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Archive for the ‘Guest Columns’ Category

A while back my friend Allena Gabosch asked me to write an essay for a new collection called Sex Positive Now, and a few days ago I received a press release for the book with the request that I share it.  So without further ado:

Allena Gabosch and Jeremy Shub have written Sex Positive Now , a book about sex-positivity.  The book contains essays and interviews by and with sex positive celebrities, activists and educators along with additional content written by Allena and Jeremy.  The book covers topics including the History of Sex-Positive Culture , Sex Negativity, Cultural Taboos about Porn and Sex Work, Health and Emotions, Intimacy, Relationships, Polyamory, Kink, Tantra/Sacred/Taoism, Consent, and Community.  Our goal is to support the change of cultural norms around sexuality and relationships so people have the freedom and permission to be the sexual beings they already are.  Pleasure and joy are vital to our wellbeing and sexual shame is a thing of the past.  People are celebrated for their sexuality, gender, who or how they love.  Consensual sexuality in all of its forms is healthy and life affirming.  People can make conscious choices about their sexuality and relationships.  A few of our 55 contributors include Annie Sprinkle, Janet Hardy, Race Bannon, Susie Bright, Buck Angel and Cunning Minx.  If you want to review and promote the book, free ebooks will be available for review.  You can purchase the book at sexpositivenow.com and the book launch will be in Melbourne and Seattle on 28th Oct.

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I was recently talking to Paul Johnson, director & producer of my documentary The War on Whores, about our next plans for disseminating the movie; one important part of those plans is getting onto platforms like iTunes and Google Play.  Unfortunately, unlike Vimeo and Amazon, the only way to get onto those sites is to be placed there by middlemen called “video aggregators”, who naturally charge for the privilege.  I don’t quite have enough left from the fundraiser to do it, so I asked Paul to explain what we need.

Thanks to your generous support to help market The War on Whores!  This has been nothing short of a great success so far:  we have held screenings from to coast to coast in the U.S., in Canada, Austria and Thailand and more to come.  Video downloads have been purchased by viewers in 19 countries so far,  and this is all thanks to YOUR help.

We have one more ask from you:  we are working to get the film on two new distribution platforms to broaden this movement even further.  We are now trying to raise $1800 to cover the cost of a video aggregator making the film available on itunes and Google Play.  This will allow a whole new universe of viewers to see the film and understand more about the critical fight for decriminalizing Sex Work among consenting adults.

Thanks for your any help you can give to this important project!

Don’t forget the gifts I offered are all still good!  And if you donated already but didn’t receive your gifts, please let me know; my summertime anxiety may have addled my brain enough to overlook you!  Here’s a reminder of them:

$30 or more – Donor
Permanent inclusion in blog-supporter deals (free stories, etc).

$60 or more – Friend
Autographed DVD of The War on Whores

$125 or more – Sponsor
Autographed copies both of my books, plus The War on Whores DVD.

$250 or more – Patron
When I’m in your city, I’ll have coffee with you and hand-deliver the Sponsor-level gifts!

$500 or more – Angel
When I’m in your city, I’ll have a leisurely dinner with you and hand-deliver all the Patron-level gifts!

$1000 or more – Producer
I will make a special trip to the city of your choice and give a full screening of the movie, with Q&A session, to the group of your choice!  If you have no special group, I’ll give you the Angel package without your having to wait until I reach your city!

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I’ve known Amber DiPietra for five years now, and when I saw her at the recent Woodhull Sexual Freedom Summit she talked to me about her new project to educate people about sex and disability.  Regular readers know this is a subject which has always been important to me, so naturally I invited her to write an essay about it.  So here’s an introduction to the Disability and Sexuality Access Network (DASAN) by Amber and her colleague Cassandra J. Perry. .

More and more, society is awakening to the idea that sexuality is a fundamental human right and can exist in various forms and orientations.  But does it go without saying that we imagine people with disabilities in this paradigm of evolving sexual freedom, and that sexuality for disabled people is a fundamental right with infinitely varied possibilities for expression?  Or does our perceived spectrum of sex stop just shy of people with disabilites, who have been called the largest minority group (considering that disability is an identity that cuts through every gender identity, sexual orientation, race, class and creed)?

The Disability and Sexuality Access Network (DASANetwork) seeks to ensure that the perspective of people with disabilities informs every area of sexual study and culture, including but not limited to social services and social justice, political policy, health and wellness, relationship expertise, and the arts.  To be clear, this does not mean a perspective on people with disabilities as it relates to sexuality; instead, we seek to empower disabled folks to collaboratively network and build upon our/their own skills, study, and advocacy in the field of sexual freedom.  Membership is free and provides outward-facing profiles that make the disabled expert more visible to the larger world of sexuality studies and advancement.  Meanwhile, the extra benefits of being registered in the network is that you become privy to members-only resources and opportunities such as jobs, speaking engagements, and a database of over 250 sexuality events internationally.  This does not mean you have to have a disability to register — we welcome all allies — it just means we center disabled voices.  DASANetwork wants to make it very clear that we welcome sex workers to become registered in our network.  Due to social isolation or beauty oppression, sometimes disabled folks’ first access to sexuality is via a sex worker.  Furthermore, a large portion of sex workers identify as having various types of disabilities which would make it hard for them to hold down a “normal” job.  Sex work becomes an empowering career for them.

In a time of great body-positivity and body-autonomy awareness, the topic of disability is often segregated from the pervasive cultural dialogue around sexuality.  This is unacceptable.  DASANetwork was conceived as a response to issues within the fields of disability and sexuality.  The aim of DASANetwork is to bring disability-specific issues to the fore of sexology, sexual health services, and sex-positive communities/conversations. Find us at dasanetwork.org and on Twitter @dasanetwork, and please consider giving to our Patreon, which sustains our work.

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In “Bad Advice”, a man was concerned about losing the image of his wife’s body as the years rolled by with no sexual contact with her.  Several readers noticed I didn’t say anything about that aspect of his question; the truth is, I didn’t feel I could answer it because men are much more visual creatures than women, and I honestly wasn’t sure what I could’ve said that wouldn’t have sounded either Pollyanna or dismissive, so I left it alone.  But one regular reader has had similar experiences himself, and last week he sent me this short answer and told me it was OK to share it.

Maggie gave me some excellent advice over 6 years ago in “On a Mountaintop”.  I took that advice, and am very glad that I did.  Seeing sex workers brings touch back into my life, affirms my sexuality, and makes me feel more whole.  My mind is more clear and focused, my mood brighter, my outlook better.  It’s been a wonderful set of experiences and I have no regrets.  But I can tell the man what will happen, or at least what happened to me.  This rejection of a man’s sexual being, coupled with his continued love and desire, creates a wound that never heals.  It’s been 10 years since I last had sex with my wife, but when we are watching a movie or TV show and a romantic scene is shown, it can penetrate my armor; when the scene suggests a happy and fulfilling sex life between an older married couple, it pierces my heart like a hot needle.  There’s nothing a sex worker can or should do about this; I am responsible for my decision to stay and endure this occasional injury.  Long term marriages are complex things, with economic and familial ties and obligations, vows and trusts and all manner of complications known only to the couple.  I have no advice for the man who wrote, just the knowledge that he will probably experience the same pain.

Here is a wound that never will heal, I know,
Being wrought not of a dearness and a death,
But of a love turned ashes and the breath
Gone out of beauty; never again will grow
The grass on that scarred acre, though I sow
Young seed there yearly and the sky bequeath
Its friendly weathers down, far Underneath
Shall be such bitterness of an old woe.
That April should be shattered by a gust,
That August should be levelled by a rain,
I can endure, and that the lifted dust
Of man should settle to the earth again;
But that a dream can die, will be a thrust
Between my ribs forever of hot pain.  –  Edna St. Vincent Millay

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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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Last week Alex Andrews of SWOP Behind Bars asked me to spread the word about this serial predator, or more specifically the effort to bring him down.  If you have information and would like to talk to the lawyer she describes below, please Twitter DM SWOP Behind Bars or see the lawyer’s contact info below.  If you’re not on Twitter, I can forward your email to Alex.  I’ve also attached all the info on this monster people have shared on Twitter; his email address and physical address are here, and a few of the many phone numbers he’s used here.  As you can see, there would be more than enough had he not cunningly chosen to target a group cops consider subhuman.

Joey the Player has been a predator in the sex worker community for many years; barely a month goes by without a horror story of his assaulting an unknowing provider.  Just last week there was an incident in Las Vegas.  And of course since sex workers were kicked off the internet in the FOSTA debacle, its been really hard to continue to warn each other about dangerous and abusive clients.  And because of criminalization – we can’t go report these horrific assaults to police because they would probably put a target on us, rape us themselves or do some kind of harmful cop shit that would make our lives harder than they are.  His victims  have been working on a strategy for a long time and SWOP Behind Bars wants to support their efforts, especially since most of his crimes have taken place in New Jersey and NYC.  If you have been victimized by this sleaze or have information and would like to talk (pro bono) to the lawyers, please contact Noam (nbiale@shertremonte.com) or Anna (aestevao@shertremonte.com) or call 212-202-2600.

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Meagan works for Prostasia, the organization which sponsored the Bay Area screening of The War on Whores, and I met her in person the day of the screening.  She interviewed me for Prostasia’s podcast (see below), and when Jeremy Malcolm sent me the link to the video he also included this essay Meagan wrote, which I found so sweet and touching I asked for permission to share it.

Why Maggie McNeill is My Hero

There are a lot of good reasons why Maggie McNeill should totally be your hero.  I mean, she’s brilliant, well spoken, sexy as all get out, an outspoken advocate for civil liberties, sex worker rights, sex positivity, child protection, the list goes on.  Basically, Maggie is the feminist we need if not the feminist we deserve.  But that’s not why she’s my hero.

Allow me to tell you a story.  Just to set the scene, it’s a Tuesday in the Bay Area.  My boss and I have had the pleasure of hosting Maggie all afternoon and evening.  She was kind enough to do an interview for Prostasia’s Podcast Sex, Human Rights, and CSA Prevention, then we all shared a lovely dinner and cocktails.  That was followed with the Bay Area premiere of The War on Whores, and we all capped the night off with lovely conversation and pie in a little diner near her hotel where we were dropping her off.  But on the way from screening to pie, there was a spot of bother on the freeway; a large plastic garbage can had wedged itself under the car and for a moment we feared we’d popped a tire.  So we pulled over and got out to investigate.

Now, it’s worth noting that I don’t drive and have a deep mistrust of cars, despite accepting them as a necessary means of transportation.  So I’m standing on the side of the road with my boss and Maggie, and she comes to the conclusion that if she and I stand on the garbage can while he backs the car up slowly, our combined weight will keep the can in place so we can free it from under the car.  I dunno what you always thought a day with a (in)famous sex worker would be like, but friends, this isn’t what I had in mind…Anywho, Maggie, who is super brave, btw, and I stand with a foot each and most of our weight on the can and the car is backed up slowly.  The closer the wheel got to our feet, the more I started to panic; directly to our backs were cars rushing by at freeway speed and directly in front of our toes was a car tire.  So, some part of my brain is aware that in my professional capacity, I should have probably had Maggie stand at the side of the road, away from the scary cars, and done this myself, because good hosting and whatnot.  But I’m apparently a giant baby, so instead of honorably protecting our guest, she casually coached me through this ordeal as I whimpered and had trouble forcing my body to keep my foot in place.  Her plan worked perfectly, but during the last stages she kept her foot on the can and it started dragging her a bit (she’s been in heels and a slinky evening type gown this whole time, btw).  So before I know what I’m doing, I think I wrapped my arms around her to make absolutely sure she didn’t go down as the center of balance changed.  I’m pretty sure she was in no danger of that, and it was a dorky overreaction on my part.  Hi, my name is Meagan and I was a huge dork in front of Maggie McNeill several times in a day and she was nice to me anyway.

The thing is, anyone can cultivate a reputation, and social media makes it easier than ever to build and perpetuate propaganda.  But these silly, random, slightly dangerous moments in life where people have to just be people to get through it, reveal a lot more about a person than their press does.  Like I said, there are a lot of good reasons to be a huge fan of Maggie.  Her social work, her “social” work, her writing, her documentary, her body, her mind, her fantastic makeup and fashion tips, how incredibly down to earth she is when she really doesn’t have to be…but I will always be a big fan of Maggie because of one very random, very silly, very human moment on the side of the road, headed towards San Francisco.

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