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Sex Workers Art Show Tour Brings Hot and Heavy Sex-Ed to the Rialto

By Lindsey Muth
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, January 22, 2004
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Annie Oakley (yes, I said Annie Oakley) isn't anything that you might expect. She's not a gun-slinging cowgirl. She's not a gun-slinging cowgirl impersonator. And despite the fact that she founded the Sex Workers Art Show Tour, she's not sex-obsessed, or a weirdo, or anything else that you might assume. She's actually a really nice person, who loves to read, cannot control her urge to buy shoes, and spends her spare time fixing up a '78 sedan.

The Sex Workers Art Show Tour, a traveling convoy of burlesque performers, spoken word poets, visual art displays, and other forms of performance art all related to the field of sex work, was founded by Oakley while she was working at a community center several years ago.

"Well I had been working at a progressive activist community center and I'd worked there for a couple of years and the people I worked there with I had known for like four or five years... and I started doing sex work and I was out about it. You know, just like any other job, and all of the sudden these people that I had known and worked with for years were suddenly like, 'oh, you're degrading yourself, oh that's anti-feminist!' Oh, they were just like in a tizzy about it, mortified," said Annie.

"And you know they were just questioning my ability to make judgments about how to run my own life. And when they had worked with me for years it just boggled my mind and I was really angry at some of the stuff they were saying - all of their sort of progressive-person argument that women are exploiting themselves, and it's anti-feminist is really just has a lot of classist and racist and sexist underpinnings. So I was really mad. At the center, sometimes we would have art shows or some showings, and we were sitting around trying to decide what was going to happen for the next month and I was just like, "I'm having a sex workers' art show." and I had no idea what I was going to do or anything."

More than six years later, and with one successful tour already behind her, Oakley is once again taking the Sex Workers Art Show Tour on the road.

What's in store for the show tomorrow night at the Rialto Theater?

"Erochica Bamboo, Miss Exotic World 2003, which is kinda like Miss America burlesque, has this amazing, amazing burlesque piece that I actually can't describe before (the show) because I don't want to ruin it because it's just too excellent, there's sort of a surprise to it," said Oakley. "It's a very sexy show. It's really hot, I think, but it's also really challenging. You can't just come to see naked ladies and get away unscathed."

The tour began with the goal of informing the public about an industry that often goes under the radar. Many people don't have an informed understanding of the sex industry itself or of those who make their livings using sex as a medium.

"I just hope that it encourages people to challenge the usually overwhelmingly sexist, and classist, and racist, and homophobic stereotypes that they have about people who work in the industry. I hope they come away with a better understanding of who sex workers are, what their experience is like and of their sexual humanity," said Oakley.

The tour quickly adopted an additional goal. "Part of the goal is still about the audience and all that. But it's totally changed into this other thing too where it's about empowering sex workers and giving us a venue for networking and getting to know each other. And it's just really inspiring when you can see all of these other people who have all gone through some process of being ashamed about what they do moving forward ...being in a room with all of them doing all this amazing art and stuff. It's so inspiring and you just start to have a different understanding of who you are and what you can do."

I wondered if Annie Oakley, surrounded by so much sex so much of the time, ever got sick of the whole sex thing. "To me it's not even so much about sex," said Oakley, "it's more about work and I don't's really like a performance of sexuality in a lot of ways. It's really different from the sex that I have in my own life..."

For those of you interested in a burlesque, yet informative, sexy, yet savvy, fun and altogether exciting evening this weekend, the Sex Workers Art Show Tour may be just what you're looking for. Tickets are $10.00 in advance. The show starts at 8:00pm Friday night at the Rialto Theater.

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