The news sites are ablaze this week with stories about the discovery of human remains on Long Island that may turn out to belong to Shannan Gilbert, a 24-year-old sex worker whose disappearance last year triggered a search that turned up the bodies of nine other sex workers who advertised on Craig’s List. Gilbert showed up at the house of Gustav Coletti at 5 AM last year, panicked and begging for help: Continue reading
This is something to be optimistic about. Ms. Magazine has long been ambivalent at best about the rights of sex workers. Far more commonly, they’ve fallen in the camp which casts all sex workers as equally victimized, as “trafficked” or “prostituted women.” When something as unreservedly pro-sex work as this piece shows up in such a standby of mainstream feminism as Ms., it says something profound. I was heartbroken to see $pread‘s demise recently, but this kind of acceptance can be said to be its legacy: Continue reading
I’m going to give a mixed response to ReneÃ© at Womanist Musings today. On the one hand, props on her masterful, passionate analysis of the media coverage of the murder of Elizabeth Acevedo, a 38-year-old disabled woman who worked as a prostitute. Avecedo was fatally struck on the head in the hallway of her apartment building, possibly by a client. And like I say, I have to give props to ReneÃ© for her post, but part of me is pissed at her for ruining my otherwise excellent mood. Acevedo’s death is tragic enough in itself, but the coverage of her death is just damn ugly. In particular, the gossip site Bossip describes her death as “comedy gold.” Acevedo lost a leg in a train accident several years ago; therein lies the humor of her too-early death, and it seems that newswriters can’t use the phrase “one-legged hooker” quite enough, as though 38 years can be summed up in those three words.
Acevedo’s treatment by the papers that ReneÃ© links to makes me think of her as a modern-day version of Mrs. Hutchinson, the woman who is selected by chance and stoned to death by her family and friends as a sacrifice to insure prosperity for their village in Shirley Jackson’s classic story “The Lottery.” Only the analogy isn’t quite accurate. In Jackson’s story, the villagers saw the ritual murder of their neighbor as a grim duty. It was unpleasant, but had to be done for the common good. The delight that the newswriters take in Acevedo’s life and death exhibits a deeper, uglier sadism than I’ve ever seen in any porno or dungeon. I know that I’m going to be thinking of Acevedo when this year’s International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers comes around, because the naked contempt for her death says so much about who our society considers disposable. In the end, she’s not a tragedy. Just a one-liner. In “The Lottery,” the village got flourishing crops from the annual murder of one of their own. What is it about Elizabeth Acevedo’s death that’s supposed to enrich and ennoble us?
On “Bonnie’s Blog of Crime,” there is a comment about Elizabeth from someone who signs themself only as “A Relative.” In some ways it’s also ambivalent about her life, but it’s a more humane eulogy than anything the media seems willing to grant her:
Although Elizabeth choose to live that lifestyle she did not deserve to die the way she did. I pray that who ever is responsible for her murder would get the maximum penalty. Inspite of her difficult life there was a side of her that everyone loved. She was a caring & friendly, idividual. She may have been the way she was but she still touched the heart to those that were around her.I know that she is now in a better place May she rest in peace
As is true of a lot of people in the sex-positive community, I’ve been thinking a lot about Deborah Jean Palfrey’s death this past week. I didn’t know her personally, and never met her in person, so I can’t speak of her death in terms of personal tragedy or grief. But grief and anger are what I’m feeling, because Deborah Jeane Palfrey’s fate could have been written onto the lives of so many women and men. And the anger comes from the fact that it has, and it will be.
The real tragedy of her death, from where I’m standing, is not anything extraordinary about her story, but how common and familiar it is, to the point of being clichÃ©. If the story of Deborah Jean Palfrey had been laid out in a novel or play or screenplay, I would be angry at having my time wasted by a writer who was unable or unwilling to rise above cheap hackery that was old and worn out in the days of the Victorian penny dreadfuls. But Palfrey was a real person, and it makes me sick and angry to think how often the lives of people who should live peaceful, untroubled lives are forced into old patterns.
It’s no wonder it’s so hard to get a rational discussion going about sex workers. Even for genuinely interested, well-meaning people, it’s hard to get any solid information. Before you can even start talking about solutions to the problems that sex workers face, you have to first have to correct the ideas of what sex workers are. Any conversation in the mainstream media about sex workers starts out with icons forged from sensationalism and half-truths, as we’ve seen from the coverage of the Spitzer scandal lately. The images of trafficked junkies who need to be rescued or decadent young women who have had their souls twisted by their lives of deception sell papers and television time better than a nuanced picture full of shades of gray does.
I wrote earlier about Sex Work Awareness, the new activist group founded by members of $pread, SWANK, and PONY to address this very sort of issue in the public consciousness. They’ve just launched a new blog called Sex Work 101 devoted to answering the questions that most people have when they’re just starting to look past the surface. Audacia Ray writes that the idea of Sex Work 101 occurred to her at this year’s Women Action and Media conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts: Continue reading
I think I have a crush on Miss Victoria X. It’s true that I don’t patronize pro-dommes, partly because of a budget that, in a particularly profitable month, might allow me to purchase the privilege of a scornfully lifted eyebrow from one as she passes me in midtown Manhattan on the way to beat the hell out of some corporate lackey at the Plaza. However, were I in the market, I think that Miss Victoria X would be on my list.
I found Miss Victoria via another tip from Sarah Jenny. Miss Victoria’s heart, it seems, has been melted by the plight of the poor employees at Bear Stearns, and she’s providing a special offer to employees, ex-employees, and soon-to-be-exes: if you buy a session with Miss Victoria, she’ll give a discount equal to the price of one share of Bear Stearns stock. When she first made her offer, BS stock was at two dollars, which wouldn’t buy you a lattÃ© at Starbucks; the discount has risen with the price of the stock, and now stands at $10.85. Miss Victoria, in her utter benevolence, has already come up with several potential scenarios for her clients:
-domestic service training (useful in preparing for future job as a janitor at Goldman Sachs)
-spanking combined with verbal chastising (“Caused!” -whack- “Sub-prime!” -whack- “Crisis!” -whack- “Very!” -whack- “Very!” -whack- “Naughty!” -whack whack whack-)
-78 cane strokes (number chosen to represent the difference between Bear Stearns’ $80 per share book value and the actual current share price of $2)
-interrogation roleplay (I am Coughlin Stoia and you are Bear Stearns. Helpful in preparing for upcoming deposition)
-master/slave roleplay (I am JP Morgan and you are Bear Stearns. Now I own you)
Potential clients will be asked to arrive with $300 cash. The discount will be given in ten one-dollar bills, three quarters, one nickel, and four pennies. The client will receive them one at a time, and will thank Miss Victoria for her generosity after each.
This is great marketing, yes, but it’s also great satire. After looking over Miss Victoria’s blog as a whole, it got an immediate spot on my blogroll and on my daily feed. She has a really wry, sharp sense of humor about sex work and it never takes the snark into the smug self-satisfaction that characterizes a lot of blogs.
The last couple of weeks have brought more news coverage and public discussion of sex work than you usually get in a year. When Eliot Spitzer got nailed because of his hot dates with “Kristen,” the press swarmed onto the story like flies on shit. The beauty of a scandal like the Spitzer story is that it lets the media have the best of both worlds: they can use the sex to sell product as enthusiastically as Joe Francis having a fire sale, but at the same time, they get to stake the moral high ground by pointing an accusing finger at both the client and the sex worker. If Eliot Spitzer’s sin was the hypocrisy of hiring call girls after building a career for himself by putting their fellow sex workers in jail, it was little more than an insignificant blemish compared to the behavior of the press. A good chunk of the editors and writers at the New York Times should just get over their pretensions of respectability and hop on a plane for California, where they can become honest, hardworking pornographers.
As is typical of American discussions of sex, the Kristen/Spitzer scandal didn’t turn into an opportunity to talk about the realities of sex work, or the ways that our private desires diverge from our public declarations, or anything resembling a forthright discussion of sexuality. It was just another opportunity to obsess about sex as if it were a particularly ugly scab that just won’t stop itching. Nothing demonstrates that better than Audacia Ray’s recent post about her interview with MSNBC. The first question the interviewer asked her, point-blank, was: “Have you been a whore?” The supposedly more genteel, public-radio intellectual Brian Lehrer wasn’t much better in his treatment of Dacia when he interviewed her on the radio. The entire show had a leering tone to it, as if he too couldn’t wait to get the juicy details. And Renegade Evolution got pretty much the same treatment when the media showed up on her doorstep:
In the last 24 hours, there’s been a lot of discussion about Eliot Spitzer, trying to divine his motivations for visiting high-priced call girls and to look into whatever future he has politically. The feminist blogs are filled with speculation about what the hell his wife was doing standing behind him at the press conference and a lot of very predictable moral outrage over Spitzer’s “complicity” in the oppression of women by hiring a prostitute. In all the madness, there’s little talk of the woman who Spitzer hired. Below is a press release from four sex workers’ rights organizations asking the question that seems to get skipped over in all the chaos.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Shakti Ziller, Sex Workers Action New York (SWANK), email@example.com 877-877-2004 x 2
Audacia Ray, 718.554.1714
Sarah Bleviss, Sex Workers Outreach Project NYC (SWOP-NYC), firstname.lastname@example.org
Prostitutes of New York (PONY), email@example.com
Desiree Alliance, http://www.desireealliance.org/
WHAT ABOUT KRISTEN?
New York Sex Worker Organizations Respond to Spitzer Scandal
New York, NY - In the last few days, Governor Eliot Spitzer has publicly admitted to being associated with an escort agency and is considering resignation. As sex worker advocates, we are concerned about the representation and fate of “Kristen” and sex workers who are being thrust into the spotlight because of the investigation into the Governor. We also share the widespread concern for Governor Spitzer’s family.
Anthony Kennerson has gotten Sex in the Public Square’s weeklong forum on Sex Work, Trafficking and Human Rights off to a great start with a long, thoughtful post about men who patronize sex workers, whether through hiring prostitutes or looking at porn. I can see some people seeing it as an attempt to hijack the issues of sex workers and turn it into concern for the privileged, but I think that this is a very important issue to think about in terms of its effects on the welfare of the workers themselves as well as their clients.
Next week is going to be an exciting one, online and off. First of all, Tuesday is the kickoff for Cinekink 2008. Cinekink is always good — far better than it has a right to be, in fact, given that sex often just gives indie filmmakers one reason to ramp their egos and pretensions up to eleven and beyond. I shudder to imagine what reams of crap Lisa Vandever has to comb through just to get quality programming for one week together. The GF always work the events as volunteers, and it’s a great time for anyone with a dirty mind and an artistic bent.
On a more personal level, though, we have a really important event of our own starting up at Sex in the Public Square. My partner and co-conspirator, Elizabeth Wood, is always looking for ways to come up with ways that we can take the pro-sex dialogue from spinning our wheels in the mud, and this time she came up with a brilliant one: rather than play the same old game of sex-work bingo with the cast of usual suspects, she’s assembled a bunch of the smartest activists and writers in the blogosphere today and invited them to participate in week-long online discussion on the themes of sex work, trafficking (and “trafficking”) and human rights. I’m all cranked up like a kid waiting for Santa Claus, except that in this case, Santa isn’t just my parents making shit up. It’s actually going to happen, and we’ve really got some great people who have committed to making it happen. There are so many things to say on these subjects, and so little of it ever gets said because we on the sex-poz side are busy just trying to hold ground from people who want to demonize us as haters of women, rapists, or just sling shit at us in childish ways by calling us “sex-poxes” or some other ridiculous thing. It’s going to be public, but that doesn’t mean it’s an open forum; comments are going to be strictly moderated, and people who want to play games like that don’t get to have their say this time around. That means we don’t have to reinvent the wheel once more by making the case that no, not all sex workers are victimized, trafficked, or acting out toxic scripts left over from childhood sexual abuse. Sex worker bingo is not allowed. I highly recommend everyone who’s interested check it out, especially if you want to contribute in a courteous, meaningful manner. Everything kicks off on Monday the 25th. The formal press release, complete with our contributor list, is below the fold.