Trixie isn't taking any of your shit. (Still from Deadwood)

Trixie isn’t taking any of your shit. (Still from Deadwood)

Editor’s note: Extreme spoiler alert. Seriously, do yourself a favor and watch Deadwood before reading this, if for some inexplicable reason you haven’t yet.

I started watching Deadwood when the cabbie I was sleeping with at the time told me it was a Wild West show about a town run by whores. “You’ll love it!” he assured me. Turns out he was almost entirely wrong about the plot, but he was right about me loving it. The sex workers are a small part of the overall action, yet the majority of female characters are sex workers. And for me, the sex workers are the heart of the show, its moral and empathic compass. But empathy and ethics can have a price, especially for the marginalized.

Creator David Milch explains that the creation of Deadwood was based on his desire to explore the formation of civilization out of chaos. Chaos is what the territory of Deadwood is when the series opens. It’s the go-to headline for any sporting event or Republican or Democratic convention that sex workers flock to where the money is. In terms of boom towns like Deadwood it’s largely true, not just because of the presence of fast and loose cash, but because of the freedom of movement, both social and physical, offered by the very lack of civilization Milch is exploring.

That life in the still-lawless camp of Deadwood allows a certain amount of freedom as well as deprivation is obvious, and that lives lived on the margins of a camp like Deadwood offer liberty and danger, even to women, even to sex workers, is made apparent immediately in the first episode. Thirteen minutes in a gun goes off in Al Swearingen’s saloon-brothel.

“Aw, hell,” says right-hand man Dan Dority despairingly. “That fuckin whore.”

And so we meet Trixie (Paula Malcomson), who enters with a literal bang, as she’s just shot and killed a client in self-defense.

“He was beating on me! I told him not to beat on me!” she explains hopelessly, knowing already her bruises won’t be an adequate excuse to her boss. Swearingen beats her himself, adding a reminder to everyone that she’s not allowed to own a gun. Unfazed, Trixie immediately sneaks her servant friend, Jewel, money to bring her another gun.

The freedom allowed her here may not be immediately apparent to a civilian, but the fact that she was allowed to defend herself against a beating, to shoot someone without being fired or killed, and allowed to continue working with everyone’s unspoken knowledge that she’s just going to acquire another gun, is massive. This freedom will be lost by the untimely end of the show, when civilization comes in the barbaric entrepreneur figure of George Hearst.

In the meantime, the sex workers of the first season have a singular amount of screen time, especially with the arrival of Joanie (Kim Dickinson) and the other girls of Bella Union, the new brothel, waving brightly from owner Cy Tolliver’s festively festooned wagon. This entrance highlights something that hasn’t been visible till now: Swearingen’s joint, the Gem, is a rough-and-tumble working class saloon and brothel. While the Gem girls wear loose shifts and little or nothing else, the Bella Union workers are adorned with the Wild West fashion you’ve been dreaming of: beribboned corsets, garters, thigh highs, hair in tumbled curls and cascading updos. I’d watch the show just for their clothes. Unfortunately, it’s the men running this here town and you know there’s going to be a clash with a fancy new brothel steppin’ on Swearingen’s turf.

In the background of Swearingen and Tolliver’s turf war, being used as pawns, are the vibrant women who work for them. I’m focused on Joanie and Trixie here, and the handful of other sex workers who are allowed plotlines. While they’re considered tools in the political struggles between Tolliver and Swearingen, and then between Swearingen and Hearst, the camera shows this to be a misjudgment and a mistake on the part of the men (one that only Swearingen learns from, belatedly). While not exactly happy, Joanie and Trixie are lively presences, not the passive background decor sex workers function as on shows like The Sopranos. Even when they’re silent, we can feel their judgment, and so can Tolliver and Swearingen.

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Fees and fines are illegal, kids. (Photo courtesy of Red)

The Willamette Week broke the news that I, Tits and Sass Week In Links editor Red, and my fellow dancer Amy Pitts are suing my former strip club this week after months of tedious and stressful settlement negotiations. Shorter and less informative video clips on the suit can be found here and here, but probably the best coverage so far is this New York Daily News story, which makes more meat puns than I would normally find decent.

Alaskan sex workers are raising money to go to Juneau to lobby the Alaskan legislature. You can support their campaign and learn about their efforts here: Nothing About Us Without Us!

Bengals defensive back Adam Jones was ordered to pay over $12 million for his part in a fight and shooting that broke out at the Vegas strip club, Minxx.  Jones made it rain, dancers started fighting over the money, and eventually shooting broke out, injuring three people, including  one security guard who was paralyzed from the waist down.

New MTA safety ads warn against pole dancing in subway cars: “Poles are for safety, not your latest routine.”

Tits and Sass contributor Naomi Sayers responds brilliantly to an interrogation around C-36 and the assumption that it protects sex workers, while outlining sex work activists’ next steps in a post-C-36 Canada.

Nigerian full service sex workers are offering three days of their services free if General Muhammadu Buhari wins the upcoming presidential elections in February. Clever reverse Lystrata tactic!

Porn actor Jiz Lee writes that people should be as concerned with ethical porn consumption as they are with ethical porn, since illegal distribution not only allows consumers to not pay for workers’ products, it also allows producers to evade the very safety standards set in place to protect performers.

Benjamin Frederickson worked as a HIV positive sex worker in the Midwest and New York for years, documenting his life and his work with Polaroids that are now being shown in an exhibition at Daniel Cooney Fine Art in New York until February 28th. [READ MORE]

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Ms. HR wants the best for you and your bun in the oven. (image via Flickr user trialsanderrors)

Ms. HR wants the best for you and your bun in the oven. Though you probably won’t want to nurse your tot if you’re on methadone after it’s born. (“Nurse the Baby” poster by Erik Hans Krause, via Wikipedia Commons)

All the queries Ms. Harm Reduction answers are actual questions from readers. If you have a quandary related to drugs, sex, work, or any of the other pitfalls and pleasures of life that you need Ms. Harm Reduction’s solution for, please write in at info@titsandsass.com.

Dear Ms. Harm Reduction,
I’m a recovering addict/alcoholic stripper (20 months clean) and I just found out my best friend at work is a pregnant heroin addict. I’m one of the only people who knows she is pregnant, and I’ve been trying to talk her into getting some prenatal care as well as food stamps and WIC because she never seems to have enough to eat. Last week I learned that she doesn’t want to go to the doctor about her pregnancy because she’s a heroin addict. The resident dope dealer/stripper [at work] (also a pretty close friend) confided in me that she is also worried about her. I always thought she was falling asleep at work because she works too much but now I realize she was nodding off, and now I also understand why she never has enough money despite doing well at dancing and why she’s so underweight. Lately, she’s been looking extra pale, dark circles under her eyes, and crying a lot. I’m worried. I know she’s hiding her addiction from me because she knows I’m in recovery and because I’m somewhat of a mentor to her and she doesn’t want to disappoint me. I also understand firsthand the painful shame that often accompanies drug addiction.

I don’t want to embarrass her or make her feel defensive, but I also want to let her know that I do love her regardless and most importantly I would like to give her some information about harm reduction. Is there a way I can go about this that won’t feel invasive? I know a former sex worker who works at a harm reduction center that will give her clean needles. I’ve also been hearing a lot about a bad batch of heroin that’s been going around my city. We’ve had a huge spike in overdoses and I want to make sure she knows it’s out there.

And finally, what the hell is a pregnant drug addict supposed to do? Will she be arrested when her baby tests positive for heroin? Drug addict or not, she needs prenatal care. I can understand the difficult position she is in.

I’m not naive enough to think I can talk her out of her addiction, but I also don’t want her to feel like she needs to hide it from me. I want her to know I’m not judging her and that I’m here to help her if she decides she needs it.

Sincerely,  

Girl On Opiates is a Great, Amazing Homey

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One of Lime Jello's ancestors?  (Image via Wikipedia Commons)

One of Lime Jello’s ancestors? (Image via Wikipedia Commons)

This piece is adapted from a December 17th speech the author gave this year.

“You’re so lazy, you’ll never be anything but a whore. And you won’t even be a good whore because nobody wants to fuck a girl with a book in front of her face.”

When I was about twelve, as I lay on my bed reading, my father walked into my bedroom. When he saw me reclining and reading, that was what he told me. Funny thing, though: the student schtick really sells. Clients like to think they’re “funding” something worthwhile, like my education and not my drug habit. (I have both.)

My point is this: entry into and tenure in the sex industry is both constrained and conditioned by personal, historical and socio-economic contexts. In the movement, we talk about constraint whenever we talk about poverty. I think we avoid talking about conditioning, however, lest we reinforce stereotypes about hookers who were abused as children. But I don’t believe I became a sex worker by accident. I think I was conditioned, and I want to talk about it.

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Learn about sex work through a video game? Pass the Mountain Dew. (image via Flickr user royalport)

Learn about sex work through a video game? Pass the Mountain Dew. (image via Flickr user royalport)

A team of academics at Concordia University in Canada are developing a video game to counteract C-36.  The objective: to make money as a sex worker and survive.

The sex workers in Freetown, Sierra Leone are earning a small percentage of what they used to because of the Ebola crisis. Their customers are afraid that they may be infected. In addition, many of them no longer have their second jobs, so competition between them has become more severe, encouraging their customers to haggle more.

Kristin Davis, AKA The Manhattan Madam, has a few things to say as she begins her prison sentence:

I did not work with anyone who was forced to be an escort. But this would not be the case if prostitution was legalized everywhere. And if we legalize prostitution under the auspices of controlling the sex industry to keep it safe, we will end up fundamentally controlling the women working in the industry.

Sex workers in Canada say C-36 is affecting their incomes, although not lessening their need for money!  There’s this gem of a quote from a former sex worker who supports C-36, saying that she’s never met a prostitute who got into it because it was her career goal.   Let’s just imagine if that was a requirement for the legality of other jobs. McDonalds would never have another employee. School toilets would have to become self-cleaning. All toilets would have to become self-cleaning!

Writer Noah Berlatsky just keeps them coming lately!  This week it’s an article pointing out the ways that the desire for a sensational narrative obscure the mundane realities of sexual harassment, assault, and exploitation, including state involvement and the absolute ubiquitousness of routine violations. [READ MORE]

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