Cult of Gracie

Valiant Gnostic Of Sexuality

June 19, 2014
by Gracie
3 Comments

What (Many) Sex Workers Don’t Want To Talk About

There are things, personal things, many sex workers don’t want to talk about; including me. And that’s a pity. Because it holds the sex worker movement back.

Most cultural shifts regarding unequal persons, such as the civil rights movement and the current positive momentum changing attitudes regarding LGBTQ issues, are arrived by showing the oppressed for what they are: human beings. The sex worker movement has been trying to make a push sex worker rights in terms of human rights and labor rights, by showing the personal plights of sex workers as it pertains to the criminal status of sex work, i.e. the legal system. But there are other issues. Issues which prove the humanity of sex workers by aligning them with “regular folk”, especially women.

Fundamentally, there are two primary reasons why sex workers cannot expose the other human indignities of the people involved: One, sex workers are primarily women and women are not yet equal (which also impacts why sexual commerce is the domain of men); two, sex work involves sex, something our culture is really screwed up about. When you combine them, you get one thing that’s definitely not allowed: the sexual autonomy of women.

This is why it is so disappointing to see so many feminists abandoning sex work as a legitimate feminist issue. The very issues sex workers have in common with women everywhere, such as rape, abortion and even parenting, are such hot buttons that they are difficult enough to discuss by themselves. When you add sex work realities and sex work myths to the mix it becomes even more difficult. Multiply that times 10 when you have to fight your feminist sisters. And it grows even more exponentially when you aren’t a white, privileged, cis female sex worker.

I’ve avoided confessing the following truths for many reasons… Primarily, it’s the difficulty of discussing things which are at once so mythological and so personal. It’s difficult enough to discuss personal, and sometimes painful, things ~ but when you have to defend yourself against being a false data set, an untrue statistic, it becomes such a circular conversation that, well, it’s infuriating. And it’s not only a matter of having had the experiences, but the matter of “when” you had them which carries unfair, unfounded, judgements of its own ~ so much so, that you find yourself defending things and situations which are not even your own.

But since I’ve decided to out myself on the subject of being a rape survivor who has rape fantasies, I’ve decided to break my own silence regarding rape and violence, as well as abortion and parenting, by showing how the myths surrounding these topics are so difficult for many sex workers to discuss.

Rape & Abuse:

If my rape, assault, or other abuse happened prior to my sex work career, then that’s just proof of “damages” that let me to such work. There’s no evidence that sex workers suffer from poor self-esteem or are otherwise “damaged”. That said, if you can find any reputable statistics involving sex work and abuse, and the percentage seems high, just remember that one in three women will experience sexual or physical violence in her lifetime. So, ask the same question in any other predominantly female job, and you’ll likely see percentages that shock and appall there too. It’s just math, really.

If my rape, assault, or other abuse happened during the period of time during which I was actively an escort, the assumption is that I have asked for it simply by being a sex worker. First of all, that’s victim blaming; second, that’s bunk simply because rape is about power, not sex. In fact, that same study mentioned earlier also pointed out that such violence was most likely at the hand of the victim’s partner or other person they know well; i.e., it’s not the strangers, it’s the people we know who are the largest threat. And if it’s not someone in the sex worker’s personal, the violence was most likely at the hands of police or others in positions of power surrounding illegal sex work.

If my rape, assault, or other abuse happened after my escorting career, it was the result of my “damaged” self ~ my poor self-esteem from my previous work had me not properly caring for myself. Again with the victim blaming; again with the inaccurate determination that a sex worker, past or present, is damaged at all.

I’m a survivor of rape, a victim of violence; as a sex worker, was there a “right time” or circumstance?

Abortion:

If I had my abortion before becoming a sex worker, it again leads to the “damaged” theory or otherwise is a sign of my “whorish” moral decay and low self-esteem. For those of you who have had an abortion but are not sex workers, you can multiply the slander you received by 10.

If I had any abortions while on the job as an escort, then “obviously” it was the result of my work ~ and I likely didn’t know who fathered the child. Another sign of victim blaming, in whorephobic style. And one that often lumps unwanted pregnancies in with STDs. Sex workers do use condoms, even if they are used against you by the police; and there other birth control options. No, abortion is not birth control.

If I had any abortions since my escorting days, it’s rather like the “before” option. So see above.

In all cases, like the rape & abuse issue, the percentage of sex workers having an unintended pregnancy and/or abortion are likely more reflective of their gender than anything else. (Interestingly enough, there’s also a 1 in 3 stat about abortion.)

I’ve made the choice to have abortions, as a sex worker, was there a “right time” or circumstance?

Children & Parenting:

If I had any children prior to being a sex worker, that might be an excuse for being a sex worker. You know, I was desperate to take care of my kid/kids. As nice as the “honorable mom hooker” title may seem to those who bestow it, such ideas shutout the idea of choice involved in becoming a sex worker. While better pay & other job issues for women need to be addressed, “desperation” need not be any more a part of becoming a sex worker than it is to become any other kind of worker.

If I had any children while being a sex worker, that is often viewed like the subject of abortion; shades of STDs, victim blaming, and general whorephobia. Having any children while involved in sex work ~ including blogging about sex ~ always inspires controversy. Somehow, it’s a matter that involves child protective services. As if every day is Take Your Kids To Work Day for sex workers. As if other careers not-suitable-for-kids (or even adults), like a bartender or police officer, involve such scrutiny. As if clients want kids around ~ they don’t. Fact: “Studies who virtually no difference between the children of homosexual parents or legal sex worker parents compared to normative heterosexual parents, so the arguments used to limit parental involvement in custody cases often lack merit. The current legislation and custody process does not solely focus on the best interests of the children involved, but instead impose moral biases and stereotypes on parents’ lifestyles.”

Whenever I had my children, the questions are always the same.

First it’s, “Will you tell your children you were a sex worker?” Personally, yes. (If you want more help with that, see Thoughts on deciding whether or not to tell your kids you’re a sex worker.) That answer quickly brings up the second question of, “Would you want your daughter or son involved in sex work?” The truth is, I have no career goals for my children. Like everything else, their lives and choices are their own; I simply want them happy and healthy. But that does bring me to the slow head-shaking “Not really” answer; for until sex workers and sex work itself is respected, those who engage in sex work are not only less safe but live double lives of secrecy that makes life complicated if not isolating. Frankly, this is why I work for sex workers’ rights. Sometimes there is a third question, “Would I be disappointed or angry if they opted, as adults, to enter sex work?” The answer there is, “No; I’m no hypocrite.”

I have wonderful children; as a sex worker, am I allowed?

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
1 Comment

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
3 Comments

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
2 Comments

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
0 comments

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?