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Posts Tagged ‘activism’

burgundy chairA lot of things have changed in my life in the past year or so, and foremost among them is the abandonment of anonymity.  Of course, my legal name isn’t known, but then that brings up absolutely nothing interesting on Google anyway (unless you get a secret thrill from perusing the public land records of largely-rural counties).  But as Maggie McNeill I’m known and recognized, occasionally even in public, so it was really a bit naive to think I’d be able to maintain a separate escort persona for very long.  I therefore recently decided (with the help of several sex worker activist friends) to abandon that second persona and just do everything – speaking, writing and whoring – as Maggie McNeill.  My website logos, text and url have been changed, and I’m in the process of switching all my advertising accounts to “Maggie McNeill”.  I’ve built up quite a reputation over the past five years, and it seems silly not to use it to attract clients; I’d rather monetize my work in that way, indirectly, rather than by polluting this website with a bunch of ugly blinking, flashing, jumping, wriggling banner ads offering “free” sex with “horny housewives” and “barely legal nymphos”.  In these times of aggressive “end demand” pogroms, that reputation may prove a vital lifeline to nervous clients; when a gentleman calls me there will be no doubt in his mind that I’m the real deal rather than a honey trap, and a referral from me should be good with the majority of escorts in any English-speaking country.  Of course, my high-profile name may also attract unwanted attention of the dangerous kind, but that’s a risk I’m willing to take; I’m sure you’ll understand if I’m especially diligent with my screening now.  It’s also true that some potential clients will be turned off by many of the opinions and truths I’ve expressed here; frankly, I wouldn’t want to be with anyone that insecure anyhow.  So drop me a line, guys; little Maggie’s back in the saddle again, and this time she ain’t even wearin’ a mask.

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Diary #264

20150709_003841Some weeks are such a mixture of good and bad that it’s hard to decide which outweighed the other, especially when the good was so very good and the bad was so very bad.  On the one hand I got to visit with one of my favorite gentlemen, attend an excellent party, spend an evening with Kaytlin Bailey and serve as emcee for the Sex Worker Appreciation Day comedy & variety show, which was a great success; I’m also preparing for my first visit home since February.  But on Sunday morning, Grace called to tell me by beloved kitty Friday (whose “stage name” on this blog was “Nancy”) had suddenly fallen ill; by 2 PM she was gone.  I suspect the culprit is a virulent parasite spread by ticks which took one of our outside cats last year; it races through their little bodies and kills in hours or days, and there is as yet no cure.  I know that she had a good and happy life, that she was loved and cared for; I know that her death was mercifully swift, and that many pets and humans die long, slow, agonizing deaths that take months or years.  I know that death comes to all of us, great and small, and that I’m generally very philosophical about it.  But I also know that for all of my hard-as-nails demeanor, razor-sharp wit and iron logic, I’m still a soft-hearted woman with overdeveloped maternal instincts, and that it’s incredibly painful for me to lose someone I love …even if that someone lacks the gift of speech.  And the fact that I wasn’t there to hold her at the end, or to somehow prevent this from happening, makes it all that much worse; so did having to tell Matt, who loved her at least as much as I did and probably more.  Yes, I’ll be fine; I’m a big girl and nobody involved in Sunday’s show even guessed that I was grieving inside, because whores are experts in feigning moods.  But just the same, I really wish my happiness didn’t always have to be mixed with pain and sorrow.

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Diary #263

IMAG0900There have been a lot of top-notch activists visiting Seattle lately!  The first week of the month Maxine Doogan was here; we didn’t get as much time to hang out with one another as I would’ve liked, but we did get two short visits (the first time we’ve met in person).  She talked about ESPLERP’s lawsuit to decriminalize prostitution in California, and a few other things that are going on; I’m looking forward to the next time I can sit down with her, though of course there’s email and phone until then.  Almost as soon as she was gone, Tara Burns arrived; Mistress Matisse and I took turns lodging her, and we spent a lot of time together (when one or the other of us wasn’t occupied).  Given that in addition to that I had work, writing and helping someone near and dear to move this week, you can probably guess I was pretty exhausted by Sunday night; between 9 AM Thursday and 3 AM Monday I got roughly 12 hours of sleep altogether (though part of that was a small but lovely party).  And given that the week was so hectic, I guess it’s not really a huge surprise that nobody thought of taking pictures of Tara, Matisse & I together.  Well, next time; she’s promised not to be a stranger and this is the closest major lower-48 city to her home in Alaska.  In the meantime, enjoy this pic she took of me modeling some lovely gloves Abby May gave me.  This week promises to be nearly as hectic; our show is Sunday and Kaytlin Bailey will be staying with me, then the following week I’ll be preparing for my trip to Oklahoma.  If you’d like to see me while I’m on the road, please let me know ASAP; I’m departing on the 24th so everything needs to be planned by then.

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Hawk Kinkaid is the founder and president of HOOK, the association for male sex workers; he’s also the chief operating officer of Rentboy.com.  I met him at a panel discussion a few months ago and was impressed with his personality and intelligence, and since the views of male sex workers are not often represented on this blog I asked him to contribute this guest column.

Does the sex worker movement need men?  No.  Hawk Kinkaid

There.  I wrote it.  It’s what I feel like I’ve always wanted to say when people (frequently) ask me how men and women in the sex industry are different, or why there don’t appear to be many men at conferences or marches.  This is what they are getting at:  what place do men have in the movement, if any at all?  I don’t think it should come as a shock that the movement to decriminalize the American sex industry has rarely involved cisgender men, never actively sought out their participation, and most definitely never needed us to make the incredible strides and achievements made thus far.  The many regional and national programs which seek to represent and provide space for people in the sex industry haven’t needed men to drive significant shifts in raising awareness and developing programs for some of our culture’s most unjust abuses against sex workers (ranging from misogyny, homophobia and transphobia to immigration abuse, coercion, HIV and drug addiction).

Yet at the same time, there is so much left to do.  The same movement that has achieved so much still struggles against potent social stigmas and the shifting sands of public opinion; it has failed to build coalitions that support sexworker-sensitive legislation; and it is currently losing the battle against a polluted “anti-trafficking” sex-negative abolitionist wave.  Perhaps the question of “need” itself needs to be reframed.  What, in fact, do we need?  All of the programs I know have disparate and unique agendas representing their specific constituencies; the lack of a unified agenda appears to be the natural result of a complex network of organizations and networks, mostly at the grassroots level, all working toward independent goals serving their own communities.  This makes sense when you consider the entire legacy:  Our culture still revels in the archaic world where cisgender feminine sexual agency and persona must be policed, interrogated and incarcerated, and many of today’s programs started in response to local initiatives related to these injustices.  These programs range from the important community work of Maggie’s in Toronto, to the St. James Infirmary’s health care services in San Francisco, to NYC’s Sex Workers Project legal support, to HIPS’ DC needle exchange, and each is tied at some level into grant money, foundations and more.

In this tangled network of conferences and fundraisers, the one thing that fractures a conversation faster than an inappropriately placed pronoun is the perception of privilege.  This doesn’t only affect cisgender white men like myself; it is similarly shared by cisgender white women with economic success, or women who work in one particular segment of the industry over another, and so on.  But what happens if the movement is solely focused on messages that exclude sex workers with financial success and social capital (intentionally or otherwise)?  Recently, I was at an event at which a speaker began with a long preamble acknowledging all the elements of privilege we already recognized; I’m sure many in the audience welcomed the overture’s humble tones and quasi-martyrdom, but I tried to imagine the men I work with – the ones dancing in speedos on bars on the weekend, the ones shooting porn for amateur foot fetish sites, the ones working webcams between study sessions, the ones who are traipsing from city to city – feeling like they need to apologize for lives they don’t perceive as at all privileged before they can even speak.  This isn’t to absolve them of their inability to recognize the privileges their status as cisgender white men does, in fact, carry, but what movement has an official guide on how to allow for this?

Will & GraceUsing the LGBT movement as a limited parallel, we can see that recent strides in gay marriage most frequently benefit people who are already in privileged enough positions to normalize.  LGBT people of color, low-income or immigrant LGBT people and trans people struggle for attention in a movement whose focus is now dominated by those seeking respectability through monogamous heteronormativity…and sex work isn’t even a consideration.  When the photos of LGBT success surface the most privileged are always in the front row, buying tickets to the biggest of the celebrations and being asked to pose for the local newspapers, while the less privileged continue to struggle at the bottom.  Yet at the same time, the swift rise to civil rights got much of its momentum from privilege; whether from mainstream pop culture like Will and Grace, or via the murder of a young white man on a Wyoming fence, shifts in the public conversation occurred whenever a certain audience in America perceived something as close to home.  Getting the public to feel invested in the struggles of a minority group invariably fuels significant change.  I’m not advocating that Americans lean on their prejudices in order to justify change; I’d like to think this isn’t the only way forward for a movement, but I’d be ignoring past behavior if I failed to suggest we can learn from example.  And this time, can we please do it better and smarter, and avoid repeating the exacerbation of privilege?  Can we forge a divergent path that is more inclusive, more diverse, and more accepting of transgressiveness than the LGBT community has delivered?  Funding from foundations and government agencies often comes with sex-negative strings; if we enlarge our tent to include successful industry professionals we could potentially avoid the limitations inherent in organizational funding.  In the LGBT rights movement, for example, several porn company professionals bankrolled marriage movement campaigns; is there a place for them in advancing sex worker rights?  What about the high-earning porn performers or escorts I know taking in six-figure incomes?  Businesses historically uninterested in sex workers’ civil rights are starting to change their tune as they themselves come under fire; isn’t that an opportunity to broaden our tent?

I don’t know what place men have within the sex worker rights movement, even though I have been a collaborator and contributor to it for nearly two decades.  We may not be needed in the movement as it is today, but once there is a unified approach that acknowledges that those who work in the industry represent an inorganic cluster of privileges and injustices, it will be possible to develop a plan that all individuals working in the sex industry view as valuable, attainable and comprehensible.  We are, after all, in this together.

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Diary #262

bitcoin logoLast week’s big story was the attempt to shut down Backpage made by Tom Dart, sheriff of Cook County, Illinois (i.e. Chicago) and accomplice to Swanee Hunt in her unceasing endeavors to torture whores and clients.  Since Backpage has broken no laws, every lawsuit against it has failed; Dart simply circumvented due process by convincing credit card processors to stop processing payments to the company (just as federal “authorities” cut off funding to Wikileaks).  Backpage responded by making adult ads free for the time being, thus thumbing its collective nose at Dart and the other opportunists who were pretending that his grandstand play would magically shut sex workers down.  But even had the company not done so, it was still possible to pay for ads via bitcoin; several tech-savvy sex workers and allies have been giving advice on how to use it, and because of that I may have finally succeeded in learning how to use it myself (I’ve been attempting to arrange that since last summer).  In the next few days I should be adding a button to allow donations via bitcoin, but if you don’t have any fear not; I still take them via PayPal and Square.

One last note: due to an extended visit with a friend over the previous weekend, I won’t be stopping in Denver on the way out, but rather in Casper, Wyoming instead.  I’ll still be in Wichita on the 28th, and will return via Denver in August.

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There’s no such thing as a war on sex work without a war on sex workers.  –  Frédérique Chabot

The Going Rate

This article’s dick-strokingly lurid descriptions of stings make it really unpleasant to read, but it did call my attention to this chart from The Economist that I somehow missed last year:hourly rate

Thinking With the Wrong Head

While staking out a hotel room suspected of hosting prostitution activity, local police observed Mason [Ohio] Councilman Rich Cox entering and, about 15 minutes later, leaving.  Surprise, surprise, Mason Police Chief Ron Ferrell said he does not expect charges to be filed against Councilman Cox…somehow I suspect that not everyone in Cox’s circumstances would get such fair treatment from the city police…the councilman offered up an astoundingly far-fetched explanation for what he was doing at the hotel…[he said that] “he visited the [hotel]…to pass a note to a Chinese woman whose father he met at a nearby Verizon Wireless store…[because] the man’s car was broken down“…

Down Under

In the US, this would be called a “trafficking circuit”, Queenstown would be called a “hub” and the reporter would interview cops talking about how “pimps” make all the arrangements because women are too stupid to do that for ourselves.  But in New Zealand:

Queenstown is the adventure sport capital of New Zealand.  But as the tourist numbers swell during the ski season, so do the stag parties, boy’s weekends, corporate retreats, and international business meetings.  As a result, the city has developed a largely hidden yet hugely profitable sex industry…Jasmine tours New Zealand’s South Island throughout the year, but spends most of her time in the mountain town…she is one of the longest-staying sex workers in Queenstown. “Most of the girls book a room for about five days,” explained Alice, a receptionist at a bustling motel in town.  “Jasmine stays for longer because she’s so busy”…July to October and December to March [are] the busiest periods.  The seasons on either side are so dead that girls working in strip clubs can make as little as $50 a night, and escorts…often make nothing at all.  During this time, Jasmine drives to towns like Nelson, where she…has regular customers who guarantee her income…The women say the quiet months are worth it though, as they more than make up for it during the busy ski season…

Rooted in Racism

As I’ve pointed out many times, “sex trafficking” is often a cover for xenophobia:

Bad enough that they’re isolated by race, culture and language and, worse, stigmatized by a false human trafficking narrative, but they’re also endangered unjustly by the Harper government’s anti-prostitution laws.  Now those working legally in Canada say they’re being further victimized, dealing with constant police harassment, illegal detention and invasion of privacy…Elene Lam…is the face of Butterfly, the Asian and Migrant Sex Workers Network, established last fall to advocate for the rights of Asian women in the trade.  The group’s mission includes countering the myths that…have been perpetuated by the…”rescue industry”…even before the new law was introduced, police had been intimidating legal sex workers…in…operation…Northern Spotlight, plainclothes officers…posed as clients and…bullied [sex workers] as they pretended to rescue them.  For Asian sex workers, who may not speak English and have no reason to trust police, these recent warrant-less incursions into their homes and workplaces are especially frightening…

Neither Addiction Nor Epidemic

How many times will we have to say this?

A new study out of the University of California Los Angeles suggests porn addiction does not exist.  Researchers found that people who said they had trouble controlling their consumption of pornography did not show a typical addiction response to sexual images.  With addiction, increased brain activity is expected in response to relevant stimuli—heroin in the case of a drug addict, for example.  But the porn study’s participants showed decreased brain activity in response to pornography…This builds on a previous study conducted by the same researchers in which they found no connection between the extent of participants’ pornography problems and their brain responses to sexual images…

Above the Law 

A South Florida cop is accused of pulling a lesbian couple over [without even a pretext], taking one of them into custody and ordering her to undress as he rubbed his penis…”[He asked me] how do I have intercourse, and I told him, ‘Why do I need to answer that? Why is that necessary?’ He insisted me to answer it”…the [17-year-old] victim said.  “After, he asked if I was a virgin…[and] if if I had any diseases”…The woman explained that she…followed the officer’s orders out of fear…[and] believed that she was going to be raped…[when she protested he] said “Oh, I thought you wanted to fuck”…The cop…has been identified as…Jesus Menocal, Jr., the son of a recently retired police chief…who was caught on video during the 1980s plotting a cocaine rip-off…Menocal’s grandmother…said there was no way he would order a female to strip because he was once named “officer of the year”…

Imagination Pinned Down

Here’s another excellent example of stereotypic conformation:

They pimped me for a while, six months or so…Later on, I was trafficked by other men…Pimps are very good at torture, they’re very good at manipulation…When people describe prostitution as being something that is glamorous, elegant, like in the story of Pretty Woman, well that doesn’t come close to it.  A prostitute might sleep with five strangers a day…These are not relationships, no-one’s bringing me any flowers here, trust me on that.  They’re using my body like a toilet.  And the johns – the clients – are violent. I’ve been shot five times, stabbed 13 times.  I don’t know why those men attacked me, all I know is that society made it comfortable for them to do so…on 1 April 1997, when I was nearly 40 years old, a customer threw me out of his car.  My dress got caught in the door and he dragged me six blocks along the ground, tearing all the skin off my face and the side of my body.  I went to the County Hospital in Chicago…emergency room…they gave me a bus pass to go to a place called Genesis House, which was run by an awesome Englishwoman named Edwina Gateley, who became a great hero and mentor for me.  She helped me turn my life around…I stayed almost two years…

I believe that Powell was a streetwalker, and even that she had a few bad pimps; what reveals her story as propaganda is its absolutism.  All the pimps were evil and controlling, though in real life more than half aren’t; all the clients are abusive and “used her body like a toilet” (a classic prohibitionist slur); all sex work is equated with street work, though every street worker I’ve ever spoken to knows that isn’t so.  And of course there’s the classic car-dragging tale; let Powell produce her medical records (it should be easy enough, given that she knows the exact date and hospital) and I’ll believe her.  Otherwise, I call bullshit; it’s pretty obvious that part of her two-year stay at Genesis House was the usual prohibitionist brainwashing sessions, including lessons in “reframing experiences”.

On the Simultaneous Having and Eating of Cake 

I don’t expect to see any of these strip club “contractor” lawsuits go any other way now; what makes this one noteworthy is that it includes SWOP:

…while working at Scarlett’s Cabaret in Pembroke Park [Florida, Adonay Encarnacion]…got fed up.  Her frustration fueled a fight that could now result in a $6 million settlement, after a collective action involving 4,709 dancers who worked at three Scarlett’s cabarets.  “They treated us like employees when it was convenient to them and like independent contractors when it was convenient to them…If they were going to treat us like employees, then they needed to be paying us minimum wage and overtime”…Katherine Koster works for the Sex Workers Outreach Project, an organization that advocates for the human rights of sex workers and aims to raise awareness on the negative impact of their criminal status in the U.S…”Disorganized labor markets are fertile ground for the sort of labor practices that victimize  low-income and marginalized female workers,” Koster said.  “Most of them…just don’t really know that they have rights”…

Monsters 

Though the feminist jargon is a bit too thick, the central tenets are valid:

…I believe that the eroticization of trans bodies and the resulting homophobia from the rejection of that body are the primary drivers of many instances of…anti-transgender violence…Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s claim in…Rolling Stone that…“no community living in America today is as openly terrorized as transgender women” is correct…questioning of a trans woman’s gender identity leads the questioner to their subjective identification of a trans woman as a man.  If the questioner is a heterosexual cisgender man, the reaction that follows the initial eroticization is one of visceral disgust as he sexually rejects the “man” he sees in the trans woman’s place.  The transphobia and anti-transgender violence that follows are inherently political acts, meant to discipline the trans woman for attracting the male gaze in the first place…eros to thanatos, lust into vengeful rage…

Subtle Pimping (#330)

A different kind of “video game” designed to profit from sex workers (and in this case, our clients) without giving us anything in return.  This one’s especially revolting for its badge-licking subtext, but there are many in the genre.

Paint By Numbers

“Fighting sex trafficking” by standing on lawns is so passé:

Two men [are] on a cross-country bike ride…to bring awareness about a serious issue…Mike Rutter and George Cook…started…in Santa Monica California on May 24…When it gets tough, Cook says they think about why they are riding.  “The more uncomfortable the day, the more we realize about the discomfort of the girls being human trafficked and sexually exploited,” said Cook…It’s part of Bright Hope’s “Break the Chains Cycling Tour”…Rutter [said] “It’s like a mission.  I feel like a Navy Seal…The girls we are trying to do this for, they don’t have a choice what’s happening to them that day so we’re going to plow ahead”…

Sex Rays

Imagine any other profession in place of “stripper” and you may get an inkling of how stupid this kind of story looks to sex workers:

…a woman…[climbed] the flagpole at the South Carolina Statehouse…removed the Confederate flag, and then returned to the ground where she was [arrested]…Many believe that Bree Newsome was courageous for her act…however someone who claims to know her stated that she did it all for fame and to show off her ex-stripper skills…

Surplus Women (#550) 

What kind of warped mind sees arresting potential victims as a solution to dealing with a serial killer?  “Police in [Chillicothe] Ohio…have announced a crackdown on drugs and prostitution…[as] part of a larger investigation centered on several drug-addicted women who went missing…

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Diary #261

0628151635cI know I was busy last week, but if you asked me to tell you what I did I would mostly draw a blank.  Oh, I worked some and wrote some and helped friends some, but it was for the most part composed of such a host of little things that none of them actually stood out…except for Wednesday night, which was one of those lovely multi-hour duos in which everything goes just perfectly and one retires later with a deep sense of satisfaction and the feeling that all is right in one’s world.  On Sunday Jae and I rode on her motorcycle with Dykes on Bikes at the front of Seattle’ Pride parade; we then walked back along the route and marched all the way again with SWOP Seattle.  After that we floated about all afternoon with friends and went home tired and happy.  I would’ve loved to post a picture of Jae & I on the bike, but she vetoed the ones I didn’t veto until there were none left for me to use; I therefore went with this one of me with a friend (who shall remain nameless) who decided to go to Pridefest in drag.  And though my friend is a great guy and an ally to sex workers, this shot kind of symbolizes what Pride has become; it’s gone from a counterculture celebration thumbing its nose at The Establishment, to an Establishment celebration welcoming “respectable”, monogamous, vanilla gay folk with straight jobs to the big table while largely excluding all the queers who still deserve the name (including trans people, kinky folk and polyamorists) and actively ignoring sex workers.  So yeah, Pride is pretty fake and commercial now, but I enjoy Christmas despite its commercialization as well.  And now that picket-fence gay people have their state-approved marriage, perhaps they’ll no longer be able to put off the other sexual minorities they’ve been throwing under the bus for the last decade and a half.

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