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Sex Workers Go Mainstream

Stormy Daniels at Erotica Los Angeles 2009. (James Chang / Wikimedia)

Suddenly, the emphasis in the term sex workers has shifted to sex workers.

It has happened in a matter of months.

My friends on the left, and some in academia, will say, oh no, it’s been going on for a long time. It has, in certain segments. But not in the mainstream. Not in the general public. Until now.

Much of the credit has to go to Stormy Daniels.

A porn actress is in a dispute with the president of the United States, and the sex worker has more credibility than Trump.

When she appears on television, she is more composed, more coherent and more contained than the petulant, pugnacious president.

His tales are ever-changing. According to him—directly, and through various spokespersons, including Hope Hicks, Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Michael Cohen—he never had sex with that woman. Nonetheless, she was paid $130,000. The money came through Michael Cohen, with one of Trump’s pseudonyms on the contract.

Trump, Cohen, and the always-vivid Rudolph Giuliani, have claimed, variously, that Trump didn’t know about the deal, that Cohen fronted the money but never told Trump about it, that Trump never knew about the deal, that Trump personally reimbursed Cohen for it, and—from Giuliani—that law firms like his routinely kept slush funds around to buy people off and wouldn’t trouble their clients with such tawdry knowledge. After he said that, his law firm promptly parted ways with him.

Ms. Daniels appeared on “60 Minutes.” Rhonda Garelick, writing for The Cut, described her as “calm, clear-eyed, and direct, she telegraphed competence and clarity of purpose. She answered questions quickly and without hesitation, never averting her gaze, lowering her eyes, or even pausing. Her words were simple and devoid of rhetorical flourishes.”

Ms. Daniel’s case, or story, has brought forth other sex workers, including Alana Evans and Jessica Drake, both of whom had been in Las Vegas when Stormy met Donald and went up to his hotel room.

Jessica Drake appeared on “Good Morning America” and said that Trump had offered her $10,000 to join them there. With her attorney beside her, she was interviewed by Ari Melber on MSNBC. She was poised and credible. Like Stormy Daniels, she was frank and unembarrassed about what she does for a living. When she talked about turning down the future president, she made it clear that whatever her profession is, she retains the right to be sexual or not be sexual based on her own choices.

Alana Evans, interviewed by Megyn Kelly, had been in Lake Tahoe when Stormy Daniels met Donald Trump and was at least an audio witness that they were in a hotel room together. When Kelly asked if Evans knew any of the specifics of what took place, Ms. Evans blushed like a young Midwest housewife and had to be coaxed into repeating what Stormy Daniels told her about “Donald Trump chasing me around the bedroom in his tighty whities.”

On mainstream TV news, these three sex workers were being treated by the hosts and interviewers with the same considered respect that would have been given to a steelworker or an autoworker. Or even, for that matter, to a banker or congressperson.

That new, heightened respect could be seen in the print pieces about Stormy Daniels. Newsweek called her “wry, smart, and wicked fast,” while “some of her detractors have proved to be … profane, depressing and, yes, salacious.” Time wrote: “Daniels is no slouch, … she has used Twitter to go after Trump supporters who criticize her online with a savage wit.”

A long piece in Rolling Stone has this wonderfully bucolic description of her home life: “Daniels lives with her daughter and partner in a quiet community in the Dallas metro area, where she keeps seven horses, including a pony for her little girl. She’s a nationally ranked equestrian … and her personal Instagram account is of the wife-and-mother variety, riddled with pictures of horses.” Penthouse writes about her as being “known for her work ethic, unflappable demeanor, and standing up for herself,” very much qualities we admire no matter what someone does for a living. Both the Rolling Stone and Penthouse pieces also describe her as blunt and frank about what she does—“I suck dick for a living”—and comfortable in saying so.

What is significant is that this change in the media’s treatment is not restricted to one, singular person. A much wider shift can be detected.

On May 5, The New York Times had a three-column-wide, front-page story with the title, “Who Gets to be Sexy.” Beneath it was this sub-head: “Technology has made it possible for just about anyone to shoot, direct and star in their own porn films. Women are leading the new guard.”

The tone made it sound as if the Business Section was cheering new Silicon Valley start-ups … combined with an embrace of the newest phase of political correctness in the national news. It was full of terms like: “women … puncturing mainstream stereotypes … calling out destructive industry practices … empowered women who want to speak up,” exercising “self-expression and their autonomy,” making “workers less dependent on the boss,” “giving workers more power,” by being “where the power is.”

The piece made the point that things that we see as abuses intrinsic to the sex trade are hardly exclusive to explicit sex work. “We now know … abuses happen on Hollywood film sets and in hotel rooms, on production lines and in offices across America. It’s harder than ever to paint porn as uniquely exploitative.”

Not only that, it put the “exploitations into a larger class framework.” It included this quote from adult star Missy Martinez: “People always feel the need to ask porn stars with the concern if they ‘actually like their job.’ Dude, you work at Verizon. Are YOU okay is the real question.”

That, indeed, is the greater question. Regardless of the sector, is there exploitation? Are people there by choice? Can they stand up for themselves? Where can’t they defend themselves? When is their compensation fair for what they do?

When Stormy Daniels says about her conflict with Trump, “Standing up to bullies is kind of my thing. They started it,” she’s saying something most people only wish they were in a position to say.

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Larry Beinhart
Contributor
Larry Beinhart is the author of "Wag the Dog," which became the film with Dustin Hoffman and Robert DeNiro, and "Salvation Boulevard," which became a film with Pierce Brosnan, Jennifer Connelly and Greg…
Larry Beinhart

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