I’m going to be starting a new sex workers rights project. The name I’ve chosen for it is SWAAY, which stands for Sex Work Activists, Allies, and You. Of all the names I considered, I picked this one because it best explains what I want to do in two ways: outreach for normalizing sex worker politics into people outside the ho bubble, and SWAAY also works as a descriptive for what the aim is – swaying public perceptions.
[...] I truly believe that the most important thing that the sex workers rights movement in the US fails to do is to real public outreach. Before we can get to changing laws and decriminalize all of our professions, we need to start with simply humanizing ourselves and giving regular people the basic tools for understanding our issues. Most people don’t even know the term “sex worker,” and many who do think that’s just the PC way to say “hooker.”
Here’s how you can help, whether you’re an interested ally, a sex worker, or a curious passer-by: Furry Girl needs a few people who can give 15-20 minutes of their time in February to answer a survey that will help her shape the project’s focus.
Email swaay at swaay.org if you’re interested in completing the survey, with SURVEY as the subject line.
This week I’ll be announcing a very special fundraiser to help kickstart the launch. There’ll be something for supportive clients, fellow sex workers, and allies of all stripes. You’ll want to get in on this. Follow me on Twitter to be the first to know: @SabrinaMorgan
First, let me start off with an unfortunately-necessary disclaimer: There are extremely obvious political over- and under-tones to the Assange debacle. Most countries simply don’t care this much about alleged violations of consent when their messy little secrets aren’t involved. On top of that, an accusation is not a conviction. I’m not answering, or even asking, the question of whether or not the accusations against him are true; I’m actually more interested in the questions they’ve raised about how our culture handles consent and consent violation.
You’ll probably note that in my disclaimer, I talked about consent violation, not about rape. There was an interesting survey done a while back that showed that rapists, or gray rapists, or sexually pushy characters, or whatever you’d like to call them will admit to what they do as long as it’s not called rape. They understand that they violated consent, as long as it’s not called rape. Because rape is wrong, and what they did wasn’t wrong… right?
I think (in my court of opinion) that if Julian Assange is actually guilty of the accusations against him, this is what he’s likely guilty of, him and pretty much most of Western culture: a disconnect between understanding that ignoring an ”I don’t want this” is violating consent, and understanding that technically, yes, violating, ignoring, or assuming consent where it’s not given is more often than not either rape or riding the line real close.
I don’t think that what’s being done to him is right, far from it. I’m actually one of his supporters. However, I think we need to look good and hard at these “not really rape” accusations that so many of us are okaying.
I’ve violated consent before. Did I call it rape? Of course not. Was it? Possibly not. After all, the victim stayed with me for years afterward. That’s not how a rape victim acts, right?
But did I keep going after being asked to stop? Yes. Did my partner have a safeword? Yes. Did they use it? No. But. Did I suspect something was wrong? Yes. And while like many sadists I like to flirt with that line, after that night I’m a lot better about making very clear that there is a line, and that I will respect it, especially when I’m playing games with someone who also likes to play games with consent. It’s tricky for even experienced BDSM practicioners; no wonder we as a culture are completely lost trying to sort this out.
Here’s some of what Assange is accused of:
According to press reports, Assange held one of the women down in a sexual manner. Yes, and many women like that. Assange started having sex while one woman was sleeping. Yes, that too some women like. Because people like all sorts of things- clothes being ripped off, dirty threats whispered in their ears, even somewhat violent sexual encounters.
(“Sex is dirty; geopolitics are even dirtier,” The Chronicle)
And this is where, and why, things get complicated.
As a culture we’re terrible with consent. We have shame around consent. We eroticize breaking it, or having it broken, and in the bedroom, the vast majority of us are such terrible negotiators that unfortunately often, we spend a lot of time guessing whether or not we even have consent. But even within this morass, there are guidelines.
“No means no” is simplistic, and partnersex is complicated. How do we tell a partner “No,” to one activity, during that activity, while still expressing interest in being sexual with them? Nuanced nos are tricky, but they usually work: “Please stop doing that,” “Not right now,” “Not without a condom,” etc.
Partners who like to treat consent as irrelevant love to ignore nuanced nos, by the way. How do I know this? Because I’ve been there. I’ve said “not right now” to a blowjob only to have my head pushed down. I’ve said “not without a condom” only to reach down and discover him playing “just the tip” bare. I’ve been woken up over and over having to fight off a partner because I was still too sleepy and incoherent to articulate a no.
That’s a very scary way to wake up, by the way. Sleep paralysis occurrs when the sleeper is woken out of REM. In that state, you can’t move or speak, but you’re aware. It takes time to come out of this state.
Did I stay with that partner? Yes. I didn’t believe these incidents were malicious in nature. I had made progress, believe it or not, in getting that partner to understand that yes, overriding a no is date rape, and after that, that there are some areas you do not play consent games/consent ignoring games with. Condoms, for one.
These moments of consent overriding were few and far between – but they happened, and this is something we need to be aware of, that consent violations occur within relationships all the time, and that since they’re not rape to our culture, we don’t know how to react or deal with them. When consent is violated but it’s not “rape,” we don’t often act like “typical victims;” we act confused.
It’s when you think about what happened in retrospect that you realize, “Wait, that’s why I feel so off about this… I did express that I didn’t consent, and they did keep going after having heard me, and I don’t know if it was rape, but it wasn’t right.”
(It’s completely possible that Julian Assange’s lady friends experienced something similar. It’s also completely possible that what’s occurred in his case is considerably more tangled, given the ties involved. )
I’m a fairly clear communicator, and experienced in negotiating consent before, during, and after sexual play, and I’ve still had mine overridden or ignored. If you feel your sex partner isn’t communicating clearly, or isn’t able to communicate, that’s not a green light, that’s not license to do what you want to do. Too often we act like anything short of a scream and a punch in the face “doesn’t count” as a real, unambiguous no.
Besides - speaking as a sadistic top, and as a masochistic switch: in the heat of the moment, a simple “Do you want this?” can be very erotic.
We need to expect, and demand, more enthusiastic yes-es, as well as recognize as a culture that there are gray areas of consent, and consent violations that happen in gray areas of sexuality. They’re still wrong, but there are degrees of wrong.
Maybe it’s not “rape” rape. Maybe it’s a consent violation. Maybe it was a case of taking advantage of unclear consent, or a lack of ability to deny or withdraw consent. Most of us have done this at least once. Many of us also know what it feels like to have this done to us. These types of boundary breaching can all be treated differently – and to reduce them, I think they should be.
People like all sorts of things, and for a lot of kinky people*, having to get or give consent for their freaky activities spoils their fun. That said – if you’re not sure, consent the person you’re with. Ask before you share a bed with a partner, “How do you feel about sleepy sex?” (As an insomniac, sleep is hard to come by; I have a long-standing decline policy on this.) Ask them three times before unprotected sex, “Are you sure? Do you want this?”
Watch them closely. Watch for that change from forbidden pleasure to fear – watch for freezing up, watch for a lack of responsiveness, because there is a danger zone, and we are indeed responsible for making sure that we are within the bounds of consent. And for fuck’s sake, watch for those nuanced nos.
* Particularly kinky mostly-vanilla types. Pretty much I’ve found that kinky sex-positive people will negotiate up-front, kinky people will negotiate during, and kinky mostly-vanilla people feel strange negotiating. This is why nowadays, as a responsible top, I consent the ever living crap out of people – or if I’m flirting kinky and not consenting them, I make sure they know that while I’m happy pushing their unexpressed boundaries, that if they want me to stop, all they have to do is express that, and I’ll stop. After all, I learned the hard way.
No kidding. I find this picture a little offensive, actually. Feminism did a lot of good things for us, but it also cut off our options. I would love to be able to stay home and raise my kids and be a homemaker when I get to that point in my life. Would be a shame to waste all these years in college, though…
Every time I hear someone from my generation say that, I feel this compelling urge to stab myself in the head, and not only because these women are almost invariably college-educated (thanks to their hard-working feminist mothers) and childless.
The 1950′s were a time of almost unprecedented economic prosperity in the USA, coming on the heels of the late 1800s/early 1900s (in which men, women, and children worked – usually on farms or in factories), the Roaring Twenties (in which working and middle class women worked and the idle rich got fabulously schnockered), the Great Depression of the 1930′s (in which men, women, and children worked – when there were jobs) and the wartime rationing of the 1940s (in which women did the jobs – including mechanical and factory work – left vacant by their deployed male counterparts). Prior to this era working class women did just that; they worked.
You’re longing for something that never happened. Don’t blame feminism for economic reality. Very few women historically could afford to become housewives, that’s why it was a matter of pride for a man to be able to say “No woman of mine is going to have to work outside the home…”
And honey, you’d better believe she was working inside of it, unless she was genuinely wealthy, in which case she would hire working-class women to cook, clean, and raise her children.
Who raised the working-class woman’s children? She did – when she got off work. Her older children did – when they were old enough. Her family and friends did – when they weren’t also working.
Woman up and stop expecting your “man” to deal with all the harsh realities of the workplace while you sit home and play Martha Fucking Stewart. A real homemaker/working partner relationship is formed between two or more people who are each bringing something to the table other than resentment and misplaced nostalgia.
One chooses to spend most of their time working at a higher paying occupation with long hours, leaving little to no time for basic life maintenance such as making sure the children aren’t wearing diapers when they’re 10, making sure there’s food on the premises, physically paying the bills and making sure the bathroom doesn’t turn filmy green. The other chooses to spend most of their time in the administration, maintenance and unglorified dirty work that is completely essential to running a household of any size. It’s specialization and it’s the backbone of our economy. Gender roles have nothing to do with this arrangement. Don’t assume any particular woman wants the homemaker role, and (even more common) don’t assume any particular man doesn’t. You’re not entitled to get out of the workforce by virtue of your vagina any more than he’s entitled to get out of childrearing or home cleaning by virtue of his penis.
And what’s up with the heteronormativity here anyway? What, I don’t get a housewife/house husband because I don’t have a penis? (Actually I have several; they’re on the shelf. Pick your favorite.) I can cook but my skills end there. Gladly taking applications for someone who can decorate, clean, wash my cashmere sweaters without making them all pilly and arrange social outings with my friends since I am awful and forget too often. I promise to only beat you the way you like best. Gender unimportant. Must look good in pantyhose.
“The ability to distinguish between fiction and reality is, I think, an important indicator of sanity, perhaps the most important. And it looks like the Australian legal system has failed on that score.”
The world is becoming more dangerous for fiction. No, scratch that–more dangerous for ideas.
Australia, I’m talking about you. While those in adult industry production, and those involved in protecting sexual free speech, know Australia has never been a porn haven (although they do produce an awful lot of the best), this one made even my jaded activist jaw drop:
An Australian Supreme Court judge convicted a man of possessing child pornography. The images in question were stored on his hard drive: explicit cartoon images modeled after Bart, Lisa, and Maggie, child characters from long-running cartoon The Simpsons, apparently having sex with their parents (also cartoon characters). Google “free hentai” a few times and I’m sure you’ll come across the same type of image–I know I have.
This type of image–a parody–is actually considered protected fair use under U.S. copyright law. In this case it would probably also be at risk of being found obscene.
“If the persons were real, such depictions could never be permitted,” Justice Adams said in his judgment. “Their creation would constitute crimes at the very highest end of the criminal calendar.” Let’s back that one up. “If the persons were real.” I’d say that’s an important distinction.
If the persons were real, every episode of South Park would be considered a snuff film. If the persons were real, Homer Simpson would be guilty of child abuse. If the persons were real…
“But Justice Adams agreed with the magistrate, finding that while The Simpsons characters had hands with four fingers and their faces were ‘markedly and deliberately different to those of any possible human being,’ the mere fact that they were not realistic representations of human beings did not mean that they could not be considered people.”
Okay. Let’s put our niche porn marketing hats on here and shine the red light of reason upon this logic. Someone who is looking for cartoon photos of The Simpsons characters is probably not fueling the demand for genuine child porn that does involve the abuse of children. Shock-value cartoon porn simply doesn’t tend to cross over to the screams and pain of gory reality. Many–most I’ve talked to–viewers of cartoon porn and hentai prefer it because they’re trying to get away from the gray areas of gory reality. Let’s ignore, for a moment, the obvious slippery-slope leap of logic used here and assume, for a moment, that it’s possible for fiction to inspire its viewers to enact crimes portrayed therein.
“Wow, Bart is having sex with Marge! Hm, maybe I should coerce my nine-year-old son into sex. Or talk some guy or gal on the internet into sending me some pictures of their kid in the same situation.”
Let’s ignore the patently ridiculous nature of this idea…
“Carrie set a school on fire with her brain! That must mean it’s okay for me to use pyromania as a valid way to express my righteous rage against bullying and alienation.”
Let’s ignore the fact that repeat viewings of tentacle rape pornography have left me strangely unlikely to force an octopus into a nubile, big-eyed young woman’s hoo-hah. Or, to be more realistic: that repeat viewings of fictional depictions of cartoon violence and force–including sexual violence and force–still have not caused me to molest schoolgirls on the train, rape extremely tan blonde women at gunpoint, attempt to coerce my male friends into reluctant yet strangely arousing “forced” bisexuality… Okay, that last one I have attempted, but in all fairness I was buying the drinks.
As the good Mr. Gaiman says, sane people can distinguish between fiction and reality. They know what is appropriate in real life and what is only a thoroughly twisted fantasy.
“Dreaming permits each and every one of us to be quietly and safely insane every night of our lives.”
-Charles William Dement
I’m very lucky. I get paid to spin tales of my twisted fantasies. (Much like authors and artists, but with slightly more pay and slightly less social acceptability. It’s a tradeoff. Which begs the question–are all our attempts toward sex worker rights contributing to flooding of the market and erosion of stigma-inflated wages? I digress…) My id is healthy and well-exercised. It makes a difference. A properly (and safely) “fed” sadist is much nicer to be around.
Ideas and their fictional expression must never become illegal. We all need a place to be quietly and safely insane.
The best of this week’s blogs by the bloggers who blog them. Highlighting the top 3 posts as chosen by Sugasm participants. Want in Sugasm #127? Submit a link to your best post of the week using this form. Participants, repost the link list within a week and you’re all set.
This Week’s Picks Up Your Bum
“Now, every mainstream porn film seems to include anal sex as part of the sequence”
A Moment Captured
“Right now I am looking out down at the street from my window and my fingers have found their way to my soft wet labia.”
Another unexpected sex worker ally: R. K. “Randy” Milholland of Something Positive fame. Several of his recurring characters work at Nerdrotica, a woman-owned boutique phone sex and webcam company catering to geeks. His most recent storyline “Customer Serviced” struck me hard and made me laugh in that “I swear I’ve had that guy” way fellow phone sex operators and camgirls will know all too well.
Randy covers a remote sex worker’s bad night at work in a way that makes you wonder how many of his good friends have worked the lines. He deals with the whore-shaming double standard, the lovesick client, the long hours—and he shows it for what it is: a bad night at work. Anyone who’s ever worked customer service or done freelance work for clients can relate to the sentiments, if not the particulars.
Kudos to you again Randy. I’ve said it before privately and I’ll say it publicly: you’re damn good at what you do. Thank you.
(Of course, as a webcomic creator who bathes in caustic sarcasm, he’s turned the poison pen on sex workers a time or two. It wouldn’t be Something Positive if he didn’t insult everyone at some point. But I’ve been reading for years, and the overall thread is one that’s very sex-positive, and—and this heartens me—sex worker supportive. Sharp-eyed readers will also have caught his recent Isobel Wren Easter egg.)
Anyone else have any unexpected shows of sex worker support? I’d love to link to them here. Just shoot me an email at sabrina morgan at gmail dot com and I’ll give you credit or anonymity, your choice. Thanks!
Top career advice blogger Penelope Trunk has been known for taking unorthodox stances, but I was still surprised – and proud – to see her come out against three common sex worker-bashing cliches: oppression by pimps/madams, lumping different types of sex work together, and the depressed sex worker.
The only problem with her career is that prostitutes tend to have much higher rates of depression and other mental health disorders. It sucks having to behave sexually for people you aren’t attracted to and who probably don’t respect you.
Penelope Trunk’s reply:
I am not sure it’s fair to lump depression statistics of high end prostitutes and crack-addict prostitutes and everyone in between. Not really informative. And, as a side note, lawyers have a very high rate of depression and I think if you compared lawyers and prostitutes with similar yearly incomes, the lawyers might be more depressed, on average, than the prostitutes.
I’m not saying prostitution is a great career choice, I’m just saying that it’s a complicated discussion.
And in response to the madam talking point:
Also, I want to point out that even as a supposedly self-employed business owner, I work for someone else — I mean, I have investors, and they will make a lot of money off of me (hopefully) for doing much less day-to-day work than I’m doing. And I actually feel lucky to have the investors.
So (to Matt’s point) it’s not like the issues of prostitution are all completely unique to prostitution. [emphasis mine -Ed.]
She may not be much for nude modeling but it’s still nice to see a respected mainstream female career blogger sticking up for the agency of women to choose sex work. Thanks, Penelope.
December 17th is the 5th annual International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. This event was created to call attention to hate crimes committed against sex workers all over the globe.
Originally thought of by Dr. Annie Sprinkle and started by the Sex Workers Outreach Project USA in 2003 as a memorial and vigil for the victims of the Green River Killer in Seattle Washington, International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers has empowered workers from over 30 cities around the world to come together and organize against discrimination and remember victims of violence.
During the week of December 17, 2007, sex worker rights organizations will be staging actions and vigils to raise awareness about violence that is commonly committed against sex workers. The assault, battery, rape and murder of sex workers must end. Existing laws prevent sex workers from reporting violence. The stigma and discrimination that is perpetuated by prohibitionist laws has made violence against sex workers acceptable. Please join in drawing attention to this injustice around the world with the 5th annual International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers.
The best of this weeks blogs by the bloggers who blog them. Highlighting the top 3 posts as chosen by Sugasm participants. Want in Sugasm #72? Submit a link to your best post of the week using this form. Participants, repost the linklist within a week and you’re all set.
This Week’s Picks
“Her sighs of contentment build as my touch does its work.”
Wrong Number (http://radicalvixen.com/blog)
“They said clients were trying to call me and getting this restaurant instead.”
Ride to the Cabin (http://eroticawriter.blogspot.com)
“As he pulled into a dark lane that led into a grove of trees, I reached over to stroke him.”
Mr. Sugasm Himself Loveland (http://sugarbank.com)
Editor’s Choice Your hair (http://erotischism.blogspot.com)