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

08.22.11

The New Victorians: A Young Woman's Challenge to the Old Feminist Order
by Rene Denfeld
Copyright 1995

★★★★

I loved this book, and I don't know how I didn't discover it until recently, because it's very me in many ways.  It has so many of the issues that I would cover if I were to write an entire book about why feminism is stupid and counter-productive, to the degree I'm actually relieved someone else has already done it so well.

Having been published 16 years ago, Rene Denfeld's references to leading feminists and prominent areas of feminist concern are, as would be expected, a bit dated.  (It is pre-internet, pre- sex-positive, and at the end, briefly notes a newfangled area of feminism showing hope in its youthfulness: riot grrrl.)  For example, there's an entire chapter mostly about the growing irrelevance of NOW, but in 2011, I honestly can't think of the last time anyone mentioned NOW, as it has become fully irrelevant.  Some stale issues aside, like NOW and lesbian separatism, the overall tone of the book, criticism of core portions of feminist theory, and the good framing device of comparisons to the morality of the Victorian era are all still valid.  (Even more so now in some matters, with feminist books like "A Return to Modesty," as well as a general increase in hysteria about "the pornification of our culture.")

Denfeld decries victim feminism, man-hating behaviors such as painting all men as potential rapists and dangers, the expansion of definitions of rape and sexual assault to include cat-calling and sexual comments, the obsession with new age spiritualism, that omnipresent mysterious force called "the patriarchy," and even some older embarrassing dirty laundry like feminist opposition to abortion and birth control (because they turn women into consequence-free sex holes for men).  Overall, I love the book's relentless questioning of feminist ideas (whether it be banning porn or adopting goddess religious) with, "...but what good will that do for the majority of women, especially poor women?"

While most of the book has nothing to do with sex work issues, the section on the feminist campaign against porn was solid, doing well to exemplify the vast schism between feminist concerns and the issues that impact average women.  When discussing porn, the book doesn't quote sex workers or consider our perspectives/rights at all.  The anti-anti-porn arguments in the book are about censorship and time-wasting moral crusades.

By foregoing political and economic activism, current feminists have created a campaign that smacks of classism.  Many of the feminist activists working against porn are middle-income and well-educated women.  The subjects of their attacks (porn actresses and nude models) are predominantly lower-income and less-educated people - and usually not boasting choice jobs at magazines or universities.  It must be recognized that many women freely choose to enter the porn field.  And some of their choices are no doubt influenced by the fact that it pays more than flipping hamburgers.

But the antiporn activists don't seem interested in helping lower-class women - try telling an impoverished mother on welfare that outlawing Playboy is the answer to her troubles.  And try telling a porn actress that it's better to starve on minimum wage than it is to pose for pictures that middle-class women find immoral.  Lost in the rarefied world of academia and backed with cushy jobs, these feminists forget that women can't feed their children on censorship.

[...]

Just as in Victorian times (when respectable ladies condemned unrespectable lower-class strumpets), a select group of middle-class women have bestowed upon themselves the title of saviors of female virtue.  And just as Victorian ladies blamed prostitutes for their husbands' faithlessness, today's feminists implicitly blame women in pornography for the most reprehensible crime: rape.

Another thing I love is the chapter on feminism's promotion of new age religions, although this has died down a bit since the book was published in the 90s.  As someone who angrily bit my tongue as a pagan religious ritual opened last year's Desiree Alliance sex worker conference, I appreciate those who share such annoyances.  Denfeld's book rightfully hammers home that there is no historical evidence to suggest that a magical war and weapon-free matriarchy ever existed, though new agers are always quick to rebut that inconvenient truth with conspiracy theories about how The Patriarchy has suppressed the evidence.

A snippet:

The religion is based on theory that reeks of old fashioned sexist stereotypes.  Women, again, are held to be the gentler, nurturing, compassionate, and clearly unassertive sex.

This vision of women as spiritually superior - and spiritually pure - has led to devastating inertia.  Political and economic activism is suddenly portrayed as quite unnecessary, even distasteful.  Instead, goddess aherents are convinced that witchcraft rituals of chanting, burning sage, sending spells, and channeling Aphrodite with effectively advance women's rights.

And so feminism today has taken a distressing step away off the path to equality onto a detour down the yellow brick road.  Feminist leaders are now telling women to perform the modern equivalent of the Sioux Indian Ghost Dance, to spend our energies frantically calling upon a mystical golden age in an effort to create a dreamlike future - because such rituals are better suited to our superior nature than fighting directly with men for our rights.  This ideal of feminine spiritual purity was used effectively against women in the Victorian era; they were told that, for the more spiritual sex, prayer was the only appropriate means of improving the world.  Then, as now, it's striking that the more ineffective an action, the more it's said to reflect "female" values.

Meanwhile, millions of women - young and old - have to cope with unequal pay, lack of affordable child care, nonexistent job opportunities, and raising families without health insurance.  Countless more face unavailable birth control and abortion, sexual harassment in the workplace, or no workplace at all.  And many face the trauma of rape and domestic violence under a judicial system that too often slaps offenders lightly on the wrist.  Goddess worship does absolutely nothing for these women.

If this sounds like embellishment to you, perhaps you're not old enough to remember the massive popularity of one particular nutter who goes by Starhawk.  She was devoted to distracting the west coast left during the 1990s and early 2000s, admonishing activists to focus on spell-casting and sending out magic spirit vibes rather than engage in protests or directly confronting businesses/governments.  Thankfully, Starhawk gets thoroughly ridiculed in the book, including a "blockade" of hers where a bunch of witches shined flashlights in the direction of a nuclear power plant in an attempt to shut it down.  When the power plant later had a temporary technical issue causing some downtime, Starhawk took credit.  (You can't make up stuff this funny!)

In the chapter rebutting the notion of a patriarchy that's somehow a sentient force and conspiracy to oppress women through the evils of science and rational thinking, Denfeld gets a standing ovation from me yet again.

Patriarchal theory appeals to many feminists because it takes the onus off women when it comes to problems such as racism, sexism, and violence - although female Ku Klux Klan members to abusive mothers, women have done their share to add to these ills.  It is also appealing because it acts as a rallying cry, allowing feminists to condemn a common enemy  while ignoring class and cultural differences among women.  By asserting that all women are oppressed under the patriarchy, feminists often implicitly dismiss the experiences of minority, poor, and working class women: A single mother on welfare and Gloria Steinem are portrayed as having more in common than not.

What makes this ironic is that oppression is defined solely from the viewpoint of current feminist leaders, who tend to be well-educated, affluent white women enjoying careers as authors, speakers, and tenured professors.  For instance, in The Beauty Myth, a 1991 book detailing how there is a "backlash" against women via beauty standards, Yale graduate Naomi Wolf likens the beauty methods of upper-middle-class women to the medieval torture instrument known as the iron maiden, a spike-lined body-shaped casket in which victims suffered slow, agonizing deaths.  When women who exemplify the American dream and the fruits of feminism - educated in the finest universities, getting paid for the careers of their choice, well-respected, and enjoying all the freedoms and comforts life has to offer - write books comparing their lives with medieval torture, it's not surprising that many lower-income women don't find much in common with the movement.

In the nineteenth century, as feminist concern moved on from fighting for the right to vote to fighting to repress sexual materials and female sexuality, a familiar issues played out in the wake of a new law passed to prevent - you guessed it - child sex trafficking.

Rather than used to halt child prostitution, this legislation was mostly enforced against poor adult women.  It dramatically changed the structure of prostitution, with devastating effects for the women involved.  Full-time prostitution up to that time was largely a brothel industry maintained by women.  While these brothels varied from squalid shacks to fancy houses, they at least offered prostitutes a degree of safety and economic autonomy: Many women were assured food and a roof over their heads as well as protection from the authorities.  But under this feminist-driven law, the brothels were closed, forcing prostitutes to work on the streets, where they had to rely on male pimps for protection... Far from eradicating prostitution, these feminists only drove them underground -- and once out of sight, the prostitutes suffered more.

Where the Denfeld and I sharply diverge, however, is that at the end of the day, her book is about inspiring young women to "reclaim" feminism and make it a part of their identities, and insisting that anyone who supports birth control or equal pay is a feminist, whether they like it or not.  Despite being written to get more people to call themselves feminists (though it's never explained why on earth that matters), I still consider this a great read.  I took a bunch of notes, and will be reading some of the source material and using it in places in my own book, if and when that ever comes to fruition.

 

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





by Furry Girl

06.02.09

The Government vs. Erotica: The Siege of Adam & Eve
by Philip D Harvey
Published in 2001

★★★☆

In an alternate world, Phil Harvey would be a better-known first amendment crusader. Far from the bombastic, abrasive persona of Larry Flynt, Harvey is an adult retailer who seems like he could be your friendly libertarian grandpa. Throughout the book, Harvey maintains a sort of innocent patriotic optimism, and in spite of his own dealings with malicious encroachments on his rights, he seems pretty shocked that the government of the United States of America would ever do anything underhanded.

"The Government vs. Erotica" is a look at the series of coordinated obscenity prosecutions of Philip Harvey, his company, Adam & Eve, and many of his employees. The government's strategy was to indict Harvey and others in multiple districts around the country, bleeding them dry through a series of costly legal battles over bogus obscenity charges. It's the kind of thing that has killed smaller companies with less means to defend themselves.

From the first raid on their North Carolina facility, and along a journey of nearly 8 years and $3 million in legal fees, Harvey covers his cases in detail. He also writes more broadly about porn, class, taste, fear of sexuality, freedom of expression, and the nonsensical nature of American morality laws. I'm sure both areas of the book would be equally interesting to some, but I found Harvey to be a more engaging writer when he's focused on the big picture, rather than the minutiae of his drawn-out battle.

But what a battle it was- Harvey spent from May 1986 to December 1993 fighting off wave after wave of prosecutions around the country. Before we internet pornographers had to wonder if some conservative enclave in Utah or Alabama would find our porn obscene by their "community standards", Harvey was fighting in such places on behalf of his mail-order company. For that, I can't help but respect the guy, even though we disagree on other issues.

My favorite chapter of the book was probably "Pornography and Class", where Harvey muses on what defines the line between that which is considered to have artistic merit, and what which is mere obscenity or trash. Some passages from that section I wanted to highlight:

Judge [Robert] Bork would have us believe that today's popular culture is "more vulgar than at any time in the past." He looks back fondly on the 1930s, when performers sang about "the way you look tonight," with a warm smile, a soft cheek, "nothing for me but to love you." But public lynchings were sometimes popular "entertainment" in the 1930s, too, a phenomenon that strikes me as a lot more coarse than any form of rap.

And

Class-based views of pornography take many forms. "Once upon a time," observes a New York Times writer, "obscenity was confined to expensive leather-bound editions available only to gentlemen... One of the questions asked by the crown prosecutor [in the trial of the publisher of _Lady Chatterly's Lover]... was: 'Would you let your servant read this book?'" Indeed, one of the earliest common-law decisions involving obscenity reflected this elitist attitude. The Queen's Bench rules in 1868 that, to be obscene, material must have the power to "deprave and corrupt those whose minds are open to such immoral influences.

Or

In American culture, this phenomenon is exemplified by Larry Flynt's Hustler magazine... As writer and sociologist MG Lord observes, "Hustler's scatological fantasies have less to do with penetrating women than with the rage at having not penetrated the privileged classes." Laura Kipnis adds, "The catalogs of social resentments Hustler trumpets, particularly against class privilege, makes it by fat the most openly class-antagonistic mass-circulation periodical of any genre." [...] Hustler, contrariwise [to Playboy and Penthouse], goes out of its way to harpoon the upper crust, to denigrate those PhD elitists, to fart on the pretensions of the ruling class, or anyone pretending to be holier than thou.

In another strong chapter, "What are We Afraid Of? Sexuality and Censors", he interviews Dr Marty Klein:

There are a lot of people who don't want sexual experimentation going on in the world. It reminds them that they have desire themselves, desires that they are scared by or feel ashamed of or guilty about. Unapologetic sexuality opens up the possibility of a form of freedom - a choice - that sex-fearful people don't want to have. Rather, they try to shut down those sexual activities out there that they're scared of wanting to do themselves.

In the end, after a lot of stubbornness and struggle, Harvey and his legal team accepted a truce deal with the US government, which required that Harvey "throw a bone" tothe state of Alabama. He wouldn't plead guilty to any speech issues, so after much searching, his team found out that they once probably mailed materials into Alabama using 8 or 9 point fonts rather than the 12 point fonts mandated by law on certain mailings. It's a bit of an anti-climactic ending, but one that no doubt saved Harvey many additional years and millions of dollars.

Now, onto my two tangents of criticism that don't really have to do with the quality of the book.

Harvey raises my blood pressure when he repeatedly reminds readers that the porn he was selling featured only mainstream adult content. I'm bothered by the false dichotomy set up in sentences such as "...depictions of positive sexuality between cheerfully consenting adults, without violence or degradation." It's the consenting adults bit that matters, not whether the performers are giggling or sobbing during the scene.

For non-industry readers, I can see how Harvey is trying to make himself look extra "upstanding" by refusing to carry porn that features anything "too dirty", but he does the perv/porn community a disservice by dividing adult entertainment into "good" and "bad" based on whether or not it's kinky, rather than by standards such as the labor conditions under which it was made. Anyone with any sense of sexual sophistication knows that "violence" and "degradation" are not mutually exclusive to "positive sexuality".

Here's the other irksome issue: it takes awfully big balls to sling mud at kinky "degrading" porn because of one's vague personal concern it's possibly unhealthy for viewers, when one can buy from Harvey's company such products as "Adam & Eve Vaginal Tightening Tightener Cream" or "Adam & Eve Anal Easy Lubricant" (which numbs your ass so you have no idea if you're being hurt! fun!), fake breast enlargement pills, fake penis enlargement pills, and of course, a load of toxic mystery jelly sex toys. "Positive healthy sexuality" fail, Harvey.

Adam & Eve doesn't sell anything that's more obnoxious than other mainstream adult retailers, so I'm not trying to single them out too much. I do genuinely respect Phil Harvey for going to bat for everyone's right to enjoy and sell porn, I just wish there was a greater sense of ethical consistency in place of throwing folks under the bus who like their porn (and by extension, their sex lives) with more kink.

 

Buy The Government vs. Erotica through this Amazon link and a portion of the sales price will go to SWAAY.





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