I’m recovering from some personal issues, but my mind’s as active as ever. And there’s been something on my mind for a while. So here goes.
I’ve slowed down on publishing Love and Lapdances, although I do have a lot of material ready to go. Too many other projects demanding my attention, and Love and Lapdances is a niche project, in part because it’s so far from the stories the market usually bears about sex workers. It’s more a labor of love than a for-profit endeavor, and that sometimes means it takes a backseat.
So, to satisfy my own desire to share my insights, I’m going to be trying to blog a little more, explaining some of the thoughts that make it into the subtext, the little things I hope people carry with them after reading works like the newly-released Bad, Bad Thing, and Love and Lapdances, which star sex workers.
First up, let’s talk exploitation, the thing that comes first and foremost to most people’s minds when they think about sex work.
Sometimes I get to do really effing cool things. Now’s one of those times. Recently, I reviewed Suzy Favor Hamilton’s memoir Fast Girl: A Life Spent Running From Madness, and now I’m back, having gotten to speak to the lady, herself!
If you aren’t familiar with Suzy Favor Hamilton’s story, she’s a former Olympic athlete who was outed in 2012 as a Las Vegas agency escort. With a family history of bipolar disorder, and after obtaining her own diagnosis, she wrote the memoir to discuss her experiences with mental illness and her early career, and how she found her way to escorting. Lots of fascinating stuff, since mental illness and sex work are both highly stigmatized, and that puts those who have experience with both at a particular disadvantage in the public discourse.
So check out T&S for what she has to say!
I’ll be back with news of exciting new releases, and whatnot, just as soon as I can take a break from my hellish NaNoWriMo quota.
Margaret Cho just came out on twitter as a former sex worker. And maybe that doesn’t seem too exciting, but for a field that’s largely kept underground, and whose stories are portrayed by outsiders, it’s huge.
Think of the first time you heard a story about a stripper or a full service sex worker. Was it a story of violence and exploitation focusing on their murdered body? Was it a cautionary tail about their spiral down, drawing broad connections between their whoredom and other “tragic” melodramas, such as substance abuse, mental illness, childhood abuse? Or was it a story about the white knight saving them, in which they wring their hands and wait for him to do the right thing, removing them from this life of depravity and danger? Was she a hooker with a heart of gold, who deserved better than that life?
How many sex workers can you think of who’ve been portrayed after they left the work, compared to how many who were shown as dying because of the work? Not many, I’ll bet. I certainly didn’t see many, growing up. This imbalance has drastic and far-reaching effects on the lives of sex workers. From family who immediately assume we’re unsafe or sick when we come out about the work, to partners who always assume we’re “less than”, because of our previous or ongoing choice to be a sex worker. To employers who a sex worker must conceal her work from, rather than have it held against her. Or one who’s denied employment because it can’t be hidden from that background check. It even affects public policy that dictates what legal recourse sex workers have to protest exploitation, through government employees encouraged to see sex work as an inherent evil to be punished, with no nuance or attention paid to the details of the lives of those in that life. It undermines sex workers’ ability to seek support, making harmful and devaluing judgments cultural shorthand.
It ties into a far larger pattern of devaluing our labor. Think about it. When was the last time you heard someone imply that sex work was “easy money”, or “not a real job?” Or that those who did it were short-sighted, stupid, talentless, or somehow unemployable or worth less than normal workers? While it’s true that not all sex workers may be MENSA candidates, it’s a far cry to apply those judgments to them as a collective whole. Sex work requires a very particular set of skills that can be quite intense and difficult to acquire. And judgments like that undermine the fact that those skills can translate well into other fields. The experience of running your own business, whether a sex work related one or not, is a huge boon, helping a worker be independent, self-sufficient, confident and more resilient when faced with no’s, or criticisms… all of these qualities are never explored over the trajectory of sex workers’ lives, in the media. Let’s just say she lays on her back and that’s it.
Sex workers deserve aspirational figures same as everyone else. We deserve celebrities who do sex work through the hard times and go on to blow people’s minds. We deserve discussions on how to translate sex work skills to the larger economy.
If you know where to look, you can find an amazing community of activists, former sex workers, current sex workers trying to rewrite the way our stories are told, but the deeper down the rabbit hole you have to look to find it, the fewer people are gonna be able to. Most of us don’t pick up memoirs for our fun reading, after all. And the process of pulling together a memoir is long and intense and rewards particular kinds of privilege, which makes it harder to get the full range of stories out and visible in a field that’s cluttered with genre fiction subplots written by people who still think the average age of entry into prostitution is 13.
No. If we’re gonna tear this thing down and start making room to show a variety of sex work experiences that would enable us to examine the systemic factors that contribute to people feeling forced into it, or continuing in the work when it’s not healthy for them, we need to start from the ground up. We need sex workers writing about sex workers in every story imaginable. From romances that don’t revolve around their saviors, to police procedurals that don’t begin with them dead. There’s plenty of stories to tell, and we need to be the ones telling them.
Okay. So some of you’ve noticed that I’m *ahem* outspoken on some issues, such as issues related to sex work, domestic violence, etc.
And the why for that’s what I want to talk about today.
Trigger warning for discussions on sexual abuse, self-harm, mental illness, all that stuff.
Some of you (those who follow me on facebook, you poor souls) may have heard me agitating about Amnesty International’s draft proposal to decriminalize sex work. This week, a variant of that proposal was voted into policy. This changes nothing for sex workers immediately, however Amnesty’s support enables sex worker rights organizations and other groups to apply pressure to countries to change individual laws that infringe on the rights of sex workers.
In celebration, let me break down 10 ways criminalization and stigma harms sex workers, trafficking victims, and marginalized communities. For those who got bored by my massive post, with links, on the terms that define the sex industry. Visit that post for links on this one; I don’t have another 50+ link research paper bibliography in me. Not when I’ve still got stories to tell, and books to share with you. Also, this is far from a complete list; this issue is exceedingly complex. If you want more information on it, Amnesty’s draft proposal is great, too, containing a plethora of new research.
TW: sexism, racism, abelism, transphobia and homophobia, sexual assault and violence, exploitation, police violence.
“consensual sexual conduct between adults—which excludes acts that involve coercion, deception, threats, or violence—is entitled to protection from state interference.”
In response, many organizations purported to be anti-trafficking, as well as a great many celebrities, including Anne Hathaway, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Meryl Streep, and Lena Dunham have spoken out against that policy, stating “[We are] deeply troubled by Amnesty’s proposal to adopt a policy that calls for the decriminalization of pimps, brothel owners and buyers of sex — the pillars of a $99 billion global sex industry.” (The full letter can be downloaded at that link.)
And in the wake of this disagreement, I’m seeing a lot of misunderstandings pop up. So I’m gonna try to clear a few of them up. Massive trigger warning on this: rape, violence toward women, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, racism, poverty, and a host of other issues are gonna come up. Much of this is US centered, however many things also hold true for the global sex trade, though the specifics of the laws may vary.