Forum: Angela White, Cassie and Christian. Photo: Craig Abraham
A PORN star, an escort, a tantric practitioner, a dominatrix and a rent boy walk into a bar … and willingly answer any question thrown at them.
At least that's what happened last night at a public forum in the Secret Society Bar in Bourke Street.
In a bid to demystify their profession, the sex workers appeared on a panel open to the public, as part of this week's Festival of Sex Work, the first festival of its kind in Australia.
Organised by Vixen, a collective of current and former sex workers who promote civil rights in the industry, the impetus for the festival was to give a voice to sex workers. The festival receives no corporate sponsorship or government funding.
Last night's event, Ask A Sex Worker A Question, invited members of the public to ask any question in exchange for a gold coin donation.
''We're tired of other people talking about us,'' said event co-organiser Tabitha. ''We're a very diverse group of workers.''
The stars of last night's panel were Australian adult actor Angela White, our most popular internet porn star, and dominatrix Lady Ambrosia Noir, who, along with the rest of the panel answered questions about their ideal day at work, labour rights in the industry and depictions of sex workers.
The Age asked the panel about the portrayal of sex workers in the Craig Thomson scandal.
Private escort Cassie said she found the emphasis on Thomson's alleged use of sex workers, rather than of misusing his credit card, offensive.
''Particularly the way most media threw around the term 'hooker'. Sex work is a legal service,'' she said. Male escort Christian, who has worked in the industry for 15 years, said: ''We want people to hear from us, instead of thinking they can speak on our behalf.''
Other events at this week's festival included a historical sex work walking tour of the city, a forum today at Melbourne University on sex work policy and law, a film screening at ACMI and workshops for sex workers.
The festival culminates with International Whores' Day on Saturday, a celebration of sex workers' rights, celebrated locally with a Red Umbrella Rally on the steps of Parliament House.
''There's a lot of stigma around that word,'' said Tabitha.
''We're trying to reclaim it back for ourselves.''