Sex Scenes: Stormy Daniels, Our Lady of ‘Fuck Trump’
The porn director, actress, and writer took on no less a target than the President of the United States, mirroring sex workers’ fight for justice.
Pop artist Sham Ibrahim and Stormy Daniels on May 23, 2018 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Tara Ziemba/Getty Images)
Stormy Daniels, our lady of “Fuck Trump,” has survived 2018, despite an order earlier this week to pay Donald Trump’s legal fees. Over the last year, the porn director, actress, and writer has come out with a memoir called Full Disclosure, a perfume called Truth, a Make America Horny Again strip club tour (the name was not her idea), and a marketing plan: pop-up ads for porn and cam shows. “You can chat with me on Camster, where I’d love to tell you the real story about what happens,” she offers. “You can skip this ad in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.”
Daniels, of course, has been in the news because Donald Trump paid $130,000 to cover up their affair, using what could be considered an illegal campaign contribution (it’s the reason Michael Cohen is going to jail). As she was catapulted into mainstream fame, Daniels remained a sex worker, unapologetically, despite criticism. As she pointed out: why would she stop doing the job she’s done for almost twenty years?
Many of the profiles of Daniels center on the “shocking” aspects of porn work and use her legal name despite her pleas to use her chosen one. The New York Times, for instance, reported, in tones of disgust, “Ms. Clifford has subsisted amid the seamier elements of a business often rife with exploitation and unruly fare; more than a few of her film titles are unprintable.”
Daniels isn’t afraid of clapping back. She held her own when Jimmy Kimmel tried to make her the butt of a joke—“I thought we were friends, Jimmy”—and responds to the MAGA hat Twitter users who attack her. “Don’t you know dumb sluts go to hell?” one asked. “Whew,” she responded. “Glad I’m a smart one!”
At the same time that Daniels achieved notoriety, Trump passed SESTA/FOSTA, a set of laws supposedly aimed at curbing “sex trafficking”, which, in reality, harms all sex workers by creating a more exploitative criminalized environment that limits autonomy and safety, impacting the most marginalized people in the industry. Daniels herself never issued a statement on SESTA/FOSTA, but she did use the associated hashtag #LetUsSurvive after police raided a strip club during her show in Columbus, Ohio and arrested her in what looks to have been a setup.
Recently, Daniels released a PSA with X-Biz about stigma against sex workers, saying: “Sex workers are the very embodiment of the American dream. We are small business owners who want to make a better life for our loved ones, our communities, and ourselves. We pay taxes, we give back…We are frontline warriors in the fight to defend free speech against censorship...I call on leaders from both sides to acknowledge the contribution from the adult industry to the global economy.”
But as journalist Melissa Gira Grant noted on Twitter, Daniels’s pro-industry, center-right words don’t square with the sex workers’ rights movement that created the #LetUsSurvive hashtag, a movement with a message that is anti-carceral, anti-criminalization, anti-oppression and, increasingly, anti-capitalist. It’s a movement that has picked the fight against borders because it understands that without defending the most marginalized sex workers, the migrants and undocumented, there can be no end to oppression and state sanctioned violence.
Rolling Stone recently ran an article about the “new sex work activism” that stated, “The sex work community has become the newest niche political bloc…thanks to a confluence of factors including Stormy Daniels, the most famous sex worker in the world.” It’s a concerning statement for the many who fear that the hard work done by POC, trans, and leftist sex workers over decades will be erased by slanted media coverage, similar to how the gay liberation movement was gentrified and co-opted by representatives of the dominant culture. In the pragmatic post-AIDS era, slogans like “smash the family, smash the state” disappeared as same-sex marriage was deemed the gay rights movement’s most pressing issue and privileged white (often male) spokespeople were pushed to the front lines.
Within sex work, the figure of the “erotic professional,” a term coined by Juno Mac and Molly Smith, denotes this striving for respectability by taking on the lexicon of corporate employment, not dissimilar to how “lean in” feminism has tried to adapt feminism for the boardroom. As with the urban professional, our obsessive work culture requires sex workers to say that they don’t just like their job or that it’s simply their best option to survive, but that they actually love it and can’t wait to get to work. Everything gets translated in the language of networking opportunity, mentorships, branding.
In their 2018 book Revolting Prostitutes: The Fight for Sex Worker’s Rights, Mac and Smith explain: “As sex workers we sympathize with the wish to over-emphasize pleasure, freedom, or power. This narrative may feel better than being stigmatized as damaged, an animal, or a piece of meat. However, there is an obvious conflict of interest between a fantasy persona who loves their job and an activist who demands policy intervention to remedy the abuse of human rights at the workplace. Using just one persona to assure your clients that you love your working conditions and also highlight how inadequate they are is a difficult line to walk.”
There’s a saying in sex work organizing circles: “It takes about two minutes to radicalize a sex worker,” meaning that they are people who implicitly understand injustice. Whatever your feelings about her, Daniels has skillfully walked fine lines: the porn star who wanted to be on The Apprentice has become the sex worker who understands injustice and fights it at the top, knowing very well that the most powerful and petty man in the world will try to make her pay for it.