N.B. (2015)

by Mel (AKA Satan) on March 10, 2016 · 0 comments

in Books, Reviews

NB coverI found this line weeks ago.  I can’t remember when I wrote it or what brought it on.  It was isolated on a sheet with other notes, none as dramatic.  ‘I wanted to make strange men touch me.’ When did I want this?  Or rather, when will I stop wanting this?

Nightmare Brunette was originally a blog which Charlotte Shane, long time sex worker blogger and co-founder of Tits and Sass, decided to republish to coincide with the release of her Tinyletter memoir collection, Prostitute Laundry. Now she presents almost the entirety of Nightmare Brunette’s material in book form.

I love the way Shane discusses her customers most of all. She’s very open and honest about how relationships with clients are often blurry, strange things—the good, the bad, and the ambivalent.  There are bits of unexpected humor:

Most amusing of all was her dismounting line: ‘I can’t believe how many times you just made me come!’  Well.  No other woman in the room [would] believe it, either.

I really appreciate that Shane doesn’t write about clients with contempt.  She does discuss their flaws and her sex work-related irritations, but I never get the feeling that she is mocking anyone. Shane also discusses clients who crossed boundaries:

“So what’s the moral of the folktale?  I still can’t figure it out.  Is it that human beings are weak and at the mercy of their own urges?  That curiosity destroys?  That even in great love, it is impossible to refrain from harming others?  I don’t know.  I recognize the truth of it but I could not articulate a lesson beyond that of the importance of respecting someone else’s boundary, even if you don’t understand why that boundary exists.”

While Shane’s Prostitute Laundry focuses less on escorting, and more on the way her personal relationships are evolving and changing, N.B. touches more on the minutiae of sex work.  N.B. feels a bit more open to me, possibly because at the time the material was written, Shane wasn’t out as its author. Since this work was originally on a blog, her voice here feels more personal, like she is trying to hold back less.  This is a conscious choice—in N.B. Shane discusses the delight she sometimes takes in feeling unknowable, and deciding what to reveal and what not to reveal. She ends up sharing quite a lot in these pages. I especially appreciated the frank talk about her abortion.

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andreahillaryWhy is pornography legal in the United States, if it is illegal to have sex for money? Why is selling sex so that only your client witnesses it illegal, but when you ensure that the entire world could potentially view you on film, this act legitimizes the prostitution? If pornography never affects real life, then why do pro-porn advocates cite empirical evidence for its impact on reducing rates of male sexual assault of women?

Today, such impossible questions characterize mainstream discourse on rape and sex work in the United States. A recent account of Hillary Clinton’s handling of a 1975 sexual abuse case emphasizes the need to clarify our views about radical feminism and sex work into focus. In 1975, Clinton was a defense attorney. A client of hers was accused of raping a 12-year-old girl. Clinton deployed the Lolita archetype in his defense to imply the child victim was mentally unstable, and possibly seeking out sex with a middle-aged man. Statutory rape law be damned, mainstream Democrats insist Clinton’s behavior is acceptable or even commendable. The story is a ploy, they say, to divide and conquer the left. What does this liberal defensiveness mean?

Defense attorneys must zealously defend their clients, giving them the best possible chance of winning their case. Do we endorse intellectually dishonest and unethical legal defenses, because they might be effective?

“I have been informed that the complainant is emotionally unstable with a tendency to seek out older men and engage in fantasizing.” Clinton wrote in the affidavit. “I have also been informed that she has in the past made false accusations about persons, claiming they had attacked her body. Also that she exhibits an unusual stubbornness and temper when she does not get her way.”

Lawyers commenting on the topic suggest her ability to argue as she did is essential to enshrining our Constitutional rights. For some, there appears to be no contradiction between questioning a rape survivor’s sexual history out of professional duty, and campaigning for women’s rights as a politician. For survivors, this is precisely the problem. If this is considered acceptable, then we ask for reconsideration of what is acceptable.

American police officers are, at times, paid to “legally” rape sex workers as part of sting operations with the goal of putting sex workers in a cage. As this article from PolicyMic points out, “The homicide rate for female prostitutes is estimated to be 204 per 100,000, according to a longitudinal study published in 2004… a higher occupational mortality rate than any other group of women ever studied.”

In Against Innocence, writer and activist Jackie Wang explains, “In southern California during the 1980s and 1990s, police officers would close all reports of rape and violence made by sex workers, gang members, and addicts by placing them in a file stamped ‘NHI’: No Human Involved. This police practice draws attention to the way that rapability is also simultaneously unrapability in that the rape of someone who is not considered human does not register as rape.”

In this world, personages like Andrea Dworkin deserve reconsideration. Feminists today dismiss Dworkin and others like her as too radical. Admittedly, much is questionable about the anti-porn activism of the late 80s and 90s. In 1986, seeking to censor pornography, Dworkin testified for the Meese Report, commissioned by Ronald Reagan. In the 1990s, she continued informally allying with conservatives, attempting to abolish the sex trade.

Dworkin’s positions clearly came from a place of extreme pain as a rape survivor which we must not discount. It may be better for us that her measures of prohibitive censorship failed, but we must retain the lesson of her experience. Sex positive feminists failed to do this. Many have distorted Dworkin’s legacy by sloganizing her. Many insist she proclaimed that “all sex is rape.” Yet she never said this, just as Clinton’s client’s victim never asked to be raped. In reality, Dworkin said:

If you believe that what people call normal sex is an act of dominance, where a man desires a woman so much that he will use force against her to express his desire, if you believe that’s romantic, that’s the truth about sexual desire, then if someone denounces force in sex it sounds like they’re denouncing sex. If conquest is your mode of understanding sexuality, and the man is supposed to be a predator, and then feminists come along and say, no, sorry, that’s using force, that’s rape—a lot of male writers have drawn the conclusion that I’m saying all sex is rape.

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New chapter SWOP-Minneapolis honoring Dec 17th 2015 with a vigil. (Courtesy of SWOP-USA and local SWOP chapters)

New chapter SWOP-Minneapolis honoring Dec 17th 2015 with a vigil. (Courtesy of SWOP-USA and local SWOP chapters)

SWOP (Sex Worker Outreach Project) is the most recognized name in sex workers’ rights advocacy in the U.S. Currently, they have over 25 chapters around the country, and a board of directors—SWOP National. The only requirements to be a chapter are that March 3rd (International Sex Worker Rights Day) and December 17th (International Day To End Violence Against Sex Workers) are recognized in some way. To avoid outing and endangerment, SWOP does not require its members to identify as current or former sex workers, though the board’s president must always be an out sex worker herself.

Savannah Sly, SWOP National’s president, newly elected in the spring of 2015, e-mailed us about the mistake the SWOP National board felt they’d made not supporting Oklahoma City serial cop racist Daniel Holtzclaw’s victims more as an organization. This mistake highlighted long held bad feeling about SWOP among sex workers who felt the organization did not stand up for sex workers of color, survival sex workers, and other less privileged members of the community. SWOP National wanted to address the community publicly about their commitment to working on these problems. I asked Sly if I could interview her about the way the organization worked and its goal to be more inclusive. The following is an abridged version of our ensuing e-mail conversation:

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Stripper, Florida. Paying my tax to the Supreme Leader, who typically peels off the large notes and leave the singles for litter. Mommy’s haul from a weekend of dancing, supplemented by drug money from a home mycology project. A total of $1121 dollars, which I was benevolently given permission to use toward new tires and brake pads.—Lexi

Sex workers, submit pictures of your furballs and funds here.

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Bonnie at the Different Avenues office in D.C. (Photo by PJ Starr)

Bonnie at the Different Avenues office in D.C. (Photo by PJ Starr)

Content warning: This interview contains graphic descriptions of police violence and rape, imprisonment, and domestic abuse.

Bonnie is a veteran sex workers’ rights activist who has done outreach work in the D.C. area since 2001. She was a HIPS (Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive) client who lived on the streets in Maryland. Later, she was inspired by the work of Robyn Few and others to participate in activism and community organizing through SWOP-Maryland. Last year, she recorded sound for No Humans Involved, a documentary film produced by PJ Starr about Marcia Powell, the street sex worker killed by the negligence and cruelty of the Arizona prison system in 2009. Currently, she’s on a community advisory board with John Hopkins researchers for the SAPPHIRE (Sex Workers And Police Promoting Health In Risky Environments) study, which examines the role of police in HIV risks faced by Baltimore cis and trans sex working women.

You’ve been doing outreach since 2001, originally to D.C. and Prince George’s County Maryland, and later to Northern Virginia and Baltimore as well, using HIPS supplies and sometimes your own money. Where does your dedication come from?

I enjoy it and have to do it and will never stop doing it. That’s because I have memories where the ends of bread, dry socks, housing, a place to get high [where they would] not send me to jail, or a place to avoid drugs (depending on my mood), were my biggest dreams.

I have 8 years where I can proudly say the drug I am allergic to has no power over me. 

Up until very recently I provided housing. I had to stop, and now I provide referrals and transportation to shelters or transitional living or an affordable place to live, whatever is asked of me.  My current venues are methadone clinics, BDSM clubs, immigrant sex work apartments, drug testing clinics, and sex or BDSM party houses. I never leave someone who wants to be inside outside. What if it was the last time I saw that person? What if they were arrested for being homeless i.e. trespassing or loitering; really any charge. A Prince George’s County cop told me and I will never forget: it does not matter what I/we do, it only matters what he/they write on their papers.

Privileged, housed people may not understand that, and it is something I cannot explain. There are two separate worlds, where the language barrier is experience.

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