this whole podcast. C’mon Mia! She’s explicitly flabbergasted with the possibility that sex workers are individuals who encounter their work with different methods, and thus then make choices that change in time. Riveting stuff this, this idea of ‘learning as you go’.
Whoreachy comes into play. You can imagine what it looks like, it’s a system our minds make to understand things in a logical order. But our logical order is only sensible to the point of our understanding, something that Missina touches up upon. It isn’t choice or circumstances that create the spine of the whoreachy but merely individual perception. The high-end escort isn’t necessarily swinging from chandeliers (prime example writing right now) and the worker in the establishment isn’t pitying themselves. Freedman suggests that street-based work is essentially ‘out of control’, that risking one’s life, as associated with streets or sex or strangers, is the problem. This is exactly the type of thinking that feeds whorephobia which is why sex worker find it hard to communicate with her. It’s not a matter of risk, it’s a matter of choice and all of that is circumstantial. There needs to be an end to duplicated thought frames from the 20th century, and to call circumstances for what they are exactly: not just street-based, but street-based because of the lack of interest in investing in private work, or inaccessibility to transport, or location. This way we have a more rounded and sensible understanding of why things are the way they are, and we are not stuck with such broad terms or ideas. This way we can identify exactly where the problem lies, if there is indeed a problem and if indeed there needs to be any ‘fixes’.
There’s compassion with Missina where she extends the sentiment that just because times aren’t good; doesn’t mean you’re not good. It’s difficult to understand, unless you are a street-based worker, how one doesn’t perceive themselves to be in a dire, drastic situation like the general public does. Missina is wise to throw the figure of sex workers out there, to provide a clear scope of who they’re talking about exactly. Freedman brings up this idea that as a community we ‘brush under the carpet’ when talking about the more vulnerable populations within the sex work community which I found hilarious because it’s almost like asking your seamstress to detail, not just the stitching of your wedding dress, but on seamstress slave labour all over the world (I’m looking at you Forever New). It’s also hilarious because it’s hypocritical, Freedman could have easily invited a street-based worker but maybe that was too ‘out of control’ for her #nofilter podcast.
Missina does mention the value of voice and does mention that vulnerable workers are omitted over the volume of other people which I found to be contentious coming from a private sex worker and a non-sex worker, on the topic of street-based sex work. Yes, yes, let’s talk about street-based sex workers without a single street-based sex worker in the room. Nevertheless it’s not about being capable of talking because who doesn’t own a mouth but being able to articulate a point. Our society has a system in place where some people are more worthy of speaking about topic, even within sex work, because of the stigma of drug use, streets, homelessness or whatever reasons. It’s very easy to dismiss some person. That’s not the speakers doing, that’s our societies, so the onus to scrub up on who we listen to is up to the general population.
Then we move onto #faceofprostitutution which Mamamia was a catalyst in creating. There’s talk about breaking down stereotypes and stigma and if you look at the most recent #yesimanengineer hashtag, you’ll find this sort of stigma exists in a lot of industries and it does need to be addressed. Freedman adamantly brings up trafficking because this just ties in with sex work, right? As a matter of fact it derails the discussion and devalues both topics. By insisting on a relation or correlation, both subjects are muddled. Like mixing black and white paint. They’re not reflective, even though they’re both paint.
Then they talk about sex therapy. What does it mean? What is it? Is it just a cheap fuck with a good excuse? Missina breaks down and debunks sex therapy, its ties with psychology, surrogacy and counselling. Freedman is surprised that one can’t upsells with a sex therapist. Wonder where that logic comes from and why young boy take girls on expensive dates and except to get laid. Mia, do not pass that logic to your son.
Missina dwells into her own personal experience about being on BabeTV, to inspiring to be a sex therapist, to taking the leap to porn. All a part of the professional development package. Shock horror enters the chatroom once more with the suggestion that Missina is not just making porn, but educating children about porn and real sex. Freedman’s reiterated her concerns that sex, specifically porn, existing concurrently with children exposes and contorts their impressionability. There’s this idea that if you see something enough times, you’re going to want to be it or do it. Just like if I spent enough time with my dog, I will begin to greet my clients by sniffing their butts. But don’t worry guys, Missina is on the ball, she’s getting out there and protecting the children from the possibility of this even occurring. This is all a part of her advocacy package.
Moving along to Girls Wanted, a documentary I’ve never watched, but horrified Freedman so much that she forgot to construct a question about it. Is the existence of fetish porn really that bad? I call bullshit on Missina’s claim that pornography is pushing (implying forcing) people’s sexuality… I don’t know if that means successfully pushing and striving to be become better at sex for your partner, or pushing yourself to be better at sex for you. If you have a good look into the history of pornography, sexuality and the law, you’ll find people doing messed up shit from before Christ. Like falling in love with sheep. Or sexually abusing slaves. Nothing new with human nature, really, even if it’s new to us.
Missina attempts to explain the little kinks with sexuality like Roman Showers (suppppper awkward and embarrassing if you accidently do it) and inadvertently suggests that the kinkier the act, the less tangible the consent is. Which is ridiculous. Consent is consent. Can you vomit on my cock? No? Okay. Having curiosity and expressing that is not problematic but how you deal with it from there, that’s when education, common sense and communication skills comes in handy. We get those results by dismantling whorephobia and slut-shaming, and educating people on how to be better communicators on the topic of sex.
An idea gets floated around that as a sex worker/porn performer Missina always has to be ready to go, even before a set which surprise, surprise, isn’t the case. Missina does touch up on sexual harassment in the workplace and wouldn’t it be nice that as sex workers we could follow up on such abuse by conventional means as offered in normal industries (cough, decrim, cough decrim). For nearly 10 minutes there they talk about the logistics of a set of how to position two human bodies, how sex works, how to act, how make yourself cum. Not very interesting for a sex worker like myself.
In terms of escorting, Missina spells the magic of success out: HAIR. Get your hair good and you’re good to bang which is so not true. The feminist in Freedman perks up and asks about the other sort of hair, you know, the one down there. Well personal choice and preference obviously but Missina does point out the health and hygiene benefits of a tame lady hump. Which I concur, I can’t grow hair because I’m allergic to my own sweat.
They then talk about dating with clients. Obviously when you’re working with replicating intimacy, you sometimes just do such a good job that real intimacy occurs. Great investigative work there Freedman. Moving along to discrimination. This is something sex workers face as has Missina herself. Yes it occurs, yes it sucks, so let’s do something about it! Finishing up we talk about Missina’s future prospects. A book? Sex therapy? Something along the line of the sex industry. Missina does gloat about an award, where if you’re in the industry, know is rigged and has no merit. But whatever, put you award on the fridge if that makes you happy and proud.
The podcast wraps up with an olive branch. How can Freedman back reel this reputation she’s gathered? My word of advice: help us, help ourselves. We know what to do, we have the blueprints, and we just need you to listen to our directions.
And to finish up this review I actually thought this podcast was overall beneficial because Freedman clearly is out of her depths when it comes to sex work, and she seems to do more damage than good. But it’s not in her nature to ignore something just because she doesn’t understand it, and so by at least trying, the public might just be trying with her. That’s sort of the role of media sometimes, so I don’t hate her for doing her job, no more than she should hate mine. The fact that she was willing to learn, and used her position to elevate a sex workers voice albeit, one that probably didn’t need any elevation, was a good sign to me. And Missina is charismatic enough to sufficiently detail a range of elements in the sex industry, and to be prodded at but never fully divulge any seriously damaging thoughts about the industry (mainly because she doesn’t have any). I’ve seen occurrences where sex workers have been herded into a direction in an interview where they accidently say the wrong thing because they feel they have to say something. Missina’s experience with public speaking works in the industry’s favour, she’s not going to be very easily knocked around. It would be great to see more media focused on other workers who are as articulate as Missina having their say about their work. But it is Missina’s willingness and practice in social media that gets her in the hot seat, so I guess that’s her hard work paying off. I do truly hope that the podcast acted as a gateway for further intensive thinking for Freedman and the public on the topic of sex work.