Outposts’ Creative Producer and Director, Luce Howell, sat down over Zoom to interview Maedb, Carmen, and Cass from Sexquisite, a community arts company working with sex workers through theatre, cabaret and participation.

What is Sexquisite?

Sexquisite Events is a community arts company working with sex workers across theatre, cabaret, and participation. We believe in art as a force for change, and do this by providing a platform for sex workers to make, create, and share work. We are committed to reducing the social isolation of sex workers, and facilitating a space to develop tangible, transferable skills and creative opportunities. We have provided guidance, support, and opportunities to over 60 sex workers, and since founding two years ago have collaborated with a number of organisations.

How did Sexquisite come about?

Sexquisite was born in 2019, and first existed as a cabaret, showcasing a variety of multi-disciplinary sex worker artists. It was a response to FOSTA SESTA, an anti sex-trafficking bill issued in 2016 in America. It sought to combat sexual exploitation by making website providers responsible for third party advertisements soliciting prostitution. However, the problem with this approach, is that it included consensual sex work. By censoring websites where workers advertise, it pushes them into the streets and contributes to the precarious nature of the work. Advertising online allows workers to screen their clients, track IP addresses, and obtain information which could contribute to their safety. This law is reflective of legislation all around the world that penalises sex workers rather than protecting them. 

Sexquisite was created as a celebratory, safe space for sex worker artists to showcase how multi-talented we are. The original event took place at Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club, and featured eight performances from poetry, theatre, dance, and comedy. Between performances, we hosted a Q&A discussion with the intention of bringing the artist and the audience closer, and dismantling societal stigma. The night finished with a disco and funk DJ, and we partied in celebration of sex worker talents. 

Can you tell us a little bit about your own individual artistic practices and what we might be able to expect from an Sexquisite event?

Carmen (Co-Artistic Director): I’m a stand up comedian, actor, and writer, and I also perform burlesque as April Fiasco. I’m the resident host of our live cabaret shows and I like to bring a mix of lighthearted jokes, as well as talking about the serious issues that sex workers face on a daily basis. Having a balance is key to creating the right atmosphere for the night. We deserve to be celebrated, not discriminated against,  and we won’t stop talking about our rights until we receive them. Then we can celebrate tenfold. 

Maedb (Co-Artistic Director): I’m a poet, actor and theatre maker. I make solo work merging poetry and theatre, and devise work collaboratively on a regular basis. I also facilitate creative workshops to a variety of community groups. If you come to our shows expect to see work that will make you laugh, cry, and smile. We platform artists that work across a number of disciplines, and this could be anything from: poetry, drag, comedy, dance, burlesque, film and theatre. However, even though our work is often political, we also want to make work by sex workers that could be about anything, not even to do with sex work. It’s hard to not feel pressure to represent the whole community, but all we can do is create a space for sex worker voices to be heard. 

Cass (Sexquisite Collective Member): I got into performance through participating through a project called The Sex Workers Opera. Before then I was a dominatrix and also a writer but I could never imagine these two strands of my life coming together. Initially I was quite anonymous despite being on stage in front of big audiences, I never used my real name for any of it. By the end of the project, I didn’t give a shit anymore. I started exploring solo performance art and comedy to honour ten years of being a dominatrix. For me, it can feel like drag because I am non-binary, and don’t wear makeup and heels unless I am getting paid for it. My experience as a sex worker has involved me playing a gender and a sexuality I don’t identify with. So it felt really refreshing to turn that into comedy.

Meg (Sexquisite Collective Member): I played one of the lead roles in a big tv show when I was just 16. The show was famous for being controversial and showing teenagers drinking, doing drugs and having sex. I have worked on and off as an actress and a writer for the past fourteen years but was working seven days a week at numerous side-jobs to pay my bills. This meant that I barely had time to sleep let alone write/do anything else creative that I wasn’t getting paid for. In 2020 the shit hit the fan and I was fed up of working minimum wage jobs 24/7 so I opened an Only Fans account. This is the only reason I survived 2020 and the only reason I can pay my rent now. The push back from me, a child actor, starting to sell sexualised images of myself was weird. I had literally been paid as a teenager by a television show to simulate sex on national television and that was seemingly ok, but me deciding to profit off of my own sexuality as an adult was outrageous…? This hypocrisy and classism within the creative industry is something that most of my writing touches upon. 

Bella (Sexquisite Collective Member): Sex work is one of the most artistic jobs I do! It definitely tests your abilities when it comes to performance, characterisation, improv and delivering a fantasy that feels real and human enough for people to resonate with. Alongside that, I compiled our zine, Whore Stories, and have performed my poetry, as well as an online moving image piece dedicated to the Shangri-Las, at some of the Sexquisite cabaret events. I also co-run a writing account called Whores Handbags (whores_handbags on instagram) which has evolved into a cathartic online space I use to process and reflect on the sex industry, specifically how my job intersects with other parts of my identity such as queerness, or being a survivor. At a Sexquisite event, I’ve found you can expect a space where these various parts of people’s personalities are acknowledged and celebrated as integral to the complex and multi-dimensional lives within our amazing community. It was incredible to work closely as a collective as part of our devised theatre show, NSFW.

You mentioned before that there was a strong intention to educate that moulded into actually just wanting to showcase more art. In terms of your relationship to your audience now, what does that look like? Have you felt a pressure to ‘educate’?

Maedb: I feel like we might all have different answers to this. I felt immense pressure. I recently personally wrote a play about survival sex work. I questioned, how do I represent this character authentically without taking away from people’s experiences or without contributing to societal stigma? It’s such a weird place to be. As you put a sex worker on stage, they are going to be judged and the audiences are going to have preconceptions about sex workers. Sexquisite is becoming less so about representation, we just believe in our work and hope others can receive it well. 

Cas: I am creating non-fiction texts that are lobbying the government, so I do talk about sex work in a political way. However, I feel like as an artist it’s nice to be able to kick my feet up and say ‘do you know what?’ simply existing in these spaces is radical and political. For me, it’s about having fun and more often than not it’s incidentally, not purposefully, political. 

Carmen: I think when people come to our live shows they do want to learn about sex work, but they also want to have a good time, so we try to balance both education and entertainment and I think that’s definitely possible and it works well to do that.

Meg: I am coming from a place of privilege in that I am middle class and white and I also have a following from being in a TV show years ago, but I feel like because of this, I’m in a unique position to talk about the type of sex work that I have lived experience of. It’s really disappointing that it seems to me that the only reason people listen to posh people talking about sex work is because they like it to be dressed up and seen as ‘art’ when really, all it is is work. I have a very limited and very privileged experience of sex work, but because I was sexualised as a teenager for the profit of a television show I always want to use my platform and my writing to highlight the hypocrisy that lies between the apparent respect society has for actors but the lack of respect they have for sex workers when they are two industries that have a huge amount of overlap. 

Bella: It’s difficult because sometimes a lot of rage goes in to my art, that therapeutic feeling of finally projecting my voice loud enough to be heard over the constant soundtrack of stigma, more broadly the patriarchy, and all the harm it has done. But that doesn’t always make people feel receptive to our cause. That’s okay, though. Being in the right place mentally to engage with and educate those who don’t automatically “get it” takes a lot of personal strength and requires a lot of prior healing – we are not all there yet. I just ask viewers to empathise as hard as they can, even if they feel attacked or alienated by the content.

What has Sexquisite been working on recently?

For 12 weeks from January 2021, during the National Lockdown in the UK – we collaborated with 10 sex workers, to devise a full length digital show over Zoom. 

We met with participants based all over the world for 2 hours a week, to create a digital theatre show representative of sex worker experiences. We fundraised for the project, through a crowdfunder, a sex worker zine, and ticket sales to watch the screenings, so that we could pay each participant a fee for being involved.

The project was made by 80% artists with lived experience of sex work and 20% creatives outside of the industry. The show, titled NSFW (Not Safe For Work) screened to international audiences in September and received a 4 star review from London Theatre Reviews!

What do the plans look like moving forward for Sexquisite as a collective? 

We’ve just secured a new small community space in North London starting from December, where we will have drop in sessions for sex workers, and run workshops and use as rehearsal space. 

We’ve also been asked to do a very exciting show next year – we can’t tell you all the details yet but watch this space for more information coming soon…

Follow Sexquisite Events on Instagram, Twitter, and check out their website.

To come to the Sexquisite Live in London on Dec 17th which is International End Violence Against Sex Workers Day click here for tickets and use special discount code: OUTPOSTS17 for 20% off 

If you’re a sex worker looking for further resources alongside Sexquisite, please check out: Prostitutes Collective (link: https://prostitutescollective.net, Swarm ( link: https://www.swarmcollective.org) and SAAFE (link: https://saafe.info/main/index.php

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