21 Questions with PhD Student Max Morris

By Raven Bowen 

Max Morris
“It’s a Match! Sex work and feminism have liked each other”

Q: So, what do you do?
A: I’m a sociologist of sexualities and most of my research is about gay, bisexual and queer youth, but at the moment I’m writing up my PhD at Durham University based on 50 interviews with young men who have accepted money for sex online, which is something I call ‘incidental sex work.’ Basically, these guys did not advertise themselves as selling sex and most of them didn’t identify as sex workers. So selling sex is a form of sexual exploration or economic opportunism, and most often it was a one-time thing. So it challenges some of the assumptions about who sells sex and their motivations and the diversity of experiences people have about selling sex. What I want to do is to challenge some of our conventions around identity politics and sex work. I also managed to get a survey of 1,500 Grindr users and through that I found that 14.6% admitted to engaging in some form of commercial sex, with 8.2% of those doing incidental sex work or webcamming. So, it’s a lot more common among gay and bisexual men than we might realize.

Q: And your favourite colour?
A: Floral pink, because I’m a gay stereotype!!

Q: What are you most proud of?
A: So, last year I was diagnosed with HIV and it came as a total shock to me, but I was quite proud that I was able to turn this unexpected event into an opportunity to learn from other people and educate other people. Within a couple of months of my diagnosis I had begun giving public lectures at universities and to HIV charities and I did some radio and television interviews. And they were all about the revolutionary changes in medication over the years, like PrEP as a form of prevention. I’ve been very vocal about that. I became HIV positive in a very good context with the new drugs and the normal life expectancy, and now it’s impossible to transmit the virus when you’re on effective mediation. So I want to see us move away from that stigmatized view we have of the virus from the 1980’s. Q: The death sentence idea. A: Yes, and that needs to be gone now. And this impacts my sex industry research because HIV is an intersectional issue that affects not just gay men, but trans women, migrants, sex workers. It also angers me…recently seeing prohibitionist feminists going after Amnesty International, UNAIDS and other charities because they endorse decrim as an effective way to reduce HIV infection. So that affects my life and my research in lots of different ways. Q: Amazing how your life experience now expands your scholarship and activism! A: Yes and it’s given me a feeling of solidarity for a lot of different groups with the intersections of HIV, sexual identity and feminism it definitely expanded my horizons intellectually and as an activist.

Q: What drew you to sex industry related work? What was the call for you?
A:
 Looking back, on the street that I was raised on, just after I left home for university, there was a ‘gay brothel’ that was raided from the Vice Squad in my home city of Bristol and my mom sent me a news clipping of the story. So, these were basically my neighbours who’d been arrested in a crackdown on drugs and prostitution in my city. Often times the laws cracking down on brothels are often policing people who are working together for safety. So it’s an excuse, so that the police can be seen as being tough on immorality. Also, when I was 16 I was on the BBC program, the Big Questions. So that was 9 years ago now and they were talking about if brothels should be legalized and I spoke up and I said that I supported decriminalization in solidarity with the two women speakers, and one of them was from the International Union of Sex Workers. The responses were moralist, right-wing. I ended up bumping into one of the speakers at the end of my street and I stopped her and said ‘hey you were on the Big Questions’ and I really remember the look of terror on her face. She thought I was going to stigmatize her or attack her for being an open sex worker. And I said, no I was one of the people how supported you. So basically, the poor diverse neighborhood where I grew up in the Southwest of England, sex workers were my friends and neighbors, they weren’t this ‘other’ identity. So, for me I took that forward when I went into university and I began my academic career looking at why we have this binary between them and us. People who sell sex are exactly the same as us. We are all sex workers in a sense. We are all selling services. My peers are engaging in incidental sex work, and that blurs the boundaries between ‘them’ and ‘us.’

Q: The last thing you laughed about?
A:
 I have a game that’s called Top2Bottom, which is the gay version of ‘Cards Against Humanity.’ It’s really fun. There is this one card I always laugh at. The answer card is ‘AIDS Face’ and I’m in stitches about it. When I was diagnosed, my doctor made that face at me and he said ‘don’t worry, people don’t get this face [makes face] any more because the medications have improved things so much.’ So, that card always makes me laugh. 

Q: What’s your favourite food?
A: Olives, especially in a dirty martini. Q: That’s a bloody condiment!

Q: Your current project or pursuit?
A:
At the moment I’m working on an article looking at the legal implications of new HIV meds for a special edition on consent in the journal of criminal law. So, looking into whether someone can consent to having bareback sex with someone who is positive, in light of the research that says that if you’re on medication you can’t transmit it, so why do we keep the legislation around transmission. My partner and I are participants in the PARTNER study, and they found zero cases of HIV transmission across 58,000 acts of condomless sex between serodiscordant couples. There is a debate within NHS about funding PrEP as well. It has big implications for sex workers as well. So much advocacy has been around gay and bisexual men but these issues are really important for sex workers.

Q: What’s your biggest regret?
A:
I wish that I had been more of an ally to sex workers, trans people, migrants, people of color, people living with HIV, when I was younger. I wish I had been more active in challenging stigma before it hit me personally. The message I’d like to send is that if you have privilege and you’re not in these groups that are stigmatized, it can so easily be you or someone you know and actually these are people who you should care about. They are your friends and neighbours.

Q: Facebook or Twitter?
A: Well I went to a lecture last month by sociologist Bev Skeggs and she was talking about how Facebook collects user information, and basically sells high-end consumer goods to ‘high value’ users but sells debt to ‘low value’ users. It reinforces class inequality. And they are even tracking you when you’re not on the App. So I uninstalled the Facebook App and now I only use Twitter. Q: You don’t use Whatsapp? Facebook bought Whatsapp
A: Really!? Q: Yeah, it’s now part of their ‘family of companies’…data harvesters! A: And every website that has the Facebook logo is tracking you. Q: So, Twitter then [laughter]?

Q: What challenges you the most about your sex work or related work?
A:
Being raised by a single mom on benefits, I’ve always been a feminist and class conscious, but at the same time as a man I’ve benefited from male privilege and patriarchy, so the difficulty comes in balancing my critique of sex worker and trans exclusionary feminisms with my belief in giving women a greater platform. So, that’s often an intellectual challenge I come up against. For me the best solution for that has been to use queer theory and understanding as a vocal queer person I experience some of the same patriarchy and heterosexism, so goals are intersecting and unified. Homophobia and misogyny are two sides of the same coin, especially when it comes to toxic masculinity and issues of suppressing marginalized people. That’s how I square the circle as a feminist man. Q: Yes, and no need to square the circle, we need circles, but your level of introspection outstrips most humans!

Q: Favourite Movie?
A
:  Alien, I absolutely love Sigourney Weaver. She was amazing in it.

Q: And the last time you cried?
A: The last time I had an argument with my boyfriend. Relationships can be hard at times.

Q: Cat or dog person?
A:
I love all animals but I’m allergic to cats. I’m definitely a dog person. Me and my boyfriend dog sat for Alex Feis-Bryce who you interviewed a few weeks ago!

Q: Who understands you?
A:
My boyfriend.

Q: What’s the last book or article you read?
A:
I actually borrowed this from Alex: ‘Sex workers unite: a history of the movement from Stonewall to Slutwalk.’ Q: Does he know you have it, or is he going to find out here on the blog? A: Yeah he knows. Q: Oh, too bad [Laughter].

Q: Childhood Fear?
A: I used to be a surfer kid and would go down to Cornwall every summer and even though there’s nothing that can kill you in the oceans around Britain, I used to be afraid of sharks while I was on my surfboard. Which is funny because I love sharks now and I use it as a symbol for irrational fears, like those around HIV transmission. You’re more likely to get hit by a car on the way to the beach than get bitten by a shark! Q: Interesting. Let me guess, you watched Jaws as a kid, right? A: Yeah! Another great movie.

Q: What did your last text message say?
A:
It was to my mom ‘Thank you for the lovely text a few days ago [mom’s name]. Happy Birthday! We are dog-sitting. Can’t wait to see more of your art exhibit.’

Q: One thing that your work or existence is aimed to do for the sex industry?
A:
I think the main thing I’m interest in doing is breaking down binaries and challenging the dichotomies between us and them. The idea that sex workers are some stereotypical other…a marginalized and victimized group. There are issues of victimization and problems that the community experiences, but we need to stop thinking in such binary terms. So, feminist and queer theories are great at breaking those things down. They are more like us than we realize. Q: Yeah, ‘they’ are us!

Q: The meaning of life in one word?
A:
So, part of me wants to reject the premise of your question. Q: Of course you do. Damn academics [laughter]! A: There is no objective meaning of life, but for me it’s Pleasure!

Q: What do you want to be when you grow up?
A:
I’ve always liked the idea of becoming an elected member of parliament, if only to queer the House of Commons by attending important votes in full drag. I’ve said so many controversial things publicly now that I don’t think that I would ever be qualified for that, but there’s too many men in suits and it doesn’t really represent the population.

Q: Three portable items that you would have with you while stranded on a desert island?
A:
How long am I on the island for? Q: Well you’re stranded. Between you and Rosie I’m starting to regret adding this question. A: [Laughter] Okay, well I’ll definitely take
(1) a sex toy, like a vibrator or a dildo or something like that, because a boy’s got needs.
(2) Then I would take a full medical kit with my insulin and HIV meds, and plasters if I cut myself on a rock. So that’s sex and health covered.
And I’d take (3) a truck full of wine!

Advertisements

21 Questions with Dr. Rosie Campbell OBE

By Raven R. Bowen

 Rosie

 Q: So, what do you do?
A: At the moment I’m a researcher at Leicester University on the Beyond the Gaze research project that is running until September 2018 and in a voluntary capacity, I’m the Chair of National Ugly Mugs and a board member of the fabulous Sex Work Research Hub.

Q: And your favorite color?
A: Well I do like color. This is a hard one Rave because I have a favorite color for clothes, for eye make-up etc [Laughter]. Well, I love the sea and the sky so a whole range of blues and greens.

Q: What are you most proud of?
A: Various things here, from a work/advocacy angle, I’m proud of being involved for many years in the UK Network of Sex Work Projects (UKNSWP) and with some very inspiring people establishing that as a charity, then I’m proud of with others advocating for a National Ugly Mugs scheme as part of UKNSWP, which is now NUM. I’m proud to have been involved in Liverpool working with some fabulous people to get the policy of treating crimes against sex workers as a hate crime in place. I still think it’s an approach that could be developed and progressed further elsewhere, but I’m very proud of what that represents as a rights-based approaches to justice for sex workers. Q: And I was flipping through your PhD… for inspiration [laughter] and it’s about all of that. A: Yeah, in the PhD it was really about reflecting on the antecedents, the history development, the elements to it. And where could it be enhanced and all that. Also evidencing the academic case for why crimes against sex workers can be conceptualized as hate crime. It was great getting that written down because as we know in policy, things shift all the time and the things that have impact don’t often ensure. So, the legacy and it’s great to get that captured at this point in time. There are very amazing people in Liverpool…sex workers, some officers in Merseyside police, health and outreach workers. That’s the thing that energizes you, to work with all of those amazing people. I’m really proud of stuff in Leeds as well, having been the CEO of Basis and working with the great people there, proud of being part of shaping policy for the managed area and the change in policing indoor sex work. Then there is having been involved in some participatory research projects which try to make an impact and being co founder of the sex work research hub with people I respect so much.  It’s hard to say what I’m most proud of because it’s all interconnected and feeds into wider stuff.

Q: What drew you to sex industry related work?
A:  It was in 1995, I was in Liverpool a sociologist and researcher doing work with socially excluded groups and then got involved in a piece of participatory action research on sex work in inner city Liverpool. It was at a time when the city had been hit hard by recession but was then going through regeneration  but so many groups were being left out of that,  including street-based sex workers. Since then I’ve been involved in research and also outreach services.

Q: The last thing you laughed about?
A: I like to laugh; I think it’s really important in life. I had a proper hysterical laugh touching base with an old friend over the phone yesterday.

Q: What’s your favourite food?
A: Well I’ve been a vegan for 29 years. So I’d say, for savoury it’s bean curd, tofu!! And on the sweet front, it’s chocolate.

Q: Your current project or pursuit?
A: We’re in the absolute throws of gearing up to  launching the findings from  Beyond the Gaze participatory action research. So as a full-time researcher in this amazing team, I’m working with loads of people feeding into the launch and we just had a book published ‘Internet Sex Work’ that’s based on some of the findings. We are producing briefings, journal articles, practice guidance for working with internet-based sex workers and a short film, so I’m involved in supporting those outcomes at the moment. We have the launch in January and then till September we’ll be sharing learning in range of ways. Also as Chair of NUM with other dedicated members of the board of trustees we’re supporting the work of NUM on an ongoing basis.

Q: What’s your biggest regret?
A: I wish I could say none as life is not for regrets but living, but that said and to be honest I think I always regret not spending enough time with loved ones, especially those not with us. I’m now very much about valuing the time we have and it’s balancing the time demands of life and all the various things you want to do.

Q: Facebook or Twitter?
A: Twitter is great for work and sharing so much research and activism. I am on Facebook privately, but much less active.

Q: What challenges you the most about your sex work related work?
A:
The frustration about the problematic  law we have in the UK and enduring stigma, discrimination and hate crime, which undermine sex worker safety. We have to stay positive because we see change in other countries, progress and evidence-based stuff and approaches that allow rights to be claimed like in New Zealand.  Also I’ve been frustrated with some feminists. I’ve come through the 80’s and taught women and gender studies, I’ve been frustrated and disappointed by reductionist radical feminist analysis of sex work and how that translate into policies that endanger sex workers you know.

Q: Favourite Movie?
ASo many but I’ll go for  Letter to Brezhnev, was made in the mid-80’s  set in Liverpool when things were tough with recession, the screenplay is by Frank Clarke. So it’s a mix of romantic comedy and social realism, two working class women go out for a night on the town and they meet some Russian sailors! It resonates with me because of Liverpool in the 80s, 90’s and beyond nights out with the girls, love the scene with the friends chatting and doing make-up in the washroom. Margi Clark is wearing a red dress, I had one very like it! Love the scene filmed in the nightclub ‘The State’, had some great nights there. I love the movie for the humour, the resilience of Liverpool, reminder of  great nights out with friends and resonates for me, as years later I met my partner who is  Russian and a seafarer.

Q: And the last time you cried?
A:  
Oh the other day, associated with grieving.

Q: Cat or dog person?
A:
I’m totally on the fence there. I have a cat and I love dogs but I don’t get a dog because I’m away quite a bit so it wouldn’t be practical or fair on the dog.

Q: Who understands you?
A:
I would say several close friends and family members.

Q: What’s the last book or article you read?
A: Well, fictional book…I was just reading, The Power by Naomi Alderman, highly recommend it. On the academic front, I have just reviewed drafts of a book by colleagues Dr Ivana Radačić  (Ivo Pilar Institute of Social Sciences, Zagreb) & Mojca Pajnik (The Peace Institute & University of Ljubljana)  based on their  studies of sex work in Croatia and Slovenia. I’ve found it a very informative read and I feel a connection because I’ve spent time in Croatia, Bosnia and Slovenia and there are very few studies of sex work in the Balkans, a post socialist and post conflict context.

Q: Childhood Fear?
A: Claustrophobia.

Q: What did your last text say?
A:
‘Happy Birthday’ to my nephew.

Q: One thing that your work or existence is aimed to do for the sex industry?
A: It’s all part of a goal for decrim, but we’re not there yet, but guess when you look at the stuff I’ve been involved with it’s about getting policies that enable safer working conditions and better policing responses to crimes against people in the industry informed by a rights based approach.

Q: The meaning of life in one word?
A: Love

Q: What did you want to be when you grew up?
A:  Oh gosh at one point I wanted to be a vet. Now I wouldn’t mind having a go at being a fashion designer, spending time with fabrics and being more creative. 

Q: Three portable items you would have with you while stranded on a desert island?[1]
A:  Do we assume that we have an endless supply of fresh water? Q: Sure, Rosie [laughter]. A: And I guess I can’t bring loads of friends and family? Q: [Laughter] No, Rosie!   A: Ok  1) A  tablet with loads of e-books and audio books pre-loaded and downloaded music and photos of friends, family and colleagues; 2) a glamping tent or a beach chalet. Q: Okay, let’s go with the glamping tent…it’s portable; 3) I would have to go with factor 50 tinted moisturiser because I’d have to abandon all me make-up and the moisturiser will double-up as a sunscreen!

 

[1] New question added. Inspired by Desert Island Disc on BBC Radio 4. Rosie is the first person to respond to this, which replaced ‘the last thing you googled’ question.

21 Questions with the Award- winning Camille Melissa

By Raven Bowen

Camille Melissa

Q: So, what do you do?
A:  I’m an award winning and published commercial Photographer (mainly specializing in quirky documentary wedding and children’s photography)  I’m also a full service Sex Worker and I’m a Visual Activist interested in using photography to challenge the victim centered nature of sex worker imagery and how photography is instrumental in the prohibitionist war against sex worker through Whoretography which is a sex work activist & photobook Publishing Platform that sits at the intersection of imagery, technologies, society & the sex worker rights movement.

I’m challenging the prevailing ideology of sex-work, I want to present to the viewer of my work, an alternative perception of the industry and participants –  In a nutshell, I want to shatter the gaze on the current visual landscape of sex work to re shape the political landscape.

I have been accepted into a PhD that starts in January so think it is time to call it a day on sex work and return to full time photography work!

Q: And your favourite colour?
A:  Brink Pink, what can I say! I have happily succumbed to the genderisation of children who were raised in the 70 and 80s. It really compliments my freckles and golden-brown hair.  The only wedding dress I bought was a shade of pink.

Q: What are you most proud of?
A:
 Getting into a PhD program. It is the 40th anniversary of my father’s death this year, and I guess this is a wonderful way to honour his life and that losing a parent as a two-year-old did not throw me off the rails (too much). I feel like it has been what I have been working towards all these years, it brings together the photography, sex work, travel and criminal justice and I most proud of the fact that I can use my passion about photography to make a difference and that I’m determined to see this through to the end.

Q: What drew you to the sex industry?
A:
 
Who ever said money cannot buy you happiness never grew up on the poverty line or watched their mother pay for Christmas dinner with medicare rebate cheques. When you grow up poor you realise that money is about choice, freedom, happiness, peace of mind, security and comfort. That’s what drew me to the sex industry, whilst sex work has never been my only source of income, it’s a vital income that allows me to have a balanced life and not feel financially insecure like the environment I was raised in.

Q: The last thing you laughed about?
A: My mother lives in a RSL retirement village and she tells the funniest tales. This place is like a carry-on retirement village.  I have laughed so much but her recent story had me in tears. It’s a tale about a 95-year-old resident everyone thought was dead because someone peaked in through his window and saw him mouth open, slumped on his chair, sitting there in his undies. So, the whole village congregated around this man’s apartment, and the residents concluded that he must be dead, called the police. They broke in expecting to cart out a dead body but the old bloke was just passed out drunk at 11am on a Tuesday morning and was pissed off that they thought he was dead!

Q: What’s your favorite food? 
A: 
Chocolate. Anything and everything chocolate.  I’d give up men for chocolate if I had too.

Q: Your current project or pursuit?
A: 
On a personal note, I’m archiving and digitizing my Dad’s photographs, negatives and transparencies from his service Malaya & Vietnam 1963 – 1968 and this includes vintage photographs of Honk Kong.  There are 1000’s of photographs and I hope to have this finished within 3 months before I return to London. On the Whoretography front, I’m working a designing the cover of an academic book on sex work. It will see me journey to Adelaide and go though an archive of photographs to find the right image for the cover, it’s a collaboration.

Q: What’s your biggest regret?
A:
Not spending as much time in Australia as I should. I have only been in Australia for about 3 weeks in the last 7 years.  Life has a way of getting in the way of long haul flights. I’ve just come home for the Australian summer and I found my Mum’s bucket list the other day, and right on the top of that list was “to see Cam one last time” It was like a knife to the heart reading that.  It is an absolute curse to love two countries, to want to be on the other side of the world as more than just a tourist. It’s one thing to visit a country, it’s another thing entirely to live amongst its people.  It’s a constant battle in your heart and mind as to where you want to be, where you should be.

Q: Facebook or Twitter? 
A:
Twitter for work, as a platform to hustle for change and as a brilliant form of marketing but for real and honest connections with friends and family, then it’s Facebook.

Q: What challenges you the most about your sex work and related work? 
A: The constant battle about having to guard your privacy as a sex worker and the need to promote your work as an activist, I have never felt comfortable with the level of attention I get from men online and, from some clients who simply MUST know everything about you. I have faced a lot of stigma and had some terrible things done to be because I’m a sex worker from being made homeless to being told my baby deserved to die because I was a prostitute to loosing my photography business and you ALWAYS live in fear that the next terrible thing is about to happen.  I have never been comfortable with how interesting men find me to be and I think that is just the allure of sex work, being a sex worker someone how makes you fascinating as a woman which is ironic as I find the daily hustle of sex work boring (not, however the interaction with my clients)  I’m not ashamed of my work as a sex worker, but that does not mean my other life is up for discussion and dissection but it’s a fine line to tread especially since I have morphed my words of photography and sex work into one.  The biggest challenge I face for the sex work activism is funding, I have found social media to be a mixed blessing, I ask for help with funding and I get flooded with requests from men asking out to talk about photography in general, my desire to take this project mainstream apparently makes me more desirable to date, men seem to find me more fascinating than the project, and I think this is where my experience as a sex worker overshadows my work.  It is why, as soon as I start my PhD that I will retire as a sex worker.

Q: Favorite Movie? 
A:  Romanzo Criminale. It’s an Italian film about the Banda Della Magliana crime gang in the 1970s to the 1990s. It’s a difficult and violent watch but if you can get passed the subtitles, the film is ultimately about loyalty, friendship and love. I’m a huge fan of the actress that plays Patrizia, Anna Mouglalis.  Patrizia is by far the best representation of a prostitute in the contemporary film, she is a complex character.  The visuals of this film are stunning.

Q: And the last time you cried?
A:
When I got the call to say I had been offered a place in a PhD program.

Q: Cat or dog person?
A:
Cat, without a doubt!  I used to have a cat called Dickie Greenleaf and she’d look at us like she knew being a cat was beneath her. What’s not to love about a creature that hops into your cupboard at night and knocks the glasses off the just for the pure joy of it.

Q:  Who understands you?
A:
My friend Bertie.  He started out as a sex work client, who morphed into an affair, a brief partner and parent, now is my closest friend.  He is the only one who knows everything, all aspects of me. He knows where all the skeletons are buried.

Q: What’s the last book or article you read?
A:
 A book about the life and work of Italian photographer, Tina Modotti by Margaret Hooks

Q: Childhood Fear?
A:
Ha!  When you grow up in rural Australia on a farm you don’t really have any fears because you have been raised with things that can kill you. That’s what I find so quaint about England, there is nothing there that can kill you. Raised being told to stamp your feet in long grass to scare the snakes, only swim to knee level in case of sharks.  My early years where of snakes showing up on your doorstep, dogs biting the backs of the chickens necks off and the chickens still running around, dogs chewing on calf afterbirth, to guinea pigs being murdered by rogue possums, I got a guinea pig who I named GP for my 5th birthday and he lasted one night. Pet rabbits would be found frozen solid from fright, having to put an ice cream bucket on your head to avoid the magpies whilst playing outside, to getting stuck in the damn up to your waist in mud. I once fell in the pit where the farmer washed all the waste from the milking shed, you just pick yourself up and get yourself out.  I was attacked by a rooster when I was 4 and we had that rooster for dinner that night. My sister was chased by an Emu once and I remember just screaming at her, to drop the orange.  We used to step in freshly down cow pats bare footed and put daisies in the cow pats and then throw them as frisbees. My older sisters used to squish me under the hay bales, I had a fear of suffocating – which may explain why I excelled at little athletic, had to learn to out run my sisters.

Q: What did your last text say?
A:
‘I apologise for using photography with questionable intent when we were teenagers. I really can’t wait to see you again.’

Q: One thing that your work or existence is aimed to do for the sex industry?
A: My cyber ethnographic work is about stopping the over-simplification of the lives of sex workers, and to challenge current imagery that encourages the sense that the only way of interpreting their lives is to see them as ripe for ‘rescue.’  Through Whoretography, I’m hoping that a new interpretation of sex work imagery that will help to change the visual landscape that informs political views that rob so many sex workers of autonomy.

Q: The meaning of life in one word?
A: 
Interconnections

Q: The last thing you Googled?
A:  How to get to Wheelershill from Mentone.

Q: What do you want to be when you grow up?
A: 
Without a doubt, a police detective.  I really wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps but I could not do that to my mother as he was killed whilst on duty when I was a baby and that was enough of a sacrifice my mother should have to endure in the name of working for the state.  I remember Mum and I used to have these raging arguments when I was a kid as she’d say being a cop was not a job for a woman.  I did go through the entrance tests/exams but did not tell my mother and ended up working in Criminal Justice for many years.

21 Questions with Alex Feis-Bryce, Senior Researcher to MP and former Labour Party Leader Ed Miliband, and Founding CEO National Ugly Mugs

By Raven Bowen

Alex Feis Bryce

Q: So, what do you do?
A: I’m Senior Researcher to Ed Miliband leading on his work around inequality and also I’m an Advisor to National Ugly Mugs (NUM). My role as Founding CEO of National Ugly Mugs ends today [October 27th 2017]! So still a founder but not CEO.

Q: And your favorite color?
A: Oh, like a very rich blue because it suits me to wear. The name of the color is Yves Klein Blue. He’s a French artist and quite controversial but I like that color blue. I think it’s beautiful.

Q: What are you most proud of?
A: The thing I’m most proud of would be leading the team that took NUM from a very small project with very little to funding to what it is today and saving lives of sex workers. Q: Yes, monumentous as you look back on your journey. A: Yeah and I think I’ll probably go through the rest of my life never being prouder of anything more than being at NUM, which is quite depressing! I’ve already peaked! Q: And it’s your last day today. I know how it feels to grow projects and leave them, but hopefully it stays true to mission. A: Yes, I know it will. The staff team are amazing – Kerri who was there with me from the start is the most impressive person I’ve ever met – and here are very good people on the Board. A new CEO who starts in a month too who, I believe, is fantastic.

Q: What drew you to a sex industry support role?
A: I have some personal motives to support and campaign passionately for sex worker rights and safety including my own experiences of sexual violence and police brutality. Immediately before I took the job with NUM, myself and my now husband were wrongfully arrested and assaulted by police and that kind of really made me realize…not that I didn’t already, just how much harder it would have been to challenge if I was a marginalized person, for whatever reason, like a person of color or a women or trans. Sure, I was treated terribly but I had the resources and support to challenge it. I do feel it was a homophobic attack by police. I think I put into perspective my privilege in a sense. I had a really shit time but it would have been a lot worse if I wasn’t a White, relatively middle-class male and that affected my politics quite significantly. It reminded me of…how…difficult it can be for sex workers. Q: That’s an amazing story and shocking to people who identify the ways that I do, when a system that is designed around White, male privilege doesn’t work for people who fall into that category! But it’s wonderful that you turned that experience into contributing to NUM in the ways that you did. A: Yeah, NUM wasn’t my idea. I took someone else’s idea really. Sex workers in Australia and people like Dr. Rosie Campbell OBE who campaigned for it to be introduced in the UK, but I suppose I kind of made it my own turned it into what it is today. Kerri Swindells deserves a huge amount of credit too.

Q: The last thing you laughed about?
A: I was just with the Labour candidate for Lewisham Mayor, Damien Egan and he managed to make me laugh a few times. Not that politics is ever very funny!

Q: What’s your favourite food?
A: I’d say a good curry. That’s such a British thing to say but I would say curry or chorizo – I could put it in everything.

Q: Your current project or pursuit?
A: Basically, I’m leading on Ed Miliband’s work on inequality and that includes a podcast which we do weekly. At the moment it’s the most listened to news/current affairs podcast in the UK. So a shameless plug, it’s called Reasons To Be Cheerful and everyone should listen. Ed co-presents the podcast with a cult radio presenter Geoff Lloyd who’s hilarious – they have such a good rapport and each episode features radical policy ideas. The current episode is about decriminalization of drugs and we’re speaking with the Director of Release who is a force of nature! And credit to Ed who was willing to do a whole podcast on something that is a topic that politicians normally avoid like the plague.

Q: What’s your biggest regret?
A: I don’t think I have any regrets, I’m a very ‘in the moment’ kind of person. I don’t really regret anything. I’ve made so many mistakes in my life but I just don’t really see them as regrets, only mistakes. And I’ve probably make more mistakes than most people!

Q: Facebook or Twitter?
A: Facebook. I think Twitter can be a bit snippy with people with anonymous accounts and lots of aggression where Facebook is more personal with you and your friends. I find Twitter more effective for campaigning though.

Q: What challenges you the most about your sex work related work?
A: I would say that the biggest challenge for me has been battling against prohibitionists who are just hell-bent on a viewpoint that isn’t founded in evidence or the voices and experiences of sex workers and many of them, I’m like ‘how fucking dare you’ to be honest. I’m naturally a fighter and I find it difficult to reconcile those views and it’s frustrating to me because many of those people [prohibitionists] are people in the Labour party. I just find it very difficult to speak to them. Someone recently described me as an angelic troublemaker. I think they meant it as an insult but I took it as a compliment. Q: I would expect Labour to be supportive. A: Yeah like for the labour rights issue or whatever and it demeans them as a politicians. They have a duty to listen to people who a policy affects most and if they’re speaking about something they have a duty to be at least aware evidence, but I don’t think they care enough about sex workers or have enough respect for them. Q: I think as a justice-seeker you’ll find yourself in places that need progressive shifts, um…good luck with that!

Q: Favourite Movie?
A:  It’s True Romance by Quentin Tarantino and I’ve loved it since I was a kid. I can’t believe my parents let me watch movies like that! It also features a sex worker and while the portrayal is a bit ‘Hollywood’ and not necessarily realistic, she’s a fantastic, kick-ass character played by Patricia Arquette—tough and funny. And Tarantino creates really strong female characters! After doing work with sex workers I wonder whether this should be my favorite movie, LOL, but there are worse portrayals in films!

Q: And the last time you cried?
A: At the cinema, watching ‘God’s Own Country.’ Q: A British Brokeback Mountain?
A: Yeah, that was the last time I cried.

Q: Cat or dog person?
A: Massive dog person, I have 2 dogs: a basset hound called ‘Glinda’ and a sausage dog called ‘Merlin’. Cats are a bit too clever and independent!

Q: Who understands you?
A: My husband does, better than anyone and some of my really good friends do as well I think!

Q: What’s the last book or article you read?
A: I was reading an article this morning by Frankie Mullen about pop-up brothels. She’s a very good friend of mine and she writes very, very well. Q: Yes, she’s a great writer and that article was very well done.

Q: Childhood Fear?
A: Actually, this is a bit of a gross one, but I used to not like to use public bathrooms for, well, you know…especially when it’s not in my home! I’m sure it’s a fear that a lot of people have?! Urinals in men’s toilets are disgusting, they should never have been invented!

Q: What did your last text say?
A: My last text…’I’m sat at the back.’ I was meeting someone in a coffee shop.

Q: One thing that your work or existence is aimed to do for the sex industry?
A: I think to save lives, to support sex workers’ safety. I always thought that with what NUM did, the thing that was most valuable to sex workers was the warnings that allowed sex workers to avoid dangerous individuals. Giving sex workers information to make informed decisions and to also change attitudes, is a big deal for me, especially those of politicians, police, the public, the media.

Q: The meaning of life in one word?
A: Happiness. I think people shouldn’t bother too much about success, just do what makes you happy.

Q: The last thing you Googled?
A: Votes at 16, because we are doing a podcast on it so.

Q: What do you want to be if/when you grow up?
A: A professional footballer. A lot of people reading this might be surprised and not see me as that kind of person, but that’s what I wanted to be! I failed in that goal obviously though I do still play.