Jake Hall's Search for Radical Self-Expression

Category: POV Podcast

Author: Aria Vega

Journalist and Mel Magazine staff writer Jake Hall has covered everything from art and fashion to the adult industry. Primarily focused on sexuality, Jake is most interested in “the niche within the niche,” telling stories about underexplored aspects like queer fashion and exploring gender identity via sex work. This show features explicit language and sexual content, and is intended for a mature audience.

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Theme song by LAS ODIO

Podcast Transcript:

Aria Vega [00:00:00] [Voiceover]This podcast contains explicit content. Listener's discretion is advised. POV by Lustery explores culture, politics and creativity in the sex industry, one point of view at a time. I'm your host, Aria Vega.

Aria Vega [00:00:17] Jake Hall is a sex journalist based in Sheffield, UK. They've written for various digital publications including Huffington Post, Vice News, Refinery29 and our very own POV. Currently, Jake is a staff writer at Mel Magazine, where they cover subcultures within sexuality, including the adult industry. I'm always excited to meet fellow sex writers, and learn just how they came to follow this quirky career path. It turns out Jake has written about art and fashion too, and finds a common thread between all of these arenas.

Jake Hall [00:00:54] [Interview] I guess art and fashion are quite often commodified sex. I think there are certain forms of sex that are being made accessible through various mediums. So you look at, for example, nudity in fashion. You look at the fact that sex workers will get banned for posting naked photos on social media, but yet designers can do it, and it's fine. I think it's like... I was interested in sex and sexuality as, I guess, a vehicle for expression. And yeah, I guess self-expression is the hread that binds them all, really. I was always fascinated to people that expressed themselves differently because I was looking for myself in a way, and I also had zero sexual confidence. And I think some of the artists and the designers that I saw seemed to really have that, they seemed to have it in spades, this kind of brashness about their sexuality, and I really admired that, and just became fascinated and delved deep into it.

Aria Vega [00:01:40] [Voiceover] Being a creative, let alone a writer, wasn't quite the future that Jake was imagining while growing up in England in the aughts.

Jake Hall [00:01:48] [Interivew] My family, my entire bloodline, pretty much, are like miners or laborers. I knew that wasn't going to be that, at quite a young age. So you try to figure out, OK, where do I go next? Where do I fit in? And fashion and the arts and also sex work, to an extent, I just always thought queer people were overrepresented in all of those fields, but in a way that they kind of like claimed it. And that was quite inspirational to me at a young age.

Aria Vega [00:02:14] Mm-hmm. And have you always been a writer?

Jake Hall [00:02:18] Hmm.. kind of.. no, I don't think so!

Aria Vega [00:02:21] Tell me about that journey.

Jake Hall [00:02:23] I always enjoyed it, and I kind of was told from a young age that I was quite good at it in school when I was doing assignments, but I never really felt this like deep burning passion to write. It wasn't like I kept loads of journals and stuff like that. I wasn't that kind of kid. And I think I struggled to express myself quite a lot when I was younger. And even now writing about anything remotely personal, I still kind of clam up; I still find it quite difficult. I don't think my writing is very confessional, and that's something that I struggle with a lot. I think I really enjoyed writing as a form of storytelling, which is weird because I've never written fiction, but I think it's been more about— for me, at least— trying to just tell stories and shine lights on lives aren't normally spotlighted in the media. It was more of like a storytelling vehicle that drew me into writing, and compelled me. I read a lot of fiction, and a lot of memoir, and stuff like that as well, to try and get an insight into the boring, mundane stuff that people don't really talk about. I always find those little details the most interesting.

Aria Vega [00:03:27] [Voiceover] Now, don't be fooled, y'all. Mundane is not exactly how I'd characterize the subjects that catch Jake's interest as a writer. Some recent articles of theirs for Mel include one entitled, "The Very Flexible Men Sucking Their Own Cocks on OnlyFans," which seems pretty self-explanatory. Plus, an exposé of the anal-only lifestyle, a community of straight folks who don't engage in vaginal intercourse. It's exciting for Jake to write for a publication that's so willing to explore these super niche subjects in an already-offbeat industry.

Jake Hall [00:04:03] [Interview] Every idea is heard, and I think just... It's always kind of looking at what's already out there, and trying to dig deeper. It's always about trying to find a new way into a story, or looking at the kind of like niche-within-the-niche, which we know for a fact that basically every other publication won't be covering. Because when it comes to sex, you'll maybe have like a little clickbait article here and there, or you'll have it discussed in a very educational, often quite dry way. Thank God there's much kind of scope to write about sex in a way that's human.

Aria Vega [00:04:31] Yeah, yeah. And I bet it helps a lot that Mel in particular, is such a sex positive, and especially pro-sex work, publication, which is always exciting for writers like us. That's not the case everywhere. What has that been like to have that kind of creative freedom? You've written for a lot of different publications, and I imagine you haven't had that everywhere.

Jake Hall [00:04:54] Yeah, that's true. It's been great, it's great that I can just talk openly about the fact that I've worked in sex work and that won't be a thing. I think that's maybe the biggest difference, is that I feel like I can be open about my past experiences. I think sometimes I recoil from confessional writing, but I think being able to be open about my background has enabled me to build a connection of trust with a lot of sex workers. I think what makes me really happy is that sex workers who have every right to hate journalists actually will openly say to me that they trust me, and that's a massive deal. And I think they know that Mel has their back as well, because we consistently show that with the work that we put out. So I think that's the biggest difference. It's not something we kind of pick up and put down when a story comes along. I think it's something that we're constantly working on, and I guess we're constantly working to nurture relationships within these communities that really don't trust the media.

Aria Vega [00:05:46] Yeah, and like you said, don't trust the media for good reason. The best stories are going to come from the journalists and the publications that have taken the time and taken the initiative to nurture and build those relationships, as you have. It's a big part of why your work really stands out. You say that you have shied away a little bit from confessional writing, but there is a personal essay from you on POV called, "How an Unwashed Tracksuit Unleashed My Inner Dom," which I loved so much. It's riveting and really unique. Where did that story come from, given that you tend not to write personal essays like that?

Jake Hall [00:06:29] I think, first of all, it came from having worked with Lustery pretty consistently and knowing that I felt trust. I think also knowing that it was kind of like... Lustery, for me, I felt like I'd worked with a community of people. And I knew, I think more so than any other publication that I've worked for, that when it came to anonymity if I wanted it, when it came to a final say on edit, that would be on me. I came to sex work really in a big way, I guess, a few years ago. I think up until that, I've done like occasional cam shows and that kind of thing, but I never really delved deeper into it. And then, especially during the pandemic, it started to be, I guess it felt like a little bit of a release, and it also was a way to make money.

Aria Vega [00:07:11] ...A safe way!

Jake Hall [00:07:13] Yeah, exactly. I was living in a house share at the time and I wasn't having the best time... Not that— It wasn't too bad, but it just kind of became, I guess, like an escape. I was definitely having a lot of thoughts about gender, and I guess just trying to figure out how I felt about self-expression and that kind of thing. And sex work to me is really interesting, because sometimes I would present really femme on cam shows, and I would notice the reception that I got was very different as when I presented as more masc in cam shows. And really, the tracksuit story just came from me being lazy, really fucking lazy. I couldn't be bothered. I was horny at like 4 p.m. and I was like, Fuck it, let's do a show. And I didn't particularly feel like I was living my full femme fantasy, I wasn't! Up until that point, I never really considered dom work, but then people were like approaching me as a master, or as a dom, purely because of the way that I was dressed, which I found really fascinating. It changed my relationship with sex work, because before it had been a place for me to kind of express fully femme and be OK with that, but then it also kind of drew in this new idea of how I can play with masculinity, I guess? That's why I'm really fascinated, especially because... I don't want to say 'all the time,' but I think a lot of kink culture is very kind of straight-dominated. I've seen some YouTube videos and conversations within the community about, you know, for example, if you're domming and you want to have aftercare, and make sure that everyone feels cared for in that way. And I just heard some stories of some straight guys that hadn't particularly done that. You know, they were straight guys, but they had queer subs, and sometimes it didn't always go well. So I kind of thought, OK, coming into this kind of dom space, which is is very hypermasculine, coming into that from like a queer perspective. I just thought it's really interesting to explore it more, and that's where the essay came from, really.

Aria Vega [00:09:17] And I know that there are other articles that you've written in which you have explored the connection between sex work and gender expression. I'm thinking in particular about — I believe it was for Mel —the article that you wrote about the experience of transitioning for porn performers, and the level that that adds to their experience. Do you give a lot of thought to how gender identity and sex work can intermingle within a person's experience, and also within our communal and collective experience?

Jake Hall [00:09:45] Yeah, hugely. There are so many strands to it, I think. First of all, when we see mainstream discussions around sex work, I think people— and I don't mean actual sex workers— often people want to frame it as something that's empowering. It almost feels like when you're coming from a place of... people campaign for decrim [decriminalization], and I think instead of focusing on the actual workers rights aspects of it, people try and frame sex work is something that's inherently good or inherently empowering. But the reality is that, I mean... I know that before I was doing cam shows, I had a very complicated relationship with my body, and I was kind of struggling to, I guess, find any shred of empowerment within that, because sometimes you will get fetishized in ways that you don't want to be. So I guess, yeah, I was thinking about questions around agency. Also, sometimes how the way that you're viewed can impact your own view of your own gender, and also just the fact that you are selling your body, right? You're selling an image of your body, and then people start to feel some kind of entitlement over that. I've definitely had it in cam shows before, because I have something called gynecomastia, and which basically means that you have too much breast tissue for a cis guy. And because of that, I never found it easy to be topless, or I never wanted to be topless. And then I feel like doing sex work and seeing my body on a camera started to change that. So it was really fascinating to look at, when your body changes on camera, how do people respond to that? And then do people start to feel like they have some kind of agency over that? I had a hunch, just from conversations that I've had in the past, that that would be the case. So I just really wanted to dig a little bit deeper, and it turns out this is the case. Not always, but sometimes.

Aria Vega [00:11:24] [Voiceover] Much of Jake's experience with online sex work has overlapped with the pandemic. As it turns out, time in quarantine provided Jake with yet another opportunity to examine their gender under a microscope, which is something that's not always safe to do outside.

Jake Hall [00:11:41] [Interview] I lived in Berlin for a while last year, and a guy tried to attack me on the street.

Aria Vega [00:11:44] Oh my gosh...

Jake Hall [00:11:46] I had felt really great about myself and was presenting my gender the way that I viewed it, and it felt good. But then it just takes that one person to do that one thing, and then before you know it, you're back to square one, your confidence is shot. So I think having those ways to play the gender expression in a safe space, like in my own house, and be able to do that without... I guess not without consequence, because cyberbullying is definitely a thing, and I definitely got some abuse in some cam shows, but it's safer. It's been really monumental to a lot of people to figure out these big identity questions, I guess.

Aria Vega [00:12:21] Well, I know you're not a big personal essay person, but I think you have a lot of really interesting experiences to draw on. So do you see yourself perhaps exploring more personal work in the future?

Jake Hall [00:12:35] I have started writing, just notes to myself, and I try to start writing notes when I feel good specifically, or if I feel bad, I will acknowledge that I feel bad, write it down as like a form of catharsis, and then write what felt better, or what helped. So I'm trying to kind of write an experience-based log of when I feel shit, what helps me feel better. And I've kind of inadvertently started writing more confessionally, just for myself, and it actually has been quite cathartic, which I... I don't know why I thought that wouldn't be the case. I really don't know why. I never thought, "This might feel good!"

Aria Vega [00:13:14] Because we don't want to think that it's going to help! Because once we know it's going to help, then we have to keep doing it.

Jake Hall [00:13:20] Yeah, and I'm like, Great, I have to do this every time I feel bad now? Great! I have been doing it and processing it. I think that's the thing is, it's something I need to practice more. I think I need to practice vulnerability more, in general. I'm used to other people being quite vulnerable with me, and you know, that's also like a very difficult thing, because you then have the responsibility of having those people's words in your hands.

Aria Vega [00:13:44] Wow, I really relate to that. As a sex educator and a sex journalist, I am very comfortable being in a position of being the one dispensing the knowledge or amplifying the knowledge, or basically taking others' stories and turning them into whatever it is I'm making. And then as soon as I go to write just a little bit about myself, I'm like, Oh, wow... It puts into perspective what we're asking of our sources. Do you ever think about that when you're doing your writing or, you know, ultimately when you're in therapy? I feel like it'll make us better journalists.

Jake Hall [00:14:24] Yeah, and I think it's important, like I always try to hold that space for people in my everyday life. It's something I try and practice quite a lot. People do come to you with incredibly vulnerable stories, especially because sex— like, there are so many insecurities and vulnerabilities tied up in sex. So when you're talking about sex, whether that be sex work, sex ed, whatever it is, it's a massive responsibility. I think just learning to be okay with that and being like, Okay, this person wouldn't have talked to me if they didn't trust me. The biggest thing that I always try and do is to hold myself accountable. If anybody ever wants to message me and say, I didn't like this, or whatever, I'm always open to that happening, because I think ultimately that's the only way you ever learn and move forward. And I'm just trying to move through creating that space for myself, trying to think about, OK, what do I actually do when it comes to other people? Active listening, or just offering reassurance. I don't give myself that reassurance to say how I really feel, so I think that's a thing to work through. And I do, like I said, I think confessional writing, it could be a vehicle for that, definitely.

Aria Vega [00:15:24] Well, it's definitely apparent that you feel that sense of responsibility for the stories that you're telling, especially because you use your platform to advocate for some of the most marginalized members of our community. What inspires that aspect of your work? What what makes you say, it is my responsibility to amplify these types of stories to bring about justice, it seems like as your aim?

Jake Hall [00:15:49] I guess? I don't really know...

Aria Vega [00:15:53] How would you put it? I don't mean to put words in your mouth.

Jake Hall [00:15:56] No, it's okay! I don't know, I grew up very sheltered. It's very working class, but very white working class, and it kind of feels like you're surrounded by people that are similar enough that you don't have to really look outside of that. And and 18, I moved to citites for university, and then just got new friends. Obviously, as you get more friends, you hear about other people's experiences. And that I definitely... My family's always been quite leftist, I've always been quite leftist. But then I think it's just kind of looking into queer history, looking at the criminalization of sex work for literally no good reason, looking at people that need rights that would be banned from those rights because of stigma, it's like, Well, if you're in a position to have a platform to write about things, then why not write about things like that? I just kind of have always stood pretty firm on that. I think there's definitely still room for me to improve, in terms of advocating for the most marginalized. I think it's a constant process. And that's where it comes to accountability and checking in, because there's always more we can do. I think a lot of discussion around allyship is lacking. It frames allyshiy as a burden, or something that you should be rewarded for, whereas I think it's okay to acknowledge that nobody's in the place where they're finished, there's always more to be done. I think instead of framing that as more work to be done, as in like a bad thing, it's just like every new conversation, every bit of feedback helps you move closer towards that next step in the journey. It's never done.

Aria Vega [00:17:18] Yeah, and I think just divesting from that whole idea of there being a finish line of some sort, you know? If the work is done right, it will never end because even once whatever short term goals are reached, then the work of defending that progress begins.

Jake Hall [00:17:36] Definitely! I've kind of shifted away from using social media as a platform to just writing about it and articles, because I think it when comes to politics, when it comes to any kind of political marginalization conversation, there's always going to be new ones, right? There's always going to be complexity. And I think a lot of the times I see that complexity really distilled by social media, in a way that arguably sometimes does more harm than good. I think especially when it comes to white allyship and people kind of like play their points on social media by just tweeting, Black Lives Matter. Which like, yeah, cool, but like, what are you actually doing to back it up? And it's something that I see a lot with trans issues or queerness. People pick it up when it's a hashtag and then leave it. So I think articles, they're longer form, so there's more leg room to convey the nuance, and there's also more room to convey that no marginalized community is a monolith, even within queerness and transness, and all of those kind of community discussions. There's so much infighting and disagreement on how to progress and how to move forward, and I think it's important to hold space for those conversations because they're important.

Aria Vega [00:18:46] That's Jake Hall, sex journalist and staff writer at Mel Magazine. You can find them on Twitter @pornoqueer. Are there any other sex writers out there who like to write about everyone but themselves? You should totally come on the show to chat with me about sexuality, vulnerability and storytelling. I want to explore all the ways that we can approach this work. Send an email or a voice memo to askaria@lustery.com, or you can find me on Twitter @vegadreamcast. You can always remain anonymous. If you're into the show, please leave us a five star rating and review. POV is brought to you by Lustery, and this episode was hosted by me, Aria Vega. It was edited and produced by Kathryn Fischer and Adrienne Teicher, and our showrunner is Paulita Pappel. Lustery is the home of real life partners filming their sex lives behind closed doors. If you're 18 or older, you can find us at lustery.com, and we're on Twitter and Instagram at Lustery POV. Bye now, lovers!