opinion

Increasing Representation for Sex Workers With Disabilities

Increasing Representation for Sex Workers With Disabilities

In 2019, after undergoing major surgery to remove my colon, I found myself wrestling with accepting that my body was no longer “conventional.”

During surgery, my small intestine was diverted out through my abdomen, and I now wear a permanent medical device. Because of the stigma regarding bowel-health, I wasn’t sure if I should continue creating pornography after surgery. As I contemplated the decision, I was embraced with love and compassion by the online community.

There is something very powerful about being represented that can’t be explained unless you have experienced living in the margins, in one way or another.

When I decided to continue working, disabled performers and consumers alike messaged me to thank me for my bravery. It was then that I realized the increasing need for visibility in mainstream adult media.

Much of the pornography we’ve known has been produced with a narrow field of view, often highlighting a Euro-centric ideal for body types and expressions. Disabled people, people of color, plus-size performers and non-binary or trans folks are often either underrepresented by media, or else presented as a caricatured version of themselves.

I am strongly in favor of body autonomy. That is to say, that if people choose to fetishize themselves for their financial or sexual gain, I will jubilantly cheer them on; however, it should not be their only option. I long for a world where every person can be both fairly represented, and also sexually empowered.

Becoming disabled has given me the opportunity to see the world through a new lens. In particular, this has changed my relationship with my body and as a result has re-shaped my career. Much like my intestines have been re-routed out through my abdomen, my career has been re-routed to one of a sex educator and advocate.

After speaking with various sex workers and disabled folks regarding their experience with sex and stigma, I brainstormed the first Disabled Sex Workers Calendar. The 2020 calendar featured 12 pages of empowered disabled creators living their best sexually empowered lives. All participants in the calendar were monetarily compensated, and all profits from the calendar were donated to WISH – a grassroots non-profit working with street-based sex workers in the infamous Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, BC. With no experience in manufacturing or marketing a product like this, I made it up as I went.

I paid for the calendar out of pocket, and kept only the cost of production and shipping from the sales. After putting out an open call on my Twitter I received so much interest that I quickly realized I would have a difficult time fitting everyone into 12 months. Even with two performers per month, I ran out of room to include myself. I spent hours every day labeling, packaging and delivering the calendars to my local post office.

Hilariously, I wound up with a $150 parking ticket after a particularly long post office line. I begrudgingly paid for it out of pocket, not wanting to subtract any earnings from the project. I sold copies of the calendar at crowded craft fairs, and drove across the city to hand-deliver copies to those who’d heard about it via word-of-mouth.

After the last calendar sold, I was left with only $40 to donate forward - but the message of the project was shared around the globe with calendars purchased across North America, Europe, Britain and New Zealand. The project sparked important conversations among disabled and able-bodied patrons alike. The most rewarding aspect of last year’s project was the constant stream of messages from performers and civilians thanking me for creating the space for this to exist.

This year, after careful calculation and a revised production plan, the profits will allow for a more substantial donation. I hope that in the coming years, as this project grows and evolves, I will be able to increase the compensation for each participant as well as promoting each of them and their amazing work.

The most rewarding aspect of this process has to be the constant stream of messages from performers and civilians who have expressed their gratitude that the project exists. There is something very powerful about being represented that can’t be explained unless you have experienced living in the margins, in one way or another. I am the picture of privilege in many ways, but one thing I can’t do is watch a TV show or porno and feel that my body is represented by the performers. It would mean a lot to me to see another ostomate performer on screen, but until that day, I am grateful that I can create the space for other disabled people to feel represented in porn.

The 2021 Disabled Sex Workers Calendar can be purchased on Etsy at: Etsy.com/ca/shop/GoAskAlexOfficial. Among the artists included is BodyXBlunts, captured by Saraphim Art & Photography (follow @Bodybyblunts on Twitter), who shared, “I feel sexy. I feel strong. I’m thankful every day that I can continue erotic art in this body. I can’t wait to see what the future holds.” And Holden Wunders (who can be followed @HoldenWunders on Twitter) expressed, “My aids don’t define me. They are a necessary part of my life, and I’ve decided to worry less about our society’s inability to accept my faults and spend more time on lifting myself up, despite my limits.”

GoAskAlex is a performer, feminist and advocate for the representation of disabled bodies in pornography. She has seven years of experience in various forms of sex work, and a lifetime of experience being chronically ill. After becoming an ostomate in 2019, she pivoted her career towards advocacy efforts and has since been featured in XBIZ magazine, including a cover photo as the first adult performer with an ostomy. Most recently, Alex won the 2020 XBIZ Cam Awards for Best Inked Model. Follow her @GoAskAlexOnline on Twitter/Instagram and GoAskAlexOnline.com.

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