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Archive for the ‘Biography’ Category

Diary #233

I’m slowly getting my head back into the necessary space for catching up on my work, but it hasn’t been easy; Monday and Tuesday last week were largely occupied with car-buying tasks, Wednesday was dominated by shopping and Thursday and Friday involved a lot of long-overdue house cleaning in preparation for company.  One rather nice thing about the latter task is that I keep running into things I had either misplaced or forgotten about, including my long-lost nested screwdriver set, a nice coil of poly rope and a brand-new corset still in the bag from the lingerie shop (and purchased how long ago, I have no idea).  Maybe this will inspire me to clean up more often…but somehow, I doubt it.

Last Tuesday brought me two great pleasures:  the first was being my friend Rachel Mills‘ guest* on the very first episode of her brand-new podcast, Liberty After Dark; the second was discovering (after I got off the phone) a rather large donation from the ever-generous Dan O’Connell, enough to pay the taxes on my touring car and also have it fully checked out and tuned up by my mechanic.  Given that I had depleted my account completely, it was a great relief!  I also received two Christmas presents already; Kevin Wilson sent me The Kingdom (series one) and Daz sent The Omega Factor (which I want to see due to the presence of Louise Jameson, who played one of my favorite companions in Doctor Who).  Some of my readers have gently chided me for letting my Amazon wishlist become depleted; they’ll be glad to know I’ve restocked it a bit.  But if you’d rather not try to figure out which thing to get me for Christmas, a donation to my activist work is always nice!  Just PayPal any amount you like to maggiemcneill@earthlink.net, or you can subscribe using the buttons at right to make small, regular donations.

*I was Rachel’s guest in person when I visited North Carolina; it was she who took the cheesecake pictures I’ve been sharing in this feature lately.

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Diary – Week 232

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo last Tuesday I went to look at that car, which turned out to fit the bill; it was a little more downscale than I wanted but also five years younger than I expected, so I think it was a good trade-off.  I put a down payment on it that day, then paid the rest and took it home yesterday.  It’s in excellent shape, low mileage for its age and has the features I want; it’s also supposed to get 35 MPG, but that remains to be seen when I take it for its first long road trip.  I got it for about 2/3 of the book value, but that still meant draining my business account and throwing in about $200 of my own money; if you’d like to help replace that and pay for the taxes and insurance (or just want to start building up my war chest again), please PayPal any amount you like to maggiemcneill@earthlink.net, and thank you!

On the blogging front, I seem to have pulled out of my slump and I’m catching up again; by the time I go to bed tonight I should have the advance work for next week done, and by Friday night I should have Christmas week all sewn up.  With any luck, I should have the first week of January prepped before Jae gets here for the holidays on the 23rd, and that’s good because I think it’s awfully rude to work too much when one has a guest.  Oh, and speaking of guests: I’m going to be Rachel Mills‘ first one on her new podcast!  We’re recording tonight, and I’ll let you know next week where you can hear it.

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More city business was transacted at Lou’s than at City Hall.  –  Bill Speidel

Since I spent much of last month only a few blocks from the building which once housed her Seattle brothel, and was so welcomed by the city she helped build, it seems fitting that I should pay tribute to the life and legacy of Lou Graham (February 9, 1857 – March 11, 1903), the city’s most famous madam.  As with most whores, there is a great deal of inconsistency and misinformation involved in her story; however, in Graham’s case it mostly surrounds her death rather than her life.

As Thaddeus Russell explains in A Renegade History of the United States, the reason so many western states gave women the right to vote long before the eastern ones (or the country in general) had absolutely nothing to do with high-minded egalitarianism and everything to do with pragmatism and arse-kissing.  You see, frontier populations are always disproportionately male because they tend to lack the sort of amenities “good” women tend to want.  Accordingly, frontier towns fill up with lonely young men desperate for female company and usually possessed of money drawn from whatever industry the town is built on (whether that be mining, trapping, trade or whatever).  Naturally, whores arrive to capitalize on this and so the minority of frontier populations which are female are usually made up largely of working girls.  These ladies soon amass a disproportionate share of the wealth, and madams tend to become fabulously wealthy; in order to win their favor (the better to secure donations and investment in civic projects), city fathers all over the western US granted them suffrage.  Seattle did this on November 23rd, 1883 and almost immediately regretted it; by the time the city had actually granted suffrage, the whores had been outnumbered by recently-arrived “good” women, who immediately repaid the “bad” sisters who had won the vote for them by electing “progressive” prohibitionists to enact new laws (and vigorously enforce old ones) restricting saloons, brothels, gambling and other “vices”.  The result, naturally, was a dramatic loss of tax and license revenue, and by the time women’s suffrage was revoked by judicial fiat in 1887-88 the city’s finances were in shambles.

Lou GrahamEnter Dorothea Georgine Emile Ohben of Germany, a not-especially-beautiful 31-year-old whore gifted with charm, a gift for persuasion and business savvy.  She approached a banker named Jacob Furth, and with his help convinced a number of local businessmen to invest in a truly world-class brothel staffed with beautiful, charming, educated women.  Though the building she purchased (at the corner of Third and Washington) burned down in the Great Seattle Fire of June 6, 1889, she had already made enough money in her first year of business to rebuild immediately in stone; it was, in fact, the first building to re-open after the fire.  Some say that the pleasures of her house were free to government officials, but whether that was true or not it is certain that she had considerable influence on the political class; though the area’s weird aversion to sex was already in evidence and resulted in periodic “vice crackdowns”, these never lasted long and Graham was always back in business practically overnight.  The one instance in which she was actually arrested resulted in the political downfall of Henry White, the “reform” mayor who had presided over the police operation in question.

Unlike some of the other madams I’ve discussed, Graham was far from shortsighted; she fully realized that the political climate might change at any time, resulting in the extinction of her business.  So she invested heavily in the stock market and made a killing; on top of that, she made high-interest loans for business ventures that the city’s conservative bankers would not back, but which her friend and business associate Jacob Furth nevertheless felt were good risks.  Many of the wealthy Seattle families who nowadays support prohibitionism and finger themselves furtively to “sex trafficking” fantasies enjoy fortunes founded on loans drawn from funds paid for sex…in other words, from the “avails of prostitution”.  And that makes them, in the modern view, the descendants of indirect “pimps”.  Indeed, given that a very large and publicly-announced deposit from Graham saved the Puget Sound National Bank (Furth’s institution) from a bank run during the Panic of 1893, it could also be said that everyone who has profited from investment in said bank for the past century was also a beneficiary of the “wages of sin”.

Lou Graham obit Seattle Post-Intelligencer 3-12-1903None of this is controversial, but the end of her life (and its aftermath) is another matter.  After yet another ridiculous “morality” crusade resulted in the closure of her brothel in December 1902, Graham suddenly decided not to bother re-opening in Seattle; she instead took off for San Francisco the following month, apparently intending to start up again there.  Less than two months later she was dead, of causes that have never been adequately explained.  Her obituary listed the cause as a perforated ulcer, possibly aggravated due to nerves brought on by her repeated harassment.  A popular rumor of the time said it was actually suicide, and proponents of the “drug addict whore” and “diseased whore” myths favor the explanations of drug overdose and syphilis, respectively.  Another odd point is that she appears to have died intestate, surely an unlikelihood for a woman so careful with business matters; the Seattle Times reported that there had been a will, but that it was torn to shreds during a violent argument between Lou and Amber Delmas the night before Lou died.  Amber was described as her “housekeeper”, but it seems virtually certain that the two were lesbian partners; Amber had assisted Lou in running her business for years and accompanied her to San Francisco, and the general belief is that the destroyed will originally named Amber’s daughter Ulna as the chief heir.  The daughter soon became the victim of a custody battle between her mother and busybodies who wanted to “rescue” her; the latter won (as they still do today) and the girl was placed in what was described as a “good home”.  Lou’s $200,000 fortune ($5.1 million today) was claimed by relatives from Germany, but a court (perhaps conveniently) ruled against them and instead gave the money to the King County School District; despite this, not one single school was named for her (because obviously sex radiation lasts long after death).  In some ways, the United States was a very different place a century ago, but when it comes to the incredible hypocrisy of politicians (especially Washington politicians) toward sex workers, it seems absolutely nothing has changed at all.

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Diary – Week 231

After all my many travels, I’m home again at last, but it’s been even more difficult this time to get back to the old grind.  When I returned home in September it only took me a few days to get back to work, and within two weeks I had restored my normal lead.  But this time was different; Seattle was such a powerful and transformative experience for me in so many ways that my mind has been busy processing it all, and with the Thanksgiving holiday on top of that I’ve had my hands full just keeping current (much less getting ahead).  Don’t worry, I’m not going to disappoint you; there will still be new columns every day for the foreseeable future.  However, it’s become obvious to me that I need to tweak my procedures a little more so as to free up more time.  In addition to more travel in the coming year and working on a new book (which will be all-new content), I’m going to be spending much more time on behind-the-scenes activism and pursuing a couple of new business ventures; several dear friends have also succeeded in convincing me of the necessity for taking more time out for (*gasp*) myself.  Look for a post in a couple of weeks detailing how it’s going to work, but I’ll tell you right now that it’s nothing more than a slight extension of a process that’s been going on since the beginning of 2012.

My first scheduled trip of the new year will be a return to Seattle to fulfill some commitments I made while there last month; I plan to do this in the touring car I mentioned last week.  So far y’all have given me almost $1000 toward the purchase, and today I’m out looking at a very likely candidate so if you haven’t yet donated and can afford to, please do as soon as you can!  I want to buy it ASAP so there’s no rush in having it checked over and prepared for the trip, which will be in the late winter (or early spring, depending on how you figure it).  Just send whatever amount you like to maggiemcneill@earthlink.net and be sure to note that it’s for the car.  Please be sure to get the address correct; I’ve had a couple of donations go awry due to incorrect addresses.  That’s it for now, but I’ll keep you posted as things develop!

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chicken dinnerI actually wrote last week’s diary entry a few hours before going over to Mistress Matisse‘s house to prepare dinner, because I was pretty sure I would not get back early enough to write it after.  And was I ever right; Matisse, Jae, Savannah and I had a lovely evening I’ll always remember.  To an outside observer it probably wouldn’t have looked all that exciting (except for the nudity, cuddling and horseplay), but when sex worker friends get together there’s a kind of camaraderie that I’ve not generally felt among groups of other adult women; it’s a sense of shared experience, of being denizens of a secret world unknown to the general population.  Perhaps we cleave to each other more tightly because the “good” women of the world reject us; perhaps it’s an outgrowth of the necessity for us to watch each other’s backs.  And perhaps it’s also due to our comfort with displays of affection and intimacy that others would find shameful.  In any case, it was one of those magical nights when everything works out wonderfully, and I hope my next visit is just as grand!

On Tuesday I had lunch with FurryGirl, then in the evening Savannah and I were on a panel discussion with another advocate and three prohibitionists.  If I must say so myself, we wiped the floor with them; our statistics and logical points were answered with collectivism, social engineering, attacks on “patriarchy” and “capitalism” and one panelist repeatedly quoting her grandmother as an authority on Amerind culture.  They seemed to lose most of the audience by about halfway through the event.

I was not at all happy to leave the next morning, but at least my return journey to Chicago was not marred by motion sickness; I accomplished this by taking pseudoephedrine all day and diphenhydramine all night, thought the combination did leave me a bit fuzzy-headed the next day.  At dinner on the second night I was seated next to comics legend Mike Grell, and he and I talked about both his work and mine; I also gave him the very last copy of my book from the stock I took on the tour.  In Chicago*, I had breakfast with Cathryn Berarovitch before boarding my train to Kansas City, on which I discussed sex worker rights for several hours with the young man sitting next to me.  Unfortunately, the last part of the trip left me dizzy, shaky and just short of sick, and I had trouble sleeping in the hotel afterward; I think I may have taken just a bit too much antihistamine medication on the journey.

Though it wasn’t nearly as bad as either flying or the bus ride from Hell, I have come to the conclusion that it’s just not a good idea for me to ride any common carrier.  Driving, on the other hand, works well for me; in addition to avoiding motion sickness it also gives me much greater flexibility.  So I’m planning to buy a dependable late-model used car that gets excellent gas mileage, to use strictly for touring; my preliminary research indicates I should be able to get what I want for approximately $3000.  I’ve already got about a third of that from funds left over from my tour and accumulated from book sales, subscriptions and the like, but if you’d like to help out with this project just PayPal me whatever amount you like and make sure you put a note that it’s to go toward the car fund.

*And speaking of Chicago, here’s the article student organizer Clairemarie LoCicero wrote about the talk I gave at Loyola on the way out to Seattle.

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Diary – Week 229

Princess of Quite-A-LotAs I wrote in my diary entry for Chicago, it’s a good thing I’m polyamorously inclined, because now another city has won my affections!  But if St. Louis seduced me and Chicago swept me off my feet, Seattle grabbed my wrists and had me trussed up in shibari before I could catch my breath.  I’ve been here longer than any other city I visited this year, yet I had absolutely no time to be bored.  On Sunday the 9th, the day after I arrived, I spoke to a packed room at the Foundation for Sex Positive Culture and sold the majority of the books I had left from my tour; the rest went over the next few days, many of them at a party SWOP Seattle held for me the next night.  Two nights last week were spent going to dinner with tour patrons, including the generous gentleman who actually paid for the train tickets to bring me to the city; two others were spent socializing with the incredible sex worker activists who live here, and last weekend was spent more or less quietly (hah!) at the lovely studio flat where my hostess, Jae, had invited me to stay with her.  When she first made me the offer several months ago, she promised to pamper me while I was here, and she was better than her word; I honestly can’t say when I was last spoiled to this degree, if it was even in this lifetime.  A girl could definitely get used to this sort of treatment; if my Seattle friends put her up to it in order to entice me back as soon as possible, they definitely succeeded!

Last night, I demonstrated my gratitude by preparing my famous Southern fried chicken for my closest friends here, and tonight Savannah Sly and I will be participating in a panel discussion organized by (and stacked with) prohibitionists; I have no idea how well that will go, but Mistress Matisse asked me to do it and she’s very persuasive even when she hasn’t got a whip in her hand.  Then on Wednesday afternoon I’m getting back on the train to return home by way of Chicago; I’ve stocked up on diphenhydramine, so I plan to sedate myself soon after dinner both nights of the return trip, thus sleeping through the problematic hours of darkness when I can’t get a sense of motion by looking out the window.  That’s the theory, anyhow; I’ll let you know how it works next week!

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Diary – Week 228

surreal train stationI wish I could declare that train travel was absolutely wonderful, but I’m afraid I can’t do that.  Oh, it was dramatically better for me than plane travel, and substantially better than bus travel, but I still found myself wishing I had driven instead.  The problems started even before I woke up last Wednesday; when I arose I found an email from Amtrak telling me the train was two hours late.  Since I was due to arrive in Chicago at 3:15 PM and speak at 7, this eliminated my time for going to the hotel to check in first.  And by the time I arrived at the station it was worse; we departed three and a half hours late.  My resourceful student contact at Loyola was not worried, though; she changed the time of the event on the Facebook page to 7:30 and came out to the station herself to meet me.  By the time the train finally arrived it was four hours late, and we arrived at the lecture room at 7:45; I began to speak even before removing my cloak and sweater, and fortunately nobody seemed to mind having to wait the extra fifteen minutes.  Of course, by the time I got to the hotel at 11 PM I was famished, having had nothing since 6 AM except a handful of Fritos offered to me by a very nice older gentleman on the train who also insisted on helping me with my bags.

My train troubles were just beginning, however.  The next morning I took more trains to meet Aspasia Bonasera for brunch, and if the Amtrak had been as punctual and smooth-riding as those Chicago commuter trains I wouldn’t be writing about this.  Alas, that was not the case; though I did fine the first day and even wrote tomorrow’s fictional interlude, we kept getting delayed by freight trains and by the time I woke up on Friday we were five and a half hours behind schedule.  I’m a very light sleeper, so I was pretty tired, but I had breakfast with some very nice folks and got a lot of writing done while crossing the vast stretches of North Dakota.  By dinnertime, though, I was starting to feel a bit lightheaded, and the meal didn’t help; I went to bed straight after dinner and woke up about 11 PM with the sure and certain knowledge that I was going to be sick.  The only good thing I can say about it is that, since I’m not afraid of trains as I am of airplanes, I didn’t have the usual panic attacks which invariably accompany airsickness; I was just sick, and reacted with annoyance and frustration rather than the usual little-girl crying and lugubrious moaning which characterize the same condition when experienced at great altitude.  I do, however, think that altitude had something to do with my illness; when I got sick we were crossing Montana and climbing toward the Continental Divide (I think), so I’m willing to bet the lower air pressure and oxygen content pushed me over even though I’d made it through Wisconsin and Minnesota without trouble.  Another issue was that some fool turned the heat up, and though the roomettes can be made warmer they can’t be made cooler; warm air aggravates motion sickness, so as soon as I woke up sweating and kicking off the blanket I was sunk.

By morning there was nothing left in my stomach, but that didn’t stop my body from trying to expel it several times; I could do nothing but lie still all day, watching the scenery pass.  Fortunately, it was exceptionally beautiful; Washington state is lovely, and being able to see where I’m going in daylight goes a long way toward controlling vertigo.  When I arrived I was cheered by the lovely sight of my friend Mistress Matisse, there to pick me up; she soon deposited me at the place I’m staying while here, which is mercifully close to the train station.  My wonderful hostess, Jae, immediately packed me into bed and set about preparing some homemade soup, and when I awoke later in the evening I had a bowl and rebuilt my strength.  The very next night I had a presentation at the Foundation for Sex Positive Culture, but we’ll save that for next week’s diary entry along with the rest of my adventures in Seattle! Empire Builder

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