For our November book club, we chose Hustling Verse: An Anthology of Sex Workers’ Poetry. Karen, Princess, and Jera interviewed two of the contributors: Juba Kalamka and Tracy Quan. We spoke on the diverse representation of sex workers in poetry and heard Juba and Tracy’s amazing histories of advocacy and performance.
Tracy Quan is the author of three novels, including the international bestseller Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl. Her poems are published online at Love’s Executive Order, Los Angeles Review of Books, Newest York and Poets Reading the News. Tracy was a coordinator of PONY (Prostitutes of New York) in the 1990s. She’s a contributor to the Encyclopedia of Prostitution and Sex Work.
Juba Kalamka is an American artist/activist most recognized for his work as a founding member of “homohop” crew Deep Dickollective (D/DC) and his development of the micro-label Sugartruck Recordings. His personal work centers on dialogues on the convergences and conflicts of race, identity, gender, sexuality and class in pop culture. He has written and illustrated several articles for pop culture magazines and journals, Kitchen Sink, ColorLines, and the now-defunct bisexual issues magazine Anything That Moves.
Follow Feminist Erotica on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and email us with questions/comments/concerns at firstname.lastname@example.org. This episode is sponsored by Anchor: The easiest way to make a podcast.
Episode Resources: Grab your copy of Hustling Verse: An Anthology of Sex Workers’ Poetry; Pick up Tracy’s books, Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl; Check out Tracy and Juba’s recommendations: Like A Love Story and When Brooklyn Was Queer; Mercedes Eng’s Prison Industrial Complex Explodes
Voiceover Goddess: Welcome to Feminist Erotica, a podcast from Rebellious Magazine for Women. Join Jera, Karen and Princess for stimulating interviews that explore feminist representations of desire as well as short and sweet erotic snippets read by the authors themselves. This episode is sponsored by Just The Tip, Rebellious Magazine’s inclusive sex and relationship advice column, where you’ll find interviews with sexuality, researchers and educators, as well as compassionate responses to anonymous questions. Check it out at RebelliousMagazine.com/just-the-tip.
Jera: So once again, thank you to our special guests for joining us. We’re going to let you introduce yourselves in a minute, but first of all, this is a post-book club interview with two of the collaborators from Hustling Verse: A Poetry Anthology from Sex Workers. So we just had a great conversation about this anthology, and now we’re going to talk to contributors about everything related to sex work and poetry and combining those two things and what it was like to have this anthology come out. So, first of all, my name is Jera Brown. I am one of the co-hosts for the Feminist Erotica podcast. I also, under a different name, started out as a sacred intimate, which is more full-service type of stuff, and then I switched to pro domme-ing and fetish work about two years ago. And now I’m trying to figure out how the hell I wrap my brain around being a writer and a service provider. So that’s a little bit about my background. Karen and Princess, do you want to say who you are before we introduce the guests?
Karen: I am Karen Hawkins. I’m one of the co-hosts of the Feminist Erotica podcast. I’m also the founder of Rebellious Magazine, which is kind of the home for a podcast.
Princess: My name is Princess McDowell. I’m also a cohost for this podcast. I am a Writer-in- Rebellion for Rebellious magazine. I like to say that whatever wild ideas Karen comes up with, she usually calls me first and I usually get sucked into it. So luckily, this podcast is one of those projects that, I won’t say sucked into this podcast cause I’ve actually been enjoying everything with this that we’ve been doing. So yeah, that is who I am.
Jera: Juba, would you mind introducing yourself? You do a lot.
Juba: *laughs* Yeah. First, thank you for inviting me all. And also, what I always have to say when I’m going to do something: my daughter, who is 16 years old, one of my two children, says, hi. I’m Juba Kalamka. He, him, his. A lot of different stuff, I’ve had the privilege of being involved in. I’ve been an artist, either as starting in children’s theater in Chicago since like in the late seventies. And I’ve been doing hip hop since the late eighties, starting in Chicago with a couple of groups. Stuff that I did of the most note was after moving to the Bay area in January of 1999.
So, involved in the sort of burgeoning, mostly that was actually developing online, but centered on a lot of projects that were happening in the Bay area, the hip hop, homo hop scene. So, I was for time a member of Rainbow Flavor, co-founder of a group called Deep Dick Collective, or D/DC as it’s popularly known, and curated the Peace Out Homo Hop Festival for six years. That was a project of East Bay pride. A lot of different solo work. Concurrent to that poetry and performance artwork with Mangos with Chili; disability arts stuff, queer disability arts stuff with Sins Invalid over the last 10 years, and concurrent to all of that, over the last 20 years, working in HIV services for some large international concerns.
And for the last five years for St. James infirmary, which is a 20-year-old occupational health and safety clinic that serves current and former sex workers, front-facing stuff with injection drug users and some very specific trans umbrella healthcare clinical work for TransSpectrum sex workers. I’m at the stage of my career where I’m on a bunch of boards and stuff. So I work with the Deseret Alliance, with the Sex Worker Advocacy Organization. And I should say, how I became involved with the anthology was through having toured with Sex Workers Art Show in 2006. And that was where I met Amber Dawn. And so we have continued the communication and friendship over that period of time. And there’s other stuff, but yeah, that’s happening, you know, but that’s how I got here and someone asked me to talk again and I’m grateful to be talking again.
Jera: Well, that’s amazing. And Tracy?
Tracy: Okay. So yeah, I’ve been involved with the sex industry since my teens. I’ve also been involved with the sex workers movement for a long time. I’m one of the co-founders of the PONY Court Coordinating Committee, which was created in 1989, uh, to revive PONY. PONY stands for prostitutes of New York, which was formed in 1975, but we revived it in the 1990s. So in the winter of 1989, we revived PONY and I was on this coordinating committee. We actually debated a lot about whether to call it PONY or something else, because already the word prostitute was becoming a little bit old-fashioned, but decided to go with something traditional. And yeah, so I was involved with that. I sort of took a back seat from a lot of activism a little while ago, because I felt like, after getting PONY off the ground, a lot of new sex worker organizations flowered in New York City. And we actually came to, people started thinking of us as really stuffy and conservative, and I realized, ‘Oh, we’ve actually succeeded in building a movement. If they think that we’re these like stuffy old bores.’ We actually still have a little remnant of PONY operating in the background. So that’s some of my activism stuff.
And I’ve published three novels. The first novel is Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl. And it’s part of the series. It’s a trilogy. It’s about a sex worker called Nancy Chan. Right now, I’m doing a radio segment every Sunday night. I talk to Hong Kong morning radio. It’s a public radio station called RTHK Radio three. And every Sunday night, I do that for about 15 minutes. We talk about what’s happening in New York. It’s helped me get through the COVID-19 quarantine. And then, Amber Dawn wrote to me, asked me to contribute something to Hustling Verse. I actually tried to contribute something that was about Melania Trump. A poem I published about Melania Trump and she asked me for something more experiential. So I ended up submitting a piece that is a little bit autobiographical, I guess.
Jera: For people who, who are not familiar with what this anthology, it’s a really wonderful collection of a lot of sex worker’s experiences around sex work. And it runs the gamut of different ways that you can be involved in sex work and the different intersectional identities. Some people that are still involved, some people that have given it up and moved on. From both of your perspectives as contributors, what surprised you about the collection or what did you think when you finally saw the finished product?
Juba: Short way of saying it? What I thought was that, I mean, I was familiar with some of the people who were involved because of who I knew was curated anthology. I mean, there was a way that I expected it to be incredibly expansive, and interesting, and coming from a lot of different angles of experience, but I couldn’t have said how many different angles of experience. That like reading it, it was just, I mean, I expected there to be a lot of it that was significantly different than my own experience, but the drill down that people did on both the personal and the conceptual and identity stuff was something for me that was, I’m still having to go back and read and reread. And I see something else every time that I pick it up to go back and read. I also feel like a poser because it’s so good. It’s just an amazing anthology of work. Everybody. And it was just incredible. And that’s from the prose to the narrative stuff, the shorter pieces. Just like, everything was just amazing.
Tracy: You know, I’m going to say something a little bit irreverent. Maybe I didn’t realize that I was such a cliche. I mean, one of the problems with being a sex worker is that, first of all, it attracts people with pretty strong egos, like big egos. Sometimes, I would say there’s a narcissistic element doing sex work. And if you fail at sex work, it’s probably because you’re not narcissistic enough. It’s part of what gets you through it. It helps you to succeed at it and also to survive difficult things. So, you think of yourself as kind of special. At the same time, you do have to be realistic, and you do know that you’re not the only one because you’re part of this army of sex workers. However, when I saw all the different voices, I agree with what my colleague is saying here. Yeah. The range, it’s really wonderful. But at the same time, I realized, wow, just how, when something’s universal, which there is something universal about sex work, right? And as we become more vocal about it, you know, it’s coming out of the closet. We said we started this movement so that we wouldn’t have to be in the closet. But as people come out of the closet and it becomes more, I suspect that it’s also becoming a more popular occupational choice because of that. Yeah, you begin to realize that you are part of this. Well, it’s kind of a mass of humanity, you know. But I’m also really tickled by just how many people in different corners of the poetry world have been involved with sex work.
Jera: So I wanted to read a short paragraph from the foreword from Mercedes Eng that talks about just the gamut that’s in the anthology and is in the industry in general.
“My experience was of the survival sex trade, but sex work exists on a spectrum, as modalities of sex work are many and immutable, as are we sex workers. This is why Hustling Verse is so important: gathered here are multiple narratives of our lived experiences and the contexts that gave rise to our experiences. We are not abject victims without agency, even though sex workers are often victims of violence. Justin DuCharme and Akira the Hustler’s poems show that we are affective laborers providing tenderness, healers giving medicine. Naomi Sayer’s poem eliminates how the remote locations where some Indigenous sex workers live makes getting to and from work dangerous, and the public would wrongly view her father as a human trafficker because he drives her to the strip club where she chooses to work, though he does so to ensure she arrives safely. Sex workers are protectors of ourselves and our friends, and our chosen and blood fams protect us. We are astute analysts of the media, language, legislation, labour, beauty standards, homophobia, transphobia, colonization, and racism. And we are poets.”
About this intersection between poetry and sex work, both of them feel like they’re curious forms of expression and performance to me. Do you think that that’s part of why there’s so much intersection, or do you think that there’s other reasons why there’s so much intersection between them?
Juba: Well, I think, I mean. It’s at least from my gaze, what I’ve seen is, and I think this kind of goes back to when I toured with Sex Workers Art Show, and started working with the Deseret Alliance concurrently. I think that what I saw anyway, and working in a performance show that had been around for a few years by the time I began participating in it, and then with the people who I met at a sex worker conference, and then later helping to put together that conference, I don’t think it’s an unusual intersection. And just that people are complicated and people do a bunch of different things. And if not being related to career tracks as such, people have lots of different things that they like to do. And I think that poetry, when anthologies have been created, or readings when you talk about readings that are geared towards sex workers in different places, it’s been about the opportunity to not just to speak, and speak to power about the experiences like the experiences that’d be detailed in Hustling Verse, but about having them document it too, as well. I think that is what that is. It’s like if that’s in a chap book, if that’s online, if that’s in a formally published anthology, I think that there’s a lot of, understandably, a lot of impetus to tell these stories. For people to tell their stories and talk about their experiences, and to talk about their experiences on their own terms. And also, through when they have, in the best case scenarios, opportunities to tell those stories through conduits that are respectful, and not just respect sex workers as writers and sex workers as storytellers, but respect the audience who they’re going to be presenting these narratives to.
So I think that you can, I mean, as chock-full as Hustling Verse, I mean, I think that you could have multiple Hustling Verse very easily. You know, I mean, if you talk about what my experience with community is and just given the inclination of people to write and to tell stories. I think the shape of it gets – I don’t know if that’s the word – curiouser and curiouser as the forms and the throughways that we’re able to use to tell these stories shift and change and expand. It’s like there was a different way that, even just around advocacy in relationship to that, there was a way that that was done or that you had to do that before, there was an internet as such. And the internet has been a great thing. And as we know, it can be a not-so-great thing at the same time, but it just kind of, it’s there. We use it, you know, for what we can use it for like we use all the other forms that we are able to express through.
Tracy: I mean, I think that people who go in and out of the industry, or who just do it for a short time, there’s something that we do in sex work that, it’s like there’s a search for authenticity. And sometimes when sex workers get together, I’ve noticed that people who have two or three gigs, like one of them is sex work. And the other two, maybe someone’s a teacher or writer. They’re sometimes really defensive and almost afraid to call themselves sex workers, because there’s a fear that you’ll be considered in authentic. And it’s a reversal of what happens in straight mainstream society, or what used to happen because actually our society is really going through a major change around this now, right. But it used to be that, well, my god, you’d want people to think that, ‘Well, no, I don’t really do this. I just did it twice because, you know, whatever.’ And you’d want straight people to think that you didn’t really do it, you’re just trying it out, blah, blah, blah. But you know, when you’re with sex workers, it’s the other way around. And the more gritty and illegal and problematic your experience was, the more authentic it is. And so there’s a lot of discomfort around that I think. And I’ve heard people expressing real insecurity about like, ‘Well, I guess I can’t really say that I’m a dancer,’ even though this person dances, right. But, because she has this other job, and everybody will kind of reassure her. ‘No, no, it’s really okay, honey. You can call yourself a dancer.’ And this is the thing. This is the central neurosis of our community. And in a way, I guess it’s kind of funny. You know, it’s kind of touching. And I think that some of the poems in Hustling Verse speak to that. You know, it’s one of those things, it’s the comic and the tragic, right.
Karen: So one of the things that we talked about in the book club was the notion of poetry as an inherently subversive art form that you can express yourself in poetry differently than you can in other types of fiction, or other types of art. And I don’t know if either of you can speak to that, why poetry specifically? Not just why art and why creative expression, but why is there something, what is it about poetry specifically?
Juba: Hmm. Well, I can say what I think, that happens a lot of times with poetry. I mean, I think that there’s a way that the relationship that poetry has to language – not even just language [but] actually individual words. There’s a way that you can write a novel that’s written in a formal way, or you could write a magically real novel and play with language and you could play with a language like a novel that’s a long form poem. But I think that the space in which people have to stretch and the immediacy of poetry in terms of concretizing ideas in the relative short form, I think is a good, and a lot of times safer entryway for people into writing. I think that the possibility for any encouragement in the best case scenario – to revise, to shorten, to lengthen, to go back and revisit writing or revisit ideas without the particulars of the pressure of like, if you are writing a 400 page novel. I’m not saying it’s easier because I’ve written tons of shit poems. And I don’t pretend that that’s something that has not happened, and that it wasn’t something that I have to work at. And if people have to work at it to be good at it, or to have some facility with it.
But I think that that was certainly the way that I related to it, because my first entry into writing poems was as an emcee and as a songwriter. That was just sort of a lateral shift for me. Ultimately, and interestingly enough, because I got to the Bay Area in ’99 and the slam scene was just in full swing that that was not something that really-, I have colleagues and [know] people who do great work within that context, but it wasn’t something that appealed to me because I was more interested in exploring what I was doing on a page as opposed to something that was really ingrained in the performative. And so it was a practice for my pen game so to speak, or for my writing in a particular kind of way, that I also had time to do this other kind of way, because I think that’s been the appeal of it as well. Because of working. I could sit on my lunch break, if I was working somewhere where I had a lunch break, and literally jot something on the back of a sandwich wrapper and stick it in my pocket and come back to it later.
So I think that if it’s just drafting, redrafting, exercising, or just writing something, like a couple of lines of something and leaving it there and letting it be what it is, I think that’s the appeal of it. It’s that the access and having conversations around access has been something that’s important to me. And that’s what I like about poetry. And that’s not to say that people don’t have cultural and social relationships that make them feel like poetry or poetics is some kind of rarefied space that they cannot enter. I’m not saying that those dynamics around race, around gender, around class or all that stuff doesn’t exist at the same time. I’m just saying that there was stuff around some of those spaces that were in play for me, but that was still the easiest way for me, not just to get my ideas down but to validate myself as a writer. Because I just did not have a notion of myself as ever becoming a novelist, but I grew up in the black arts movement in the ’70s as a little kid, and I knew tons of people wrote poetry. So I was like, I can do that. You know, and I was already rapping. So that was the way that went for me. And I think that’s the way it goes for a lot of people from wherever they’re coming from.
Tracy: You know, so I reached my public first through my novels writing, I would call it commercial fiction. It’s kind of streetwise chick lit. And Juba mentioned a 400 page novel. I personally don’t want to write a novel that is more than 276 pages or so. I think 300 is the limit for me. I mean, obviously some people can churn out very long novels, but I’m one of these people who tries to go very short. And so that’s how I first, you know, reached an audience that was a big audience. And, you know, then I moved into more journalism, stuff like that. I think what I like about the poetry form is it’s a way for me to be a newbie again. It’s a way to be very inexperienced and afraid and, you know, deeply insecure and terrified of rejection. I’m not saying that every book proposal that I’ve put out there has been accepted. No, I have dealt with rejection in book publishing, but with poetry, it really is a new game. And I would sometimes tell people who ask me about the writing business, if you love the idea of being rejected by some big wig that is in your field, then you have found your craft.
I’ll never forget the day I was told. ‘Michael, this piece just doesn’t work for Michael.’ And it was Michael Kinsley, who’s a big, important editor at Slate and all this. And I was just thrilled. I mean, my piece had been trashed by Michael Kinsley and I took it somewhere else and I did manage to publish it, but I just felt so important because this big wig had rejected my piece. And I feel some of those things, and that was the beginning of my writing career. And I feel some of those things as a poet, you know. If I get the chance to show something to a highly respected editor, I don’t necessarily expect them to publish my stuff because I’m really new at this. But that’s when I began to realize, okay, maybe I really am a poet or should be a poet because that kind of thing turns me on, you know. So, that really is the testing ground. If you can’t be thrilled by that aspect of whatever it is that you do, whether it’s music or painting or writing, then, then I think you’re probably in the wrong business because of course you have to deal with that so often.
Princess: Yes. As a poet who has tried to get things published in journals and everything, absolutely get comfortable with rejection. I have a couple of friends who do a challenge throughout the year to see who can get the most projections.
Princess: It’s like a race to 100. Yeah.
Tracy: Yeah. Isn’t it great when it takes them two years to reject your piece? Because then you know that they really spent, you think – you hope – that they really spent some time considering it.
Juba: You hope, yeah.
Tracy: So. And, you know, seriously, it gives you a certain humility and sometimes you need to go back, you know. You need to experience that. And if you’re having success in one area of your craft, perhaps it takes you away from that. You know?
Jera: Princess had told you before we went live that a lot of this started really as a podcast, exploring what we’ll call traditional erotica and sexier romance. You know, just the genres that people read to get off, basically. And we’ve opened it up to things like this that explore sex and eroticism and desire in other ways, other than just “guilty pleasure reads.” So I’m curious, Tracy in particular, about your novels as chick lits, more pleasure reads and these poems are not. Do you think about your audience as you’re reading these? And do you think about what you want, how do you think about your audience as you’re writing your novels and what part of your own experiences goes into them? And how different is it to write these poems, which, are they more just for you? Or are you still thinking about your audience?
Tracy: So, okay. In the novels, there’s some kind of an erotic element to the novels, but they’re not really written as, I wouldn’t call them porn or even soft porn. They’re more from the point of view of what’s going on in the mind of somebody who’s producing the erotic experience. But I’ve shied away from a certain kind of, you know, debunking. You know, there’s a tendency sometimes to people want to debunk the erotic experience that the sex worker is producing. And I feel that it’s a little more pastel, a little more nuanced than that. And so, sometimes for example, the characters in my fiction, the working girls, the sex workers, sometimes they are experiencing a kind of pleasure, but it’s a very subdued pleasure because at the same time, they’re pretending to feel another pleasure.
So it’s like there are all these different layers. And I think it’s really dangerous to write something that is only for yourself. I think that’s not a great idea. I mean, you can do that and, you know, yes, I’ve been known to do that, but I don’t really want to publish things that are that nakedly self-serving. I do always think about the reader. Maybe, maybe there are people who can succeed in engaging a reader by ignoring the reader, but I don’t feel that this would be me. I don’t know, yeah.
Karen: Yeah, no, that makes sense. And, Juba, I had a question for you. It’s a comment and a question. I feel like I so appreciated the way that you speak to your children in your piece. And I feel like it’s something that we don’t see. You know, black fatherhood in general, we can go a million miles down the road of how we don’t see that enough, right? So I want to say, thank you for that.
Juba: Hey, you’re welcome.
Karen: Right? Like, ugh. You know, sometimes you read something you’re like, ‘I didn’t even know I needed that, but I did.’ So, and I don’t know if you can also speak to why was it important to include that? And why was it important to talk about shame and taking that shame away by talking about it? Like, I don’t know if you can speak to that a little bit.
Juba: Well, yeah. I mean, I think why it was important for me to talk about that is because, because Three Different Street, that particular poem starts in a context of shame. Everything that was in that poem was true, like all of that happened, were conversations that I had with my parents and conversations, like the pleasure chest party that I’m describing, all of that happened. So it was like what I wanted to talk about was what that looked like for me, and what the end point of, I’m in Oakland in the car with my son talking about ‘your dad’s a porn actor,’ coming from a space of growing up in Afrocentricity and post-Panther, you know, black nationalism that for better, or for worse, I grew up in an experience of a tremendous amount of respectability politicking, if you will.
And having an intellectual understanding of the over cultural forces that sort of engender that. But at the same time, being really frustrated as a kid, because, you know, the rhetoric of ‘We’re free and self-determined it, and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah,’ was really smacking up against this, these are the things that we don’t talk about. These are the things that- then, and not even just that these are the things that we don’t talk about, but specifically that we don’t talk about with regard to sex and sexuality. And for me specifically, things that was clear to me that women in particular were not supposed to talk about, and how that conversation and the shape of those and watching, like the whole point of putting in the pleasure chest party within the space of the importance of having this experience of watching a bunch of women push back, and particularly my mom, pushed back against those ideas.
So I think a lot of it too has to do with my class experience in a sense. I grew up in the hood, but I grew up really kind of working class with a dad who was a teacher and a mom who, mostly self-taught, but owned a series of successful businesses. So they were sort of pillars of community, council of elders, blah-blah-blah and that kind of way in the Afro-centric nationalist community. And so I think that there were these ways that I constantly struggled with and want to reflect on. And if we’re talking again about writing for the audience, there’s a way that I’m writing about my experience, but writing for an audience and saying like, Hey, here’s a space that I struggled to come through, but was able to come through it. I won’t just say whole and not saying that you don’t come through with your scrapes or whatever that is, but still with the inclination to be honest and as honest as possible. And then we have a conversation about age appropriateness, and so on and so far like that.
But the idea of ‘there’s a space around that I have for myself as a writer and as a person, and that I was able to work and push and find.’ But a lot of what I wanted to do, in particularly for my children, is to not to have as hard a time around that as I did, in the sense that we don’t have to pretend like we agree about everything, but I don’t want you to be afraid to talk to me about what you’re thinking about the way you’re navigating this, about what your angles are, you know, around this and that. That’s been my biggest hope, that my biggest tool is being able to be like, ‘Let me create a space where we can be straight up as possible about that.’ And that’s about whatever the form it ends up being expressed. And I appreciate you saying that, because when you say that around the idea of writing for the audience, that wasn’t my idea. That like, ‘I’m the black father.’ But that’s like, I’m here going, wow. I’m very pleased that I spoke to you that way. I’m just sitting in the, what I called “The Black Man Car” that I had at the time, talking to my son about that. He received that in a way that he did, and he understood that the way that he did. Writing that piece, I felt for once that I got something right for a moment.
Princess: It occurred to me throughout the discussion of this that Juba, your work with Deep Dick Collective, I was like, why do I know that? Why do I know that? Where is it? Because I’m friends with Tim.m West, and we’ve done some shows way back when, but that black male experience and being able to, as a bisexual man, creating the work and sharing the story of your piece has the cultural markers in it. It has the realness of the conversations and the experiences that you share in it. And there’s also the lyricalness in the writing and the work that shows the background that you have as a lyricist and a poet. And as I was skimming through the book – I will say, I haven’t actually read it full cover to cover but – the placement of your work in the book really feels like almost an anchor, if not like a reset of everything inside of it. Because I think a lot of the work, and we talked about it in the book club, a lot of the work is coming from this perspective of the writer addressing clients, whereas your work is addressing kind of community and the community that surrounds you as you experience these things and, being open about it and being straight up about it. As the conversations that you’re having with your son and then the experiences that you’re having in the party and things like that.
Juba: Yeah. I think that part of the reason that I chose to speak to it that way, I think goes back to some of what Tracy was saying about how it was running into people, particularly with just talking about my experience and how I entered sex work really as a hobby. It was actually through Deep Dick Collective. Someone from Good Vibrations saw our performance at their 25th anniversary party and they were looking for men of color to be in this production. That was how I ended up in the first production that I was in. But having a conversation about that in that way about authenticity. Because my entry into sex work was really casual and hobby and came with a lot of relative privilege in general, and I think a lot of relative privilege to the people who are in the anthology, that started as a hobby, but then became something that became, not a lucrative, but a significant part of my income as time went on.
And I think that, yes I will say a big part of that about addressing community, but particularly about addressing the working class community that I came from. That this is a part of an intersectional conversation that we can have about race, about work, about ability, about gender, about a bunch of different things. We can have a little bit of these pieces of these conversations at the same time is what I was trying to do as a way of sort of laying out a road of like, ‘Okay, how do we want to explode this? How do I want to explode this later, in later work? In my life? And what are the questions that hopefully I can help come up or help people get to their own answers for about their own specific experiences, that are exactly the same as mine, but kind of similar to mine. So I think that it was important for me to talk about that in as grounded a fashion as possible, given that the experience of direct service with clients has been just a here and there thing to me. It wasn’t a front line of work for me.
Karen: One last question. So, we’re trying to remember to end all of our interviews this way, where, who else should we talk to? Who else should we be reading? What other things should we be exploring? So if you had to recommend a couple of folks to us and to our audience, who would that be?
Tracy: There’s a book I read last year. I don’t know if this fits your typical theme, but it might be of interest to you. It’s actually a YA book. So it was written for teenagers, but I found it quite interesting. It’s called Like A Love Story. I can’t remember. I don’t have the author’s name in front of me. I can pull it up for you. And it was published in 2019 and what’s kind of fun about it. It’s a book for teenagers. It’s YA fiction. And it takes place in the late 1980s during the heyday of Act Up, when the AIDS coalition to unleash power was being formed. And so it’s kind of historical fiction, right? It’s about teenagers who join Act Up and get involved with the AIDS community. And it’s also before there are really helpful treatments. So a lot of people are dying of AIDS. It’s quite an interesting look at that scene and it gave life during that period. And there is a kind of love story running through the novel between two high school boys and a girl who’s part of their kind of emotional triangle. So that just sort of came to mind when you were saying feminist erotica. It’s not straight erotica, but it definitely is. I mean, it is a book about sexuality in his book about sexual issues.
Juba: A couple of things off the top of my head. It’s like you asking about feminist erotica, like Hannah Blank’s work comes up. I can’t remember the name of the anthology that I read that she did, but if you Google her, a bunch of her stuff comes up. And I really like the texture of her writing and how the way that just stuff around ability, sizeism, race, all kinds of stuff comes in and – queerness – all congeals in her work. And at the moment, I can’t remember the name, there’s a novel. And I can’t remember if it’s actually a YA novel, but Aya De Leon wrote this novel. And if I just had to describe it, it’s like Zane crossed with Cardi B crossed with Wu-Tang Clan, with these sex workers who are doing robberies to raise money to build some kind of community org or something like that. But I remember when she told me about it and I was like, ‘I have to get that book.’ And I just fell down on getting books, period. But both of those two pop up in my mind immediately as people to read who do sexy writing that’s super, super, super, super, super feminist. And it’s hot.
Karen: I have to tell you really quickly.
Tracy: I’d like to mention another book that might interest you. It’s called When Brooklyn Was Queer. It’s by Hugh Ryan. It’s social history. It also came out last year. It’s really an interesting book. It starts by talking about Walt Whitman, gets into the relationship between Brooklyn architecture and sex work.
Tracy: It’s really, I know. I mean, that’s not the whole book, but there’s a moment where that’s clearly with being talked about. Yeah, it starts in the 1850s and brings us into the 20th century. Really a good read. And I learned a lot from it.
Jera: I love how diverse this is. This is great. Thank you once again for joining us and for being a part of the anthology. And this was a great conversation. Any last thoughts?
Juba: Just thank you. Thank you a zillion times. People ask me sometimes now, I turned 50 this summer and it’s been 21 years I’ve been in the Bay Area. People ask me, ‘Well, how do you feel about what you’re doing and about working stuff?’ And that’s said, I did something right. I think people still call me and ask me to talk about stuff. So I feel lucky that people have and want to hear what I have to say. So I appreciate that. And thank you. Thank you for doing this podcast and thank you for your work and your art.
Tracy: Thank you. And thank you for, I finally had a chance to meet Juba who, you know, I’ve been reading about.
Juba: Same. The same, as well! Yes.
Tracy: In fact, yeah, when I was first invited to be part of this, I looked at some of the other people and I saw Juba and I was really intrigued. So I finally got a chance to meet him.
Princess: Thank you so much for joining us tonight.
Juba: Thank you.
Princess: This has been incredible. This has been a really beautiful conversation.
Voiceover Goddess: Feminist Erotica is a podcast from Rebellious Magazine for Women, hosted by Jera Brown, Princess McDowell, and Karen Hawkins. If you have an idea for a future episode or want to share your thoughts, we’d love to hear from you. Email us at email@example.com. Follow us on Instagram @FeministEroticaPodcast, on Facebook @feministerotica and on Twitter @feministerotic, and make sure you subscribe to us wherever you devour podcasts.
Transcript has been edited for clarity. This post includes Amazon-affiliated links.