Writing Fiction, Sex Work and Being a Death Doula ft. Vanessa Carlisle

I’m Vanessa Carlisle. I am an educator, author, and coach. I see individual clients, teach workshops, and create content that catalyzes real change.

My clients are: individuals/couples who want to tap in to their sexual expression & embodied wisdom to shift from stuck places; colleges and universities with Gender, Queer, or Women's studies departments who want frank conversations about sex work and the movement for sex workers’ rights; community groups who want some adult sex education; organizations & companies seeking top-notch training in gender inclusivity, consent culture, and LGBTQ issues; writing groups that need more embodiment in their narratives, and more. 

I earned my PhD in Creative Writing, Literature, and Gender Studies from the University of Southern California. I also have a Bachelor's in psychology and a Master of Fine Arts in fiction. I have worked in the sex industries for 22 years. I write and teach on a variety of sexuality-related topics, from sex workers' rights to polyamory, creating healthy boundaries, kinky skills, and more. 

Most recently, I’ve begun work in the field of death care, and am a NEDA Proficient death doula, trained by Going with Grace. This work reflects my larger commitment to body-based wisdoms and shame-free connection. I support people facing the challenges of end-of-life and their families/communities/loved ones.

What We Talked About

Welcome Vanessa Carlisle back to the show! Vanessa is an educator, author, coach, and now also a death doula! 

Let’s talk about her new book, “Take Me with You”. Writing started in 2012/2013, so it’s 8 years in the making. Vanessa describes it as a labor of love (sometimes) with some trauma mixed in.  The book features a queer, sex working, protagonist and is written by… you guessed it, a queer sex worker! 

What does Vanessa think her experiences brought to writing fiction that perhaps might be missing from other writers? 

How did the process of creating a fictionalized version of herself, or avatar, teach Vanessa about Vanessa? 

Vicarious trauma is a thing, folks! Typically, sex-workers, in fiction, are either written as tragic or villainous. In this book, the trauma and drama doesn’t center on the sex-work the character is involved in. 

Erika: “I think you’re speaking to this grey area, experienced by a lot of humans, where we don’t have to spotlight trauma in the job all the time “. Some of the subtler, smaller, experiences that don’t always get a news story can get proper treatment in fiction. Part of the beauty of fiction is that it can give us a picture of something that not everyone is familiar with. 

What would Vanessa hope came across to a baby queer person, or to anyone, really, as they read her book?

What did writing fiction teach Vanessa?  It is a very different style of expression than either education or coaching. 

Vanessa: “I think people believe that, if they watch a lot of Netflix shows about sex work, they think they’ve done research.” Please, do better research, folks.

Which character in the book feels like family to Vanessa? 

Speaking of vulvas (since that's what the season is all about) Vanessa has a death doula story for us!

What is a death doula anyway? Death doula work is in its infancy, as a field. So, it is a type of non-medical end-of-life support, for the dying person as well as for their family or other close loved ones. Actual services can depend greatly on the needs of the person passing and those closest to them. Fascinating stuff! 

Vanessa: “It’s kind of stunning, what we’ve been able to accomplish in divorcing ourselves from death.” When we live in a world where we know that everyone dies, how could we possibly have created a culture where nobody knows how to deal with it? 

There's a lot going on here, folks. Listen in for the full conversation!

How to Find Vanessa

Writing class at Pulp Public School: Writing with Your Whole Body 

Instagram: @vanessacarlisle 

Twitter: @thecarlisle