21 Questions with Alex Feis-Bryce, Senior Researcher to MP and former Labour Party Leader Ed Miliband, and Founding CEO National Ugly Mugs
By Raven Bowen
Q: So, what do you do?
A: I’m Senior Researcher to Ed Miliband leading on his work around inequality and also I’m an Advisor to National Ugly Mugs (NUM). My role as Founding CEO of National Ugly Mugs ends today [October 27th 2017]! So still a founder but not CEO.
Q: And your favorite color?
A: Oh, like a very rich blue because it suits me to wear. The name of the color is Yves Klein Blue. He’s a French artist and quite controversial but I like that color blue. I think it’s beautiful.
Q: What are you most proud of?
A: The thing I’m most proud of would be leading the team that took NUM from a very small project with very little to funding to what it is today and saving lives of sex workers. Q: Yes, monumentous as you look back on your journey. A: Yeah and I think I’ll probably go through the rest of my life never being prouder of anything more than being at NUM, which is quite depressing! I’ve already peaked! Q: And it’s your last day today. I know how it feels to grow projects and leave them, but hopefully it stays true to mission. A: Yes, I know it will. The staff team are amazing – Kerri who was there with me from the start is the most impressive person I’ve ever met – and here are very good people on the Board. A new CEO who starts in a month too who, I believe, is fantastic.
Q: What drew you to a sex industry support role?
A: I have some personal motives to support and campaign passionately for sex worker rights and safety including my own experiences of sexual violence and police brutality. Immediately before I took the job with NUM, myself and my now husband were wrongfully arrested and assaulted by police and that kind of really made me realize…not that I didn’t already, just how much harder it would have been to challenge if I was a marginalized person, for whatever reason, like a person of color or a women or trans. Sure, I was treated terribly but I had the resources and support to challenge it. I do feel it was a homophobic attack by police. I think I put into perspective my privilege in a sense. I had a really shit time but it would have been a lot worse if I wasn’t a White, relatively middle-class male and that affected my politics quite significantly. It reminded me of…how...difficult it can be for sex workers. Q: That’s an amazing story and shocking to people who identify the ways that I do, when a system that is designed around White, male privilege doesn’t work for people who fall into that category! But it’s wonderful that you turned that experience into contributing to NUM in the ways that you did. A: Yeah, NUM wasn’t my idea. I took someone else’s idea really. Sex workers in Australia and people like Dr. Rosie Campbell OBE who campaigned for it to be introduced in the UK, but I suppose I kind of made it my own turned it into what it is today. Kerri Swindells deserves a huge amount of credit too.
Q: The last thing you laughed about?
A: I was just with the Labour candidate for Lewisham Mayor, Damien Egan and he managed to make me laugh a few times. Not that politics is ever very funny!
Q: What’s your favourite food?
A: I’d say a good curry. That’s such a British thing to say but I would say curry or chorizo – I could put it in everything.
Q: Your current project or pursuit?
A: Basically, I’m leading on Ed Miliband’s work on inequality and that includes a podcast which we do weekly. At the moment it’s the most listened to news/current affairs podcast in the UK. So a shameless plug, it’s called Reasons To Be Cheerful and everyone should listen. Ed co-presents the podcast with a cult radio presenter Geoff Lloyd who’s hilarious – they have such a good rapport and each episode features radical policy ideas. The current episode is about decriminalization of drugs and we’re speaking with the Director of Release who is a force of nature! And credit to Ed who was willing to do a whole podcast on something that is a topic that politicians normally avoid like the plague.
Q: What’s your biggest regret?
A: I don’t think I have any regrets, I’m a very ‘in the moment’ kind of person. I don’t really regret anything. I’ve made so many mistakes in my life but I just don’t really see them as regrets, only mistakes. And I’ve probably make more mistakes than most people!
Q: Facebook or Twitter?
A: Facebook. I think Twitter can be a bit snippy with people with anonymous accounts and lots of aggression where Facebook is more personal with you and your friends. I find Twitter more effective for campaigning though.
Q: What challenges you the most about your sex work related work?
A: I would say that the biggest challenge for me has been battling against prohibitionists who are just hell-bent on a viewpoint that isn’t founded in evidence or the voices and experiences of sex workers and many of them, I’m like ‘how fucking dare you’ to be honest. I’m naturally a fighter and I find it difficult to reconcile those views and it’s frustrating to me because many of those people [prohibitionists] are people in the Labour party. I just find it very difficult to speak to them. Someone recently described me as an angelic troublemaker. I think they meant it as an insult but I took it as a compliment. Q: I would expect Labour to be supportive. A: Yeah like for the labour rights issue or whatever and it demeans them as a politicians. They have a duty to listen to people who a policy affects most and if they’re speaking about something they have a duty to be at least aware evidence, but I don’t think they care enough about sex workers or have enough respect for them. Q: I think as a justice-seeker you’ll find yourself in places that need progressive shifts, um...good luck with that!
Q: Favourite Movie?
A: It’s True Romance by Quentin Tarantino and I’ve loved it since I was a kid. I can’t believe my parents let me watch movies like that! It also features a sex worker and while the portrayal is a bit ‘Hollywood’ and not necessarily realistic, she’s a fantastic, kick-ass character played by Patricia Arquette—tough and funny. And Tarantino creates really strong female characters! After doing work with sex workers I wonder whether this should be my favorite movie, LOL, but there are worse portrayals in films!
Q: And the last time you cried?
A: At the cinema, watching ‘God’s Own Country.’ Q: A British Brokeback Mountain?
A: Yeah, that was the last time I cried.
Q: Cat or dog person?
A: Massive dog person, I have 2 dogs: a basset hound called ‘Glinda’ and a sausage dog called ‘Merlin’. Cats are a bit too clever and independent!
Q: Who understands you?
A: My husband does, better than anyone and some of my really good friends do as well I think!
Q: What’s the last book or article you read?
A: I was reading an article this morning by Frankie Mullen about pop-up brothels. She’s a very good friend of mine and she writes very, very well. Q: Yes, she’s a great writer and that article was very well done.
Q: Childhood Fear?
A: Actually, this is a bit of a gross one, but I used to not like to use public bathrooms for, well, you know…especially when it’s not in my home! I’m sure it’s a fear that a lot of people have?! Urinals in men’s toilets are disgusting, they should never have been invented!
Q: What did your last text say?
A: My last text…’I’m sat at the back.’ I was meeting someone in a coffee shop.
Q: One thing that your work or existence is aimed to do for the sex industry?
A: I think to save lives, to support sex workers’ safety. I always thought that with what NUM did, the thing that was most valuable to sex workers was the warnings that allowed sex workers to avoid dangerous individuals. Giving sex workers information to make informed decisions and to also change attitudes, is a big deal for me, especially those of politicians, police, the public, the media.
Q: The meaning of life in one word?
A: Happiness. I think people shouldn’t bother too much about success, just do what makes you happy.
Q: The last thing you Googled?
A: Votes at 16, because we are doing a podcast on it so.
Q: What do you want to be if/when you grow up?
A: A professional footballer. A lot of people reading this might be surprised and not see me as that kind of person, but that’s what I wanted to be! I failed in that goal obviously though I do still play.