Archive for Sex+ Work
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 her 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”
Today, December 17, is the annual International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. I meant to post this earlier today, but that isn’t how the day has gone. So I shall post it now, in hindsight rather than anticipation.
The symbolic color for this day is red (the general symbol for sex worker rights is the red umbrella). Over the past few days I’ve been reflecting on this color and my perception of its relation to sex worker rights. In the Diamond Approach, red is the color of Strength and capacity. In Five-Element Acupuncture, it corresponds with the heart, the element of Fire, embodying joy and connection. The red or root chakra relates to our grounding, our “I am”-ness, our very survival.
I wore red today to honor the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. I feel moved by considering these symbolic invitations of red as well as how they fit into the support of sex worker rights and the rights and love of all.
In my own journey, I seem to be entering a phase related to the color white. In the Diamond Approach, white is the color of Will. Will is what enables us to stay with what is true, even when it feels overwhelming or terrifying or both. A new area of inner Work has seemed to open up before me within the last week, and Will will be essential in working effectively with it. Will enables and supports us in following Truth.
Thus I wore white today too.
From a Diamond Approach perspective, I dressed to honor Strength and Will tonight. In this consciously-chosen outfit, as I accompanied one of my closest friends to dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, I displayed reverence for what December 17 has been invited to represent and for my personal Work and journey. This is my contribution this year…while it may seem minuscule, for some reason it feels important to me.
Peace and love to all.
“Then I stepped into my satin dancing dress, it had a split in the side clean up to my hip; it was red with velvet trim and it fit me good, and standing back from the looking glass, there stood a woman where a half-grown kid had stood…”
-Reba McEntire “Fancy”
Between the pages of Best Sex Writing 2012 is rumination, information, and investigation of a society displaying, as I see it, a severe misguidedness around the book’s title subject. The fascinating exposition of “Sex, Lies, and Hush Money” by Katherine Spillar outlines for us (just in case anyone has forgotten) the corruption and hypocrisy that is alive and well in our political systems—largely resulting from, I would argue, our continued repression, distortion, and shame around sex.
I found Radley Balko’s “You Can Have Sex with Them; Just Don’t Photograph Them” painful to read (which is not a negative comment—it was one of the pieces I appreciated most in the book); my sense of wanting to do something to help put a stop to the literal insanity it described was activated from its first page. The seemingly small but important victory of seeing it recognized and reported on assuaged my distress a tiny bit. The suspense in the powerful, heartbreaking “An Unfortunate Discharge Early in My Naval Career” by Tim Elhajj was breathtaking to me, as was the reminder that “being [accused of being] a homosexual” in the United States military could be the basis of such suspense.
In “The Careless Language of Sexual Violence,” Roxanne Gay offers a profound elucidation I found so extraordinary I don’t know how to even sum it up here. It struck me deeply as something that needed to be said, and I’m grateful to Ms. Gay for saying it.
I had already read (and recommended here) Thomas Roche‘s “Men Who ‘Buy Sex’ Commit More Crimes: Newsweek, Trafficking, and the Lie of Fabricated Sex Studies.” As I said then, I found it incisive, comprehensive, and illuminating of the issues the piece was about and responding to. (A one-sentence case in point: “Trafficking continues because of corruption and poverty, not because there are no laws against it.”)
There are also what Rachel describes in her introduction as “more personal takes on sex [...] that aren’t about making a point so much as exploring what real-life sex is like in all its beauty, drama, and messiness.” To me, three of the most moving of this kind of piece were Joan Price‘s “Grief, Resilience, and My 66th Birthday Gift,” a striking slice of memoir interwoven with, as the title suggests, experiences of grief, vitality, love, and the beauty of connection—including with ourselves; Hugo Schwyzer‘s raw, insightful (and indeed rather hot in parts) “I Want You to Want Me,” which, while very personal, lays out a commentary on gender socialization I much appreciated; and “Losing the Meatpacking District: A Queer History of Leather Culture” by Abby Taller, which relays a compelling, poignant portrait of a time and place that is no longer.
All three of these pieces compelled me in a different way, enlisting empathy and softheartedness as they opened a part of themselves onto the page and paradoxically shone a light on universal levels of sexual—and human—experience.
The combination of this kind of personal memoir alongside the investigative exposition, irreverent humor, and incisive commentary also found in this book makes for a vastly varied volume of entertainment and thought provocation. The few things in the anthology that didn’t resonate with me did not decrease my overall appreciation of it; I indeed encountered perspectives that diverged from mine, and I see that as one of the values of a book like this. Certainly I was engaged and even energized by the eloquent, captivating articulations of perspectives in alignment with mine—but those that weren’t invited me to discern and articulate why, an opportunity which is not lost on me.
Ultimately, this book exemplifies something it seems to me we could use a lot more of: open, fearless discussion of sexuality in which we talk about it like we do so many other topics—with consideration, enthusiasm, respect, curiosity, interest, reverence, scrutiny, and maturity…rather than the degrees of pubescence and oppression I have found so woefully pervasive in our culture. Rachel asserts in her introduction that “the more we talk about the many ways sex moves us, the more we work toward a world where sexual shame, ignorance, homophobia, and violence are diminished.” I couldn’t agree more, and I thank the the editor, contributors, and publisher of Best Sex Writing 2012 for offering their time and attention to doing so.
“Did you read the news today, they say the danger’s gone away, but I can see the fire’s still alight, burning into the night…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”