The Sex Worker Film and Arts Festival kicks off nine days of film, performance, and lectures in an exuberant manner this week. Sex work activist Siouxsie Q is opening the festival with a live version of her acclaimed podcast, The WhoreCast, at the Center for Sex and Culture this Saturday.
Siouxsie and The WhoreCast have been through a lot this year. The show, formerly known as This American Whore, underwent an identity crisis when Chicago Public Media, which produces This American Life, demanded that she change the name. Although she eventually had to comply, Siouxsie Q didn't come out of it too badly: The WhoreCast is now the only show about whores that has been publicly endorsed by Ira Glass as "charming." But the legal troubles are in the past, and Siouxsie Q is delighted about the opportunity to take The WhoreCast to a live audience. "We've been wanting to do a live version since we started doing the podcast," she says. "It's like we've been doing it in black-and-white comics, and now we get to do color, is what it feels like."
She describes the planned evening as "The Tonight Show with Siouxsie Q," and says that "We're going for a kind of Johnny Carson feel," but the night sounds very different than anything Carson ever put on his show. Carson's humor grew from a very pre-sexual revolution morality; he talked and joked about sex, but it always came with a slightly shameful smirk that made the whole thing feel creepy. While The WhoreCast Live event will include interviews by Siouxsie Q, it also features films, strippers, and a chocolate fountain.
Siouxsie Q's guests for the evening include Courtney Trouble, founder of QueerPorn.tv and Indie Porn Revolution; transmale porn star James Darling; and queer porn performer Cinnamon Maxine. Trouble will also spin tunes in her persona as DJ NSFW, and screen her short film about transgender identities and sex, "Fuck/Talk." The film might be a queer sapiosexual's wet dream; it combines frank talk by two trans people about their genders with a scene of them having intensely hot sex. Siouxsie Q will also be screening Maxine Holloway and Arabelle Raphael's short film, "Strange," which debuted at the Good Vibrations Quickies Festival last year, depicting an offbeat vision of queer sex in an old-fashioned carny.
Trouble's film demonstrates something about the event and the Festival as a whole: Although it sounds like a lot of debauched fun, there's a serious edge to it, too. WhoreCast Live, as well as the Sex Worker Film & Arts Festival in general, is part of a long San Francisco tradition of combining pleasure with politics. All of the people involved face, at the very least, social stigma for their work. At worst, they can be arrested, even killed. The fact that they've become a vital part of San Francisco's artistic and political communities says a lot about how far we've come, and where we might go.
The San Francisco Sex Worker Film & Arts Festival will run in various venues around town May 18-26, not only celebrating eroticism, but facing the realities of stigma and persecution faced by sex workers. Founder Carol Leigh became a pioneer in sex work politics in the early seventies, and is credited with inventing the very term "sex worker." The festival, she says, is to recognize and honor the stories of sex workers. "It's an affirmation of our strength and power and our creativity," she says. "To me, it's quite amazing how much we do even though there's so much stigma and criminalization. There's so many people working on this festival who could just be hauled in for trading sex for money."
And despite that reality, Courtney Trouble sees a lot of reasons to be optimistic, partly because of things like the Festival and the WhoreCast: "It's an exciting era to be in," she says. "We can be queer, slutty, sex workers that are taken seriously as artists and activists. It's great to be seen as an expert, a source of information, a rock star, or a local hero -- for doing things that we have been shamed, shunned, arrested, and killed for in decades past."
The WhoreCast Live is Saturday, May 18, at 8 p.m. at the Center for Sex and Culture, 1349 Mission St., S.F. Admission is $15-$20. Tickets available online. It can be streamed live for $10 on Eventbrite. For more information, visit sexworkerfest.com.