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Speak for yourself: Letters from Working Girls and Letters from Johns

Letters from Working Girls We often hear that social media is enabling us to see a more complete picture of who people are, and in some cases this may be true; but how often do we, instead, see a more truncated version of who a person is, because they feel like they have to self-censor? As anyone who's been blogging for a while will tell you, the reality of it has a lot more sticky nuance than the idyllic concept. What about the places where one's life intersects with the lives of others? How much is okay to share about another person without his or her consent? Even for those who blog pseudonymously, these are constant questions whose answers may vary from day to day -- especially when sex is involved.

(This column both acknowledges the existence of sex, and explores the ways sex and sexuality relate to and are enhanced by the internet. If you're offended by such content, don't take the jump.)

Even without the concerns about respecting others' privacy while still attempting to tell an accurate personal story, how many of us self-censor because of apprehension about reader reaction? This is why I can understand why some bloggers, such as Mistress Matisse, have disabled comments. At first glance it may seem antithetical to blogging. But most bloggers will acknowledge that awareness of one's audience -- and more importantly, of the fact that the audience is often poised to heckle -- can and will affect what one writes.

Personally, I think more openness and less self-censorship is something worthwhile to strive for. But I know (all too well) that it's not always possible in every situation. So how do we start to chip away at sex-negative barriers whose existence may have real-world consequences while they're still standing, even with holes?

For better or for worse, there is still a need for a cloak of anonymity.

Journalist and blogger Susannah Breslin recently launched two projects which open the kinds of veins blogging purports to open, but often cannot. Letters from Working Girls and Letters from Johns are compilations of anonymous letters from... well, you can guess.

Letters from Working Girls is certainly a good jumping-off point for people who are looking to learn more about the diverse experiences of sex workers, but there are some other sites I would recommend ahead of it; namely, Bound, Not Gagged, Radical Vixen's Sex Worker Solidarity series, and's Sex Worker Confessions series.

In the case of Letters from Johns, the project serves to help shatter stereotypes about men who pay for sex. We tell ourselves stories about such men practically being part of another a species -- and in doing so, we cut off the possibility of real dialogue. Who would want to have a conversation as a "marked man?"

Some of the writing on the Letters from Johns site sets off my sexism and erotophobia red flags, big time. I guess I can't fault it for being real, but that doesn't mean I have to love it, either. I absolutely loathe some of the generalizing about women -- especially women sex workers -- that I read there.

Maybe if the writers of the letters on one site read the writing on the other, they'll learn a thing or two. I certainly hope the sites will spur discussion about gender, sexuality, class, and more. If social media is supposed to help people represent our full humanity, these kinds of uncomfortable, yet honest, discussions may get us there after all.

Tags: blogging, LettersFromJohns, LettersFromWorkingGirls, Sex2.0, sexuality, sexwork, SusannahBreslin