It is the province of knowledge to speak, and it is the privilege of wisdom to listen. - Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
Over the past three years I’ve slowly built up a reputation as an activist, and I’m frequently consulted by journalists, academics and even lawyers (those which leave discernible traces online are linked on my “Offsite” page). Better still, a number of activists I truly respect read my blog either frequently or regularly; I hope to meet some of them in person at the Desiree Alliance convention in Las Vegas this July. Last September, I attended the Southern Harm Reduction and Drug Policy Conference in Atlanta, and convention organizer Robert Childs asked me to give guest lectures on two successive days at two branches of Oklahoma State University this April. But all of these venues will be friendly ones; today I’m participating in the Albany Law School’s annual symposium, whose topic this year is “Voiceless Cargo: Human Trafficking and Sex Slavery in the Modern Era”. And though I’m sure everyone will be totally professional, at the same time I’m well aware (as the title of the event alone should tell you) that though the audience may be receptive to some of what I have to say, I honestly don’t expect my fellow panelists to be.
Still, I think it’s important that I be there. The organizers thought highly enough of my work and my opinions to invite me, pay for my airfare to Albany and hotel for two nights, and assemble several hundred law students, faculty and guests to hear what I have to say. And that’s important not because of who I am, but because of what I am: a retired sex worker. Not a prohibitionist shill parroting the typical horror stories, but an established critic of the “trafficking” narrative chosen to present that critical view. Usually, the “sex trafficking” bandwagon just goes rolling along, horns blowing and drums beating, and the voices of real sex workers are drowned out; we are treated as things to be talked about rather than subject-matter experts to be talked to. But this time, the organizers recognized the need for our viewpoint; this time somebody said, “hey, why don’t we find out what at least one real sex worker has to say about all this?” Nor am I being treated as a token; I’ve been invited to contribute a scholarly paper to the law school’s journal along with the other participants, and have even been offered help putting it into the proper format so I don’t end up looking like an idjit.
So even though I’m slightly terrified of the event, and wholly terrified of the flights to and from Albany, I think this is important; I’m wholly aware that I’m not there merely as a representative of Maggie McNeill, but as an ambassadress for my whole profession, and that’s a huge responsibility I do not take lightly. I promise I will do my very best to be sensible and levelheaded and charming, and to voice the concerns of sex workers in general rather than concentrating on mine in particular. So I got my physician to prescribe a strong anti-nausea drug, went out and bought an appropriately legal-looking suit, and flew up here yesterday; I suspect I’ll be awfully tied up today and tomorrow (when I fly home), so if y’all don’t see me “tweeting” or replying to any comments, that’s why. Unless I succumb to brain fever I should be back at my desk on Saturday morning, doing what I usually do. So pray for me, wish me luck, cross your fingers, beam positive vibes or just trust me to do my best (whichever one fits your own belief system or lack thereof), and a week from today (March 7th) I’ll report on how everything went…which I hope will be, in the balance, positive.