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:
The last couple of weeks have brought more news coverage and public discussion of sex work than you usually get in a year. When Eliot Spitzer got nailed because of his hot dates with "Kristen," the press swarmed onto the story like flies on shit. The beauty of a scandal like the Spitzer story is that it lets the media have the best of both worlds: they can use the sex to sell product as enthusiastically as Joe Francis having a fire sale, but at the same time, they get to stake the moral high ground by pointing an accusing finger at both the client and the sex worker. If Eliot Spitzer's sin was the hypocrisy of hiring call girls after building a career for himself by putting their fellow sex workers in jail, it was little more than an insignificant blemish compared to the behavior of the press. A good chunk of the editors and writers at the New York Times should just get over their pretensions of respectability and hop on a plane for California, where they can become honest, hardworking pornographers.
As is typical of American discussions of sex, the Kristen/Spitzer scandal didn't turn into an opportunity to talk about the realities of sex work, or the ways that our private desires diverge from our public declarations, or anything resembling a forthright discussion of sexuality. It was just another opportunity to obsess about sex as if it were a particularly ugly scab that just won't stop itching. Nothing demonstrates that better than Audacia Ray's recent post about her interview with MSNBC. The first question the interviewer asked her, point-blank, was: "Have you been a whore?" The supposedly more genteel, public-radio intellectual Brian Lehrer wasn't much better in his treatment of Dacia when he interviewed her on the radio. The entire show had a leering tone to it, as if he too couldn't wait to get the juicy details. And Renegade Evolution got pretty much the same treatment when the media showed up on her doorstep:
Leather Leadership Conference, a once-a-year national event that helps develop and strengthen leadership skills within the SM/Leather/Fetish community, is being held April 11-13, 2008 in San Francisco.
LLC 12 will feature nationally recognized presenters including titleholders,artists, activists, authors and some really twisted, kinky people - all with fire and passion. The opening speaker will be Guy Baldwin, noted author and leather activist. The Saturday speaker will be Michael Thorn, Editor-in-Chief of Instigator Magazine. Closing speaker on Sunday will be Patrick Califia, noted author and outspoken advocate for BDSM.
Today is International Sex Workers' Rights Day. Here are two events listed on the Bound, Not Gagged blog:
In North Carolina: SWOP East (Sex Worker Outreach Project East) will host a free movie night to celebrate International Sex Worker Rights Day on March 3rd. Join the Triangle’s only sex workers’ rights organization, as we stand in solidarity with sex workers and allies around the world, to call for full recognition of the human rights of sex workers.
When: Monday March 3, 7:00 PM
Where: Bull City Headquarters (BCHQ), 723 N. Mangum St., Durham, NC
Celebrate Sex Worker Rights with subversive movies, delicious cupcakes, and spirited discussion about the films and our condom project Pledging Action!
I've got three different pieces of media swirling around in my head, making me think thoughts that maybe aren't perfectly developed, but definitely a good jumping-off point for conversation: Kerwin Kaye's post on Class, Race, and sex worker activism , the recent conversations about Susanah Breslin's working girl and john blogs, and a book I recently read, and had my ass kicked by - Sex at the Margins: Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry (you can watch the Live Girl Review video about it here).
Maybe you've been reading about the antiprostitution pledge that the US requires international organizations to sign if they want to receive USAID money to help fund their public health programs. Or maybe watched the Taking the Pledge video that I posted here (or perhaps you saw it on the Sex Workers Project web site) and it left you wanting to do something to help. The people at Project Prosper felt the same way when they saw the video and they did decide to do something. They created Pledging Action as a way to raise money and collect condoms that could be sent directly to organizations that help sex workers protect themselves.
And they need more condoms. Can you send them a box of condoms or a cash donation to help them with shipping?
Where will the condoms go?
Too often in discussions of sex work -- and sexuality in general -- it seems like we on the pro-sex side take on a defensive stance that inherently limits our success from the very beginning. One of the linchpins of many of our arguments is that using pornography or paying sex workers for their services doesn't hurt anyone, and is a private matter that's strictly between the people involved; so Gail Dines and Robert Jensen and Melissa Farley should just mind their own business and find some real battles to fight. And that's true, as far as it goes. But the flip side of that argument is that it concedes ground immediately because underneath the surface, there's the implication that these things should stay private because they are a little shady, and the best that can be said about them is that they don't hurt anyone else. By accepting that argument as our starting point, the best that we can ever do is maintain the status quo and not slip even deeper into the morass of puritan self-loathing that already drives our national obsessions about sex.
, March 3rd, 7 to 9 pm
Dear friends of sex worker rights,
This year SWANK (Sex Worker Action of New York) & SWOP-NYC will host a potluck dinner to celebrate International Sex Worker Rights Day. This day reminds us that we are part of a global community of people who refuse to accept the discrimination against us and the criminalization of our work, our means to survive.
When: Monday March 3, 7 to 9 pm
Where: Judson Church, 55 Washington Square South, NY, NY 10012 (Use Entrance on Thompson St)
Cost by donation for dinner: $3 to $15 depending on what you can afford (no one turned away) Food will include vegan and vegetarian options.
Celebrate Sex Worker rights with... Fun activities! Craft Projects! (Design a placard to demand sex worker rights). Raffle! Win a prize... Conversations with activists for sex worker revolution....
For more info contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Via two of my favorite blogs yesterday I learned about some kids who really put the lie to the assumption that teens are too immature to handle clear conversation about sex.
First, from Jessica at Feministing I learned about two 8th grade girls who, to protest their school's teaching abstinence only sex ed wore t-shirts that had condoms pinned to them, and the words "Safe Sex or No Sex" written across the front. They were suspended for two days for causing a distraction and dressing inappropriately.
Another reason why I love the AFT!
The AFT is my national union and I love it because it has organized faculty across the country and we're stronger for it. I love it because it takes academic freedom so seriously. And now I love it because, in showing its support for academic freedom, it actually, on its Free Exchange On Campus blog wrote clearly in support of the effort by students at the College of William and Mary to bring the Sex Worker Art Show to their campus .
Here are some of the most important bits the blog post written by Chris Goff, one of the amazing AFT Higher Ed staffers I met recently at a leadership conference: