A few weeks ago, Christina Parreira posted on her facebook page that her mother was dismissive and judgmental about Parreira’s work in the sex industry. A stripper, occasional cam model, and fetish performer, Parreira also holds a Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology and is a Ph.D. candidate and sex worker rights activist. We talked about coming out as a sex worker to family, and the conversation grew from there.
Gram: How receptive had you expected your mother to be, and had you prepared yourself for Not Receptive At All?
Parreira: Coming out to family members can be a very scary experience. My mother is rather conservative. She’s only slept with one man her whole life, and that’s my father. The concept of sex work is foreign to her. She views it as degrading and “dirty.” I knew it was going to cause big problems in our relationship if she found out, so I kept it from her as long as I could. However, given my increasing interest in the sex industry, she started to ask questions. She knew something was going on, but she just wasn’t sure what. At first she assumed I was a stripper or perhaps a prostitute. She used to ask me why I had so many wigs! She started harping on me about something that I wasn’t even doing at the time, and I finally broke down and told her the truth; that I was a cam model.
Although she was angry, she was relieved that I wasn’t leaving the house to work and that I wasn’t at a club (she deemed this to be more dangerous than just working from home on a webcam). Although things were tense, she took the news better than I had expected. Things remained relatively calm until I became more vocal about being a sex worker. She read my blog and realized that I was “out” to everyone, and this is when the real problems began. At this point in time, I have decided to take a break from my relationship with her. As much as this pains me, I feel it’s necessary to keep my respect and sanity intact.
Gram: I have a pornographer friend who says that he hasn’t told his family because only he has made the decision to be a pornographer, but they have not made the decision to be related to one. Your mother’s attitude toward your work seems like the two of you have found an unhappy medium between your not hiding the truth from her and her rejecting your truth. Is it possible you could have not told her?
Parreira: I think it would have been much easier to never tell her, although she would have continued to worry and make her own assumptions. Also, I am not one to hide. As I said, I felt that hiding that part of who I am would only perpetuate the stigmas that I work to fight against. I felt that I was being disingenuous, and I did not want to live that way
My mother worries about public perception. She would be much happier if I were a sex worker that didn’t talk about being a sex worker. By being so open about it, she says that I am bringing shame upon her, and she asked me how I could “have sunk so low.” As much as she’s disgusted with what I do, she’s even more disgusted with the fact that I am not ashamed.
Gram: Here is a particularly invidious question: How would you imagine your mother treating your profession in a perfect world, or would a perfect world mean you wouldn’t be a sex worker?
Parreira: In a perfect world, I would still be a sex worker, but I could do so without being shamed or stereotyped for it. This goes for every individual who works in the sex industry. Sex workers would be treated with respect, would have labor rights, protection under the law. We would have the basic civil and human rights that we deserve. Perhaps my mother would disagree with my choice, but she would still respect me. My mother views sex work as amoral. In a perfect world, she wouldn’t push her morals onto me, and would respect my right to do what I please with my body.
Gram: Again with the perfect world, I know that a lot of porn performers rarely acknowledge that personal relationships can get tricky in this business. Sex is personal, and often proprietary. Jealousy is hard to avoid even with the grooviest couples…
Parreira: It’s an ongoing journey. In both camming and stripping, I provide a service to individuals: attention, titillation, fantasy, company, conversation. My clients provide me with monetary compensation. It’s a clean exchange without false pretenses, and it feels very honest. I understand that this is just a job and I feel that I am able to separate the two. However, sex work has changed me. It would be strange if an individual worked in ANY profession for five years and didn’t experience some changes, right? I’ve had sex on camera for money, many times. “On camera sex” is different from off camera sex. I’ve had moments in my personal sex life where I begin to mimic some of what I am used to doing on camera, and then I catch myself. Sometimes it can be hard to relax and just enjoy the natural process of sex, but this also depends on my comfort and familiarity with my partner. Working as a stripper has also produced some changes, but it’s still too early for me to pinpoint exactly how those changes are manifesting. I’ve only been dancing for a couple of months. It’s interesting to work in a space with all female workers, and the majority of male clients. I observe the way gender roles play out in the club. They seem much more extreme inside the club than they do in the “real world.” I will be honest and admit that I am at times very turned off by some of the stereotypically male behavior that I witness inside the club. These men are clients, and in my mind, they are fundamentally different from the men that I would choose to get romantically involved with. This is how I keep it separate, and I’m not so sure that this is healthy. After all, this separation suggests that clients are “bad,” and I do not want to fall into the trap of stigmatizing clients of sex workers. However, I can’t help being put off by some of the client behavior that I have observed. It’s really a tricky thing to navigate, and I believe it’s an ongoing process.
Gram: In a scenario where people think of sex work as a job like any other, but perhaps more glamorous, wouldn’t there also be a decrease in the exciting taboo of being/employing a sex worker? What are your thoughts on the role of a societal taboo in the function of your work?
Parreira: Even in a world where sex work is considered work, sex will always be a hot button topic. There’s always scandal and taboo when it comes to sex. I don’t see that changing anytime soon. Even if it does, sex workers will always have work. To be blunt, humans like sex. Humans have been paying for sex for a very long time and will continue to do so. As a species, we enjoy sexual contact with other humans. That’s not changing anytime soon, regardless of how “taboo” it is.
It’s also very important to note that different types of sex work come with different levels of taboo. The same goes for stigma. Television shows have been made about “high end” white escorts, but I’ve never seen a show about minority street workers. People just want the glitz and the fantasy, the “high end call girl.” They put her on a pedestal while still shaming her for being a whore. But, at least she’s visible. The most marginalized are hardly acknowledged.
It’s hard to make general sweeping statements in regards to sex work because we aren’t a homogeneous group. We face various levels of stigma and this has to do with the varying levels of privilege. Unfortunately, the most marginalized workers aren’t usually given a voice. Look at me- I look white, I’m in my 20s, and I’m educated. You’re interviewing a privileged sex worker. I have a lot to say and I face stigma and adversity, but I can’t pretend that it’s the same as a sex worker who’s black, transgendered, and living in poverty. I’ve gone off on a bit of a tangent, but there’s something about the word “glamorous” in regards to sex work.
Gram: That’s true. Each financial; end has its own stereotypes and is nowhere near as homogenous as the public thinks it is.
Parreira: Unfortunately, the mistake that many sex workers make is in perpetuating a harmful hierarchy, rather than helping one another. I’ve heard many porn performers make remarks about being “better than the girls who escort,” and I’ve heard “high end” sex workers make comments about workers who charge less. It’s all bullshit. Society already thinks we’re all whores, so why are we attacking each other? That’s the last thing the sex workers’ rights movement needs. It’s one thing to discuss and acknowledge the role of privilege. We need to be doing that! Our oppression isn’t created equal. It is not okay to use one’s privilege to shame others. “I’m a classier whore than she is! I don’t fuck for less than a grand an hour.” Oh, shut up already. That sort of talk isn’t helping anyone. Get off your high horse and do something useful with that privilege that you’ve got!
Since first we talked, Parreira has been outed as a sexting partner of Hugo Schwyzer, a Pasadena City College instructor and sometimes-controversial “male feminist” blogger. Schwyzer’s online and in-person meltdown have been well-documented elsewhere, but in recent weeks Parreira was outed as one of Schwyzer’s sexting partners (though the two never met). Parreira has since surfed a wave of high drama of exes real and virtual, in which her porn name (Christina Page) was linked with her real one.
[read Parreira’s piece on being linked publicly to Schwyzer in Tits And Sass]
Gram: The sex industry is very much like academia. There are a lot of jealousies and politics to navigate.
Parreira: There is a lot of drama. It’s easy to get caught up in it, especially when one feels passionately about an issue. Issues of bodily autonomy are a hot topic and always have been. People with varying ideologies will always argue over who’s right. The radical feminists think we’re all brainwashed and suffering from a false consciousness. Even within sex worker activists, there’s arguing over privilege, decriminalization of indoor/outdoor prostitution, and so forth. I try to keep a level head, but it’s difficult and I’ve lost my cool many times. I keep striving to keep an open mind and understand where others are coming from, but it can be very stressful. I try to practice self care, but that’s a work in progress!
Previously on Porn Valley Observed: Love Army, San Francisco—an interview with Dr. Carol Queen; Searching for Solace in the Sex Worker World
See also: Follow Christina Parreira on Twitter, For the Love of Porn, Prostitution, And Pussy