Traumboy / Traumgirl: 'I wanted to show that sex workers are multifaceted individuals with complex stories'
- Arusa Qureshi
- 8 August 2019
This article is from 2019
Parallel shows exploring sex work in all its forms
Daniel Hellmann's solo show Traumboy – part of Pro Helvetia's Swiss Selection Edinburgh – provides a unique insight into his experiences in the field of sex work. Having initially met Anne Welenc during their theatre studies in Bern, Hellmann went on to team up with the actress and performer for a collaboration that would result in her creation of Traumgirl, a new response piece performed in tandem with Traumboy. As the pair head to Edinburgh with their respective pieces, they explain how their shows address the challenges of life as a male and female sex worker.
AQ: How did you come to create Traumboy and how did you first connect as performers?
DH: I created Traumboy because I felt that it was necessary to show an insider perspective of a sex worker, who doesn't have the experience that most people would expect when they think about prostitution. In Traumboy, I'm presenting myself as a sex worker who is a man, who chose to do this work and who suffers not from the work itself, but from the stigmatisation around it. These elements might come as a surprise, but they dismantle the stereotypical image of the female prostitute who is somehow coerced into this field of work. I wanted to show that sex workers are multifaceted individuals with complex stories.
DH: With the premiere of Traumgirl approaching, how do you feel, Anne, about making this new piece and about having it presented next to Traumboy?
AW: I'm extremely blessed to do Traumgirl for the first time in the context of this festival. In fact, it is a show that is outing me, in many ways, as a sex worker. It is worrying for me to think about what might happen afterwards. [But] I feel that everyone in the team that invited us is extremely sensitive about the risk that we are taking and we are definitely aware that it will cause controversial discussions and strong feelings, both towards the show and also towards me as a person. I try to be prepared for everything and I'm aware that I will not be able to draw a complete picture of this part of sex work, but hope that it will make people start asking questions.
AQ: Do you think sex work remains a taboo subject in the context of art?
AW: I think sex work is, in any other field, a definite taboo – but not in the arts. For me, it is the only context where it is discussed and presented in multiple ways and from the people who are actually in contact with it.
On the other hand, many forms of sex work are missing in the discussion, which is the attempt with Traumgirl. There are many artistic works about extraordinary fetishised forms of sex work or sex work that is in the field of healing or about sex work happening under precarious conditions out of horrible political global circumstances. Traumgirl focuses on the field of sex work in between these extraordinary and highly interesting fields. There are 'ordinary sex workers' that are not politically engaged or trafficked, but trying to make a living for themselves, for their families, under the given circumstances of a capitalist structure. And as long as everyone still has to work, they deserve a respectful public discussion about their working circumstances, where they are taken seriously as workers and not as victims.
AW: Daniel, it's been around four years since you premiered Traumboy and I guess you may now research or present things differently. What has changed?
DH: When I was working on Traumboy four years ago, I was artistically at an intersection. I was still singing in opera productions and feeling at ease in the fields of 'high culture', yet at the same time I felt as much at home in underground contexts like sex worker protests or sex-positive parties. Traumboy was an attempt to show that these worlds can very well exist in one and the same person. Over the past few years, and also as a consequence of the exposure I have had with Traumboy, I moved more and more away from the classical art context and my art, my activism and my life choices have become more radical.
Looking back at the time of the premiere, I have one big regret, which is that I didn't consider that my family would also have to deal with the stigma that comes along with it. Many people confronted my parents with weird questions, as if they had failed their job as parents, because their son was performing as a sex worker. Suddenly my performance project had an impact not only on my own life beyond the stage, but also my parents' lives.
DH: Anne, what are your goals and wishes for this year's Fringe?
AW: I would hope to leave the audience with a feeling that sex work and sex workers are as complex as every other field of job and everyone that we know. I would love for people to question the global conditions of work, educational resources, migration conditions, valuation of foreigners, and our value system towards women in general instead of blaming and judging them. I don't want anyone to feel guilty but responsible and interested. There are so many spaces that I was not able to explore, but I hope that Traumgirl is able to trigger that.
AW: What are you hoping that audiences will take away from each show?
DH: Having Traumboy and Traumgirl next to each other allows us to look at the central questions more precisely. I hope that both shows can contribute to the debate of how to politically and legally deal with sex work. The two works show realities of sex workers in Switzerland and Germany, where the legal framework is totally different than in the UK and grants sex workers more rights and autonomy.
I hope that audiences will walk out of the shows emotionally and intellectually stimulated, with more curiosity, more listening, less prejudice and maybe also with their libido awakened …
Traumboy / Traumgirl, Summerhall, until 25 Aug (not 19), 8.10pm, £12 (£10).