Behind The Veil: ARABELLE RAPHAEL

Updated: Oct 24

Behind the Veil

INTERVIEW BY MOLLY SIMMONS


Arabelle Raphael and Petit Mort leave no stone unturned in this in-depth feature on this cult classic bombshell. From goddess worship, hyper-femininity, to the role and emotional labor of social media, we covered it all in our conversation with her.



PETIT MORT (MOLLY SIMMONS)

To start us off, why don’t you tell me a little bit about yourself—about your journey into the industry, where you started, and where you are now?


ARABELLE RAPHAEL

Prior to sex work, I was just a nude model. I became more and more interested in making more graphic imagery and content, so I applied to multiple sites and was accepted and didn’t have a particularly fun time. Right after that, unfortunately, I lost my home because of choosing to do sex work—so I had to work really fast. I was working with kids at the time and just didn’t really want that kind of… parent finding out—that drama. So I applied at the Lusty Lady, which is no longer open, it was a worker-owned co-op and unionized peep show in San Francisco. I auditioned there and started camming via—also no longer existing—King Clive. Or I don’t think it exists, at least not in the shape or form it was before. Really quickly, I realized that camming full time was not for me, and I started doing all kinds of different in-person sex work as well. So all really fast—this is all like, within like, six months.

PM

Do you work with any porn production companies now or do you create all of your own content?

AR

I just started within the last year, not even in the last six months, shooting for mainstream again, after taking a really, really long break. But most of my efforts are making my own stuff. That’s what I care about the most. My content and my brand and my stuff will always come first, but I enjoy making these for other people too.

I painted at the time, I still consider myself an artist, I kind of just hop from medium to medium, but I find modeling, depending on how collaborative the experience is, to be just as creative. So that was it, I was interested and I was always a bad girl, so getting naked on camera sounded cool.

And I think I had a really unfortunate way, and I think this experience is common for a lot of women or people who walk the world and are seen as women—being made aware from really young age about what being a femme person in public is like. I don’t spin this in a like—Oh, this is empowering—way at all, but I definitely feel like I just decided to monetize it.

PM

Yeah. Well, I always say that having independent income and control over your own time is empowering, right?

AR

Oh, totally. It’s totally that way with any job for me. I think it’s different for everyone, right? There are no blanket statements in how people experience sex work. But, so far and in the way my career’s gone on, I do feel like it’s given me a lot of really great things that have empowered me to do my own shit. Like affording health care. Simple shit, but very important, very important.MS

PM

What is your current passion right now?

AR

I’m kind of going through a really big life change, which is actually becoming a very big work change. For the last seven years, I’ve been making content with my soon to be ex-husband, so the way I make content is definitely changing. I also moved back to Los Angeles, where there’s just so many more people to create with and access to photographers and sets and locations. I think a lot of things are about to change. I don’t really know how it’s gonna change yet, but I’m pretty stoked. I’ve also decided to make and fund just one ridiculous majestic feature that I want to do a year and release it. I’ve never wanted to be a director for websites. I always think I do, and then I think about how I have to listen to whatever they want. I either have to front the money half the time, or I don’t but I get a certain budget, and I just want to do whatever I want. It’s totally not a money-making thing and really just a passion project of making one weird feature porno a year.

PM

Oh, amazing. Do you already have an idea for the first one?

AR

I do but it’s secret. I’m really excited about that. I do really enjoy it when it’s right. I really enjoy making pornography a lot.

PM

Are you writing the whole script too?


AR

Probably, yeah. And I’ve directed a little bit — I’ve directed a couple of things for different sites and I have co-directed a feature with Mona Whales for Groupie films and then we made shorts and that kind of stuff. But I’ve never done a feature by myself, so that will be really fun. I’ll probably write it too. I’ve been on and off for the last couple years, I’m kind of also within this big life-change and I’m curious to see where that will go.


PM

So I’m gonna jump to a question about social media, because I feel like that’s a huge part, especially not just for in-person workers, but for porn performers and for creators. What’s your relationship with social media? And to follow up, would you still be using them if you did not really need it for work?

AR

I would not except for maybe a small personal Instagram. I wouldn’t have a Twitter, I wouldn’t have a Reddit. There’s no judgment here—just for my personality and my mental needs. You know, I deleted my personal Facebook a really long time ago. It’s not necessarily something I want to do with my spare time, for the most part. But I have a very long and complicated relationship with social media. That’s where I built my brand. I came around and I was tattooed, I wasn’t really very thin when I started, or my weight ebbed and flowed, I was super racially ambiguous… All these things that are not celebrated in pornography at all.

After being kind of, you know, either hired where it felt like people were doing me a favor, or I was just never really valued within the field. I went and built my own brand, by myself, and I really did use social media to do that. I have such mixed feelings about Tumblr, but Tumblr is where I definitely built my biggest audience really fast at first. And it was also really tied to constant harassment, so it’s a really weird thing where social media has helped me build this business in a way that no other platform or company or actual porn company has, really. And it makes me money. It does all the things.

After 12 years, you really don’t care what people say to you on the internet anymore, but for a long time, I super struggled with it. I did a whole art project where I re-enacted everything people wrote to me, and a lot of it was through Tumblr submissions. So it was like, social media as this form of weird ego-boosting—you know we all like the likes, that’s psychologically programmed for us, the endorphins, and a place of intense anxiety, because there’s this kind of like, “Am I gonna log in and see something horrible?” and [it’s] a place that has grown my business, so it’s a complicated one.




PM

Absolutely. Are you referencing the hate mail photo series that you did?

AR

Yeah, yeah.

PM

Can you talk a little bit more about that process and if you felt like it helped you also not care what people think, reenacting all of those messages?

AR

Yeah, I think it definitely created some form of catharsis, doing that instead of me reading it and taking all that in by myself, it was kind of like getting to shine a mirror back so it was no longer something that I had to carry. That sounds so dramatic but my art is always super indulgent, so there you go. I think it helped me make peace with that. It’s wild to me—I don’t know how people talk to other people the way folx communicate on the internet.

PM

It’s so strange because you know they would never say any of those things in person.

AR

No, never, never. It’s super weird. It’s kind of dark, really. It’s a dark reflection of humanity.

PM

Yeah, well, especially in sex work social media, because there’s a lot of intimate parts of ourselves on display, people feel very entitled to all sorts of access to you. They really feel because they can pay to see you, have sex, or pay you to perform in some way that they can suddenly do or say whatever they want to you, to an even higher degree.

AR

People think that they know you, too, and it’s a weird one, because I’m like, “Okay, well, you probably know some aspects of me,” like these are parts of me, but just like everything else… I mean, even regular people who are not performers or sex workers have a personal brand you know, none of us are really well portrayed. It’s only parts of us, and that’s a strange thing because we do such intimate work. There’s so much intimacy, especially when you have viewers watching you for years, that’s also another really interesting aspect—they feel like they know you when they don’t.

PM

How do you navigate that—managing people who have been maybe watching or following or engaging with you for years? Is it different than in-person where there’s kind of a goal to have clients see you for a long period of time?


AR

I think a little bit less so. But I mean, I have porn fans, like there’s one guy that has seen my absolute first scene where I’m not credited, and he remembers that first scene and found me and has followed me since. It’s been 12 years.

So I have people who have watched me and with some of them, we’ve grown up together. Depending on how close of a fan and how much we’ve talked and engaged, it’s similar in that way, but I feel like the goal to have a longer-term relationship is less important there. Though I think in general, I care less about that these days. And I don’t know if that’s good or bad. I think I just have a case of the “fuck-its”.


"I ALWAYS RELATED TO LILITH AND THE WHOLE GETTING THROWN OUT OF HEAVEN FOR BEING A BAD BITCH BY GOD."

PM

How much of success in the porn industry is the quality of the work that you’re creating, versus your bandwidth to be constantly interacting with fans and creating those types of relationships with them, so that they will follow you and to create a solid fan base?

AR

I think a solid fan base is better. If you had to pick one or the other. I think I make quality stuff. I know that I’m a good performer. I think after 12 years, I can be like, this is something I’m good at. But you can be a good performer and make really good stuff, and if you’re not busy doing all the other stuff, branding and promoting and doing all that other crap and building relationships with your viewers and that kind of stuff, no one’s gonna care.

And you can be someone that maybe… I’m not putting myself down anyway, but I’m not necessarily your mainstream beauty, but I’ve done the things and did the things and was able to build something. So it is nice, the drive and having the bandwidth because it is a lot. It’s a lot. Sex workers are always talking about how we do a million jobs. It’s a million fucking jobs. We do operations that should be five to every one person. You know what I mean?

And then likely there comes a point where you hit a level of privilege where you can outsource a little bit. So I’m able to outsource editing now. But that wasn’t always the case, like not everybody gets a booker for their sessions, but sometimes that helps for sure.

PM

Sex workers are the original job creators.


AR

I have employed so many friends and family for different gigs throughout the pandemic, and sex workers are probably creating more jobs than the government at this point.

PM

I was wondering if you could talk about how you play with the idea of hyper-femininity and divine femininity in sex work, how they can be sources of power, and also help us defy stereotypes?

AR

I feel like I’ve never really been given a choice when it comes to hyper-femininity, my body is the way it is. I’m a pretty petite person, I had huge tits by the time I was 12. I got my butt done, but I’ve always been very curvy and voluptuous, and always attracted attention whether I wanted to or not. So for me, that feels like not even an option. It’s just kind of what’s associated with my body type and what my body looks like, I mean, I think I started getting called Mommy when I was 25. And I’m the least maternal being in the entire world, but it inspired weird maternal feelings and kinks in other people, so that’s a little bit of it.

I’ve also always been into high-femmes, I grew up watching Jessica Rabbit and Looney Tunes cartoons, which are super problematic, but there’s always a hot babe in a little outfit. That was always appealing. Strippers were appealing to me as a kid, I was always into the bad girls.

We have all these assumptions of what femininity is, or not— we’ve assigned all these roles and traits to what femininity is.

First of all, gender is kind of made up. We’ve decided all these things like what’s masculine and what’s feminine. And I don’t know, we have so much strength in so many different ways and not that every person with a vagina is feminine, or vice versa, you don’t need a vagina to be feminine. But just look at childbirth. That’s a brutal ass shit, right? But there’s always this idea of people with vaginas being frail, or softies, or whatever. And it’s like, literally vaginas bust people out. But I don’t know, I always related to Lilith and the whole getting thrown out of heaven for being a bad bitch by God.

PM

She’s just too strong and powerful.

AR

In some stories she’s spun into this Goddess and another she’s a fucking vampire that eats babies and I’m just here for all of it, really. I’m a little all over the place. I definitely used to view myself as a service provider, and I’ve kind of reframed that, and I no longer want to be that. I would rather just be worshiped.

PM

Do these ideas also aesthetically shape your work?

AR

I don’t think I do it consciously, but if you look at my stuff there’s a lot of Goddess imagery and kind of surrealist magical creature things going on. I was in a porno that was about the feminine grotesque. It was really cool, it was for Cheevers. It definitely shows up in my work for myself and when I work for other people, obviously I fit those ideas for them.

PM

In your content creation or in your work for other production companies, do you try to fulfill that fantasy for yourself? Are you also like, “I’m going to construct this work, this thing that also fulfills a fantasy for me?”

AR

I think for me it’s like this Alter Ego that I play. I look at us like we’re drag queens. I mean at least I am. I think there is this fulfillment of being a diva. A kind of queen—bad bitch thing going on. It definitely fulfills that for me. I honestly try to incorporate that in all places in my life, maybe with a little bit more humility in real life, but also I have had many personal lovers call me Princess. It’s how I feel seen. A kind one, but definitely a princess.


"WE’RE DOING A BALLET THAT WE DIDN’T GO OVER AND WE HAVE NO SHARED CHOREOGRAPHY, BUT SOMEHOW IT’S FLOWING AND ITS PERFECT."


PM

When you’re acting, when you’re performing, you’re stepping into a role that maybe you don’t get to inhabit in your daily life and that can be so amazing.

AR

Totally. I’m definitely more of a people pleaser in real life. Arabelle is not a people pleaser. It’s really interesting to see the difference. I mean, Arabelle pleases, but like,

PM

She is not a people pleaser.

AR

Yeah. It’s very much on Arabelle’s terms. And it’s funny because in my personal life, I wonder, should I work on that? You know, we all have our stuff, and I find myself to be kind of a people pleaser, so it’s interesting to see what comes out in your alter ego. And it’s often what you need to incorporate your own life. I’m curious to hear if other people have that experience in what they do.

Totally, and sometimes, it’s interesting, sometimes I don’t always think it’s idealized. I have a lot less walls as my personal self than Arabelle does. I’m actually much softer, I think kinder, maybe than Arabelle is, but existing as Arabelle—you need so many walls. I don’t know, it’s really interesting. I also grew up as Arabelle. I started being her and I named myself that at 19 when I started modeling. And then I was on social media throughout my entire 20s, which is actually horrifying. It’s been very confusing growing up as these two people who are also the same.

PM

Yeah, oh, my goodness. Well, and I was just thinking about how performance allows us to embody, and coming back to this idea of maybe the divine feminine, right? And when we step into that, we’re also inviting other people to step into their divine masculine for example.

AR

Right. I don’t think this comes out, but sometimes, that would be cool. That would be very cool. I feel like even doing online sex work, I’ve definitely seen some [people] find out a lot about themselves and in a really beautiful way. I don’t even know what divine masculinity is, and not in not in a shitty way, but more like, I don’t know what that looks like for men. Scratch that, I’m just trying to think about it.

PM

Is it something that you’ve thought about for yourself? What does the divine masculine and feminine within me mean, and how do I embody either of these things?

AR

I don’t think I have, which is really interesting. I’m genderqueer, but I’ve always been very femme. So yeah, I don’t know. No, I don’t think about the divine masculine.

PM

That’s totally fair. Especially if you’re operating outside of the gender binary, those terms are helpful for some people and they’re not helpful for others, and that’s totally valid.

AR

I’d say for masc people in general, there’s a lot of healing that needs to take place. I don’t know what it would look like because there’s a lot of work to do.

PM

Have you ever felt like you’ve had healing experiences within your work for either yourself or maybe men that have been involved?

AR

Yeah, I like to really be careful with that. Everybody has their different experiences, but I get a little weirded out when we spin ourselves as therapists or whatever, because I’m like, “Nope, that’s not fair, or the right thing to be doing.”

But I mean, touch and intimacy and attention, and honestly, just having someone to talk to you can be super healing for everyone. I’ve definitely had fans and clients that have definitely been very, very kind to me, and helped me through difficult times, or have shared a beautiful experience with me like that. And that felt super healing and magical. And I have definitely seen that a lot of clientele heal, discover new things about themselves, and just find growth from the experience [of hiring me as a sex worker.]


PM

No, absolutely. I agree. It’s like sex work can be healing, but also sex workers are not therapists.

AR

Sex work is just work, and that’s okay, too.

PM

It doesn’t have to be healing to be valid.

AR

My take is that you can be a healer and still be a sex worker. Whatever your take is, you are engaging for sexual pleasure. I mean, again, I’m not gonna tell someone what to call themselves, but it’s a very different way of looking at it. And that’s just not where I come from.

PM

I think it’s a respectability thing. Because if it’s healing, then it’s better in some way. Because if it was just fucking that would be bad. Maybe we’re still dealing with our own internalized shame around regular old sex.

AR

Totally. And if you’re born with a vagina, I don’t know, I think it was maybe tied to just developing so quickly and so young, but having any interest in sex or in your body as not a cis man, that’s not okay. Historically speaking, only cis men are allowed to be slutty and not be shamed for it

PM

Going back to this idea then of being worshiped, how does it toe the line of maybe being fetisihized, or how does that boundary work for you where you’re like, “I received something out of it because I’m being worshiped.” And maybe I also know that this person is fetishizing me in the act of worshiping me.

AR

Oh, yeah. I don’t care what their take is, to be honest. I don’t care. I’m like, “Fine,” because I can’t control it. And yeah, I had to let go of that really early. Especially being a mixed-race sex worker, it’s constantly about my race and fetishization in a weird way. You just have to let that go. Or at least I had to let it go because what else am I gonna do with it?

I hope that they would want to meet me on that level and I think there are things you can do. I think marketing the way you present yourself. I feel like I’m both really good and really bad at marketing, because I have no discipline with myself, but I know what I’m supposed to do.

I’m honestly a brat, this is really the problem. I do feel like the difference between escorting and porn… I’ve done both and I’ve marketed both, I definitely had times where I stopped doing porn, didn’t promote porn, and was only advertising as an escort and vice versa, and all that kind of stuff. And then I quit escorting for a while and only promoted content. But there’s a lot more freedom being a performer than an escort. And maybe I’m comparing it to a very specific type of escorting that I think I was doing, and that might be it, but I felt a lot more constraints with how I presented.

PM

Yeah, you’re more of an accessory. Especially if you’re trying to be the type of escort where you’re like, “I go out on dates. I accompany this person.” There’s less space for the actual you. Really, the client needs the cute little quiet woman who has a witty remark every now and then and just listens to him talk. Like she can’t be totally stupid.

AR

But you can’t be too smart either, or else you’re trying too hard. I think there’s a little bit more room to be wild and weird when you’re a performer.

PM

Is there anything about sex working or porn that you haven’t explored that you really want to? Anything you haven’t tried yet?

AR

Probably. I want someone to foot the bill for an incredibly extravagant shopping spree. No one has ever done that for me, it’s very rude. I’ve gotten gifts. Don’t be mad: everyone that buys me gifts, I love you, thank you. But that would be really fun. It’s so basic and such basic bitch shit, but sometimes that’s what it be like.


"I DEFINITELY USED TO VIEW MYSELF AS A SERVICE PROVIDER, AND I’VE KIND OF REFRAMED THAT, AND I NO LONGER WANT TO BE THAT. I WOULD RATHER JUST BE WORSHIPED. "


PM

What continues to excite you, especially being in the porn industry, I find that sometimes porn performers have a really unique passion for their work, because it’s not at all an easy thing to do. If you didn’t actually want to be doing it, you’d probably be doing a different form of sex work, you know?

AR

I agree that there are other forms of sex work, and the word is not easier. If you’re a porn performer who escorts you’re gonna make more money than most escorts just because you have a bigger, wider audience, you’re established in that way. But it’s hard, doing public sex work is a different kind of beast. I get recognized a lot of where I go and I’m not that famous. I consider myself a cult classic, I have a cult following for sure, but I’m not fucking Stormy. I’m not Abella Danger, I’m not Stormy Daniels. I’m not this huge, big name in porn, but I’m recognized everywhere.

PM

You could be anonymous and make money and you can’t anymore.

AR

Yeah, so I think that’s definitely changing. But yeah, you want to make that shit fucking worth it. The idea of leaving and having sacrificed everything and having nothing to show for it is like my nightmare. Which could still happen.

PM

I don’t know, I think you have a lot to show for it already.

AR

No, I do, I know. For me, I don’t come from money. It’s definitely like finding security, which I mean, I’m fine, but you know what I mean? It’s a different gig—acquired wealth compared to generational wealth. Acquired, that’s not the way… I don’t know how to say that.

PM

Build wealth? I don’t know, what’s the term?

AR

I’m not in the 1%, you know.

PM

I know, like what are we doing using the term wealth when we’re maybe firmly middle class?

AR

I know that the middle class doesn’t really exist much anymore, but I think I am like a few of the last of the actual middle class. I actually looked it up recently like, what am I considered? I think it’s middle class.

PM

My parent’s dream for me!

AR

So yeah, you know, it’s just a little different. That’s my biggest fear though—the idea that I didn’t save any money.

But I still get bookings and clients and shoots that I still get really excited for. Whether it’s someone that I get along with or a performer I really want to perform with, or the idea is really cool, if it’s for a new company, or I’m producing something that I’m really excited about. I still get really excited.




ARABELLE RAPHAEL INTERVIEWED BY MOLLY SIMMONS PHOTOS AND ART DIRECTION BY PENELOPE DARIO

SET AND LIGHTING BY KOLT REAGLE AND BRIAN BYRNE

GLAM BY VALENTINA FOX