by Furry Girl
Like many other things of major cultural significance - Hooters, War Games, and My Little Pony - I'm turning 30 this year. As a December baby whose birthday was always overshadowed by Christmas, I now celebrate my momentous occasion for the entire month. So, happy 30th birthday to me!
I can't say I feel old quite yet. I definitely haven't "mellowed out" over time, but I have spent less time blogging about sex work related topics. After a decade in the industry, every "new" debate/issue that comes up feels like a rehash of something that was argued about years ago. I feel like I've covered every angle of these debates myself, dozens of times, and it gets boring, even though I still feel engaged by a desire to improve life for sex workers everywhere. At the end of the day, you either believe that humans must be free to make their own choices that fit their individual needs and circumstances, or you believe that people need to be herded like cattle and subjected to violence for moral/ideological noncompliance "for their own good." (Which is a major source of why I just can't identify with the left as I get older. Too much of the intellectual foundation of the left is based on an imperialist attitude that "we enlightened" need to "help" and take control of the lives of "victims"- notably women, especially those in developing countries, whether they want "help" or not. Mistress Matisse phrased it best in a 2007 blog post when she said, "sometimes help is just the nice word for control." A chasm almost always exists between genuine solidarity and what outsiders think of as "saving" others.)
I'm still working on career two, a challenging field that combines my interests in both science and helping others (in an effective and constructive way). I think I'll probably completely retire from the jizz biz in a couple of years, though I plan to keep all of my sites online forever. I've learned a lot of awesome new things, and every time I'm trusted to do something more skilled or important, it feels like such a big step forward. My supervisor praises me for being such a meticulous and organized person, which is great, considering that I have no formal training at anything I'm doing. If you've been an independent sex worker/small business owner, that tenacity and work ethic will carry over into other lines of work, even if you have a radically different skill set to master. I really believe that successful sex workers are people who have the ability to be successful at anything. If you can make it work in such a weird and stigmatized industry where so many cards are stacked against you, relying on your own creativity, cunning, and boldness, you can do all sorts of things.
My mate and I are going to Fiji for a scuba diving trip from mid-December to New Years. I'm really excited to get away from cold rainy Seattle, even though it's during the busy holiday travel season. (I'm getting accustomed to planning around the fact that most jobs only let you get away with taking significant time off around Christmas.) I spent a lot of time rounding up the best budget hotels to stay with great reefs nearby, including a day at Beqa Lagoon, which is supposed to be one of the best shark dives in the world.
If you miss me from the peak of my blogging days, I still tweet a few times a day, often with news items you'd find interesting. And plenty of stupid funny shit, too.
I'm planning to spend some time camming from January 2-5, because I don't need to work and will feel cute after getting getting a good tan in Fiji. If you've been missing naked me, that's your next chance to catch me live.
Want to wish me a happy birthday? I have an Amazon wishlist, and I would especially love anything marked "highest priority," like the SeaLife underwater digital camera, or if you want to be crowned my best fan ever, the $1400 underwater housing for my DSLR camera. (I'd love to get into underwater wildlife photography, but I can't justify spending that much on a hobby when I'm making so little money right now.) You can also help me while getting something great for yourself by buying closeout items - like lube, books, candles, washable menstrual pads, and strapon harnesses - from my sexy store. And since SWAAY is still running at a net loss that I'm closer to erasing, you could also buy a pro-sex worker shirt or cute stickers from that store as a present to yourself or your favorite friends.
by Furry Girl
"The problem is that female competition and aggression don't always look like the male versions...
Females tend to threaten each other with social isolation rather than violence. Among social animals, being cast out of the group can mean death, or very few chances to mate. Among humans, perhaps the most social animals we know, the 'mean girls' phenomenon is a perfect example of low energy competition. Nobody is beaten, but we know for sure who has lost the battle."
-- Annalee Newitz in Evolution is steered by aggressive competition between females on io9.com
by Furry Girl
"If you make a thousand dollars a week, every week, you’re still only making around $50,000. This is by no means money to sneeze at; it’s more than my mother ever made, and she had a Master’s degree. But consider that according to Wikipedia, in 2006 the average weekly wage in Manhattan was $1,453. A thousand dollars a week is good sex worker money. It feels rich to me and always will. But in New York City, it doesn’t even make you average. You will be able to pay your bills. You can save. You might even be able to afford health insurance next year. You will not be able to go on shopping sprees at Nordstrom’s.
Writing checks to my landlord and Time Warner certainly feels luxurious to me, but it’s not … seductive. It’s just baseline what I should be able to do with a fucking job."
-- Calico Lane in The Myth of Seductive Money on misscalico.com
The comment I left:
I have never made the sums of money everyone assumes from the insta-rich reputation of online porn. I started in 2002, not 1996, so the bubble for my part of the industry had already burst by the time I was 18. I was happy to make a lower middle class income at a job I love (because I’m a genuine pervert), but as you said, a grand a week doesn’t add up to an income that hooks you like heroin. I went on a date once with a guy who assumed I must make “a few hundred thousand” a year. I burst out laughing. My best weeks were when I earned $2000, but then I also had plenty of $500 weeks, too. I know so many other sex workers who are also approximately lower-middle class, but no one ever thinks of us when drawing up the dichotomy that the only two ways to be a whore are if you’re a destitute, abused street-based worker selling $10 blowjobs for crack, or an elite escort who accompanies celebrities and bankers on trips to Dubai. Most sex workers seem like we’re somewhere on the spectrum of working-to-middle class.
The punchline is how often professional feminists and other such types (who often quietly came from wealthy families themselves) and who make more money than I ever did in porn accuse me and sex workers like me of being some sort of privileged elite who, unlike “real” women, don’t “really” work. Shit, I wish!
by Furry Girl
"I cried on the way to the hospital. It was the third time I ended up there on account of my erection. I'd considered myself drug-free for the latter half of my life. But I'd spent my entire twenties consuming erectile dysfunction pharmaceuticals. Over the past two years, on a more-than-frequent basis.
It was normal by default. To be a male porn star meant that you swallowed pills or shot up your dick.
I didn't think of it as fake. I'd found my process of arousal and allowed a sense of sincerity into much of my work. But the fear of failure always loomed. The work-flow of modern porn did not allow for the unpredictability of human performance. My psyche didn't allow for it either. I'd wrapped up my identity in the ability to fuck anyone under most any condition.
The choice came to either fuck like a god until I couldn't fuck at all, or to bring my sex back down to earth. An emergency room doctor had my attention once he'd opened a hole in my penis and let it bleed out. 'You keep doing this and you're not going to be able to get an erection, period.' There was something in his voice. It suggested that I'd already gone too far.
'What the fuck am I going to do?' I said out loud while driving home. It was meant for something greater than myself - a god I didn't believe in."
Danny dislikes me, but I wish him all the best in his transition into new things, because I'm sure he'll be great at at.
by Furry Girl
Anti-sex work activists endlessly harp on the specter of the multi-billion dollar sex industry. They never want to talk about how individual sex workers only make fairly modest incomes, and for generally short periods of time. It's easier to set up all of us sinners as obscenely wealthy, because it makes it easier for average people to resent us. This contributes to a culture of disrespect for sex workers where the public thinks we're not only lazy and gauche, we also get a 6-figure check every time we disrobe. It's a tactic of othering sex workers to a country that has been struggling a lot financially since the recession. And it's a very successful one.
When I was making the opposition tracker on SWAAY.org, I thought about trying to create a comprehensive list of how much profit there is to be made in anti-sex worker activism. As sex workers, we're constantly having our campaigns dismissed on the grounds that everything we say must be a lie because we have a financial stake in sex work. It drives me crazy that it's a one-sized argument, as though only sex workers profit from sex work. Your average sex worker makes substantially less than an anti-sex worker academic or nonprofit, so who really has a "financial incentive" to say what they say?
Some Twitter exchanges made me realize I should post the data I already collected, and I decided to update the tax returns for some popular foundations that oppose sex workers rights. Catherine MacKinnon's base salary statement was obtained a couple of years ago with a FOIA request against her employer, the University of Michigan, a state-funded university. (They have to disclose if you ask, google for "FOIA template" for the format.) The other tax returns are from 501(c)3 nonprofits, which make them public information.
Catherine MacKinnon's base salary (not including bonuses, insurance, speaking engagements, writing, and tours) was $273,000 for 9 months of work in 2009 (page 386, huge file) and $280,000 for 9 months of work in 2010 (page 394, huge file).
The biggest winner is, of course, the Hunt Alternatives Fund, which took in a whopping $12,976,136 in 2012. A 20-hour a week job at this foundation paid one "advisor" $101,562 in salary and benefits! Under "direct charitable activities," HAF say they spent $1,409,171 "eradicating the demand for purchased sex." While Swanee Hunt and family were the top donors, this foundation also received an even one million dollars from Norway's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Shared Hope International (which campaigns against prostitution among other activities), which raked in $2,253,367 in 2011.
The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women raked in $1,161,729 in 2012.
Fireproof Ministries, which runs XXXChurch, raked in $610,719 in 2011. $102,350 of this went directly into the pocket of Craig Gross in the form of a salary. (I've never netted that much as a pornographer! I should have gotten into running anti-porn sites.)
Shelley Lubben's Pink Cross Foundation raked in $137,183 in 2012. Shelley officially draws a modest $57,640 in salary and compensation.
Melissa Farley (who has glowingly referred to sex workers as "house niggers") heads a group called Prostitution Research and Education, which raked in a mere $81,958 in 2012.
Cite these figures when you're talking to people who think that our side is the only one with something financial to gain. I wish I knew more about individual anti-sex worker activists. I still want to flesh out the anti-sex worker activist tracker. Let me know if you have links to add.
by Furry Girl
"Here's what I, personally, have observed about the sex industry: If, before she ever enters the sex industry, a woman is an emotionally troubled person with poor self-esteem and a history of bad decisions, she'll continue making bad decisions and suffering the negative consequences while she's in the business. But now, some of them will be sex-work-related decisions and consequences, so it's easy for people to say, "Well, obviously it's because she's a sex worker. See what an unhappy, damaging life it is?" And she'll probably agree with them, because it's easy for a troubled, low-self-esteem person to buy into the victim mentality. That way, she can then avoid taking any responsibility for her choices. So she's tucked neatly into the victim pigeon-hole, and everyone thanks goodness they don't have to examine any potentially unsettling ideas any further. Their pre-existing beliefs have been confirmed and they feel righteous.
Now, she could fuck up her life just as badly if she were a waitress at Denny's. But that's not as sexy, so no one writes newspaper articles about that.
You see, the work itself doesn't fuck you up - it just magnifies what's already there."
-- Mistress Matisse in an untitled post on mistressmatisse.blogspot.com
This is probably my favorite thing that she's ever written. It's from 2004, and these observations completely match my experiences in the sex industry as well.
by Furry Girl
This little scene from Half Baked has played in my head many times over the last year.
by Furry Girl
"Famous" former sex worker Melissa Petro has thrust herself back into the media again this week, and seeing her re-tell her tale of woe with increasing levels of dramatic self-pity hits a nerve for me. It also reminded me of the serious need for a project that I've been meaning to announce as I transition out of sex work myself.
I must preface this post by declaring that self-pity is utterly repugnant to me, in part because it's the chief byproduct of white, over-educated, first world ennui, and in part because it's about denying that one has agency in their lives. The amount of options and privileges one has is irritatingly proportional to the amount of time one spends whining about one's life. I was volunteering in rural West Africa last summer, interacting with people who didn't have the greatest options, but I recall not one iota of self-pity from any of them. Self-pity disgusts me, which is why I recoil so strongly when I see it.
For those of you who don't remember Melissa Petro - and you're in the vast majority of Americans, since she's not actually all that famous - she was a public school teacher in New York City who was fired for coming out as a former sex worker. She wrote a piece in The Huffington Post (one of the most popular web sites online) about her experiences as a prostitute (her choice of term) during grad school, and then reacted in exasperated shock that there are people who don't want an ex-prostitute working with children. Petro was briefly a local scandal as her story spun out of her control in tabloids, and "hooker teacher" headlines appeared in gossip rags that published photos of her without her permission. The situation sucked, it was unfair, and being a (former) sex worker shouldn't mean that can't be trusted to be around kids. On this we can all agree.
Since her little scandal in three years ago, Petro has been on a pity tour of writing essays for seemingly any web site that will publish her, each iteration of her story gets more and more sad and self-pitying, all the while reinforcing The Big Lie told by visible ex sex workers like herself: that sex work is something from which one can never move on. This lie reinforces so many stigmas, stokes the fires of so much shame and uncertainty for sex workers thinking about leaving the industry, and sends this horrible, cruel, completely inaccurate message to current sex workers: you can never escape a naughty past, you are doomed! Doomed for life! Forever tainted and shunned!
That's fucking bullshit.
I am so sick of the Petro and others like her acting like their choice to wallow publicly in self-pity is the only option for former sex workers. Petro is just an upscale, liberal version of anti-porn ex-porn star Shelley Lubben, but rather than overtly attack the sex industry and campaign against it, Petro is far more insidious. She isn't calling for the end of the sex industry, or for further criminalization of sex workers. She's "one of the good guys." She just wants sex workers to know that there's no hope of ever living a normal life again, and that it will cause your life to spiral out of control and destroy your soul. And for this, Petro is a hero to white, feminist, educated (former) sex workers who also plan to stay firmly rooted in their pasts.
I refuse to give Melissa Petro the pity she craves. After all, she was the one who purposefully sought out attention from the press, and did so under her legal name. As much as I deeply, angrily disagree with social stigmas against having done sex work, the fact remains that we live in a world where they exist. If you work with kids (and there are doubtless many teachers out there with sex work pasts), and you value keeping that job, you don't run to the media with your story about being proud of having been a law-breaking, cash-for-sex prostitute. Is this Madonna/whore dynamic fair? Not at all, but sometimes, it's not about shame, it's about discretion.
Call me wacky, but if I desperately wanted to escape the fate of being known as a former sex worker, I'd probably stop writing articles about how I used to be a sex worker for major media outlets.
So, with the announcement of disgraced prostitute-patronising politician Elliot Spitzer getting back into politics, Petro has flagged down the media again and reminded them that she exists. She published a piece this week about how unfair it is that "we" "allow" men to move on with their lives after a sex scandal, but that women "like her" aren't "allowed" to move on. Allowed by who? It's a laughable premise. Petro has spent three years hollering and waving her arms wildly at anyone who will listen so she can tell them that while she is a former sex worker, she doesn't want to be thought of as a former sex worker. Those are not the actions of someone who's trying to turn a new leaf.
The reason Spitzer is successfully moving on from his past is because he's moving on from his past. He hasn't spent several years penning sob-story op-eds about how sad he is that he was caught being a client of an escort service. Spitzer did what people do when they actually want to move forward in their lives, and that's to move forward. It's not sexist oppression, it's not the patriarchy, it's not even whorephobia. Petro actively refuses to move on with her life, and actively tries to become better-known as a "famous" former sex worker, and then blames society, sexism, and sex work for the fact that she apparently has no life skills other than self-pity and seeking out media attention. I've followed her story from the sidelines, and even I don't think I would recognize her if I had a casual interaction with her. She's not so famous that she has no choice but to not move on, she doesn't have so recognizable a face that she can't walk down the street without attracting throngs of attention. (As someone who has spent 10 years making a living in porn precisely by getting my photos seen by as many people as possible, I hardly ever get recognized in public.)
At the end of the day, Melissa Petro is only person who thinks that Melissa Petro will never be able to move on from her titillating past. And that's her problem, it's certainly not emblematic of the experiences of all sex workers.
There are a ton of sex workers out there, and the vast, vast majority bow out quietly, without press releases or book deals. Sex work is a rather transient occupation, one that a person may do during college, or during a period of unemployment, or until they age out of their part of the industry. Most people don't stay in it for life, yet somehow, we forget that sex workers don't die or disappear upon retirement, they move on. You interact with retired sex workers every day of your life, you just don't know it because they choose to not make it the focus of everything they do for the rest of their lives. Despite the big lie pushed by former sex workers like Petro, you're not actually branded with "whore" on your forehead as you collect a final paycheck and clock out for the last time. (The exceptions are sex workers with criminal convictions, of course. Those really do stay with you life and hurt your abilities to get jobs and housing. But thankfully, most sex workers come out without any baggage that comes up in a credit report or search of court records.)
What I'm annoyed with is not just Petro's latest cries for attention, but the fact that within sex worker activisty and blogging circles, the only visible former sex workers are white, educated, middle/upperclass women who are now trying to make careers out of talking about how they used to be sex workers. They may not want to be held as representative former sex workers, but they're all we have, so they become the de facto standard.
It's a sad catch-22: the only visible former sex workers are people who want to be known for being former sex workers. If you're an isolated sex worker without a lot of friends or community support, you don't have anyone to talk to about the process of leaving the sex industry for something else. There are no good role models for retiring sex workers who don't want to be memoirists, naughty media personalities, or work for sex work-related NGOs. Which means there are no easy-to-find role models for the 99.999% of sex workers who will one day start a truly new chapter in their lives. Sure, if you want to write the 62,958th book about how you used to be a stripper in college, there are tons of people to look up to. I regularly see former sex worker-led workshops advertised to teach you how you can fulfill your dreams of writing about your experiences as a sex worker, but what if you don't want a book deal? (Or, what do you do when the whopping $3000 you got for that precious book deal is all gone?) What if you don't want to be famous as a former sex worker? Where are the people for you to turn to? Where's your support group and success stories?
And that's exactly the gaping void I want to address with the final project I want to do as a part of the sex workers' rights movement, and as I transition out of the industry myself. I want to create a resource for people leaving sex work for a life that isn't all about how they used to be a sex worker. Stay tuned!
by Furry Girl
"Over the past year, there have been a number of headline-grabbing legal changes in the US, such as the legalization of marijuana in CO and WA, as well as the legalization of same-sex marriage in a growing number of US states.
As a majority of people in these states apparently favor these changes, advocates for the US democratic process cite these legal victories as examples of how the system can provide real freedoms to those who engage with it through lawful means. And it’s true, the bills did pass.
What’s often overlooked, however, is that these legal victories would probably not have been possible without the ability to break the law.
The state of Minnesota, for instance, legalized same-sex marriage this year, but sodomy laws had effectively made homosexuality itself completely illegal in that state until 2001. Likewise, before the recent changes making marijuana legal for personal use in WA and CO, it was obviously not legal for personal use.
Imagine if there were an alternate dystopian reality where law enforcement was 100% effective, such that any potential law offenders knew they would be immediately identified, apprehended, and jailed. If perfect law enforcement had been a reality in MN, CO, and WA since their founding in the 1850s, it seems quite unlikely that these recent changes would have ever come to pass. How could people have decided that marijuana should be legal, if nobody had ever used it? How could states decide that same sex marriage should be permitted, if nobody had ever seen or participated in a same sex relationship?"
-- Moxie Marlinspike in We Should All Have Something To Hide on thoughtcrime.org
by Furry Girl
There's been a distinct annoyance that has subtly and not-so-subtly been plaguing me since I decided to start moving out of the porn industry and into a new career. There's a new belief held about me by my family, and even a few of my acquaintances.
I'm talking about the belief that I'm finally getting my shit together, as evidenced by the fact that I'm becoming an adult and getting a real job. No longer am I frittering away my talents and intellect on something as stupid as porn, I'm now working on making something of myself.
I don't think anyone has phrased it quite like that, but there's been a pervasive, condescending sort of encouragement (very loudly from family members) that can really get to me at times. My dad and two of my cousins think it's awesome that I run porn sites, but the rest of my family has always had varying degrees of quiet embarrassment about the issue. During the holidays, I might have been asked in an obligatory manner, "So, how's that, uh, business of yours?", but I know they don't really care about the answer. Today, though, everyone seems proud of my big decision. I'm a big girl now!
This "support" is part of our cultural narrative that says sex work is a career of last resort, laziness, and above all, a refusal to "grow up." I ran my own successful small business for a decade, traveled the world, and even bought a home, but these typical markers of middle-class American success aren't considered sufficient evidence that my job was "real." No, it's only real work if it doesn't involve taking off your clothes. I didn't magically win the lottery, I've worked hard for what I have, and I'll always be incredibly proud of that. The flexible schedule and freedom that comes with being a sex worker is treated not like something I earned through tenacity and smart business planning, but is somehow emblematic of a refusal to make serious decisions.
I have grown to loathe the stereotype that leaving sex work means that you're getting your shit together, because for me, it's so hilariously ironic. Starting over at the bottom, learning an entirely new set of skills, taking a pay cut, stressing out about money and career opportunities? To me, that's not getting my shit together; leaving sex work is letting my shit completely fall apart. I know that mine is the right choice and that all the grunt work now is going to pay off well in the long-term, but I don't like how my decision is framed (both by family and society) as mature and responsible solely because I'm moving from a sexual related career to a nonsexual one. I don't like having this extra moral dimension projected onto my transition, one that I certainly wouldn't attract were I switching from being a chef to a librarian, or a lawyer to an investment banker.
This isn't to say that it's wrong to be happy for a sex worker friend who has made a decision to switch a new career. Be happy for them, be supportive, be encouraging - just be conscious of how you frame that support. Respect that for many sex workers, each of our careers are equally awesome and valid, and that our leaving sex work shouldn't be treated like breaking free from a harmful habit or childish diversion.
Furry Girl: a good time not yet had by all.
- I operate SWAAY.org, an accessible sex workers' rights site that educates the general public about our lives and our issues.
- I've been vegan for 13 years because it's the easiest way for an individual to contribute to less violence, suffering, and exploitation.
My adult sites
- Cocksexual.com: Strapons
- EroticRed.com: Menstruation
- FurryGirl.com: Unshaved
- TheSensualVegan.com: Store
- VegPorn.com: Herbivores
More of me online
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New to my blog? Some favorite posts
- "You have no right to dislike feminism after all it's done for you!"
- "You misrepresent true feminism by focusing on the bad feminists. They're not real feminists anyway!"
- An argument for more sex workers to be out?
- Degrading, violent desires
- Do you have what it takes to be an empowered sex worker?
- Feminism is the shitty relationship you had in your early 20s
- Feminist porn isn't a branch of sex workers' rights, it's an obstacle
- How are we branding sex workers rights in the US? (Let's focus more on *worker*, less on *sex*!)
- How to do your homework on trafficking, "rescue", and the affected communities
- Let's stop pretending that "objectification" is a thing that exists
- Musings on ethical porn and the red herrings of "feminist porn" and "violent porn"
- My call for a "working" class uprising against inaccessible discourse and the over-representation of dabblers
- Sex trafficking is the new crack: manufactured "epidemics" as political tools
- The common logical fallacies deployed by anti-sex worker activists
- Things I've gained from being a sex worker: an anti-paternalistic perspective
- Vigilantism and 'crushing bastards': in praise of anger, hatred, and taking joy in the smiting of one's enemies
- Want to play BINGO with the antis?
- Watch out for psuedoscience: my long-time nemeses of concern trolling and "teaching the controversy"
- What do I mean when I say "sex worker"? Why I'm against an overly-broad definition
- Why I call them "anti-sex worker" rather than "anti-porn" or "anti-prostitution," and why you should too
Favorite sex/ho blogs
- Amanda Brooks
- Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers
- Belle de Jour
- Born Whore
- Bound, Not Gagged
- Dan Savage on SLOG
- Danny Wylde
- Jiz Lee
- Laura Agustín
- Lux Nightmare [2006-2007]
- Maggie McNeill
- Our Porn, Ourselves
- Sequoia Redd
- Serpent Libertine
- Sexonomics by Brooke Magnanti
- Shit They Say to Sex Workers
- Stuff Sex Workers Eat