No matter how many clients I have charmed the pants off of, no matter how at ease I feel with talking to strangers, and no matter how much I mentally prepare myself, there is nothing as nerve-wracking as walking into a room of fellow adult entertainers. All of that practice with manufacturing intimacy through calculated touch and uttering the right thing at just the right time means nothing when I’m facing a group of babes with impeccable style.
Although I have been to other conferences, I knew that the Desiree Alliance conference was going to be unlike anything I had experienced. The opportunity to be surrounded by fellow sex workers and escorts, a bigger group of them than I had ever been amongst before, was tantalizing and a little terrifying.
After two years in the industry, I still consider myself a baby who is still woefully underdeveloped when it comes to adult industry experience and activism. Finding myself face-to-face with brilliant activists, entertainers, and writers like Miss Major, Kristen DiAngelo, Stacey Swimme, Maggie McNeill, and Emi Koyama was almost too intimidating to consider. On occasion, my tongue swelled and a stammer developed as I faced these heroes in real life.
Turns out, though, that all of these people are so approachable and kind that it is hard to feel intimidated for very long.
I arrived in Las Vegas the day before any conference activities were taking place so I could get settled, check out a little of Vegas (I’d never been before!), and take stock of the rad Slixa swag I would be passing out the rest of the week.
The schedule was absolutely packed with yoga gatherings, many different sessions split into five different tracks (Academic and Policy; Activism; Arts, Entertainment and Media; Business Development, and Harm Reduction and Outreach), and nighttime events that included film screenings, performances, and afterparties. My only complaint is that there was no way one person could do it all in just one week.
- There was a low-key meet and greet on Sunday evening, but the conference really got started on Monday, which was entirely set aside for an all day anti-racism/anti-oppression training. Frankly, every conference should have something like this available to their attendees. The training set the tone for the rest of the week, deeming the space as unquestionably intersectional, and it offered instruction on how to engage in productive, constructive conversation from both privileged and marginalized perspectives.
- There was a keynote speech and Q&A by the incredible Miss Major, who was absolutely hilarious and shared some of her experiences as a trans* and sex worker activist. Miss Major was present at the Stonewall riots, became politicized when she was incarcerated, and has been an activist for well over forty years now. She started TGI Justice, an organization that provides support and advocacy for transpeople who are currently or formerly incarcerated or otherwise targed by the police. As Jolene Parton, my fellow live tweeter, pointed out, being seventy years old has not robbed Miss Major of any of her humor, wit, or sass.
- SWOP Michigan hosted a killer pool party where everyone congregated with drinks in Slixa mugs until the hotel shut the pool down. Sex workers of all kinds came together in their stylish swimsuits to splash around, shoot each other with water guns (lookinatchyu, SWOP Chicagoans!), toss inflatable beach balls around, and get silly.
- Ceyenne Doroshow, a remarkable transgender activist who wrote her book Cooking in Heels: A Memoir Cookbook while serving prison time for a prostitution conviction, spoke to the impact that the Red Umbrella Project has had on her life. Chris Sardina joined Ceyenne as one of the speakers for Tuesday morning’s keynote, and they both spoke to one of the most underestimated elements of the sex worker community: the tenacious, unwavering solidarity.
- Ida Kock, a Swedish ethnographer attending the conference, gave a memorial speech for her friend Jasmine Petite, a sex worker and activist who was recently murdered by her abusive ex. It was a completely preventable tragedy that inspired international protests and a conversation on how the sex worker stigma contributed to her death, as well as the deaths of sex workers that happen every day. By the end of Ida's speech, there was nary a dry eye in the house. Desiree Alliance attendees also organized a walk against sex worker violence and in honor of Jasmine.
- I AM The Girl Next Door: On being a successful whore when you don’t fit the stereotype(presented by Jolene Parton, Shannon Williams, and Ladyface) was the most meaningful session that I went to during the course of the conference. The panel opened with each presenter addressing their flaws that defy sex worker stereotypes. In their own words: Jolene is fat, Shannon is old, and Ladyface offers a very limited fetish service. Rather than distancing themselves from these qualities, all three of these clever women embrace them. Each of the presenters talked about the ways in which they commit to sharing and marketing these supposedly unattractive qualities, as well as the insecurities and fears they possessed before they realized that their methods actually work.This particular panel was a favorite of mine because of how much it touched on the internalized shame that those of us who are not necessarily considered conventionally attractive carry around with us. It can affect how confident we are in our own marketing; how can someone who has such a major "flaw" like being fat demand that someone spend money for their sexual labor when that fat person, by society's standards, should merely be grateful that someone looked at them kindly? How can someone compete by only offering a very limited service, rather than offering what the competition is offering (and at a better price)? It can affect how we present ourselves, and, in general, how we feel about ourselves and how we value our work. These three women made it clear that using these qualities in their marketing have actually drawn clients who are more likely to be a better fit (more fun, more pleasant, more compatible) rather than taking any away.
- There was a screening of American Courtesans, which is every bit as good as suspected. Go download it now and watch it for yourself.
- Solace SF held a sex worker only spa that provided pampering services for sex workers by professional aestheticians. Providers could get facials, massages, professional eye makeup and eyelash application, and more. As folks were waiting between services, there were snacks to munch on while chatting amongst themselves. It was an opportunity to get taken care of, rather than always being the caretaker.
- The Slixa, Safe Office, and Donia Christine networking event was an absolute blast. We started collecting cards for the raffle we held (Bevin Branlandingham and Katie Kimes each won $500 gift cards to Etsy!), we drank wine, and snacked like mad! We got the opportunity to actually sit down and show people Slixa, as well as answer questions and concerns about the site’s functionality and future. Safe Office shared so much information about their privacy and online security services that offer several advantages that cater specifically to entertainers: intense security, affordable rates, and special features like an option to self-destruct information if an account hasn't been logged into for a certain period of time.Lastly, Donia Christine is a goddess amongst people. After being in several of her panels, listening to her speak at this particular event, and getting to chat with her over the course of the week, I walked away with a goldmine of information and wisdom on how to improve myself and my business (and I’m not even a client -- this is just from being in her presence). During the entire week, she was constantly juggling presentations and planning classes for after she was leaving Desiree while also being constantly available and attentive to her clientele. She is insanely impressive.
- The Edible, Incredible Cabaret and Afterparty was the perfect way to essentially end the week. It was held at a glamorous Vegas hotel's gorgeous pool, where drinks were served, music was played, and clothing was very optional. There was another raffle (I won feminist playing cards! And a free tech consultation!), as well as incredible performances from the likes of the Incredible, Edible Akynos, Siouxsie Q of the Whorecast, and more.
I know that I’m leaving out important details and people with this brief summarization. This was essentially sex worker summer camp, and each day was filled with so much information and so many wonderful voices that there is no way to say it all.
Although I live in a part of the world where the sex work community is hella strong, there is still a level of isolation that comes with being in this industry. We are still in the minority. People are not out about who they are or who they used to be. Civilians will still clamor for the details, wanting to know how we advertise, what we call ourselves, how we deal with the nuanced complexities that live at the intersection of economy and sex. I know that I still often feel alone, and I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, the ultimate bubble. Many sex workers don’t have connections at all, many of them not knowing another person in person in their industry until they manage to come to a conference like Desiree Alliance.
Conferences like this one are a testament to how absolutely underestimated sex workers are as a movement, and as individuals. Being offered the opportunity to be amongst such savvy, smart people is an absolute privilege, and I hope that absolutely everyone in this industry gets the opportunity to experience it. These sort of things are expensive, which creates definite limitations for who can and cannot attend (which is also why you should donate to Desiree Alliance, especially when they start collecting for conference scholarships). I know I wouldn't have been able to attend if it weren't for Slixa (for which I am eternally grateful).
Spaces like the Desiree Alliance conference make it easy to drop the guard that sex workers often have up, to feel a little more welcome in the world, to know that the people around are welcoming you as a whole person. It is one of the few places where a sex worker isn't robbed of their humanity by watering down their identity to only their stigmatized profession. It is one of the few places where being open about employment doesn't cause new acquaintances to flinch, condescendingly dismiss, or ask for personal sex or relationship advice. It is one of the few places where talking about the realities of work, where the complex feelings that come with being a person, is fostered, rather than silenced.
Although there is no such thing as a truly safe space for sex workers in this world, Desiree Alliance gets it pretty damn close.