David Wienir, a writer and entertainment lawyer, presented his book, Amsterdam Exposed, yesterday (18th of May) in the Dutch capital. Amsterdam Exposed narrates the story about a 26-year-old American exchange student in Amsterdam in 1999. As Wienir describes it, this is a nonjudgmental book that shows an innocent perspective about Amsterdam and the Red Light District, but also a really personal story.
Despite telling a story that happened almost 20 years ago, the book addresses a subject that will always be relevant: prostitution. The author says that the timing of publication was perfect, especially taking the sex work regulations that are currently happening in both Holland and in America into account.
The Amsterdammer interviewed Wienir to get more insights on the book, the author, and the Red Light District.
You came here 20 years ago, how does it feel to return to promote your book?
It’s been very surprising and beautiful reception we’ve had here, it’s been great. I didn’t think, at first, that I would have any local reception walking around the district and letting them know [the sex workers] about the book. A couple of days ago I just decided to do that and the response was very surprising. The girls [of the Red Light District] are very excited [about the story]. I basically asked them if they speak English and if they like reading and then I said: Hey! I have something for you, I’d love you to read this book that just came out this week. It’s about a story in Amsterdam between an American and a girl who worked right here. […] One of the girls started crying and that was something I wasn’t expecting. It’s exciting for me that this book is not only going to be something that Americans read, but also people are going to have a conversation here in Holland too.
Why publish this book now, 20 years after your exchange?
It’s a delicate subject to write about. It’s not a politically correct world, it’s a taboo, it’s a subject that makes people uncomfortable in the community that I’m in [United States], I’m a business affairs executive on a major talent agency. It was a promise I made to a girl that I was not going to let this go. It was a story I felt needed to be told but I wasn’t gonna publish it until I was able to find my voice, and I think a big part of it, was getting married […] that opened up a whole new side of me of being able to really put myself into the book in the way that I needed to.
What brought you to Amsterdam for an exchange?
I did my undergraduate in Oxford and my master’s degree in the London School of Economics and I studied in Estonia and lived in France, so I started off thinking that Europe was always gonna be part of my existence. When I went to law school […] the idea was to go to California, go to Berkeley, go get a degree in law and then become an international lawyer. One of the main things that brought me back to Holland, and made sense as a young international lawyer, [was that] this is the center of international law. […] There was a great exchange program in the VU Amsterdam, so [that was] what brought me back to Amsterdam.
But really, it was to write this book. At that time I had already seen myself as a writer […] so when I came to Amsterdam I identified myself more as a writer than I identified myself even as a lawyer and it was with that focus that I kind of designed my four months here.
How did you perceive Amsterdam before you came here?
It was interesting, the first time I ever came here it was in 1993 and that was when I was an undergraduate in England. I just found my journal from that trip and it was unbelievable, I hadn’t tried cannabis at the time, I walked through the district really fast, I was terrified by what I saw, I couldn’t believe the way the men were treating the women in the windows, as shocking as it was to see the women standing there. It was really not a place I thought I’d return to. I automatically felt at home here and I think there are two kinds of people in the world: People who come to Amsterdam and feel connected with the city or don’t. I’m definitely one of those people that the second I came, it just felt different than being in London, Paris or any other place where I might have lived.
What intrigued you about the Red Light District? Why write about it?
I was kind of in shock as a young writer that no one had ever done something like this. It’s one of the biggest attractions in the world. Americans come and they have their experiences and then even talking about it was kind of taboo. That was one of the things that really make me recognize there’s a journey here that people should be able to do, a nonjudgmental one, that hopefully helps to shape the conversation.
The book’s really a love letter to Amsterdam. It’s focused on a very special friendship that I developed with one of the beautiful girls who works right in the heart of the district. It’s as much of a love letter to Amsterdam, as it is to an American or anyone abroad. Being in a new culture and being free. Seeing yourself differently. In the book, there’s a transformation with the woman who helped me write it, but there’s a transformation for me too.
How did you attempt to avoid the harmful stereotypes of sex workers? And how did you try to simultaneously give an accurate representation of how Amsterdam citizens still perceive them?
I think for me it was a bit of a transformation. At first, in the book, like anyone who walks through the district, people are seemingly two-dimensional. Everyone is, and I think that’s what makes the world dangerous. There’s a line in the book where I talk about the parallels between the prostitution in Holland and internet dating in America and just how disposable people have become. There are this two-dimensional pictures and that’s that. […] I think one of the ways that I hope this book really helps get beyond this stereotypes is just by sharing an innocent relationship in a place that one wouldn’t find one. Redefining how we see ourselves. There are not only stereotypes that we put on women, but stereotypes that we place in ourselves too. There’s a great line in the book that says “Life perspective is all based on the cages that we’re all held captive in”.
The book was just trying, at the end of the day, to show the humanity there and […] allow people […] to see the women differently. At the very least have some respect and as a society, there’s nothing we can do to stop women from working there, but there’s a lot we can do as a society not to condemn them.