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Posts Tagged ‘Ladies of the Night’

Maggie & Chester 4-17-16 The early part of last week was pretty quiet, as tax week often is; I probably should’ve made time to open the book-thickness sheaf of forms that my CPA sent me (apparently laboring under the misapprehension that I’m actually going to fill them out).  But since taxes give me actual anxiety attacks (that audit in 2003 which I was still paying for until last year probably has something to do with it), I put it off and I’m just going to send her my bank info and answer any questions she might have.  The weekend was great, though; on Saturday night I chatted on stage with Chester Brown at his book signing, and on Sunday we hung out together all afternoon.  We signed 10 books together (Chester’s signature in each includes a unique custom sketch), and I’m going to be selling them as a limited edition (I’ll devote a column to the particulars this Thursday).  Also, Chester agreed to do the cover art for my next short story collection, The Forms of Things Unknown; he took some reference pictures and I promised him I’d start working on the book in the next few weeks.  He definitely inspired me to get off my high-priced arse and start working on it, and I think once I get this one out I should have developed a pattern that will enable me to finally finish The Essential Maggie McNeill as well, and maybe start working at last on my Big Project.  That’s the theory, anyway.

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The Old Year has gone. Let the dead past bury its own dead.-Edward Powell

Maggie sketch 8-30-14As has been my custom for five years, New Year’s Eve is the occasion for a retrospective of the year’s news.  But while in previous years I mostly reported on the things other people did, the biggest story this year (at least in this blog) is the stuff I did.  Besides too many interviews to count (including one for Reason TV that has been seen over 20,000 times so far), I made dozens of personal appearances all over the country, as detailed in my tour diaries from May until the present.  The excuse for these was the publication of my book, Ladies of the Night (and if you haven’t bought a copy yet, you probably should); I know that last year I said that the second one (tentatively entitled The Essential Maggie McNeill) would be ready by summer, but obviously the tour pre-empted that.  I still hope to have it ready in the next couple of months, but I’m not promising anything because I’ve finally decided to take everyone’s advice and try to make just a tad more time for myself.

The best news of the year is that we’re still right on track for an end of “sex trafficking” hysteria by 2017, as I predicted three years ago; already we’re beginning to see skeptical articles from journalists and academics in addition to consultation of actual experts, prominent reporting on anti-hysteria studies and increased placement for articles from yours truly (including ReasonThe Washington Post and a law journal).  Though the hysteria is still in full bloom in most quarters (especially among cops, rescue industry opportunists and others with a vested interest in keeping the panic going), the exposure of “trafficking” darlings Somaly Mam and Chong Kim opened the door to allowing skeptics to openly express their doubts.  Still, just as the bad laws spawned by the last round of “sex trafficking” hysteria have endured to the present day, so will those spawned by this one endure for decades after the panic is over.  This year saw an expansion in efforts (some of them surreptitious) to impose the horrible Swedish model, and while France barely escaped it Canada and Northern Ireland have not, with the Republic of Ireland almost sure to follow.  And while there’s no way the US will ever stop persecuting sex workers without a Supreme Court order halting the practice, Swedish-flavored “end demand” rhetoric provides a palatable “feminist” excuse for endemic police violence and hounding of sex workers.

rapist copBut it’s not only sex workers who are infantilized in the name of “feminism”; female university students, too, are treated as moral imbeciles too delicate to make sexual decisions without the help of coercive patriarchal institutions.  And it’s not only sex workers who are the victims of police violence; nearly every week sees at least one report of a cop raping at least one woman (I reported 60 this year).  Not one of my Links columns is free of at least one incident of police brutality, and cops’ unrestrained and consequence-free murders of young men, especially young black men, has provoked mass protests all year.  Nor do all cop attacks involve physical violence; actual robbery under cover of “law enforcement” pretenses is at an all-time high, and many police and FBI operations are motivated by profit and/or the desire to create a spectacle in advancement of a political narrative.

At first glance, this hasn’t been a good year for sex workers; our rights are even under attack in countries where they’ve been reasonably secure for years, and agency-denying “sex trafficking” propaganda is promoted in virtually every mainstream venue and pretended to be factual in legislatures and police circles worldwide.  But at the same time academics, human rights organizations and many others are beginning to open their eyes to the truth, and everywhere I traveled this summer I found receptive audiences.  Moral panics do not slowly fade away; they usually get worse until they very quickly collapse.  The end of widespread societal support for persecution of sex workers is coming…and sooner than you might think.

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Lady fairest ever seen
Was the bride he crowned his queen.
Pillowed on the marriage-bed,
Whispering to his soul, he said,
“Though a bridegroom never pressed
Dearer bosom to his breast,
Mortal flesh must come to clay:
Even this shall pass away.”
  –  Theodore Tilton, “The King’s Ring

Every year on the Day of the Dead I write about why the holiday exists, why it is necessary, and why ruining the quality of life in an attempt to increase its quantity is both foolish and ultimately futile.  To those who have only started reading me this year, or who have only read a few selected pieces over a longer time, this might seem a strange topic for a harlot; one might expect death to be the farthest pole from my topic, except perhaps for mentioning it as an extreme manifestation of whore stigma or when paying my respects on December 17th.  But in truth, it’s both predictable and appropriate on a personal, professional and philosophical level.

zombie and harlotFrom a personal standpoint, I would probably have written often on this topic even had I never become a card-carrying prostitute; I was a strange, wild, moody  Wednesday Addams of a child, born on Halloween night and fascinated with horror lore and imagery.  Autumn was both my native season and the one in which I felt most comfortable, and I struggled with depression for over twenty years until at long last sex work helped me to get a handle on itMy favorite books, stories  and even songs mostly tend to involve death or other melancholy elements, and just look at the stories I’ve published on this blog and in my book (or just the cover of the damned thing, for goddess’ sake!)  So if you’ve read more than a handful of my (burnt) offerings and were still surprised that I sometimes think and write about death, you just haven’t been paying attention.

Professionally speaking, I must point out that whores often deal with the dark side of human nature.  Fear and sex are inextricably intertwined, and men who have rape fantasies or other “bad” urges may seek out sex workers to help them explore these in a safe and non-judgmental space; others, unfortunately, may seek out unwilling sex workers for the same reason, and the only “safety” they seek is their own relative safety from legal consequences.  Dominatrices and some fetish workers specialize in dealing with the darker aspects of human sexuality, and in criminalized, semi-criminalized and quasi-criminalized systems virtually all sex workers (especially those who work the street) are at a much greater risk of violence or even death than their domesticated amateur sisters.  And nobody who is afraid of death, or who views it as an unpleasant subject improper for polite company, could do the work I do now; take a look at a few items in any of my TW3 columns and I think you’ll see what I mean.

It is no accident that sex workers are among the most dedicated worshippers of the Mexican death-goddess, Santa Muerte, and that many of the myths surrounding pagan whore-goddesses (who were sometimes war-goddesses as well) involved violence and death; even long before criminalization of sex work was the norm, it was recognized that sex itself comes from the same hidden parts of the human psyche as those less-pleasant things.  Sex originates from the deepest wellsprings of life, but so does death; the latter is no less a biological process than the former.  Sex brings new life into the world, but death sustains that life; every one of us (yes, even vegans) continues his existence at the expense of the other lives we consume every single day in order to keep our internal fires burning and repair our damaged or worn-out tissues with materials stolen from the dead.  Not even plants are innocent of this colossal carnage; since some substances (such as phosphorus) are comparatively scarce, all life would soon grind to a halt were the constant supply of corpses to be choked off.  Nor is sex itself all moonlight and love songs; in many species it’s a brutal, coercive affair, and even among humans it can never be purged of its bestial and terrifying aspects, no matter how much feminists and other puritans insist that it can.  Sex and death are our constant reminders that for all our pretensions we are still animals; no wonder those uncomfortable with that fact try to disguise and sanitize both of them, to hide them from the children and speak about them in whispers, to bind them in legal codes and bury them under layers of ritual.  But no matter how deeply we bury our sexualities they reassert themselves, and no matter how diligently we try to delay death, it will come when it will come.  Both are impossible to ignore and impossible to prevent, and human society would be a lot better off if we learned to accept both as indisputable facts of material existence. 

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I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.  –  Tennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire

Maggie speaking at LOTR LA 6-5-14Long-time readers know I’m a creature of habit; I tend to keep a pretty regular schedule of eating, sleeping, bathing, working and everything else, even down to which days of the week I usually work on which features of my blog.  So the announcement of such a long tour must’ve taken many of you by surprise; some of you probably wondered whether I’d be able to complete the ambitious itinerary I set for myself.  For over three months (with the exception of a single week at home around the 4th of July) I totally discarded most of my normal habits to drive from coast to coast, living in hotels or guest rooms and eating restaurant food.  The trip was a litany of firsts:  the first time I had ever spoken to people who specifically came out to see me,  the first time I had tried a number of foods, the first time I was ever in many of these cities (or even states), the first time I had ever traveled so far or so long alone, the first time I ever undertook such a major project without any clear idea of how I was going to pay for it.

And yet, despite there being a number of extremely good reasons why it should never have worked, it did.  I embarked on the tour because it was something I felt had to be done; not only did I want to talk about my book, I also wanted to meet people and talk face-to-face with them about why the War on Whores is a spectacularly awful idea, and why they should care about it.  And so I took a leap of faith; like Blanche Dubois I depended on the kindness of strangers, though I achieved much better results than she did.  From practically the moment I left my home people I did not know helped me to plan my trip, arrange my events, pay for my expenses and get where I needed to be when I needed to be there.  People sent me money, invited me into their homes, fed me, gathered audiences for me, listened to what I had to say, bought my book, encouraged me and went out of their way to assist me when I was sick or lost.  Everywhere I went I was made to feel welcome and important, and I was often treated like a celebrity.  It’s an overused phrase, but the experience really did renew my faith in humanity.

The journey took me from west to east and north to south, through hot weather and cold, across wildernesses to the largest population centers in the country; altogether, I logged almost 13,000 miles.  There were days when I was so busy I barely had time to think, and others in which I had nothing to do but catch up on my blogging.  I had experiences that frightened me or made me very nervous or uncomfortable, and others that were among the best of my whole life; I got sick a few times and made a number of new friends.  I spoke to enthusiastic crowds in packed rooms, and enjoyed quiet one-on-one conversations with individuals.  One of these days I’ll write about the whole thing at length for my memoirs, but for right now I just want to let y’all know what an amazing gift y’all gave me by making the whole thing possible; it was literally a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I’ll be thinking about it and drawing on it for my writing for many years to come.

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20140829_204721In Atlanta, I felt my first twinge of homesickness; I reckon it’s because I was back in the Deep South, in a city I’ve visited many times, and saw many familiar business names and the like that I hadn’t seen in a long time.  Mancrack (who as you may recall provided the art for my Lammas column) was my hostess, and I got to meet a number of readers both at my Liberty On the Rocks event last Monday, and in private on the night before.  Another interesting thing about Atlanta was that three of the attendees at my event were running for office; perhaps that indicates a strong Libertarian Party in Georgia, but one way or another I think it’s very important that politicians (of any political party) hear about sex worker rights, so I’m really pleased and I’m hopeful for similar attention to future events.

While you were reading last Tuesday’s Tour Diary, I was en route to Tampa Bay, where I stayed with my friend Kelly Michaels.  Since I hadn’t heard anything from any of the people I had contacted in the area, I was expecting just a quiet week of visiting; however, while I was in Atlanta I was emailed by Tampa-area reader Hotlix, who absolutely would not hear of this, and beat the bushes to attract more attention to my visit.  Kelly hosted a potluck supper and discussion group at her house Friday, and Buttons Berry advertised it on SWOP Tampa Bay’s Facebook page; in all eight people in addition to Kelly and I showed up, and it was absolutely one of the best events of the whole tour.  Besides the quality of the participation, everyone really made me feel like a rock star; so much so, in fact, that I was a little embarrassed by it.  I’m really happy to be reaching so many people that they come out of their way to see me; three of them made a two-hour (one way) drive from Orlando in Friday afternoon traffic!  As you read this I’m in New Orleans, but everything I’m doing here is private; the Tampa Bay event was therefore the last public one of the tour, and I couldn’t have wished for a better sendoff.

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Cathryn and me at the Everleigh Club site 7-19-14Up to this week, the pace of my tour has been relatively sedate, with more downtime than appearances.  But as of Saturday that changed; Chicago will be a whirlwind, and the number of quiet days from here to at least Charleston will be in the minority.  So even though last week in Memphis and Nashville was rather quiet, I wasn’t all that concerned; it gave me time to catch up on some writing so I won’t be caught flatfooted before the end of August.

Since my book is self-published, most large bookstores won’t carry it on their shelves; however, independent stores can do as they like so a few have agreed to stock Ladies of the Night.  Before leaving Memphis last Monday I stopped in at The Booksellers at Laurelwood to sign their copies, and was pleased to hear that one had already sold over the weekend.  If you’re in Memphis, call them to see if they have any left!  That night I had dinner with one of my “Angel” sponsors in Nashville, and this morning I’m having breakfast with another in Chicago.  I also had dinner and visited with activist Cathryn Berarovich in Chicago on Saturday night; the picture is us in a grassy lot where the Everleigh Club, Chicago’s busiest and most elegant brothel, used to stand.  And on Friday night in Indianapolis, I had dinner and a long discussion with a criminologist who is preparing a study of violence against sex workers in criminalized and legalized systems.

My one public event in Nashville was a presentation at Liberty On the Rocks; since the space was rather noisy and the group relatively small we opted for a discussion-group style event rather than a lecture followed by questions.  Though I felt as though the format was a bit more chaotic than I prefer, the attendees seemed pleased with the outcome and one even wrote about it.  There’s a small footnote to that event which emphasizes the reason I’m out here and gives me hope for the future:  when I left, I felt like getting some ice cream so I stopped at a small parlor on the next block which was still open.  As I walked out and was eating my cone on the sidewalk, a young woman (university age) asked which flavor I’d bought, and she and her boyfriend and I struck up a conversation.  When I told them who I was and why I was travelling, they expressed enthusiastic support for the cause, wished me luck and asked for a card to read the blog.  I think their attitude is more common than the prohibitionists want to admit; in twenty years, young people will view repression of sex work in the same way young people now view attempts to suppress gay rights: as a weird, incomprehensible thing people used to do which has no valid place in a civilized society.

Here’s my tour schedule, which is still in flux; check back when I’m getting close to you for details of local appearances.  If your city isn’t on the list, but it’s within about four hours’ drive of another city which is on the list, just send an email asking me to visit.  Your request will have even more impact if you can suggest a specific place I could do a book reading or give a talk, and it’s virtually assured if you can actually make the arrangements yourself (in other words if it’s your store, club or whatever).

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Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety.  –  William Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra (II, ii)

Yes, it’s been four years already, and some of you have been reading for most of that time; I’m very pleased to see how few of you have tired of me.  Pleased because, though I would certainly like to believe Enobarbus’ description of Cleopatra also applies to myself, one must always be careful to take flattery with a grain of salt, and never to fall for one’s own ad copy.  At the same time, false modesty in excess tends to make a lady look more silly than sincere; I therefore try to maintain a balance between self-promotion and self-deprecation, though I suspect you’ll forgive me if I err a bit on the side of the former on occasions like this.  Custom has not yet staled my variety for most of my regulars, and I gain new readers all the time; a look back at last year’s anniversary column will serve to illustrate that.  The Honest Courtesan now has almost 1500 posts, 92 assorted pages, almost 40,000 comments, about 1200 subscribers and 3900 Twitter followers, and 2.8 million page views from all over the world.  I write regular features for Cliterati and the Eros Guide; have seen my work published in Cato Unbound, Reason and the Washington Post; have published a book of short stories (which I’m currently promoting on a national tour); plan to release a book of essays in January; and have done so many interviews, speaking engagements, consultations and other such work that I’ve completely lost count.

So all in all, I think I can safely declare this blog a success.  I’ve got my procedures down to a science now, so I can do outside projects without too much difficulty (though a 15-week book tour is definitely testing the limits!) and I’m even starting to make a small amount of money from it.  That, however, will never be my primary motivation:  this blog exists to spread knowledge about the demimonde; to debunk propaganda spread by our enemies to demonize or infantilize us; to help people realize that whores and our clients are really just regular people and our work is regular work; to argue for self-ownership and the rights of individuals to direct their own lives without interference from tyrants and control freaks; to call attention to the awful things those tyrants do to advance their agendas; and to entertain y’all in the process.  And though I’m rarely at a loss for words, none in my vocabulary are sufficient to express the gratitude I feel for all of y’all who choose to spend some of your valuable time with me every day, and without whose attention, praise and support none of this would have been possible.

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