(from the archive, originally posted here 21/09/16)

I’ve been invited to speak at the Scottish Queer International Film Festival, to show some of my films and to present a workshop discussion about my experiences in porn making. SQIFF (cute acronym right?) is described on the site as “not-for-profit and run by our Festival Coordinator with assistance from our committee. We are an organisation by and for queer communities.”

LGBTQ+ voices and perspectives are vastly underrepresented or exploited in the majority of the media we consume, unfortunately we don’t see much outcry about that. Instead it’s small non profit organisations like SQIFF that work to celebrate and raise those voices. That’s really vital.

What we do hear about from every media outlet at the moment about the creeping dangers of pornography; its misogyny, its violence and its capacity to warp the minds of children. This parallels the language used to demonise video games and horror films in previous decades. Porn is public enemy number one of today.

So it was only mildly surprising that I woke up to some, front page no less, tabloid coverage of my upcoming appearance full of words like “outrage” and “fury” and copious use of “”””scare quotes””” and horror stories about children’s porn use.

It’s just so easy to complain about porn. If you love, hate or are indifferent to it, it’s still an instant attention grab. The media have the ultimate incentive to construct this kind of manufactured outrage because it sell papers and bring in clicks.

There was no story here. A journalist just saw the listing for this event, saw the potential for an easy win, contacted the most right-wing politician they could think of and asked what they thought of it, and they to stay on brand said “well, of course, I’m not a fan” and then the papers print stories about FURY and OUTRAGE - that didn’t exist until they themselves created it.

What they don’t talk about is how our society, encouraged by this kind of media scare mongering ignores, shames and persecutes people’s curiosity about sex. It blocks any honest and open discussion about sexuality, removes the opportunity for young people to properly contextualise and understand the fantasy in the porn they see and learn about everyday sexual good practice from talking to their parents, friends and educators. It’s this shame and stigma (coupled with the double strike of homophobia) that prevents queer sexuality from being understood and better represented. It’s this stigma that dehumanises and persecutes sex workers (of whose population LGBTQ+ people make up a hugely significant part).

Porn and sex aren’t going to just go away. We can try to ignore it, cover it up and stick our heads in the sand and continue to sustain this broken system or we can accept it’s existence as reality (whether we are choosing to watch porn or not) and work to create a more healthy conversation about sex and sexuality. This starts with talking about it. Talking about it from a position of respect and validity, both for those watching but most importantly those performing in it and their labour.

Which is why I’m so grateful to SQIFF and festivals like it for giving me the opportunity to speak about my experience, something that so many people in sex work don’t get. Our voices are too often infantilised or silenced or ignored. And this is only exaggerated when you add factors like LGBTQ+ status, race and class into the mix.

But it’s exactly because I am a person and particularly a women in sex work who is speaking about my experience and displaying my agency that the press has picked up on it. Had I been an academic presenting a research paper on the subject there would be no story. Had I been one of the porn producers and directors who choose to profit from porn but never to take on the inherent risk and stigma of performing sex on camera themselves, there would be no gossip and no smiling press pictures where my selfies in underwear now are. Because I dare and am able to speak up and put my face to my sex work, the validity of my worthiness is brought into question.

Thank you to SQIFF for the opportunity to speak, thank you for the work you do to raise the voices and celebrate the work of people who are too often ignored. I’m excited to come talk and debate about how we can make porn more diverse and interesting and representative and to celebrate queer representation and sexuality.

http://www.sqiff.org/event/sqiff-workshop-porn-filmmaking-with-vex-ashley/

@vextape — I make pornographic films with Four Chambers. Not a model, not a muse. vexashley.com