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Sex industry storytelling event brings relief

Dominatrix Leigh Alanna. Photo by Eleanor Stanford / Columbia Radio News

Dominatrix Leigh Alanna. Photo by Eleanor Stanford / Columbia Radio News

HOST INTRO: We hear a lot about sex workers, but rarely do we hear them tell their own stories. At the Red Umbrella Project’s memoir readings in Brooklyn, Eleanor Stanford spent the evening with a group of sex workers turned authors. And a warning to listeners – this story contains graphic sexual imagery involving a minor.

There are forty-five people crowded into the front room of Brooklyn Community Pride Center.

AMBIENT: Sound of the room

With nowhere near enough chairs, people sit on the arms of sofas and lean against walls.

AMBIENT: Sound of applause

When it is Leigh Alanna’s turn to read, she seems a little shaky as she begins her story.

LEIGH: I followed Mistress Anna down the hallway, wondering how she didn’t trip in the dark

Mistress Anna was training her to be a Dominatrix – and she was taking Leigh to meet her first client.

LEIGH: I thought there would be a breath before we went in. Or at least a grin of recognition that I was about to exchange my first sex act for money. But the door to the blue room opened and there he was. (0:10)

Following Mistress Anna’s instructions, she smiled coyly. She slapped the man across the thighs a few times, worrying it might cause bruises. But, she tells the audience, she realized she loved this work..

LEIGH: And here I was, everyday transforming into someone’s pulsing, blinking fantasy, doing something that people wanted so much they would pay for it, secretly, for no reason at all other than they loved it. (0:12)

Barbara Lee, now middle aged, portrayed a much darker life in her memoir of sex work.

Barbara Lee. Photo by Eleanor Stanford / Columbia Radio News

Barbara Lee. Photo by Eleanor Stanford / Columbia Radio News

Barbara’s first experience of exchanging sex for money came when she was 12 years old. She was playing hooky from school and allowed herself to be picked up by a trucker. He took her to a secluded area.

BARBARA: I’m lying on the ground at the Mutton Town preserve out in Long Island. My skinny little brown legs are bare, and spread apart. At my left side my panties are crumpled, thrown on the grass. My right hand clutches a $10 bill. I’m looking up at the white man (0:20)

She spent the $10 on candy and went back home. In the decades that followed Barbara’s life was a pattern of sex work and drug addiction. Six years ago she went into recovery.

BARBARA: But I never addressed the part about my sex work and this was a really cool opening where I was able to open up and be honest and so like I have nothing to hide and that’s just such a relief (0:25)

Both Leigh and Barbara’s stories are featured in the spring issue of the Prose & Lore journal, published by the Red Umbrella Project.

There is a rich tradition of exploring the aftermath of traumatic events through literary narrative. Bruce Shapiro, of the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, says this writing process can be fraught.

SHAPIRO: The fundamental position of the trauma survivor as narrator is being caught between on the one hand wanting to shout your story to the stars and on the other side the absolute conviction that no one will believe you, no one will understand you – the words are not there to describe it. (0:20)

Holly Smith recently found the words to describe being a victim of sex trafficking in the eighth grade. Writing the advocacy book Walking Prey has helped her to connect the dots in her past.

SMITH: Writing my story down helped me to see that I was just a kid at 14 years old and I was lured away from home and I shouldn’t have poured all that blame on myself. Because I think understanding something is the first step to really overcoming it. (0:18)

The Red Umbrella Project runs memoir-writing workshops to help people with experience of the sex industry understand their experiences. Whatever those experiences may be.

Eleanor Stanford, Columbia Radio News.


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