If I had to use one word to describe American Courtesans creator Kristen DiAngelo, I'd pick "smoldering". Not only is she absolutely gorgeous, but she embodies a balance of humility and dogged determination fueled by passion, hardship, and healing unlike any person I have ever met. Her passion and tenacity sizzle beneath her soft-spoken, exceedingly kind demeanor. After years of working in the industry and getting fed up with the sensationalized portrayal of sex work in the media, she decided to create a film that accurately represented the voices of escorts. We had the opportunity to sit down and talk about her perspective on the industry, how her new film has been received, and more.
There’s something that’s very colorful about showing it to a lot of people who can relate to it. It’s really touching when men or women would come up to me and say that like, “Wow,” and that it really spoke to them. It meant so much to me because I really did it for us. I know you can’t give everyone a voice but we tried to incorporate enough people so that you got how dimensional our industry is, that it’s not just one story, or one person.
Have you gotten any criticism from sex workers about the film that is something you could have addressed, or do you feel like it’s all been a positive reception?
It’s been wonderful, even the things that people would term as negative cause you know when you make a film you have limited choices about what you can do. The kind of criticism we got was like, they didn’t like the music that much--that’s one of the ones we’ve gotten.
We have gotten very little criticism about [the content]. I think if you tell your own story no one can tell you you’re doing it wrong, ‘cause it’s all you have. It’s your life. Somebody can’t say, “No, you didn’t go through that” if you went through it, you know what I mean? Any criticism we’ve gotten has been about production, and you know, I look at it as so positive, because by all rights, I’ve never gone to film school. I shouldn’t be producing a feature film. I mean, if I even got a C grade, and not ever attended film school, I’m like, I’m okay with this.
I was reading it earlier about how you were talking about how being molested or being a sexual assault survivor had nothing to do with being involved in sex work; I would love to hear more on your thoughts on that. That’s a stereotype about sex workers, and I feel like it’s a weird space to be in when you are a person that, in some ways, fit that stereotype.
Bottom line is, if you line up 100 women, and ask how many have been molested, how many of them have been raped, how many of them have been abused by a partner, how many of them have been on destitute times and had to go to work for money in a job they didn’t like, I bet you’re going to get a lot of them. If you ask them how many are sex workers, you’re lucky to get one or two.
The majority of women who are raped are not sex workers. The majority of women who are molested are not sex workers. The majority of women who are abused are not sex workers.
People love to correlate the two, but it really has very little to do with each other. What it does have to do with is that when you have something like that happen in your life, you can learn from that. You can grow from that. And many people (whether you’re in a relationship, whether you’re an independent escort [or] whether you’re single) begin to differentiate the difference between sex and love as a necessity to survive.
All that does is give you a tool. However, it in no way MAKES you become a sex worker. That’s just such a fallacy. The fact that I’m a sex worker has nothing to do with the fact that I was molested, but I don’t want to shy away from it because that’s the stereotype that people think about.
I know that you’ve talked about how it made you a survivor, made you tougher.
I don’t use the word “survivor”. It makes me feel like that victim. Now I’m not saying that I never was in my life, but I try to just look at my personal responsibility and what I can do with the things I’m given. I think that makes us warriors. I like that word better, because it’s a stronger word and it describes us.
We’ve taken [our life circumstances], and we’ve turned [them] and empowered ourselves. It’s maybe not something that people want to be given, but we’re given it, but we’ve turned it around and made it work for us.
Now to me, that’s a powerful thing.
You’ve been in the industry for a long time. Do you feel like during that time that has kind of changed your attitude about your experience?
You know if you go back thirty something years ago, and it was pretty rough because there was no communication, and we were very decentralized. You know people blame the advent of the internet for the proliferation of sex workers, and this industry, across the US, but all that has changed [is that] people can see us. It didn’t mean we weren’t there; they just didn’t see us.
Back then, it was very different. We clung together very tightly, [with] the women we did know, because it was you against the world. You had no protection under the law at all (we still basically have none). You had predators out to get you, and if they got you, it was thought that you deserved it because you were deviant, and so you had no help or no recourse. And your self-esteem...it’s really hard to find who you are, especially if you are at a point in your life when you are engaged in survival sex. You’re just trying to survive, and you have the world gunning for you and you have no one who is going to help you.
I’m very lucky to be here and I’m very lucky to be able to be speaking, and I think my work has changed very much basically because the industry has changed and I’ve had to morph with it. And each experience has made me wiser and smarter and more assured of myself.
I think that there is a bit more of an isolation [now]. You know the internet makes it so people never have to meet. I spent a lot of my younger years in Nevada in a brothel and back then, the Madams who taught you were these working girls themselves who had been doing it their whole lives. There was this wealth of information about how to stay alive, how to protect yourself, how not to get hurt, how to do all these things that nobody [teaches] anymore. There’s the fear that if you help somebody, you can go to jail, and people don’t understand that, especially the younger girls.
Absolutely. What would advice would you give younger girls about protecting themselves, both physically and legally?
Here’s the rules I go by:
I love the women in the industry. I never know what could happen to them. For instance, I could have someone who is a great, great friend and they could get caught up in something because there’s things all the time, there’s predators all the time, there’s stuff happening all the time, [over] which they have very little control. And I don’t know what they would ever do if they had to. So I know that any time that I give somebody information I know that it may not be just to them. Does it make them a bad person? No. Does it make them a wrong person? No. Everyone does what’s best for their own.
The other thing that I do is assume there’s a huge amount of personal responsibility for everything that I do. And trust people to be human.
So the last thing I do is I [make sure that I] know the history. People who understand the history of the [sex work] will understand that we’re not safe, really. We’re safe so long as government doesn’t need political fodder, or to make headlines, or to take somebody down. We’re safe as long as we don’t ever present a threat of maybe changing something or moving our rights forward. But unfortunately, many political campaigns are funded by religious constituents.
I keep that in mind. I keep that in mind at all times. I keep in mind that the internet is not a private place anymore, I keep in mind that phone conversations are no longer private. I keep in mind that if you’re going to go to a public setting anything you say and anything you do maybe being watched. You know?
The number one thing I tell women in this industry is don’t break the law, [and] hat I mean by that is charge for time. Being an escort is legal; charge for time. Pay your taxes and be the best representation of a sex worker that you can be because you may be the only sex worker representation that the next person you meet will ever meet.
Do you feel like there’s another film in the works for you?
Absolutely. We have so many ideas. I think we’re going to do an actual film on trafficking. What’s real. I would sort of like to do a documentary from our side, shedding light on what this really is and how this really works, you know?
That would be really great. So that’s the next one in the works. And do you feel like this is a new career for you?
It might be. I don’t know if I’ll ever make a cent off of it and I have no idea how this film is doing yet. There’s this whole lag in when you find out things; it’ll be in the beginning of next year before I probably see anything. Documentaries really are passions of the heart and it has to do with your ability to pay for that to get produced. Even if people donate, they are massively expensive and the further [the film] goes, the more it costs. This is why normally people from our side don’t have the support and the funding to do that. So I’m lucky I got the one out there.
That makes sense. I hope it works out! American Courtesans has been so well-received, and I hope it continues to gain traction. I know you had an interview with MSN, and you went on the Adam Carolla show, which is very mainstream. How are you feeling about the reception from the general public?
I am blown away; I feel grateful and blessed. Just by interviewing me, you know, the world wants to correlate “Oh, they’re probably aligned with the industry.” So, I am honored. I’m touched that these people would even take the time to listen to us and let us have voices and for me that little bit of hope that keeps me going. I understand that they’ve done this at great risk.
I understand that when you step out and do this that people who are on the opposing side want to make you wrong. So, I had this huge fear of an attack coming. And so when a minority starts speaking out, well, you wait because they have to discredit you or shut you up in some way. So I have that fear...what, I don’t know, will it happen, but the fact that we have had people in mainstream...oh my god, it’s overwhelming. I’m grateful. And they’ve presented us [positively]. That was just like, you know, we’re moving forward. We’re moving. I’m very grateful.