Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Guest Columns’ Category

I recently received an email from the ladies at MatureSensual, an advertising site for escorts over 40, about changes they’re making to head off the growing persecution of escort advertising sites by the US government.  I thought there were a lot of important points, so I asked Liana of MatureSensual to do this article for me.  If you want more information, contact @maturesensual on Twitter and Jaeleen will answer you, or go to this site and Liana will send you more on February 1st.

We are aware that there may be changes happening in the US legal system regarding the freedom to advertise our services and we’ve decided to take control of our own destiny rather than be at the mercy of these proposals – so we are going “offshore” (outside of the USA).  You may need to consider this information for yourself and determine the next steps for your internet presence.

Under a proposal from Rep. Bob Goodlatte, anyone posting or hosting digital content that leads to an act of prostitution could face serious federal prison time as well as civil penalties.  This is obviously bad news for us.  Goodlatte’s proposal was offered as an amendment to another House bill, this one from Ann Wagner, which would open digital platforms to criminal and civil liability not just for future sex crimes that result from user posts or interactions but also for past harms brokered by the platforms in some way.  So platforms that followed previous federal rules (which encouraged less content moderation in order to avoid liability) would now be especially vulnerable to charges and lawsuits.  The bill currently has 171 co-sponsors, including ample numbers of both Republicans and Democrats.

We have all made choices around how we want to promote our businesses on the internet, and as small business entrepreneurs we are fiercely independent and, of course, are extremely proud of the fact.  What our websites look like, who we link share with (our business associates), and who we will give our hard-earned money to for our paid advertising is all part of our branding and advertising strategies.  Some of you will have chosen quality products such as Wix or Squarespace or (god forbid) Vistaprint.  All are Content Management Systems (CMS); you chose a beautiful functional template, filled in the gaps, added your yummy photos, attached it to your domain and away you went, on a minimal monthly fee.  CMS is wonderful, except when you want to move your website to another hosting service – you can’t.  It isn’t part of a CMS’s business model; they like to keep you where you are “with them”.  Some of these organisations may choose to interpret these laws and disallow your services; it’s too early to know, but you should be aware.

Organisations such as SafeOffice provide premium offshore services already and will be adding CMS to their portfolio of services, but you won’t be able to import your WordPress or existing CMS site into their system.  Of course, you can copy & paste existing information into your new CMS, but basically, you will need to create it again using their templates.  Organisations such as CutieTools (also CMS) will find ways of going offshore for you.  Some of you will be familiar with WordPress – it also doesn’t import into CMS systems.  We chose to use WordPress for our website solution. If you use WordPress, you will be able to use a plugin called All-in-One to create backups and to move your wordpress to another server.  Generally it can take you two to three hours to create it on the new server and migrate it from the old server, if you have good technical skills.  We currently have approximately 30 websites that we manage, and when we moved from one server to another last year some of those websites took considerably longer than the 2 to 3 hours to migrate across.  So here’s hoping that you have kept your websites up to date with plugins, WordPress updates, and have eliminated any problems regarding viruses and hacks.  Of course you may want to do the transfer yourself; however, if you want to focus on what you do best, providing an impeccable service to your clients, you may want someone else to handle the management of your WordPress site.  You are invited to contact us ~ we’re happy to help.  These are the four points that you need to consider when making an informed choice about the future of your advertising:

(1) Hosted offshore
(2) Incorporated offshore
(3) Cannot control website from USA
(4) No company officer in USA (for subpoena)

Our business model includes the use of WordPress for our websites and we have no intention of moving away from that software.  We already have three of the four points implemented for our business model, so it was easy for us to take the next logical step and we expect to be live in the next four weeks from our new cozy home offshore.  We are also implementing a mirrored server, which we think is vital in these times; a mirrored server means if anything happens to our server, we have a duplicate ready to go and it is just a matter of changing IP addresses to a different location.  It’s very similar to what people like Pirate Bay would do to provide you a service.  Point 3 is especially important because it could mean that you cannot edit your websites from inside the USA when you take those words to their extreme meaning.  This may mean that you will need to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to mask your IP address – to give the look that you are in a different location.  Unfortunately, the moment you forget to use that VPN, you put yourself at risk of being flagged.  You may also need to mask the owner of the domain name; it may be as simple as having a private domain on your website so nobody can get your information, or having the registration transferred to someone outside of the USA (we naturally have because I live outside of the USA.)  The brand remains the property of the service provider but the domain name registration is masked and handled outside of the USA.

The biggest fear for all of us will be if the US government or Internet Service Providers (ISP) block access to selected sites; search engines like Google could decide to exclude adult content in search results, and ISPs could block access to certain domains/IPs.  Authoritarian countries do this all the time, and as things stand now in the US, First Amendment rights may be abrogated.  Further moves in this direction would force all of us to go underground, creating a more dangerous environment for everyone.  We have decided to protect every website we currently host by editing these WordPress sites offshore or with a VPN; if it becomes absolutely necessary to edit and maintain websites outside of the US, we already have everything in place.  I can also see that there will be a sliding scale on the cost of editing and managing the website; it will be a monthly charge depending on the number of changes you like to make to your site.  Some people like to set and forget others like to constantly tweak their offerings – pricing will be reflective of those choices.  At present, all our websites at a minimum are edited on a monthly basis and to keep all plugins and WordPress databases up to date.  Whenever changes are submitted, naturally all relevant updates are applied.  All our websites are backed up twice a day and quality virus protection software to protect our sites.  I would expect you would be paying $200-$240 USD for annual hosting fees for a quality server that can deliver your content to the US; I would further expect the transferring of your site from one server to another could cost you approximately $200 USD depending on the condition of your website and how you have managed it.  Everything needs to come down to the cost of doing business and how you want to do your business.  You need to fore-armed with information and make your choices and then successfully implement them whichever way you choose.

Read Full Post »

Victoria McCormick, AKA Victoria of Dallas, was a centerfold for Hustler’s Busty Beauties who is currently working as an escort and wrapping up her memoir How One Woman Learned to Give Men Exactly What They Wanted Before Discovering How to Give Herself What She Needed.

This has been quite a year and I have had the opportunity to meet some new and interesting people as well as traveling to unfamiliar places around the world.  Being given the opportunity to move to Sardegna, Italy to rewrite the last chapter of my memoir was the dream of a lifetime; since I had no agent at the time, I wanted it to be perfect and I knew I needed some space from work to accomplish that.  So I sold everything I owned, paid the USDA over 1K to get export paperwork for my cat, packed 3 suitcases and moved to Sardegna, surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea.  It’s a beautiful place, with flamingoes everywhere; their vast wingspans of hot pink, black and white provided quite the contrast to the azure and emerald sea at Poetto Beach.

While there, I took a week in March to visit London for the first time; while there I worked and was interviewed for a podcast on the difference of being a sex worker in the UK and the US.  And there was quite a difference, mostly deriving from the fact that it’s legal there (as it is in most of the world).  And while that means the risk of being arrested (due to violations of the many laws surrounding sex work, such as brothel-keeping and the like) is far lower there, and our risk of being the victims of opportunistic crimes is higher in the US due to criminalization, it does mean that most escorts make a great deal more in the US (at least as a migrant).  As an American, I would need a working visa to work for any agencies, and that’s very difficult to get.  I also discovered (by talking to other girls on chat boards) that the agencies charge a lot of money for photos, which are over-Photoshopped and belong to the agency afterward.  Then even after the investment of this small fortune, the youngest and prettiest girls were still charging half of what I was in the US and they had to split that meager fee with the agency.  My only choice was therefore to be independent as I am at home, but that too had its problems; the internet advertising sites are inundated with ladies (many from Eastern Europe) charging as low as £30 for basically anything.  And while I certainly don’t look down on anyone who charges less than I do, I personally couldn’t bring myself to work for half or less of what I made back home in the states.  As a result, I saw only two clients while I was in London; ironically, one was from my hometown of Cleveland, OH, and he too had left as soon as he could (as I did when I went to Dallas)!  One other thing struck me:  despite sex work not being criminal in the UK, it’s still just as shunned as it is in the US.  And what that tells me is even after we finally achieve decriminalization in the US and Europe, we’ll still have a very long way to go in eliminating the stigma which contributes just as much to sex workers’ problems as criminalization does.  All in all, I don’t think I’ll try working in other countries again; my experiences have made me appreciate my clients on this side of the pond even more. 

Read Full Post »

Andrea Werhun is an author and performer based in Toronto.  She is currently a contributing writer for Playboy.com and has had her sex work experience featured by the New York Times, CBC, VICE and Hazlitt.  This is an excerpt from her forthcoming book, Modern Whore, which is available for pre-order at that link!

No matter what you call ‘em—clients, johns, philanderers, adulterous scumbags, your dad—the men who pay for sex have a bevy of legitimate reasons to procure the services of an erotic professional.  Maybe they’re lonely, stressed about work, or dissatisfied with life.  Perhaps they’re not getting what they want in the bedroom, not sure of what they want or are too afraid to ask.  Whatever it may be, these men are in desperate need of someone who can sexually alleviate their woes.

Take your travelling businessman, for instance.  No wife, no home, no children, he bounces around from airport to hotel to conference room to airport again, selling his wares on behalf of himself or his company.  Nothing caps an exhausting day of pitching the next best thing than a good, relaxing, lay-down-and-do-nothing fuck.  Then there are the men fresh out of long-term relationships—those vulnerable, hurting men in need of some healing love.  And whores, despite their relative anonymity and so-called “non-emotional” relationship to clients, do immense amounts of emotional labour for men with broken hearts.  Never discount the value of a little non-judgmental touch.  In addition to your travelling salesman and your broken-hearted boy, there’s always your regular, run-of-the-mill dork-a-zoid of any age who couldn’t make a move on a real girl if his internet connection depended on it.  The kind of man who trembles and shakes and breathes heavily and cums really fast and shoos you out the door as soon as the stressful ordeal is over.  In and out!

The lazy, impatient bachelor is my personal favourite:  good looking, mid-thirties to mid-fifties, single, immature, economically-minded, and very horny.  The lazy bachelor, in his many forms, has put it to me like this:  “Say I meet a woman at the bar I’d like to fuck.  I buy her a few drinks and, if I’m lucky, she gives me her number.  Then I go on a date with her, and of course I have to buy her dinner.  Even after all that, I’m still not guaranteed sex.  I don’t want to play games—I just want to fuck!  Hiring an escort is definitely cheaper in the long run.”  And there you have it.  Games aren’t fun if you’re not guaranteed a win.  Go for gold.  Go for the whore:  a guaranteed win.

The most common type of client of all is the married man.  Why?  Because being a good husband is the hardest job of all! 

My madam used to say, “I think we save marriages.  It’s safer for men to see an escort than it is to, say, have an affair with the secretary at the office.  There’s a lot less mess,” and thank goodness for that.  We wouldn’t want wives divorcing their husbands left and right for unearthing a little infidelity, would we?  Since the truth poses such a threat to the holy institution of marriage, let’s all do the acceptable thing and keep our adulterous predilections a secret.  Here’s a line I often heard from my married clients:  “This isn’t emotional cheating, you know.  I’m just paying you for a service.  It’s not like we’re having a passionate affair or anything.”  Uh huh, then why not tell your wife?  Crickets.  You know why you won’t tell your wife, married man?  Because the status quo serves you, not her, and you know it.  Having a wife, whether she’s at home minding the children or at work busting ass for that second income, is too good a deal to fuck up with a truth bomb like, “When I tell you I’m staying late at the office, I’m actually doing lines of coke with an escort in a motel room off the highway.”  Spare her the gory details.  What’s the harm if she doesn’t know?  So ladies, I pose this question to you in all earnestness:  what’s the point of getting married anymore?  What’s in it for us?  I have fucked so many self-serving, outwardly devoted, secretly philandering men in my time that you’ll have to excuse my disillusionment regarding institutionalized monogamy.  I know your husband is the exception.  I have happily accepted wads of cash from many, many exceptions.  Do hard-working, independent women truly need to marry a man?

Last, but not least: the differently abled.  These are men who deeply appreciate the loving touch and warmth of a sex worker.  I hadn’t seen many in my two years of working; in fact, only two: the first, a sweet young man with cerebral palsy, and the other a man we’ll call Paul.  During a particularly nasty cold in his thirties, Paul—a perfectly healthy, able-bodied, athletic man in his prime—woke up with a tingling sensation in his legs.  Tingling, the next day, became numbness, and numbness, over the weeks and months and years to follow, became full paralysis below the belt.  For someone whose life had been turned upside down by a mysterious and debilitating condition, Paul was an incredibly positive, kind, and resourceful individual.  He became a regular of mine with the agency and eventually offered to see me independently at the same rate.  Every week, I traveled an hour by subway to a distant station where he would pick me up in his minivan, fully tricked-out with all the knobs and gears that allowed him to drive without using his legs.  We took the highway to his suburban home, swiveling the driver’s seat and unfolding his wheelchair, unfurling the ramp from his vehicle to the garage floor, rolling to an elevator that took us into his house.  From there, we took another elevator to his bedroom.  Paul lived alone and was evidently quite self-sufficient.

Adjacent to his master bedroom was a spacious bathroom suite fitted with a jet stream bathtub.  He ran the water and began the ritual as I disrobed in the bedroom.  He too would disrobe, and when the water filled to a comfortable level, Paul would muscle his way with impressive upper-body strength into the tub, and I would follow, spooning against him.  Here we would soak in the warm water, lightly touching each other, relaxing, talking.  Feeling sufficiently prune-like, I would step out first, putting on the plush bathrobe he always provided, and help Paul exit the tub.  For the next half hour, we laid naked and clean on his bed wrapped in each other’s arms, kissing.  Paul would then wiggle his way down the bed and go head-over-heels into pussy town.  To say he was gifted at cunnilingus would be an understatement.  His legs may have been paralyzed but lord was that tongue limber!  Sometimes it was too much for me to handle, and he’d wiggle his way back up and we’d talk.  Paul used a catheter to piss and ate a steady diet of the same foods every day to regulate his shits because he couldn’t feel his genitals or his bowels.  Once, I played with his penis out of absent-minded habit and he revealed another escort had made him cum when he hadn’t realized he could.  I jerked him off to see what would happen.  Within minutes, Paul ejaculated—“Oh!” he said, “Look at it go!”  He couldn’t feel a thing.  “Still works though!”

Even though it took me an hour to get to Paul, an hour to be with him, and an hour to get home, the one-hour, all-in rate of $250 still seemed worth it to be in his company.  I once self-consciously breached the conversation of asking for a little more, considering the travel time.  He explained, with light despair, that he didn’t have any more money to offer me.  I immediately retracted and told him it was okay.  I saw Paul until the very end of my escorting career.  Besides the six types of sex work clients I’ve outlined, there are essentially only two types of people:  the kind and the unkind.  The reason a client hires a sex worker is inconsequential if that person is unkind.  And I can say, without a doubt, that Paul was one of the kindest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing.

Read Full Post »

When one of the men caught in Seattle’s anti-sex pogroms offered to write about his experience in “john school” (i.e, coerced “re-education” sessions), naturally I accepted.  Also naturally, I gave him a pseudonym to protect him from retaliation by Val Richey and company.

I was mandated to attend the Organization of Prostitution Survivor’s STOP Exploitation class (in other words, “john school”) in Seattle, WA.  It’s well-known that such classes have no actual deterrent effect; the only things they actually achieve are enriching the organizations which hold them, and disseminating radical feminist dogma.  Over the ten weeks I was forced to attend, the most consistent elements of the sessions were the use of fear and shame to induce conformity, and the toxic perpetuation of sex worker stereotypes and tropes.  Indeed, the existence of sex workers is only barely recognized in this course, and when they are mentioned at all it’s as a “privileged minority”; most sex workers are claimed to be “prostituted persons”, passive objects subjected to constant violence and coercion by “pimps”.  Ironically, it’s parasitic organizations like OPS which are the real exploiters of sex workers; they are manipulated through court mandated diversion programs, lied about by professional “Prostitution Survivors”, and oppressed by law enforcement and prosecutors to perpetuate a cycle of violence via the criminalization of sex work.  Sex workers are not even afforded a voice in a “school” that should have been focused on them and their struggles; instead they are extinguished as individuals with free-will to fuel an anti-sex agenda.

The hypocrisy and falsity of STOP are well-represented by its chief facilitator, Peter Qualliotine; his plastic smile and smarmy manner are inadequate cover for the dangerous oppression he helps enable.  The local media has been unfriendly and unbalanced regarding the topic of sex work.  Sex workers are claimed to be “sex slaves” or “victims” and the lies and disinformation promoted by opportunists like Qualliotine and professional “survivors” like Alisa Bernard are accepted without question or the most rudimentary fact-checking, despite the fact that SWOP Seattle is extremely public and it would be the work of only a few minutes for any reporter to get a statement from them about these claims. Interestingly, even Qualliotine himself seems to know there’s something fishy about his claims; though there’s a gleam in his eye when he tells us that he “enthusiastically endorses masturbation!” as an alternative to seeing sex workers, his shoulders slump, his arms are crossed and he looks down at the floor when he claims that decriminalization will never work and that independent sex workers are a very slim minority.  And disturbingly, he brightens up again when discussing Gary Ridgway, the Green River Killer (which he does often over the ten weeks).  The fact that Ridgway claimed it was wrong to pay for sex, just as Qualliotine himself claims, is not ever mentioned.

I paid attention as closely as I could because by the third week I realized that I wanted to write this, but it wasn’t easy; when Qualliotine isn’t quoting Melissa Farley’s bogus “statistics” and infantilizing women by claiming they aren’t psychologically able to make their own sexual decisions (because of “PTSD” and “trauma bonding”), he’s regaling his captive audience with the grade-school baseball analogy for sex, talking about “toxic masculinity” and claiming that simply looking at a woman exists on a “Continuum of Sexual Violence” that leads to rape and murder, with paying for sex at about the halfway point.  He also alluded to BDSM, conflating it with domestic violence, and though he branded male-dominant relationships specimens of “male privilege”, he paradoxically also claimed it’s men’s responsibility to end “sexist” sexual interactions (including money for sex) even if a woman prefers them or demands them.  Almost as an afterthought, he added that the cops need to “go after” madams and female escort service owners as well as male “pimps” and clients.  In a session mostly devoted to intimate partner violence, Qualliotine lists public shaming, outing and debt as forms of violence; presumably, the shaming, outing and debt inflicted by police stings don’t count.  It was all so stultifying a number of attendees slept; Qualliotine either didn’t notice or didn’t care.  I assume he gets the same amount of money per warm body from King County whether anyone actually listens to him or not.

Valiant Richey, King County Prosecutor (in other words, Demand Abolition’s local propaganda officer) claims most sex buyers are white and well-to-do, a proposal that promotes the concept of patriarchy.  But that’s not what I saw in these sessions, which are at least half men of color, many evidently working-class; one couldn’t ask for clearer evidence that, as with all prohibition, the consequences of criminalization fall upon the marginalized despite OPS’ claims to the contrary.  Qualliotine is an entitled white man bloviating against entitlement, whiteness and masculinity in order to play the hero and set himself up on a pedestal.  His pretense of personal outrage is so clearly false it’s embarrassing; during one of his rants about whiteness I saw two of the men of color firmly close their eyes, as though they could no longer bear to look upon this vulgar hypocrite.  This isn’t about feminism or justice; it’s about feeding Peter Qualliotine’s ego.  His sense of entitlement is immense; he actually expects attendees to trust him and OPS before even working with them, demanding one-way respect before earning it.  There exists no independent review of this dangerous and banal reductionism; it’s a middle school curriculum produced by an art student that reduces complex life issues to abstract polemic theory with no expectation of producing any effect.  Indeed, it reinforces the very stereotypes that it claims to want to expose.  If the goal of STOP was to make an ally, it failed.  Rights, not rescue; I’ve never believed in it more.

Read Full Post »

Julie Bindel, the well-known British “feminist” and prohibitionist, likes to call herself a journalist; however, I can think of a few more apt labels:  Huckster.  Charlatan.  Fruitcake.  And most of all, lazy twit who can’t even keep track of her own lies.  She’s been hawking a new book for a while now, but despite the help of a major UK newspaper giving her plenty of free column-inches in which to vomit out her regurgitated feces, it looks as though it’s going to flop in a big way.  And though I lack the intellectual endurance to even scan her overpriced doorstop, fortunately my friend Brooke Magnanti has far more critical wherewithall than I do, and was happy to volunteer this synopsis so none of y’all have to bother touching it, either.

This week Julie Bindel releases a new text which I have been privileged to see an advance copy of.  Unlike her previous efforts it’s aimed more at a scholarly market than a popular one, with aspirations to be a summary of investigations into sex workers’ organizations.  The newspaper coverage in Britain has been unescapable in the run-up to its release, with Bindel herself penning vicious invectives against sex workers in all the major papers.  Bindel initially crowdfunded the book to the tune of £7000.  Backers could pay £250 for the honor of having lunch with the woman herself (ironic when criminalized sex workers are also often forced to advertise their services as “lunch dates”).  On top of this, the book had an advance from Palgrave, so the punters end up paying twice.  The title, The Pimping of Prostitution, is ironic given anti-sex work crusades demonstrably attract and spend far more money than shoestring operations like rights orgs do; it is offered at an eye-watering $39.99 for the paperback (and an unbelievable $37.99 for the Kindle edition).  But while supporters paid a premium for the content, does the book deliver?

In a word:  no.  While advertised as a scholarly work it lacks any academic rigor.  Most of the references are self-citations of privately published reviews written by Bindel and Melissa Farley.  Peer review?  What peer review?  A few debunked statistics are trotted out as well.  There is no content of note here, which is unsurprising given Bindel’s most famous quote is that if given a gun and forced to choose between shooting a pimp and an academic, she would shoot the academic.  Bindel claims to have interviewed 250 people in 40 countries about sex work – by her own admission they are journalist friends of hers, police, and “regular members of the public who knew very little, if anything, about the sex trade”.  If this were a middle school project it would be laughed out of class for its utter lack of quality.  She notes in the acknowledgments that “the other side” trusted her to “represent their words and views fairly”.  Is that so?  She has called legalization and decriminalization the same thing when they are not.  Despite being told many times sex workers support decriminalization, not legalization, Julie is too dishonest to admit this, setting up a straw (wo)man and knocking it down over and over.

She states over and over again that there is a “pro-prostitution lobby”.  Who?  She never exactly says and cannot produce any paper trail.  That is for the simple reason that it is she and her friends who are lobbying politicians, setting up All Party Parliamentary Groups stuffed with MPs who want to see more women imprisoned, and paying for events to try to sway lawmakers to their ideology.  The other side, such as it is, is sex workers unpaid for standing up for their rights, and a handful of front-line organizations trying desperately to make sure any sense is heard in the prohibitionist din.  In any case, the claim she interviewed sex work activists is false; she has not so much interviewed her opponents as hand-selected people uninvolved in activism or sex work.  Why are her lengthy conversations with Peter Tatchell about gay men and the age of consent here, if not to stoke pedophilia fears on the back of homophobia?  Why does she place so much importance on tearing down sociologist Dr Catherine Hakim, whose area of research this is not?  How is politician Keith Vaz’s relationship with male escorts related to violence against women?  A few contextless quotes from Conner Habib and Janet Mock are thrown in to prove – well, it’s not clear what, actually.  It’s a mystery:  a bunch of unconnected hit jobs padding out an otherwise shoddy book.  The rest is a collection of personal anecdotes, old feminists she once met, and so on.  She also details the time in the ’70s she was pen-friends with imprisoned sex worker Emma Humphreys, while dodging the question of why the laws she supports would still put women like Emma in jail.

When discussing sex workers condescension drips from every sentence and it is clear she is used to having the floor to herself.  Unable to take criticism or debate (the launch party for her book at “independent intellectual venue” Conway Hall expressly forbade sex work activists), disgusted by the humans she so profitably claims to save.  Her schtick would be funny if it didn’t have real and damaging repercussions on people’s lives.  But the main takeaway from the book is its desperation.  The money she raised appears to have gone towards an all-expenses-paid international jaunt with only the slenderest of results to show for it.  The text reads less like a new movement and more like a last gasp.  If this is Bindel’s final shot at the history books than let it also be the epitaph for her career.  Here lies prohibition: illogical, illiberal, and entirely without merit.

If you want real scholarship about sex work, including hard-hitting debunking of Bindel’s lies (and those of her cronies), please purchase Brooke’s new book Sex, Lies and Statistics (with a foreword by yours truly).  And until Monday evening, Brooke is donating 100% of the profits from ALL preorders globally to SWOP Behind Bars, the nonprofit organization which specializes in helping the women Bindel and her ilk want to keep locking up in cages.

Read Full Post »

Brooke Magnanti has released a new, revised edition of her book The Sex Myth, retitled Sex, Lies and Statistics.  This was adapted by Brooke from her afterword (the foreword was written by yours truly), and I hope it will serve to encourage you to buy the book, which demolishes the shoddy garbage prohibitionists hold up in place of actual facts.  And it’s on sale now!

Media are obsessed with promoting a view we would previously have dismissed as Victorian.  There are indeed parallels.  The end of the 19th century and start of the 20th brought new technologies to add to the dissemination of ideas through mass media (much like the Internet today)…with the predictable horror and blame that brought then, just like now.  The political class made some unexpected alliances as a result; again, we see this happening.  Feminism has joined the anti-sex bandwagon in a big way.  Not just by blaming men for inequality between the sexes, but perhaps more profitably and successfully by blaming other women.  Many mainstream feminist critiques gloss over old “man-hating” attitudes and place blame squarely on other women.  Instead of embracing women who challenge convention, the preoccupation is with shooting them down.  On the one hand, we’re told that anyone who believes women and men should have equal rights under the law is a feminist, whether they know it or not.  On the other, we are told that one or another group of women are traitors.  It’s the feminists who have taken up the finger-wagging role of the patriarchy.  Take, for example, this quote by Julie Burchill:  “When the sex war is won prostitutes should be shot as collaborators for their terrible betrayal of all women.”  Advocating the murder of large numbers of women is such a great way to win supporters to the cause, no?

The more you look at the key players behind some of the stories, the more you notice odd pairings.  A group working closely with the anti-gay, anti-abortion US lobbying group using a female MP as the mouthpiece of their opinions on porn.  The well-known feminists signing up to work with far right groups.  Celebrities lending star power to issues they don’t understand at all.  Almost all approaches to these issues fail to consider the diversity of factors involved.  The “Swedish model” of sex work is an example of this.  Lots of hype, not a lot of data on whether paid sex work has stopped or whether anyone’s life has been improved as a result.  Columnists like Joan Smith can gush about jumping in to a cop car to see how the law is panning out, all while ignoring the fact that sex workers repeatedly confirm that the police are their greatest source of harassment, assault, and rape.  Proponents of the Swedish approach mention how “pressure” is ramping up on this topic – pressure that they themselves have generated through unchallenging media coverage.  When in doubt, follow the money.  Over and over again the people fronting these campaigns are connected to industries with vested interests, radical right-wing think tanks, or anti-LGBT lobbyists.  The deputy editor for the New Statesman previously worked at the Mail and is rumoured to have subedited Jan Moir when she wrote a viciously homophobic column about Stephen Gately’s death.  Arch-feminists like Julie Bindel write for staunchly right wing, regressive magazines like the Spectator.  There’s a saying where I come from:  you got to dance with the one who brung you.  I wonder, when everyone gets to the end of their dance cards, what promises feminists have made and what obligations they’ll have to honor.

Before 2009, when I wrote books under a pseudonym about my experiences as a sex worker, there was no small amount of grumbling in the press.  After I won the Guardian Best British Weblog award in 2003, a number of female contributors to that paper signed a letter vowing that if I was commissioned to write for the paper, they would quit.  Yet I continued to believe that if they knew I was real, they would feel differently.  It’s probably not a surprise to you that I was unprepared for what any fool could have predicted would happen.  Since coming out as a former sex worker, I have been criticized for being too middle class, too well educated, too independent.  As if my very existence in sex work was, somehow, unique.  But data across the spectrum of sex work shows this not to be true.  In any case, if I admitted to a drug addiction instead, or had been homeless?  That would have been used to write me off, too.  It is bizarre to read articles by people who’ve never met me attempting to dissect this or that bit of my life.  Some lazy commentators “blame” me for the existence of other call girls, or whatever new student sex worker is uncovered by the tabloids.  As flattering as that is, it is not true.  Prostitution is called “the oldest profession” for a reason.

After a while all such nonsense became background noise.  I assumed the combined forces of feminists and the Rescue Industry had nothing worse up their sleeves.  I was wrong.  When the first edition of this book was published in Britain in 2012, it was embargoed before publication day and available to fewer than 20 people to review.  Journalists who saw the book signed confidentiality agreements.  So it was a great surprise to wake up on the morning of publication slapped with a libel lawsuit from Eaves For Women, the domestic violence charity whose hapless forays into research are touched on in this book.  If their work had been published in academic journals, anyone writing to correct their numbers would have been treated professionally, but this was not academia I was dealing with.  Obviously, I did not write anything about Eaves that could not be verified, and just as obviously, they had not been sent a pre-publication copy of the book by my publisher but had been given one by book reviewer – and Eaves board member – Julie Bindel.  The firm representing Eaves in this lawsuit threat?  The one with Bindel’s wife as a founding partner.  The Eaves claims would have been hilarious if they had not been so ludicrous.  They claimed I “hacked their servers” to get information about their income and expenditures (as with all UK charities, it’s public information available on government websites) and “broken confidentiality agreements” to discuss their research (I looked up their publications from conferences, also available online).  Their arguments depended on evidence so far-fetched it could have served as a bad science example in the book itself.  I later learned this was not the first time this had happened.  Eaves had threatened to sue so many people, so often, they even served legal threats on Bindel’s own employer at the time, the Guardian newspaper for an article by Belinda Brooks-Gordon (Bindel is no longer on Guardian staff, but freelances for them).  The intellectual dishonesty of someone like Bindel, who claims to be “silenced” and a “free speech” advocate yet uses archaic laws to try to silence opposition, is staggering.  Unsurprisingly the threatened suit was without merit and quickly dropped.

Meanwhile, the media feminists of the UK rounded on me.  Julie Burchill wrote one article claiming I was a “sex addict”, another calling me a “human toilet”, and compared me to a convicted (and executed) Nazi war criminal; this was especially offensive as I am of Jewish heritage.  The “feminist” literature magazine that published those last two tidbits claimed they did not know what the words meant.  Sorry, Mslexia, but ignorance is no excuse.  They did not apologize.  One feminist turned up at a talk in Edinburgh to shout to the audience that I was a pedophile and claim my screenshots of the Glasgow City Council’s website (showing how much they paid for anti-strip club consultations) were faked.  Others picketed talks and book signings, sent death threats, and harassed me so frequently by phone that I gave up on carrying a mobile altogether.  They contacted my former editor at the Telegraph in an attempt to get me fired – long after I’d already quit.  Few in journalism seem to care that the people doing this are all a couple of degrees of separation from known anti-LGBT and white supremacist orgs in the US.  All anyone wants is to see the naughty, naughty sex lady be punished.  They don’t care how it’s done or who does it.  This, I was told, was the price of being a sex worker in public.

Writers with the left-leaning New Statesman magazine, many of whom launched careers by harassing trans women and sex workers, also got the boot in.  Their assistant editor, Helen Lewis, sits on the board of a charity that is anti-sex work and anti-trans women.  She and other feminists joked on social media when a former partner tried to sue me for reporting his abuse (he later dropped the suit to much less fanfare).  They encouraged Breitbart to run a week-long campaign of harassment and abuse.  They egged on nasty “investigative journalist” Jeremy Duns who made sexual threats against me and my husband.  They examined photos from my escorting days, speculating on whether I was “hot enough” have been a sex worker, and speculating about what diseases I might have.  They circulated a list at public events suggesting that I and others were employed by a shadowy “Pimp Lobby” and financially benefitting from trafficking (if that’s the case, I have yet to receive a paycheck).  The laughable list, compiled by Julie Bindel, included a number of people uninvolved with sex work at all, including an artist who died in 2010, so it’s clear fact-checking is not a valued quality among these people.  The abuse peaked when they outed a trans camgirl whose Twitter account they thought had been written by me.  It wasn’t – but in the process they humiliated a woman who was not yet out to her family.  Their supposed evidence?  We both supported Scottish independence, and both, at different times, used the phrase “snake oil”.  In spite of having got it drastically wrong, no apology to the woman they doxxed was forthcoming.  Why would anyone do this?  In short, to control the narrative.

It would be unthinkable – to most people, anyway – to have a discussion about women’s rights that did not involve any women.  Or a discussion about race that did not include people of color.  But time and again when the topic is sex work, sex workers themselves are not simply ignored, they are actively excluded.  What do sex workers want?  A seat at the table.  To be able to work together for safety.  To report crimes against them without fear of arrest.  For services to be made available that are not dependent on them giving evidence against others.  To not live in fear of deportation or abuse by police.  In short:  they want the same protection under the law that any other worker can expect.  And not only is this what sex workers want, it’s what the evidence supports as best practice.  We’ve seen the benefits of decriminalization in New Zealand, in New South Wales Australia.  We’ve also seen what goes wrong in Sweden, in the Netherlands, and in the US.  International agencies from the WHO to Amnesty agree.  But this evidence-driven support for decrim hasn’t come out of thin air.  Much has been written on the disruptive effects of social media, but this much is true:  if not for the internet, people like me would never have been able to challenge the stereotypes with facts.  Marginalized people with multiple oppressions – black trans sex workers, drug using sex workers – who would otherwise fear being outed, are being taken seriously by a mainstream that otherwise would never have known they existed.  The infantilized victims who need rich white ladies to save them, it turns out, are fully capable adults who can make their own decisions and won’t hesitate to tell you that.  And that makes some folks with vested interests very upset indeed.

What happened to me was not the first nor even worst example.  Entrenched second-wave feminists in media have harassed trans politicians out of their jobs, driven black cultural commentators off of social media, and consistently outed and trashed any sex worker who crosses their paths.  Heaven help you if you happen to belong to more than one of these groups.  They reserve the worst treatment for the most marginalized, secure in the knowledge that society does not care because they told society not to.  The disinformation campaign used to sustain sex myths was a glimpse into a post-truth world where what matters is not what is right, but who can get the most money.  Some of those folks were so threatened by one woman and one book that they tried to bankrupt, discredit, and silence one blogger.  A movement backed by billions of dollars in international grants is so susceptible to people seeing the real data, they will stop at nothing to keep the truth from getting out.  And they are not interested in ethical debate; they demand that their point of view be bowed to in any discussion, even (and especially) if that means keeping the discussion centered on their feelings rather than other people’s right to exist.  They use the media not to understand, but to bludgeon.  They simply do not care if their information is incorrect.  I started off believing that open debate was the best way to win hearts and minds; I ended up realizing that some people will use that to drown out anyone who does not agree with their own intolerant, hate-filled views.  There simply is no way to have a debate with people who characterize you as an “orifice” who “should be dead in a ditch.”  There is no common ground to be found with people who willingly promote your abusers.

And yet, in all the negativity, there are signs of light.  In the years from when I was a sex worker in 2003, since I came out in 2009, and after the first edition of this book in 2012, the ground has rapidly shifted.  When Amnesty International rejected threats from famous feminists and backed the decriminalization of sex work based on the evidence, it was a win for a sex workers’ movement that far predates and will long outlast any one person.  When I gave evidence to UK Parliament in 2016, the MPs – to my surprise – took the suggestions of sex workers on board in their report, rather that listening to entrenched and well-funded special interests.  In Scottish Parliament, Rhoda Grant (who receives funding from the anti-gay, anti-abortion charity Care) has tried three times to introduce criminalization of sex work, and been defeated all three times.  Evidence really does win out from time to time; it might not seem that way in the moment, but things are changing, slowly and surely.  In 2009 and 2012, it felt as if every week brought new abuse from a media obsessed with surfaces instead of content.  So-called progressives shame and reject us, even when sex workers were early supporters of feminism, gay rights, and other movements that have since gained public acceptance on the back of that effort.  In particular, the most marginalized sex workers from black and trans communities were the ones most likely to be erased, people like Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P Johnson, and many more.  Slowly and surely their legacy is being reclaimed, too.  The pendulum of attitudes about sex and sexuality is always in motion.  I hope that in my lifetime the burden of shame felt by so many for so long will be lifted.  With evidence and hard work we can reclaim the narrative – and take back our lives from the playground bullies of shame and fear.

Brooke doesn’t pull any punches in this new, US edition; it’s a vital debunking resource for those who support sex worker rights, and you really, really, REALLY ought to read it!

Read Full Post »

At the beginning of July, Lynne reached out to me via Paul Maginn to ask if I’d host an essay she wanted to write about her late daughter Pippa (October 18th, 1987 – October 12th, 2015), better known to the world at large as Grace Bellavue.  I was deeply touched that Lynne chose me to help her honor the memory of her daughter, one of the first sex workers in the world to use social media in the way so many of us do now, and one of the first to show us that we could show our faces without fear; Grace touched the lives of many thousands of people she never met, and her untimely death (just a few days short of her 28th birthday) robbed the world of a powerful, amazing woman.  I originally wrote “unique” in the previous sentence, but that’s not entirely true; as you will understand after reading this essay, her mother Lynne is in her own way just as amazing, and her desire to continue her daughter’s work is one of the most beautiful examples of maternal love it has ever been my privilege to witness. 

Can death really stymie a spirit that continues to be heard?

I wonder if you have ever set an intention?  Did you ever wonder how you were going to start, especially when you have an emotional investment in what you believe in?  For myself, it started with fear, then I realised that if you have fear, then there is no love.  I was going to be confronted with things I didn’t want to know or feel.  I was going to grieve all over again for my beautiful daughter Pippa O’Sullivan, AKA Grace Bellavue:  Sex worker, Escort Extraordinaire, real life Advocate, Writer, Social Justice Warrior and observer of all things nefarious locally and internationally.  As a wordsmith, her reach was incredible and life-changing to many who loved her.  Most life-stories begin with a beginning, but this one starts with an end:  A life lost tragically to suicide, which I felt could have been prevented.  A tragic loss of SELF!  I’ve often felt being a mother is about learning strengths you didn’t know you had, and dealing with fears you didn’t know existed.  A numbness of thought told her it couldn’t get any worse, but unfortunately it did for me.  My beautiful, amazing daughter gone.  A person so full of life, yet extinguished so quickly that I hardly had time to grasp her essence as she grew to adulthood.

I do believe in a life where there are no mistakes or coincidences.  All events are blessings given to us to learn from.  My daughter was a blessing from the start: half of me, yet unique.  She stood out amongst her contemporaries as gifted and talented; her wisdom and her deep understanding of the human psyche knew no boundaries. I’ve often thought, “How can someone that had enough inner fire to light a city die so tragically?”  There is no sense or reason to it for us, but Grace had personal reason enough to kill herself, alone with her thoughts and just her cat for company.

While I have no wish to openly talk on her early life just yet, it would be remiss of me not to mention that an escort was what she had always wanted to be.  I realised when she turned 18 that if I didn’t support her I would lose the daughter I loved, so I set about accepting what she did and gained a little insight into the industry.  It wasn’t something I talked about openly with family and friends at the start, but I gained respect for her written word and the real love she had for the working girls.  Grace was a chameleon who lived two lives, one as a sex worker and the other as a daughter who was loved and accepted by her family.  She never crossed that line when she was with us.

Grace was one of the first in the world to use social media as a means to be heard; she lived her life as she saw fit, and said just what she wanted to say without barriers.  Many who lived vicariously through her soaked up her words as water into the sponge of their mundane lives.  Grace had an amazing understanding of the human psyche which she shared with the whole world; her fans often wrote to her when they were depressed, at loggerheads with life and in need of reassurance and comforting words.  I saw many she saved with her written word when she was burnt out and had no energy for anyone, let alone herself.  My daughter was the kindest, most thoughtful, most selfless and empathetic person you could come across; she crossed barriers to help the disabled in her sex work, worked in the assimilation process with new immigrants, and won real love with her honesty and openness.

As a campaigner I’ve found that advocating for the empowerment of women is a passion of mine, and I stand right behind Grace and all the work she did toward decriminalization. I am a firm believer that to be an expert in anything you need to time to understand your subject, but also to passionately understand the heart that goes with it.  My continuation of Pippa’s work began when I spoke in a parliamentary hearing last December with a cohort of other sex workers; she had been dead for over 12 months and I wanted to act on her behalf.  I worked within the social justice framework as a clinical nurse for 40 years, advocating for others that couldn’t have a voice, and I drew on that experience to speak about the fact that the rights and safety of sex workers should be seen as an essential component of community expectations about the status and treatment of women.  South Australia has long denied sex workers their human rights and the protection that should be offered to paid workers anywhere, but our politicians have begun to realize that decriminalisation strengthens the ability of sex workers to report intimidation, extortion and any exploitation that is taking place.  In June of this year, our decriminalisation law for South Australia was passed in the Upper House; we hope that this month the Lower House accepts the bill unopposed and we can see some results that accept accountability and safety for all Sex Workers in this state.

While my daughters life is still fresh in our minds and our hearts, we need to honor her advocacy for the labelled and stigmatised, the people she saved on the streets, her fight for decriminalisation of the sex industry in South Australia, and her reach within the social/interactive media and the sex worker network.  I am looking at it as a capacity building measure, where we build on what is working in the world and embrace a “new voice” here in South Australia and further afield.  I will be collating her life works into a book in the near future, and have a WordPress account called ouramazinggrace.com in which I would like anyone to put their thoughts/words and perhaps the contact they had with Grace/Pippa and how she influenced their lives.

It is with Grace…… that I accept her life and all she contributed, to continue her final work.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »