St. James Infirmary, the famed San Francisco clinic that specifically serves sex workers and their families, kicked off their new ad campaign this past week. After working (unsuccessfully) to advertise the clinic on billboards, the campaign found a home on the San Francisco Muni. Through November 11, 50 SF Muni buses will display their posters, with the tagline “Someone you know is a sex worker.”
(It’s true, by the way. It’s funny how many times, when I’ve shyly come clean about my deep, dirty secret career, the reaction has been not just apathy or curiosity, but a “me too.”)
There are only two kinds of whores in the media and in the minds of most feminists; the gorgeous rich glamazon and the beaten-down junkie whore. Hilariously, you can be both. You can also be neither. In fact, I’d say that most sex workers in the developed world fall along the axis somewhere in the middle and shift up and down depending on their circumstances. This binarist thinking is largely due to feminists appropriating sex worker’s experiences for their own selfish ends; the good whore supports the sex posi agenda and the bad whore supports the radfem agenda.
SWOP (Sex Worker Outreach Project) is the most recognized name in sex workers’ rights advocacy in the U.S. Currently, they have over 25 chapters around the country, and a board of directors—SWOP National. The only requirements to be a chapter are that March 3rd (International Sex Worker Rights Day) and December 17th (International Day To End Violence Against Sex Workers) are recognized in some way. To avoid outing and endangerment, SWOP does not require its members to identify as current or former sex workers, though the board’s president must always be an out sex worker herself.
Savannah Sly, SWOP National’s president, newly elected in the spring of 2015, e-mailed us about the mistake the SWOP National board felt they’d made not supporting Oklahoma City serial cop racist Daniel Holtzclaw’s victims more as an organization. This mistake highlighted long held bad feeling about SWOP among sex workers who felt the organization did not stand up for sex workers of color, survival sex workers, and other less privileged members of the community. SWOP National wanted to address the community publicly about their commitment to working on these problems. I asked Sly if I could interview her about the way the organization worked and its goal to be more inclusive. The following is an abridged version of our ensuing e-mail conversation:
Koch Industries is one of America’s largest privately owned companies and a major funder of conservative political causes. You can read about the Koch brothers (there’s family drama in addition to coverage of their Tea Party-supporting ways) in a couple of thorough articles from last summer in New York and the New Yorker. Currently their involvement in the election of Wisconsin governor Scott Walker and support of his union-busting ways is making news. Nothing says “America!” today more than billionaires working to kill collective bargaining rights.
They make a lot of products, but one of them is of particular interest to those of us in the various clothing relocation services sectors: LYCRA® spandex. I encourage you all to check the tags when you’re buying tiny stretchy clothes at the hootchie boutique, and boycott that particular brand of spandex. Avoid COOLMAX® sports bras while you’re at it, too.
Long ago before I had ever begun to use the term “sex work” or could even have guessed at what aå Sex and Justice conference would entail, I began processing my experiences in sex/work by telling my story. For a long time I kept that story in the place where I had left it: journals, then later in an edited and now-forgotten anonymous blog. I open up about parts of it here and there and I wonder, and worry, about the consequence of being completely open and honest and telling the whole story in a place that is not private or anonymous.
I went to the Sex and Justice conference in Ann Arbor to try to figure out what it is about sex that invites regulation and criminalization. More and more, however, I began to focus on the act of telling stories about sex (particularly when criminal law is a part of it): the consequences, obligations, and complications of telling something that is personal and yours alone. Speaker after speaker, in the context of “sex and justice,” had something to say about sex workers telling the truth of their experience.
At the first plenary (Sex and the State: Registries, Rights and Punishment) Deon Haywood, executive director of Louisiana’s Women With a Vision had 10 minutes to talk about her group’s successful “NO Justice” campaign. The campaign had successfully overturned a 19th century “Crimes Against Nature” law, which required people who offered oral or anal sex for money to register as sex offenders—disproportionately affecting poor women, people of color and trans individuals.