Sunday, September 19, 2010

a call winding down as seen from the ceiling

Watch this space. After I get out of sheer survival mentality, I will try to do something here.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

drug users, civil rights, and A&E's "The Cleaner"

I haven't written in this blog in so long, that instead of writing an extended essay, I'll warm myself up by going over several short items in the next week or so.

1) A&E's "The Cleaner", currently the most offensive show on television re: the drug war. The main character, William Banks, played by Benjamin Bratt, is heroicized for "extreme intervention" on drug users which includes a) breaking and entering into their homes, b) kidnapping them, c) hacking into freezing their financial accounts, to name just a few of the invasive crimes the character is shown committing, actions paid for by their families or friends. The vast majority of these users are adults, which means their families have no legal power over them. If a character committed crimes like these against any other group of people, the audience could hardly be expected to have sympathy for them, but somehow the fact that these people are drug users justifies these acts to most viewers.

Note to A&E--not since fanatical first drug czar Harry J Anslinger of the 40s and 50s has the state of simply *being* a drug user been a crime. (Anslinger instituted an extralegal edict that allowed people to be stopped and searched for track marks and detained indefinitely if any were found. A lot of creative body parts used to inject at this time in order to evade the arm search, ha...(If you'd like a vivid description of this era, you can find it in Burroughs' _Junky_..) Anslinger, ironically and hypocritically enough, became a user of illegally procured morphine later in his life to treat pain from angina and an enlarged prostate gland, and distributed this drug to his friends. We also have Anslinger to blame for most of
the hysteria and misinformation about marijuana in the middle of the last century and its criminalization in the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act, through the use of racism and lies about its supposed violent effects.

What's most chilling is that "The Cleaner" is based on a real life "extreme interventionist", Warren Boyd,whose methods were similar and who also avoided prosecution for them--beyond that, he's lionized in the special A&E does on him and admired by many law enforcement officials. He's actually co-producer of the show, so one can't argue that the station is misrepresenting him--it obviously has his stamp of approval. In the interview I link, he claims he doesn't break the law, yet in A&E's special on him--which I didn't have the stomach to watch to completion, but even a few minutes of watching revealed this much--he himself proudly relates that he held a heroin user hostage in his house by threat of physical violence. And even in the interview, though I doubt he realizes what he's admitting, he says he's not beyond the use of fraud. He also claims he participates in "The Cleaner" to lend it authenticity--so I can't quite believe his methods are drastically different from what the show portrays Banks doing.

A dramatic and totally unrealistic gimmick that the show uses in almost every episode is to have the drug user Banks is "helping" overdose right in front of him, so he can resuscitate them. Not only is this an instance of laughably overly convenient timing, it doesn't make any sense--these are habituated users with high tolerance, so why is it that they suddenly miscalculate their doses as soon as Banks is around? Of course, this perpetuates the fiction that any drug user is one step away from death at any time, regardless of any harm reduction methods used or the user's experience,justifying any violation of their person because the drug user's situation is an immediate life or death one. It also glosses over the fact that so many of the dangers of drug abuse are born from criminalization itself--such as the fact that overdose is often due to the unreliable and changeable purity of black market product.

This is doubly disappointing to me because Benjamin Bratt is one of the few mixed race actors successfully working in TV and film today--and actually a very accomplished actor in all the other roles I've seen him in. In fact, according to Wikipedia, "Bratt has been a strong supporter and board member of San Francisco Bay Area's Friendship House Association of American Indians and Native American Health Center for years". Doubtless the fact that he's playing a character who oppresses another marginalized group is totally lost on him.

The show perpetuates the idea that drug users are somehow a special category of human being, whose rights are null and void. Despite the fact that the show purports to be about redemption and compassion, in reality it is an example of the same attitude that has allowed ultra right wing drug warriors such as Newt Gingrich and others, to suggest the death penalty for drug dealers. "People who are dealing crack and dealing heroin have zero social value and should be put to death," said one politician, expressing the core of this attitude quite well. Dealers and users have no social value like other people do, so why bother with going through the pretense of pretending we have rights? This without any consideration of the extenuating circumstances, the poverty, that has so many people depend on the black market to survive--that poverty which is itself often a result of right wing policies.

Warren Boyd praises "Intervention", another A&E show, and I'm looking forward to dissecting that show for you as well--a reality show where real life addicts are manipulated and violated.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

well, at least my interview on feministe has me interested in writing in this thing again

I was, no surprise,<pilloried on the drug stuff, though the pimp question went off okay. But now I'm into reviving this blog, which is marvelous. Look out this week for a post on how the A&E show the Cleaner manages to glorify breaking& entering, kidnapping, & freezing other people's financial assets if they happen to use drugs. It's a shame, b/c that actor smolders with Filipino butch sexiness--sad he had to waste himself on a role that not only is sentimental ponderous shit, but is also simply politically revolting.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

"mothers, tell your children not to do as I have done": sex work through the viewpoint of parents

So, this country music video, affiliated with this organization, tries to get those slavering, sick, depraved men who are into porn and strip clubs to "maintain their self-control" by reminding them that the stripper or porn starlet they are watching is "somebody's daughter/somebody's child/somebody's pride and joy/somebody loves her for who she is inside/she has a mother and father/she's somebody's daughter.../ when her beauty is defiled I demean us both.."

Bitch offers some weak second waveish criticism here:
This is actually only one of several music videos made for, offering “freedom from the crushing grip of porn.” Are strip clubs and pornography frequently problematic? Yes. If it’s ruining your family life should you seek counsel and remedy? Well yeah. Are there better ways to address it than imagining her mom and dad at her college graduation/birthday party/dance recital? And reinforcing images of all women as “our little girls all grown up?” Oh yeah! This video adds to some recent conversations on the prevalence of porn in society, and while I'm pretty uncomfortable with most porn and strip clubs, if the Somebody's Daughter campaign is all about casting men as sexual perverts for liking porn and women in the sex industry as a dependent innocents, then I doubt it's adding anything new or progressive as far as curbing the more harmful aspects of pornography and "gentleman's clubs"....though I have to give them some credit, this is by far one of the unsexiest videos I’ve ever watched.

(But thanks for the bit about how casting women in the sex industry as dependent innocents isn't progressive, Bitch magazine.)

What I really think we need to talk about in reference to this video is the question it raises, a question that opponents of sex worker's rights & decriminalization of sex work often ask, a question they ask as if it's the ultimate question and all debate can be defused by it:

"What if your daughter wanted to be a prostitute too?"

[Or stripper, or porn actress, or phone sex operator, sex cam worker, etc etc etc, insert relevant branch of sex work in the right spot...]

I think it's important to face the melodrama and taboo evoked by this question head on. Though perhaps my opinion might not matter that much, because I'm not planning on having children, I say, "If my daughter wanted to work in the same profession I do, I hope I could be proud of her and respect her choices."

The question posits workers in the sex industry as passive victims of objectification, rather than skilled artisans controlling the way they are viewed. It implies that any work that has to do with sex is shameful and victimizing, not a part of "who she[you] is [are] inside", as the country video puts it. That no mother *could* be proud of a skillful sex worker daughter, or be anything but horrified, ashamed, and deeply concerned. That sex work could never be seen as a respectable profession. And that has much more to do with this society's view of sex than with what actually takes place in the sex industry.

(Furthermore, it is not a universal view, but culturally specific, as demonstrated by the fact that geishas, Japanese sex workers/entertainers/artists, were honored and mothers put their daughters through a several year apprenticeship in the exacting art so that they could continue the family name within the trade--which was obviously viewed as a positive outcome.)

The fact that my mother isn't proud of all the work I do, not just the more wholesome activism, but my escorting, does disappoint me. I understand the cultural context, the prejudices that have been passed down to her, behind her view of my working as being a horrible fate that's befallen me, and I don't blame her entirely, but that doesn't mean I have to like it. As I write in my interview in Alexa of The Real Princess Diaries' My First Professional Sex project:
They know. My mother prays for me. She thinks it’s a symptom of a mental disorder, as does my father. The one time I was arrested, my father wrote a letter to the DA calling me a heroin addicted mentally ill prostitute who should not be allowed to leave the court room, who should be sent to jail or drug treatment immediately. He wrote a pathos ridden paragraph about how every day they worry I might contract HIV (although I practice safer sex than the vast majority of the general population–I practice safer sex than *he* does.) I always wondered why he was dumb enough to send that letter to the DA–not my lawyer or the judge–why he was dumb enough to think the DA could possibly have my interests, rather than the goal of a conviction in mind.

I know my father did it because he thought it would help, but with good intentions like that, who needs malevolence? I haven’t spoken to him since. I don’t *blame* my parents–there’s a huge cultural divide there, they are Russian and come from a culture with totally different values. But sometimes I do long for a mother who would be proud of me, like the depictions I see of Carol Leigh/Scarlot Harlot’s relationship with her mom.

So, yes, as Carol Leigh/Scarlet Harlot's mother's support attests--her mother appears in many of her video documentaries about her sex work and sex worker's rights activism, standing firm in her approval of what her daughter does in interviews--there is a way for parents to move beyond prejudice in their view of their child's sex work. But that's not the reality for the vast majority of us. In fact, most of us don't even bother to come out to their parents b/c of the overwhelming disapproval, pity, and anguish we're (justifiably) sure we'll experience--most of the time I wish I hadn't been dumb enough to come out to my mother and brother, who then told my father. Some of us internalize our parents' and this culture's whorophobia and sadly, are even ashamed of ourselves sometimes.

I'd love to hear any comments about this touchy subject I've brought up. The less silence there is around it, the less prostitution abolitionists can use the question of parents and children to silence debate about sex work in general.

Monday, June 8, 2009

just watched The Girlfriend Experience on Comcast

Everyone's said something, if not exactly IT, better before, so here are a few scattered impressions just in case you wanted to hear yet ANOTHER sex worker chime in:

*First off, I don't think I could ever fuck a chasid as a client. All that Ortho Jew upbringing, it'd be like a Catholic ho fucking a priest. The scene where he stripped to his tzitzit might be the most personally shocking bit of film I've ever viewed. But something about how he held her & shook in such an Ashkenazi unrestrained sort of way rang true somehow. Soderbergh knows his Jews, I guess.

*I can't really emphasize with an empty headed, apolitical, high femme capitalist, even if she is in ostensibly the same profession I am. & I GET that half the film was a muted recession era American Psycho showing us affluent Manhattanites scrambling to maintain their standard of living in new economic circumstances, but still. I thought the whole point of the black market, and being in a recession resistant, if not recession proof business was--you get paid for taking more risk so you don't have to talk and think that way ALL THE FUCKING TIME. Improve and grow your business, and gag me with a spoon.

* High end escorts, how do you not sleep in your own beds at night? I shudder. The *displacement*.

*I found myself agreeing with her boyfriend a lot when he spoke to her. Serpent Libertine said, yeah, of course the escort got it in the end, but why did they make an escort that acted so selfishly and childishly to begin with?

*So is there something wrong with me that I look down slightly on women who consider dating clients, who think about a relationship after just a few (or ONE) meeting in a commercial context? Is it that I'm just not heterosexual enough in the right way? Should every cis male, no matter how you meet them, be a prospect? Okay, now I guess I'm just being cruel. At least they did have a character voice this critique, her older less traditionally pretty escort friend foil (whom she, of course, ignores.) Seriously, though, I have never seen this work in the history of hookerdom. One can feel close to clients within the boundaries established, sure, and it's even important to feel close to them in some sense or another. But you can't turn a *transaction* into such a fundamentally different kind of interaction.

*Though I disagreed with the journalist's facile differentiation of the "real you" from how one behaves in a call. G does not do and say everything Caty does, but G does behave in a way that is authentic to Caty towards her clients.Abridged and appropriate behavior for a situation is not the same thing as a false front.

*I did find myself actually agreeing with the asshole hobbyist reviewer (a thinly veiled portrayal of that asshole who owned Big Doggie or something?) How does this girl keep clients? "Flat affect" indeed! Sasha Gray was robotic, and anything but a Girlfriend Experience. If I was her client, I would have felt like I was sitting with my absentminded, sullen teenage daughter, who wanted to finish eating dinner with me and issuing polite, programmed responses so she can watch "Gossip Girl". It was dissapointing, b/c Sasha Grey looked like she had great presence, & I was really looking forward to her performance, and came in with no expectations b/c I'd never seen any of her pornos. And I'm not gonna be sexworkerphobic about another branch of the business and say porn actors can't actually act, b/c the 70s porn I like certainly has people with a little something to them even in the most moronic scenes. Nina Hartley exudes sassy authority everywhere she goes, and could fill a role made for her as easily as breathing.

*So are we not supposed to sympathize with her? And even high femmes are not that vapid about conversations and obsessive about clothes in their journals, I guarantee you.

*Though the one time I did find myself emphasizing with her was as she cried (while confiding to a client, ughhh) about the hobbyist's awful treatment of her. I'm so glad I have never found myself on a review board--maybe I've stayed in a print medium too long, seen too many blue collar guys who are good earners but internet illiterate, or maybe no one can spell my nomme de whore on the net, but thankfully, I've never had to read such poison about my performance.

*Doofus, most clients will never have a specific compliment to make about your outfit, no matter how expensive and perfect it is, unless they have a fetish for some accessory or other.

Friday, June 5, 2009

keep tuning in

I wanna write something about the new drug czar, though so many already have, beginning with my first impressions of him and his bravery in taking a stand disciplining an officer in a "controversial jaywalking incident" (I just love saying that), to his rebranding of the drug war (keeping prohibition on the books and coercively shuttling us into treatment centers isn't the end of the drug war, it's just better PR for it), and then his comments on how legalization isn't in his vocabulary, as indeed by law in terms of his job description it shouldn't be, but how I don't see his recent statements as a coded plea for us to change those laws as drugwarrant's Peter optimistically does.

Couldn't Obama have chosen anyone but a former cop for this position? Of course, this shouldn't surprise, after the broken campaign promises about lifting the federal funding ban on needle exchange. But so it goes.

Be careful, I might drag out my old co-authored paper with Will Hall on how forced treatment goes against harm reduction principles. If I can find it. (I hear a collective sigh of relief, with the sound of fingers crossing in hopes I won't find that boring little number in my files.)

In the meantime, check out Alexa's of the Real Princess Diaries new project,My First Professional Sex.My interview is here.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

telling encounters with clients, IV drug use, class assumptions,good ole hypocrisy, hobbyists, & a blast from the past

Watch this space for a post on how drug use is negatively associated with street workers, inspired by an encounter I had with a client, a jittery, nerdy Asian accountant who liked to hear himself talk, who said he wouldn't go near a street worker b/c of the needles who then went on to tell me, without any consciousness of the irony, about all the Adderal and coke he snorted and all the Valium and Adderal (amphetamines) his doctor brother overprescribed him.

I asked, "Don't you think escorts might have drug habits too?"

And he said, "Not needles!"

I nodded and smiled--obviously he didn't know track marks when he saw them.

Then he went on paternalistically about how he "saved" his best friend,a woman,from heroin addiction,by paying for her treatment. (Not that this isn't great if she wanted to get rid of her physical addiction. But the way he put it--oh, Superman!)

This was far from the first time I've had an encounter like that with a client.

So it'll be about assumptions about drug use that are erroneous,based on class,
and how those assumptions are magnified when it comes to sex work. How the way upper middle class people's use of scheduled drugs is legitimized, and how upper middle cclass people--even if the are very sexually active, or use many addictive drugs themselves, assume that prostitutes, especially street prostitutes, and IV drug users are disease ridden, though both groups, especially the former, are usually more educated when it comes to harm reduction techniques like condoms and clean needles and works.

I also want to talk about the ideological ghetto heroin, esp. IV heroin, is put in when compared to all other drugs, its reputation as "the worst drug", when actually, it's relatively nontoxic and plagued by the many apocalyptic myths surrounding it. Especially when a legal drug like alcohol causes the most organ damage and long term health damage, and is the only drug firmly statistically correlated to violence, and both legally prescribed benzodiazipines and alcohol can cause death during withdrawal.

I am an IV heroin using sex worker. I get tested regularly, and have never used a dirty needle. I haven't had unsafe sex in ten years--not even an uncovered blowjob. There are many like me.

That was the other thing about this client-- he was a "hobbyist". For the non-sex workers among us, a hobbyist is a man whose avocation is to see many escorts and go online to sites like The Erotic Review and Big Doggie and review their encounters with them. Some escorts do value the reviews, because when they get good reviews, they can refer prospective clients to them. But in some big city escort scenes, reviews can make you or break you, and so can these sites in general. That means you have to spend more time on your job, unpaid, interacting with clients and prospective clients on these sites, pretending you just happen to like spending your online social time with them. Also, some manipulative hobbyists use the fact that reviews are so vital to the workers they call "providers" that they pressure them to do unsafe acts or acts they're uncomfortable with under the threat of bad reviews. I'm not partial to hobbyists, and very rarely encounter them--they tend to cluster in bigger cities. In fact, I think this was the second time I encountered someone who identified that way. (Though in a way I do admire someone who can own being a person who unashamedly buys sexual services.)

So it was with this guy. He wanted me to do a bbbj, in their parlance--a "bareback blowjob." Keep in mind I haven't performed fellatio without a condom for seven or eight years. "My brother's a doctor, an epdiemologist, he says it's fine." "I'll stick with my own research, thanks." Then he offered to show me his clean bill of health--but all his test results mentioned were HIV and Hep C, which weren't even the STDs I'd be worried about catching from giving uncovered head! What about HERPES, I asked. He didn't get it. The clear light of ignorance and total self-assurance and certainty shone in his eyes. To be fair, he wasn't all bad. I randomly mentioned I was having trouble sleeping, and he just *gave* me a bunch of his nepotistically prescribed Valium and Soma.

Anyway, I've learned to keep my mouth shut around clients like this when it comes to the topics of needles and sex work, drugs and sex work, etc. But I didn't always know best. Here's an old livejournal piece from a few years back about confronting these prejudices during a call (a caveat--I was really burned out then, and not so much from the job as other circumstances in my life--I feel *much* better about my clients now, enjoy interacting with them):

It happens more and more often these days. He tells me on the phone that he's seen me, he gives me the details he couldn't possibly know otherwise--my parents from Russia, the blue birthmark on my left breast.

And I think, it's just the monotony of male voices--they fall into a few
subspecies, the duuuuh-ed out cokehead drunk Valley boy voice, the salt-of-the-earth-honest-man blue collar guy, the refined and pretentious professional--they fall into a few subcategories, these staticky bassos and baritones, but that's about it. I think, it's the monotony of white male names, the monosyllables--Kyle Dave John Chris Tod Tom Pete Jake. But as soon as he walks through the door, I think, I am fervently certain---as soon as he walks through the door--*I never forget a face*, another tired phrase, but it has to be true, it has to be true. I see him b/c he's seen me--I'm leery these days, I've been arrested once, and that was enough, and I
only had my stupidity to blame. The frisson is gone, the adventure gone, any motivation for risk taking gone. It's just a living and I'm just doing security. It's so fucking normal and that's what would be most shocking
to everyone, maybe.He walks through the door and I draw a blank. Can't tell him, he'd be insulted, he doesn't want to think about all the men I've slept with just like him and how hard it is to keep track, though maintaining the lie is
so irritating b/c what does he think? He thinks I materialize in this air conditioned motel room purely for his pleasure, and so it should be, so,"Oh, I remember *you*," I smile and say.

But it scares me, it's as if they're interchangeable. It's so sordid sordid sordid just like everybody thinks, and I sound almost self-pitying, just like they think I really should be. I'm not, not at all. I love being sex embodied without even being turned on. I love being the most beautiful woman in the world for that one hour. I love the performance art, I love the anonymity. I love the world beginning again in the confines of that room populated only by two strangers. And besides, go too far over to the other extreme, away from interchangeability to the human service worker with a big fat load of concern and understanding for each and every client and it just boils down to that heart of gold bullshit anyway.

But I'm so sick of thinking of what everybody thinks. Image and image and image. I *must* be the political posterchild, not the sad stereotype, I must. I must be a perfectly wholesome all American girl who just happens to have sex for money. The movement depends on it, right? All the other callgirls were so angry at me when I started doing heroin. It wasn't just concern--I was giving them a bad name. Not that most of my regulars knew.They couldn't; I have bills to pay. But last week, at 7:30 PM on a Wednesday night, with some man in publishing who was en route from New York back to Vermont, I got my revenge.

Putting on his clothes while I wipe up the results of my pleading with him breathily to come all over my tits--they think it's something slutty and
fantastic, but it's all just about speed and safe sex. I have this down
to a science, to an art form--it's my art, after all. Our half hour almost up, we banter while I massage his back with an aloe lotion on clearance for a dollar at Walgreens(I ripped off the price tag.) He puts on his serious face for a second
and tries to compliment me in a way I've been insulted before, "You know,
your vocabulary is so impressive. I knew immediately you were different, just
talking on the phone with you."I think of Samuel Johnson as I always do, the dog standing on its hind legs, "not that it is done well but that it is done at all." A ho mustering some intelligence. He goes on: "Some of these get on the phone and you know immediately--gee, I'm supporting someone's crack habit."

I'll never see this man, this publisher from Vermont, again. Now that I have his $150 for his half hour in my purse, I have nothing to gain telling him what he wants to hear, If he'd been looking at my arms instead of my ass, he would have seen them--but they never do. I don't bother putting on makeup anymore b/c since I can't find the right shade of foundation, the weird orange cream only serves to highlight them. Methadone clinic this past year or not, this man needs to know something, and I need to show him. I turn my Jewish middle class face towards him. I bare my arms to the light and show him my track marks.

"How do you know you're not supporting my habit?"

Monday, May 4, 2009


Natalie Dylan wrote an article for the Daily Beast, and it turns out my interpretation of her motives weren't far off the mark:
Like most little girls, I was raised to believe that virginity is a sacred gift a woman should reserve for just the right man. But college taught me that this concept is just a tool to keep the status quo intact. Deflowering is historically oppressive—early European marriages began with a dowry, in which a father would sell his virginal daughter to the man whose family could offer the most agricultural wealth. Dads were basically their daughters’ pimps.

When I learned this, it became apparent to me that idealized virginity is just a tool to keep women in their place. But then I realized something else: if virginity is considered that valuable, what’s to stop me from benefiting from that? It is mine, after all. And the value of my chastity is one level on which men cannot compete with me. I decided to flip the equation, and turn my virginity into something that allows me to gain power and opportunity from men. I took the ancient notion that a woman’s virginity is priceless and used it as a vehicle for capitalism.

Are you rolling your eyes? I knew this experiment would bring me condemnation. But I'm not saying every forward-thinking person has to agree with what I’m doing. You should develop your own personal belief system—that’s exactly my point! For me, valuing virginity as sacred is simply not a concept I could embrace. But valuing virginity monetarily—now that’s a concept I could definitely get behind. I no longer view the selling of sex as wrong or immoral—my time at college showed me that I had too blindly accepted such arbitrary norms. And for what it’s worth, the winning bid won’t necessarily be the highest—I get to choose.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Of Pimps, Running Partners and Other Bogeymen and Bad Boyfriends--Relationships In The Context of Criminalization

(This will be part one of a series.)

On my escorts' listserv, we had an exchange about pimps that started me thinking. Two of us spoke up to deconstruct the concept, another woman and me. Here's what she said:

I imagine many girls who have pimps view it like THIS-

In the past they have had a crappy family/friend structure. In their current pimp/ho network they have people to talk to and cuddle in bed with after a long day and tiring day of seeing clients. They have other people to drive them to sessions if they feel unsafe or if their car breaks down. They have other people to share bills, living space, meals, and social activities with... It's something of a sex work version of intra-personal communism/fascism... But if you envisioned your whole life as a never ending expanse of wage slavery... working 40 or 50 hours a weeks for minimum wage, only to have $20 extra dollars to yourself after paying all the bills and getting gas and groceries every month...? Maybe having companionship and a "higher class" lifestyle are worth giving up many personal freedoms to some people...? If we look at American society at large, it would seem so!

I said:
Many "pimps" really are just
manager/bodyguards/clientprocurer/boyfriends, who do split their
earnings with their girlfriends evenly. Others are abusive. *Many*
probably are. But I think that there a class culture clash which
doesn't allow us to totally understand it.

Remember, the *legal* definition of a pimp in this state is someone who receives
money knowingly from a prostitute. If you were working and your
husband was taking care of your kids, he'd be your pimp. If you had a
friend staying with you to escape a domestic violence situation and
she wasn't paying rent (as I have, now) *she'd* be a pimp. If you have
*ever* given money to anyone, expecting nothing in return, they are a
pimp, if they know what you do.

I think we should judge every working relationship, every personal
relationship, and every relationship which straddles these two categories
on a case by case basis--not assume what they're like based on class and race
(remember, all the evil pimps of the media imagination are usually
black), based on labels. I've had a boyfriend who's taken care of my
by hook or by crook when I've been too depressed to work, and I've
also taken care of him--while he did a bunch of work driving me,
protecting me, and all sorts of other stuff. I decided where our money
went, but some of it did go to him. I have never thought of him as a

The guys on craigslist who are trying to look for us to "manage" us
are evil b/c they're trying to exploit us, not b/c they're "pimps".

I want to say further that to survive criminalization, people team up to conquer
odds with those they trust most. In a heterosexual context, this can often mean a husband/wife or boyfriend/girlfriend team. Women make the most in the adult industry, and certainly someone working on the black market makes more than someone who doesn't, so the woman ends up being the main wage earner (especially since most couples realize that having *two* people work on the black market in the same household is too risky). Often rather than having their male partners work in the legitimate marketplace while they have to hire some stranger to do call in checks, to drive them to outcalls and do bodyguard work, or worse, have an agency that provides these services take a huge cut out of their earnings, they prefer to have their partner do this backup work for them. And as the other escort on my listserv implied, it's hard to work in a profession so beset by criminalization and stigma all alone.

Why is this so shocking? Is it because many libertarian or leftists accept and respect the sex work that independent, single indie escorts do,but when we talk about a man in a couple who accepts and abets his partner's work in the industry, they fall back to old sexist knee jerk responses? Like a "real" man would never accept having his partner do sex work, and would certainly never actively back her up in the business? And if he is doing so, then he must be a batterer? If we were talking about the woman being the main wage earner because she had a high paying straight job, we'd never hear a peep about the man in the relationship, even if he did work for the woman--and if you understand sex work as "real" work, there should be no difference between a woman doctor paying the household bills and a woman escort doing the same thing.

Maybe it's because "pimps" are most often associated with street work, and poor women *must* be the object of exploitation? I would argue that street workers are more in need of security backup work than sex workers in other venues, and while networks of street workers can certainly watch each others' backs, what's wrong with a street worker having an agreement with her intimate male partner to do more intensive security for her?

I'm not saying that these relationships can't be abusive or exploitative. But I don't think they are *inherently* so because the woman is working in sex work and her partner receives some of her profits, and may work for/with her. In fact, criminalization protects the abusive partner in these relationships when things turn sour. A woman who is intimidated into giving a man all of her income from prostitution is less likely to report that kind of abuse than a woman who suffer the same kind of treatment who earns money through legal means. And because criminalization makes it hard for women to protect themselves, especially on the streets--most prostitutes do not feel comfortable calling the police when a client physically or sexually assaults them (given how this U Michigan law school student was treated, for example, when she reported being assaulted in the context of a call, it's easy to see why). So when they have protection, they are reluctant to strike out on their own, even when the person who protects them physically and sexually assaults them and exploits them for their income.

So, yes, certainly, the manipulative, controlling pimp of the Iceberg Slim variety, with his "stable", his wirehanger beatings, and his brainwashed women vying for the position of "bottom bitch" certainly existed, and in some places may still be alive and well. But I think that the way these men treated women had more to do with the era than with these women's professions--can one really say that women outside prostitution were treated much better in the forties, fifties, and early sixties? And now that women don't really need such a pimp to procure customers (not with so many venues available to advertise prostitutes' services--even former street workers often use craigslist) and with the option of hiring a security guard/driver, plus the effects of the feminist movement in general on women's sense of independence, this sort of arrangement is dying out.

I'm really surprised that in all the coverage of the Craigslist murderer, more has not been made of the husband who saved his erotic masseuse/exotic dancer wife's life from this monster. The husband obviously knew what his wife was doing for a living, and it seems like he was providing security for her. This is a "pimp" as hero. But we don't get much about this story--no one has followed up with an interview with the husband or the wife--but whenever we hear about an abusive prostitute/intimate partner relationship, we're sure to get a comprehensive account.

As for "pimp" interpreted simply as an escort's manager, outside of any romantic relationship between the two of them, what's wrong with *that*? Not everyone wants to work as an independent, taking on all the tasks of running an escort business by themselves--working the phones and screening clients can be some of the most exhausting parts of the job. Other workers aren't criticized for having managers or bosses. Sex workers should be free to choose to work for themselves or someone else. As Stella, a community organization that provides support and information to sex-workers, informs and sensitizes the general public about the topic, lobbies for decriminalization, fights discrimination and lobbies for decriminalization states in a booklet which defuses preconceived notions about the issue:

According to stereotypes, a pimp is a man who controls a sex workers’ work and income. The reality is that many sex workers work independently. Some choose to associate with colleagues to share their resources, such as a workplace. Some prefer working for various employers, particularly women or men who own escort agencies or massage parlours. Some associate with partners to ensure that they get help and protection in case of need. The stereotypical image of the pimp does not correspond with the different contexts for sex work. Sex work may, indeed, require maintaining professional relationships with third parties such as employers, managers, drivers or receptionists, for economical or security reasons, or to make sure that the initial agreement is respected. The criminalization of pimps (employers or third party) makes it difficult to perform sex work safely. Once again, this criminalization is seldom used to protect women against violence.

Sex workers who are under the control of another person are most often in a situation of conjugal violence within their working context. This situation results from the intimate ties that sex workers may have with the employer or third party. When sex workers want to file a complaint and break the cycle of conjugal violence, their efforts are difficult because they are criminalized.

I'd also like to talk about another sort of relationship formed in the context of criminalization: "running partners". Unlike "pimp", this term is relatively unknown in the straight world, but most people know what "running partners" are, even if they don't recognize the term. It is a phrase mostly used in heroin circles, but the concept applies to people who use other physically addictive drugs as well. Running partners are two or more people who help each other score drugs every day, and share their spoils with each other. Given the artificially inflated cost of drugs in the black market and the danger of getting caught and arrested while obtaining the drugs, it is often easier and safer to team up and pool funds,and delegate tasks, assigning each part of the process to the person who is most capable in that particular task . For example, maybe one person is better at making money, and another has more street smarts and is more likely to be able to cop drugs in bad neighborhoods without getting caught. The outside world often looks down on these kinds of partnerships.

I remember when I was still using heroin daily, an ex-boyfriend accused my relationship with my new boyfriend of consisting only of using each other to obtain drugs. Again, nothing could be further from the truth---the reason that I worked with my boyfriend to obtain drugs for each other is *because* I trusted and loved him. In the dangerous world of criminalization, I trusted him to care about protecting me from the police and other people who might want to take advantage of me, I trusted him with the money I gave over to him, trusted that he would split the spoils with me fairly, and trusted that he would watch over me and care about my safety when we injected together. He lived up to these implicit promises, and my trust in him as a driver/bodyguard/running partner was vindicated the one day that I did have a problem with a sex work client--he scared away a client that approached me aggressively, got between me and the violent person with no hesitation, wielding a tire iron and getting the man to back down. I didn't choose him as a lover because he was handy to me in terms of scoring drugs, I chose him as a running partner, driver, and bodyguard *because* I loved and trusted him. In an environment in which drug users and sex workers are reviled and criminalized and their safety is not a concern for most people, it only makes sense to team up with good friends and intimate partners, people who actually do care what happens to you. To paint all these relationships as exploitative and abusive by definition does a huge disservice to the people involved---many of whom are trying to take care of each other in an environment that cares nothing about their welfare.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Why Natalie Dylan is A Genius

...for auctioning off her virginity to the highest bidder through a Nevada brothel in order to pay for grad school, in case you haven't heard.

How many "virgins" are totally sexually inexperienced? The vast majority of people have kissed and touched and gone through several of those junior high "bases" before engaging in heterosexual intercourse. Many have also experienced *some* form of genital contact. (Dylan obliquely acknowledged this when she said, " I think people misconstrue virginity with being prudes... ") Why do we make the insertion of the penis into the vagina such a sexual milestone? Sure, it's different in that it is a potentially reproductive act, but fewer and fewer people lose their virginity in order to have children. In the age of effective birth control, it is no more of a reproductive act than any other sexual activity. Many people who only have same gender bodied lovers have *never* had heterosexual intercourse, but it would be an insult to their rich and extensive sex lives to call them virgins. The idea that having a penis in one's vagina marks one's transition away from sexual innocence is a recapitulation of heterosexist, patriarchal norms that are really no longer relevant. Natalie Dylan, a young woman from a generation with changing viewpoints around sex, with a sister who's worked a sex worker who has also probably given her more expansive ideas on the subject, and a degree in Women's Studies where she's examined just these sorts of questions, probably doesn't view heterosexual intercourse as some huge turning point in her sexual life. But cleverly, she's exploiting the obsolete ideas of men who do see her lack of experience with this form of sex as holding some huge cache. So both parties get what they want--the man who makes the winning bid gets to believe he's buying a once in a lifetime experience, while Dylan loses nothing b/c she understands that " losing her virginity " is merely a technicality bolstered by a huge amount of hype, and after a sexual tete-a-tete that will take no more than an hour, she gets to walk away with the cash to pay for her degree, plus a few million to spare.

Of course, the hold that the idea of " virginity " still has on this culture is incredible, judging by the fact that more than 10,000 men have bid on the auction. Dylan is also benefiting in yet another way, by analyzing the phenomenon as a Women's Studies scholar:

" We wanted to study the dichotomous nature between virginity and prostitution. There’s really been so few case studies of it… "

And thank you, Ms. Dylan, for tying in sex work with the feminist credo of my-body-my-choice, an obvious connection that's often lost on too many second wave feminists, in a mainstream venue:

" I think this is about being pro-choice with your body, " she said on the Tyra Banks show.

Of course, coverage of the auction has been as hysterical and insulting as one might expect. For some trenchant commentary on that, check out Sex In The Public Square.

I'd also like to put in what a commenter in my facebook said when I posted this link---" It pisses me off to see this stuff in the media as part of a moralistic debate on how one should/should not make a living instead of a conversation about the cost of education and the realities of low wage jobs... " It's the usual sleight-of-hand with the issues of sex work and economic need, similar to the way people focus on low-income women streetwalking rather than why they need to do so,in depressed urban areas in a country where so many low skilled jobs have been shipped abroad to sweatshops where corporations can pay pennies on the hour for the labor. With welfare cut so that poor people often have to make a choice referred to bitterly as "heat or eat" during the winter, it's no wonder that the inflated wages of the black market appeal to many people struggling to get by. Whatever your opinion of the morality of prostitution, surely people should understand that the greater crime is not the nonviolent offense of prostitution but the systemic violence that leads low income women to make desperate choices trying to feed themselves and their children. At Arise For Social Justice, a low income rights organization I worked with that advocates de facto decriminalization of prostitution in Springfield as one of its goals, we often made this argument, and I still have the pin proclaiming, " OUTLAW POVERTY, NOT PROSTITUTION. "