This is another repost of an email I sent to the PAR-L listserv, an email discussion list for feminists in Canada. The post I was responding to denied that the continued criminalization of sex work in Sweden had anything to do with the murder of sex worker Petite Jasmine by her ex-husband, who was awarded custody of their children because the woman, as a sex worker, was considered unfit to parent. The post I was responding to was written by a Quebecois translator and “radical feminist”  Nordic Model advocate named Martin Dufresne:
“It’s so much better for prostitutes in Sweden, where they aren’t criminalized, isn’t it?”
I don’t understand the point of Nicole’s [a previous poster who sent out the Rose Alliance’s statement on the murder with the above as the subject line] sarcasm here? Her barb seems to be putting down Sweden’s decriminalization of prostituted women, the point on which feminist abolitionists and sexual libertarians agree in this realm? Attempting to “spin” a woman’s murder in support of a political agenda is always chancy at best. But in this case, it just doesn’t make sense. Ms. Jasmine was murdered in the name of male entitlement, in this case her ex-husband’s feeling of entitlement to her children. How could even *more* male entitlement, that to paid sex on demand and profiting from the sale of women (the current sex-libertarian agenda), be part of the solution? That *is* the issue on which we differ.
Also, Nicole suggests that Ms. Jasmine was necessarily denied justice by Sweden’s child protection system. There is no way we can determine that sight unseen from afar, but how could *less* care and justice (insisting that her living conditions be completely kept out of the psychosocial assessment?) then be part of the solution?
To which I answered (against my better judgement, as usual — it is one of my life goals to stop arguing about prostitution on this listserv):
This, as far as I can tell, is the logic of the Nordic Model at work. While Petite Jasmine herself was “decriminalized,” her life was still criminal in the eyes of the family court, still regulated by criminal law. Though she was not at risk of being jailed, she was still on the wrong side of the law. What I have read on the case says that the family court explicitly cited her “self harm” by doing sex work and sex work advocacy as evidence that she was an unfit parent. Continue reading
Note: This class does not actually exist. I made the syllabus as a sample for a job application (for a job I am not at all qualified for and am unlikely to actually get), and now I’m just showing it off, in “here’s what I would teach” fashion. I cut the boring stuff about assignments and class policies and why you can’t hand your essays in late, so it’s mostly just a reading list. The imaginary class is a third year university labour studies class.
Where the readings are available for free online, I’ve posted links to them. A great many of them are available online, for folks who like to read. I have now found and linked either the original or a very similar replacement for every reading except “The Lone Streetwalker” by Shawna Ferris, which stinks because that’s actually one of my favourite things I’ve read about sex work ever, and “Is Sex Work Queer?” by Corinna McKay. I’ve briefly summarized those two articles.
Of course I am quite open to hearing from other sex workers on what I’ve decided should go into a class like this. One thing I regret — and which I want to think more about how to include — is that there is nothing really practical for sex workers in here. E.g., nothing on how people get into the sex industry, operate various sex businesses, or move on to other jobs.
The textbook for the imaginary class, in which about half of the readings can be found, is Selling Sex: Experience, Advocacy and Research on Sex Work in Canada. Continue reading
I mentioned to a couple of folks that I had used their blogs or posts for a paper, and I promised to post a bibliography when I had one ready. For those who are curious, here it is. It’s far from every blog ever written, but if you want to sift through it, you will find the foundations of a very solid critique of sex-positivity and authenticity in political advocacy, from a pro-decriminalization standpoint. I also read and cited the comments on most of these posts, but cut them from the bibliography for brevity, and I read dozens of other online writings that I just ran out of space to write about — so there is a lot of knowledge that gets produced by the fact of having a community, but it’s not readily documented within the conventions of academic citation.
Here’s the short version, in other people’s words, of the argument in my paper about sex workers’ unhappy stories:
I feel like our culture, as a movement, has come to revolve around either the memoir or the closet, after work in the sex trades. — Sabrina Morgan
From early on, speaking for myself meant straining to somehow fit my experiences and my opinions of my own experience—at times, it felt, of my very self—into one of two dichotomous positions: for or against. — Melissa Petro
I remember when I first got involved in sex worker rights and was a naively impressionable young woman.… I mentioned that I didn’t like sex work myself I was chastised by fellow activists. — Wendy Babcock
And there are a lot of us, more than most folks realize. We frequently stay closeted … partly because we may lack the physical energy or emotional stamina to brazenly insert ourselves into the activist communities that dislike us. — Lori Adorable
It is no longer acceptable to maintain a barrier between conversations about the positive potential of the choice to do transactional sex and the injustices many people face when they do sex work because of circumstance or coercion. To do so is to maintain a class divide that is wide and deep. — Audacia Ray
The truth doesn’t have a sound bite. It’s complex. — Hadil Habiba
In a comment on my last post, I made an analogy to abortion advocacy, based on a paper I read about an activist’s decision to talk about all the “things we cannot say.” Here is that paper, authored by Jeannie Ludlow. It’s a bit thick over the first few pages, but the analysis is worth it, in my opinion. Continue reading
Sex positivity isn’t cutting it
Sure, I see myself reflected in feminist writing about sex work. I come right after “although” and right before a list of stereotype-busting truths about those other sex workers, the ones who like their jobs. As in:
Although some sex workers come from backgrounds of poverty, mental illness or drug use, many sex workers come from the middle class, have post-secondary degrees and choose their work because it offers flexible hours and a high rate of pay, a chance to explore their sexual curiosities, and a challenge to mainstream sexual norms.
That’s not any one person’s writing, of course. It’s more of a patchwork, pulled together from the zillions of sex positive writings on the topic that I’ve read in the course of my sex work activism and degree work.
Late last fall, Audacia Ray published a talk she had given as a blog post, challenging sex positive feminism to develop beyond repeating this statement that sex work can be fun:
During the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s and the sex wars of the 1980s and 1990s, the struggle to define sex positivity with respect to sex work served a purpose. To say that not all people have a horrendous experience of the sex industry, and that many sex workers value sexuality and see themselves as complex sexual beings as well as sex educators was an important statement to make, and one that had not been spoken before. However, it is essential to put this statement in historical context. To continue making the statement that many sex workers have a good experience of the sex industry without also including those whose experiences are negative and making space for them to speak up reveals a deep doubt about the validity of the sex positive argument. If we believe in the positive power of sexuality, we must also examine what happens when people’s lives are infused with sex negativity, and we must listen and support people with this experience in sharing their personal truths.
I’ve been working lately on a conference paper that considers my story about doing sex work alongside those of other not-so-happy hookers, using blog posts from Audacia Ray, Lori Adorable, Melissa Petro, Olive Seraphim, Wendy Babcock, Hadil Habiba and others. It’s been harder than I expected to write—in part because there is so much excellent material in these posts that I want to do justice to, and in part because, even with so many brave and groundbreaking writings to pave the way, I feel afraid to write.
What I found was that I didn’t want to write “my story” into a paper and share it with a bunch of feminist academics. That’s actually a really scary idea, and I can’t imagine why I thought it was a good one. Between my fear of appropriation by abolitionists and my fear of rejection and ridicule by sex positive feminists, I’m paralyzed every time I try to write. I thought I might like it better here, shared with other sex worker bloggers. Continue reading
Graduate students, sex workers: let’s talk. How would you like to get paid hundreds of dollars an hour for doing your boring project that nobody but you will ever read? OR how would you, sex workers, like to get a PhD for sucking cock?
According to abolitionist fearmongers, paradise has arrived. You can have all this and more, if you do sex work research.
Well, except that’s bullshit. But I needed a hook, ok? Because I’m about to get serious.
I try, less than successfully, to ignore the prostitution-related posts that come over the Policy Action Research Listserv (or PAR-L), a listserv for feminist activists, academics, professionals and others in Canada. I might have ignored an abolitionist’s post regarding Julie Bindel’s latest article smearing sex work organizations, except for the fact that the poster highlighted students’ participation in sex work as a concern raised by her paper.
I responded on the listserv about the actual article and post topic — the inclusion of managers in sex worker unions (I’m against) — but the post stuck with me for the rest of the day. Sex workers’ access to education is an important issue, and it disturbs me how casual this attack was. Continue reading
Esta es una traducción de la declaración colectiva del 3 de marzo 2013 de Maggie’s: The Toronto Sex Workers Action Project sobre los derechos de las trabajadoras del sexo de las calles. Estoy aprendiendo del español. Probablemente hay errores en mi tradicción—correcciones son muy bienvenidos!
This is an interpretation of the 3 March 2013 Collective Statement from Maggie’s: The Toronto Sex Workers Action Project about the rights of street-based sex workers. I am a Spanish language-learner, so there are probably many mistakes in my translation—corrections are very welcome!
El original se encuentra en: http://maggiestoronto.ca/press-releases?news_id=99 Continue reading
It’s that time of year again – Sex Workers’ Rights Day is almost here! There are two days each year designed to address sex workers’ second-class status in most of society: on December 17th we mark the International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers, and on March 3rd we mark Sex Workers’ Rights Day.
I’m glad there are two days because what sometimes gets glossed over in the typically-polarized and regularly pointless debates that go on about sex work is that sex workers have needs other than just not being the objects of violence. And when I say debating is pointless, I don’t mean everything about the positions and ideas brought up in debate is pointless, but rather that the debate structure is pointless and most often we get nothing out of “winning.” (To the extent that one even can win against prohibitionist and pro-criminalization allegations of neoliberal sentiment and pimping. I think mostly we just get sucked into giving attention to a lot of assholes, who gleefully waste our time and energy.)
Anyway, I’ve given some thought over the last few years about what rights I would like to see better protected and what protection would count as meaningful. And ima just keep harping on this till the cows come home, because, even with the substantial progress we’ve seen towards decriminalization of prostitution, I don’t think we’ve really seen any action from the state on prostitutes’ rights. (Not all sex workers are prostitutes, so, while much of this applies equally to other forms of sex work, take any of those kinds of abstractions with a grain of salt. I only know what I know.) Continue reading