Magalie speaking at a city council meeting. (Photo by Kendra Kellog)
Magalie joined Prax(us), a Denver homeless youth and anti-trafficking organization, in 2010, as an outreach worker – one who knew the lay of the land in a way that others at Prax(us) did not. She now directs the outreach program and Hartcore, the constituent community organizing program. Hartcore and SWOP Denver (Sex Workers’ Outreach Program Denver) have collaborated on many projects – Know Your Rights trainings, a zine, a speakout, and so on. In 2012, Magalie joined SWOP Denver (which already had overlapping membership), and Hartcore and SWOP Denver have continued to collaborate. Magalie formerly traded sex and is a current webcam model. She is a queer lady and likes music and shows.
When you joined Prax(us) in 2010 you brought street experience and knowledge that was lacking in the organization at the time, and you contributed a lot to their abilities to offer harm reduction and outreach. Can you comment on the relationship between experience and effective outreach?
Outreach can happen regardless of a person’s experience. I think many good outreach workers are social workers, etc. But I would say that HartCore’s community organizing became possible after a person with the lived experience stepped in. I can say, “This happened or is happening to us. What can we do to heal ourselves and our communities?” It’s inclusive and real that way. Outreach is one of my favorite things ever, and I think it’s super important for street-based folks or people who have left the street to be able to do outreach because outreach is a way to redefine the streets. I have always known I have a place on the streets, and outreach allows me to take it back. [READ MORE]
Albert Yau from the org Midnight Blue joins a May Day rally in Hong Kong to promote the rights of male sex workers. (photo by Ernest Kao)
Sex workers from Kolkata took to the streets for May Day, demanding legalization and changes to the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act. Mexican sex workers also held a march in Mexico City.
Several prominent sex worker organisations have been denied permission to intervene in the Supreme Court Bedford v. Canada appeal on June 13th. In a press statement from Maggie’s, Stella and POWER, Canadian sex worker coalition spokesperson and Stella director Émilie Laliberté stated that “The Supreme Court of Canada’s unwillingness to take the voices and perspectives of sex workers into account — in a hearing on laws with a major impact on their safety and dignity — is incomprehensible to us.”
A MSNBC op ed piece illustrates the Obama administration’s folly in defending the PEPFAR anti-prostitution pledge before the Supreme Court by profiling the reduction in HIV rates one Nairobi clinic created by offering sex workers free STD treatment and condoms and encouraging them to unite to enforce condom use with their clients. Meanwhile, NGOs anxiously await the Court’s ruling on whether to abolish the pledge on 1st Amendment grounds.
In this month’s installment of white-slavery hysteria, an 18 year old Colorado woman reported missing in February has been found living unharmed in California, but family members are continuing to claim that she has been coerced into sex work. Although police who interviewed Ms Furlong have stated that she is living in Venice Beach of her own free-will, her parents remain convinced that she is a “a scared victim of trafficking,” and have requested police assistance to return her to Colorado. These concerns have been backed by the National Women’s Coalition Against Violence & Exploitation, who argue that trafficking victims are often “coerced to believe their families are bad”. Ms Furlong herself has stated that “everybody can leave me alone because I’ve been fine and I am fine.” Here’s hoping everybody does just that.
Smith didn’t just consider it irrelevant to ask these women what the law has meant (and hasn’t meant) to them. She also refused to engage with the many sex workers who tweeted her to point out this omission [...] She allowed police officers – people who see it as their mission to drive sex workers out of business, people who have a long history of using sex workers for their own ends in all sorts of nefarious ways (yes, even in post-criminalization Sweden) – to define their experiences for them. I have a few words for that type of reporting. ‘Feminist’ isn’t one of them.
Wendy Lyon responds to the silencing of sex worker voices in The Independent columnist Joan Smith’s whorephobic discussion of criminalization in Sweden this week. Another excellent response from Jem of It’s Just A Hobby here.
Audacia Ray, photo courtesy of the Red Umbrella Project
Audacia Ray is perhaps most renowned in the sex workers’ rights movement for her longtime editing of the now sadly defunct $pread magazine. But as a sex workers’ rights movement activist, Audacia has really been everywhere and done everything: blogging for years about her sex working experience as Waking Vixen; publishing her book, Naked on the Internet: Hookups, Downloads, and Cashing In on Internet Sexploration; and working as an adjunct professor of Human Sexuality at Rutgers University as well as for the communications consultant for the Global Network of Sex Work Projects. Amazingly enough, in 2010 she had time to found the Red Umbrella Project, a peer-led, community-based organization that “amplifies the voices of people who have done transactional sex, through media, storytelling, and advocacy programs.” RedUP is now where her creative, media, and advocacy energies lie. Tits and Sass asked her some questions about this project.
In the introduction to the Red Umbrella Project’s writing workshop’s literary journal, Pros(e), Melissa Petro theorizes that sex workers teaching each other the art of storytelling can increase agency because by writing our stories, we can better understand our choices. This kind of storytelling will also hopefully decrease stigma by increasing understanding (rather than bolstering whorephobia like the memoir pieces full of disdain for co-workers, like so many of the sex worker bios out there.) How do you think telling our stories helps sex workers?
One of the Red Umbrella Project mantras is that we believe storytelling is the building block of social change. I think we need to be able to tell our stories and insist on making space for them in the world if we are ever going to make change for ourselves in the world. Our creative programs, especially the Red Umbrella Diaries events, are really the entry point for many people into the RedUP programs. It’s an easy thing to wander into, be curious about, and then hopefully we get sex workers into some of our programs, building their skills and community, while also getting potential allies to care and think more deeply about the many experiences in the sex trades. I think its important for creative expression to be individualized because there are just so many different kinds of experiences that people have doing sex work. It is also important to constantly look at the bigger picture – which sex workers’ stories are being represented and which are not? What experiences are being documented that indicate areas in which our rights are being denied and violated? And to me, the creative work cannot be an end point or a stand alone thing, it has to be linked to greater social change. I want to validate art for arts’ sake, but we’ve got a revolution to do here, and it’s important to link personal storytelling to cultural and policy change. That said, not everyone is an activist, and when sex workers show up at the Diaries or participate in one of our creative programs and feel awesome – that is enough. [READ MORE]
Melissa Petro, Pros(e)’s editor, at a reading. Photo by David Kornfield, courtesy of the Red Umbrella Project.
Released in the fall of 2012, Pros(e) is the first anthology of writings from the Red Umbrella Project’s Becoming Writers workshop, a creative non-fiction workshop for people with experience in the sex industries. Caty Simon and Jessie Nicole produced this collaborative review out of an hours long conversation that had to be abridged to a fourth of its original size to be readable. We had a lot of feels, as the kids say.
A notable story for both of us (and Jessie’s favorite) was “Fist” by Josh Ryley, which we both had strong visceral reactions to. The mix of humor and horror was nothing short of brilliant, and like all the best pieces here, it illustrated a ubiquitous sex worker concern–what happens to a sex worker if a client gets seriously hurt during a session? Other pieces felt incomplete, like introductions to an untold story happening outside of the pages. And some left us lukewarm or cranky. But the power of Pros(e) is in the variety of experience.
Caty: Melissa Petro’s introduction opens with simple but vital points. We’re taught that sex workers are “if not worthless, than worth less.” We feel the need to tell ourselves we’re exceptional, to distinguish ourselves from the rest of that hoish rabble. This engenders horrible, elitist attitudes reflected in many other sex work memoirs, sometimes from the title onwards, as in Ivy League Stripper and the like. These attitudes also create barriers to organizing together. A collaborative writing project like this can make the vital difference. We show each other how we are the same, rather than one sex worker writing to show how a nice girl like her happened to end up in a place like this. Petro also reminds us of the erasure of male and trans* sex workers, and Pros(e) works against that by including a wide spectrum of voices from the sex industries.
Jessie: Pros(e) connects the value of storytelling, an idea driving RedUP, to the concrete benefits that sex workers can gain from having a venue to tell their stories. This anthology, simply by virtue of existing, is part of a larger project to counteract the stereotypes and stigma that works to threaten those in the sex industries. [READ MORE]