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The Healthcare Hustle

ahealthustlefeministryanGabrielle is the Care Coordinator for Persist Health Project. Persist Health Project is a peer-led, community-based health and community organizing project for sex workers based in Brooklyn, New York. As Persist’s Care Coordinator, Gabrielle vets service providers, provides community members with supportive referrals, and helps lead Persist’s Best Practices Trainings.

While many of us dream of the ideal client who will deposit money annually into our retirement fund or enroll us in their kick-ass work health insurance plan, he probably won’t come along for all of us. Here are some things you can do to get quality health care service in the meantime without breaking the bank:

1. First things first, you could be eligible for government subsidized health insurance through Medicaid! Check with an Affordable Care Act (ACA/Obamacare) navigator to see if you are. You can also call a Medicaid Hotline (1-800-541-2831) to check your eligibility. If you make under $1,300 a month (for a single person, that number goes up with family size) in reported income, are pregnant, or have recently had a child, you may be eligible for Medicaid. If you have recently been diagnosed with HIV you are also eligible for AmidaCare through Medicaid.

While open enrollment for the ACA has ended, if you are eligible for Medicaid or government assistance with     your health care plan you are still able to enroll without a fee. Reach out to Callen-Lorde Community Health Center if you think you might be eligible and get enrolled today!

Don’t Hit Women Or Whores: Whorephobic Domestic Violence and Its Discontents

War Machine's rationalizations (Screenshot of War Machine's tweet)
War Machine’s tweeted rationalizations—note the number of retweets and favorites (Screenshot of War Machine’s Twitter feed)

“Don’t hit women or whores” reads an oh-so-helpful comment under one of the many reports of the brutal assault and attempted rape of porn actress and dancer Christy Mack by her ex partner, War Machine (formerly known as John Koppenhaver), this past week. And that’s one of the nice ones. Most of the not-nice ones start with “what did you expect?” and get worse from there. Koppenhaver himself seems to see his role in the attack as a tragic victim of fate, a “cursed” man who had hoped to be engaged to the woman he broke up with in May, whose house he broke into in August.

While, in the face of the graphic and horrific story that Mack released, Koppenhaver’s view seems woefully out of touch with reality, the truth is, he’s right to predict sympathy for himself. Assaulting a sex worker, especially one that you once deigned to be in a relationship with, is viewed as pretty understandable. Just by watching TV or using the internet (ever), how many hundreds of jokes and not-jokes did Koppenhaver encounter excusing and encouraging him to do just that? It might be tempting, for the sake of our views on the state of humanity, to label his on-the-run tweets as a disingenuous ploy for public understanding, but I believe it is the less likely explanation of the two. What reason have we to believe that Koppenhaver was special, that he was somehow immune to the prevailing cultural narrative about the worth of those who do sex work? Why wouldn’t he think of himself as a lamentable casualty of an unfair system?

Whore’s Bath—More Than Washing Your Pussy For The Next Client

The author indulging in the sort of whore's bath many of us take between clients. (Photo by Justin Bruce Malcolm)
The author indulging in the sort of whore’s bath many of us take between clients. (Photo by Justin Bruce Malcolm)

[The next Whore’s Bath/Solace Spa Suite event will be held at the Desiree Alliance conference on Weds, July 17th, between 11 AM and 6:30 PM. At the time of posting, we believe you can still register  for the Desiree Alliance conference, though you will no longer receive a room discount.—ed.]

Whore’s Bath is a day long retreat into spa and wellness treatments, by sex workers and for sex workers, created for the 7th San Francisco Sex Worker Festival in 2011 by sex worker community organizer Erica Fabulous. Her vision was “to provide a space for current and former sex workers to come together to focus on self care and get some much needed healing and nourishment, something we are generally giving to others while leaving ourselves without.” The bathing is both symbolic and literal. The idea behind the cleansing rituals in the Whores’ Bath offerings are cleansing the body and mind of stress, baggage, pain, confusion, tension, negative energy, drama, isolation, and much more. Water is not necessarily required. At this kind of Whores’ Bath, you can let the love and skill sharing from other providers be the source that replenishes you.

This year, the Whores’ Bath event created for the 8th San Francisco Sex Worker Film and Arts Festival was held at a cute two and a half star (#PricelineHookers) hotel in the Marina district. Three rooms were rented and there was a large turf grass area with hammocks tied to palm trees where everyone ate delicious food catered by Ckiara Rose. When you arrived on the grass, you were directed to plates and tables of food and drink and could sign up for tarot readings, a tantra workshop, full body massages, reiki, a meditation workshop, foot massages, and express facials. When the sun went down, we all migrated into the bigger suite and continued to bond and commune; laughing, griping, unwinding, eating, drinking and creating new friends and new memories. The late, wonderful Robyn Few, founder of the national Sex Workers Outreach Project and a major contributor to Desiree Alliance conferences, firmly believed in the power of these kinds of good times. It was in hotel room kickbacks like this that she planted seeds in people to grow her revolutionary garden of sex worker organizers. “Hanging with whores is supposed to fucking feel good,”I can imagine her saying, while passing me a gigantic joint.

Dungeon or Psych Ward?: A Crazy Whore Explains It All

photo by Alex Colby
photo by Alex Colby

Being a crazy whore is kind of like being the meanest dog at the pound: out of all of the rejects, you’re the least wanted, and your very existence makes your peers look bad. I say this from experience. I used to work at a pound, and I’m definitely a bitch (HEY-O). I’m also a crazy whore—a pro-switch with disabling, medication-resistant Major Depression, to be precise.  Society has made clear to me that it would prefer if I were euthanized, and a lot of folks within the disability rights and sex workers rights communities don’t want me around either. I give credence to some of the most persistent, prejudiced assumptions people in each group encounter.  Namely, that women with mental illnesses are sexually promiscuous damaged goods, and sex workers are mentally unhealthy damaged goods. What better way to argue against those stereotypes than to deny the existence of those of us who fulfill them?

And there are a lot of us, more than most folks realize. We frequently stay closeted about one or both of these marginalizations, partly because we may lack the physical energy or emotional stamina to brazenly insert ourselves into the activist communities that dislike us. I rarely mention to other people with disabilities what I do for work, and I am equally reluctant to test the reactions of fellow sex workers by discussing my experiences as a crazy ho. Just the idea of walking into a sex worker empowerment meeting and telling everyone that I’m doing this job because I’m too nuts to work full time and I kind of hate it, makes me feel exhausted.

Exhaustion is also why a lot of disabled sex workers don’t work independently. Houses, agencies, clubs, and brothels take on more of the workload associated with sex work, such as finding clients and providing space and security. But houses, agencies, clubs, and brothels are also (usually) more concerned with profit than with their employees’ well being, so you’re likely to find that more agency girls hate their jobs. People who hate their jobs don’t often organize around that identity, which is another reason disabled sex workers lurk in the shadows.

It can get pretty dark hiding out in here. That’s why I like to liven the mood sometimes with some equally dark humor.

Ask Ms. Harm Reduction: Getting High With Clients

If your session looks like this, Ms. Harm Reduction urges you to read this month's column. (Image by Flickr user Doki hawk)
If your session looks like this, Ms. Harm Reduction urges you to read this month’s column. (Image by Flickr user Doki hawk)

Dear Ms. Harm Reduction,
I’ve been escorting and doing pro domme work for a year and a half. Sometimes I do a gram of coke with regulars, or even do drugs with new clients on occasion. I’d like to be smart about this, but I feel like I can’t ask the the sex workers I know for advice because none of them would ever take that risk in the first place. Do you have any tips on how to stay safe while partying with clients?
Wilder Than (my) Friends