Thursday, March 13, 2008

But everybody's job exploits them in some way!

To argue that capitalist exploitation is inevitable and that it wouldn't be much worse to exploit a sex worker than to exploit a cashier is to miss the point. This is not a pro-sex work argument. It's an anti-capitalist argument. To say that other people also have problems at work does not eliminate the fact that sex workers have problems at work. It just points out that sex workers aren't the only people in need of help. And for the record, I totally agree with that assessment. We all need to re-examine our notions of what work is.

That said, sex work is uniquely exploitative. Cashiers are mostly exploited via verbal bullying, longer work hours with less flexibility, and less pay. Sex workers exploited by market forces would face all of these things as well as the likelihood of repeated violent rape and torture. Do I care less about cashiers than sex workers? No. But I care more about eliminating rape and torture than I care about eliminating verbal abuse.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

What if sex work were somehow redesigned to exclude the most exploitative jobs in the industry?

I don't think that these jobs can be somehow excised from the sex industry as a whole. They are in fact an integral part of the sex industry which must exist as the bargain lower-end piece of any industry in a capitalist society.

What I mean by this is that every object we buy, from plumbing equipment to tube tops, has an expensive, "nicer" version that people tend to prefer and pay more money for, as well as a cheaper one. This is just how consumption goes. The problem is that if you turn people, like sex workers, into consumable objects, you are necessarily going to have the cheaper, less desired, minority, no-protection-required, "ugly" version for the cheapskate hobbyist as well as the supermodel regularly-tested escort who services CEOs and politicians.

If union-busting and ineffective unions exist in other industries, they would exist in the sex industry too. If human rights violations can still take place in the treatment of legal unionized factory workers, they would still take place in the treatment of sex workers. This is not an acceptable risk for either factory workers or sex workers.

If you can pay someone who looks just like a celebrity two thousand dollars for a night in a fancy hotel which includes a nice dinner and a bubble bath, you will necessarily also be able to pay someone else twenty dollars for unprotected anal sex, punch them in the face, and run away before they realize you only gave them fifteen.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Even Conservatives Keep Using Sex Workers. Doesn't This Prove Eradication Impossible?

Surely, I can't be arguing that anti-sex, misogynist conservative Americans are really alright with sex work? Well, frankly yes. In fact, I believe that the majority of anti-sex misogynist men in that culture have visited a sex worker at some point, but that's sheer speculation.

Conservative America, for religious reasons, out of a sexist distaste for women who don't go find themselves a husband to tell them what to do and stay completely faithful to him for the next few decades, and because of a general fear of unsanctioned sex which stems from religion, are certainly adamantly against sex work, or so it seems at first.

However, conservative America, with its more blatant and intense variety of misogyny, tendency to trap people in marriages into which they would never have entered had they been allowed to have sex any other way, and high rate of closeted homosexuality is in fact the perfect breeding ground for sex work. (Note that I am not saying marriage woes are justification for paying sex workers, just that they make the behavior more likely.) Sex work is needed here in order to keep a dysfunctional society functioning, in order to keep people from feeling the need to come out of the closet, leave their wives with the full realization that abstinence education had caused them to marry the wrong person at the wrong time, and so on.

Why would a society which needs some women to be sex workers constantly harp on them with violent, religiously-tinged invective? I imagine it's because conservatives see in the existence of sex workers proof that their societal model doesn't actually work (they're probably right here) and need somebody to blame. Women are an easy scapegoat. After all, conservatives already don't like us.

I am not a conservative, as I have stated. I do not believe in suppressing sex along with sex work or with teaching women that they have no power outside of their use to men and then forbidding them to use that power. I have an actual and intellectually honest interest in getting rid of sex work because I have an actual interest in creating a society which does not rely on its existence. This is very different and should not be mistaken for somehow echoing the conservative anti-sex work attitudes.

An anti-sex work approach which is not religious or conservative in nature and does not attempt to punish sex workers for the decisions that were made for them has almost never been tried on a large scale simply because it's never been all that popular. To try and connect my idea of a sex-work free society to that of conservatives or to insist that their failure to bring about this societal change is my failure as well is nothing short of willful equivocation in an attempt to discredit me by association.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Why do you keep referring to sex work as accepted when many forms of it aren't even legal?

Diehard social conservatives oppose sex work and usually sex workers. In fact, diehard social conservatives are very nearly the only people who systematically oppose sex work, as well as being the only ones who ever get any sort of meaningful forum in which to publically air their views. I do believe that diehard social conservatives are scary people who are opposed to sex workers as human beings in addition to being anti-sex work.

The problems with arguing that the hatred the extreme right has for sex workers constitutes a general persecution within our society are:

1. They aren't very sincere about it. The practice of arch-conservative social views usually amounts, for those who have observed these people in their natural habitat, to the saying of one thing in public and at church while a completely conflicting lifestyle is practiced in one's private life, Monday through Saturday. Most of my clients tended towards the social conservative. Social conservative men are just about famous for secretly frequenting prostitutes for sex acts which liberals would actually consider extreme.

The reasons for this are clear in the myriad other practices of social conservatives, from anti-choice activism to insistence that two women can't love each other to the belief that men who are effeminate deserve to be beaten horrifically. Social conservatives are taught to hate women from the day of their birth, regardless of gender.

Again, the vast majority of johns, custys, obsessive porn-watchers, and clients are openly abusive woman-haters in addition to being social conservatives. There are very few conclusions one could draw except that woman-hating actually makes one incredibly compatible with sex work. Social conservatism actually makes one very compatible with sex work, no matter what ideologies you pay lip service to in church.

I don't believe for a second that the majority of extreme right men actually want sex work to stop. I think the majority of them see or have seen sex workers on a regular basis.

2. Diehard social conservatives are a vocal minority in most countries in the world, pretty much in all countries well off enough that sex work is ever discussed as a "choice" rather than the result of kidnapping and slavery. They are in fact a very small minority. Even in America, a well-off, resource-rich, highly-educated superpower with an inexplicable leaning toward fundamentalism, arch-conservatives are not as common as those who believe that any sex act not involving them personally and not meeting their very narrow definition of rape is none of their business. There are many more people who believe that sex work is okay than there are that believe it is not.

3. Diehard social conservatives are not actually all that powerful. While anti-sex work rhetoric, anti-gay rhetoric and anti-abortion rhetoric works its way into the mainstream discourse, this is usually just a way for fiscal conservative politicians with social libertarian views to whip people into a frenzy of distraction from the actual issues. In America, sex work has been lumped in with sex in general as a wedge issue that causes poor people to vote against their own interests and for a war that kills the poor.

This does not necessarily mean that the powerful politicians claiming to be against sex work actually are. In fact, they probably use sex workers.

The best arguments against using sex workers involve empathy for those lower in social status (women) and those lower on the socioeconomic ladder than oneself. This is simply not common among elites. One does not become powerful in our world by actually caring for the downtrodden. Elites use sex workers at an alarming rate. Elites are usually either as hypocritical as the conservatives they represent, deploring sex work while secretly taking advantage of and protecting it, or in many cases, openly advocating for it.

Elites support sex work, or we wouldn't have superexpensive escort agencies catering to them. Those in power include Larry Flynt. To claim that those in power are rabidly anti-sex work and trying hard to repeal sex work worldwide is delusional and shallow. At worst, they are trying to make life harder for the sex workers they love to hate while limiting access to sex workers by disadvantaged men.

In short, sex work is opposed by a small minority, most of whom don't seem to actually mean it. Those in power actively support sex work and patronize the sex industry, prefering to abuse sex workers rather than actually limit sex work in any meaningful way.

In this environment, sex workers are in danger. But to claim that sex work itself is in danger is just stupid. Sex work itself is flourishing and constantly gaining in acceptance.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

What sort of pressure causes different people to become sex workers?

The vast majority of people worldwide who become sex workers do so out of imposed necessity. While for a significant fraction, estimated by even pro-sex work advocates to compose about a quarter of sex workers worldwide this takes the form of sexual slavery and kidnapping, many sex workers experience a less violent indoctrination via monetary necessity.

I am not referring to the kind of monetary necessity that involves some vague fear of eventually not having a nice condo or a car, but the kind that comes from not knowing where your next meal is coming from in a country where most of the population is just as desperate as you and can't really offer you much help. These fears are exacerbated in cultures where women are denied access to jobs or to the education that they would need in order to qualify for a job. They simply have no hope of ever finding a way in which to earn enough money to live on through any other means.

There was recently a piece done by a mainstream news outlet on the "choice" of Iraqi women to go into prostitution. My guess is that most of the women who are prostituted in Iraq do not ever have the illusion of "choice" and would admit in a second that they do not enjoy their jobs at all. In fact, some of these women do admit just that on camera.

The notion of referring to what they do as "choice" is insulting. I do not know any pro-sex work women who actually are lobbying for the "right" of desperately poor mothers in horribly exploited countries to take a job that makes them want to kill themselves. I have on occasion encountered someone who felt the need to tell me that "nobody can make anybody do anything" and implied that these women did, in the end, have the option of suicide.

The people who have said this to me were almost all men and all white Americans. Which is good for them, I guess, since they'll never have to back up their ludicrous assertions by offing themselves, no matter how much I wish someone would present them with the opportunity.

There are a huge number of women, especially in the USA, who prostitute themselves for drugs. And yes, being addicted to drugs is bad and is often an indicator of poor decision-making abilities. However, addiction is a powerful force that renders a person unable to make any decision in almost all circumstances except to do whatever they think they need to do to get more drugs. If someone who is addicted turns to sex work or chooses to stay in it, they most certainly are not making a free choice.

I tend to think of sex work as a symptom of addiction, not something that can exist separately in the same individual. If someone is an addict and a sex worker, they cannot claim that they have made a free choice of sex work which had nothing to do with a desperation for money. The addicts who do not degrade themselves sexually for money seem to me to be the ones who have other ways of making money and are usually not by any means different in either character or addiction from the ones who do.

Now we're moving more into what is thought of as a "grey area." This grey area for prostitutes is a little higher in the good old U S of A than in most other countries, since most of us have our needs provided for so exceedingly well in comparison to your average Thai thirteen-year-old. However, I think it's important to emphasize that studies done by anti-sexual slavery advocates indicate that women worldwide who go into prostitution do so with the belief that it was something they "chose" are the vast minority.

Out of the sex workers who claim that they decided upon their current vocation because it's something they enjoy or at least view as a "regular job", between 65% and 90% have been sexually abused as children.

While our national average for incest and childhood sexual abuse survival is high, more than half is much higher and the elevated level of sexual abuse histories among sex workers needs to be examined. To me the answer seems obvious: a high number of sex workers became sex workers due to symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder which cause them to act out sexually, to be "promiscuous."

I really hate the word promiscuity. It's all pretty damn relative, and I fail to see why somebody else should be allowed to tell me I'm having too much sex anyway. That said, survivors of childhood sexual abuse often end up having not just a lot of sex, but a lot of sex that they aren't really even enjoying. It helps to define promiscuous behavior not as "having too much sex," but as "compulsively seeking out sexual encounters which are not actually fulfilling" in order to avoid the implied value judgement usually found in the word.

The idea is that having a lot of sex when you want to and it doesn't interfere with your life is fine, and having a lot of sex when you don't particularly even care about sex is bad specifically because it has negative emotional effects and is a sign of unhealthy compulsive behaviors.

There are a few ways of explaining why someone who was abused as a child might be engaging in more sex and with different people than they actually desire. For many survivors, there's sort of a disconnect between the act of sex with someone and positive feelings or desire centered around that person. Having sex extremely often without any emotions or attraction isn't at all disturbing in this context.

In fact, this "numb" sex can actually serve some emotional purpose for the survivor, who may be re-enacting their past abuse in a situation which gives them the illusion of control, or might be using the situation in order to make themselves feel "powerful" since they are indifferent (almost immune) to the effects of an act that has a profound effect on most people. It's also possible that somebody who was raised in an abusive situation only ever got affection from immediate family members as part of sex and therefore believes subconsciously that their sexual availability is a direct measure of others' capacity to love them, or that someone whose family members had sex with them learned early and well the lesson that sex was all they were good for.

All of these reasons are strong contributing factors to the decision that many survivors make to go into sex work, and they are all bad reasons based on unhealthy modes of sexual expression which retraumatize a survivor while preventing her from beginning to recognize the signs of and heal from her abuse.

The inescapable abject poverty experienced by working poor, working class minorities in our country is also a huge motivator for many women who go into prostitution. These women are on average far less likely to go into stripping at the safest and highest profit clubs or to work for the safest and highest quality agencies for the reason that most of them are not as sought after by clients who don't perceive them as "classy," and that many of them are not white enough to appeal to the tastes of the often racist hobbyist base.

However, these women exist and are doing sex work against their express wishes and usually in direct opposition to the moral code by which they would prefer to be living their life. They experience sex work as the degrading and terrible experience it is, and they have little interest in rationalizing it otherwise. They comprise the majority of sex workers in our country.

The number of women remaining to be classified is so small as to be negligible in the grand scheme of things, but these girls are vocal in their defense of a system that really ought to be torn down, a defense they somehow frame as brave opposition to oppressive and powerful anti-sex work forces. Also, many of them constantly try to refute my assertion that the majority of people who claim to have chosen sex work were abused at some point by pointing out that they personally weren't. (Because these women, despite being a fraction of a percent of sex workers worldwide, seem to be operating off the assumption that their experience is universal.)

Why do I think that a woman who says she has never been abused in her life (I'm not sure I believe all of them), an educated, upper-class woman with access to better job opportunities and no addictions, would go into sex work?

All of these things are easier to understand if you recognize that our culture is actually extremely supportive of and conducive to the decision to go into sex work. Pornstars get book deals and fame which actually extends into their retired lives and non sex-work ventures. Prostitutes are the object of mystical worship, assumed to be successful in prostitution not because demand is high and they are superficially beautiful but because they somehow embody an ideal of sexual perfection and acquiescence. The mythical good girl working her way through college at a strip club is justification for suggesting that the girl you know do the same. The rapist (literally, it's been reported on many times and proven in court) behind Girls Gone Wild suggests that women find it empowering to be part of his videos.

Somehow, having control of your body and sexuality is supposed to mean having control of how you sell it to others. Perks like having more money, more control, and shorter or more flexible hours are taken to be the upside of a profession with no downside and when people discuss these perks, they don't discuss the degradation which renders a shorter work week completely irrelevant, the fact that other jobs can make you a lot of money in a little time without requiring that you become a consumable experience, how to get these other jobs, or even the glaringly obvious fact that all people in all professions should have access to financial stability and bearable work situations.

A quick search on Google proves that it is much easier to find women making the ridiculous assertion that allowing strangers who don't like women access to your female body somehow empowers it than it is to find someone pointing out the no-brainer which is that sex work is humiliating to people with healthy boundaries. In this environment, it can be said that women particularly but people in general are actually being encouraged to enter into sex work and don't feel safe voicing dissatisfaction with it, especially if they are in well-paid, high-end sex work. They don't see their experiences as legitimate because they are constantly hearing about and supposedly being shown evidence as to how enjoyable it is to be a sex worker.

There are a growing number of communities that in striving to be sex worker supportive are actually adamantly pro-sex work. It's hard for most Americans, who are part of much more socially conservative communities, to fathom the truth of this, but where do you think things like the Sex Worker's Art Show came from? Spread magazine? It's absolutely true when I say that there exists a movement which is not only against violence on prostituted women (which I support) but which tries to normalize and frame as a positive decision work which is not normal, positive, or a decision.

This movement has made a lot of headway in a lot of subcultures, particularly among people who wish to distinguish themselves from the morally repugnant politically conservative set who loudly disdain sex work and sex workers from somewhere in the middle of our country. Sex work and its acceptance is seen as a rebellion for some people against the stifling reactionary sexually prude culture that prevailed in the towns where they were raised before moving to a metropolitan coastal city. To be against sex work is to be with Jerry Falwell.

Certainly, within all the "alternative" communities I have seen and been part of which described themselves as sex-worker supportive, it was considered extremely rude for me as a sex-worker to voice dissatisfaction with sex work. I was breaking an ideological boundary and committing a grave faux pas when I tried to talk about it. I was under the distinct impression that my friends would think less of me, possibly even stop speaking to me, if I said what I knew was true about what I was doing with my body.

Those from these circles that I am still in touch with tend to confirm my suspicions by being irrationally upset by my assertion that I don't think sex work is good for you, regardless of whether the issue affects them personally. It's not because they are sex workers, are close friends with any sex workers at the moment, or ever see sex workers. They have, in general, far less genuine interest in societal concepts of sex work than I do. The problem is that by breaking with their conventional wisdom, I have said something which is just not said and done something which is just not done.

Even our mainstream patriarchal culture, the one of middle American teenagers who have never seen what I would call an "alternative subculture," demands that the targets of men's affections present as willing sex objects at all times. In a country where WalMart attempts to sell panties to preadolescents which reads "Who Needs Credit Cards?" it can hardly be said that we are not encouraging sex work and prostitution imparticular. Sure, we also talk a lot of trash about "sluts," "hookers," and "whores," but our media also spends most of its time subtly guiding women toward sex work with a multitude of cues and societal conditioning which teach them that they are nothing more than objects for men to possess. I'd say that the former is not enough to counteract the latter, especially since it disparages sex workers as individuals rather than sex work as a valid career path.

College is seen as the road to success in our country, an education the opener of doors. Whether or not this is actually true (and judging by the number of college grads I know who work behind cash registers it is not) it bears mentioning that our society creates intense pressure to spend tens of thousands of dollars on school whether you have it or not. College is an all-consuming goal. It's supposed to be the most important thing twenty-somethings have going on in their lives. It is one of the last viable options for transcending class for those who were born working-poor, and to hold out the idea of college to someone who could not usually afford it, someone raised with material deprivation, as some sort of promise that they could spend the next four years doing this one thing and then be guaranteed to never go hungry for the rest of their lives- well, that's the worst kind of coercive. It's a seductive lie. It's blackmail. It's anything but conducive to free choice.

I've had young people, only slightly younger than myself, speak to me as if convinced that they need to go to college or they will literally die homeless and soon. Nobody should be surprised that some of these young people would go to lengths as great as doing sex work, despite sex work's being against their moral and religious beliefs, in order to accomplish the goal which is a college education, something they perceive to be the only ticket to a better life.

Indeed, the irrational desire to earn vast sums of money beyond what one could ever spend or beyond what one needs to be comfortable, no matter how repulsive the actual job, can be seen in many Americans and in many other people worldwide. This isn't just greed. Sex workers aren't just "greedy," though I've heard them accused of greed often enough. Sex workers, like all other people, are vulnerable to indoctrination. Our capitalist system has, in this case, done the brain-washing from a very young age.

Finally, almost all sex workers, like almost all other people, are taught from a very young age to worship the almighty dollar. Almost all sex workers who were raised in poverty, like almost all poor people, have been taught from a very young age that market structures are fair and just and that the better goal than tearing down an oppressive system is to work your way to the top of it, to become as rich as the people who drive through your neighborhood with the doors locked. What better way for our world's elite to indoctrinate those they oppress?

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

How are feminist attitudes and anti-sex work attitudes actually intertwined?

Oh my.

See, most self-identified feminists are against what is often referred to as "rape culture," which is to say the culture in which women are constantly being threatened with rape and normal sexual relations are warped so that men seeking women to rape is considered a norm. Rape culture is a culture in which men are encouraged to take sex from their partners regardless of consent and women are encouraged to be passive sex objects for these men. Women are valued for nothing beyond their ability to be suitable fucktoys for the guys in charge.

In a rape culture, if a woman should try to establish value on her own time by being her own human, say by going outside dressed however she wants by herself after dark and walking to a seedy bar where she plans to drink alone, she is threatened and "kept in line" with the threat of rape. In a rape culture, a man is treated as if he always has the right to sex whenever and however he wants it, with the implication being that if someone doesn't offer him what he wants right now he will just take it.

Sex work is an intrinsic part of this system. It is the device by which men are told that in fact, they do always have a right to sex and should never have to go without. It is the palliative that men are offered in the hopes that their big bad virile selves don't go rape us defenseless girls. Men are offered this palliative because it is unthinkable that they actually be taught not to be sadistic and woman-hating in the expression of their sexuality.

Not only does sex work support the "satisfy us or we will violate you" aspect of patriarchal rape culture, it confirms the world view of the men who believe that this is the right way to live. Women are objects which you can buy the same way you buy tupperware. Women are fucktoys- you can even tell them so and they will agree (because you paid them too). Women always want it (because you pay them to pretend they do). It's impossible to rape something that is less than fully human and that always wants to have sex with you anyways. This is what men are paying to be told when they see an escort, stripper, or any other woman who sells them the illusion of sex.

They are paying to pretend that a woman cannot say no. And they are still imagining that no woman can refuse them when they get into their cars and track down some coeds to oggle. They are paying women to confirm and conform to patriarchy and rape culture. The elimination of the sex industry would eliminate one of the ways in which rape culture perpetuates itself. The elimination of the sex industry would and should be a feminist-approved route to a world where women are treated as more than merchandise and men understand that it is not the rest of the world's problem if they can't find anybody to engage in consensual sex with them.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Why do you hate men? Are you a man-hating dyke?

The fact that so many of the non-radical men with whom I have anti-prostitution arguments end up saying something to this effect is very telling. First off, I need to be called names and insulted if I dare to contradict their right to pussy. Second, I obviously don't understand the way the world actually works because I am deranged with hate for men, rendering my opinion moot because I'm not in my right mind. Third, it's hinted that I am only able to say the things I say because I am a big hairy dyke and who just couldn't possibly understand heterosexual people, rendering my opinion moot because I actually have no knowledge of interactions between the sexes.

In the face of this sort of irrational hatred, any assertions or demonstrations of the fact that I don't hate men and do like to have sex with some of them go unheeded. The point, after all, is to malign me, not to prove me wrong since that is impossible for the guys who are asking me these ridiculous questions.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

What do men (and those who present as something other than female) have to contribute to a discussion about sex work?

"Feminist" pro-sex work advocates will tell you that sex work is a question of what a woman wants to do with her body and that as something other than a woman you have nothing to offer to the conversation. They are wrong. Sex work is heinous exploitation, and as a human being, you have the right and obligation to vociferously condemn heinous exploitation.

Let's re-frame: Do you think your mom is more than a breathing sex toy? If you're straight, do you think your female significant other is, in fact, human? Would you say that you generally like women and feel bad about the fact that they are being oppressed? Then you should feel equally bad about the existence of the sex industry, an important aspect of this oppression. Do you advocate, fight for, organize for, philosophize about, and/or otherwise make a mainstay of your core beliefs the proper treatment of poor people, working-class people, and members of historically oppressed races without actually being all three? Then you should feel just fine about doing the same for women without actually being one.

This is not to say that you should rush head-on into anti-sex work circles and try to take a glamorous leading position doing something chivalrous. That would make you part of the patriarchal problem, a paternalistic protector seeking glory through the shielding of the delicate ladies. But there's no reason why you shouldn't have an opinion, share that opinion with other people, and work to make use of sex workers unacceptable among the men you know. There's no reason you shouldn't organize at all. Basically, being supportive of anti-sex work causes without trying to take them over them is pretty much an extension of and exactly like being a feminist-supporter.

(If you don't know what "feminist-supportive" and "pro-feminist" mean, you have some reading to do.)

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Don't sex workers use protection and therefore avoid all diseases?

You mean like herpes, molluscum, HPV, vulvodynia, and any of the other STIs that can spread through and around condoms and are well-nigh incurable? The truth is that many sex workers negotiate protection according to what they are comfortable with and how much money they are trying to get from an individual client, while many pornstars aren't allowed to use condoms at all. Just because you had sex with an escort who looked young and healthy to you and used a condom with you does not mean that she isn't secretly dropping heroin into her eyeball between appointments in which she engages in unprotected sex to raise extra drug cash on nights when you don't see her.

Also, condoms sometimes break. Even if the odds are very small when condoms are used correctly, people who get paid to have sex for a living have a lot of sex. Things which have a tiny chance of occurring every time someone has sex become much more of a risk when she has sex five times a day for a year, with hundreds if not thousands of partners over the course of a relatively short time.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Why do you have such a beef with anarchist sex workers?

Because they are exchanging their labor and their bodies for money and then turning that around to somehow present as a part of their anti-capitalist radicalism. Sex work is just another form of exploitation and should be seen as such even by the people who think it's no different from working retail. After all, aren't you fighting for a revolution after which nobody has to work retail either?

Also, the anarchist movement on the whole tends to be very good about women's issues and very pro-feminist. It pains me to see well-read radical people who identify as anarcha-feminists and feminist allies doing something so highly anti-woman and pro-patriarchy as supporting and endorsing sex work.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

What about female clients?

What female clients? These people are almost nonexistent. Certainly, I saw hundreds and hundreds of men before even one woman tried to approach me. And even if there are female clients, the inherent sexism of seeking out as the ideal sexual scenario simulated rape of an objectified woman is hardly lessened just because the person doing it is female.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

What about woman-run agencies?

I would never ever have been stupid enough to work for an agency run by anybody but a female former or current prostitute myself. Certainly, there are all sorts of horror stories out there about pimps who lure women in by posing as the owners of agencies and then essentially kidnap them, and I've always suspected male owners of escort agencies as wanting nothing more than to sample the goods all day long.

That said, just because you're working for somebody who probably won't rape or hit you does not suddenly mean your agency is the greatest thing in the world. Women who run agencies are still doing it for the money, and as with any employer, that precludes having the personal safety and well-being of an employee as a number-one priority, no matter what they say.

Also, the women running these agencies may very well be operating with the same blind spots that affect any number of pro-sex work feminists and pro-feminist sex-workers, not to mention sex-worker "supportive" communities. That is, they can and do actively deny that they are participating in a system that causes harm to anybody. They can and do actively deny that prostitution hurts anybody ever.

When presented with evidence that their employees and friends are being harmed by prostitution, these women ignore in order to protect their worldview, resulting in further harm to and lack of justice for those working under them. When pressed, they are just as likely to lash out and blame the victims of prostitution (prostitutes) for anything that goes wrong as any "sex-positive" feminist. It's akin to a man blaming a woman for getting raped rather than risk considering the patriarchal system in which we live.

Certainly, a woman who actively promotes sex work in an attempt to make herself feel better about her own choices and enforce a worldview which allows her to keep calling herself a "sex positive sex worker" is often going to be an active recruiter of more confused young women. A woman who makes all or most of her income by prostituting other women is going to have a strong incentive to recruit as well. And recruiting women to sex work, which is personally, emotionally, and mentally destructive, is evil regardless of the gender of the perpetrator.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

But my porn is feminist!!!

Most of the "feminist" porn I have ever seen involves women who got their careers started in mainstream porn getting together in pairs where one woman plays the "dominant" (male) partner and forces huge sex toys into the other woman as some sort of substitute for the gigantic aggressive cock (attached to a male pornstar) that for some reason (the desire to appear feminist, perhaps?) they didn't actually hire for the film. Penetration is still the ultimate goal and the women hired are about as challenging to patriarchal beauty standards as your average Suicide Girl, which is to say that they have a couple easily removed piercings and funny-looking hair attached to the body of your average porn actress. How any of this is anything but mainstream porn in a slightly different setting and without male actors is beyond me.

If you honestly believe that your feminist porn is different, that's great for your ability to sleep at night. However, I'm more inclined to believe you're missing something than I am to think that commercially-produced porn which is created to appeal to a large segment of a patriarchal society could actually somehow end up being honestly pro-feminist.

I'm not some sort of killjoy saying that seeking out a little visual stimulation is a bad thing, but why on earth can't you just find some amateur porn produced by actual couples who are experienced at negotiating each other's boundaries and who actually get off on you watching them, people who aren't getting paid? Lord knows there's a whole lotta internet out there, and this stuff isn't very hard to find.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

What's your problem with street-walking?

It's ridiculously dangerous and the compensation is ridiculously low. It's a lower caste of sex work with higher risk and less pay that seems practically invented for women who society thinks of as somehow "undesirable" due to their being transsexual, an ethnic minority, poor or working-class. A woman who insists that she enjoys street-walking and that I should not presume to infringe on her rights by interfering is

1) insisting that she likes a high risk of STIs, murder, rape, beatings, arrest, police abuse, and being forced into sexual slavery by any pimp who decides that she isn't doing well enough on her own. This is mental illness and emotional disturbance, not free choice.

2) desperately trying to make herself feel better about trauma by pretending she enjoys it.

3) the vast minority.

I am very tired of privileged sex workers trying to refute my claims of inherent class and race bias in the sex industry by telling me that they know of one or a few women who claim to be okay as street walkers. This is exactly the same thing as a man claiming that sexism does not exist because he or his friends are nice people or a white person claiming racism doesn't exist because they as an individual are not racist. The fact that you can point to a few self-proclaimed happy hookers doesn't mean as much when I can track down a few hundred thousand who are not.

You can also point out to me that you know of an individual black woman in the upper crust of the sex industry (usually compensating for her color by acting or being as upper-class as possible), but the exceptions prove the rule of a racist classist industry- they certainly don't suddenly dispel all charges of bigotry. They just add the charge of tokenism.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

How do class and race affect different women's approaches to sex work?

The best agencies and the wealthiest clients are far far far less likely to hire black women in most cities in America, even if these clients are black. It should not be at all surprising to anybody that the sort of men who are completely susceptible to messages that they absolutely need to be sleeping with a stereotypically beautiful woman half their age would also absorb messages that black women are less "classy" and therefore work to avoid them. In effect, the "awesome" and "empowerfulling" sex work that many white women wax poetic about in their flimsy rationalizations is simply not accessible to most working-class black and hispanic women because the industry is inherently racist and classist.

However, the same women who claim to be feminists, fighting for the right to "do what they want with their bodies" over the objections of privileged white men seem to be willing to completely overlook the privilege from which they operate and the racism of the system they are supporting when they support the sex industry.

Ladies, here's a newsflash: Black, latino, and other women who aren't white or from one of the asian countries that allows male hobbyists to play into some sort of orientalist fantasy (Indonesians are not sexually exciting but Japanese are, for some reason), don't have the same access to your "awesome" "empowerfulling" sex work. They are far far far more likely to have to work for abusive pimps, in dirty massage parlors, on street corners, and for far far far less money.

For a privileged sex worker to complain the stories of sex workers who are overtly abused are widely over-reported is just not true. The majority of female sex workers in the world, according to any reliable study, do not want to be sex workers. To insist that these women do not exist is to silence those whose class/race/other have caused them to have a different viewpoint from you, and doing this is bigotry. For a privileged sex worker to assert that only a quarter of women in sex work are overtly abused and that this number is somehow not terribly relevant, as a group of pro-sex work advocates recently did in their letter to the UN, is completely inexcusable because what it really says is that 25% sexual slavery is okay. And it leads me to wonder if it's okay because it's not happening to the people writing these letters, the privileged. It leads me to wonder if these women just care a little bit less about the sort of person who ends up in lower end sex work.

There is always going to be higher and lower end sex work. This is one of the rules of capitalist systems. If there is an expensive and high-quality version on the market, there will also be an inexpensive and low-quality one. Companies like Whole Foods cannot comprise the entire grocery sector, but somehow "sex workers' rights" advocates fail to empathize with the human beings who would end up working in the prostitution equivalent of a Wal-Mart, and I'm rather sure that on some level it's because these other women don't look/sound/act enough like them.

Somehow, these "sex worker activists" seem to feel that their struggle to be allowed to be sex workers because they should always be allowed to do whatever they feel like even if it is obviously hurting them or even if it hurts other women is somehow far far more important than the struggle of underprivileged women to avoid sex slavery and gain basic human rights. This conviction that your problems somehow trump those of everybody else's, no matter how horrific the problems of others may be compared to your own, is the very definition of privilege, and it needs to end now. Arguing that people need to stop making you feel bad about your "work" at the expense of a focus on ending sexual slavery is ridiculous, and can only make sense to the privileged sex worker, the unconscious bigot.

Monday, February 11, 2008

What about dommes? They're in control because they're beating the guy up.

No, they're not.

1. Their clients are paying for a service and as the customer who can withhold pay or tip generously maintain a degree of control that the domme cannot obtain by tying up a guy who is asking her to. The customer is in almost complete control during a session because he controls the domme's income. He is only paying her to pretend that this is not the case, and to pretend in exactly the way that he wants.

2. For many clients, whether a domme is attractive according to their standards is at least as important as whether or not she's good at what she does. A job in which your beauty must be constantly rated by men who see you as a purchasable asset is necessarily sexually degrading.

3. Men who have been raised to associate violence with sex are in fact enforcing the patriarchy by paying for violent sex. Duh.

4. The view of sex which pits man against woman as two diametrically opposed forces is actually enforced when women momentarily gain control in the course of a domination session. Notice that dommes are not being paid to simulate acts committed between two equals.

5. The entire psychological profession has decided that Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and its symptoms can be the result of witnessing or committing heinous acts, so a woman who repeatedly engages in painful violence against other human beings may be opening herself to damaging, serious emotional disturbance.

This isn't to say that I think that all kinky people are emotionally disturbed or likely to get PTSD just because a domme might any more than I'm saying that all people who have sex are going to feel violated by it just because a prostitute would. When someone is genuinely turned on by tying up their consenting partner, they may not view themselves as committing a violent or sadistic act. However, the issue for pro-dommes is that they are doing it for the money, not the sexual arousal, and they may in fact be quite upset by whipping people for a living.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

If people shouldn't frequent sex workers, then how are sex workers supposed to make money?

or "You secretly want us all to starve to death, don't you?"

No, I want there to be better options. And a society that respected women enough not to turn them into prostituted, pornulated objects would probably be better at supplying better options for them.

(A society that respected the poor and working class would also be better at supplying other options while an anti-capitalist society would be fantastic at supplying other options, but I am trying to make this FAQ accessible to non-radicals.)

What's sort of hilarious about the argument that if I don't support clients' decisions to see sex workers then I must want sex workers to starve is that it is constantly being made to me by avowed anarchists. Excuse me, but does the fact that you disapprove of wage-slavery mean that you want all wage slaves to starve? Does the fact that I don't think we should keep domesticating cows mean I want all the ones currently on the planet to be tortured to death? Stop equivocating.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Should It Be Illegal to See a Sex Worker?

To be honest, I'm not a big fan of making things illegal, and I've wavered back and forth a lot on this point. In the end, I believe that sex work is a crime which is committed on a sex worker by the society they live in, the people who they work for, and the men who pay them for sexual acts. Retribution would make me feel much better, period. In fact, I sincerely hope that someday Larry Flynt finds himself surrounded by five hundred knife-wielding angry former sex workers and that on that day, the nearest cop is about two thousand miles away.

But fantasies aside, I don't like police, I don't like jails, and I do like education.

If a man tells me he has seen a sex worker before but does not do so regularly, I tend to give him the benefit of the doubt in thinking that he has made a tragic mistake due to the way our society indoctrinated him and fed his concept of his own manhood into his ability to be sexually violent towards another human being. I tell my story before I point out to him that the sex worker involved was a suffering person. I try and explain to these men that to see a sex worker is to abuse her, and that to see a sex worker on a regular basis is to be abusive. Period. Every time this has happened, the guy in question seems to understand me and agree with me pretty quickly.

What's surprising is the number of men who have seen sex workers before to "see what it was like" or who were pressured in all sorts of insane ways to see a sex worker by their friends. (If my friend had paid someone else to have sex with me or even roused me enough to pay while I was too drunk to remember where I was or what was going on, I would call that friend a rapist and never speak to them again.) What's surprising is that most of the men who I have met outside of my own stint as a sex worker who have seen sex workers at some point in their lives are deply queazy about the whole ordeal. They didn't seem to particularly enjoy it. I think if we lived in a society that de-glamorized and de-mythologized sex work while teaching men to treat women appropriately, this first category of men would not exist. It just doesn't seem to me like they really wanted to see sex workers in the first place at all. There doesn't seem to be much point to me in arresting somebody like this, or even punishing them once they've come to understand that what they did was wrong.

(If they don't understand it was wrong, odds are they will someday turn into regular users of sex workers. Also, I should be allowed to punch them.)

There are, however, men who see sex workers on a regular basis for any number of reasons. I met quite a few of these men when I was one, and in my opinion they were all suffering from mental/emotional defect. In fact, attempting to buy and sell people and sexual intimacy as if it were pizza is practically the definition of having emotional issues. Some of the younger ones seemed horribly lost, including one who ended up tracking down my non-professional email address, Ebay account, etc. (As it turned out, his sister had recently died, and he left me alone shortly after he started seeing a psychologist.) A lot of them were in disastrously unhappy marriages and were so desperate to avoid emotional intimacy that they refused to have sex with anybody but prostitutes who they knew hated them. A frightening number of them appeared to be sociopathic or psychopathic. A few of them were obvious sex-addicts of the kind I had not before known existed, compulsively seeking out a sexual encounter with a stranger, any stranger, many times a day, regardless of the fact that they didn't actually like it.

I think these men need professional help. I think the vast majority of men who see sex workers, even on a regular basis, need professional help. I'm not saying they need a pill or anything, but I do think that a trained psychologist probably has a lot more business dealing with these men than a police officer does. I'm not saying I'm not angry at them or that they don't deserve some form of punishment, just that I'd prefer a punishment that didn't make them more abusive in the long term, as jail is likely to.

In some cases, like that of the sociopath and psychopath, psychiatry alone has its limits and they probably ought to removed from society at large, but hey, that's what inpatient treatment is for, and the odds of rehabilitation are still much higher than they would be in a prison. (As long as they're all hanging around, one might as well study their disorder in hopes of finding an effective way to alter their behaviors so as to make them less of a danger to others. )

Monday, February 4, 2008

Do You Think It's Immoral to See Sex Workers?

Of course. As I have explained repeatedly, a woman engaging in prostitution is likely not mentally stable, afraid of starving to death through her inability to find other work, or both. To have sex with someone under threat of starvation and homelessness, or to have sex with someone who is too greatly emotionally disturbed to register what they are doing is and always will be an immoral thing to do.

Dear John,

I'm very sorry if you can't persuade anybody but prostitutes to have sex with you, but I fail to understand why your pain at not getting laid is more important than the pain of a woman you just paid to rape. Stop being so selfish.

The same argument applies, to a lesser degree of course, to interactions with strippers or other sex workers not directly involved in prostitution. It's just not ethical to pay someone for a lap dance if they have no better options, and you certainly can't argue that it's not hurting her to give you a lap dance as long as nobody has sex. It hurts a lot to know that the world is full to the brim of men older than your father who think of you as nothing but a sellable piece of ass.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Do you think it's dangerous to be a sex worker?

There are an enormous number of studies regarding this topic, but I'm only linking three. Feel free to tell me about more.

One disproves the notion that strippers and other "legitimate" sex workers are somehow immune to victimization by studying the rate at which strippers are assaulted and abused by customers, bosses, and the men being paid to protect them.

A second discusses the rate at which street-walking prostitutes use protection (about 25%) and discusses the extreme economic pressure that for most street prostitutes constitutes the primary driving force behind their "decision" to prostitute. In addition, the second study discusses the extremely low level of condom-use among street-walkers and the fact that the protection these women could be expecting from the police usually comes not in the form of referrals for help with drug addictions or employment aid, but in the form of demands for free sex in return for lack of arrests or convictions.

In case those of you who have watched "Sin City" a few too many times are still convinced that all street-working prostitutes have their own machine-guns, are karate experts, and are total experts at protecting themselves from everybody who therefore desire no protection ever, the third study discusses the rate at which street-walking prostitutes are violently victimized on a regular basis.

Given the reading, my answer is yes, though levels of danger vary enormously. Do I think it's dangerous to be a porn actress? If we're talking mainstream porn then yes, though not as much as with other types of work. Mainstream porn actresses are at a much-heightened risk of disease while the cameras are rolling, but in addition to that, they have to deal with their fame when the cameras have stopped. A woman who is payed to give men all over the world the illusion that she is fair game for any of their violent fantasies and remains sexually available to all of them at all times certainly has to worry a little bit more than the rest of us about who might recognize her when she's buying groceries.

Do I think it's dangerous to be a stripper? Of fucking course. First off, the place is run by straight men and secured by straight men, and I've seen some of those straight men display a lot more interest in whether a given stripper will have sex with them than in her safety. Second, even if the boss and security are respectful and on a dancer's side, the room is full of drunken men, some of whom are big enough assholes to attempt to follow a girl home to rape her. The security guys wouldn't be there if this wasn't the case. Perhaps it's safer with security guards present, but it's certainly not as safe as if one wasn't dancing in the first place, and security guards can't protect a woman from the customer who she accidentally runs into while off the clock.

Do I think it's dangerous to be an escort? I was raped repeatedly as an escort, so yes. Going into a bedroom or hotel room alone with a strange man and hoping he hands you a couple hundred after you have sex with him is just a bad idea. First off, exact boundaries are not negotiated ahead of time and some men very aggressively seek uncomfortable sexual acts or unprotected sex and will not take no for an answer. Second, agencies on the whole tend to have much worse security than strip clubs. If a girl gets in trouble while working outcall, there's not always a whole lot she can do but grit her teeth and bear it until the car shows back up. Essentially, escorts are trusting a total stranger not to rape or beat them for no reason other than that he claims to have the money and he might have shown their boss what may or may not have been his real ID. Oh, and he's already proven that he doesn't like women very much by requesting to see a prostitute in the first place.

Do I think it's dangerous to be a street-walker? I can't believe that people would even ask me this ridiculous question, but I've had people make the argument to me that it's safe because "the women look out for each other" or "police themselves," so I guess I have to mention the very obvious fact that they aren't doing a good job of it. Hookers are open to extreme violence and regularly experience it. Period. Men who want to assault a woman and run away will go for the women who it's easiest to do this to, and that's hookers. The fact that these women are sought out as a group by predators more than almost anybody else renders their situation dangerous, and it's hard for them to do much about that when their job requires that they get into cars or go into alleys with strangers and have sex with these strangers without ever seeing an ID.


There are other categories of sex workers, like dommes for example, who share most of the dangers that an escort does. However, it should be noted that the biggest danger faced by a lot of sex workers is that the police and courts are all staffed by people who hate them and believe they are getting what they deserve whenever a violent act is committed on them. The possible exceptions to this are fetish and porn models, porn actresses, and strippers, who are legitimized by arbitrary laws about which sex work is acceptable and which is not.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Do you think it's immoral to be a sex worker?

No, this question again frames sex work as a decision made by women when it's really not much of a decision for most. It is not immoral to do what you feel you need to do in order to get the money you need to survive. It is not immoral to be so damaged by a patriarchal society that you somehow see giving in to the demands that you act as a submissive sex object as less work and more rewarding than fighting the system.

That said, it is a bit immoral for some of the women who go around lecturing the world at large on how much they love sex work and therefore it's not a bad thing to do what they do. They may be suffering great emotional and mental upset for which I refuse to blame anybody ever, but they are certainly defending and promoting a system which is inherently sexist and does horrible things to people. And often they are doing it with no concern for the fact that they, as educated, articulate, conventionally attractive, western, and/or white women approach sex work from a degree of choice and privilege that most women in the world are not allowed, which is classist and/or racist.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Does sex work hurt women?

Actually, yes. And I don't particularly care how many people are going to get mad at me for saying this, but please do give me a couple paragraphs to explain myself.

The argument about whether or not sex work hurts women often boils down to what we believe people are paying for when they pay a sex worker.

Pro sex work arguments often tell us that sex workers are hired by men who can't otherwise get anybody to have sex with them because they are physically unattractive, old, shy, or stuck in horrible marriages. They are supposedly hired because everybody needs and deserves sex. Often, the argument is made, subtly or not so subtly, that if a straight man is denied access to female sexual organs for too long, he will become warped with rage and unrequited yearning until he is transformed into some sort of stranger-rapist. Very occasionally, people tell me that sex workers who allow these warped men to act out their fantasies about violent sex will induce some sort of catharsis or at least satiety that makes the man less likely to go out looking for some woman to haul into an alley.

Here's the problem with that line of thought. First, it's all based on the idea that conventionally unattractive people can't get laid, and that's wrong. All of my conventionally unattractive friends will in fact tell you that that's wrong because they are having lots of sex. More importantly, men don't become rapists due to lack of sex. Men become rapists for a lot of reasons, many of which center around a sociopathic desire to cause extreme pain and humiliation to another human. All of my male friends who can't get laid to save their lives, many of whom are actually very good-looking, are insulted by the idea that they will turn into slobbering rapists any second now, as it implies that they are little more than subhuman monsters held at bay by the occasional willing hole.

I believe that when someone pays a sex worker to sexually service a total stranger regardless of whether or not she hates his guts, this person is paying her to ignore consent and just do whatever he says. This person is paying her to do things she would not normally do under threat of dire financial trouble which may result in homelessness or inability to feed oneself, which in turn could very easily lead to death, or at least a life not much more desirable than death.

It's very difficult to rationalize this as anything other than a variety of rape. I'm not being farfetched here. I'm not saying this to negate the experience of women who have "actually" been raped. I myself have experienced violent rape under explicit threat. I understand that it's different and far worse.

However, rape is nonconsensual sex under threat or heavy coercion, not nonconsensual sex under threat or heavy coercion that the survivor finds particularly traumatizing and meets our societal expectations of what rape is like. Simply put, there are different types of rape and sexual assault, and the scenario which gets most attention in media and mainstream culture is not the only that exists.

I believe that men who regularly see strippers and prostitutes or watch mainstream commercial porn probably don't care much about the right of every woman to only have sex with people because she wants to, and not because she is being threatened with slow starvation and having nowhere to sleep. This is probably because they have absorbed patriarchal lessons about not seeing women as real people instead of things you fuck and/or slap around.

My experience certainly reflects this. It's not just "subtle" things like the number of clients who wanted to "do" me while watching violent porn. It's more obvious and real. See, there are websites (No, I'm not telling you what they are.) which rate prostitutes and list the acts they will commit. These same sites are the ones on which most prostitutes advertise and meet quite a few potential clients. I certainly used them religiously, to great effect. These websites have boards for discussion amongst "hobbyists" as well as a space for women and agencies to advertise, and the topics that came up were often downright scary and very indicative of the way that the men on the site saw all women.

Anybody who has ever argued that prostitution actually lessens violence against women rather than encouraging men to objectify and then victimize us needs to check out the threads which centered around "why pros are better than real women" (because they don't ask you to treat them as well as you would a regular human) and "where you go" (to spy on women in their late teens from your car as you masturbate, which apparently lots of the local guys on that site did on a regular basis). This sort of behavior on the part of the main body of men who see escorts in a given area tells me that not only is sex work highly damaging to the women engaged in it, it's a tool whereby men legitimize seeing women as something less than people. It's something that hurts us all.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Why are you assuming everybody else's experience of sex work is the same as yours was?

I'm not; I'm pointing out that many women have had my experience of sex work, and that many women getting abused by an industry is a good enough reason to shut it down. I fail to see why it's my responsibility to prove that every last sex worker on the face of the earth has been repeatedly horrifically victimized before I'm allowed to say that the industry as a whole is doing bad things to people on a systematic level.

I wish that people would stop pointing to the relatively few women who purport to be happy in sex work every time I bring this up. All you are proving is that a few women (usually the upper class white women who work for expensive agencies with cars, drivers, background checks, and security) are willing to say that they feel okay about things right now. Why do they get to speak for all sex workers when I have to be prevented from speaking for even a few? Is it because they agree with you and I don't?

Friday, January 18, 2008

So does that mean you think prostitution should be illegal?

No. I believe that sex workers are the passive objects of sex work, especially prostitution. I believe that women (and a growing number of men) are victimized by the sex industry. I do not believe that the passive objects of a given act should be blamed for the act, or that the victims of the crime which is acting out your sexual aggression on a stranger with no other options should be punished, as they are now in our system.

To suggest that we punish the victim for the crime which was committed upon them is ridiculous, and the fact that people want to do this so often to "bad women" is a sign that a large and powerful segment of our society hates women and thinks they need to be punished for acts which pale in comparison to what their clients are doing.

To clarify: Currently, prostitution is illegal in this country, and the result is that "Johns" are rarely if ever punished and include many police officers, with a focus on putting non-abusive agencies run by former prostitutes and women working for themselves out of business which takes valuable resources away from stopping abusive pimps. I had quite a few clients describe close calls to me in which the police, in order to get information about an agency or individual they were trying to take down, took them in and threatened to tell their families about the fact that they had been seeing prostitutes. However, none of these men were ever threatened with charges for regularly abusing women as the police poured resources into arresting said women.

More about police and prostitution: Not only I have worked for agencies that avoided trouble with the law by getting tips from police officer clients, there have been cases of officers working on a "sting" to capture certain women or agencies having sex with a prostitute on the government's dime before arresting her. If anything, I think the horrible treatment of prostitutes who get caught under our current system is due in part to the fact that the men busting them come from the same pool and share the same attitudes (and often are the same men) who are paying to do horrible things to them- which is to say they they hate women and have absorbed patriarchy's lessons about abusing them.

Finally, under a system which treats prostituting oneself as a sensational crime and not an unfortunate victimization, the news stations that love to report sensational crimes will have a field day, splattering a woman's face all over the television and reporting her name. This can and has opened up the woman to vigilante justice, and those news stations do not care because she is a "bad woman," a "whore." The news stories go online, as does the sex worker's face. This woman can never get a "real job."

At this point a system that purports to abhor the existence of sex work has taken away all the other options for the individual who made it onto the news, in effect ensuring that sex work continues to exist. This same principal is in effect when a woman who has been stripping for a long time cannot get a mainstream job, either because the well-off men who control who gets hired frequent her, know what she does, and have deemed her unworthy, or because she is unable to explain a long gap on her resume, or because she was actually stupid enough to admit on paper to having been a stripper in world where strippers are assumed to be hair-twirling, bubble-gum popping nymphomaniacal morons with nice hair.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

What if women like being sex workers?

The number of women who later retract these claims makes me extremely skeptical of any woman who tells me she enjoys being a sex worker. It's just as possible that she's lying to me out of shame at being victimized or that she's not emotionally stable and would hate what she was doing if she were to suddenly regain her equilibrium. 

However, even if the women who tell me they enjoy sex work are telling the truth, they don't speak for all women. Let's vastly underestimate and say that only ten percent of sex workers out there are unhappy, causing themselves emotional damage or will later experience intense regret at having been sex workers. 

If ten percent of the millions of sex workers worldwide are suffering the kind of emotional damage I’ve witnessed and lived, I would never be comfortable taking a one-in-ten risk of inflicting it on another human being. Anybody at all comfortable enough with those odds to go use a sex worker is necessarily a bad person, or at least not sufficiently empathic at that moment.

I'd say that the abolition of the sex industry as we know is it really the only compassionate response to any incident of this kind of exploitation.

Are you against all sex work?

I have no objection to any woman consensually going into sex work who is capable of making the same kind of money while working the same hours in another field. To give some examples:

Amateur porn depicting consensual sex acts, acts which would be occurring anyway and acts which are committed by people who most likely get off on strangers downloading porn of them, is fine by me. Professional porn depicting economically exploited women getting slapped around during painful sex is not. 

Women who could be earning more elsewhere charging enlightened pro-feminist men for sex with would be fine by me, if such a thing were not an oxymoronic laughable fantasy. (How many honestly pro-feminist men do you know of who would see a prostitute? How many sex workers do you know of who could earn a thousand dollars a night doing anything else?) I remain opposed to women getting paid obscene amounts of money to pretend they enjoy whatever a strange man does to them. 

Monday, January 14, 2008

How is sex work a feminist issue if there are male sex workers?

The short answer is that almost all sex workers are women and 99.9% of all sex workers are working for men. The longer answer is:

1) Male sex workers often have a very different experience from female sex workers.

I remember having a guy friend who worked in-calls constantly telling me that he loved his work and asserting that any women who complained of feeling pressure from male clients were not properly dealing with their clients and that, in fact, these women were bad sex workers. I think that what this man failed to see is that he, a highly educated white man who worked as a high-ranking executive during the day, was going to be treated very differently by his clients than, say, someone like me.

This is not to say that male sex workers do not get abused. They do. But female sex workers are also abused and at astronomical rates, in a system that has disadvantaged them and sexualized them from the day they were born.

2) Patriarchy is a motherfucker. Women are universally sexualized, de-humanized and toiletized and men in our society are taught to be aggressive and to see aggression as sexual. It is deemed socially desirable, even mandated, for men to seek out passive and controllable partners, and to engage in non-emotional, semi-abusive relationships with those partners.  When no such partners are readily available and rape strikes him as unpalatable, there is always the option of paying to rape a stranger, thus legitimizing the abuse.

Men who enjoy sex with men might, on the surface, be seen as subverting the patriarchy by seeking out same-sex partners, but their learned modes of sexual expression are patriarchy-approved and often cause them to abuse men in the same way, and sex workers where applicable.

Yes, I am writing mostly about women as sex workers here, but to be fair, that's what I know best. Someone else can and should write more about men.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Who sees sex workers?

Everybody, which knowledge threw me for a very unfortunate loop after I quit. There is no way that a "hobbyist" looks. Most of them were between fifty and seventy years old, vaguely conservative, well-dressed men. But I also had clients in their twenties and a client who was younger than me. That, I think, is the scary part, that as the older generation of men who would pay to abuse a woman heads towards an impotent sunset surrounded by nurses who would most likely not call in an escort upon request, more and younger men rise to take their place. This is not a problem that is going away. This is not a problem that can be ignored.

I'm not saying it's an immutable fact of male nature, more that our society is training young men to hate women just as surely as it trained their fathers. Only the younger ones can rationalize it better.

The thing about hobbyists is that although almost every single thing that a hobbyist does indicates that he associates satisfying sex with hurting women and fails to think of women as real people, they don't really stand out in a society that encourages all men to think about their sexuality in the same terms.

Certainly, it is considered "normal" for a man to watch some violently-themed porn and to occasionally see strippers, and most women I know would only raise objections if they knew a man who was doing it "too much." This misses the fact that when your average man pays any sex worker, he is paying to degrade and sexualize her. The men who do this less frequently are not "okay;" they just objectify women less.

Who are sex workers?

Sex workers are not who you think they are. First of all, sex workers are not all stereotypically or conventionally attractive- in fact I've worked with quite a few very successful women in Baltimore with more than a few extra pounds (The beauty standards of the US Mid-Atlantic region really are far more forgiving of large ladies. Just ask John Waters.). I was one of many women who refused to shave their pubic areas. The first sex worker I ever met had multiple facial piercings and bright red two-inch-long armpit hair.

Second, sex workers are not all desperately unhappy, and many of the ones who are certainly don't seem so at first. You aren't going to know who is a sex worker by looking for the first sad lady with a tale of childhood molestation and an inability to meet your eye. A lot of people have that, anyway.

Third, sex workers aren't all young. I worked with many who were over forty.

Fourth, sex workers aren't "trashy." Plenty get away with telling even close friends and lovers that they are some sort of office worker or consultant for years on end without anybody questioning it because they are composed, articulate, well-dressed women with law degrees and business suits.

Finally, as I just implied, sex workers aren't all "out." This is important. You have, by virtue of existing in our society, most likely met a sex worker who you did not know was a sex worker. You have probably met a person engaged in prostitution. Think about it. How many of your friends and acquaintances do you follow to work every day? How many of your coworkers do you follow home? Why are you so sure that they "aren't like that?"

Sex workers, from strippers to dommes to pornstars to prostitutes, can and do date, and there are quite a few who either don't tell their partners or have no trouble at all finding partners willing to date a sex worker. A beautiful woman who for some reason has no partner and works late nights might just be telling the truth when she says she's a waitress and she's not very interested in sex. You can't tell.

As with trying to figure out who sees sex workers, there is simply no way of knowing. The business is big. Much, much bigger than most people know, and most people involved are understandably embarrassed to admit what they are doing by a society that tells us sex workers are all bad people.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

What is sex work? What are the different types of sex work?

I would define sex work as the exchange of money for the sexual use of a person's body, whether that use involves direct contact or voyeurism. By this definition, fetish workers and dommes are sex workers, strippers are sex workers, prostitutes and people working out of massage parlours are sex workers, nude/porn/fetish models are sex workers, as are professional porn actors.

There are a lot of strippers and models who hate to be thought of as sex workers. These people often try to tell themselves that lack of certain types of physical contact or penetration, or what have you, makes them somehow immune to whatever they dislike about the population of sex workers at large. This is intellectually dishonest.

There are a lot of neo-burlesque performance artists who identify as sex workers despite the fact that they tend to work largely for audiences who are paying them for the art and dance aspects rather than for sexual stimulation. This is intellectually dishonest as well.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

If you did it, why are you saying it's bad?

Like most grownups, I am capable of admitting I made a mistake. I made a big one when I went into sex work.

Friday, January 4, 2008

How do you know what you're talking about?

I became a prostitute at nineteen in order to pay for my apartment and car the best I could with no degree, no work experience, and with what anybody who tried to hire me for anything else would be willing to tell you was a terrible attitude. I was part of a community of moral relativists who believed that prostitution was a completely valid and even desirable choice for women young and pretty enough to make lots of money at it (they also believed there was nothing wrong with me dating a parade of men nearly twice my age). The idea was that it was all my choice, and any discouragement would be deleterious to my freedom, but for some reason encouragement was okay.

Eventually, I tried to get into stripping because I thought it would be better for me than prostitution, inasmuch as it offered no actual exchange of sexual intercourse for money. Unfortunately, I found that strip clubs were actually more humiliating and less tolerant places to work. They're pickier about "imperfections" like body hair where my clients had always praised my decision to keep my pubic hair/lip ring, the boundaries are constantly being renegotiated, with some customers negotiating quite aggressively, and the whole place was run by creepy men. It was awful.

I went back to prostitution and worked for myself until I had one client say some nasty things to me that made me decide to quit. I worked at a restaurant for a couple of months before I got fired (I can't quite tell if it was for cutting my hair wrong, sleeping with my boss, or not sleeping with my boss anymore). At this point, a desire to not spend the rest of my life in a drug-addled murder-ridden city barely making rent and checking my email at the library spurred me into the decision to move to my current city of residence, where I immediately got back into prostitution (I had showed up in the city with a very negative bank account and had to turn up about two thousand in order to get into my own place and off my friend's couch by the end of the month).

I continued to work as a prostitute in order to pay for my apartment and my classes at a local art school until sometime in the late summer of 2006, at which point I took a break, which turned into a permanent holiday. I coasted on money I'd saved until it ran out. Then I was introduced to my current employer by sheer coincidence.

My current job is not important.

During my time as a prostitute, especially as someone who felt intense economic pressure to go into sex work and intense social pressure to lie about how that felt, I would make a lot of the same statements that young sex workers make to me all the time. I know where these ladies are coming from because I used to live there. I know what I'm talking about because I've done what they do.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

An Introductory Statement

I was recently at a nice local activist house watching a nice British zombie movie with a nice local activist hacker. When the movie was over and we were all more than a little on edge (even me, and I'd seen the movie before) from watching something as masterfully suspenseful and disturbingly violent as 28 Weeks Later, my hacker friend decided to take the edge off with a video game. While the rest of us sat slack-jawed on the couch and tried to reconcile the part of us that enjoyed watching a newly reanimated man poke out his wife's eyes in a fit of zombie rage with the part of us that believes it's wrong to hurt any other living being by wearing their fur, this friend popped in Grand Theft Auto 3.

The funny thing about me and Grand Theft Auto, aside from my having such a strong opinion about it despite the fact that I've only ever played video games a few times in my life, is that I manage to hate it for such different reasons than most people. Sure, there are fundamentalist Christians and pro-censorship jerks out there who think that it should be forbidden for kids to enter into simulated gun wars with cops, but frankly I don't see why it's such a big deal that the main character is shooting at police who are also trying to kill him. That seems like self-defense, or at least a justifiable counter-attack. I'm also not sure what the big deal is about the car theft either, but hey, I don't own a car.

There are two reasons I don't like the game: the glamorized casual violence against innocents that is commonplace in all video games to some degree and the fact that you can pick up female "hookers" and use them to increase your health stats. Number two is definitely my major complaint, and I said as much to the room full of three male and five female activists.

The men didn't have much response, actually, which is predictable. When I called the guy who I guess I'd call "my boyfriend" if I didn't hate that phrase later that night to tell him my story, he didn't seem to know what to say either. I think the opinion of a lot of enlightened and activist men is that they have almost as little right trying to inject themselves into a discussion of the effect that the sex industry has on women as they do to force their opinions on say, abortion, down someone else's throat. Whether or not a woman chooses to engage in sex work is framed as a debate about the choices she makes with her body, not a debate about the societal forces that might have made the decision for her. In my opinion that's a problem.

What was shocking to me was that the women in the room all disagreed with me. One girl snapped at me that street-walking isn't dangerous because "the women take care of each other" and walked out before I could respond. One went to sleep immediately to avoid the argument. One told me that she didn't think it was my right to tell others what was good for them and that I couldn't assume everybody had the same experience of sex work that I did. One spent the next hour volleying back and forth with me and only decided to go to bed when she seemed about to cry but had succeeded in getting me so flustered that I couldn't get out an intelligible response to any of what she was flinging at me.

This woman at one point confessed to me that she is a sex worker, assuming, I guess, that she'd just played her trump card and that I would realize I had no idea what I was talking about and shut up. Unfortunately, I have also been a sex worker. I was, for a while, arguably one of the most popular full-service escorts in my state and the ones surrounding it. My clients were generally very friendly to me or what passes for very friendly. They gave me obscene amounts of money, told me I was beautiful, and liked to snuggle. About ninety percent of them did their best to be better to me than a lover I could pick up in "real life" for the duration of the hour for which they were paying hundreds of dollars. I then moved to New England where I was met with the same treatment, and so it continued up until the very day I quit.

If anybody out there has reasons to feel "positive" about sex work, it's me. The fact that I still don't should tell people something. The fact that while I was a sex worker I constantly, whole-heartedly made the same fallacious arguments that I can so easily tear apart in this book (and the same ones that were made to me that night) should tell people something.

Sex workers often complain of being silenced, but I'd say some of them are doing just fine with their mission to promote a version of feminism that allows men to keep paying to rape women. Honestly, I'm sure our culture finds that a lot more palatable than anything I have to say on the subject, and the fact that books by and about the joys of renting out your physical sovereignty to people who hate you have become so popular and accepted would attest to the fact that prostitutes are being anything but silenced. Prostitutes are being actively promoted, provided they support the violently exploitative system that is capitalistic patriarchy as it currently operates.

When I come down against prostitution, the assumption is that I have never been one, and that's just stupid. The other assumption is that I am some sort of "recovering" prostitute, some born-again Christian or right-winger here to lecture young girls about the evils of all sex everywhere because I equate it with what I was doing for money this time two years ago. That's also stupid. I'm an atheist. I'm a feminist. If you want to know the truth, I'm an anarchist. I believe that women should have total control over their bodies at all times, including the times when they make decisions that I'd disapprove of. I don't believe prostitution should be illegal. (There are very few things I believe should be illegal.)

I don't pity, hate, or blame the women who I know who are prostitutes. I am trying to walk the fine line between telling them that I am concerned for their well-being and telling them what to do. It's a pretty hefty insult to me to say that I'm trying to "tell other women what to do." I think prostitution hurts almost all people almost all of the time, including the people who aren't aware it's hurting them at the time. I should be allowed to say this without it being interpreted as an order to cease and desist. I'm not the boss of you. Hell, you could be some sort of exception and I'd love you to prove to me that you are.

I'm not a prude. I don't hate sex. I just hate exploitation. I'm fond of pointing out that sex work doesn't happen in a vacuum. A world with no patriarchy would be a much different one in which to have an argument about men paying women for sex. It's possible that in this world, I'd have a lot less to complain about. But that world doesn't exist here.

This book is written as a series of questions I have encountered about my beliefs and my past, complete with the answers I either gave or really really wish I had given. The first chapter clarifies my position(s), the second chapter answers some of the basic questions about why I believe even sex work that does not meet our definition of "forced" is still heavily coerced, the third chapter deals with anti-sex work statements I've heard and actually vehemently disagree with, and the fourth chapter discusses ways in which a person can be anti-sex work without being anti-sex-worker.

I want people who disagree with me to read this book. I want men to read this book. (I am making my gentlemanfriend read the rough draft of this book.) I want hate mail from Southern Baptists who get their news from Fox exclusively to frame and put up on my wall next to the hate mail from people who regularly present at the Sex Workers' Art Show. I want men to read this book. I want neo-burlesque artists to read this book. I want my radical friends, my anarchist friends, my Marxist teachers, people who go to Burning Man, my queer and trans-identified friends, and yuppie office workers to read this book. I secretly want my old clients to read this book. I wish my great-grandmother was alive to read this book. I want men to read this book.