The following interview may not be safe for some workplaces.
I got in Milcah’s maroon Scion at SFO. We’d never met before. A tiny white candle burned between us in the middle console and it made me nervous at first, but she was so astonishingly tender that nothing could possibly catch on fire.
The image I had of Milcah before we met was of a young hipster punk with black hair. She’d wear boots. A scarf. Her knees would be exposed. She’d glance at me between drags of cigarettes with her squinty filmmaker eyes. The eyes of filmmakers twinkle with obsession; they want to capture the uncontrollable. The same way surfers love the ocean, filmmakers are in love with light. She smiled with a full set of braces. She was much younger than I expected. And her phenomenal thick black virgin—never-been-dyed—hair fell over her face. Girls with hair like that fuss. They bind it, braid and spray, but not she.
Milcah films herself masturbating on the Internet for pay. We sat close at a picnic table in a vegan café and shared a dainty bowl of pink beet soup while I asked her why. Milcah’s twenty-two, the same age I was when I first started stripping in the 90’s. Back then, the girls I worked with made it look ultra sexy: Danielle Willis in expensive purple lace lingerie sets. Tattooed bellies that jiggled under black light: non-stop porn playing from old TVs that hung from the ceiling. Our eyes glowed beneath. Web cam porn seems like an ideal sport for today’s feminist sex worker. It’s solitary and self-reflexive with no audition, manager or boss. While masturbating for her clients, Milcah directs and films herself to her chosen music in her own environment.
There’s an unexamined notion that young women who decide to enter the sex industry are fractured/tragic and they march into the industry to fill a void, seeking the childish validation they were denied in their abusive homes. But, as Stephen Elliott wrote in a recent Daily Rumpus, “Sex work is not the abusive home.” The common ideology that sex workers are sad and sexually abused is sexist, the same way that Lacanian lack is sexist. On the surface, Milcah’s upbringing was unusual and difficult, but what is fascinating is how she has digested it; her extreme warmth and lack of bitterness turned her life into art. Her story reminded me of Joan Didion quoting Georgia O’Keefe during an infamous interview: “It is what I have done with where I have been that should be of interest” (The White Album, 126). I pictured Milcah camming in her room on her bed, tea light candle ablaze and I knew that there was nothing lacking about Milk. She is whole.
The Rumpus: Sex workers never use their real names. Why have you decided to use yours? What if your family, grandparents or brothers find out? What will you tell them? What do you think their response will be?
Milcah Orbacedo: My full name: Milcah Halili Orbacedo. My sexual name: Milcah Halili, meaning Queen Beloved, my mother’s maiden name, my former “jealous girlfriend,” the woman whom my father molested in front of me and raped privately, a strong, lovingly severe, goof of a woman. Milcah Orbacedo is what I go by, my writerly name, and the name of my father who majored in journalism in the Philippines, a man of business, eloquence and charm. My name is important to me. As much as my parents have hurt me I love them with all of my heart, and I want to rebuild a new name for them, honor them. It’s my roots, where I came from, and I respect my past. I have so much pride in my name; I couldn’t possibly try to be someone else. I want my mother to be strong and my father to be understood, and the way that I feel I can do that is through taking their name, my name, and changing what it means with dignity. I think there’s a rapist in all of us, a person consumed by one’s hungers, and a victim, a person terrified of those hungers. But these are not ugly things; it’s just a part of the give and take of life. I honor and respect the extremes, acknowledge they exist, and choose to float uncomfortably in limbo, in between the spectrum, and carry myself with pride. However, I’ve always been afraid of my own voice. Something about permanence I think. Saying things out loud made them real, and as a child I learned how words could stay ingrained in you forever.
My brother Adriel already knows, he’s super chill and understanding. In fact, that boy’s taught me a thing or two about being queer. My brother Jeremy is cool with it as well. My relations with most of my family are estranged because most of them weren’t there for my brothers and me when I needed them the most, when my parents left. I’m assuming my whole family will eventually find out and if they should come at me with any judgment, I hope I have enough love in myself to say to them, “Thank you for everything you’ve done for me. I am grateful. But I’m okay and you don’t need to protect me. Only God can judge me. Please let me have my peace.”
Rumpus: Tell me about when and why your mother left, where your family is from, what your room looks like. What is expected of you as a woman in your family? When did you discover you were sexually different than other people?
Milcah: I’ve been moving constantly after my parents left my brothers and me. It’s a blessing if I stay anywhere over six months, a miracle if over a year. My father left to the Philippines when I was eighteen, my brothers were fourteen and thirteen. He was going to leave anyway to start a better life financially, but his departure was brought sooner when my illegally immigrated step-mom threatened to kill my half-brother, the police were called, and she got deported. Shortly afterward, my mom left us as well to explore America and find better financial fortune because she couldn’t afford rent here in California. My brothers and I had no money and home. I’ve been nomadic ever since. My mom came back a few months ago, started taking care of her kids again. I’ll be moving back into my mom’s garage until she leaves for good in June. Then, I’ll go back to supporting my brothers. I’ve always been an extra parent in my family. I was expected to mediate and pick up the other parent’s slack, clean up after any party’s irresponsibility, damage control. I’m sure this is what has lead me to my current professions and I know it’s not my job to take care of other people’s kids, but who else is going to raise these orphans? So, move back I must.
I am twenty-two years old. When I was twelve, girls made me nervous. I had been a good Seventh Day Adventist Christian girl my whole life and it freaked me out. I thought I was gay for a while until I met a boy I swooned real hard for. Then, I fancied myself queer until I became obsessed with having relationships with men. I dropped labeling myself for a bit because nothing seemed fit. After a lot of false starts and dysfunctional relationships and lying to myself, I realized I am an asexual who is obsessed with the interpersonal narratives of sex. I see sexuality as fluid and labels as boundary placers instead of definite states of being.
Rumpus: That fluidity reminds me of Irigaray’s Speculum de L’autre Femme (1974) where she celebrates the multiplicity of feminine sexuality as a way to rupture conventional representations of women. How and why did you decide to start camming? What attracts you about being seen?
Milcah: I’ve been naked all my life. To be otherwise feels unnatural and suffocating to me. I decided to start camming the beginning of this year after doing a few nude photo shoots and having my friend film my masturbation. I heard camming was a good way to make money, and I thought it would be fun, that I would be good at it because I feel like I have really engaging conversations and I think myself amusing and why not. Intimate communication is my specialty, and I feel like I can reach people. Because I’m so comfortable with myself, I feel like I’m giving others the OK to feel comfortable within their own skin too. People really need to hear that, that they are OK the way they are, and they aren’t told that enough. We’re usually bombarded with messages and advertisements of how we are inadequate. Emotional manipulation sells.
Rumpus: You have a website/art blog where you point your finger at Stephen Elliott and myself for getting into the industry. You wrote:
Antonia and Stephen have instilled a passion in me for sexualities that oft get pushed to the margins, for infusing me with different views of expression and communication and love that too consistently gets overlooked.
Aside from outer influences, the internal forces driving my getting naked in front of the lens are:
I want to be fancied, however superficial that fancy may be. I want to use my sexuality to my advantage. I want to demystify the body. I want to change its politics. I want to change how we communicate, change language itself. I want to. Simply. I don’t care how controversial that is. I don’t find it a big deal. I care what people think. I want to be liked, perhaps not entirely, but at least enough that I can leave my house without it becoming a social-paranoia-ridden problema. I am not devoid or incapable of human emotion. I am not weird—at least not radically so—and I enjoy “normal” human activities just like any other Joe, but there are naked portraits of me online and I don’t care because I’m the one who put them there.
Milcah: You’re the reason I seriously considered doing sex work in the first place. I’ve always thought I’d be good at filming porn when I first became a filmmaker at the age of eighteen, but I figured it was just caprice until I happened upon your column. So, that’s why I’m so attached to you, I guess. You were my initial inspiration.
Rumpus: I hope it’s a positive experience for you-a place of discovery where you can thrive, personally and financially. I hope it will be useful to you in your life, that you love yourself and value yourself while being heard and seen and jerked off to. Your response is wild because I once wrote a response to a letter from an eighteen-year old girl advising her to not strip, because it didn’t fit into her life plan (a job in law enforcement) so it would’ve been detrimental to her goals. When you talk about your videos, you get giddy. And it seems safer than other forms of sex work. You seem compelled to do this.
Milcah: I’ve found that my most regrettable rejections have been when I didn’t show myself fully and honestly. So now I exhibit, or neurosis comes. I’ve decided to use my real name because I’m not ashamed of what I do. The idea of having to split and compartmentalize myself makes me feel nauseous. I am not sometimes a sex worker. Work is sex, and everything is work. I am always working (workaholicism is a real affliction), always having sex. I am always communicating on some wavelength.
Rumpus: Do you see any similarities between being a caregiver and the sex industry?
Milcah: I feel like being a caregiver and working in the sex industry are very similar. You get to see people in such a stripped-down, childlike state. Caring for the old is as caring for children and caring for the sexual is as caring for the childlike version of oneself, the part willing to play. I believe that sex comes from the same kind of play and suspension of disbelief that we are allowed when we are young, that society fills our bodies with shame as we age, and that sometimes the only way to relieve ourselves of that shame is through sex. And sex is such a disarming thing. It requires certain vulnerability. In both professions, both parties have to trust me with their bodies. That’s a scary thing. It demands that I be open and understanding, which requires a lot of patience, and a willingness to play, to go along, to humor, to say, “Yes,” and to respect and protect the person whom I am servicing.
Rumpus: I wonder if that shame you refer to is the reason why this culture is so invested in punishing sex workers and their patrons? Also, I find your caring nature and innocence very refreshing in this context. What do you hope to accomplish while embarking on this career change or will this just be a supplemental side job?
Milcah: I am planning to switch from being a full-time caregiver to being a full-time Internet floozy in a couple of months. I hope to change the way people define and view sex and sexuality because both change for me daily and for some reason I’m often dismissed because of my fluidity. I want to tell other fluid people that they are okay. I hope to do this through my live shows and also through my porn. I think a lot of porn lacks breadth. I want my porn to be both aesthetically pleasing and erotic, to have breathe, embodiment and intimacy. I won’t do a vag shot just for the sake of a vag shot. I don’t have anything against it, it’s just not my style and it’s not what turns me on.
Rumpus: Why do you think people in this culture react so strongly against sex workers? Against clients? Against women?
Milcah: Human beings are so warped when it comes to hungers. Look at eating disorders. The same way we approach food is the same way we approach sex. The sex industry is the land of hungers grinning shamelessly at a society sullied in shame, and society’s got a monopoly on hungers, what’s okay to hunger for and what’s not. To feel hunger is to feel weak and vulnerable, and society is strange about feeling weak and vulnerable. These things get such a bad rap; we are not allowed to be these things when they are a natural part of being. We have to save face and be so strong all the time, because to be otherwise is unacceptable. I think people are just afraid to see others naked—it’s a threat to their own image, someone unwilling to ever be naked at all in their lives.
Rumpus: Have you ever felt exploited and if so when and why?
Milcah: Many times. Who hasn’t? Everyone cheats and gets cheated. That’s just a part of life. If I ever feel exploited, then I leave the situation in which I feel so. Otherwise, it’s consensual sadomasochism, and not in the healthy sense. I was exploited the first day I did a live show. I did a Skype show and I should have asked the guy to pay me first. I knew better, but either I hated and undervalued myself that day or I wanted to believe in the goodness of others because I’m gullible. He tried to make me believe he was to be trusted, communicating with me that he wanted me to trust him, that I could, and offering me advice on how to work my room since it was my first day. So, I gave him a pretty badass show for someone who’s never done it before. And when I realized I was scammed and I wasn’t getting paid, I cried a little and it didn’t feel any worse than how I felt when an ex-lover came in me when I told him not to. Or, how I sometimes feel when I feel like society generally undervalues me as a human being because of horrible educational cuts and outrageous prices on goods that get hiked up year after year while the value of the dollar goes down, when I am treated as a commodity instead of a person. Minimum wage is hardly enough to get by. I remember when my parents left I was working a part-time job for minimum wage. There was no way I could have survived if I had stayed working that job, which I couldn’t anyway because the business had gone under.
Rumpus: If you could film anyone alive or dead having sex, who would it be and why? You have a film about poly love. Do you have many partners? Is this an interest of yours?
Milcah: If I could film anyone alive or dead having sex… I want to say something hip like Tura Satana, but honestly I’d really like to film one of my friends in their forties having sex with someone they love. I feel like bodies in their forties are beautiful, a good mix of young and old, and I find them aesthetically pleasing. Maybe a single mother having sex, I don’t know. I’d like to take desexualized bodies and show others how sexy they can be. I’d also really like to capture intimacy communicated freely. I have many partners, but not in the way most people frame them. My partners are my friends. My friends are people whom I consider part of my tribe. I’m a relationship anarchist. My interest isn’t so much in having multiple partnerships but many friendships infused with a mix of romantic and a-romantic elements, a loving, supportive village. Partnerships are usually distinguished from other relationships due to their exclusively romantic and sexual nature, but my intent, my endgame in partnerships isn’t traditionally defined romance or sex. My sex doesn’t include genitals most of the time. I have sex with all of my friends because I like being intimate and naked, exposed to someone else, because to expose is to give and I love to give. I guess you could say I have a lot of queer platonic relationships. I feel very lucky. I mother everyone.
Rumpus: Are you concerned with the permanence of the footage? Do you have control over the footage? Why or why not?
Milcah: About as much as I’m concerned with the permanence of my writing. I think permanence is a myth. I’m not sure I believe in forever. I believe that in the moment, something can feel like forever. But once that moment has passed that forever is gone because if you ever recall that moment of forever again, you’ll be seeing it through another lens colored by whatever experiences you go through in the future. Your relationship to that forever has changed; it’s not really forever anymore. Lewis Carol once wrote:
Alice: How long is forever?
White Rabbit: Sometimes, just one second.
I believe in the fluidity of time too. I attribute that mostly to The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch. Life is nonlinear. People will find different parts of my narrative at different times and usually not in chronological order. My films are a part of a greater whole, drafts, constant revisions refined over time. Each film is a frame of a larger roll, and to define an entire roll by looking at one frame is to misunderstand the roll completely. I have control over my films because I shoot them myself or I have my friends film me if I can’t do it personally. I also direct and edit everything myself. I have full artistic control and that makes the perceived permanence of the footage much less threatening. It means that there is less room for my integrity to be compromised.
Rumpus: Where do you want to be more than anywhere?
Milcah: Right now I’d especially like to be next to any one of my friends so I can kiss them on the cheek. Thank you for letting me be naked around you. You are my home.
Milcah’s videos, NSFW: