Virginia de Diaz & Jara Lopez
Cameryn Moore is a powerhouse. From a Mormon upbringing to a long stint as a phone sex operator and the creation of the international dirty storytelling event series Smut Slam, she has defied convention and carved her own path. She hosted the first Smut Slam in Boston in 2011 and has since expanded into 16 different locations including Melbourne, NYC and Brighton. In 2017 she made Berlin her home, bringing Smut Slam along for the ride.
Smut Slam Berlin has become one of the city’s best events, packing out Friedrichshain’s Lovelite venue on the third Monday of every month. The format is simple – it’s an open-mic dirty storytelling event. Willing audience members put their names into a hat, and if their name is picked out, they get five minutes to tell their tale on stage. The stories can be funny, heartwarming, shocking, poignant, sad, sexy and a whole lot more. Above all, they have to be consensual, true and free from discrimination. On any given night you can hear about failed hookups, successful encounters, hilarious misunderstandings and personal discoveries. It’s the full gamut of human sexual experience.
One reason for the success is that people love a good story, especially when it’s related to sex. A bigger reason for the success is Cameryn herself. She brims with energy, enthusiasm, drive and charm. As a host she keeps everything and everyone in check, is prepared to educate people when they cross a line and strives to give the event an atmosphere of true inclusivity.
Cameryn is more than qualified to host an event related to sex talk. She worked as a phone sex operator for a number of years and it’s fair to say she’s probably heard it all. LOLA’s Sex Life Editor Kate Lis met with Cameryn to find out how she got to where is today.
Kate: Just take me back a bit, where did you come from? What’s the story?
Cameryn: I was born and raised in a Mormon family in Oregon. I left the church, renounced it to my family when I was 13. Then I lived with my family for another four years until I went to college. The Mormon church is a very conservative church, and I left it because 1.) I didn’t like the fact that all the people doing important things in church on Sunday were all men. 2.) I was starting to experiment, sexually, with boys my own age. I could tell there wasn’t any room in the Mormon church for that at all. The Mormons teach you about female sexuality along the lines of the ‘Flower being spoiled’ metaphor. Or ‘your body is a temple’ metaphor. Someone I heard recently said, “My body is a temple! I encourage many people to worship here!”
That was probably the thing that shaped me and, personality-wise, I’m very stubborn. If someone tells me I can’t do something I’ll just dig in and push hard the other way. Suddenly I found myself wanting to do things and the Mormon church was saying I couldn’t do those things, and I responded, “FUCK YOU, YES I CAN!” And so I just went off and did them. I am not on real terms with my family, they know where I am in the world, but they don’t understand what I’m doing. I have six brothers and sisters, and only one of them really knows my website, where I talk about having done phone sex for a living and all the shows that I do and I’m not sure that she even checks it regularly, but she knows who I am.
The longer I stay here, the more I think this is the city I should be in.
K: How did an aspiring American artist/performer end up in Berlin?
C: Berlin was my second choice when I first moved across the Atlantic. I moved to the UK to be with my partner and we thought we could make it work and I thought I could make it work as a performing artist there and get the right Visas, but as time wore on over the course of a few months, I realised how unsympathetic the UK is to immigrants of any sort. Artists are not the kind of population that most countries are that keen to bring in because we’re perceived as being flakey and not really bringing any value in, even though artists bring a lot of value to a country. Berlin, as a city, is really cool with artists. The longer I stay here, the more I think this is the city I should be in. This is actually the place where I should be, and now my partner is moving here.
K: You are a writer and you perform with a lot of different shows. You’re also very open about having worked as a phone sex operator. All these things mix together in much of your work. What was the timeline of all these things?
C: I went off to college and wasn’t really thinking about any of this stuff. I studied Russian language and literature. So my first degree is in Russian. I know Russian for some reason. There were no career counsellors at my school! They didn’t tell me!
When I came back from Russia the third time, I went into library work because my partner’s mother was in the library system at a university. I did work at a library and I thought, “Oh! That’s working with books. That’s cool.” I could never just say I wanted to write until finally, I did. And I started writing for a newspaper. I was doing food writing, and some arts writing as well.
Then I got into dance, at a really late age for dancing. I started taking dance classes when I was 28 and fell in love with dance and performance. I created space for plus-sized people who wanted to dance. I started this whole organisation there, it’s called Big Moves. I started writing plays and parody musicals for that group. I’d write scripts and create dances for, basically, this community dance theatre troupe.
The audiences didn’t want to hear dirty stories. They were not there for sex. Smut Slam was my response to that.
I stopped doing that group around the same time that I started doing phone sex and they say you should write about what you know. Suddenly, I had been laid-off by my job and I was very isolated. Then I was spending all my time, 14 to 16 hours a day, on call. Waiting for guys to call and talk about their dicks. That’s where I wrote my first solo play called “Phone Whore,” based on my experiences doing phone sex. And so that’s really where my life as a performer started. In terms of content and my own work as a performer, “Phone Whore,” in 2010 was where it just got started. I was turning 40 that year. I’m a late-bloomer in terms of finding my voice.
Once I started doing that play, I was writing more about sexuality topics for my solo plays and Smut Slam started in 2011 in Boston. I was going to regular story slams, no sex at all. I would show up there, wanting to tell a dirty story and the host would always say, “Sure we’ll take it! That’s great, bring it.” The audiences didn’t want to hear dirty stories. They were not there for sex. Smut Slam was my response to that. This was something I was interested in, I should make an event. If I want a space for myself and it’s not there, I’ll make it, rather than wait for someone else to step up to it.
K: I’m very curious, does phone sex still exist?
C: I think so! I mean I did stop doing it at the end of 2016 when I moved over to the UK. It was not as strong necessarily, as it was 20 years ago, but certainly, at the end of 2016, I was still getting calls. It’s mostly because, with phone sex, you can do things that you cannot do in real life. By that, I mean things that are physically impossible, legally problematic or unethical. You can play with the fantasies in phone sex. You can do things with tentacles that you could never do except in hentai anime. It did keep me afloat. I was still getting food stamps. I was still getting assistance for it, but it did provide me with great material for my first play. I kept doing it for a long time because it turned out I was really good at it and it was flexible enough to accommodate my rehearsal schedule. I would still take calls when I was going from town to town, I just stayed with people who were okay with me doing dirty noises in the bedroom. If you are going into a non-exploitative work environment you can generally set up your schedule. If I worked independently I would have had even more flexibility, but I didn’t want to deal with all the independent businesswoman aspects of it. It would just take up so much more time. I wanted to make my way in showbiz.
K: Sex is still a word that may devalue the work or art or expression you do. I’ve talked to people about the notion of sexual freedom, but you talk a lot about artistic freedom as well?
C: I am definitely always interested in reaching out to other artists who have those as themes because we occupy a strange place in the performance world. Where we are not taken seriously for the works that we do even though you get amazing works. But because we’re dealing with sex and sexuality we’re dismissed pretty quickly by critics and by audience members as tits-and-giggles or pandering. We’re not taken seriously, artistically, and then in the sex-ed, in the sexuality world, we are seen as being…too serious? Here’s the thing, even though a lot of my solo shows are about sex and sexuality, they talk about themes that I hope people would be interested in. Smut Slam is a storytelling show. No one’s going to get fucked or flogged there. So, sexuality folks, people who are interested in sex? – fucking and flogging that’s what they want. And they’re not in it to see a piece of theatre. It’s said very frequently, at least in the States, that only three to five percent of the population goes to the theatre. Overlap with people who are interested in sex is not very much. In those two worlds, I don’t really occupy any amount of space, so I guess here in Berlin there are enough people of both of those types, the overlap is hopefully a little bigger. And people are more interested in experimental forms and themes as well.
K: We sex educators strongly believe that the more we talk about sex, the more we can remove some of the toxic taboos. It’s all about presenting this message of sex positivity in many different forms. Cameryn’s tools are the stage and the microphone. Though Smut Slam is first and foremost entertainment, there is always room for the so-called “small educational moments”. How do you balance serious content at a lighthearted event?
C: I think what people don’t really understand is that there are so many personalities out there, and they’re great hosts, but they can also be super snarky and sometimes bitchy and sometimes taking people down in their commentary. The thing about Smut Slam is that we do have that balance of openness to everything. Being open to people’s kinks and not having judgment around this stuff. And at the same time, having moments where you have to challenge people who just told a story that maybe was sexist or racist, or transphobic, or involving nonconsent and, as a host, you have to be able to step up and challenge that in a way that is clear, but not exiling them either. I do not want people to tell stories about the way things are/have been, but I’m trying to create a culture about where we want to go. So it’s my job as the host to say, let’s have that conversation because clearly, you haven’t had it yet with anybody. That is the hard part. The hosts that end up doing Smut Slam are exceptional in that way. They all have to have that warm inclusive personality.
K: Have you noticed any differences between Smut Slam events in different cities?
C: Berlin has a strong polyamory international group that has been coming en masse since the beginning. Drugs and alcohol, also, because it’s a party city. But drugs and alcohol are always present in a fair number of sex stories anyway. Especially when it comes to like trying something new! Because a lot of people feel like they can’t try anything new unless they’ve had a couple of drinks. I think generally people come to Smut Slam because they are curious or open and that’s always the tone. And the other thing about Smut Slam is I, as the host, set the tone. I would guess if you were to go to any of the Smut Slams I run they would all have the same kind of feel.
K: There’s clearly a lot of people at the event who consider themselves sex-positive. But it’s interesting that even within these communities, we have to keep educating ourselves. It’s really important that there’s a critical comment once in a while from the community. That we don’t always pat ourselves on the back of all of the time.
C: Sometimes in the sex-positive world, it’s all about the pursuit of pleasure without thinking. The pursuit of pleasure is so important that people aren’t necessarily thinking about how it feels on the other end. If they’re trying the Pokemon approach to partners- Gotta catch ‘em all- they have a list of people that they want to try out. “I want to be with a lesbian. I want to be with a black person.” How does that feel to be on the other side? Sometimes swingers or people who are new to polyamory are not thinking about the ethical ramifications, so those are also educational moments. Sex-positivity can get too wrapped up with focusing on the positives and not what the actual implications are. I prefer the kind of work that I do to be less about sex-positivity and more about sex awareness. That includes things that are positive, that are challenging, that are negative, or problematic. All that has to be a part of the discussion.
* Special thanks to Kaitlyn Richey for the transcription and editing of this feature.