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By Ian Cheong
Gay porn star Thierry Schaffauser left some students hot under the collar in his taboo-breaking talk at Wadham last week.
The French social activist, who founded the sex workers rights charity Les Putes in 2006, spoke frankly to members of Oxford’s LGBTQ society about his ongoing work for the gay rights movement and his experience in the porn industry.
Speaking of his experience in pornography films, Scahffauser said: “I don’t do barebacking. Fisting is also too technical, so I don’t want to have such experiences. The only condition I have when I accept an offer is that the person is safe and respectful.”
However, he was quick to dissuade those considering following in his footsteps: “You don’t earn as much money as you did in the past. Now you earn about £300 – £400 a scene. This is good money for one afternoon, but then you don’t make films everyday. I find it quite ridiculous that people harbor dreams of being a porn star.”
Schaffauser’s talk was entitled ‘life as a campaigning porn star and sex worker’. He recounted how he stumbled into sex work. “It was by curiosity that I ended up doing sex work. It’s the same with drugs. People always say that drugs are bad for you, but when I tried these things, I saw that I was still alive – and so I thought about prostitution and wanted to try that for myself.”
Schaffauser continued: “I was 19 when I had my first client. It was a simple job – I just pranced around naked in front of the man and he paid. I think I’ve always had the ability to have sex with anyone, as soon as I saw a gay man, I had sex with him. It was my way of keeping in touch with my community.”
He recalled his motivation in becoming a sex worker. He said: “I like what people express through sex and I also didn’t want to do a job where I feel exploited. I wouldn’t have the freedom to do what I want if I did another job. The fact that I moved to this country, can speak English, is thanks to sex work.”
Schauffeser also addressed the more serious aspects of sex work, including the issue of social support for those working in the industry: “In the UK, there are four or five organisations who do a lot of work to support sex workers. What they do ranges from the campaigning for sex workers rights to holding free English lessons for migrant sex workers.”
He explained: “In a traditional language class, the second question people ask you after your name is what you do for a living. As a sex worker, you either have to lie or tell the truth. If you tell the truth, you have to deal with the stigma of being a sex worker. Having free English lessons prevents this social situation from arising.”
In the interests of sex workers, Schaffauser said that he would be in favour of the decriminalization of sex workers, rather than simply introducing further legislation which “still may retain some restrictions on the worker”. He outlined the problems of legislating the sex industry:
“In other industries where the law protects worker rights, you can rely on the law to enforce your rights. But the sex industry can be exploitative and we don’t unionise for nothing. Most of the time you would have to listen to what your employer tells you. If sex work is decriminalised, we can push for labour rights by forming a workers’ collective to change the situation.”
Reuben Walsh, a second-year from Teddy Hall who attended the event, reflected that it was a “very educational experience” for those with “little or no knowledge of the sex industry”. He described the talk as “helpful in releasing us from the insular Oxford privilege, a position from which it is very easy to become patronising or even condemnatory toward aspects of the industry.”
After the talk, Schaffauser proceeded to sign autographs from the audience. Alexander Bramham, the LGBTQsoc Events Organiser, said: “I got my copy of Thierry’s most recent DVD – Eurocreme’s Rudeboiz Scally Sex Offenders signed as a memento for the event.” He continued: “The storyline and script is lacking a bit, but as Thierry explained in the talk, that was out of his control.“