LOS ANGELES — I’ve been receiving a flood of messages from people in the adult industry this week asking for my advice, all about the same topic. This morning, I woke up to another one. This time it was from a dancer in Portland, Oregon. She was desperate for help to pay her bills and reached out to me for money. Why? She explained that she was being denied financial aid, despite the unemployment benefits for independent contractors being expanded; the program bars strippers from receiving help.
I’m still taken aback when people come to me for advice or refer to me as the “Patron Saint of Sex Workers” — yes, I’ve actually been called that — but the fact that a patron saint is even needed in the year 2020 is disturbing. I love my job and the industry I’ve built my career in. I’ve also been around long enough to have lived the reality of being a social pariah, being considered less than human, because of what I do and who I am. And while this has been especially evident in the last two years, it was true before I spoke out about what happened between me and the president.
When the Wall Street Journal first broke that story and turned my life upside-down, it was a commonly held opinion that I simply must have been lying about what happened because I was just a stripper and porn star. Journalists didn’t bother to do the simplest and most basic fact-checking when writing about me. Why? Because I wasn’t deserving of the same respect that other subjects receive.
Instead, sloppy, lazy reporters just regurgitated other sloppy, lazy reporters to perpetuate “fake news” (ugh, I can’t believe I used that label. But at least I used it correctly). Not until a Rolling Stone article was published did a single speck of truthful reporting occur about me in 2018. And even after that turning point, respected publications still insisted upon prefacing my name with the title “porn star.”
This did not bother me because I am ashamed of being a porn star, because I am not ashamed in the least. It irritated me because it was done simply to be salacious and to implicitly detract from my credibility, a little wink-and-chuckle that subtly sought to undermine me and my worth.
I mean, none of my other job titles are nearly as scandalous. “Director” Stormy Daniels, “model” Stormy Daniels, or “writer” Stormy Daniels, just don’t excite the pearl-clutching sheep as much as “porn star,” except maybe the word “televangelist,” but I digress.
I can guarantee if I were in any other industry, my name would not once have been prefaced with my job. I can also guarantee my legal name would not have immediately followed my professional name in every article, either. How many times have you seen other artists have their real names constantly repeated in respectable publications? Journalists don’t regularly insist on printing the birth names of Whoopi Goldberg, Bruno Mars or Olivia Wilde because they know it could endanger them. It’s also offensive to not refer to someone by their chosen name. (The same goes for chosen pronouns. Can you imagine the outrage if the Los Angeles Times referred to a transgender person by the incorrect pronouns?) Then why did it keep happening to me? Oh. Yeah. Because I don’t matter the same as the rest of the human beings in our country. Why? Because I’m a “dirty whore” and therefore… less.
And now so many others are experiencing this, firsthand, in the scariest ways possible.
In 1868, the Fourteenth Amendment was added to the U.S. Constitution. Part of that amendment states that all citizens would have equal protection and rights. I read through the Fourteenth Amendment three times and could not find the part that states “unless you work in the adult entertainment industry” and yet that is precisely what is happening right now. Don’t believe me? Read the first page of the application for Trump’s much-talked-about disaster relief loans. It specifically lists adult entertainment businesses and being a sex worker as a disqualification in receiving economic assistance.
Last time I checked, though, we were still required to pay taxes, thus contributing to the resources we are banned from receiving. Strippers, especially, contribute because we are often subjected to expensive licensing requirements, which may include fees for fingerprinting and background checks. We are also, almost always, 100 percent responsible for our own health insurance, something which is required by law in a world without a public option; but once again, I digress. The language in the application for assistance lumps strippers in the same category as criminals and deadbeat parents. Ironically, without that assistance, a lot of workers in the sex industry could become exactly that by being unable to support their families and forced into other ways of providing.
I bet there will be no hesitation in arresting the dancer caught stealing because he or she couldn’t get a loan to buy food or diapers. Let’s not even go down the rabbit hole of how these acts of desperation will help spread the virus we are trying to defeat in the first place or how many will not seek medical treatment now that their insurance has lapsed for non-payment.
As the harsh and terrifying reality of the coronavirus bears down on us, Americans are suddenly finding themselves out of work with almost 10 million having already filed for unemployment. This has had the biggest impact on small business owners (aka, the self-employed) and those in the service and entertainment industries. Most small businesses are considered non-essential (aka, luxuries) so people began cutting back spending even before restrictions were in place. Often small business owners live paycheck-to-paycheck, having stretched their savings and resources to the max in pursuit of the American dream. Remember all big, successful businesses once started out as a small dream. A dream allegedly available to all our citizens. Just look at Rockefeller, who came from nothing and had a con man as a father, and yet went on to become the richest man in the world. Good thing he never had to give a lap dance to fund his business or who knows where we would put that damn Christmas tree every year because any adult performer or adult business will not be helped by our government despite being legal contributors to it.
When most people think of the entertainment business, they think of the big stars in film, sports and music. Names like Spielberg, Beyoncé, Brady, DiCaprio and, of course, Kardashian, come to mind. And yes, I am sure they will be okay for a few months without new income. But what about one of the largest sources of entertainment: porn? If you don’t believe me, just look at the stats — ya’ll are watching a staggering amount of porn, and we know it. Not a single one of those performers or crew members will receive assistance based on the blatantly discriminating language in the application.
As Tom Hanks recently proved, the coronavirus doesn’t discriminate, but our government surely does.
The service industry workers have also been hit hard. Suddenly hairstylists, bartenders, cooks, waitresses and nail technicians, to name a few, have found themselves out of work. Luckily, they are eligible for benefits. Exotic dancers easily fall into the category of service industry. They are not eligible for those benefits.
Who has the right to decide who deserves help and who doesn’t? Without a social safety net, we may never have had Bruce Springsteen. Or Oprah. And who wants to imagine a world without Oprah? Even JK Rowling — yes, I know she’s British — lived off government welfare while writing her first “Harry Potter” book. Every human deserves the same opportunities because we never know what greatness we can achieve until we’re given a chance.
I can hear the squeals of protest now from the biblethumpers. But sex workers don’t have anything good to offer! They never amount to anything! Really? How about Diablo Cody? She was a stripper who, among numerous other accomplishments, won an Academy Award for Best Screenplay for the movie “Juno.”
Or what about Brooke Magnanti? She was a prostitute who put herself through school, got her PhD and studied childhood cancer. She is credited with finding a link between pesticide chemicals and brain development issues.
You have no idea how many sex workers are supporting their children and/or paying for their education — and don’t get me started on the price of that. If you think sex workers don’t contribute, you are flat-out wrong. I personally know hundreds of sex workers that are wonderful contributors to society. They pay taxes; they are amazing mothers and fathers; they are upstanding members of their communities, and they are talented, dedicated entertainers.
Too bad the rest of the world may never know because the sex worker exclusion in this relief package is actively robbing my colleagues of not just their basic rights but also of their chance at the American dream.