Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Transgender Day of Remembrance

Today (20th November) is the Transgender Day of Remembrance. This day was established as a memorial for trans people who have been killed in hate crimes. Today I am also thinking of the wonderful trans and genderqueer folk who have been in my life at different times, and how they have added to my thinking about gender.

I look forward to the day when there is room for all of us, and our diversity is cause for mass celebration, not violence.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Please Support NSW Sex Workers

Dear All,

The NSW Government passed new laws this year relating to local councils agressively closing brothels that dont have an approved Development Application, which the councils often reject on moral grounds rather than following appropriate guidelines.

The Adult Busines Association of NSW, representing the large, cashed up brothels, is dobbing in their competition who haven't been able to afford the court costs of overturning councils rejections.


Please support the NSW sex workers and sign the petition/open letter to the Premier of NSW.


Friday, November 02, 2007

More on slut bashing/baiting

I was doing some more thinking about slut bashing and came across these pieces online. They speak about the focus on the sexual habits of women who have been raped - worth checking out, as they demonstrate some of the worst aspects of the hatred of sexual women in our culture, I am particularly interested by the idea of shifting the idea of sex from commodity to performance, and the possibly that this will shift expectations that consent is an active thing, rather than simply a lack of 'no'.



Slut bashing (the latest in an irregular series of posts about the whore stigma)

I have written in this space before about the whore stigma, which I see as bigger and broader than specifically about discrimination against sex workers, although the criminalization, stereotyping and institutionalized prejudice against sex workers is definitely the most obvious aspect of the whore stigma.

Examples of prejudice against sex workers continue to jump out and slap me all the time: I was speaking to someone I know who has recently started doing sex work, only to find that one of their partner's partner was suddenly very worried about sexually transmitted infections….. this is someone who never raised any questions about safer sex practices up until this moment – the whore stigma is so ferocious that this person might have been taking on entire football teams and their cheer squads up until this point, specializing in barebacking, felching and unprotected blood sports, prior to working in the sex industry, but as we all know STIs are primarily transmitted by the handling of money or credit cards….

What I call slut bashing or slut baiting is the more common form of the whore stigma, the everyday persecutions of (usually women) who put out, who sleep around, who don't dress like ladies, who I have noticed are also usually seen as dumb, as you can't be smart and sexual in our culture (see bois don't make passes at grrls who wear glasses). I think the slut (or overtly sexual = dumb construct is also responsible for the idea that sex workers must not be able to do other forms of work, if we had any brains or skills, we couldn’t possibly choose sex work, that must be a decision made of desperation and reduced choices.) And, after all, masculinity and stupidity couldn't possibly go together.... (Take a bow Beavis and Butthead, Homer Simpson, Al Bundy, et al).

While slut bashing/ baiting is a commonly practiced form of the whore stigma, which means that women are divided into the virgin or whore categories, and set upon each other, for the benefit of neither group, and thus I believe that it is in all of our best interest to challenge the whore stigma, I think the experiences of sex workers are quite, quite unique. While living in a culture that ruthlessly polices the binary gender system has harmed me and other cisgendered folk, my experiences of gender oppression in no way mirror those of genderqueer people. While it is my responsibility, and in my best interest, to challenge gender binaries (as it is for all people) I don't feel that I am in anyway in a position to speak about the experiences of genderqueers, and as I consider myself an ally to trans and other genderqueer folk, I think it is important that people from those communities have the room to speak about their own lives, and I try to avoid taking up those platforms, lest I further marginalise people who are often spoken about rather than consulted.

In the same way, I feel like it is important for sex workers to speak about sex workers experience - we are so often silenced, spoken about or for, and used as a symbol or metaphor for people who are working out their own stuff around sex, that, well, until things are very, very different, non-whores, even 'promiscuous' or 'unchaste' women who speak about sex work just feel like they are appropriating the experiences of my community, and using us as symbols to work through their own stuff. As the whore stigma has silenced whores – sometimes in extremely overt ways – in some areas of the world, including where I first started sex working, to do any activism as an out sex worker attracts the attention of the vice squad. However our liberation will only come when our voices are heard on our issues, so when non-whores speak out about sex worker issues, that is often taking up the platform at the expense of the sex workers voice... And frankly, non-whores might have felt like they have been badly hurt by the whore stigma, but, love, I have a criminal record from working in Adelaide brothels, I have KP (known prostitute) on my record which has the capacity to affect travel to the US and Japan, so when you have sprinted out of brothels in 6 inch heels to avoid a vice squad bust, or hidden a sex work client in a cupboard during a raid as he has a panic attack, because he is terrified his wife will find out, then come along and we will compare whore stigmas.... If I sound bitter and ungrateful, consider that being an ally to marginalised communities is a challenging balance in which there is the need to speak out for social justice, however, we also need to be guided by the needs, priorities and opinions of the community in question, otherwise we reinforce hierarchies by telling the marginalised what is best for them, and speaking for them, and standing in the way of the empowerment and capacity building of that community.

But back to slut bashing:

Sadly, but predictably, alternative queer chick culture, that is culture that seems, at least on the surface to be cunt positive, sex positive, kink friendly, poly friendly, supportive of genderqueer and gender diverse, informed by feminist thought, still isn't immune from slut bashing – in some ways women who present in less alternative ways, longer, non-spiky hair, who might wear their dresses, skirts, Supre tees, heels and stockings with less knowing, less irony (at least to the casual observer), less body mods, etc are sometimes spoken about particularly savagely, as if they are both slutty and dumb, more helpless, trying to catch husbands or husbutches to do the hard work so these fluffy, nonthreatening girlies can not worry their pretty little heads about anything…..

In some ways it's easier for this stuff to be perpetuated in alterna queer culture - which has room for diverse gender expressions, with room for feminine performance from queer women. In more mainstream lesbian culture with androgyny being the norm, how, in a room full of jeans and flat shoes and short hair, will you single someone out to label them a slut? And, after all, people end up in those subcommunities, sometimes because of their politics or values, but often because of their aesthetic attractions, musical preferences, sexual kinks, etc, so to assume that anyone has done their 'homework' in analysing their value system and ways of being in the world to see whether or not they have some residual sexism floating around is possibly a bit optimistic.

Let's look at there this stuff comes from: it is misogyny. Simply the hatred of women, female bodied folk, femininity, etc. Let's face it, (trans or cis)boys and butches still have a lot of room to fuck as they please (as long as they aren't bottoming, ankle grabbing or appearing like fags) to be as sleazy and slutty as they like, without pejorative language used. When, oh when do we get beyond this same old same old? The boys/bois high five each other while the grrrls tear each other apart. If you get left, it's not the fault of the commitmentphobic butch, or your own needy and clingy reverting to type, the result of swallowing all that *girl medicine during childhood. No. It's the str8 girl like Barbie who the butch-that-got-away dates next. It's all her fault. All that long hair takes so much brain power to grow, she can't possibly have read feminism 101, and damn it, she uses her siren's call of looking like a str8 grrl from a distance and looking all uncomplicated and pwetty to lure boys to their doom....

The alterna queer communities are often home to many whores, (as they are often at least on the surface, sex positive, whore friendly places). **Female sex workers have often traditionally presented a hyper feminine gender performance, for work related reasons, with street based sex workers occasionally using hyper femininity as a mechanism of advertising for clients, and many sex workers portraying such an unnatural, drag queeny femininity (as so much of sex work is playing with fantasy, and utilising the most obvious symbols and signals to get a cock hard, and get the client off in a discrete time period. So long hair, heels, lingerie, frocks, and sometimes a minimum of non-traditional body modifications are tools of our work. Thus, despising trad-femme signifiers is a particularly rough judgement when applied to whores, who may often utilise femininity to make a living (as diesel mechanics, storepeople and footballers often utilise aspects of trad masculinity to make a living). Whores are sometimes attracted to sex work exactly because of the excesses and delights of gender games and performance involved. As I grew up watching Marilyn Monroe playing honeyed mantraps to wealthy men in movie after movie, matching her status as sex object with his as success object, the idea of performing the role of the irresistibly femme object of desire who is worth every cent is an absolute hoot. Playing with gender, fantasy, power and pleasure has made sex work compelling for me for many many years; but that doesn’t mean I have lost any cognitive powers along the journey, or that I lack analysis of gender and power issues. Whereas those observers who will see my heels, cleavage and long hair and assume that this makes me dumb, easy or uncomplex should probably review their thinking about these issues and dig a little deeper.

Why do we buy into this self-hating crap? Why do we use the language that restricts the appearance, sexual behaviour and choices of women, femmes, feminine people, queers? Why do we as feminists not understand that while we need to promote femininity as one choice among many, rather than some default position, hating and slandering femininity is similar to hating and demonising women, that disrespecting femininity is truly the first step on the road to reinforcing that everything traditionally associated with women’s culture and traditional ways of being in the world is unworthy of being taken seriously or valued - you end up being Shelia Jeffreys. I understand that the early second wave of the feminist movement did powerful work in untangling notions of ‘natural’ femininity and that women’s destiny was tied up in our biology – most of us can get pregnant, give birth, lactate; therefore we must do the primary parenting and stay put at home and leave the public world to men – but questioning the ‘naturalness’ of this position and asking who benefits from the binary gender system and how we all lose out is very different than devaluing of women's roles, and many aspects of the second wave feminist movements - such as the Wages for Housework campaigns, were all about acknowledging the value of this work and role.

I shudder when I think about how easy it is to fall back into this way of being in the world. It's so high school, where the chicks fight over the popular boy, and destroy each other’s reputation for the casual power rush. I don’t think we have stopped oppressing each other as women, queers, gendered beings, feminine folk, femmes and humans until we stop demonising femininity, the sexually active/ aggressive and the sluts. And we don’t get to decide how smart, how politically aware or how valid someone is based on the length of that person’s hair, how excessive their frou frou is, or the shortness of their skirt.

*Girl medicine – a term used by Helen Eisenbach in Lesbianism Made Easy, I have since appropriated it and am running with it, because it is such a great term. Girl medicine is that stuff fed to those socialized as female in our culture, the 'some day my prince will come' bullshit that encourages us to put more passion and attention into our romantic relationships than anything else in our lives, to be reliant, to not be focused on achievement - but people pleasing, and to only value ourselves by our popularity.

** I would like to point out that I know of female sex workers who present in andro or butch ways, sometimes within a work context as well as the rest of their lives, and some will put on a wig and heels at work, and have a fantastic time being drag queens for a living. Some boy whores do butch, some do femme, and some do andro. Some whores don’t identify as boys, grrrls, butches, femmes or andros. Most sex workers I have met have interesting things to say about gender, however, sex workers don't need to be particularly politically savvy or oracles on gender or anything else in order for their sex work or gender presentation to be totally valid. I just wanted to be clear that sex workers don’t fit in boxes any more comfortably than anyone else.