Deviant Intentions: An Interview with Whore! Magazine

At a recent Sex Bloggers Calendar release party in NYC, I met some amazing people from the world of sex blogging, sexuality education and sex work. But I especially had the privilege of meeting the creative minds behind Whore! Magazine, an amazing group of people I’ve been following on Twitter and in the Blogosphere. Ginger Murray, the Editor in Chief of Whore!, was gracious enough to sit down with me and offer me her thoughts on what is sure to be an interesting force in the editorial world:

Who is behind Whore! Magazine and how did you come together?

The magazine is a collaboration between myself, the publisher and a large number of brilliant writers, photographers, designers and models. About five years ago, the idea for the magazine developed after I’d read The Second Sex by Simone De Beauvoir, The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf, and Soiled Doves by Linda Daly in quick succession. Soiled Doves is an exploration of the lives of Wild West prostitutes and I was struck by how similar aspects of their lives, concerns, and interests were to mine and most of the women I knew – much more so than the journals of pioneer women, with their bibles, copious children, and farm life. That, combined with ongoing discourse on why women are considered secondary and how the media deals with them, culminated in the idea of Whore! Magazine. Not long after, I was at a party with a friend who has a long background in magazine publishing and made him sit down with me while I pitched the idea. He listened somewhat skeptically but when I finished he banged his hand on the table and said, “Let’s do it.” His media company is our publisher and has brought valuable perspectives to the creation of the magazine. Particularly notable among the many talented and committed folks whose contributions made it possible for Whore! Magazine to exist are Kristin Birdsong (writer and managing editor), Anthony Toy (graphic designer), and Irene Strandenes (marketing and Gal Friday). We find new collaborators and contributors almost every day through events, discussion, and social media.

Who do you imagine your audience to be?

I used to read Playboy in high school – and yes, I really did read it for the articles, though pictures of pretty naked girls are always fun. In fact, it was through Playboy that I first read Hunter S. Thompson. I doubt they considered a high school girl to be part of their demographic, but there you go. So when we started this project, we sincerely imagined our audience to be, well, everyone. We still do. We are obviously heavily focused on women and women’s issues, but we have a strong interest in representing our queer readership, sex workers of all kinds, and all sorts of other things. The title serves as its own filter in a way. Most people who won’t pick up a magazine called Whore! won’t be interested in what we’re saying, but just about everyone who does look at it likes it. That said, we are constantly surprised by the diverse and unexpected people who are thrilled by what we are doing.

What social transformational possibilities do you see in the magazine’s message of personal authenticity?

Women all over the world are fighting for very profound and basic rights. In the US, many of us have the luxury of working within a framework that is closer to gender equality than many other places. What does this mean in practical terms? There is still a lot of work to be done on everyone’s perceptions of what being a woman really means. Aside from the obvious question of gender, much of what we address in the magazine relates to very real limitations of expectation. We’re providing a forum where people can see that others may be grappling with the same issues they encounter in their own lives. For example, I exposed my own difficulties with sexuality in the first issue and was rewarded with many of the women I know telling me that they had experienced the same thing. One person I spoke to recently told me she was happy that we were bringing “sexy” back. Another has now become a huge fan of Victoria Woodhull, the 1872 US presidential candidate who was the subject of the historical feature of our first issue. Despite all the progress that has been made since then, there still so much inauthentic conversation about women and their perspectives and such a lot of it has become so politicized that’s it’s difficult to see the real issues. We hope to ease this situation by providing tools and space for people to figure out what is right for them as individuals. And then, of course, we want them to tell us all about it so we can share it with others.

What are some of your goals for the magazine as a whole?

First and foremost, we want to be read by people around the world. We’re based in San Francisco, which has long been a bastion of new ideas and radical lifestyles. One of the best ways for these ideas to affect culture in a legitimate way is for publications such as ours that are challenging the status quo to be read by as many people as possible. Another of our main goals is to create a space for women to talk to and learn from each other. We are dedicated to open, honest, shame-free discussions while also providing information to fuel these discussions. Many people are ignorant of the historical forces that have woven together to form the individuals we are today and as a result certain cultural evolutions have stagnated. We hope to stimulate growth in those corners by exploring issues of sexuality, gender, and society through an informed lens of historical fact, anthropology, and intellectual critique. At the same time, and every bit as important, we would like to help people have more fun.

You make excellent use of social media (especially Twitter) to promote your magazine. What do you think has changed in the recent past regarding how to promote a magazine such as Whore!?

When we first started this project, a lot of people told us that the world of print publishing was dying and the Internet was the only way to go. We disagree and maintain that many people still love to actually hold what they are reading. The right combination or paper and ink can be a lovely object that a computer can never replace. Print also allows for more accessible articles and richer pictures, and the demise of many old-school magazines actually leaves a void that we see as opportunity. We try to use all that the Internet provides to help get our print edition into people’s hands, whether it’s through existing connections, conversations with strangers, or witty (or sometimes not) online exchanges. As much as possible, we use online access to try to form a personal relationship with our readers, which is invaluable in exploring difficult subject matter and reaching a broader audience. We’re active on both Facebook and Twitter, where our social media friends tend to be both radical and sophisticated. They have proven to be incredibly helpful in getting others understand what we are trying to do.

What are some of the difficulties in translating such a conceptual focus as being able to “give dignity to what has been scorned, to make the degraded desirable” into a magazine format that is broader reaching? How have you translated that theme into a larger story?

Actually, I don’t think the translation is difficult. I’d call it challenging and fun. In fact I think a magazine is the best possible place to explore difficult themes. The name sums it up. It comes from the fact that historically most women who actively attempted to advance their situations were ridiculed and dismissed as “whores.” Historically, magazines have always been one of the most accessible forms of media and they have the added bonus of being able to present ideas through the combination of writing and dynamic images. A picture is worth a thousand words, as they say. We could go on and on about how women are objectified by the media. Obviously, they are, but while some of our images are sexy, we are approaching them in a very different way. By recognizing the humanity of all the female models in the magazine, we make our point. Each woman we illustrate has also contributed her writing, perspective, talent, or art to the publication. While we delight in their very real beauty, we also provide them a platform for expressing an active voice.

But I’m not properly answering your question. A big part of our approach is through the visceral presentation of the magazine. Calling it “Whore!” but printing it on high-quality paper with compelling photos and in-depth, well-researched articles is attention grabbing. We are stating that what we are discussing has value and intellectual and aesthetic worth. Before we launched, many people expected us to be a zine or to have a sort of anarchistic agenda. We defy that expectation by giving dignity in print to what has been ignored, scorned, or degraded. Those who might be offended or dismissive of the concept of Whore! have often been swayed over once they actually look at it. Even my grandmother.

Whore! Magazine’s second issue is set to be as packed full of amazing articles and photo essays as the first, with such pieces as a style section devoted to Venetian courtesans and a history of the high heel. Get your own copy of Whore! from their website, as well as other awesome gear such as a Whore! t-shirt or even a coffee mug (which I myself would love to display next to my own computer). Thank you to Whore! for sharing with My Sex Professor and keep fighting the good fight!

About Sarah Elspeth Patterson

Sarah Elspeth Patterson

Masters Student. Sexuality Educator. Bossy Femme.

  • Lionmml

    Looks like fun. :)

  • David

    I find this magazine fascinating because of a newspaper article I read about a year about. Somewhere in the Middle East, Iraq I think … one of those countries that never came out of the Dark Ages … this village of women was staging a protest. The protest concerned the fact that the women were tired of being as uneducated as their men. They wanted to use their brains for something more than chores and children. They wanted an education.

    The men, fearing loss of control, obviously resisted. And I remember reading that the main weapon in the men’s arsenal of words was repeatedly called the women “Whores”. Yep. Somehow, if a woman wants an education, she must be a whore according to these men. I remember thinking, “That’s it?” That’s the best that these men can come up with? Whore? That’s it?

  • David

    I apologize for the misspelled words. I was typing in complete darkness while tired. Never a good combination.