by Furry Girl
Anti-sex work activists endlessly harp on the specter of the multi-billion dollar sex industry. They never want to talk about how individual sex workers only make fairly modest incomes, and for generally short periods of time. It's easier to set up all of us sinners as obscenely wealthy, because it makes it easier for average people to resent us. This contributes to a culture of disrespect for sex workers where the public thinks we're not only lazy and gauche, we also get a 6-figure check every time we disrobe. It's a tactic of othering sex workers to a country that has been struggling a lot financially since the recession. And it's a very successful one.
When I was making the opposition tracker on SWAAY.org, I thought about trying to create a comprehensive list of how much profit there is to be made in anti-sex worker activism. As sex workers, we're constantly having our campaigns dismissed on the grounds that everything we say must be a lie because we have a financial stake in sex work. It drives me crazy that it's a one-sized argument, as though only sex workers profit from sex work. Your average sex worker makes substantially less than an anti-sex worker academic or nonprofit, so who really has a "financial incentive" to say what they say?
Some Twitter exchanges made me realize I should post the data I already collected, and I decided to update the tax returns for some popular foundations that oppose sex workers rights. Catherine MacKinnon's base salary statement was obtained a couple of years ago with a FOIA request against her employer, the University of Michigan, a state-funded university. (They have to disclose if you ask, google for "FOIA template" for the format.) The other tax returns are from 501(c)3 nonprofits, which make them public information.
Catherine MacKinnon's base salary (not including bonuses, insurance, speaking engagements, writing, and tours) was $273,000 for 9 months of work in 2009 (page 386, huge file) and $280,000 for 9 months of work in 2010 (page 394, huge file).
The biggest winner is, of course, the Hunt Alternatives Fund, which took in a whopping $12,976,136 in 2012. A 20-hour a week job at this foundation paid one "advisor" $101,562 in salary and benefits! Under "direct charitable activities," HAF say they spent $1,409,171 "eradicating the demand for purchased sex." While Swanee Hunt and family were the top donors, this foundation also received an even one million dollars from Norway's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Shared Hope International (which campaigns against prostitution among other activities), which raked in $2,253,367 in 2011.
The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women raked in $1,161,729 in 2012.
Fireproof Ministries, which runs XXXChurch, raked in $610,719 in 2011. $102,350 of this went directly into the pocket of Craig Gross in the form of a salary. (I've never netted that much as a pornographer! I should have gotten into running anti-porn sites.)
Shelley Lubben's Pink Cross Foundation raked in $137,183 in 2012. Shelley officially draws a modest $57,640 in salary and compensation.
Melissa Farley (who has glowingly referred to sex workers as "house niggers") heads a group called Prostitution Research and Education, which raked in a mere $81,958 in 2012.
Cite these figures when you're talking to people who think that our side is the only one with something financial to gain. I wish I knew more about individual anti-sex worker activists. I still want to flesh out the anti-sex worker activist tracker. Let me know if you have links to add.
by Furry Girl
"Here's what I, personally, have observed about the sex industry: If, before she ever enters the sex industry, a woman is an emotionally troubled person with poor self-esteem and a history of bad decisions, she'll continue making bad decisions and suffering the negative consequences while she's in the business. But now, some of them will be sex-work-related decisions and consequences, so it's easy for people to say, "Well, obviously it's because she's a sex worker. See what an unhappy, damaging life it is?" And she'll probably agree with them, because it's easy for a troubled, low-self-esteem person to buy into the victim mentality. That way, she can then avoid taking any responsibility for her choices. So she's tucked neatly into the victim pigeon-hole, and everyone thanks goodness they don't have to examine any potentially unsettling ideas any further. Their pre-existing beliefs have been confirmed and they feel righteous.
Now, she could fuck up her life just as badly if she were a waitress at Denny's. But that's not as sexy, so no one writes newspaper articles about that.
You see, the work itself doesn't fuck you up - it just magnifies what's already there."
-- Mistress Matisse in an untitled post on mistressmatisse.blogspot.com
This is probably my favorite thing that she's ever written. It's from 2004, and these observations completely match my experiences in the sex industry as well.
by Furry Girl
This little scene from Half Baked has played in my head many times over the last year.
by Furry Girl
"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
Yesterday, I went out to lunch with one of my nerdy friends from my new "straight life." (He's the only person in that sphere who knows that I've been working in porn for the last decade, a "big reveal" that I decided to allow to organically manifest itself in conversation as though it were nothing bizarre or noteworthy.) On our break, we lamented how frustrating it is to have to work with people you can't stand, or to make smalltalk about the weather because that's considered polite.
"I went to a big university, so if I didn't like someone, I'd never have to interact with them again. I could completely choose who was in my social circle."
"I've spent a decade running my own business, so I haven't been forced to spend time with people I don't like. I can jettison anyone, and it didn't matter to my bottom line. Now, I'm making an effort to not rock the boat because I'm the lowest person on the ladder and I need the good reference for later."
"It's so frustrating..."
"...now that we have to have to completely relearn our social skills."
We laughed, but it's true. One of the things I've been dealing with as I've been moving out of the sex industry is a longing for the shocking degree of freedom one has as a sex worker. Even if you're not fully running your own business the way I have been, sex workers generally have the ability to reject clients, to move to another strip club, find a new escort service, work for a different studio, and overall, set a much greater number of boundaries than your average worker. While that statement seems bizarre - how can you have "boundaries" if a stranger can see your naked body or is even having sex with you? - boundaries come in more forms than ones based on chastity.
With the vast, vast majority of jobs, a worker has very little control over their working environment, boss, coworkers, and upward mobility potential. A typical waitress doesn't show up to shifts only on days she feels like working, bouncing between various restaurants depending on which she prefers at the moment, the way a stripper might. A nurse knows he'll never be able to start his own hospital and declare himself its chief of surgery, unlike a porn star who works hard and invests his money in starting his own production company. For all the endless criticism lobbed at the sex industry for being a measure of last resort and misery, there's a huge and unrecognized amount of freedom in it, both freedom of association and the ability for your hard work to propel you upwards. The sex industry is the true "American dream," in that tenacity, hard work, and creativity can take a person (usually with no formal training and little startup capital) from poverty to the middle class more easily than any other industry.
One of the things I've been thinking about more lately is the issue of "association privilege," both how I've been lucky to have it as a sex worker, and how it remains perhaps the most invisible privilege. When framed in that way, it makes obvious a particularly strong correlation between the shrill lefty feminists who rail endlessly about how everyone is too "privileged," yet themselves possessing the privilege to choose their work environment, bosses/editors, and business/activist contacts. (I've long maintained that nothing is more indicative of privilege than spending all day on the internet picking fights with strangers about how privileged they are.) If someone wants to refuse to associate with anyone who isn't also a socialist feminist wannabe-academic that adorns their virtual spaces with Audre Lorde quotes and Foucault references, they can easily live in such a bubble. There are plenty of such bores in neighboring regions of the blogosphere. (Where all of these people make money remains a mystery. While I know that two big names in the sexy feminist scene have secret rich male partners/husbands who bankroll their lifestyles of being internet pesonas, I don't know how the others do it. NGO jobs? Sporadic paid writing gigs? Trust funds? Secret sex work?)
It all reminds me of a favorite section from a piece in The Atlantic a while back, which perfectly sums up the completely un-checked privilege that runs rampant among those who have declared themselves the enforcers of privilege-checking.
According to [UC Berkeley sociologist Neil] Gilbert, the debate over the value of women’s work has been framed by those with a too-rosy view of employment,
mainly because the vast majority of those who publicly talk, think, and write about questions of gender equality, motherhood, and work in modern society are people who talk, think, and write for a living. And they tend to associate with other people who, like themselves, do not have “real” jobs—professors, journalists, authors, artists, politicos, pundits, foundation program officers, think-tank scholars, and media personalities.
Many of them can set their own hours, choose their own workspace, get paid for thinking about issues that interest them, and, as a bonus, get to feel, by virtue of their career, important in the world. The professor admits that his own job in “university teaching is by and large divorced from the normal discipline of everyday life in the marketplace. It bears only the faintest resemblance to most work in the real world.” In other words, for the “occupational elite” (as Gilbert calls this group), unlike for most people, going to work is not a drag.
As an impolitic creature by nature (or hateful cunt, depending on who you ask), I've greatly enjoyed being in the "occupational elite" myself. As I shed this awesome privilege in order to start over, I wonder how many people in the world I'm leaving - both sex workers and/or feminists - realize the degree to which they hold this significant privilege themselves. Enjoy it while it lasts, because you'll miss it like crazy when you're making obligatory workplace smalltalk with people with whom you have little in common.
by Furry Girl
I've noticed my local government's anti-trafficking ads on the sides of buses, but haven't mentioned them on my blog. Then I really saw one yesterday that did something I have never, ever seen before from a mainstream anti-trafficking campaign: declare that women can be traffickers and men can be victims. Sure, this dynamic is no shocker to people who actually know anything about migrant labor, but to see it in a county-funded ad campaign blew me away.
King County's anti-trafficking campaign has many flaws, of course, but I will say that I appreciate that the ads are not just about sex slavery. The campaign uses the Polaris Project, a Christian morality NGO as a "fact" source; is partnered with the Somaly Mam Foundation, which sends Cambodian sex workers to private prisons where they are sexually abused; and links to a Shared Hope International anti-prostitution page as a resource. So the campaign is deeply problematic and based in the lies of anti-sex worker hysterics and religious nuts, and I'm not defending that.
But I think this is still a tiny, possibly hopeful step in the right direction, because the campaign is about the many faces of forced trafficking, not just the sexy sex trafficking for sexy sexual abuse thing that we normally see. There are three ad designs, and only one is about sex trafficking. The other two imply domestic labor.
by Furry Girl
Much has been made over the years of feminist academics' use of images of sex workers without their permission for the purposes of belittling the featured sex worker and campaigning for their criminalization and public shaming. I found out that a photo of me has made it into an academic's lecture slides, but not in a class on navel-gazing feelingsy bullshit.
A friend of mine recently sent me a slide from a class on genetics he's taking, but asked me to not post the details about his school. (I told him that rather than seeking anonymity, he should have hollered out, "I banged that chick!" during the lecture.) Maybe I should be offended that I'm not credited, but I find it amusing that I am being used as an example when discussing human body hair growth patterns. (If I'm going to make it into the halls of academia, better a scientific example than a target of feminist hatred.) I'm pretty sure that's not my bush, I'm just the armpit example.
by Furry Girl
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
I know, I know - Annie Hall came out in 1977, but in keeping with my belief that everything you need to know about life, you've already learned from movies you watched growing up, I wanted to share a favorite scene. Woody Allen and his date are stuck in line with a man loudly sharing his profound philosophical insights on what Marshall McLuhan would think about something. As sex workers, we've all been subjected to hearing blowhards drone on and on about "what it's like to be a sex worker," especially from academics, so seeing this scene made me laugh.
If only life were only like this, indeed.
by Furry Girl
"For example, while the [UN] draft resolution [on women's rights] doesn’t call for providing protection or respect for prostitutes, it does call for ending violence against all women, which would include the minority that work in prostitution. Those women, while their job may be deemed immoral or illegal in certain countries, deserve protection from violence like any other human being or citizen of their country, a fact which the MB seems to take issue with. Aside from using religion to oppose equality between men and women, they are even advocating dehumanizing - in the sense of deeming them unworthy of their human rights - those they consider morally bankrupt, like lesbians or prostitutes. Protecting these two subgroups of citizens from violence is against Islam according to the MB, and therefore shouldn't be allowed."
-- Mahmoud Salem (aka @Sandmonkey) in Gender Wars: The Muslim Brotherhood Versus Egypt's Women on acus.org. He's my favorite Egyptian blogger/activist/self-proclaimed "pain in the ass," and it's been interesting watching a revolution/coup unfold and through his eyes.
Furry Girl: legs now closed for business.
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New to my blog? Some favorite posts
- "You have no right to dislike feminism after all it's done for you!"
- "You misrepresent true feminism by focusing on the bad feminists. They're not real feminists anyway!"
- An argument for more sex workers to be out?
- Degrading, violent desires
- Do you have what it takes to be an empowered sex worker?
- Feminism is the shitty relationship you had in your early 20s
- Feminist porn isn't a branch of sex workers' rights, it's an obstacle
- How are we branding sex workers rights in the US? (Let's focus more on *worker*, less on *sex*!)
- How to do your homework on trafficking, "rescue", and the affected communities
- Let's stop pretending that "objectification" is a thing that exists
- Musings on ethical porn and the red herrings of "feminist porn" and "violent porn"
- My call for a "working" class uprising against inaccessible discourse and the over-representation of dabblers
- Sex trafficking is the new crack: manufactured "epidemics" as political tools
- The common logical fallacies deployed by anti-sex worker activists
- Things I've gained from being a sex worker: an anti-paternalistic perspective
- Vigilantism and 'crushing bastards': in praise of anger, hatred, and taking joy in the smiting of one's enemies
- Want to play BINGO with the antis?
- Watch out for psuedoscience: my long-time nemeses of concern trolling and "teaching the controversy"
- What do I mean when I say "sex worker"? Why I'm against an overly-broad definition
- Why I call them "anti-sex worker" rather than "anti-porn" or "anti-prostitution," and why you should too
Vaguely similar blogs
- Amanda Brooks
- Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers
- Belle de Jour
- Born Whore
- Bound, Not Gagged
- Dan Savage on SLOG
- Danny Wylde
- Jiz Lee
- Laura Agustín
- Lux Nightmare [2006-2007]
- Maggie McNeill
- Our Porn, Ourselves
- Sequoia Redd
- Serpent Libertine
- Sexonomics by Brooke Magnanti
- Shit They Say to Sex Workers
- Stuff Sex Workers Eat
- Women Against Feminism