Interview: Tina Horn of “Best Sex Writing”

The two things I love most in the world are sex and writing. So, obviously, Best Sex Writing is the kind of book title that gets my attention.

This year’s edition is edited by Jon Pressick, self-described sexuality media mogul (who has actually interviewed me before, you might recall!), and it’s fabulous. The essays range from academic analyses of racial politics in porn, to journalistic examinations of sex education, to deeply personal stories about sexual adventures. It’s a total treat to read, entertaining and compelling all the way through, and I’m confident that anyone who digs my blog would also dig this book!

I was invited to be part of the book’s blog tour, and when I saw that interviewing an author was an option, and one of the authors was Tina Horn, I knew she was the one I wanted to talk to.

You might remember Tina Horn as one of my favorite porn performers, or as a presenter at the first Feminist Porn Conference. Or you might know her from her podcast, writing, or teaching. In addition to Best Sex Writing, Tina’s also got a new book out called Love Not Given Lightly, which features profiles of various people working in sexuality.

Her piece in Best Sex Writing is called “The Gates” and it’s about her time working at a women-owned BDSM house in the Bay Area. It’s simultaneously a journalistic profile of the women there and the place itself, and a personal look into Tina’s own time as a switch there. I loved reading it and was excited to chat with her about it!

Girly Juice: What was your goal when researching and writing this piece?

Tina Horn: I wanted to write about the period of my life when I was working at The Gates as a professional switch. But I didn’t think the world needed another memoir of a middle class white girl with some literature degrees finding empowerment through professional BDSM. I made it my project to look outward. What was the story of the woman who started her own underground business? What were the social dynamics between the women who worked there? What objects were in the rooms, and how were they designed? How were things organized and regulated? I wanted my consciousness, my experience, to come through the concrete details, and I wanted to get some closure since moving on from that work by honoring it in journalism form.

GJ: As both a journalist and a sex worker, you have plenty of experience with interviewing as well as being interviewed. Do you have any tips or strategies for making a source feel comfortable and able to open up when interviewing them about a sensitive topic like sex?

TH: There is always an ethical question for a journalist or nonfiction writer: at what point are you exploiting your subject? Exploitation comes from false pretense.You work to make someone comfortable and trust you so you can get your story out of them: that’s the job, the craft of reporting. I do my best to negotiate with my subjects when I’m reporting on them just as I would for a kink scene. I ask them what’s off-limits, what THEY want to talk about, how much time they have to talk.

For example, I interviewed Sage Travigne, the owner of The Gates, for my piece. I told her the interview was for my thesis, which it was. Before the final version was published for my Masters I sent it to her for review: not only fact-checking but to give her the chance to take out anything that made her uncomfortable. Before it was going to be in Best Sex Writing, I sent it to her again to get her permission. So, transparency in process is key, especially when you’re dealing with a part of someone’s life that is highly misunderstood and stigmatized such as sex work and kink.

As for getting people comfortable talking about sex: frankly, I’ve made it my work to interview people who are already comfortable and have trustworthy boundaries with subjects of sex, kink, gender, and relationships. Because then we can skip the awkwardness and go deep.

GJ: One thing that struck me about your story on the Gates is the camaraderie and companionship between the employees there. Is that a common experience when doing sex work in shared spaces, or is the Gates exceptional in that way?

TH: Well, I can only speak from my experience, or anecdotally from the many sex workers I know. If you read an article by a service industry person who worked at an amazing woman-run restaurant that transformed her life, you would never assume that all restaurants were like that.

I do think the Gates was an exceptional place for community, humor, creativity, ethics, and female camaraderie. But it’s important to point out that not everyone who has worked there over the course of twenty years has found it to their liking. I happened to find that place when it fit really well into my life. That’s what I love about nonfiction writing: the specificity of a story helps people to realize NOT that all places are like that, but that places like that are POSSIBLE.

GJ: A lot of your work (including your podcast, which I love!) focuses on unusual kinks. Do you have any advice for someone who is uncomfortable or apprehensive about their kink(s)? How about for someone who thinks they don’t have any kinks but wants to explore and find out?

TH: Thanks, I’m glad you love “Why Are People Into That?!” If you have a desire and you’ve internalized some shame about it, remember not to police your own imagination. What goes on between your ears when you’re masturbating is your business. And if you want to live out your fantasy, you just need to focus on communication, compatibility, negotiation, and consent.

Research online, read books, watch porn, find media about your kink. There’s no one way to do any kink: figure out your style. Ask yourself the central question of my podcast: why am I into this? And finally, to quote the great Funkadelic: Free your mind and your ass will follow.

GJ: Lastly, since sex toys are an area of personal interest for me, I have to ask: what are your favorite toys and other sex products to use, either with clients or in your personal life?

TH: NJoy toys are simply the best. Greg, the owner and designer, is so supportive of sex positive community that I feel great about endorsing his products all the damn time. The weight of stainless steel toys creates the most delicious pressure in my cunt and my butt, one of my favorite sexual feelings. They’re non-porous and easy to disinfect and sturdy which is great for brutes like me.

The Aslan Jaguar is like a second skin to me. I have a brown one and a black one with brass hardware.

I love Hathor Lube, which is fancy organic water-based lube with the supposed aphrodisiac “horny goat weed” in it. Funny story. I once sold this lube, among other things, to Beyoncé and Jay-Z. First of all – they said they didn’t have lube at home. Can you imagine how good Bey’s next record is gonna be now that she has lube?! Anyway when I told Jay-Z that this lube contained horny goat weed, he asked me if he could smoke it. I told him if he did, he should definitely write an online review.

Thank you so, so much to Tina Horn and the folks at Best Sex Writing! Make sure to buy the book; I bet you’ll love it as much as I did!

Escorts, Strippers & Porn Stars, Oh My!: My Top 5 Favorite Fictional Sex Workers

 

Sex workers’ rights movements have come a long way in the past century, but they still have a long way to go.

There are places in the world where sex work is legal – certain kinds are allowed here in Canada, and it’s legal throughout Australia, where they even have sites like Escorts & Babes to help clients find what they’re looking for. But despite all this, we still live in a world where sex work is stigmatized and belittled.

An important step in the destigmatization of any group is good media representation. (We’ve seen that in the past couple years with Laverne Cox, for example, who is a television trailblazer for the trans community.) Lots of sex workers in movies and TV are still just reductive caricatures, but some of them are less so. Here, then, is a list of my top 5 favorite sex workers in films and television. Who are yours?

1. Vivian Ward from Pretty Woman. Setting aside the whole “rich dude rescues damsel in distress” motif of this film (ew), it’s hard not to love Julia Roberts as this plucky, goofy, lovable sex worker. She also rocks some truly wild and wonderful costumes over the course of the film. And that HAIR! Oh, that hair.

2. Irene Adler from Sherlock. Referred to fondly by Sherlock Holmes as “The Woman,” Irene Adler is a foxy dominatrix with a penchant for perfect 1940s hairstyles and impeccable red lipstick. She’s seemingly a lesbian but sorta falls in love with Sherlock, who seems to return her admiration despite probably being gay or asexual himself. I mean, who wouldn’t? She’s not only gorgeous but incredibly smart and shrewd, too. And she knows her way around a riding crop.

3. Satine from Moulin Rouge. Okay, Satine’s not exactly the most empowered character. Her entire life, as an escort and can-can dancer in a Parisian nightclub, is directed and ruled over by men, and (spoiler alert!) at the end she dies of consumption. But she’s strong-willed, seems to genuinely enjoy her work as a performer, and is damn good at it.

4. Gigolo Joe from Artificial Intelligence. Not enough people have seen this movie. It’s fantastic for so many reasons, one of which is definitely Jude Law’s performance as a cyborg designed to pleasure women. It’s a delight to watch him transform his hair color, accent, background music (which plays out of a radio in his wrist!), and entire approach to lovemaking depending on what his client-du-jour wants from him. He also proves himself to be a sweet, caring robot in non-sexual arenas, despite sex being his sole intended purpose in life.

5. John from Love Actually. I don’t know if this dude strictly counts as a sex worker, because he’s just a body double/stand-in on a porn set. But I had to include him because he’s completely adorable. Shy and nervous despite his explicit line of work, his entire plotline centers on trying to pluck up the courage to ask out his co-star, Judy, even though he’s already seen (and touched) most of her naked body. Aw, what a babe.

Do you have any favorite sex workers in fiction? I’d particularly be interested to hear from people who are, themselves, sex workers!

Heads up: this post was sponsored!

What I’m Into: Sex as a Service

I think I’ve always had a thing for sexual servitude. I remember feverishly reading fanfiction as a young teen and experiencing a surge of arousal when words like “deftly” and “expertly” were used. Something about the idea of being skilfully, deliberately serviced was really appealing to my adolescent brain. And it still is.

The movie Hysteria fanned the flames for me. It’s hardly intended to be sexy, but Hugh Dancy as a doctor giving frustrated women “hysterical paroxysms” with his hand or a crude vibrator? Oh, swoon. Gimme some of that. (I know the whole idea of “female hysteria” is incredibly sexist and problematic. But, like Dylan Ryan says: your fantasy life is your fantasy life.)

Nowadays my fantasies often drift to service-related scenarios:

• The aforementioned hysteria doctors – dressed in full garb complete with lab coats and stethoscopes, of course – being perfectly on time for our appointment and dedicating several minutes of focused attention to bringing me to orgasm. Bonus points if there is a speculum involved.

Hired escorts (male or female or sometimes one of each). In this fantasy I am typically a total pillow princess and just lay back while things are done to me. Maybe a domineering fuck while I’m sensory-deprived and tied up. Maybe a service-top scenario, where I’m only allowed to come when I’m told (but I will definitely come at some point). Maybe a long, slow massage with a happy ending. Hoooo boy.

• Rachel Kramer Bussel’s excellent story about a restaurant where women can receive oral sex from trained providers in a back room in between courses. (Dear RKB: Can we get together for cupcakes and an extended discussion of spanking and submission? Because I feel like we are totally on the same page about all of those things. Sincerely, GJ, your adoring fan.)

• A dutiful slaveboy who lives to please his mistress. Ideally one who prides himself on his stellar oral sex skills. I read a story (maybe in the anthology Tasting Her? which is also a Rachel Kramer Bussel publication?) where this male sub is so proud of his cunnilingual abilities that his domme decides to offer his services to a slew of other dommes at a sex conference party. Um. Sign me up.

Servitude is one of those strange fantasies that would never appeal to me in real life, at least not nearly as much as it does in my head. If I get the slightest inkling that my partner isn’t into what they’re doing or isn’t attracted to me, my arousal deflates like a punctured blow-up doll. I’m sure plenty of escorts, erotic masseuses and phone sex operators are skilled at creating the illusion of mutual enthusiasm, and I’m sure their customers love that, but I’m not sure I’d ever be able to relax enough to enjoy myself.

For now, though? I’m happy to fantasize about Dr. Hugh Dancy jerking me off under a medical blanket like he’s done it to hundreds of other women before me. Oh, doctor, you sure do know what you’re doing.

This post was made possible by the lovely folks at Babes of London! Kisses!

Let’s Talk About Terminology: New Year’s Resolutions

A lot of my new year’s resolutions tend to center around language – which I guess makes sense, because I’m a writer and a very linguistically focused person.

Last year I resolved to eliminate ableist slurs like “crazy” and “lame” from my vocabulary. This year my linguistic resolutions are mostly sex-related. Here are some of them; maybe you should make the same resolutions!

Use the words “vulva” and “vagina” properly, even in situations where the audience/listener probably doesn’t know what the difference is, or has maybe never even heard the word “vulva” before. Take the opportunity to educate.

Make a point to say “women” and not “girls” to describe female adults. Again: even when it’s uncomfortable or doesn’t fit the speech patterns of other people in the vicinity.

Say “PIV,” not sex, when referring to penis-in-vagina intercourse. Specificity matters, especially when trying to avoid heterosexism!

Use the term “sex worker” in lieu of antiquated terms like “prostitute” or “whore.” It’s helpful because it describes the work as work rather than dumbing down sex workers’ entire identities to the work that they do. (Read more about this?)

Stop using “clean” to mean “STI-free”: people who have STIs are not dirty or immoral. (Read more about this?)

Be better about gender-neutral and trans-inclusive language. I got called out at a sex toy workshop months ago for fucking up on this, and it’s a shameful moment that still sticks with me now, which makes me think I really need to work on it. People with vaginas are not necessarily women, people with penises are not necessarily men, and calling someone “female-bodied” or “male-bodied” can be problematic because a trans man’s maleness makes his body male and vice versa. (So I’ve been told. I don’t claim to speak for trans and gender-variant folks! Feel free to pipe up in the comments if you have objections or caveats…)

Check on pronouns before writing about someone. I am usually good about this with people who I know to be trans and/or gender-variant, like Jiz Lee (who uses they/them) and Roger Wood (who I think uses he/him?). I start getting into trouble when I perceive someone as looking relatively gender-normative and then assume I don’t need to research their pronouns. (For example, did you know that Courtney Trouble prefers they/them?) I need to get better about checking the pronouns of every person I write about!

What are your sex-related new year’s resolutions for 2014? How do you plan to see ‘em through?

Sharing the Sexy #22

• Hey, remember when women were seen as more sex-crazed than men? What the hell happened? Damn you, cultural paradigm…

• This zine about sex with trans women is pretty fantastic. And it taught me a sexual term I’d never heard of before: muffing!

• This teacher taught her high school class about consent. We need more of this in schools, folks.

• Here’s a call for submissions for self-produced artistic renderings of the sexyparts of trans, genderqueer, intersex and gender-fluid people.

• How to teach consent to your kids. See, it’s not that hard – and everyone should be doing it!

• A sex worker weighs in: is it always rape if there’s no enthusiastic consent?

• Carlyle Jansen discusses sexual risktaking in long-term relationships.

• These “Queer Porn Star” harnesses are very limited edition and very sexy.