There's always been a lot of talk about sex worker happiness, or a lack thereof, and lately the attacks have turned to the sex worker community and its own media bias with accusations that we are so busy romanticizing or defending our happiness that we do not cover "enough" of the "unhappy sex worker" stories. To get to the root of this one must examine two things: the basics of sex work and the nature of activism.
Opponents of the decriminalisation of sex work initially hailed the review of the first five years, published on May 23, as a vindication of their position that New Zealand's Prostitution Reform Act has been a failure in terms of its objectives and that sex work should be eradicated because decriminalisation has little impact on violence in sex work. This is disingenuous at best, but is likely to be something we will continue to hear about.
As is true of a lot of people in the sex-positive community, I've been thinking a lot about Deborah Jean Palfrey's death this past week. I didn't know her personally, and never met her in person, so I can't speak of her death in terms of personal tragedy or grief. But grief and anger are what I'm feeling, because Deborah Jeane Palfrey's fate could have been written onto the lives of so many women and men. And the anger comes from the fact that it has, and it will be.
The real tragedy of her death, from where I'm standing, is not anything extraordinary about her story, but how common and familiar it is, to the point of being cliché. If the story of Deborah Jean Palfrey had been laid out in a novel or play or screenplay, I would be angry at having my time wasted by a writer who was unable or unwilling to rise above cheap hackery that was old and worn out in the days of the Victorian penny dreadfuls. But Palfrey was a real person, and it makes me sick and angry to think how often the lives of people who should live peaceful, untroubled lives are forced into old patterns.
Yesterday I'd intended to write a Labor Day post. It was going to be about the importance of workers organizing across all types of work, recognizing that we are all workers, and it was going to be the beginning of a conversation I want to have about why established unions need to support the organizing efforts of sex workers.
And then I read about Deborah Jeane Palfrey's death and all that went out the window for a while.
This morning I went back and looked for last year's May 1 post. I couldn't remember what I'd written about. My breath caught in my throat when I found that I'd written this, also about Deborah Jeane and about my speculation that perhaps the exposing of high profile clients would help in the effort to reduce the stigma attached to sex work.
It's no wonder it's so hard to get a rational discussion going about sex workers. Even for genuinely interested, well-meaning people, it's hard to get any solid information. Before you can even start talking about solutions to the problems that sex workers face, you have to first have to correct the ideas of what sex workers are. Any conversation in the mainstream media about sex workers starts out with icons forged from sensationalism and half-truths, as we've seen from the coverage of the Spitzer scandal lately. The images of trafficked junkies who need to be rescued or decadent young women who have had their souls twisted by their lives of deception sell papers and television time better than a nuanced picture full of shades of gray does.
I wrote earlier about Sex Work Awareness, the new activist group founded by members of $pread, SWANK, and PONY to address this very sort of issue in the public consciousness. They've just launched a new blog called Sex Work 101 devoted to answering the questions that most people have when they're just starting to look past the surface. Audacia Ray writes that the idea of Sex Work 101 occurred to her at this year's Women Action and Media conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts:
I think I have a crush on Miss Victoria X. It's true that I don't patronize pro-dommes, partly because of a budget that, in a particularly profitable month, might allow me to purchase the privilege of a scornfully lifted eyebrow from one as she passes me in midtown Manhattan on the way to beat the hell out of some corporate lackey at the Plaza. However, were I in the market, I think that Miss Victoria X would be on my list.
I recently sent an e-mail to Elizabeth about some subjects I was interested in. I must admit I'm learning all the "in's & out's" (yeah a pun is sort of intended there, however cheesy it may be! ha!) of porn, commercial sex industry. For the longest time, I've been only a voyeur. I still am, but I'm interested in the "behind the scenes" sort of stuff now. I notice the MAJORITY of "behind the scenes" conversations about porn, prostitution, sex work in general, revolve around the women... well, WHERE ARE THE GUYS???
Where are the feminist men in porn? Are there any?
What about the messages we receive about men from porn? Is it REALLY all down to "how big is your dick?" and "can you keep it hard for 2 hours? and cum on command?" How many men's REAL sexual lives are portrayed in porn? Not many I would bet. Is there porn where the guys are just good looking, having fun, not just there for their dicks & cumming capabilities?
Why are the men paid so much less than the women in porn?
Yesterday I was too caught up in my own irritation about Eliot Spitzer's hypocrisy to point out some important threads from the forum we recently held on sex work, trafficking and human rights.
I particularly want to remind people of the thread that Chris began and that many contributed to called "What good is sex work?"
Consider these two responses (and read the whole thread if you haven't read it already):
Stacey Swimme wrote that "Sex workers not only teach people how to have safe sex. Sex workers teach people how to enjoy safe sex. I think that is a critical and effective contribution to pulic health."
With the participation of over a dozen prominent sex worker advocates, researchers and writers, we've had a very productive week! If you're into numbers, during the forum we had about 4,000 visits from nearly 3,500 unique visitors for a total of nearly 10,500 page views. While the forum officially ends today, the forum topics will remain on the site and active so we can continue the conversations as we like.The forum addressed a range of topics from labor rights to immigration, and from variations in individual experiences in sex work to the way that consumers in the sex industry are understood. We think that the following are some of the most important points to emerge from the discussions: