by Furry Girl

02.01.14

"One of the more remarkable results of the rise of industrial capitalism was that, for the first time in human history, the poorest classes of people gained access to luxury goods.  Another remarkable result was that wealthier people who claimed to be allies of the poor told them this was bad for them.  Recent developments in American popular music demonstrate that this paradox lives on.  Last Sunday night, Macklemore and Lorde, artists who have built their careers upon songs attacking the desire for luxuries among African-Americans, received the highest commendations from the music establishment in the form of multiple Grammy awards.  Their songs continue a long tradition, rooted in progressivism, of protests against the pleasures of the poor."

-- Thaddeus Russell in The Progressive Lineage of Macklemore’s And Lorde’s Attacks On the Pleasures of the Poor on reason.com





by Furry Girl

06.13.13

"Over the past year, there have been a number of headline-grabbing legal changes in the US, such as the legalization of marijuana in CO and WA, as well as the legalization of same-sex marriage in a growing number of US states.

As a majority of people in these states apparently favor these changes, advocates for the US democratic process cite these legal victories as examples of how the system can provide real freedoms to those who engage with it through lawful means. And it’s true, the bills did pass.

What’s often overlooked, however, is that these legal victories would probably not have been possible without the ability to break the law.

The state of Minnesota, for instance, legalized same-sex marriage this year, but sodomy laws had effectively made homosexuality itself completely illegal in that state until 2001. Likewise, before the recent changes making marijuana legal for personal use in WA and CO, it was obviously not legal for personal use.

Imagine if there were an alternate dystopian reality where law enforcement was 100% effective, such that any potential law offenders knew they would be immediately identified, apprehended, and jailed. If perfect law enforcement had been a reality in MN, CO, and WA since their founding in the 1850s, it seems quite unlikely that these recent changes would have ever come to pass. How could people have decided that marijuana should be legal, if nobody had ever used it? How could states decide that same sex marriage should be permitted, if nobody had ever seen or participated in a same sex relationship?"

-- Moxie Marlinspike in We Should All Have Something To Hide on thoughtcrime.org





by Furry Girl

12.12.12

Last week, my state (Washington) became the first in the nation to legalize possession and use of marijuana.  Colorado will follow suit next month after a similar measure there won during the November elections.  I am happy to live in a state where we have physician assisted suicide for the terminally ill, one legalized recreational drug, marriage equality, oodles of places where one can get an abortion, no death penalty, and state-level open carry of firearms (though Seattle city bans it).  Overall, Washington is comparatively more respectful of people's rights and choices than are many other states.

Today on reason.com, Jacob Sullum wrote a short piece on why states like mine are doing well on the gay marriage and pot legalization front, and it underscores why I keep harping on the need for sex workers to be "out" as our most important form of activism.

Just as an individual’s attitude toward gay people depends to a large extent on how many he knows (or, more to the point, realizes he knows), his attitude toward pot smokers (in particular, his opinion about whether they should be treated like criminals) is apt to be influenced by his personal experience with them. Americans younger than 65, even if they have never smoked pot, probably know people who have, and that kind of firsthand knowledge provides an important reality check on the government’s anti-pot propaganda.

For sex workers who aren't out to anyone, the idea of admitting to what they do for a living can be extremely intimidating.  What I suggest is to start small.

At the 2010 Desiree Alliance conference, I met a woman who was fairly new to escorting.  If I recall correctly, either no one in her life or only a couple of trusted friends knew, and the Desiree Alliance conference was her first sex worker event, and she'd traveled from out of state to see what it was all about.  A computer security conference was happening the same week as our event, so I had friends from another part of my life who were also in Vegas.  One evening, I went out with them to have dinner and hit a few nerd parties, and the new escort joined us.  I gently challenged her to try being out for that one evening, with a group of people she'd never have to see again, just to "try on for size" what it's like to be an out sex worker.  Rather than inventing stories about herself, she was plainly telling people she's an escort, and discovered it wasn't the end of the world, and she wasn't going to be mocked and shamed by everyone she encountered.  Granted, I had already "broken the ice" on the subject of sex work with some of the people we encountered that evening, but I think the woman was still surprised how normally and politely she was treated, and later sent me a very sweet thank you for the evening.  We didn't stay in touch and I don't know how things worked out for her, but I hope that one night of being an out sex worker gave her some courage to be out in her own city and with her regular friends and family.

If you're a sex worker still afraid of coming out, start small.  Go to a bar in the next city over, or a music festival out of town, or just tell the person sitting next to you on the bus or subway.  Try openness on for just a day, or even 15 minutes.  You will get some bad reactions, but I think it will surprise you how many people won't be an asshole to you.  Be prepared for questions, which you can choose to answer or not.  The most shocking thing of all may be meeting someone who themselves has done sex work and never told anyone.  (Only happened to me once, with a seat neighbor on an airplane, but it was still pretty awesome.)





by Furry Girl

06.18.12

"We know the prime users of alternative medicine worldwide - it's those middle-aged, middle-class, educated women with a high disposable income.  The younger end of this group is also likely to take their children to naturopaths and cranial osteopaths, to avoid having them immunised and to medicate them with shop-bought homeopathic and herbal remedies.  Alternative medicine offers these women a way to take control, to be remarkable in their day-to-day lives and to make them feel as if their needs as individuals are being attended to.  It touches them, both physically and emotionally, at a point in mid-life when many women in our society say they are beginning to feel invisible...  Marketing executives have been quick to appreciate the strong appeal of CAM for women.

[...]

Alternative medicine knows precisely how to make every user feel special.  CAM [Complementary and Alternative Medicine] says you are unique so your treatment needs to be carefully calibrated to reflect your individuality...  What matters is you, not your illness symptoms or even whether you actually have any identifiable illness or symptoms.

[...]

It is an abiding paradox that alternative medicine is used most keenly by the generation of women who, in the form of the women's liberation movement of the 1970s and 1980s, asserted that it was 'our bodies, our lives, our right to decide' and rejected paternalistic medicine in the delivery room and beyond.  Yet these same women now want to be told what to do by a shaman."

-- Rose Shapiro, in her book, Suckers: How Alternative Medicine Makes Fools of Us All.

My favorite part of this book was the commentary on the gender politics of pseudoscience, and the embarrassing fact that women will gleefully line up to empty their wallets for any woo-woo nonsense that holds their hands and tells them that they're beautiful and unique snowflakes.

Quack "medicine" should be decried for the same reasons as scented vaginal douches (which also profit from purposefully exploiting women's insecurities).  Instead, the very people who would balk at shame-centric, unhealthy "feminine hygiene" products are the same people in the "natural alternatives" section of the pharmacy picking up another expensive a tube of sugar pills that promises to truly appreciate their specialness.





by Furry Girl

06.15.12

After spending part of May looking exactly like the Forever Alone Guy and trying to diagnose a mystery ailment, it turns out that I had the mumps.  (No, I didn't take a photo of my weird face while I was sick, I felt too gross and ugly to immortalize it.)  After all the hours spent researching every country I've visited in the last few years in search of a tropical disease that might match my symptoms, I got the most pedestrian of diagnoses.  (It should be noted that Brooke Magnanti made the correct guess before anyone at my local clinic.)  It wasn't fun at all: the swollen lumpy face, the weird looks from strangers, all the of blood draws to test me for rare diseases, and about $1100 in medical bills.  I did receive the MMR vaccine as a child in 1985, but it did not take hold, as was also the case for Brooke, who contracted the mumps three years ago herself.

I consider my personal experience with the mumps as a success story for vaccination.

As my regular readers/Twitter followers know, I am a supporter of vaccination programs, and it's one of the few areas where I advocate heavy-handed state intervention into people's lives to force them to do something against their will.  I oppose any "religious" and "personal belief" exemptions to mandatory vaccination programs, and I consider it child abuse to deny your offspring medical care just because you don't believe in science.  While I'll laugh and smirk at adults going to naturopaths and chiropractors, I don't really care if adults want to throw away their money on that crap when it doesn't affect anyone else.  However, vaccination is a totally different story, because it doesn't just affect your family, it puts everyone at risk.

The anti-vaccination movement is not, as some might think, a product of the lunatic fringe of Christianity.  The people who oppose vaccination and profit from spreading lies and hysteria about the supposed "dangers" aren't just religious conservatives like Michele Bachmann trying to keep the HPV vaccine from saving lives, but often liberal/left wingers who champion a bunch of nonsense about the supposed evils of "Western medicine," aka, medicine that is actually proven to be effective at treating illness.  In the United States, especially in "progressive" areas like Seattle, we are experiencing increasing outbreaks of preventable illnesses because of anti-science dumbasses who are so selfish that they are willing to risk killing their own and other people's children on their vague unsupported guess that maybe everything humans know about biology, chemistry, physiology, epidemiology, and medicine might be wrong.  It's a very risky gamble with astronomical odds of being correct, and these people are playing this game at the expense of vulnerable members of society: babies and children who cannot or have not been vaccinated, and adults with compromised immune systems.

Why does vaccination go beyond a simple personal choice to do something potentially dangerous, like not wearing a bike helmet, or drinking alcohol, or visiting countries experiencing political unrest?  I strongly support people doing whatever risky things they like with their own bodies, but the personal liberty argument does not hold up when it comes to vaccination.  Successful vaccination programs require what's called "herd immunity," whereby diseases are controlled and essentially wiped out because most people in a society have protection.  Even if one kid in a school of 500 gets measles, it's not going to become a major outbreak if the other 499 children have had their vaccinations and the illness can't spread like wildfire through the community.  Some anti-vaccination people try to twist the issue of herd immunity, claiming that since most kids are vaccinated, then it doesn't matter if their kids are potential vectors of disease.  (That's like making an argument that it's perfectly okay to drive drunk just because most the majority of people drive sober, and so those other people will hopefully be alert enough to get out of the way as your car careens into oncoming traffic.)  The "free spaces" in herd immunity must be reserved not for anti-science conspiracy theorists, but for children and adults who truly cannot be vaccinated, such as young babies and people with immune system disorders whose bodies couldn't handle vaccinations.  Herd immunity is a biological/social safety net that is easily broken when too many people think they're entitled to use it.

Anti-vaccination crazies cling to all sorts of arguments to support their beliefs.  Some claim that vaccines cause autism (they don't).  Some claim that their God doesn't believe in medical intervention.  Some claim that all of "Western medicine" is some kind of patriarchal oppression, and that we must go back to the glorious old days of having sacred medicine women.  A recent anti-vaccination nut I met was opposed to it on the grounds that suffering - including getting polio or AIDS - is all a part of our magical life journey, and that it's wrong to deny humans those character-building opportunities.  Whatever banner they are waving, these people are not only fucking crazy, but also dangerous.  I don't want to see already-disadvantaged and vulnerable kids like an infant born with HIV have to suffer the added complications of measles or polio because some stupid hippie who thinks we shouldn't interfere with Mother Nature.

Back to me and my mumps.  I was vaccinated, but I still got the disease.  This is the sort of extremely rare case that anti-vaccination crazies would hold up as anecdotal proof that vaccines are evil and don't even work anyway.  On the contrary: getting the mumps has made me even more pro-vaccination.  That I was unknowingly susceptible to the mumps and did not get the illness until the age of 28 is a success, not a failure, of vaccination programs.  I owe a debt of thanks to the parents of the kids in my elementary school who got their children vaccinated.  I owe thanks also to middle schools and colleges for requiring MMR vaccinations as a condition of entry (even though some people still manipulate their way out with "philosophical" exemptions).  I am thankful that the "herd" I grew up in did vaccinate, which is why, unlike my parents and grandparents, I never knew a single kid with polio when I was growing up.

Because of the spectacular success of vaccination programs in the developed world, my generation is quick to forget how terrible the diseases are that we now vaccinate against, but they should try talking to some older people in their community.  They should ask their grandparents how scary it was to wonder if their children might be crippled by polio or die from diphtheria.  A couple of generations ago, you didn't have loony parents like Jenny McCarthy marching in protest of the government and science for trying to eradicate diseases, nor will you find an anti-vaccination movement in developing countries where these illness still claim countless innocent lives.  In short: you don't see opposition from people who know, on either an emotional or scientific level, what these diseases actually mean.

In closing, I always liked this nice visual demonstration from Penn & Teller's Bullshit, which shows that, even if everything the anti-vaccination crazies believe were true, they'd still lose the argument.  Read more in-depth information about vaccination and "alt med" nonsense over on Science-Based Medicine.  If you're more into books than blogs, check out Rose Shapiro's Suckers or Simon Singh's Trick or Treatment.





by Furry Girl

06.05.12

I Love a Man in Uniform: A Memoir of Love, War, and Other Battles
by Lily Burana
Copyright 2009

★★★☆

A few weeks ago, I was doing a purge of my Amazon wishlist.  When I came to Lily's Burana's I Love a Man in Uniform, I thought to myself, "Yeah, I liked her book about stripping and her legal fight against stage fees, but I only have so many hours in my week, and it's not like being married to someone in the military is something I'll ever need to know about."  I almost deleted it, but figured I'd go ahead and read the book if someone else bought it for me.

Days later, I ran into a guy who I hadn't seem since we had a one-weekend stand in San Diego the spring of 2003.  (We hooked up a few days after the US invaded Iraq for Gulf War 2.)  As it turns out, he'd recently moved to Seattle, and had even gotten cuter in the last 9 years.  We went out to dinner, where he revealed that one of the things he'd been up to since our tryst was that he'd been in the military.  I laughed, and I assumed he was joking.  What kind of sassy punk street artist willingly signs up for the US military?  (I'd seen An Officer and a Gentleman - since when did the military even allow you to join if you have tattoos?)  The guy's reasons and experiences are his story to tell, but overall, his intentions were good.  I've seen a couple of photos of him from his enlisted days, and it's still hard to believe it's him in the fatigues, sporting a Forrest Gump haircut.

After our date, which lasted until 7 or 8 in the morning when we finally fell asleep, I ordered I Love a Man in Uniform, laughing at myself about how I'd assumed its contents would never even remotely apply to any situation I would find myself in.  (This is not to say that I've found love at second sight, and am now plan on marrying my retired military fuck buddy.  Don't worry, dude, I haven't gone all bunny-boiler on you!  I do, however, like to put effort into learning about the people who share my bed.)

Lily Burana (@lilyburana) is perhaps best known as the author of Strip City, a memoir of her experiences as a stripper and peep show performer, including a legal battle in San Francisco against stage fees.  At the end of the book, she has retired from sex work and fallen in love with a cowboy in Wyoming whom she plans to marry.  I have always appreciated her fairly contented parting with sex work and activism, and ability to go forward knowing that she'd made a small dent, even if she didn't change the whole industry.

In this second memoir, I think Burana was able to make her specific scenario as "punk stripper turned military wife" universal, and I'd argue it speaks to plenty of aging sex workers like myself and those who are in some way moving from or between a "weird" life and a "normal" one.  Here's a passage about Burana's failed relationship with her Wyoming fiance which deserves highlighting:

He wasn't a bad person by any means.  He just wasn't in love with who I am; he was in love with who I used to be.  I couldn't forget the time he referred to me as his "sexy Playboy model."  It was 2001.  I had modeled for Playboy in 1996.  I was in Playboy in the previous century.  If he'd built his esteem for me on something I couldn't possibly sustain, then where could we go from there?  There's no such thing as an eternal vixen, even the dorky, alterna-girl variety.  You get bored.  You burn out.  You turn thirty.  The job description includes built-in obsolescence.  I didn't want to be some post-stripper ghost-bride -- forever toting the shadow of my old self with me through my married life, stunted and soured by my own over-reliance on my past.  It would mean living as a twisted Dickens heroine, wedded but locked into the persona I had already outgrown, becoming more snarled and diminished by the day.  Miss Havisham of the pole.

There's a lot to like about Burana's writing and her life story, but my big gripe with this book is that "I Love a Man in Uniform" isn't just a title.  Her uniform fetishist-level attention to detail for her husband's war paraphernalia takes up a sizable chunk of the book.  Many pages are spent gushing about how sexy her man is in his uniform, how sexy his patches and rank insignia are, and how sexy sexy sexy it all is - and with the assumption that of course, readers share this enthusiasm.  Burana spends a good bit of time cooing about how military men are so strong and chivalrous and know how to fix things and open jars for women, as though such a list of cliche masculine traits are possessed only by male members of the armed forces, and the rest of us are stuck dating a bunch of sissy boys who burst into tears at the thought of manual labor or dealing with a spider.  (In contrast, my own physically strongest and most stereotypically manly-man friend spent his younger days as a member of Queer Nation and participating in anti-nuke civil disobedience.)  Burana's occasional reminders to readers that she doesn't support the war or abuses like those at Abu Ghraib are diffused by being intermingled with long passages about how everything to do with the military is just so sexy and so impressive and so manly.  (She notes later in the book that she's had a lifelong issue with compartmentalization.)  It also annoys me that much is written that suggests that only those serving in the military know the meanings of sacrifice or loyalty, like the rest of the world is filled with useless flakes who have never made any hard decisions or endured difficulties in the name of their ideals.  For Burana, the US military embodies all that is sexy and noble in the world.

But here's the thing: if you're decidedly anti-war, and don't get whipped into a heightened state of arousal at the mere sight of camo, you're not going to be buying a book called I Love a Man in Uniform in the first place.  A good writer knows their audience.  With cover praise from a military publication, and Amazon reviews from people who found the book at their base's commissary, it's clear that this book wasn't written for someone like me.

It's not as though I believe everyone connected to one of the tentacles of the military is an evil person.  My father and both of my grandfathers are veterans.  A number of people in my social circles work for defense contractors.  One of my most silly and joyous friends does nerdy stuff for a company that also makes cluster bombs.  And then there's my new ex-military fuck buddy.  The thing is, I care for and appreciate these people in spite of their work for the military, not because of it.  I'd never say, "Hey man, can I lick the corporate logo on your paycheck from Raytheon?  I'm going to picture that when I'm masturbating tonight."

But, even with all the book's girlish squealing about how sexy and manly military men are, Burana does have a solid and serious journey underneath that I enjoyed reading, including her time in therapy to deal with PTSD from childhood abuse.  My favorite chapter, of course, is the one where Burana explores her prior life as a sex worker now that she's had years of distance.

When pondering the complexity of how who I was squares with who I am now, men tend to laugh, but women tend to get agitated.  It taps directly into a basic female social anxiety: that a woman's past will cost her a future.  Indeed, in some cases, that does happen.  (Hi there, Miss Lewinsky!)  I did worry that someone might snub me when they found out, and though he assured me that it wouldn't, I worried that it would reflect poorly on Mike. In the face of those fears, I tried to be Teflon Annie.  Sometimes it worked.

Still, I didn't fret too terribly much, because I was learning that military people are sophisticated-- more so than civilians assume.  They understand what it's like to be judged unfairly.  Sex work and soldiering are both flash-point vocations-- rife with public misconceptions and stereotypes.

Then, Burana reminds me of some things I've been thinking about a lot lately:

I don't miss the hustle.  When I danced, I thought of the dough in aggregate terms-- two hundred, three hundred, five hundred, a thousand dollars a shift.  Only after I quit did I ever break it down: On a two-hundred-dollar night, ten guys paid me twenty dollars each to sit in their lap.  Yet if a man at a bus stop had offered me twenty dollars to do the same thing, I would have spat in his face.  Context becomes another form of compartmentalization.

Over the weekend, one cam client was particularly annoying, and I only netted $8 from our five minutes of paid time together.  It's one of those moments when you step back and go, "What the hell just happened?  Why did I put up with someone so rude - who got to see me naked - for less than the cost of a plate of pad Thai?  Why should I feel this intruded upon for eight fucking dollars?"  Making a couple hundred bucks from the comfort of home is greatly tempered by the realization that it was earned in such a piecemeal fashion.  I wonder for how many sex workers that sort of realization is one of the things that inspires them to leave.

And Burana's big question, explored in much of the book,

The stripper life is far behind me and recedes more and more in the rearview mirror day by day.  It is, literally, not my business anymore.  But the threat of sex-specific scorn wakes me up, reminds me of where I've been.  When I hear or read attacks full of fuming generalizations and analyses that are basically little more than finely honed hate, I feel moved to defend my fallen-angel comrades.  These are people I know.  These are people I love.  On their uniform sleeve, combat veterans wear the patch of the unit with which they fought, even decades later.  In a less visible way, I do the same: Hey, haters, I served in the porno trenches with these people.  Deal.  But if I didn't belong there, and I didn't belong at West Point, then where, exactly, did I belong?

Lily Burana ultimately found her sense of belonging in the West Point world with her husband.  I'm genuinely glad when anyone from Team Ho finds their true place in the world, whether it's inside or outside of the sex industry.  A married life in the military is certainly not the sort of happy ending that I want for myself, but despite that, I think we can all see Burana's tale as a success story.

 

Buy the book through this Amazon link and a portion of the sales price will go to SWAAY.





by Furry Girl

05.21.12

"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

05.09.12

"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

03.06.12

[Updated after NPR responded by snidely mocking me on their web site and refusing to so much as apologize.  If they would prefer to handle this as an internet flame war, I'll give them one Google will remember until the end of time.]

This week, I got a surprising email from a friend.  He'd heard an NPR program, On the Media, re-hash what was obviously one of my blog posts, but without attribution to either my pseudonym or my blog URL.  It was about my FOIA story from a couple of months ago.  I knew exactly what my friend was referring to, because I had declined an interview request from On the Media's pushy and annoying Sarah Abdurrahman last week.  They'd gone ahead and done a story on me anyway, borrowing from my blog post, and I would have never known of NPR's theft if I didn't know someone who listened to the show.

The punchline is that On the Media portrays itself as a bastion of media ethics, bravely "[tackling] sticky issues with a frankness and transparency that has built trust with listeners."  This wasn't just some Tumblr account with a dozen followers pilfering my work, but a nationally-broadcast radio program on NPR, which proudly cites that it "has won Edward R. Murrow Awards for feature reporting and investigative reporting, the National Press Club's Arthur Rowse Award for Press Criticism and a Peabody Award for its body of work."

My FOIA story is definitely one of the most "journalistic" pieces I've ever had on my blog.  Yes, it has snark, but it's also real original reporting.  I filed Freedom of Information Act requests with over a dozen government agencies, waited for about 7 months, and then combed through over 400 pages of disclosure to find the pieces of the story I most wanted to tell.  I wasn't just posting my opinions on a popular news item of the week that someone else broke, I was writing based on original source materials, for which I was the only civilian who has access.  I was posting things that had never been online previously, but would be of interest to the public.  If that's not "real journalism," I don't know what is.

Not only was my FOIA piece a genuinely journalistic effort on my part, it's also a very personal topic.  I am especially protective of my work being stolen by NPR because it's about me and my experiences as an activist.  I wasn't writing about FBI surveillance of the Black Panthers from 40 years ago, I was writing about the FBI surveillance detail that followed me for a few days.  This is my story in every sense of the word.

I am referred to only as "a woman" in Sarah Abdurrahman's broadcast of minute and a half which carefully avoids using a name for me, and although the show's summary on the web does link to my blog (though still doesn't mention my name or my blog's name), I doubt many NPR listeners actually check every show's web summary after a story to see if any extra references have been added.  I certainly have never sought out a radio show's web site to read a show's summary and make sure it reflected what I heard on the air.  Radio is a broadcast media that provides audio news and commentary, the audience are listeners, not readers.  An online summary is merely filler and search engine optimizing for their web site, another way to get listeners and money.  NPR and Sarah Abdurrahman stole my work, and I didn't even get the benefit of some national exposure.

I publish my blog under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.  For those unfamiliar with Creative Commons, it's a way for "content creators" like me to protect their work while also allowing for sharing of ideas.  It's a more personalized form of copyright protection that lets a creator specify what people can and can't do with their work.  Creative Commons has held up in multiple courts around the world as a real copyright policy, including federal court in the US, so it's not a "made-up goofball license" as someone obnoxiously said to me on Twitter.

My specific Creative Commons stipulations mean that you can share, quote, and repost my writing, but you can't use it for commercial purposes, you are required to attribute it to my pseudonym and blog with a link, and that you can't make derivative works, defined as "You may not alter, transform, or build upon this work."  The derivative works portion is a grey area, and whether or not the taxpayer-subsidized NPR counts as "commercial" is also up for debate, but NPR and Sarah Abdurrahman unquestionably violated the attribution requirements of my Creative Commons licensing.  Even the one link they provided to my blog on their show summary page on the web (which probably has .0001% of the audience of their radio broadcast) didn't follow the attribution requirements.  To quote my Creative Commons license conditions, "Attribution — You must attribute Feminisnt to Furry Girl (with link)."

As far as I can tell, the attribution portion of Creative Commons license has not yet been tested in court in the United States.  It has been tested in Belgium and Israel, and in both cases, the content creator won the case.  I would love to the the American test case for attribution.

NPR and Sarah Abdurrahman violated both the letter and spirit of my Creative Commons licensing, and in doing so, they have opened themselves up to legal action. [See my third update at the end of this post.]

Here's more of the backstory, which you can skip if you're short on time, and go directly to the final paragraphs of this post.

On February 28, after sending emails asking for an interview about my FOIA story at 8:55am, 10:58am, and 11:00am, NPR's Sarah Abdurrahman moved to Twitter and yet again contacted me at 12:55pm.  (News flash: if I don't reply to your annoying messages within the hour, don't assume you need to keep contacting me over and over and over.  This is considered bad internet behavior.)  I normally delete and ignore messages from people who exhibit spammer-level cluelessness, but I was feeling generous, and replied to the first of Sarah Abdurrahman's emails, shown below.

From: "Sarah Abdurrahman" <SAbdurrahman@wnyc.org>
Date: February 28, 2012 8:55:59 AM PST
To: <>
Subject: from NPR

Hello,

I am a producer with the National Public Radio program On the Media, a media analysis show that covers topics from First Amendment issues, to new media, and everything in between.  You can find out more about us at onthemedia.org. One of the topics we like to discuss is transparency and Freedom of Information…which is why I was so interested to come across your story about FOIA-ing yourself!  If you are available, we would love to have you on our program to talk about your experience with FOIA.  We are not a live show, so we can be fairly flexible with scheduling an interview.  Are you available to join us?  Thanks in advance,

Sarah Abdurrahman|On the Media
160 Varick Street, New York NY 10013
T: 646.829.4567|E: sabdurrahman@wnyc.org
WNYC: WNYC.ORG|93.9 FM|AM 820

I do not feel like I'm the best person to speak on the issue of Freedom of Information Act Requests, or on the domestic surveillance of American activists.  I really believe that "we" should only put forward the formal or informal spokespersons who are the best at a topic.  It always annoys me when I see people who don't know an issue well trying to explain it to the media, especially media like a radio or television broadcasts.  For those reasons, I declined the interview and referred Abdurrahman to someone whose work centers on that topic in which she was interested.  (I'm omitting his name and credentials from these emails just to avoid dragging him into the mess.)  I was already being too nice, in retrospect.  I tend to err on the side of politeness when dealing with the media, even if they're annoying pests, because you never know when you might need them in the future.

From: Feminisnt <>
Date: February 28, 2012 3:06:34 PM PST
To: Sarah Abdurrahman <SAbdurrahman@wnyc.org>
Subject: Re: from NPR

Hello there

Thanks for contacting me.  I'm flattered by the offer, but I really don't think my case is particularly interesting or special.  There are much more interesting topics when it comes to FBI surveillance of American activists, and I'd rather see a more meaningful case get air time.  I agree that it's a great topic, but my situation isn't special, and I'm not an expert on FOIA issues in general.  My particular incident of being followed went nowhere and resulted in no arrests, whereas some cases result in major prosecutions, illegal wiretaps, and far more amusing anecdotes.

If you're looking for someone to discuss government surveillance of activists, [redacted] would be a much better choice than me, and he's written a lot about surveillance and prosecution of [activists].  His email address is [redacted].

Furry Girl

Sarah Abdurrahman refused to take "no" for an answer, and sent me two more emails, on February 28 and 29.  Maybe it's a sex worker thing, but anytime someone openly disrespects my politely telling them "no," and continues to insist that I should acquiesce to their demands, I immediately close off and decide I will never have anything to do with them.  Sex work teaches you nothing if not boundaries and how to assert your limits in the face of pushy people who feel entitled to your time and energy.  If I say "no" to you the first time, I will never, ever change my mind if you keep bothering me.

The meta issue of NPR, On the Media, and Sarah Abdurrahman's theft and disrespect is this: the "legitimate" media - meaning anyone who can afford broadcast licenses or physical paper distribution, even if it's a "small" news organization like NPR - shits on bloggers and independent writers all the time.  We're just a bunch of silly kids making lolcats and scribbling nonsense, except when we're not, and then the media will shamelessly steal our work.  How often do you see CNN or a major news network not bother to send reporters to cover stories, but just read off the tweets from bloggers and others in an area?  That's but one example of how the mainstream media loves to use bloggers and independent writers while stopping short of truly respecting their legitimacy as reporters.  Bloggers are not only sometimes the best sources of news, but sometimes the only sources.  We break new ground, we do original research, we look at source material the mainstream usually doesn't even bother with, and best case scenario, a "real" media agency might read a few sentences from us on the air amid their fluff.  Add to the mix that I write mostly about sexual politics and sex work, and I'm beyond invisible, I'm the lowest scum on the "respectable writers" totem pole.  It feels like a double dose of the disregarding sneer the mainstream press shows to both bloggers and sex workers.  (Sex workers constantly cope with outsiders re-telling, re-purposing, and twisting our stories for their benefit, not ours.)

I've emailed a number of lawyers, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation about my issue, and I'd love to take this to federal court as a test case for the attribution requirements of Creative Commons.  I haven't fired off my own DMCA takedown requests, because I'm generally loath to use the over-reaching DMCA laws, even when I'm in the right.  I believe it's important to keep pushing the message that bloggers can be journalists, that Creative Commons is a real copyright that should be respected, and that the media can't just steal from small unpaid writers like myself.  (See the EFF's guide to blogger's rights issues here.)

Aside from the occasional presents from my wishlist, I am not compensated for the countless hours I've poured into writing.  I write about things I'm passionate about, and I do so without expectation of riches, fame, or ever "crossing over" into the world of "real" writing.  I simply don't want news organizations and journalists blithely stealing my work without so much as attribution or a thank you, just so they can earn their salaries, ad/sponsorship revenue, or viewer donations at my expense.  I don't think that's too much to ask.  I put a lot of my time and pieces of my life out there to write my FOIA story.  It's not fair that NPR, On the Media, and Sarah Abdurrahman get to illegitimately and illegally benefit from my efforts.

Update one, March 8th: On the Media's Katya Rogers posted a response on their web site.  Rather than apologizing, they distort the situation and mock me.  They've just thrown a bucket of gasoline on this fire, and made it clear they have no intention of apologizing for either their ethical violations or their legal violations.  They even blame me for the situation because I didn't want to be interviewed for their story.  Since when does a refusal to be interviewed translate as, "Instead, just steal my work without attribution"?  As is often done by people who dislike me, I am dismissively referred to as "someone calling herself 'Furry Girl'," to draw attention to my pseudonym as a means to discredit me or make me seem unreliable.  (Wait, but if I'm such a fake person who can't be trusted, why did they so desperately want me to be on their radio show, and why did they do a story on me?)  NPR is particularly incensed and calls it "seriously beyond the pale" that I would dare to call out by name the journalist who stole my work.  Oh, so that's the game?  You don't want it showing up in Google that NPR, On the Media, and Sarah Abdurrahman engage in content theft from a blogger?  Thanks for telling me how to proceed!

Update two, March 8th: This is something of a sidenote, but I feel it's worth sharing.  A friend of mine posted a comment on On the Media's web site, which they manually edited.  They didn't just delete a comment they didn't like in its entirely, they de-clawed his argument to make themselves look better.  His comment linked to my blog as a reference for what I've actually said, which is in contrast to their twisting of what transpired.  On the Media's comment policy does not bar commenters from posting links.  This was a manual, selective edit of one person's comment to make NPR look better.

Update three, March 11th: After talking to some lawyers and people who follow copyright enforcement issues, on a financial level, it's sadly just not worth it to sue NPR.  The problem is that it would cost me a huge amount of money in legal fees to get what would surely be only a small monetary settlement.  For me, it's not about money, it's about the point that I require attribution, but no attorney wants to launch a federal copyright case on the hopes of getting a portion of what... $50?  $500?  It drives me up the wall that NPR can do whatever the hell it wants, violate any sense of journalistic ethics, no doubt knowing that any court settlement they'd have to pay out wouldn't be worth it to me to fight for.  The professional media wins, the small blogger they're stealing from loses, simply because I don't their kind of audience and money.  (And it stings extra that we, as American taxpayers, subsidize NPR.  They're using my money to screw me over, and I don't have enough money to fight back.)

I will not be publishing comments from the NPR apologists (or employees?) who are starting to find their way to my blog.  You can go fawn over NPR on their own web site, you don't get to take up space on my server to defend their shitty behavior.





by Furry Girl

02.27.12

[Updated: I didn't get enough sponsorship money to attend these events, but thank you to people who did offer a pledge.  Hopefully there will be another such opportunity in the future.]

It's no secret that I'm an atheist.  Debating religion was the first political issue I learned inside and out.  When I was 6 or 7 years old in flyover land, understandably unaware that there was any difference between church, state, and schools, I wrote a letter to my principal demanding he address the hypocrisies of his faith.  I could take apart the absurdity of religion before I learned how to do multiplication tables, and at an early age, I developed a strong affinity for science, nature, and books.  (And it bums me out to see how commonly people view "science" and "nature" as opposing ideas.)

I would love to see more crossover and networking between sex workers' rights advocates and the organized skeptic, atheist, and pro-science communities.  I want to bring sex work issues outside of the sex-positivity and radical sexuality scene in America.  I want sex workers' rights to appeal to the sort of people who have never fisted anyone, basically.  I want our serious political issues to be framed as the serious things they are, not just another branch of transgressive left-wing sexuality.  (And I say this as someone who is kinky and invested in "alternative sexuality," but I draw a distinction between a human/labor rights issue and a sexual fun issue, and I wish more visible American sex workers also separated the two.)

There's a big event coming up shortly, the Reason Rally in Washington, DC, which is aiming to be the world's largest secular event.  I would love to attend this as an ambassador of sorts for sex workers' rights, and to work on gaining allies in a space where I think we have a great chance at being heard.  This isn't some feminist sex conference or BDSM event where sex workers aren't actually getting outside "the bubble," but something that will have a wide variety of smart people who pride themselves in looking at things logically and ripping apart emotion- and nonsense-based arguments.  And, bonus!  American Atheists are holding their national convention on the Sunday and Monday following the Reason Rally.  Two skeptic events for the price one one (flight)!  It's cool to see other "sex world" folks on these events rosters: Greta Christina and Dr Marty Klein.





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