On the job

It’s official: I just got the domain renewal notice, as reliable a memory trigger as any. I won’t run down the whole first year, but I do have a few remainders to share, items that didn’t get enough attention here (though I may have posted them elsewhere), highlights and high marks I want to carry with me into year two.

I was invited to be a guest on a houseboat named for Nancy Boggs, a madam who kept a floating brothel. Nancy was docked in the Rockaways, and after Sandy, is almost certainly lost.

Over the last weekend in May, I headed up to Montreal (thank you, the indomitable Sarah Jaffe, for making this happen) to witness the massive street protests which had grown out of weeks of student strikes, and in response to their attempted repression.

We learned a whole new set of protest conventions, from casseroles (trading the inescapable mostly-white-people-drums of marches for the simultaneously more familiar and more German industrial sounds of banging the pots and pans from your own kitchen)…

…to the habits of the Anarchopanda, who stands on the front lines of marches with students and cops.

I profiled Anarchopanda and his protest politics for Wired.

By coincidence, that same weekend saw the funeral for Montreal’s red light district, which has been targeted by politicians and developers to be cleared and converted to fancy lofts affordable to no one who currently lives and works there. The protest and procession was led by burlesque performers, sex worker allies, and artists. (And thank you, Seska, for tipping me off.)

In July, I spent almost two weeks on the road, between Washington DC and Dallas. In DC, I covered the International AIDS Conference, the first in the United States in twenty years, for The Nation. Though President Obama lifted the HIV travel ban, effectively allowing the conference back to the US, sex workers and people who use drugs are still not permitted visas to enter the US.

Those who could come from within the United States (no small feat, either, at such an expensive conference) and those who risked being turned away at the border to enter protested the opening of the conference, and took part in a large march to the White House alongside hundreds of other activists fighting the criminalization of people living with AIDS.

I was a guest on Democracy Now, talking in part on the failures of criminalizing sex work, drugs, and HIV. They also highlighted the Sex Workers Freedom Festival in Kolkata, where sex workers held their own satellite AIDS conference.

12 hours after leaving DC, I was on a plane to Dallas to cover Glenn Beck’s rally/revival at Cowboys Stadium, “Restoring Love” for Citizen Radio. I talked socialism with the tailgaters (Glenn Beck Parking Lot!), and overheard revolution at the megachuch. And I met the man who makes Glenn Beck’s custom jeans line.

At the end of August, I took off to Louisiana for a week to visit with friends in New Orleans and with the boyfriend’s family, and I did not write a word.

(I did start reading the first and only book of fiction I read all year, which I still haven’t finished, The Crimson Petal and the White.)

Most of my best end of the year news is still under wraps. Two pieces I’m especially proud of writing this year will come out at the first of 2013. And in December, I was made a contributing editor at Jacobin, whose staff and associates have been a huge critical influence all this year.

Here’s the last – in addition to those above, my favorite pieces that were published in 2012:

Happy Hookers,” for Jacobin tops my own list.

Hey Ho! Backpage Protesters Hit Village Voice on the Hottest Day of the Year,” for The New York Observer/Betabeat, contains the most improbable protest chant of the year.

My explainer on California’s Prop 35 (for RH RealityCheck), one of the harshest new anti-prostitution laws passed this year, was my most widely-read piece of 2012.

Organized Labors’ Newest Heroes: Strippers,” was my first piece for The Atlantic, on the last fifteen years of strip club organizing in the US (and with some of my favorite interviews of the year – Mariko Passion in particular).

I collaborated with photographer Fette Sans on an illustrated story about sex and loss and trains for Abe’s Penny, the remarkable postcard-based literary journal.

ACT UP and Occupy joined up for an action in New York City, marking the 25th anniversary of ACT UP’s Wall Street protest. I reviewed the new documentary on ACT UP, United In Anger, through that action, for Waging Nonviolence.

My only personal essay of the year appeared at Rhizome, reflecting on and documenting a performance project I launched in early 2012, called What Price Love?

The Peoples’ Library of Occupy Wall Street brought a lawsuit against the city of New York over the seizure and destruction of their collection during the November 2011 raid on Zuccotti Park. I spoke with some of the Occupy Librarians and members of their legal team for Truthout.

I lent some historical POV on the backbone of the internet to a Vice/Motherboard documentary Free The Network, on a radical tech project to take back the physical infrastructure of the internet.

When the Village Voice tried to break up with their sex ads (for the second or third time this year?), I demanded we “Socialize Backpage“ for Jacobin.

I wrote for Glamour quite a bit this year, which is really best enjoyed in print and on your lap. Fave: asking men about their kinks, which got a MMF threesome into this venerable ladymag. (Thx also, Ms. M.)

And for “DNA Database for Men Who Pay for Sex?,” for AlterNet, I finally got to interview anti-prostitution darling Melissa Farley. To date, this is the only time I have interviewed someone who called me back the next day, unsolicited, to continue.


I’m finally reading a raft of sex worker memoirs I should have years ago, but didn’t. Those that populate the current pile follow the same arc: good white girls gone wild, took clothes off for money, “explored” their “bad” sides, “learned something.” They represent four decades of personal writing about sex work. They aren’t even all that inaccurate. They’re just more representative of what editors like than what sex work is like.

The book I am waiting for is the one where the author admits that sex work didn’t actually make her “interesting,” or radical, or different. That she crossed no great line.

(image: Sydney Biddle Barrows, “The Mayflower Madam,” for New York Magazine)

The best way to illustrate the antics of NGO “rescuers” seeking to save sex workers from themselves? Thailand’s Empower Foundation turned to the golden age of silent cinema cop drama to explain why these US-backed larks turn their lives upside down.

Laugh now. The State Department’s annual Trafficking In Persons (TIP) report is on its way. TIP scores and ranks countries based on how much they are doing to “combat trafficking,” based on US goals, with the threat of sanctions for non-compliance.

In 2008, the Thai government passed over-broad anti-trafficking legislation, which, as Empower points out (PDF) leads to frequently violent police raids on their homes and workplaces—in much less slapsticky versions of the scene above.

If the aim of anti-trafficking legislation is to restore human rights, then why, in enforcement, do NGO’s rely so heavily on threats of public shaming, violence, confinement, and deportation—all tools of power and control that anti-trafficking campaigners frequently ascribe to “pimps and traffickers”?

NGO-conducted raids to satisfy US metrics on “combatting trafficking” aren’t just confined to Thailand. Much of Southeast Asia has been on the US watchlist at one point or another. Below, a video of an actual raid in Malaysia, filmed by sex workers.

In 2008, Malaysia had been ranked at “Tier 3″ in its 2008 TIP report, the lowest ranking possible for a country. “Rather than address the real labour trafficking issues,” said the Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers, “the government set out to close down the sex industry. Now nearly all brothels in Kuala Lumpur have been shut. Sex workers are forced to work in dangerous and difficult conditions on streets throughout the capital.” In 2009, after the Malaysian government’s anti-sex work campaigns, the US raised Malaysia’s rating in the TIP report to a more favorable “Tier 2.”

It’s been a bummer news week around here. Let’s watch The Happy Hooker, the film adaptation of Xaviera Hollander‘s memoir of the same title, or at least as much as YouTube provides:

The trailer, with a lot of “whacka-whacka” and whipped cream and a German shepherd, and the rare on this side of the 20th century tagline: “It’s the life of a real woman, and a woman tells the truth.”

An uploader describes this as a “Sensitive beautiful lesbian dance.”

The “love theme” was called “Put Yourself In My Hands, Baby”:

Xaviera recorded some dance music herself. This track is from 1984. It’s called “My Faithful Friend,” and it’s about her vibrator:

A little bit Ann Magnuson, right?

Cartagena brothel, Meridith Kohut, NYT

All this slideshow package from the New York Times, “Life Inside a Brothel in Cartagena,” makes me want is to set each photo alongside the home bedroom photo of each worker. Or better, any other woman in Cartagena.