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Archive for the ‘Biography’ Category

Diary #472

Last week was relatively quiet, which is probably for the best because my seasonal anxiety is very high right now.  My time-sense is rather off because of the extra sunlight, so sometimes my brain thinks it’s much earlier than it actually is.  Luckily, cannabis edibles kinda reset that by making me relax, and even though I felt listless all week I actually had a fairly productive week.  I got some projects out of the way, did a bit of planning for Sunset, presented The War on Whores at a Pride event in Tacoma, had dinner with Kaytlin Bailey (who was in town for a few days), and edited my lecture on the politics of sex work for Thaddeus Russell’s Renegade University.  Actually, I haven’t done that last yet at the time of this writing, but I promised to work on it today, so I’m saying it here in hopes it will push me to actually do it.  Here’s hoping!  And if I’m really ambitious, maybe I’ll even manage to get my flights for Woodhull scheduled this week.

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We’re slowly creeping toward the home stretch of my fundraiser!  I know that many of you probably have “giving fatigue”, but we’re now over halfway there and less than $5000 from the goal, so I figured it was time to both remind and update y’all.  First of all, a HUGE thank you to everyone who has already donated; if you contributed at the $60 level or more, you should’ve received your DVD today at the latest (I shipped them on Wednesday and Thursday, and I sent them Priority Mail which is supposed to be 2 to 3 days).  If you have received neither disc nor an email from me, please mail me and let me know so we can straighten it out!  I’m autographing the covers, but since the color scheme is dark I pulled the cover sheet out & signed them on the white inside.  If I owe you a dinner or coffee date and you’re in the DC area, I’m going to be there very soon; I’m screening The War on Whores at the Woodhull Sexual Freedom Summit, 6 pm on August 16th at the Hilton Alexandria Mark Center, so even if you aren’t at the conference itself we can make plans to meet outside of that Friday evening time frame.  And if August doesn’t work, I have more good news:  I’ll be back in Washington for a screening event at the offices of Reason Magazine on September 26th!  I don’t have the details for that yet, but watch my (usually-Tuesday but occasionally Monday or Thursday) diary columns for details.  In other news, tomorrow I’ll be working on editing my video course on the politics of sex work for Thaddeus Russell’s Renegade University; I’ll keep you posted when that’s available.  But for right now, please donate to help if you can, and if you’d like to make a large donation in person let me know and that can probably be arranged as well.

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I always enjoy the time I spend at Sunset, especially when it’s mostly doing nothing.  This time, besides just relaxing and eating and drinking and getting stoned and actually staying basically on track with my writing, I helped Grace to scope out what’s going on under my floor.  After moving the bathroom linen closet (which is not built-in) we drilled some test holes in the floor beneath it, and once we had a space large enough to admit a certain dainty white hand I was able to feel around to ensure we wouldn’t drill into a pipe, wire or other hidden obstacle.  We soon had a hatch large enough for me to slither through and with the help of a cellphone camera Grace was able to analyze the problem.  From what we can tell, the original house (which was built in 1927) had only three rooms: parlor, bedroom and kitchen.  The plumbing was probably outdoor, not unusual in rural parts of the US prior to the Great Depression.  Then in the early ’50s or thereabouts, the owners added an upstairs bedroom and two plumbed rooms to the east of the kitchen, a bathroom and a laundry room.  But they did not allow for the weight of those added structures, and the supports were placed several inches east of the load-bearing wall instead of directly beneath it, with the result that for the past 6 or 7 decades the joists supporting the east wall have slowly cracked and several have broken loose.  So now we need to redo the plumbing so we can cut out the old pipes to make an adequate crawlspace under the house (the current one would be barely adequate for a leprechaun) in order to install footings and an I-beam to properly distribute and support the weight of the eastern portion of the house after jacking it back into level (it has dropped about two inches, which doesn’t sound like much but is noticeable when crossing the floor above).  I’ve already bought the new pipe and tools, and Grace started the work yesterday.  Once the new plumbing is in we can assess the next step, and though it’s going to be a lot of (dirty, difficult, & expensive) work it’ll be nice to know that my country place is on a solid foundation again whenever I’m sitting around watching animals grazing in my yard.

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I can always be counted on to persevere as long as it is humanly possible to do so, and then just a bit longer.  –  “Eighth Anniversary

As I wrote one year ago today, “There are quite a few older blogs, but I daresay not many bigger ones; despite travels, travails and troubles, I’ve somehow managed to produce a post every single day since July 10th, 2010.  That’s [well over] 3000 of them now, and that isn’t even counting the booksessays for other publicationsaudio and video interviews, and speeches I’ve given in public (not to mention the innumerable unrecorded rants to which I’ve subjected my admiring clients and long-suffering friends, the latter not always while entirely sober).”  On top of all that, I now have my own documentary (which you should watch if you haven’t already).  I’ve reached the point where I summarize that as “for the past decade”, and given the incredible density of posts I think that’s acceptable shorthand; in fact, those who follow this blog closely have probably noticed that I’m already shifting toward looking back at essays from ten years back rather than a mere three (expect a new feature in January).  I’ve sometimes said that I’m not entirely sure how I’ve managed to continue for this long, but that’s a self-effacing lie rooted in my Southern Belle upbringing.  In reality, I know exactly how I’ve done it:  it’s a formula consisting of personality force, righteous indignation, stubbornness, anger, and OCD, in roughly equal proportion.  And though (like most people) I’m not entirely sure how much longer I have in this incarnation, I have no plans to stop fighting this war until there is no breath left in me.  And truth be told, I’m not even sure I could stop even if I wanted to.

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I’ve followed Cathy Reisenwitz‘ work since I started this blog, yet somehow we’ve never had a guest column from her!  So when I saw that she’s started a new newsletter, I jumped at the excuse.

It’s a tragedy of feminism that so many of us are stumped by a very easy question:  Is sex work a choice?  Ask any current sex worker and they’ll tell you:  Sucking dick for money under patriarchal capitalism is as much a choice as cleaning toilets.  But one pays a lot better.  Is being a housewife a choice?  If your view is that society worships motherhood and despises ambitious women, then obviously those forces will influence women’s choices.  But an influenced choice is still a choice, something many radical feminists don’t like to admit.  Radfems like to straw-man arguments for female autonomy as choice feminism.  But when the women in question have power, suddenly the question changes.  While downtrodden and oppressed women aren’t allowed to make their own choices, women in positions of power are afforded unlimited options.  I find a particularly interesting example of this “choice only for the powerful” phenomenon in feminist author Jill Filipovic’s treatment of presidential hopeful Kamala Harris.  While Filipovic equivocates about sex work and choice feminism, she asks for nuance when considering Harris’s choice to use her powers as a prosecutor to deprive women of the choice to engage in safe sex work.

Harris’ record as prosecutor reveals a woman who is more than happy to use the criminal justice system to keep other women from engaging in sex work without fear of violence, arrest, or imprisonment.  Harris arrested Backpage.com executives and illegally charged them with pimping and conspiracy, then after a judge threw out the case Harris filed nearly identical charges in another California court; the First Amendment Lawyers’ Association described the maneuvers as “a gross abuse of prosecutorial discretion.”  Harris fought Backpage and continues to support FOSTA in the name of fighting human trafficking, yet everyone from Amnesty International to the World Health Organization says that decriminialization leads to lower rates of sex trafficking.  Despite this, Harris has consisently sided with prostitution prohibitionists and supported police raids of sex workers.  And while San Francisco Bay Area police officers were committing actual sex trafficking, Harris and her office pretended it wasn’t happening.  Jill Filipovic is quite aware of the “Kamala Harris is a cop” meme, but has a more nuanced take.  In a recent op-ed, Filipovic asks readers to consider the competing interests Kamala had to take into account when making choices as a prosecutor (if Harris hadn’t defended the death penalty she risked alienating politically powerful police unions; if she hadn’t fought the California anti-overcrowding court ruling the state would’ve missed out on slave labor, etc).  I’m not sure how to justify her choice to become a prosecutor in the first place; as Joe Biden pointed out in the recent Dem debate, “I was a public defender. I didn’t become a prosecutor.”  Filipovic is able to see Harris’s choices through the lens of a woman navigating a minefield of racism and sexism while also balancing careerism and her own conscience, yet when it comes to sex workers, all that nuance is reduced to “choice feminism.”

In Supporting Sex Workers’ Rights, Opposing the Buying of Sex, Filipovic writes, “[In Utopia], sex would be a fun thing, a collaborative thing, always entered into freely and enthusiastically and without coercion.  Of course women should have the right to do what they want with their own bodies, and of course there are many sex workers who aren’t trafficked or forced into the trade.  But that smacks a bit too much of ‘I choose my choice!’ feminism, which I find to be incredibly intellectually lazy.”  What’s really incredibly intellectually lazy is to spend hundreds of words apologizing for a woman who chose to arrest and incarcerate sex workers and make their jobs less safe to bolster her own career, and then dismiss the fight for sex work decriminalization as “choice feminism.”  Are sex workers not doing the best job they can considering there are negative consequences to every position they could take?

A look at my own experience with sex work may be helpful in illustrating this.  From the time I walked the aisle at a tent revival and confessed my sins and gave my heart to Jesus at five years old, I’ve always been a true believer.  I’m not sure if I ever signed a purity pledge, but I might as well have.  I met my favorite high school boyfriend at a good old-fashioned Southern Baptist abstinence retreat, and I lost my virginity at 22, on my wedding night.  As I pulled away from religion, my husband drew in; by the time I said I wanted a separation four years in, he said he’d only see the pastor and his wife for marriage counseling.  I studied her perfect highlights as they refused to talk about the problems in our marriage until my relationship with Jesus was fully addressed.  Sometime between the divorce and today I got paid for sex for the first time, because once you see that traditional marriage is just one long, nominally exclusive mutually beneficial arrangement you really can’t unsee it; then the question becomes how long, and how exclusive, do you want the arrangement to be?

I was a sex work activist before I was a sex worker, because a feminism that doesn’t include self-ownership is no feminism at all, and women don’t own our bodies if we aren’t allowed to rent them out.  Contrary to the carceral feminists, I don’t believe any kind of consensual sex should involve arrest or imprisonment.  In what universe can a woman consent to cleaning a toilet for money under capitalism, but not to sucking dick?  Such a conception is utterly infantilizing, superstitious, and antifeminist.  It’s not despite my femimism that I support sex work decriminalization; it’s because of it.  Whoring has always been one of the only ways a low-born woman could rise above her station; sex work enables more women (and men) than you’ll ever know who don’t have trust funds to pursue social justice, music, comedy, and acting.  Or writing feminist screeds, in my case.  I’m neither proud nor ashamed of having done sex work.  If I had been a great sex worker I’d be proud, but I wasn’t; I didn’t find most of my clients interesting and I’m bad at pretending.  Yet I found sex work empowering even though I didn’t like doing it; maybe it’s my libertarian showing, but I tend to believe more options are better than fewer.

I’ve been writing about feminism, sex, and capitalism for the past ten years, mostly at Sex and the State; in that time I’ve changed my thinking on everything from abortion and sex work to the social safety net.  My writing is thinking aloud and learning in public.  I’m honored to have learned from women like Maggie, who turns the “prostituted woman” trope on its head; far from being abused or oppressed (except by cops and an overinvolved state), no one could prostitute Maggie except Maggie herself.  I’m still a true believer — evangelical as the day is long — but what I’m preaching has changed quite a bit.  I invite you to join my sex-positive libertarian feminist tent revival, by subscribing to my daily email.

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Regular readers know that summer is not a good time for my nervous system; there’s just too much light for far too many hours a day, and when it’s light outside until almost 10 pm my brain doesn’t even start winding down until after midnight.   But though moving to Seattle meant having to endure about an extra hour of light in the summer than I did when living in the South, it also means less frustrating heat and readily-available cannabis edibles with which I can force my brain to relax.  That doesn’t help me in the hours when I have to be moving around doing stuff, but fortunately this past week was a busy one, and when my mind is busy I notice the anxiety less.  Besides some pleasant work, I got to spend Wednesday evening watching Doctor Who (and four episodes of Good Omens) with Lorelei, Friday evening helping a friend move, and Saturday and Sunday evenings at events for Thaddeus Russell (you can hear me at the very end of an upcoming live podcast in which Thad talks with Katie Herzog of The Stranger).  Add to that the fact that I went into the week on the heels of an exceptionally good weed trip, and ended it on another that I hope will be just as good (I’m writing this Sunday evening and the edibles haven’t kicked in yet), and that tomorrow I’m heading to Sunset for the long weekend, I’m in a really good headspace right now…and for the week after the summer solstice, that’s practically a miracle.

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The witch Thiana Gian seems to be a nice sky.  –  Paul Simon, kinda

I discovered another clever YouTube channel this week; this one is from a young woman who uses Google translate to translate the lyrics of various songs into several different languages and then back into English, and then sings the results.  She has lots of examples, but this one is straightforward and not overlong and gives a good sample of what the others are like.  The links above it were provided by Scott Greenfield, Jesse Walker, Angela Keaton, Matt Welch, Violet Blue, and Mike Siegel, in that order.

From the Archives

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