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Archive for the ‘Biography’ Category

0406162243-1Those of you who follow me on Twitter already know that last week was a painful one for those of us in the sex worker rights movement; journalist and former sex worker Melissa Gira Grant, who has long danced on the boundary between the “straight” world and the  demimonde, apparently decided she wanted a total divorce from us (and not an amicable one, either).  And so she published an article acting much like a prohibitionist; she centered her own voice above that of a very troubled and disadvantaged sex worker, outed aspects of the woman’s life that she did not want revealed in such a manner, and even quoted an exploitative anti-whore asshole with a record of publicly threatening sex workers.  Mistress Matisse is a lot more closely involved with the story than I am, which is why on Tuesday I shared her account of what happened.  One thing I am going to say is that although I was angry to the point of nausea at Melissa’s exploitation of a very vulnerable sex worker, not to mention her attempt to throw mud on one of my closest friends, there is a part of me that’s relieved I no longer need to remain silent about a person who has offended and/or pissed off more sex worker activists than I can count on both hands.  She’s had me blocked me on Twitter (a move most people reserve for enemies and offensive trolls) and bad-mouthed me in private for years, but as long as she was doing good work for the movement, I kept my mouth shut and even promoted her work.  But now that she’s burning her bridges in earnest, I see no reason to keep my mouth shut any longer (because as most of you know, I’m not exactly good at that anyway).  The kid gloves are now off, and the only reason I’m not saying anything more right now is that, unlike Melissa, I’m not going to make something that isn’t about me, about me.  I’m going to let the wronged parties set the pace, and my rightful role in this is to support them.

However, I’m not so upset I’m going to forget my manners; I got some lovely gifts I would like to acknowledge.  Reader Daz sent me a DVD that’s been on my wishlist for a while, and another gentleman purchased a phone visit from me, gave me another donation over and above the cost for the visit itself, and also sent me the lovely leggings you see here.  Yes, I do indeed do phone visits; I’ll let y’all consider the possibilities.  And until then, you can just enjoy the picture.  And please, please consider donating to Heather’s fundraiser; in killing Neal Falls she no doubt saved many of our sisters from a horrible death, and now she needs our help to get her own life back in order.

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This is an important article by my friend Mistress Matisse, cross-posted from Medium.

Notorious MGGIt’s ironic that journalist Melissa Gira Grant decided to write an article on how media attention can cause chaos in someone’s life, because in the life of a West Virginia woman named Heather, Melissa Gira Grant has become an agent of exactly that sort of chaos.

It began late last summer, when serial killer Neal Falls contacted Heather through her escort ad, and when they met, he tried to murder her. Heather fought back against Neal Falls and killed him. In doing so, she removed a dangerous predator from the world. Charleston police say she almost certainly saved the lives of other women Neal Falls would have gone on to kill.

At some point, a few weeks after the attack (she does not specify when), Grant says she came to Heather’s house and spoke with her. A lot of reporters came to Heather’s door after the attack, and many of them were vague about details such as to exactly what publication they wrote for, or when any piece they wrote about her would be published.

Fast forward to March 30th, almost seven months later, when Grant published a meandering and somewhat confusing Buzzfeed story about Heather. Part of it touches on the sex worker community’s peer outreach to Heather and our ongoing support for her. Grant portrays our efforts as problematic, and singles me out in particular as having questionable motivations for offering Heather my friendship. Bafflingly, she also chooses to spotlight the voices of three other people who, while they only had contact with Heather briefly, caused her further distress in that time: Kathy Brown, Laura Gandee, and a man known as Nostra-Thomas Koenig, aka Charles de Koenig. Brown and Gandee’s behavior towards Heather could be described as “well-intentioned but coercive”. Koenig, on the other hand, was openly controlling and abusive to Heather from the start, and quickly escalated into public harassment and threats aimed at not only Heather, but at the group of sex worker/activists who were supporting her, and all sex workers in general.

The hard truth is: sex workers (and sex worker’s rights activists) expect biased treatment from journalists who have no ties to the sex work community. But people could be forgiven for thinking Melissa Gira Grant was different. In her past, she did sex work herself, and since then she’s written extensively on sex workers’s rights. She uses that position to get insider-information about sex worker-centered stories as they develop. She watches such journalism closely and often critiques it in a territorial manner, calling such stories “her beat”.

Grant focuses exclusively on the weeks immediately following the attack, but she does not present a sharp timeline. Here is how the first stages of sex worker rights activists community’s outreach to Heather occurred.

The attack on Heather occurred July 18th.

July 29th, I talked to Kathy Brown and Laura Gandee, and also to the man calling himself Nostra-Thomas Koenig/Charles de Koenig, who were doing the already-existing fundraiser.

On July 31st, I talked to Heather personally for the first time. I was the third member of the sex work community to have direct contact with her.

Around Aug 2nd, desperate because money raised by Gandee, Brown and Koenig was not being released to her for rent and utilities, Heather asked sex work activist Tara Burns to set up a Crowdrise fundraiser that she could have direct and sole control over. A group of sex worker/activists coalesced to promote Heather’s fundraiser and offer her support: Tara Burns, Meg Munoz, Marisa Anne, Lily Fury, and myself. Kristen D’Angelo had also reached out to Heather in this time and was in frequent contact with our group.

On Aug 5th, an article was published in Cosmopolitan about Heather’s fundraiser, and the sex worker community outreach to her. “Meg Vallee Munoz, a former sex worker and co-founder of Abeni, an organization that offers individuals with experiences in the sex trades practical services and holistic support, is the spokeswoman for the new campaign.”

So for Melissa Gira Grant to say “Seattle dominatrix Mistress Matisse…led her own effort to help Heather” is incorrect. Grant either didn’t bother to research this, or she excluded these activists from the narrative for reasons of her own.

But more trouble arose in August, when Koenig began posting extremely abusive statements about Heather, and about sex workers in general, on the Facebook page he made about Heather. He began harassing and threatening her. He said repeatedly that anyone who contributed to Heather’s fundraiser instead of his would be arrested, and that Heather herself would be too. There was an article documenting this on Tits and Sass. (This article also documents the incident of Brown and Gandee calling the police to force Heather to see them.)

Upon getting Heather’s agreement, and after discussion of the group of SW/activists, I went to West Virginia on August 3rd and spent four days with Heather, to offer her coercion-free support. On this visit, we accomplished the following: we negotiated that Brown, Gandee, and Koenig would turn over all funds collected to her immediately. We opened a bank account (in Heather’s name only) that linked to her fundraiser, so that all funds would be transferred directly to her. We also bought her a new phone. During this period, I observed Koenig constantly harassing and threatening Heather and her mother by phone, and I related this to Maryclaire Akers, assistant prosecuting attorney for Kanawha County, who agreed to contact Koenig and warn him off.

In Grant’s presentation of the narrative, these behaviors are somehow suspicious. I think that says more about how she approaches Heather than how I do. There are many kinds of predators in the world, but they all have one thing in common: predators take, they don’t give. Neal Falls was a predator of the most extreme variety. Nostra-Thomas Koenig was a different type of predator in Heather’s life. But what about Melissa Gira Grant? Grant came into Heather’s life to get something of value to herself and her career. She gave nothing whatsoever to Heather. She certainly did not offer her friendship or support. At no time has she donated to Heather’s fundraiser, or promoted it using her platform. One might say that she could not have done so before she published her story, for fear of seeming to display journalistic bias. But she hasn’t done so since the article was published, either.

The other feature of predators is: they don’t get consent for what they do. There’s a lot of good discussion of what the word consent means, and who can give clear, fully informed, and unimpaired consent. I myself am a strong believer that consent in any interaction is crucial, and that the person who has the most control over the situation is morally bound to make absolutely sure they have fully-informed consent at all times. Consent cannot be assumed by silence, and it can be revoked at any point in the process. Melissa Gira Grant did not have Heather’s consent to publish their interview.

You may think, “But the question of consent doesn’t apply to someone who gives an interview to the media.” I would say perhaps it doesn’t apply to someone who has power equal to (or even greater than) the journalist, and who has put themselves forward to the press. For example, someone running for public office has given blanket consent to being asked questions, and to be quoted in ways that may or may not reflect what they think they said.

Heather SaulHeather is not such a person. She is a private individual, leading a quiet life, who was thrust into the spotlight because she was the victim of a terrible crime. Heather had never dealt with the media before the attack. I think it highly likely that when Grant approached Heather, she mentioned the names of sex workers who’d already befriended her, in order to gain Heather’s trust and make the visit seem more like friendly outreach, not an actual interview. Once Grant left her house that day, Heather was never given any further say over where, when, or how her words would be used.

After such a violent attack, a victim could be in a state of emotional and intellectual shock for weeks, and Heather was. Grant clearly describes Heather’s intense post-traumatic stress symptoms. She also notes that Heather was injured in the accident and has impaired movement, and that she’s in pain. So she knew that Heather was in shock, injured, in pain, and thus probably taking pain medication. No one can give meaningful, informed consent in that situation. To ignore that, and make use of someone’s extreme fragility and media inexperience like that is breathtakingly predatory.

Grant also knew that Heather was battling an addiction issue. Notice: Heather chose not to speak of it to Grant — Grant calls this “talking around it” — so Grant tells us about it in through the words of her abusers, with their shaming and stigmatization of her. This is what troubles me the most about this article: Melissa Gira Grant gives a platform to Heather’s known abusers. Nostra-Thomas Koenig harassed, insulted, and threatened Heather and her mother both online and by phone for months. His voice has absolutely no place in this article. To have him quoted talking about Heather’s life is intensely re-traumatizing to her.

Reporting the opinions of Laura Gandee and Kathy Brown is also highly questionable. They literally called the police to force Heather to see them. That’s a blatant abuse of social power. Why are the opinions of these people being reported as if they had value? And why would Grant then juxtapose non-violent peer outreach with the actions of an abuser and two carcerally-inclined ladies? To call this a false equivalency is to do it far too much justice. This article lends credence and legitimacy to the non-consensual brands of “help” that for Heather, ranged from controlling and coercive all the way to violent.

In that way, Heather’s experience is unfortunately not unique. For a sex worker who wants to exit the industry, especially women as isolated as Heather, there is almost no non-violent peer support available. Many anti-sex workers openly support the idea that arresting sex workers is a good way to get them services and protection — but statistically, police are the worst perpetrators of violence against sex workers, and being arrested makes any situation worse, not better. Grant does not go quite so far, but she does lend authority to the idea that sex workers offering non-coercive peer support to other sex workers is something to be viewed with suspicion, and discouraged. This is not acceptable to the sex work community.

I navigate consent for a living, and judging by the quotes of mine she pulled from another story, perhaps Grant took exception to my comparison of how that’s done within a BDSM scene to how I practice obtaining consent when I do outreach? Regardless of how you frame it, you either have someone’s consent or you don’t, and there are very clear steps that must be taken if you get this wrong. Heather has made her statement. Now Melissa Gira Grant needs to acknowledge that she violated Heather’s consent. She needs to take total responsibility for how her actions re-traumatized Heather. She needs to reach out to Heather, publicly, apologize to her, and do whatever Heather feels is appropriate to atone for her violation. Only then can she ethically continue to report on sex worker issues.

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While I am your mistress, I will treat you like a king.  But once we part ways, I care not where you may go. – Bérénice, Madame de Pascal

Portrait of a Lady as Diana by Nicholas de LargilliereIt may be that Bérénice was only a stage name, but there’s no way to be sure because it’s the only one any record discovered to date ever uses for her.  She was born in a village near Naples somewhere around 1640, and though she always claimed her father had run off soon after she was born, it is entirely possible that her mother, a waitress and casual prostitute, actually had no idea of his identity.  Like so many courtesans she was noted for her precociousness, married too early, created an exotic stage persona which won her the attentions of wealthy men and died far too young, but unlike many she died in a high station and very wealthy, having amassed a personal fortune equivalent to about $360 million in 2016 dollars.

Bérénice’s mother appears to have been as bereft of parental instinct as her unknown father, and vanished from her daughter’s life before her 9th birthday.  She left the child in the keeping of her own mother, a rather dour old woman said to have been of Moorish descent.  In the 17th century, Italy was not as hospitable to courtesans as it had been a century before, but young Bérénice’s exceptional looks would have attracted attention even in a time of far more repressive sexual morality; by the time she was 13 her grandmother had married her off to the relatively-wealthy Lorenzo Gordini, a man some four times her age.  And there her story might have ended had her husband not died some four years later of an unnamed disease, probably some kind of cancer, leaving her the heir to a modest fortune; unfortunately, Gordini had three adult children from a previous marriage who contested the will, and Bérénice was forced to sign most of it over to them to avoid a long and protracted court battle.  Even so, she was left with far greater resources than the average 17-year-old in any century, and so made a decision perhaps not out of character for a fairly-well-off teenager with nobody to answer to: she moved to Paris.

Bérénice arrived in Paris late in the summer of 1658, and though she had neither experience nor reputation as a courtesan her stunning looks and quick wit soon attracted the attention of Alexandre de Crécy, one of Cardinal Mazarin’s important lieutenants; she became his mistress and accompanied him on his various missions for the Cardinal to various parts of France and other nearby countries.  While de Crécy certainly enjoyed her company, he had an ulterior motive for taking her everywhere with him: he was insanely jealous and wanted her where he could keep an eye on her. Bérénice soon tired of his controlling behavior, and since she had means of her own was not highly motivated to endure it; while he was en route to Spain in 1660, she abandoned him and fled back to Paris, where she traded on her well-known connection to de Crécy to install herself into the social scene.  Not that she needed much help; she was petite, charming and very beautiful (with black  eyes, lustrous black hair and an 18-inch waist), and her first husband had bequeathed her something far more valuable than money: an education.  She soon began to prosper as a courtesan, catering to the elite of Louis XIV’s court, and by 1664 had saved enough money to purchase a large, tasteful maison of her own, to which she always retreated when she wanted solitude; she only rarely entertained there.

Portrait of a lady, said to be Marie Angelique de Scorraille de Roussilles, Duchesse de FontangesThough Bérénice’s charms were many, it was her skill as a storyteller which set her apart and won her a devoted following; she embroidered upon her own background and life experiences so heavily that, with the exception of details that can be fixed by records such as her first husband’s will, it is impossible to know which are real.  Many of the details of her early life (that lovers had fought duels over her, that she had traveled from Naples to Paris alone on horseback, that she had shot a man who attempted to violate her) recorded by biographers sound more like tall tales than probable events, and even her dramatic escape from de Crécy (perhaps even his jealousy) may have been exaggerated for effect.  One thing is certain:  it was in 1666 that she attracted her first VIP client, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, the Minister of Finance.  He was the perfect client for Bérénice; though he was very generous with her he prized discretion above all else, and never interfered with her social life.  He saw her regularly, probably several times a month, until 1676, and though he had apparently grown tired of her by that time he ensured her future by not only securing her an allowance from the royal treasury, but also arranging an important marriage for her.  It was through this marriage, to Louis, Vicomte de Pascal, that Bérénice finally received the title by which she is known to history, only six years before her death.

In the summer of 1667, Bérénice met and befriended Ninon de l’Enclos; the older courtesan had stopped taking clients by this time, and referred some of her younger patrons to Bérénice.  She also advised her to establish a salon, which soon become wildly popular with a certain artistic element; it went on for some five years, but after that Bérénice (who despite her education was rather bored by intellectual pursuits) lost interest.  Still, it had served to make her many important friends; chief among these was Molière, who is said to have based one of the characters in Les Femmes Savantes (The Learned Ladies) on her.  Whatever faults may have been Bérénice’s, indiscretion was not among them; though she must have known of the enmity between her friend and her patron, there is no evidence Molière knew that she was sleeping regularly with Colbert.  Another of her friends was the poet Jean de La Fontaine, whom she helped through some financial difficulties after the death of his patron in 1672.

After her marriage, Bérénice slowed down somewhat; her husband was not politically powerful, and since the two of them appear to have viewed their union more as a business partnership than anything else, he encouraged her activities as a means of making connections.  But around the end of 1677 she began to suffer frequent periods of weakness, later aggravated by abdominal pains; she died on May 8th, 1682 of her chronic illness, which may have been cervical cancer.  She left a daughter, Aimee, who herself became the mother of a beautiful daughter named Adelais, who would later become one of the many mistresses of King Louis XV.  In a world where social mobility was nearly always restricted by the circumstances of birth, women like Bérénice were nonetheless able to trade upon their natural gifts to rise from the lowest ranks of society to the highest; her latter-day sisters can do much the same, though the gulf between rich and poor is not so great as it was under the Ancien Régime.  Yet prohibitionists wish for you to view us as victims, and to believe that Bérénice would’ve been better off dying as a monogamous peasant’s wife than a wealthy and well-respected noblewoman.

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Diary #300

Mary Wept Over the Feet of JesusI have to admit that it still really tickles me to be mentioned in other people’s books.  Last week I received my copy of Brooke Magnanti’s new one, The Turning Tide, and when I started reading I discovered that I’m kindly named in the acknowledgements.  Then this past week my copy of Chester Brown’s latest, Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus, arrived, and there was my blurb anchoring the back cover.  Yes, I already knew it was going to be there; besides the fact that I was told it would be, I already had an advance copy.  But there’s just something extra-nice about holding the actual finished thing in one’s hand.  And it reminded me of what I consider to be the best and coolest part of (relative) celebrity: getting to meet, know and become friends with other cool, awesome, creative people.  It opens the door to being able to help others, too; my network of connections has on many occasions allowed me to make a phone call or shot out an email to get specialized help for someone who needs it, or to connect two cool, awesome people who haven’t yet met to each other (thereby magnifying the level of coolness and awesomeness in the world).  The internet being what it is, I’m friends with a number of people I’ve never met in person, but I’m always excited to have the opportunity to meet them later; Brooke and I are already discussing the possibility of meeting on her next trip to the States, and I have a firm date for my first in-person meeting with Chester: he will be speaking and signing books at 7 PM on Saturday, April 16th, at Hugo House, 1634 11th Ave in Seattle.  And I’ve been invited to introduce him to the audience!  Besides that, I was able to help his publisher find other people to introduce him in several other cities; see how those connections work?  So if you would like to hear Chester speak and get a signed copy of the book, but you’re not in Seattle, consult this tour schedule; he’s appearing in Berkeley, San Francisco & Los Angeles before the 16th, and Toronto, New York City, Washington DC, Winnipeg, Montreal and Chicago after it.  And don’t worry; I haven’t forgotten my promise to get working on my own books, and I think I can wedge a few short tours into my schedule once they’re out.

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Under Construction

minkFor over a year now, people have been asking when my next book is coming out.  And for almost that long, I’ve been saying “soon”.  Of course, I was wrong; it hasn’t been anything like soon, and I’m sorry about that.  It’s just that, as everyone following for the past year and a half knows, real life intervened.  In spades.  With brass knuckles on, after she had already drugged my drink, tied my shoelaces together and stolen my distributor cap.  Since arriving it Seattle, it’s a miracle I’ve even managed to get a column out every day, much less do any other writing.  But I am beginning to dare to think that phase might finally be coming to an end.  I’ve had a lot more time for myself recently, and though I’ve had to use a lot of it to play catch-up, that can’t last forever.  I honestly think I might finally be reaching a point where I’ll have both the time and the energy to start putting books together again, which would be sort of nice on a number of levels; I’ll let you know how that progresses, but I’m not going to humiliate myself again by announcing yet another probable release date and then failing spectacularly to meet it.  I’ve also been thinking about having a portfolio of nudes done; if I do, I’ll send them for the asking (and postage) to any subscriber or patron, and they’ll be available for purchase to anyone else.  Because what’s the use of being a sex symbol if one can’t monetize it?

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Diary #299

Turning TideUnfortunately, the unpleasant things I alluded to last week did not let up as the week continued; if anything, they got even worse, and I’m still not really at liberty to discuss them.  Plus, the necessity of discussing taxes with my CPA reared its ugly head, and since it seems they’ve assigned a new girl to the account, I’m going to have to hurt her feelings pretty soon by telling her I’m a whore.  On the bright side, I did have a couple of especially-enjoyable sessions, made a new friend, added a few new things to my Amazon wishlist, received my copy of my friend Brooke Magnanti’s new book, and saw the release of a podcast I did a few weeks ago with attorney Mirriam Seddiq.  Mirriam was a lot of fun to work with, and though I haven’t listened to the recording yet, I’m told that fun comes through to the listener.  That’s really all I have to share for now, but don’t worry; as those who’ve been reading this blog for a while know, things absolutely never stay quiet for long.

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Diary #298

EquinoxeThe week after a big event like SASS is always hectic, mostly due to playing catch-up and taking care of business resulting from the big event.  On the day the last diary posted, for example, I drove Savannah Sly to the airport and enjoyed a lovely dinner with the gentleman who won the fundraising auction for a date with me.  Those were the pleasant things; I also had a number of less-pleasant (catching up on writing with deadlines looming mere hours in the future) and unpleasant (about which the less said, the better) obligations which would’ve made the week a wash if not for the arrival of several subscriptions, a CD I’ve wanted for 35 years (from Daz) and a very large donation.  And let me tell you, there’s nothing that brightens my week more than tangible signs of appreciation!  Whenever I appear at some public event, people tell me how much they appreciate all I do for the movement, and that validation and praise is extremely important to me; it’s what keeps me going under conditions that are often grueling and extremely disheartening.  But I’m a pragmatic person, and only human; the validation is even more rewarding, and the praise more uplifting, when it’s accompanied by some concrete contribution.  What I’m trying to say is, your gifts, subscriptions and donations are not only important from a practical point of view, in that they help me to pay my bills; they’re also important to me emotionally.  I smile when I see the subscription notifications in my morning email, and getting a check, gift or PayPal donation can lift my spirits when I’m feeling blue or having a hard day (which, as regular readers know, is the majority of them).  I’m about to start working on a special gift for my patrons; I’m hoping to have it ready sometime this summer.  I know y’all don’t support me to get something specific back (those who want that can simply book a session!), but I think tangible support deserves a tangible thank-you.

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