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Posts Tagged ‘stage names’

There were three who always walked with the Lord: Mary, his mother, and her sister, and Magdalene, the one who was called his companion. His sister and his mother and his companion were each a Mary.  –  The Gospel of Philip

Today is the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene, long considered to be either a prostitute or “reformed” prostitute and therefore the subject of special devotion by many Catholic (and Orthodox, and Anglican, and Lutheran) whores.  As I have explained before, there is no canonical evidence for this; the idea seems to date to a sermon  delivered in 591 by Pope Gregory the Great, in which she was identified as a repentant harlot (possibly by identification with the “adulterous woman” whom Jesus rescues from being stoned in the 8th chapter of John).  But the four canonical Gospels are not the only ones:

…among those used by Gnostic congregations (and subsequently excluded from the canon) were four more Gospels:  Thomas, Philip, Mary and Judas, all but the last of which assign a much more prominent role to Mary Magdalene than the four canonical ones; indeed, the Gospel of Mary is actually attributed to her.  These Gospels refer to Mary as Jesus’ “companion” and describe him as loving her more than his other disciples and often kissing her on the mouth…the Gospel of Mary identifies her as the unnamed “disciple Jesus loved” mentioned so often in John…

Pope Gregory may well have been aware of these gospels, and perhaps intentionally conflated the Magdalene with the adulteress as a way of smearing her in a time of increasingly-patriarchal Church practices and increasingly-prudish Church attitudes toward sex.  It is possible that one of the reasons Mary the Harlot caught on so quickly as a mythic figure was that she built upon and supplanted the clearly sexual (though not specifically professional) portrayal in the Gnostic gospels, oral traditions of which could well have survived their suppression two centuries before Gregory’s sermon.  I might even point out that she could well be viewed as a Christianized Venus, just as the Blessed Mother is a Christianized mother-goddess and Jesus himself a Christian solar deity.  The actual biographical facts of the lives of the human beings upon whom the mythic figures are based is of no more importance than whether Buddha could actually perform miracles, King Arthur pulled a sword from a stone or Mohammed flew into heaven on a winged horse; as in the case of Saint Nicholas (the official patron saint of whores), the mythology which has developed around the historical Mary Magdalene has a life of its own independent of the mundane facts.  The process of apotheosis creates a new being separate and distinct from the long-dead person whose name he or she shares, and that being inhabits the irrational realm of faith rather than the rational one of fact.

Simply put, Mary Magdalene the symbol is an entity wholly distinct from Mary Magdalene the first-century Jewish woman, and whether the latter was a whore, wife or mere follower to Yeshua bar Yosef is immaterial to the power of that symbol.  For centuries, the name “Magdalene” has been synonymous with “prostitute” in Christendom; when in the 13th century the idea arose for the first time that whores were “fallen” women in need of “rescue”, the asylums established for the purpose were called “Magdalene homes”.  Though few of these institutions survived the Black Death, the movement was revived in the mid-18th century and the number of such places multiplied with the rise of the “white slavery” myth a century later; though they again died out in most places in the early 20th century, they continued on in Ireland until 1996.  In various parts of the British Isles, the term “Magdalene” became “Maggie”, and applied either to whores in general (in England) or ones confined to Magdalene laundries (in Ireland).  The working girls in a number of folk songs are named “Maggie”, and of course Stephen Crane gave us Maggie:  A Girl of the Streets; some of y’all have probably guessed that I chose the name “Maggie” for a reason, and perhaps noticed that the name “Maggie McNeill” has a similar cadence to “Mary Magdalene”.

So even though I well understand that Mary Magdalene may not have “really” been a member of my profession, I also understand the difference between fact and truth.  The sacred whore may have largely ceased to exist in the mundane world of matter, but she still exists in the human unconscious.  And in the West, it has pleased her for a number of centuries now to work under the stage name Mary Magdalene.

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Last week I published a letter from an exceptional woman:  though she’s a Christian with a strong personal aversion to sex work, she has deeply considered the issues and realized that there are many, many problems in “anti-trafficking” discourse.  After my last letter she wrote again with more good questions, but her letter was so complex that I have separated out the individual questions not only to make this column easier to read, but to protect her privacy by eliminating personal details.  If you haven’t yet read last Wednesday’s column, you really ought to do so before proceeding with today’s.

A friend of mine belongs to an anti-trafficking ministry which gives out gift bags to ladies in brothels and tries to build friendships with them.  The gift bag includes shampoo and sometimes cookies and earrings, and also a packet of tissues, inside which they have slipped a hotline for getting out of prostitution.  Would you personally find such a message with a hotline number insulting?

trafficking soapMost sex workers would probably consider that more funny than insulting, because the idea outsiders have that we’re all “trapped” or “victims” or “slaves” is very amusing when it isn’t backed up by uniformed thugs.  But once the cops start smashing down doors, beating, raping and robbing sex workers before caging them and giving them criminal records that will follow them for life, it goes far beyond mere insult.  The idea that we’re “victims” is a symptom of what you mentioned in your first letter:  the refusal to listen.  It’s kind of like the way gay people are treated in some churches:  “I can’t understand how a man could be attracted to another man, so there must be something wrong with them.”  The old narrative was that sex workers were “bad” women, but over the past 800 years Christianity has slowly shifted toward viewing us as “fallen” creatures to be redeemed, and that became the dominant social discourse in English-speaking countries from the 1880s on (largely due to the influence of the Salvation Army and other groups promoting the “white slavery” hysteria).  After criminalization became the norm in the US (from 1910-1914), people naturally started seeing prostitutes as “criminals”, and that view persisted until the beginning of the present moral panic in 2004 (though several years earlier in Sweden).

I have seen sites that quoted (at least they claim) comments from clients about prostitutes, 95% of which were horrendous.  So why do clients come to you?  Is it really that men who are willing to buy women are often aggressive and do not respect women in general? 

Those “client quotes” are totally cherry-picked.  The idea that men pay good money to spend time with women they hate is about as absurd as anything I can think of; it’s related to the radical feminist notion that all intercourse is rape.  The fact is, I was often treated better by the men who paid me than guys who just dated me, and that’s a very typical experience.  The majority of sex workers’ clients are either horny or lonely, and that’s it.  They’re not looking for women to “objectify” or “abuse”, and the only people who can believe otherwise without being lied to are people who believe the Marxist foolishness that all economic transactions are innately exploitative, or those who believe that all sex not sanctified by marriage (or all heterosexual sex, period) is bad.  The only reason they pick on sex work is that when they try to apply those ideas more universally, most normal people mock, shun or ignore them.  Sex workers have been turned into a pariah caste against whom rhetoric that wouldn’t last five minutes when directed against anyone else, suddenly becomes palatable.  The most common form of prostitution these days is probably GFE escorting, where GFE stands for “girl friend experience”.  In other words, the majority of clients want a girl who is nice and friendly and chatty and sweet, just like a regular date.  Yes, there are bad clients…but that’s true of every business in the world, as anyone with experience in retail or waitressing can tell you.

Do you not mind when a man comes to you only for your body, with no interest in your personality, your soul, your mind, your history?  Although if I must think of sex work as normal work, I suppose it would be as ridiculous as if I asked an office worker, do you not mind that your boss has no interest in your personality etc and that you are reduced as just a working cog in a cooperation.  In an office, ideally you’d find a caring manager who does care about your well-being – and I guess there are clients who are similar?

sex dollAs I explained above, most clients are.  If you talk to sex workers who have had “straight” jobs, you’ll find they usually felt far more objectified in those than in sex work.  People who talk about “bodies to be used” must have a very low opinion of men, to believe that that’s how men see sex.  In fact, one of the most annoying client behaviors is when they go on about “I want to give you pleasure” and “what would you like to do?” and that sort of thing, which many of them do.  We hate it because it makes it much harder to satisfy a customer who won’t say what he wants, but as you can see it’s exactly the opposite of that “objectification” jazz.  When I was an escort I advertised myself as “the thinking man’s companion” because I have a hard time “dumbing down” my conversation and wanted to attract men who liked that…and there were plenty.  You were talking about reviews earlier; you know who gets the worst reviews?  Girls who just lie there like a “body to be used”.  What prohibitionists claim men are looking for, is actually the thing which will probably kill a sex worker’s business faster than anything else.

My anti-trafficking friend never says “prostitute”, but rather “ladies in the sex industry”; she also never gives out their names “in order to protect their confidentiality”.  But if sex work is just work, what difference does the word make?  And why wouldn’t prostitutes want people to know their names?

If sex work were completely accepted, normal and legally protected, I would agree with you that there would be no need for aliases.  But that isn’t the way it is, and it won’t be in our lifetimes.  Your friend is wise to be discreet.  As for the term “prostitute”, it’s a very legalistic word that has acquired  considerable negative baggage.  So while I myself use it because many outsiders with whom I discuss it (especially lawyers & politicians) see it as a neutral term, it is in fact pejorative and should be avoided.  “Sex worker” is considered the most polite term; “prostituted woman” is the most insulting and demeaning because it casts us as passive, inert victims without intellect, will or agency.

I’m uncomfortable saying that sex work should be okay and treated as any other job, but I’m also uncomfortable with criminalization because everyone has the right to choose what they will do and how they want to live their lives.  How do I resolve this conflict?

Now we’re getting into the philosophy of harm reduction, which is quite complicated but here’s the nutshell version.  I personally think cocaine is awful; I hate the way people act when they use it, I hate the way it makes their noses run and their mouths get crusty, I hate the weird fantasies they have when they’re on it.  Eventually I got to the point where I’d refuse clients I knew were using it because I didn’t want to deal with it.  However, the harms that result from cocaine aren’t nearly as bad as those that result from attempting to suppress it, such as the establishment of a surveillance state, empowerment of police to violate civil rights on a massive scale, bloody cartel wars, bad (even fatal) reactions to tainted drugs, the attraction of criminals to the business, the vast waste of money and the highest incarceration rates in history.  I don’t have to like cocaine or approve of its use to recognize that its prohibition is a horrible thing and the wellspring of myriad evils, and you don’t have to like or approve of sex work to have the same view about its prohibition.  And considering that it is the prohibition of sex work that is the chief enabler of coercion, I would think that every moral person who is truly concerned about that would join with the UN, the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and many others in calling for the decriminalization of sex work.

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If anyone is perpetuating prostitution-related violence, it is prohibitionists like Kristof, who insist on maintaining a black market.  –  Jacob Sullum

Out of Control (The Camel’s Nose) Dr. George Doodnaught

A Canadian anesthesiologist convicted of sexually assaulting 21 sedated women during surgeries was sentenced…to 10 years in prison…Dr. George Doodnaught…relied on his three decades of operating room experience to avoid detection…the…victims…gave generally similar accounts of being kissed and fondled by him, and of having his penis placed in their mouths or hands…they were conscious enough to be aware of what was happening, but were not able to move their limbs…

Do As I Say, Not As I Do

A cop is a cop, even when she’s a sex worker:

For years, Philadelphia Police Officer Terra Barrow had a side job running a handful of [sex] websites and phone lines…Barrow said she got into the…industry…to…make [extra] money…Competitor Donna Burns…claims Barrow ripped off her site designs, stole her client database and bullied competitors by telling them she was a cop…Burns also…gave…investigators advertisements that Barrow allegedly placed…as an escort named “Black Barbie.”  Barrow acknowledged she used that nickname in email but [claims she] has never worked as an escort…

Down Under

Neofeminists claim decriminalization has “failed [to protect sex workers] everywhere it’s been tried”.  This is what that “failure” looks like:

A prostitute has won a landmark sexual harassment case against a Wellington brothel owner…the Human Rights Review Tribunal awarded the young woman $25,000 in damages for emotional harm as a result of sexual harassment.  Aaron Montgomery, who no longer owns The Kensington Inn…was described as a bully who enjoyed controlling and humiliating women and tried to pressure workers into having sex with him…

Imaginary Crises

After two decades as one of the few women who dared to challenge the hysteria, it’s nice to have so much more company lately:

…if the risk of sexual assault on campus were truly one in five…no parent in their right mind would send their daughter to coed universities…Chad Hermann…[examined] the reported sexual assault offenses over three years at…the University of Pittsburgh (UP), Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and Duquesne University (DU).  In 2009:  At UP, with 14,800 female students, four sexual assaults were reported.  At CMU, with about 3,900 female students, six sexual assaults were reported (a three-year high).  At DU, with 5,700 females, three were reported.  But wait:  We “know” (we don’t really) that 90% of rapes go unreported!  Okay, Hermann adjusts the numbers to reflect that, giving UP 40 assaults, CMU 60 and DU 30.  Are we at one-in-four yet?  Hardly.  We’re at one-in-185 (average of the three)…Medway victim safely exiting into a police car

It Looks Good On Paper

a BBC investigation  into the policing of prostitution in Medway, Kent showed harm reduction was dangerously disrupted by their aggressive “cleaning up the streets” approach.  In 2009, Kent Police began a scheme…called Safe Exit, supposedly to help women leave the sex trade by offering treatment for drug and alcohol addiction, training and education, and housing…But…instead…the women received a criminal record…Kent Police claimed to have reduced the number of women working on-street by over 90, but…two public servants associated with the scheme…say originally there were only 40-50 women working on-street.  Our sources also told us…that the scheme was a “political PR stunt”…[some of the women were burdened with] ASBOs…and a few ended up in prison…

Law of the Instrument

What at first seems like an arrest mission on a busy Orange County street is actually a rescue mission, as police go undercover to save girls who have become victims of sex trafficking…”  No, actually, it’s an arrest mission.  And if you can handle reading that first one, try this one about nearby Santa Barbara County, in which the agency of female university students and Chinese immigrants is totally denied using the excuse of “Stockholm Syndrome”.

Shifting the Blame (The Beat Goes On)

[James Brown]…was convicted of killing four women in his basement and stuffing their bodies in car trunks after he met them through online escort ads…just days apart, at his home in December 2011…Two were burned beyond recognition when a car was set on fire.  Brown…faces life in prison with no chance for parole…The women who were killed were Renisha Landers, Demesha Hunt, Natasha Curtis and Vernithea McCrary, all in their 20s…

Above the Law Mark Ridley

Three more brave heroes protecting and serving, in Oklahoma:  “…Muskogee police officer…Mark Ridley…was arrested…after allegedly forcing…the woman’s car…off the road, then…[forcing] her to perform oral sex at gunpoint…” and in California:  “Sheriff’s deputy [Damian Marquez repeatedly]…arrested a woman on felony probation ‘for the sole purpose of raping and sexually assaulting’ her at the [City of Industry] sheriff’s station…Xavier Thicklen and in Wisconsin:

[In the early stages of her pregnancy] and twice more after she had her baby, a [female prisoner] was placed in shackles…and raped over and over again, according to reports…Xavier D. Thicklen’s “abuse of his authority went wholly unchecked” by co-defendant Sheriff David A. Clarke, even though at least one of the assaults was caught on camera…Thicklen is charged with five counts of second-degree sexual assault…[and] could be sent to prison for 40 years on each…

First They Came for the Hookers… 

[New York City] has been…targeting…strip clubs by going after their liquor licenses…[after] trumping up charges…some clubs have continued to operate sans alcohol—which does, as a result of other bizarre strip club regulations, have the advantage of allowing dancers to be fully nude…But [alcohol-free clubs are much less popular and]…prohibition also zaps a major source of revenue for both clubs and dancers…

The Course of a Disease (TW3 #30)

Finland has rejected the efforts of its neofeminist “justice” minister to impose the Swedish model, but what they gave her is bad enough:  “…the Ministry of Justice has proposed a tightening of the law, so sex-buyers who should have suspected pimping or trafficking can be sentenced…Justice Minister Anna- Maja Henriksson…[says she is] disappointed and…her goal is still a total ban…”  They are lowering the burden of proof to only one step short of strict liability, but obviously that isn’t enough to satisfy Henriksson’s anti-sex bloodlust.

King of the Hill

Buried beneath the Profession of Faith, agency denial, masturbatory fantasy, and penis-size bragging is the only worthwhile sentence in this crap:  “the FBI [named]…Detroit…as the second largest area for human trafficking in the U.S., with only San Francisco larger…She Rescue is not OK

All the Difference 

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court has charged an Australian filmmaker with hindering the work of a…[“rescue”] organization…James Ricketson…accuses the Brisbane-based Citipointe Church of retaliating against him for his years-long efforts to help a Cambodian family retrieve two daughters from the organization’s She Rescue Home…

The Course of a Disease (TW3 #52)

The same old Labour Party busybodies (with help from like-minded prudes in other parties) are once again trying to impose the Swedish model on the UK, but this time they’re pretending to be a new group inspired by last week’s reprehensible EU vote.  If these people were any more transparent they’d be completely invisible.  Here’s what Tim Worstall had to say about it:

…the “slavery” in prostitution…doesn’t, in this country at least, actually exist.  For we had a plan whereby every single police force in the country went out looking for people who were indeed sex slaves…and…could…not…come up with sufficient evidence to charge anyone at all…What we…have is consenting adults…deciding what to do with their own bodies…

Japanese Prostitution (TW3 #131)

While Japanese politicians work to deny, downplay or excuse their country’s enslavement of tens of thousands of women in wartime brothels

…Japanese-American plaintiffs, served by American megafirm Mayer Brown, are pursuing the agenda of reactionary Japanese politicians through despicable litigation…In 2013 the City of Glendale [California] erected a modest memorial to the comfort women…in a public park…Japanese politicians were enraged and have repeatedly demanded that the memorial be removed.  The…lawsuit…seeks to [accomplish this]…by force of law…

Flush Criminalization

I love it when Jacob Sullum tears into Nick Kristof:

…how should we view armed agents of the state who invite people to engage in peaceful exchange, only to pounce on them with guns and handcuffs?Nicholas Kristof thinks they’re heroes.  Consider…his latest column equating prostitution with “human trafficking”…Kristof…insists “that isn’t prudishness or sanctimony but a strategy to dampen demand.”  This strategy—cops posing as prostitutes—has been a joke and a cliché for as long as I’ve been alive, but Kristof considers it the cutting edge of innovative policing.  If targeting customers is all it takes to eradicate black markets, why do they still exist?…Kristof…calls sting operations “marvels of efficiency”—which they are, assuming you want to produce futile arrests and gratuitous humiliation…

As I reported in December, the “marvel of efficiency” sophomorically entitled “Operation Flush the Johns” hasn’t had much luck convicting any of the accused who didn’t just plead out; they finally got their first one this week.

R.I.P. Petite Jasmine (TW3 #329)

A video by Carol Leigh on the memorials for Petite Jasmine and Dora Özer.

Traffic Jam (TW3 #345)

An excellent article by Molly Crabapple on the vile Project ROSE and its equally-vile founder, Dominique Roe-Sepowitz:

…Project ROSE may seem similar to the many diversion programs in the United States…[but] it doesn’t work with the convicted.  Rather, its raids funnel hundreds of people into the criminal justice system.  Denied access to lawyers, many of these people are coerced into ROSE’s program without being convicted of any crime…Roe-Sepowitz …told Al Jazeera:  “Once you’ve prostituted you can never not have prostituted…Having that many body parts in your body parts, having that many body fluids near you and doing things that are freaky and weird really messes up your ideas of what a relationship looks like, and intimacy”…

Remembrance

Too bad the BBC can’t be this honest and sympathetic about modern clients:

Visiting prostitutes is a little-known and little-discussed aspect of life on the Western Front, but it was a key part of the British soldiers’ war experience…brothel visits [were seen] as a physical necessity – it was an era when sexual abstinence for men was considered harmful to their health…

In other words, a more realistic era.

Traffic Jam (All Traffick, All the Time)

Cuckoo Clock McCain is still at it:

Cindy McCain testified at a [Congressional] hearing…that about 84% of ads for prostitution placed on [New York area] Backpage.com…during the Super Bowl involved women being trafficked…The study was funded by the McCain Institute…and used research from Arizona State University and analysis from Praescient Analytics…

Rich loon McCain hires ethically-bankrupt fanatic Dominique Roe-Sepowitz (that’s who “Arizona State” really is) to use an “analysis” method of her own design, and the “study” finds exactly what the two of them want it to find  despite the fact that it contains nothing resembling either facts or methodology.  What a surprise!

The Public Eye (TW3 #408)

Here’s an excerpt from Melissa Gira Grant’s new book, Playing the Whore, and two more interviews with her; one is with Caty Simon in Tits and Sass and one with Josh Eidelson in Salon.  I’m very pleased to see how much coverage Grant and her book are getting in mainstream publications, especially in this time when most of the media are forehead-deep in prohibitionist lies.

Gorged With Meaning (TW3 #409) Belle Knox

The Duke freshman porn starlet has revealed her photo and stage name: Belle Knox.  And I like her more with every article she writes:

…the Duke Chronicle wrote a somewhat patronizing portrait of me, disguising my name…The question I am asked over and over again is this:  If I am proud of being an adult performer, then why do I “hide” behind this fake name?  Because…my decision to do porn does not somehow mean that the world now “owns” or deserves access to every single thing about me…My birth name is one name…My porn name is another…I can’t stop you from calling me any name you want to — including “slut,” “whore” or “bitch” — but I can decide what name I use…please dissuade yourself right now of the delusion that you control or own me…I am not your child or your property or your Madonna or your whore…

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Natalie wrote…that she was…madly in love with a woman…[who] outstripped all her other loves by a long way.  Rather vexed, I answered: “The best in your life was me! Me! Me!”  –  Liane de Pougy, My Blue Notebooks

Perceptive readers may have noticed that though I share a profession with the subjects of all of my harlotographies, I don’t think I would have gotten along with many of them.  This is especially true of the Grandes Horizontales of La Belle Epoque; while I admire their spunk and envy their income, most of them were possessed of character traits I find irritating or even repulsive:  among these are incredible irresponsibility, the tendency to use people and a pathological affection for falsehood.  Though the former two would probably have caused me greater distress had I known the ladies in person, it is the latter one which annoys me most as a chronicler of whoredom because it makes it almost impossible to declare anything about their lives with certainty, despite what biographers who have never personally known a whore (much less been one) seem to believe.  Case in point Liane de Pougy, whose statements about her exes (and herself) are usually reported as fact despite their conflicting with her earlier statements about the same people.

Liane de Pougy, 1887Anne-Marie Chassaigne was born in La Flèche, France on July 2nd, 1869, the daughter of Pierre and Aimée Chassaigne; like so many others of her time she was educated in a convent, but unlike most of her peers she somehow managed to evade the nuns often enough and well enough to get pregnant at 16.  She eloped with the father, a young naval officer named Armand Pourpe, but predictably the marriage was both short and unhappy; she treated her baby son Marc as though he were a doll, and professed to be disappointed that he was not a girl so she could dress him up and fuss over him more.  When Armand was transferred to Marseilles she remained behind and promptly took a lover, Marquis Charles de MacMahon; when her husband later caught them in flagrante delicto he shot at them but only succeeded in wounding her wrist.  In response she sold her piano, abandoned her son and lit out for Paris on the first train she could catch, changing her name to “Liane” upon arrival.  She later wrote in her memoirs that her husband had “taken her violently on their wedding night”, supposedly traumatizing her; consider, however, that she was already sexually involved with him before they were married, and that this supposed emotional shock didn’t stop her from having sex with someone else as soon as he was over the horizon.  Furthermore, her arch-rival La Belle Otero claimed to have been raped at ten; one must wonder if Liane didn’t invent her marriage-bed ravishment so that she, too, could have a sexual horror story for those who responded to that sort of thing.  She also claimed that her husband was a brute who beat her, and that she had a scar on her breast from one such beating; perhaps, but it also provided a convenient excuse for her infidelity.

In Paris, the 18-year-old Liane immediately set out to become a courtesan, and learned the trade from the highly-respected Countess Valtesse de la Bigne.  Much to her mentor’s annoyance, Liane was bored by intellectual pursuits, but she was simply more attuned to the zeitgeist than the older woman:  it was a time when appearance and style were prized over depth and substance, as evidenced by the fact that, though utterly devoid of any acting talent, she was hired to headline a show at the Folies-Bergere on the basis of the impression she had made while attending the Grand Prix with the Vicomte de Pougy (whose surname she promptly appropriated).  So hopeless was she that Sarah Bernhardt, who had been given the job of teaching her to act, eventually told her, “when on stage, just keep your pretty mouth shut.”  But as with so many others up to the present day, this did not stop her from becoming a wildly popular celebrity; it started on the night of her debut, when she picked up the visiting Prince of Wales as a client.

Liane de Pougy (November 3rd, 1902)The ‘90s were the heyday of Liane’s career and the period of her infamous rivalry with La Belle Otero, played out in the various theaters and the dining room of Maxim’s restaurant, a favorite of the demimonde.  Though Otero became more famous and sought-after than de Pougy by about 1895, Liane was the wiser investor and the more careful bookkeeper, and appears to have had a larger number of less-famous clients compared with Otero’s smaller number of kings and princes.  Both women derived a sizeable secondary income from licensing their images for postcards, as was typical for courtesans of the time; as I have noted before, this period saw the beginning of the modern cult of celebrity, and the Grandes Horizontales were at the center of it.

Like most courtesans, Liane began to opt for longer-term arrangements as she aged; unlike most, not all of hers were with men.  In 1899 the American heiress and writer Natalie Clifford Barney became infatuated with her after seeing her at the Folies-Bergere, and though their lesbian relationship was very intense it was also very short because Barney kept insisting she wanted to “rescue” Liane from prostitution (a notion much more popular in America at that time than in France).  The two continued to have deep feelings for one another, though, and corresponded for the rest of their lives (see epigram).  Never one to miss a moneymaking opportunity, in 1901 Liane published a thinly-fictionalized account of their affair, Sapphic Idyll, which became a runaway bestseller and caused Barney considerable trouble with her straight-laced parents.  She also profited in another way:  when it became known that she was bisexual, she gained a small but profitable upper-class lesbian clientele.

Liane de Pougy in a detail of Une soirée au Pré-Catelan by Henri Gervex (1909)On June 8, 1910 the almost-41 Liane married the notably-younger Prince  Georges Ghika, after which she was called Princess Ghika.  Though neither as rocky nor as short-lived as her first marriage, this one was not without its major difficulties; the first of these came on December 2nd, 1914 when her son Marc, a French pilot in the First World War, was killed in action near Villers-Brettoneux.  Though she had never been close to him, his death precipitated a period of soul-searching in which she turned back to the Church, becoming a lay Dominican sister.  Though this phase did not last long, she remained devout for the rest of her life (though like many Catholics, she ignored sexual prohibitions she found inconvenient).  In 1926 Ghika ran off with a much younger woman, and while Liane’s diaries of the period brand him a pervert (whereas before he was described in glowing terms), the two did not divorce.  She consoled herself with lesbian lovers until he came back to her a few years later, and they remained together until his death in 1945; the latter period was not a happy one, however, and each had a series of extramarital girlfriends.

After his death she re-entered the Dominicans permanently as Sister Anne-Marie, and spent her last five years caring for physically and mentally handicapped children; she died at the Asylum of Saint Agnes in Lausanne,  Switzerland on December 26th, 1950, at the ripe old age of 81.  Her memoirs, My Blue Notebooks, were published posthumously.  Though many who wish to believe in such things have praised the “repentance” for her “sinful” past (most especially her prostitution and lesbianism) she proclaims in this work, the more cynical eye of this harlot sees instead the pièce de résistance of a long series of deceptions.  While her previous writings merely reinterpreted other people in her life, this one reinvented herself; and while the others were only intended to deceive mere mortals, this one was designed to pull the wool over the eyes of God himself.  And no matter what else I feel about her, I have to admire her for that one, grand, final act of chutzpah.

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I wouldn’t have known what I know now if I hadn’t lived the way I have.  –  Kathleen Rockwell

Though there have always been women who made a career of directly accepting money for sex, the majority of those who have taken money for it – perhaps as high as 90% of them – did so casually or infrequently, and never thought of themselves as whores per se.  Indeed, it wasn’t until the 19th century that any woman who had ever done so was judged to be as “fallen” as those who made a career of it and eschewed marriage and domesticity.  But like all new ideas, this one did not catch on everywhere right away; though it was popular in the “social purity” movement and later became the standard definition among American Progressives, many women of the transitional period continued to take money for sex on an irregular and unpredictable basis, leading to considerable controversy among both contemporary and modern bean-counters as to whether or not they were “really” prostitutes.

Klondike Kate, circa 1901Case in point: Kathleen Eloisa Rockwell, born in Junction City, Kansas, in 1873 (though she later claimed 1876).  Her parents had both divorced their spouses to marry each other, then in turn divorced after a move to North Dakota.  By the time Kate was five her mother Martha had again remarried to a wealthy businessman; until she was 15 she lived in a mansion in Spokane, Washington.  But after her stepfather’s business failed the marriage did as well, and Martha dragged Kate off to Chile, where her son from her first marriage was living; on the voyage there Kate accepted a young officer’s proposal of marriage.  Since Martha had entirely failed to grasp that “do as I say, not as I do” is an ineffective parenting strategy, she was aghast; she ended the engagement and upon arrival in Valparaiso enrolled Kate in a convent school.  No sooner had she graduated and started teaching kindergarten than she accepted another proposal, this time from a Spanish diplomatic attaché; she soon ended that one at the insistence of the school’s principal.  In later years, she claimed to have accepted over 100 proposals in her life, and broken all but a few of them; I suggest the reader view this as akin to courtesan’s claims of men committing suicide over them, or modern strippers’ staggering incomes that never seem to translate into actual bank balances.

Only three years after her arrival in Chile, Martha decided to return to New York; she soon asked Kate to join her there, but when she arrived in November of 1892(?) she found that her mother was both broke and too old to attract another rich husband.  Kate supported them both with a number of chorus-girl gigs until an old friend invited her back to work in a vaudeville theater in Spokane; there she not only sang and danced, but also made a cut from drinks customers bought her (it seems likely that her first tricks were picked up there).  When the Klondike gold rush started in the summer of 1897, Kate recognized it as a matchless opportunity; within a year she had put together the money to resettle her mother in Seattle and pay for passage to Canada.  She arrived in Victoria, BC late in the autumn, and discovered that the RCMP would not let women go any farther because the winter was “too dangerous”.  But like any good harlot, she refused to let the arbitrary declarations of cops deter her when there was money to be made; she therefore disguised herself as a boy and sneaked onto a cargo ship headed for Whitehorse, Yukon.

Klondike Kate, circa 1900She worked as a tap-dancer in Whitehorse for most of 1899, then joined the Savoy Theatrical Company when its new theater in Dawson opened in 1900.  Since she stood out in looks, talent and sex appeal from the other girls she soon attracted the attention of Charlie Meadows, who offered her $200 a week (about $5500 today) and star billing at his Palace Grande Theater, where she immediately became a huge hit.  Her show-stopper, the “Flame Dance”, included her twirling a huge swath of red chiffon about while singing and dancing; men threw money at her during the act, and she charged them to dance with her afterwards.  She is also known to have charged for company, but was extremely discreet about it; altogether, she later estimated she made about $500 a week beyond her salary, a total of about $30,000 ($815,000 today) by the end of 1900.  On Christmas Eve she was crowned “Queen of the Yukon” by her fans, and a miner named Johnny Matson (more on him later) fell instantly in love with her.

Unfortunately, she had recently begun a relationship with an ambitious Greek immigrant named Alexander Pantages, a former boxer and current bartender with plans to open a chain of theaters.  They opened the Orpheum together early in 1901, and with Kate as its headliner they were soon rolling in money.  But in the spring of the following year, Pantages realized that the gold was running out and suggested the two of them move to Seattle; Kate did not wish to leave Dawson, so they embarked upon a long-distance relationship.  Even after she finally came back to the US in 1903 or 1904, she wanted to tour while he was stuck in Seattle working on his dream of a theater chain.  While she was performing in Texas, Alex took up with a violinist named Lois Medenhall, whom he married on March 12, 1905; though their relationship had clearly been cooling for a long time Kate was furious and filed a breach-of-promise lawsuit against him in May, seeking the return of the $60,000 she had invested in his theaters plus another $25,000 in damages.  The affair upset her terribly, however, and she started drinking heavily; she settled out of court in April 1906 for a paltry $5,000, then moved to Fairbanks, Alaska, opened a hotel and performed at a nightclub called the Floradora.  Luck was not with her; the uninsured hotel burned down in 1907 and she left Alaska flat broke.

Klondike Kate, circa 1906Since she was only 34, she easily built up another career in vaudeville.  But there was not nearly as much money to be made in Seattle as there had been in the Klondike, and besides she was depressed and drinking; after a knee injury ended her dancing career for good in 1914 she had a nervous breakdown, and left Seattle to open a boarding house in Bend, Oregon (at which some of her boarders seem to have been whores).  Though money was tight, she preferred to do most of the menial work herself rather than sell any of her expensive jewelry; as she later told a biographer, “I can remember the queer looks on the faces of customers, seeing me up to my elbows in soap suds, with a thousand dollars’ worth of diamonds in each ear.”  She eventually built her business into a profitable enough venture to make large donations to the town’s volunteer fire department, but made the mistake of selling it in the early 1920s to start a restaurant in California…which promptly failed so badly she was forced to borrow money from the now-successful Alex Pantages.  The latter’s fortune did not last long after that, however; in 1929 his wife Lois was tried for killing a man while driving drunk, and Alex was charged with raping a young actress.  Though his conviction was overturned after two years in prison, he was financially ruined and died of a heart attack in 1936.

Kate married a cowboy named Floyd Warner in the late ‘20s, but that was over by the time she received a letter from Johnny Matson, who had never stopped loving her; he had read a newspaper account of the Pantages trial (during which Kate had been subpoenaed by the prosecution as a character witness) and decided to look her up again.  In that letter he proposed, and she married him in Victoria, BC on July 14, 1933.  He was still a miner and very solicitous of her welfare, so he insisted she spend the winters in Oregon rather than at his remote claim.  During this time she began to be invited to appear at miner’s reunions in Portland, and spent her winters training young Hollywood actresses in vaudeville techniques.  They lived happily this way until the winter of 1946, when she was notified that Matson had been found dead in the woods miles from his cabin.  Two years later she married another old admirer, an Oregon accountant named W. L. Van Duren, and was still with him when she died at the age of 83 on February 21, 1957.  Though she is not well-known in most of the US, she is still remembered fondly in Alaska and Oregon; in the former as the glamorous showgirl of her youth, and in the latter as the generous civic benefactress of her later years.  And despite what moralists like to believe, they were one and the same woman.

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Mountains are the same as in the old times,
But streams are never the same;
They keep flowing day and night,
So they can not be the same.
The men of fame are like the streams;
Once gone, they never return.
  –  Hwang Jini

My column on the kisaeng, theHwang Jin Yi movie poster Korean equivalent of geisha, opened with a sijo poem by Hwang Jini, the most famous and beloved of her profession.  In recent years, she has essentially become the archetypal kisaeng, and as in the case of Western courtesans her life has provided the inspiration for novels, a television show  and a movie; of course, these fictional treatments are considerably embellished and dramatized, and it’s difficult to tell history from folk legend from deliberate “improvement”.  In this case, the task is further complicated by the dearth of English-language sources on the subject, but there is still enough to enable a sketch of a most unconventional woman of almost superhuman charisma who made her own way in a society where that was simply not allowed.  Hwang Jini’s extraordinary presence and strength of will is a large part of why modern Korean women find her so fascinating; she is a splendid example of what I call an archeofeminist, a woman who uses her femininity to advantage rather than rejecting it.

She was born about 1506 in Kaesong, which lies in what is now North Korea.  Her mother, Chin Hyungeum, was of the cheonmin caste, but her exact profession is unknown; some sources say she was a kisaeng herself, though this seems unlikely given her poverty.  She was, however, extraordinarily beautiful, and attracted the attention of a young yangban (nobleman) named Hwang Chinsa, who took her as a mistress for a time.  They had one daughter, Jini, who from a very early age was recognized as exceptional both in beauty and in musical skill; it is said that she made the decision to become a kisaeng after a young man killed himself or pined away over her, and she realized such powerful appeal would win her fortune.  Now, it is very likely that the decision to send her to a kisaeng house was actually her mother’s; training started very early (sometimes as young as eight), so it hardly seems credible that she was already breaking hearts and making major life-decisions at such a tender age.  However, the very fact that the legend portrays her as choosing her own destiny demonstrates the strength of the impression she made on people.

In Jini’s day, Confucianism was still solidifying its hold on the upper class, and different schools of thought were still vying for control.  Though the kisaeng were technically of slave status, the government did not claim ownership of them until almost a century after her death; she therefore enjoyed a freedom later generations of kisaeng were denied.  After her training was complete she set out to earn a living, taking up almost immediately with a gibu named Yi Saeng.  Though some gibu were jealous or behaved pimpishly, this does not seem to have been the case with Yi Saeng, who appears to have been almost a father-figure to her.  The two took a long sightseeing trip to Mount Kumgang, with Jini (who by then was using her stage name, Myeongwol [“Bright Moon”]) obtaining their needs via casual prostitution.  This story illustrates several important points about her character: first, her ability even at so young an age (she was probably about 15 then) to deal with men as an equal, the hallmark of all great courtesans; second, her willingness to use her sexuality to obtain what she wanted; and third, her total lack of artificiality.  The latter was her most striking characteristic: she spoke her mind freely, with little of the formality which was the norm in Korean society; she generally went without makeup at a time when most kisaeng painted their faces elaborately; and she often dressed attractively but plainly, with very little jewelry.

Hwang Jini (portrait from Korean textbook, c. 1910)But her beauty, personality, intelligence, musical talent and skill at poetry allowed her to seduce men almost without conscious effort, and when she actually applied herself she was practically an irresistible force.  One of her conquests was a misogynistic government official named So Seyang, who bragged he would keep her for a month and then dismiss her without regret; at the end of the time he begged her to stay and she refused, composing a poem to tell him goodbye.  Another of her famous clients was a noted musician named Yi Sajong, with whom she is said to have lived for six years; given the extremely short professional lives of the kisaeng, this was presumably in her thirties, after she had made her fortune.  And a fortune it was; though it could not compare with the wealth of a yangban or even that of a successful European courtesan of her time, it was more than enough to support her in comfort until her death in 1560.  One of the reasons for this success was her ability to deal with men in a completely unsentimental manner, which allowed her to always pursue the most lucrative arrangement available without hesitation or regret; this has been romantically explained as the result of a tragic love affair in her youth resulting in an inability to fall in love again, but that is almost certainly a mere fiction invented by male biographers unable or unwilling to grasp just how pragmatic a whore can be.

There was only one man in her life who seemed to rise above the level of friend or valued client, and that was the philosopher Seo Kyung Duk, under whom she studied for a time.  He was the only man said to have been impervious to her charms, and though she may have at first viewed him as a challenge she eventually came to admire his strength and steadfastness:  she is known to have described him as one of the “three wonders of Kaesong”, the other two being the Pakyon Falls and herself (modesty was clearly not among her virtues).  Though she left her home at a young age, she returned for a number of visits over the years; it was a place of great natural beauty, and her appreciation for such is demonstrated not only in her poetry and her trip to Mount Kumgang (at a time when she could have been occupied far more productively), but also in the fact that she asked to be buried in a simple grave on a riverbank in Kaesong.  She wished to die in the same way she had lived:  practically, honestly, and without the ceremony and pretense which was the norm in her society.

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All prostitution laws are conceived as methods to control women who, before ideas of victimhood took hold, were understood to be powerful, dangerous figures associated with rebellion, revolt, carnival, the world upside down, spiritual power and calculated wrongdoing.  –  Laura Agustín

The Pro-Rape Coalition

Dr. Robert King on porn, with a nice endorsement of yours truly:

…Some would like to ban fantasies—hide them away…fantasy can function as an outlet for desire…violence—including sexual violence–has been decreasing across the board.  Has consumption of violent fantasy decreased?  Quite the reverse.  Violent video is everywhere but violent crime has gone down…we really need to stop thinking that we…know what is good for others—especially when those others are consenting adults…puritans…try to control others’ sexuality…through guilt, fear, and misinformation… as documented in exhaustive detail by the excellent Brooke Magnanti and Maggie McNeill…If the puritans were serious about harm to children they would spear-head proper realistic sex education…

Decentralization

Brian Doherty draws on a Forbes article to discuss the government’s latest efforts to shut Bitcoin down, destroy everything good about it or, failing in both of those, to steal a cut of it.

If It Were Legal

One wonders how much more often sex workers could help to fight actual crime were we not absurdly and arbitrarily classed as criminals ourselves:

A prostitute given $300 in dye-stained $20 bills led police to the home of the man suspected of robbing a…bank…she…told the FBI agent [that the suspect, Anthony] Nugent…began behaving erratically [after paying her, so]…she left…later that night…her boyfriend…told her [the money] appeared to be dye-stained…Bubblegum Husky

Scapegoats

Frankly, what’s most “unclear” to me is how this is even physically possible:

An Idaho man was arrested Thursday after police say he sexually penetrated a cat on more than one occasion.  Ryan Havens Tannenholz, 28 – a…”furry” who dresses up as a dog he calls Bubblegum Husky — is charged with six counts of crimes against nature, and one count of cruelty to an animal…It’s unclear how [police] learned about [his] alleged actions…Furry News Magazine Flayrah reports that Tannenholz was a member of…furry fandom…who portrayed himself as a “sparkly” husky, a blue fox named Kismet…and another purple canine…

Above the Law

I’ve said it countless times:  As long as government actors have excessive power over individuals, cops will continue to rape women in their homes:  “A deputy in Texas accused of raping a woman in front of her children has resigned…Lisa Rodriguez…said [he] told her if she resisted he would take her to jail…” or during traffic stops:  “…Thomas Merenda and Franklin Hartley…are charged with unlawful compensation, a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison…Hartley ordered the passenger to perform oral sex on him, then [raped] her.  Merenda…asked the victim…to punch him in the…genital area…’Tom really enjoys this’, [Hartley] reportedly told the driver…”  Note that the cops are charged with “accepting bribes” rather than rape, and the reporter even avoids the word.  TSA agents can’t even confine their groping to travelers:  “A [TSA] manager at Lexington’s Blue Grass Airport resigned after he was charged with sexually abusing a co-worker…Shane Hinkle, 38…is accused of forcibly touching [his victim]…

Enabling Oppression

The Polaris Project continues its loathsome and exploitative campaign to link sex work to historical American black slavery:

New undercover footage of pimp-controlled prostitution will be shared…at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and End Slavery Cincinnati to show the realities of enslaved women.  The Polaris Project developed the 20-minute footage from the streets of Washington, D.C.  Following the showing, representatives from The Salvation Army’s Anti-Human Trafficking Program, the Cincinnati Police Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Off the Streets program will speak about the reality of pimp-controlled prostitution in Cincinnati…

Imagination Pinned Down

Elizabeth LoftusHere’s a short overview of the work of Elizabeth Loftus, the foremost expert on the malleability of human memory:  “…Loftus…has done more than any other researcher to document the unreliability of memory…and…has used what she has learned to testify as an expert witness in hundreds of criminal cases…informing juries that memories are pliable and that eyewitness accounts are far from perfect recordings of actual events…Now…[her] research is starting to bring about lasting changes in the legal system…” I drew heavily upon Dr. Loftus’ work for the research paper I wrote for the Albany Government Law Review, to be published this autumn.

Hooker Humor (TW3 #31)

Miranda Kane, the BBW escort turned comedienne, is getting good reviews; here’s an introduction she wrote for the Edinburgh Festival:

…There’s a stigma to sex-workers, as well as their clients.  We’re all shown the negative side, the poor, helpless trafficked victims.  But all the women I knew were just ordinary, happy ladies who just happened to enjoy having sex for money…Our clients weren’t seedy, sex-obsessed perverts.  They were kind, keen, appreciative men who just wanted a moment of luxury, intimacy… to be able to be with the kind of women they could only fantasise about normally…My show exposes the every-day life of a sex-worker; how we work in the digital age, the bizarre and strange requests from clients, what both elated and annoys us.  I try and show the human aspect – that the women are normal, they’re not drug addled victims, nor are they overtly beautiful and wealthy courtesans.  They’re women you see every day…

Bottleneck

[Queensland] Police Minister Jack Dempsey is considering allowing sex workers to make suburban house calls after lobbying by the Prostitution Licensing Authority.  While it is lawful for sole operators to make house calls it is illegal for brothels to send their workers to clients…brothel owners…[say they] need the extra business to remain profitable…[PLA] chairman Manus Boyce…[said] that illegal prostitution was operating without fear in Queensland and that allowing more outcalls could put more pressure on the illicit trade…

The Naked Anthropologist

Last week Dr. Laura Agustín published “Prostitution Law and the Death of Whores”, a primer for those who haven’t thought much about the harm anti-prostitution laws cause:

…Twenty years ago I first asked two questions that continue to unsettle me today.  The first is answerable:  What does a woman who sells sex accomplish that leads to her being treated as fallen, beyond the pale, incapable of speaking for herself, discountable if she does speak, invisible as a member of society?  The answer is she carries a stigma.  The second question is a corollary:  Why do most public conversations focus on laws and regulations aimed at controlling these stigmatized women rather than recognizing their agency?  To that the answer is not so straightforward… My focus on the female is deliberate.  All who propose prostitution policy are aware that men sell sex, but they are not concerned about men, who simply do not suffer the disgrace and shame that fall on women who do it…

Though it’s not extremely long, the article covers agency denial, the “rescue industry”, the irrationality of prostitution law, neofeminism, the Swedish model and media sensationalism; it’s thus one you should bookmark for sharing with people who are ignorant, but will listen to reason.floating brothels Utrecht

Dutch Threat

As the Netherlands continues to cave in to greed and hysteria, Dutch sex workers have been forced to find their own solutions:  “A group of 15 prostitutes in Utrecht have set up a cooperative to run floating brothels after the council withdrew operating permits from their previous landlords.  The cooperative, named Macha’s, is now applying for a…brothel licence and a boat mooring permit…Some 300 Utrecht prostitutes lost their place of work when the council cancelled contracts for the operation of brothels…because of human trafficking fears…

Backwards into the Future (TW3 #321)

The Commission for Gender Equality has [submitted] a proposal…for the decriminalisation of sex work [in South Africa]…“The current position of total criminalisation has not succeeded in addressing problems associated with sex work”…said the…commission…[which] was informed by studies conducted in…New Zealand and Australia.  “Legislation…should adopt the principle that sex work is work, and allow the industry to be governed by the wealth of existing labour and business laws aimed at preventing unsafe, exploitative and unfair business practices”…The commission said studies…offered strong and concrete evidence that decriminalisation empowered sex workers to protect themselves from violence…improved relationships…[with] the police…[and] reduced chances of sex trafficking or sexual exploitation of children…

Zurvivor

Deals with devils always have more conditions than anticipated:

The Maine woman convicted of running a prostitution business out of a Zumba fitness studio is headed back to court…to fight having to testify at the trial of one of her clients.  Alexis Wright…has been subpoenaed by prosecutors to testify at the trial of Donald Hill…

It’s That Time Again (TW3 #326)

A politician’s wife wants her state to look even stupider than New Jersey by starting “gypsy whores” panic a year and a half in advance:

The wife of Sen. John McCain…is calling on the [Arizona] legislature to pass tougher laws against human trafficking…[for] the Super Bowl in 2015.  “The Super Bowl, as all of you know, is one of the world’s largest human trafficking centers when it goes on in the world,” McCain said…Forbes reported that 10,000 prostitutes were brought to Miami for the 2010 Super Bowl.  There were 133 prostitution arrests in Dallas during the 2011 Super Bowl…

No, Forbes said that habitual liars NCMEC claimed there were that many, and there were 133 arrests of all kinds in the entire Dallas-Fort Worth area during a 2½ week period before the Super Bowl…which is typical for DFW.Spreadsheets

Between the Ears (TW3 #332)

Dr. Brooke Magnanti writes about others who think good sex can be defined by statistics:

…Thanks to the new [iPhone] app Spreadsheets, no longer will you have sex without being able to save and analyse the stats of your performance…according to the company’s website:  “Spreadsheets monitors data from user’s movement and audio levels through the accelerometer and microphone to provide statistical and visual analysis of their performance in bed”…The notion that longer is better…and that loud equals enjoyment has gained such traction in popular culture that it’s hard to find any other measure of what “good” sex is…I once dated a guy whose sole measure of whether a good time had been had was how long he stayed erect.  Being jackhammered long into the wee hours is hardly a great way to spend your time…

Do As I Say, Not As I Do (TW3 #332)

A pastor from…Sweden has been convicted of buying sex from a prostitute after…police broke up a major pimping operation…[he] has been temporarily relieved of his duties…”  Synopsis of the rest:  “human trafficking”, “These woman were used as if they were on a conveyor belt“, blah blah blah.

Election Day (TW3 #332)

As you might imagine, I find this new trend of cops arresting retired madams on drug charges to be a highly disturbing one:

…Heidi Fleiss has been charged in Nevada with possession of marijuana with the intent to sell…officers found nearly 400 marijuana plants growing in and around…[her] home in Pahrump…She said she had been growing marijuana without a license and that she intended to sell it to a cooperative in Las Vegas…she was not arrested.  All the plants were taken away by police as evidence.

Yeah, “evidence”.  Pull the other one, guys.

The Privilege Paradigm

Coincidentally, someone else wrote about the problem with the word “privilege” and came to almost exactly the same conclusions as I did:

…A privilege is something extra — and from a very young age, I knew that when something was referred to as a privilege, I was in danger of losing it.  How does that make sense…with something like being free from fear of police harrassment?…when it is called a “privilege,” my initial thought is that it is something unjustified that should be taken away — i.e., we should all have to be stopped and frisked…I [have] some degree of autonomy and dignity in my work — do we really want to say that that’s a “privilege”?  In both cases, aren’t we dealing with something more like a right that’s been denied to a great many people?…

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Fame often makes a writer vain, but seldom makes him proud.  –  W.H. Auden

Walk of FameAs regular readers know, all last week I was attending the Desiree Alliance convention in Las Vegas.  My specific intention was to meet readers and other activists, and I had ample opportunity to do so:  I was kept busy from morning until night every day, and well past my bedtime on several days.  I talked until I was hoarse, and met so many people I can barely remember them all!  Some of them were folks I knew by reputation (such as Carol Leigh and Stacey Swimme); others I knew from Twitter or blogging (such as Mistress Matisse, Sabrina Morgan and Joyce Arthur).  But many others were people I was meeting for the first time (such as my roommate, Ms. Kat).  Most of my time was spent with Kat, Matisse, her friend Jae, activists Tizzy Wall and Steph Wilcock, and a Swedish academic named Ida Kock who is studying the effects of the Swedish model on sex workers; however, I also tried to make as much time as possible for every one of my readers who came up and introduced themselves (and there were many).

In fact, those readers were responsible for what was for me the most profound experience of the conference.  For some time now, my husband has been telling me that I’ve become a celebrity; I’ve always denied it, saying that a celebrity has to be a “household name”.  But after this week, I’m forced to admit that, at least in the small world of sex work, he’s exactly right: so many people told me how excited they were to meet me, that obviously they couldn’t all be attempting to make me feel good.  Some even said they felt honored, but I feel I must respectfully correct them on that account:  the honor is all mine.  Many hundreds of readers, both inside and outside of our community, give their attention and their precious time to my efforts every day, despite the fact that all I’m doing is writing about how I feel or sharing information I’ve uncovered.  That’s amazing, flattering and (paradoxically) humbling; it inspires me to keep investing my energies in the project, to keep speaking out for liberty and justice, and to work even harder so as deserve the praise, respect and yes, celebrity, all of y’all have conferred on me.

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Prostitution in the towns is like the cesspool in the palace: take away the cesspool and the palace will become an unclean and evil-smelling place.  –  St. Thomas Aquinas

On Saturday afternoon Sister Magdalene Theodora filed quietly into the chapel with all the others of her order, just as she did every Saturday between Nones and Vespers, to make her confession.  It never took long; after all, even the weakest member of a cloistered order could find few opportunities for sin.  Theodora presumed that most of the confessions were like hers usually was:  a short recitation of sinful thoughts, admissions of gossip and revelations of submitting to unorthodox acts in the performance of their duties, followed by a short penance of the Act of Contrition and a few Ave Marias, or at most a decade or two of the rosary.  It would take less than an hour altogether, and then the priest would be off to prepare for the vigil mass at his own church.

But for some time now, she had held back one serious sin at each confession, then compounded the offense by taking communion the next day with that mark still upon her soul.  She had no excuse other than fear; the penance was entirely at the discretion of the priest, and she had seen the terrible humiliation which could be meted out for the rare mortal sin.  And since the particular canon law she had (repeatedly) broken left considerable room for interpretation, she wanted to be absolutely sure her confessor was sympathetic.  When she first resolved to admit her crime three months ago, she knew that she could never do so to anyone but Father Anthony; but he had been there only the week before her decision, and not once after that until today.

Maria MagdaleneTheodora wasn’t sure why Father Anthony was so fond of her in comparison with the other Magdalene Sisters, but it was obvious to everyone that he was (and the fact had generated some jealousy and more than a few unkind comments).  Perhaps he reminded her of a favorite niece, or a girl he had once courted before entering the priesthood; unlike most he had not pursued that vocation directly after school, but rather turned to it after a distinguished military career in the 29th Crusade.  He was, in fact, a highly-decorated flying ace, and Theodora had often thrilled to his stories of aeroplane combat in the Pacific against the ruthless forces of the Emperor of Japan.  But even though killing in the service of God is no sin, he was pained by the thought of all the blood he had spilled and resolved to pursue the path of peace, entering the seminary less than a year after the end of the war.  Perhaps it was this personal history which made him so kind and merciful; that, in combination with his obvious affection for her, helped to quell her fears about the possible outcome of her confession.  Try as she might, she just couldn’t believe he would inflict a harsh punishment on her; he was more like a kindly old grandfather than a dreaded disciplinarian as Father Gerald had been.

The memory of the fateful day when she stood disgraced before that other priest suddenly intruded upon her consciousness like the unannounced arrival of the Inquisition, and the smiling visage of the beloved Father Anthony was crowded out by Father Gerald’s angry scowl.  Though it had been fourteen years since she laid eyes on him, she still remembered every line of his cruel face, and the sound of his oddly high-pitched voice as he pronounced her a corrupting influence on the community.  “Jack O’Connor was led astray by this young Jezebel, and now faces months of penance labor!” he shouted; “There is only one sure way to keep her from tempting other young men into sin, one certain method of turning her wickedness to a constructive end!”  Her parents’ signatures were a mere formality after that, and she was whisked off to a St. Margaret’s asylum in New Amsterdam, over a thousand miles from the only home she had ever known.  She wasn’t even allowed to see the baby; the kindly nun who ministered to her during labor assured her that it was better that way.  Then after a brief convalescence, she was transferred to the convent where she would be trained for a life of indefinite penance in the Order of St. Mary Magdalene.

All things considered, it wasn’t such a bad existence; they ate well and did little manual labor, because their vocation required the maintenance of their health and beauty.  And though they were reviled by chaste women and often made the butt of vulgar jokes, they heard none of it once they entered the gates of the convent because the censors allowed them only wholesome and uplifting books and films.  And as the reverend mother and senior sisters frequently reminded them, they served an important social function by protecting others from the effects of what St. Augustine had called “capricious lusts”; by accepting men’s sin into their bodies and then doing penance for it every day of their lives, they played a vital role in cleansing the world of evil.

But there was one aspect of her situation which Theodora found almost unbearable, and it was that which had driven her into the transgression for which she now sought forgiveness.  Despite the nuns’ assurances that her babies would go to deserving parents who had been unable to have natural children of their own, she was haunted by the memory of the babies – two more since the first – whose cries she had heard, but whose tiny faces she had never been allowed to look upon.  She was obsessed with thoughts of what they might be like now; were they happy?  Did their adoptive parents treat them well?  Did they know their real mother was a sacred harlot, or had that been kept from them?  She knew that it was possible one of her regular patrons might eventually marry her, thus freeing her to have children she could keep; in fact, there were two likely candidates and she might well see the outside world again within the next year.  But she also knew that she could not stand to have another child ripped from her, and for a very long time now had taken steps to thwart the will of God in that respect.confessional  Though submitting to a patron’s urging for unorthodox sex acts was one of the minor sins they all confessed every Saturday, Theodora had for years carefully calculated her times of fertility and taken the lead with men she ministered to during those times; thus she had not only sinned herself, but had also tempted others who had sought her services in order to avoid sin.

She was unsure how serious her transgression was, but considering that seduction was the offense which resulted in her commitment to this life in the first place, she wasn’t going to take any chances.  She had faith that God would forgive her; it was only the judgment of His priests she wasn’t too sure about.  But she knew Father Anthony wouldn’t be overly harsh with her; when her turn arrived she glided into the confessional without hesitation, and though her heart leaped when she heard the little grilled window slide open, her voice did not tremble as she started the ritual:  “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned…”

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[She was] the most elegant of women, having the most aristocratic taste and the most exquisite tact:  she set the tone for a whole area of society.  –  from her obituary

Marie Duplessis by Édouard ViénotAs we have seen before, it’s not unusual for the lives of whores to become the stuff of legend, often to the point where the real woman is either lost under the embellishment  or people forget there was ever a real woman in the first place.  Such a woman was Marie Duplessis, whose real story was far more interesting than the romantic legend later created from it.  She was born Alphonsine Plessis on January 15th, 1824 to a ne’er-do-well Norman father and a mother who was the last of an impoverished noble family which had been reduced to servility; her mother died when she was six and her father raised her alone until she was fourteen, when he sold her to a band of gypsies.  Yes, this is her actual story, stranger than the fiction by which most modern people know her, and as you will see it only gets better.

The gypsies took her to Paris and put her to work in a dress shop, but by fifteen she discovered that prostitution was far more lucrative and allowed her to pay off her indenture in less than a year (many “trafficked” women still make the same choice for exactly the same reason today).  Her exceptional beauty and charm won her a devoted following, and at 16 she attracted her first important client:  Agénor de Guiche, later one of Napoleon III’s ministers.  It was at this time she took the name Marie Duplessis (the “Du” prefix connotes a noble family, an honor she felt her mother’s ancestry entitled her to) and wisely invested in tutors who taught her not only to read and write, but also educated her in history, geography and other subjects she needed to converse intelligently with men of the ruling class.  By the age of 17 she was involved with Comte Edouard de Perregaux, but because he could not give her all she needed she did not devote herself to him exclusively; another patron, the Count Von Stakelberg (a Swedish diplomat in his eighties) bought her a house in the Boulevard de la Madeleine.

Marie Duplessis at the Theatre by Camille RoqueplanLike so many other courtesans, she established a salon in her residence, and many of the Parisian cognoscenti gathered there; among them was Alexandre Dumas fils, the as-yet-undistinguished son of the famed adventure novelist.  The two fell in love in September of 1844 (only a few months after the publication of his father’s most famous work, The Three Musketeers), but the relationship was not to be; Dumas was far too poor to support her, and by August of 1845 she had had quite enough of his jealousy toward those who could.  But as we will see, the relationship actually worked in reverse, and Marie brought Dumas far more wealth than he ever gave her.  Her next lover was the famous composer (and infamous womanizer) Franz Liszt, but by spring of 1846 he had moved on and she entered into a marriage of convenience with Perregaux.  Because this was an English registry-office marriage transacted without benefit of clergy it was not considered binding in France, which suited Marie just fine: she could share her husband’s title without having to observe any of the restrictions that come with matrimony.

Her brilliant career was not to last, however; like so many 19th-century children of poverty she had contracted tuberculosis (or as it was called in those days, “consumption”), and by the summer of 1846 she knew she was dying.  She visited every specialist in Europe, but there was no cure.  By September she was no longer able to work, and none of the clients who eulogized her after her death did anything to ease her suffering; as Nickie Roberts wrote in Whores in History, she was “abandoned by all her former lovers and friends except her faithful maid Clothilde – and her creditors.”  She died on February 3rd, 1847, less than three weeks after her 23rd birthday.  And though her lavish funeral (paid for by Perregaux and Von Stakelberg) was attended by hundreds, her possessions still had to be auctioned off to pay her debts.

camille deathThat was the real story: a motherless young woman, “trafficked” at 14, who paid for her own education and became one of the most successful members of her profession at an age when modern women are still called “children”, then died of an incurable malady which would have claimed her no matter what because antibiotics had not yet been invented.  But a spurned lover decided to twist that into a morality play, making Marie – or as he renamed her, “Marguerite Gautier” – a “fallen woman” who dies young as a result of her dissolute life; he also created a fictional version of himself named “Armand Duval”, who convinces her to give up her life as a courtesan and thus saves her “virtue” before she dies.  The lover was of course Alexandre Dumas fils, and the novel was La Dame aux Camelias (“The Lady of the Camellias”), published only a year after Marie’s death.  It soon made him far wealthier than she ever was; it became a bestseller, then an extremely popular play, then in 1853 a Verdi opera named La Traviata (“The Fallen Woman”).  The book has remained constantly in print since then, the play and opera have been performed innumerable times, and there have been three different ballets and a dozen movie adaptations (the most famous being Camille (1936), with Greta Garbo as “Marguerite”).  I’m sure most of you have seen or at least heard of one or more of these fictional representations of Marie Duplessis (especially if you read Tuesday’s column), yet I doubt more than a few of you – if any at all – knew anything of her real story before today.  Some things never change:  today, as in the 19th century, most people prefer to embrace romantic nonsense about “fallen women” and how awful it is to be a whore, than to recognize the simple, unvarnished truth.

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