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Archive for the ‘Biography’ Category

Unlike Takao who is very much missed, Komurasaki is missed by no one.  –  a Yoshiwara courtesan, quoted in 1683

By now the regular reader should have noticed three recurring themes in my harlotographies: one of them pertains only to whores of pre-modern times; the second up to at least a century ago (though it is more pronounced in ancient stories); and the third up until the present day.  Taking these in reverse order, they are as follows: the inability of amateurs to simply report biographical facts without embellishing, dramatizing and romanticizing them; the difficulty of ascertaining even numeric biographical details with any certainty; and the confusion of more than one harlot with the same name.  All three principles are highly noticeable in the tale of Takao, a Japanese oiran (courtesan) who lived from 1640 to 1659; the lady in question was one of at least six courtesans (some sources say as high as eleven) with that name, and so is generally designated with the unimaginative moniker “Takao II”.  Very little is known about her with any certainty other than the day of her death, December 5th, 1659; however, that didn’t stop talespinners from turning her story into one of the most popular of kabuki plays.

I’ve written at length about the world of the oiran, but this passage bears repeating:

Until 1617 prostitution was completely legal in Japan, but in that year the Tokugawa Shogunate issued an order restricting prostitution to certain areas on the outskirts of cities.  Yujo (“women of pleasure”) were licensed and ranked according to an elaborate hierarchy, with oiran (courtesans) at the top and brothel girls (who were essentially slaves) at the bottom.  These “red-light districts” were not implemented for the moralistic reasons which spurred their creation in the West, but rather to enforce taxation and keep out undesirables such as ronin (masterless samurai); prostitutes were also not allowed to leave the district except under certain rigidly-controlled circumstances.  Soon the districts grew into self-contained towns which offered every kind of entertainment a man might want, all entirely run by women.  Once a girl became a prostitute her birth-rank ceased to matter, and her status was determined by such factors as beauty, personality, intelligence, education and artistic skills.  Even among the oiran there were ranks, of which the highest were the tayu, courtesans fit to entertain nobles…

Takao was a tayu under contract to the Great Miura, the largest brothel of the Yoshiwara district.  Though we know absolutely nothing about her personality or skills, they must have been as striking as her beauty for her to achieve the position of “top girl” at the Miura house soon after her debut, and to become the most sought-after courtesan in Yoshiwara within a short time thereafter.  Every contemporary source (of which there are three) say she died of tuberculosis; Takabyōbu kuda monogatari (Tales of Grumbling Otokodate) also states that several of Takao’s clients paid for her funeral even though they had failed to visit her on her deathbed.  But despite “consumption” being the traditional cause of courtesan demise in Western romance, Takao’s tragic death at the peak of her success wasn’t nearly dramatic enough for kabuki; for that love, treachery and violent death needed to be added. 

Enter Date Tsunamune, who had become Lord of Mutsu at the age of eighteen after the death of his father.  Some of his kin, however, plotted against him and managed to trick him into visiting Yoshiwara as a means of getting him out of the way.  While there he hired Takao and immediately fell in love with her, proposing to buy out her contract and marry her.  This much is largely historical; Tsunamune was a real person whose did indeed face opposition from his family (and was deposed in 1660).  He may indeed have visited Yoshiwara, though a letter claimed to be from Takao to him has been proven a nineteenth-century forgery.  But the rest of the story as told for generations is the stuff of fiction.  Naturally, Takao is supposed to have rejected his offer; some sources feel mere dislike for the man or a desire for independence after the termination of her contract are insufficient motivations for the rejection, and invent a lover who had pledged to marry her when her term of indenture was up.  I’m sure y’all can guess where the story goes next:  Tsunamune refused to take “no” for an answer and made the brothel owner an offer she couldn’t refuse, Takao’s weight in gold for the contract.  The owner accepted, but took advantage of Tsunamune’s lust by putting iron weights into the sleeves of Takao’s robe, boosting her weight to 75 kilograms.  Some storytellers say that on the boat trip from the brothel, Takao hurled herself into the river to drown, counting on the weights to take her to the bottom; others say Tsunamune caught her in the attempt and killed her with his sword instead, then dumped her body.  Still another version says that Tsunamune had one of her fingers broken for every day she refused his bed, and after he had gone through both hands he had her hanged.  But all of these say that her death (whether by murder or suicide) was the excuse used by Tsunamune’s uncle to remove him from power.

Co-opting the lives of sex workers to tell lurid stories of woe and tragedy is nothing new; it’s been done for centuries, perhaps millennia, and shows no signs of stopping anytime soon.  But at least in the Japanese variety, the tragedy derives from the freely-chosen actions of a proud, accomplished woman in defiance of fate, rather than from the pathetic subjugation of a cookie-cutter victim stereotype.  And I don’t think there’s any need to explain which I prefer.

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Diary #247

Occidental Street 3-20-15Confused to see a diary column on a Monday?  That was a sort of last-minute change designed to accommodate the fact that I’m really behind schedule and didn’t have anything else for the slot.  It’s partly due to the fact that I haven’t finished dealing with all the crap that comes along with divorce and relocation, and partly due to doing more on-the-ground activism; for example, last Friday I testified against a new “trafficking” law in the Washington state senate.  But more than both of those is the fact that I lack the ability to focus on my work when my new life in Seattle offers so many distractions compared to my previous life in the country.  We’ve decided the way to fix that is for me to get a small office space where I can go to work for a few hours every day, so that I can focus on my writing and actually get it done!

Later on the day that I testified, I was interviewed by a student writing for Humanosphere; she took the photo of me you see here on Occidental Street in Seattle’s Pioneer Square.  And Thursday saw this article (which quotes me extensively) published in the Daily Beast; it’s amazingly refreshing to see a mainstream site recognizing the hysteria for what it is, and I think it’s an excellent sign of the impending collapse of the hysteria.  And assuming I can get my writing regime back on track, I’ll be right there giving y’all a play-by-play on that collapse as it unfolds.

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Diary #246

PrintIt hasn’t even begun to let up yet; if anything, last week was even more hectic than the week before.  We’re working on a secondary business venture in addition to the primaries, and though Grace does a good job of holding down the fort while I’m gone there’s still a plethora of issues I have to deal with myself (such as taxes).  That’s not to say it was all a grind; Jae and I still had a lot of fun together, including attending a performance of a burlesque show set to Led Zeppelin music as guests of a friend of hers (in a private box, no less!)  I also sequestered myself for a long night of writing in a room of the Merchant Cafe, a former brothel reputed to be Seattle’s most haunted building; I wasn’t disturbed by any manifestations, but perhaps that’s because I’m not out of place in a brothel.  This week it’s writing, work, interviews, a photo shoot and a dinner party, and that’s just the beginning; I’ve got to get my new routine balanced and settled so I don’t fall badly behind.  Have no fear, dear readers; I’ve always managed it before, even during last year’s three months of touring, so there’s no reason to believe I won’t continue to manage.  But if you want to send me a bit of inspiration in the meantime, I’d certainly be grateful!

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We’re not anti-fairies but it’s in danger of getting out of control.
–  Steven Acreman

There was a good assortment of links this week, but only one video of note again.  And again, that one video was provided by Mistress Matisse; the links above it were contributed by Jesse Walker (“fairy”), Grace (“horse” and “art”), Sarah Woolley (“RIP”), Angela Keaton (“naked”), Eddie Cunningham (“movie”), Lucy Steigerwald (“rules”), and Gideon (“cleaning”).

From the Archives

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Diary #245

My first few weeks in Seattle have been incredibly hectic; in addition to normal difficulties of relocation and moving in with another adult person, I have business issues, divorce-related issues, blog writing, activism, increased social interaction, my return to active sex work, practical concerns and the extra time investment that always comes with a new relationship.  Given all this, I’m thoroughly amazed that I have managed to keep up with most of it on something resembling a timely basis.  Now that the computer and phone issues are (mostly) resolved, the banking details are in process, the space issues are mostly resolved and Sex Worker Rights Day week over, perhaps I can finish dealing with taxes, deal with my advertising and figure out our travel for next month.  At least, that’s the plan!  If you’d like to reduce my stress level with a donation or booking, I would greatly appreciate it!  And I promise I’ll get back to work on The Essential Maggie McNeill as soon as I’ve managed to bring my days back down to about the 16-hour level.  In the meantime, please enjoy this drawing by reader François, in which a fantasy avatar of yours truly lays low the dragon of disinformation.  Barbarianess

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I think that one of the most important purposes of my guest columnist feature is to provide a look at experiences I’m not qualified to speak about personally, so when I received this letter I immediately asked its author if I could publish it.  She very graciously consented, and I hope y’all will find it as fascinating as I do.

Dear Maggie,

I’m a middle aged lesbian-leaning bisexual academic who identifies as a feminist.  Your blog came to my attention a few years ago via Twitter, and your daily digest of police state violence against sex workers is an essential part of my political reading.  While you have a wide array of discussions on your blog and in the comment threads, I have noticed one voice missing:  That of The Jane.  Or at least, This Jane.

I am a woman who has paid for sex and I liked it.  If I were a rich woman, I would unabashedly procure sexual services from providers of various genders.  If I were powerful enough, I would be honest and unashamed by such too.

After graduate school in a small southern town, I took a corporate job in a major city.U-Haul  Young, devoted to my work and at that time, well-paid, I would make it a point a few nights a week to attempt to meet women in all the conventional ways including lesbian bars and political events.  What was to follow was a series of disappointments; not because I was not meeting women, I was.  What I wasn’t meeting were lesbians who could just enjoy sex without it being attached to a potential relationship.  We all know the old joke about what a lesbian brings on a second date:  A U-Haul.

Lesbian bars were dreadful.  Full of puritans.  Every attractive butch was in a 12-step program, often full of judgment when I ordered a second drink since God forbid one want to unwind.  If we made it far enough through the evening, I would get propositioned.  No, not of the “Let’s fuck” variety but invitations to play house.  If they were willing to just go back to my place and fuck, I would get lectures about smoking pot beforehand lest it interfere with my enjoyment or more importantly, my ability to consent.  “Consent culture” has been around for a long time; it’s less to do with avoiding accusations of rape, than it is to appease the insecure who think that my enjoyment of recreational drugs, sex toys, kink or any variety of base pleasures somehow implies that they might be sexually inadequate.  Further, there is this notion that one’s sexuality must be “healthy,” even spiritual; I never did figure out what the latter meant, but the former was a return to the days when women kept each other in check by making sure that one stayed virtuous (in other words, not promiscuous).  It’s not that there weren’t any women who did just want to fuck.  The bi-curious women appeared on my TV screen and in popular magazines, but in real life they generally consisted of women whose interest flagged when they reeled in which ever male they were using me as bait to hook, or those who believed that female sexuality consisted of a few slow French kisses, then our bodies would magically meld as we flew over lush fields of green as unicorn fairies.  In other words, they had no idea where the hell to put their tongues.

Then one night, I was with a group of male and female friends when we entered a local strip club as part of a birthday party, and I found a bright and vivid display of women, in every shape and color, who made themselves erotic visions.  I was transfixed watching their stage performances, and after a few shots I worked up my courage to approach them with dollar bills to get a closer look.  The bold eye contact the dancers made helped me to not merely sympathize but to have genuine empathy for men who are intimidated to speak to beautiful women.

Everything about stripping is ultimately more about what is on the dancer’s body than what is removed.  The sky-high heels create the muscularity that emphasizes and aligns the curve of her buttocks, through the smooth upper thighs curving back into the calf; they promote a straight posture and confident gait that turns breasts into beacons of life.  The thongs draw attention not only to the natural peach shape of the female rear, but affirm the wearer’s many hours of fitness and discipline.  Creamy, moisturized skin, long playful eye lashes, full lips brought to a shine and topped off by a crown of hair that tumbles and falls in waves…waves of free spirited sexual freedom.

When I could regain my powers of speech, I tipped one of the dancers and asked her to join us at our table.  Other members of my group were already getting dances; I wanted one too, but not just to titillate the men around me (not that I would have noticed).  Once the dance began, I was entranced by the way she slowly dragged her manicured fingertips down my exposed arms, her body gliding up and down mine as if she were as light as air, and her hands ever-so-discreetly making their way for a moment or two to the sides of my breasts – I was aware of nothing but her.  Our group enjoyed the club until late, then we left.  That in some ways was the best part; I had the high of experiencing female sexuality without having to cultivate an emotional connection that I was neither ready for nor could make room for in my life.

Writing about that was the fun part, but now it gets thorny:  Many years later and some relationships later, I discovered heterosexuality.  It affirmed both my feminism and my lesbianism; the dynamics of heterosexual romances are simply incompatible with the way I live my life.  My work requires me to spend long hours in solitude thinking, researching and writing.  I am married to my ideas, and so am simply unsuitable as a mate in any sort of conventional heterosexual relationship.  Ultimately, I realized I longed for only one aspect of them:  being fucked with a penis.  With age, my needs for privacy had grown; hence, affairs with colleagues were out of the question.  People love to gossip, especially about themselves.  Male friends to whom I felt close enough to ask for sex,  grew attached no matter how clear I made it that I was not able of reciprocating the same sort of love they felt.  Lacking feminine tact or any ability for small talk, the bar scene for straights proved even less inviting than the one for lesbians, and for whatever reason I could never convince myself I felt any chemistry with strangers under those circumstances.

Several months after the end of a long relationship, people who knew me less well were prone to ask if I had started seeing anyone yet (as if there were a social norm about remaining single too long).  Or worse, my lack of interest in dating seemed to indicate to armchair psychologists that I was not “healed” or over my last mate.  In reality, though, I was relieved to be single again, as it allowed me to focus on artistic projects which I had abandoned; I had been so busy maintaining a relationship out of obligation that I had lost sight of my own intellectual ambitions.

Cowboys 4 AngelsIn due time however, I craved the sexual touch of another person.  A few times a month I would get a massage at a nearby Thai parlor which (as far as I knew) was not in the business of providing sexual services; most of the masseuses were petite older women who had studied their craft, and I always left feeling as though my body had been put back in order.  Nothing more, nothing less.  At one visit however, the masseur was a young man I took as gay.  The massage was excellent, but he worked my entire body (including the groin area) in such a way that when I returned home, I did something I rarely needed to do after a massage:  masturbate.  Basking in the relaxation of my own bed alone, it occurred to me, why didn’t such a service exist as an outcall.  I must be horribly dumb after an orgasm, because there is a world full of male prostitutes – albeit one that caters nearly entirely to gay men.  After a quick internet search, however, I found one company that made a ham-fisted point of reminding anyone on the site that it was strictly a “Straight Elite Male Companions For Women” operation.

I made the call.

Two hours and a six hundred dollar charge to my credit card later, “Anthony” appeared.  He was wholesome looking in a countrified way:  lean, slightly muscular and sans tattoos and piercings (which was refreshing having been over exposed to such in the LGBT scene).  I was nervous, but he made me feel very at ease; he knew what to do and when do it.  And when it was over, I gave him a cash tip and spent a very relaxing evening in bed reading.  I had experienced sexual release without any of the complications, drudgery or expense of being in a romantic pairing.

Would I hire an escort again?  Certainly.  The only thing that keeps me from doing so are the rates, but what escorts do is worth the price.  With a professional, I am spared tedious discussions about sexual histories:  I want to fuck, not be probed by a nurse practitioner.  The boundaries, both mine and the sex worker’s, are clearly drawn.  I am not burdening others by dragging around a fuck partner whose name everyone is expected to remember or who needs a special term.  (Referring to someone as girl/boy friend at my age seems ludicrous and “lover” implies I’m a 65 year old gay man — I might be someday but will save my gender issues for another guest column if you so allow.)  Sex workers understand discretion so I am allowed my privacy, something the “friends with benefits/selfie” era lacks, with or without the NSA.  Finally, I do not have pretend to be seeking “romance”  when all I am interested in is sex.

Yours in freedom,

Mara

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I think I can safely speak for virtually all sex workers when I say that we don’t want to be passive tools used by governments and NGOs as the excuse for tyranny; we simply want to be left alone to live our lives like anyone else, with the same rights, privileges, duties and legal protections as people in every other profession.  –  “Only Rights Can Stop the Wrongs

sex workers uniteToday is International Sex Worker Rights Day, a day for protest and activism held on the anniversary of a 2001 sex worker festival in India which succeeded despite efforts by prohibitionists to stop it via their usual means, collusion with the “authorities”.  I think that has tremendous symbolic value:  prohibitionists would like to stop our whole movement if they could, to silence us, suppress us and turn us into the helpless, voiceless victims who populate  their masturbatory fantasies; it’s therefore important to celebrate a major victory over them so we can remind ourselves that no matter how strenuously our enemies fight to hold us down, and no matter how many cops and politicians they conspire with, we must still win in the long run.  Furthermore, the fact that the observance started in India is in my mind very important; Indian sex workers are an inspiration and an example to their American sisters, and what we take lying down or weakly protest in small groups, they shout down with the thunderous voice of tens of thousands working together.  When I first wrote about the day four years ago it was barely even known in North America (though well-observed all over Asia and Africa), but has since caught on and gets more press every year.  I don’t think we’ll ever have anything like the sheer numbers the Indian groups can boast, but maybe by observing their day we can fortify ourselves with some of their indomitable spirit.  I don’t mean by some sort of sympathetic magic, mind you, but rather by keeping their example in our minds.

Today of all days is especially important to me personally, because it will be the first group sex worker rights event I’ve ever participated in.  I’ve been writing about sex worker rights online for almost eleven years now, and collecting those writings in one place (and under one name!) for five of them; last year I spent months travelling across the country speaking on the subject to anyone who would listen, from individuals to groups of dozens to TV audiences of many thousands.  But everything I’ve ever done as an activist was undertaken either completely alone, or with the help of sympathetic outsiders.  And I’ve come to realize that, as effective as I’ve been, I’ve never had the experience of working with other whores on a concerted action.  It’s one of the things I moved to Seattle for; if you read yesterday’s column you already know another, equally important reason.  As I said on New Year’s Day, I’ve broken out of the cocoon in which I had wrapped myself for so long; though I’m still going to do a lot of my fighting from behind this keyboard, I’m also going to be doing a lot of hands-on work.  And though much of my most important activism will still be solitary, a lot of it will follow the example of my Indian heroines, battling side-by-side in the trenches with my sisters.

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