Here's something being touted in classrooms across the county: Lack of Representation Equals Death.
And for good reason. While we've lived in an increasingly digital age for decades now, we live in a particularly vulnerable time for truth-telling; media literacy and critical thinking skills are urgently being taught to young people (and adults) in order to take a step back from the messages media sends us, deconstruct, and develop a healthy sense of skepticism.
It's a love-hate relationship. No, it's further than that. It's life-death. Young kids of color, young queer kids – any impressionable young person suspecting they belong to a disenfranchised community both finds themselves and loses themselves in the way media represents- doesn't represent- their particular identity group.
Example: queer characters showing up in films, tv shows, and literature– all really fabulous and validating for queer youth. Queer characters who only get their hearts broken or murdered? Um. Not as good.
While sex work itself relies on an adult-identity (consent, etc), the same rules of representation apply. We've talked about the ways in which new wave feminist politics/neoconservative religious organizations (still) have created a culture where sterile, sexless films are the new norm. How there is no room for nuanced conversations about sex and sexuality in media.
But what about podcasts?
Podcasts are a beautiful frontier for narrative storytelling. And because narrative storytelling often leads to political action (because empathy is created when a listener or reader hears/reads a story and imagines themselves in the shoes of the character/situation), it's a powerful platform that may have even more leeway for discussing nuanced identity groups and sexuality.
Podcasts are often DIY. Anyone with a microphone and basic knowledge of their already built-in sound editing software (on Mac, especially) can have a "show" up and running in less than an hour. Because of that, there can be a lot to slog through in order to find quality podcasts, but don't worry– there's a podcast for that, too (The Big Listen is a podcast that highlights new and promising podcasts every week).
Amazingly, we're seeing more nuance and representation of stories and issues by/for actual sex workers than we are in virtually any other form of media. There are even podcasts for sex workers by sex workers (Sex Work BB is one, as is Thriving in Sex Work, although it does seem to be an offshoot of the book/workbook of the same name).
Kyra Kana of Sex Work BB saw the need for real talk in podcasting. "When I say its a podcast about sex work it seems really broad, right? Well, I talk about real life sex work, an experience that most will never be able to understand. wont understand the thrill of a successful night, or excitement to constantly know YOU are your own BOSS, but they also wont understand the stigma, hate, and loss either. Perspectives, knowledge, reliability and acceptability are 100 percent reaffirming in this industry, someone to tell you its okay when you feel totally alone, but its also okay to know that everything IS going to turn around...The stimga around sex work can be overbearing, you're a lucky one if your family is accepting of your choice. You are lucky, if its incredibly easy for you to get a vanilla job. You are lucky if you continue to hustle and never give up... none of these should have to only be a for the lucky. I want us to change that, we can work to bring everyone into a less judging world."
Kane really, uh, nails it.
We are creatures who are drawn towards stories. Stories make the world more pallatable, relatable, accessible. They offer insight and empathy-creation for those who don't identify with particular identity groups, and they offer much-needed visibility for those who do identify with said identity groups. In a world where we're consuming media more voraciously than ever, it becomes dually important to make sure that representation of marginalized communities (sex workers included) is robust, nuanced, and ever-evolving.
And here's the thing--while there are a few pretty cool seedlings podcasts, the results are actually pretty abismal. Peepshow has the right idea, showcasing new stories, interviews, and conversations about sex work and the intersection of social justice, with episodes such as "Lena Paul and Trauma Informed Porn", and "The Tumblr Sex Ban with Sunny Moraine and Jaymee Delight". Peepshow offers tips for healthcare, thinkpieces about porn and history, and sociopolitical discourse around race in camming. When it comes to podcasts, actually, Peepshow may take the cake in terms of the most nuanced and broad-reaching show out there.
The Oldest Profession is also a solid choice, with some nerdy history and academic twists that will delight the pervy scholars among us. The host, Kaitlyn Bailey, builds a foundation of discussing sex work through the lens of how sex workers built the world we currently live in, and the results are fascinating.
For the hanging-out-with-good-pals experience so many of us love about podcasts, HUSTLERS does the job nicely. More colloquial than some of the other picks, this falls in the chatting-it-up genre of narrative storytelling, which certainly has its place in the world). The conversational tone makes it feel a little more approachable than some of the other, more academic/activist platforms.
And, finally, for niche audiences, Dungeons & Shaggin' is run by a pro-domme, and offers kink advice, aftercare tips, and interviews with other industry professionals for the kinksters in the community (though aftercare is a great practice for all types of work!).
Still, a deep dive into The Best Podcasts for Sex Workers reveals precious little, considering the wide scope of media today--you will largely find podcasts about sex and sexuality, but not necessarily the industry behind it.
While these examples are really fantastic beginnings to nuanced representation of sex work and workers, they're still basically crumbs. Perhaps the answer here is for more podcasts--the radical, oratory art form of the people– to be made about actual narratives. The daily lives of sex workers. Sex workers who do extraordinary things. Sex workers who do ordinary things. Street workers. How workers are surviving post FOSTA/SESTA. Stories and narratives have a longer shelf life than journalism articles, because, as Ann Pancake says in her marvelous essay "Creative Responses to the World Unraveling": art is capacious enough to contain politics, but politics are not always capacious enough to contain art.