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Archive for the ‘Biography’ Category

My short break from running around the country is almost over; this Thursday I’ll be departing for New Orleans, where I’ll be speaking on Saturday at the Students for Liberty regional conference along with Thaddeus Russell, Angela Keaton and several other big names.  Then on Monday I’ll be home for just one week before leaving again two weeks from today; on Wednesday, November 5th at 7 PM I’ll be speaking to another chapter of Students for Liberty at Loyola University in Chicago, then on Thursday I’ll get on a train for Seattle.  The day after I arrive, that is Sunday November 9th, I’ll be speaking at the Foundation for Sex Positive Culture at 7 PM, and the next day there’s a private event for SWOP members which I think I’ll enjoy very much.  The rest of my time will probably be spent visiting various individuals I’m friendly with there, and doing things that I may even be able to tell you about.  Or maybe not, depending on whether the other participants give their permission.  I’m still trying to arrange for a visit to Portland, but I’m not sure if that will work out; it seems as though it’s a bad time of year for Portland.  C’est la vie.  Anyway, as things stand now I’m supposed to be back here on the afternoon of the 22nd, but that may be subject to change.

I thank y’all very much for the good thoughts and kind words last week; y’all really did succeed in raising my spirits, and very quickly, too.  I’ll have some more news pretty soon; there are several irons in the fire, and I’ll announce each as it comes ready (or forget about it if it doesn’t pan out).  All I can say for now is that the next year should be very interesting.

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Cat PrayerAs of last Tuesday evening my trains to Chicago and Seattle are paid for; I’ve also booked my hotel room in Kansas City, though I decided to wait a little for Chicago because everything near Union Station was too pricey when I last looked (I’m trying to do this trip on the funds I have left from my fundraiser this summer).  As of right now, the only gig that’s fixed in place is a talk at the Foundation for Sex Positive Culture at 7 PM on Sunday the 9th, the day after I arrive; I expect to hear back from SWOP this week, and then I’ll try to fill in a few private meetings with donors and a few sex workers I know there from online.  Due to a miscommunication about the dates my Portland side-trip is still up in the air, but that should be remedied this week; by next Tuesday I should have the whole trip mostly penciled in just before I leave for New Orleans two days later.  And I’ve even figured out what I’m probably going to do with my internet-less time during the 46-hour trip to Seattle.

I mentioned my leftover donations above, and that reminds me:  if you look at the subscription box on the right, you’ll notice I’ve added text about how to give me a one-time cash gift if you prefer to do that instead of subscribing.  It’s very simple; all you have to do is PayPal whatever amount you like to my email address, maggiemcneill@earthlink.net.  Ta-dah!  I like to keep things simple whenever possible.  But even if your budget won’t allow that sort of thing right now, there’s another way you can help me that won’t cost you a dime.  The pressures of this year seem to have inflicted more stress on me than I bargained for, so I’ve found myself moody and very blue lately and would appreciate your prayers, good thoughts, well-wishing, positive vibrations or whatever the equivalent in your philosophy.  You needn’t worry; these moods do come occasionally and I always get past them.  But I figure a little extra psychic support can’t hurt, even if the effect is only in my own mind…which, since it’s where the problem lies anyhow, seems perfectly reasonable.

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Despite [all], some men stubbornly fight for our rights anyway; I don’t mind saying that I find that sort of obstinacy rather sexy.  –  Maggie McNeill

It’s already getting close to a year since I’ve compiled a list of men who have spoken out for sex worker rights, in defiance of the popular Swedish-flavored narrative which casts sex work as tantamount to rape and a form of male “oppression” of women.  In such a climate, speaking out for sex workers is liable to get one labeled a client or even a “pimp”, so “these days it takes some serious balls for a man to stand up, demand rights for sex workers, and actually sign his real name to the thing.”  Here, then, is another list of male allies; remember, this doesn’t include men who are directly involved in our industry, since it’s as personal for them as it is for us.  It does, however, include clients who have chosen to “out” themselves for the cause.  As before, this is by no means complete; please make any new suggestions in the comments below, so I can include them in a follow-up next year.

Noah Berlatsky is a freelance journalist who writes often about feminism, comic books and “geek” culture; he’s been published in Slate, the Atlantic, Wired and many others, and he has a book on the Golden Age Wonder Woman comics out early next year.  Follow him on Twitter at @hoodedu.

Magnus Betnér is a Swedish comedian who has dared to mock the Swedish model in front of Swedish audiences in Sweden; that automatically qualifies him for this list. Follow him on Twitter at @Magnusbetner;  he tweets in both Swedish and English.

Andy Bodle is a journalist and scriptwriter who has written for the Guardian, the Times, the BBC, and ABC.  He is out about having hired sex workers when he was younger, and has written several times debunking “trafficking” claims and arguing for decriminalization from a harm reduction viewpoint.  Email him at andybodle@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter at @_Womanology_

Felix Clay is not a cat, but rather a writer for the humor site Cracked who not only writes sex-positive articles, but even defended sex work in one where he admitted to hiring an escort (though he denied having sex with her).  Follow him on Twitter at @Felix_Clay

Leonard Fahrni is a regular reader and an instructor at Metro State University in Denver; beside speaking up in person and in a number of blog posts, he also proved hugely helpful to me when I reached Denver on my tour this past June.  Follow him on Twitter at @LeonardFahrni.

Robert King is a professor of applied psychology at University College, Cork, Ireland; he writes the blog Hive Mind at Psychology Today, in which he has on a number of occasions defended the legitimacy of sex work.  Email him at r.king@ucc.ie or follow him on Twitter at @DrRobertKing

Ed Krayewski is an editor at Reason who has, like so many libertarian journalists, consistently supported people’s right to do whatever they damned well please with their own bodies, including sell or buy sex.  Email him at ekrayewski@reason.com or follow him on Twitter at @edkrayewski

Jay Levy is a Cambridge University researcher whose 2012 PhD looked at Swedish prohibitionism as a form of violence against women; he has also written a book on the subject and discusses it in this video.  Email him at j.levy.03@cantab.net.

Nicola Mai is a professor of sociology and migration studies at London Metropolitan University; he not only authored an important study debunking “sex trafficking” myths in the UK, but has also supported decriminalization in both scholarly and popular articles.  Email him at n.mai@londonmet.ac.uk.

Robert Murphy is a well-known libertarian economist who, though he has not written on the subject of decriminalization before, did so after attending my presentation in Nashville back in July.  Email him via this page or follow him on Twitter  @BobMurphyEcon

Jim Norton is a comedian who recently came out as a client and published an article about it (in Time, no less), opening himself to the kind of prohibitionist attack that would cause fainter hearts than his to quail.  I don’t know if he ever reads this blog, but I have it on good authority that he owns an autographed copy of Ladies of the NightEmail him via this page or follow him on Twitter at @JimNorton

Peter Brian Schafer is a photographer and regular reader who strives in his work to portray whores with dignity and respect and to debunk the Madonna/whore dichotomy.  Email him at hookstrapped@gmail.com 

Sam Seder is a comedian, writer, actor, film director, television producer-director, and talk radio host; in the latter capacity, he has debunked ridiculous excuses for the criminalization of sex work and had Melissa Gira Grant as a guest on his show, Majority Report.  Contact him while on the air via this page or follow him on Twitter at @SamSeder

Michael Smerconish is a radio (on Sirius XM) and TV (formerly on MSNBC, now on CNN) personality who has made at least one persuasive on-air defense of prostitution from a harm reduction perspective, also mentioning clients with disabilities.  Follow him on Twitter at @smerconish

If you’d like to be on the next list of this type, just email me with a link to whatever public statements you’ve made about sex worker rights under your real name, and we’ll see about adding you to the next one (don’t be shy; if you don’t tell me, who will?)  In the meantime, keep your eyes peeled for “Stand-Up Guys” in my weekly TW3 column, where I’ll mention guys who come to my attention without having to wait another year.

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I realize that most people wouldn’t struggle with the process of figuring out a way to designate the individual entries of a new recurring feature.  I’m sure many probably wouldn’t bother with it at all; they’d just call this feature “diary” and delineate the individual entries by date (if they gave it even that much thought).  But most people don’t view blogs as monumental projects, either; it takes a special kind of obsessive-compulsive thinking to maintain daily posting of (mostly) full essays for four years, and to insist on a fairly rigid format and schedule.  You want a window into my crazy librarian brain?  Read the intro to “Links and Changes“,  then watch the first video in Sunday-before-last’s Links column.  Anyhow, I’ve decided to just use the blog week number (as explained in “Links and Changes”) and call it good.  This is the second day of the 223rd week (WordPress starts its statistical weeks on Monday) since I’ve had the blog, hence the title.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, here’s an update on my travels.  Everything’s all set for New Orleans the weekend of the 25th, and I know two of the other speakers (Thaddeus Russell and Angela Keaton), so it’ll be fun to visit with them again.  I’m finalizing the details of my Seattle tour, and everything should be paid for by the end of the week; I’m staying with friends there, so the only lodging I’ll have to worry about will be my few days in Portland.  As of right now, here’s what it looks like: I’ll drive to Kansas City on Tuesday, November 4th (it’s the nearest Amtrak hub with halfway-decent connections), then take a train to Chicago on the 5th to speak at Loyola.  On the afternoon of the 6th I’ll depart by train for Seattle, arriving the morning of Saturday the 8th, then around the 12th-15th I’ll do a little side-trip to Portland.  I’ll leave Seattle on Tuesday the 18th, reach Chicago on Thursday the 20th, take the train back to Kansas City on Friday the 21st and drive home on Saturday the 22nd.  I’ll probably have more details on my appearances next week, so if you have any ideas please contact me as soon as you can!

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As I wrote in “Change Is“, most Tuesdays will now be diary columns bringing you up to date on what I did the week before and what I’m about to do in coming weeks.  I also think it will be a good place to share links to podcasts and  embed video interviews I’ve done, to tell you about articles I publish in other venues, and even to thank readers for presents and the like.  That means I’ll be retiring the “Maggie in the Media” and “Presents, Presents, Presents!”  headings from TW3 columns, but the tags will persist to enable location of diary columns with items that would’ve gone under those tags.  I don’t have any media for you this week, but I do need to mention a couple of presents I received in Washington, DC and forgot to mention earlier:  when I met Eddie Cunningham for dinner he gave me copies of Guns, Germs and Steel and The Boat of a Million Years.  Thank you, Eddie, and I apologize for not mentioning your gift earlier!

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been immersed in catching up on work I had to neglect in the last month of the tour; I was so busy with activities and writing new columns for August and early September that I had to neglect correspondence, plus indexing and other blog maintenance, and by the time I got home my normal one-month buffer was entirely gone.  However, you’ll be glad to know that my correspondence is fully caught up, that the buffer was restored by last Saturday, and that the indexing will be fully caught up sometime today; once I bring up the PAQ page and a few other little things I’ll be all done.  Furthermore, you’ll be glad to hear I didn’t have to run myself ragged to do it; my improved procedures are making things easier on several fronts, and that means now that I’m caught up I’ll have time to start working on a few other things.  One of them is increasing my mainstream presence by submitting articles to a few big sites you may have heard of; another is that essay collection I’ve promised y’all for almost two years now, and the other…well, let’s not say too much about it yet.

On the travel front, I’ll be back in New Orleans again the weekend of October 25th to speak at a convention of Students for Liberty, then on November 5th I’ll be speaking to the same organization at Loyola University in Chicago.  The following afternoon I’ll be leaving Chicago by train for my mini-tour to Seattle and Portland; there is no wi-fi on long-distance routes yet, so I will be out of touch all day Friday the 7th, all evening on Thursday the 6th and the morning of Saturday the 8th.  But don’t worry, everything will be set up to go, so those who don’t follow Twitter closely probably won’t even know I’m missing.  I want to get all of my activities for those cities planned before I leave, though, so if you would like me to speak or read anyplace in either Seattle or Portland please let me know by two weeks from today, three weeks at the absolute latest!

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If that preacher man wants me to repent, he better pay me more money.  –  Minnie Rae Simpson

One of the recurring themes of these harlotographies is the difficulty of ascertaining the truth of almost any given detail about the life of any given whore who lived prior to the 20th-century advent of obsessive recordkeeping.  The farther back in history one delves, the harder it is to be sure of dates and other details, and the more biography merges into fiction, legend or even myth.  By the late 19th century we can be reasonably certain of things like birthdates and residences for whores of middle or upper-class birth, but solid facts about those of the working class – especially in the frontier regions of the young United States – can be just as obscure as those of a person born centuries earlier.  Add claims made by the lady herself to entice customers or inflate her reputation, and those made by reporters, biographers and other tall-tale-tellers during her life and after her death, and we have the recipe for a legend as misty as that of King Arthur even if its subject lived well into recent times.

One excellent example of this is the story of Minnie Rae (sometimes called Mary) Simpson, a young San Francisco streetwalker of the 1870s.  According to the popular narrative of her life, she was born in or near Philadelphia in 1860 to a woman known only as Lacey; her father is said to have been a shoe worker who participated in the Great New England Shoemakers’ Strike which began on February 22nd, 1860.  He is supposed to have died en route to California in 1862, either just before or just after the birth of Minnie’s younger brother, Adam.  Lacey claimed a land grant near San Francisco under the Homestead Act and managed to build up a small farm, relying on young Minnie for assistance with her baby brother; however, she died of scarlet fever in 1869, leaving the girl an orphan (it is unknown whether Adam survived).  Without family or even friends in the area, Minnie was forced to provide for herself and did so, as so many others have throughout history, by prostitution; she lived for a time with a Mr. Simpson (from whom she took her surname) and is supposed to have travelled with him the following year to England and Scotland.  There she is said to have met the young J.M. Barrie, who in later years wrote Peter Pan and patterned the character of Wendy after her.

Minnie Rae Simpson in 1871While on this tour she became pregnant, and the only known photograph of her was taken in 1871.  She gave birth to a son (whom she named Bartholomew) the following year; by this point she was no longer with Simpson and lived mostly on the street.  She was a close friend to the notable San Francisco eccentric Emperor Norton, who proclaimed her “The Little Countess”, and the association almost certainly contributed heavily to her fame; during the same time period she gave a series of interviews to a journalist, who turned them into a book entitled My Life as a Child Prostitute: The Autobiography of Minnie Rae.  Given the subject matter, it seems likely that the reason the journalist remained anonymous was to avoid controversy or even accusations of being one of Minnie’s clients.  It was a wise precaution; though the Cult of the Child was not yet in full swing in the US, Minnie’s pragmatic view of prostitution (“I get paid to be a whore.  If I married some farmer, I’d have to do it for free”) and her statements that prostitutes do the work because it’s lucrative and gives them a high degree of freedom, were almost as incendiary then as they would be now.  Only a few copies were ever printed, and these were gathered together by a preacher and burned in 1880, soon after the Emperor Norton’s death.  One copy survived, and was passed down to her descendants by Bartholomew until it, too was lost sometime in the late 20th century; only a few photocopied pages remain.  Minnie herself left San Francisco in 1873 and vanished from history; how Bartholomew knew anything about his mother or gained his copy of her book is entirely unclear, considering he was an infant at the time.  The only other concrete evidence of her existence is Minna Street in San Francisco, named for her by a politician who was one of her clients.

Now, the skeptical reader will no doubt already see a few problems with this narrative; though there are exceptions to every rule, in the late 19th century the average age of menarche in the US was about 14, and conditions such as Minnie lived in would tend to raise the age due to poor nutrition; in other words, getting pregnant at the age of 11 was even less likely in 1871 than it is now, and delivering a healthy baby from such a pregnancy would be unlikelier still.  Furthermore, though she was undoubtedly precocious, her making the kind of splash that she did in the short time she managed it seems to me less like something a 10 or 11-year-old could accomplish, and more like the actions of a bright 14 or 15-year-old with a baby face who realized that lurid narratives sell.  The intelligent, outgoing Minnie was well-known among clients and acquaintances as a tale-teller, and she even boasted that Mark Twain had been inspired by some of her yarns; it seems very likely that she ratcheted her age down a few years for the sake of marketing, but whether she told her clients that age or whether it was something she came up with for a credulous journalist is unknown.  Given that her business is known to have gone up after she got pregnant (an obvious sign of more advanced physical maturity), and that underage whores still to this day exaggerate their back-stories for gullible members of the press, the latter seems far more likely.  One thing I find fascinating is that those who retell her story never find it odd that her birth year is known with such certainty despite the fact that her birthplace, her original surname and any event of her life after 1873 are not; I reckon the wanking fantasy of the pregnant 10-year-old streetwalker is just too juicy to pass up.

sacred chaoLarger-than-life characters tend to live on in the imaginations of others long after their deaths, and Minnie Rae is no exception.  Beside Peter Pan’s Wendy, she was also named a Discordian saint in 2006 (unsurprising, given that the Emperor Norton was a major influence on the philosophy); the Discordians seem to have started a rumor that the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) train system was named after her son Bartholomew.  Minnie believed in reincarnation, and claimed to have been a Babylonian harlot who was mentioned in the Bible; whether she meant Revelation’s “Whore of Babylon” is unknown.  But it seems likely that her belief inspired two modern-day strippers to claim to be Minnie reincarnated; one of them, who went by Fannie Mae, worked in Los Angeles during the ‘90’s. The other, Kitty, worked on Bourbon Street in New Orleans during the ‘50s and ‘60s, knew Lord Omar Khayyam Ravenhurst (one of the founders of Discordianism), and because of that connection (and a tentative one to Jack Ruby) was suspected by Jim Garrison as being connected to the Kennedy assassination conspiracy.  Confused yet?  Read some of the links, and it’ll probably get worse.  But it all goes to show that when dealing with the demimonde, appearances are often more important than reality, and adhering to conventional beliefs about women and girls is foolish at best.

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I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.  –  Tennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire

Maggie speaking at LOTR LA 6-5-14Long-time readers know I’m a creature of habit; I tend to keep a pretty regular schedule of eating, sleeping, bathing, working and everything else, even down to which days of the week I usually work on which features of my blog.  So the announcement of such a long tour must’ve taken many of you by surprise; some of you probably wondered whether I’d be able to complete the ambitious itinerary I set for myself.  For over three months (with the exception of a single week at home around the 4th of July) I totally discarded most of my normal habits to drive from coast to coast, living in hotels or guest rooms and eating restaurant food.  The trip was a litany of firsts:  the first time I had ever spoken to people who specifically came out to see me,  the first time I had tried a number of foods, the first time I was ever in many of these cities (or even states), the first time I had ever traveled so far or so long alone, the first time I ever undertook such a major project without any clear idea of how I was going to pay for it.

And yet, despite there being a number of extremely good reasons why it should never have worked, it did.  I embarked on the tour because it was something I felt had to be done; not only did I want to talk about my book, I also wanted to meet people and talk face-to-face with them about why the War on Whores is a spectacularly awful idea, and why they should care about it.  And so I took a leap of faith; like Blanche Dubois I depended on the kindness of strangers, though I achieved much better results than she did.  From practically the moment I left my home people I did not know helped me to plan my trip, arrange my events, pay for my expenses and get where I needed to be when I needed to be there.  People sent me money, invited me into their homes, fed me, gathered audiences for me, listened to what I had to say, bought my book, encouraged me and went out of their way to assist me when I was sick or lost.  Everywhere I went I was made to feel welcome and important, and I was often treated like a celebrity.  It’s an overused phrase, but the experience really did renew my faith in humanity.

The journey took me from west to east and north to south, through hot weather and cold, across wildernesses to the largest population centers in the country; altogether, I logged almost 13,000 miles.  There were days when I was so busy I barely had time to think, and others in which I had nothing to do but catch up on my blogging.  I had experiences that frightened me or made me very nervous or uncomfortable, and others that were among the best of my whole life; I got sick a few times and made a number of new friends.  I spoke to enthusiastic crowds in packed rooms, and enjoyed quiet one-on-one conversations with individuals.  One of these days I’ll write about the whole thing at length for my memoirs, but for right now I just want to let y’all know what an amazing gift y’all gave me by making the whole thing possible; it was literally a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I’ll be thinking about it and drawing on it for my writing for many years to come.

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