I Went on MSNBC To Talk About Sex Work, Spitzer, and Weiner, And I Survived
Michael is one of my very favorite people. He always says the right thing. In the language of recovery, one might say that he’s good at “rightsizing.” He doesn’t minimize whatever’s going on or my feelings about it, but he doesn’t make it into a bigger deal than it has to be, either.
He was the only person I told ahead of time, just in case I embarrassed myself.
As some of you guys pointed out in the comments of this article, I was a punkass bitch for not going on MSNBC when Melissa Harris Perry invited me last year. You were right and I sort of regretted passing on that opportunity. So when I got a personal message via Facebook from Chris Hayes telling me that he liked my article in NY Mag and would I like to be on his show, I definitely wanted to consider the offer.
I was so flattered that he’d personally contacted me rather than inviting me via a producer that I was honestly concerned it was not Chris Hayes at all but some troll and that perhaps I was being punked. I reached out to a Facebook friend, Rebecca Traister, who had been on his show the very night before to ask if it was even possible that this was real life and she assured me that it was probably him and that I should totally do it.
In recovery, they tell you to never say no to service. When you’re asked to do something, they say, you suit up and show up. In some respect, it’s also a part of my job as a blogger. Taking my message to TV, there’s the potential to reach a broader audience, and to get my point across in a new way.
There’s no better way to say “Hey look, former sex workers are people too!” than to say it straight from a real live human person’s mouth. And hey, look at me, I’m the girl next door! You don’t have to be mean to me -- why, I’m not scary at all! And I’m articulate, thanks to all those advanced degrees (ahem, thanks to my having worked in the sex industry).
And they do your hair and makeup, and send a car, so never mind that I didn’t have the train fare to get to and from NBC Studios at Rockefeller Center -- it would be taken care of. I had no excuse not to say yes.
So I said yes.
I borrowed my neighbor’s pearls. Deneen had just had a baby, and so her mom was visiting from Florida.
“Where are you going?” Her mom asked. I’m going to be on TV!
“Melissa’s a sex writer!” Deneen explained in that tone we use when explaining things to our mothers.
Tara, the producer, met me in the lobby of the studio. She told me how brave I was and how I was an inspiration. Within five minutes she was telling me her own story. She kept saying “it’s apples and oranges” but I kept thinking, no, please, start comparing my story and my experience to other women’s stories and experiences, starting with your own. I am not unique, people! Yes, you CAN relate!
That is why I talk about my personal experiences: to get across the message that everyone’s got a story, and they’re sort of no big deal, except that they’re made into big deals, and then THAT becomes the problem.
The segment that night was about the sexual double-standard facing women in public life. We’d connect my experience being put on blast on the cover of the NY Post with the scandal involving mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner, who was also on the cover of the NY Post for his sexual indiscretions, and how women are so much less likely to be forgiven than men.
One of the messages I’m always trying to get across is that current and former sex workers are neither victims nor villains but human beings with backstories and complicated lives. Women who make themselves sexually available -- for whatever reason -- shouldn’t be discredited or automatically disqualified from serious public service. And yet, oftentimes, this is exactly what happens.
They were putting me on with Krystal Ball, who is honest to God my frickin' hero. I remembered when Krystal was running for Congress in 2010, and a conservative blog obtained and published years-old racy party photos of her. In spite of the graceful way she handled it, some would say it totally derailed her campaign. From the rubber room, I read this epic piece she wrote for Huffington Post that inspired me to stick to my guns, believe in myself and never apologize for things I wasn’t sorry for.
Krystal showed up looking fabulous with her baby and everyone was excited to see her because she’d been away on maternity leave (today she’s the co-host of MSNBC’s “The Cycle”). Then they put me in makeup and then they put me in the greenroom, which was actually green. Tara got me a free cup of coffee, which I needed. They put another woman in the greenroom who apparently did TV appearances all the time. She was there to talk about labor laws or something. She asked me what I was going to talk about and I said sex.
“Weiner?” she asked.
Yeah, I said, although I was hoping while on air to avoid saying his name.
I told this nice lady all my fears about live TV, starting with my fear of saying Weiner on TV and looking obviously embarrassed, or accidentally swearing (Can you say “shit”? How about “badass”? What about “whore”?) or totally freezing, or just not looking good -- like there’d be a glob of spit hanging from my lip the whole time or an errant hair across my face completely distracting everyone from my message, fear that I will humiliate myself, fear that people will be mad at me, fear I am unloveable, fear I will get completely derailed from my talking points, fear I will say something I vehemently disagree with and they’ll just replay that part again and again and again.
The woman in the green room told me don’t forget to smile.
Then I met Chris Hayes, who was nice in a “I don’t really have time for pleasantries” kind of way. To his credit, he was probably just treating me like a fellow professional, rather than a fan. I wanted to tell him how I used to watch him when he was Rachel Maddow’s underling, before he came into his own. He asked me how old I was and I couldn’t remember so I said 33 (I think this is correct) and that I couldn’t remember and did anyone else ever have this problem, or just me?
“Just you,” he said.
Then they brought me on set. And we did our thing. “Our thing” is a hot white flash in my memory. More program help that became useful: act as if. Hey, I watch "The Newsroom," I TOTALLY know what the hell is going on!
At the commercial break, they brought out Krystal. With the cameras off, Chris and Krystal talked about their kids. For them, it was just another day on the job. Then they joked about how awful the NY Post is and what terrible, horrible people must work there and how those people must KNOW that they’re terrible, horrible people and how this knowledge must eat them up inside.
This was awkward because some months ago I totally would have agreed but then I met Michael, my number one guy -- the guy that actually convinced me to face my fears and come on the show that day -- and, well, it’s kind of a funny story but he kind of sort of actually works for the NY Post. Umn, yeah, ironic. I wanted to say something about how, actually, there really are no villains in this world -- just a whole lot of complicated people leading complicated lives -- but the producer guy was like “20 seconds” and so I just kept quiet.
And then soon enough it was over! Yay!
So now you know that if you are ever called to be on a cable news program, it’s not that scary at all. In fact, like most scary things that are actually fun, the second it was over I kind of wanted to do it again. (Cable news programs, you can find me on Facebook, just like Chris Hayes did, wink wink). Oh, and incidentally, you can totally say the word “whore” on cable TV. I know, because Krystal Ball said it first.