by Furry Girl
"The Web sites I found, trolling through hundreds of Google hits for 'egg donor' were similar, placing heavy emphasis on the motivation of donors. They spoke of fulfillment, of 'making a difference,' of 'one of the most loving gifts one woman can give to another.' The pictures were of babies, clouds, building blocks. The site I chose was among the most thickly written, its invitation to donate dripping with hyper-feminized expressions of motherhood and generosity. It was the linguistic equivalent of a doily.
The application also asked, 'What is the least amount of compensation you will consider accepting for an egg donation?' Elsewhere, the agency stated that it would not accept requests of more than $10,000. So I typed in: $10,000.
When I suggested later that the egg-for-dollars swap is hardly a donation, [the doctor] looked genuinely confused and changed the subject to my egg-producing potential.
The mainstreaming of fertility treatments contributes to a larger concern among cultural conservatives, who worry egg donation is a step on the way to the much-feared designer baby. 'Do you really want to pick a kid the way you shop for a car?' Reader's Digest asked in 2001. Feminists, too, find the mixture of capitalistic enterprise and female bodies disturbing. The Nation's Katha Pollitt has called surrogacy 'reproductive prostitution.' Sexual anxieties make for strange bedfellows: In 2004 National Review’s Kathryn Jean Lopez wrote a column slamming egg donation, approvingly quoting Pollitt.
While egg prices range from a few thousand dollars to $30,000 or more, ASRM guidelines recommend donors receive a maximum of $10,000, above which compensation is deemed 'inappropriate.' Paradoxically, such guidelines are sold as being in the interest of the donor, usually portrayed as cash-strapped and naive. In the words of the President's Council on Bioethics, such women tend to be from 'financially vulnerable populations,' which implies they need protection from the temptation of incurring bodily risk for profit."
-- Kerry Howley in Ova for Sale on reason.com
I support the consensual selling of organs, bodily fluids, tissue, and eggs/sperm, as well as women renting out their uteruses for surrogacy, or people being paid participants in medical research. The same arguments hurled at sex workers are also deployed against other "weird" or "possibly dangerous" uses of one's body for income. (Though very few people will apply that condemnation of occupations with physical injury risk to sports, agriculture, construction, the military, manual labor, or any number of blue collar jobs.)
Also: the euphemisms and bullshit parade that accompany egg-selling remind me of the prostitutes who put on airs about how they are "erotic journey facilitators," "tantric healers," and "sacred goddess practitioners."
by Furry Girl
"The reason I went out on that limb [making anti-drug war comments when speaking at Liberty University] was partly penance for my two great aunts who devoted their lives to the Women's Temperance Union and certainly played a part in creating Prohibition nearly a century ago. They are both deceased now, but I think it's important to realize that their religious outrage over alcohol created the legal precedent to allow the federal government to come between my lips and my throat. In essence, to tell me what I could and could not ingest.
That such a precedent would morph in our day into illegal raw milk, homemade pickles, and home cured charcuterie certainly never crossed their minds. But this is why we must be very careful when we ask for the government to remedy our outrage. Outrageous behavior, also known as the lunatic fringe, is the seed bed of innovation and creativity. A government that can take away alcohol can also take away heritage food.
The moment the government determines that you do not own yourself, that society owns your body, you give up all personal choice and autonomy. You are no longer a citizen, but a slave. Not a person, but a pawn.
Right now, farmers can give away raw milk and home made pickles; the prohibition is on sales. What is it about taking money for something that suddenly turns it from a wonderful charitable product into a hazardous substance?"
-- An interview with Joel Salatin in Creating Sustainable Agriculture Without Government Subsidies on reason.com
I don't like how Salatin sees veganism and locavorism as opposing ideas (I bet that a greater percentage of vegans support farmer's markets and are concerned about buying local/sustainable than typical American omnivores), or his support of homeopathy and alt "med," but most of the article is pretty awesome. I found Salatin's anti-GMO stance especially great: the need to fight Monsanto from a property rights perspective, not with more government regulation of GMOs. (An example of how enforcing existing basic laws is better than creating more red tape and more laws.) Overall, I enjoy seeing how people from various walks of life can make the same connections about government intrusion on their bodies and their lives - whether a Christian farmer or an atheist ho.
by Furry Girl
"...let's stop blaming men ('all-male church,' 'mostly-male Congress,' 'male-run Fox News,' etc.) for doing all this bad stuff to women.
Women vote to put anti-sex politicians in office; a majority of women voted for Republicans in the 2010 Congressional election. Women support the churches that keep anti-sex politicians in office. Women buy the newspapers and consume the radio and TV programs (like Rush's) that promote moral panics about sexuality.
And let's remember that when women get political power they typically act like men when it comes to sex. Both Michelle Bachman and Sarah Palin are aghast about Rush—not about what he said, but about how he’s been held accountable for it. And virtually every female Republican governor and Congressmember of the last decade has voted to restrict access to abortion and birth control."
-- Dr Marty Klein, in It’s Not A War On Women—It’s A War On Sex on sexualintelligence.wordpress.com
by Furry Girl
I'm not a mainstream LA porn performer, so I don't write much about mainstream porn. I tend to avoid writing about topics where I don't have a lot of personal experience, even if I have a lot of second-hand knowledge. (This is why I don't write much about prostitution here - it's not that I don't absolutely support decriminalization, or know how to debate the issue inside and out, but I'd rather people read about prostitution-specific issues from those doing that form of sex work.)
However, I hadn't seen anyone post the exact regulations that will go into effect in LA on March 5th, so I figured I'd go look up the laws and do it myself. You can read the full 6-page PDF document I downloaded from the LA City Clerk's web site.
The people of the City of Los Angeles hereby find and declare all of the following:
(a) The HIV/AIDS crisis, and the ongoing epidemic of sexually transmitted infections as a result of the making of adult films, has caused a negative impact on public health and the quality of life of citizens living in Los Angeles.
(b) Safer sex practices are a prime method of preventing and reducing the spread of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections.
(c) The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has documented widespread transmission of sexually transmitted infections associated with the activities of the adult film industry within the City of Los Angeles.
(d) The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has opined that the use of condoms is the best and most effective way to stem the spread of sexually transmitted infections within the adult film industry.
The people of the City of Los Angeles hereby declare their purpose and intent in enacting this ordinance to be to minimize the spread of sexually transmitted infections resulting from the production of adult films in the City of Los Angeles, which have caused a negative impact on public health and the quality of life of citizens living in Los Angeles.
Porn production is not the root cause of HIV/STIs, I wish so badly that people would stop repeating that as though it were a fact.
First, there is no "ongoing epidemic" of HIV in the porn industry. I don't know how to calculate the numbers, but a lot of sex happens on porn sets in LA. We can all agree it's "a lot," right? And every couple or few years, there have been HIV scares in porn where sadly, a small number of performers are infected. (The HIV cases seem to all originate with a performer who has unsafe sex with "civilians" in their private life, and then brings the virus to work.) While any new HIV infection is unfortunate, a few cases of HIV every few years is not an "epidemic," it's an anomaly. According to the CDC, about 50,000 people are infected with HIV every year in America.
The ordinance starts off big about HIV/AIDS, the most scary diseases, but then the language changes to read "sexually transmitted infections." Yes, people get minor STIs in porn, and it's not a secret. Risking an occasional case of chlamydia (easily treated with antibiotics), or even getting herpes, is part of the known risk of working in the porn industry. You know who spreads more STIs per sex act? Everyone else. How about the city devote its resources to providing free condoms and accurate sex education in every middle school and high school? That's a group I'm more concerned about. The porn industry is already hyper-vigilante about STI reduction, it's the last population that needs the government's meddling on that front.
While almost all porn performers strongly oppose condom laws, it's important to emphasize that condoms are not the only way to reduce one's risks, and nor are condoms flawless. Their efficacy on reducing the transmission risk of genital warts, HPV, and herpes is debatable, so condom or no condom, those skin-to-skin STIs can be shared. The ordinance's justification and language makes a huge error by implying that "safer sex" means "sex with a condom." In fact, "safer sex" is not a single idea or product like a condom, but a term that implies a wide array of options which can be deployed by themselves or in combination. Condoms are one way to reduce your risks, but they're not the only way. "Pulling out" is also a safer sex tactic. Regular STI screening is a safer sex tactic. Only having sex with partners whose STI status you trust is a safer sex tactic. Improvising "dental dams" from plastic wrap is a safer sex tactic. Only sleeping with one person your entire life is a safer sex tactic. Taking medication if you have herpes is a safer sex tactic. Safer sex is a spectrum of choices to reduce one's risks, it is not some single-meaning word that stands in only for condoms.
An "adult film" is defined as any film, video, multimedia or other representation of sexual intercourse in which performers actually engage in oral, vaginal, or anal penetration, including but not limited to penetration by a penis, finger, or inanimate object; oral contact with the anus or genitals of another performer; and/or any other activity that may result in the transmission of blood and/or any other potentially infectious materials as defined in California Code of Regulations, Title 8, Section 5193(b).
(4) All producers of adult films issued permits under the authority of the City of Los Angeles or the Los Angeles Police Department pursuant to Section 12.22(A)(13) of this Code or any other law authorizing the issuance of permits for commercial filming are required to maintain engineering and work practice controls sufficient to protect employees from exposure to blood and/or any other potentially infectious materials controls consistent with California Code of Regulations, Title 8, Section 5193.
(5) Any film permit issued under the authority of the City of Los Angeles or the Los Angeles Police Department pursuant to Section 12.22(A)(13) of this Code or any other law authorizing the issuance of permits for commercial filming for the production of an adult film must expressly condition said permit on compliance with subsection (4) of this section. Any such permit shall contain the following language: "Permittee must abide by all applicable workplace health and safety regulations, including California Code of Regulations Title 8, Section 5193, which mandates barrier protection, including condoms, to shield performers from contact with blood or other potentially infectious material during the production of films."
(6) The City shall charge, or shall direct any other person or entity contracting with the City to administer the film permitting process, to charge, entertainment industry customers seeking permits for the production of adult films a fee sufficient to allow periodic inspections to ensure compliance with the conditions setforth in Section 12.22.1 (B)(4).
Disappointingly, there's nothing about how these "periodic inspections" will occur, or who is held responsible if a violation is in order. From the wording of the law, and it being based on filming permits, I'd assume the studio/producer/director would be responsible for paying a fine for facing charges. Are performers themselves seen as passive victims of a greedy and corrupt porn studio if they reject condoms and then a condomless sex act is filmed? I'd love to know how enforcement will work, and if the regulations will be used to crack down on porn makers, or performers as well.
So, what's in this Title 8 Section 5193 that keeps getting mentioned? A gigantic long page of definitions about what constitutes a bloodborne pathogen or bodily fluid. It's written for people in the medical and research realms who may get needle sticks or be exposed to contaminated bodily fluids at work, and how to dispose of medical waste and needles. There's also a lot of vague language about "personal protective equipment," but how that will be defined when it comes to porn is unknown. It could mean condoms, it could mean that each performer is legally required to wear a bright yellow hazmat suit like someone in a movie about a zombie or plague outbreak. Will LA enforce the part of these workplace regulations that say one is required to wear a "face shield" or "protective bodily clothing," or even use a respirator? Is this what porn could look like in the near future?
These new regulations go into effect in a couple of weeks. How they end up being enforced is anyone's guess. Based on the vagueness of the rules, and how any porn where performers are not wearing a full hazmat suit could technically be held in violation of the laws, I'd predict selective and politically-motivated prosecutions. Did your studio kick and scream to oppose the law? I wonder if the safety inspectors will be paying you a visit first. Better have those face shields ready.
Edit: One of my Twitter followers brought up an important point: what if studios carry on as normal and just agree to pay fines? I don't know what the fines are, or if jail time is also a part of the deal. But, if it's a $500 fine on a production with a $10,000 budget, maybe it will just be another cost of doing business in LA. An unfair increase, of course, but perhaps this is a case where it's better to just pay the fine than comply with the law.
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'm not a hardcore nerd the way some of my wonderful friends are, so what I like with geek events are discussions of social implications of technologies, surveillance, privacy, anonymity, and fighting state power and censorship. Most of these recommended videos are from the 28th Chaos Communication Congress, which concluded a couple of weeks ago. These are my favorites, but you can find even more talks from the CCC by searching for "28c3" on YouTube.
How Governments have tried to block Tor by Jacob Appelbaum and Roger Dingledine [description]. Some amount of nerd jargon, a basic understanding of how the internet and censorship works is helpful. Something to love here is both speaker's insistence that it's not about things like "Tor versus China," but the Chinese government versus their people. There's good discussion of context and how things work differently under different regimes, and how ultimately, Tor developers want to help people decide their own fates in their own countries, and the life-or-death importance of truth in marketing when you offer a censorship circumvention tool. It's valuable to look at how censorship is deployed in the world's most oppressive countries, and that those censorship tools are developed and sold by American companies like Cisco and Nokia, much like how IBM colluded with the Nazis during WWII.
Marriage from Hell: On the Secret Love Affair Between Dictators and Western Technology Companies by Evgeny Morozov [description]. Morozov is one of my favorite tweeters, the author of The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom, and is fun to read for his snarky skepticism of the popular mentality that says that "the internet" magically makes activism and politics better. (I'd call him a delightfully crabby old man, but he's a year younger than me.) This talk has very little nerd jargon, and assumes you're already aware that US tech companies knowingly sell things to dictatorships to help them oppress people.
Macro dragnets: Why trawl the river when you can do the whole ocean by Redbeard [description]. Low amount of nerd jargon. Redbeard is an awesome activist/hacker friend, and this talk takes a very quick jaunt though the basics of a wide array of data mining/collection/storage: US Customs and Immigration, DNA databases, voter records, facial/iris recognition, the data that Amazon stores on customer, IdentifyRioters.com, criminal/prison information collection, and more. (If this topic interests you, Steve Rambam's multi-hour talks at HOPE are accessible and awesome.)
If you're into nerd-jargon-heavy stuff, Meredith Patterson's talk on The Science of Insecurity is a fun take on security from the perspective of someone who studies linguistics, math, and programming. Another honorable mention goes to Your Disaster/Crisis/Revolution Just Got Pwned by Tomate and Willow. Low amount of nerd jargon, this is aimed at hacktivists/coders on how humanitarian groups respond to disasters and crises. I especially like that it emphasizes self-care, taking breaks, getting sleep, and keeping a sense of humor. Stressed is the importance of knowing how secure your tools really are before suggesting people trust their lives to them, as well as taking an approach that focuses on the needs of people you're trying to help, rather then selling them on using something you created without their input. "Don't make a solution for a problem that doesn't exist." (Good advice for any activist.)
And, from back in October, I finally got around to watching Jacob Appelbaum speaking at an internet activism conference in Sweden on Internet surveillance, censorship, and avenues of resistance with anonymity. Low amount of nerd jargon, scroll down to the fourth video on the linked page. This talk includes the importance of privacy-by-design rather than privacy-by-policy, and how the specter of "child pornography" prevents people from questioning the "need" for internet filtering, and how the state functions as the real terrorists who most threaten our freedom. I appreciate Jake's noting of the West's "othering" of censorship, assuming it's just an issue for foreigners and those in Arab dictatorships. "Technological utopianism is really part of the problem."
And, finally, a bonus item, so long as I'm throwing out suggestions: PBS's Ascent of Money miniseries, available free online. This four-hour documentary by Niall Ferguson is wonderful at making financial history of the world interesting, from the development of math and bookkeeping, how money has driven trade and colonization, determined the course of wars and revolutions, all the way up to hedge funds, derivatives, the current financial mess. I've been looking to learn more about economics, and this is a highly recommended primer on everything from the history of stock, commerce, insurance, and how the real estate crash that's destroying America's poor and middle class was brought about by decades-earlier attempts to quash the appeal of communism. Really, even if you're not curious about economics, this is a cool history of the not-so-well-known drunks, murderers, gamblers, entrepreneurs, and clergy who got us where we are today.
by Furry Girl
"...SCTNow, along with similar anti-trafficking concerns, uses a simplistic language of good and evil in its discussions of trafficking. In this way, its selling of the anti-trafficking movement closely mirrors the selling of the 'War on Terror' in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Instead of untangling the resentment against American imperialism built up globally through centuries of exploitation, many Americans rushed to accept the nonsensical explanation, put forth by politicans and pundits, that terrorists 'hate us because they hate freedom.' We wanted enemies that we could name and locate so that we might destroy them, not lessons in humility and self-reflection. Likewise, today’s mainstream anti-trafficking movement appeals to middle-class Americans with the idea that trafficking happens because there are bad people out there just waiting to take your kids away from schools and malls. Thus, its prevention efforts focus less on the systemic realities of poverty, racism, domestic abuse, and the dire circumstances surrounding runaway and thrownaway youth, and more on installing high-tech security cameras at schools and stationing more security guards at malls. And it measures the success of its activities by the number of criminal convictions it achieves, rather than by the long-term health and well-being of the women and children who are most at risk."
-- Emi Koyama, in Trade Secrets on bitchmagazine.org
by Furry Girl
[Edit: Material from this blog post was shamelessly stolen by NPR's Sarah Abdurrahman for the On the Media program. If you're coming to this post from the debate around NPR stealing my work, please read my response to their ethical and legal violations here.]
At some point last year, I sent off Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to a number of government agencies. I'd actually pretty much forgotten about it after getting form letters back from a number of agencies saying they had nothing on me - or at least, nothing they felt like releasing. Then, I got a padded mailer from the FBI yesterday. My FBI file had arrived! The contents were not what I was expecting. I don't think I'm that terribly interesting to the government, but I have had the fortune/misfortune to have socialized with, dated, and befriended a number of wonderful people who definitely would be considered "interesting" to law enforcement. I was expecting a few pages about my friends and lovers, but what I found was that I was physically followed by a group of FBI agents for five days of my life when I was 18 and involved in organizing a protest/campaign.
The FBI released 436 pages of intelligence related to or about me, none of which dates later than 2002. 436 pages! Printed out, it would be almost a whole ream of paper. And the most exciting things contained within are reports of us doing things like making photocopies, buying beer, riding the bus, and eating at a restaurant. 99% of it is mundane or mildly creepy, 1% of it is hilarious, and I hope there is something to be learned. There are a ton of redactions. It reads like this a lot of the time:
Here's the story: myself and 10 or 11 other people (judging based on line spacing in redacted lists) were being spied upon as we organized a campaign that culminated in a protest. It ended up being a low-to-mid-level local protest event, got blurbs in the newspapers and TV that day, but will not be remembered by history books, which was about what we expected. None of us got arrested, no one destroyed any property, and as far as I know, no one planned to, either. (We were prepared for police aggression, and the group contained a number of street medics ready to deal with pepper spray.) It was the sort of thing activists do every month all around the world. There are repeated statements that basically say the FBI is not aware of anyone planning violent, destructive, or illegal acts, but since other protests have (notably the 1999 Seattle WTO), it's best to keep tabs on everyone just in case. I'm not going to tell you exact details and name names of this one silly campaign, because that bit actually doesn't matter. We were a small group of young poor activists living off cheap eats, lusty protester sex, and bitching about the system. We could have been anyone or anywhere. For the three days leading up to our protest, the day of, and the day after, we were being followed by a group of FBI agents who wrote down what we were doing and often took photos.
I'll spoil the ending for you: the only illegal act we committed in all 436 pages was dumpster diving at food distributor. This was not actually picked up by the FBI's physical surveillance detail (that would come later), but a beat cop who happened to catch a few of us in the act on patrol. Friends and I were issued misdemeanor trespassing citations on the spot, the fine for which was under $100. (The FBI did note that a local police search of a compatriot netted the following suspicious materials: "three pieces of chalk in his pocket, green, red, and white in color," as well as a sticker for a campaign.) After the citations by local police, the FBI "had the crime lab respond and photograph" the area. Oh, how exciting! What a crime scene!
After this dumpster diving citation, the clever FBI was excited to now know my address. Except, I was hardly "in hiding" or anything. For the first time since I was 15, I had an official address. My name was on the lease and I had phone/DSL service at that address under my own name, as well as a mobile phone with a bill that went to that address. Funny how my home address was still somehow a mystery to the federal government. (Which calls to mind the first InterPol warrant out for Julian Assange, where they couldn't find one single photo of the man.) FBI agents did a scouting of my apartment building, noting that there was a mailbox with my last name on it in the lobby.
I am repeatedly identified as a member of a different, more mainstream liberal activist group which I was not only not a part of, but actually fought with on countless occasions. To somehow not know that I detested this group of people was a colossal failure of intelligence-gathering. Hopefully the FBI has not gotten any better at figuring out who is a part of what, and that this has worked to the detriment of their surveillance of other activists. I am also repeatedly identified as being a part of campaigns that I was never involved with, or didn't even know about, including protests in other cities. Maybe the FBI assumes every protester-type attends all other activist meetings and protests, like we're just one big faceless monolith. "Oh, hey, you're into this topic? Well, then, you're probably into this topic, right? You're all pinkos to us."
In taking a general survey of all area activists, the files keep trying to draw non-existant connections between the most mainstream groups/people and the most radical, as though one was a front for the other. There are a few flyers from local events that have nothing to do with our campaign, including one posted to advertise a lefty discussion group at the university library. The FBI mentions that activists may be planning "direct action" at their meetings, which the document's author clarifies means "illegal acts." "Direct action" was then, and I'd say now, a term used to talk about civil disobedience and intentional arrests. While such things are illegal actions, the tone and context in these FBI files makes it sound like protesters got together and planned how to fly airplanes into buildings or something.
There's a heavily-redacted page that talks about people networking with activists from other countries, and when a non-American has traveled for a protest to the area on other occasions. This seems to be something of concern to them - if people would bother traveling for political causes. One listed criteria for which people were profiled was if they have been previously arrested at other protests. In trying to mentally piece together who might have been my fellow spied-upons, one of the people I think they were profiling had long since dropped out of activism by that point.
It's the surveillance detail where things get funny and weird. Eleven or twelve of us were followed by a group of 3-6 FBI agents over the course of five days, and there was often a detail sitting outside of my apartment, totally unbeknownst to me. (I feel like a total chump that I didn't notice that I was being followed and photographed during this time.) I had never read law enforcement surveillance logs before, so it was interesting to comb through the pages. Here is a typical page, which documents some hard-core anarcho-terrorist scheming, blue redactions were made by me:
Because if we let young people watch Lord of the Rings and drink beer, then the terrorists win!
Here are some other highlights about me, complete with snarky commentary:
Wow, serious Sherlock action there. I entered a bakery, came out with a bag, and I am believed to be carrying bread or food. (At least it doesn't say, "... believed to be carrying plastic explosives and hand grenades.")
This is cute to me because that hoodie was borrowed from my boyfriend at the time - perhaps the person I was seen walking with in this spy report. I remember how it was amazingly soft, and I loved wearing it. It smelled like him and made me horny. Also: glasses are sexy.
This one documents the most serious activisting on my part - making copies at Kinkos. The hidden humor here lies in the fact that it's entirely likely that I was making copies about stuff ranting against the police state and the explosion of domestic surveillance of protesters since 9/11.
My very favorite thing the FBI recorded about me:
As you can see, I pose a clear and present danger to society. I pick up other people's trash and put it in the proper bins.
I'm bummed out that I didn't get to see good quality versions of my surveillance photos. There are dozens included, but they are so screwed up from generation loss and copying and faxing, you can't even tell what's in them. Most seem to be outdoors shots with some parked cars and trees. The surveillance photos all have an otherworldly quality to them, like faded memories and half-remembered strolls after too many Cooks-based mimosas on the first warm day of spring. Is this a photo of me? Am I holding hands with someone I almost loved? Or is this a photo of another person entirely, beamed from a parallel universe? Such are the artistic mysteries of the FBI spying on Americans.
The day of the protest, I was followed along with others to a vegetarian cafe afterwards. The FBI's surveillance notes report that we sat at a table. You know, in stead of storming the place with guns drawn, demanding to be served in the bathroom, or on the ceiling. The day after the protest, we still had our followers - I guess to make sure we hadn't planned an extra secret super-protest filled with violence and mayhem? I was observed visiting hotbeds of political unrest like a dollar store, a used records shop, and a discount grocery place. (Following us around, often on public transit, was basically a tour of "Places Poor People Go.")
At the end of it all, when the FBI decided to close the case file after the protest transpired and nothing interesting happened, it is concluded of me:
Well, there was that dumpster diving incident, but I guess they'll let it slide.
I wonder how much money this operation cost.
* * *
I don't have any particular tips or tricks to filing a FOIA on yourself. I used this handy-dandy free service to generate the required form letters for me, which I then printed, signed, and mailed. I didn't pay for anything, even though I indicated that I would pay for any amount of copying fees necessary. I sent the letters to all the national agencies, and maybe a dozen FBI branch offices. If I'm remembering correctly, I quickly got letters from all those local offices saying they'd sent my request to the national FBI office for processing.
What are you waiting for? All it costs is some stamps and 10 minutes of your time. Maybe a group of FBI agents once followed you around, too. Filing for one's FBI file is one of those things I know a lot of us mean to do but never get around to doing. I hope this blog post inspires more Americans to make today the day you ask your government if, how, and why you have been watched.
by Furry Girl
Firstly, I apologize for the lack of uppity pro-ho materials on my blog lately. I haven't been as motivated to explain the same things over and over, as I have been defending porn and sex work for almost a decade now. (Fuck, I am so old now.) The thing is, there's no such thing as a new argument against sex work, although there are more and more studies suggesting things like the benefits of porn consumption, or that "secondary effects" of adult businesses are a myth, or that it's just not true that millions of underage sex workers are trafficked little girls being exploited and controlled by pimps. It's like debating the Bible - there will never be any new arguments in favor of creationism, but there's always more evidence in favor of evolution - once you know how to rebut all their arguments, all you can do is repeat yourself, which can get boring.
Now, moving onto my annoyance of the season: the left's current love affair with the utopian notion of "free" college for everyone. Perhaps the most commonly articulated concrete demand from Occupy protests has been for "free" college for everyone. (The most common vague demand is "end corruption" but since that's an abstract concept with no definition or proposed solution, I can't really be expected to discuss it seriously.)
How on earth could anyone be against "free" college? If I'm against "free" college for everyone, it must mean I hate learning and knowledge and poor people, right? Lefty people recoil in horror like I'm some kind of hard-right Tea Partier, but above fiscal conservatism, my beliefs about education are actually due to my deep and flagrant disregard for the presumed authority and superiority of academia.
I am against "free" college because most people don't need college
While everyone would prefer to have a high-paying job and be a millionaire astronaut rock star brain surgeon, there will always be a huge demand for less-skilled labor, even as we lose some of those jobs to overseas factories and technology. According to the list of the largest employment sectors from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, only one in the top ten (nursing) requires college education. The others - retail sales, cashiers, office clerks, food service, waiting tables, customer service, janitors, laborers, and secretaries aren't exactly careers that require a lot of advanced training. Saying that everyone should have a degree so everyone can have a high paying job is like saying everyone should be rich - it sounds fun, but in reality, it's an untenable concept. Not everyone can have a job that pays $50+ an hour, and even if we did pay that to janitors and sales clerks, the market would adjust and make everything that much more expensive, negating the value of that higher pay. Everyone likes to believe that they are special and gifted and brilliant and deserve college, but in actuality, most people are average (that's why it's called "average"), plenty of people are below-average, and all those people still need jobs.
And after all, if everyone has a degree, no one has a degree.
I am against "free" college because college degrees has been devalued by the very people who insist on the importance of "free" college
Thanks to the expansion of liberal arts education and the efforts of largely left-leaning academia, degrees don't mean much now. College degrees in my dad's era meant you must have some serious training in objectively useful stuff like science, engineering, medicine, or business, but now, anyone with a student loan or trust fund can fritter away their time earning a degree in knitting or feminism or contemplating what it means to exist. The British have an awesome phrase for this: a "Mickey Mouse degree," meaning a degree in some silly subject that has no use in the real world.
The other day, I was curious what it takes to get a degree in women's studies or feminism, since such people largely seem to be nitwits with no comprehension of things like statistics or biology. Look at this list of fluff required for bachelor's degree program at the University of Washington. Anyone who has at least a C-average can be a women's studies graduate, no pesky math classes required beyond the single "Quantitative and Symbolic Reasoning" class required of all UW graduates, in which they only need to earn a grade of .7, which is a D-. And that's not even a math requirement - it can be met by taking astronomy. So remember, when you see someone with a feminism/gender studies degree from UW (and presumably other colleges), you're looking at someone whose most strenuous degree requirement was getting a D- in a freshman-level science class. And then they wonder why they can't find high-paying jobs. (It must be The Patriarchy purposefully oppressing them, right?)
I am against "free" college because I don't support the idea that college is the only or best way to learn about every topic
I find it strange that the left, which in the past has embraced "unschooling," free schools, and learning skills on a peer-to-peer basis, in recent years has decided the only and best way to learn about anything is at college. By rallying for "free" college, the left's argument hinges on the idea that college is the only road to success and knowledge, which is just plain false. Most of my friends are not college graduates, and that includes the number of people I know in the non-ho world who make over $100k a year. The thing I've seen, across almost every single field, is that you don't need a degree if you're a smart and reasonably tenacious person. To me, the only reason to pay for an official education is if you want to go into a field which requires a degree, like medicine or engineering.
I am someone who has managed to teach myself - a school dropout - how to do everything I need to do to run a small business. (And yes, there's a lot more to what I do than just taking off my clothes.) I don't think the ability to learn things on your own is so difficult that plenty of other people couldn't tap into if they tried. I know so many other self-starters who have built successful careers and small businesses on their own, without needing degrees, as well as many who regret wasting money on college because they think their degree was largely useless. I'm a believer in skill-sharing and learning directly from each other in a cooperative and hands-on environment, which I consider a much more "radical" perspective than the current left's mindless brainboner for all things academia. (In this vein, I am happy to back Kio Stark's new book on Kickstarter, Don't Go Back to School: A handbook for learning anything. A Yale dropout and teacher at NYU, go check out what Kio has to say in case you're wary of my "bias" as a non-college person. I don't know her personally, but her partner and geek entrepreneur Bre Petis is awesome, so I'm guessing Kio's awesome, too.)
College seems like "special ed" for people who lack the initiative and follow-through to learn how to do things in the real world. For people not getting medical/science/useful degrees, I can't fathom why they will gladly spend tens of thousands of dollars to read books in groups when they could read those same books at home for free. It would be a pain in the ass to build a home chemistry lab with a ventilated fume hood and safe disposal for hazardous waste, so I understand taking chemistry lab at college, but fucking literature? Art? Philosophy? Gender theory? The pro-college people are such babies that they can't figure out how to read a book without it being spoonfed to them on a schedule and being explicitly told which parts of the text were the important bits. And on top of that, they're supposed to be intellectually superior to me, the drop-out? I've easily read and written more about feminism, human sexuality, sexual politics, and gender than your average women's studies graduate, but I ultimately win because I didn't flush $50,000+ down the toilet to do so. (In fact, I've come out financially ahead.) I guess that's kind of my ultimate fuck-you to the "educated" feminists.
I am against "free" college because it isn't actually free
What people on the left have a very hard time understanding is that "free stuff from the government" isn't actually free or from the government, it just means the cost is diffused over time and to all taxpayers. "Free" simply means that your neighbors are footing your bills.
I am against "free" college because it's not my responsibility to fund other people's hobbies
On Bill Maher's show a couple of weeks ago, he noted that in 2009, about 37,000 people graduated college in computer science and engineering, and about 89,000 in visual and performing arts. To use his perfect phrase: "A lot of people are going to college and doing bullshit." A blog post I read about one man's genuine quest to understand Occupy Wallstreet noted that he couldn't find a single person in Zuccotti park who had a science degree, but found tons of unemployed actors and artists. Americans going to college these days seem to do so largely to study things of personal interest to them, regardless of whether that degree will help them find gainful employment, which, phrased another way, is called going to college to learn amusing new hobbies.
I love books, I love crafts, I love non-pretentious art, I love discussions about sexuality and gender, I genuinely enjoy all sorts of the stuff liberal arts colleges teach, but I don't believe that I should be forced by the state to pay for other people to read books and navel-gaze and contemplate the "true" meaning of feminism. When you argue that something should be taxpayer-funded, your argument is that your beliefs should be forced onto other people through the government and under threat of imprisonment and fines if people do not comply. That's a pretty strong position to take, and while you can say that of all taxes, I'm more in favor of forcing everyone to pay for the maintenance of roads than I am of forcing people to pay for someone to take up fun new craft projects and read classic novels.
Unlike many others who are interested in women's studies and art and philosophy, I have the ability to separate my personal interests and hobbies from things which I believe the government should force others to fund.
I am against "free" college because it will probably cost more
I'm not an economist, so I don't know how to run the numbers on this, but I can only imagine that taxpayer-funded college would cost more. If tuition is $10,000 a year, how much more is it going to cost on top of that in additional taxation infrastructure and enforcement and school welfare disbursements? It seems like creating an HMO for schools, which just adds a lot of unnecessary bureaucratic costs to the service of education. (It would create jobs, on the sole plus side, but if we're going to give people jobs just for the sake of giving jobs, I'd rather we spend that money to employ people to update and modernize the country's crumbling infrastructure.) So, ultimately, when you're calling for "free" school, you're calling for school to cost more. If the goal is that everyone goes to college, then not only is everyone still going to be paying for college through higher taxes over the course of their lifetime, but they're wasting money by paying for more red tape around that college degree.
The solution to our current bullshit- and fluff-filled world of expensive college degrees is not to have everyone get an expensive degree in bullshit and fluff, but to point out that the emperor has no clothes in the first place.
Let's move on, let's take the initiative to teach and learn from each other, and let's stop embracing the idea that college has a monopoly on learning. College is indeed necessary for some people, and offers skills that would be difficult to learn on your own (like my chemistry lab example), but it's not the be-all end-all of success or knowledge. And stop demanding that your neighbors foot the bill for your hobbies, unless you want me to come back at you and force you to pay for me to take up new hobbies of my own.
My debates with the pro-"free" college crowd generally go like this: They insist that they need a degree in order to get the high-paying job they believe they deserve; I tell them if so, they should stop wasting their money on their non-useful art/philosophy degrees and get a degree that will actually be a good financial investment; they tell me that they don't care about the money, and they are enlightened and believe in learning for learning's sake; then I ask them why they needed to get an official degree to prove that they believe in learning purely for learning's sake, and why do they say they don't care about money when a minute ago they said that they want a higher paying job; at which point their logic folds in on itself and they stop replying.
Update, argument two: The art college fetishists insist that everyone is entitled to go to college and that they believe oh-so-passionately that useless degrees are a human right. Then I ask them why they don't channel that passion into spending their own money on footing the bill for others' liberal arts college tuition, and they balk and come up with an excuse as to why they shouldn't have to fund their beliefs, but that I should be forced by the government to fund their beliefs. Seriously, kids, this is why we have these things called charities. Anyone can spend their own money supporting the "worthy cause" of their choice, but you do not have a right to force all Americans to financially back your pet issue.
I've turned off comments on this post because I'm tired of having to read pointless bullshit from pretentious morons.
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.
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