A Defense Of Porn/Free Sexual Expression From The Left (Or…Why Gail Dines Can’t Wear Nina Hartley’s Garter Belt)

For just about the past 10 years or so, this humble, working-class, middle-aged, seriously hairline receded African American male Leftist blogger has been working the Internet on his off-the-clock hours, trying to do the best to make sense out of this crazaa world that I have inhabited for the past 48 years, 2 months, and 7 days. I’m not going to say that I am something of an expert with degrees or ample experience in the things I write and blog about; but I’ve expressed an opinion or two or a thousand in my time in defense of some basic and essential principles of human equality and mutual aid and respect for individual autonomy balanced with mutual respect and mutual consent. Those would be the values that are usually attacked in this country by some of our more reactionary folk as “Leftist”, “socialist”, “communist”, even “anarchist”, because those values tend to get in the way of their mission to gain and retain economic and social privilege.

Now, granted, my own personal ideological POV would probably be best described as a democratic socialist (and that would be a small “d”, since I pretty much have abandoned the Democratic Party since my college days due to what I see as their profound inability to actually stand up for even the “liberal” values they claim to be so dear, rather than simply abandon them at the first whiff of corporate cash), with a small whiff of libertarianism on the social and civil and sexual level. I tend to think that the State, for all its faults and failings, is the only means to which people can hold corporate power accountable for its actions, but I also believe just as strongly that there are certain realms of personal society where the State (and the Church, and the Media) needs to just back the hell off and mind their own Goddess damn business.

Sexuality and the sexual expression of consenting adults just so happens to be one of those realms. My fundamental principle regarding sexual speech and expression and activity is pretty much based on the triad of mutual respect, mutual informed consent, and mutual pleasure. If it feels good to all, everyone gets off, and everyone gets out of there alive and the same, if not better, than when they came in, then there should be no issue for the State, or the Church, or the Media, or anyone else. The second that someone is hurt physically or emotionally, coerced/deceived/drugged into doing something (s)he doesn’t want to do, or is otherwise denied his or her (all respect and love to the transgendered, of course) right to back out of the deal at any time in order to protect themselves, then we can rely on the proper authorities to intervene for the safety and protection of all.

As you can see, this is not a “do whatever the hell you want, and screw everyone else” mentality that simply casts a blind eye to the pitfalls and human frailties and genuine risks and hazards of free adult consensual sexual expression….as much as neo-Puritans and fundamentalists of various religions would love to dismiss it as such in their drive to reimpose the old conservative regime of “modesty” and “innocence”. But, it does allow for the basic fundamental truth that human beings are, at their core, sexual beings with working sexual equipment and very dirty and vivid fantasies who will ultimately seek out and explore media that reinforces those fantasies…and, if they happen to get lucky, even find fellow sentinent beings that will explore those fantasies with them.

The main objective of what I call a “sex-positive” Leftist, then, is to provide and defend safe, sane, legal, and non-threatening spaces where people of like mind can get together and hash out their fantasies in  non-coercive and mutually pleasurable settings and venues, as well as develop media in which they can freely express their fantasies with other consenting and willing adults.

That media, of course, is what we so densely label as “pornography”. While porn has historically been seen as merely first an entertainment option for the wealthy elite and those with the time to visit the downtown “grindhouses” or private public baths, the combination of technology and the democratization of our society has now enabled even the most modestly waged to have full access to all the naked breasts, buttocks, and vaginas (and also plenty of erect penii) that (s)he can handle…and then some. Not to mention the fact that the decentralization of mass communication through 3G/4G phone technology, the explosion of cheap data storage, and the development of social media cheap enough for anyone with a laptop or iPad or desktop PC to log onto, has moved the production of adult sexual media far, far away from the time when it was merely the work of a few horny, trenchcoat-wearing perverts hiding in 35mm darkrooms, or young men hiding copies of Playboy or Penthouse or even HUSTLER under their beds.

That’s not to say that there aren’t any real issues or problems with how sex and sexual expression is hashed out in our truly obsessive and schzophenic culture. People will bring all of their own neuroses and assumptions into the sexual fantasies they create and promote on screen, and that will include all the usual untapped idioms of racism, homophobia, misogyny, misandry, sadism, dominace/submission, class warfare, and countless other conflicts. The byproducts that emerge can become quite nasty, sometimes very much brutal in appearence, and in som extreme cases, outright frightful and dangerous.

And this is where a person like Gail Dines comes into the picture to appear to be a beacon of rescue, a voice of passion defending the victims of The Evil Capitalist Porn Patriarchy, an avenger of hope and change and restoring the beautiful essence of a sexuality once born of true feminine….ahhhh, I mean, feminist innocence, and tapping into the purity of essential womanhood stolen and bastardized by capitalism and “the pornographers” for the profits of the few rich men and the degraded fantasies of the rest of manhood.

And, unlike the traditional conservative fundamentalist religionist arguments against porn and free sexual expression emphasizing “deviance from God/Allah” and “sin” and “perversion”, the Gail Dines school of “radical feminism”– developed under the crucible of activists before her such as Andrea Dworkin, Catherine MacKinnon, Shelia Jefferys, Kathleen Barry, Mary Daly, Gloria Steinem, and Robin Morgan, among others — eshews more classical methods of outright censorship based on sheer brute force “obscenity”. Rather, they prefer a more subtle, more indirect approach to repression, relying on parlor trick arguments about porn being a gateway to rape, murder, and the “debasement’ and “degradation” of women by dehumanizing women though reducing them to “sex objects”, “cumdumpsters”, “sperm receptacles”…anything but free human beings able to make informed choices about their lives. And, of course, the men who use porn for their own personal entertainment and pleasure are nothing more than potential, if not actual, abusers and rapists who put their own sperm above the well being of humanity as a whole, and who must be psychologically, if not physically, castrated and reeducated with the proper radical feminist ideology so that they can share in the superior modesty of “egalitarian feminist sexuality”.

Only problem is, though…..Dines’ “egalitarian feminist sexuality” is neither egalitarian nor even feminist….and it sure as all hell isn’t anything close to legitimate Leftist, either.

For starters….even if you happen to be one who is squicked out over the direct, in-your-face display of wanton sex that most porn provides, the one constant that anyone worthy of calling himself or herself  “progressive” or a Leftist is that you respect and acknowledge the spoken or written experiences of workers. ALL workers, that is….not just those who happen to agree with your particular ideology, not just those you can choose to cherry-pick because of arbitrary criteria you choose. It’s your right not to like what they do, but if they say that they are there of their own free will, and that they actually enjoy what they do, it is your responsibility to respect their voice and not dismiss them as “shills”, paternalize them as “liars” or ignorant “sluts”, or, even worse, slander them as “house ni–ers siding with their masters”.

And no, Professor Dines, just because porn performers, adult models, and other sex workers (as well as women who aren’t so employed but who simply choose to turn on their cams and play around) happen to make a decent amount of money, doesn’t mean that they are duly disqualified to be part of the mass working class. You just don’t get to pick and choose which portions of labor get the Marxist treatment of analysis and who doesn’t…especially if you are so blatantly boneheaded ignorant about Marxist theory to begin with.

The collorary to that is Dines’ attempt to regurgitate classic anticapitalist theory of how corporate media shape public opinion and define dominant culture in order to sell her alchemy of universal mass degradation by “gonzo” porn. To her, the fact that major social media corporations allow the transmission of pornography on their tubes is the ‘smoking gun” that proes that porn is the centerpiece of modern capitalism, and that Larry Flynt rules the economic roost just as much as Mitt Romney does. Really….like HUSTLER could even come close to the financial assets of Bain Capital or Walmart or Goldman Sachs. Or, the fact that the amount of actual profits that, say, Time Warner recieves from porn probably wouldn’t even approach one week’s take from the blockbuster movie The Avengers, or even the gross profits from the viewing of the opening ceremonies of the London Olympic Games. Yes, porn has been one of the most guaranteed profit makers — or at least, it had been before technology, tube sites, and oversaturation, combined with the recession knocked it flat on its back — but that’s not because of any advertising miracle or secret plot to flood America TV with boobs and vulvas; it’s because people are wired to react to other people having sex, or beautiful people who aren’t afraid to show themselves off playing with themselves…or others. Only a sex-hating fundamentalist — or a sex-hating radical feminist — bent on imposing their myopic repression on others would say that the media is only bent on forcing everyone to engage in sex….especially when there are so many far more powerful pressures and media institutions promoting the exact opposite. And, they make plenty of money on their own, too.

Another thing that does not improve your image as a Leftist — or an actual sentent human being, for that matter — is making wiild, totally or-the-top presumptions about the very people whom you wish to “save” and “rescue” based on what can only be seen as jerry-rigged and cooked statistics. Gail Dines just loves to quote her some Adult Video News rankings or some out-of-context press release for an isolated video site as proof positive of the inevitable direction of porn towards the kind of degrading, dehumanizing, “body punishing” sex that she says destroys women’s soul. But, approach her with the fact that the overwhelming majority of sexual media consists of merely single women masturbating, or women playing with each other, or married couples engaging in consensual sex with each other, and she goes pure apoplexic about how that’s just “niche marketing” by the big Porn Bosses that’s used to mask the really profitable “gonzo” stuff that really does its damage to womanhood. Or, you’re just an “adolescent male” who’s too busy jacking off to see the real harm of porn. Or…you’re just a “paid shill” of the porn industry. Or, a “priviliged neoliberal” who diddles while real women are raped and murdered and debauched by all the present and future Ted Bundys reared by reading too many episodes of Gag My Cock 4 or Shaddup AndTake It Bitch 44.

Notice who is actually absent and who is totally silenced in all of Dines’ rants: actual porn performers, producers, and consumers, especially those of the distaff gender. (Of course, Dines glosses over gay male porn and all of its impact, too, but that’s another story.) Once again, you’d think that someone calling herself a feminist would actually give even the least bit of credit to women within the porn industry who fight the daily battle to humanize it and make it a more livable profession, or that said feminist would actually respect average women’s right to challenge and establish their own boundaries and establish safe spaces for women to explore their sexual beings. Nope, not Gail Dines….to her, you are either her kind of radical feminist, or you are a traitor, a slave, or a “cumdumpster”. No middle ground or shade of gray allowed.

And woe be you if you happen to cross her by actually holding her accountable for her actions and policies. Think I’m kidding??  Just ask Leslie Cannold, or Sarah Ditum, or Maura Kelly, or Melissa Harris-Perry about what happens when you attempt to balance her “beliefs” with actual critics armed with true facts?  Or, for that matter, just mention these two word phrases to her face: “Tristan Taormino” and “Nina Hartley”…and then step back and watch her melt down like Mount St. Helens.

The obsession with Tristan Taormino is especially galling for so many reasons. For starters, Dines for whatever reason has a special place in her bile-filled liver for anal sex; she becomes especially vivid about all the nasty, filthy, disgusting diseases that she says ultimately results from the contact with a woman’s anal spincter and a man’s penis. Witness this passage from a post she did for CounterPunch last week, in the process of maligning MSNBC hostess Melissa Harris-Perry for not inviting her to freely rant about the dangers of porn:

The producer is horrified to hear that women in porn suffer repeatedly from rectal prolapse (because of pounding anal sex), and get diseases such as clamidia of the eye, gonorrhea of the throat, and fecal throat infections (because of the ATM act in which the penis goes from the anus to the mouth without washing).

Aside from the stunning disclosure that a tenured professor from a distinguished private college who claims to be an expert on porn can’t even find the means to spell “chlamydia” correctly, surely she isn’t that ignorant not to know that most porn performers do in fact prepare for anal and ATM scenes by proper hygenics (edemas, lube, not eating before scenes, etc.) since infections of the throat or the eye or the mouth probably would not only make for bad filmaking, but would cost them real money. Can’t do scenes, can’t get paid, can’t pay the rent. Not quite rocket science, isn’t it??

The greatest irony of Dines’ histrionics, though?? She wails on Taormino for her association with porn producer John “Buttman” Stagliano, whom she describes as “a well known producer of very violent porn”. Do you know what that “association” actually produced??  A video titled The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex For Women, which Taormino starred in and produced, and Stagliano and Ernest Greene (aka Ira Levine) co-directed, which basically was an introduction to and instrutional and educational video on…..safer anal sex.

Of course, she’s also maligned Ernest Greene as well for his special interest in BDSM kink, calling him “a committed sadistic torturer of women”; and, needless to say, she has no love lost for his wife, who happens to be….yup, Nina Hartley.

And here is where I get to the main point of all this, and why any genuine progressiveor leftist worthy of his/her name who takes his/her principles seriously should dismiss Gail Dines and her antipornography “radical feminist” ideology for the fools gold it is. There are people like Dines whom passes herself off as a Marxist and an anticapitalist activist…and then there is Nina Hartley who born and raised as a “Red Diaper Baby” by actual Leftists, and who has lived and walked the talk of her principles. There is Gail Dines, whom thinks that because she reads porn message boards she is an expert…and then there is Nina Hartley, who has only spent the past 28 years of her life making and starring in porn movies. There is Gail Dines, who pretends to be an expert in “interracial porn” merely because she can roll off suggestive titles of “racist” videos off the cuff…and then there is Nina Hartley, who has pioneered interracial films and whom has actually done scenes with Black and Latino performers. There is Gail Dines, who pretends to pronounce herself the spokesperson for all women in porn (or at least defends the likes of Shelley Lubben, who explicitly declares herself to be the Guardian Angel of Porn)….and then there is Nina Hartley, whom has actually done more through her work and her activism as a sex-positive feminist within the porn industry to improve the lives and conditions of women both inside and out of porn.

I will simply leave it to you, dear reader, to decide for yourself who is closest to the actual ideals and principles of the Left. And…who really deserves to represent a genuine antiauthoritarian, liberatory, and sane Left policy on pornography and sexual expression.

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Why Downgrading Sex-Positive Left Activism Is Even Worse For Sex Worker Rights Activism: My Response to Audacia Ray (UPDATED)

UPDATED:  Scroll to bottom.

And…welcome to those of you coming from The Green Light District. (Thanks, Emerald!!!) And also, those tuning in from Dr. Charlie Glickman’s blog as well.

As a bonafide sex-positive leftist and supporter of sex-positive feminism for the past ten or so years, I’ve been pretty much used to the usual rounds of criticisms that are thrown towards those of us who proudly claim that label.

Mostly, they are caricatures created by either right-wing fundamentalist religionists or the more extreme “radical feminists”, which simply reduce us “sex pozzies” to nothng more than “fun feminists” who put the pursuit of individual orgasms, high heels, push-up bras and breast implants, and “slutting out” over the real concerns and needs of women, or men who simply want to use sex-positive theory as simply a means to get into women’s bras and panties. The idea that we are capable of multitasking and pursuing the goals of basic broad human rights AND empowering people to pursue sexual pleasure in a safer, saner, and more expansive environment, seems never to get into their skulls, since they are so invested in their essential pursuit of containing, if not outright censoring, sexual expression not redeemable to their narrow value systems.

This isn’t to say that sex+ feminists and sex+ activists aren’t prone to mistakes or not to be held accountble for their/our actions, or that many of those who are proponents of sexual liberation along with broader human rights shouldn’t respect legitimate and useful criticism or strongly evaluate and adjust their efforts to fit the local situation when necessary. But, on the whole, it would be nice if those willing to invent phantasms about the assumed “failure” of sex-positive activism would actually listen to and evaluate the actual people and their records before going off on such tangents.

Needless to say, Audacia Ray is NOT a rabid antiporn feminist or a fundie Christian; in fact, she has been exactly the prototype of tireless, sensible sex worker rights activist that represents the best of what progressive sex work activism is. She also has full experience walking the talk as an activist sex worker, even going as far as being involved in the production of a porn video (was it The Edge of the Bed??), nearly 5 years ago, when she fully identified with the goals and ideas of sex+ feminism.

Well…that was then, and this is now; and both the passage of time and evolution of Dacia’s work have greatly changed her views on sex work and sex+ theory…so much so that she has now broadly repudiated and renounced the label of “sex-positive feminist”, and has moved significantly further away from the ideals of “sex positivity”.

The culimation of this process is an essay that she produced and published as part of the official anthology for the 2012 Momentum Conference (herefore referenced as @MomentumCon), a meetup of activist women exploring the many intersections and vectors connecting sexual rights activism, sex work , activism, and women’s roles in sexual media and sexual relationships. (The anthology is available on sale via Amazon.com. ) Dacia has now made her essay more publically available through her Tumblr blog, and I will use that as the foundation for my counter-response to her exposition on, as the essay title theeorizes: “Why The Sex Positive Movement Is Bad For Sex Workers’ Rights”.

Before I dive in, I shouldl make this perfectly clear: I have nothing but absolute respect for Audacia Ray and her efforts to improve the lives of sex workers, and nothing that I will say here in criticism of her words in this particular essay should be misinterpreted in any way as a personal criticism of her work. This is simply intended to be a friendly, if spirited, criticism of what I believe to be her slightly tainted impressions of sex-positive activism.

My first slight beef with Dacia comes with this passage early on in her essay:

However, the promotion of pleasure and sex positivity within the sex industry and as an element of sex worker rights activism, is proprietary to a small but very vocal group of people, namely: white, cisgender women who are conventionally attractive, able-bodied, and have some degree of class and educational privilege.

Now, it is unabashedly true that many sex+ activist spokespeople are majority White, middle-class or above in economic status, cisgender, and able-bodied women and men who do, especially when compared with the majority of what makes up the sex worker diaspora, have some degree of economic and educational advantages.  Problem is, though, how does that convert into saying that sex+ activism is inherently a set back for activism?? Does being a college-educated White woman with “conventional beauty” automatically disqualify you from having legitimate social empathy for the plight of those less privileged?? And, does having the resources to escape the worst of poverty and engage in a more expansive and open sexuality inherently close such people off to genuine progressive social action??

And, what about activists who aren’t so privileged??  What about, say, a working-class Black male who has never ventured into a strip club or couldn’t even afford to even enter a sex club, but who nevertheless understands the essential link  between expanding resources and rights for everyone under egalitarian principles and breaking down and demythisizing the dominant conservative belief that sexuality should only be experimented under the most narrow, reactionary environments? What about activists of color, or working-class women, who endorse the fundamentals of sex-positivity? (Dacia, how about meeting someone like Divinity and telling her that her core beliefs are mere byproducts of her “privilege”?? Or, perhaps, someone like Aspasia Bonesera??)

Actually engaging with real sex+ activists should dissuade people of the notion that we are all nothing more than the sum of our collective dildos.

The irony in all this is that Dacia sounds all too much here like another White elitist middle-class cisgendered able-bodied woman who also made pretty much the same charges and overbroad assumptions about sex+ folk. Of course, Zinnia Jones’ girlfriend Heather was a bit more obtuse and had far more ulterior motives than Dacia has…but does that mean that Dacia’s kinder, gentler, softer critique doesn’t still miss the point?

Then, there is this, where Dacia prefaces her main critique:

Before we dig in, let’s talk for a minute about unintentional consequences. Surely, you might argue, sex positive feminists, including people who work in the sex industry and those who do not but respect the rights of sex workers, see sex positivity as a means to achieving social good, with a few great orgasms along the way. Why would sex positive feminists want to halt the progress toward human rights for sex workers? I believe that the answer is that sex positive feminists do not intend to create barriers for the achievement of sex workers’ rights, but that there are ways in which this happens anyway.

So, by Dacia’s opinion, sex+ feminists should not be judged by their intentions, which do come from a good place, but by their results, which have been universally proven (at least in Dacia’s mind) to be an ultimate detriment to sex worker activism. Never mind that plenty of sex worker activists would disagree with that broad brush statement, or that it could be considered highly debatable whether or not sex worker activism has been helped or hindered by sex positivity. The point is that it’s just not Dacia’s perogative to declare the game over in mid-stream.

And once again, Dacia’s reduction of “sex positivity” to orgasms and high heels simply flies in the face of actual activism by sex+ people…especially those on the Left. Since she was one of the more eloquent actiivists, she should at least know better.

Then, there is this note about the audience she is shooting for in this critique:

The audience for this essay is very much my peers, people who have had experiences and privileges similar to mine. Beyond our circles, most of what I’ll write here is glaringly obvious, and in communities of color, for people with disabilities, as well as among trans women and men, and other groups we aspire to but do not actively include, this is not news.

But…”glaringly obvious” by whom?? Does Dacia assume that those outside of the supposedly protected “sex positive” bubble are nothing more than truthseeking radicals who have found, like her, the real truth behind “sex positivity”?? That sounds dangerously close to something that a full-blown anti like Diana Boston would say….and she would probably, if she didn’t know better, nod approvingly. We know that Dacia’s not going there, so why make that assumption?

Dacia then moves on to an overview of the history of the interlock between sex worker activism and feminism, and gets to the root of her critique of sex+ feminists:

This, however, creates a chain of denial – many feminists who focus on reproductive rights do not value the contributions of sex workers to their movement, and many sex worker rights advocates who focus on bodily autonomy do not value the particular issues faced by people who do sex work because of coercion or dire economic circumstances. Or, perhaps a fairer way to put this is not that these things are not “valued,” but that there isn’t an active effort made to make space for a multitude of concerns. In action, this looks the same. And so, while sex positive sex workers focus on trying to get a seat at the table of reproductive rights, they simultaneously deny other people in sex work a space at their table.

Ahhh…sorry, Dacia, but that’s just plain conjecture. How in the HELL can sex+ feminists have enough power to “force” out other points of view when they themselves are effectively forced out under intense pressure from the more radical antiporn/prohibitionist radfems who loudly challenge even their addition to the debate?? When groups like Women Against Pornography and CATW are allowed to use gutter tactics to smear and distort sex+ feminists, and level such lovely insults as “cumdumpster” and “tools of the male dick” in order to dismiss their attempts at education, how else do you expect them to react in kind? And, why is it innately sex+ feminists’ fault, and not that of the anti extremists, when attempted debate on sex work dissolves and disintegrates into turf warfare??

In short, it is NOT the responsibility of sex+ feminists to represent the views of ALL sex workers, or even to claim to represent every single one. Their objective is to present what they see as the best approach to promoting their beliefs…and their contributions are simply too important to be merely dismissed with a flip of the hand or a charge of stifling other choices.

My main critique of Audacia, though, is based on what I consider to be a complete distortion of one of the seminal manifestos of sex positive feminist/sex radical tracts….namely, Dr. Carol Queen’s seminal essay, “Sex Radical Politics, Sex-Positive Feminist Thought, and Whore Stigma.” (One note: the essay first appeared not in Jill Nagle’s anthology Whores And Other Feminists, but in an earlier anthology titled Sex Work: Writings By Women In The Sex Industry, which was published around 1986-ish.) I have the full essay archived as a page on this blog; I’d highly suggest a view.

Here is how Dacia critiques Doc Carol’s early vision:

In Queen’s essay, the sex positive feminist perspective on sex work is very much a reactive one that was generated in opposition to what she refers to as the “‘poor abused whores’ lobby.” Queen argues that sex workers who enjoy their work and “live well, with no loss of self-esteem” have “sufficient sex information and are sex-positive [sic]” (p. 129). But as big a part of the job as it is, sex work is not all about sex for many people who do it. The emphasis on sexuality unfairly erases the other half of the equation: work.  Queen asserts that:

No one should ever, by economic constraint or any kind of interpersonal force, have to do sex work who does not like sex, who is not cut out for a life of sexual generosity (however attractively high the fee charged for it). (p. 134)

But the reality is that people who don’t like sex, or don’t like having sex with strangers, or aren’t sexually oriented toward the gender of the clients they see, or don’t like doing sexualized performances, work in the sex industry every day. And it is just that parenthetical “attractively high [fee]” that is the reason for their actions. For the majority of people who work in the sex industry, money, not sex, is the driving factor. Until a day comes when jobs are available that have wages that are competitive with the sex industry, particularly for cis and trans women, people of color, and young people who need to get out of unstable or violent housing situations, many people will sell or trade sex.

OK…so many people do sex work that aren’t necessarily sex-positive. And, many people who would rather do other things do sex work because it’s one way to score a quick payday. So, what does that say for those who do in fact get into sex work for the sex?? I’d say…..not much.

And, that’s a distortion of what Queen actually originally wrote. Allow me to add some context by posting the whole section of that snippet.

There is no sexual majority, although the whole society conspires to behave as though there were.Our clients – mostly married heterosexual men who show an illusory exterior of “normalcy” (whatever that useless concept means) – are also cross-dressers, anally erotic, bisexual, fetishistic, wrapped up in wild fantasies no traditional heterosexual marriage could ever contain.And what the “poor abused whores” lobby will never tell you is that many sex workers, too, are fetishistic, sexually curious, nonmonogamous by nature, and exhibitionistic, delighting in the secret proof our profession provides us that restrictive sexual mores are rupturing everywhere.

No one should ever, by economic constraint or any kind of interpersonal force, have to do sex work who does not like sex, who is not cut out for a life of sexual generosity (however high the fee charged for it).Wanting to make a lot of money should not be the only qualification for becoming a whore.We in this profession swim against the tide of our culture’s inability to come to terms with human sexual variety and desire, its very fear of communicating about sex in an honest and nonjudgemental way.We need special qualities, or at the very least we need a way of thinking that lets us retain our self-esteem when everyone else, especially do-gooders, would like to undermine it.

Activist whores teach, among other things, a view of our culture’s sexual profile that differs from traditional normative sexuality.Every whore embodies this difference each time s/he works.It is time for all whores to embrace this difference, to become ambassadors for sex and gratification.The politics of being a whore do not differ markedly from the politics of any other sexually despised group.We must include radical sexual politics in our agenda, becoming defenders of sex itself.Our well being and our defense depend on it.

Quite clearly, Doc Carol’s emphasis was on promoting “activist whores” as sex+ pioneers in using sex work as a means of transgressing and widening sexual boundaries in a world where such boundaries are constantly being set and moved by the broader “sex wars”. Hardly an renouncement of those in it strictly for the money.

Plus…does Dacia really believe that decoupling sex worker activism from sex-positivity and promoting sex work as just another job or profession will prevent the antis and their fundamentalist allies from overemphasizing the sexual that much more, and simply continuing their campaign to wipe sex work off the map? Right…like gay marriage has domesticated antigay forces obsessed with their Leathermen/gay bathouse fantasies and false nightmares of jock-wearing twinks with erections loaded with HIV-infested sperm ready to invade schools and bedrooms?? Remember, being a Catholic college school girl didn’t prevent Sandra Fluke from being labeled a “slut”, a “whore”, and a “porn star” by Rush Limbaugh…and it won’t stop Melissa Farley or Shelley Lubben from labeling even former performers or street workers “prostituted women” or “hookers”, either.

But, this paragraph is really what made my blood boil, and even prompted a thought that Dacia had turned full on fundie/anti:

Emphasizing sex and pleasure harms the sex workers who aren’t firmly in the self-defined population of being sex positive and sexually educated, by unintentionally shaming them for not being enthusiastic participants in the sex they have at work. When engaging in the trade or sale of sex is helping an individual to meet their basic physiological needs, they often do not have the personal resources to channel energy into making the experience of transactional sex perfectly pleasurable for either themselves or their client. Not every sexual experience, whether paid or not, has to be perfectly erotic. This is an unreasonable expectation, and one that makes it more difficult for people who have negative experiences to speak openly about their truths with sex work or sexuality more generally.

So, did I read that right, Dacia?? By merely saying that she enjoys her job and all the benefits of getting all that good sex and getting paid nicely for it, a sex+ feminist sex worker by her mere existence shames all other sex workers who aren’t so fortunate (in either quality or quantity of sex or compensation); and imposes a needlessly impossible standard of eroticism that distracts from and actively works against the betterment of those at the bottom. And, plus, it makes it harder for those who don’t have absolutely perfect experiences to speak out against the harms they suffer regularly.

WOW.  Shelley Lubben or Rebecca Mott couldn’t have said it better. What better means to isolate and throw under the bus sex worker activists who’s only sin is that they happen to be happier and more successful at their work. That’s like saying that someone who makes it to become an assistant manager at, say, IBM, is tainted and a distraction to those other workers still suffer as entry-level workers with low wages and no benefits…and they should be fired or demoted as a means of elevating the others.

But mostly, it is a bald-faced strawman that belies the reality of actual sex-positive activists who have worked tirelessly on the Left to improve overall workplace conditions and wages for everyone in sex work, not just those most advantaged. Do I need to remind Dacia that the most eloquent and fiercest sex-positive activists started out as Leftists who simply applied their visions of greater autonomy and freedom from the class and race and gender spectrum over to sexual politics? Do the names Margo St. James, Susie Bright, Scott Tucker, and Nina Hartley ring any bells?? Need I also remind her that many sex+ activists who started out as sex+ leftists were mostly hounded out of the feminist and political Left movement by exactly the gutter-style tactics of the antis and Puritan Leftists, with collusion from the broad Right and Center??

It almost seems as if Audacia wants to be the Bill Clinton of the sex workers movement, repudiating her earlier excessively “liberal’ positions and moving towards the “radical center” as a means of reviving sex worker activism. That’s all well and good for her, but throwing sex positive liberals and Leftists under the bus and denying their contributions to the struggle in order to do that, is just not justifiable…..even if, as I said, her motives are in the right place. Even more, it simply gives that much more ammo to the hard Right that if sex+ folk can be repudiated by “liberals”, then they are open to free fire attack and abuse from everywhere else. That’s pretty damn dangerous territory, and not condusive to the goal that Dacia stated.

One last quote from Dacia:

If we put aside our attachment to the sex positive construction of sex work, we will certainly hear things that will be hard to sit with. But for sex positivity to be a useful framework, one that encourages the pursuit of social justice, it must also engage with the ugly pieces of sexuality, and not in a simplistically reactive way. Otherwise, the concept of being a sex positive sex worker is a self-serving marketing practice, in which the enjoyment of sexuality is being sold as a product to both workers and our clients.

A legitimate challenge…but one that has been answered time and time again.

I’ll just let Nina Hartley conclude this with some snippage from one of her classic essays from 1993, on how feminists and sex worker activists AND sex-positive leftists can work together and not cross each other. Full essay is here.

When I entered this field of endeavor nine years ago, it was not only to explore my sexuality; I wanted to be an aware feminist voice from inside the business. I made myself available to anyone who wanted to talk about what I did and what it meant. I’ve done countless TV and print interviews, written numerous articles (both sexy and serious), and spoken to many college classes. I’ve faced a variety of people, some sympathetic, some not so happy at my existence. I’ve looked into the eyes of women who look back at me with hatred, and I was able to understand how women could be burned as witches.  I’m usually fairly calm during these exchanges, since I am at ease with my subject and because my experiences with sex are some of my most cherished moments —  not the source of my deepest pain.

The common thread I see connecting my most vocal feminist opponents with each other is that they are operating from a base of often justified rage. This is fine. Angry women can and have affected needed change. However, they must understand just how much time and energy is expended wastefully when one is continually angry and outraged. They must learn to practice self-awareness and acknowledge when their anger is justified and when it is self-indulgent, when it is a positive force for growth and change and when it is overpowering one’s ability to think clearly. If they are honest, the distinction will be self-evident.

Speaking as someone who has made peace with my sexuality and that of men in general, it boils down to this: how does one choose to deal with one’s rage and what triggers it? I choose to feel it, acknowledge it, recognize its origins, own it and then incorporate it into my ever-evolving sense of Self. I choose to process my anger and go on with my life since I don’t want to waste the only life I have by having anger color everything, every day.

What can feminists do?  As members of the third wave of the revolution begun 30 years ago, we need to continue our struggles, in both the public and private spheres, toward equality.  What lies between now and utopia is day-to-day living. We need to do our best to demonstrate compassion toward those in pain — and to recognize when we need to mind our own god-damned business. I suggest we use feminist sex workers and feminist porn as a fifth column and use the erotic medium to change men’s and women’s attitudes at their deepest neurobiological level. We cannot-we must not-be drawn into limiting by law what consenting adults do in private. Don’t worry about how other people enjoy themselves. Instead, turn some energy to providing support to those who ask for it. Take care of your own compost heap before feeling free to meddle in others’. Learn to relax a little; we’re not going to change the problems of the world in our brief lifetimes. Pet a cat. Meditate. Work in our gardens. Take a walk. Get a massage. Give ourselves more orgasms and appreciate how far we’ve come in only thirty years.

Let us see past our antagonisms, and create some common ground so that we may build a solid future for generations of feminists to build upon.

And…let us understand that sex-positive feminists have added and will continue to add strength and knowledge to the sex worker activism movement; and continue to hash out our differences so that we can create a better movement for everyone….whether they have lots of orgasms, or not.

Update (5-10-12):

Divinity (aka Godless Strumpet) has now posted at her blog a much more detailed and thorough critique of Audacia Ray’s assertions about sex-positive feminism and its impact on sex worker activism. Some snippage from that post:

I understand that Ms. Ray believes that she is only trying to help. She states in her piece;

“the promotion of pleasure and sex positivity within the sex industry and as an element of sex worker rights activism, is proprietary to a small but very vocal group of people, namely: white, cisgender women who are conventionally attractive, able-bodied, and have some degree of class and educational privilege.”

…so now I suppose I am expected to qualify my oppression to her. Ok, I am a cisgendered, heterosexual, Mexica/American woman. And I do mean “Mexica” as I have also embarked on a journey of self de-colonization and reject terms like “Hispanic” (meaning “of Spain”) for myself. I am an atheist; and yes Christian privilege does exist, former sex worker (stripper), addict in sobriety, formerly homeless and one major illness away from homelessness again as I am too poor to afford health care and live pretty much week to week. I do have a lap top. I was lucky enough to come into a HUGE sum of money for me ($800) and decided to invest in one because at almost 40 with little money I knew educating myself on the internet would probably be the closest I would ever come to getting an education beyond the GED that I have now. So I”m not the most privileged in the world but I am also not the most underprivileged and I know that.

I trust I’ve groveled enough to prove to Ms. Ray that I am qualified to speak on issues concerning my own oppression. If my irritation at Ms. Ray’s piece is a bit transparent I will tell you why. I have been fighting to get my voice and arguments heard not only as a sex workers’ rights advocate and sex-positive feminist but as a woman of color contending with classist and racist anti-porn feminists who say they feel sorry for me and my “lack of options” and then turn around and call me “uneducated” when I don’t agree with them about what’s best for me for a couple of years now. The slut-shaming and harassment they have exacted on me has shocked and disappointed me because I never expected it coming from so-called “feminists.” I have fought very hard to prove that I am not just some privileged, sex obsessed “slut” to the audience they have tried so hard at every turn to disconnect me from.  I don’t appreciate Ms. Ray telling them that they are basically right about me. I wonder if it ever occurred to Ms. Ray that in saying sex-positive feminists are mostly highly-educated, white women blinded by their own privilege that she was actually helping to further silence women like me who don’t fit that mold within the movement. As if it’s not hard enough to get my foot in the door as an un-formally-educated, Godless, ex-stripper of colour who is staying sober one day at a time!

I’d seriously recommend you go to Div’s place and read the post in its entirity for the full effect.

Also, Feminist Whore has released this week a YouTube video reflecting her own critique of Dacia from her perspective.

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Because “Overstating” The Truth Beats Understating Propaganda: My Rebuttal To Zinnia

Well…Zinnia Jones has responded  in her typical urbane and wordy way via both YouTube and her website to the criticism of her girlfriend Heather’s video blast against “sex-positive feminism” and the advocacy of sex worker activists.

Now, she decided to sidestep the issues about the smearing of sex positive feminists by Heather as unwilling to even think about the negatives of sex work, or the charges that sex positives are only obsessed with pushing the boundaries of what is “sexy” at the expense of the majority.

Instead, she decided to take head on, the critiques of activist sex workers like YouTubers Divinity33372, thecryptkeeper, and FeministWhore, (as well as sexpoz supporters such as BobChaos23), who directly challenged Heather’s expressions that activist sex workers working for decriminalization were being totally dismissive of the dangers and risks of sex work, and that reducing criticism of prostitution as a dangerous and damaging profession to “shaming sex workers” and the sole view of right-wing fundamentalists and reactionaries did not change or reduce the validity of the critiques themselves.

I will offer here a full rebuttal of ZJ’s response, through a friendly and respectful, if passionate, fisking, using the written transcript of her video. If anyone else decided to offer their own video transcript, then it will be posted here as an update/addendum, as well as ZJ’s original video response.  Please note that for the record, ZJ has been nothing but cordial in our dialogue, even if we somewhat disagree on the core principals.

First, for the purpose of giving legit credit, here;s Zinnia’s response on video:

And now, let the fisking…errr, the rebuttal begin.

Overstating the case for full decriminalization of prostitution

Perhaps the most controversial portion of the previous guest video was the assertion that sex work is often dangerous and harmful to women, in contrast to certain testimonials that suggest it is a relatively mundane profession. The backlash to this claim has been swift, fierce, and thoroughly informative. Along with assorted criticism of the idea that prostitution is itself a problem, the most common response was that the decriminalization of buying and selling sex would reduce the harms associated with prostitution. All of these views are certainly worth examining.

Actually, ZJ, I would say that in my opinion, Heather’s trite and blissful dismissal of sex-positive feminists as blithering idiots and adolescents needing to “grow up” and elitists who play with their dildos while the majority of women are left to suffer is far more controversial and bothersome…..but that’s a whole different kettle of fish for another blog entry. For now, though, the concerns you put forth will do just fine right now.

For starters, maybe my ears and eyes are deceiving me (I am approaching fifty years of age), but I see nowhere where any critic of yours or Heather’s even came close to saying that sex work of any kind was “mundane”, or that there weren’t any dangers or harm in doing sex work. Not from Divinity, not from FemWho, not from thecryptkeeper, not even from BobChaos23 or Iamcuriousblue

Also, the collective criticism that I heard from the sex workers you mentioned is NOT that decriminalization would solve all the issues of harm, but that decriminalization would be the best way of promoting the kind of harm reduction strategies that have been proven to work to diminish the dangers. Their fundamental point is that most of the harms associated with sex work are the direct result of criminalization encouraging both a hidden “black market” where prostitution and pornography exist under an umbrella of shame and darkness, where otherwise basic protections of human rights and autonomy are suppressed and denied under the reign of sexual shame and loathing and economic/class hierarchy, and where the very ideology of “protecting women” from the supposed vagaries of “male lust” actually reinforce the attitudes about sexuality that feed the current criminalization regime. Disagree with that if you must, ZJ, and you are totally entitled to that disagreement…but that argument deserves its own respect and dignity, and should not be so utterly dismissed as Heather attempted to do.

One of the first objections to arise was the suggestion that you shouldn’t talk about sex workers at all if you aren’t a sex worker yourself or if you haven’t spoken to sex workers. First of all, people often discuss topics that they may not be personally involved in, and while firsthand experience can provide unique and valuable insight, it does not necessarily make you any more correct on a given point. Furthermore, to assume that someone’s position on sex work must mean that they’ve never spoken with any sex workers implies that doing so will reliably alter someone’s views and induce them to adopt a particular stance on the subject. It suggests that it would be outright impossible for them to maintain their present position after, or even because of, speaking to sex workers. For anyone to insinuate that the experiences of sex workers will invariably support their own stance seems very overreaching.

Of course, no one is saying that only sex workers can have an opinion on sex work, any more than saying that only gay men should be allowed to have an opinion about homosexuality or only transgendered folk should be allowed to speak about cross dressing or intersexuality. (Remember…I’m not a sex worker, either…and that doesn’t stop me from expressing my opinions.) But, that’s not the real point here, isn’t it?? If you are going to say stuff about sex workers, however, I would think that you would not be so dismissive when actual sex workers happen to respond to your opinions…especially if they consider said opinions to be completely distortive, out of order, conjecture, and basically outright lies.

Also, ZJ…you seem to be mightily one-sided when it comes to analyzing opinions of sex work…for while you are so quick on the trigger to shoot down pro-decriminalization sex work advocates for assuming absolute truth, you ignore at your peril the even greater absolutism of the other side of the sex worker debate. At least Divinity and FemWho and other pro-sex/harm reduction/decriminalization advocates are willing to respect the other side enough to engage them in an attempt to discuss the issue. Such cannot be said of the likes of abolitionist radical feminists like Janice Raymond or Shelia Jeffreys or Donna M. Hughes or Kathleen Barry, who consistently dismiss not only the arguments of their critics, but even deny them even the decency of human respect..or even coexistence. For the latter, it’s either you’re for them or you’re a “traitor” to the “patriarchy”, a “cocksucker”; a “cumdumpster”, or simply “a man”.

And as for the notion that a sex worker’s personal “experiences” should not count as supporting their personal beliefs….funny how that seems to apply only to sex positives and not to the experiences of….say, Rebecca Mott, who is one of the more powerful former sex-workers-turned-abolitionists. I wonder: would Heather ever publish a YT video rejecting the spoken experiences of, say, a Shelley Lubben as very much an extreme anomaly and not necessarily the experience of the majority of porn performers? If she was attempting to be even handed, then why only go after the “pro-decriminalization” side as the “radical” and “extreme” side?? I guess that some experiences are more “insinuating” than others, then??

[Addedum by Anthony: I especially am impressed with the way that ZJ attempts to give Divinity the ultimate insult by not even acknowledging her concerns or her points...or even her existence. Come on now, ZJ...when you slam fundies or Wiccans or right-wing asshats, you at least give them the decency of calling them out by name. What's wrong with giving Div and FemWho and RubyDynamite the same respect??]

Others pointed out that sex worker rights advocates are often also involving in fighting for causes such as immigration reform and transgender rights. This is indeed a praiseworthy endeavor, but the validity of these causes does not make the remainder of their positions correct by contagion. Conversely, many noted that prostitution is also seen as harmful by fundamentalist Christians and certain severely transphobic feminists, as if to say that anyone who shares this view is just as bad as these groups. But the wisdom or idiocy of someone who holds a certain stance does not change the validity, truth value, or factual support of the position itself. The Catholic Church may oppose the death penalty as a matter of official policy, but this obviously doesn’t mean that this view is inherently linked to them or forever contaminated by its association with them.

This sounds so much like a combination of two divergent principles: 1) Just because you do good things doesn’t make the bad things you do disappear (the “irredeemable grace” dictum); and 2) Because an idea is expressed by obviously evil people does not make the idea innately evil; the same idea expressed by a progressive might be a pretty damn solid idea under another perspectice. The Main problem with Dictate #1 is that it ignores the overall conjoining principles of equality and human autonomy which motivate most sex positives to also support such causes as transgender rights and immigrant/migrant rights, essentially trivializing their motives. Is ZJ implying that the only motivation for sex pozzies to promote other progressive causes is merely to get into men’s pants or women’s panties?? And as for #2: if we carried that to its logical conclusion, then we could say that chattel enslavement of Black folk would have been a pretty damn good thing if it weren’t for those damn racist Southerners…if it had been more decent Northern “moderates”, then slavery would have been AOK.

Of course, an idea should be measured by its quality and its impacts on real people, not by whom’s selling or backing it. Slavery would be just as bad and should be opposed just as severely if it were Blacks enslaving Whites, even if such a scenario has never actually happened in reality. And, consequently,  just because some sex workers can be mistreated by their clients does not eliminate the possibility that the majority of prostitute/client relationships can be cordial and consensual…especially if the conditions underlying such relationships can be transformed.

Finally for this segment: how ironic that a militant atheist like Zinnia Jones ends up defending the Catholic Church, of all people, for their stated stance against the death penalty…especially considering that the hierarchy of the Catholic Church seems not to be quite as willing to enforce that portion of their doctrine as much as they do against reproductive autonomy for women. Or, for that matter, protections for transgendered folk or crossdressing men. *hint*

Further, some drew attention to the fact that various so-called “rescue” groups seeking to help sex workers leave prostitution are often run by evangelical Christians who frequently engage in religious indoctrination, and are otherwise insensitive to the actual needs of sex workers. This is clearly a problem, as is the invasion of religion into a multitude of charity and assistance roles in society. But just as with feeding the hungry, it does not mean that the very idea of helping sex workers who want to leave the trade is irredeemably flawed – only that its execution has often been compromised by ignorance and blind dogma, and this needs to change.

You will notice how ZJ attempts to spin this into an issue of religion and faith in general affecting charity and assistance to poor folk. Problem is, it’s not quite so simple. For starters, not all religious missionaries engage in the chicanery and blatant exploitation of poverty that groups like Love146 does; there are plenty of progressive religious folk who truly do not preface aid and relief on a prior ministering.

Secondly, once again, ZJ makes the assumption that sex pozzies only want to entrap people to stay in “prostitution” their entire life…a total fabrication that not even many passionate abolitionists dare to speak out aloud.  Hate to burst your bubble, Zinnia, dearie, but no respectful sex worker OR sex+ feminist I know has EVER advocated that people should remain sex workers against their will. In fact, ZJ, if you actually manage to open your eyes and ears and actually read up on actual sex worker activists, you will find that they are as much opposed to coercing people into sex work against their stated will as anyone else.

‘Ya think I’m lying?? Remember that essay from Dr. Carol Queen that I posted earlier here?? Here’s some interesting snippage from there that should put ZJ and Heather to shame:

No one should ever, by economic constraint or any kind of interpersonal force, have to do sex work who does not like sex, who is not cut out for a life of sexual generosity (however high the fee charged for it).  Wanting to make a lot of money should not be the only qualification for becoming a whore.  We in this profession swim against the tide of our culture’s inability to come to terms with human sexual variety and desire, its very fear of communicating about sex in an honest and nonjudgemental way.  We need special qualities, or at the very least we need a way of thinking that lets us retain our self-esteem when everyone else, especially do-gooders, would like to undermine it.  

Activist whores teach, among other things, a view of our culture’s sexual profile that differs from traditional normative sexuality.  Every whore embodies this difference each time s/he works.  It is time for all whores to embrace this difference, to become ambassadors for sex and gratification.  The politics of being a whore do not differ markedly from the politics of any other sexually despised group.  We must include radical sexual politics in our agenda, becoming defenders of sex itself.  Our well being and our defense depend on it.

In other words….if you are simply thinking about doing sex work just for the money, you may want to think twice. It’s still, first and foremost, about the sex.

And, BTW…it still doesn’t help matters when a certain militant atheist activist pratts on about how bad religious missions to the poor are, when in the next breath they are hosting fundraisers for those very same missions to bring that same religious bigotry. Love146 still thanks you kindly for the donation, ZJ.

It’s also been mentioned that studies by anti-prostitution researchers such as Melissa Farley and Janice Raymond often contain methodological flaws which severely undermine their validity. But regardless of the nature of these errors, the flaws in studies purportedly showing that prostitution is dangerous do not mean that it must therefore be safe, just as flaws in a study showing it to be safe would not mean it was harmful. Instead, it indicates that the study in question simply does not tell us anything useful about the facts of prostitution.

Hmmm…does that mean, then, that were it not for those “methodological flaws”, then the crackpot theories of Farley and Raymond about how “90% of ‘prostituted women’ wanted out of the industry” or how transsexuality is merely a trick used by men to “rape women’s bodies”, should be accepted as legitimate and viable theses?? Or, as that other “methodologically flawed” study called the Meese Commission on Pornography once attempted to note: “The lack of causation should not be taken as the absence of one.”

And, considering that ZJ’s entire thesis in this effort to defend her girlfriend is that prostitution is indeed very much harmful and unsafe, and that critics of hers are simply in denial because they are impervious to the facts on the ground due to their “elitism”…then what does that say about her own methods??

I would guess that “methodological flaws” were the least of the problems of Farley’s “research” or Raymond’s “science”; their foundational bias and core bigotry against any form of sexuality not meeting their exacting standards of “bodily integrity” would be far more troubling to most people. But, any port in a storm, I guess.

Many people also seemed to suggest that claiming prostitution is harmful must mean passing some kind of moral judgment upon sex workers themselves for their activities. Finding this unacceptable, they concluded that it must therefore be wrong to say that prostitution is harmful. But regarding prostitution as harmful does not necessitate condemning sex workers. After all, many people have cited the dangerous working conditions for sex workers as a reason why criminalization is an inadequate and harmful policy. Passing judgment on workers would require some kind of ethical theory beyond the factual question of whether prostitution is dangerous, and I personally do not see the condemnation of sex workers as warranted or appropriate in any way.

Merely regarding prostitution as harmful may not necessarily render sex workers condemnable. Regarding prostitution as harmful and then working to wipe their profession off the face of the earth through the power of the State, on the other hand?  That would constitute condemnation to infinity. What Zinnia seems to be severely ignorant of is the essential fact that the people most likely to see prostitution as the most harmful are the very ones also most likely to condemn sex workers who defend their right to do sex work in the starkest terms. (The aformentioned “traitors” and “cumdumptsters” and “house n****rs” come to mind here.) The fact that they may say that they are “pro-sex worker” is merely a propaganda guise to fend off charges of complicity with the Right, and to provide a nice “progressive” patina for their fundamentally conservative objectives.

You would think that an intellegent, urbane (wo)man like ZJ would understand that, especially since (s)he has been the target of genuine hatred from fundies due to her atheism and her support of gay rights. All thoughts collapse, though, when it comes to sex, I guess.

On a related note, some people seemed imply that to criticize testimonial ads such as those from Turn Off The Blue Light in Ireland is tantamount to supporting social stigma against sex workers. Apparently, since these ads aim to diminish the stigma against sex workers, then taking issue with these ads must mean endorsing that stigma. But this doesn’t follow, and holding to such logic only serves as a way of using one’s well-intentioned motives to preclude any criticism of the actual results.

 A bit of background is needed here: Turn Off The Blue Light is actually an organization run by activist pro-decriminalization sex workers in Ireland that was created in response to an anti sexwork abolitionist campaign called “Turn Off The Red Light” (original Irish site translated to English via Google Translate here), which is currently seeking legislation to impose the “Swedish Model” brand of sex work criminalization on that country.

So, is this what ZJ is saying here?? TOTRL puts forth obvious propaganda deliberately intended to erase and wipe out actual human beings merely because TOTRL doesn’t like their profession, and TOTBL responds with testimonials from those actual people saying that they are perfectly capable of thinking and acting for themselves and they should have some say in their livelihoods being affected…and it’s the latter that ZJ attacks for being “illogical” and unfair?? Only the abolitionist side, which Zinnia continues to cloak and hide is concerned with stigma, then?? Or…I guess that only antis get to do testimonials about the “dangers” of sex work and to conflate legal consensual adult sex work with “trafficking”, and anyone who actually attempts to respond to that with real people gets branded as exploiting “stigma” for personal advantage??

Isn’t that what right-wing fundies do to atheists, gays and sexual dissidents all the time? Why should that be any less contemptible when a putative “progressive” does the same Goddess damn thing to sex workers and their advocates/supporters??

While it may not have been their goal, these posters neglect to mention the very real dangers faced by many sex workers as part of their job. In doing so, they give the impression that it’s not much different from any other profession – that it’s a safe, uneventful, and thoroughly ordinary way to make a living, chosen freely and on its own merits rather than due to a lack of alternatives. But for many sex workers, it is not a job that suits their needs, in terms of workplace safety, a living wage, freedom from exploitation, and, yes, not wanting to have to sleep with paying customers just to survive. Instead, these posters depict sex work as a satisfying, voluntary and harmless job like any other. That may be the case for some sex workers, but certainly not for many others. And unless misleadingly portraying such circumstances as typical of sex work is actually the only way to reduce stigma, no one is opposing such efforts by simply objecting to this approach.

And here comes the strawman one more time. ZJ, here’s my challenge to you, dear: go and search Google and name me ONE prominent sex worker activist who “neglects” the risks and dangers of sex work. Name me ONE sex worker advocate who even comes close to portraying sex work as a whole as inherently “satisfying, voluntary and harmless” for EVERYONE, in the same way that you and the antis portray it as the essence of rape and slavery. I’m not talking about individual experiences here; I am talking about overarching assumptions about sex workers as a collective.

Besides, the point that YOU miss is that for pro-decrim/harm reduction sex worker advocates, the issue is NOT making sex work “harmless”, it is about making it safer, and reducing the risks and harms by actually treating the worker and the client as human beings capable of thought and moral sense. The fundamental difference between that approach and the “Nuke ‘em all!!!” approach of the antis/abolitionists is essentially the difference between remodeling a broken house and simply blowing it apart with its occupants inside.

And yes, ZJ…many folk who do sex work probably do want to get out someday and not depend on “sleeping with strangers” for their subsistence. We get that….really we do. That’s why most sex worker advocates are also for such things like livable wages, expanding and fixing physical infrastructure, providing a decent floor of financial support, and increased access to education. What we will NOT do, however, is preface such aid on “accepting Jesus Christ as your Savior”, or admonishing poor women to “keep your pants zipped and stop sleeping around, you dirty slut”, or any other form of social engineering, or reducing every man/boy with a penis to a “potential rapist”. That kind of stigma is simply unacceptable. But, I guess that in your mind, if “progressive” abolitionists do it, then it’s no longer stigma, but simply “judgment”…right??

Most sex workers have their good days and their bad days…and some have good and bad on the same day. In short, they survive as best as they can, like the rest of us.

Many people did say that prostitution shouldn’t be seen as different from any other job, in that many people are forced to hold unpleasant jobs because there are no better alternatives and they need money. But prostitution is different: it frequently comes with an inordinate risk of assault, robbery, sexual harassment, rape, and murder, unlike that of practically any other job. Workplace safety is often lacking, if not absent entirely. For this, workers receive no hazard pay whatsoever. Given the conditions under which many of them work, it’s plainly inaccurate to say that there’s no more coercion in choosing prostitution than there is in any other undesirable job. Such circumstances do not tend to attract willing employees.

Once again, ZJ uses “many people” as a crutch to invent another strawman to burn down. Prostitution, pornography, and other forms of sex work are certainly different from other professions due to the nature of sexuality..but to say that they are so fundamentally different that they should be solely targeted for condemnation is selective to say the least. As if rape, murder, sexual harassment, assault, physical injury, and emotional stress aren’t issues with most other professions offering the reward of decent pay? Ask any secretary or waitress whether they feel any less under the gun from their bosses or from asshole clients. Ask any professional athlete recovering from knee surgery whether or not getting a fat paycheck from the NFL or NBA or MLB protects them from abusive fans.

And, it’s not as if even prostitutes don’t have any means of protection at all…porn has a testing regimen for STI’s that has been proven effective in containing outbreaks (in spite of the recent attempts to undermind and obliterate it in favor of the panacea of mandatory condoms), and the Nevada brothel system does include its own security. In fact, decriminalization, in its own effect, would bring the full force of the State’s legal protection in the form of rape/sexual assault laws and workplace protections into effect; while criminalization keeps such protections not only out of reach, but actually encourages further abuses. (Not to mention, abuses by the very police forces supposedly enforcing these laws.)

Oh…and how nice for ZJ to simply assume as always that she can read the minds of others and tell them how they were motivated to enter sex work. The idea that women may enter such professions as a means of expressing their sexuality, or as an extra source of income to get through college, or simply to meet and fuck lots of interesting people, simply cannot register in Zinnia’s mind..probably because she has assumed the same class-based sex negativism and elitism that is the embodiement of Heather and other abolitionist radfems. And yet, she allowed Heather to play the “sexual liberals/sex pozzies are elitists!!” card with impunity.

Sex workers themselves have attested to this. In a commonly cited study by the Pivot Legal Society in Vancouver, many workers said that prostitution should not be a job that anyone could be required to take as part of a search for work in order to receive income assistance:

“Well I should say sex work, being in the sex trade is not an option; it’s just like a survival thing. I mean… it’s usually… not by choice…. If someone were forcing you to go back, …that’s like a pimp, that’s kind of saying, oh you have to go risk your life.”

“I don’t think they should be forced into the trade [by an income assistance worker] because of things that could happen in the industry as being a sex worker – harmful to the mind like bad dates and drug use…”

“Because not everybody has the emotional control to be a sex worker, or detachment. Detachment to be a sex worker.”

 

“I believe that it is a very hard job to do, you are basically a sexual surrogate… and I agree that it takes a certain… personality type to do that kind of job. It’s a very, very specialized occupation.”

“There’s a difference between selling your ass and selling a hamburger. The hamburger’s not personal.”

If listening to sex workers is key, then it would seem that even sex workers consider prostitution to be different in kind from other types of employment.

Oh, but this is real funny….so, after spending two videos and nearly 65% of her essay discounting and rejecting and even silencing through lack of acknowledgment activist sex workers attempting to educate her on the realities, Zinnia now goes off and quotes….actual sex workers to reinforce her thesis that sex work is innately dangerous and special and worthy of special censure??

And even those quotes ZJ pulled out of that study prove..not much. No one ever said that prostitution was the same as other professions, only that it should be accepted and reformed and transformed into a safer and legitimate profession for those who want to use it for pursuing their sexual autonomy. What part of that does not register with you, ZJ??

People have often claimed that the hazards of prostitution arise from the criminalization of selling or buying sexual services, operating brothels, procuring and soliciting, and that many of these risks would be ameliorated if all of this were decriminalized and treated like any other fully legal profession. And there is quite a lot to be said for this position. When prostitution is against the law, this discourages workers from reporting any crimes against them for fear of prosecution, leaving them extremely vulnerable to abuse. It also leaves their jobs completely outside the realm of any kind of workplace safety regulations, and their employers aren’t required to operate within the applicable labor laws, creating an environment where exploitation flourishes.

First…if there really is “a lot to be said about this position”, then why not give legitimate credit to those who expouse that position (Divinity, FemWho, thecryptkeeper, et. al.)??

And secondly, sounds like simple common sense to me….so why dismiss it out of hand?? I suppose we don’t have to wait long to find out why.

In theory, decriminalization would remedy most if not all of these issues, and prostitution finally would become a job chosen because it suits people’s needs, with no more coercion than any other. But has this actually happened? New Zealand is often upheld as a model for full decriminalization, yet in a five-year review (PDF) of the 2003 Prostitution Reform Act, many workers reported having experienced assault, violent threats, being held against their will, theft, refusal to pay, and even rape. Few of them reported this to the police, and most who were surveyed felt that the Reform Act “could do little about the violence that occurred.” “…less than a quarter – felt there had been an improvement.” While there seem to be very few studies comparing the general well-being and safety of sex workers before and after this kind of reform, decriminalization does not appear to have been enough to prevent workers in New Zealand from continuing to experience violent abuse and mistreatment, especially those working at street level.

Riiiiight….just as, in theory, simply pulling anecdotal quotes from a 177-page report that actually concludes the exact opposite of what you claim would count to most people as sophistry…but, I guess I’m just a biased cismale with a working dick.

If prostitution should be treated like any other job, then it’s worth considering that we wouldn’t accept such unsafe conditions in any other job. Most people don’t have a problem with recognizing that some working conditions are simply too dangerous to be allowed, and such businesses are regulated or prohibited accordingly. Yet many advocates for decriminalization claim that too much legal regulation would only drive the sex trade underground once more and leave workers unprotected again. Clearly, determining the proper stringency of regulation is a challenging and delicate task, and the actual impact of a policy on workers should be the bottom line. But to suggest that anything which could conceivably impede the transaction must be done away with for fear of fueling the black market is simply negligent. Having the law look the other way on this does not make sex workers any more safe.

So, in other words, rampant criminalization such as the Swedish Model or the traditional fundie Christian model of jailing anyone involved in sex work (or any form of sexual activity not redeemed by the prevailing conservative social moral order of the day), while maybe a bit “excessive”, is far preferable to simply decriminalizing and allowing sex workers themselves to organize to mitigate and reduce such dangerous workplace situations. After all, sex should only be partaken for free and for the right reasons of marriage or “intimacy”, right??

I can just see Zinnia’s next YT video taking shape: “How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Support Shelley Lubben, Michael Weinstein, And The Condom Mandate”.

Also, she does know about the Republican Party and the Tea Party and their war on reproductive choice, right??

If decriminalization does actually improve the safety and welfare of sex workers, then this is a great start. If it doesn’t, and their working conditions remain just as dangerous, then other options are worth considering. Many advocates for decriminalization approach this issue with a goal of harm reduction, and so do I. And if these unacceptable dangers are simply inherent to prostitution (or a certain variety of it) and cannot be minimized while leaving the profession itself intact, then reducing the harm of prostitution requires reducing prostitution itself.

Yup…and if all gay men can be proven to be such butt fuckers who dress in swarthy clothing and seduce young boys into homosexuality and rampant open public sex, then we can justify denying gay folk the right to recognize their relationships through marriage. Or, we could simply throw the “rectum-loving AIDS-carrying queers” in jail or shoot their asses down and be done with it. After all, can’t look the other way when it comes to sexual predators like Jerry Sandusky or the Catholic priests, right??

Sarcasm aside, of course…the not so thinly veiled assumptions found in that one graph alone would fill a full pig farm manure pit. And remember, Heather’s original guest vid was promoted as a “fair and balanced” comparison of the competing ideologies. So, I guess that this is what Zinnia considers to be “fair debate”. Gail Dines would wholeheartedly approve.

We can agree that certain legal regimes have been shown to be unsuccessful at accomplishing this, and even harmful to sex workers without addressing their needs, but it does not mean that this can’t be a valid goal. It shouldn’t be outside the bounds of acceptable discourse to believe that nobody should be exposed to such hazards in the course of employment. This does not have to imply an unbending adherence to any particular policy, whether it’s full criminalization, criminalization of clients, full decriminalization, or legal regulation. Many people contend that all efforts at reducing prostitution have failed, but just as with any other problem we’re faced with, past failures are no reason to stop developing new strategies.

Can we agree?? Really, Zinnia?? There are some of us who would argue that the US model of simply jailing everyone and slut shaming women has been proven to be an utter failure, and that the Swedish Model has done nothing to reduce the level of prostitution or illegal sex trafficking, but has made life a living hell for the sex workers they supposedly are out to protect. But, I guess that since we’re a bunch of permissive liberals, our positions and strategies should not matter, and since the only strategy that you perceive to be such a failure is the decrim/harm reduction model (funny how once again, other strategies don’t merit even one mention, because you don’t see them as nearly as problematic??), how else should we conclude other than that you favor abolition and criminalization as your desired strategy?

Finally, some people pointed out that because prostitution is often the only option for sex workers, then working to eliminate prostitution would be taking their only option away from them. That may be the case, but there are a plethora of circumstances where people are deprived of income because something is too dangerous or inhumane to be legally allowed, such as child labor and sweatshops. Even if someone claimed that they had a wonderful experience working at an unsafe coal mine, and wanted no legal interference in this arrangement, such conditions would still not be permitted. The answer is not to remove the laws which prohibit these kinds of employment, but to remedy the lack of options which is forcing people into unsafe jobs such as prostitution. Sex workers have often attested to the inadequate social support they receive, which leaves them with nowhere else to turn. If nobody ever had to enter sex work, then it seems likely that fewer people would.

Except that comparing consensual adult sex work to working in an unsafe coal mine or child labor or sweatshops is like comparing apples to bowling balls. Sex work might be very dangerous right now because of the stigma and the illegality, but the main argument of decrim/harm reduction advocates is that if the stigma was removed and the criminality of consenting sex acts overturned, and more traditional egalitarian laws and principles applied across the board, then sex work could become more feasible as a legitimate profession, as well as safer and more profitable.

And besides that…there is the question of what exactly would Zinnia and the abolitionists that she now has totally endorsed offer to those sex workers who would be torn from their livelihoods by their campaigns for “regulation”?? Is she out there advocating for free cradle-to-grave public education, single payer and/or national health care, mandated livable wages, a guaranteed annual income as a ceiling for families (especially single mother-led families), a vastly increased public sector job corps for reinvigorating infrastructure, and other such ideals? Because without those things, dearie, all you are doing is turning the screws that much tighter on the very people you say you want to protect.

It’s easy for you, ZJ, as a middle-class White atheist radfem taking advantage of a free YouTube account and an inexpensive webhost to talk about what poor and working-class folk need. It’s not so easy if you happen to BE working class and are forced with the choice of “heat or eat” every Goddess damn day. Don’t hate on those sex workers who manage to accomplish staying afloat and staying alive..and who also manage to get some decent fun sex in the process.

And yes, ZJ, I am calling you a radfem, because the only difference between you and Diana Boston, NuclearNight, and the rest of the Army of RadicalFeministWhackjobs is that you aren’t brave enough to even state your biases openly and honestly. You have to get your girlfriend to put them out, then use your passive-aggressive dulcet tones to cloak them…but your actions ultimately reveal themselves in living color.

The question of which legal framework is most effective for dealing with prostitution is far from resolved, but full decriminalization appears to fall short of being the panacea that many have presented it as. The presumptuousness of people who expect and then demand complete support for this policy position is vastly out of proportion to the actual evidence of its efficacy. Contrary to prevailing opinion, it has not been established as a proven fact that would be as foolish to question as evolution. There is room for disagreement here, and recognizing that prostitution remains a dangerous field does not constitute a blemish upon one’s rationality.

And that’s the bottom line, because Queen Atheist/YouTube Warrior Zinnia Jones says so!!

But, is it, really??

Who’s really being presumptuous here…activist sex workers who accept the diversity of experiences and the individual humanity and integrity of sex workers, who are willing to accept that not all sex work is sweetness and light and would gladly assist in helping to remove the bad seeds and greedheads and assholes from their profession? Is it those who say that sexual stigma and sex hate is far more responsible for sexual assault and battery and the awful social conditions and the trafficking than legal, consensual, freely sought after and negotiated sex work?

Or…is the real presumptuousness actually perpetrated by wannabe “saviors” — whether they be fundamentalist Christians, radical feminists or militant atheists — who simply think that because they can sound urbane and concerned and “progressive” in a YouTube video, that gives them license to distort and deny the experiences and even silence the voices of actual practicing sex workers who are on the front lines and face the battle every day?

Maybe, the real presumptuousness lies in people who think of themselves as such experts in their field of vision that they retain the right to make stuff up as they go and change the rules to fit their ideologies at the moment….and still find time to find alleged fatal flaws in those whom they don’t quite understand.

Like most folks, I support and cheer Zinnia Jones when she waylays fundies for their flights of illogical fancy. I’ll probably favor her again when she busts the balls of Santorum or another antigay whackjob. And, I could care less whether or not she is really a she or a he, whether he’s just a crossdressing male or an intersexual being. I don’t judge people by their innate characteristics; I prefer to use more legitimate judgments such as actions and treatment of fellow human beings and other life forms.

What I do care about, though, is that when someone who calls herself a putative progressive starts belting out sex hating bullshit straight out of the Gail Dines/Catherine MacKinnon style book, and then attempts to silence and deny the existence and humanity of those she maligns, then I as a progressive human being have a moral duty to call it out, to say why it needs to be called out, and to correct the record with actual facts.

That, Zinnia, isn’t just rational.  That’s morally RIGHT.

Or, as funk Jedi Master George Clinton once said: “Free your mind…and ‘yo ass will follow.” Try that sometime, ZJ..and LISTEN for a change.

And speaking of listening….Divinity has a word or a hundred to say, too.

 

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Some More Education On Sex Positive Feminism And Sex Worker Activism From Carol Queen (Read And Learn, ZJ And Heather!!)

I had originally posted this as a page to my SmackDog Chronicles blog back in 2005-ish…it immediately came to mind when thinking of a response to Heather and ZJ.

 

Sex Radical Politics, Sex-Positive Thought,

and Whore Stigma

by Dr. Carol Queen

(From Whores and Other Feminists, ed. Jill Nagle (New York, Routledge Press, 1977, pp. 125-135)

I GROW MORE DISAFFECTED FROM POLITICS – both traditional and progressive – with every passing year.  Only one sort of politics keeps my attention, feels relevant, stays vital:  the politics of sex.  I don’t mean primarily feminism, the politics of gender, but rather what some people call sex radicalism.  Sex radical thought departs from both right- and most left-wing ideologies by honoring sex and desire and by posing the power relations of sexual orientation and behavior vis-à-vis the culture’s traditional sexual mores. What is illegal?  What is despised, and why?  What is transgressive; and what systems are shored up by the boundaries we transgress?

Sex Radicalism and Feminism: Not Always in Bed Together

As we will see, sex radical thought is both deeply feminist and also profoundly challenging to many attitudes and assumptions promoted by contemporary mainstream feminism.  While I continue to identify with feminism, I also regard it with some disappointment: though I feel that most of its core principles go without saying, I certainly do not feel their unmodified relevance to all areas of my life, particularly to sex.

Feminism has greatly influenced the intellectual development of sex radicalism, many of whose earlier theorists – Gayle Rubin, Pat Califia, and Carole Vance, to name just a few – were (and are) outspoken feminist women.  Feminism itself, however, does not embrace sex radicalism completely; nor is a feminist political analysis that is untouched by sex radicalism enough to unravel the various sources of sexual – not just gender – oppression.  Gayle Rubin notes in her influential essay “Thinking Sex” (1) that sex radicalism’s analysis focuses on oppression sourced in “the stigma of erotic dissidence”; feminism, by contrast, is a theoretical attempt to analyze and act against gender oppression, having no position on sex except where sexual issues are seen as devolving from gender inequality.  Feminism finds no shortage in gender-linked problems with sex – rape, spousal abuse and abortion rights are three examples that have spurred much feminist organizing and action – though I will argue that it is possible to cast this net too widely, seeing gender as the primary or sole issue where matters are more complex, as in lesbian oppression, S/M, pornography, and prostitution (just a few issues that have challenged mainstream feminism).

I myself grew up into feminist thought when it was fresh from its dalliance with ‘60s-style sexual liberation ideology.  A woman ought to be able to do what she wants with her body and her sexuality, I read in books like Sisterhood is Powerful and Our Bodies, Ourselves.  In my wholehearted agreement these became my feminist foundation.  I was treading water in a sea of hormones, beginning to experiment with partner sex, learning to masturbate, slyly managing to access forbidden books.  I wanted to know about sex; I wanted to feel powerful in it; I wanted to experiment, have lots of lovers, love both men and women; to be sexually free in a way I knew most women of my mother’s generation – and certainly my mother herself – were not.

For a time it seemed – at least, I believed – that feminism was my straight-forward ally in these desires.  But mainstream feminists, as it turned out, had never been entirely been comfortable with sex.  While I was happily devouring Sisterhood is Powerful at the age of thirteen, the National Organization for Women was trying to purge lesbians from its membership; not long after, Betty Dodson caused a heated stir – accompanied by walkouts – at one of NOW’s national meetings when she showed slides of vulvas.  Sexual representation, even that of women, was controversial within orthodox feminism long before the mainstream media discovered Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon.

The trail of my sexual fascinations, no less than my sexual politics, led me into the gay and lesbian community; and I stayed there from late adolescence through my twenties.  There I learned a lot about sexual freedom and living as an outlaw; I was out as a lesbian in a small city, where I got my share of hate mail and death threats.  I learned that many people are profoundly unwilling to let others live their own (especially sexual) lives.  I saw the politics not only in gender but also in sexual behavior and sexual identity.  Within a culture, power accrues not only according to class, race, and gender, but also by virtue of sexual orientation and behavior, actual and presumed.  Uneven access to power formed the very basis of the way my generation learned to understand politics, even though within feminism the phrase “sexual politics” meant something quite different than the politicized sexual dramas I saw playing out all around me.

The next fork in the road came when I explored S/M with a lover.  She was too nervous about other people’s opinions to let anyone know about our experiments in power-erotica, although I had heard rumors that in fact there was a small lesbian S/M support group within our community.  I learned from this how fearful of discovery over a sexual “kink” even someone who was sexually well-adjusted – and already living counter to social norms – could be.  Not long after, I began reading in the lesbian press that many women all across the country were conducting similar experiences; and that my lover had in fact been right to be worried about our community’s response.  The lesbian/feminist community was being torn apart by heated disagreements about what constituted appropriate lesbian sex.  In this context, more than the Maoism that had also influenced early radical feminism, I became familiar with the term “politically incorrect”. (That this term has been co-opted and used against feminists and progressives is only one of the bizarre political reversals faced by those of us whose politics were forged in ‘60s era notions of liberation.)

I had now learned that a key point in my understanding of feminism – that it is my and all women’s right to explore and define our own sexuality – was not universally accepted in the community of women who called themselves feminists. Arguments raged about sex and about sexual representation….that is, pornography.  Increasingly I found myself on the side that was being termed politically incorrect.  So when I heard the term “sex radical” for the first time, I knew before I even heard the definition that it applied to me.

Sex Radical, Sex-Positive

Sex radicalism means to me that I am automatically on the side of the minority sexual viewpoint or behavior; because our culture carefully and narrowly circumscribes what is acceptable, much of the sexual world gets left on the wrong side of the fence.  Sex radicalism also means that when I hear the voices of those who have been left out of the discussion, I choose to believe what they tell me about their own lives, even if it contradicts some “expert’s” opinion; it also means that I maintain my own sexual integrity, if not cultural popularity, when I follow my own desires and trust where they lead.

Sex radicalism is also profoundly feminist, and with good reason.  While many men are oppressed (in reality or potentially) for their sexual desires and practices, women are encouraged to never explore or experience sexual feelings in the first place.  We are supposed to exist sexually within a (married, monogamous) relationship with a man, or else not at all. When we do step across the boundaries of compulsory heterosexuality and “good girl” propriety, we are often treated viciously.  Women need each other’s support (although we do not always get it) to navigate the rough waters of living nontraditional sexual lives.  Mainstream feminists learned this lesson from lesbians, who would not withdraw their demand for support from feminist organizations and institutions; it has not, however, extrapolated what it has learned to women elsewhere on the sexual fringe.

Upon further exploring sex radical thought, I learned the concept of “sex-negativity”, which most of us in this erotically benighted culture drink in along with our mother’s milk.  I learned that there is indeed a community of people who are sex-positive, who don’t denigrate, medicalize, or demonize any form of sexual expression that is not nonconsensual.  In our general society – where sex is sniggered at, commodified, and guiltily, surreptitiously engaged in – being outspokenly sex-positive is sex radical indeed; for even those of us who love sex are usually encouraged to find someone else’s preferred sexual expression abhorrent.

I discovered sex-positive thought in various places: through my study of sexology; through my friendships with sexually adventurous others, especially gay men; in the leather community; and, perhaps most importantly, through meeting women who were both outspokenly sexual and feminist and who refused to let one quality cancel out the other.  These “sex-positive feminists,” as many of us have taken to call ourselves, embrace the feminist analysis of gender inequality, but challenge the silence or conservative positions of Dworkin- and MacKinnon-influenced feminism on sexual issues.  Many sex positive feminists are veterans of the feminist sex ward over pornography and S/M; and many are current or former sex workers.  Coming to a radical sexual world view, especially through my contacts with women who could relate to and who could mentor me through my confusion about sex and feminism, actually proved to be excellent preparation for becoming a whore.  When I did so, I discovered a world very different from the one for which the vague warnings of mainstream feminists had prepared me.  My comments are sourced in the whores’ world I have known; I do not intend to encompass the experience of those whores who do not work voluntarily, who are underage, and who act out the negative expectations imposed on them by a sexist and sex-negative culture.

 

Why Whores Need Sex-Positive Thought

Sources as disparate and discordant as Hollywood movies, right-wing Christians, and prominent feminists tell us that the sex industry make a career of pandering to men’s desires because, as victims of histories of abuse, we have no boundaries and sometimes no choices.  For some of us there is some truth to this; there are certainly people whose mental and spiritual health would benefit from getting out of the business, and they are well served by support in doing so.  But we learn next to nothing about those women for whom sex work is an excellent occupational choice and nothing at all about male sex workers – isn’t it a bit ironic that men are present in the sex industry in every capacity that women are, yet their lives, failing to fit neatly into theory, are simply ignored?

One orthodox feminist argument against whoring is that it gives men further sexual access to women; leaving aside whether reality is so simplifiable, how might they choose to argue against men having access to men?  And why aren’t more of them clamoring for women to have equal access to sexual entertainment and service?  These questions point to more fruitful areas of exploration about the nature of female and male sexual socialization, the reasons male patronize prostitutes (of whatever gender) and the place of sexual pleasure in male and female lives.  Sex-positive feminists find these questions compelling; mainstream feminists often do not even ask them.

As an activist in the sex-positive community, I have met well over a hundred prostitutes, a few dozen dominatrices, and a number of models and porn actresses – far more than have most anti-sex work activists and even most sex researchers.  Just one factor stands out to distinguish those who live well, with no loss of self-esteem, from those who may find sex work a difficult or even damaging career choice.  Most of the former have sufficient sex information and are sex-positive.  Most, too, are staunchly feminist, even though some of them refuse to embrace the term, associating it with women who do not understand their circumstances and who do not support their right to work and control their own bodies.  Most of the latter have internalized negative attitudes about sex, especially divergent sexual behavior, and certainly about sex work itself.

In this respect, the latter are no different from those who have devoted their lives to agitating against sex work.  None of these crusaders, whether they emerge from the Religious Right or the feminist Left, voices respect for sexuality.  (Rubin, in fact, calls mainstream feminism a “system of sexual judgment”(2) — an accusation its adherents have not yet managed to disprove.

If these activists truly wanted to improve the lot of sex workers (which, of course, they don’t; they merely want to do away with the sex industry), they would insist upon thorough and nonjudgmental sex information for clients as well as whores.  One basic piece of information would be that women – and whores – do not exist to be sexually used by men, but that any sexual interaction, including a paid one, benefits from negotiation.  This would facilitate the climate of respect that anti-sex work demagogues claim is absent in a paid act of sexual entertainment or gratification.  The paucity of sex-positive discussion about what is possible in a commodified context often negatively affects sex workers themselves.

In fact, when we whores see a client or when a peepshow worker or stripper interacts with a customer, the presence or absence of respect has much to do with how sex-positive the client or customer is – and something to do with our own sex-positivity. It also depends upon each person’s degree of self respect and presence or absence of sexual shame.  Men who have taken (and internalized) the most damaging blows around their right to sexual pleasure are among the most unpleasant clients to deal with.  Unfortunately, the well-publicized opinions of the anti-sex work crowd are highly judgmental about the motives of those who pay for sexual pleasure and entertainment.  I have encountered many men whose self-acceptance – and social skills – have been impaired by hearing too much media credence given to the opinions of people who are in no position to make even an educated guess about what friendly relations between whores and their clients would be like.  Sex-positive feminists are only now beginning to get enough media attention that their message can trickle down to these men and to other women.

Combined with our treatment by a sex-negative law enforcement and legal system and the notorious tendency of the police to think of aggressions against us as something other than crimes, many of us are routinely victimized – by police if not by our clients and customers.  Meanwhile, most of society looks the other way, including many feminists who are quick to point out how egregiously our clients are “abusing” us simply by giving us money for sex of erotic entertainment.  Feminists should be among the first to clamor for decriminalized prostitution, yet many remain silent and even vigilant in the fight to further criminalize prostitution.  Feminists should raise their voices in protest when police abuse whores or ignore our need for police protection.  Yet too often these voices are silent, even though these socially sanctioned abuses fall disproportionally on those most lacking feminist and other support: women of color, poor women, transgendered women.

Even when a supportive hand is extended, it often comes with a stipulation: get out of the business of do without help.  The not-so-silent message is: if you elect to stay in the sex industry you can expect abuse, and we can (will) do nothing to help you.  Parallel this to the deep (and deeply legitimate) concern feminists have shown to women in battered and abusive relationships; current thinking in the battered women’s movement emphasizes that women be supported where they are, not offered conditional assistance.

Some of us want out of the business, but many of us want to see conditions improve, with everybody else out of the way.  All of us would be served by a dose of sex-positive thought, which might allow us – many for the first time – to think of what we do as a professional service, not demeaning, on-the-fringe behavior.  An ever-increasing number of us want our sexually schizophrenic culture to look at the realities, not the lurid myths, of what we do; and to see that when sexual pleasure is seen as positive and honorable goal, much of the negative fruit of the sex industry is deprived of soil in which to grow.

Why Johns Need Sex-Positive Prostitutes

One stereotype has it that sex workers provide sexual relief to society’s “wretched”: the old, the unattractive, the unpartnered.  This myth can fetch us a certain amount of grudging respect even as it lets others (who can’t imagine having sex with such people) distance themselves from us – as if only the young and the firm are allowed to have a sexuality in the first place, and as if whores render a service by keeping unacceptable sexualities out of the public eye.  Certainly we count among our clients those who could fall outside the rather narrow limits of the erotically entitled.  We also count among our clients the married, the well-off, the conventionally attractive, the famous, the socially skilled: the inheritors of patriarchy.  Whores know, if no one else in society is willing to admit, that outside their relations with us, these men often have as little luck getting their erotic needs met as their “less fortunate” brothers.

One often frequently hears that whores are sought by kinky clients whose desires are unacceptable  to other people.  This, I think, is the source of part of the contention that clients want to abuse us; in spite of the fact that all over the country women are slurping on their partners’ cocks for free, experimenting with bondage, and arranging or at least fantasizing about threesomes, a large percentage of the U.S. population still considers activities like these beyond the pale, degrading, and abusive, even when consensually performed.  In fact many clients bring socially unacceptable desires to sex workers – or at least desires that are unacceptable in their own bedrooms. And until the climates in their bedrooms change, sex professionals will be among  their only outlets.  The anti-whore sentiment that grows out of the conviction that there is only one kind of appropriate sex and that all others are sinful and/or abusive (depending on the sort of morality embraced by the critic) is precisely the cultural norm in opposition to which sex radical politics grew.

Sex radicals see as a problem – and a source of oppression – in any one’s conviction that their own sexual patterns are right while someone else’s are wrong. Getting between the lines of the anti-sex-work ideologues’ reasoning, we find various concerns embedded but not often articulated: a married man is wrong to take his sexual desires to anyone but his wife; a married man is wrong to have sexual desires if his wife isn’t comfortable with them; oral sex is depraved; giving men an outlet for blowjobs will just make the man want them at home, and blowjobs are demeaning to women; sex is demeaning unless a romantic bond (or a Christian bond) exist between a couple; giving a man an outlet for any kind of sex, including sexual looking [voyeurism], will make him want more sex/kinkier sex, if a prostitute isn’t immediately available, he will harass/rape other women; getting sex from a professional is the same as infidelity; men should not have access to sexual variety; prostitutes carry HIV (to “innocent victims”).  (This says nothing of the numerous married men who actually patronize male whores; but again, this common situation is scarcely ever recognized and commented on by sex-work abolitionists, especially feminist ones.)

It is as though sex, especially male sex, is a bubbling cauldron of trouble, and if we don’t keep a lid on it, awful things will result.

In fact, this is precisely the lesson my mother tried to teach me. Her example, however, was not inspiring; and if all the women who rail against the sex industry have sexualities as closed as hers, the culture is in a painful, festering state indeed.  “Do you know,” she whispered to me wide-eyed some months after my father’s death, “your father tried to convince me to perform oral sex on him six times during our marriage?”

“Dad,” I thought, “you animal!  Once every five years!  Have you no self-control?”  More than once I’ve wished my distressingly buttoned-down dad – whose sexual unhappiness rubbed off on everyone in my family – had turned to a whore to let off some steam.

Like my parents, a majority of our clients have marriages marked by desire discrepancies and difficult communications about sex.  Many women have grown up being fearful about sex, either because of unpleasant experiences or because these feelings were inculcated in them at (sometimes literally) their mothers’ knees.  Others have grown up believing that sexual experimentation is wrong.  Feminism, when it successfully reaches to these women at all, rarely contradicts the deep sexual antipathy they carry.

The availability of paid sexual gratification and entertainment does nothing to improve these partners’ sexual relationships except, perhaps, to take the pressure off; it has been argued that having a valve on the pressure cooker actually preserves marriages like this by minimizing the impact of their sexual contradictions.  I’m inclined to believe this is true, but it still doesn’t cast a very rosy light on the situation; for one thing, are the women’s sexual desires being met in relationships such as these?  Not very likely!  My answer to the problem – universal sex-positive education and sexual empowerment for women – lies far away in the horizon.

Wives Need – and Can Learn From – Whores, Too

In the meantime, I think the unequal lot of these couples could be balanced somewhat by a growing availability of sexual entertainment for the women whose partners are going out and getting theirs by hiring professionals. Of course, this scenario would involve that our culture take a whole new look at women and sex.  The gander may not be ready to share the playground with the goose; but, just as importantly, women may not be prepare to take into the marketplace desires they’ve been trained to romanticize.  Much feminist theory has spotlit the ill effects on women’s self-esteem and autonomy of channeling sexuality into a relationship; but few feminists have suggested women could learn something by having more options for sexual fulfillment in the marketplace.  As with the question of pornography and its appeal/availability to women, many sex-positive feminists support more female-centered choices in sexual service and entertainment, the proliferation of which might well affect the entire sex industry for the better.  And if conflating sex and romance keeps women available for marriage (usually implying their acceptance of male control over their sexuality), how might detaching sex from romance serve to change what women desire from sex?

Viewed from a sex radical lens, whore stigma derives from whores’ sexual availability and presumes copious sexual activity.  From a sex-positive feminist perspective, most whores are available and sexually active on their own terms. It’s no wonder that whore stigma attaches itself more viciously to women than to men, for in this society a sexually emancipated woman is threatening and despised; neither “slut” or “whore” is a name most women want to wear.  Sex workers cross this line, either proudly or not, for money, adventure, or rebellion.  Would our client’s wives – or even many mainstream feminists – be willing to brave that stigma for a chance at sexual agency?  What about for the promise of greater solidarity among all women?  Early feminism tried to erase the whore stigma for just that reason; today’s feminist orthodoxy would often rather do away with whores.  Any issues that divides women – and this is one of the most potent divisions of all – is crucial for feminists to consider and resolve.

Other whores won’t necessarily agree with me, but I’d be glad to see sex work wither away because everyone became so sex-positive that a market for our services no longer existed. Perhaps then we could become the sexual healers and sex educators that many of us believe we (potentially or already) are.  Of course, we’re nowhere close to that utopia; in the meantime sex workers can help facilitate gratification for those who wouldn’t ordinarily get it, and we can all – whores, sex radicals, sex-positive feminists, and critics alike – continue to ask questions whose answers point to an increasing level of comfort and safety for sex workers (as well as, incidentally, for our clients).

 

A Sex Radical, Sex-Positive, Whore’s-Eye View

The stereotype about sex workers that says we are driven to this demeaning lifestyle by a damaged history must be exposed as the sex-negative and, yes, sexist crap that it so often is. (How eerily this parallels what used to be said about lesbians?)  This image is neither universally truthful nor even helpful for analyzing the situations of those whores whom it describes, unless the question is also asked: What separates those sex workers who experience their lives negatively from those who do not?  Abolitionists won’t ask this question, because it implies that there might be a strategy for creating a positive sex industry, but we whores and all our supporters, including sex-positive feminists, must ask it continually.  Abundant and accurate sex information, as I noted above, is a key determinant.

And while I maintain that it should be everyone’s right to do sex work, I hope people will consider their motives for it whether they are thinking about entering the sex industry or are already a veteran.  It is never too late for anyone to begin to root out his or her sex-negativity, and the whores who haven’t done so – those whose damaged lives and horror stories are so eagerly pointed to by the anti-sex-work activists, and even those who disrespect their clients’ desires – may lack the most important qualifications for the job.  It is the responsibility of the culture to work on its negative attitudes about sex and us and our work; but it is whores’ responsibility to work on our negative attitudes about ourselves.

The movement for sex workers’ rights should acknowledge that we have professional responsibilities and should assist every whore in meeting them.  Giving sexuality, the basis of our trade, the respect it deserves must be foremost among these.  In fact, as of this writing the North American Task Force on Prostitution has a subcommittee that is developing a code of ethics for whores.

Women and men who do sex and sexual entertainment for a living are targeted by laws as well as social opprobrium, and so are our clients and customers – though the latter form a shadowy, hard-to-recognize army.We are regarded more as outlaws than they are, and this can be one of our strengths:seeing, often with the support of other sex workers, that we constitute a group with different sexual norms, oppressed because of these differences, is the first step toward embracing radical politics and understanding that we are only one group out of many that have been culturally labeled and mistreated.A feminist analysis, too, helps us see ourselves as a group with shared circumstances, one for whom gender is by no means irrelevant.Certainly, we should have pride in ourselves and hopefully in what we do, and sex radical politics, along with a sex-positive belief system and a sex-positive feminist analysis, can go a long way toward ensuring that we develop that pride.

There is no sexual majority, although the whole society conspires to behave as though there were.Our clients – mostly married heterosexual men who show an illusory exterior of “normalcy” (whatever that useless concept means) – are also cross-dressers, anally erotic, bisexual, fetishistic, wrapped up in wild fantasies no traditional heterosexual marriage could ever contain.And what the “poor abused whores” lobby will never tell you is that many sex workers, too, are fetishistic, sexually curious, nonmonogamous by nature, and exhibitionistic, delighting in the secret proof our profession provides us that restrictive sexual mores are rupturing everywhere.

No one should ever, by economic constraint or any kind of interpersonal force, have to do sex work who does not like sex, who is not cut out for a life of sexual generosity (however high the fee charged for it).Wanting to make a lot of money should not be the only qualification for becoming a whore.We in this profession swim against the tide of our culture’s inability to come to terms with human sexual variety and desire, its very fear of communicating about sex in an honest and nonjudgemental way.We need special qualities, or at the very least we need a way of thinking that lets us retain our self-esteem when everyone else, especially do-gooders, would like to undermine it.

Activist whores teach, among other things, a view of our culture’s sexual profile that differs from traditional normative sexuality.Every whore embodies this difference each time s/he works.It is time for all whores to embrace this difference, to become ambassadors for sex and gratification.The politics of being a whore do not differ markedly from the politics of any other sexually despised group.We must include radical sexual politics in our agenda, becoming defenders of sex itself.Our well being and our defense depend on it.

 

Inviting Feminism into Bed with Us

And in the end, what does this have to do with feminism?

Today, mainstream feminism is a site for anti-whore activism, a locus for demagogues like Andrea Dworkin, Catharine MacKinnon, and Kathleen Barry to agitate for the abolition of our livelihoods and to lobby for our silencing.Ordinary feminist women are often swayed by their rhetoric and may have no opportunity to hear our side of the story.(Certainly every letter I’ve ever sent to Ms. has gone unpublished.)We have learned to our dismay that a woman’s feminism is no guarantee she’ll be open to sex radical thought; sometimes, sad to say, the opposite is true.Whores make other traditional feminists defensive about issues of sexual stigma, boundaries, and the nature of women’s sexual relationships with men.However, we could equally powerfully raise consciousness around these issues, since sex-positive whores have learned to sexually negotiate at the intersection of our clients’ desires, our limits and boundaries, and with regards to issues of safety and emotional well-being.Were we to be acknowledged by orthodox feminists as the experts we are, our voices could help push the feminist analysis of sex in positive, productive directions.This could only strengthen feminism’s appeal, since sexuality is such a powerful, and often problematic, issue in so many women’s – and men’s – lives.If feminism were to take seriously my question about what separates the experiences of women who hate sex work from those who thrive doing it, would that not have profound implications for the lives and sexual strategies of ordinary women?

Further, taking whores – whores, not just “degraded” ex-whores – seriously would support a feminist claim that is at the moment fatuous:that feminists care about the experience of all women and are open to learning from the experience of all women.Whores are only one of a multitude of groups who do not get an open-minded hearing in mainstream feminism today. 

It can be argued that whores labor on the front lines of patriarchy.Feminists really ought to be more interested in the things we see, hear, and experience there.Sex-positive feminists are, of course, and support the issues we consider important, including improved working conditions, safety, and freedom from harassment.They, unlike so many orthodox feminists, understand that we do not consider our work itself a form of sexual harassment; that many of the abuses committed within the sex industry have little to do, in fact, with sexuality; that we are not selling ourselves or our bodies (a reprehensible turn of phrase repeated, often as not, by feminists, who ought to have more concern for the power of language to shape reality) any more than does any other worker under capitalism; sex-positive feminists remember that any worker under capitalism is subject to mistreatment. [Note: My emphasis added here, for the benefit of you fellow leftists out there who will deny any concerns about economic discrimination.  -- Anthony]

They understand that we value our work when it allows us autonomy, free time, and a comfortable income; we often like living outside the narrow circle society circumscribes of ladylike behavior; we are not “good girls,” nor do we aspire to be; and we relish the opportunity our work provides us to learn secrets, to support our clients’ forays away from traditional masculine sexuality, to transgress restrictive boundaries and rebel against the rigid limitations created by our own fear of sex.

To what degree is the failure of mainstream feminists to educate themselves about us a result of their fear of sex and/or of being labeled a whore?Like many feminists’ antipathy toward lesbianism, this is a feminist issue with implications far beyond the politics of sex work.

Sex-positive feminist whores invite all women to consider these issues, confront their own whorephobia, and learn from us.

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How Some Liberals Still Don’t Or Won’t Get It When It Comes To Sex Positivity And Sex Work (Or, Educating “Queen Atheist” Zinnia Jones And Her BGF “Heather”)

It seems that every year or so, someone who is supposed to be on the right side of the sex debate needs to be educated on the basic facts about the term “sex positivity”.

Like, for instance, that it is NOT the polar opposite of “sex negativity”, or a mere turn of phrase used to condemn.

Or..that it encompasses the acknowledgement of ALL sexual experiences — good, bad, beautiful, ugly, mundane, or profane.

Or..that it is not only “grab your cocks and doff your jocks” or “hook up with as many people as possible”, but simply respect the experiences of those who might just like sex more than you do. (And, for those of us who might be of the latter, those who don’t.)

It seems like a no-brainer to say this, but sometimes it has to be said out loud, because nearly every month, someone who should know better always seems to allow presumptions and assumptions about “sex positivity” being nothing more than “fuck ‘em and leave ‘em”.

Or worse yet…allow their sites to become the messenger of outright antisex prejudice.

Unfortunately, Zinnia Jones — atheist/gay/transgender activist, YouTube warrior, and on most issues a proven progressive — decided to jump to the other side this week.

Basically, she got her girlfriend “Heather” to post a “guest editorial” video at her YouTube channel (with the transcript posted at Zinnia’s blog as well) addressing the fundamental differences between “sex-positive feminism” and the antipornography feminist opposition.

Problem was, though, Heather’s comments weren’t quite so even handed as she thought.

Here’s the original video, as posted to Zinnia’s YT channel:

For something that is supposed to be a balanced assessment, it sure seems to be tilted heavily towards the antiporn side, isn’t it??

Other YouTubers, such as Divinity33372 and FeministWhore and BobChaos23 have responded vigorously to Heather’s nonsense (their response vids will appear here anon), but I thought that a full detailed response here is also needed….especially since Zinnia has attempted to pooh-pooh critics of Heather by reducing them to the “Only sex workers can comment on sex worker issues?? Pshaw!!” card.

Wrong, ZJ…it’s not about the messenger, its the message.

Which I will now prove with a through fisking of Heather’s message. (Yeah, it’s been a while, but why should Gail Dines and Shelley Lubben get all the fun??)

Sex positive feminism is a relatively new movement in feminism which originated in the 1990s. It arose as a reactionary movement in direct opposition both to millennia-long patriarchal and usually religious movements against specifically women having sex, and opposition to second-wave feminists’ anti-pornography viewpoints. It is the idea that a woman’s sexual liberation is central to women’s liberation as a whole; that a woman’s freedom must include the freedom to have sex whenever, however, and with whomever she likes. Parallel goals include recognizing different kinds of beauty, and celebrating various sexualized expressions of beauty, masculine, feminine, and everywhere in between, including pornography and sex work.

Wrong right off the bat, Heather. The first group to call themselves “sex-positive feminists” came up in the mid 1980s, out of resistance to the efforts of the original antipornography feminist movement led by Andrea Dworkin and Catherine MacKinnon and Kathleen Barry and Shelia Jefferys. They were people like Gayle Rubin, Amber Hollibaugh, Pat Califia, Alice Echols and Carol Queen, and the first true manifesto of that movement was an essay titled “Thinking Sex” that Rubin wrote for an anthology called Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality in 1986. I know this because as a library rat attending both Southern University and the University of Southwestern Louisiana (now University of Louisiana at Lafayette), I used to read and sneak off copies of Rubin’s essay. So..not quite the “baby” movement you pretend to dismiss.

And also, Heather…most of us who call ourselves “sex-positive feminists” do agree about women having the right to have sex “whenever, however, and with whomever she likes”. What you miss is that we also fundamentally believe that women should have as much a right to say “Hell to the NO” if she does NOT want to have sex whenever she doesn’t want, or with someone she doesn’t particularly like, or at any particular time. It is as much about saying “No” as it is about saying “Yes”, and it’s essentially respecting the autonomy of a woman’s choices and decisions.

But why is Heather so obsessed with the “sex positives only want to have lots of sex” meme? Let’s read on to the next paragraph:

Opponents of sex positive feminism, sometimes derisively referred to as “sex-negative feminists,” argue that pornography objectifies women, sex work keeps women second-class and in a great deal of danger, and that the sex positive movement is not actually feminist but a disguised extension of male privilege – a movement which overwhelmingly makes colorful excuses for the objectification of women and favors men’s dicks. Sex positive feminists are sometimes derisively referred to as “fun-feminists.”

Yeah….it’s so “derisive” to refer to those like Gail Dines or Shelley Lubben or Melissa Fairley who would use the power of the state to smear and condemn and slut-shame women who choose to have more sex than they would allow as “sex-negative”. Of course, that doesn’t prevent Heather from dealing out the antiporn talking points and the old “fun feminists”  and “favors men’s dicks” slams..because when it’s done from her side, it’s just brilliant analysis, not hateful smearing.

For the sake of simplicity, I’ll refer to those on the feminist side of the opposition to the sex positive movement as anti-pornography. The division of feminism into sex-positive and anti-pornography feminism began in the 1990s and persists through today, and like any radical movement in its adolescence, sex positive feminism has brought enthusiastic and idealistic attention to some important issues – and has some glaring blemishes on its face.

For the sake of simplicity, indeed….because to Heather (and, by extension, Zinnia), only antiporn femininsts can be true feminists. And of course, only the “pro-porn” side has blemishes….the censorship and the intimidation and the collusion with the antifeminist Right on the antiporn side is just…well, a side show strategy.

And also…how lovely that the “sex-positive feminist movement” is the one labeled as “radical” and in its “adolescence”, even though it has endured for well over 30 years now. Considering how antiporn feminists have assumed for themselves the label of “radical feminism” for the past 40 or so years, one can wonder where Heather has been.

Sex positive feminism has been a positive force in the acceptance of queer sexuality. The movement places heavy focus on the acceptance and inclusion of different sexual orientations and gender identities, which was long, long overdue. It is also inarguably important that women be able to enjoy the freedom of having sex with whomever they want and whenever they want to do it. For too long over too many thousands of years, women’s sexuality has been institutionally controlled. Only recently has western culture stopped actually killing or shunning women for having extramarital sex, and there are still exceptions. Some eastern cultures still mutilate women’s genitals to keep their sexual expression in check. There is definitely a place for sex positive discussion in the gender equality movement.

Gee, Heather….thanks, I guess. Of course, as Divinity has stated, it is also sex-positive feminists and sex worker activists who have been at the forefront of transgendered rights, while most of the more devout antiporn “feminist” activists have been the most lacking, if not on occasion the most prejudiced. But, can’t give the sluts that much credit, because that would really screw up your “balanced” assessment…right??

Oh….and if you are going to call out sex pozzies for their elitism, Heather, it would really be a good idea not to practice elitism in your own analysis. I mean…”Eastern cultures”?? You do know that male genital mutilation is still quite popular in the US, right??

At the core of the rift between sex positive and anti-pornography feminism is their interpretations of what constitutes empowerment and oppression in the larger arena of female sexuality, from high heels and lipstick to submissives in sub/dom relationships to sex workers. Simply put, while anti-pornography feminists tend to view socialized aspects of female sexuality as coercion until proven innocent, sex-positive feminists see most of it as consent until proven guilty.

Of course, makeup and body modification has been around for millennia, long before the first porn movies were ground out of San Francisco grindhouses in the early 1970′s, and well before camcorders, VCR’s, and the Internet allowed sexually explicit media to become accessible to a larger audience. So, how is this exactly a “sex positive” versus “antiporn feminist” issue??

The anti-pornography crowd, for example, will often argue that high heels, miniskirts, and makeup are uncomfortable, expensive, and in some cases near-crippling, and that to call them empowering expressions of femininity is disingenuous and insulting. Sex positive feminists might argue that high heels are hot and if women choose to wear them, then they ought not be shamed either by agents of the patriarchy wishing to devalue them due to their visible desire for sex, or by their sisters in feminism who would take something as benign as an article of clothing and claim that it was oppressing women. After all, heels make their calves look good.

OK…so high heels, tank tops, bare midriffs, and miniskirts aren’t for everyone. Anyone who knows any credible “sex-positive feminist” who has even began to suggest that people be required to wear such material against their will under punishment of law, please raise your hand.

Again, the point is NOT that wearing high heels is sexy; the point is that women who choose on their own free will to wear such heels and miniskirts for the purpose of desiring sex from wiling and consenting men should not be condemned or prejudged (or abused or raped, for that matter). Which is EXACTLY what most of the most strident antiporn feminists do all the time…and what Heather is doing right now.

The same goes with things such as pornography and sex work, where anti-pornography feminists claim that a monetary contract for sex is oppressive and dangerous to women (and men, but disproportionately women), sex positive feminists claim that women can consent to these things as much as they can consent to sex without pay, or as much as they can consent to any other sort of work that pays them, and the only difference between getting paid to be a secretary and getting paid to be a sex worker is that sex outside of marriage is considered by the patriarchy to be improper and debasing for women.

While sex positive feminists certainly have a point by saying that women should be considered able to consent to sex in all contexts and can even consent to wearing things traditionally labeled sexy, and while they definitely have an argument that women should not be shamed or devalued because they look sexy or have sex for work, there are significant problems with these arguments.

“A point”?!?!? The ability to give and deny consent isn’t just an afterthought, Heather; it’s an essential part of female autonomy and equality. Why are you so willing to constrain women’s choices in the sexual arena, but no where else??

Full gender equality does not yet exist, and many of us are hesitant to join in enthusiastically on current ideals of sexiness in the contexts of interpersonal relationships, feminine presentation, and especially commerce. While sex positive feminists claim to be challenging those ideals, they are only doing so inasmuch as they intend to add to them with things not previously considered sexy (for example, fat acceptance). While there is certainly a place for that, there is also a pervasive and purposeful push for acceptance of the current ideals if that’s your preference. The idea that any sexual preference whatsoever is legitimate and natural, and is probably only considered bad because patriarchy, is to deny how overwhelmingly the current ideals benefit heterosexual men at the expense of the rest of us. How awkward and out of place would it be to hear a heterosexual man say that he was not in fact oppressed or anything, but simply wanted to burn his hair with styling tools, then put on those crippling shoes, revealing short shorts, and daily face paint because he thinks it’s sexy and therefore women think it’s sexy, and he likes women and sex? No one would mistake such an individual for empowered. If it seems absurd to expect from men, then it ought to seem absurd to expect from women.

Oh, hold up here. Is Heather saying that we shouldn’t accept personal choice and consensual adult relationships because “they benefit heterosexual men at the expense of the rest of us”??? You mean, like, lesbian relationships are harmed because porn is legal? Like, sex pozzies are responsible if a man decides to cross dress and calls it “empowering” for him?? Funny, but I didn’t think that it was Heather’s call to determine for other individuals what they consider “empowering” or “degrading”.

Furthermore, one woman’s discomfort is another woman’s fetish, and only someone hell bent on imposing her own myopic sexual tastes on others through shame and fear would dare to imply that a crossdressing man or a woman “dressing the slut” is such a cosmic threat to women as a whole.

Further to the point, this focus on expanding the ideals of beauty and sexiness so that everyone can have a slice to further empowerment for women is doing exactly the opposite of what feminists have been working toward for decades, and not for nothing. It keeps us locked in this asinine prison of a value system that teaches women they must be aesthetically pleasing to be sexually desirable and sexually desirable to be whole. Again, how awkward would it seem to base a movement on reassuring men that they’re all handsome? Or, to use a stereotype more often associated with men’s desirability, to assure them that no matter how little money they have, they’re rich so long as they’re confident?

Ahhh..the old “them damn sex-pozzies only want to put out for men and kneel to men’s dicks!!!!” card. The notion that many women may want to dress sexy for themselves because it makes THEM feel good about themselves seems to have bypassed Heather’s synapeses.  I guess that women discovering their clitori and the joys of self-induced orgasms through masturbation are simply the dupes of male pleasure, too??

And how nice for Heather to riff that sex-positive feminism entraps women in “patriarchy” by implying that only sexiness will get them over. Never mind that antiporn feminism continues to reinforce the same tired traditional stereotype that an assertively sexual woman is merely a vassal of men and a traitor of women, deserving of shame and abuse?

However, the biggest and most shameful crime of the sex positive movement is the cherrypicking of testimonials from sex workers of all sorts – from nude models to actors in pornography to exotic dancers to escorts – as though middle-class, healthy, educated agents of gender equality made up a significant portion of the industry’s representatives. The stories of hundreds of thousands of women who worked in the sex industry and experienced emotionally painful objectification, dehumanizing treatment, addictions, and abuse should not be dismissed as problems that can be erased by simply erasing pimps, and cannot be replaced with the assertion that sex workers are adults and therefore have agency and consent freely or that porn is healthy. Safe working environments and emotionally healthy consent simply are not components of most sex workers’ realities. Sex workers are overwhelmingly female and overwhelmingly unsafe. Scrawling the word “empowerment” over the sex industry is by far the sex positive movement’s largest insult toward women.

Yup…save the biggest damn lie for last. Heather may have missed the memo that plenty of sex worker organizations and activist sex workers have been attempting for decades to reform and transform the “sex industry” to make it more condusive for women and men; and that sex positives are more than aware of the pitfalls and dangers that lurk within doing sex work. If the environment for sex workers isn’t too healthy right now, it’s no help that antiporn abolitionists would rather wipe sex work off the map and undercut those efforts.

But, it’s still a baby. Maybe it will grow up someday.

Actually, it’s already fully grown and mature…which is more than I can say about Heather’s analysis.

I could say more, but I’ll let Div and this other active sex worker named “Amyi” take it away, since they say it better than I ever could.

 

 

 

 

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Why SlutWalk Is More Feminist Than Most Feminists Could Even Dream Of (Or, Reason #5,876 Why Gail Dines Is The Bill O'Reilly Of Radical Feminists)

Most of you know me as a fierce defender of and even sometimes worshipper of sexually assertive women.

It’s not because I aim to get into every one of their panties, either.

(Though, admittedly, the thought has crossed my mind a time or two. A day. OK, OK, an hour a day. Oh, all right…plenty of hours a day.  Hey, I’m an average man with feelings and working sex organs; can’t deny that.)

On the other hand, though, that desire for women who aren’t afraid to “play the slut”, if not even “BE the slut”, comes with an ethic and a responsibility to respect them as full human beings not reduced to the size of their chests, butts, or clits.

Even when they fully choose to show themselves off or put themselves out for their own sexual pleasure, it is fundamental that anyone worthy of having a human conscience remember that just because they put out does not make them your very personal sex doll or vibrator; and that outside of the fantasies they provide, they are and should be respected and given all the privileges of privacy that all women deserve.

Needles to say, that also includes the right NOT to be sexually assaulted, or to be catcalled against their will or consent, or to be judged by their style of dress.

Actually, that goes for all women in general, whether they choose to dress in a burqa, a business suit, or a tank top and miniskirt. Whatever they decide to put on (or take off) is inmaterial to whether or not they are available to you. If she wants you, she will say so; otherwise, just assume the default position of NO and move on. (And no, “maybe next time” does not mean “Yes” either…it means just what is says.)

It is depressing to actually have to type this in the second week of the fifth month of the year 2011, because the idea that a woman’s choice of clothing determing her supposed sexual availability and giving a green light to any rapist or other sexual assailant to ignore her stated rejections should have been put to permanent rest a long time ago.

What turns this into an even greater travesty is when the voices for “modesty” and forced chastity and browbeating women for their choices happen to call themselves “feminists”.  Nay…”RADICAL feminists”.

And this is why I once again have to drop another Gail Dines Stupid Radfem Right update on you. Not that I likeusing up valuable pixel space ripping on the Wheelock College professor/antiporn “leftist” activist/faux feminist, but when she goes like Bill O’Reilly and says something more astonishingly, breathtakingly, viciously boneheaded than her usual mimes about porn being the Great Male Patriarchial Capitalist Menace, I feel the need to write something before my blood pressure bursts.

This time, the “good” Professor has decided to sink her teeth into the unwilling neck of an emerging movement known as SlutWalk, which was designed to defend the right of women to wear whatever the fuck they wanted and resist rape and sexual assault in their own way.

SlutWalk originally started out in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, by a feisty group of feminists who got seriously pissed off when a Toronto policeman named Michael Sanguinetti decided to shoot his mouth off about rape prevention. Problem was, he blamed the victims of rape for their own accounts, directly implying that they wouldn’t be raped if they had just been a bit more selective with their style of clothing.  The direct quote from Sanguinetti (courtesy of The Guardian UK):

“You know, I think we’re beating around the bush here,” Michael Sanguinetti began, blandly enough, as he addressed the 10 students who turned up for the pep talk. Then he said: “I’ve been told I’m not supposed to say this – however, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised.”

Ahhh, yeah. Because the many women who didn’t dress “like sluts” and still managed to get sexually assaulted don’t quite matter, right?? And, of course, the men who do in fact attack women only attack women who dress like “sluts”, thusly, they should be given the benefit of the doubt that they are motivated solely by rampant lust rather than anger and violence and rage vented through sex…ahhh, really???

It was in anger of a different kind that some feminists in Toronto decided to directly take on Sanguinetti’s bullshit straight on and defend the notion of female sexual self-determination against such slut shaming and rape ideology. Thusly, Slutwalk Toronto was born online (and on Facebook), and a protest march organized..which has basically exploded and metasized into a worldwide movement against the mythology and etology of slut shaming.

Their manifesto released at the time of the original protests in Toronto speaks for itself; so I will simply reprint it in its entirity.

BECAUSE WE’VE HAD ENOUGH!

On January 24th, 2011, a representative of the Toronto Police gave shocking insight into the Force’s view of sexual assault by stating: “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized”.

As the city’s major protective service, the Toronto Police have perpetuated the myth and stereotype of ‘the slut’, and in doing so have failed us. With sexual assault already a significantly under-reported crime, survivors have now been given even less of a reason to go to the Police, for fear that they could be blamed. Being assaulted isn’t about what you wear; it’s not even about sex; but using a pejorative term to rationalize inexcusable behaviour creates an environment in which it’s okay to blame the victim.

Historically, the term ‘slut’ has carried a predominantly negative connotation. Aimed at those who are sexually promiscuous, be it for work or pleasure, it has primarily been women who have suffered under the burden of this label. And whether dished out as a serious indictment of one’s character or merely as a flippant insult, the intent behind the word is always to wound, so we’re taking it back. “Slut” is being re-appropriated.

We are tired of being oppressed by slut-shaming; of being judged by our sexuality and feeling unsafe as a result. Being in charge of our sexual lives should not mean that we are opening ourselves to an expectation of violence, regardless if we participate in sex for pleasure or work. No one should equate enjoying sex with attracting sexual assault.

We are a movement demanding that our voices be heard. We are here to call foul on our Police Force and demand change. We want Toronto Police Services to take serious steps to regain our trust. We want to feel that we will be respected and protected should we ever need them, but more importantly be certain that those charged with our safety have a true understanding of what it is to be a survivor of sexual assault — slut or otherwise.

We are tired of speeches filled with lip service and the apologies that accompany them. What we want is meaningful dialogue and we are doing something about it: WE ARE COMING TOGETHER. Not only as women, but as people from all gender expressions and orientations, all walks of life, levels of employment and education, all races, ages, abilities, and backgrounds, from all points of this city and elsewhere.

We are asking you to join us for SlutWalk, to make a unified statement about sexual assault and victims’ rights and to demand respect for all. Whether a fellow slut or simply an ally, you don’t have to wear your sexual proclivities on your sleeve, we just ask that you come. Come walk or roll or strut or holler or stomp with us.

Join us in our mission to spread the word that those those who experience sexual assault are not the ones at fault, without exception.

“No one should equate enjoying sex with attracting sexual assault.” Isn’t simplicity wonderful??

Remember, Clones, these are NOT porn performers or exhibitionists insisting on their right to walk the public streets naked at rush hour, nor are they sex workers calling for their right to walk the streets in front of the local high school. These are basically your mothers, your daughters, your girlfriends, your friends….in short, average women insisting that they, not some asshole policeman, can determine for themselves when to attract wanted sexual attention and when not to….as well as restating the essential truth that no woman should ever be blamed for being the victim of sexual assault, and that no man should be allowed to use the excuse of a woman’s state of dress as a “Get Out Of Jail Free” card or to ever justify sexual assault or battery.

Sounds like progressive feminism to me. Who would ever oppose that kind of movement against sexual assault, other than holy roller fundamentalists who insist on forcing chadors, burqas, and veils on women as a means of “protecting” them from the evil “male” desires??

Who, you ask?

Cueth the Professor from Wheelock College and antiporn activist named Gail Dines.

Of course, she was too chickenshit to post her observations from her home base in the US, so she (and another professor/rape “expert”, Wendy Murphy), decided to use the friendly pages of the Guardian UK to vent her spleen as to why SlutWalk is BAAAAAAAD for women and feminists, if not fundamentally antifeminist.

At least, anti- the kind of sexually restrictive, reactionary, closed-minded, fear-mongering “feminism” that Dines love to waddle in.

Most of her rant focuses on the stigma that the broader culture still attaches to the word “slut”…which she so lovingly not only approves of, but even uses as a wedge against those women stupid enough to accept their right to sexual self-determination not redeemed by her own radical feminist values. Some snippage follows:

It wasn’t long ago that being called a “slut” meant social death. No “nice” boy would take you home to meet his parents and no “good” girl would ever be your friend. At the same time, refusing to submit to sex meant you were a “prude” or “frigid”. In short, there was no right way to be. Things have improved a bit in that young women are more insistent on their right to sexual autonomy, but sexually active women remain vulnerable to harsh social judgments even as the mass media celebrate and encourage such behaviour. And research shows that the label “slut” still has long-term negative consequences, especially for younger girls.

Now, I’m not denying that such attitudes about women being “prudes” and “frigid” don’t exist among select few people….but notice how Dines turns it against women who do resist the stigma and who do declare themselves to be sexually assertive…as if they are the cause of the “negative consequenses” of rape. Of course, you will remember that the meme of “We’re just ‘prudes’ because we resist evil male sexuality!!” is a classic projection of Dines used to ward off charges that she indeed wants to censor sexualiy of women. To which the proper answer should be: “Well, if the shoe fits….”

The fact that more than 2,000 turned out to march around Boston Common suggests that women are, indeed, hungry for sexual autonomy. But something else was at work here: many of the banners protested the ubiquity of sexual violence in the lives of women. Signs made by protesters showed that women are angry with being blamed for male violence and fed up with the failure of the culture to hold men accountable. Clearly the theme of the SlutWalk has struck a nerve, with similar events being planned around the world, including one in London in June.

The organisers claim that celebrating the word “slut”, and promoting sluttishness in general, will help women achieve full autonomy over their sexuality. But the focus on “reclaiming” the word slut fails to address the real issue. The term slut is so deeply rooted in the patriarchal “madonna/whore” view of women’s sexuality that it is beyond redemption. The word is so saturated with the ideology that female sexual energy deserves punishment that trying to change its meaning is a waste of precious feminist resources.

So now, Dines and Murphy are attempting to steal the thunder of SlutWalk by claiming that their motives are not what they have explicitly stated themselves…and also attempting to undermind them by telling them that their mission is a failure because….the word “slut” is simply beyond redemption as a bludgeon of “patriarchy”.

You may note the thinly veiled implication that as a result, any woman who attempts to claim usage of the term as a symbol of sexual self-assertiveness and autonomy is, by Dines’ edict, a mere pawn of, if not a direct agent of, said “patriarchy”, and a useful idiot of “male sexuality” in opposition to “female sexual agency”. In other words, Dines simply paraphrases the long lived dictum of her predecessor and mentor, Catherine MacKinnon: “If ‘slutdom’ is a part of your sexuality, then you have no right to your sexuality.”

Oh, did I say “thinly veiled”??? The next few paragraphs state it far more explicitly:

Advocates would be better off exposing the myriad ways in which the law and the culture enable myths about all types of women – sexually active or “chaste” alike. These myths facilitate sexual violence by undermining women’s credibility when they report sex crimes. Whether we blame victims by calling them “sluts” (who thus asked to be raped), or by calling them “frigid” (who thus secretly want to be overpowered), the problem is that we’re blaming them for their own victimisation no matter what they do. Encouraging women to be even more “sluttish” will not change this ugly reality.

As teachers who travel around the country speaking about sexual violence, pornography and feminism, we hear stories from women students who feel intense pressure to be sexually available “on demand”. These students have grown up in a culture in which hypersexualized images of young women are commonplace and where hardcore porn is the major form of sex education for young men. They have been told over and over that in order to be valued in such a culture, they must look and act like sluts, while not being labeled slut because the label has dire consequences including being blamed for rape, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and self-mutilation.

Because, you see, according to Gail Dines and Wendy Murphy, calling yourself a “slut” simply enables men to think of ALL women as “sluts” in the negative “I want to rape them with impunity” way. In fact, the mere calling of oneself a “slut” engaging men to mere erections and sexual arousal is more than enough in this evil “porn culture” to encourage violence and degradation of women.

Naturally, Dines and Murphy are far too sophisicated as “radical feminists” to come out and say that maybe Officer Sanguinetti was right all along and that women who dress “sluttily” are to blame for their own violence  And, quite naturally, they are quick to place the fundamental blame on the rapists themselves and give the women a break as the ultimate victims of male assault.

The problem is, though, that their core ideology of laying the fundamental blame on “male rape culture”, fueled by porn, capitalism, and mere male erections, doesn’t really allow for women fighting for themselves to reclaim their own individual right to be safely sexually assertive, or to even dress the way they want. Indeed, in a back-door kind of way, they actually give plenty of tribute to the fundamentally repressive, conservative meme of “she asked for it” by basically accepting carte blanche without any proof of evidence the fact that men are at root evil rapists led by their erections to brutalize women.

It’s as if the fundamental fact that the overwhelming majority of men do in fact respect women enough to not assault them even if they are dressed in a way that sexually arouses them doesn’t even register with Dines or Murphy. Or, that most women are more than capable of negotiating with men the acceptable boundaries of consent and what is and isn’t acceptable behavior or contact based on time and place…and, more importantly, that women and men are able to have those boundaries enforced through mutual trust, consent, mutal pleasure, and, if needed, the power of the state.

Besides all that, Dines and Murphy conveniently gloss over the far more powerful institutions of society that do NOT reward women for “slutdom”, but in fact punishes them profusely through loss of respect, loss of self-esteem, and even loss of social and economic privileges, if not actual physical punishment. Porn performers may get paid a decent amount of money, but they don’t compare to Hollywood movie actresses or politicians or even CEO’s…and I’ll bet ‘ya not many of those are self-identified “sluts”. For every Cameron Diaz there are at least five Demi Moores; and Sarah Palin still makes more money than Lisa Ann could ever dream of. (Unfortunately, since Lisa Ann’s a lot more moral and accomplished than the Half-Governor ever will be. Even fully clothed.)

Of course, Dines and Murphy do have an alternative to promoting “slut” theology….unfortunately it’s the same old tired “authentic female sexuality” divorced from real fact or experience or orgasm, rooted in the usual radfem notion of “radical female sexuality” (or, what the old heads would call “radicallesbianism”) freed from the bounds of male dictums and demands…and of male erections, too.

Women need to find ways to create their own authentic sexuality, outside of male-defined terms like slut. The recent TubeCrush phenomenon, where young women take pictures of men they find attractive on the London tube and post them to a website, illustrates how easily women copy dominant societal norms of sexual objectification rather than exploring something new and creative. And it’s telling that while these pictures are themselves innocent and largely free of sexual innuendo, one can only imagine the sexually aggressive language that would accompany a site dedicated to secret photos of women.

While the organisers of the SlutWalk might think that proudly calling themselves “sluts” is a way to empower women, they are in fact making life harder for girls who are trying to navigate their way through the tricky terrain of adolescence.

Women need to take to the streets – but not for the right to be called “slut”. Women should be fighting for liberation from culturally imposed myths about their sexuality that encourage gendered violence. Our daughters – and our sons – have the right to live in a world that celebrates equally women’s sexual freedom and bodily integrity.

How nice that two women who  have no problem sharing the dais with such prominent progressive “feminists” as Patrick Trueman, Shelley Lubben, and Judith Reisman, can lecture other feminists on what they should represent as “authentic female sexuality”. And how even nicer that they can promote their version of “It’s not your fault, but close your damn legs and cover yourselves up anyway, because you are enabling the men to leer and that’s raping us anyway” as a means of “sexual freedom” and “women’s autonomy”.

I’ll take Susie Bright and Nina Hartley’s brand of feminism over this crap any day of the week.

And I’ll STILL respect a woman’s right to say “HELL NO” and mean it, and still say “YES” and mean that, too.  Whatever she chooses to wear.

I love and worship sluts — the real ones and the wannabes just playing for fun — just too damn much to degrade and disrespect them as much as “feminists” like Gail Dines do.

But, she wouldn’t be the Bill O’Reilly of radicalfeminists otherwise.

And Slutwalk wouldn’t be the best of legitimate progressive feminism if they didn’t incur her wrath. All the better for them, I say.

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