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what purpose did i serve in your life (2013)

mariePrior to the publication of her debut novel, Marie Calloway was best known for the stories “Adrien Brody” and “Jeremy Lin.” There’s been a lot of commentary on the sexual themes in Calloway’s text, but no discussion by sex workers of Calloway’s treatment of her month escorting in London. Charlotte Shane and Caty Simon rushed to fill that void.

Caty: I guess I should start with full disclosure: I have chatted a bit over the past few months with Marie Calloway on the internet and she seems to be really sweet for a literary enfant terrible. But I didn’t know her from Adam when I first read her work in 2011.

Charlotte: I feel strangely protective of her in spite of never having met or corresponded with her. So it’s good to air out our biases.

Caty: I’d like to focus on the parts of her book examining sex work, because otherwise we could be here all day having the same debate that’s consumed the rest of the media about whether she’s a worthless narcissist whose very existence is endemic of essential problems with confessional writing, women and sex, and internet culture, or whether she’s a brave, feminist descendant of Bataille and Jean Rhys, who galvanizes strong responses from her readers because people are uncomfortable with her brilliance and…blah blah blah, you know where this is going.

Charlotte: Right, we’ll stay limited to T&S relevant moments.

Girl, Undressed (2008)

afouler3 by Caty and Red

12/9/2013 update: Yesterday, several commenters pointed out that speculating on the author’s trauma history was inappropriate of us. Upon reflection, we agree that this was specious and unnecessary, and apologize deeply for doing so.

Red: I love stripper memoirs; I buy them all indiscriminately and hope for the best. Strippers are like my family, people I love and hate and get driven crazy by but keep returning to. So you know I read Girl, Undressed when I found a copy at Powell’s. And I hated it. When Caty asked if I wanted to co-review it, I got giddy at the idea of sharing my outrage. Is there anything more fun that being righteously furious with a friend?

For those of you who haven’t read it, Girl, Undressed follows Fowler on a dank and seamy voyage, to places only “the ruined” (her term) can sink. She stumbles around early 2000s Manhattan, a weary traveler promising a glimpse at a New York not “vacuum-packed and delivered to your tastefully decorated abodes via HBO… there’ll be a sad lack of shopping expeditions to Bergdorf’s to punctuate each chapter’s end.” In other words, Fowler is not Carrie Bradshaw (but then who is) and I’m also gathering that she’s not writing this for me or her sisters-in-degradation/fellow strippers.

Activist Spotlight Interview: Melissa Gira Grant on Playing The Whore and Policing The Policers, Part Two

Melissa Gira Grant (Photo by Noah Kalina)
Melissa Gira Grant. (Photo by Noah Kalina)

Part one of this interview is here.

You encapsulate the tired terms of the sex worker debate, in which the token sex worker is asked reductifying questions ad nauseaum: Is sex work exploitative or empowering? Is it violence against women? How can we help women (always women, and always cis women, never sex working men or trans women) “exit” the industry? And so on. (I think back to a radio interview I did recently with a progressive, well-intentioned interviewer, which I thought was going to be about how anti­-traffickers hurt sex workers, but which turned out to be “Blind Date with a Hooker,” take #1001–what’s a nice girl like you doing in a movement like this?) You claim we should refuse to engage in these stale performances. But given that we often have no access to the public except through this media ritual, how do we change the terms of this conversation to our benefit?

It’s not easy to get around the debate, let me just start there. Here’s a few ways I try, with the gigantic caveat that these don’t apply to all opportunities. When I do speak in public about sex work, including to other members of the media, a line I draw right now—upfront—is that I don’t speak about my personal experiences in sex work. I’ll tell stories about what I’ve seen in my work as a journalist, and before that, I would tell stories about my work as an advocate or organizer. Just doing that can be enough to deflect the cliched kind of stuff, like wanting to know why you got into sex work, all the stuff that seems designed not to humanize you but to decide how “representative” you are. Depending on the outlet, you might even be able to turn that around. At the last debate I did agree to do, I turned to the anti-prostitution “side” and asked her, after she had insinuated that all sex workers had been abused as children, that I wondered what had happened in her own life, that had made her come to that conclusion. It was dramatic, but that was the point, and the whole room snapped to attention at the provocation—why was she allowed to ask those questions, and why wasn’t I?

I’ve also turned down opportunities when I thought I was being brought in to play a part or just stand in as a caricature. Sometimes that’s quite obvious when someone approaches you—like when a business news cable network wanted me to come on and argue why prostitution should be taxed and legalized, something I’ve never argued for, not that it prevented them from telling me what my argument would be. Sometimes it’s more subtle—like when you’ve been asked to do a panel and you realize that of everyone there, you are the only one who is a out as a sex worker, and now there’s quite a lot of weight on you to represent everything about sex work. It’s still a hustle, all of it. Sometimes you can turn the conversation around, and sometimes a producer has already decided how they are going to cast you. And if being public is something you want to do, you don’t have to do it alone. Red Umbrella Project has a guide for navigating the media and sex work, how to deal with combative interviews, how to package a soundbite, how to vet the media. And just as sex workers keep lists of bad clients, I encourage people to keep lists of bad media. Screen them, and check in with other sex workers—I’m still doing that, because odds are if some reporter just emailed everyone they could find online looking for a source on a story, you probably know someone else they emailed.

Or—another way around all of it is what you’re doing here—make your own.

Off the Street (2011)

 

I was excited to read and review Off the Street. The true story of Las Vegas vice cop Christopher Baughman, leader of the Pandering Investigation Team (PIT) and Human Trafficking Task Force, it seemed like the perfect read for a sex-work-loving, law enforcement supporter such as myself.

The story begins when a prostitute on the Strip is beaten for two days by her pimp, who’s also the father of her son. Baughman becomes her crusading investigator, despite the victim’s objections to leaving her attacker. Baughman seems to understand the cycle of violence and abuse with which he’s so familiar, and acknowledges the woman’s reluctance to assist in the case. He acknowledges that there are indeed “bad” cops:

“I understand that the power of the badge can only amplify qualities in a person. For instance, a good man with a badge can only amplify qualities in a person. … There are others who carry a badge and feel an automatic sense of entitlement. They might bend over backward for some citizens, but declare in the same breath that any ghetto is just a self-cleaning oven. These men have also become my enemies. I have no use for them. They have dishonored their position, slighted the city I love and tarnished the badge that I carry.”

“There Can’t Be Numbers:” An Interview With Laura Agustín, Part 2

Yesterday, we posted Part One of an interview with Sex at the Margins author Dr. Laura Agustín. Today we present our second and final segment.

It’s incredibly common now to see abolitionists argue that when prostitution is legal, as it in Amsterdam, trafficking only increases. What does the most current research actually suggest? 

Everyone wants this thing called research to prove one position or another, but it can’t. Even if there were enough funds to do massive studies with a range of methodologies and amazingly objective researchers, the target is impossible to define and pin down. It’s the same problem as with numbers, the fact that the subjects of interest are operating outside formal networks. Of course you can have small ethnographic studies that provide real insight into particular people at a certain time and place, but those studies cannot prove anything in general. And certainly not about legal regimes, as in the quarrel over which causes more exploitation.

Over a very long period we may come to understand the effects of a regime like the Dutch, but it is too early now. I did research in Holland amongst people concerned with how the policy was working in 2006, when it was already clear that offering regulation only brought part of the sex industry into government accounting. Businesspeople interested in operating outside the law continued to do so; many escort agencies and other sex businesses refused to register; migrants not allowed work permits came and worked anyway and so did people facilitating their travel and work, and, in many cases, exploiting them. None of which proves that the whole system ‘increases trafficking’. You cannot even coherently discuss an increase in trafficking when there are no baseline figures to compare with. On top of which agreement about what everyone means by the word trafficking simply does not exist. This goes for both the Dutch situation and the Swedish – claims about trafficking going up or down cannot be proved.