I put all my wrap-up energy into this list of the best sex work writing of 2013, so this will be short and sweet. Mostly, because most of my writing this year is in this book, which you can have come March 11, 2014:

Which now looks like this:

Books. They are inferior to blogging only in that at present, you just have to trust me about what’s in there.

Now here’s what you can read right now:

The War on Sex Workers, my feature for Reason, was my most widely read piece this year.

Sex work at the Super Bowl: the myth and its makers, for The Guardian.

Girl Geeks and Boy Kings, my review of Kate Losse’s book on Facebook for Dissent, runs right into my take on the branding of corporate feminism for The Washington Post. (Terminating in this brief follow-up, “Like” Feminism, at Jacobin.)

Who speaks for women who work in the adult industry?, for The Guardian.

For The Nation, I covered the Supreme Court case challenging the US’s decision to make HIV funding contingent on opposition to sex work.

Anti-Prostitution Pledge Heads to Supreme Court
Ending Prostitution ‘Central’ to Ending AIDS, US Tells Supreme Court
How the Anti-Prostitution Pledge Hinders AIDS Prevention
Supreme Court Strikes Down Anti-Prostitution Pledge for US Groups

For In These Times, I reported on cases of violence against women in the sex trade, and on transgender women in particular.

Sex Workers Rise Up After Fatal Stabbings, on #justiceforjasmine and #justicefordora
Better Treatment of Trans Women by Philly Police Could Have Averted Brutal Murder, on the murder of Diamond Williams

Amnesty International, human rights, and the criminalization of sex work, a behind-the-scenes on sex work policy for The New Statesman.

Spitzer v. Sex Workers, on what his campaign would rather we forget about his politics, for The American Prospect.

Don’t Trust Feminists Fighting to Keep Sex Work Illegal, on anti-sex work campaigners, for Talking Points Memo.

Betty Dodson’s Feminist Sex Wars, a long and wonderful interview for Truthout.

What the New York Times (and France) Got Wrong About Prostitution, taking up the trend of forecasting “trends” towards treating sex workers as victims, for Slate.

The Red Light and the Cloud, a history of the future of sex work, and maybe my favorite of the year, for Medium.

One of the consequences of being so in the book is I gave better interview than blog (sorry, blog). Here’s two using words I liked the most, for Guernica (by Zoe Schlanger) and for Autostraddle (by Carmen Rios). And one using the microphone: Radio Dispatch Live.

Along the way of writing, though, I got to travel and give some really rewarding talks, at Duke University and at Yale, and for the Labor and Working-Class History Association. Since those are folded into the book, you will have to wait.

So here’s to 2014, when I get to hand you this book and do this in person, right? Let me know where you are. I might be there.

No more debate. And ignore the johnalism. Those are my writing resolutions for 2014, after pulling together (with your help) this year of excellent writing on sex work.

No more debate – because reporting and analysis on sex work issues go way beyond the predictable pro/con, ”are sex workers responsible for the subjugation of all women? discuss!” thing, and to quote every sex work rescue program out there, we’re better than that (and if you haven’t noticed, shake your feeds up).

Ignore the johnalism – because even though those guys are still out there filing the same cliched copy (saviors gotta save), they are so clearly outnumbered, and they are outdone.

063cb7f1-0861-4394-ba39-82dd1d70c658
(White Savior Cat, by Scott Long)

And maybe I’m inured to the exploitation of journalism, or maybe I’m just becoming an old softie, but I noticed a lot more news stories that treated sex work absolutely uncontroversially. Like here, as evidenced in this kind note from New Orleans based journalist Alison Fenterstock on her favorite piece:

In the grand scheme of things it’s not especially awesome or groundbreaking, but I write for a mid-sized, mainstream metropolitan daily paper and was pretty pleased they went for a Super Bowl strip club story that extensively quoted an actual stripper on how not to be an asshole in strip clubs during the Super Bowl (for customers) and basic advice on how to stay safe if you had traveled to New Orleans to dance during the Super Bowl. It ran on A1 and about a year later, still gets hits every day from people Googling “New Orleans strip clubs.”

Simple, servicey, and yet still so unusual that I had to add a category for just these kinds of stories, “News Stories That Treated Sex Work Like A Real News Story.”

And now, from the depths of my Instapaper and sex work twitter to you, the list. (Oh, also: I didn’t include my work on this list. My 2013 writing is over here.)

2013: The Best in Sex Work Writing

Crime & Law Enforcement

Dragged Off By The Hair’: An Indian Sex Worker Recalls a Raid, Parker, Tits and Sass

Exposing Bullshit: Extorting Sex Work Clientele Isn’t Helping, Tizz Wall, Medium

New York’s Condom Bait-and-Switch, Emily Gogolak, Village Voice

New York Cops Will Arrest You For Carrying Condoms, Molly Crabapple, Vice

Operation Cross Country VII Roundup and Comments, Emi Koyama (in which Emi goes the mile most newsrooms did not and crunches the numbers on a coordinated, national FBI sting operation)

On LGBTQ Youth, Condoms and Police Stops, Olivia Ford, TheBody.com

Police officers accused of rape get a pass from the LA Times, Rania Khalek

Soho police raids show why sex workers live in fear of being ‘rescued’, Molly, The Guardian

The Big Ripoff: TER, The Texas Murder Acquittal, and the Myth of the Vulnerable Client, Charlotte Shane, Tits and Sass

Economics & Labor

Branded: The Fight for Employment After Sex Work, Kitty Stryker, Slixa

Fired for doing porn: The new employment discrimination, EJ Dickson, Salon

ICTU: Denying Sex Workers a Workers’ Identity, Wendy Lyon, Irish Left Review

‘I’d rather be a sex worker than a beggar’, Ilija Trojanovic, The Daily Star (Lebanon)

Is Exotic Dance… Dance?!, Susan Elizabeth Shepard, Pacific Standard

Gag Order: Sex Workers Allege Mistreatment at Kink.com, Kate Conger, SF Weekly

“Getting Away” With Hating It: Consent in the Context of Sex Work, Charlotte Shane, Tits and Sass

Glimpses of history in Storyville’s 3 remaining buildings, Kathy Reckdahl, The Advocate (New Orleans)

The myth of seductive money, Calico Lane

Reflections on Minneapolis madams and the city’s red-light districts, Marlys Harris, MinnPost

Sex work and gentrification, Dan Bledwich, Overland

Tales of Kink.com, Maggie Mayhem

Taking the Boom Out of the Boom-Boom Room: Why Are Strip Clubs Banning Rap?, Susan Elizabeth Shepard, Complex

Transition, Danny Wylde

What It Was Like to Work at the Lusty Lady, a Unionized Strip Club, Lily Burana, The Atlantic

What Prostitutes, Nurses and Nannies Have in Common, Robin Hustle, Jezebel

Wildcatting: A Stripper’s Guide to the Modern American Boomtown, Susan Elizabeth Shepard, BuzzFeed

Gender & Sexuality

Black porn, white pleasure, Feminista Jones, Ebony

Ethical sluts and “dirty whores”: Straight talk about sex work, Melinda Chateauvert, Salon

The Feminist Sex Wars and the Myth of the Missing Middle, Gayle Rubin, at Susie Bright’s blog

Gender inequality and sex work, Molly, A Sex Worker in Glasgow

Memorial draws controversy over invitation of speaker Janice Raymond, Mercedes Allen, Rabble.ca

NWC2013: write-up & some opinions, Jennifer Moore (n.b., this long, well-researched post defies categorization, and is an essential read on sex work and the politics of exclusion)

Sex workers need support – but not from the ‘hands off my whore’ brigade, Selma James,  The Guardian

Transforming Pornography: Black Porn for Black Women, Sinnamon Love, Guernica

Unhappy Hooking, or Why I’m Giving Up on Being Positive, Sarah M.

When Your (Brown) Body is a (White) Wonderland, Tressie McMillan Cottom

Why are we afraid to talk about gay porn?, Conner Habib, BuzzFeed

Why I never signed the No More Page 3 petition, Zoe Stavri

Health

Cold Case, Good Cause, Matthew Lawrence, Providence Phoenix

Sex Workers Embrace Obamacare, Erika Fink, CNN

Higher Ed 

Campaigners for sex workers face bullying and bad data, Belinda Brooks-Gordon, The Conversation

FYI, Julie Bindel: Your Ideas About Sex Work Research Affect Sex Work Students, Sarah M.

On Good Research, Lori Adorable, SWOP-NYC

Why Pornography Deserves Its Own Academic Journal, Lynn Comella, Pacific Standard

Human Rights

Activists Campaign Against Philadelphia Judge Who Ruled Rape as Theft, Tara Murtha, RH Reality Check

Both Transphobic and Whorephobic: The Murder of Dora Oezer, Caty Simon, Tits and Sass

Equality Now, or Else?, Parker, Tits and Sass

Forty Years in the Hustle: Q&A with Margo St. James, Anne Gray Fischer, Bitch

Misery to Ministry: Kathryn Griffin’s Prostitution Rehab in Texas, Kate Zen, Slixa

Rescue is for Kittens: Ten Things Everyone Needs to Know about ‘Rescues’ of Youth in the Sex Trade, Emi Koyama

Sex imperialism, Scott Long

Sex slave story revealed to be fabricated, Simon Marks and Phorn Bopha, The Cambodia Daily

Talking to Sex Workers About Fighting for Their Rights, Feminism, and More, Lauren Rankin, RH Reality Check

The “Ugly Truth:” Ad Campaigns about the Sex Trade Will Always Fail…, Hadil Habiba, Prison Culture guest post

“What Antis Can Do To Help,” Part 1 and Part 2, Lori Adorable, Tits and Sass

What India’s Sex Workers Want: Power, Not Rescue, Michelle Chen, In These Times

Law & Policy

Arizona’s Tenacious Laws Against Sex Workers, Jordan Flaherty, Truthout

Canada’s Supreme Court Striking Down Prostitution Laws, Brooke Magnanti, Reason

Enduring (the) Myths: Sex Work, Decriminalisation and the Nordic Model, Nine, Feminist Ire

I am a former escort. Trust me, criminalizing prostitution doesn’t help, Matthew Lawrence, The Guardian

Prostitution Law and the Death of Whores, Laura Agustín, Jacobin

Red-light greenlight: Sex work at the brink of legalization, Justin Ling, The Coast

Sex Workers in France Resist Attacks on Their Liberty, Michelle Chen, In These Times

Something Rotten in the State of Sweden, Nine, The Toast

Treating Sex Work as Work, Maggie McNeill, Cato Unbound

What Prostitutes Can Teach the Canadian Government, Samantha Majic, Washington Post Monkey Cage blog

When XXX Doesn’t Mark the Spot, Yasmin Nair, In These Times

Media Criticism

Cold Cases, Susan Elizabeth Shepard, The New Inquiry

Condom debate offers another chance to explain porn personnel to us, Gram Ponante

The Feminist Porn Book, Caty Simon, Tits and Sass

Feministe Can’t Just Make Their Sex Work Problems Disappear, Chris Hall, Literate Perversions

Mira Sorvino, CNN child-sex series ‘shameful’ for Cambodians, Michelle Tolson, Asian Correspondent

On the Importance of Writing Accurately About Sex Work, Stoya, Vice

Sauna Raids and Silenced Sex Workers, Mrs Misandry, A Thousand Flowers

Study Abroad, Charlotte Shane, The New Inquiry

Why Is The Canadian Media Still Referring To Sex Workers As Prostitutes?, Sarah Ratchford, Vice

Why This Video Needs to Fuck Off, eithnecrow (also awarding this one, ’2013 Best Response To An Upworthy Headline’)

Memoir & Personal Essays

How Poetry Saved My Life: A Hustler’s Memoir, Amber Dawn

Prose & Lore, the Red Umbrella Project literary journal

News Stories That Treated Sex Work Like A Real News Story

Argentina’s prostitutes – mothers first, sex workers second, Roberta Radu, The Guardian

California Prostitutes Win Victims Compensation, AP

Louisiana Overhaul of Discriminatory Law: Hundreds Cleared from Sex Offender List, Sarah Lazare, Common Dreams

Police Harassment In Louisiana May Be Increasing The Number Of People Dying From AIDS, Tara Culp-Ressler, ThinkProgress

Porn and Banks: Drawing a Line on Loans, Chris Morris, CNBC

Porn industry trade group halts production for third time this year, Massoud Hayoun, Al Jazeera America

Sex workers meet to demand rights, Ambika Pandit, Times of India

Politics (Electoral)

The Twitter feed of Lynsie Lee (and this decent interview)

And yes, I am including the Sydney Leathers sexting how-to

Profiles 

Stoya, Pop Star of Porn, Amanda Hess, Village Voice

How porn star Courtney Trouble is starting a queer revolution, Lynn Comella, Las Vegas Weekly

 

Scott Long’s got a long, valuable piece putting more context to this Equality Now campaign to get the UN to roll back support for sex workers’ rights, which you should go read – militarized humanitarianism, “good intentions” and worse policy, imperialist sex wars, it’s got it all, and it’s a great read.

But what I want to point out is this note at the end:

…as long as we’re talking about power: a colleague noticed something interesting over at the New School for Social Research. The Milano School of International Affairs, Management, and Urban Policy is offering a practicum for students to do research, in a project for Equality Now. “This project would analyze the legalization of prostitution and formation of sex workers’ rights groups. …  Equality Now seeks to better understand the movement to legalize prostitution and form sex workers’ rights groups in order to refute arguments for legalization and lobby for adoption of the Nordic Model instead.”

According to the practicum description, the students will:

Examine the history of sex workers’ rights groups in the following countries and answer the questions below: Netherlands, Germany, Australia, Venezuela, Brazil, Senegal, Ivory Coast, South Africa, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Nepal, India, Philippines and the United States (particularly in Nevada)

- What is the history of the formation of sex workers’ rights groups in these countries?
- Who are the groups, what are their funding sources, and where is the influence on their policies coming from (for example is a larger international NGO working with them)?
- Are the sex worker’s groups pushing for legalization in those countries where it is not already legalized? (Look only at India, Nepal, Philippines, US, South Africa)
- In those countries where it is not legalized, what are the local women’s rights groups in these countries saying about legalization? (Look only at India, Nepal, Philippines, US, South Africa)

Here’s a screengrab of the practicum description, including the disclaimer “Please keep in mind that this is a confidential work product developed for Equality Now and not intended for distribution or publication. We hope that you will enjoy working with us on this project.”

Please also keep in mind, this is an organization that is engaged in challenging the United Nations essentially for not listening to the correct sex workers, an organization who wants the UN to instead listen to sex workers who say that any sex worker who opposes criminalization is “injured.”

Back to Scott Long:

Now, it’s obvious what this is: it’s what we call oppo research, trying to figure out what your foes (bad people “inured to the wrong” of prostitution) are doing. Many organizations dabble in this at one point or another, though they don’t usually call on students at a distinguished university to help. But this is where the power question comes in. I don’t like the tone of the questions — the funding sources, the suggestion of foreign influence. Most sex worker groups are poor and marginal. In countries where sex work “is not legalized,” the organizations’ very existence is often endangered. Even where sex work is at least partly legal, they’re still stigmatized as advocating immorality, and any number of contrived crimes from promoting public indecency to spreading pornography to running a brothel can provide excuses to shut them down, and even jail their members.

So what exactly is this information going to be used for? Has the professor (a good guy, I think, with a history of work on migration issues) who’s overseeing the practicum asked Equality Now? Has the New School put safeguards in place to make sure its students’ research will only be used for ethical purposes, and will not endanger the safety, human rights, or freedom of sex worker advocates and activists? The school is asking its students to monitor sex workers’ groups for an NGO that really doesn’t like them. And the school needs to be answerable for any consequences. The history of power politics around sex workers’ rights and freedoms is too acute and recent — and the possibility of even inadvertently endangering people is too strong — for an academic institution to pretend this is purely an academic question for very long.

Given the number of sex workers I know who are New School alums, I’d think Equality Now could look a lot closer to home if they wanted  to understand “the other side.” In 2006, I met a number of them, at a conference hosted in part at the New School called Sex Work Matters (I can’t find a good web archive, but here’s the original CFP and an anthology from the conference, Sex Work Matters, published by Zed).

Still, for the students who are part of this practicum, or faculty or others who are familiar with it, what’s going on here?

Off to fund the movement.

Here’s a start for you: an absolutely scandalous little publication, literally called “Sex Worker Health and Rights: Where Is The Funding?” If that’s not shocking enough, there’s the Red Umbrella Fund, on whose advisory board sex workers sit and inform funding decisions.

It’s probably sexier for Equality Now to imagine these activists who are now getting a fair reception at the United Nations as vixens slinking around a smoky hotel conference room, funders nipping at their Louboutins, but the truth, humble as it is, is quite out in the open already.

The sad thing is, I’d be grateful to get this kind of support to research a solid history of the sex workers’ rights movement globally, and I can think of a dozen other people who should be doing this work. But to do it for someone who only wants this information to help them more properly put sex workers back in their place? That’s like enlisting in a Jesse Helms Family Foundation project to document ACT UP.

I’ve written before about Equality Now (in Jacobin, and in Reason) – a humanitarian women’s rights NGO founded in part to eradicate sex work. One of their key tactics in this ostensibly feminist fight is to deny that anyone involved in the sex trade dissents with their approach. Lately their op-eds have turned explicitly against sex workers’ rights, which makes sense, as the past two years have seen the mainstream of the global health and human rights community joining sex workers in calling for an end to the criminalization of sex work as essential to protecting sex workers’ health and rights.

Equality Now appear to be losing credibility as human rights advocates. How can they claim to have the solutions when the same major actors they once successfully appealed to – various agencies within the United Nations, mostly – have begun to work more directly with sex workers in diverse work settings and a variety of legal contexts to document the harms resulting from sex work being criminalized? As more and more human rights and health advocates join with sex workers, demanding that sex workers be understood as the experts when it comes to setting sex work policy, when those policies informed by sex workers are at a 180 from the anti-sex work agenda of groups like Equality Now, the anti-sex work campaigners begin to look quite out of step with the same people they claim to protect.

This shift (along with this week’s UN General Assembly in New York) in part explains a recent uptick in appeals from women formerly involved in the sex trade, rehashing Equality Now’s talking points and promoting Equality Now’s campaign against the UN’s recommendations to decriminalize sex work. These women are engaged in work a respectable NGO can’t so easily take up in public, like claiming that any sex worker who opposes them is essentially damaged and brainwashed.

As one of these campaigners Rachel Moran wrote criticizing the UN’s stance*  in the Independent:

I believe if a prostitute or former prostitute wants to see prostitution legalised, it is because she is inured both to the wrong of it and to her own personal injury from it.

I asked Rachel Moran, given her claims, how those seeking more just and humane sex work policy – like the World Health Organization, like Human Rights Watch, like the United Nations Development Program and UNAIDS, for example – should incorporate this new standard of vetting reports and recommendations from sex workers into their advocacy. Which sex workers, I asked Rachel, should these agencies, their researchers, and their partners dismiss outright based on, as Rachel is endowed with determining, those sex workers being too “inured” and “injured” to have an opinion on their own lives?

You’ll be surprised (or not!) to learn that for this campaigner, anyway, this is a self-evident question, as “sex workers” apparently don’t even exist.

So. Abolition accomplished?

Our conversation below.


it is worth saying, “the UN’s stance” is how media are characterizing this issue, yet not all agencies within the UN have held the same views on sex work over time. Notably, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stated that he opposed criminalization of sex work in 2008, and in 2012, UNDP’s Global Commission on HIV & the Law echoed and extended his call to include decriminalizing sex workers’ workplaces. UNAIDS at one point argued for programs to “reduce entry” into sex work and to “address demand” over prioritizing sex workers’ health and rights. But when sex workers and allies protested and organized, they then informed new guidance on sex work and HIV, which places more focus on sex workers’ rights and addresses HIV in the context of discrimination and criminalization. 

Update, 2013.09.24: the Global Network of Sex Work Projects has issued a statement on Equality Now’s attacks, which includes in part:

…recognising the human rights of sex workers and calling for the decriminalisation of sex work is a recommendation made by these reports in recognition of the fact that punitive laws, discriminatory and brutal policing, and denial of access to justice from people most at risk of acquiring HIV are fuelling the epidemic. It is not clear to us how Equality Now and other campaigners would, given this stark reality, write to senior officials at the UN and ask that action be taken that appear to summarily dismiss the voices of sex workers who were an integral part of both UN reports attacked by this coalition.

Researching sex worker politics and movement history for my book led me first to Carol Leigh’s wonderful archives, and then to what I only realized upon digging through dozens of boxes had become my own. (You spend ten years going to protests, conferences, clubs, brothels, and brunches with other sex workers, and you will amass a beautiful collection of paper.)

As I pack my materials back up into my archives, I’ll post pieces of my collection here.

sexworkerfilmartsfestival2007-photo 1
Program, 5th Biennial Sex Worker Film & Arts Festival, July 14th-22nd, 2007

It’s only fitting to start with a program for Carol Leigh’s own Sex Worker Festival, which continues on in San Francisco. In 2007, it coincided with the Desiree Alliance national sex worker conference, for a week of workshops, performances, films, and parties.

sexworkerfilmartsfestival2007-photo 2
A detail of the program. (Archived as text here.)

sexworkerfilmartsfestival2007-photo 3
Sex Workers’ Outreach Project USA offered this School for Johns workshop as a twist on San Francisco’s First Offenders’ Prostitution Program, or “John schools.”

These programs funnel men arrested for buying sex (or trans* women misgendered as men, as well as queer men, who are arrested for selling sex) into classes meant to prevent them from buying sex again. Researchers Rachel Lovell and Ann Jordan authored a thorough report on how these programs work, and more to the point, why they don’t actually work.

sexworkerfilmartsfestival2007-photo 4
Another detail of evening events.

The Roaming Hookerfest featured a project I collaborated with Norene Leddy on back in the day, The Aphrodite Project, a GPS-enabled platform shoe connecting the wearer to a private support network, over which they can share their location as a safety measure. Under the heel, the platform also housed a shriek alarm and video screen. Platforms were never meant for mass manufacture; we created a DIY kit for anyone to make their own. We talked about putting a mini-projector into the platform (a suggestion from artist Natalie Jeremijenko) so being part of this guerilla projector mobile movie fest was perfect.

(Want more? Here’s everything you need to know about the 2013 Sex Worker Film and Arts Festival, and how to get involved next time.)

There’s no better way to wait for the Supreme Court to hand down a decision than watching another Supreme Court in action – which you can, if it’s the Supreme Court of Canada, who livestreamed yesterday’s hearing on prostitution laws. Hanging out on #bedfordscc were an international mix of sex workers, activists, and legal pros weighing in on the testimony all day, which could result in Canada adopting some form of decriminalized prostitution. It was riveting and like nothing else I’ve seen, this deep and free-wheeling and real-time conversation about sex work policy and human rights, with just the right amount of sass and optimism. (And maybe by the time the United States is ready for our own national hearing on these laws, we’ll have opened up the Supreme Court to some form of photography.)

The US Supreme Court still hasn’t decided the case I went to go watch in oral arguments this April, on whether or not requiring AIDS funding recipients to adopt an anti-prostitution position is constitutional under the First Amendment. I’ve got a new story on the anti-prostitution pledge policy up at The Nation, paired with infographics on the HIV funding and prevention landscape.

As soon as the Supreme Court rules, which could be as soon as Monday, I’ll have an analysis up, too.

Also on the legal front: Scotland is considering criminalizing the purchase of sex, and recently published the results of an ostensibly open consultation with the public. I spoke with senior staff at Amnesty International, who were concerned that the consultation gives the impression that they support criminalization, after a local Scottish chapter of Amnesty submitted a brief in support of the bill (which featured some of the most shabby “human rights documentation” I’ve ever read). Amnesty International is demanding that chapter remove its endorsement under Amnesty’s name, and for the first time, offered public support for sex workers’ rights by opposing criminalization and the conflation of sex work with trafficking. You can read the whole scoop in my story at the New Statesman. (And huge thanks to NineMollyJem, and Jewel for their work mining through and wrestling with all the documents that came out of the Scottish consultation.)

(This is an excerpt from my email newsletter, Inside MGG. Subscribe to get updates from me each Friday in your inbox.)

turkish-sex-workers-demo-occupy

Caty and I got into lively conversation last night (well, we were already in it) when these photos from Sunday’s demonstrations in Turkey started flying around Twitter and Facebook. This one’s been shared about 5000 times from this post, and then was tweeted (and translated from a sign with the same slogan) on Twitter:

“We’re whores, and sure these politicians are not our kids!”

Caty put it to a Turkish-speaking friend on Facebook, who offered this translation of the sign, which is a little different:

turkish-sign-occupy

“We whores are sure that Tayyip is not our son.”

The reference for the shirt and sign’s pushback is the insult “son of a whore,” one of those slurs of contamination (your mother is worthless, ergo…). You see and hear it at these demos sometimes without a thought, particularly the thought that maybe, the woman in the t-shirt with the red umbrella marching side-by-side with you might be a whore. So here she is speaking back.

And, using the same words as sex workers at Madrid’s Puerta del Sol occupation in 2011 to do so, when they had to confront the same:

…we decided that we absolutely had to have a pedagogical, and not just militant, approach. We try to make protesters aware that some of the language and slogans they use are profoundly misogynistic, even if they don’t mean them to be. People tend to call such-and-such politician a “son of a whore”, for example. In response, a group of sex- worker activists began holding posters that read: “Excuse me, but I’m a whore, and I can assure you these politicians are not my sons.”

We try to use humour and dialogue, not so much to change the actual words people use, but to get them to reflect on negative gender stereotypes and their impact on society.

This one says: “Let whores govern, since their sons have failed us”

I remembered a more explicitly nasty variation on the whore-as-capitalist-collaborator meme that popped up at Zuccotti Park, again in the pose of anti-austerity critique:

"MY money's no whore."

Heaping such blame is both anti-worker and misogynist, and props up claims that capitalism and patriarchy are somehow driven by prostitution (which predates one, if not both). If it exists at all as its own special dirty category of money distinct from all that other virtuous money, “whore money” – the actual money made by whores –  is a stop-gap for many struggling in the crisis, not the crisis itself. Never mind the fact that whores are more likely than most other workers to keep money outside of a bank, due to banks’ own discriminatory policies and fears of attracting scrutiny that could in turn attract police attention. (Also, is ball-licking here posited as awesome or exploitative, and can you have it both ways, even rhetorically? Cool story, protestbros.)

(That’s a sticker, by the way, stuck up on “the red thing,” Occupy Wall Street’s iconic homing beacon. To throw more signs, etc. on top of this, it was the day Judith Butler came to speak at Zuccotti, and the park was so packed we couldn’t even find her, just ten feet away.)

But in Zuccotti Park, as in Puerta del Sol, as in Gezi Park:

Sex workers stand w/ all workers

Whores have long been at the barricades, even when they didn’t announce themselves. Forty years ago this Sunday, the prostitutes of Lyon did so under their own banner, and occupied a church in protest of the police, an action now regarded as the birth of the modern sex workers’ right movement:

And also this weekend, French sex workers union STRASS with members of Doctors of the World offered this message in solidarity (h/t, Luca):

STRASSE solidarity with Turkey

(Mega h/t to @kitabet on Twitter, who translated and circulated the original images from Turkey, who pointed out that if the park that inspired these protests was destroyed, trans sex workers would be among those displaced. Many “development” projects in global cities have been nothing but tarted-up “clean streets” campaigns, resulting in, and certainly in the case of Times Square’s re-development, intending to cause the isolation of sex workers from their work, homes, and communities.)

Update:

@mexber on Twitter comments, “I don’t have any hard evidence but I am pretty sure that frase was used in the early 00’ protests in Argentina.” He finds this photo from Mexico City in 2004:

Que nos gobiernen_ juzguen y cuiden las putas_ que sus hijos nos han fallado

The banner reads, by his translation, “Whores to power. Their sons have already failed us.”

 

The Feminist Porn Book
(Valerie Solanas referring to the text)

The Feminist Porn Book has been one of the more fun books to take along on the subway. With this hanging out in my purse over the last few weeks and Kink.com back in the headlines for unfair labor practices, I took the chance to interview some porn performers and producers about porn as women’s work, and how feminist porn can be a feminist labor issue. That’s up at the Guardian.

Maxine Holloway and Bella Vendetta had way more to say than I could fit in print, and I wasn’t able to get in one of my favorite excerpts from the book, from an essay by Clarissa Smith and Feona Attwood, on the resurgence of anti-porn feminism and its’ complicated relationship with the internet:

“…the current wave of antipornography campaigning draws on the arguments of the 1970s and 1980s antiporn feminists but do so in interesting ways – for example, although they build on the central tenets of Andrea Dworkin’s analysis of the misogyny and cruelty of pornographers, they posit this as a prescient account but one that could never have envisaged the ‘juggernaut’ of the Internet… this complex narrative of nostalgia and futurology is a central theme in these accounts where pornography is acknowledged as an already exisiting feature of the landscape, but one that has developed outside the knowledge of ‘ordinary’ adults and needs urgent redress.”

There’s also been some fascinating conversation on Susie Bright’s blog, about how the book positions the current sex positive community with or possibly against the late 1970s and early 1980s contributions of feminists, particularly those who identified as sex radical feminists.

In an open letter to the editors of The Feminist Porn Book, Gayle Rubin (whose “Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality” is an essential text) writes that in both the introduction to their book and in media surrounding it, the editors seem to be proposing a “middle ground” between what could be read as “extreme” ideologies held by both sex positive and anti-porn camps. “This way of framing the history of debate over pornography within feminism is not uncommon,” writes Rubin, “but it is dead wrong.” She continues:

“This version of the story requires mischaracterizing most of us who were involved in the early arguments by casting us as unreasonable extremists who celebrated pornography without qualifications. It fails to recognize that we– essentially the first generation of feminist critics of the antiporn movement– made most of these so-called “reasonable middle” points in the late 1970s and early 1980s, back at the time when the porn debates first ignited.”

Responding to Rubin, the editors write:

“While noting this tremendous diversity and productive potential [in porn], sex positive feminist critics have not yet fully analyzed the tremendous production of feminist pornographies that has emerged in the past fifteen years. When we say these pornographies have been “lost in the middle,” we mean that critical work on emerging forms of feminist pornography needs to be engaged if we want to continue to advance the cause of sex positive feminism. That’s what our book is intended to do.”

It’s true – most writing about the sex industry in the last fifteen years (not that I just did a lit review, but I did) focuses on first-person storytelling about workplace experiences. Porn performers are often under-represented in this literature, and porn producers (even if they are also performers themselves) are often not represented because they occupy a management role. There’s comparatively less work exploring the production or business side of any sex industry. (There’s also a whole other conversation to be had, about whether or not producers or managers are sex workers, or should be part of sex workers’ spaces (and literature), but it’s somewhere The Feminist Porn Book does shine, in bringing together people who both perform in and produce (and study) feminist pornographies, in the same space, even if they aren’t on quite even footing.)

I wonder if this is why Tristan Taormino responded to my piece, which concerned feminist porn as labor, by saying she didn’t think the performers I spoke with were “representative,” which I disagree with. I’ve heard one of the frustrations I wrote about – that feminist porn doesn’t pay what “mainstream” porn pays – quite a bit, both from colleagues in porn at the time I was working, and from those who still work in feminist porn. This issue of pay deferential isn’t just about what an individual producer can or chooses to pay; it’s about resources, and how under-resourced women’s work and women’s own businesses are. It’s something I’d love to read more about, from performers’ perspectives. (Here’s one take on the question, of how to pay and pay fairly, from a feminist porn producer, Ms. Naughty.)

Back to Rubin, though. Her generation of feminist porn thinkers brought a class politics to their porn politics, one of the most important contributions of the early sex radical feminists, and one that has almost been lost. It’s one of the more challenging things to me about explaining “sex positivity” to those who have no idea what it means (most people), because I find myself digging for a politics of sex positivity, and to find it, I end up back quoting Rubin, Carole Vance, Amber Hollibaugh, Ellen Willis – women who were producing a theory of sexuality and feminism thirty years ago. (In fact, the legendary Barnard Conference on Sexuality was held here in New York in 1982. I wish was had thought to produce a reunion or tribute. I’d love to be in that room.)

In this early sex radical writing and thinking about sexuality and feminism, the actual production of feminist porn might not yet be present (it can’t really yet be), but what is much more upfront is a grounding of this whole enterprise, of sex and gender, in questions about power and class and inequality. Talking about compulsory heterosexuality and motherhood, the uncompensated labor of sex and sexual reproduction, and all the connections between the devaluation of women’s labor and women’s sexuality are what sex radical feminists used to destabilize anti-porn feminism’s recapitulation of female virtue (whether within straight or lesbian monogamy).

These women are the roots of this work, and more urgently, they are the roots I don’t know that my generation (X-ish? Y-ish?) has yet to fully add our own analysis to – of what the questions of power and inequality raised by sex radicals thirty years ago mean to sex positive feminists today. This book is one step in that direction, but it leaves me wanting more, and a more that will require reincorporating the analyses of labor and class that (honestly, most) feminism has sheared off since the 1980s. In trying to understand this gap in analysis and shared history (which is I think what we see in these two open letters), I want to better understand where “sex radical” and “sex positive” feminisms converge and split off from one another. I don’t think they are the same thing, and I think we lost something when “sex radical” (mostly) dropped off the radar. If this transition, from sex radical giving way to sex positive, mirrors anything like the parallel changes in queer and women’s movements, it follows a time, moving from the 80s to the 90s, of an underclass getting more visible, and later, getting more respectable, while still preserving an underclass within the people just barely formerly known as the underclass.

I know it might be hard to to conceive of “sex positivity” as respectable in anyone’s eyes. But just as when Pride went corporate and when feminism becomes a corporate slogan, when “sex positivity” became closely identified (if not entirely identified) by sex toy stores and sex positive porn, where did our ways of talking about inequality go? (Fave exploration of this I’ve ever read is this 1999 piece by Mimi Thi Nguyen, for Punk Planet.) Where are those analyses being developed (over a coffee counts, I’m not just talking classrooms) and where can others find them? The ground work has been done; it’s just a matter of reaching back and asking new questions. (And I’d love to hear your questions, about feminisms, sex positivity, and inequalities, here.)

I’ve got a piece out in the Washington Post, a commentary on Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s corporate feminism, on the eve of her book Lean In. I’ve been following Sandberg as one of the more visible “women in tech” since she joined Facebook, just one month after I began writing for Gawker’s then-San Francisco based tech blog Valleywag.

Sandberg, along with Marissa Mayer, has served as a stand-in for a “woman in tech,” and now more broadly, as a “powerful woman.” These are roles that, back when their names were known to relatively few people outside the Valley and those who obsess about it, Sandberg and Mayer have played, and I’d argue, both played to and played against, like any woman handed a role that could elevate her as much as reign her in. Mayer says she isn’t a feminist; Sandberg says she is. In playing these roles, they also make for appealing stories of “what it all means” for the media.

But anyone who knows anything about the tech biz knows that this is a (social) media side show, and that feminism will never be one of the “disruptive” values of Silicon Valley so long as Silicon Valley is principally a machine for producing wealth for the few. (See: the story of Katherine Losse, an early Facebook employee who also crossed paths with Sandberg.) To the extent that someone who so benefits from that business culture espouses feminism, it will be ruthlessly friendly to the corporate environment in which it is exercised.

It’s this limitation that concerns me about the brand of feminism we see in Sandberg – because it’s gaining ascendence, and because we’ve been here before. It’s a trickle-down feminism that centers the concerns of an elite minority of women, and it repeats losing tactics in the history of feminist movements. Sandberg is far from the only prominent feminist who supports these tactics, which – despite their intentions – have been insufficient in addressing inequalities among women. If the book and its attendant publicity had only framed Sandberg’s contribution as something “by and for women in positions of corporate leadership,” I doubt we’d be having this conversation.

The book isn’t out yet, though Connie Schultz has a critical review out (also in the Post), and it affirms the omissions I anticipated based on the materials I had available to me, including Sandberg’s own telling of her leadership trajectory. Here’s one of the most widely-circulated Sandberg quotes on that, from an interview she gave to PBS/AOL for the Makers documentary. You can view it online:

I always thought I would, like, run a social movement. Which meant, basically, I would work in a non-profit.

It’s a telling understanding: of both the qualities of social movement leadership (which few who work within them would call “running” them), as well as where one would find a social movement (incorporated as a 501c3). And it’s another tension that’s too real for those working in movements for social justice – including women’s rights and gender justice – as we try to understand how to actually get change made: outside systems, or within them. And in fact, Sandberg has followed through on this early vision: according to documents obtained by the New York Times in advance of the book’s release, Sandberg has incorporated the related projects around Lean In as a c3. By the strike of her own pen, this is a movement.

But, is this a “real” movement? I think the legitimate concerns about what’s being sold as feminism here has got lost in the many meanings of that word, and how little people who have not been part of movements understand their function. I got my own movement education first as an activist, then while working at an explicitly feminist foundation. So for my part, I wonder what this might mean for those already working in movements on these issues, who struggle for visibility and funding, and who will likely never (and perhaps would never want to) attract the kind of media attention and corporate partners that Sandberg has found in Lean In. Will their work be made any easier? Will they find new allies? Or will they be told, as they have been for decades even by those who claim they work alongside them, that what they want is still impossible?

And what would Sandberg say if she were told the same?

The War on Sex Workers, Melissa Gira Grant

Out in Reason this month (February 2013), I’ve got a new feature, “The War On Sex Workers“:

Not all people who do sex work are women, but women disproportionately suffer the stigma, discrimination, and violence against sex workers. The result is a war on women that is nearly imperceptible, unless you are involved in the sex trade yourself. This war is spearheaded and defended largely by other women: a coalition of feminists, conservatives, and even some human rights activists who subject sex workers to poverty, violence, and imprisonment—all in the name of defending women’s rights.

This is by far the most controversial piece I’ve written. Before I get to that, some additional reading on items mentioned in the story:

• The Social Science Research Center at DePaul University’s study of the Chicago Police Department’s “johns” mugshots websites.

• Women With A Vision’s “No Justice” project, which ended the police practice of charging sex workers with “solicitation of a crime against nature,” which had forced them to register as sex offenders in Louisiana.

• Dr. Kumkum Roy, Director of the Women’s Studies Programme at Jawaharlal Nehru University, invited Gloria Steinem to speak on sex work during her trip to India as mentioned in my piece. She writes, after hearing Steinem and her co-panelists speak, “Ms Steinem and Ruchira Gupta of Apne Aap refuse to recognize that unionized sex workers are voicing their own opinions—these women are dismissed as puppets of pimps and brothel owners—a gross simplification in view of the sheer numbers of women across the country who have unionised in a bid to claim human rights and dignity.”

• The 2012 Chicago Reporter investigation into the staggering increase in felony arrests of sex workers, “Escorted to jail.”

• Ann Jordan, interviewed for this piece, publishes at Rights Work, a project of the American University Washington College of Law Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, which includes a valuable Fact Checker feature for researchers, journalists, and advocates.

• The Sex Workers Project continues advocacy and research around sound sex work policy.

• The Best Practices Policy Project also continues their work on bringing the United States in alignment with recommendations on sex workers’ rights made through the United Nations Universal Periodic Review of Human Rights.