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
Last night, the feminist porn bubble erupted in girlie squeals of "OMG, a cute boy looked at us!" on Twitter because it has found a new celebrity hero: Justin Timberlake. In a skit on Saturday Night Live, a character Timberlake was playing made a joking reference to feminist porn, which the feminist porn scene have been quick to appropriate (inaccurately) as some sort of serious celebrity endorsement of their genre, with Tristan Taormino now using Timberlake's face with the line from the SNL joke as marketing for her latest book. An image of Timberlake's face and the quote is currently being widely retweeted, reblogged, and celebrated as a victory. (On what planet does a joke on SNL constitute a celebrity's endorsement and interest in you using their image to sell you products, anyway? Should the piss porn genre should start using Patrick Stewart's face to sell their products because he once did a skit on SNL where he played a man turned on by women urinating?)
However, implying a celebrity endorsement of your products where none exists and using their image without their permission so you can make money isn't why I take issue with Taormino and others fawning all over Timberlake. (Though those are perfectly problematic issues in themselves.)
Timberlake was one of the celebrities who appeared in advertisements for the now-defunct Demi N Ashton Foundation, an anti-sex worker organization that regurgitated the same old lies about how the average age of entering the sex industry is 12, and how a whopping 1% of the population of America are trafficked child sex slaves. If you follow sex workers' rights issues even in the most passing way, you'd remember what a big deal this celebrity-led campaign was, and how it launched the biggest-yet mainstream media coverage of the rescue industry in the form of a series of Village Voice articles debunking the Foundation's claims. Like it or not, celebrities get more attention that any normal person ever could, including most politicians, so when celebrities pick up a cause as a trendy new way of earning themselves some good PR, millions of people will hear about that cause. It's because of the instant credibility which Americans assign to celebrities that their campaigns have so much power to undermine grownup-level conversations like sex workers' rights. I'm infuriated that Tristan Taormino and the rest of the sexy feminist team are currently heroizing a man who was very recently making the rounds as an anti-sex worker campaigner. Justin Timberlake has contributed to setting the sex workers' rights movement back by popularizing the worst lies about us, and no amount of jokes about porn can right that wrong. Feminists like Taormino couldn't care less about Timberlake's anti-sex worker activism, though, apparently finding it perfectly acceptable to throw normal sex workers under the bus so they can grasp desperately at the exciting straw of a celebrity knowing their porn genre exists.
This spat with an obtuse feminist pornographer reminds me of why I hate the feminist porn genre so much. No, not the products it makes, since I think a lot of it is sexy, but the way the genre works. It adds insult to injury that so many people see feminist porn as an extension of and solution to sex workers' rights, when it's really an obstacle.
Feminist porn is the anti-sex worker sex work, and its marketing commonly slams other sex workers and their appearance. One of the first feminist porn sites was Nakkid Nerds, whose motto was "Smarter than your average porn star," and it's only gone downhill ever since. Feminist porn has an aesthetic, and that aesthetic is marketed as the definition of being "empowered," as though a woman's intelligence and value as a human being is to be judged solely by whether or not she has tattoos and thick-rimmed hipster glasses. I can't tell you how many times I have seen feminist porn marketed with insults, catty little jabs about how their company doesn't have those brain-dead bleach-blonde drugged-up bimbos you see in regular porn, it has artists and lovers and manic pixie dream girls. As someone who makes porn with a similar "not traditional beauty standards" aesthetic, I have always tried to avoid that kind of vicious marketing copy, and while I do want to differentiate myself from a mainstream porn site, I prefer to use terms like, "not another cookie-cutter porn site," rather than launch an attack on how mainstream porn performers are ugly and stupid. You don't have to insult the appearances and intelligence of other sex workers to show that you're different, but it's endemic to feminist porn.
Feminist porn excludes normal sex workers by screening out applications from anyone who dares to be motivated by money, and the genre has long been inconsistent when it comes to actually paying performers. Feminist porn sites try and avoid hiring people who are "just in it for the money," as though there's nothing more disgusting than being a sex worker. One of the largest feminist porn companies used to openly claim that you could only get paid modeling work if you did some free work, so they could deter those awful people who were in it for the money. Another famous feminist porn director is renowned for financially screwing over her performers by trying to talk them down to accepting a lower payment after they've already shown up for work, or have already performed their scene, or simply not paying them at all. Most feminist porn sites start not with some investment capital, but by asking performers to donate their labor on the vague promise that they will be paid if and when the site ever makes a profit. (And many sites fail, which leaves a lot of hurt feelings.) I've watched as this business model has lead to plenty of behind-the-scene drama over the years when models don't get paid. This is not just about one feminist porn company, it's how the genre works. This financially exploitative relationship to workers is their normal, and it only continues to work because there will always be plenty of cute college-age punks and hipsters who are motivated by the fun and rebellious aspect of the porn industry, but aren't trying to make it a reliable source of income. Many feminist porn sites also expect workers to donate unpaid labor in the form of writing blogs for the site, participating in the site's online forums and flirting with paying subscribers, responding to fan emails, and doing member chats. Those precious "social networking" and "community" features, of which the feminist porn genre is so proud, are built on the labor of unpaid workers, who are well aware that doing free work might lead to being hired for paid work again.
Feminist porn splashes the word "revolutionary" all over everything it does. This might seem like I'm nitpicking semantics here, but I take deep offense to corporations using the term "revolution" in order to sell things. After all, let's not forget that feminist porn is a business, and as a business, its goal is to make money. It's fine by me to make money, I like making money, too, but I would never insult all the peoples of the world who have engaged in lengthy and costly life-or-death struggles by touting my collection of tit pics a "revolution." Using that word to market entertainment products shows a profound ignorance of and giggly insensitivity towards countless historical and global struggles where vast numbers of oppressed people have died in horrible ways while fighting for freedoms like ending racial segregation, to buck off colonialism, or to overthrow dictators. Feminist porn sellers are not "revolutionaries" by any stretch of the imagination.
People who dabble in feminist porn are regularly handed paid speaking gigs at colleges around the country to speak on sex work issues, even though they only rarely engage in sex work, and do so mostly for fun. This would be akin to having an event about labor organizing for farm workers and hiring as your speaker someone who occasionally helps with a friend's garden on summer weekends. People are drawn to sex work for all sorts of reasons, and one of them is that it's naughty and exciting, but it's deeply troublesome to have most of the public faces of sex work be feminist porn models who are motivated by an interest in transgressive fun. The vast, vast majority of sex workers are not in the business primarily for personal growth and sexual fulfillment, so it always bothers me to see such people actively seeking so much attention as sex workers. I doubt any of these feminist porn dabblers claim to represent all sex workers in their lectures, but that doesn't negate the fact that when the public is handed a token sex worker at an event, they will mentally assign to them the status of "spokesperson for sex workers." It's because of the fact that representatives are taken as representative that the onus should be on people invited to speak before large groups as a token sex workers to ask themselves, "Am I really the person who should be addressing this group? Might they be better served by someone who is a full-time sex worker, or who has more experience than I, or who is a more typical sex worker?" I have refused plenty of chances to be on TV or in the media because I felt like I was not the best spokesperson for whatever a journalist wanted to discuss, and I always referred them to people who are better suited than I. I've dabbling in pro-domming work, but I certainly wouldn't be marketing myself to universities as someone they should hire to speak to students on what it's like to be a dominatrix. Dabblers shouldn't be spokespersons, period, but the lure of fame and being able to add "college speaker" to one's resume is too irresistible to feminist porn people.
And the biggest one: feminist porn hinges on the idea that sex work is only ethical or acceptable if it's done by people who are doing it primarily for personal fulfillment. This "let them eat cake" attitude is such profound bullshit, and it's completely antithetical to the idea of sex workers' rights. The feminist porn scene trades on (and profits from) marketing copy that implies that sex work is unethical when it's done by normal sex workers, who are no doubt exploited and degraded. This is so insulting, especially when some of them obtusely throw out the argument that feminist porn is some kind of "solution" to sex workers' rights, as though the millions of sex workers around the world could sustain their incomes by traveling to San Francisco to do a couple of porn shoots a year where they may or may not ever be paid. (Feminists have deployed a similar argument about how the "solution" to large stage fees and mandatory tipouts in the strip club industry is that everyone instead works at San Francisco's small worker-run Lusty Lady punk/chubby girl strip club where everyone earns an hourly wage.)
Along with decriminalization, the goal of the global sex workers' rights movement is to gain public respect for our work and to be recognized as workers, and feminist porn is fighting for the exact opposite: that sex work is only acceptable if it's done by not-workers for not-money, and that being motivated by money to do sex work is a problem in itself. Every business needs its marketing angles and to differentiate itself from competitors, but feminist porn needn't put its own profits and feel-good image ahead of the struggles of sex workers to convince the public that selling sexual services is a legitimate job and should be respected as such. The real insult of all of this is that any advancement in sex workers' rights also benefits feminist porn performers, but feminist porn believes it can only succeed by disparaging other sex workers.
by Furry Girl
One of my readers sent me Sun Tzu's classic book The Art of War, and I thought I would quote and comment on certain passages that I'd consider relevant to sex workers' rights activists. For those unfamiliar with the small public domain book, it's considered the instruction manual on warfare strategy, written about 2200 years ago by a Chinese general, and still used today. You've no doubt seen quotes from it before, even if you didn't recognize them as such, and you can read more about its history on Wikipedia. Below are some snippets I especially liked, and comments on how they apply to us.
The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand.
This is a blanket critique I have of a lot of activism: people focus on the acting bit without really gaming out whether what they're doing is likely to be effective, or how it fits into a long-term strategy. Yes, action is necessary, and exciting, and makes you "feel activisty," but when it's done without a plan, it's wasting valuable time and energy that could be spent on a targeted project.
Hence a wise general makes a point of foraging on the enemy. One cartload of the enemy's provisions is equivalent to twenty of one's own.
I've given a lot of thought to this concept this year - the basic premise of guerilla warfare that says it's smart to use one's enemies resources against them, especially when they are stronger than you. I'm not sure how to implement this with sex workers' rights, but I think the collective "we" have done a good job with trying to use the media spotlight on Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore's anti-sex worker campaign to get attention for our issues. Another thing I pushed for earlier was that any tweet with the word trafficking shows up on the front page of the DNA Foundation's web site, which uses their celebrity web site to hopefully get some clicks and visibility for the truth behind sex trafficking hysteria. (This still holds true, so tweet away.) We're up against wealthy, politically-connected opponents who are experts at using emotional and fear to control conversations; using that very power and strength against them should always be a top consideration with campaign strategy. If we aren't big enough to get much attention on our own yet, riding the media coattails of celebrities and their well-promoted events may be the best shot.
Thus the highest form of generalship is to balk the enemy's plans; the next best is to prevent the junction of the enemy's forces; the next in order is to attack the enemy's army in the field; and the worst policy of all is to besiege walled cities.
I like this list, most importantly the last two items. As every sex worker activist quickly discovers, trying to change the world by immersing oneself in protracted debates with the extreme of the anti-porn and anti-sex worker crowd is pointless, emotionally taxing, and detracts from doing important things. While some sex bloggers and pseudo-allies tirelessly promote the idea of wasting time picking fights with the opposition on Twitter and in blog comment wars, we all really need to stop wasting out time on silly battles with people who will never in a million years support us. They have already beaten you if you spend your time with them instead of reaching out to the real public and people who are on the fence. I am totally guilty of spending too much time in earlier years fighting with anti-porn extremists, so please learn from my mistakes. Stop besieging walled cities.
Thus we may know that there are five essentials for victory: He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight. He will win who knows how to handle both superior and inferior forces. He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout its ranks. He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared. He will win who has military capacity and is not interfered with by the sovereign.
Item one especially. This comes again to the issue of knowing when and where to best spend your energies.
Hence the saying: If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself, but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.
As an author of the inventory of anti-sex worker activists, I obviously support gaining a better understanding of exactly who we are up against. These are dangerous and often powerful assholes, but they are still people with strengths and weaknesses like anyone else. Knowing their motivations, histories, and alliances is vital to our work. On the flip side, knowing our own issues inside and out, including our vulnerabilities, is also vital.
Security against defeat implies defensive tactics; ability to defeat the enemy means taking the offensive.
Almost all sex worker activism in the US revolves around creating art, navel-gazing about "the true" meaning of feminism, and community/subculture-building. There's very little being done to take the offensive position. It's important to have projects that proactively get our message out there, educate people, and tackle portions of the criminal code, rather than resigning ourselves to reacting to situations like the murders of sex workers, bad laws being passed, or media campaigns from religious groups with deep pockets.
How to be more proactive is one of my top concerns. Since public education is the area where we're the weakest, and we need public support in order to make political gains, I do my best to make sex work issues accessible and relevant to as many members of the general population as possible. If I had actual funding for this, I'd love to do even more with public education, but since there's been little financial support, SWAAY's public outreach campaign at something of a standstill. I don't have the the luxury to make SWAAY both my unpaid part-time job and spend lots of money on it out of my own pocket. (I'm still something like $2500 in the hole for what I've spent on SWAAY related expenses.)
We can form a single united body, while the enemy must be split up into fractions. Hence there will be a whole pitted against separate parts of a whole, which means we shall be many to the enemy's few.
I'd love to see sex workers, on a national level, come together around more projects. The only thing that seems to unite American sex workers' rights activists is a love of pretentiously opining about "what does feminism mean, and does it mean something meaningful for us feminists who crave meaning?" nonsense. Imagine all that could be accomplished if those countless thousands of hours were spent on something that mattered.
He who exercises no forethought but makes light of his opponents is sure to be captured by them.
While anti-sex worker activists are often absolute nutjobs, that doesn't mean they're not also very cunning. At the 2010 Desiree Alliance conference, Nina Hartley made a great comment in her keynote, which I believe was phrased, "I don't think of them as prudes, I think of them as predators." Don't let their absurd ideas and conservative backwardness lull you into thinking they're easy to beat or not excellent strategists.
If we know that the enemy is open to attack, but are unaware that our own men are not in a condition to attack, we have gone only halfway towards victory.
For me, the recent Google campaign is a great example of this. I spent two weeks working full time on that to make it happen, ignoring all of my other responsibilities for half a month. It was a campaign that had a good chance of seeing success, but no matter how hard I was pushing, it just didn't catch on. SWOP Bay Area and SWOP LA joined in, which was so awesome, but after lots of begging and pleading, I couldn't get any other cities to spend even one hour at a protest I'd pre-packaged for them.
We lack a national response framework for when things come up in our community like Google giving millions to anti-sex worker lobbyists. It seems like a lot of the people who identify as "sex worker activists," for all their online bluster about whore power, are stone-cold terrified of actually being seen in public as sex workers, and handing out polite flyers about why sex workers' rights are important. I wish I could fast-forward to the future when there's enough of a cohesive, non-closeted movement where it doesn't take hours and hours to find even one person to join me in a protest - in a major American city filled with sex workers and "sex-positives." As I said to someone in a private exchange, it felt like I was trying to recruit people to be suicide bombers or something - the idea of attending a non-confrontational daylight demonstration was a step too far for most "activists." (Cheers to my Seattle protest buddy @ishfery who made Google her very first protest. We need more people willing to get offline for a little while and make a difference.) It was a disheartening project for me to work on overall, but I am glad that it did get some news attention, and hundreds of flyers were handed out to the public in three locations.
Looking at the fizzled out Google campaign makes me worried about making much bigger plans within the next 10 years, though. If it's too much work to show up at a location and hand out flyers that someone else wrote for you, then how the hell is anyone going to have the stamina to even file the paperwork for permission to collect signatures to begin the process of trying to chip away at bad laws through ballot initiatives? Or if an hour of one's time is too much, then how can we afford teams of lawyers to mount constitutional challenges to anti-sex work laws? We have to crawl before we can run marathons, and I wish there were more people ready to even attempt the crawling phase. I know there are wonderful and hard-working ho activists around the country, but the ratio of those types to people who only (re)tweet and (re)blog about the issues is disappointing.
Anyway, get out there, and wage some (smart) war!
by Furry Girl
I've spent almost the entire last 5 days researching the groups that Google is now funding. Please see the campaign page and read something I've put a lot of time info!
Why are sex workers' rights supporters upset with Google?
Google announced last week that they are making the largest-ever corporate donation to "ending modern day slavery": an impressive $11.5 million dollars. We applaud and support Google's desire to fight slavery, forced trafficking, and exploitative labor conditions, but Google's funding recipients include three NGOs that cause serious harm to sex workers in around the world: International Justice Mission, Polaris Project, and Not for Sale. As small sex worker support services struggle for funding to serve their communities, it is offensive to watch Google shower money upon a wealthy faith-based group like the International Justice Mission, which took in nearly $22 million dollars in 2009 alone. (In contrast, the St. James Infirmary, a San Francisco clinic that provides free healthcare to sex workers, operated on only $335k in 2010.)
Does Google know what their money is really supporting? Let's take a look at what you won't read about on the front pages these groups' glossy web sites.
Also, I'll be protesting outside of Google's Seattle building on Wednesday from 2-4pm (on the bridge next to it, to be specific). There are also protests in other locations, too, so check the campaign page. Please join me so I don't have to feel like a lonely sad protester.
by Furry Girl
"The Federal Bureau of Investigation is the only agency that keeps track of how many children the legal system rescues from pimps nationwide. The count, which began in June 2003, now exceeds 1,600 as of April of this year, according to the FBI’s Innocence Lost website — an average of about 200 each year.
Through interviews and analysis of public records, Village Voice Media has found that the federal government spends about $20 million a year on public awareness, victims’ services, and police work related to domestic human trafficking, with a considerable focus on combating the pimping of children. An additional $50 million-plus is spent annually on youth homeless shelters, and since 1996, taxpayers have contributed a total of $186 million to fund a separate program that provides street outreach to kids who might be at risk of commercial sexual exploitation.
That’s at least $80 million doled out annually for law enforcement and social services that combine to rescue approximately 200 child prostitutes every year.
These agencies might improve upon their $400,000-per-rescued-child average if they joined in the effort to develop a clearer picture of the population they aim to aid. But there’s no incentive for them to do so when they stand to rake in even more public money simply by staying the course."
-- Kristen Hinman, in Lost Boys on villagevoice.com
If you haven't read this new installment in the Village Voice's series exposing the myths around sex trafficking, I suggest you do so.
by Furry Girl
It's somewhat strange for me to be talking about forced trafficking so much lately, because while I do care about how anti-trafficking organizations hurt consensual adult sex workers and ignore genuine victims, and have read much more on the subject that most other people, I will be the first to tell you that I am no forced trafficking expert. My only real blog post about trafficking is advocating that people seek out better sources for information. After a couple of weeks of peeking at the Twitter feed of Ashton Kutcher's fans talking about trafficking, it's very clear that most people lobbing opinions on the subject (and angrily contacting their elected officials) know nothing beyond sensationalist crusades led by celebrities, covered by media outlets who gussy up the story to be as dramatic and upsetting as possible. I might not be an expert, but I certainly have a more informed opinion than most other people publicly blathering about the subject.
I need help in creating an important resource that does not seem to exist yet. Unlike the mainstream anti-trafficking and anti-sex work groups that view all males as probably drooling for a chance to rape a child sex slave, I want SWAAY to show real consideration and appreciation of clients who strive to be ethical. I think the American sex workers' rights movement is missing out by neglecting to court clients as allies or consider them potential supporters.
For one, I am still still seeking short pieces of advice from current and former sex workers on how clients can be respectful and ethical towards us. I am hugely disappointed that after a month of the site being live, not a single sex worker has submitted a suggestion for how clients can treat them better. (Admittedly, I am limiting my scope to sex workers who have worked in the US and are willing to post a photo of themselves. But I personally know oodles of sex workers who show their face online, and they've not shown any interest in reaching out to clients through this part of the site, despite my mentioning it regularly.) We all tweet and blog gripes when clients do something that pisses us off or violates our boundaries, but there's almost nothing written about how to not be that douchebag who gets ranted about. Let's do something positive and help people understand how we do want to be treated. What seems like common sense to us can be a confusing and vague world to others.
Secondly, since I have not seen such a resource anywhere yet, I'd like to add information specifically for clients of sex workers who might be concerned about seeing an underage prostitute or someone who is being abused. Clients are in a better position than celebrities, NGOs, and even sex workers to locate and report potential victims of exploitation. Yet, I don't believe I've ever seen anything from the sex workers' rights movement targeted at clients to give them information about how they might attempt to identify and report suspected forced trafficking, abuse, or underage victims. The short answer is "call the police from a payphone in an area without security cameras," but that's not good enough.
The DNA Foundation, as well as other anti-sex work anti-trafficking organizations, have their own hotline for people to call to report abuse. (I sincerely wonder what kinds of calls those numbers get if the organizations running them train people to consider all sex workers as victims who need saving. "Hello, Mr Kutcher! This is Bob in San Franciso. I wanted to report a strip club I saw, which no doubt filled with trafficked slaves. Am I hero now?") Does anyone on "our team" have a phone number people can call?
I do hesitate to tell people to phone the police. What if a well-meaning client triggers a raid on an area of prostitution (like an hourly motel) and ends up just getting a lot of hard-up people arrested who are not victims? What if the police do indeed find a 16-year-old engaging in prostitution, arrest them, and ship them back to an abusive family from which they escaped and are desperate to never see again? There's no easy solution, especially since "rescue" means arrest first, ask questions later, and can mean sending people into more abusive situations. (As someone who was kicked out shortly before turning 16, yet never engaged in sex work at the time, I know that I would have been fucking livid if someone had tried to "help" me by involving the police. I might not have had a stable address and enough to eat at all times, but I vastly preferred that lifestyle to other options.)
But where do we start? How can we genuinely work to include clients in the fight against both forced trafficking and serious abuses, as well as the inadvertent mistreatment of consensual sex workers? What are answers that don't involve arrests and involvement of the state, which can make things worse on already disadvantaged people? Would clients carry a business card-sized list of non-governmental shelters and support services to give to anyone they think might want to seek help? These are the tough questions I'd like to see the sex workers' rights movement addressing.
Edited to add: a commenter pointed out this awesome-looking UK resource: Redline. It seems to be exactly what I wish we had here in the states.
by Furry Girl
"Sex worker" has become a chic identity in urban feministy sex-positive communities, so it's no wonder that some people desperately want to be able to add that label to their own bio. Doing so is badass, it's liberated, it's sexy, it will help make you internet famous, it's... totally fucking irritating.
Earlier this month, I wrote about my definition of "sex work" and why the term does not apply to everyone in the sex industry at large, or everyone who enjoys sex as a hobby. To repeat myself, "sex work is exchanging one's own sexual labor or performance for compensation." This means it doesn't include people like sex advice columnists, strip club owners, or dildo store clerks. Those people are missing the whole "their own sexual labor" thing. But, let's not forget the wannabes who are missing the whole work half of sex work.
I've apparently pissed off a sex blogger by not allowing contributions from non- sex workers for SWAAY's section of short personal stories from sex workers. She sent in a submission about why she enjoys sex blogging, and I politely declined and told her the call-out for submissions is for sex workers only.
I've had arguments with sex bloggers about this topic before, and I know I'll have it many times in the future. What confounds me is how some sex bloggers just can't wrap their heads around the difference between being a slut and being a whore. There is a distinction between posting free sexy photos of yourself because it arouses you, and posing for sexy photos to make money. One is a hobby done for personal arousal and satisfaction, the other is a job done regardless of whether the worker finds it sexually fulfilling. It's like saying that you consider yourself a prostitute because you like having one-night stands.
I've never met a person without a sex-positive web persona who thinks that their unpaid sexual escapades qualify them as sex workers. Do they think that doing something sexual on the internet is what defines sex work? What is it about getting off on web-based exhibitionism that inspires non- sex workers to identify as a sex worker? I don't understand.
Why does this rattle me so much? Because being a sex worker means dealing with some serious social stigmas that can impact your life is big ways, and to degrees that non-professional sluts won't experience. On the extreme end of things, if you get a cross-section of sex workers together, you'll find someone who has been raped or assaulted by a police officer. I've never once heard a sex blogger report that this is an issue in their community. Sex workers flat-out have more stigma and (risk of) illegality around our lives and work. Even relatively privileged sex workers like myself deal with problems like finding a place to live when your income isn't (well-) documented, rejection by friends and family, being verbally attacked by feminists and personally blamed for rape and sexism as a whole, weighing bad laws versus your own personal safety, and the endless hassles and heartbreaks of dating as a sex worker. It's everything a slut experiences, but greatly multiplied, often complicated by fear of prosecution.
On Twitter, a sex shop owner replied to my rants about sex bloggers:
clmng the name sex worker in solidarity & in rec of lvls of sex wrk is good. But priv people mkng assumptions & demands is icky.
Huh? It's good to falsely claim "sex worker" in "solidarity" with us? Please, do show me where sex workers are begging the general public to adopt the title "sex worker" in order to make life better for us. Did black liberation groups of the 60s and 70s call for white people to put on blackface makeup in order to make lives better for black people? Is the queer rights movement insisting that things will only get better if more straight people pretend to be queer? Oh, wait, none of that nonsense has never happened. Lying and claiming to be a part of an oppressed group won't fix that group's problems.
Here we have an example of someone who thinks they're being an awesome ally to sex workers, but are actually just imposing their own ideas of what sex workers should do in contrary to what sex workers are asking of them. Paternalism like this is never pretty, it's no different from the paternalism of anti- sex worker activists and "rescuers," and it's certainly not "solidarity." I've ranted about bad, bossy behavior from "allies" before, and I will continue to stand against non- sex workers insisting that they know better sex workers about what we should be doing. It's not providing useful suggestions as a part of a sex worker -initiated conversation, it's deciding on your own that you're in the best position to figure out how we should go forward.
Claiming marginalizations that you have never experienced is offensive, whether you're claiming them because you incorrectly believe you're a part of a "cool" oppressed group, or whether you think that pretending to be marginalized is an act of political change. This is one of the problems with the "hipsterization of sex work" that I've written about before - sex work can get turned into just another transgressive thing to add to one's list of (mock) transgressions against social norms.
This style of temporarily cloaking yourself in other people's realities reminds me of the countless people I've met who romanticize being poor, but as it turns out, come from money and have never experienced real poverty. While it's not perfectly analogous to the wannabe sex worker crowd, it's the same irksome problem of people flagrantly ignoring/denying their privileges, and even thinking that doing so is helping and standing with the oppressed. It isn't. If you want to help sex workers and be a good ally, please start by listening to us, not by pretending to be one of us.
by Furry Girl
This is the third of three call-outs I'm posting this week for participation in SWAAY. Also see my requests for tips for our clients on how to be respectful and ethical customers and for personal stories from sex workers.
Since including the voices of lots of different sex workers is an important part of swaay.org for me, here's another request for your involvement. Sure, any one person could write a section on how to be a good ally, but as often as possible, I want to show that sex workers are not a monolith.
Today, I'm looking for people who want to explain what it means to be a good ally.
by Furry Girl
When it comes to strategic planning around politics, outreach, and activism, reader Miss C brought up a good point in a comment on a previous post.
I've been thinking a lot about things people have done that have personally helped me in my activism. Maybe an interesting thread if it hasn't already been done here- who's been an effective ally for you, and what have they done? Sometimes it's the little things - whenever my primary partner's buddies get on him about not "controlling his woman" ie my whoring about, he always says "she's great at what she does, she enjoys it, and I'm proud of her."
It's an excellent topic to think about.
As sex workers (or members of other marginalized groups), what have people done to be a good ally to you? It could be something overtly political, like working together with another human rights organization towards a shared goal, or as Miss C notes, having a partner or friend stick up for you.
Here's an example from my life: after having one (now former) friend/lover callously drop out of co-presenting with me at the Desiree Alliance conference last summer (because he suddenly decided that being associated with whores might ruin his career), another friend gladly jumped in. I grant big props to sexy geek / computer security rockstar Alex Sotirov for taking the time to speak as a part of our panel, "Safety for Sex Workers Through Personal Privacy: Digital and Real-World Techniques For Safeguarding Your Identity and Your Life." It was genuinely heartening to see someone with a non- sex industry job come to the conference, and response on Twitter to his mention of presenting at a sex worker event (from other computer professionals) was amused/positive - not career-ruining.
A related question to the above: What have political causes done to reach out to you and get you interested in their issues? If you're involved in activism, who or what lit a fire under your ass to try and change the world?
The reason I ask, of course, being that I'd love to employ those same smart and effective outreach techniques to get people interested in the sex workers rights movement.
by Furry Girl
The primary thing I'll be doing with my upcoming project SWAAY (Sex Workers, Activists, Allies, and You) is to create accessible public outreach materials, online and offline. And by "public outreach," I mean actual public outreach, not just speaking at sex blogger conferences or getting supportive re-tweets from BDSM podcasters. (Which are both good things, but it's not the public outreach sex workers need to do to actually change laws and influence society in a big way.)
I admired how atheist Christopher Hitchens was running his book and speaking tours during these last few years. In Hitchens' book tour, rather than do the expected and just hit New York, LA, San Francisco, and other bastions of atheism where he'd draw big crowds of people who already agree with him, he also went to the Bible belt of America and challenged religious leaders to public debates. He didn't just want to read passages to nodding fans, he wanted to stir things up and confront religion on its home court. He toured places like Alabama and Mississippi. That's the sort of thing that inspires me, and I'm a champion of a cause even less popular than atheism.
I really want to see the sex workers rights movement in America stop being a social justice movement that pretty much only interests kinksters, feminist academics, sex bloggers, pagans/tantra hippies, and the radical sexuality community. I'm an autiauthoritarian pervert who's not "normal" in so many ways, but I'm tired of the tacit message that sex workers rights is an issue that you need to be a kinky leftist to care about. I want to see the sex rights rights movement to stop being so perma-linked with the sex-positive scene, feminism, and -gasp- even the left. I want to help the other 99% of Americans notice our issues. Or, to put it another way: I want to see the sorts of people who've never been to a sex party (nor have any interest in ever doing so) get interested in our issues.
So, my question for you now is: what sorts of public outreach have sex workers rights activists tried, especially offline? I'd guess that the most successful American sex worker outreach campaign was the one around Prop K in San Francisco in 2008, but I could be wrong. Who else has tried educating the general public? How? Where? Why? Please post stories and links (and handouts/posters?) in the comment area. (Keep in mind that I mean public outreach, not just building bridges with other activists, marginalized communities, or kinky groups. I mean reaching out to totally regular people.)
Furry Girl: legs now closed for business.
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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
Vaguely similar 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
- Women Against Feminism