CAMGIRL: Isa Mazzei Unveils the Enigma

In an industry still so unknown to many, Isa Mazzei opens the door and lets us in for a peek, providing a raw insight into the world of camming. In her memoir ‘Camgirl’, former sex worker Isa takes the reader on a compelling ride that explores the highs and lows of the sex industry. Be warned, this book is an addictive page-turner that will pull you by the heartstrings in such a captivating way that you will feel as though you are reliving the events yourself. Even if you have never experienced anything similar you will laugh, cry and somehow relate to the trials and tribulations Isa encounters.

Sex workers are chameleons by nature; they have the unique ability to morph into a number of personas in their professional, and often personal lives. In this shoot with Isa we explored the concept of reinvention, depicted through a range of iconic characters throughout notable eras. In conversation with Isa we explored her memoir, her work as a screenwriter and the vital voice she shares as a past sex worker for the sex working community.

Isa Mazzei

Your book Camgirl is an incredibly raw recount of your life as a sex worker in front of and behind the camera. What encouraged you to open up about your past as a sex worker?

During the process of selling my first film, CAM, I realized just how little most people knew about the camming industry. Many people had a lot of misconceptions about me because of my background, and many people only wanted to hear the juicy details of my career, rather than being interested in getting to know me as a person. I realized I wanted to give people a book that covers not only the exciting, glitzy side of things, but also the human side, the nuanced side that is present in any profession.

And while writing the book started from this place of wanting to bring readers inside my experience in the industry, the process of writing the book became more about taking this really transformative time in my life and exploring what it meant to me, personally. There is a huge power in telling your own story and reclaiming your narrative. For me, this book was a reclamation of identity, and owning all the parts of myself, even those I don’t necessarily like.

Did you experience any fear at any point, or were you afraid of how people might respond?

I’m always afraid of what people will think about me! I think that’s a natural part of being a human. I want to be liked, and I want to do a good job of representing a community that I credit with saving my life. I’m really hopeful that other cam performers will like it. And the book itself is obviously really vulnerable, and there’s a lot of fear that comes with that. I’m afraid of how selfishly I behave in the book, and afraid that people will judge who I am today for how I acted then.

Ultimately, at the end of the day, I try to remind myself that I wrote the book I wanted to write. I tried to stay true to how I thought about things then, and I tried to stay true to how I remembered things, not necessarily looking them up to be exact. As much as writing this book has been about a reclamation of identity, it’s also been an exploration of memory – what left an impact, what didn’t, what have I held onto all these years later? I think revealing myself like this is the right thing to do. I think telling my story is the right thing to do, to try and continue the work I want to do in the world. I try to hold onto that when the doubt creeps in.

What are the biggest misconceptions that you’ve faced as an ex-sex worker since coming out?

People have a lot of misconceptions about sex workers. I’ve been told there’s no way I write my own work, that because I’m a former sex worker I’m somehow incapable of being a writer.  I think that’s a huge misconception about sex workers in general – that sex workers are talented at only sex work, or more than that, that sex work takes no talent. Every single sex worker I know has a myriad of skills in many areas, and a lot of the skills used in sex work are super transferable to other industries. That’s a huge thing I wanted to address in my book: all the behind-the-scenes labor that goes into sex work that often goes unnoticed.

How do you respond to any criticism or negative responses?

I have had some panic attacks when people talk about me or my work in a way that makes me feel like I’m being misunderstood. That’s part of the struggle of being public about this — not having control over what people say about me. But I try to think about it the same way I think about the negative responses to CAM. Looking back, there are some things about CAM I would do differently, and I’m sure I’ll look back on my book and feel the same way. But I’m always evolving and growing as an artist and as a person, and that’s the exciting, wonderful thing about being human: being able to mature, and get better at my craft. 

What inspired you to write about the camming world through a horror lens in the Netflix film Cam?

I think horror is great at building empathy. I wanted the audience to empathize with, and root for, a sex worker protagonist. And I wanted them to be rooting for her to go back to sex work. More than that, horror can be a safe space to process trauma. It’s a place to explore what terrifies us in a place we can escape from. I wanted to explore something I had felt in my own work as a camgirl – this loss of agency over my own image. When I had my shows screen-captured and pirated, I felt so violated. I felt like there was this version of me out there that in no way linked back to who I actually was. My name was wiped off it entirely. I wanted to explore this loss of agency, and in a way, I was able to process that through Alice’s journey.

How did you make the transition from camming to writing films?

Both were extensions of my artistic practice in that both, in their own ways, are explorations of myself. I can’t fully separate one from the other. Rather than a transition, it feels more like an extension of what I was already doing.

As someone who has revealed a large part of themselves to a small segment of society through camming, has it felt liberating to reveal that person to the rest of the world?

A huge part of the book is about reclaiming my identity. So yes, it’s very liberating to reveal who I am to the world and to not have to hide any pieces of myself anymore.

Camming girls, and sex workers in general, are professional chameleons in the way that they are able to take on numerous personas. If you could pick one alternate persona to live with for the rest of your life, what would it be?

I’d be myself. And it’s only very recently that I would answer that way. For a long time, I was looking for who I was supposed to be, and I really, very deeply, disliked myself. I’m finally learning that I’m worth loving and honoring, exactly as I am.

Isa Mazzei

Now that you’ve finished your first memoir do you have any plans for future books?

I do! I want to continue the story. In a lot of ways, CAMGIRL is a beginning. And I’m excited to share what comes next.

It’s unfortunate that sex workers (particularly women) are still branded with negative titles after opening up about their past. Do you think that increased education about the nature of sex work can help to remove any negative stigma, and hopefully push for law reform?

Decriminalization leads to increased safety for sex workers. And it’s time for legislators to recognize that. And it’s important that the people voting for those legislators understand who they’re voting for, and what issues matter. Sex work is work. And I think increasing education, sharing stories, and pushing for more authentic portrayal in mainstream media is an important step towards a world where sex workers are safe. The more people learn about sex work and speak to, or read work from, sex workers, the more that stigma will disappear, and the more people will choose to listen to sex workers and what they need, rather than deciding from the outside what is best for them.

Isa Mazzei

How important is it for you to encourage positive representation for sex workers, even now that you are no longer involved in the industry?

It’s incredibly important to me, and even though I’m no longer a camgirl, that doesn’t mean I don’t stand by everything I believe in surrounding sex work. Sex work saved my life, and I don’t say that lightly. It gave me the tools to process my trauma and it taught me how to build boundaries around myself to finally feel safe. I will continue to fight for authentic representation of sex workers in all industries, no matter where my career takes me.

Do you intend to continue sharing the stories of sex workers through film, or are you planning on moving on to other narratives?

My approach towards storytelling is one of activism: I always try to find the lens that is going to do the most work, whether it’s creating empathy with a type of protagonist we might not be used to, or directly confronting societal norms in how we treat women, women’s bodies, or trauma. I have a lot of projects in the works! Some include sex worker characters, some don’t. There are a lot of important stories I want to tell.

Pre-order your copy of Camgirl here, out on November 12th.

Credits

Model: Isa Mazzei @isaiswrong

Photography & Interview: Sahar Nicolette @theyshootthem

Styling: Branden Ruiz @branden.ruiz

Makeup: Laura Dudley @aleroglow

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