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I asked Brooke for a quick introduction to her new book, and she wrote: “You Don’t Know Me is a follow-up to The Turning Tide, though you don’t have to have read that book to read this one.  It’s set in the same universe: a medium-sized town in the Highlands called Cameron Bridge.  It all starts (as so many crime novels do) with the disappearance and death of a call girl.  However that is only the beginning.  As the investigation unfolds in the here and now, her best friend’s flashbacks reveal a woman who is anything but the expected ‘dead sex worker’ trope.  It’s a story about sex and secrets, but also about women and passionate friendships.  How far would you go to avenge your best friend and soulmate?  That’s the question one woman will have to answer.”

It is the second half of her master’s course in Newcastle.  Her first spring in the city, after a winter of freezing rain and baffling lectures.  Denise’s cheap coat, good enough for the London cold, is insufficient here and beginning to come apart at the seams.

She logs her hours in the computer lab, turns in every piece of work on time, and phones her parents twice a week whether they answer or not.  Usually they do not.  She waits for the answerphone, leaves a message as if everything is the same as it was before.  Before she moved to Newcastle to start a master’s course in genetic epidemiology.  Before her brother died.

There is money in her account, far too much.  One hundred and fifty thousand pounds.  The number glares at her every time she has to use the cash point.  She can’t spend it and she doesn’t want to keep it.  But giving it away is no good either; it would be like giving away the last photograph of a loved one.  It would be unthinkable.

Denise throws herself into her master’s project.  She analyses single nucleotide polymorphisms in genetic samples of families with a history of colon cancer.  A text-based program calculates risk predictions for future generations in those families.  She tweaks the code, pleased when she shaves microseconds off the runtime of each simulation.  It is like the swimming practices she and Darwin did as teens.  Working over weeks, months, even an entire season to prune down their personal bests.

One night Denise is at the bus stop when she sees some of her course mates in a pub.  It looks warm inside, the bus is almost 20 minutes late, and she has five pounds in her pocket she forgot to spend on lunch.  She crosses the rain-slicked road and goes in.

“Denise!” a man at the bar waves.  “I’m getting a round in.  What are you having?”

“Hi, Jack.”  Denise smiles.  “That’s very kind, thank you.  Diet coke and lemon, please.”  Jack has blue eyes and wears his hair long but it suits him.  His smile is kind and his eyes seek her out in lectures, exchanging a look that seems to indicate they are in on some kind of secret together.

He always seems so nice, at ease in any group, charming and smart.  She realises she has probably had a crush on him for some time now.

A crush she can never act on.  Because he has a girlfriend.  This girlfriend is called Miriam.  His eyes go soft whenever he mentions her, as if the sound of her name has a sort of power.  Denise has never met this woman, but the others have, and they agree she is wonderful.  She is not sure what to imagine.  A petite and serious brunette, perhaps, the kind of studious woman who is primly perfect when she takes her glasses off?  Or else a tight-bodied, hockey-playing blonde, the sort of country girl already settled into Jack’s family, accompanying his parents on weekend trips to the garden centre?

The other students are dressed more formally than usual, a woman in a short purple satin frock, the men in trousers and jackets.  Is there something on she has forgotten about?

“Didn’t think you’d be out tonight.”  The woman’s teeth look dull yellow next to her lipstick.  “Or did you get a ticket in the end?”

Denise accepts a glass from Jack at the bar.  “A ticket to what?”

The group erupts in a peal of laughter.  “To the Medics Ball?  At City Hall?”  A hot redness blooms on her cheeks.  The epidemiology students aren’t medics even if they are in the medical school; why would it occur to her to go?

“I wouldn’t worry about it,” Jack says.  “I went last year.  It’s not all that.  Terrible meal.  The disco is dire.  You’re not missing anything.”

“Are we ready or are we ready?” a voice calls out behind them.  Denise follows the others’ eyes as they look to the door.

“Miri!” Jack says.  “Finally.”

The woman in the green velvet dress enters the pub.  It is a cold night, but she is wearing no coat.  Probably local to the area, then – one of the first things Denise noticed about Newcastle was that the rumours were correct:  true Geordies went out in all weather without jackets or hats.  Her hair has the colour and movement of fire.  The crushed velvet clings to her pear-shaped body and reveals plainly that she is wearing nothing underneath.  A long string of garnets, dark as the shadows in her hair, is looped once around her neck and hangs almost to her waist.  She is wearing the kind of strappy sandals Denise often looks at in shop windows but can never bring herself to buy:  too impractical, too showy.  But the black patent straps look just right around her narrow ankles, not too showy at all.

Her only concession to the cold is a pair of black satin gloves that come past her elbows.  Denise looks away but not before she notices Miri slip an arm around Jack’s neck and his twist to kiss her on the cheek.

“Who’s this?” she asks, meaning Denise.  “I don’t think we’ve met.”  Miri’s voice is smoky and deep, a surprising contrast to her pink cheeks and baby skin.  She detaches her arm from where it is snaked around Jack to offer a hand.  Denise mumbles her name, first and last.  “Are you coming?” Miri smiles.  Her smile is a sweet tiny bow, the face of a Victorian valentine.

“I was on my way home,” Denise says.  “I don’t have a ticket…”

Miri laughs, full throated like a goose.  “You shouldn’t let a thing like that stop you!” she says.  “Come with me.”  She grabs Denise’s elbow and leads her to the toilets, shouting to the rest of the group to go on ahead, they will catch up.

Inside are two toilet stalls, one missing a door.  Miri indicates for Denise to take off her coat, which she does.  Miri folds it and stuffs it into Denise’s bag.  Suddenly Miri is peeling off her dress.  “You can wear mine,” she says.  “You can’t walk in there dressed like that.  Give me your clothes.”

Denise hesitates.  As she suspected Miri is wearing nothing underneath.  Miri tilts her head and smiles, slinky green fabric in her gloved hand.  The dress looks smaller off her body, hardly more material than a swimsuit.  “Go on, it’s stretch, it fits everyone,” she says.  “You’re almost as flat up top as I am.”

“But what will you wear?”

Miri smiles.  “Your clothes, obviously.  Don’t worry.  I know the doormen, it won’t be a problem for me to walk in.”

Denise doesn’t know what to do.  It is impossible to look at the girl standing in front of her wearing nothing but gloves, a long necklace, and heels.  It is almost as hard not to stare.  Miri is slim up top and heavier below.  She has the kind of seal-like limbs, smooth, that Denise often thinks of as boneless.  Her legs taper from firm round thighs to tiny narrow ankles.  It is not the type of body that is fashionable now, not the body celebrated in haute couture shows and women’s magazines.  But the way she is standing tells her that Miri is more comfortable in her skin than she with her angular limbs and narrow hips ever will be.

Denise doesn’t want Miri to laugh at her for being a prude.  She does not want to have to see Jack and the others later, tomorrow or the next day or next week, in the library or in an exam, and explain what happened.  She closes her eyes and begins unbuttoning her shirt.  The hands feel as if they belong to someone else, as if all of this is something she is watching in a film.  Miri pulls the velvet dress over her head.  To Denise’s surprise the dress does indeed shrink and stretch in the right places to fit.

“Hair,” Miri says, and reaches forward, her arms encircling Denise’s neck.  Her eyes, which looked blue at a distance, are green and violet close up, flecked with yellow, the fire of opals in her pale face.  The scent of her is sweet and sharp, sweat and vanilla.  Miri’s small hands untangle Denise’s pigtail, arrange the strands over shoulders.  “Not bad,” she pronounces.  “Do you have makeup?”  Denise shakes her head.

“That’s OK, we’ll make do.”  Her face suddenly darts forward, and she plants a firm kiss on the lips.  She leans back and examines Denise’s surprised face.  “Perfect,” she declares.  “Now you have some of my lippy.”

She tells Denise to look in the mirror.  Denise’s cheeks are flushed as if she has been running and her lips are a bright pink like Miri’s.  The ends of her hair graze her collarbones, now exposed by the low neckline of the dress.  Denise stares at her reflection as if she is looking at someone else entirely, someone who resembles her but not quite.  A close relative, perhaps.  A twin.  She had a twin once.  Then her twin was lost and she has been alone ever since.  If the mirror can be her twin, perhaps she isn’t alone after all.

She glances down at her watch.  “We should hurry,” she says.  “We don’t want to be too late.”

“Is being on time important to you?” Miri says.

“I guess so.”  Denise hesitates.  Wasn’t being on time important to everyone?  “It’s rude to be late, isn’t it?  Like, you would get in trouble if you were late for work—”

Miri’s throaty laugh cuts her off.  “There are only two kinds of people who are paid to be on time,” she says.  “Train drivers and call girls.  Anyway, what’s the rush?  Let’s have a drink, get to know each other a little better.  Jack tells me nothing about his friends.  I want to find out more about you.”

“What’s to find out?  I’m very boring.”  But Miri is standing there, expecting something.  “OK, my name is Denise Ang.  My family is from Macau, I was born in London.  My parents have a chip shop.”  She is about to mention Darwin but stops herself.  She looks at the mirror again, it is almost impossible not to.  Twin-Denise moves her mouth when Denise does, but she is different somehow.  Both her and not-her.  She has a thrilling, guilty feeling of looking at herself too long, as if someone has caught her staring at them.  She clears her throat and looks away again.  “I have a degree in maths.  So I guess I’m kind of a walking cliché.”

Miri tilts her head.  “How so?” she says.

Denise is confused.  Is she taking the piss, or does she really not know?  “I’m very boring,” she repeats.

“Nonsense,” Miri says, and her reflection smiles at Denise’s.  “In my experience, it’s the quiet ones you have to watch out for.”

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My friend Brooke Magnanti’s last book, The Turning Tide, is now available in the United States!  So I asked her to provide an excerpt so as to entice y’all to buy it…especially since her new one is coming out this summer!  If you live in the UK, buy it here instead.  And just in case you don’t remember, she did a series of video promos when the book was first published last year!

Of all the things that Daniel Wallace had hoped to do on holiday, finding a dead body was not one of them.

The kayak trip from Skye to Raasay was perfect. Daniel had planned this leg of the trip carefully: a mid-February journey starting on Skye, going up the long east coast of the island of Raasay. Although the water was cold, there was little wind and the only snow was on the mountaintops. They would paddle past the steep cliffs and fossil beaches with views over to the mainland and lunch on the cobble beach below castle ruins, then continue on to a romantic bothy inaccessible to walkers and unlikely to be occupied at this time of year.

Maya teased him for being such a list maker, but as the day went on he was pleased at having planned it so well. There was a slight chop on the water and late winter light on the wavelets sparkled like sequins. It became glassy smooth as they rounded the tip of Raasay and turned north. There was a superpod of dolphins spanning the sound between the island and Applecross on the mainland, hundreds of them leaping and squealing for the sheer fun of jumping around. Maya was nervous about the large mammals at first. She clutched the shaft of her paddle tightly, but was soon laughing with the joy of it all.

They landed on the northern tip of the island. Maya pulled her kayak above the tide line onto the shingle beach while Daniel hung back. ‘Something wrong?’ she asked.

‘I think there’s something caught in my rudder,’ Daniel said, ‘bit of seaweed, maybe. You go on ahead and find the bothy, I’ll catch up.’

‘Sure,’ she smiled. Daniel watched her buttocks cased in her kayaking drysuit disappear along the path. Three years in and he still fancied this woman as if they just met. A good sign, right? That she was a keeper. The One.

So far, so good. Tonight they would watch the sunset from the beach and share a bottle of whisky. He would make them a simple meal of bacon and tuna pasta on the gas camping stove.

Then there was the ring, tucked safely away in his dry bags. He planned to pop the question after dinner: maybe on a moonlit walk, maybe sitting by the bothy fire later. With the day going so well he could afford to play that part by ear.

That was tonight sorted. Tomorrow? Tomorrow they would paddle around the smaller nearby isle of Rona before heading down the other coast of Raasay and back to Skye. He had booked a table and room at an inn that specialised in local seafood and folk music, and they could toast their engagement with a pint of ale.

He tugged hard on the deck lines. The kayak would not budge. Daniel took off his gloves and felt along under the boat to the rudder. Something was caught on it. He pulled but it wouldn’t give way. So it was not seaweed then. It felt a bit like rope. ‘What on earth…’ he murmured. Maybe a belt? Someone’s old climbing gear? The cliffs further down the island were popular with climbers and the waters were trawled by fishing vessels. You never knew what could wash up on the beaches here.

As he gave one last pull something came loose. Daniel crossed to the bow and dragged the kayak up the shore. He flipped the boat on its side and saw what looked like a holdall with one long strap that must have caught on his boat in the shallows. He sighed. Maybe the bag fell off a hiker on a hill somewhere. ‘Someone wasn’t having a great day,’ he said to no one in particular.

Probably there would be a wallet inside, or a tag perhaps, and they could get this back to its rightful owner. He didn’t relish the thought of carrying someone else’s luggage around for the next day or two, but he hoped someone else would have done the same for him.

The zip came unstuck with a little effort. Inside it looked like – well, he wasn’t sure what, exactly. Something the size of a melon poked out, round. It had a slippery, translucent quality rather like a jellyfish. But it was too early in the year for jellyfish. He poked at it with the toe of his neoprene boot. The stench hit him at the very moment he realised what it was he was looking at. The contents of Daniel’s stomach bubbled into his throat as a wave of shock ran up his body. He collapsed on the ground.

‘Maya!’ he shouted. ‘Maya!’ He tried to clamber to his knees, but his legs felt rubbery and uncertain.

Maya was only seconds away but to Daniel those moments felt like hours. She put her hand gently on his shoulder. ‘Are you OK?’ she said. Daniel did not often lose his cool, not even the time they went out for a routine paddle that turned into force eight gale conditions off the Islay. This had to be serious.
Daniel closed his eyes and shook his head. He tried to raise one arm and point back to the boat.

‘What is it?’ Maya asked.

‘You tell me,’ he said.

Maya went for a closer look. The sight and smell knocked her back for a moment, but she recovered quickly and leaned in to see what was in there. There was a body inside the bag. No doubt about that. Three years of a forensic science degree had prepared her, but only just, for something like this. She had seen plenty of specimens in the lab or in the morgue but that was different. Those were lifeless, static things that looked more like oversized dolls than anything else.
This however was… well, it was kind of great, actually. Her first cold one in situ. ‘It’s dead,’ she said. She picked up Daniel’s paddle and poked the remains with the end. ‘Human.’ There was a retching sound behind her. ‘Daniel?’

He was sitting upright, head between his knees. ‘Are you sure?’

‘Sure it’s dead, or sure it’s human?’ No reply; only the sound of more heaving. ‘Yeah, I’m sure,’ she said.

Maya frowned at the remains. A head, bald. A shoulder and arm pulled back, maybe tied? A slender elbow joint poked through the grey, gelatinous scraps of flesh and connective tissue. If the body hadn’t been in the bag, odds were the rest of its extremities would have fallen away from the trunk by now. This had been in the water some time – weeks, at least.

Daniel’s chest rose and fell heavily. ‘What now? Do we radio this in? Pull the GPS beacon?’ Of all the emergency situations he had prepped for over the years, this was not one of them.

Maya inspected the outside of the bag for clues. It was covered in black algae. There was no sign of ID.

‘Pulling the beacon might be too far,’ she said. ‘Whoever it is, he’s already dead.’ If someone was dead it was a collection job, not an emergency.

Was it an offence to leave a dead body unattended? She couldn’t remember. Maya surveyed the horizon in all directions. There was the tiny island of Rona to the north and six miles of heather bog to the south; Skye on one side, mainland Scottish Highlands on the other. No place within walking distance of where they were unless she fancied a four-hour yomp to Raasay’s only village in wet boots. Plus Daniel didn’t look in any shape to do it. She popped the covers open on his kayak and rifled through his dry bags for a phone. ‘Do you have reception? We could call the police station in Portree.’

‘No reception here.’

‘I’ll get on the VHF and radio the coastguard,’ Maya said. ‘They can pass it on to police. Looks like we might not be staying here the night after all.’

Daniel’s five-star instructor’s course had offered no guidance on what to do if you ended up having to haul a sack of decomposing human remains on a sea kayak. ‘Please tell me we’re not paddling this – this thing – to shore.’

‘No,’ Maya said. ‘Best not to move it more than necessary – in case there’s any evidence to be found at the site.’ She sat down next to her boyfriend. ‘We’ll see if we can get a lift off the coastguard and grab a B&B on Skye tonight,’ she said. ‘It’s not the end of the world.’

Daniel nodded weakly. Maya repacked his bags. She spotted a tiny jewellery box among his things and her heart skipped a beat. ‘Oh my God! Daniel… is this what I think it is?’ She tugged off her gloves to slide the half-carat sparkler on her left ring finger. ‘And it’s a perfect fit!’

Her fiancé rolled to one side and chucked a mouthful of foamy spittle on the grass.

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Dr. Laura Agustín, author of the blog The Naked Anthropologist and the book Sex at the Margins, the seminal work on “sex trafficking” hysteria (in which she coined the term “rescue industry”), has written The Three-Headed Dog, a novel  dramatizing the problems faced by migrants.  It’s another way of introducing readers to the issues the “sex trafficking” paradigm attempts to paper over, which Dr. Agustín has studied for over 20 years and understands in a way very few others do.  I recently read the novel, and Dr. Agustín graciously agreed to answer some questions about it.

MM:  Sex at the Margins has been and continues to be a work of major importance to the sex workers’ rights movement; I know it really helped me to shake off the dualistic thinking about “willing” vs “coerced” sex work, and it’s invaluable in getting people to look at their preconceptions around why people (especially women) leave their original home countries to work.  So why did you decide to write fiction instead of a 10th-anniversary edition?

LA:  The essence of Sex at the Margins doesn’t need updating, by which I mean women’s migration to work as maids or to sell sex, the use of smugglers, the rise of the Rescue Industry.  Someone else can document the growth and proliferation of that last, if they can stomach it, but the core ideas haven’t changed.  I wanted to write stories to reach people who don’t read books like Sex at the Margins and who only hear about the issues from mainstream media reports.  The Three-Headed Dog provides a way to learn about social realities and be gripped by stories at the same time.

MM:  I write fiction myself, so that makes sense to me.  But what made you choose the crime genre?  Why not do a “straight” novel?

LA:  Crime seemed like the right frame, because everyone thinks smuggling and undocumented migration are at least technically crimes – leaving the idea of trafficking out of it.  I am a fan of some kinds of mystery writing, and the formula of a detective who searches for missing migrants provides infinite opportunities for all sorts of stories and characters.

MM:  I think you just started to answer one of my questions!  At the end of the book several questions are unresolved, and I would have liked to know more about Félix, the detective.  Is this the first of a series?

LA:  I’ve got too many stories to tell for one book.  The Dog was getting long and complicated, so I decided to make it the first in a series.  In the detective genre it’s common for some questions to remain dangling, and readers know they can learn more in the next installment.  If I’d been writing 150 years ago I might have done weekly installments in a magazine, as Dickens did with The Pickwick Papers.  In the next book, which I’ve started, Félix’s search takes her to Calais and London.

MM:  I was very intrigued by Félix, and it seems to me that she might be based on you.  Would I be correct?  And are any other characters based on people you know?

LA:  The characters created themselves in my mind out of the many thousands of migrant friends and acquaintances I’ve had in my life.  Including myself.  But they sprang forth and told me who they were.  I identify with much of Félix’s character, but I identify with much of the smuggler Sarac’s character, too.

MM:  I like that Félix has some history of sex work, and that she still seems to be comfortable taking gigs that dip into the edges of sex work.

LA:  She certainly was a sex worker during the European tour she did when younger with her friend Leila, who now lives in Tangier.  I think she still takes sexwork gigs when it suits her. I expect she’ll tell us more about that in the future.

MM:  Not many novels have well-developed and nuanced sex workers as major characters, and when we appear as minor characters we’re mostly there to be rescued or murdered.  But these characters, even the minor ones, are much more developed than that.  There was one character, Marina, who was clearly intending to do sex work, but what about the others?  I couldn’t be sure.

LA:  This is Marina’s second time sexworking in Spain.  Félix looks for two other characters in spas (massage joints) in Madrid, and one of those is adamant about not intending to be a maid.  They’re Latin Americans who belong to a long tradition of working in indoor businesses like bars and flats, or sometimes in the street.  They arrive with contacts and some prior knowledge of what they’re getting into, so it’s a serious problem when the smuggler makes them de-plane in Madrid instead of Málaga.  Of the other characters, Promise, the Nigerian, planned to sexwork in the street, and Eddy, the boy who goes missing, doesn’t intend anything but is moving in that direction.

MM: It seemed to me that their ending up in Madrid was a very big issue, even beyond the lack of connections.  Is Madrid so very different from Málaga?

LA:  Yes, Madrid is a harder place, a capital city and centre of echt-Spanish culture.  Málaga is on the Costa del Sol, crossroads for many kinds of migration, smuggling, tourism and crime.  It’s a long stretch of coast that ends in a point only 32 kilometres from Africa across the Mediterranean Sea.  Nowadays many non-Spanish Europeans from colder climates have homes there in quasi-closed communities.  The coast is by no means a piece of cake, but it’s not a cold, self-important northern city.  Personally I feel a great sense of history there and lived in Granada during the years I worked on Sex at the Margins.

MM:  So it’s a good place to find jobs that aren’t strictly legal?

LA:  This is about informal economies that exist in parallel to formal ones (which means they’re included in government accounting).  Informal economies are even larger than the formal in some developing countries.  In Spain it is not illegal to sell sex, but undocumented migrants have no right to be in the country at all, much less work there.  The same is true when they get jobs in restaurant kitchens, on construction sites, picking fruit and working as maids and cleaners.  The informal economy rolls along, the jobs are available and migrants are more or less glad to get them despite the clandestinity.

MM:  And as you discussed in Sex at the Margins, it’s this informal economy that’s depicted as “trafficking” nowadays, even when there’s no coercion involved per se.

LA:  The group that arrives by plane at the beginning are undocumented migrants.  They’ve got papers to show at the border: passports and tourist visas.  Fakery was involved, and these young people are planning to get paid work, so they’re going to misuse the visas.  A guy who’s part of the smuggling travels with them.  The project is based on the migrants getting jobs and income so they can pay back debts they or their families took on when they bought travel-agency-type services (known in crime-circles as smuggling).  Technically they’re all committing crimes, but to the migrants they feel like minor crimes, given the well-known availability of jobs when they arrive.  Everyone knows people who’ve done it and sent money home.  Do smugglers sometimes resort to nefarious practices?  Of course; it’s an unregulated economy.  But if smugglers want to stay in the business they guard their reputation.  Word spreads.

MM:  I’m sure the rescue industry folks would find fault with the fact that the book isn’t about people “rescuing” these migrants from their smugglers.

LA:  I wrote this book out of love, not as polemic.  I’d have to get paid very well to devote myself for long to analysing moral entrepreneurship; I don’t find crusader-figures interesting.  I don’t see the world in black-and-white, I like ambiguity and shifting ground.  In Félix’s interior life, questions of helping and saving play a part, but she refuses the rescuer-role.

MM:  And really, even the villains aren’t the mustache-twirling cardboard characters so beloved by those who promote the “sex trafficking” narrative.  I’m thinking about Sarac, the smuggler, and Carlos, the sex club owner.

LA:  The smugglers are squabbling amongst themselves and not very appealing, but they aren’t monsters or driving anyone into bondage.  They charge for their services.  Sarac worked as a soldier/mercenary, now does “security” and is involved in people-smuggling.  He wants to do something new, but not pimping.  Carlos operates hostess clubs in Madrid.  Those are not illegal, but he may employ illegal migrants.  He’s part of an established tradition, and he makes good money on the women’s work.

MM:  I think American readers have some very confused ideas about the sex industry and migration in Europe.  Do you think The Three-Headed Dog will appeal to them and help clear up some of those misconceptions?

LA:  Undocumented migration and working in underground economies are worldwide phenomena no matter what local culture or national laws prevail.  Ways to earn money by selling sex vary in the details, but sex workers recognise each other across national borders and talk about the same problems and solutions everywhere.  Sometimes places where laws are uglier provide more opportunities.  Since the migrants are working illegally in Spain they have a lot in common with all sex workers in the USA, right?

MM:  True; all of us are illegal here, whether we were born here or not.  Is there anything else you’d like to tell the readers that I haven’t thought of?

LA:  Yes, I want to point out that even if you don’t own a Kindle, you can still buy the Kindle version of The Three-Headed Dog and download a free reading app right there.  And you can read more about sex industry jobs here at my blog.

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I don’t read much recent fiction, so it’s not surprising that I’m unfamiliar with T.J. Corcoran’s work.  He is, however, apparently familiar with mine, and a couple of weeks ago he reached out to me to ask if I’d be willing to host an excerpt from his new book (with a link to his Kickstarter at the end).  The subject matter (an anarchist society & a celebration of the “live and let live” philosophy) certainly fits here, so I said yes; judging by the blurbs he sent along he’s a controversial figure even in libertarian circles, but he isn’t the first controversial guest columnist I’ve hosted and he certainly won’t be the last.   

2064, Morlock Engineering office, Aristillus, Lunar Nearside

Mike groaned. “Wam, I do not need another fucking problem right now.  The Veleka tunnel issue still isn’t resolved, we’re behind schedule on rubble clearance because that last fucking load of bulldozers are somewhere in a orbit instead of down here where I need them, the damned Boardroom group -”

Mike realized that Wam’s eyes were wide and he stumbled to a halt. “I shouldn’t be venting at you. OK, what’s going on?”

“Problems with the Bao Johnson deal. One of the security contracts we own now is Leon’s Poker House.  A few hours ago some Mormons smashed up the place and threatened the working girls.”

“We agreed to defend Leon’s?”

“Mmm hmm.”

“Leon’s, right next to all the new Mormon arrivals?”

Wam sigh. “Yeah.”

“Let me guess. We didn’t pick which gigs we took – Bao hand picked them and gave us his dogs?”

Wam winced, embarrassed. “Yes.”

“Fucking great.”

Wam was silent.

Mike sighed. “Not your fault, Wam.  What do you need from me?”

“We signed the version four security contract, so we’re responsible for adjudicating who smashed up the casino and threatened the hookers, then collecting damages.”

“That’s easy enough – the Mormons, right?”

“Yeah, we’ve got video.  But we’re not actually set up as a security firm.  We don’t have an investigator or a negotiator.  There’s no process, Mike.”

Mike rubbed his eyes, then pinched the bridge of his nose.  “You’re too polite to say it, are you?”

Wam held back a smile.  “Say what?”

“Too polite to say that this idea of using the First to pick up a security gig was idiotic.  That I got us in over our heads.”

Wam’s smile started to show. “I wouldn’t say idiotic…”

Mike waited for the other shoe to drop.

“…but I might be persuaded to say ‘not very well thought out’.”

Mike nodded. “Fair enough.”

“…or I might use the phrase ‘spreading yourself too thin’.”

“OK, I get it-”

“…or perhaps ‘a distraction when you should be’-”

Mike raised his hands and feigned warding off blows. “Stop kicking a man when he’s down.  What do I have to do?”

“Watch this video, then go talk to Mark.”

On the screen the virtual camera first focused on the marchers coming down the street, banners high.  The point of view kept retreating as the marchers advanced.  Confused Chinese immigrants stepped out of the way.  The sound slowly ramped up and the chants became louder.

Wam froze the video. “Here, on the left is Mark Soldner, LDS branch president -”

Mike sighed.  “I know Mark.”  He rubbed his eyes.  “Oh, do I know Mark.  Go on.”

“The facial recognition software has names for most of the others in the crowd, and the majority of them are all living in apartments owned by Soldner Apartments or in homes sold by Soldner Homes.”

Wam fast forwarded through twenty minutes of chanting and picketing.  “And here the first rock gets thrown.”  Then the crowd streaming inside and overturning poker tables.  Wam paused the video.  “I’ll give the Mormons one thing, they’re polite even as they’re busting the place up.  Did you catch how they said ‘please’ when they asked the gamblers to step back from the tables?”

“OK, so now what?”

“You’ve got to negotiate with Mark directly.”

“It’s never simple, is it?”  Mike sighed.  “Can you arrange a sitdown with Mark?”

“Already set up.  Three o’clock today, his place.  Address is in your phone.”

2064, Soldner Apartments office, Aristillus, Lunar Nearside

Mike stepped into Mark Soldner’s office.  Mark looked up from a stack of paperwork, saw Mike and smiled.  “Give me just one second?”

Mike nodded and looked around.  The place was nice – nicer than his own office, at least.  Carpeting underfoot, a large walnut desk, three flags on the wall behind.

Mark signed the last sheet, and then stood up and extended a hand.  “Sorry about that, Mike.  Thanks for coming in.”

“I’ll get to the point – ”

“The casino issue.”

Mike nodded.  “Exactly.  We’re insuring them, and the damage you folks caused -”

“Mike, let me cut to the chase.  You and I agree that initiating violence isn’t the right way to settle disputes, right?”

Mike blinked.  Was Mark going to apologize and pay up that easily?  “Right.  So -”

Mark held up a finger.  “This wasn’t our first protest – did you know that?  We’ve been out there every Saturday for three months.  But even after knowing how we feel – about our homes, about our community, they stayed in business.”

Mike’s face clouded and his hope that this was going to be easy disappeared.  “That’s irrelevant, Mark.”

“No, it’s very relevant.”

“The point is that you destroyed someone else’s property.”

Mark shook his head.  “We did a little damage, but it was symbolic.  The important thing, though, is that we did it only after the casino started things.”

Mike narrowed his eyes.  “Started things?”

“High Deseret was a decent neighborhood before the casino moved in -”

“Mark, this is a tangent.  The casino said said you initiated the trouble, and as far as I can tell the video backs them up.  Unless you’re going to suggest that the casino started the violence -”

“Absolutely I am.  They ran a casino in an area where they weren’t wanted.  That disrupted an entire neighborhood.  It’s not physical damage, but the violence to the integrity of a community -”

Mark saw Mike rolling his eyes, and stopped.  “Mike, I give up.  I thought I could talk sense with you, make you understand where our families are coming from, but I see I can’t.”

“That’s right, you can’t.”  He balled one fist.  “So let’s get to the point:  you owe damages.  And you’re going to pay them.”

Mark’s eyes narrowed.  “Mike, you don’t want me to pay up.  What you really want is for your revolution to succeed.”

Mike stared at him.  “What?”

“You’re disgusted with the false authority and socialism that’s been rising on Earth for the past few decades, and you want to start a new society.  A new country.  I’m in agreement with that.  We’re allies here, Mike – with just a few tactical disagreements.  And like all good allies, we can work out those disagreements.”

“What are you saying?”

“The war is here.  We must hang together, gentlemen…else, we shall most assuredly hang separately.  Do you know that quote?”

“Don’t be cute.  What’s your point?”

“My point is that if you and I are in alliance, we can fight a Revolution, and maybe win it.  But if we’re fighting each other over petty stuff like poker and prostitutes…then you and I are not in alliance.”  Mark paused and looked Mike straight in the eye.  “Let’s be brutally honest here.  You need me more than I need you, Mike.”

Mark stood and stuck out his hand.

Mike looked at the proffered hand.  “The cost of you helping out the Revolution is that I let you drive Leon’s Poker House out of business?”

Mark kept his hand out.  “They don’t have to go out of business.  They just have to move somewhere else.”

Mike stared at Mark’s extended hand.  The revolution was probably doomed even with Mark’s help.  But it was almost certainly doomed without it.

Mike hated himself for it, but he started to raise his own hand.

But if he compromised and sold out a small business, then what was he standing for?  Freedom…as long as someone richer, someone more powerful didn’t want the infringe on it?

And what was he compromising?  Not his own freedom.  No.  Someone else’s.  Is that who he was?  Someone who sold out the small fry and gave special privileges to political allies?

He felt his hand falter.

If he didn’t take this deal, he’d probably lose Mark from the Boardroom Group – and he might even have him defect entirely.  The threat to negotiate a separate peace was unlikely – but not impossible.

And if Mark signed a separate peace, the revolution would fail, and he, Javier, Darcy – everyone – would end up dead or imprisoned.

He had to make this deal.

But what precedent did it set?  If Mark had free rein to smash up any bar he didn’t like in his quest to build what he saw as a decent society, where did it end?  Zoning?  Minimum wages?  Undesirable, but people could live with that.  But would it end there?  First one compromise, then another.  How long until drug prohibition?  How long until no-knock raids, email surveillance, confessions under torture, asset forfeiture?

No.

Mike let his hand drop to his side.

“Mike, I’m not asking for much, just -”

“You’re asking for everything.”

Mike pulled out his phone and dialed.  Wam answered on the second ring.  “Wam, I need men outside Leon’s casino.  No, not guards – I want a full fire team.  Armed and armored.  And cut a check to Leon for the damages; we’ll eat this one.”

He hung up.

Mark looked taken aback.  “Mike, let me ask you to reconsider – the Revolution needs us.”

“Yeah, Mark, it does.  But that doesn’t mean that I’m going to sell out someone else’s freedom.”

Sound interesting? You can contribute to his Kickstarter!

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Though I’ve been aware of Whoretography for some time, the release of her e-magazine inspired me to ask her to contribute a guest column and she graciously obliged me.  I encourage you to explore her website, to buy a copy of her e-magazine and to help support the project via GoFundMe.

whoretography1I am addicted to photography; it’s a lifelong obsession of mine that began as a 2-year-old with the death of my father.  When you lose a parent as a baby, the only connection you can form with that parent is through imagery.  The last photograph before his death, the only one of us together, him proudly sitting on his 1970s motorbike.  His death sparked my purpose in life.  Now I am a documentary photographer, masters student, sex worker & activist interested in challenging the victim-centered nature of sex worker imagery on-line and how photography is instrumental the online sale of sex.  I know my father would be proud of me.

I bought my first camera when I was 12 and I have never been without one since; even when I was homeless for 18 months, I refused to sell my last camera.  My mother evidently thought photography was just a phase adolescent girls go through, because I was not permitted to study photography at secondary school; I went on to graduate with an undergraduate degree in Biochemistry and Genetics, Post Graduate in Criminology and a Graduate Diploma in Small Business Management.  I put photography to one side in this period, prioritising an institutionally-defined career in criminal justice, and I moved countries; I sold and traded cameras to pay rent, tuition and one-way tickets to London and Paris.  Finally, in April 2005, I followed my passion and become a full-time photographer; I also started as a sex worker the very same day.  And because photography is so ingrained in my psyche, I eventually managed to make sex work about photography too.  I simply refused to follow the photographic rules which dictated that in order to sell sex, I must photograph myself naked or semi-naked and bent over a table clutching my tits.  So, to stand out from the blowjob crowd in an industry that demanded the use of photography, I said no to selfies and soft porn boudoir imagery and instead harnessed the power of pop culture and iconic imagery to sell the essence of the girlfriend experience.  My reasoning was simple; I am not selling my body, so why do you need photographs of my body?  This initial rebellion against sex industry photographic expectations kick-started my fascination with the role photography plays in the online transaction of sex.

whoretography0212 years later, I am now an award winning published photographer, a sex worker and a master’s student undertaking research in sex work activism through the Whoretography project.   It’s difficult to pinpoint where exactly Whoretography began, but it was somewhere between realising I was in the business of a photographic conspiracy in which my camera was acting as an agent for the falsehood of couple cohesion and intimacy, and the idea of documenting paid-for sexual intimacy as the antidote to the visual falsehoods of wedding photography.  Whoretography sits nicely at the intersection of images, technologies, society and the sex worker rights movement.  It’s the first academic, ethnographic and creative platform dedicated solely to understanding the role photography plays in sex work via self-publishing as an artistic practice.  The objectives frame a body of creative work that takes the form of a collection of soon to be published photo and artist books, zines and the recently launched Whoretography E – Magazine.  My visual activism is about exploring a set of research questions through a mixed methodology approach designed to challenge the prevailing ideology of sex-work and to present to the viewer an alternative perception of the industry and its participants.  I wish to stop the over-simplification of the lives of cis, trans and non-binary sex workers, and to challenge current imagery that encourages the sense that the only way of interpreting the lives of sex workers is to see them as ripe for “rescue”.  This narrow and particular visual representation of male oppression reproduces a politics of pity that is embedded in the visual representation of sex workers; it suggests only pity makes sense as a political, social and cultural response.

I work within the photographic genre of found imagery, with other peoples’ photographic material and written documents.  The material for Whoretography is sourced using cyberethnographic methods; however, online interactions alone are insufficient to develop a deep understanding of the visuals of the sex worker online community.  So I’ve conducted offline research consisting of qualitative interviews with internet based sex workers, and their customers in the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States of America.  Found photography allows for an editorial style in which I can act as both as editor and author; this is not common when working with sex work imagery.  Standard approaches to visually representing sex workers include photo-voice, wherein sex workers themselves create the photographs (typically of their workspaces), and photo-essay; the publishing world is awash with photo essays that, for example, take a sneaky look inside brothels.  I wanted to avoid these visual clichés.  Working with found images means constructing new narratives from seemingly unconnected photographs to provoke critical dialogue about sex work and present an alternative view of sex work.  It allows me to take the discussion of sex worker imagery from the realms of the sex work community and place it in the wider community.  Fundamental to this goal is deconstructing the visual vocabulary of sex work imagery online to investigate the overarching questions, “Is it possible to reclaim the word ‘whore’ through creative practice as research?” and “What role does photography play in contemporary online sexual consumption?”  I have an interest in ensuring photography is relevant in the fight for the full decriminalisation of sex work.  We must celebrate the fact that sex workers are now image makers; we must challenge the exclusion of sex workers from online visual spaces; and we must talk about the posthumous humiliation of sex workers via the standard practice of releasing morgue photos.  The prohibitionist war on sex work is underpinned by their belief that their photographic rhetoric is photographic truth, and we must name the game when it comes to the middle-class masses being in an uproar about the apparent gentrification of sex work via some mythical photoshop gentrification tool.

whoretography03I wonder if I have made this article sound too clinical and academic, but it has not been an easy two years.  I have an overwhelming sadness for some of what I have seen; people’s understanding of sex work is based on a carefully constructed visual lie.  The media are in cahoots with exclusionary bullies to peddle that lie, and it bloody royally pisses me off that middle-class feminists seek to deny sex workers access to the digital revolution and visual online spaces.  I undertook a Master’s Degree because I was seeking a better theoretical understanding of my craft, and in stepping away from weddings I unwittingly stumbled across my life’s photographic purpose.  I am committed to setting up a visual activist platform and sex work-positive publishing house.  I have amassed over 20,000 images and a lot of what I have seen makes me cry.  I have seen child abuse victims marketed as teen sex workers; prohibitionists create rescue images with a tonal quality reminiscent of colonial missionaries “saving the natives from themselves”; the publication and subsequent outing of sex workers by newspapers; the dire consequences of the pixilated face in propelling stigma; and the shaming of sex workers as a police tactic to help in the gentrification of up and coming hipster neighbourhoods.  The way people have weaponised the camera as a tool of violence against sex workers is in marked contrast to the way we use the camera as an agent for couple cohesion in wedding photography.  I am on a mission to shift the political landscape of sex work by forcing people to understand its visual landscape.  Photography is currently used to silence the intentions, actions and feelings of sex workers and to make their lives more precarious; we need to change this, and I hope you will help me to make this happen.

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Dr. Kate Lister runs the wonderful, informative and entertaining Whores of Yore Twitter account, and when she recently decided to start a website to go with it I invited her to tell my readers about it.  Kate’s mission is much the same as mine: to demystify and destigmatize sex work by improving communication between sex workers and the general public.

whores-of-yore-logoLast month, on International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers (2016), I launched the Whores of Yore website; it was the culmination of a year’s hard work on a wonderful project that took me completely unawares.  Whores of Yore grew out of a Twitter feed, that grew out of a research project on medieval sexuality, that grew out of a PhD into women and medievalism.  I am a post-doctoral researcher at Leeds Trinity University (UK) and was reading into medieval attitudes surrounding sexual sin, when I found a London court record from 1340 of two “notorious strumpets”; Alice Strumpette and Clarice la Claterballock.  I thought that was just wonderful.  The wry wit in the aliases made me laugh, as I am sure they were supposed to.  But, beyond being funny, the fact that such names would be adopted said more about sex work in the fourteenth century then many academic texts I have read; there was a real humanity to it.  I started the Twitter feed @WhoreofYore to share snapshots of history like that.

I had not foreseen any interest in the feed, but very quickly the followers grew and online articles began to be published about the content.  I started getting feedback from followers who were reacting to the material I was posting in ways I could have never predicted.  Twitter is a great leveller; your voice is on an equal footing with everyone else, and the feedback is instant.  In the beginning, getting daily, uncensored and anonymous feedback about your work is daunting, but I learnt to listen, to respond and serve.  I do get trolled, but follower feedback also made the feed better; it encouraged me to break away from a western focus, include more trans voices and bring in a daily dose of #HistoricalHottie (photographs of handsome men from history to balance up the eye-candy on offer).  But, what changed my research was that Twitter allowed me to engage directly with the sex worker community.  Suddenly, the history I was researching was no longer dead and buried; it was correcting my terminology on Twitter, and calling me a cunt when I got things wrong.  Without realising it, I had been guilty of viewing sex work only through a historical, academic lens; it wasn’t real to me.  But when a sex worker from Australiawhores-of-yore-screencap made contact with me to say she enjoyed the feed, but please could I stop using the word “prostitute” and use “sex worker” instead, I finally got it.  History is powerful because it frames contemporary debate, but it is not to be archived away and accessible only to (well meaning) academics; it should engage with lives today.  I was using the word “prostitute” in a clinical, academic way, but that perpetuated narratives that exists outside of historical research and the ivory tower.  That was the moment that I saw a project that could make history relevant to contemporary issues.  I wanted @WhoresofYore to facilitate an active process of feedback, reciprocal communication and attribution between sex workers, historians, activists, and anyone else who had a view to express.

As sex workers are stigmatised, often criminalized people, historically, they have had little opportunity to speak without intermediaries.  Rather, their stories and voices have been assumed by journalists, activists, and academics (like myself – the irony is not lost on me).  However, with the advent of social media platforms, this is rapidly changing; social media has allowed sex workers a public voice, a space to engage with those speaking for them and about them, like never before.  Online sex worker communities have been formed, alliances made and agendas set.  “Nothing about us without us” is the mantra of the sex worker rights movement; the web and social media provide a platform for the sex worker voice to be heard, and invited academics to genuinely listen to the group they research.  I wanted to build on this dynamic with a website and further bridge the gap between academic, historical research, and the sex worker voice; I hoped the website would create a space that enabled a process of democratisation and facilitate a discussion, rather than a lecture into the study and history of sexuality.

I wanted the website to feature articles on the history of sexuality and sex workers, but to retain an emphasis on sexuality and contemporary voices.  To that end, I created a several article sections: sex history, sex talk, sex worker voices, LGBT History, politics and the law and an interactive timeline of sex workers throughout history.  I put out a call for article submissions on the Twitter feed, and articles started to roll in.  I have been extremely fortunate and BASIS Yorkshire (a charity who work with street sex workers and some of the most vulnerable members of the sex work community) have agreed to write a monthly blog about their work.  BASIS is very private and protective of the people they work with, so to be able to facilitate a space for them is a real honour.  I also have a sex therapist, Drew Lawson, who is regularly blogging on the site and answering all kinds of questions about sexuality.  I work with the archivist at Delta of Venus, the web’s largest collection of vintage erotica, to bring a selection of historical pornographic images.

kate-listerBut, this is only the beginning.  So far, the project has been entirely self-funded, but I am looking into investment to grow.  The project will expand to include podcasts, vlogging and interviews with historians, activists, members of the sex work community, and those who feel they are marginalised by their sexuality.  The history of sexuality will be placed side by side with sexuality today in the hope we can join up some of those conversations.  The purpose of this archive is not to create a goldfish bowl for others to stare into, but to provide a platform and invite people to share their experience and story; if you have an article to bring to the conversation, please email me.  Shame and stigma are broken down through conversation, and when we listen to one another; I hope that’s what this project can play a part in.  As Shannon L. Alder once wrote, “Never be ashamed of who you are.  True shame always belongs to the person that enjoys being ashamed of who you are.”

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Eva Keene is an independent escort in Las Vegas; she’s a moonlighting maven with a PhD and a passion for following the yellow brick road and peeking behind the curtains.  You can also follow her on Twitter.

backpage-shame-gameThe arrest of Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer earlier this year highlights the contested nature of—and mechanisms used for—exchanging sexual services for money, much like the raid on MyRedbook.com in 2014, the raid on RentBoy.com in 2015 and the raid on TheReviewBoard.net early this year.  The anti-trafficking narrative propagated by popular media anti-sex work activists stands in stark contrast to the “sex work as work” narrative expressed by many independent sex workers.  We need look only as far as Twitter to see heated debates about privacy, safety, and unabashed opinions about individuals involved in various aspects of the sex industry.  Yet, while discourses about the exchange of intimacy and/or sex for money have come to form part of the contemporary metanarratives about class, gender, morality, economics, power, and politics in American society, many of these conversations are over-simplified and under-representative of sex worker experiences.  This results in misleading public narratives about the nature of sex work, including those countering characterizations of “controlling pimps,” the “pathetic john” or the “coercive client.”

Aside from review boards, social media platforms such as Twitter and personal blogs serve as outlets for these discourses, or lack thereof.  One that caught more attention than usual was a comment I tweeted on September 28th: “I don’t sell sex.  I sell an experience; an opportunity to be honest, vulnerable, unjudged, in which eroticism is celebrated.  It’s different.”  For most people, my tweet was apparently taken at face value; a heartfelt proclamation of my philosophy and the service I offer.  For others, I imagine it could have been interpreted as an insensitive perpetuation of the whorearchy—a tiered system that communicates a positional hierarchy among sex workers.  Despite receiving affirmative like after like, my critical mind started rolling not long after posting the comment, and the part of me that’s sensitive to classist posing among online sex workers began analyzing my own statement.  Is selling an “experience” really any different from selling sex?  Was I insinuating there’s something wrong with selling sex?  My initial self-criticism was interrupted shortly thereafter by a realization that had been largely lost on me until this point:  This—the voice of middle-class sex workers—is a voice we hear amongst each other in the echo chambers of social media, but it’s not one we utilize well enough in public discourses about sex work.  Like it or not, if anyone can help change attitudes about sex work and sex workers, it’s the privileged “elite escorts” who have the clout to do it.  In a society that associates status and class (even if it is a relative hierarchy of class within an otherwise discredited group) with having a “worthy” voice, the lady who charges $400/hour stands a higher chance of being listened to or taken seriously in the public domain than women who work outdoors or primarily through sites like Backpage.

My realization about the potential impact privileged escorts’ voices could have in public discourse about sex work and sex workers’ rights was further solidified when I stumbled upon an article, “The modern john got himself a queer nanny”, in Feminist Current.  The author makes one point we should pay attention to, one on which I contend disputants on both sides of the fence can agree:  prostitutes’ narratives matter.  This major point of divergence, then, is about which prostitutes’ narratives and why.  For example, Ekman refers to the recently published book, Prostitution Narratives: Stories of Survival in the Sex Trade, to push her anti-prostitution agenda.  The stories are horrific, but they are no more representative of the totality of sex workers’ experiences than a book entitled Prostitution Narratives: Stories of Thriving in the Sex Industry.  The problem is, nobody has published a book like the latter.  Ekman’s expose also seeks to vilify the female academic—the alleged “sex buyer’s nanny” and supposedly misguided feminist at the forefront of international sex work discourse, accused of disrupting “pure” feminist efforts by strategically diverting attention from the sex buyer to the erotic provider.  However, let us not ignore the fact that the female academic Ekman vilifies might very well be a sex worker herself.  Lisa Ordell, Tara Burns, Zahra Stardust and our hostess are just a few examples of women who have worked both in the sex industry and as scholars; I know that many, many more do so using stage names and aliases (points to self).  As such, the voices of middle class sex worker/scholars who refuse to characterize clients as inherently harmful (or inherently anything) emerge from experiences in the sex industry that are just as legitimate as the stories pushed by anti-prostitution crusaders.

The anti-prostitution narrative is far from germane to all manners of sex work, yet it is applied indiscriminately as if all women are either trafficked or victims of patriarchal false consciousness.  But if we accept Ekman’s myopic argument about growth of the survivors’ movement, then we must also acknowledge the growth of the sex worker rights movement, and we must seek to incorporate these voices into dialogues that improve conditions for all sex workers.  Contrary to what feminists like Ekman might have us believe, recognizing sex work as a form of labor doesn’t preclude us from considering issues such as exploitation, labor market segregation, and inequality.  To the contrary, the failure of policy discourses to recognize sex work as work actually impedes the development of initiatives to improve labor rights and working conditions (Pitcher, 2014).  These issues—as opposed to vilifying academics and clients—are the ones we should be focused on.

The only “john” Ekman recognizes is, “the man who will command and expect his every whim to be catered to, but will not take responsibility for what he does.”  She is clearly drawing a stereotype from one locus of the industry, and is it any surprise?  Anti-prostitution rhetoric paints an image of the sort of man who pays for sex (never mind companionship), and those narratives go largely unchallenged by any counter-narratives from within the industry.  Why?  In large part, because middle class sex worker stories are not being widely shared, let alone in ways that could benefit all sex workers.  This has to change.  Ladies, do you actually like your clients?  Talk about the men who pay you for whatever consensual services you provide, without compromising their anonymity.  Write blogs.  Create sex worker-led organizations that show public appreciation for, rather than denigrate, the gentleman you see.  Tell the world, even if it must be through a pen name or alias, that clients are real people too.  Gentleman, please consider the role you play in the industry as well.  Do you speak up against misogynystic words or behaviors when you see them, or are you content to let bygones be bygones?  The latter is certainly easier, but at what cost?  What butterfly-effect consequence does inaction have on the women you appreciate in the industry?rick-pettit  I certainly understand the risk associated with publishing a blog like Rick Pettit’s “My Name is Rick, not John” and wouldn’t expect 99% of the gentleman I see to dare such a brave task, but I hope that a certain amount of mindfulness and intentionality would at least prevail in its stead.  As a very wise client reflected back to me once, “You’re much more of an advocate than an activist,” and he couldn’t have been more spot-on.  I’m much too much of a relativist to feel comfortable telling people what they “should” do, instead preferring the approach of empowering people to make the best possible choices for them.  But the fact remains that if we want sex work to be regarded as legitimate work, we need to be willing to speak about our work, and we have to help change the popular narrative that paints clients as abusive miscreants.  Because even if you never advertised on Backpage, the public opinions and policies that underlie its demonization do have impacts across the entire spectrum of sex work.

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