Archive
History

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.)

On “the whore stigma,” from Margo St. James, early US sex workers’ rights activist and founder of COYOTE and St. James Infirmary, and Gail Pheterson, author and sex work researcher who coined the term. (Video by Scarlot Harlot, excerpt from “Outlaw Poverty, Not Prostitutes,” 1989.)

Lately I’ve been considering how “slut shaming” grew – unacknowledged – from the experiences and intellectual contributions of sex workers who first identified “whore stigma.” Slut shaming exists now as a critique external to sex worker feminisms and politics, applied mostly by women without sex work experience to describe the loss of social capital they suffer when assumed to be whores. What’s been lost is the centering of people who are marked as whores, in the assumption so common within attempts to resist “slut shaming” that being a whore is the worst thing to happen to you. So long as we cling to that notion of the slut or whore as the ultimate outsider, we reinforce whore stigma. This should be obvious.

Nine years ago, I observed the first vigil of what would become the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. Sex workers, friends, and family from Sex Workers Outreach Project invited us to gather outside San Francisco City Hall. Over the first few years, there were so few of us standing in that circle that we could all make eye contact across its diameter.  (I couldn’t find any media coverage of 2003. The San Francisco Bay Guardian covered the 2011 vigil in San Francisco.)

Here’s a photo that I love from San Francisco in 2008, the last year I lived there. It’s by Steve Rhodes. We had taken the vigil that year to the steps of the police station, then marched in the streets past the Federal building to St. James Infirmary, the sex worker run community clinic.

I first met St. James staff at the vigils in 2003, 2004. I got to go to work there in 2006, and stayed for two years. When I look at the photos from this march, I remember how easily defiant we were – taking the streets, no cops to harass us, unimaginable now. And in many ways, it will feel like how I said good-bye to that community, as someone within it. In a few months, I’d move to New York, retire from sex work, and focus on work as a journalist and writer. From then on, when I went out to cover sex work marches, vigils, and actions, I was greeted first as press. I met people who never knew I did sex work myself. There’s benefits to that, that I hope make me better at the job I do now.

This morning, close to a decade after we first gathered in San Francisco, I woke up to YouTube messages from the Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers, Facebook updates from New Orleans and Providence and Los Angeles, and tweets from a march in Kenya. I read this post from Anarchafeministwhore, hitting that hard note that this day does: fighting violence against sex workers might appeal to people – even people who consider themselves allies – who mostly see sex workers as victims. Will those allies support sex workers who also want to fight violent systems? The police who ignore violence, the social service agencies who stigmatize, the rescue industry concerned more with their own numbers games, the so-called “rights” activists who still see jail as a solution to injustice?

In the industry I’m in now, I know very well that I’m part of one of the many systems that has done tremendous harm to sex workers, who daily publishes the names and addresses of people arrested on suspicion of being sex workers, who helps feed money and public support to the rescue industry without asking enough critical questions, who gets acclaim for doing all of this. So I ask myself questions rooted in values from sex worker communities: How can I take care of myself? How can I find ways to resist? How can I do no harm?

Tonight, people will gather for 2012′s vigils. I’m not sure yet, but I’ll probably be home tonight, observing privately, and writing and listening to this.

Saint Nick Kristof

“…happy hookers, says Kristof, don’t despair, this isn’t about women like you – we don’t really mean to put you out of work. Never mind that shutting down the businesses people in the sex trade depend on for safety and survival only exposes all of them to danger and poverty, no matter how much choice they have. Kristof and the Evangelicals outside the Village Voice succeed only in taking choices away from people who are unlikely to turn up outside the New York Times, demanding that Kristof’s column be taken away from him.

Even if they did, with the platform he’s built for himself as the true expert on sex workers’ lives, men like Kristof can’t be run out of town so easily. There’s always another TED conference, another women’s rights organization eager to hire his expertise. Kristof and those like him, who have made saving women from themselves their pet issue and vocation, are so fixated on the notion that almost no one would ever choose to sell sex that they miss the dull and daily choices that all working people face in the course of making a living. Kristof himself makes good money at this, but to consider sex workers’ equally important economic survival is inconvenient for him.”

That’s from Happy Hookers, my critique, in part, of feminism’s departure into special-white-lady-ism, and a critique made possible by one fundamental text.

Thanks to Bhaskar and Peter over at the Jacobin for working with me on this. And thanks to Sarah Jaffe and Mike Konczal, also, for the late Thursday night thinking-and-drinking that inspired it in the first place.

“Ms. Sprinkle, who hosted a talk with Ms. Stephens at the Museum of Sex last night called “Assuming the Ecosexual Position,” expressed concern that porn is “killing the mountains” by using up so much bandwidth.” – The Golden Girls of Porn,” Rachel Kramer Bussel