Cult of Gracie

Valiant Gnostic Of Sexuality

March 26, 2014
by Gracie
1 Comment

Safety Shoes For Sex Workers

The Aphrodite Project, named for the patron goddess of sex workers, has brought the strategies of sex workers’ past to solving the needs of sex workers today by inventing what can best be described as safety shoes.

The shoes are the work of artist Norene Leddy, and here, in this feature for the Gaze for Days: Screening & Panel, is how she describes the shoes:

Some of the earliest sex workers that would walk the streets, the pornai, wore sandals with tacks in the bottom that spelled out “follow me” to advertise themselves to clients. I wanted to make a contemporary version of these shoes, so I started thinking about sex work and other kinds of shoe hacks that would make sense in the 21st century.

There are now 6 versions of the shoes, each has different modifications and some you can make yourself.

These modifications evolved out of interviews and discussions with current and former sex workers. People didn’t want knives or guns or mace for example, because those things routinely get used against them; instead they just wanted something that would make a really loud noise. The secret compartments are because they get robbed, and can’t go to the police for help; this way they can at least get home and back into their house.
Instructions for making your own Platforms can be found on our DIY site.

Hacks include:

  • An audible alarm system, which makes an incredibly loud noise and can be set off by hitting one shoe against the other

  • A GPS system for tracking the wearer’s location

  • Secret compartments for holding keys, money, condoms

  • Video screens for advertising

More info here.

Aphrodite Project sex worker safety shoes

January 31, 2014
by Gracie

Dear Gloria Steinem, What About Handjobs & Sword Swallowers?

gloria steinemI deeply respect Gloria Steinem. But I am terribly disappointed by remarks she’s made regarding sex work during her recent tour of India.

This publicity tour promotes her latest book, The Essential Gloria Steinem Reader: As if Women Matter, which is said to contain a new essay by Steinem on sex trafficking. I’ve been wanting to read this new article, entitled The Third Way — An End of Trafficking and Prostitution: A Beginning of Mutual Sexuality, but apparently this book is currently only available in India. However, thanks to the wave of publicity Steinem is receiving for this tour, we can gain some insight into just what might be contained in that latest essay.

Those of us hoping for a more evolved way of thinking regarding the world’s oldest profession will join me in disappointment and dismay upon hearing / reading of this report which was published in many places:

Feminist icon Gloria Steinem today described prostitution as “commercial rape” and said it was wrong to term prostitutes as sex workers.

“Prostitution involves body invasion and so it is not like any other work. So how can you call it sex work? Prostitution is the only word you should use,” Steinem told reporters here. It is the circumstances and exploitation which force a woman to take up prostitution, and hence it should be decriminalised. The traffickers instead should be punished. “It is the equivalent of commercial rape and so instead of the prostitutes, the traffickers should be punished and the customers should be educated,” the feminist activist-author said while pointing out that in Sweden and France it has worked.

“When a girl is put into prostitution at the age of 12 or 14, does she have a choice after all” she said while remarking that prostitution was not a profession but oppression.

Never mind that many would vehemently disagree with how well the Nordic model has “worked”, let’s look at Steinem’s fundamental flaws in terms of language and definitions.

“Prostitution involves body invasion and so it is not like any other work.” By this definition, a sword swallower or food taster could be defined as a “prostitute” because that work involves an invasion of the human body; but phone sex operators and many BDSM dungeon workers would not.

There are other odd hairs to split in trying to apply Steinem’s definition of sex work prostitution. For example, are male escorts who penetrate their clients ~ but who are not penetrated themselves ~ free of either label? For that matter, what of a female escort paid to peg a client? What about handjobs, Gloria?

Ms. Steinem, are you sure you aren’t one of those feminists who is confused about the commodification and/or industrialization of sex, as if sex is somehow different than most other things? The commodification and/or industrialization of sex is not “commercial rape.” We already have names for “commercial rape”; they are “rape” and “human trafficking”.

Sex work is not the same as trafficking. Clearly the ages of the girls and boys Steinem lists are not able to consent. Not to sex work, not to many other things. Children and others who do not consent to sex work are not to be included in under the sex work umbrella ~ and they should not be called prostitutes either. These persons should be called slaves.

Yes, there are “circumstances and exploitation” which force women into this type of work ~ as well as force women into all sort of work and situations, hence the need for feminism itself. But when you only make this argument, you are forgetting about the feminist fight for autonomy; a fight which includes the right for women (and men) to make the choice to become sex workers.

Like adults who opt to enter any profession, those who decide to enter sex work know their strengths, their talents, what they like to do, and, factoring in the money they can earn, simply opt for a career in sex work. For some, it is a short-lived occupation; much like professional athletes. For others, being a sex worker is just one of many jobs they have in a lifetime. Others make it a lifetime career. However long we are in it, what we all want is for this work to be as safe as possible. But attitudes and bad definitions like yours get in the way of that.

January 15, 2014
by Gracie

Why Do (Some) Feminists Struggle With The Notion Of Sex Work?

Certainly not all feminists embrace sex work, but the issue is very much one of feminism. Recently, I found this conversation at Tumblr which illustrates a classic feminist conversation about sex work. Because posts often go missing at Tumblr, I’m posting the entire thing (with links) for proper context.

Sounovohomem wrote to Gynocraticgrrl:

i don´t agree with you when you put that porn and prostitution are women problem. nowadays, it is. but if we lived in a equal world (i believe someday we will) it would be a men/women problem. it´s, really, an ethical problem. we should make sex a commoditty? i don´t think so, but i think it´s better to sell your body than robbing. it´s a social problem too. but i think we shouldn´t involve religion our ideology in the discussion, but regulate. forbiding is not the right way. education is import

And Gynocraticgrrl replied:

I think what you’re making of the sex industry debate is you’re assessing feminism and ethics as mutually exclusive, as if feminist theory can in no way incorporate moral philosophy or ethical considerations, which is false. It can and some feminists have. For example, the issue of the commodification of sex is a feminist one, as is the industrialization of sex, i.e.: the porn industry. It’s also a male and female issue which is still a feminist issue because feminism analyzes male/female power-dynamics and how male dominance manifests itself throughout the different spheres of a social structure or within a system. Including a standpoint in activism that includes ethics is important because as with all movements, the ideology is riddled with ideals of right and wrong, such as the promotion of equality, equity and fairness as being right. Feminism is a movement embedded with ethics, one that advocates for the liberation of females from male dominance because the domination of women under men is deemed by feminism as wrong, and this trend continues throughout the sex industry.

I do agree that regulation and education are the most efficient options and tools sex work abolitionists and sex critical feminists have and should use.

Since you both agree that education is important, let me help educate you.

First of all, I find the hair-splitting between porn and prostitution more than annoying. Both are parts of sex work ~ even if many in the adult industry do not want it labeled as such (because that would make their acting equal to prostitution and therefore illegal). I find making class distinctions between the various forms of sex work an unnecessary evil. The only distinction that needs to be made is that of consent; i.e. real sex work vs. slavery. (And even when it comes to the latter, I don’t know why sex slavery is worse than any other kind of slavery; all slavery is horrific and Bad with a capital B.) This leads me to my second point.

When you point out that feminism and ethics are not mutually exclusive, you miss the fact that sex work and ethics are not mutually exclusive either. There are ethics involved in sex work ~ and I mean that in a positive way. Look at discussions of sex work and sex workers and you’ll see people fighting for the rights of sex workers, primarily in the areas of simple basic equality under the law (discrimination which puts sex workers at risk), and also battling against trafficking and slavery of any sort. Yes, sex work is ethical. Where you, and many others, seem to become confused or outraged by the of sex work as unethical is your own misunderstanding and, truthfully, of your own doing .

You complain about the commodification and/or industrialization of sex, as if sex is somehow different than most other things. Sex is a natural and basic human need., sure; but lots of natural and basic human needs are commodified. Food is commodified and industrialized; as is shelter or housing. But in treating sex as somehow “above” these other basic human needs and rights, you’re operating out of romantic notions.

These romantic notions are largely unnatural and culturally imposed. And, yes, you can read that to mean “part of the patriarchy”. The ideas of romantic love as institutionalized in our culture (and others) completely commodifies sex, love, and intimacy (along with housing, labor, property and other things). In marriage, we commodify relationships with promises, negotiated or standard, of sexual commitment, exclusivity, proximity and the like primarily for the production of children and the organized inheritance of property. We make legal agreements, sanction by the government (so long as they are heterosexual, at this time), which allow individuals to trade or barter the stability of sex for familial stability and property ownership under the guise of romantic love. These romantic and legal notions of marriage, sex, and relationships are far more riddled with gender-crippling inequality than sex work is. Marriages based on romantic love are not-so-different than arranged marriages. The only difference is that in romantic-love-based marriages, so-called autonomous marriages, the individuals find and select their own mates.

If you can accept the notion of autonomous marriages, the rights of legal adults to enjoy sex with or without marriage, and the fact that food and shelter are commodities, then why do you struggle so with the notion that these adults have the autonomous right to buy and sell sex?


December 10, 2013
by Gracie

Well-Read On The Subject Of Sex Work

There’s an interesting discussion about sex work at Cato Unbound: A Journal Of Debate. What makes it so special is that it is at Cato Unbound ~ because they know what a good debate is:

Each month, Cato Unbound will present an essay on a big-picture topic by an important thinker. The ideas in that essay will then be tested by the comments and criticism of equally eminent thinkers, each of whom will respond to the month’s lead essay and then to one another. The idea is to create a hub for wide-ranging, open-ended conversation, where ideas will be advanced, challenged, and refined in public view.

The sex work discussion is Cato‘s December Issue, Perverse Incentives: Sex Work & The Law. The issue began with a piece by former sex worker, Maggie McNeill: Treating Sex Work as Work. McNeill’s opening essay was followed by (at present) three response essays: Prostitution as a Legal Institution, by Ronald Weitzer; Prostitution Cannot Be Squared with Human Rights or the Equality of Women, by Dianne Post; and Prostitution is Exploitation by Steven Wagner.

No, you probably won’t like or agree with all the essays; but that’s rather the point in a good debate or discussion. A healthy discussion covers as many sides of the issue as possible. And a healthy debate, while opinionated, is rooted in respect. Since these traits are exhibited in Cato‘s coverage of sex work, all the essays are worthy of a read.  A full read. No matter what side of the issue you are on. In fact, the stronger your stance, the more you should inform yourself on the subject. This is not only true of this subject either.

I know many of you who read here are, or have been, sex workers. Myself included, of course. We consider ourselves to be sex positive feminists who want sex work to be recognized and respected as work. Most of us believe it should be decriminalized, if not completely legal, even if  we often disagree about how best to achieve those things. But often in our conversions on the subject of (and issues surrounding) sex work, it is clear that many hold onto their own experiences at the expense of seeing the larger picture. Just like those who were harmed come out swinging “against” sex work, we let our feelings color and even cloud our willingness to hear from others.

Our personal experiences sure do matter; I’d never say the don’t. But obviously my experiences as a well-educated, middle class, white woman who made the choice to become a pricey escort are vastly different from many other sex workers. And as tempting as it is to raise my voice loud and clear to drown-out tired stereotypes and out-and-out lies alike, I may be as guilty of silencing others as the anti-sex-work-attackers. Most importantly, if I am too busy talking to listen, I will miss hearing and learning from the experiences of others. That’s not right.

People are at their most attractive when there’s a symmetry; that should apply to knowledge as well.

Along with reading the coverage at Cato, there are several good books on the subject of sex work ~ including books by one of the essayists at Cato, Ronald Weitzer. Along with Katherine Frank, Weitzer edited Sex For Sale: Prostitution, Pornography, and the Sex Industry ~ which is now available for rental on your Kindle. Weitzer followed-up that seminal work with Legalizing Prostitution: From Illicit Vice to Lawful Business. Also, due out in January, is Melinda Chateauvert‘s Sex Workers Unite: A History of the Movement from Stonewall to SlutWalk. (Chateauvert also serves on the board of the Leather Archives and Museum and will be a speaker at the 2014 Saints and Sinners Literary Festival.)

Keep up with the news about sex work and information for sex workers that I curate here.

November 22, 2013
by Gracie
1 Comment

“Dumb Sluts Don’t Understand Obama Care”: Myth-Information Regarding Sex Workers & The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act

Well, that’s pretty much what Warner Todd Huston said at Wizbang:

The prostitutes of Nevada’s Bunny Ranch love Obamacare. But if a recent interview with them are any indication, they don’t seem to have a clue what it is all about.

The prostitutes appeared on Reno’s KRNV TV full of praise for Obamacare ladled on as thick as their makeup. At least two of the girls were gushing about how great Obamacare is and how they fully support it.

And then the article continues to make fun of everything from sex worker names to their preexisting conditions. Grrr.

Whatever his problem is, the truth is that Huston really is the ignorant one.  Because while he is busy mocking those women and their work, his longest diatribe is on how these women won’t qualify for the insurance subsidies:

You see, you only get subsidies if you make much less than the average American income (which is just over $50,000 a year).

The official poverty rate for a single person is only $11,500 a year. For a family of four it is only $23,500. Now, Dennis Hoff, the owner of the Bunny Ranch, has said that the Bunny Prostitutes can make $50,000 in a month, much less a year. But even if they did only make the national average they make far too much to qualify for any subsidy as a single person.

So, for all the wonderfulness that is Obamacare, it will cost these girls many thousands more than they think.

Let’s see how great they think Obamacare is when they find out how much it’s going to cost them!

And what he’s stated is simply not true. Here are some facts:

1. Even if you want to believe that Hoff Hof, the brothel owner, actually made that statement (Huston offers no link or source) and that the statement is accurate (and not just braggin’ for his own reasons), there’s that word “can” ~ as in workers at his brothel “can make” that amount. In reality, “can make” is not a statement of fact regarding what all of the women working at the Moonlight Bunny Ranch earn.

2. Huston’s numbers for government subsidies for Obama Care are wrong. According to the official website:

You could be eligible for lower costs on health coverage based on your income and household size. However, you generally won’t qualify if your estimated 2014 income is above:

  • $45,960 for an individual
  • $94,200 for a family of 4

Even if we accept the $50,000 as a ballpark for earnings, these women could still receive subsidies. Especially as we don’t know family size, total family income, etc.

3. One of the whole points of the Affordable Care Act, was to create a more fair insurance marketplace ~ not only by increasing competition and therefore lowering the premiums, but by addressing the sex discrimination. Before this legislation, women often had much higher premiums than men ~ that’s not allowed anymore. The Affordable Care Act is already lowering premiums.

Even if these women should fail to meet the criteria for subsidies, there now is more affordable coverage.

4. These women had no ~ as in zero, zip, nada ~ insurance before. Not only for any existing health conditions, not only for accidents and emergencies, but nothing to cover preventative health care, birth control medications, etc. Health insurance, especially affordable health insurance, beats no health insurance.

Those are the facts.

It should also be noted that in the news story at KRNV, the owner of the Nevada brothel discusses (bemoans) the fact that he may well have to start providing health insurance ~ perhaps not for the sex workers, who are considered independent contractors, but for all of his employees:

But raves for the Affordable Care Act stops with the girls. Brothel owner Dennis Hof is not a fan. He thinks coverage for the girls is good, but he is less than thrilled the new law lumps his seven small and separete businesses together that may require him to provide health care coverage. Hof said; “I have mixed feelings. I’m glad the girls are going to be able to get affordable healthcare coverage but as a businessman, I’m really concerned.” Hof owns seven brothels, a strip club, restuarants and a truck stop. He says each has about 15 employees adding; “There’s one common thread. I’m the sole stockholder but because I’m the owner for all these different businesses, they lump them together.” He said; “What am I going to do? I’m either going to have to spend a lot of money on health insurance because the rates are going up or I’m going to have to face severe penalties, so I’m really perplexed about all of this.”

If Hof would just pay attention, he might note that, because of the Affordable Care Act, insurance rates are not going up. And he should know that unhealthy, stressed, employees hurt his business and cost money.

Know the facts. Get educated; get insured.

November 22, 2013
by Gracie

Do They Know It’s Christmas Time?

There’s a condom shortage in Nairobi ~ and that doesn’t bode well for the anticipated the “crazy month of December with all its decadence and debauchery”. According to the BBC, many sex workers are already having unprotected sex and taking antiretroviral drugs afterwards to cut the infection risk; will there be enough meds to assist?

July 26, 2013
by Gracie

Sex Work Research By Sex Workers

My friend Serpent Libertine, aka The Libertine, aka Libby, has a new project to uncover some truths about the erotic  industry, “as opposed to much of the biased research about the industry that comes from outsiders”.

Our first AIT research project, The Erotic Labor Market Survey, or “ELMS” focuses on human trafficking in the various erotic labor/sex industries and was launched last week. With this survey, we hope to gain more accurate stats on how often trafficking occurs in the industry and whether or not workers, clients, and staff of industry establishments are properly educated on how to respond to trafficking situations when they are confronted with them. This project was our own direct response to the trafficking PSA that we created in 2012. One of the conversations that came out the the writing process of that video was that we create a survey for not just sex workers, but for clients and other industry personnel (staff at strip clubs/escort services/porn companies, etc.) on whether or not the can identify a trafficking victim and how they would respond if they did come across one. As we stated in that video, WE are the ones most likely to come into contact with individuals in coercive situations, yet because of the wall between us and most anti-trafficking organizations and efforts, there is little knowledge and education being done about what to do about it. Additionally, as we know many trafficking statistics are likely to be overinflated, but the only way we can get good accurate data of our own is to do our own research from inside the industry. We are working with the Social Science Research Center at DePaul university on this project who helped us re-write some of the language to get us approved by the Institutional Review Board there. For those not in academia, IRB’s monitor research projects involving human subjects to protect them from physical or psychological harm.