Audacia Ray Talks Media Making, Diversification, and Self-Identity

Audacia Ray

Audacia Ray, sittin' pretty beneath her red umbrella. God how I covet those tattoo sleeves.

Dear readers: I know you come here because I know everything about freelancing ever, and because you love my pretty pretty smile. But every once in awhile, I like to give you the chance to soak up someone else’s wisdom.

To that end, I’m super-duper-excited to introduce Audacia Ray, a prolific media maker and advocate who’s has been an inspiration to me since I started in the sex writing biz almost 10 years ago.

I first met Audacia when she was leading a Safer Sex for Sluts workshop at Sexy Spirits in Manhattan. I began reading her blog soon after, tracking her career as she spread sex positivity through books, magazines, movies, and more. For a short time, I volunteered at $pread, the magazine by and for sex workers that she was the executive editor for. Later on, I did a write-up for New York Press when Audacia had a launch party for The Bi Apple, her porn directorial debut. And I read and loved her book Naked on the Internet: Hookups, Downloads, and Cashing in on Internet Sexploration.

Talk about diversifying! (Can you see why I so love and admire this woman?) Nowadays, Audacia is the Program Officer for Online Communications and Campaigns at the International Women’s Health Coalition, and the co-founder of advocacy organization Sex Work Awareness. Audacia also hosts a monthly storytelling series, The Red Umbrella Diaries, where people who have worked in the sex trade gather to share stories and document their experiences. Their latest live event is this coming Thursday, August 5, and you should probably go. (Even better, you should go with me.)

So what can you learn about freelancing from Audacia?

1. The bio on your website explains how you became involved in “the vast world of sexuality.” How is it that you eventually turned to various forms of media as a means of further exploring this passion?

I wouldn’t say that I “eventually” turned to making media. Media and storytelling have always been an integral piece of my work on sexuality. My first job out of college was a hybrid of the two — I was part of the inaugural curatorial team at the Museum of Sex. In that job, I tangled with representations of sexuality, and began to explore different ways of telling the story — plus I did my first interviews with journalists.

Creating a public record and telling stories about my own and others’ personal experiences has always seemed both compelling and political to me, and since I didn’t see representations I liked out in the world, I set out to make them myself.

2. It seems to me that you intuitively knew to diversify before “diversify” became the latest, entrepreneurial buzzword. What led you to turn down so many different avenues of the media world?

I’m interested in lots of different things, and when I was starting out with new media six years ago, there weren’t as many how to and best practices guides, and I didn’t have money to hire other people to work for me, so through trial and error I learned how to do a lot of different things, like install and modify a WordPress site, shoot and edit videos, do basic graphic design, self-promotion… all that. But mostly, I have the kind of personality that just likes and gets irrationally excited by new challenges — which is why I keep trying new things.

3. And jumping off from the previous question, have you found that there has been any one medium that has worked best, as far as spreading your message goes, or any one that you enjoy working with more than others?

I think the main thing I’ve learned about the different mediums is that they are, well, different. When I started it was with the attitude of — I just need to get my stuff out there and then people will know about it! But over the six years since I’ve started blogging, I’ve really begun to understand how important it is to have a clue, a strategy, and targeted audiences you want to talk to and interact with.

For a web project I’m overseeing right now I did an exercise of thinking up all the types of people who might come to the site, how they’d get there, what they’d be looking for, and what we’d want them to take away.

It’s a good exercise and definitely made it really clear that there is no “general public” — you have to get more precise than that.

I think that text content is still the best way to spread your message online because it’s easily indexed by Google, so if you blog for a few years you build up a lot of content and relevant searches that tie back to your work. The people who read blogs aren’t necessarily the folks who look for podcasts on iTunes or browse video shows on Blip TV or hang out with their friends on Facebook. This is a good thing, but sometimes it means you need to have one or two ways to reach out instead of being everywhere all the time. That said, planning is a great thing — but impulsive experimenting is awesome too, as long as you learn something from it.

4. I’ve found that my readers have a difficult time with identity. I know I do. When someone asks, What do you do? I’m usually at a complete loss as to whether I should say freelancer; writer; editor; career coach; publishing professional; sex writer; etc. How does one summarize the entirety of their professional identity into one simple phrase or sentence, especially when they do so many different things? On your website, you describe yourself as a “media maker,” which is such a smart phrase to use. How has your identity shifted over the years, and have there ever been times when you’ve struggled to define yourself in the context of your work?

My personal struggle with identity is usually having to figure out how much personal information I want to reveal. I’m a former sex worker, and that’s a big part of how I became the person I am today and a big motivation to create media and support sex workers in creating media that represents us in ways that are both accurate and interesting.

I like describing myself as a media maker because I think it captures the spectrum of what I do. It’s always interesting to see how other people describe me, though, kind of an indication of how well my branding is working. Many people describe me as a “writer,” –which isn’t untrue because I’ve been blogging for six years, edited $pread magazine for three, and wrote a book called Naked on the Internet –– but I always find that so strange because I’d never stop my self-description at that word. It’s equally weird when people refer to me as a filmmaker (though likewise true), so it’s not just that one identity that seems strange to me.

5. You also describe yourself as an advocate, and your latest monthly storytelling series, the Red Umbrella Diaries, is your newest form of advocacy. What led you to storytelling as a form of advocacy? How do you feel it helps you to raise awareness and inspire change?

I think that storytelling is the building block of movement making.

Without personal stories, it’s hard to get people to buy into the political aims of a movement.

Stories make difficult topics like sex work real and relatable, not just depressing statistics. I’ve done a wide range of activist work over the past decade, and I don’t think storytelling is the be-all end-all, but it’s a good basis for understanding what you’re working toward and what changes you want for your community.

Over the last two years, I’ve done two annual media training workshops for sex workers, called Speak Up!, and that’s a way to develop the skill set of creating messages and sticking to a story. But as I’ve developed that, I also realized it was important to do stories for the sake of telling them and bringing people together to listen — so that’s what the Red Umbrella Diaries is about. The project includes a live monthly event, an audio podcast, and a blog carnival, and I’m going to start doing storytelling workshops soon.

6. Bonus question! What is your top tip for those looking to diversify, but confused about how they can build a unified platform?

Have a place that brings everything together and links to everything you do. Update it, even if it feels like you’re being repetitive.

Also — make good aesthetic choices. Visual branding is important and good graphic design is really valuable. For people who are primarily writers, this can be a bit of a leap. Hire someone to design a look and feel for your projects — and reference it throughout the different projects you do.


  1. Wow–Audacia has just become my newest role model. After reading this, I crawled all over her website. Loved the CNN interview. Wow. So centered with such tough questions. I would love to attend one of these red umbrella events. Maybe the 9/5 one. Steph–maybe we can make a date?

  2. @Alisa: Wait, do you mean the 8/5 one? Because if so… YES! Let’s do it!

  3. Cool interview. Sounds like she’s one sharp lady!

  4. Wonderful interview, wonderful subject. What a great role model she is for writers trying to find their way.

  5. What an interesting woman and interview. She surely has her stuff together. So much knowledge and insight.

  6. I covet those sleeves too! Sigh, maybe someday.

  7. What I love most about how Audacia comes across is in how she conveys a feeling of movement and progress.

  8. Audacia really has her act together. Impressive. I agree that it’s important to have an overall strategy – for your platform, blog and social media interactions.


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