WRITING: RANDI BERGMAN
PHOTOGRAPHY: SOPHIA WILSON
Given that we’ll all be trapped in our bedrooms for the foreseeable future, it seems like an opportune time to feature someone who has always made the most out of hers. Rachel Rabbit White is a poet, sex worker, advocate and party girl who frequently hosts naughty shindigs at her Brooklyn abode. And it hasn’t stopped during quarantine—she’s currently holed up with a group of girlfriends and broadcasting their antics on Instagram (they’re reading tarot, dressing in lingerie, playing show and tell… you know how it goes).
Recently dubbed “hooker laureate of the dirtbag left,” White is something of a legendary figure on the New York scene. In former lives, she was a sugar baby and a columnist for Playboy—but you can never be too sure about where one existence ends, and another begins. White is vague on the details in a very Lana Del Rey way (when I ask where she grew up, she replies, “In the rural heartland, small town.”).
“I love to ask people, ‘Which Spice Girl is your mom?’ she says. My mom is probably Baby.”
White recently published a collection of poetry in Porn Carnival, a book that oscillates between confessionals about her life as a sex worker and nods to a youth spent being scared of anything horny. In one of her poems, “The Heart is Delirious Above all Things,” (Annelise Ogaard directed a short film of the same name starring White alongside fellow poets, Sachi Flower and Anton Ivanov), she writes;
“As a child my monologue came in the voice of an adult male/ I grew up alone and afraid of anything sexual/ The Adult Male Voice taught me how to read in a truckstop bathroom on a machine promising Her Pleasure, Tickler, Tingler, Tease Her, Pleaser, Glow in the Dark next to the image of a female nude/ the voice like a past life slipping away/ I knew to be afraid/ not of the nude but of never being alone not even in my mind.”
“I want to point out the use of the word pleasure in this poem, a word I probably would’ve encountered in a sexual context as a child, like the name of a strip club on a highway, on the copy of a condom machine, or on a late night commercial for phone sex,” says White. “Obviously my distaste was about, among other things, the ways that sexuality is always through a male gaze, the object of sexuality being female and my own assignment as female in life which made me not want to grow up, made me terrified, made me resentful, made me want to disappear.”
White’s male gaze-dominated childhood is a far cry from how she lives today: her home, a hedonist’s paradise, is full of Sapphic artwork, wigs, sex toys and decorated whippet canisters. “I end up hosting parties because I purposefully put my money into building a space for my friends and community, where we could convene, hang, have rituals, or simply get high,” she says. “The pillow pit is magical. There are two tigers, a lion, and giant pillows for lumbar support.” It also makes for a fabulous photo shoot locale, as we found out when we visited her last month.
Her living room centres around a freestanding stripper pole and bright pink crash pads where we lay out her binder of Spice Girls memorabilia. “I love to ask people, ‘Which Spice Girl is your mom?’” she says. My mom is probably Baby.” White’s favourite was Ginger, then Sporty, which she sarcastically describes as “not gay at all!”
‘Home’ as a concept is something that comes up frequently throughout Porn Carnival, which she addresses in her poem, “I Dream Again of Houses:”
“I know the four legs of a dining table/ I know of expectations absorbed maternally/ I know comfort shouldn’t determine one’s actions/ that you can have love or money/ but not both/ yet, know I’m told I should’ve saved/ and not enjoyed it.”
“I guess this is to say, as I long for security, for a home, I don’t agree with this need. Life is just a brief flame,” says White. “I don’t want to spend it chasing some bougie dream. I want to dance in the street with my friends, build each other up. That can be a home too.”
For most, nostalgic mementos include teddy bears, love notes and birthday cards. For White, they’re letters from dead friends in prison and a diary that details her relationships with boyfriends who she met through the fences of a juvenile detention centre that was in her hometown. “Maybe my shyness explains how I started, at age 14, to date kids who were in and out of incarceration,” she says. “Long phone calls. I could still have an obstacle to the physical, which I wanted but feared. But it was also about an early forming empathy and sense of justice, seeing this fucked up system around me.”
But White’s not like other girls (she’s one of the rare occasions in which that expression actually rings true). “Maybe that’s my Sagittarius sun, my Cancer moon,” she says.