An Open Letter To Mia Khalifa

24 Comments

I am writing this because I want to believe that you truly want to use your platform for good. I understand that the industry as a whole has been extremely critical of you and unsympathetic to your experience. In my opinion this is due to a lack of understanding on both sides, and I hope I can help bridge that divide and start a productive conversation by writing this.

I also want to acknowledge that your experience was not positive and that I empathize with your resentment towards the industry. YOUR TRUTH IS VALID and I am not trying to take that away from you. I don't think you should have to delete your social media or change your name in order to feel comfortable. I understand that you face a lot of hate on the internet and in IRL that I know that is a lot to handle. I'm not here to hate on you. I genuinely hope you take this to heart and we can all better understand one another and move forward together. 

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In your response to me you mentioned "Glorifying vs. Stigmatizing" as if there are only two ways to portray sex work. The idea that sex work is "glorified" in society is laughable. If it were truly glorified, you wouldn't experience any judgement for having done it.

Of course, there are individuals who glorify it too much as a predatory tactic. They sell impressionable young people on the idea of sex work without giving them a full picture and bring them into situations they aren't prepared for because it makes them easier to exploit. Then there are the "stars" who make it look easy and glamorous and can intentionally or unintentionally misconstrue the reality of sex work. Both of these types sell sex work as 1) easy money 2) free of consequence.

Obviously, this is not okay. Sex work is WORK. It can be easy money in the beginning, but to be successful and make it last you have to put in the time and effort, just like any other job. And of course there are long term consequences of doing sex work, especially porn, and anyone who is getting into the industry should be made aware of the stigma they will probably carry for the rest of their lives. It will affect their personal relationships and job opportunities forever. 

However, the majority of porn performers DON'T glorify it. I know this because I, like you, am a former porn actress and still involved with the community. I constantly see the same women who have spoken up against your comments speaking up about abuses in the industry. You may not be aware, but the porn industry is currently having its own #metoo moment, and a lot of performers are coming forward about sexual abuse and racism. This is something that has been attempted multiple times over the last few years, but unfortunately, society just doesn't care the same way they do when it happens in other industries, so it results in little social pressure to make real changes. Most sex workers are shadow banned, meaning the only people who see them talk about these things are people in the industry and their fans, most of whom already are fairly educated on the industry. 

When it does get mainstream attention, as with your situation, it's usually sensationalized and the whole industry is reduced to these abuses. This is stigmatizing. You may think you are making a difference by exposing abuse, but abuse in sex work is not a novel concept. If you aren't also promoting the idea that sex work can be consensual and positive then you are only reinforcing the "porn is bad" mantra that most of society already accepts. 

This stigma, that sex work is bad, is the reason why a lot of people have the view that sex workers "deserve" whatever happens to them because they chose to work in a "bad industry." "What did they expect?" is a common refrain, because they think sex workers should ASSUME they will be abused at their jobs, that sex work is inherently exploitive. In reality, abuses happen in ALL industries and they're just as preventable in the adult industry as they are in any other industry. However, that requires society to accept that abuse isn't an inherent part of sex work which is impossible when they only hear stories about abuse and exploitation. 

We shouldn't have to choose between glorifying and stigmatizing. We should be able to speak our individual truths and be listened to and believed whether it's negative or positive and without reflecting on the entire industry or profession, just like any worker in any other industry.

For instance, Hollywood and mainstream modeling, industries that are undeniably glamorized by society, are actually very similar to porn. There is a lot of opportunity for people to take advantage of young, impressionable people who want to be stars and are easy to exploit. The difference is that because it is glorified, society is very aware that there are plenty of actresses and mainstream models with amazing careers and that the abuses that happen in the industry don't discount their positive experiences or reflect on their profession as a whole. They recognize that there are regulations to be put in place to protect people and they put social pressure on the industry to do that. The people in that industry are allowed to be a part of making those changes.

In porn, it's much different. Plenty of sex workers love their jobs, but their reality is constantly denied by people who refuse to accept that anyone could actually love sex work, that they aren't exploited, and that it's maybe even empowering for them. They are constantly told they are victims and have their realities questioned which can be incredibly draining. When there is an occasional effort to make changes in the industry, the actual workers are generally excluded or even straight up denied from the conversation because they are seen as victims who need saving, as opposed to consenting adults who just need support to implement changes that will actually help. 

Normalizing sex work and lessening the stigma around it are how we are going to make positive changes. Sex workers are just regular human beings and porn can be just like any other job with both positive and negative experiences. Imagine if there were zero stigma around porn and no one thought any differently of anyone who did sex work. Most of the problems you're experiencing wouldn't be a thing for you or anyone else. I think we can all agree that would be ideal and something we should work towards. 

What people have been trying to explain to you for a year now is that the language you are using, the narrative you're painting, and the way you're talking about porn is harmful. By only sharing your negative experience to millions of people who don't listen to any other sex workers, you are perpetuating the same stigma around sex work that causes you harm daily and prevents you from living a normal life. It gives the media soundbites and quotes that frame all sex workers as victims and discounts the positive experiences of many.

I understand that may not be your intention, but that doesn't change the outcome. Yesterday I spent a good amount of time reading through the replies to your tweets and they confirm this. They are filled with people who clearly don't follow any one else in the industry and don't know anything about it. You are their only connection to porn and you are the ONLY perspective they will likely ever come across. This is a major responsibility and not something to be taken lightly.

Of course, this doesn't mean you aren't allowed to share your truth, that is your right! It does mean, though, that you should be aware of the power of your influence and how it affects other people who don't have your platform and voice. You are the current voice of a marginalized group whether they want you to be or not, so if you're going to speak on it, I do think it's important to listen to other people, share their experiences, and work to lessen the stigma around sex work so that sex workers have the support to make the changes they desperately need.

I don't have all the answers and I won't pretend to, but what I do know is that I'm not the only person who feels this way and most of the people I know in the industry are intelligent, caring, awesome people who speak up about abuse and are realistic about things the industry needs to change. Many of those performers who have years of experience in the industry have reached out to you to start a dialogue and I think it's important for you to be receptive to their opinions, instead of writing them off as most of society already does. 

I know not everyone approaches you in the kindest way, but you have also ignored many of the really thoughtful comments people have directed at you and chosen to reply to the more inflammatory ones with derision. I understand Abella didn't voice her opinion in the kindest way, but your reply in which you shamed her for being proud of her work skills and then laughed at your fans making fun of her vocabulary doesn't make you a better person. Sex workers are often unfairly categorized as uneducated and you allowing your fans to perpetuate that stereotype and encouraging them is not cool and makes it hard for other performers to believe that you don't look down on sex work and aren't using your platform to reinforce harmful stereotypes and stigmas. 

If you really care about sex workers, then you can't just write them off. You need to have a healthy dialogue with them and challenge your own perspectives if you really want to understand what sex workers need and how you can actually help them. No one is saying you can't talk about abuse. Plenty of other performers are currently doing the same thing and it is important! But if you aren't spending the same amount of energy fighting the stigma and helping people to see sex work as a regular job then you aren't really helping. 

HOW YOU CAN HELP:

- talking to and listening to sex workers so you can use your platform to share a variety of stories and experiences that are not publicized by the media 

- taking responsibility for your tweets and educating your fans when they say negative things about sex work in the comments

- amplifying diverse sex worker voices 

- asking people in the industry how you can really help and what actions you think will improve their experiences and safety 

- informing your fans on how to be good sex worker allies (link)



24 Responses

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Rachel F
Rachel F

August 11, 2020

Keep being an amazing person <3 I am glad you took the time to write this, even if unfortunately Mia may not read it. I am glad you also recognize how her experiences may be valid. Loved you on the Holly Randall podcast.

Juan
Juan

August 09, 2020

Well written. You had a great interview with Holly Randall. Very informative and insightful.

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Michael Ochinero
Michael Ochinero

July 09, 2020

Well done Carter… In my opinion, the adult film industry gets a bum wrap. Then there are the positive gals out there that are either still in or retired like yourself who seem so grounded and know what they want in life. Good on ya! Alexis Fawx and you are two of the coolest people and sexiest women on the planet. We, viewers, were fortunate enough to see this up close and well played out (acted). Your new direction in DJ work is awesome. I have two daughters and I have made it know to forget your resume and just look at how beautiful and smart and driven to succeed you are. How you have branded your name for even more things than adult film. You woman hear you ROAR! Or meow as you are Queen of Kitties ;)

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Barry
Barry

June 29, 2020

Very well written, kudos!

Tate Knight
Tate Knight

June 27, 2020

I loved your take on this issue, but i felt you were biased when you said this – “I understand Abella didn’t voice her opinion in the kindest way, but your reply in which you shamed her for being proud of her work skills…” Going by what i saw and read on Mia’s Twitter TL, Abella attacked her first with that “BJ” comment. Mia was only defending herself, hence her response. I just wanted to point that out.

Jessica
Jessica

June 27, 2020

Thank you for a sincere and thoughtful reflection, Carter. I found my way to this post after reading about the exchange between Mia and Abella, so hopefully a wider audience is finding their way here after reading about the “drama”. I hope Mia reads it and takes it to heart. This is the conversation that needs to happen.

LG
LG

June 27, 2020

Love what you wrote and have to say.

I wonder if you would ever consider writing a column on the industry. I know Aurora Snow has been doing a great job in the Daily Beast, but it would be good to have more people writing about the deeper issues and bringing them to light.

There is a lot going on and the industry is changing. Someone like you would insure it goes down the right path.

Tao
Tao

June 26, 2020

Well Addressed Carter!, Did not realize the internal bickering within the Adult community is like a Girl group in the music industry

ADK
ADK

June 26, 2020

This is such a well thought & balanced stance on the matter. Her name from the industry built her brand and as a result will be forever connected to it, so now she has a unique platform. As a result she’s been gifted a unique responsibility to showcase the industry with the power to enable positive change. How she uses this power is now up to her.

G
G

June 26, 2020

So well written and thought provoking.
I asked you a Cameo question a month or two back about careers and creating a separation from your past.

Porn unfortunately carries a stigma and there are so many issues around it.
An example is Fredrik Eklund from Million Dollar Listing did gay porn at one time of his life but has maintained a very lucrative and successful career. There’s been little if any consequences as “gay porn” gets a pass.
However, female stars struggle to exit the industry and resume normal life. Something that needs to be addressed!

I find this fascinating as a “sex positive feminist” male with a background in sociology.

Christie
Christie

June 26, 2020

This was very well written and thought provoking.

Thank you for this.

Rashard Davis
Rashard Davis

June 25, 2020

I’m loving your message, but why did you choose to retire from adult films?

Tom Katt
Tom Katt

June 25, 2020

Profoundly well argued. I hope Mia takes you up on the challenge you laid down…to accept the responsibility arising from her prominence and for furthering the stigma which envelops her and others who have worked in the industry. I hope she responds to your sincere effort to bridge the gap between her negative experience and the positive realities of many other sex workers.

Please keep writing. This was really powerful.

Christopher Grimelli
Christopher Grimelli

June 25, 2020

Empowerment from porn is so spot on.

Bradley Linton
Bradley Linton

June 25, 2020

Wow this was powerful! And I will admit much more thought out and insightful than I would hv expected.
Obviously i need to reassess/change my stereotype so I apologize thank u Carter for educating me on my own biases..I am so impressed

Melissa
Melissa

June 25, 2020

This was incredibly well thought out, well written and very honest.
It’s empathic, caring and very inviting for safe conversation and dialogue.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

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