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Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

I’ve followed Cathy Reisenwitz‘ work since I started this blog, yet somehow we’ve never had a guest column from her!  So when I saw that she’s started a new newsletter, I jumped at the excuse.

It’s a tragedy of feminism that so many of us are stumped by a very easy question:  Is sex work a choice?  Ask any current sex worker and they’ll tell you:  Sucking dick for money under patriarchal capitalism is as much a choice as cleaning toilets.  But one pays a lot better.  Is being a housewife a choice?  If your view is that society worships motherhood and despises ambitious women, then obviously those forces will influence women’s choices.  But an influenced choice is still a choice, something many radical feminists don’t like to admit.  Radfems like to straw-man arguments for female autonomy as choice feminism.  But when the women in question have power, suddenly the question changes.  While downtrodden and oppressed women aren’t allowed to make their own choices, women in positions of power are afforded unlimited options.  I find a particularly interesting example of this “choice only for the powerful” phenomenon in feminist author Jill Filipovic’s treatment of presidential hopeful Kamala Harris.  While Filipovic equivocates about sex work and choice feminism, she asks for nuance when considering Harris’s choice to use her powers as a prosecutor to deprive women of the choice to engage in safe sex work.

Harris’ record as prosecutor reveals a woman who is more than happy to use the criminal justice system to keep other women from engaging in sex work without fear of violence, arrest, or imprisonment.  Harris arrested Backpage.com executives and illegally charged them with pimping and conspiracy, then after a judge threw out the case Harris filed nearly identical charges in another California court; the First Amendment Lawyers’ Association described the maneuvers as “a gross abuse of prosecutorial discretion.”  Harris fought Backpage and continues to support FOSTA in the name of fighting human trafficking, yet everyone from Amnesty International to the World Health Organization says that decriminialization leads to lower rates of sex trafficking.  Despite this, Harris has consisently sided with prostitution prohibitionists and supported police raids of sex workers.  And while San Francisco Bay Area police officers were committing actual sex trafficking, Harris and her office pretended it wasn’t happening.  Jill Filipovic is quite aware of the “Kamala Harris is a cop” meme, but has a more nuanced take.  In a recent op-ed, Filipovic asks readers to consider the competing interests Kamala had to take into account when making choices as a prosecutor (if Harris hadn’t defended the death penalty she risked alienating politically powerful police unions; if she hadn’t fought the California anti-overcrowding court ruling the state would’ve missed out on slave labor, etc).  I’m not sure how to justify her choice to become a prosecutor in the first place; as Joe Biden pointed out in the recent Dem debate, “I was a public defender. I didn’t become a prosecutor.”  Filipovic is able to see Harris’s choices through the lens of a woman navigating a minefield of racism and sexism while also balancing careerism and her own conscience, yet when it comes to sex workers, all that nuance is reduced to “choice feminism.”

In Supporting Sex Workers’ Rights, Opposing the Buying of Sex, Filipovic writes, “[In Utopia], sex would be a fun thing, a collaborative thing, always entered into freely and enthusiastically and without coercion.  Of course women should have the right to do what they want with their own bodies, and of course there are many sex workers who aren’t trafficked or forced into the trade.  But that smacks a bit too much of ‘I choose my choice!’ feminism, which I find to be incredibly intellectually lazy.”  What’s really incredibly intellectually lazy is to spend hundreds of words apologizing for a woman who chose to arrest and incarcerate sex workers and make their jobs less safe to bolster her own career, and then dismiss the fight for sex work decriminalization as “choice feminism.”  Are sex workers not doing the best job they can considering there are negative consequences to every position they could take?

A look at my own experience with sex work may be helpful in illustrating this.  From the time I walked the aisle at a tent revival and confessed my sins and gave my heart to Jesus at five years old, I’ve always been a true believer.  I’m not sure if I ever signed a purity pledge, but I might as well have.  I met my favorite high school boyfriend at a good old-fashioned Southern Baptist abstinence retreat, and I lost my virginity at 22, on my wedding night.  As I pulled away from religion, my husband drew in; by the time I said I wanted a separation four years in, he said he’d only see the pastor and his wife for marriage counseling.  I studied her perfect highlights as they refused to talk about the problems in our marriage until my relationship with Jesus was fully addressed.  Sometime between the divorce and today I got paid for sex for the first time, because once you see that traditional marriage is just one long, nominally exclusive mutually beneficial arrangement you really can’t unsee it; then the question becomes how long, and how exclusive, do you want the arrangement to be?

I was a sex work activist before I was a sex worker, because a feminism that doesn’t include self-ownership is no feminism at all, and women don’t own our bodies if we aren’t allowed to rent them out.  Contrary to the carceral feminists, I don’t believe any kind of consensual sex should involve arrest or imprisonment.  In what universe can a woman consent to cleaning a toilet for money under capitalism, but not to sucking dick?  Such a conception is utterly infantilizing, superstitious, and antifeminist.  It’s not despite my femimism that I support sex work decriminalization; it’s because of it.  Whoring has always been one of the only ways a low-born woman could rise above her station; sex work enables more women (and men) than you’ll ever know who don’t have trust funds to pursue social justice, music, comedy, and acting.  Or writing feminist screeds, in my case.  I’m neither proud nor ashamed of having done sex work.  If I had been a great sex worker I’d be proud, but I wasn’t; I didn’t find most of my clients interesting and I’m bad at pretending.  Yet I found sex work empowering even though I didn’t like doing it; maybe it’s my libertarian showing, but I tend to believe more options are better than fewer.

I’ve been writing about feminism, sex, and capitalism for the past ten years, mostly at Sex and the State; in that time I’ve changed my thinking on everything from abortion and sex work to the social safety net.  My writing is thinking aloud and learning in public.  I’m honored to have learned from women like Maggie, who turns the “prostituted woman” trope on its head; far from being abused or oppressed (except by cops and an overinvolved state), no one could prostitute Maggie except Maggie herself.  I’m still a true believer — evangelical as the day is long — but what I’m preaching has changed quite a bit.  I invite you to join my sex-positive libertarian feminist tent revival, by subscribing to my daily email.

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People call me heroic, but I don’t feel heroic; I usually feel as though what I’m doing is the only possible choice, or at least the only moral one.  –  “Divided We Stand

For as long as I’ve written this blog, I’ve been pointing out several times a year (especially on July 4th and November 5th) that the US “was born with an ugly birth defect which doomed it from the start, and the monstrous doppelganger which grew like some loathsome fungus inside of its carcass would not be worthy of saving even if that were possible.  Nor are the majority of modern Western nations any better.”  European nations, including the US, grew and enriched themselves by invasion, land theft, pillage and enslavement of less-advanced peoples, and even after they disavowed that racist, colonialist history they have continued to be every bit as shitty to those formerly-subject peoples, albeit obliquely and under the guise of beneficence.  It’s absolutely true that up until recently virtually all peoples, regardless of skin color, religion, time period or level of advancement, grew and enriched themselves by exactly those same means, but only the Western ones developed an intellectual tradition, generally known as “Western liberalism”, which allowed free and open discussion of ideas and paid lip service to basic human rights while continuing to allow their rulers to behave in the same abominable manner as rulers always have and always will behave.  If anything, the tradition has encouraged rulers to behave even more abominably than in the past by simply thinking up some bullshit excuse for the evil and then feigning offense when called on it.  For example, less-advanced peoples could be conquered by labeling them “savages” and pretending that more-advanced (i.e. white) people were only trying to “help” them by enslaving them.  Europeans proclaimed they had a “right” to steal the land of non-Europeans by a pettifogging bit of legalistic chicanery called the “Doctrine of Discovery“, and that it was OK to exterminate them when they resisted conquest (in much the same way that modern cops charge their victims with “assault on a police officer” and “resisting arrest” for daring to defend themselves when they’re beaten, raped or tased).  Modern rulers claim “legitimacy” by a long series of Byzantine pretenses and procedures no more moral, just or rational than “Divine Right of Kings” was, then claim that their subjects somehow agreed to obey due to something called a “social contract” by virtue of being born within a particular set of imaginary lines the rulers drew on a map; the fact that nobody can “choose” when, how or where to be born is pretended to be irrelevant, and the rulers claim the “right” to inflict violence – including assault, maiming, robbery, rape, child-abduction, locking them in a cage for decades and even murder – if the subject violates any of a vast, confusing, vague, broad, and ever-increasing body of arbitrary rules called “laws” which are invented by the rulers as excuses to expand their own power, destroy their enemies (especially rebellious subjects) and suppress everyone who isn’t a member of the ruling class.

This edifice of bullshit has achieved its highest development in the fascist semi-republics which are incorrectly labeled “democracies”; most people believe that they’ve acted freely as long as they’re given a “choice”, even if that choice is between two equally-awful representatives of entrenched political parties who agree on every important issue and make a huge and dramatic show of opposing each other on a few cosmetic ones.  Similarly, the lie of “choice” is used to brutalize, cage and banish refugees from countries ruined by centuries of European exploitation and decades of proxy warfare (yes, that includes the “War on Drugs” and the “War on Terrorism”), as if “stay in your native country and watch your children starve while you’re being raped” is some kind of valid choice.  We’re told that Africans trying to reach Europe and Latin Americans trying to reach the US in search of a better life (you know, the same reason Europeans came to North America) are “illegals” who deserve to be caged in brutal conditions until they die of preventable diseases; that those who assist them are “criminals” (usually “human traffickers”); and that deporting them is “rescue” and “helping them get home to their families”.  If you want to participate in this vast charade on the off-chance of sparking some kind of butterfly effect which will eventually make things marginally better, please do so with my blessing.  I, however, prefer not to get into the mud with the pigs; all I can do is follow my moral compass so that even if things don’t get better, at least I know that I had no part in making them worse or excusing the multitudinous sins of the powerful.

 

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Queer bigots are the most revolting bigots because theoretically they should know better, considering that LGBT people have been violently persecuted for centuries and that only ended in the US in this century, years after I started sex work (and still hasn’t ended in much of the world).  But anti-sex work queer people are a strange, ignorant bunch who seem to live in an echo chamber where same-sex attraction was always acceptable to the establishment, and queer folk are exactly like straights except for whom they “love”.  They seem to have no idea that most sex workers are LGBT; that they owe their rights to an anti-cop riot started by sex workers; and that only a few years ago queer people were targeted by the same kind of persecution and propaganda campaigns as sex workers and our clients are now, right down to state-imposed “conversion therapy” (called “diversion” for women and “john school” for men).  And let’s not even talk about the lesbians who hate transwomen.  There is something deeply wrong, twisted and pathetic in sexual minorities who eagerly call for the persecution, rape and destruction of other sexual minorities, but in the young ones at least I believe this sick attitude thrives largely because they simply don’t know their own history and therefore feel perfectly at home sucking up to cops and other “authorities” who were beating, robbing, caging and humilating (if not murdering) their elders within their own poorly-remembered young lifetimes.  Last week I was forced to mute a number of belligerent young butch dykes (mostly from Tasmania of all places) who seem to think it’s perfectly OK for cops to hunt sex workers’ clients;  they were all shockingly ignorant of the history of LGBT activism, but one of them actually seemed to believe that the chief civil rights struggle faced by gay men in my lifetime was…are you ready?…that they “weren’t allowed to marry”.  I am not making this up.  Persecution by cops?  Losing jobs?  The AIDS epidemic?  Nope.  Just that they couldn’t get a government fucking license and force bigots to participate in their disgustingly-extravagant displays of conspicuous consumption.  Look, I know the young tend to be ignorant and the old tend to be inflexible, but Suffering Sappho, I don’t think I was that ignorant anytime this side of puberty.  And if you think there’s something wrong with my not wishing to see any peaceful humans attacked by steroidal thugs, especially for their consensual sexual arrangements, then get the fuck off of my lawn.

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When I was in my teens and early twenties, I had trouble with the concept of an LGBT “community”.  Obviously I understood why people might want to socialize with other queer people in bars or clubs (it would certainly make dating easier), but the idea of only patronizing LGBT-owned businesses or whatever seemed no more sensible to me than the notion of Christians only trading with other Christians or sci-fi fans only doing business with the people they might hang out with at cons.  As I aged I began to realize how fortunate I was to have such an accepting group of straight friends, and realized that in other parts of the country more uptight than sexually laissez faire New Orleans, a queer “community” could be a lifesaver.  Of course, that was before the ascendancy of Gay, Inc; the change of the official LGBT motto from “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it!” to “We’re just like yooooooouuuuuu!!!”; the nauseating pageant of corporate rainbow flags every June; and the transformation of Pride from the commemoration of an anti-cop riot (50 years ago today, though you’d barely know it from Big Gay’s shameful lack of interest in the anniversary) to a “family friendly” celebration of picket fences, Hallmark-card-ready sentiments, conspicuous consumption, and NO SEX (because that’s apparently not what “sexual orientation” means).  But if you still cling to the concept that because one of your preferences is similar to one of the preferences of a bunch of assholes you don’t even know, that makes them “your people”, you may want to read this:

LGBTQ Americans want cops and corporations to participate in pride parades by an 8-to-1 margin, a landslide of support that breaks from a vocal faction of protesters, according to a new survey conducted by Whitman Insight Strategies and BuzzFeed News.  The nationwide poll also found most LGBTQ people mistakenly think they occupy much more of the population than they actually do (y’all, it’s nowhere near half the country)…Support for welcoming cops at pride was about three-quarters across a wide range of demographics — male, female, gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual, white, and nonwhite.  People of color, who made up 21% of all survey respondents, support cops in pride events by 77% to 8% (15% say it makes no difference either way).  Support was slightly lower among LGBTQ people who have not come out (56%), queer/nonbinary people (57%), and those under 30 years old (70%).  As for corporate floats at pride, 76% welcome them in the festivities, while just 9% oppose…

What this tells me is that ignorant, bootlicking sociopaths are just as common among those who want to stick their body parts into other people of their own sex as among those who want to stick their body parts into people of another sex.  Worldwide, cops are still the major perpetrators of violence against queers, and in the US they are still very dangerous to a large fraction of the LGBT population, especially transwomen, sex workers (most of whom, as I often point out, are LGBT) and black people.  Having cops at Pride is nothing less than spitting in the face of those who are persecuted by them every fucking day; it’s basically saying “We picket-fence gays have our seat at the Big Table thanks to our eagerly throwing the rest of y’all under the bus to win it, so fuck all of you.”  Sorry, I’m not part of any “community” with opportunistic fascists, and those who are can take their cop-packed, state-worshipping, white, vanilla, bourgeois “Pride month” and use it as an immense butt plug, preferably without lube.

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It makes partisans and other tribalists nuts that my positions are based in principles and probable results rather than tribe-membership & “sending messages”.  That’s why they (idiotically) try to shame me out of my positions instead of intellectually challenging them; no sooner do they think they “have my number” than I say, write or tweet something that the partisan brain is unable to process.  See, all tribalists have a blind spot:  they assume their own tribe, group, party, sect, etc is good and right and can be trusted with power, while their designated “them” group is wholly and completely bad and wrong and in need of Punishment.  So if I tweet about LGBT rights, but then say I think it’s wrong (not to mention a fucking waste of everyone’s time) to use the power of the state to destroy an anti-queer bigot, some people are completely unable to comprehend why I don’t see a cake-baker in Colorado as the Second Coming of Hitler.  The other day there was a big hulabaloo about that rich kid who didn’t get to go to Harvard because he made racist tweets a year and a half ago, and once again the partisans were confused that I retweeted tweets mocking the situation; tweets pointing out the incredible hypocrisy of politicians for saying “Should someone’s mistake at 16 destroy his whole future?” while also thinking it’s hunky-dory to put 14-year-olds on trial as adults; and tweets saying it’s a bit creepy that people now go trolling through others’ social media histories for the express purpose of ruining the target’s life, and institutions eagerly oblige the snitch.  Partisans don’t see the principles at stake here; all they see is a reprehensible person that they want to see hurt, so they completely forget that a weapon once given to the state can never be taken away.  Someone argued that in the kid’s case, the comments were made only 18 months ago and were therefore basically the present.  I replied, “If you think it’ll stop at 18 months, 18 years or even 18 decades, you haven’t been paying attention.”  Also: I’m quite sure a prosecutor wouldn’t accept, “But she would’ve been of age in 18 months!” as a defense.  Either people below the magic Instant of Shazam are helpless, incompetent “children” incapable of decision-making, or they aren’t; you can’t have it both ways without hypocrisy.  If it’s wrong for Christian bigots to use government violence against LGBT people, it’s also wrong for vengeful LGBT people to use government violence against Christian bigots.  But people don’t see it this way; oh, everybody tells their kids “two wrongs don’t make a right”, but they don’t really believe it.  What they believe in is us vs. them, and that it’s perfectly OK to use state violence against “them”…regardless of the consequences to everyone.

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In the past few weeks I’ve seen my name and my work all over the place!  The War on Whores is starting to get more attention, and this coming weekend I’ll be doing three screenings in Florida with the help of SWOP Behind Bars:  Friday at 4 PM at the LGBT Center in Orlando; Saturday at 11 AM for an academic audience in St. Petersburg; and Sunday at 5 PM at a pub in Tampa (contact SWOP Behind Bars for details).  Thank y’all so much for responding to my request for more reviews, and Stephen Lemmons of Frontpage Confidential wrote a long-form review here:

Sex worker, writer and savant Maggie McNeill’s new documentary, The War on Whores, should be required viewing for all journalists covering the movement to decriminalize sex work…The film is part autobiography, part exposé  on the deceitfulness of the so-called “rescue industry,” a cabal of nonprofits, talking heads and cops that has created a nationwide moral panic over “sex trafficking”…[which] these fascistic do-gooder types [conflate with]…garden-variety prostitution…to [further] the rescue industry’s long con…McNeill has an intellect sharper than a diamond cutter, possesses more than one college degree, and is a brilliant writer whose work has appeared in Reason magazine, the Cato Institute’s Cato Unbound, and the Washington Post,  where a 2014 column of hers, “Lies, damned lies and sex work statistics”, remains part of the requisite syllabus for anyone following the fight for decrim, one of the great civil rights struggles of our age…

As it happens, I’ve got an article in the current issue of Reason, “Consenting To Be Paid for Sex Is Still Consenting!“; it inspired this essay on Patheos:

…If a man…believes that women are resources to be bartered among men, resources who control access to sex but don’t actually deserve control over their own bodies, then we have a problem.  Because, as McNeill points out…“sex is an exchange, whether you like it or not.”  It’s just that when the relationship is coded as intimate, monogamous, mutually affectionate, and non-transactional, there seems to be no cost to either party (despite the bartering around chores and such that obviously happens between some long-term monogamous couples).  But thinking of sex in these terms does not negate the importance of consent…if you firmly, utterly believe that women are capable of giving consent in intimate relationships but not in sex work, then you need to reexamine your assumptions about what it’s like to live and work under capitalism.  If you believe that women “owe” men sex, and that sex is thus a resource that the government can step in to redistribute through “enforced monogamy” or whatever nonsense of the day is being spouted, then you need to examine your internalized misogyny.  People can and do give consent under conditions that are not always of their choosing – but hey, welcome to life…

And even though I’m not directly quoted in this one from the Chicago Tribune, I did assist author Steve Chapman in finding the sources he needed (note that Steve understands the difference between legalization & decriminalization even i the editor who wrote that headline doesn’t):

…Most commodities and services that may be legally given away may also be bought and sold.  But not sex.  A person can use all sorts of persuasive means to get another person to go to bed with them.  And a person can consent to do so for a vast range of motives.  When money changes hands for that explicit purpose, though, the law suddenly intrudes…Tens of thousands of men and women are arrested each year for their role in it…We have long since embraced the idea that what adults choose to do for sexual gratification is not the business of the government.  One day we may accept that the same is true for whether they pay for it…

After ten years of very public activism, it looks like my message is finally beginning to sink into enough heads to attract even politicians’ attention.  And given how big and loud the sex worker rights movement is becoming, it’ll just go up from here.

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I’ve got an article on sex work, money and consent in the new print edition of Reason, and I think y’all should show your support by picking one up!  But if you have neither subscription nor newsstand handy, here it is online.  A sample to get you started: 

…In the realm of sex, consent has been elevated to the level of a sacred word.  But in practice, most of us believe in a host of exceptions…Many if not most of these exceptions involve sex, money, or power, so it’s not surprising that sex work—which involves all three—inspires some truly absurd mental gymnastics on and around the concept of consent.  Statists, both in and out of government, like to play Kafkaesque games with the idea of consent.  We are told by a certain type of feminist that consent must be explicitly verbal, ongoing, and “enthusiastic”.  They say it must be tiresomely re-ascertained over and over and over again, no matter how clearly it was expressed in the first place.  Modern Puritans, meanwhile, claim that people who engage in “deviant” sexual behavior (including sex work, BDSM, and—until very recently—homosexuality) are suffering from “Stockholm syndrome,” “trauma bonding,” or “false consciousness” and thus cannot consent to things they claim to enjoy because they are not in their right minds.

But the most bizarre of these tortuous mind games, popular among radical feminists for years but gaining momentum today among “progressives,” is the idea that if a person is paid to do something he wouldn’t do for free, that constitutes “coercion” or even “violence”.  As Reason‘s Elizabeth Nolan Brown pointed out a few years ago, “In Seattle, sex must be a ‘leisure activity’ for both parties or it’s nonconsensual, according to one area prosecutor.”  Brown was writing about Val Richey, a senior deputy prosecuting attorney for King County, Washington, who argued that all sex workers are victims of rape because someone paid them “essentially to turn a ‘no’ into a ‘yes.'”  This dogma is deranged.  Richey doesn’t do his job for free; does that mean he is coerced, too?  This contradiction doesn’t seem to occur to anti–sex work crusaders, because they’re unwilling to accept that sex, like every other part of the material world, is not distributed “evenly” or “fairly”…

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