Health

via Flickr user 401 (K) 2012

via Flickr user 401 (K) 2012

Next Monday is the deadline to sign up for health care under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), if you don’t already have insurance you want to stick with. Here in New York City, we at Persist Health Project, a peer-led group that connects sex workers with non-judgmental and affordable health care, have been linking our friends and community members up with ACA “navigators” (grant-funded folks who walk you through the application) from Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, our local LGBTQ service provider, to help them through the process. We’ve also partnered nationally with the Sex Workers Outreach Project Chicago (SWOP) and HOOK Online to offer anonymous, online chats about the ACA to answer questions, get folks signed up and help them get into care that works for them (the final chat before the deadline is this Thursday, March 27th at 10 pm EST).

In the process of chatting with sex workers about the ACA, people have talked about various roadblocks they’ve had, especially around having to report income, which is one of the essential steps in insurance enrollment. As one community member told us, “The first thing they did was ask about my income. I just quit right there. I still don’t have insurance.” Getting insured and finding health care can be a frustrating process for anyone, but it’s particularly trying when you don’t feeling comfortable sharing how you make money, or may not even be certain how much you make in order to report it. Most people in the US have had some kind of trouble signing up on the Healthcare.gov site by themselves, and it’s also a time-consuming process (they estimate it takes about 45 minutes to an hour and half to fill out everything, and that’s with an ACA navigator assisting you). [READ MORE]

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via flickr user panavatar

via flickr user panavatar

VICE sent a reporter to Florida to report on the ass shot underground, where not-doctors inject everything from Fix-A-Flat to mineral oil into the buttocks of those seeking a bigger booty. Last week the accompanying documentary debuted online, and it’s worth watching, but be warned that the images of procedures-gone-wrong are horrifying. Reporter Wilbert Cooper talks to Miami-area plastic surgeons and follows Corey Eubanks, who is on probation for charges related to an association with Oneal Ron Morris, “The Duchess,” who had one of her clients die from complications from injections (there is some misgendering of Morris at the beginning of the documentary when Cooper is speaking with a detective about the case). There’s a segment in famous Miami strip club King of Diamonds where Cooper interviews dancers about their procedures and one dancer tells him that she estimates 75% of her coworkers have had some kind of ass augmentation. [READ MORE]

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lanlan1

Lanlan conducting legal training conducted at Xin’Ai’s office. Photos courtesy of the author.

Willa Dong reached out to us as a translator/liason for Chinese sex worker activist Lanlan, who founded the Xin’Ai Home. We’re very happy to have Lanlan’s account of working to create and grow an NGO from the ground up. For more information on detainment of sex workers in China, as well as general background, read this report by Asia Catalyst, an organization that has worked with Lanlan in the past and to whose blog Dong has contributed to.

“Let us face disease, discrimination, the police, love, and family together because we are sisters. Let us welcome the rain, and embrace the sunshine!” –Excerpt from Xin’Ai’s blog

In May 2008, four sex workers established the Xin’Ai Home, a not-for-profit, nongovernmental organization, in the Dongli District of Tianjin, China. The organization was founded with the aims of promoting self-confidence and self-love, as well as fostering solidarity and mutual aid, to uphold the rights of female sex workers, eliminate violence against women, and increase awareness of women’s health. This organization primarily serves low-income female sex workers, including providing HIV/STD prevention workshops, health care referrals,  training in vocational skills, violence prevention, and women’s legal issues. As of now, over 90% of female sex workers in Dongli District have received services from Xin’Ai, and around 3000 people in total have been reached. All of Xin’Ai’s staff members are women, and currently there are three full-time staff, two part-time staff and ten volunteers. [READ MORE]

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World War II military propaganda poster, circa 1940 (Image courtesy of the National Library of Medicine)

1940 World War II military propaganda poster (Image courtesy of the National Library of Medicine)

I was in the midst of a pretty good day when I received a phone call from one of my non-client lovers. The poor boy had come down with a case of throat gonorrhea, which I didn’t even know was a thing.  He was just calling to let me know I had been exposed the last time we had sex, since we had made out with great vigor and he had also gone downtown, like the sweetheart he is. I thanked him for letting me know, told him to feel better, hung up and began to evaluate the situation in the calm and rational fashion that any sex-positive, non-monogamous person might try to evaluate a situation such as this.

Gonorrhea. No big deal, right? I have always expected to contract an STI at some point in my life, and as far as STIs go that’s not such a bad one. I was feeling a little funny in the junk, which I figured was probably due to a yeast infection. It seemed likely to me that I might, in fact, have gonorrhea, and I should probably get tested ASAP either way.

Then I remembered what I do for a living. I remembered that there weren’t just lovers whom I may have exposed, albeit unwittingly, but possibly about three clients as well. Even worse, I remembered that I desperately needed to make the money I was planning on making over the coming weekend— or else I wasn’t going to be able to pay my rent.

Mother. Fucker.

In my work as a full-service escort, STIs had always been a sort of intellectual, if abstract, concern. It is something I knew could be a really detrimental thing to have happen to my business, but it hadn’t happened yet, so I wasn’t too worried about it. Now here I was, in the exact situation I had only considered in the abstract. The one where I need to make money but can’t really figure out an ethical way to do so without exposing myself as every client’s worst nightmare: the poxy whore.

[READ MORE]

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Sarah Patterson

Sarah Patterson (photo by Tara Israel)

In January 2012, Sarah Elspeth Patterson and a group of other sex worker activists in NYC went to work offering health care and social services to sex workers. The much needed outcome, Persist Health Project, is the 2nd sex worker only health clinic in the United States, after Saint James Infirmary in San Francisco.

While there is limited funding for it as of yet, the Persist team are diligently working on their labor of love and helping to put an end to the lack of non-biased services for sex workers. Sex workers have a history of being subjected to discrimination, stigma, and forced hospitalization and testing in the mainstream healthcare system. NYC’s Persist strives to be a safe space where sex workers can be open and receive the care they need. You can help contribute to the growth of Persist by donating here. Every little bit helps!

I got a chance to speak with Sarah about the project upon her return from this year’s Desiree Alliance conference.

How would you describe Persist and it’s work?

Persist Health Project (Persist) is a peer-led organization that connects folks in the sex trade in New York City with providers who are either from the community themselves or awesome allies. In addition to coordinating care for people —people can call us and have a provider hand-picked for them, based on their needs —we also offer workshops on health topics, such as burnout, sexual health, and general health. To keep enhancing our network of providers, we offer trainings for health care professionals on how to work with folks in the sex trade better.

Persist was co-founded in January of 2012 by a group of sex worker activists, nurse practitioners, and social workers who are also current workers, former workers, or very committed allies. I brought together people I knew were valuable members of sex worker organizing groups, who were either interested in health for sex workers because of their own experiences with sex work or had transitioned from sex work to health or social services. Many of us had been doing organizing together, were friends or peers, and saw a collective need. Others had dreamed for a long time of opening a clinic space just for sex workers.

What was your motivation for working on this project?

I didn’t give my health a lot of thought until I became a healthcare professional and was expected to be an “expert” on these things. After I got my degree, I found myself doing sexual health education and thinking, what about my own personal health decisions? Am I really being “safe” all the time, or do I do things that are “risky?” Are there better ways to think about this, outside of thinking about everything —drugs, alcohol, smoking, sex, food, so on—as a “risk”? What’s realistic for my life, rather than what is generally taught as the “best” thing to do? Of course, the concept of making health choices that fit your life  is one the fundamentals of harm reduction. But it was only after getting the “right” answers from education that I wondered about the value of what I already knew from my own life experience, and how that might be useful to others.

I think it’s incredibly valuable to be offering positive, affirming peer support to one another from within communities involved with or impacted by the sex trade. In addition to creating communities and shared life experiences, trading sexual services can also be very competitive, anxiety-inducing and isolating. So part of Persist’s goal is to break the feeling of isolation in health care by shifting ideas of what support can look like.

[READ MORE]

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