One of the few times I’ve made money as a photographer was when I was helping a friend of mine document her performances at a weekly gathering of artists in Bowling Green, just south of Toledo. The pay was minimal, and under normal circumstances I would’ve happily done the photography for free, but I wasn’t doing any teaching work at that moment and I kind of needed the money. I’ve always been more of a nature photographer, so I was pushing my boundaries by photographing my friend as she performed, and the fact that the performance venue served alcohol made me more than a little uneasy (we both dealt with our fair share of drunks while we were there), but it was definitely a rewarding experience for me.
A variety of electronic dance music was played at that venue during the performances, and it was during that time that I had my first significant exposure to dubstep. I’d heard bits and pieces of dubstep over the previous couple of years, enough to let me know that I probably wouldn’t care for it, but I still kind of appreciated the fact that I got to listen to hours and hours of dubstep while I was doing all that photography. I didn’t wind up liking it any more than I had before, but I did gain a better understanding of the genre than I would have otherwise gotten on my own, and I became better at articulating why dubstep isn’t my thing than just saying, “I don’t like wubs.”
More to the point, despite my own feelings about dubstep, I’ve never once said “dubstep sucks” or anything along those lines. My personal tastes in music may be far removed from dubstep (and where they meet, there are genres of EDM that meet my needs much better, like chillout and trance and liquid drum ‘n’ bass), but I don’t begrudge anyone else for liking dubstep. I’m certainly not going to fall into the whole “this isn’t ‘real music’ at all” trap, not only because I strongly disagree with the mere premise of such arguments, but because I heard those exact words way too often when I was younger and listening to the kinds of music that I still enjoy to this day.
Art of any kind is incredibly difficult to make. Perhaps my own experiences writing and performing music when I was younger helped shape my beliefs about the validity of every genre of music, but I think that process is true for all kinds of art. Although there are many reasons to worry about what the loss of art programmes in American schools has meant for recent generations, one of my more personal concerns is that younger people who haven’t had the means and opportunities to pursue art don’t really have an understanding and appreciation of everything that goes into both the creative and performative aspects of making art. Instead, many of us artists wind up becoming the targets of attacks riddled with untruths and internal conflicts, with people claiming that making art isn’t “real work” and we artists “will never make real money” at what we do, all the while fighting the stereotype that we sit in bed eating bonbons all day, occasionally making something on our laptops during commercial breaks from our soap operas, and somehow getting million-dollar royalty payments every year from that.
I first heard of Stormy Daniels’ name as a result of this current controversy she’s wrapped up in, and I’m in no hurry to look at her body of work in the genre she was previously most famous for. In all honesty, I never understood that genre since my friends first started stealing my father’s issues of Playboy from the garage and took them out in our backyard to page through, behind the fence that marked the area where he kept his old dune buggy. My friends would ogle the pictures of naked women, and I’d just be like, “What’s the big deal? It’s just a naked body.” Granted, I was still several years away from puberty when this happened, but the whole “ooh nakie” thing just isn’t something that I identify with.
Just like with dubstep, though, I don’t hold any ill feelings towards people who do get something out of naked adult bodies; if that’s your thing (and the bodies in question have given their full, fully-informed and enthusiastic consent), more power to you. Even though I’m probably never going to seek out Stormy Daniels’ on-camera performances (or the directorial work she’s also done in erotic videography), I can still respect her as both a performer and a creator, because above and beyond the dangers that sex workers face, I know how difficult being an artist is, even if I’ve never made (and never will make) that kind of art.
On the one hand, Rudy Giuliani saying that he can’t “respect” Stormy Daniels because of her profession shouldn’t be surprising at all. For those of us who knew of Giuliani before the whole “America’s mayor” schtick, we remember all too well how wretchedly he acted in public office before the combination of a cancer diagnosis and being the Mayor of New York City on 2001.09.11 suffused him with a Reagan-esque impermeability. Even if he’d left public life permanently at the end of his mayorality, Giuliani would still be remembered by many of us for the decades-long campaign of terror against African-Americans in New York City that he and his successor enabled, a blight that the city is still recovering from to this day. For that alone, Giuliani deserves no respect, let alone the authority to claim who does and doesn’t deserve respect because of their profession.
At this point in American history, though, all these attacks on erotic performers are contributing to an ever-thickening miasma of oppression that is literally suffocating a significant portion of the American public. As much as conservatives may talk about “family values” and banishing all art that they group under the dreaded p-word, they’ll never actually do that because they need the power of guilt (which makes people nearly as malleable as the power of fear) to manipulate those who feel nauseated or outraged by the displays of sexuality deemed “acceptable” in American culture. The fact that I am now caught up in this slow-motion sting, just because I wrote a literary novel about sex workers that happens to have the word “prostitutes” in its title, means that I’ve got some obvious skin in the game; even if I was still able to promote and sell my novel like I could earlier, though, I have too many friends who fall under the broadest definitions of “sex worker” who stand to be severely damaged by the actions the Trump Administration has taken, and the culture it has created, to stand idly by.
Many of us can see Rudy Giuliani’s bloviating for what it is: A public relations smokescreen to take up news coverage that might otherwise be spent on reporting things like the treatment of immigrant children by our nation’s law enforcement, and Republicans moving to end health insurance subsidies for American children, and a plethora of policy and legislative moves that are getting lost in the daily flood of “news” and scandal. Sex workers, and those of us who support them, may not be the hardest-hit targets of these actions, and just like dubstep, we’re not exactly everyone’s cup of tea. Just like everyone else, though, we have a right to exist, and we need to see an attack on one of us as an attack on all of us. I may not be interested in Stormy Daniels’ work as an artist, but I certainly believe she is worthy of respect from everyone, and I damn sure respect her a hell of a lot more than I do Rudy Giuliani or Donald Trump. For her, for me, and for everyone we know who is involved with sex work in some capacity, we can’t allow Giuliani’s pablum to go unchallenged.