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This essay first appeared in Cliterati on July 20th; I have modified it slightly for time references and to fit the format of this blog.

All week long I collect sex-work-related news stories for my Saturday “That Was the Week That Was” news columns, and when I prepare the columns each item is filed under a subtitle which refers back to a previous post.  But as I explained in “Case Study”, “every once in awhile a story comes along which is so interesting, funny, horrible, odd or whatever, that I like to analyze it at length.”  This is one of those stories, and my attention was attracted to it by two things: one, that it was difficult to fit into only one heading; and two, that there’s so much ignorance here one almost has to admire the journalist’s dedication to spreading misinformation.  After all, she could have obtained nearly all the information she needed from the two activists she interviewed; instead, she chose to shove their input to corners of the article and instead concentrate on the pronouncements of a clownish cop and a self-important academic (whom I’ve criticized on several occasions for his dopey assumptions).  Author Jessica Guynn wastes no time, starting off with monumentally dumb statements from the very beginning:

For years, sex workers have been the entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley that no one talks about.  But…the sex industry has been closely linked to boom times in the Bay Area going back to the Gold Rush…

Scott CunninghamThat it’s the San Francisco Bay Area is neither here nor there; every place there are men with money to spend, there will be sex workers for them to spend it on.  Guynn seems to imagine herself an intrepid investigative reporter exposing some hidden scandal; I’m sure she thought it clever to intersperse sentences about the mundane doings of sex workers with those describing recent anti-sex worker pogroms and the overdose death of a Google executive, no doubt hoping the latter two would lend some lurid spice to the rather dry meat of the former.  And even when she’s dealing with basic, easily-checked facts, the “pimps and hos” mythology she learned from cops (or television, or other equally-ill-informed sources) seems to interfere with her ability to transcribe them; when the story first appeared she referred to the screening service Preferred 411 as “Preferred911”, and even in the corrected story she portrays it as an escort service directory (with obligatory scare quotes around the perfectly ordinary word “escort”) rather than what it is, a screening service and ad platform.  I’m sure activist Siouxsie Q (the first source quoted herein) could’ve thoroughly explained P411 to Guynn, but instead she quickly turns to Scott Cunningham, who might actually be able to turn out good research if he’d consult sex workers instead of proceeding from his own wholly-erroneous preconceptions:

Scott Cunningham, an associate professor at Baylor University who studies the economics of prostitution, said the Internet has made the sex trade “extraordinarily efficient,” taking it from the streets and red-light districts to home computers and smartphones.

This is the fundamental flaw in Cunningham’s work:  he believes (and has repeatedly stated) that prior to the internet, the majority of whores worked on the street; all of his studies are based on this fallacy.  Street workers have never been the majority at any point in history, and under criminalized 20th-century conditions they represented 15% or less of American prostitutes.  While it is true that some street workers moved indoors after the advent of the internet, the majority of internet-based escorts are those who used to work in hotels, take out ads in alternative papers or contract with escort services (which largely advertised in phone books).  But Cunningham insists on comparing apples to oranges, resulting in strikingly-wrong statements like, “Before the Internet, clients didn’t know where to find the prostitutes and prostitutes did not know where to find the clients.”  That’s news to me, and to every other sex worker who did quite well in pre-internet times; I can assure Professor Cunningham that my clients had no trouble whatsoever finding me, and the idea that hookers had trouble finding clients seems to proceed from another ridiculous and false assumption:  that clients are only a small subset of all men.

Kyle OkiThe belief in a lost era of woebegone streetwalkers crying plaintively in the night for rare and elusive clients (and its counterpart, the creed of the magical whore-multiplying powers of the internet) is also clearly evident in the statements of Sgt. Kyle Oki of the San Jose Police Department Human Trafficking Task Force (formerly known as the San Jose vice squad), who said “prostitutes are gravitating to the Internet because they can charge clients they find there more money for the same sex acts”.  This is a fine example of the principle of Garbage In, Garbage Out; Oki proceeds from a set of faulty assumptions, and authoritatively states a conclusion which is literally the exact opposite of the truth:  because the internet makes it easier for amateurs to place ads, cheapskates can more easily find cut-rate girls and established ones must either charge less or do more to compete, or else resign themselves to less business.  In other words, contrary to Oki’s blather, most prostitutes find that because of the internet they can charge clients less money for the same sex acts.  In 2000, the going rate in New Orleans was $300 per hour, above the national average; though it’s still possible for an established lady to get that, $300 buys a lot less than it did 14 years ago.  And in some areas (such as Las Vegas and Los Angeles) the bottom has almost dropped out of what was once a very lucrative market.

The rest of the article suffers from the same syndrome that permeates all of prostitution law and much of the public’s conception of sex work:  the fallacious belief that sex is different from all other human activity, and sex work different from all other work.  Would a reporter find the idea that any other entrepreneur had grossed almost $1 million over several years of brisk business remarkable?  Of course not, but somehow it becomes so when the entrepreneur is a sex worker (I also doubt Guynn would use the demeaning word “servicing” to describe the work of a landscaper, chef, masseuse or therapist, but we’ll leave that discussion for another day).  And then there’s this line: “One sex worker [said] she uses credit-card payment processor Square to charge clients…” to which any normal person’s response should be, “So what?”  How many businesses have you run into lately that don’t take credit cards?  Accepting credit cards is not remotely notable, for sex workers or anyone else, and it hasn’t been for at least two decades; the fact that a businesswoman uses a popular payment processor doesn’t make it any more interesting.  But that’s par for the course with mainstream articles on sex work; rather than discuss important issues like sex worker rights, police brutality and how “authorities” use the moral panic around “sex trafficking” to justify massive violations of human rights, reporters prefer to present dry-as-dust details that they portray as somehow shocking because the transaction involves sex, then liberally moisten the mixture with lies, myths and sexual fantasies from self-appointed “experts” who know less about sex work than they do about quantum physics.

Professor Scott Cunningham says these indoor sex workers will have to wait at least another century for their clients to find them.

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“Liberal” and “conservative” have become mere insults for political imbeciles to hurl at each other, nonsense words with about as much meaning as “poopyhead” or “cooties”.  –  “None So Blind

Venetian courtesanThough I made a big change in my procedures this month, it was largely invisible to my readers: given the chance to join my husband in New Orleans for a few days (the first time I had been away overnight since starting the blog), I had at last figured out how to schedule my columns for automatic posting.  Since I usually posted my columns soon after breakfast (between 9:30 and 10:00 Central Time) I set the automatic posting up to that time as well; it wasn’t until the following April that I switched to the fixed 10:01 UTC posting time I use today.  That New Orleans trip spawned “They All Axed for You”, an essay on the Crescent City’s dialects; another one-day trip with two other whores produced “Weird Sisters”.  But aside from those two trips, it was business as usual; August saw the usual Q & A column, a two-part update column, a two-part miscellanea column, and a fictional interlude (“Ghost in the Machine”), The Exorcistbut no harlotography; by this point I was publishing those columns roughly every five weeks rather than once per month, and since “Aspasia” was on July 31st the next installment (“Lulu White”) had to wait until September 3rd.  That allowed it to be a quasi-sequel to “Storyville” one year before; the only August column in that category was “Blackball” (sequel to “Nuisances”).

Tex Avery Wolf“Sex trafficking” hysteria had become a major topic by this time; “The New Victorianism”, “One Size Fits All”, “It Looks Good On Paper”, “Spotlight”, “Crying for Nanny” and “Law of the Instrument” all cover various aspects of it.  But I didn’t ignore other aspects of sex work: the two-part “In Denial” looked at sugar babies; “None So Blind” and “Part of the Picture” bizarre anti-porn rhetoric; “Business Opportunity” anti-stripping hysteria; and “One Born Every Minute” scams targeting sex workers.  “Crying Wolf” and “Inevitability” examined the degeneration of feminism, “Droit du Seigneur” the way cops and politicians Heavy Hand of Justice by Kevin Moorethink they have sexual rights over women, “Saving Them From Themselves” teen sexting hysteria, and “Counterfeit Comfort” the failure of “sex offender” registries to do what they’re supposedly intended to do.

Only four columns escaped easy categorization this month, and three of them describe personal matters:  in “Leaving the Life” I tell the story of my first attempt at retiring from escorting; in “Top Ten” I rank my “top” columns to date in various ways; and in “The Fur Is Flying” I describe a brouhaha between two activists.  The odd man out is “Follow the Leader”, wherein I point out that government actors often do things they would arrest and cage individuals for. Le Droit Du Seigneur by Jules Arsene Gardier (1872)

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purple laptopIf you read Saturday’s TW3 column you already know that within minutes of arriving in Raleigh on the 17th, I was chatting with Rachel Mills on her spreecast, LiberTea.  Rachel and I were introduced by veteran libertarian activist Angela Keaton, and liked each other immediately; she generously offered me her guest room, which made the interview a lot easier since I was already at the studio!  She later mentioned that she was learning photography, and asked if I’d model for her; I of course said yes, and I’ll be sharing some of the other results soon.  FYI, I don’t use glasses to read; I’m nearsighted, not farsighted.  However, I believe in artistic license.

On Monday, my book reading at The Internationalist was rained out; the downpour was, in fact, so heavy that water started coming into the store, but luckily I was wearing sandals so I was able to help out with a mop without risking falling on my arse on a slippery floor.  They were very apologetic, but as I told them nobody can help the weather; besides, as I’ve written before it’s the odd experiences that make a trip memorable, not the ones that go exactly as predicted.  Still, it was nice to get a good book reading in at Flyleaf the next day, and I got to meet two more regular readers.  Eros Guide is currently based in the Raleigh area, so another highlight of my visit was meeting with several members of the staff to discuss not only the work I’ve been doing for them the past few months, but also the future in the current climate of hysteria.  And on a more mundane note:  I’m now back in the South, so I can get sweet tea at restaurants again!

Generally, I haven’t been doing public events on the day I arrive, but that was not so in the Carolinas; I left for Charleston on Thursday morning, knowing I had an event there at 7 PM.  Everything went well, though; I arrived in Charleston exactly on schedule and was delighted to discover that my Priceline-booked hotel was not only on the same street as the restaurant where my Liberty On the Rocks appearance was to be held, but also directly on the route I’d take to Atlanta.  It took me only a few minutes to reach the place, and the group was small but very engaged and highly enthusiastic; it was also one of the quieter venues.  In fact, “quiet” is a good word for my stay in Charleston; on Friday I was able to spend the day catching up from comparatively-hectic Washington and Raleigh-Durham, and getting myself ready for the last two stops before the home stretch.

The tour’s nearly over, but you can still catch me in Tampa or New Orleans; if your city is within a few hours’ drive of those (or between them), you can still send an email asking me to visit, though obviously it’s pretty tight now.  Your request will be more likely to be doable if you can make the arrangements yourself (in other words if it’s your store, club or whatever).

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crazy PhiladelphiaAfter leaving New York City, I expected the drive to Philadelphia to be rather easy…and it would have been, if not for the legendary badness of Pennsylvania highway design and signage.  See how I-276 appears to intersect I-95 there?  Yeah, that’s what I thought, too.  Only it doesn’t; there isn’t even a sign to mark the place they cross, nor any instructions such as “use US 13 to reach I-95″.  If one doesn’t already know how to get from one to the other, one will find oneself west of the city wondering what the hell happened and calling one’s husband for directions.  Furthermore, even those highways which are labelled properly often don’t connect properly; one may have to exit and drive for miles on surface streets (complete with traffic lights) to get from one interstate highway to another it supposedly connects to.  Oh, and please don’t suggest I get a damned GPS unit, either; every time someone uses one of those screwy things to give me directions it takes me miles out of the way through a maze of turns instead of just plotting a direct course; on the day I’m writing this I was literally given GPS directions to a business that led me to a completely different part of town than the one the business actually occupies (fortunately, there was a similar business in the vicinity of the incorrect destination, so I used it instead).

Grumbling aside, I had a good visit to the city; the group at Liberty On the Rocks was undeterred by heavy rain, and we had a lively discussion which was actually joined by a sex worker who just happened to be in the cafe at the time.  On Thursday I drove down to Washington DC, stopping briefly in Baltimore for a TV interview on the local ABC affiliate (I understand it will be part of an investigative series).  From there I went on to Alexandria, Virginia, the Washington suburb where the Woodhull Sexual Freedom Summit was being held; I’ve written my thoughts about the conference in a little more detail for Eros Guide.  While I was there, Cathy Reisenwitz kindly invited me to stay at her place; it turned out to be very conveniently located, a straight shot down one long street to the convention.  I touched base with some activists I already knew, met some folks I hadn’t before (including Melissa Gira Grant and porn performers Nina Hartley and Buck Angel), attended an informal group discussion of Lawrence vs. Texas and similar sexual freedom cases, and even sold a few books before zooming down to Raleigh, North Carolina for a podcast that evening.  The details of that, however, can wait until next week!

The tour’s nearly over, but you can still catch me in Charleston, Atlanta, Tampa or New Orleans; if your city is within a few hours’ drive of those (or between them), you can still send an email asking me to visit, though obviously it’s pretty tight now.  Your request will be more likely to be doable if you can make the arrangements yourself (in other words if it’s your store, club or whatever).

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MEDION DIGITAL CAMERAOn Saturday, August 2nd I drove into the Boston area; hotels in the city itself were so outrageously expensive that I actually stayed a little west of Framingham and, other than on Monday, restricted myself to that area.  Everyone I talked to warned me that the traffic going into Boston would be bad even if I were going in the opposite direction of the commute, so on Monday morning I decided to drive up to Salem for the afternoon and then go into the city from there.  My motive was twofold:  first, the suburbs to the north of Boston are largely residential, so I figured the traffic wouldn’t be as bad inbound from that direction; second, it seemed a shame to come so close to the site of the definitive American witch hunt without visiting it.  Of course, it was very touristy, but that really didn’t bother me; in some ways it reminded me of the French Quarter in New Orleans (another mixture of serious history and tourist traps).  My plan was a success; it took me only half an hour to reach the neighborhood of my speaking venue from Salem, and had I not blundered into a traffic jam by taking the wrong exit I would’ve been an hour earlier than I had planned to be.  Even with the error I arrived an hour before showtime, found a parking place literally across the street and thus had plenty of time to prepare.  The presentation went extremely well; I think it was among the best yet, and the bartender (who had no idea who I was before I got up to speak) was so engaged by the discussion that he bought a book and asked about my website!

Since I had nothing in particular planned for Tuesday, I took that night’s hotel in Providence, Rhode Island and went on a walking tour of H.P. Lovecraft sites on College Hill (yes, this is my idea of fun; you may laugh if you like).  I then checked into my hotel and ate dinner at a little mom-and-pop counter-serve restaurant called Cosmic Pizza and Steak, which I discovered quite by accident.  I’m very glad I did; the prices were very reasonable, the portions large (and delicious) and the people were extremely friendly and welcoming.  The next day I drove over to Hartford, Connecticut, where I planned my approach to New York and had dinner with the blawger known as Gideon.  He and several others suggested I park outside the city and take a train in, and a little research showed me the ideal spot was Metropark in Iselin, New Jersey, which cost me only $9 a day and $20 round trip for the train (and best of all, was on the way to my next stop in Philadelphia).

Manhattan subwaysSome of you may be surprised to hear that this was actually my first trip on a full-scale train; there are no commuter trains in Louisiana, and I’ve never taken a trip on a long-distance passenger train, either.  But that situation was corrected while I was in the city, because I took subways every place I had to go unless it was close enough to walk.  One of Tracy Quan’s friends was kind enough to offer a spare room just off Broadway, and when I went to dinner with Tracy and Melissa Ditmore on Friday evening I decided to walk to the restaurant; it was a lovely day and Manhattan is pretty narrow, so it only took me an hour to get there.  On Saturday I read to a packed house at Bluestockings Books on the lower east side, and answered questions for hours; afterward, I went out with regular reader Susan and another reader who prefers to remain incognito, and didn’t get to bed until almost 3 AM.  Finally, on Sunday I spoke to a group of woman journalists at the home of Jillian Keenan; Tracy was there as well, and with her help I discussed the general awfulness of reporting on the topic of sex work.

I don’t mind admitting that I was very intimidated by New York; I was worried about its size, its population density and its expense.  But a little careful planning and a lot of help from good people negated most of the real issues, and as so often happens the others faded into insignificance once I got to experience the reality rather than focusing on my own preconceptions.  Now that I’m past the most expensive part of the tour I can breathe a bit more easily; however, I still haven’t quite reached my funding goal yet so if you haven’t yet contributed, please consider doing so this week!

Here’s my tour schedule, which is now pretty tight; if your city isn’t on the list, but it’s within a few hours’ drive of another city which is on the list, just send an email asking me to visit.  Your request will have much more impact if you can actually make the arrangements yourself (in other words if it’s your store, club or whatever).

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Pittsburgh skylineThe week after leaving Chicago had a much slower pace, which is probably for the best; if nothing else, I needed a break from driving in heavy traffic before moving on to Boston and New York City.  That’s not to say that driving across Ohio and Pennsylvania was relaxing, however; I’ve driven all over this country, and the highway signage in those two states is absolutely the worst I’ve ever seen.  Street signs are often tiny, badly-placed or entirely absent; many exits have names that seem to have little relationship to the place they exit to; junctions are not clearly marked, and the signs are sometimes placed so that by the time one sees them it’s difficult or impossible to decelerate and exit; and junctions with toll roads usually require exiting onto surface streets in order to connect with the freeway (and vice versa).  New York state’s “let’s number the exits by counting them rather than by the mile marker they fall nearest” strategy is positively sensible in comparison, though I have nothing good to say about the bizarre way that I-87 exits from itself at Albany and the New York State Thruway suddenly changes from I-87 north into I-90 west (if you have no idea what I’m talking about, consider yourself lucky).

The day after I left Chicago I went as far as Cleveland, and moved on to Pittsburgh the next day.  There I had a wonderful visit with Lucy Steigerwald and her mother; they took me to dinner and showed me the sights (including the absolutely gorgeous view of Pittsburgh from the south), then we talked late into the night at their lovely home.  They invited me to spend the night, and had I not already paid for my hotel I certainly would’ve; in fact, given that I got lost for almost an hour on winding rural roads in a thunderstorm, I was kicking myself for not accepting the offer!  Eventually I got where I needed to go (though not without asking directions three separate times) none the worse for wear, and the trouble was nothing in comparison with the wonderful evening which preceded it.  The next day I moved on to central Pennsylvania and had dinner with Mike Siegel; we talked about my work, his work and all manner of other things, and I apologize to Mrs. Siegel if I kept him out too long!

On Tuesday I drove in to Albany, where I had a book reading the next day at The Bookhouse; it was my smallest gig yet, but one of the attendees was an 80-year-old lady who nonetheless wanted to hear what I had to say.  The next two nights I went to dinner with two of my “Angel” patrons;the gentleman who took me out on Thursday also invited two other sex workers, and the gentleman who treated me on Friday turned out to be a lover of comic books and role-playing games, so we traded favorite stories for hours.  So although this week had only one public event, I still found it one of the most rewarding of my whole trip; I got to enjoy four separate evenings of dinner and socializing with some really great, generous, interesting people, and I’ll remember those events long after the details of the more public ones have blurred with time.

Here’s my tour schedule, which is now pretty tight; if your city isn’t on the list, but it’s within about four hours’ drive of another city which is on the list, just send an email asking me to visit.  Your request will have much more impact if you can actually make the arrangements yourself (in other words if it’s your store, club or whatever).

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Lammas 2014

Lammas 2014 by Man Crack
For my fifth year of blogging, I’m starting a new tradition; every sabbat I’ll feature a piece of seasonal art by one of my readers.  This one is by Man Crack; if you like to commission something from her you can email me and I’ll forward it to her.  The next such occasion is the autumnal equinox, September 23rd; this year; if you’d like the job, send me a sample of your work within the next three weeks.  If you prefer a future sabbat (Halloweeen, Yule, etc) you needn’t wait; just let me know your preference.

Blessed Be!

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