Come see and be seen with me
Some people have understandably asked how I can give up the platform for art writing that the Houston Chronicle provides in favor of resuming my escorting career while launching this strange new blog. Here’s the thing: the original Devon’s Diary — originally titled Devon the Escort’s Diary — which ran from 2001 to 2004, was actually a much bigger platform for art writing than the Chronicle’s chron.com and 29-95.com sites have ever been. On both sites, art traffic was anemic at best during my time at the paper.
My art posts on Devon’s Diary, by contrast, were mixed in with posts related to escorting, sex and other parts of my life. As such, they were viewed by many more people than have ever read anything I’ve had to say as a Chronicle employee, contractor or freelancer (I’ve been all three). The unfortunate irony is that my art writing has gotten better since the early Devon days, only to make the impact of a tree that falls in the woods but doesn’t make a sound.
Print is another story, for reasons best expressed by Regina Hackett, the former art critic for the former Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which the Hearst Corp. — owner of the Chronicle — shut down in favor of a decidedly lite Web-only operation:
Art magazines and art blogs are the journalistic equivalent of studio art, while an art review in a newspaper is like public art. Anyone from any background might happen upon it.
Where I write now (the blog Another Bouncing Ball) does not exist in a generalized public sphere. A street sweeper on coffee break will not happen upon a leftover copy of this blog and be drawn into a review. A woman getting her heels buffed won’t find it on the empty seat beside her and be motivated to see an exhibit of which she might otherwise not have heard.
For an art critic, the death of newspapers is the death of potential connection to wider worlds. Everyone who reads this blog has a preexisting condition, otherwise known as an interest in art.
In its own way, Devon’s Diary created a generalized public sphere online, albeit one heavily titled toward a gay readership (though hardly exclusively). People came for the sex and got exposed to art while they stuck around.
Why give up on the generalized public sphere that the print edition of the Chronicle still represents? Because the Chronicle has. Its strategy for print involves deliberately shrinking its readership by jacking up the cost and trimming the physical size of the paper — by seven percent with the most recent cut. Luring readers back with quality isn’t even on the table. I learned that when my proposal to parlay the unexpected advertising success of a special museum section, which ran in May when the American Association of Museums had its annual meeting in Houston, into a new-and-improved Sunday arts supplement with beefed-up coverage was dismissed by editor-in-chief and Hearst VP Jeff Cohen out of hand before I could even finish my sentence. Apparently even that success hadn’t earned me the right to be heard out, and all the movers and shakers who had promised to lobby him on the matter neither moved nor shook. (The paper instead moved to do more special sections, which, of course, eat into the time reporters have to cover their beats day in and day out.)
Of course, back when I was doing Devon’s Diary I knew it, like my escorting career, couldn’t last forever, which was why many of my posts turned to the subject of not wanting to be another sex worker who was cast in the garbage when his 15 minutes were up. I didn’t want the first line in my obit — if I got one — to read like one I saw about a famous deceased porn star: “Everything about the life of Linda Lovelace, who died Monday at age 53, was so, so sad.”
So I worked on encouraging people who were in a position to be seen with escorts, porn stars and other sex workers, lending them an aura of respectability, to be willing to do so. I had a catchphrase — I know that ho — that I pictured spreading like wildfire, along with its subtext, which was that this ho had legitimate perspectives to contribute to the public conversation other than which brand of lube is best.
Unfortunately, something so, so sad was also happening at that time: I had allowed myself, despite knowing better, to become another statistic, one of the countless people caught in the most vicious addiction of all, crystal meth. To say that this undermined my effectiveness is the ultimate understatement. More on that later.
Having survived one of the most spectacular meltdowns of all time — more on that, too, later — I eventually scratched and clawed my way into the job I just left, that of Houston Chroncle art writer and society reporter. But the toll of being closeted about my colorful past for seven years — twice as long as my actual escorting career — has finally become too great. I’m retracing the steps of a wild, wild, wild, wild meth-laced road trip that should have gotten me killed many times over, this time from the perspective of an older, wiser — and yes, married (for art) man who is not, despite what some might think, on crystal anymore.
As part of that journey, I’m asking people in the art world and all my other worlds to be photographed with me with the message imprinted on the sticker, the jpeg for which is posted above. (I’ve also asked people to let me tag them on Facebook in the same image.) The more people who do, the greater my chance — and the greater the next Devon’s chance — at an honest afterlife to my escorting career.
Two people — artist (name and photo deleted at her request on Aug. 10), (former) marketing director for Sculpture for New Orleans; and sculptor Michael Manjarris, the organization’s cofounder — have gone first so you don’t have to.
Now I’m heading to Art Basel Miami Beach and the satellite fairs to see how many people, like them, will say, “I know that ho.”