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A Media Revolution: a convo with Rachel Aimee of $pread

Rachel Aimee, co-founder and former editor of $pread magazine, took a pause from organizing the March 3rd release party for the forthcoming anthology $pread: The Best of the Magazine that Illuminated the Sex Industry and Started a Media Revolution to speak to A KISS FOR GABRIELA about the book and its history. Rachel Aimee is one of the editors of the new book along with Eliyanna Kaiser and Audacia Ray. We are looking forward to getting our copy, please stay tuned for our review.

A Kiss For Gabi: Congratulations on the new $pread Anthology. What is $pread and what does it stand for?

Rachel: Thank you! $pread was a magazine by and for sex workers and allies that was published quarterly between 2005 and 2011. We founded $pread theNewAnthologybecause we were tired of seeing sex workers stereotyped and stigmatized in the media and we wanted to create a space for sex worker to speak for themselves. When we started $pread in 2005 most of the writing that was out there by sex workers was academic – we wanted to create something more accessible, which is why we decided on a magazine format. We were amazed by the outpouring of support from the sex worker community – in the form of submissions, subscriptions, and people showing up to our events – and it became clear to us how much sex workers needed a media platform and a sense of community. Although none of us had any publishing experience or funding we managed to launch the first issue in March 2005 and publish it four times a year for the next six years. To celebrate the ten-year anniversary of $pread’s first issue we’re releasing a best-of anthology, $pread: The Best of the Magazine that Illuminated the Sex Industry and Started a Media Revolution, published by Feminist Press.

A Kiss For Gabi: Can you tell us more about what readers will find in the publication?

Rachel: The book starts with an introduction telling, for the first time, the history of $pread magazine and contextualizing it within the sex worker rights movement at the time. As well as funny anecdotes about our misadventures in the world of independent publishing, we also talk about $pread’s relationship with feminists, anarchists, and the LGBTQ community, as well as examining some of our challenges and failings, such as not making room in the magazine’s leadership and pages for the voices of sex worker of color, transgender sex workers, men in the sex industry, street-based sex workers, and sex workers with kids. We also talk about $pread’s role in contributing to the current media landscape in which sex workers are speaking out and creating their own media on a huge scale.

The pieces we selected to include in the anthology are divided into seven categories: Workplace, Labor, Family and Relationships, Clients, Violence, Resistance, and Media and Culture. Some of my favorite pieces are Mona Salim’s ‘Stripping While Brown,’ which includes some hilarious and disturbing anecdotes about the ways that race impacts her interactions with customers and other dancers as one of the few South Asian women working in a strip club in New York; ‘I Have Nothing to Say,’ Lynne Tansey’s raw and powerful story about the time she had to kill a client in self-defense; and ‘Fucking the Movement,’ an Indecent Proposal (a regular $pread column) by an escort named Eve Ryder’s about a client who wanted her to dress as an anarchist protester, which includes the line “Bad protester, you smashed the Starbucks!”

Although $pread was made in New York, we tried to include as much international coverage as we could, and the book reflects that, including pieces about migrant sex workers in Mumbai, the impact of the 2005 Tsunami on sex workers in Thailand, and an interview with the founder of Casa Xochiquetzal, a retirement home for older sex workers in Mexico City.

A Kiss For Gabi: How was the publication produced and what lessons have you learned for others in the community wishing to publish and/or get their work out?

Rachel: Don’t publish a print magazine! Magazines are expensive to print and heavy to cart around the city and up and down subway steps, they take up all the space in your office, and you will spend your whole life at the post office – or the bulk mail office, which is way worse than the post office, believe me!

These days sex workers are blogging, Tweeting, and creating community online, but back when $pread got started that wasn’t the case. We got into publishing right on the cusp of the transition from print to online – we felt it was important to create a physical magazine that we could hand out in strip clubs and dungeons and at outreach organizations. And at that time it wasn’t the case that everyone was online in the way that they are now. But looking back it would’ve been a lot easier if we’d decided to do an online magazine instead!

Also: I kind of love that we decided to start a magazine and just did it, despite the fact that we had no experience or money and really no idea what we were getting into. But I also think this contributed to the staff and magazine not really being representative of sex workers from a variety of backgrounds. The magazine was founded by three white, cisgender, college-educated women and we recruited staff in the way that was easiest for us, which meant mostly from our own social networks, so this perpetuated the bias in our staff and leadership.

Part of the problem was that we didn’t really prioritize diversity in the magazine’s staff and leadership, but another part was that, because we had no funding and couldn’t pay our staff, the people who could afford to volunteer, especially in the extremely time-consuming leadership roles, were those with more privilege. It was like, ‘if you have time to do this, you’re doing it.’ If we had planned a bit more before jumping into launching the magazine, we might have been able to get funding to pay staff, and I think that would have helped us to reach beyond the people we knew who had time to volunteer.

A Kiss For Gabi: How can people keep in touch with the work of $pread in the future?

Rachel: Come to our NYC launch party next Tuesday March 3! It’s also the opening night of our art show, Spark to a Flame, which celebrates the artists of $pread, including Molly Crabapple, Fly, Hawk Kinkaid, and Cristy C. Road, as well as others inspired by the magazine. We’ll be screening the film WHORELOGIC by PJ Starr and The Incredible Edible Akynos, as well as video art by Xandra Ibarra and Morgan Page. And some of the book’s contributors will be reading and talking about their pieces in the anthology, including former $pread editor Brendan Michael Conner talking about youth in the sex trade, Marisa Brigati talking about Casa Xochiquetzal, a retirement home for older sex workers in Mexico City, and Syd V. reading her piece ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ about growing up with a mother who was a sex worker. Tickets are $20 and include a free copy of the book.

Also, follow us on Facebook and Twitter to keep updated about launch events we have planned in other cities, including Baltimore, Chicago, Oakland, and possibly Brown University.

And if you miss the book launch and art show opening on Tuesday, the Spark to a Flame art show will be on display at Dixon Place through March 22 and you can find out more about the show on our Tumblr.

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