This Time, It’s Personal

(Photo by Quinn Dombrowski, via Flickr and the Creative Commons.)

(Photo by Quinn Dombrowski, via Flickr and the Creative Commons.)

I work as a writer and a pro-domme. For me, the first stems from the second; the financial independence I earned from my pro-domming gave me the confidence and clarity to think and write. In my writing, I am out as a sex worker. My byline is a name, Margaret Corvid, that I consciously link to the name I use for sex work. As a dominatrix, I am Mistress Magpie; the real magpie, a whimsical, intelligent, and slightly evil bird, is in the corvid genus, along with jays, crows and ravens. This little play on words honors my sex work and my kink, the foundations for my work as a writer. I also link the two because my politics dictate my being out. As a white, able-bodied cis woman from a middle class background, my privilege affords me a modicum of protection, so I write as a sex worker even when I am writing on an issue entirely unrelated to sex work. Hopefully, this choice helps in its own small way to move us forward towards a time when sex workers can participate fully in the public sphere.

The privilege of my origin shows through in my writing, which is the product of my education. I inherited my skill at writing through the educational opportunities my middle class background afforded me; I learned it, but I did not earn it. Because of that skill I have been able to write for top-level publications in the UK, writing some explicitly pro-sex work and pro-kink pieces for them. Unfortunately, I have made some mistakes in my writing. The first piece I wrote for the Guardian referred to some sex workers as “miserable slaves”, because in my advocacy for the understanding that sex work is work, I was trying to inoculate my argument against people’s likely criticisms. In doing so, I bought right into the trafficking myth. Months later, I came across some criticism of the piece. I engaged with it, apologizing and putting myself through a crash course on the rescue industry; this study resulted in the first piece I wrote about sex work which I feel is truly worthy. Through my embarrassment, I realized that I needed to completely reeducate myself. The reputation of the “social justice warriors” on the internet is fearsome, but I have tried to approach feedback with a sense of humility, and a few of the most vocal activists have graciously offered me their support.

With my unearned platform, I have an opportunity to carry the message of sex worker rights to policymakers. I am duty-bound to do my best to get up to speed with the voices of the most marginalized among us, while not using my privilege to insist that others educate me. As I prepare to write a big article about the sex worker rights movement, aimed at those who have heard little of it, I’m frightened of making a mistake, of making things worse for us. When I’m speaking to an audience of non-sex workers, my choice of message and the way I deliver it must avoid reinforcing the assumptions and stereotypes that marginalize us, and my politics must not pander to the social forces that criminalize us. If I can’t do that reliably, I might as well say nothing.

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Reach out to someone. (Photo by Mark Fischer [Flickr user fischerfotos])

Reach out to someone.
(Photo by Mark Fischer [Flickr user fischerfotos])

The numbers are staggering. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one out of every four women has or will experience domestic violence. If those numbers are correct, it is guaranteed that you know someone that has been or is a victim.

Domestic violence isn’t always physical; it can be verbal, emotional, or even psychological. Escaping an abuser is never as easy as “just leaving.” Being abused is isolating and stigmatizing; the notion of even asking for help for a civilian woman can be terrifying. Considering the systematic whorephobia that sex workers face,  getting away from an abuser seems downright impossible for some of us.

But help is out there. Here are some sex worker friendly resources should you or your loved ones need help. All of these resources are trans inclusive as well, to the best of our knowledge.

In or near San Francisco:
A Woman’s Place, an emergency shelter and transitional housing.
San Francisco Women Against Rape is a trans and sex worker friendly center that provides crisis counseling.

In or near Chicago:
The Heartland Alliance provides a variety of resources to those that have been impacted by domestic violence or other types of trauma.
Apna Ghar provides holistic help to the immigrant population affected by domestic violence.
Mujeres Latinas en Acción provides domestic violence counseling to the Latina population.
The Domestic Violence Legal Clinic offers free legal assistance.

In or near New York City:
The New York State LGBTQ Domestic Violence Network can direct to an agency that will provide the services you require.
The Sex Workers Project provides legal and social services to sex workers.
Safe Horizon can provide emergency housing and safe haven for individuals and families.
The Anti-Violence Project provides direct services such as immediate crisis intervention; safety planning; short or long-term counseling;  police, court and social services advocacy and accompaniment; and information and referrals to anyone who calls their hotline or comes to their offices or intake sites.

In or near Salt Lake City:
The YWCA provides shelter and legal services for domestic violence victims. Their 24-hour crisis line is: 855-992-2752.

In Boston:
The Casa Myrna agency

In Portland:
The Portland Women’s Crisis Line

If you know of any sex worker friendly resources that we missed,  leave them in the comments.

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Part of a piece in the Waiting Room/Domestic Violence Tableau at the Topeka Library (Photo by the Topeka Library, via Flickr and the Creative Commons)

Part of a piece in the Waiting Room/Domestic Violence Tableau at the Topeka Library (Photo by the Topeka Library, via Flickr and the Creative Commons)

I actually didn’t know who Christy Mack was until I started seeing articles about her attack flying around the internet last week. But her story is one that is familiar to me. Intimately familiar.

I stripped for eight years, in a dozen clubs across New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Iowa, Minnesota, Colorado, and Georgia. I met strippers who were also full service sex workers inside or outside the club, sugar babies, cam girls, and adult film stars. I’ve seen co-workers “graduate” into Playboy and Hustler. I’ve seen every combination of education, economic background, race, size, upbringing, parental status, and religion, so when I overhear non-sex-workers talking like we’re all a certain type, I can only laugh.

But one thing we all seem to have in common is an abuse story, either one of our own or of someone very close to us.

One thing I noticed early on in my career is that stripper locker room talk is brazen and honest. There is some high speed bonding that goes on over trays of eye shadow and half-finished drinks. As a more-or-less good girl going to state college on my parents’ dime, I was no stranger to boozy heartbreak stories, but stripper stories almost always went somewhere darker, faster. Without even knowing a co-worker’s name, I might hear the details of how her ex-husband broke into her house, or how she was borrowing a phone from another girl after receiving threatening texts from a stalker. I’ve had girls show me pictures of men on their phones with the warning, “If he shows up, tell the bouncer and come warn me. I don’t care if I’m in a VIP, just come tell me.”

There’s this recurring theme in our love lives a man will admire us for our independence and freedom, and of course, our money. We’ll thrive on the attention for a while and we’ll enjoy spoiling him with gifts or trips. Maybe he moves in because his roommates are irresponsible, or maybe we move in with him because we’re sleeping over all the time anyway. And then the fights start.

“Where the fuck were you until five in the morning?”

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Late porn performer Linda Susan Boreman/ Linda Lovelace, abused for years by her manager boyfriend Chuck Traynor (Image by Nino Eugene La Pia, via flickr and the Creative Commons)

Late porn performer Linda Susan Boreman/Linda Lovelace, notoriously abused for years by her manager boyfriend Chuck Traynor (Image by Nino Eugene La Pia, via Flickr and the Creative Commons)

Editor’s note: This post was originally erroneously attributed to Victoria Joy. The piece is actually by Ruby Rue.

Victims of violence are more likely to have experienced violence at the hands of someone they know. The same goes for sex workers. There seems to be a lot more concern about stranger-danger in the industry than there is for what I’ve seen as the bigger threatthe people already in your life. I’m not suggesting you don’t screen clients, of course that is important. I’m also not suggesting isolating yourself from friends and family. But, article after article I’ve read about sex workers’ partners reflects some of my own experience. Now, luckily, the situations I’ve been in have never escalated to physical violence. Butverbal abuse? Manipulation? Sexual harassment? Sexual assault? Check, check, check, and check. Let’s break down this potential mine field and see how sex work stigma and abusive partner behavior collide in the worst ways possible.

I think about how many times I’ve had a friend who was a good decent friend, a decent, “good guy.” I figure, he’s pretty great, I should date him. And almost immediately, the whole situation sours. I wonder, “Did I do something wrong?” Maybe if I had a clearer head I’d see that the deterioration of the relationship is related to his resistance to my standing up for myself. Still, in the context of abuse, it’s going to be branded as my fault. There is no way of knowing that a guy will treat you the same way when he’s dating you as he did when you were just friends. For whatever reason, dating can open the can of crazy douchebag worms in a seemingly otherwise wonderful man in your life. The beautiful wonderful man you are dating can make this very same quick switch the second he discovers you were or are a sex worker, though I will bet you anything that if he reacts poorly to that information that there were already other problems in the relationship.

The first instance is misogyny and the second instance is whorephobia. Both misogyny and whorephobia are leveraged in relationships in order for the abuser to gain:

1. More outside supporta rallying cry against you
2. More sympathythey’re broken hearted, you’re just a slut

I’m going to break down some intersections between whorephobia and abusive partner behavior, based on my personal experiences. You can use this to help identify whether your partner is an abuser or not. Much of this will be familiar, because the world is still pretty shitty about these issues.

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(Image via St James Infirmary's flickr)

(Image via St James Infirmary’s flickr)

I have experienced a lot of abuse in my life. The realization of each instance was a gradual process, despite how accustomed I should be to identifying it by now, despite how thoroughly I understand the dynamics, the signs, the underbelly of the beast. I have always believed, since I was 18 years old, that talking about the abuse was not only cathartic but a small step towards ending the silence surrounding it. It’s not my fault, so why should I be ashamed? Why should I protect abusers with my silence? Still, the realization that I am in fact someone who was forced into the sex industry, that group of silenced victims fauxmanists and policy makers alike claim to care so much about, was a realization that happened in stages. It was a slow process right until I was shouted down by a sex worker exclusionary radical feminist because my views on sex work and decriminalization weren’t taking into account the lives of people who were forced or coerced into the industry or abused in it and unable to leave. And I was livid, because that is my story.

The definition of what constitutes sex slavery and sex trafficking is intentionally blurry. Obfuscating the reality of sex industry abuse is a deliberate tactic utilized to attack the industry in general. Most people I know imagine trafficking victims to be forced to travel from South East Asia or Eastern Bloc nations in terrible conditions to arrive in affluent countries where they can be bought and sold as objects by sadistic rapists while being kept under lock and key. In truth, NGOs and governments usually define trafficking as involuntary participation in the sex trade. In essence, the term sex trafficking is a misnomer; the “trafficking” itself may be no more than a 15 minute drive from home to the brothel, like it was for me. It’s a phrase that brings up very specific associations that are generally inaccurate.

By the definition above, I guess I’m a trafficked person. Wider definitions also include underage sex workers, so a lot of people I know who started before they were 18 years old are as well. This is fairly well understood in most sex worker activism and yet there seems to be no emphasis in our movement on acknowledging and supporting survivors who enter the industry through force or coercion. Through describing some of the difficulty of my experience within activist circles, I hope to be able to offer some insight as to how to better support all members of our community while tackling head on the erroneous idea that antis are trying to help survivors within the industry.

When I was 21, I went to a queer event at my university and met a bunch of people, including a few sex workers. We hung out, chatted, and exchanged Facebook info. I went home and told my partner about the experience. I was primarily interested in talking about the workshop I’d run and the friendships I’d made but my (now ex) long term boyfriend was fascinated with the idea of my becoming a hooker. During our relationship he’d visited various brothels a number of times (though he’d sworn he wasn’t doing that anymore) so I guess at that point he knew more about the industry than I did. Behind my back, he began talking to my friends on Facebook through my account, pretending to be me, asking about the work and how to get into it. Meanwhile, he would bring up the idea whenever the issue of money came up—which it often did, with him being a meth addict—when we were in bed together, really any time he could. When his cajoling, against the backdrop of his verbal, sexual and physical violence didn’t work, he delivered an ultimatum: if I didn’t start hooking, he would start cooking meth again. I had been through this before: visits from the cops at all hours of the night; waking up and walking into my living room with ammonia gas filling the house my children were sleeping in; strangers coming through the door and cutting up, weighing and bagging ice in the kitchen; and his escalating violence under the influence of his constant use and paranoia. It wasn’t something I could go through again. The potential money I could be making working with a friend at the parlor, $100 to $500 a night, seemed like a much better choice. He was already using my bank card to take all of my money to the point where a friend of mine had to steal a container of formula so I could feed my daughter because my ex spent my last $50 on half a point. Sex work seemed like an out. And you know what? It was.

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