We've all done it.

We’ve all done it.

I love Nickelback.

Since the dawn of time it has been quite trendy to hate them. But with last summer’s resurgence of normcore, maybe Nickelback finally has a place in the lexicon of pop culture’s tastemakers.

And this is Stripper Music Monday and since when do strippers give a fuck about being ahead of the curve regarding trend forecasting? We don’t. We care about money. When the DJ makes some lethargic attempt at a beat-match to crank up the latest Nickelback jam, a stripper knows she’s about to make some coin.

Because every single Nickelback releases immediately becomes the next douche anthem.

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malesexworkers

 

Week in Links recently linked to the new book Male Sex Workers; the Advocate featured an excerpt from it this week.

The new documentary Invisible follows former sex worker Richard Holcomb as he does HIV/AIDS outreach with male sex workers in Providence, Rhode Island.

Despite the lurid hysteria and funding opportunities offered by the specter of sex trafficking, labor trafficking continues to be the largest form of trafficking and the most ignored.

A sex worker in Mumbai has been arrested, accused of strangling and igniting a cop who came to her door, allegedly looking for repayment on a loan he made to her.  Given the notorious brutality and extortion Indian police treat sex workers to, it seems fair to suppose there is more to this story.

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Phillip and Elizabeth showing off sex worker skillz with their wig stylings (Screenshot from The Americans)

Phillip and Elizabeth showing off sex worker skillz with their wig stylings. (Screenshot from The Americans)

Whether we’re dancers or dommes, escorts, cyberworkers, or some combination or variation thereon, we don’t see ourselves on television very often, and when we do, it’s often a balancing act between how disappointingly horrible the portrayal of people who do what we do is, and our excitement that we’re there on screen at all (I’m looking at you, entirety of  Satisfaction season three). Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a show that’s all about sex workers, but puts the lives of sex workers ahead of the work of sex workers? Wouldn’t it be cool to see sex workers managing romantic lives, children, and the ups and downs of a weird job that not a lot of people understand, without the underlying hysteria of  “everyone you see is in the process of ruining all that’s good in their lives”? A show that covers jealousy between sex working partners, and violations of trust, and even clients who act out, sometimes violently, without the implicit sentiment behind it all being “well, what did you expect?”

I have good news and bad news for you. You need look no furtherThe Americans is just what you’ve been waiting for: a wonderful, heavy-hitter cast; gorgeous, tight scripts; a miraculously not-grating commitment to early 80s period production design; overall, a show that has as much effort and love poured into it as a Deadwood or a Twin Peaks. All of this, lavished on an ensemble cast of sex workers from a variety of different backgrounds. And while dead bodies certainly abound, not a single one fits patly into any of the dead hooker tropes that make up the bulk of our representation on television, given that nearly all of the bodies are rendered corpses by our intrepid band of sexually laboring heroes. This is a show about men and women performing professional sexual labor that’s garnering millions of viewers, critical acclaim and has a third season around the corner.

What’s the catch? If the lead couple, Elizabeth and Phillip Jennings (née Nadezhda and Mischa) filed their taxes honestly, they’d list themselves as “spies,” not sex workersthe show opens in 1981, just after Reagan’s election, as the two of them struggle to raise two children who have no idea that their parents are deep-cover Soviet spies. But a huge portion of their work is emotional and intimate labor, as they manufacture both long and short term sexual and romantic connections in service to their calling. In this sense, Phillip and Elizabeth represent the epitome of the “empowered, happy hooker,” working not just for personal fulfillment, but to further a world-changing, patriotic cause. Lest you tune out in understandable boredom at this point, never fearthe viewer doesn’t get even as far as the end of the pilot before this rosy view of sleeping with the enemy is challenged and complicated, as Phillip tries to convince Elizabeth to defect after a mission goes awry and unexpectedly kills a colleague. While the existence of further episodes spoilers the fact that they ultimately stay on task and loyal to their homeland, the debate accurately oracles the murkiness of transactional sex for a cause that characters continue to struggle with as the seasons progress. Like anyone with a difficult job, both Elizabeth and Phillip sometimes fall prey to doubts about the rightness and value of what they’re doing, but even as they grapple privately with their life choices, they publicly keep chugging through their work without faltering, not unlike the way we all manage to finish that call despite dealing with burnout, frustration, or not liking our job in the first place.

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Mother's Day protest at an Arizona prison (Photo by PJ Starr)

Mother’s Day protest at an Arizona prison. (Photo by PJ Starr)

I spoke to sex worker rights film maker and photographer PJ Starr about her upcoming documentary film, NO HUMAN INVOLVED, on the death of Arizona street worker Marcia Powell through prison brutality. The interview that follows is a composite of a week of e-mails between the two of us.

Who was Marcia Powell? 

Marcia Powell was arrested in 2008 for solicitation of prostitution and was sentenced to 27 months in Perryville Prison, a women’s prison located in Goodyear just outside of Phoenix, Arizona. In 2009, while she was serving that sentence, she was left in a cage in the sun during the heat of the day for hours. She collapsed and some hours later died in a hospital in Goodyear when the Director of the Arizona Department of Corrections had her removed from life support.

Marcia should not be and cannot be defined solely by her death. Marcia Powell was a parent; she named one of her children—her daughter—Eureka. A former partner described her as “so beautiful she would stop traffic.” Marcia loved coffee, everyone who knew her in prison mentions that. She had experienced mental health issues, that was clear, but as one of her friends from Perryville said to me during an interview, “she had good sense.” On one hand, there is the public figure that Marcia came to be after her death, but, as is always the case, her story is much more nuanced than what we can contain in one news story. At points in her life she did not even choose to be “Marcia Powell.” She sometimes used another name, but in prison, her ID name Marcia Powell came to be how she was known and is now remembered.

How did you get the idea to make a film about her death?

Firstly, in 2009, when Marcia Powell died, my friend Cris Sardina (who is now the co-coordinator of Desiree Alliance, but then was involved with the Women’s Re-Entry Network in Arizona) sent me an e-mail telling me about what had happened. Cris’ message put the story in my mind and I continued to think about it for a long time. Secondly, I was given a space to be part of the Filmmakers’ Collaborative at the Maysles Institute in 2010 and the collaborative focused on writing a treatment for documentary film. I proposed three ideas to the other filmmakers and every person in the collaborative advocated for me to make a film about Marcia Powell. That was a wake up moment for me to think that other people outside of the movement for sex worker rights would be so affected by the story, so I prioritized the film. I thank the other filmmakers at Maysles for helping me see what was important for me to pursue.

What is the intended audience of your film? What would you like viewers to learn about the prison system and survival sex work by watching No Human Involved?

I am very proud that we have the genre of representation that has been carefully encouraged by people like the incomparable Carol Leigh, and I am always keen to make films that speak to the sex worker community, but I have been working on this film with the aim of having a broader audience as well. I am aiming for the film to also resonate with people who may care about human rights or women’s issues already, but who really have not yet had information about what I am starting to think of as a conveyor belt that moves people along via arrests for prostitution, or related issues like “trespassing” of “camping” in urban areas, to the court where they have no choice but to plead guilty, to the prisons where they are at the mercy of a brutal system of incarceration.

In the promo video for your film, Peggy Plews laments, “How can sixteen people pass by a human being in a cage—defecating over herself and pleading to be let out—and do nothing?” Where does this systemic brutality come from? How can we combat it?

Yes, how can so many people ignore someone who is begging for water? Incarceration relies on categorization, dehumanization and a hierarchy of command that distances each person from responsibility. Part of the problem that day was that Marcia was not seen as a person in a cage by the officers walking by. She was viewed as an irritant, a thing to be ignored until the sounds (i.e., her pleas) stopped. But no matter how responsible those individuals are for what happened, there is equal responsibility held by the people who have designed the current approach within the Arizona Department of Corrections. People who institute and maintain systems of brutality have a vested interest in erasing its history so that it seems that the the system is “normal” and permanent, and that there is no way to create change.

The first step to being involved in change is then to learn how the system was set up so we can dismantle it. One excellent resource is the book Sunbelt Justice by Mona Lynch, which explains how Arizona’s carceral policies developed and the role that their approach plays in America’s current system of mass incarceration. Another step in combating brutality is to be in solidarity with prisoners, because wherever there is injustice there is always resistance. And perhaps one more element to remember is to keep an open mind about who can be part of standing up against the abuses as allies. There are people who have worked in Corrections who challenge the dehumanization and who have questioned what happened to Marcia Powell. The system is not as invulnerable to criticism from within as the leadership might want the public to think.

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This is a burner. (Picture via Flickr user Peter Wells and the Creative Commons. )

This is a burner. Skip the burner app and just get a burner phone. Bonus: Dick pics will barely be recognizable. (Picture via Flickr user Peter Wells and the Creative Commons. )

Sex workers in Cape Town protested to emphasize the five murders in two months and demonstrate against police harassment, pointing out the vulnerability caused by their illicit status and calling for decriminalization of sex work in South Africa.  The trial of Zwelethu Mthethwa for the murder of 23-year-old sex worker begins in November.

The Atlantic shoots down that oft-cited and inflammatory statistic “the average age of entrance into the sex industry is 13,”:

Average age of first intercourse for the children we interviewed [210 children total] was 12 years for the boys (N=63) and 13 years for the girls (N=107). The age range of entry into prostitution for the boys, including gay and transgender boys, was somewhat younger than that of the girls, i.e., 11-13 years vs. 12-14 years, respectively. The average age of first intercourse among minority boys and girls was younger than that of the non-minority youth we interviewed, i.e., 10-11 years of age for minority boys and 11-12 years of age for minority girls.

(emphasis added)

Tits and Sass issued a correction earlier this week about the authorship of “Sex Work And Partner Violence: How We’re Forced To Negotiate Our Own Abuse“: the piece was written by our new contributor Ruby Rue, not by Victoria Joy.

The potential influx of clients attending different conventions at Nova Scotia’s new, as-yet-unbuilt, convention center is causing the traditional speculation about a boom season for sex workers, though also acknowledging that the construction phase and first ten years of operation will “create almost $190 million in tax revenues and nearly 30,000 ‘person years’ of employment” which should in itself be a plus for local sex workers.

Disregarding the findings that big sports events may not be the client draw that newspaper headlines always assume they are, Dennis Hof plans to open a brothel in Glendale, AZ  in time for the Superbowl. Check out the link for the inexplicable accompanying illustration: are those cleats popping out of her backseam?

Warning!  Burner apps recycle phone numbers, which presents some problems for sex workers who use them. A researcher inspecting features of a VOIP burner app got the former number of an escort, whose clients hadn’t been updated with her new number. [READ MORE]

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