Within the last 24 hours the gossip pages have been all abuzz about Glee actress, Lea Michele’s new boyfriend Matthew Paetz. “Lea Michele Is Dating a Hooker Now” was the CeleBuzz! headline. TMZ came up with this clever bit, “Lea Michele’s New Boyfriend Former Gigolo.” Even non-gossip news agents, like Newsday had no problem slut-shaming Paetz, “Lea Michele dating again, but man has questionable past…” I understand the intrigue, but it’s the sense of moral superiority we seem to lord over sex workers forever which seems, frankly, hypocritical. We want our porn actors and sex workers old enough to be consenting adults, but young enough to satisfy our fantasies. Then, once these actors have had enough or they no longer work in the industry, we forever brand them as lesser humans with “questionable pasts.” Whose morals need fine-tuning, theirs or ours?
Let’s first discuss the choice of wording around Paetz-related headlines: gigolo, prostitute, hooker. Each of these terms carries negative connotation and states that Paetz was paid to have sex with people – which we do not know. He was a sex worker, which is a term that covers all careers pertaining to adult work, not solely penetrative sex. Being hired for a date, even without sex, is considered sex work. The headlines are meant to shock us into clicking on the links, but they’re also meant to shame Paetz for his history and Michele for her willingness to interact with him. Since we often do not give sex workers a voice, it’s easy to dehumanize them. Underneath the hooker headlines there wasn’t much information about Paetz beyond his sex work history. I guess that would ruin the scandal.
I do not advocate omitting the facts. However, one’s entire existence shouldn’t be summed up by one experience or job, even sex work. In a PSA about the realities of working in the adult entertainment industry, porn actress, director and author Nina Hartley explains the life investment of working in the sex industry, “When you make the decision to have sex on camera, it will last forever.” Whether it be through the internet, DVD, television, or print, porn will follow performers throughout their lives. One of my favorite actresses, Stoya, added the unfortunate hard truth about future prospects, “It will affect future jobs, careers and relationships.”
The average age of a female porn actress is 22 years old. I don’t know about you, but I certainly didn’t stop maturing or developing as a human in my early 20s. Our society covets “teen” porn, but then we malign the actors who want to branch out and away from the adult entertainment industry. Sasha Grey first began making pornographic films at age 18, and has since retired and gone mainstream. Well, she’s played herself as a porn actress in Entourage and other similar roles. I’ll consider this a win when she’s cast in a role with no sexual undertones because then we’ll know she’s valued beyond her origins. It’s not that we don’t forget, it’s that we malign sex workers for their choices until the end of time, long after they’ve left the industry.
It shouldn’t be shocking that a sex worker has goals beyond ejaculation. Ashley Dupré may be forever linked as the escort to former New York governor Eliot Spitzer, but now she’s a wife and a mother as well. In a post by The Daily Beast discussing life after porn, retired actress Brooke Haven was quoted saying, “We want to hang up our G-strings, but then we realize the real world isn’t so forgiving… I was applying for jobs all over the place and had to explain what I’d been doing for the last 10 years.”
Historically, there exists a constant shame thrust upon sex workers and anyone willing to love them. The hypocrisy in how we discuss sex workers needs to change because these are people whose lives are not one-dimensional farces. We get to masturbate to their images in the privacy of our homes and invite them to entertain our bachelorette parties, it’s about time we “forgave” them and let them move on with their lives. Instead of being the “prostitute” or “hooker,” they’ll just be a person.