Prostitution

Photo taken by Silvia Escario

Visual approximation of Ms. Harm Reduction back in the day. (Photo taken by Silvia Escario.)

Dear Ms. Harm Reduction,
I’m an escort with an Oxycontin habit. For the most part I can plan ahead and maintain, but sometimes supply runs out and I have to go to work when I’m in withdrawal. I serve a middle class clientele, and I’d lose clients if they found out I was a drug user. I’m also afraid some of them might even become violent if they discovered I was a “junkie.” How do I hide the tell tale signs of dopesickness while working?

Best,
Sniffling Isn’t Cute y’Know

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(Image courtesy of Red Umbrella Project)

(Image courtesy of Red Umbrella Project)

Prose & Lore is a literary journal published by the New York sex workers’ rights organization Red Umbrella Project. Memoir stories about sex work are collected in two issues per year (Fall/Winter and Spring/Summer). We at Tits and Sass have been following Prose and Lore since the journal began, and the fourth issue is even more fantastic than those that preceded it. Prose & Lore Issue 4 features 20 original, true stories about experiences in the sex trades, written by sex workers who were supported in writing their stories through Red Umbrella Project’s peer-led writing workshops in NYC and by mentor editors who worked with folks from outside of NYC.  Contributors include new writers we have our eye on like Ava Talley and Leigh Alanna, our very own Tits and Sass co-editor Caty Simon and longtime Tits and Sass contributors Lori Adorable and Elle Stranger, Tits and Sass interview subject and harm reduction pioneer L. Synn Stern, and veteran Desiree Alliance activist Cris Sardina. Issue 4 came out  on July 15th - order ebook or print copies directly through RedUP or enter to win one of five free copies on Goodreads. Interested in writing for the next issue? Details will be posted on this page and RedUP’s tumblr.

Here we feature an excerpt of the journal, the piece “Got Milk?” by Janet, about her experience working as a pregnancy fetish and lactation fetish provider during and after her pregnancy. Janet’s wry humor and honesty about finding a way to make bank as a single mom student escort who was terrified that getting knocked up would leave her unemployed had us cracking up through just about every paragraph.  Janet was born and raised in New Jersey and has been a sex worker for 18 years, half her life. She started dancing at lock doors and strip clubs, but after getting tired of the dancing scene, she went on to work at various services as an escort in New York City and Northern New Jersey. She has traveled and worked escort services up and down the East Coast. She is currently working as an independent escort wherever it tickles her fancy.

How does one really decide to be a lactation fetish provider? I would love to say I calculated the short time I had the true potential of making bank, especially with my great fucking nipples and high milk production, which I made it my mission to keep up. I was a single mom and horny as hell. Working while breastfeeding was the only sexual outlet I had and it helped pay some bills. Well, only a small part of that one is true. I was a single mom and it helped pay some bills, but the rest is what I like to call a stereotypical situation avoidance strategy.

I certainly was not out to be the next unwed single mom college dropout. I wish I could have thrown teenage in there but I had done this dumb shit before and like they say, fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me. I was working on baby number two and in my junior year in college, full-time status, I may add, and technically single. I was already relying strictly on sex work to pay all my living expenses, and living in Northern New Jersey was expensive even then, more than a decade ago. I never really thought it was but everyone that I met was surprised to hear I lived alone as a single mom. They would inevitably go straight to, “Oh, what do you do?” Answering with, “Full time college student” would not work. So I avoided socializing outside of work and the occasional recreational sexual escapade when working was not my cup of tea. This way everyone I spoke to already knew what I did and that I was a full time student. Once I was naked it was pretty obvious from the stretchmarks that I had kids.

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Sex worker activist Velvet Steele at a June 14th Red Umbrella rally in Vancouver. All photos courtesy of the author.

Sex worker activist Velvet Steele speaks at a June 14th Red Umbrella rally in Vancouver. All photos courtesy of the author.

On June 4, Canada’s Justice Minister Peter MacKay introduced Bill C-36. According to the Pivot Legal Society, this legislation will, if passed, criminalize “the purchase of sex, communicating for the purpose of selling sex, gaining material benefit from sex work, and advertising sexual services.” It would be functionally impossible to establish brothels, agencies, and sex worker collectives legally under the proposed legislation. This legislation is markedly different from the existing prostitution laws, as buying or selling sexual services has never been a crime in Canada. The Conservative government is adamant that this situation should change. According to MacKay, prostitution is inherently harmful and passing Bill C-36 will provide law enforcement the tools they need to go after “the perpetrators, the perverts, those who are consumers of this degrading practice.”

Bill C-36 comes on the heels of the Supreme Court of Canada’s unanimous decision which struck down Canada’s existing prostitution laws last December in the Bedford case (after Terri-Jean Bedford, one of three sex workers who brought the case before the courts). The laws the Court struck down were: communicating for the purposes of prostitution, living off the avails of prostitution, and keeping a common bawdy house (which is legalese for brothel, in this context). In their ruling, the judges declared that the laws were unconstitutional because they interfered with sex workers’ ability to take steps to keep themselves safe. The right to life, liberty and security of the person is guaranteed under Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the prostitution laws were found to violate sex workers’ ability to exercise these rights. In their ruling, the judges explicitly state that “Parliament has the power to regulate against nuisances, but not at the cost of the health, safety and lives of prostitutes.” They also maintain that “a law that prevents street prostitutes from resorting to a safe haven”—an indoor work space—“is a law that has lost sight of its purpose.” [READ MORE]

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(Image from the film: Advocating in Albany, (No Condoms as Evidence), Red Umbrella Project)

(Image from the film: Advocating in Albany, (No Condoms as Evidence), Red Umbrella Project)

I’m a community organizer for Red Umbrella Project, and for the past year and a half I’ve been one of the leaders in the struggle to ban the use of condoms as evidence of all prostitution-related offenses in New York. We recently had a great victory in this campaign with a NYPD directive issued that bans the use of condoms for three misdemeanor offenses: prostitution, loitering for the purposes of prostitution, and prostitution in a school zone. Unfortunately that still excludes most prostitution-related offenses which, while targeted at clients, managers of the sex trades, and human sex traffickers, all too often are an initial charge filed against those doing sex work, especially transgender women of color. So our battle continues. But I feel it is important to clarify for people in the sex trades around the world why it is that we as a peer-led group by and for people in the sex trades place such great importance in this issue. While some may say that advocacy of any goal short of the decriminalization of all prostitution laws is selling out, the decriminalization of condoms opens the door for greater possibilities in organizing around other decrim efforts both in New York and elsewhere.

Handcuffs empower no one. Red Umbrella Project knows, from the arrests and incarcerations of our comrades, family, and friends, that the criminal justice system is toxic to the lives of people in the sex trades, especially those most marginalized within it. All too often sex work criminalization goes hand-in-hand with the criminalization of trans women and queer youth of color, undocumented people, and low-income women of color. Believing strongly that a peer-led model personally empowers the lives of people in ways that even the most progressive justice system cannot, we oppose the tearing apart of our communities by arrest and incarceration.

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A  young, beautiful Maya Angelou with Langston Hughes, not long after her career as a sex worker—guess she didn't think his joke was that funny? (Photo via mayaangelou.com)

A young, beautiful Maya Angelou with Langston Hughes, not long after her career as a sex worker—guess she didn’t think his joke was that funny? (Photo via mayaangelou.com)

Dr. Maya Angelou, American Poet Laureate, most famous for authoring I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, passed away at age 86 on May 28th, 2014. Her literary agent Helen Brann confirmed the news to press, and thus began a worldwide outpouring of grief. The top trending tag on Twitter was “RIP Maya Angelou” and, at the time of this writing, it is one of four Maya Angelou-related trending hashtags. She is hailed as a national best selling author, a genius, a spiritual God-, Grand-, and mother. She is lauded as everything Black women should aspire to emulate in life. So why is it very few of us know she was a sex worker in her youth? Why is it, even in her death, as in her life, it’s such a guarded secret? Why was this secret kept by seemingly everyone except Dr. Angelou herself?

We can, once again, boil it down to respectability politics and stigma. I am angry about it. I find myself ruminating, considering, wondering: If her work had been talked about as much as her dancing with James Baldwin or even her considerable, commanding and lovely height of six feet, what would the sex work community look like today? If we had talked about her wonderful compassion for sex workers, how she never looked down on them, and her refusal to be intimidated by invasive and obnoxious questioning about her sex working past, what would sex workers around the world be saying today in memory of her life?

Instead, we read post after post, obituary after tribute, calling her a “pimp” and saying she had “an unsuccessful stint as a prostitute.” The most detailed accounts currently online are making sure to emphasize that she spent a “brief stint,” a “short time” in the sex industry, so as to, without explicit words, solidify the shame they believe she should have felt, the shame we should feel as well. The media uses inflammatory terms to get clicks and to emphasize the terrible and shameful secret that was, in actuality, never a secret at all.

Dr. Angelou herself says she was never ashamed.

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