Body to Job
By Christopher Zeischegg
Published by Rare Bird Books
Shit, you guys.
Okay. When I met Danny Wylde, he was an active performer in mainstream, and some feminist and queer, porn. We were both drawn to the conversations around feminism, sexual empowerment, and pornography that were trendy at the time. I was a fan of his artistic work and writing and his performances. I interviewed him about his work in mid-2011, by which time we’d been orbiting in the same porn-related intellectual spheres for some time. In early 2012 I interviewed him again, on video, for my series of documentary films: Consent.
These days, he’s retired from porn and has delved into his creative pursuits as a writer of novels and essays, an art filmmaker and sometimes performer, and a musician. He’s also the creator of a line of hot sauce that I have yet to try. Over the years, I’ve tried to read and watch as much of his work as possible. (For instance, his “industrial terror” band, Chiildren, just did a cover of Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have My Money” that I fucking adore.)
And I’m a weird half-fan, half-critic of it all. Because here’s the thing: I’ve always found his art and writing devastating, in both good and bad ways. A lifelong fan of horror films, Zeischegg goes dark, and he goes dark hard. In all his work, I’ve always found an edge of nihilism, even an indulgence in a kind of moral ambiguity that dovetails nicely with a nihilistic worldview. And scares me. It’s not a view I share, but it’s one that I find myself poking around, again and again. I’m interested in it. I’m drawn to people who espouse it. That’s because I find it frightening, in a “Oooh let’s explore this haunted house!” kind of thrill-seeking way.
So, I was excited to read Body to Job, Zeischegg’s newest book. It’s a memoir that veers off into fiction. Magical realism mixes in with bleak reality to make a book that’s engaging, darkly funny, revealing, and straight-up terrifying, all at once. This is basically a book-length compilation of the things that rivet me and upset me about Christopher Zeischegg, in one gleaming package. It’s a look at his porn career—the bizarre marriage of disposability and intense pressure that were applied to his body during that time. A dive into the miasma of depression that his forced retirement from porn dropped him into, and the stomach-churning places that his mind took him to during that time. It’s a difficult exploration of relationships and mental health problems. An unflinching, hard stare at the intersections of sex and money, self-worth and observation. It’s brutal. And it’s beautiful. And it destroyed me.
I read the book in small bits over the period of several weeks, and almost every morning, I woke up thinking about sex work and capitalism. Porn and prostitution. Art and death. I don’t know if I’d been dreaming about these themes, thanks to reading Body to Job, or if my subconscious, somewhere between asleep and waking, was obsessing over it in more lucid ways. Or both. But whatever the case, the book crawled under my skin and stayed there.
Because here’s the thing: I’m a sort of obnoxious optimist. I’m the opposite of a nihilist—I choose to find meaning in most things, and I often force it where it doesn’t fit. Especially in my work as a sex and porn journalist, I focus on the positive, the empowering, the good stuff.
But I’ve never done the work. My experience with outright sex work is almost all on the consumer side. And something about my experience with Body to Job made me sit up and realize that part of the reason I write about sex work for a living is that, deep down, I want to feel okay about my role as a consumer of sexual media and services. I want to be helping people, sure. I believe that it’s important that sex workers and non-sex workers to understand each other better. I’m proud of what I do. But, in placing myself in the equation as primarily I consumer, I think I write about these issues a lot because I want help myself by not feeling guilty for being a part of the transaction. I want to force positivity into the narrative, sometimes in places where it doesn’t belong.
But in Body to Job, Zeischegg takes apart the walls that form my personal, hopeful, carefully constructed bubble, stone by stone. Methodically. By writing about his personal experiences and feelings and imagination about these issues, he shows the vulnerability that his career foisted upon him. It’s brave, and it’s brutal. And I was so obsessed with it that I found myself poking around the edges of it as soon as my eyes opened in the morning. In the evenings, out with friends, I’d secretly be thinking, “Fuck, I just want to go home and read.” And when I got home and started reading, I’d think, “Fuck, this hurts. It hurts good.” It was my brain being stretched and pushed. And it didn’t feel good. But it sure as hell felt.
Look. This book is good. It’s smart and well crafted. It’s a fucking bull in a china shop.
Fucking read it.