Nikki Darling Reveals How #MeToo Can Fail Sex Workers
Welcome to Brain-Throbs & Blow Jobs, a brand-new column that will be highlighting the great minds and perspectives of Bay Area sex workers through interviews and photo portraits.
A few short years ago, adult film performer Stoya released two tweets that broke the porn industry’s silence about sexual violence and abuse:
Multiple women came forward with accusations of sexual violence against fellow adult film performer, James Deen, including Deen’s ex-girlfriend, Joanna Angel, who said that he was abusive in their relationship and shared that his fans are, “supporting a monster.” Lily LaBeau said in a scene she shot with Deen he ignored her sexual boundaries and described an incident that was, “the most traumatic thing that’s happened to me in my career.”
This should sound familiar because we recently saw Rose, Ashley, Uma, Gwyneth, and many other Hollywood actresses come forward with horrific accounts about Harvey Weinstein in a similar fashion. What followed was a rush of women and feminists from all over the country standing up against sexual violence and creating the #MeToo movement.
Across many industries we are now seeing powerful men having to account for harassment, abuse and whatever the fuck “misconduct” means. As a person who has had countless #MeToo moments in my life, it is heartening to see some change…except for, of course, sex workers.
Many porn performers and some companies have cut ties with Deen. His career took a light hit because of the allegations, but Deen is still actively working and profiting off the porn industry. He has been nominated for multiple AVN and XBiz Awards, and he has not faced any criminal charges. Currently, his life and career seem to be doing just fine. Here he is last month walking the red carpet at the 2018 XBiz Awards in Los Angeles.
Sex workers have been bulldozed over and left out of almost every wave of Feminism and it is happening again. Equating pornography and prostitution to sexual abuse and rape has historically been high on the radical feminist agenda. Sex workers have very different perspectives on our lives and work, and our voices are dismissed and silenced. The week before the historic Women’s March the event organizers took sex workers off the official platform. There was public outcry lead by trans activist Janet Mock, and they eventually put us back on. But, the message was clear: sex workers do not have a full seat at the pussy hat-#MeToo-#TimesUp-table. If this new brand of feminism isn’t actually for ALL women, we should be asking, “is this a table worth sitting at?”
This new column and series of interviews will give sex workers our own table to sit at. Sex workers are a strong and wonderful part of the Bay Area, who offer valuable insights into the community, politics, relationships, culture, the sex trade and so much more. My intention with this column is to hold this space to amplify the voices of sex workers, because we need them more then ever.
We debut with an interview with the amazing Nikki Darling, who works as a porn and BDSM (Bondage Domination Submission and Masochism) performer and pro-Dominatrix. I visited Darling at her at her artist warehouse on a grey January morning. We began talking about how sex workers are particularly scrutinized when coming forward about assault or harassment. “Throw your biases away and listen. Instead of trying to find reasons to discredit this person, think ways to support and help them find solutions,” said Darling. “To make change about sexual violence it is going to require some hard conversations that will feel uncomfortable. But I’m excited to talk with folks who are ready to face the discomfort, in order to listen and learn how to be better to each other,” she shared as she poured me a hot mug of green-ginger tea and our conversation continued.
*Responses edited for brevity.
MH: What is it like having sexual assault, abuse and consent be such a big topic of conversation right now?
ND: I think the #MeToo movement is really awesome and I’m glad that we’re finally realizing that there are some big issues with the way that we communicate our boundaries with each other. I want to thank the people that have come forward because that takes hella bravery to tell your story. There are so many unsung heroes in this conversation. So many women are burnt out from doing emotional labor, who are on the ground taking the time to mediate, have conversations, build understanding and empathy in our communities – those are the real MVPs!
We (women) have every right to be angry right now, but I’m also really interested in creating some solutions. Like, how can we make steps to honor, support and strengthen the person that was hurt, but also make the person that did the hurting understand what happened and be accountable, so that they don’t continue to repeat what they did? What does an actual apology look like? How can we make it so my six-year-old niece doesn’t have to deal with the same shit I had to deal with?
MH: Do you feel like there is a space that’s carved out for sex workers within the MeToo movement?
ND: (*Big sigh*) I really want there to be, but I honestly don’t see it right now…. I think so many women have bravely come forward with heart-wrenching stories about horrible things that happened, but I think also important to realize that someone might have gotten it worse, or more violent than you. Sex workers have really violent things happen to them, we deserve a place to talk about it as well. A lot of sex workers are really silent when it comes to their trauma and we need a place to tell our story and get healing because we’ve had to deal with some fucked-up shit. So have POC women and trans women, and they deserve just as much visibility as an actress in Hollywood or hotel worker. No matter what industry we are seeing that harassment and abuse is a consistent problem.
This goes into a lot of other intersectional issues that affect one’s ability to come forward. I’ve been really frustrated and angry about how Lupita Nyong’o, the only black woman who came forward about Weinstein, was dismissed. I was so let down with how other women acted towards her. And that’s triggering on so many levels because I feel that women of color, specifically trans women’s assaults are so much more prevalent and violent, yet these issues get swept under the rug. Do we really support all women, or are there just some women we deem worthy of believing and supporting, and why?
Sex work often allows sex workers to develop unique interpersonal skills to navigate boundaries and consent. What have you learned as a sex worker?
ND: Sex workers get to see a layer of humanity that not a lot of other people get to see. Our clients and fans can get very real and vulnerable with us can be pretty eye opening and earth shattering. We all wear masks in our daily lives because it gives us status or makes us feel powerful….but what happens when those masks are taken off? This has taught me that these roles we play aren’t always real, it’s total smoke and mirrors. Underneath the masks we are all human, a person is not better or lower than me. If we could all treat each other this way it could make a big difference in the way we communicate with each other.
Sex work has also made me hyper aware of racism and privilege. So many people in our industry do not understanding the privilege that they have, and the opportunities they get from it. I’m a black sex worker, and there are so many times other women question my rates and career choices. I’m not blonde and busty, so there’s a different way that I have to navigate my prices, continue to work steadily and still be okay with myself in the things that I’m doing. It’s frustrating to be judged by other people who are perceived definitely, and therefore given different or more opportunities.