Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Reminder: media workshop for sex workers

Is this Saturday. For more information, see http://www.scarletalliance.org.au/
RSVP by calling 9326 9455.

All sex workers are invited to free training this Saturday.
26th May, 2007 - 10am - 2pm
Love the Media and it'll Love You - Tips for Sex Workers and the Press
Make no mistake sex workers are very popular with the media. But is there a way for sex workers to take advantage of this, and not just be left feeling used and exposed? It's a challenging task but we'll look at specific cases sex workers have been able to benefit from media events. We'll look at how to pitch media releases,and how to prepare for yourself an interview. So bring your ideas along and tell us what you want. We aim to please at the highest levels. This workshop is for sex workers only
Presenters: Eurydice Aroney lectures in Radio Journalism at the University of Technology. She's worked at the ABC for many years and is an active supporter of sex worker rights. Kerrie Jean Ross has been a print, radio and TV journalist for 30 years (god damit!). She's also a true believer when it comes to workers rights and unionsism. Kerrie jean has also taught journalism at a tertiary level.
Venue: Ground floor of the Albion Street Centre, Cnr Albion and Crown Streets, Surry Hills, Underneath the Scarlet Alliance Office.
RSVP on 9326 9455 or on the day if you have trouble finding the workshop space call 0411985135
As part of the range of activities surrounding International Whores Day

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Sexual Repression and Whorish Histories

The Victorian era was a peak time for sex work...there were so many sex workers in London under the reign of Queen Victoria - apparently more than ever before or since. There are three key reasons for this:


1. The first being economic - with the Industrial Revolution, record numbers of people left rural areas (where they had traditionally lived as peasants, working the land of the local land owner) and moved to cities for work - such a dramatic change to an economic system, from a largely agricultural to largely urban economy will cause havoc - urban crowding, slums, unemployment and dramatic poverty. Add to this that women's wages at that time in most conventional forms of 'women's work' (i.e. working as a seamstress or in a laundry) was not enough to survive on in most cases... and there you have it: the perfect conditions for an explosion of sex work are created



2. The second was notions of female purity... sex made you damaged goods, and often even working class women had presure put upon them to be chaste (who were up until this time considered fundamentally immoral, however the recent woman-led moral crusades - who also focused on 'white slavery' and alcohol temperance).. so for women who had popped their cherry, the most conventional means of economic support (wedlock) was not always an option, so 'on the game' it was. Another aspect of this was the hideous amounts of homophobia, which meant that for men looking for same sex action, male sex workers were the safest option (except maybe, in the case of the Oscar Wilde sodomy case, when rent boys gave evidence against him).



3. And then there is the second chastity related reason... the popular wisdom of the time made quite clear that women didn't like sex, that male sex drive victimised women into putting out, even when they don't want to (hello Sheila Jeffreys, Andrea Dworkin, et al). There were books available at the time that suggested that a decent husband wouldn't expect sex more than about every 6 months from his lady wife, and advised on things to do to quell the urge to ask more often.... Middle and upper class men sometimes began affairs with the household servants, or other working class women, sometimes setting them up as mistresses in separate establishments - if those men didn't adequately provide for their mistresses... well you get the picture. Either way, affluent guys either went to see sex workers straight away, or 'ruined' someone who then became a sex worker later.



I'm not being bitter about men here (or in anyway suggesting sex workers are victims - making lemonade out of the lemons of sexism and classism is to me the act of the capable and empowered), just pointing out that class and gender discrimination, tough economic times and sexual repression create the conditions for an increase in the numbers of sex workers.



(For more on Victorian Era sex work - may I recommend my favourite all-time sex work book? Whores In History by Nikki Roberts. Also Victorian 'porn' such as Fanny Hill and My Secret Life for 'local colour')



Conversely, the sex industry has been a harder place to be since the late 60s. The introduction of the contraceptive pill was certainly catastrophic for business. Such a reliable, non intrusive, self-directed contraceptive method meant women, for the first time, where able to have penetrative, penis-in-vagina sex all the time without running the huge risk of pregnancy. When wives and girlfriends - or even women not romantically entwined are putting out for free in such large numbers, there is less of an overwhelming need for sex workers.



A later impact was the AIDS pandemic... which I believe has been affecting the amount of people paying for sex for over 20 years now, as well as increasing stigmatisation against sex workers - we aren't just mercenary bitches and loose immoral sluts anymore, we are also vectors of disease. This despite the fact that there has never been a reported HIV transmission in a sex work context in Australia to date, that in many high incidence regions for HIV, sex workers demonstrate higher levels of sexual health than the general population, and that most HIV positive women in the world contracted HIV from their husbands (often their only sexual partner).




Other local impacts have been the removal of fringe benefits, and the introduction of poker machines and the impact of the GST on small businesses).



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I do hope y'all will forgive what I hope wasn't too much of a tedious journey back through the mists of time. My personal life-long obsession with digging around in history, mythology, literature and the cultural mores of specific periods of time is lead by my desire to know: how we got to this place, how did we start worshipping a god who seems obsessed with our sex lives and punishing us, how 10,000 years of patriarchal oppression happened, how queers and whores and women and people of colour got to be on the bottom of the heap. So, all of that history was background to what I'm actually thinking about..



My life's work (sorry if that sounds too arrogant) has been about doing what I can to dismantle sex negativity, or erotophobia. As sex negativity is the basis of homophobia and sex worker phobia, it makes sense that this will be really important stuff for me. Sex between people of 'opposite' sexes within the context of ongoing relationships, has at least the potential for procreation to justify it. The scary aspect of aiming to dismantle a system of erotophobia is - it's probably bad for business.



Barriers put in place to people fucking as they please (such as fear of conception, homophobia and the social consequences for women of extra-marital sex [see the whore stigma]) motivates more (mainly) men to access the services of professionals. So, while a key motivation for me in my sex work has been to affirm the importance of pleasure, and crusade for sex positivity - am I simply putting myself out of business, or at least making it harder for the next generation of whores?



I've spoken about this with Decriminalise Debby, who raised Patrick Califia's article Whoring In Utopia - which argues that in a utopian future world - with no racism, classism, sexism, homophobia or sex negativity would still need whores - just possibly different whores, for different ways of whoring. That people might be far more likely to give their partners a session with a sex worker for a gift, with this being less stigmatised (I also imagine in utopia there is greater support for relationship structures outside of monogamy), that clients may not be almost exclusively str8 men, and that sexual skill might be seen as so valuable, that being properly 'initiated' and trained up to be a good sexual partner by a sex worker at the beginning of your sexual life would be seen as vital if you wanted to ever get a date, from that point onwards.



All I can say is I hope so... sex work has allowed me to be choosey about what other kinds of work I do, so that I don't have to work for evil multinationals who cut down rain forests or exploit 'third world' labour, or simply do mindnumbly dull work. I love that sex work allows me to constantly make not just a living, but also very good karma for myself by providing relaxation, pleasure and orgasms for others. I'd hate for this option to not be there for others.

My real primary identity just might be....

Stubborn.




stub·born (stŭb'ərn) adj., -er, -est.
Unreasonably, often perversely unyielding; bullheaded.
Firmly resolved or determined; resolute.

Characterized by perseverance; persistent.
Difficult to treat or deal with; resistant to treatment or effort: stubborn soil; stubborn stains.
[Middle English stuborn.]




I was rereading Hanne Blanks' 'Tits of Clay: Genderphilia and Changing the World, One Lipstick at a time' the keynote speach for the Femme 2006 conference, and again struck powerfully by the inherent stubborness in femme performance. Of course... in a culture that denigrates the feminine, considers women to be second class citizens and considers frippery and frou frou to be the ultimate in vain, insignificant, superficial stupidity (whereas beer and football are the vitally important aspects of life) femme is going to get a lot of opposition and not much support. Even femmes ourselves aren't immune from internalising these ideas and acting out self-oppression in a variety of ways...


When I am on the receiving end of anti-femme stuff: watch me wear higher and higher heels, watch me pout and hair flick, watch my dresses get lower and lower cut.... to a point where I may as well run around topless in a pony costume on stilts.... And watch me do this with my head held high, an articulate critique on enforced gender systems and knowing that a world that is safer for me will be a world safer for so many more than me.


In much the same way, I get stubborn when other aspects of my identity that are dear to me are denigrated. If people are reacting negatively about sex work, I get outer and outer about it. Talking more about the 'ins and outs' (if you'll pardon the pun) than just the industrial rights issues and other sex worker rights stuff. People who are weird about sex work (and let's face it... that would be most people, on some level) are forced to either have whoring normalised for them via the absorbtion method, or get so freaked out that they go away. Either way, I create safe space around myself.



All the same it gets really, really fucking tedious to have to be wearing my community educators hat all the time... I don't always want to do sex work 101 (or demystifying femme plus queer theory stuff) for two hours everytime I meet someone new at a dinner party. I'm not always going to correct a taxi driver when they assume I'm straight, or tell them the truth about what I do for a living when they pick me up from my house. For a long time I was considering producing a pamphlet covering frequently asked questions - maybe I'll just hand out my blog URL...

I wonder sometimes if I expect too much - that people will see beyond the outness, and know that even though I shout loudly about these issues (and I might feel the need to stop shouting quite so loudly about the same time as the world becomes less whorephobic, sexist and genderphobic) there are many aspects about me that are more subtle, less loud but still there - I am not a stereotype, or a cardboard cut out. I can't walk in flats, but I'm physically stronger and more athletic than most people I know, and I have never played dumb in my life...... I guess only those that pay attention are going to see all of my flavours, or know that just because I care passionately about femme visiblity and sex worker rights, I, like all people, am a million and one things that aren't easy to define, sum up, reduce or package.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Update on random things

Scabaret

Zoo and I did the roving performance thing again with Milk’n’Cookies at Scabaret, the opening performance night of the Sheila Autonomista festival (“independent, non-corporate, non-profit, women's art, cultural, political, activist festival held in Sydney”).

When we arrived, we were greeted by the ever wonderful Wife who was excitingly competent and looked sternly over a clipboard. After getting detention from the English teacher at Queer Prom, I seem to be developing a clipboard-and-glasses fetish.

The Milk’n’Cookies piece, I was thinking initially, was the first piece of performance I have done which is not political in anyway…. However, after doing it a second time, and with more of an anarcho feminist queer grrrl crowd than Velvet (where we’d previously Milk'n'Cookied) would attract, I’ve changed my mind.


Now I realise how interesting it is in terms of people’s reactions to ‘invading’ personal space, even when I am in fact inviting them to eat cookies from my cleavage. Lots of fodder for thinking about what is appropriate or inappropriate in public spaces, and I’m now thinking about a performance art piece I read about that was performed in a shopping mall (was it by Holly Hughes?) where the performer walked around with a cardboard box over her torso, with a curtain at the front – she invited people to put their hands under the curtain and feel her breasts – they could feel, but not look, and the whole time she is making polite everyday conversation with them, in an open air shopping mall, without breaking obscenity laws in any way. I love this idea of presenting people with the opportunity to play with their ideas of what is sexy, what is polite, what is a personal boundary, what is a necessary social limit, and what is merely customary……

Also, using references from traditionally str8 porn/raunch culture – by Zoo saturating me in milk (I was moaning and groaning and flicking my hair around, ala girl doing a bikini carwash, under this milk bath) has got to be disorientating in this kind of queer feminist space…



Writing

I actually started this blog in part, to encourage regular writing practice, and there are times when it looms before me, when I have no creative urges or burning passion about any one issue, so I “cheat” and post notices of sex worker rights events or media about sex worker issues….

Writing has been a nightmare for me lately, with an utter lack of creativity and scary computer screens or very empty note book pages…. I have to do two articles for my non-sex work, and have another submission to do for an external source. I had a weekend spent in long painful labour for another writing project…. On the Monday, I finally ended up sitting through over 10 hours of writers block, including all the doubt and fear and feelings of not having any skill whatsoever that happens at times like this. However, I forced myself to sit and let the words come at their own sweet time… Finally when I had exactly the right number of words, I emailed it off, without even a final read through. Ruthless but necessary.

Now the other pieces seem like more of a possibility… sometimes only sitting through the fear will bear fruit.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

"The world lost a powerful bigot today." from What Jerry Falwell Taught Me by Joan Garry

< - "Memorial" on Castro Street, San Francisco (http://farm1.static.flickr.com/226/500375173_8e67c51e7e.jpg?v=0).


Well, Jerry Falwell has died, he who loudly opposed racial integration of the Southern States of the US, he who was critical of Dr Martin Luther King Jr, he who famously promoted the notion that AIDS is God’s punishment, and “outer’ of Tinky Winky, the hand bag carrying Teletubby in the National Liberty Journal in February 1999.

"He is purple - the gay-pride colour; and his antenna is shaped like a triangle - the gay-pride symbol,"

He said later that the show's depictions of homosexuality were intentional. "As a Christian I feel that role modelling the gay lifestyle is damaging to the moral lives of children."



Some of internet commentary on this event has been interesting - the rejoicing over his death by some queers, or the mourning by fundamentalist bloggers (and there is a disturbing large number of them), and other people criticising the "burn in hell, bigot" sentiments expressed by the queers. I didn't hear those voices raised in criticism of Iraqis dancing in the street at the death of Saddam Hussein, or anyone who might rejoice at the passing of Hitler.... while Falwell didn't go out and kill queers, he created an environment that demonises queerness, that can justify a bashers actions. I am sick and tired of queers never being allowed to be strident and angry when others are publically indulging in hate speech. And I'm sick and tired of those who have never grown up knowing in your very core that there is something terribly, terribly different about you and that this is a very, very bad thing, and that you are going to hell for it, regardless of how much of a wonderful, kind person you try to be, feeling like they are in any position to be judgemental of queer bitterness at organised mainstream religion and the nuclear family - two of the key institutions that work so hard to convince us of how sick and wrong we are, from such a young age.


To celebrate his passing, here are some of my favourite Falwell quotes:


"Grown men should not be having sex with prostitutes unless they are married to them."
"Textbooks are Soviet propaganda."


"The whole (global warming) thing is created to destroy America's free enterprise system and our economic stability."


"(9/11 is the result of) throwing God out of the public square, out of the schools, the abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked and when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad...I really believe that the pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way, all of them who try to secularize America...I point the thing in their face and say you helped this happen."




Two great pieces that say more that I can at the moment about what is so damn wrong with Falwell: from the the Religious Freedom Coalition of the Southeast and What Jerry Falwell taught me

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Anti-Femme

So I’ve been dealing with some anti-femme attitudes and behaviour lately. I’m not really blogging to address those attitudes – I’ve mostly dealt with those things with the people concerned, or don’t have enough respect for the people concerned to let their attitudes affect me. I am blogging about it, as I am so weirded out that queers – as opposed to loony anti-sex, anti-everything ‘feminists’ would walk around with unexamined issues about femme…and I wanted to reflect on what it is that I mean when I refer to myself and my actions as femme, as well as create some space for myfemmeself to reenergise and reempower. All of these words are my thoughts, my opinions and refer only to my identity and are not meant to speak for other femmes – we are all too damn good at speaking in our own voices. I would love to hear feedback from other passionate articulate femmes I know that read this. So - I'll begin random snippets of ranting...


Actually, anti-femme bigotry isn’t any more fun for me to be on the receiving end of than sex workerphobia, sexism, racism or homophobia (and I believe anti-femme stuff is linked to both sexism, homophobia and sexworkerphobia).

F is for femme, and fierce, and ferocious and fuck you, you fucking bigot. I am not light weight anything. I am not weak, and I may be fluffy, but I am also as sharp and dangerous as my stiletto heels, baby. Femme is not necessarily easy, passive, bottom, pretty or brainless. Oh, and by the way, passivity and bottom themselves can be powerful valid spaces to occupy.

Femmes continue to fight sexism and homophobia and invisibility and be seen as non-feminist and non-queer and still won’t stop reapplying lipstick in our own totally gorgeous stubborn ways. Stubborn, defiant and glamourous? What’s not to love and respect?

Many things seen as being femme ain’t necessarily so…femme is NOT the same as feminine – femininity is a bunch of qualities that are traditionally seen as inherently female, or imposed on those seen as female, and punished if demonstrated by those seen as male. Femme is not default, it is chosen. Femme is not normative, it is transgressive.
However, I’m sure most people on the planet have unaddressed residue from the gendered behaviour that was imposed on them by their culture. Unexamined behaviours, such as avoiding assertiveness, by going in round about ways to get what we want, rather than explicitly asking for it –should be seen as evidence of a history in which women haven’t been encouraged to have needs or desires let alone pursue them openly. Traditionally, women used whatever tools where available to them, including manipulation, sexual attractiveness and misdirection. If we are still using those tools, then the pervasive nature of institutionalised sexism, rather than women should be blamed.
If femmes slip into unexamined, undesirable behaviours, that doesn’t mean that behaviour is inherently femme. If you are unclear of what femme is, maybe you need to do some reading, rather than just apply this term in arbitrary ways.

I find it strange and creepy that people who binge drink, smoke, probably don’t exhibit great self–care practices and may do more traditionally edgy permanent body modification will be okay about telling me how crippled my feet will be when I’m older if I continue to wear heels all the time….

Femme identity isn’t only about frocks, heels, makeup or other accessories – there are actually significant texts out there about it. The accessories are important to us as signposts, as metaphors, as armour, as come-fuck-me plumage for the mating dance, and as fun, but strip us naked, scrape off our makeup, and make us walk barefoot *shudder* and we’ll still be femmes
. Angry femmes, but femmes.

And I'll finish off with the femme allyship statement from the Femme 2006 conference:





Femme Ally Statement
Our femme allies stand beside us in support of our endeavours to be known, seen, respected and acknowledged; You know that we have always been a force in our community, you know that as femmes we have made our own journeys, fought our own battles, and always had your backs. You want to remind us of our value in the community when we grow weary because some see us merely as ornaments or trophies. You are not afraid of our femininity or our feminism or our need to be visible in our own right. You resonate with our power and know that it compliments and supports your own. <more>