Audacia Ray wears many hats. Author, blogger, activist, advocate educator and director are just a few. Ray, a former sex worker, is the co-founder of Sex Work Awareness, an awareness and advocacy group that aims to empower the sex worker community and educate the public about the rights and needs of sex workers. She edits Sex Work 101, the organization’s blog, and also runs Speak Up, a media training workshop designed especially for sex workers.
Ray is the author of Naked on the Internet: Hookups, Downloads and Cashing in on Internet Sexploration, and was an executive editor of $pread Magazine, the groundbreaking publication written by and for members of the sex industry. She’s the director of the award-winning feminist porn movie The Bi Apple, and an adjunct professor of Human Sexuality at Rutgers. Ray is also the Program Officer for Online Communications and Campaigns at the International Women’s Health Coalition, where she is a colleague of Feministing’s own Lori Adelman. That’s a lot of hats. This week, I had a chance to sit down with Ray and pick her many-hat-wearing brain about sexting, burlesque dancers and the future of the feminist movement.
And now, without further ado, the Feministing Five, with Audacia Ray.
Chloe Angyal: What led you to your multifaceted career as a professional pro-sex feminist and activist?
Audacia Ray: There are a couple of aspects of my work. Part of it is media advocacy and storytelling and new media, which came out of the sexuality activism. I’ve always thought of myself as a feminist, since I was a teenager. When I first heard that word, it was the first identity that really rang true to me. When I was in college, I studied gender and sexuality, and was really taken with that kind of work. After college I spent some time working at the Museum of Sex, as a researcher, and that started make sense for me in terms of doing activism through making culture and documenting culture. And at the same time I was applying to graduate school and trying to pay my bills and stuff, so I started working in the sex industry, and kind of got into this interesting tangle of trying to think about and write about gender and sexuality while also having these peculiar and interesting experiences in the sex industry, that sometimes were really at odds with what I thought of as feminism and what I experienced in my own life.
So I was trying to get a grip on all that stuff. And then I saw a call for $pread Magazine, when it was first being launched in the fall of 2004, and at the time I had been writing my own blog, and I wasn’t really interested in publishing a magazine, but I didn’t know any other sex workers, and it was the first time I’d seen other sex workers being public about their sex work, and so I gravitated towards that and started working there, and quickly became an editor. And that turned into a bigger activism and advocacy project for me, which was really the personal-is-political piece of it for me, because I was lonely and wanted to meet other sex workers and talk about what I was going through.
And so I met these really cool folks who were running $pread and moved out from there. So between that and my experience at the Museum of Sex – when I left that job, I didn’t really see the kind of work that I wanted to be doing existing in the world, so I started a curating art shows and hosting events and readings and lots of fundraisers for $pread that were about sex work and sexual counterculture. So basically I think that producing culture can help you to create a political vision and to create what you want to see in the world. It helps you to find the answers to the questions that you’re asking.
And then I started doing media production and taught myself how to shoot video, and I directed and produced a porn film, The Bi Apple, that came out in 2007. And from there I got more interested in using video not for entertainment, but for activism. And that culminated in my working for six months for the Village Voice, doing a video blog for them that was all about sexuality stuff. And that in turn gave me the skills that I needed to start doing work for the International Women’s Health Coalition.
CA: Who are your favorite fictional heroines?
AR: At this point in my life I know a lot of writers who are trying to create fictional heroines, so I’m just going to name drop some of my friends. Right now I really loving Molly Crabapple, who’s a really fantastic artist. She just had her first graphic novel come out; it’s called Scarlett Takes Manhattan, and her main character Scarlett is really interesting; she’s strong and sassy and she’s a burlesque performer. Another book that I think about all the time, with two really strong female characters, is Rain Village, by Carolyn Turgeon. The two main characters are really fantastic and strong and fun.
CA: Who are your heroines in real life?
AR: My heroines are my peers. I’ve never been very good at respecting my elders. But I really admire the hell out of the sex worker activists I know and my peers in the feminist movement. I’m really inspired by them.
CA: What recent news story made you want to scream?
AR: I’ve been following the stories about sexting and teenage girls and different legal cases that are going on about that. That stuff is making me really crazy. There are a couple of instances where teenaged girls have taken photos of themselves that may or may not be nude – but probably not all that pornographic – and sent them to someone, and they’re being charged with child pornography. And the people who are distributing aren’t being publicly shamed, but the girls are. And that’s happening on a wide scale level that’s panicky and upsetting.
CA: What, in your opinion, is the greatest challenge facing feminism today?
AR: I think it’s a combination of things. Inclusivity is a really big issue, the degree to which the movement is diverse and has intersectionality. That’s one of the core things that I see people getting at each others’ throats about all the time. They’re things that I think hold us up a lot, that there isn’t enough diversity and inclusivity. And part of the reason that doesn’t exist is that people don’t listen to and care enough about other people who have different experiences and don’t necessarily represent their own issues. I would really like to see more listening, because I think listening is a crucial part of movement building, especially in the feminist movement. The way women are socialized as kids is not to be rowdy. And then when we get ready, we stop listening to each other.
CA: You’re going to a desert island and you’re allowed to take one food, one drink and one feminist. What do you pick?
AR: Dark chocolate, bourbon and Eliyanna Kaiser, who was my co-executive editor at $pread Magazine. She’s the smartest woman I’ve ever met and we’d be able to endlessly amuse each other.