“Radical Permissionist is a term I first heard used by intimacy coach and self-described ‘pleasure warrior’ Dr. Hazel-Grace Yates. Those words really resonated with me as a title that I felt finally encompassed all of my work as an erotic laborer, as well as my personal ideals around intimacy,” says Mae West, lead artist and performer in the upcoming production “$7 Girl.”
“To me, a Radical Permissionist is someone who pursues and embraces pleasure, for themselves and for others, with a focus on eradicating shame and welcoming the complexity and diversity of desire. Radical Permissionism is for everyone, and pertains not only to sex, but to everyday life,” says the Memphis-born artist who moved to Philly four years ago.
They add, “I feel like this philosophy is easier to understand when shown rather than described, which is exactly what ‘$7 Girl’ seeks to do.”
“$7 Girl” is the latest piece by Almanac Dance Circus Theater, a group that devises autobiographical performance art and includes a lot more flipping and aerials than your standard stage production.
This show examines West’s experiences as a queer, trans sex worker and, according to the company, “explores the personal, political, and industrial aspects of sex and sexuality as Mae questions the possibility of a world in which their worth is no longer attached to dildos and dollar signs.”
“I’ve been a sex worker for seven years now,” says West. “I began as a stripper, and now have experience across many areas of the industry, both online and in-person, under criminalized and legalized conditions. I’ve been very privileged to always work indoors, and have done erotic labor both by choice and as a means to survive under capitalism.
“Much of my work centers advocacy for the decriminalization of pleasure and sex work in all its forms.” They add that they also volunteer for organizations that support sex workers, like Philadelphia’s Project Safe.
The timing for this show is as relevant as ever, West says. Folks in sexual industries are more and more marginalized in the era of FOSTA-SESTA, including in legal spheres like stripping and porn. Adult entertainment – a field largely populated by women, as well as queer, trans, disabled and otherwise marginalized people – faces banking discrimination, social media censorship, and stigma that can make it hard to leave the industry if a person chooses.
Despite the dramatic 180 turn by Only Fans, which first announced last week they would no longer allow depictions of sexual activity on their site, only to “suspend” the changes a few days later, there is still an ongoing financial and social war being waged on sex workers.
“I watch as my co-workers, friends, and loved ones enter risky situations every day just to survive. Some don’t come back,” says West. “It doesn’t have to be this way, and together we can work towards decriminalization to ensure autonomy and safer working conditions for ALL people within the sex trade.”
But despite this, West is optimistic and ambitious, especially about the potential impact of this production. “I feel like we’re at a social tipping point where people are eager to take action for those who are most vulnerable in our communities,” they say, adding that “it’s so rare to see these issues tackled on stage in this way. I believe expanding people’s personal views on sex and labor inevitably catalyzes deeper thinking about capitalism, white-supremacy, and the worth we subconsciously attach to others, which is absolutely necessary to spark social change.”
West has been working on this project for about two years, and while they will be performing it solo, the piece is a collaboration with other Philly artists. It’s co-directed by Mia Donata Rocchio and Ben Grinberg, in collaboration with Nathan Alford-Tate. Emma Luz contributed sound design and original music.
“$7 Girl” is appropriate for audiences 18 years and older, and includes discussions of sexual abuse, violence, and sexual situations. Tickets are available now for the first look showings Sept. 19-25 at the MAAS building, as part of the 2021 Philadelphia Fringe Festival.
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