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My country, ’tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing;
Land where my fathers died,
Land of the pilgrims’ pride,
From ev’ry mountainside
Let freedom ring!
 –  Samuel Francis Smith

homeland-securityI’m always a little astonished when I encounter someone, online or off, who says something like “The United States is becoming a police state” or “may become a police state” or the like; I can only assume it’s because the realization that what was once called “The Land of the Free” has been a full-blown police state for over a decade now is too terrible for many people’s minds to accept.  The term “police state” is not a well-defined one, but I think most people would agree that such regimes are characterized by extensive surveillance of the population; a huge number of arbitrary laws punishable by disproportionate penalties; a slow and arbitrary court system in which the outcome of important cases is essentially pre-ordained; a requirement that ordinary citizens carry identity documents everywhere and present them to officials on demand (“papers, please!”); a bloated police force whose powers are limited only by the imaginations of officials and whose members are able to inflict violence upon anyone they choose without any consequences whatsoever or recourse of any kind for the victims; and a powerful bureaucracy which regularly violates the laws which supposedly constrain it and ignores due process when it proves inconvenient.  For good measure, let’s throw in worshipful reverence of officials and a media which largely parrots every press release those officials come out with, and I think you’d be hard-pressed to come up with some way in which the US isn’t a police state.

One might be tempted to be somewhat pessimistic about the US’s descent into naked fascism; after all, the country was founded on the right of the individual to be free of tyranny, and our present governmental system practices nearly every one of the abuses Jefferson and Company complained about in the Declaration of Independence.  But this is nothing new; the Roman Republic was founded on anti-royalist principles, and yet the Roman Empire which replaced that republic was as bad as any monarchy.  Nor was it obvious when the tyranny replaced the republic, except in retrospect; Romans went right on thinking of their country as the same one their ancestors had loved and died for.  Many Americans who would recognize that another country had changed beyond recognition are blinded by the myth of “American exceptionalism”, the irrational belief that the United States is somehow magically different from any other country in history…you know, kind of like how kings ruled by Divine right because they were just so much better than other human beings.  This is not fact or even politics; it’s religion, an irrational faith held in defiance of mountains of proof to the contrary.  “Freedom” has become nothing but a worship word, and the flag is venerated like an idol; cops are the priests and politicians the bishops, and those who violate – or even question – the holy Laws are dealt with like heretics.

Seizing Power

If this newest expansion of the power of costumed clowns to ruin the lives of others by signing a piece of paper doesn’t bother you, I have to wonder if you’re even awake.  –  Maggie McNeill

Yesterday I published an article at Reason about the newest outrage:

Two major credit card companies this week announced that they will refuse to process payments for “adult” ads on the popular advertising site Backpage.com.  Mastercard said Tuesday that it would no longer process these payments; on Wednesday, Visa followed suit.  Since American Express did the same earlier this year, that leaves Bitcoin as the only current means of paying for adult ads on Backpage.  Both…decided to stop processing the payments upon request from Thomas Dart, a Cook County, Illinois, sheriff on a crusade against Backpage…the…conflation [of consensual sex work with “sex trafficking is based on]…the idea that women are such brainless, innocent creatures we’re unable to have sex for reasons other than pleasure or romance; the idea of actually profiting from men’s desire to have sex with us would never enter our fluffy, pink little brains.  So, even if a woman says she’s doing sex work voluntarily, she’s either lying or suffering from “Stockholm syndrome,” and has actually been coerced by a “pimp”…

Dr DoomThe essay covers the relative scarcity of “pimps”, the sick relationship between Dart and billionaire whore-hater Swanee Hunt, the resemblance to Operation Choke Point, and the fact that this is a flagrant violation of due process; Backpage has broken no laws and has consistently won challenges in court, so it has to be shut down by the actions of moralistic megalomaniacs.  This is not to “stop prostitution”, because it can’t and won’t, not even on Backpage; it’s to punish Backpage for refusing to get on its knees and lick the boots of “authorities” who wanted it to capitulate to their whims so they could win political points in the minds of the Great Unwashed.  I don’t use the term “megalomaniac” lightly; Dart’s actions are textbook examples of the mental disorder.  He’s not content with exerting his “authority” over Chicago, nor over the whole state of Illinois, nor even over the entire United States; as of this writing Mastercard and Visa are refusing to process payments to Backpage even in countries where sex work is legal, including Canada and Australia.  Dart has essentially asserted his will over hundreds of thousands of sex workers all over the globe, overruling their own governments in the process; he honestly thinks his political ambitions trump every single government in the world.  That is power-madness of Dr. Doom-like proportions, and if the US government allows his action to stand unchallenged the repercussions will be far greater than sex workers having to find new ways to advertise.

A few practical notes in closing:  it seems as though some forms of Visa (including cards issued by at least some Australian and Canadian banks, at least some prepaid debit Visa cards and the “virtual Visa” from Entropay) are still working as of 8:00 UTC today, and some sex workers have offered to help others learn to use Bitcoin.  Also, Backpage has issued a promo code which can be used to post if one’s credit cards won’t work; the code is FREESPEECH and can be used as often as one likes “until the payment issues are resolved“.  Furthermore, I’m meeting this morning with the CEO of a new escort advertising and screening service due to go online in the next few weeks, which promises to be even more affordable than Backpage; he’s seeking my help in making his site useful and helpful to the sex worker community, which is already a strong sign in its favor (what I’ve seen so far impresses me very much).  I’ll keep you posted on developments to this story in my News columns, and of course on Twitter, as I find out about them, and I’ll devote a whole column to that new escort site as soon as it goes live.

Mixed Signals

I met a woman through a mutual friend and though I was very attracted to her, she had a boyfriend so I respectfully didn’t pursue anything.  Then we became friends via Facebook and began texting each other; I began flirting with her and she responded positively.  We started kissing and began to have lunches together, and though my feelings for her began to grow she told me that we could only be friends.  I broke off our relationship several times and asked her to not to contact me anymore, but she still contacted me after a week or two and the cycle began would begin again.  Eventually I decided to break it off permanently, and she said goodbye and got married to the man she was with.  But since then I’ve often wondered what she really wanted from me.

mixed signalsI think she wanted exactly what she got from you until you broke it off:  a guy who would pay attention to her and make her feel attractive, but who could still be kept in the “friend zone”.  Now, a lot of women strongly dislike that concept, and for the most part I agree with them; the idea that friendship is somehow incomplete in comparison with a sexual relationship is really rather odious.  But given that she was actively pursuing you and doling out just enough sex (the kissing) to keep you interested, I think the “friend zone” concept applies.  I used to know a girl like that; she actively pursued a mutual male friend, used sex to keep him interested, and then refused him the closer connection he obviously craved.  If he hadn’t broken it off she would’ve kept monopolizing his affections for as long as it suited her.  I think your friend was much the same:  if you hadn’t broken it off she just would’ve kept stringing you along, possibly even after she was married.  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a woman wanting a friendship with a man rather than a sexual relationship, but sending mixed signals isn’t fair to anyone.

(Have a question of your own?  Please consult this page to see if I’ve answered it in a previous column, and if not just click here to ask me via email.)

 

There’s no such thing as a war on sex work without a war on sex workers.  –  Frédérique Chabot

The Going Rate

This article’s dick-strokingly lurid descriptions of stings make it really unpleasant to read, but it did call my attention to this chart from The Economist that I somehow missed last year:hourly rate

Thinking With the Wrong Head

While staking out a hotel room suspected of hosting prostitution activity, local police observed Mason [Ohio] Councilman Rich Cox entering and, about 15 minutes later, leaving.  Surprise, surprise, Mason Police Chief Ron Ferrell said he does not expect charges to be filed against Councilman Cox…somehow I suspect that not everyone in Cox’s circumstances would get such fair treatment from the city police…the councilman offered up an astoundingly far-fetched explanation for what he was doing at the hotel…[he said that] “he visited the [hotel]…to pass a note to a Chinese woman whose father he met at a nearby Verizon Wireless store…[because] the man’s car was broken down“…

Down Under

In the US, this would be called a “trafficking circuit”, Queenstown would be called a “hub” and the reporter would interview cops talking about how “pimps” make all the arrangements because women are too stupid to do that for ourselves.  But in New Zealand:

Queenstown is the adventure sport capital of New Zealand.  But as the tourist numbers swell during the ski season, so do the stag parties, boy’s weekends, corporate retreats, and international business meetings.  As a result, the city has developed a largely hidden yet hugely profitable sex industry…Jasmine tours New Zealand’s South Island throughout the year, but spends most of her time in the mountain town…she is one of the longest-staying sex workers in Queenstown. “Most of the girls book a room for about five days,” explained Alice, a receptionist at a bustling motel in town.  “Jasmine stays for longer because she’s so busy”…July to October and December to March [are] the busiest periods.  The seasons on either side are so dead that girls working in strip clubs can make as little as $50 a night, and escorts…often make nothing at all.  During this time, Jasmine drives to towns like Nelson, where she…has regular customers who guarantee her income…The women say the quiet months are worth it though, as they more than make up for it during the busy ski season…

Rooted in Racism

As I’ve pointed out many times, “sex trafficking” is often a cover for xenophobia:

Bad enough that they’re isolated by race, culture and language and, worse, stigmatized by a false human trafficking narrative, but they’re also endangered unjustly by the Harper government’s anti-prostitution laws.  Now those working legally in Canada say they’re being further victimized, dealing with constant police harassment, illegal detention and invasion of privacy…Elene Lam…is the face of Butterfly, the Asian and Migrant Sex Workers Network, established last fall to advocate for the rights of Asian women in the trade.  The group’s mission includes countering the myths that…have been perpetuated by the…”rescue industry”…even before the new law was introduced, police had been intimidating legal sex workers…in…operation…Northern Spotlight, plainclothes officers…posed as clients and…bullied [sex workers] as they pretended to rescue them.  For Asian sex workers, who may not speak English and have no reason to trust police, these recent warrant-less incursions into their homes and workplaces are especially frightening…

Neither Addiction Nor Epidemic

How many times will we have to say this?

A new study out of the University of California Los Angeles suggests porn addiction does not exist.  Researchers found that people who said they had trouble controlling their consumption of pornography did not show a typical addiction response to sexual images.  With addiction, increased brain activity is expected in response to relevant stimuli—heroin in the case of a drug addict, for example.  But the porn study’s participants showed decreased brain activity in response to pornography…This builds on a previous study conducted by the same researchers in which they found no connection between the extent of participants’ pornography problems and their brain responses to sexual images…

Above the Law 

A South Florida cop is accused of pulling a lesbian couple over [without even a pretext], taking one of them into custody and ordering her to undress as he rubbed his penis…”[He asked me] how do I have intercourse, and I told him, ‘Why do I need to answer that? Why is that necessary?’ He insisted me to answer it”…the [17-year-old] victim said.  “After, he asked if I was a virgin…[and] if if I had any diseases”…The woman explained that she…followed the officer’s orders out of fear…[and] believed that she was going to be raped…[when she protested he] said “Oh, I thought you wanted to fuck”…The cop…has been identified as…Jesus Menocal, Jr., the son of a recently retired police chief…who was caught on video during the 1980s plotting a cocaine rip-off…Menocal’s grandmother…said there was no way he would order a female to strip because he was once named “officer of the year”…

Imagination Pinned Down

Here’s another excellent example of stereotypic conformation:

They pimped me for a while, six months or so…Later on, I was trafficked by other men…Pimps are very good at torture, they’re very good at manipulation…When people describe prostitution as being something that is glamorous, elegant, like in the story of Pretty Woman, well that doesn’t come close to it.  A prostitute might sleep with five strangers a day…These are not relationships, no-one’s bringing me any flowers here, trust me on that.  They’re using my body like a toilet.  And the johns – the clients – are violent. I’ve been shot five times, stabbed 13 times.  I don’t know why those men attacked me, all I know is that society made it comfortable for them to do so…on 1 April 1997, when I was nearly 40 years old, a customer threw me out of his car.  My dress got caught in the door and he dragged me six blocks along the ground, tearing all the skin off my face and the side of my body.  I went to the County Hospital in Chicago…emergency room…they gave me a bus pass to go to a place called Genesis House, which was run by an awesome Englishwoman named Edwina Gateley, who became a great hero and mentor for me.  She helped me turn my life around…I stayed almost two years…

I believe that Powell was a streetwalker, and even that she had a few bad pimps; what reveals her story as propaganda is its absolutism.  All the pimps were evil and controlling, though in real life more than half aren’t; all the clients are abusive and “used her body like a toilet” (a classic prohibitionist slur); all sex work is equated with street work, though every street worker I’ve ever spoken to knows that isn’t so.  And of course there’s the classic car-dragging tale; let Powell produce her medical records (it should be easy enough, given that she knows the exact date and hospital) and I’ll believe her.  Otherwise, I call bullshit; it’s pretty obvious that part of her two-year stay at Genesis House was the usual prohibitionist brainwashing sessions, including lessons in “reframing experiences”.

On the Simultaneous Having and Eating of Cake 

I don’t expect to see any of these strip club “contractor” lawsuits go any other way now; what makes this one noteworthy is that it includes SWOP:

…while working at Scarlett’s Cabaret in Pembroke Park [Florida, Adonay Encarnacion]…got fed up.  Her frustration fueled a fight that could now result in a $6 million settlement, after a collective action involving 4,709 dancers who worked at three Scarlett’s cabarets.  “They treated us like employees when it was convenient to them and like independent contractors when it was convenient to them…If they were going to treat us like employees, then they needed to be paying us minimum wage and overtime”…Katherine Koster works for the Sex Workers Outreach Project, an organization that advocates for the human rights of sex workers and aims to raise awareness on the negative impact of their criminal status in the U.S…”Disorganized labor markets are fertile ground for the sort of labor practices that victimize  low-income and marginalized female workers,” Koster said.  “Most of them…just don’t really know that they have rights”…

Monsters 

Though the feminist jargon is a bit too thick, the central tenets are valid:

…I believe that the eroticization of trans bodies and the resulting homophobia from the rejection of that body are the primary drivers of many instances of…anti-transgender violence…Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s claim in…Rolling Stone that…“no community living in America today is as openly terrorized as transgender women” is correct…questioning of a trans woman’s gender identity leads the questioner to their subjective identification of a trans woman as a man.  If the questioner is a heterosexual cisgender man, the reaction that follows the initial eroticization is one of visceral disgust as he sexually rejects the “man” he sees in the trans woman’s place.  The transphobia and anti-transgender violence that follows are inherently political acts, meant to discipline the trans woman for attracting the male gaze in the first place…eros to thanatos, lust into vengeful rage…

Subtle Pimping (#330)

A different kind of “video game” designed to profit from sex workers (and in this case, our clients) without giving us anything in return.  This one’s especially revolting for its badge-licking subtext, but there are many in the genre.

Paint By Numbers

“Fighting sex trafficking” by standing on lawns is so passé:

Two men [are] on a cross-country bike ride…to bring awareness about a serious issue…Mike Rutter and George Cook…started…in Santa Monica California on May 24…When it gets tough, Cook says they think about why they are riding.  “The more uncomfortable the day, the more we realize about the discomfort of the girls being human trafficked and sexually exploited,” said Cook…It’s part of Bright Hope’s “Break the Chains Cycling Tour”…Rutter [said] “It’s like a mission.  I feel like a Navy Seal…The girls we are trying to do this for, they don’t have a choice what’s happening to them that day so we’re going to plow ahead”…

Sex Rays

Imagine any other profession in place of “stripper” and you may get an inkling of how stupid this kind of story looks to sex workers:

…a woman…[climbed] the flagpole at the South Carolina Statehouse…removed the Confederate flag, and then returned to the ground where she was [arrested]…Many believe that Bree Newsome was courageous for her act…however someone who claims to know her stated that she did it all for fame and to show off her ex-stripper skills…

Surplus Women (#550) 

What kind of warped mind sees arresting potential victims as a solution to dealing with a serial killer?  “Police in [Chillicothe] Ohio…have announced a crackdown on drugs and prostitution…[as] part of a larger investigation centered on several drug-addicted women who went missing…

Diary #261

0628151635cI know I was busy last week, but if you asked me to tell you what I did I would mostly draw a blank.  Oh, I worked some and wrote some and helped friends some, but it was for the most part composed of such a host of little things that none of them actually stood out…except for Wednesday night, which was one of those lovely multi-hour duos in which everything goes just perfectly and one retires later with a deep sense of satisfaction and the feeling that all is right in one’s world.  On Sunday Jae and I rode on her motorcycle with Dykes on Bikes at the front of Seattle’ Pride parade; we then walked back along the route and marched all the way again with SWOP Seattle.  After that we floated about all afternoon with friends and went home tired and happy.  I would’ve loved to post a picture of Jae & I on the bike, but she vetoed the ones I didn’t veto until there were none left for me to use; I therefore went with this one of me with a friend (who shall remain nameless) who decided to go to Pridefest in drag.  And though my friend is a great guy and an ally to sex workers, this shot kind of symbolizes what Pride has become; it’s gone from a counterculture celebration thumbing its nose at The Establishment, to an Establishment celebration welcoming “respectable”, monogamous, vanilla gay folk with straight jobs to the big table while largely excluding all the queers who still deserve the name (including trans people, kinky folk and polyamorists) and actively ignoring sex workers.  So yeah, Pride is pretty fake and commercial now, but I enjoy Christmas despite its commercialization as well.  And now that picket-fence gay people have their state-approved marriage, perhaps they’ll no longer be able to put off the other sexual minorities they’ve been throwing under the bus for the last decade and a half.

Nobody ever sees them come or go, and nobody knows where they sleep or work; the high cost and low availability of hotel rooms at such events has no effect on these mysterious harlot nomads, who move like shadows, live in invisible tents and caravans and then vanish into the dust like Bradbury’s Autumn People until the next mega-competition.  –  “Broken Record

sex raysIn these retrospectives, I’ve sometimes mentioned the style of the columns, the way they “feel” to me when reading or referencing them.  And by the time June 2012 rolls around, they feel completely “normal” to me; I don’t imagine these would read a lot differently if they were written today.  When I refer back to an essay from this period, I often think, “Damn, that was that long ago?” because I clearly remember writing or posting it.  I can remember details of nearly every column this month, the last before the weekly schedule settled into the form it would occupy until just a few months ago.  Oh, the monthly patternsdetail of A Pilgrimage to San Isidro by Francisco Goya still persisted; this month’s harlotography was “Rhodopis“, its fictional interlude “A Haughty Spirit“, its favorites “My Favorite TV Dramas” and “My Favorite TV Comedies“, and its holidays “The Birth of a Movement“, “Father’s Day” and “Litha“; there was also a Q & A column and the longer answer to a more complex question in “Coming Out“.

A Piece of the ActionWith my second anniversary coming up, the subject of blogging itself was on my mind; “Quite Contrary” and “How Not To Get Your Comments Posted” are on that topic.  “The Odor of Socks“, “First They Came for the Hookers…“, “Willful Ignorance“, “Imagination Pinned Down“, “Yellow Fever“, “The Schizoid State“, “The Swedish Cult” and “Broken Record” are all looks at prohibitionists or their tactics, and “Reframing” is on a closely-related topic.  Rounding out the month:  a new entry in my “Hall of Shame“; a comparison of life-traumas with landforms (“Driskill Mountain“); a discussion of how American political parties are simply a case of “Pick a Color“; an explanation of how prohibition leads to “The Suppression of Virtue“; and a reminiscence on my lifelong love of astronomy and space travel in “Ad Astra“.space babes

Links #260

PFFFT-FRACK!  POP—SPROING-GING  –  Don Martin

Today’s the 46th anniversary of the Stonewall Riot, the beginning of the gay rights movement; I’ll say more about that in my column for Tuesday (and I think you’ll like the picture).  But today’s video is from Jesse Walker, and the links above it are from Saladin Ahmed, SkyeFranklin HarrisMistress Matisse and Walter Olson, in that order.

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