Archive for Sex+ Work

August 11th, 2018

Pernicious Perspectives and the Abomination of #FOSTA / #SESTA

I’ve written about sex work numerous times on this blog (click on the category “Sex+ Work” to the left to see how many). I advocate decriminalization of all forms of consensual sex work and dream of the day the social stigma around it has dissolved.

And I feel a bit like I perceive a new conundrum around it. I used to think that the majority of people just didn’t understand. That there was so much ignorance around sex work because the perspective that sex workers are sub-human and undeserving of basic rights and respect and autonomy was questioned so infrequently, assumed to be acceptable so automatically, perceived so often without even conscious choice or recognition, that people failed to realize how arbitrary, unfounded, and inhumane that perspective is. I truly thought that if people stopped to consider the existence of consensual sex work as an industry like most others, they would quickly recognize how nonsensical and tragically misguided the mainstream perspective around it was.

Now, I find myself wondering if that was naïve of me. It has seemed more and more evident of late that some people simply don’t like sex work or that it exists. Yes, I have understood this to some degree, but as I mentioned, I truly trusted that in large part, it was ignorance rather than malevolence that drove the perpetration of dismissiveness, degradation, and dehumanization of sex workers. Recently it seems, though, that an active aspiration to malign may be more prominent than I have realized. It is something, I have noticed, that often seems to manifest as a desire to actually punish sex workers for their very engagement in the profession.

The recent passage and existence of support for the passage of FOSTA/SESTA have highlighted this phenomenon for me. Trafficking, of course, is an entirely separate issue from sex work itself. Denial of that is indicative of a perspective that maintains that sex work could never be consensual. I admit this perspective is so bewilderingly nonsensical to me that I do not exactly know what to say to it at this point except to ask those who hold it to speak to sex workers who are doing it consensually. If you do so, and you you refuse to accept their viewpoint, ask yourself why?

The predictable ill-effects of the noxious passage of FOSTA/SESTA have already been reported on a number of times (here, here, here, and here are a few). I truly cannot understand how well-intentioned people who are paying attention could not understand these implications and circumstances at this point.

Granted, if one is not paying attention or interested in considering this entire subject area, one could be fairly easily manipulated: a reframing of the loathing of sex workers seems to have emerged as a claim to want to fight sex trafficking.* This reframing aims to position its crusade as helping victims. Significantly, however, the movement frequently postulates a conflation between trafficking in the area of sex and consensual sex work. This is not only a deliberate effort to erase the idea that consensual sex work exists but also a prominent threat to a clear and grounded discussion about the topic of sex work in general.

To some degree, what purports itself as the anti-sex trafficking effort is arguably the same underlying aggressive desire to punish those who work in the sex industry dressed up in different clothing. Why?

1) Because trafficking in humans is related to numerous forces including poverty, economics, gender socialization, geographic inequality in terms of living conditions, and other factors that are much more difficult to actually address then to try to throw more laws at something that is already illegal (trafficking);

and, more pointedly,

2) because trafficking occurs in various industries, but none seems to be targeted except (or at least nearly as much as) the sex industry. There is little to no outcry about saving victims of human trafficking in the farm, fishing, or domestic labor industries despite evidence in the United States’ own reports on trafficking in persons that all of these industries have seen just as much, if not more, trafficking than commercial sex has. I have yet to see any proposed law holding websites liable for trafficking in the farm or fishing industries because they sell food online or efforts to “eliminate the demand” for or criminalize the farm or domestic services industries in order to eradicate trafficking in them.

Like so many other legal or political measures pretending to be or do something they aren’t or won’t, FOSTA and SESTA are measures that without a lot of examination look like a great idea and are certainly touted as such by their supporters. With just a little bit of consideration combined with the kind of questioning I am lamenting the absence of above, however, it becomes obvious that they will do nothing but make sex workers’ lives more difficult. The idea that controlling websites will somehow make things more challenging for traffickers who already work outside the bounds of the law and will do what they need to do to perpetuate their grossly unconscious aims with little care for law or anyone’s well-being is easily recognized as absurd. (This is to say nothing of the overt threat to free speech encompassed in the measures, which I am not covering in this post.)

It appears that the measure is simply something that allows those who hate sex work and want to punish its workers, consciously or unconsciously, to do so without appearing as though that is their aim. It allows others who have not considered the well-being of sex workers (which I hold is most people) to feel like they are helping someone despite not consulting or, ironically, even really caring about those they are congratulating themselves for helping.

I am to the point where I frankly feel the mysterious active dislike of sex work is more harmful to sex workers than virtually anything about the job itself. A common view seems to be that some unique notion or type of harm is somehow intrinsic to the profession of sex work. I have yet to feel convinced of that at all and question why many people seem to be. (My offering to those who are is again to seek out the perspectives of sex workers—probably most easily done online—and consider what they say about that perspective and/or how they experience their job and why they choose to do it.) What I am convinced of is that the following are of direct, immediate, and practical harm to those who choose to work in the sex trade: the criminalization of their profession or of their clientele (also known as the Nordic model); the social stigma around it; and the denial of social, medical, and legal services to them because of either or both of these circumstances. All of these stem not from the work itself but from a zealous and intense dislike of the very existence of it.

If one takes a deep breath and pauses to consider this subject for a moment, one may realize that it makes sense that when the profession is criminalized, sex workers have significantly less access to social and legal services than they would if it were decriminalized—something that would increase the safety of their line of work and allow sex workers to actually feel safe reporting things like assaults and robberies to law enforcement. It doesn’t seem to me to take a whole lot of contemplation to realize that when their line of work is illegal, sex workers do not feel as inclined to or safe in reporting such actions to legal authorities. This is one of the biggest reasons decriminalization of sex work would support the safety and well-being of sex workers for anyone actually concerned about that. Obviously decriminalization would not support human trafficking enterprises any more than the legal status of farming and fishing supports trafficking in those industries. On the contrary, decriminalizing sex work would allow law enforcement to actually focus on potential cases of nonconsensual engagement in commercial sex rather than arbitrarily violating the human rights and infringing on the livelihood of those consensually working in the sex trade.

It is not that there is no possibility for detriment to workers in the sex industry. Of course there is, just as there is in many professions. Police officers may be killed in the line of duty. As, certainly, may military personnel. EMTs may suffer psychological damage from observations they are professionally exposed to. Professional football players may end up with lifelong injuries from their line of work. The notion that a profession may result in harm to someone has not generally seemed to result in calls for the eradication of that profession except where sex work is concerned. I imagine if it did, football players, for example, may maintain that they had the right to choose whether or not they did that for a living. A relevant concept indeed…

It has also been postulated as an apparent reason sex work should be eradicated that in the case of survival sex work (which refers to someone who feels they are in a position where they must do sex work in order to survive), the workers don’t have any other options. While I don’t disagree with this and certainly don’t find it optimal, it is the case for many professions. That is an issue with economics and our economic systems and structures rather than lines of work themselves. Many people feel reliant on jobs they dislike or would rather not do. The economic system in which we live is capitalistic, and at this point, literally almost every product or service imaginable has been allowed to be commercialized. Sex is, for some reason, a mysterious holdout in receiving the legitimacy to be offered for money…an irony given that it’s been labeled the oldest profession in the world.

Frequently, I have seen utilized as a supposed reason to invalidate the sex industry the audacious claim that sex workers essentially don’t know any better, in the form of the claim that a “vast majority” of them were sexually abused as children. To which I say sincerely and straightforwardly:

What is your point?

First, I don’t know how exactly anyone claims to know this. In order to, one would need to do some pretty serious and comprehensive studies of a representative amount of sex workers, and that seems an unlikely endeavor, if for no other reason than that sex workers are often working anonymously due to the criminalization of their profession. But to speak to the claim for a moment nonetheless, first, for a beautiful elucidation on it, please read this, which I have already recommended and quoted from once on this blog. Here, I myself will say that there is a fine (if existent) line between saying, “The abuse you endured is not your fault,” with which I wholeheartedly agree, and saying, “It wasn’t your fault that you endured sexual abuse when you were a child, but now you’re making a faulty decision as a result of it, and you don’t and can’t realize that because you don’t know any better due to what happened to you as a child. It wasn’t your fault that it happened, but now you don’t have the capacity to live your life and make adult choices, so I’ll tell you what to do since I know better and can thus see that what you’re doing is bad even though you can’t.” To deny a competent adult the autonomy to choose their own profession regardless of their past experiences is disempowering, infantilizing, and intrusive. It is reducing them to their experience of abuse and saying that they themselves are not capable of the awareness to make subsequent choices in their lives—only you know what is best for them because they simply can’t because of what they experienced in the past.

It is difficult for me to imagine a more disempowering (and wholly inappropriate) approach to someone who experienced personal violation at a time when they could not protect or defend themselves.

If your point is that those people should have other options or access to psychological or medical support, by all means, let’s do what we can to offer it. That of course is another economic issue that seems ignored in this relatively easy quest to suppress the rights and livelihoods of sex workers. Actually addressing the extraordinary inequality of access to health care, including mental health care, in our species would call for a tremendous amount of introspection and grounded consideration. It appears indeed much easier to perpetuate the largely unquestioned perspective that sex work is just “bad” and somehow almost exclusively performed by people who were abused as children as though that somehow invalidates their present circumstances and choices (and as though those who experienced such abuse as children don’t also choose other professions; are those choices invalid as well?).

The widely held perspectives and actions above (certainly including the passage of FOSTA/SESTA) lead to circumstances that perpetuate an injustice to autonomous adults choosing to work in the sex industry, make their lives more practically difficult, force sex workers into more dangerous scenarios due to the illegality of their job, facilitate survival sex workers’ entrance into states of poverty, and in some cases, all of the above. They are also, arguably, perpetuating our own underlying fear of, issues around, and/or lack of reverence for human sexuality in a way that intrudes upon consenting adults’ experience of it. It is high time for us to realize this and allow shift and release around the tremendous distortion historical and collective perspectives about sex work comprise.

As usual, I invite us to begin by looking inward.

Love,
Emerald

*Human trafficking in any industry, for any purpose, is one of the most aborrent and horriifying displays of the unconsciousness of our species. I see that as undeniable. I do not deny that trafficking exists, and like everyone I have ever spoken to or seen speak or write on the subject, I earnestly wish for its dissolution. This post is not intended to undermine the existence and tragedy of trafficking; rather, I aspire with it to illuminate the misguided and often deliberate contention that sex trafficking and sex work are the same thing and why that is of significant detriment to those who choose to work in the sex industry.


“This is the world we live in, and these are the names we’re given, stand up and let’s start showing just where our lives are going to…”

-Disturbed “Land of Confusion” (originally and written by Genesis)

September 17th, 2015

Baseball, Q & A, and Vegas, Baby

Because I have seemed a negligent blogger over the last month, it seems (past) time for me to update here about a few things. :) First, I am delighted to report that Athletic Aesthetic, published by Sweetmeats Press, is out now in both print and electronic formats. That means that my story in the anthology, Doubleheader, has also been released as a standalone e-book! It is on sale now at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Doubleheader

Secondly, we’re only weeks away from the third iteration of Hot Mojave Knights in Las Vegas October 1-4! I will be returning as a Spotlight Author again this year and am so looking forward to being back in Vegas (something I’ve tended to love in and of itself!), mingling with a number of my fabulous author colleagues, meeting some of our awesome readers, and being surrounded by the knights after which, of course, the event is named. :) There’s still time to sign up if you want to join us—please visit the HMK website to register.

HMK15 (1)

Lastly, I was honored to be interviewed last month by fellow author C. J. Asher. C. J. asked me a number of questions about topics ranging from the distinctions between erotica and romance to advocating for sex worker rights, and I found it a pleasure to answer them. You can find our discussion on his blog here.

Thanks for coming by, and until next time (and always), be well!

Love,
Emerald

Rita swallowed, reaching for a spreadsheet on her desk in a hopeless effort to distract herself. She put it down almost as soon as she picked it up and told herself she needed to face the facts: she wanted to fuck Chad as much as she ever had. That, she realized, had never changed. But it was arguably even less appropriate now, for both of them, than it had been a decade ago.

Just as she’d had to do with a number of other players, she was just going to have to get used to spending several hours a day in the same building with people whom she wanted to jump like a jackrabbit in heat.
-from Doubleheader

March 3rd, 2014

Happy International Sex Worker Rights Day 2014

redumbrellatargetToday, 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:

Celebrating International Sex Worker Rights Day 2014

“Sex worker wins harassment case”
March 1, 2014

  This is truly heartening to see.


“How Not to Talk About Human Trafficking”

  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.”)


“No Condoms As Evidence Bill Passes Assembly, Making History!”
June 21, 2013

  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.


“Supreme Court Strikes Down Anti-Prostitution Pledge for US Groups”
June 20, 2013

  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.

Happy International Sex Worker Rights Day 2014!

Love,
Emerald

*Please see the following for previous years’ posts:
“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”

December 17th, 2013

Wishing and Acknowledgement

redflowersToday 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,
Emerald

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?”

December 7th, 2013

On Porn and Professionalism: The Staggering Hypocrisy of a Rarely-Questioned Perspective

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.

Love,
Emerald

“Well this is just a little hatin’ place and you’re all Harper Valley hypocrites…”
-Jeanne C. Riley “Harper Valley PTA”