by Furry Girl
I was reading some recent thoughts on sex work from Brooke Magnanti, which carried the obligatory disclaimer, "I am by any measure an incredibly privileged white, well-educated, successful ex-sex worker & as such a poster child of choicey-choiceness." Having not done much of reading of sex worker blogs in the last few months, I was especially struck by this standard opening many visible (ex) sex workers use.
I've seen these disclaimers countless times, and generally tried to avoid them on my blog. It isn't that I don't acknowledge that I have more privilege than most of world's population - I'm white, middle class, and have had a reasonably successful life, free from famine, displacement, violence, illness, and disability. However, I avoid privilege disclaimers of my opinions for two reasons: the way the left deals with "privilege" is simply as an insult to be avoided and defended against rather than an evolving dynamic to ponder, and because admissions of privilege are starkly one-sided in sex work debates, and I don't want to contribute to that.
Why is it that "our side" feels so constantly obligated to disclaim our ideas as coming from a position of privilege, but anti-sex worker activists - many of whom have much higher salaries than the sex workers they lambast as "privileged" - never say a single word about their own economic/racial/education status? When you have a debate and on one side are all these "I am privileged, but..." arguments, and on the other, no such acknowledgement ever, then it sets up an appearance that professional feminists and anti-sex work activists are the down-trodden victims. And we all know it's bullshit, but we still perpetuate it be defensively prefacing everything we think with, "I am privileged, but..." This disclaimer has the effect in lefty circles of being read as, "My opinion doesn't matter because I am actually an oppressive, obtuse, and shitty person."
Most of the sex workers I've known have been from lower and middle class backgrounds, who have gone onto to become the same or inching up the economic ladder a notch or two. We are not a very privileged or powerful group, honestly. Being a sex worker, even a "privileged" one, is less profitable than being a feminist academic. The wealthiest and most successful sex workers I know of are ones who own homes. Not 6 bedroom palaces on the water with yachts in front and a collection of designer furniture and appliances inside, but basic middle class homes. Think about that - you are held up as an icon of economic eliteness and ruthless capitalism because you can afford the things that other middle class adults in your country can also afford.
To me, there's actually nothing more emblematic of the concept of privilege than being a professional feminist - whether an academic position or working for an organization that campaigns against sex workers. I can't imagine a better job than to get paid a large salary with benefits to read and think about the things that interest you, and then to tell others your opinions. I do that every day, but for me it's a hobby, it's not a high-paying career with tenure. Which is why it makes my blood boil that professional feminists - who, again, have a job which is easier and pays a lot more than just about any sex worker makes - are the ones droning on about how people like me are "privileged," and "not representative." (As though there even is such a thing as "representative" for sex work. Sex workers are not a monolith, spanning all cultures, all races, all social strata, all sizes, all genders. Sex work is perhaps the most diverse occupation, so any one is "not representative.")
Is there a better way to handle these things than our current method of prefacing everything we say with, "I admit I am privileged, but..."? I don't know. I'm in favor of honest discussions of the ways privilege affect our lives, but think the left botches this issue by invariably turning it into a shouting match of accusations and insults. I do hope we're aware of how we're tacitly creating this absurd framing that it's sex workers and sex workers' rights advocates who are the ones in a position of privilege, whereas moneyed and powerful feminist academics, lobbying organizations, and celebrities are representatives of the weak and voiceless.
It's an upside-down world when we are expected to apologize constantly for our "privilege" when we advocate against criminalization policies that enable violence, rape, and abuse - policies which disproportionately impact the least privileged sex workers.
by Furry Girl
Anti-sex work activists endlessly harp on the specter of the multi-billion dollar sex industry. They never want to talk about how individual sex workers only make fairly modest incomes, and for generally short periods of time. It's easier to set up all of us sinners as obscenely wealthy, because it makes it easier for average people to resent us. This contributes to a culture of disrespect for sex workers where the public thinks we're not only lazy and gauche, we also get a 6-figure check every time we disrobe. It's a tactic of othering sex workers to a country that has been struggling a lot financially since the recession. And it's a very successful one.
When I was making the opposition tracker on SWAAY.org, I thought about trying to create a comprehensive list of how much profit there is to be made in anti-sex worker activism. As sex workers, we're constantly having our campaigns dismissed on the grounds that everything we say must be a lie because we have a financial stake in sex work. It drives me crazy that it's a one-sized argument, as though only sex workers profit from sex work. Your average sex worker makes substantially less than an anti-sex worker academic or nonprofit, so who really has a "financial incentive" to say what they say?
Some Twitter exchanges made me realize I should post the data I already collected, and I decided to update the tax returns for some popular foundations that oppose sex workers rights. Catherine MacKinnon's base salary statement was obtained a couple of years ago with a FOIA request against her employer, the University of Michigan, a state-funded university. (They have to disclose if you ask, google for "FOIA template" for the format.) The other tax returns are from 501(c)3 nonprofits, which make them public information.
Catherine MacKinnon's base salary (not including bonuses, insurance, speaking engagements, writing, and tours) was $273,000 for 9 months of work in 2009 (page 386, huge file) and $280,000 for 9 months of work in 2010 (page 394, huge file).
The biggest winner is, of course, the Hunt Alternatives Fund, which took in a whopping $12,976,136 in 2012. A 20-hour a week job at this foundation paid one "advisor" $101,562 in salary and benefits! Under "direct charitable activities," HAF say they spent $1,409,171 "eradicating the demand for purchased sex." While Swanee Hunt and family were the top donors, this foundation also received an even one million dollars from Norway's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Shared Hope International (which campaigns against prostitution among other activities), which raked in $2,253,367 in 2011.
The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women raked in $1,161,729 in 2012.
Fireproof Ministries, which runs XXXChurch, raked in $610,719 in 2011. $102,350 of this went directly into the pocket of Craig Gross in the form of a salary. (I've never netted that much as a pornographer! I should have gotten into running anti-porn sites.)
Shelley Lubben's Pink Cross Foundation raked in $137,183 in 2012. Shelley officially draws a modest $57,640 in salary and compensation.
Melissa Farley (who has glowingly referred to sex workers as "house niggers") heads a group called Prostitution Research and Education, which raked in a mere $81,958 in 2012.
Cite these figures when you're talking to people who think that our side is the only one with something financial to gain. I wish I knew more about individual anti-sex worker activists. I still want to flesh out the anti-sex worker activist tracker. Let me know if you have links to add.
by Furry Girl
"Here's what I, personally, have observed about the sex industry: If, before she ever enters the sex industry, a woman is an emotionally troubled person with poor self-esteem and a history of bad decisions, she'll continue making bad decisions and suffering the negative consequences while she's in the business. But now, some of them will be sex-work-related decisions and consequences, so it's easy for people to say, "Well, obviously it's because she's a sex worker. See what an unhappy, damaging life it is?" And she'll probably agree with them, because it's easy for a troubled, low-self-esteem person to buy into the victim mentality. That way, she can then avoid taking any responsibility for her choices. So she's tucked neatly into the victim pigeon-hole, and everyone thanks goodness they don't have to examine any potentially unsettling ideas any further. Their pre-existing beliefs have been confirmed and they feel righteous.
Now, she could fuck up her life just as badly if she were a waitress at Denny's. But that's not as sexy, so no one writes newspaper articles about that.
You see, the work itself doesn't fuck you up - it just magnifies what's already there."
-- Mistress Matisse in an untitled post on mistressmatisse.blogspot.com
This is probably my favorite thing that she's ever written. It's from 2004, and these observations completely match my experiences in the sex industry as well.
by Furry Girl
I've noticed my local government's anti-trafficking ads on the sides of buses, but haven't mentioned them on my blog. Then I really saw one yesterday that did something I have never, ever seen before from a mainstream anti-trafficking campaign: declare that women can be traffickers and men can be victims. Sure, this dynamic is no shocker to people who actually know anything about migrant labor, but to see it in a county-funded ad campaign blew me away.
King County's anti-trafficking campaign has many flaws, of course, but I will say that I appreciate that the ads are not just about sex slavery. The campaign uses the Polaris Project, a Christian morality NGO as a "fact" source; is partnered with the Somaly Mam Foundation, which sends Cambodian sex workers to private prisons where they are sexually abused; and links to a Shared Hope International anti-prostitution page as a resource. So the campaign is deeply problematic and based in the lies of anti-sex worker hysterics and religious nuts, and I'm not defending that.
But I think this is still a tiny, possibly hopeful step in the right direction, because the campaign is about the many faces of forced trafficking, not just the sexy sex trafficking for sexy sexual abuse thing that we normally see. There are three ad designs, and only one is about sex trafficking. The other two imply domestic labor.
by Furry Girl
I know, I know - Annie Hall came out in 1977, but in keeping with my belief that everything you need to know about life, you've already learned from movies you watched growing up, I wanted to share a favorite scene. Woody Allen and his date are stuck in line with a man loudly sharing his profound philosophical insights on what Marshall McLuhan would think about something. As sex workers, we've all been subjected to hearing blowhards drone on and on about "what it's like to be a sex worker," especially from academics, so seeing this scene made me laugh.
If only life were only like this, indeed.
by Furry Girl
"For example, while the [UN] draft resolution [on women's rights] doesn’t call for providing protection or respect for prostitutes, it does call for ending violence against all women, which would include the minority that work in prostitution. Those women, while their job may be deemed immoral or illegal in certain countries, deserve protection from violence like any other human being or citizen of their country, a fact which the MB seems to take issue with. Aside from using religion to oppose equality between men and women, they are even advocating dehumanizing - in the sense of deeming them unworthy of their human rights - those they consider morally bankrupt, like lesbians or prostitutes. Protecting these two subgroups of citizens from violence is against Islam according to the MB, and therefore shouldn't be allowed."
-- Mahmoud Salem (aka @Sandmonkey) in Gender Wars: The Muslim Brotherhood Versus Egypt's Women on acus.org. He's my favorite Egyptian blogger/activist/self-proclaimed "pain in the ass," and it's been interesting watching a revolution/coup unfold and through his eyes.
by Furry Girl
One of the most common replies I get on Twitter, via email, and when I allowed comments on my blog has been some variant of the No True Scotsman fallacy.
In this form of faulty reasoning one's belief is rendered unfalsifiable because no matter how compelling the evidence is, one simply shifts the goalposts so that it wouldn't apply to a supposedly 'true' example. This kind of post-rationalization is a way of avoiding valid criticisms of one's argument.
Example: Angus declares that Scotsmen do not put sugar on their porridge, to which Lachlan points out that he is a Scotsman and puts sugar on his porridge. Furious, like a true Scot, Angus yells that no true Scotsman sugars his porridge. [Source]
This line of thinking is constantly deployed by the sex-positive feminist crowd who want to distance themselves from the myriad embarrassments of mainstream feminism. The tiny, powerless minority of sex-positive, pro-autonomy feminists rabidly insist that they are the one truly true feminism, and that all the other feminists are splinter sects that simply don't understand "real feminism." (As an ex-feminist myself, I'm embarrassed that I wasted untold hours of my young life having these exact same conversations. So I know them inside out, from both sides.)
Why do I hate these comments with such a passion?
"Good feminists" are a tiny minority, even though they claim they're the truest feminists
Part of the reason it's annoying to deal with this logical fallacy is because sex-positive, pro-autonomy, anti-victimhood feminists are a small minority compared to all the other feminists they instantly dismiss as "not real feminists." Large national feminist organizations and women's studies departments are not run on "good feminist" principles, they are run by the oppressive and anti-sexuality feminists who represent mainstream feminist values. "Good feminists" aren't the ones being brought in as experts by governments to write new anti-sex worker and anti-porn laws. Just because all of feminist friends you have are "good feminists," that doesn't mean "good feminists" make up a real majority, it just means you're trapped in a feedback loop of confirmation bias. I could conclude that most cats are male grey tabbies based on the sample population within my immediate view, but that doesn't mean it's true.
"Good feminists" are outliers, and the fact that they think they represent the majority feminist viewpoint just shows the degree to which they're devoted to willful ignorance of anything that conflicts with their images of themselves and their cutesy, feel-good interpretations of feminism.
"Good feminists" have no political power, nor do they seek it
With very few exceptions, "good feminists" are too busy congratulating themselves for being liberated to waste time on boring stuff like lobbying or working on public outreach. They always seem to have endless money and time to fly around the country attending sex-positivity conferences, going to Empowered Anal Sex 101 workshops at upscale sex toy shops, and dressing in designer threads for the most nauseatingly self-congratulatory event ever conceived, the Feminist Porn Awards. "Good feminism" is literally nothing more than masturbation. I used to believe that the sex-positive scene was building towards a bigger something, but after a decade of being around it, I now know that it's only about narcissism and reveling in how naughty it is to be sexually transgressive. There's no goal, no endpoint, nothing more substantive than endless recycled discussions about meanings of sexuality and gender.
I love kinky sex, masturbation, and DIY porn as much as any of them, but it makes me seethe with anger how often that scene used the word "revolutionary" to describe themselves and sell their products. There's fuck-all nothing "revolutionary" about basking in the privilege of how delightful it is to loll about playing with high end dildos and having plenty of free time for orgies and philosophical discussions about the meaning of it all. This is why I refer to sex-positivity as the "girlie version" of Crimethinc and other forms of self-indulgent drop-out culture lifestyle anarchism that operate under obtuse slogans such as "Poverty, unemployment, homelessness: if you're not having fun, you're not doing it right!" But as we all know, white and privileged people go totally apeshit for any philosophy that assures them that merely by having fun, they are changing the world. "Revolution" is a mix of the boring, stressful, dangerous, heart-breaking, difficult, and time-consuming, which is why so few people engage in it, but flock to schools of thought which allow them to have the label "revolutionary" without ever taking a risk or doing any work. Your typical "good feminist" engages in "sex-positive activism" by assuring one another that they are bold "revolutionaries" for watching punk porn or buying buttplugs.
In contrast, mainstream feminists have their shit together, complete with well-funded and powerful NGOs, huge salaries, and national respectability, and they work tirelessly to pass laws around the world that make things more dangerous for sex workers or seek to enact anti-free speech censorship policies (such as in feminist-run Iceland). Feminists who have any shred of influence invariably use it to be "bad feminists," whether it's criminalizing indoor prostitution in Rhode Island or holding tenured women's studies jobs so they can terrorize impressionable young women into feeling victimized by the world around them. Mainstream feminists know that you don't change the world with a Hitachi Magic Wand, you change it by being effective political lobbyists.
So long as "good feminists" have zero effect on either policy or popular thinking, they are irrelevant.
"Good feminists" are more interested in wasting their lives attacking people like me and apologizing for the wrongs and oppressions of mainstream feminism than they are doing anything productive
This final one is more sad than angering. But hey, it's easier to tweet No True Feminism comments at me all the time than it is to do something useful to change the world in measurable ways. Instead of going after the "bad feminists," the "good feminists" would rather pick fights with the people they claim to have the most in common with, lecturing us about how great feminism is if we can just get past a few bad apples.
Ultimately, even the "good feminists" are more concerned with their cult-like devotion to the label of "feminist" than they are with anything else. The label matters above all else. I have no use for people refuse to part from a ideology that calls transwomen monsters, that seeks to take away as much freedom of speech/press as possible, that calls sex workers "house niggers," that believes women need to be told how to think, that says women who enjoy feminine clothing are brainwashed idiots, that profits from convincing women that they are weak and powerless, that denies that women have free will, and that loves subjecting sex workers to state violence in the form of criminalization. I will never willingly group myself with oppressors, which is why I am not a feminist, even a "good feminist."
by Furry Girl
Heartbreaking, enraging blog posts from a former Gail Dines adherent who later became a sex worker. A few snippets:
"instead of questioning her assertion that survivors are basically incapable of making our own decisions with regards to our bodies, i began shaming myself. since i am turned on by MANY of the things she condemns, i determined that i had become an oppressor – the guilt was tortuous, and not in a good way."
"size was not the only aspect of my body dines had an opinion on. i wanted tattoos and to stretch my earlobes (i have two large pieces of ink now and ears stretched to 3/4″), but whenever i talked about body modifications, dines would get a look of disgust on her face and tell me that was a way of internalizing my abuse and re-victimizing myself by permitting the infliction of pain... and then, of course, the management of body hair. any maintenance of body hair, whether it be plucking my eyebrows, shaving my legs, or waxing my bush, was subject to detailed analysis, and, quickly determined to be submission to patriarchal oppression."
"when i met her, i was actively organizing for the rights of transgender students, putting together panels discussing the discriminatory practice of accepting transmen to my all-womens college, but not transwomen, and to have gender-free bathrooms in our under-construction library. however, dines argues that transgender men and women reinforce gender stereotypes and therefore reinforce patriarchy."
"dines’ perspective is that empowerment is a word for women who believe falsely that they have power when in fact they are ‘oppressing themselves.’ now, it seems to me like this was her way of keeping me from seeking out a feeling of empowerment for myself. because there was nothing empowering about working with gail. it was a constant anxiety, fearing for the lives of all womankind. "
by Furry Girl
"No one, but no one, has 'free choice'. If you think otherwise, remind yourself what you wanted to be when you grew up, and reflect on how exactly you ended up where you are now. Did you freely select from all career choices in the world, ever? Or did you choose as best you could from the options offered by your abilities and (more crucially) your circumstances? You know, like [famous pimp] Iceberg Slim did?
Some folks seem especially resistant to acknowledging the truth about work, so I'll underline it some more. Entire towns in the North weren't full of miners because everyone there just happened to have the aptitude and preference for that sole job, but because it was the only job going. NE Scotland isn't full of fishermen because they have a particular concentration of people whose life's dream was to catch fish, but because that's what the job market offers. Everyone's outcome is the product of limited choices, from streetwalkers to the Queen. And no one's suggesting she needs to be 'rescued' from her lack of career options.
If you want to improve someone's options, you address the things that constrain their choices in the first place. Poverty, addiction, education, to name a few. Not take away the only choices they have."
-- Dr Brooke Magnanti, in Radfems, racism, and the problem with "pimps" on sexonomics-uk.blogspot.com
by Furry Girl
When I was a youngster, Corey Feldman was my favorite teen idol. I'd watch Stand by Me, License to Drive, Blown Away, and other films of his while swooning. I didn't have a lot of cliche girlie traits as a tween girl, but crushing on this popular actor was one of them. Today, while reading my favorite source of entertainment news and criticism, The AV Club, I was excited to see an interview with Corey Feldman. While I was a huge fan of his in my earlier years, I've never read any sort of serious commentary by him about his life and experiences as a popular child star. His account of his experiences struck me as similar to the story of sex worker activist Jill Brenneman, who was forced into prostitution and controlled by a violent pimp in her teen years, and came back to sex work later in life on her own terms when she found that other jobs just couldn't pay the bills, or were even more demeaning and dangerous.
Well, at 3 years old, kids don’t really find their way into anything or make any type of decisions. At 3 years old, it’s called child slavery, and that’s what I endured: child slavery. So I was a slave child who got very fortunate in his early career… or I guess my parents got very fortunate, I should say. And through the success that I established as a child, I was able to somehow grasp whatever I was doing, and I had some sort of talent for it and ended up making a career out of it. But I think it was all meant to be. I believe that things happen for a reason. I think there are no coincidences in life, so obviously it was meant to be that I was there, but I wouldn’t say it was my choice. I would say that it was just the path that was laid out before me.
I had a very rough and tumultuous childhood. I often wish that I had the opportunity to make my own choices in life and choose my own path. But at the same time, I realize that things happen the way they’re supposed to. Therefore as a teenager—when it was far too late for me to go back and there was really nothing that I could do other than embrace it or hide my head in the sand for the rest of my life, because I couldn’t walk anywhere on Earth without being recognized—I finally decided to embrace it and take it as a serious business and a career. And that’s where we are today.
[...] when Rob Reiner chose me [to appear in Stand by Me], he said that when he met me and looked into my eyes, the thing that he connected with was the fact that I had such an incredible amount of pain in my eyes. He said he didn’t think that there was any other young actor my age that could’ve had the reality of that amount of pain in their eyes when they were reading the lines.
Anti-sex worker activists make much of demonizing all clients/porn viewers over their potential to (even unknowingly) watch porn or patronize a sex worker who is being coerced, trafficked, or mistreated. Getting off to imagery of suffering, or having sex with someone with an abusive pimp, even if you had no idea that was the case, is an offense on par with being a rapist.
Am I a beneficiary of child slavery because I've watched The Goonies enough times to know the movie forwards and backwards? Should I be arrested and prosecuted for owning the VHS tapes of The Lost Boys and The Burbs, wherein a kid was pressured to perform to earn money for his parents (pimps), even though I had no idea I was watching an exploitative situation? Imagine if anti-sex worker activists treated all forms of entertainment the same way they treat porn, stripping, and the hiring of escorts/prostitutes. Where are the Nick Kristof-led raids of acting classes for children, the protests against movie studios that utilize under-18 performers, and the arrests of live studio audiences at the taping of TV family sitcoms?
(Sarah Wooley wrote a piece in a similar vein earlier this year, Why I wince though Hollywood sex scenes and not porn.)
Furry Girl: legs now closed for business.
My adult sites
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- TheSensualVegan.com: Store
- VegPorn.com: Herbivores
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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