Why do individuals make the decision to engage in sex work?
There are a million answers to this question, and we don't see authentic portrayals of what it means to be a sex worker very often. For this reason, sex workers rights organization Red Umbrella Project and Free Association Films brought together seven queer sex workers to tell their stories at NYC's Joe's Pub. The result? A film called "The Red Umbrella Diaries."
According to a press release sent to The Huffington Post, The Red Umbrella Diaries "began as a monthly storytelling series in 2009 at the now-closed Lower East Side lounge Happy Ending, in a space that was once a happy ending massage parlor." During the four-plus years that the series ran, "100 people with experiences in the sex trades told their stories at the events."
In order to better understand the goals of this project, The Huffington Post chatted with Audacia Ray, the film's executive producer, this week.
The Huffington Post: How is The Red Umbrella Diaries different from other explorations of sex work? Audacia Ray: The Red Umbrella Diaries is different from other explorations of sex work because its driven by first person stories and though we collaborated with filmmakers who are not sex workers, we had the final say about the content and representations in the film. It's also unique in the spectrum of sex worker media representations because of the variety of people in the film - all are LGBTQ identified, three are women of color (one of whom is trans), and two are men. Most conversations about sex work focus on cis women, so it was important to us to broaden the scope of perspectives.
Why do you think this film is important? I think the film is important because it captures diverse experiences of the sex trade without offering up one simplistic party line about whether sex work is exploitative or empowering. It's both and neither, and often one person's experience can contain both of those experiences in one lifetime - sometimes even in one day.
What were you most surprised about while making the film? I already knew that everyone featured in the film would get along with each other, but it was really amazing to see the friendships grow among us all. We are all really different and have had very different experiences in life and in the sex trade. Also, while a lot of us shared really tough things in the stories we told, we laughed a lot. There's a particular kind of gallows humor that people who've faced adversity have.
What do you hope viewers take away from The Red Umbrella Diaries? I hope the film makes viewers question the assumptions they make about sex workers. I want the film to spark conversations and questions about how sex workers negotiate around work, family, religion, mental health, friendship, and visibility in media and in our communities.
"The Red Umbrella Diaries" is slated to premiere in 2015. Check out a trailer for the film above and head here for more info.