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Archive for the ‘Biography’ Category

Diary #551

Since Sunset is very near an actual rain forest, we’re used to seeing a great deal of rain, especially in the winter.  But this year the rain went on for much longer and harder than expected until we finally got a respite starting Thursday afternoon.  We’d been feeding the animals in the barn since the rain started, so I took advantage of the break to feed them in the normal outdoor spots.  But Orville didn’t show when I called him, so the next morning I went to the barn to check on him and found the poor beast actually stuck in a hollow in the dirt floor he’d made into a nest.  He was squealing pitifully, clearly unable to get up, so I had to get behind him and push; that allowed him to get unstuck, but his left hind leg appeared to be “asleep” because he was very unsteady on his feet and kept almost toppling over.  But Chekhov and I kept watch on him for a while, and within an hour he was moving around much more normally.  He’s obviously a bit constipated, though, probably from being unable to move overnight, and I couldn’t get him to eat anything until Sunday morning, when he eagerly devoured half of a bagged salad Grace suggested I try on him.  He ambled about pretty well for a while, and sunned himself (lying on the opposite side) for most of the afternoon, as you can see.  So I had Chekhov pick up several of the bagged salads (on sale!), and he devoured them; I suspect he was instinctively seeking vegetables to clear up his issue, and it seems to have worked because he was making his usual rounds yesterday, even coming to the porch to beg for peanuts.  But if dealing with a constipated pig isn’t the perfect example of what #TheSexyNeverStops hashtag is for, I’ll be damned if I know what is.

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My friend Brooke Magnanti has a new project named Body of Work on the new platform Substack, and to call attention to it I’d like to share my favorite of the posts she’s published there so far. It’s both a moving memoir and a powerful rebuke to the sheltered puritans who pretend sex work is “The Worst Thing a Woman Can Do“, which is incidentally the title of this piece.

My dad was mowing strangers’ lawns on the day that he died.

He woke before sunrise – the habit of a blue collar lifetime – with his schedule for the day written out on a piece of college-ruled paper, copied from the app where homeowners booked him for reasonably priced lawn services. He had the rest of the week drawn up as a grid too, with blank spaces for last-minute jobs that might pop up on his newly purchased smartphone.

He loaded the truck with the tools of his trade: edgers and whips, a spade and a rake, a refurbished secondhand push mower, and drove the ride-on mower (also a refurb) onto the small trailer behind his 15-year-old F150. He put a lunchbox with two turkey sandwiches and four bottles of frozen water into the cab. They would melt during the hot Florida spring day, keeping his food cold and providing hydration as he worked in the full sun.

Sometime after 8am, he started having abdominal pains. The worst of his life. My father – no hypochondriac, also the habit of a lifetime – called 911. The hospital did some tests and discharged him by 10am, diagnosis mild constipation, prescription two kinds of laxatives. He didn’t feel better. His last few outgoing texts were to friends letting them know he couldn’t meet up later, he was sick. He went on to complete 3 of the 5 jobs on his schedule.

He died that night. 70 years old, retired not even one day of his life. When we found his phone, most of the missed texts and calls were from the app, set to automatically ping when he didn’t check in online for his agreed jobs.

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“What, are you too proud to scrub a toilet?”

That was a question I have heard a lot. After coming out as a former sex worker in 2009, I could count on at least one know-it-all standing up to pronounce more or less this exact accusation at every book signing, public speaking event, or festival I appeared at.

The question askers never stuck around to hear, really hear the answer: it’s hard to get a job in the UK as an American student, I couldn’t work more than 15 hours a week, no one was allowed to hire me if any qualified EU applicant was available, and that wouldn’t have made a dent in my bills anyway. ‘Too proud to scrub a toilet’ also seemed to be the takeaway most columnists went with when discussing my writing. According to everyone with a public opinion my problem was not lack of cash but that I was too proud, or precious, or whatever to do real work. I was spoiled.

Thing is, I wasn’t just spitballing about whether or not scrubbing toilets pays the bills. I knew already, from experience, that it would not – because cleaning was the very last job I held before moving to London. I worked for months at a hostel in Aviemore while writing up my PhD thesis. In between changing beds and mopping bathrooms, I collated data on forensic pathology cases and assembled chapters on the processes of human decomposition. Because I also was the hostel’s cook and lived on site, I was able to save almost everything I earned. I thought this would put me in good stead for the autumn, when I planned to submit my PhD back in Sheffield, then move to London to look for work.

Long story short: my calculations of expenses for life in the capital city were way, way off. By the time I paid the extortionate deposit and rent on a sad little room in Kilburn, I was already out of cash. But with my PhD not yet approved I couldn’t apply for science jobs. So I became a call girl. A choice that I thought (also mistakenly as it turned out) would be lucrative, not require a particular visa, and that I could leave behind as soon as I started my “real” career.

That was then.

This is now: I’m scrubbing a toilet in a million dollar house in one of my county’s fanciest neighborhoods. American Standard. The water in the American Southwest is mineral-heavy and leaves rings on everything; I’m not so much scrubbing as chipping away at stalagmites of built up lime.

It’s the first toilet I’ll clean today, the first of four bathrooms in this house, but it’s not the last time I’ll think about those people who imagined I was too proud to scrub a toilet. I’ve been scrub-a-toilet poor before; it’s not that big a deal. No, instead they were telling me the thing they considered to be the last-resort job of choice before “selling your body.” Their deepest fear, the most undignified thing short of being a whore (which as we all know is the worst thing a woman can do).

That’s the calculation according to society. Whore is worst, cleaner is second worst, and no one in their right minds would do either. Let alone both. Yet the jobs persist. Even in a recession. Even in a pandemic. Key workers both. Not the front lines, accumulating accolades and sometimes hazard pay, but the back lines, doing jobs few want to admit always need done.

Even in the midst of a global pandemic it seems cleaning after oneself is still a job for someone else. Lifestyle columnists Sarah Ditum and Janice Turner raised a few eyebrows when they staunchly declared the unavailability of house cleaners in the first wave of covid to be beyond bearable. Not for them picking up the mop, or worse yet, asking one’s husband and children to chip in. No, went the logic, cleaners wanted the work. They loved their clients.

I’ve heard people say things like that before almost word for word. People who are the customers of sex workers. Do I have to tell you women like those are just the sort of people whose husbands I once would have fucked for money? I know it, and I guess they know it too.

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If you too are in possession of a house and neither the time nor the inclination to clean it, you could book me or someone like me through any number of websites and apps. They all have slick, modern sites, enormous market capitalisations, and most importantly in this buoyant gig economy: they employ none of the people who show up at your door to do the work.

The landing pages show clean, modern homes resplendent in bare wood, white tile and brushed metal fixtures. Homes with six-burner gas ranges and fresh cut peonies in fishbowl vases. The kind of homes that few of the cleaners could ever dream of calling their own. The vibe is upscale, quiet suburb or cool high-rise urban.

And if you don’t mind what happens to your body, to your health, then there are always jobs like this, just not careers. With ubiquitous smartphones and widespread internet services that previously were available mainly to the well-heeled can be booked at the touch of a finger. In many ways the rise of sex workers on the internet when I was an anonymous blogger presaged the way many would soon be working in the 21st century.

My entry into cleaning for apps is straightforward. Sign up, submit a photo of my driver’s license, wait for a background check. Answer a few (very few) questions on my experience as a cleaner. I have a bit, from the aforementioned pre-London days turning over an 80-bed hostel in the Scottish Highlands for a summer, to helping out friends with holiday cottages.

I’m accepted on the platform and my rate is set at $15 per hour. That’s 4 dollars an hour above the nearest city’s minimum wage, more than twice the Federal minimum of $7.25, but well below anything that could result in the “thousands” the app’s ads on Craigslist promised. Up to thousands, I remind myself. Technically that means anything above zero. I’m assured through a short series of videos that work is straightforward and easy to come by, and that any problems I might experience with the app itself are quick to figure out. I’m told if I book 10 jobs this week my rate goes up, maybe as high as $22. I complete the series of Youtube videos that constitute training and log on.

There are no jobs. At all. Not today, and not tomorrow.

There’s one in three days! I click, eager to “claim” before anyone else does (because that must be what’s happening, right? There are no jobs because they’re already taken?) But when I google the location I find it’s in central Colorado – a 330-mile round trip from where I am now. Sure, there’s a $20 “bounty” for picking this one up, should I choose. But I decide to forego it. There is zero chance at this rate I will ever earn more than $15 an hour through the app.

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We live in the age of the side hustle. Everyone I’ve met since moving back to the US has one. The fine artists with an Air B&B, the candle maker who cleans for them, the solar installer who is also a part-time fire captain, the fire captains who sell third party phone cases on Amazon. The jiu-jitsu instructor with a window washing business. The college professor who works as a part-time paramedic on ski patrol. The ski patroller who proctors exams at the college.

There is no mystery as to why. None of these people are rich or have any illusions of becoming so. Side hustle as a phrase sounds cool, as if a few hours of your week here and there will make it rain and make the Moet pour. The reality is more prosaic. Life in the land of opportunity is expensive. With a stunted public transport infrastructure, cars are a necessity if you want to get by in most of America. The college degree has more or less taken the place of a high school diploma, sought out even for entry-level customer service, and the expansion of the student loan industry leaves many in debt long beyond their 40’s. Credit rating determines everything from your ability to rent accommodation to even whether or not you get a job, obliging people to spend and keep spending in the name of being a trustworthy consumer. Being a consumer obliges you to work. Once entered, the cycle has no end. Not even retirement, for those (unlike my father) lucky enough to contemplate it: in 1985, 10.8% of people over 65 in America were still working. The number in 2017 was double that, and expected to become still higher when the twilight years of Baby Boomers give way to geriatric Generation X.

It gets worse. A shocking number of America’s personal bankruptcies are due to inability to pay medical bills. From a high of 1.5 million in 2010, the year the Affordable Care Act came into law, it declined to 770 thousand in 2016. And yet the problem is not solved: the requirement to buy insurance even on price-capped markets still leaves a lot of room for expenses in the form of deductibles that can be thousands of dollars or more. People still avoid accessing preventive care and instead end up in the emergency room, sometimes not until they are on death’s door. We may be in post-Obamacare America, with many on the left making noises about some form of universal, free-at-the-point-of-delivery healthcare, but the wolf of sudden medical emergency could turn up and destroy your life anytime. Even in the coronavirus pandemic America did not manage to elect a candidate who promises universal healthcare.

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Four-Toilets is not a bad job as these things go. I know that immediately. It isn’t a 330 mile round trip to get there, for starters; only an hour from my house. The place is owned by a couple of about my age, pet- and child-free. They are not hoarders, and while some of it requires elbow grease (the aforementioned hard water in toilets situation) they’ve not left cleaning so long that any of it is out of hand, save a giant walk-in shower I spend about a third of the allotted five hours scrubbing.

The man goes out, and when he comes back, has brought me a sandwich. I don’t have time to eat on the clock of course. The app’s clients feed in the size of the job and the app gives them an estimated finishing time (no breaks). I do the last toilet, vacuum and mop, and am done bang on the hour the app predicted. I can’t help but wonder if there was a box they ticked that said “our house is already pretty clean” (it was) or if, in the future, similarly-sized jobs with less scrupulously tidy clients will be assigned the same five-hour time slot.

I don’t think about that, just sign on to the app to confirm completion of the job, load up my car (you are required to bring all supplies, including mop and vacuum, and more recently, PPE), and accept a shyly-offered $30 tip from the man. They want to book me again, once every fortnight. I say I’ll have a look on the app but I’d like that.

I have no illusions: few jobs will be as straightforward as this. On the drive home, I start making a list of what I need to replenish. Paper towels, microfibre rags, oven cleaner, furniture polish. Pick up some limescale remover! And some drain unclogging liquid. The tip covers my time driving to and from the house, and the gas, just about. It reminds me of being an escort when the client’s tips usually covered my transport.

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Margo might be the single most important sexual liberationist and feminist revolutionary who ever slapped society upside its head.
–  Susie Bright

R.I.P. Margo St. James

The founder of the US sex worker rights movement, Margo St.James, died Tuesday at the age of 83; she had been in an assisted living facility in Bellingham, WA (her home town) for several years now due to dementia, but from the ’70s to the ’90s she was involved to one degree or another in practically every major national and international push for sex worker rights.  It’s impossible to overstate her importance to sex workers all over the world; you may get some idea of why by reading this essay I published on her almost eight years ago, and more in the linked obituary from the San Francisco Chronicle.  But so many 20th-century activists knew and loved her, there will no doubt be many articles and memories; I’m going to link every single one that comes to my attention over the next several weeks.  Farewell, Margo; not a one of us could have done it without your amazing example.

Dysphemisms Galore 

“The pimps who sell sex” may be one of the most clueless headlines ever:

Two…Southend [politicians bloviated about]…street prostitution…[with a plethora of ridiculous terms and phrases] in[cluding]…notorious hotspot…emotional effects of prostitution…“sexual harm”…urgent action to finally get street prostitution under control…“The psychological impacts of [consensual adult] sex are immense”…[they also bloviated about “the dangerous cycle of prostitution”]…high levels of anti-social behaviour…pimping…drug-dealing, hazardous litter and noise nuisance….end the harms caused by…sex…sexual exploitation and a form of violence against women and girls…trauma-informed support…and holding organisations [who actually assist sex workers] to account

I can’t help imagining these politicians wanking furiously while vomiting out these sexual fantasies.

Traffic Jam (#443)

This isn’t a “documentary”; the only thing it “documents” is Jones’ creepy fantasies about other women’s lives:

Sarah Jones is about to [present her ugly fantasies about] the sex industry…[in what she claims is a] documentary [even though it’s merely an expanded adaptation of her one-prohibitionist propaganda vehicle] Sell/Buy/Date…[s]he [dazzled a Deadline reporter with meaningless wokespeak about “]how the sex industry sits at the intersection of race, feminism, power and economics in our current cultural climate[” and dropped three big Hollywood names as executive producers:] Rashida Jones, Meryl Streep and Laverne Cox…[other idiotic belching included] “Is sex work exploitative or empowering?” [and “]The sex industry is hiding everywhere in plain sight during the pandemic[“]…

To her credit, Cox listened to sex workers’ complaints about this revolting propaganda (click on the subtitle link for a description) and has already withdrawn her support. The same cannot be said for the clueless Streep, and Rashida Jones is prohibitionist trash with a long history of endangering marginalized women with her videotaped hatespew.

The Prudish Giant (#897) 

It usually starts with sex workers, but it never stops with us:

When [Facebook-owned] Instagram introduced [censorship] guidelines aimed at stopping “sexual solicitation” in December, sex workers were the first to raise the alarm…But [of course they] aren’t the only ones with cause for anxiety.  A whole swathe of sex-related accounts, including those of certified sex educators and sexual wellness brands, are now being [censored]…sex educators [who couldn’t be bothered to stand with sex worksers now realize] censorship on Instagram has gone too far, with some calling it an all-out ban on sex

Pyrrhic Victory (#1030)

Useful idiots destroying any possibility that the facial recognition djinni can ever be rebottled:

After the Capitol riot, Clearview AI…has seen a spike in use…The F.B.I. has posted the faces of dozens of [rioters] and has requested assistance identifying them…Clearview, which is used by over 2,400 [cop shops to violate citizens’ privacy]…relies…on a database of more than 3 billion photos [stolen] from social media networks and other public websites…

Social Distancing (#1080)

I’m sure you feel safer now:

…a…woman [was brutalized and abducted] by four [costumed thugs for] sitting on a bench.  [Video shows] the woman…protesting…”I was sitting on a bench” as she is surrounded by [pigs]…in Bournemouth, Dorset…A furious woman filming the…disgrace…shout[ed] at [pigs]: “What side are you on?”…

Between the Ears (#1081)

“Smart” devices are not, part umpteen:

A hacker took control of people’s internet-connected chastity cages and demanded a ransom to be paid in Bitcoin to unlock it…a security researcher [who] goes by the name Smelly…obtained screenshots of conversations between the hacker and several victims…he…demand[ed] a payment of 0.02 Bitcoin (around $750 today) to unlock the device…These hacks show once again that just because you can connect something to the internet, it doesn’t mean you have to…It’s incidents like these that make some people think the Internet of Things is just a marketing term for the Internet of Hackable Things, as we call it, or even the Internet of Shit, as others call it.  Qiui, the Chin[ese] manufacturer of the device…did not respond to a request for comment…

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Diary #550

A few weeks ago, we were still seeing a few sunny days, as in this picture from mid-December.  But around the solstice the monsoons arrive, and we generally get very few breaks from the rain until late winter.  The animals spend most of their time in the barn, and we even feed them there because it’s too marshy to do anything else.  Last year, it was this heavy seasonal rain which made me realize the guest cottages should be part of the house complex, so nobody would have to go out in it unless absolutely necessary.  Well, this year I was glad for that decision, because it was especially heavy, and the main drainage ditch through the paddock looked like a small creek.  But at the end of last week we got a three-day break, conveniently falling just when I had to drive to Seattle to spend some time with Dr. Quest.  I’m not afraid of driving in the rain; after all, I grew up in south Louisiana.  But I don’t like driving in it; there are far too many bad drivers who are afraid, and behave foolishly as a result.  No, I prefer looking at my rain from a stationary vantage point inside of solid walls and a roof, preferably with a mug of tea in my hand.  And once we get the roof of the bathhouse complex in place, we won’t even need to get wet to go to the cottages or the shop.  Because if it’s too wet for pigs, ponies and llamas to be outside, it’s certainly too wet for me.

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I fear for my life.  –  unnamed witness to police violence

Here’s another Luna video, because she’s awesome.  The links above it were provided by Jesse Walker, Radley Balko, Franklin Harris, Cathy Reisenwitz, Radley again, Tim Cushing, and Cop Crisis, in that order.

From the Archives

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Diary #549

As I’ve written on numerous occasions, I’m a big believer in celebrating Christmas for the full twelve days, to the greatest extent the modern world will allow.  If you look back at my diaries for this week in previous years (can you believe I’ve been posting them for over six years now?) you’ll see that it has not usually been possible to the extent I’d like.  But starting last year it became much more so, and now that I’m officially semi-retired the chief impediment is my compulsiveness.  For example, the week before Christmas I got an email from Bob Zadek, asking me to be on his live radio show at 8 AM on the 3rd day of Christmas, so I dutifully set my alarm for 7:30, trudged downstairs for a cup of tea, then got back under the covers to do the show naked (which is one of the advantages of radio).  Then for the last week I’ve mostly kinda slacked off except for keeping up with my writing and cooking and household chores and such; from the time I got up on New Year’s Eve to sometime after breakfast on Saturday, I didn’t even bother to put on more than my comfy old robe (and no, I’m not wearing anything under it).  But tonight is Twelfth Night, and tomorrow I’m driving back to Seattle for an extended date with Dr. Quest (the first engagement of my semi-retirement!), so I guess I’ll have to let Yuletide go into carnival.  And maybe I’ll bake a king cake next week.

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You don’t find out what it’s all about, but you have a lot of fun being extremely confused.  –  Douglas Adams

Here’s a really unusual cover of a familiar tune, played on a most unusual instrument.  The video was provided by Inspireland, and the links above it by Lenore Skenazy, Boatfloating, Gustavo Turner (“Cardin”), Lucy Steigerwald, Jesse Walker, and Scott Shackford, in that order.

From the Archives

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Twenty-one years ago today, on January 2nd, 2000, I started escorting full-time; now today I’m officially semi-retiring.  I had originally hoped this day would come much sooner, but life happened and financial disasters befell me, and it wasn’t until two years ago that I realized the time had finally come to scale back my professional life.  When I first went full-time I had already been doing various kinds of sex work (compensated dating, sugaring, stripping, etc) on and off for fifteen years, and after today I’ll still be seeing my regular clients (and other gents who have seen me at least once before) and a very few who come recommended by friends.  Even during the past 21 years I’ve done several different kinds of work (agency escorting, bachelor parties, running my own agency, independent escorting, and even a long-term exclusive gig).  So, this isn’t a simple, linear matter of retirement as it is in straight jobs, and yet it does feel like an ending.  I’m no longer using traditional advertising, no longer allowing myself to be solicited via text message by marginally-literate cretins, no longer screening so as to avoid said cretins (not to mention violent costumed rapists), and no longer seeing anyone without planning days or weeks in advance.  This doesn’t mean I’m cutting back on activism just yet; I plan to keep writing regularly for a while, and doing public appearances when those become a thing again, and in fact I may possibly have more time and energy for such activities now.  But even in that department, things have changed; when I first became an activist there weren’t all that many of us in the US, and now I’m glad to say there are thousands.  So all in all, I feel like it’s time to put away my dancing shoes, and settle into my role as an “elder stateswoman” of the demimonde, leaving the field of action to my much younger sisters…including those who weren’t even born yet when I started.

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Diary #548

What a lovely Christmas I had!  Everyone at Sunset seemed to like their presents; most of mine had something to do with cooking, including kitchen tools, cookbooks, etc.  Big Bertha here was Grace’s gift to me; I’ve wanted one like it since I was in high school (the mother of one of my school friends had one), and it wasn’t two hours out of the box when I was rolling out pie crusts with it.  Then on Sunday, I spent the afternoon rearranging my kitchen drawers to accomodate the new tools & utensils (#TheSexyNeverStops), and managed to get everything neater and more accessible than before.  In fact, I think I may at last have my kitchen the way I want it, and that gives me hope for my office.

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Diary #547

I just love seeing a big stack of presents under the tree! Some of these are those we’ve bought for each other, and some for friends coming over on Friday; some were sent for us in the post.  Dr. Quest sent me a big order of barbecue for my family; Rick Pettit sent goodies as well, but sweet ones.  And Jeremy Dunn sent me one of Vincent Price’s cookbooks, so I can make goodies on my own.  A couple of my other gents sent money, which is of course always appreciated, and I’ll be finishing the last of my own Christmas shopping today.  Then tomorrow I’ll be heading back to Sunset for the rest of the year, during which time I plan to spend the holidays doing as little as possible.  And the ability to do that is probably the best present of all.

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