by Furry Girl

07.24.13

"Famous" former sex worker Melissa Petro has thrust herself back into the media again this week, and seeing her re-tell her tale of woe with increasing levels of dramatic self-pity hits a nerve for me.  It also reminded me of the serious need for a project that I've been meaning to announce as I transition out of sex work myself.

I must preface this post by declaring that self-pity is utterly repugnant to me, in part because it's the chief byproduct of white, over-educated, first world ennui, and in part because it's about denying that one has agency in their lives.  The amount of options and privileges one has is irritatingly proportional to the amount of time one spends whining about one's life.  I was volunteering in rural West Africa last summer, interacting with people who didn't have the greatest options, but I recall not one iota of self-pity from any of them.  Self-pity disgusts me, which is why I recoil so strongly when I see it.

For those of you who don't remember Melissa Petro - and you're in the vast majority of Americans, since she's not actually all that famous - she was a public school teacher in New York City who was fired for coming out as a former sex worker.  She wrote a piece in The Huffington Post (one of the most popular web sites online) about her experiences as a prostitute (her choice of term) during grad school, and then reacted in exasperated shock that there are people who don't want an ex-prostitute working with children.  Petro was briefly a local scandal as her story spun out of her control in tabloids, and "hooker teacher" headlines appeared in gossip rags that published photos of her without her permission.  The situation sucked, it was unfair, and being a (former) sex worker shouldn't mean that can't be trusted to be around kids.  On this we can all agree.

Since her little scandal in three years ago, Petro has been on a pity tour of writing essays for seemingly any web site that will publish her, each iteration of her story gets more and more sad and self-pitying, all the while reinforcing The Big Lie told by visible ex sex workers like herself: that sex work is something from which one can never move on.  This lie reinforces so many stigmas, stokes the fires of so much shame and uncertainty for sex workers thinking about leaving the industry, and sends this horrible, cruel, completely inaccurate message to current sex workers: you can never escape a naughty past, you are doomed!  Doomed for life!  Forever tainted and shunned!

That's fucking bullshit.

I am so sick of the Petro and others like her acting like their choice to wallow publicly in self-pity is the only option for former sex workers.  Petro is just an upscale, liberal version of anti-porn ex-porn star Shelley Lubben, but rather than overtly attack the sex industry and campaign against it, Petro is far more insidious.  She isn't calling for the end of the sex industry, or for further criminalization of sex workers.  She's "one of the good guys."  She just wants sex workers to know that there's no hope of ever living a normal life again, and that it will cause your life to spiral out of control and destroy your soul.  And for this, Petro is a hero to white, feminist, educated (former) sex workers who also plan to stay firmly rooted in their pasts.

I refuse to give Melissa Petro the pity she craves.   After all, she was the one who purposefully sought out attention from the press, and did so under her legal name.  As much as I deeply, angrily disagree with social stigmas against having done sex work, the fact remains that we live in a world where they exist.  If you work with kids (and there are doubtless many teachers out there with sex work pasts), and you value keeping that job, you don't run to the media with your story about being proud of having been a law-breaking, cash-for-sex prostitute.  Is this Madonna/whore dynamic fair?  Not at all, but sometimes, it's not about shame, it's about discretion.

Call me wacky, but if I desperately wanted to escape the fate of being known as a former sex worker, I'd probably stop writing articles about how I used to be a sex worker for major media outlets.

So, with the announcement of disgraced prostitute-patronising politician Elliot Spitzer getting back into politics, Petro has flagged down the media again and reminded them that she exists.  She published a piece this week about how unfair it is that "we" "allow" men to move on with their lives after a sex scandal, but that women "like her" aren't "allowed" to move on.  Allowed by who?  It's a laughable premise.  Petro has spent three years hollering and waving her arms wildly at anyone who will listen so she can tell them that while she is a former sex worker, she doesn't want to be thought of as a former sex worker.  Those are not the actions of someone who's trying to turn a new leaf.

The reason Spitzer is successfully moving on from his past is because he's moving on from his past.  He hasn't spent several years penning sob-story op-eds about how sad he is that he was caught being a client of an escort service.  Spitzer did what people do when they actually want to move forward in their lives, and that's to move forward.  It's not sexist oppression, it's not the patriarchy, it's not even whorephobia.  Petro actively refuses to move on with her life, and actively tries to become better-known as a "famous" former sex worker, and then blames society, sexism, and sex work for the fact that she apparently has no life skills other than self-pity and seeking out media attention.  I've followed her story from the sidelines, and even I don't think I would recognize her if I had a casual interaction with her.  She's not so famous that she has no choice but to not move on, she doesn't have so recognizable a face that she can't walk down the street without attracting throngs of attention.  (As someone who has spent 10 years making a living in porn precisely by getting my photos seen by as many people as possible, I hardly ever get recognized in public.)

At the end of the day, Melissa Petro is only person who thinks that Melissa Petro will never be able to move on from her titillating past.  And that's her problem, it's certainly not emblematic of the experiences of all sex workers.

There are a ton of sex workers out there, and the vast, vast majority bow out quietly, without press releases or book deals.  Sex work is a rather transient occupation, one that a person may do during college, or during a period of unemployment, or until they age out of their part of the industry.  Most people don't stay in it for life, yet somehow, we forget that sex workers don't die or disappear upon retirement, they move on.  You interact with retired sex workers every day of your life, you just don't know it because they choose to not make it the focus of everything they do for the rest of their lives.  Despite the big lie pushed by former sex workers like Petro, you're not actually branded with "whore" on your forehead as you collect a final paycheck and clock out for the last time. (The exceptions are sex workers with criminal convictions, of course.  Those really do stay with you life and hurt your abilities to get jobs and housing.  But thankfully, most sex workers come out without any baggage that comes up in a credit report or search of court records.)

What I'm annoyed with is not just Petro's latest cries for attention, but the fact that within sex worker activisty and blogging circles, the only visible former sex workers are white, educated, middle/upperclass women who are now trying to make careers out of talking about how they used to be sex workers.  They may not want to be held as representative former sex workers, but they're all we have, so they become the de facto standard.

It's a sad catch-22: the only visible former sex workers are people who want to be known for being former sex workers.  If you're an isolated sex worker without a lot of friends or community support, you don't have anyone to talk to about the process of leaving the sex industry for something else.  There are no good role models for retiring sex workers who don't want to be memoirists, naughty media personalities, or work for sex work-related NGOs.  Which means there are no easy-to-find role models for the 99.999% of sex workers who will one day start a truly new chapter in their lives.  Sure, if you want to write the 62,958th book about how you used to be a stripper in college, there are tons of people to look up to.  I regularly see former sex worker-led workshops advertised to teach you how you can fulfill your dreams of writing about your experiences as a sex worker, but what if you don't want a book deal?  (Or, what do you do when the whopping $3000 you got for that precious book deal is all gone?)  What if you don't want to be famous as a former sex worker?  Where are the people for you to turn to?  Where's your support group and success stories?

And that's exactly the gaping void I want to address with the final project I want to do as a part of the sex workers' rights movement, and as I transition out of the industry myself.  I want to create a resource for people leaving sex work for a life that isn't all about how they used to be a sex worker.  Stay tuned!





by Furry Girl

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

03.30.13

I am pleased to see that a new fight is gearing up against the United States' horrible 2257 regulations, and I want to tell my readers about why "a porn regulation" should matter to them as sex workers, sex workers' rights activists, and privacy rights supporters.

"2257" is shorthand for the numerical code of the irritatingly-named Child Protection and Obscenity Enforcement Act.  You can read about it in detail on Wikipedia, but the short of it is that when you appear in adult productions in the US, you as the performer/model must give the production company/photographer two forms of identification and sign a bunch of paperwork promising that you are over 18.  (Which is its own absurdity, because there have been a few instances of 16 or 17 year olds getting fake IDs to work in porn, and any contract a minor signs is void anyway.  The contract doesn't do a thing to guarantee age, and does not prevent a determined teenager from working in porn.  It's the producer who is punished, even if they do everything they possibly can to screen out a lying underage worker.)  2257 laws, like all ridiculous, anti-privacy, anti-free speech measures, are "to save the children."

There are many good reasons to oppose 2257 regulations as they stand now, not the least of which is that it's an attempt by the government to strangle the sex industry and stifle sexual expression online through red tape and excessive paperwork-keeping requirements.  As someone who both appears in and produces online porn, 2257 is a problem from all sides for me, but there are two facets which I oppose the most.  (I covered this topic in my talk in privacy at the 2010 Desiree Alliance conference, and I really wish more sex workers understood what happens to their information once they sign waivers and let their IDs be photocopied.)

First off, 2257 laws are a horrifying problem in terms of privacy for models and performers.  I am required to keep records of the name and legal address of all people who appear on my websites, and to keep copies of two forms of ID, one of which must be government-issued and have a photo.  If I pay them over $600 US in a year, I am required to note their social security number for tax purposes.  I am required to keep these model releases and IDs organized by legal names and stage names, and where the images appear.  I am required to have these records available for inspection by the federal government to prove that my web sites are not actually filled with child pornography.

As a small-scale pornographer who only produces exclusive content, I keep all of these records to myself, but with the vast majority of porn, content is shot with the purpose of re-selling and licensing it out to many sources, which means a performer who thinks they are entrusting their name to one photographer may end up giving it to hundreds of people.  Any random person can search for companies reselling and licensing adult content, and with a purchase, buy performer's legal names, social security numbers, and addresses.  I've even seen online content sellers that allow new customers to try their content for free, meaning they are literally just handing out copies of performer's personally-identifying data to anyone who asks.  This should rightly scare anyone who has ever signed a model release for an adult company.  I even hesitate to talk about it this part of the porn industry publicly, because it's the easiest way for a stalker to find a porn performer.  It's not as easy as Googling, "Sally Sweetsucker home address," but a determined stalker can comb through enough adult content resellers and have a good shot at finding their target.

My second main problem with 2257 as a small-scale pornographer is that I am required by law to list my legal name and home address (because that is my business location and primary place of production) on the front page of my web sites.  (This is not allowed to be a PO box or an office you rent just for the purpose of record-keeping.  It has to be staffed during business hours, and where you actually shoot your content.  That might work for a big studio with a building with security, but not for small-timers.)  In my decade in the business, I have only ever met one small-scale producer that complied with that portion of 2257 regulations, and I was shocked that they did.  Independent pornographers and sex workers like myself should not have to choose between a fear of federal prosecutions and prison time for violating this aspect of 2257 laws, and a fear of overzealous stalkers coming to our homes to rape or assault us. When I started in 2002, it was allowed to have an attorney serve as the official record-keeper of your 2257 documentation, but that changed years ago during the Bush administration.  Many small-scale pornographers simply pulled out and found new jobs, too scared of making the horrible choice of federal prison or being attacked by stalkers.  No one should have to make that choice.  No one should be put in such an extreme a lose-lose position.

There have been legal challenges in the past to 2257 laws, but the fight continues.  The Free Speech Coalition has launched a new web site asking for help funding their battle, and you should support it.  2257 laws endanger the lives and safety of sex workers, but this issue is never discussed in sex worker advocacy circles.  Porn production regulations are more institutionalized and abstract that the immediate concerns of escorts/prostitutes/etc who fear arrest, assault, and rape, but it's just as real, as just as serious.  Please support the effort to fight against 2257 laws, and spread the word.





by Furry Girl

01.14.12

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

01.04.12

[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

04.01.11

The mass outing of porn performers has been a big issue lately, and I wanted to post about the subject even while the story is unfolding.  (I usually like to wait a bit and see how things turn out, rather than being a blogger who "keeps up" with the day's hot topic.)  I want this discussion to be dominated by actual sex workers, not just whoever the first sex bloggers are to insert themselves into the situation for traffic.  (Disclosure: having never worked in mainstream hardcore porn, I have never been tested at Adult Industry Medical, and I am not a part of the group who have been exposed by the hacking/publishing of their database.)

It seems like this initial leak is just from AIM's database, but there's also been talk about the privacy of performer's information in 2257 databases, which the anonymous angry leaker has said they already possess and plan on publishing soon.  (2257 laws, in a nutshell, are federal laws in the United States that deal with the requirements for proving the age and identity of all performers in adult content.)

Last summer, one of the issues I brought up during my part of the privacy panel at the Desiree Alliance conference was that sex workers needed to be aware of how 2257 laws affect them.  If you work in porn (or "fetish erotica" or "art nudes" or whatever other pretentious terms some people use), you're likely subject to signing a model release and providing the photographer with two forms of ID to prove your age.  (You may also be subject to this if you're an escort/fetish worker who advertises on certain web directories, even if you're not even using "pornographic" images of yourself.)  I made a point of talking about what 2257 means for sex workers because I don't think that most folk think as much about this as they should.  You are handing over your private data to someone who might be reselling and licensing that data to anyone who wants it.

Personally, I shoot only exclusive content, which means I am not reselling a performer's information to dozens or hundreds of other people.  But, if you're just shooting for generic, non-exclusive porn photographers, you need to know that that photographer may be planning to sell your shoot to 100 people, and all 100 of those people will be getting a copy of your identifying information.  This isn't anything "underhanded," it's part of how the business works and stays in compliant with federal laws.  Anyone who is publishing your shoot wants a copy of the proof that you're over 18, and you can understand why.  Unlike a misdemeanor solicitation charge that other sex workers risk, pornographers who break laws are breaking federal laws, and risk going to prison if they fail to comply with all parts of 2257.  (So much for porn being "sex work lite" or "the legal option", eh?)

If you're a stalker who has your eye on a certain performer, you could find out any names they use (especially if they are an actual "name" in porn), and shop around until you find a content re-seller who will sell you a video shoot or photo set of them, complete with their model release and IDs.  I have no idea how well these big content malls actually police who they sell to, but I'd guess they don't do much to prevent stalkers from buying performer's private information.  Someone could experiment with this on their own, and try an undercover investigation of the number of businesses found in Google under "adult content provider," and see if they'll sell to any random nobody without even a functional porn site.  For example, here are two FAQ items on one content reseller that I'm guessing the performers didn't think about when they handed over their IDs:

Do you actually supply all the 2257 documentation?
We sure do. Together with the invoice, you get copies of IDs and model data files. Make a free purchase in the Bonuses section (yes, it’s 100% free) to see how these documents look.

Is this content on sale only here?
No. Normally, content providers put their content on sale on multiple sites. As a rule, the prices are the same from site to site.

I think that perfectly sums up how absurdly available one's images and personal information can become when they work for some pornographers.  Plus, this reseller seems to offer a free sample purchase, so you, too, can obtain the private information of a porn performer just to get a feel for their purchasing system!

During my talk at the aforementioned Desiree Alliance con, here's what I suggested to sex workers as steps they can take to try and protect their privacy while working in porn:

* As a performer, you are required to provide IDs and information in a model release for 2257 records.  This part you can't get around.

* Generic pornographers shoot content to license and resell to anyone who will buy it.  This means that any random person could potentially buy your identity for as little as a few dollars.  Your identity is for sale when you perform in non-exclusive content.

* The big issue: Your best defense against having your identity resold is to work with reputable, worker-friendly porn companies that shoot exclusive content.

* Being selective about who you work for will mean you're losing out on ways of earning income, but consider what it is that you're selling: your name, your address, and possibly your social security number.

*Use a passport as your primary form of ID - it doesn't list your home address.  Use a secondary supporting document that doesn't list an address, like a birth certificate.

* Finally: I, as a pornographer, have no way of knowing if your model release lists your real home address, or your mail drop in another state.

So, where do we go from here?  How can both sex workers and pornographers try to prevent future identity breaches, without the magical, probably-never-happening solution of "change the laws to favor privacy rights"?

Curious if you've been affected by the leaks thus far?  Check out this database created by an ally, and view the README file first.





by Furry Girl

11.21.10

As a teenager, I had a conversation with an older activist who had been arrested many times over the years.  He told me his secret to staving off despair and stress during the whole process.  He said something like, "When you're in jail, and the police strip search you, their goal is to humiliate you into obedience, so it's your job to turn the tables on them.  I do a sexy striptease, spin around like a fucking ballerina, and tell them how hot the whole thing makes me.  It takes away their power and makes them the uncomfortable ones."

These are the sorts of useful lessons I learned instead of going to high school.

"Sticking it to the man" can be about learning to draw power directly from disempowering constructs themselves.  On my way to my vacation, I knew wanted to do something to express my disapproval of the TSA's cancer-machines-versus-groping "choice".  (Also see National Opt Out Day set for November 24.)  If there is but one superpower that I possess, it's making people feel uncomfortable through my propensity for public displays of sluttiness and general unselfconscious loud-mouthery.

Image from the @TSAagent Twitter account

Disclaimer 1: I realize that whining about flight screenings is a problem that affects mostly people on the top of the world's privilege heap, and that this conversation has been dominated by middle/upper class white men.  Let's be real: the public outcry over this is because it's about crotches and nudity.  No one cares if their phone calls are being recorded or if the government detains people for years without trails, they just know they don't want another dude touching their junk.  I'm hoping that people will use this particularly titillating aspect of increasing government intrusion into our lives as a springboard to thinking about other civil liberties issues.  (I'm actually far more bothered by how critics of surveillance like Jake and Moxie have been harassed and detained by the government lately at airports after international trips.)  Overall, though, I think it's a positive thing any time that so many people - across party-lines - are freaking out and insisting upon their right to privacy.  As a country, we can't agree whether it's our right to own firearms and/or get abortions, but we can all agree we don't want government agents touching our bathing suit areas.

Disclaimer 2: some children and adults have been genuinely traumatized or upset by their experiences with the TSA.  I wasn't trying to belittle their pain and frustration at all, but to use my own body as a medium to protest against invasive security measures, and in a humorous way that upends the expected dynamic.

The TSA wanted to feel me up or see what I look like without clothes.  I get it.  I'm a sex worker.  My main porn site gets about 3 million unique visitors a year, and clients pay $4 a minute to see me naked on my web cam, so the TSA's interest in me came as no surprise.  Normally, I would charge for such a service, but this one was on the house.  Duty, country, sacrifice, patriotism, all that.

For my voyage, I donned a see-though chemise and sheer panties under normal clothes.  My nipples, crack, and pubes are all plainly visible though this ensemble.  The TSA needed to make sure that I wasn't concealing any errant Al Qaeda operatives in the folds of my labia, after all.  I would have done this naked, but being arrested for public nudity doesn't really help to underscore my cause, and it would screw up my vacation and turn me into a sex offender, both of which would be a real bummer.  (I also considered going through while packing a huge strapon cock with my metal-free, airport-friendly Joque harness.)

The bummer is that the cancer machines at Seatac were busted for some reason, so they were just using metal detectors.  But, even though I didn't get to shoot video of myself being groped, hopefully this is still amusing.  (My plan was to loudly moan and fake an orgasm while being molested by the TSA.)

Here's my video from the airport, published from a net cafe at the airport.  The portion shot inside the security area is about 10 solid minutes, and only the first minute of that is actually amusing, then it just goes to a long stretch of the boring ceiling while I was detained and the TSA waited for a police officer to talk to me.  The cop was actually very polite to me, and seemed understanding, and just sorta vaguely let me know that maybe I shouldn't do that again, because children might see.  (I told him I already picked a security line without kids, which it true.)

I hate it when people demand that I put my pants back on!  (And, like I pointed out, we're not supposed to wear jackets through security.  The TSA agent ordered me to violate TSA rules!)  As far as I know, I am the current record holder for the nearest-to-naked a passenger has gotten at a TSA screening.  I look forward to having that title stripped from me.

You're welcome to re-post or embed my video elsewhere, but I'd appreciate a link back to this blog post and crediting Furry Girl/Feminisnt.com.  Apologies on the low quality - I used a small cheap digital camera to record this because I wasn't going to risk having an expensive one seized if the TSA got uppity.  I edited it on the fly with the camera's own basic editing program since I no longer travel internationally with my laptop.

The TSA allows "opting out" of the "naked" scanners if you submit to a groping that some people consider a form of sexual assault - or, at the very least, creepy and uncomfortable. The TSA's goal is to use the grope-down to frighten the public into submitting to a scan which scientists at UCSF consider a cancer risk.  Don't be scared like the TSA wants you to be.

Remember the children's tale of Brer Rabbit?  It's time to beg not to be thrown into the briar patch.  Put on your sexiest, filmsiest underthings, opt for a grope-down, have fun with it, treat it like a performance, and fake an orgasm in public next time you fly.  You'll gain self-confidence, amuse and inspire other passengers, draw attention to the sexually-invasive nature of the modern airport security process, and make government employees look more predatory and inappropriate while feeling up strangers.  Protesting in such a way won't change TSA regulations overnight, but it adds to the dissent and public conversation, flips around a demeaning dynamic, and for bold travelers, getting this transparent just might be the only way these days to enter an airport with a smile on your face and your dignity intact.

And hey, at least I'm not one of those public embarrassments who wear their pajamas, a blanket, and an inflatable neck pillow to the airport.  For fuck's sake, people!  Have some sense of propriety.

[For new readers: writing and doing projects like this doesn't make me any money, but you can always express your appreciation via my Amazon wishlist, or by donating money to my favorite nonprofit, the St James Infirmary.]





by Furry Girl

08.23.10

At last month's Desiree Alliance conference, I recommended a talk called "Privacy Is Dead- Get Over It", by private investigator Steve Rambam.  He has been giving versions of this talk for years, and this latest version was given at The Next HOPE in New York City in July 2010.  It's not at all geared towards a sex worker audience, nor is it about how to avoid stalkers and other pests that sex workers face, but it's an excellent general introduction to how our "private" lives are anything but.

While Rambam's personal politics are of a conservative bent, he seems to take delight in shattering any lingering illusions of the paranoid and privacy-conscious, spelling out how our lives are all being tracked by private investigators, telecommunications companies, and non-governmental databases.  This is the talk I try to get people to watch if they're curious about the idea of personal privacy in the digital age, and they tend to come away horrified.

Unlike a lot of material out there on the privacy topic, Rambam's talk is not about how The Government spies on us, it's about how corporations spy on us- and how we, as individuals, are the ones who help them do so.  When a friend of mine got out of prison, I asked him if they had him on an ankle monitor.  He held up his smart phone and said, "No, but I got me on this!"  Personally, I pay AT&T $143 a month to track my whereabouts at all times.  This is why I hate it when silly little lefties say stuff like "Orwell was right" or "We're living in Orwellian times now".  No, no we're not.  Orwell was wrong, Ray Bradbury was right.  We The People will not be oppressed by force and coercion and frightening big brothers, we will gleefully and willingly give up any and all personal liberties in the name of gaining shiny amusements.  Oh hey, did you hear the a iPhone is coming out?  Let's go wait in line all day!

This year's talk focuses heavily on how Google catalogs everything about you in order to sell you things, and just how much data we are all hemorrhaging every time we do anything online, make a phone call, or even just carry our mobile phones around with us.  (News to me was Google's upcoming plans to be an electric utility that uses smart grid technology.  This means they'll know what you're doing with your appliances and light switches, down to when you open your refrigerator door.  I wonder if a Hitachi Magic Wand gives off some sort of unique power-draining signature in the outlet in your bedroom?  Ceiling cat is watching you masturbate!)

Jacob Appelbaum, another speaker from The Next HOPE conference who I mentioned last month, touched upon Google in a recent Rolling Stone piece: "It's not just the state.  If it wanted to, Google could overthrow any country in the world.  Google has enough dirt to destroy every marriage in America. [...] At some point people are going to realize that Google has everything on everyone.  Most of all, they can see what questions you're asking, in real time.  Quite literally, they can read your mind."

To download this 3-hour video via legal torrent firesharing, click here for the torrent for part one, and here for part two.





by Furry Girl

12.18.09

I've been contacted countless times by people who want to be sex workers, and I've advised many of them against it.  Why?  Because plenty of these emailers are terrified of being discovered.  If you're already experiencing great concern over potential outings and shame, this is not a job for you to be considering.  One would think this goes without saying- but it apparently doesn't, judging by the number of times I've encountered such people.

Emailers want to let me know that they are turned on by exhibitionism, consider themselves quite sex-positive, love performing, and eager for my advice.  They also often let me know that they'd potentially be disowned by their families and "real friends", kicked out of school, lose custody of their children, and/or be fired from their conservative job if anyone found out.  They want to how to not get "caught".

I tell such potential sex workers: imagine the person you'd least want knowing about it.  They'll probably be the ones who find your alter ego first.

My bad outing story?  Over dinner, some loser my mother was dating yelled at my grandmother that I "suck dick for money", jumping to his feet and pompously refusing to spend another minute at the same table as a whore.  So, picture your own elderly grandmother, with an enraged asshole screaming at her that you suck dick for money.  Can you handle that?  (The irony about this situation, however, is that every time in my life that dick-sucking has transpired and money has changed hands, I have never once been the one being paid to suck a dick.  But I didn't want to try and explain that to an upset woman in her late 80s.)

So, here it is, short and concise, for all my would-be sex worker readers:

The first rule of sex work is: you will be caught being a sex worker.
The second rule of sex work is: YOU WILL BE CAUGHT BEING A SEX WORKER.

Accept those rules before you start quizzing myself or others about how to get started in the business.  Sex work can offer great things to those of us with big hearts, abundant sexual energy, creativity, and business-savvy, but those freedoms and rewards do come at a certain price.





by Furry Girl

08.14.09

The other night, I received an email from a former neighbor.  I had lived next to his family in the Seattle suburbs for two years, and I shot plenty of porn in my rental house during that time.  His email was polite, complimentary of my work and blog, and respectful of my privacy.  That's how to be a good, non-assholey human being.

Many civilians probably end up finding someone in porn whom they've known in another context.  Not all of them are as cool about it as my ex-neighbor, though.

Over the years, I've "reconnected" with a lot of people through my site.  I've had emails sent by acquaintances from my youth, former boyfriends, an old employer, people I once met at parties, etc.  (I've received an equal number of emails from people I've never known who insist they've met me, like a guy working in a German hostel who was so excited I was staying there.  I have never been to Germany!)  Honestly, most of these emails get ignored, even if they're not rude.  I just feel as though so much time has passed since I last saw the person, and that there's probably a reason we didn't stay connected in the first place, even if only because we have nothing in common.

A shining failstar came from a boy I knew in grade school.  He was a bully.

"Dear [my name], this is [his name, spelled incorrectly], god you look good if you are ever in town to [hometown] give me a call and maybe we could fuck, i am married to a bisexual chick that would love to watch me fuck your hairy twat.  I know that we were enemies in grade school but we should see each other again, preferiably in our birthday suits, I love your hairy cunt and would love to here from you at [his email address], please write me back.

Yours truely [his name, spelled correctly this time]"

Yeah, I'll get right on that. I totally got into porn so I could fuck the people who picked on me when I was a kid.

Remember, normals: someone is not all of a sudden a radically different person (or a non-person) because you just discovered they're a sex worker.  Finding out that someone is involved in the adult industry does not give you permission to act like an idiot, or assume that they would be thrilled at the chance to give you some freebies.  You'd think this would go without saying, but I've seen too many ungracious oddballs who did not come with this lesson pre-installed.

This advice also counts for meeting new people who reveal that they're sex workers.  Don't suddenly switch out from whatever smalltalk thing you had been chatting about to ask her for a demo of her cock-sucking skills, or nonchallantly ask if she was raped as a child- as though that's any of your business.

As with all things in life: be the good neighbor, not the horny bully.





Furry Girl: legs now closed for business.

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