November 8, 2010

Faux Ho! A Dangerous Crusade

Culture, geek, web 2 Comments

Faux ho. It’s a term that refers to people who take on a sex-worker persona, usually online. Whether it’s Twitter, Tumblr, or some other blogging platform, faux hoes impersonate sex-workers for a variety of reasons, be it to live out their fantasies or land a book deal a la Belle du Jour.

Big deal, right? Everyone plays pretend to some degree on the web, and it’s our job as an audience to be careful about who we choose to trust, whether it’s with our own information, or with the information presented to us as fact.

Yes — to an extent. The problem with pretending to be a sex-worker, however, is that it impacts a stigmatized minority, many of whom are active in combating stereotypes about their choices and industry. Misrepresentation is not taken lightly in the community, especially when a blogger is perceived to be confirming stereotypes about the industry, such as that sex-workers have low self-esteem, do drugs, are victims or hate what they do.

Clearly, some sex-workers do experience some of the above, but this is not the rule and the activism movement seeks to give voice to the wider range of experiences and not focus on any single generality, which can mislead the public into thinking that such is the case for all sex-workers.

Thus, blogs by people who are not really sex-workers pose a danger to this effort, because they’re written by people with no real experiences with which to inform the public. Even the best-written faux ho blogs have proved to be misleading at best in their excessive glamorizing of sex-work, and delinquent at worst in their perpetuation of gross stereotypes and proliferation of reckless sexual and business practices.

THE CRUSADE

Efforts by sex-workers to combat these misrepresentations reached a fever pitch last year when a piece by Monica Shores on Carnal Nation tackled the topic on a more in-depth fashion than had been done previously.

Shores mentions the point I echo above about misrepresentation, but she also touches, albeit briefly, on something that I think is important to note:

The impulse to disavow nakedly unhappy experiences is the unfortunate yet unsurprising result of being a marginalized population; social sanctions create a propensity for self-monitoring. Devalued members of a minority — be that minority based on race, class, gender, etc. — are regarded by the dominant group as being representations or proxies of all other members of the group. As Clare Booth Luce said, “Because I am a woman, I must make unusual efforts to succeed. If I fail, no one will say, ‘She doesn’t have what it takes;’ They will say, ‘Women don’t have what it takes.’ [...]

And, one might argue, seeming “phony” — that is, one-dimensional and following the cultural script — is regarded as problematic as being phony. Just as the mainstream gay rights movement suppressed its more flamboyant elements in an attempt to garner greater social support, so do sex workers occasionally hush the less palatable realities of their field in their efforts to minimize stigma. Certainly some strippers do use drugs at work, have sex with clients in the VIP rooms, and feel bad about themselves afterwards — but most exotic dancers wouldn’t want such women as the face of their labor force. Because the common person is all too quick to take sordid and sad sex worker stories as being representative of larger industry truths that would persist regardless of legal and social adjustments, sex workers who hope to elicit change tend to downplay negative aspects of their work.

Sex-work has become highly politicized on the web and I fear that the pursuit of the greater good may censor the rich tapestry being woven by men and women who candidly share their experiences. It’s a sensitive issue and a careful balance must be struck. As a commenter pointed out in the aforementioned post:

I’ve been a[n exotic] dancer, and nothing about [Lux's] writing made me think she was fake. Certainly, she was not the self-possessed, level-headed business woman most of us want to believe ourselves to be and project to the world that we are. But I appreciated what I felt to be her honesty about her bad times and stupid decisions. When I was a dancer, I sometimes had bad times and made stupid decisions, too.

After my public blog was Boing-Boinged and started attracting attention, I was occasionally accused of being an “obvious fake” and told that my “strip club scenes lacked authenticity” — usually by people who admitted they had never been to a strip club. (Other dancers and former dancers, by contrast, were universally very nice.) There were also people who would pull individual sentences and quotes out of my writing to “prove” that I hated my job (like all strippers), was psychologically damaged and unable to form meaningful relationships (like all sex workers) and so on. Being accused of fraud was annoying, but having my words used as fodder for an already constructed opinion about the sex industry was down-right distracting. Although I was anonymous and had never posted pictures or any identifying information, it all still felt very personal.

Her critics succeeded in silencing her. This commenter eventually made her blog members-only.

GETTING PERSONAL

This story would be incomplete if I didn’t share why this topic is so important to me. I’ve been writing about sex (mine and sex in general) online for over a decade and have met quite a fair share of people who didn’t believe I was real. Initially, I was living off the US mainland, so I couldn’t very well meet with people.

I had a phone, but because the phone company didn’t recognize the Marianas as part of the United States, had to use a calling card, which, face it, to prove that I existed was adding insult to injury. And even when I did, discussions about talking to me had a tendency to be framed in speculation — who was this “12-year-old hooker” some guy hired to pretend to be AV Flox? Where is her accent, if she’s Peruvian? Or they’d hear my accent, but because it didn’t sound typically Spanish, they’d assume it was contrived.

This changed eventually when I moved to Los Angeles and started to go out and meet more bloggers. But even now, I prefer to keep to myself. I’m an introvert and social events exhaust me. And as I hate the telephone, I’ll try to communicate as often as possible over e-mail.

It’s a personal preference and I’d like to believe that my experience isn’t invalidated by the fact that I’d just rather not make appareance or take someone’s call.

Of course, that’s different than flat out refusing any contact, as in the case of Alexa DiCarlo, a self-proclaimed sex-worker, sex adviser and sex-workers’ rights activist who was recently discovered as a faux ho by members of the sex-worker community — but I’m still sensitive to the accusation.

THE PUBLIC EXECUTION OF A FAUX HO

Several weeks ago, the web went up in flames when a blog by the name of Expose-A-Bro appeared claiming that the aforementioned sex-worker, Alexa diCarlo, is actually a middle-aged, government employee using his call-girl persona to convince other sex-workers to have sex with him (diCarlo’s “best client”) as well as giving teens inappropriate sex advice and convincing them to share their exploits and photos with him.

To date, no one is sure who is behind the site exposing Alexa diCarlo, and many in the community think it’s not entirely relevant given the nature of the allegations. Because diCarlo had, for a while, been on the radar of activists concerned with the nature of her discussions about the industry, less emphasis was placed on how diCarlo’s downfall occurred, than the nature of the things her creator has allegedly done through her and other online personas.

I am not saying that there is nothing wrong with what was done under the pseudonym Alex diCarlo — as discussed, people who have no experience in sex-work are not really fit to discuss its realities. They’re welcome to write about sex-work, but these blogs should be marked as fictional. That is, after all, what they are. As for the allegations that an adult was using a persona claiming to have an understanding of human sexuality to groom minors — that is a crime that needs to be addressed by a court, not by the public.

Having said that — without the cooperation of many people across the web, we wouldn’t know the extent of the allegations being leveled against the creator of Alexa diCarlo, allegations that merit a very serious police investigation.

My question is — at what cost?

DANGEROUS PRECEDENT

Well-meaning members of the sex-work and sex-positive communities came together to enable the exposure of a fraud who could very well be engaged in criminal conduct with minors.

But here’s an unpleasant thing to consider: what’s to stop well-meaning members of another community from coming together to expose a sex-worker, who is, by many state laws, engaging in criminal activity (i.e., prostitution)? Supporting the exposure of anonymous bloggers online sets very a dangerous precedent.

This concerns me. As does the idea that the sex-work activism community may be inadvertently silencing the voices of sex-workers who do no meet the criteria of responsible blogging.

I know a lot of women in the adult and sex industries who use pseudonyms online to share their experiences and who, for a host of reasons, prefer to remain anonymous. I know a few who have detailed some pretty touchy issues in their industries, and I would feel sorry to see them shut down their blogs because the community found these to be harmful to the greater good of sex-workers.

It’s a very complex issue and, unfortunately, I have no answers. I leave you with this thought from Remittance Girl:

I don’t doubt that the person who did the exposing thought they were doing the right thing. But this is what I’m left with — what happens when I piss this person off, or you do, or another blogger you know? How many people, creating wonderful, fantastical work are going to decide not to for fear that someone will make it their job to go “cleansing a divisive fraud from our midst”.

Two years ago, a person who took offense to one of my FICTIONAL stories, hunted me down, and wrote a letter to the HR department of the institution where I teach accusing me of being a pornographer, a sex-tourist and a paedophile. The fact that I just WRITE and that I write FICTION didn’t matter to this person. They thought they were “cleansing’ too, I’m sure. It was just lucky that, holding a MA in Writing, and having informed my employers about my writing and my bibliography, they understood that what they were looking at was a deranged zealot. But had I lived in the UK or in the US, the very accusation of sex-tourism or paedophilia could have ruined my career.

Special thanks to Viviane Tang for the conversations over the last year and the links about the topic.

FURTHER READING
The Downfall of Alexa DiCarlo by Charlie Glickman
Further Thoughts on the Alexa Thing by Charlie Glickman
Fake Sex Blogger and Sex Worker Outed as Faux Ho by Clarisse Thorn
The Execution of a Virtual Call Girl at Remittance Girl

AV Flox

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  • http://www.swingersattic.com/ Mrs Mira

    I understand that people like to “pretend” to be people they are not on the web, but I never would have thought of someone wanting to pretend to be a sex worker.

    I write on a couple blogs about swinging, open relationships, and poly lifestyles and have seen a lot of sites and blogs written about those subjects by people who don’t have a clue about it so I can see how false information can be damaging and confusing to people who are seriously seeking true information.

    The problem is that many bloggers CAN’T show their real identity so there is no way to police such things.

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Sex and the 405 is what your newspaper would look like if it had a sex section.

Here you’ll find news about the latest research being conducted to figure out what drives desire, passion, and other sex habits; reviews of sex toys, porn and other sexy things; coverage of the latest sex-related news that have our mainstream media's panties up in a bunch; human interest pieces about sex and desire; interviews with people who love sex, or hate sex, or work in sex, or work to enable you to have better sex; opinion pieces that relate to sex and society; and the sex-related side of celebrity gossip. More...