Archive for Sex+ Work
Today, March 3, is International Sex Worker Rights Day. I interpret this as a day to educate about, support, and advocate for the rights of sex workers everywhere. I have blogged about this day here at The Green Light District since 2010, when I first learned of it.* This year, as I did in when I first blogged about it 2010, I’m going to offer a small roundup of pieces that, to me, celebrate the progression of sex worker rights and sex worker rights awareness in the last year. (Some of these will have appeared in Recommended Reading.)
Before I do, I’d like to comment briefly on one thing I haven’t covered a lot in my posts here about sex work. That is the idea of the “Swedish model,” or criminalizing the purchase of sexual services rather than the actual act of selling them (i.e., criminalizing the client instead of the practitioner).
I’d like to ask anyone reading this and/or who supports such legislation to imagine the purchase’s of the service or product you sell in order to make a living being criminalized. Not the service itself—you go on about your merry way making a living selling it—only the purchase of it. That way they’re taking it easy on you, right? They won’t criminalize the way you make a living. Whew! They’ll just criminalize the act of actually purchasing it from you.
Please consider how that would affect your business. Truly, please consider it. And while you’re at it, please consider what kind of clients you’d get. (In case it isn’t obvious, I’ll give you a hint: you’d get ones who don’t mind breaking the law.) Feel safer now doing your job?
If you’ve spent more than seven seconds on my blog, you probably know I support the decriminalization of all forms of sex work (and certainly do not support criminalizing the purchase of these services if sex work is decriminalized). Sex worker rights, of course, extend beyond criminalization, but legal status is one of the most prominent areas in which sex workers’ health and lives are endangered because of (as I see them) misguided laws and subsequent labor rights infringements.
Without further ado, following are a few measures since last March 3 that seem to indicate a widening of the understanding of sex workers’ rights and the ways laws have inhibited and still do inhibit them:
Happy International Sex Worker Rights Day 2014!
“Sex worker wins harassment case”
March 1, 2014
This is truly heartening to see.
This contains so many important and helpful distinctions and insights. I was thrilled to discover it. (It is not dated, but it was new to me, and the comments on it appeared earlier in 2014.)
“Sex worker fights for victims of rape, assault”
December 14, 2013
While I could hardly stand to read that this kind of legislative initiative had been allowed any credence whatsoever, since it was, I appreciate this article (and certainly that said legislation was rejected) even more.
“Does banning prostitution make women safer?”
July 8, 2013
I’ve long appreciated the in-depth and articulate responses Laura Agustin has managed to give to repeated questions like this via her extensive research on sex work in myriad geographical regions and contexts.
(Bonus commentary: Speaking of Laura, if you are interested in reading a longer discussion from her on this subject, I recommend this from August of last year: “Prostitution Law and the Death of Whores.”)
Last summer, the “No Condoms as Evidence” bill, which disallows the use of condom possession as evidence of practicing prostitution, passed the New York State Assembly. While prosecutors in New York had already stated they would not accept condoms as evidence of prostitution, legislation prohibiting the practice would protect sex workers (and others) from the atrocious application of law enforcement’s confiscating and presenting condoms as evidence of intent to partake in prostitution.
I blogged about this years ago, as I was and am appalled by the idea of making the receipt of funding for HIV prevention contingent on overtly opposing prostitution. I was/am so pleased to see the Supreme Court overrule such an absurdity on First Amendment grounds.
“International Sex Worker Rights Day 2013” (2013)
“An Open Letter to Rush Limbaugh” (2012)
“Bittersweet Balloons” (2011)
“International Sex Worker Rights Day” (2010) “Further division is not the answer—division is not the answer…”
-Ben Lee “I Love Pop Music”
Today is the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. I acknowledge I have not yet planned or composed a blog post for the day—but I don’t feel I ever want the day (or International Sex Worker Rights Day on March 3) to go by unacknowledged on my blog, even if it is just a placeholder post to announce that that is indeed what day it is.
At the least, I traditionally light my red candle today. I just searched for it and don’t seem to know where I put it after last year’s lighting. So I just called Rick Write to ask him to pick me up a new one on his way home, and I will light it as soon as he gets here. Though it won’t be lit very long today, as we have plans away from home for most of the evening, it is done with full reverence for all sex workers who have experienced violence in the context of their work. The flame itself may be relatively brief, but the ongoing fire of love and support for my fellow former and current sex workers is always in me.
And, of course, I hold in love all who have ever experienced or perpetrated violence and hold a deepest wish for our awakening out of the unconscious constraints and limitations that drive it.
Love to all, everywhere, always,
P.S. As I finish and post this, my red candle has arrived and is now lit.“What will I tell my daughter, what will you tell your son…that we were nothing but a shadow, a faceless generation void of love?…”
-LIVE “What Are We Fighting For?”
Upon someone’s recommendation (I am sorry that I don’t remember whose right now), I took a look at an article several days ago by which I found myself feeling quite annoyed. Not that I wasn’t already aware this happened, but Salon.com was reporting about former porn performers being fired from jobs because they’re former porn performers. A judge quoted in the article justified upholding this behavior by stating the following:
“[…] the ongoing availability of her pornographic materials on the Internet will continue to impede [Halas] from being an effective [middle school] teacher and respected colleague.”
Not for the first time, I am faced with the inevitable question: why the flying fuck (no pun intended) would seeing someone have sex preclude that person from “being an effective teacher [or whatever] and respected colleague”? What, seriously, is the matter with people? As maddening as I find this, I also feel truly bewildered, because I simply do not understand this phenomenon.
First of all, according to our people-under-18-don’t-think-about-and-shouldn’t-have-any-exposure-to-sex culture, the students shouldn’t be seeing her work in its “ongoing availability” anyway, so I’m not sure why it would affect her capacity to teach them even if I did find her past profession relevant. But mainly, if you don’t want to see other people having sex, I recommend not watching porn. If you do, then why the hell would it seem to be a problem that the people you watch having sex also do other things in their lives, including making a living in another industry? What, truly, is the problem here?
As an aside, for anyone not recognizing a potential gender double standard here, please consider what might happen if a straight, cisgender male was found to have performed in porn in the past. Do you suspect he would be fired? I don’t know, and the answer probably varies, but it certainly seems to me relevant to consider. (Similar threads could be continued by considering the response to a gay cis male performer, a female cis lesbian performer, performers with body shapes that don’t look like the mainstream industry standard, trans* performers, etc., etc.)
In any case, I find this unacceptable. If we are going to partake in porn, and we apparently do (especially, ironically, if someone is recognizing a former porn star!), why would we not correlatively recognize that people indeed perform in it in order for us to be able to partake in it? That is a service they offer as such, and they appropriately get paid for it within the strictures of the capitalistic system in which we live. How can we possibly not recognize the inappropriateness of rendering their labor—in which, again, we seem to culturally partake heavily—somehow “less than” or invalid to a degree that makes their very offering it a fireable offense in other industries?
What we could really use, as I see it, is more of what Megan Andelloux shares here. What this woman who doesn’t appreciate slut-shaming and recognizes it as the nonsensical and potentially harmful phenomenon it is has to say. What this father sees about being a parent. What Veronica Monet perceives about violence and sexual repression (a topic on which I myself have written as well).
I could offer much further reading material, but the point is that perhaps if we didn’t act so collectively pubescent and puritanical about sex and opened to the appreciation that 1) sex is not some strange foreign phenomenon that we should all fear and feel embarrassed that we have anything to do with, and 2) each person chooses how to express her/his/their experience of the sexual instinct (which encompasses everything from actually having sex to painting a masterpiece to intensely wanting that piece of fresh apple pie) and how to earn a living in a capitalist system uniquely and individually, we could get to the point where we don’t act like 12-year-olds in our cultural interaction with it. We could, perhaps, further recognize that as long as unambiguous consent is involved, judgment, punishment, and intervention around the chosen combination of sexuality and labor don’t really seem life-affirming or helpful.
If we did, I suspect a number of double standards would drop off, our profound shame around our bodies, relationships, and sexuality would decrease, and people who have offered their service as porn performers would not be fired or not hired in the first place in other professions because of it. Such is an aspiration I hold dearly for all of us and to which I continue to personally commit myself.
“Well this is just a little hatin’ place and you’re all Harper Valley hypocrites…”
-Jeanne C. Riley “Harper Valley PTA”
Admittedly, I expected it to be fabulous. Every sexuality-oriented conference I have had the privilege to attend the last few years, from the first and second Momentum conferences to the Erotic Authors Association conference in Las Vegas to last fall’s 2012 Woodhull Sexual Freedom Summit, has struck me as resounding with rejuvenating energy, inspiration, and insight. It has been my utter pleasure to attend all of them.
I experienced this one as a little bit different. I won’t say I enjoyed it more, but the energy was slightly distinctive. I suspect the biggest reason for this was that I was participating as a speaker at this one. It was my first time ever being in a speaker position at a conference like this, and it was quite a new perspective to be at the front of the room during the panel on which I sat. Even before the panel took place, the energy of being at the conference in this capacity felt enhanced in some way to me, in a way I am not sure how to articulate.
Our panel was titled “How to Become a Successful Erotic Writer.” I was deeply flattered when editor Rachel Kramer Bussel asked me if I would like to be on a panel about erotica writing at CatalystCon East. (Incidentally, the gratitude I feel for the degree to which Rachel has supported my writing is probably unknown even by her, and I want to take the opportunity right now to express it.) When I found out the panel was also to include Carol Queen, I felt stupefied for a moment or two or 10,000. Actually, I was still stupefied by it when it was time for the panel to start. In addition to Carol Queen and myself, Rachel also asked editor and author Kristina Wright, whom I adore, to be on the panel with us. It was an honor (and in fact a bit surreal) to be speaking about writing in such company. At the last minute, Bethany from Blushing Books joined us as well to speak from the publishing side of the business.
I won’t rehash everything we talked about here, but I truly hope those who attended our session found it useful or helpful in any way (even though we ran out of time and didn’t get to take as many questions as we would have liked!). I consider it a privilege to have had the opportunity to speak for their benefit and am honored they spent the time they did to listen to us. Our hashtag was also #cconwriter, so if you’d like, you can see the Twitter stream here.
Following the panel, I got to meet a representative of the new Pique online erotica zine, which bills itself as “sexy. smart. shameless.” I was very excited to meet her and learn more about the Pique venture. Do check out their site—and if you feel so moved, submit!
Overall, I found CatalystCon East stupendous. I saw people I haven’t gotten to see very often (and in general have only seen at conferences like this) like Greg DeLong (co-founder of njoy), Charlie Glickman, Reid Mihalko, Robin Mandell, and the conference organizer herself, Dee Dennis. There were also those I’ve gotten to see more frequently but am delighted to get the chance to again whenever I can, such as Robin Sampson and Susana Mayer of The Erotic Literary Salon (as well as Rachel and Kristina, who were on the panel with me). And there were some I’ve long admired from afar to whom I personally spoke for the first time at this conference, including Tristan Taormino, Metis Black of Tantus, and Constance Penley (more on that in a bit). Many other people I didn’t get to personally meet but vastly appreciated the commentary from (like Dr. Hernando Chavez during the opening keynote).
One of the highlights of this conference for me was personally connecting with Constance Penley. (It still took my breath away a little bit to type that.) I learned of Dr. Penley’s existence at the first Momentum conference in 2011 when she filled in at the last minute for a session speaker who had canceled. Constance teaches a class on pornography in the film and media studies department at the University of California, Santa Barbara. In 2010, she was called as an expert witness in the U.S. government’s indictment of John Stagliano on obscenity charges. This is what she spoke about at 2011’s Momentum, and I found her account of the process riveting. I was all the more enamored of her experience and contribution given my interest in public policy and fighting censorship. Had I not been leaving for Florida early the next morning, I would have loved to talk with Constance a lot more (probably about as long as she’d let me!) this past weekend. Ever since I saw her at the first Momentum, she has been one of the people I admire most in the sexuality professional field.
Another highlight (and I very much guess not just for me) was the closing panel titled “Afternoon Tea with Carol Queen & Robert Lawrence.” In gathering for the erotica panel Sunday morning, I got to meet Carol’s partner, Dr. Robert Lawrence, for the first time. I would later experience him during the closing panel as one of the most extraordinary individuals I’d personally witnessed in some time. I admit I do not know what to even say about this closing session because it feels like an experience all but impossible to capture in words, but, of course, it would be remiss of me not to mention it.
I found the format of the closing session very accommodating to what was presented. It was informal, and Robert and Carol simply alternated back and forth speaking conversationally about their decades of experience in sexual subcultures and sexuality education. I already knew I found Carol Queen a pioneer and an inspiration. That was reiterated tenfold during their session. This conference was my first time being exposed to Dr. Lawrence in person, and to be frank, I was blown away. I have rarely had the delight of observing and receiving the words and energy of a more genuine, aware, unassuming, astute individual in the context of sexuality education. It was tremendous. I felt the following tweet from the official conference photographer summed the experience up well:
— Tyler Keegan Grigsby (@TKGPhoto) March 17, 2013
I also won the awesome raffle prize in the picture in the middle of this post thanks to conference sponsor Sportsheets, and I decorated my own mask courtesy of ArtPulp, who was there offering them as a fundraiser for Scarleteen. I really don’t know how to thank CatalystCon organizer Dee Dennis, her support staff, and all the volunteers, sponsors, speakers, and attendees more for their contributions to the weekend. It was, as I experienced it, a beautiful conference.
“For just one fleeting moment, the answer seemed so clear, heaven’s not beyond the clouds, it’s just beyond the fear…”
-Garth Brooks “Belleau Wood”
Today (March 3) is International Sex Worker Rights Day.
Years ago—and I don’t remember what exactly prompted me to examine the issue—it occurred to me that prostitution should be decriminalized (or more accurately, I could find no compelling reason for prostitution to have been made illegal in the first place). After I felt that way for a while, it occurred to me to question just what exactly was immoral about it as well. I accept that for some people, an answer to that would be easy to formulate. I hold too that for others (myself included), the answer would be nonexistent. And that makes sense, because sexuality and its correlative ethics are very individualized things. Despite valiant societal efforts to make everyone conform to the same standards and behaviors in the sexual realm, they have continued to be and will continue to be personally unique. As well they should.
While I understand sex workers to be anyone who works in the sex industry, such as strippers, pornographic performers, phone sex operators, etc., I am choosing to focus in this post on whores (so that from this point on in this post when I use the term “sex worker,” I am referring to that particular variant).
Two of the ways I feel we do the greatest disservice to sex workers and actually, the general population, are by 1) refusing to acknowledge and devote attention to nuance and degree in discussions about sex work and 2) repressing and avoiding sincere examination of sexuality in general. To start with the latter, if each of us was to attend to ourselves, to explore how sexuality operates in us and influences us on conscious and unconscious levels, society would begin to open up around this realm—instead of acting in the pubescent, oppressive, puritanical, unconscious way I feel it has tended to act. This in turn would allow us to interact and engage in sexual—and other—ways so much more consciously that I suspect a lot of the discomfort around sex work would disappear (as a lot of our discomfort around sex in general indeed dissolved).
Until or unless that happens, recognizing the nuances surrounding sex work seems essential to me in supporting human beings practically and recognizing sexual and gender rights and autonomy ideologically. Some sexual labor is forced, which is hideous and unacceptable. Some sex work is not done enthusiastically but is chosen over other options to earn a living—which probably describes a lot of people’s jobs. And some is chosen freely from a position of the privilege to choose from a number of other professions or options.
These are just three basic scenarios, along a spectrum on which numerous further distinctions exist. Yet as basic as they seem, these kinds of considerations frequently seem utterly absent to me in discussions about sex work and especially potential “responses” we have to it. Some people, indeed, seem to treat the sex industry as if the entirety of it is a problem to somehow try to eradicate. (I of course find this both nonsensical and arbitrary.)
This especially seems the case to me in regard to female sex workers. Sometimes it has seemed to me that society finds the female whore so unnerving that it doesn’t actually even want her to be in control. As if, deep down, we would rather have her be a victim—doing something she desperately doesn’t want to do, that is abnormally and intrinsically degrading her, than sexually comfortable and autonomous and flouting society’s rules. In this way, even those who are sympathetic to sex workers still take, through their condescension, a degrading stance toward them—or at least toward their profession, which if it is indeed freely chosen, amounts to the same thing. If she’s a victim, she’s not so threatening to the cultural constraints by which we generally live without question. We aren’t—don’t have to be—so afraid of her.
Regardless of one’s profession, it is not acceptable for individuals to be treated cruelly and have their rights arbitrarily violated and disrespected. This happens to sex workers all the time, but society justifies its lack of caring by noting the profession’s supposed inappropriate nature and subsequent illegality. What it appears to me we are saying when we do this is that people who have determined that their circumstances, perspective, or interests allow for them to provide sexual acts as a professional service and thus not conform to some proposed societal sexual standards have somehow relinquished their fundamental humanity and correlative rights. Our dismissal of the dangers sex workers may experience in their line of work (largely due to its illegality and the general sexual unconsciousness of our culture) as “deserved” or at least inevitable demonstrates, upon reflection, that we would rather have sex workers be assaulted or even dead than sexually in control and providing their expression of such as a service for money.
At this point I feel a sharp, chilling horror at the ease with which we despise sex workers and consider them almost universally unworthy of respect. Ideally, we take our proclivities and capacities and offer them as a service in some fashion, developing and refining them along the way. I truly do not understand why it seems so difficult to recognize this phenomenon in sex work as in any other industry where we don’t seem to have a problem seeing it. I continue to aspire to support society in understanding this and to support sex workers in whatever way(s) I can. Wishing all the best on this International Sex Worker Rights Day, March 3, 2013.
“It is not sex work that exposes sex workers to violence; it is our willingness to abandon sex workers to violence in an attempt to control their behavior.”
-Melissa Gira Grant “The War on Sex Workers”