So, I’ll be visiting Los Angeles from May 19th to 25th. Despite the fact that I’m going to be meeting up with friends and doing other fun things (perhaps even some profitable ones), I’m not actually looking forward to the trip; that’s because I’m going to be flying, and I really hate flying. As long-time readers know I suffer from debilitating vertigo, accompanied by terror; in 2014 I even traveled to Seattle by train (more than three days each way) rather than fly. I’ve tried every motion-sickness remedy there is, both prescription and OTC, and none of them work at all; however, I recently hit upon the idea of trying a two-pronged attack, that being Valium for the anxiety and Zofran for the vomiting. The literature says the latter won’t prevent motion sickness, but I’m hoping the combination with Valium will. And if it doesn’t, I’m going to try betahistine on the way back (it’s not approved for sale in the US, so it may be a bit harder to obtain dependably). Sooner or later I hope to be able to come up with some combination of prescription & non-prescription drugs that will enable me to fly, even if it’s at the cost of sedating me into insensibility for most of the day; better to be groggy and loopy than terrified and vomiting. Anyhow, I will definitely be available for a limited number of bookings while I’m in town, so if you live in or near LA and you’ve been wanting to see me, now’s your chance!
Posts Tagged ‘activism’
By the time I woke up last Thursday morning, three of the books Chester sketched and signed for me had already been purchased; another followed that evening, and another has been spoken for but the buyer wants to let others choose their sketches first and will take the last one. So far, the books containing the sketches numbered 4, 5, 8 and 10 have been bought and delivered to their new owners; the ones you see here are the ones which are left. If you’d like one, make sure you speak up now before someone else gets your favorite!
Last week was pretty good for me financially, despite a couple of cancellations, but other than that it was pretty stressful. Having to deal with taxes was not a good way to start the week, and it didn’t really get better after that; there were a host of real-life annoyances small and large which continued to stack up until Friday, at which point I was so out of juice that I simply wasn’t able to go any more. So I simply stayed at home, made myself an omelette, worked for a while, drank enough to thoroughly relax my body and brain and sent silly texts to friends. Definition of a true friend: someone you can text drunk at 1:30 in the morning to tell her how beautiful you look in the mirror at that moment, and she doesn’t even make fun of you. Much. Anyhow, I didn’t even get dressed on Saturday, but on Sunday I had a lovely brunch with another friend I haven’t seen in a couple of months, then in the afternoon I went to Big Lots. Don’t laugh; I love bargain shopping. Virtually nothing I own was purchased full-price, unless somebody else paid it and then gave it to me as a gift.
Anyway, I’m rather hoping this week will be better; I had a lovely dinner with one of my favorite gentlemen last night, today I’m having my hair done, and then later this week I have a major professional engagement which should be a lot of fun. In a few weeks, I’m going to be visiting Los Angeles for about a week; I need to test my new vertigo medications (fingers crossed & pray to Hermes for a good journey, please!), I want to visit some friends, and a special gentleman is taking me to Disneyland. So if you’d like to see me while I’m there, please let me know; I should have my dates firmed up by the end of the week. Oh, and while we’re on the subject: I’ll be in New Orleans for the Desiree Alliance conference from July 10th-15th. I’ll be offering my usual advance-pay special for both trips; contact me for details if you’re interested. And yes, I can hand-deliver a book to you to save the shipping cost.
It’s always nice when one can wind down just a little and relax with friends for a while. This isn’t to say that my week wasn’t hectic (because it rarely isn’t) nor stressful (ditto), and on Thursday I woke up in a foul mood for no particular reason I could discern. But I did receive my copy of Jillian Keenan‘s new book, Sex With Shakespeare, and on Friday I went to dinner with Mistress Matisse and super-ally Elizabeth Nolan Brown. We had a lovely dinner together (talking, among other things, about last week’s events) and relaxing and drinking and laughing and doing the things friends do at dinner. Then toward the end, this middle-aged guy came up to our table, stood between Matisse and Liz, and asked us to excuse him; he seemed to be studying our faces intently so I immediately figured he had recognized one or more of us. But that seemed not to be the case; he said he wanted to ask us something, so then I guessed he had overheard our conversation and had some question about it. But that wasn’t it; he said his table (two men & two women) had been discussing us and made a bet about the average age of our table. We were all a bit surprised at such a rude question, so Matisse asked him to repeat it and yes, he really was asking three strange women to tell him how old we were. It retrospect, I think it’s pretty funny that our reactions were exactly in character: Matisse was annoyed at his impertinence, Liz was curious at where this might be going, and I immediately tried to monetize the situation by asking him if we got a cut if he won. Had he offered to pick up our tab I might’ve tried to convince Matisse to play along, but when he said a mighty $20 was riding on our answer (not even enough to cover my cocktails), I totally agreed with Matisse’s politely but sternly telling him to shove off. One can only wonder what the conversation was that gave rise to such a bet, and how much liquor was involved. Anyhow, Matisse had another commitment so Liz and I continued the party at my “Den of Sin” as she calls it, and this selfie was the result; in case you can’t tell, we were horizontal because I wasn’t actually in a condition to be vertical.
The rest of the weekend was pretty relaxing; on Saturday I went to Endza’s birthday party, then on Sunday I helped a regular client who asked me for a favor. See, he just bought a new car and wanted me to drive the old one home from the dealership for him. Oh, and did I mention he asked me to pick a young sex worker he could give it to? Not sell or trade, mind; give it to. He’s barely even met the girl I chose. But you know how clients are; abusive monsters, the lot of them. Slavery and oppression and paid rape and all. Well, I guess I’m just suffering from false consciousness; it must’ve been the Cosmopolitans from Friday night.
SWOP Behind Bars is a new project, which attracted my attention soon after its formation; I think it’s incredibly important so I asked the organizer, Alex, to explain the project herself. I’ve already donated a copy of my book (and will donate more to other prisons as the project expands), and I’ve given Alex carte blanche to use any of my columns in the newsletter she compiles for our incarcerated sisters. As a former librarian, I well know the power books have to change lives, yet they’re so inexpensive; please consider donating at least one book to this program, and read on for other ways you can help.
No one really knows how many women who are imprisoned have done some form of sex work, but guesstimates from prison and probation officials run as high as 70%, and it’s difficult to ignore the probability that the criminalization of sex work has a major impact on the prison population. According to the Florida Department of Corrections almost 6800 women are currently serving a sentence in Florida prisons, and another 38,000 are on state-supervised probation. Women make up approximately 7% of the Florida prison population, with 144 under the age of 21; black and Hispanic women outnumber white women 3 to 1. Programs for women behind bars are very limited, inadequately funded and mostly faith based, and re-entry services are pretty much limited to $50 and a bus ticket home, wherever that might be. While the biggest fear for a sex worker might be arrest, the biggest fear for imprisoned women is what will happen to them when they are released. These women return to their communities desperate and defined by their experience; their families are disconnected and they must find their own way to rebuild their lives. There is virtually no housing for those recently released, and they will be denied almost all public benefits because of their criminal records; they can’t get decent employment and they won’t be able to get a student loan in order to advance their education if they can’t or don’t want to engage in sex work. When this discrimination is combined with whore stigma and the ever-present shaming of current or former sex workers, those who have been incarcerated have virtually no opportunity to thrive on release.
The SWOP Behind Bars project at Lowell Correctional Institution is working to reach out to sex workers behind bars by donating books to the prison library, sending newsletters to those currently incarcerated and building a nationwide network of sex worker-supported letter writing. Women in prison who receive regular mail are perceived as “highly valued”, and it is the hope of SWOP Behind Bars to flood our incarcerated sisters with mail. We are currently working to integrate with other prison book donation organizations to duplicate our efforts nationwide, in the hope that over time we can create a sense of community and support that will help them cope while imprisoned and rebuild their lives once released.
This didn’t happen overnight and it’s not even an original idea. In the early days of sex work activism, Margo St James sued the state of California to improve programs and services for women in prison. As the sex worker rights movement grew over the next 20 years and the Amnesty decision support decriminalization thrust sex worker rights into mainstream discourse, we still loudly protested the criminalization of sex work and have worked diligently to minimize the danger of being arrested; however, there are still so many sex workers in prison and they need to know we are here for them. Many do not identify as sex workers, yet it only takes a cursory investigative search of the Department of Corrections websites to recognize that there is a large incidence of previous convictions for prostitution. Women in prison do not know about the vibrant sex worker community that is rising up in the US, and we think they should. Those of us who live in the free world have connected with each other via social media and through the organized efforts of Sex Worker Rights Organizations. We have shared our experiences and our knowledge with each other on Facebook, Instagram, Tumbr and Twitter. We have Art Shows and Operas and International Days we recognize together. We have at last created our own community that – for the most part – has given us all a solidarity that is unprecedented. We even have our own insignia…the Red Umbrella. Now we need to get back to our roots and reach out to those behind bars because that is where those who have suffered the most from criminalization reside.
Reading books is a popular prison pastime and unless one has somebody sending reading material inside, she is limited to what is in the prison library. But prison libraries are limited to what was left behind by others, legal books and a flurry of faith based material; our goal is to provide books to improve the lives of prisoners, to provide educational resources, and to help reduce the likelihood of their returning to the prison system. Our communities fare better when prisoners returning to society have had an opportunity to learn, grow, and mature as individuals, and books can provide inspiration and knowledge for that growth. We believe that books about sex workers, provided by sex workers, for sex workers, and to sex workers are the greatest way we can invite them to participate in our community and let them tell us how we can improve our efforts to make sure that they have the tools to develop the best version of themselves. Already the Lowell Correctional Facility for Women has been inundated with books donated by authors and individuals that tell about our history, our stories and our hopes for the future. The generosity of the sex worker community has been overwhelming. Each book donated will have a label placed inside that will identify our community and let them know how to reach out to us by phone and by mail. The SWOP Community Support has been activated with a new flock of enthusiastic volunteers to answer calls. Our first newsletter will be sent to more than 100 incarcerated recipients in the next few weeks, and we will be asking them to write to us and tell us their stories, and to organize support groups inside. We will be providing evidence-based material for them to learn more about us and about themselves. We have been invited to participate in the creation of a program that will launch this summer, in which we’ll have the opportunity to provide trauma informed, sex work positive training to corrections officers and other prison officials in the State of Florida. We are also working to create re-entry support services that are available to assist those who have recently been released find the resources they need to accomplish the goals they set for themselves.
Our call to the sex worker community is to join us in reaching out to sex workers behind bars. Here are 10 ways you can help.
- If you know someone who is in prison whom we could include in our monthly newsletter, send their mailing information to email@example.com.
- If you are the AUTHOR or PUBLISHER of a book you would like to donate, instructions are listed here.
- If you have your own newsletter or if you want to start writing to sex workers behind bars, we can send you our current list of sex workers. We are not publishing an online list of incarcerated sex workers until they request us to do so.
- If you want to send a book to a specific resident of a jail or prison, you MUST send it using Amazon.com or Barnes and Noble. There are no exceptions to this requirement in any US jail or prison.
- If you want to submit a story to the monthly newsletter, please send it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- If you want to donate NEW BOOKS to the Lowell Corrections Institution Library, we have a wish list on Amazon.com.
- If you want to donate USED BOOKS to the prison library, please send an email to email@example.com and we will tell you how this works and send you instructions.
- If you want to start your own book donation program in your state prison or county jail, let us know and we will be happy to share our tips and tricks. We want to keep a record of books that are donated and a list of facilities where they are going so we know how to face future challenges with Books Behind Bars projects.
- We are building a toolkit for sex workers to use to reach out to recently arrested sex workers, and we will publish that information on the website and on Facebook and Twitter when it is complete.
- Finally, if you have ideas or resource material that you think would advance this project or assist in the creation of re-entry resources, please let us know about it. We are particularly interested in people who are willing to engage directly by phone, mail or email with recently released sex workers who need a sex worker friendly, non-judgmental mentor.
The books most often requested are biographies, short stories and self-help books, particularly those that assist with addiction and trauma related issues. SWOPUSA will be happy to send you a tax deductible receipt for the published price of the books, the cost of printing newsletters and any shipping or mailing costs you incur. You do not have to use your own return address for mailing books or newsletters; you may use the SWOP USA return address:
340 S LEMON AVE #7566
WALNUT CA 91789
Those of you who follow me on Twitter already know that last week was a painful one for those of us in the sex worker rights movement; journalist and former sex worker Melissa Gira Grant, who has long danced on the boundary between the “straight” world and the demimonde, apparently decided she wanted a total divorce from us (and not an amicable one, either). And so she published an article acting much like a prohibitionist; she centered her own voice above that of a very troubled and disadvantaged sex worker, outed aspects of the woman’s life that she did not want revealed in such a manner, and even quoted an exploitative anti-whore asshole with a record of publicly threatening sex workers. Mistress Matisse is a lot more closely involved with the story than I am, which is why on Tuesday I shared her account of what happened. One thing I am going to say is that although I was angry to the point of nausea at Melissa’s exploitation of a very vulnerable sex worker, not to mention her attempt to throw mud on one of my closest friends, there is a part of me that’s relieved I no longer need to remain silent about a person who has offended and/or pissed off more sex worker activists than I can count on both hands. She’s had me blocked me on Twitter (a move most people reserve for enemies and offensive trolls) and bad-mouthed me in private for years, but as long as she was doing good work for the movement, I kept my mouth shut and even promoted her work. But now that she’s burning her bridges in earnest, I see no reason to keep my mouth shut any longer (because as most of you know, I’m not exactly good at that anyway). The kid gloves are now off, and the only reason I’m not saying anything more right now is that, unlike Melissa, I’m not going to make something that isn’t about me, about me. I’m going to let the wronged parties set the pace, and my rightful role in this is to support them.
However, I’m not so upset I’m going to forget my manners; I got some lovely gifts I would like to acknowledge. Reader Daz sent me a DVD that’s been on my wishlist for a while, and another gentleman purchased a phone visit from me, gave me another donation over and above the cost for the visit itself, and also sent me the lovely leggings you see here. Yes, I do indeed do phone visits; I’ll let y’all consider the possibilities. And until then, you can just enjoy the picture. And please, please consider donating to Heather’s fundraiser; in killing Neal Falls she no doubt saved many of our sisters from a horrible death, and now she needs our help to get her own life back in order.
I have to admit that it still really tickles me to be mentioned in other people’s books. Last week I received my copy of Brooke Magnanti’s new one, The Turning Tide, and when I started reading I discovered that I’m kindly named in the acknowledgements. Then this past week my copy of Chester Brown’s latest, Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus, arrived, and there was my blurb anchoring the back cover. Yes, I already knew it was going to be there; besides the fact that I was told it would be, I already had an advance copy. But there’s just something extra-nice about holding the actual finished thing in one’s hand. And it reminded me of what I consider to be the best and coolest part of (relative) celebrity: getting to meet, know and become friends with other cool, awesome, creative people. It opens the door to being able to help others, too; my network of connections has on many occasions allowed me to make a phone call or shot out an email to get specialized help for someone who needs it, or to connect two cool, awesome people who haven’t yet met to each other (thereby magnifying the level of coolness and awesomeness in the world). The internet being what it is, I’m friends with a number of people I’ve never met in person, but I’m always excited to have the opportunity to meet them later; Brooke and I are already discussing the possibility of meeting on her next trip to the States, and I have a firm date for my first in-person meeting with Chester: he will be speaking and signing books at 7 PM on Saturday, April 16th, at Hugo House, 1634 11th Ave in Seattle. And I’ve been invited to introduce him to the audience! Besides that, I was able to help his publisher find other people to introduce him in several other cities; see how those connections work? So if you would like to hear Chester speak and get a signed copy of the book, but you’re not in Seattle, consult this tour schedule; he’s appearing in Berkeley, San Francisco & Los Angeles before the 16th, and Toronto, New York City, Washington DC, Winnipeg, Montreal and Chicago after it. And don’t worry; I haven’t forgotten my promise to get working on my own books, and I think I can wedge a few short tours into my schedule once they’re out.