anti-porn

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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afeminismmeansWhen I make porn I find it to be a positive experience. That is based on a wide range of factors that I’ve spoken and written about in depth over the past eight years. For one, trans women’s sexuality is greatly misrepresented in media and it’s important to me to be able to create representations of sexuality on my own terms. I also take great care to address and incorporate ethics into every level of production. My porn includes Audre Lorde references. My porn has been nominated for and won several feminist awards. My porn includes complex discussion of police violence, immigration politics, post-traumatic stress, and other social issues.

Yet, inevitably, I encounter individuals who point at my work and declare that it is objectifying on face—typically without having even watched it. Then they demand that I come up with a thesis worthy defense of my claim that making my porn is a positive thing. Anything I’ve already said or written in defense of my work is ignored. Any reasoning or argumentation about my informed decision to work in porn is lost. My argument is simply represented by my detractors as “because I chose it.”

Choice feminism is the idea that anything that any woman personally chooses to do is a feminist act. The most commonly given example of this argument is that choosing to do sex work—or to take pole dancing classes, be in porn, sext, fill in the blank—is empowering simply because a woman has chosen to do it and criticisms against perpetuating objectification are irrelevant.

The problem here is that in most cases women are simply trying to point out that they know their own lives and are making an informed decision. They are not claiming that any woman’s exercise of her agency is by definition a feminist act, but that denying a woman her agency is an inherently un-feminist act— especially coming from someone who doesn’t have a shared understanding of the context of that decision in her life. [READ MORE]

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Kitty Stryker with Andre Shakti. (Screencap from Ban This Sick Filth, courtesy of Kitty Stryker)

Kitty Stryker with Andre Shakti. (Screencap from Ban This Sick Filth, courtesy of Kitty Stryker)

I’m in the middle of being flogged by Courtney Trouble for Banned in the UK (NSFW), an anti-censorship porn critiquing obscenity laws. It’s getting a little hot and heavy and my ass is getting red when the tails whip around and smack the cameraperson, my lover, in the face. We all dissolve into giggles.

And they say there’s no authenticity in porn.

I have a boner to pick with Rashida Jones (Parks and Recreation), an actress and one of the producers of an “intimate and ultimately harrowing” documentary about porn performers (because even when a documentary is expressing disgust and pity for sex workers, it’s still sexualized). Directors Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus are very concerned about the impact of porn on culture; it was the subject of their first documentary, Sexy Baby. During an interview at the Sundance Film Festival about the film (which was bought by Netflix), Ms. Jones said, “Women should feel pleasure and have sex and feel good about it—and there’s a lot of shame involved with porn,” adding that “[i]t’s performative, women aren’t feeling joy from it.”

I’m an amateur-ish porn performer and one of the directors of a little company called TROUBLEfilms. As a queer owned, queer focused operation, fulfilling cis male fantasies is not really high up on our list of priorities, but I guess since everyone knows that “only men are visual” all porn is basically the same, right? And of course as the casting director of this company, I am blasé about performer safety and health—it’s not like we have a multi-page document of model rights and our ethical standards.

If only porn was as progressive as Hollywood—oh, wait, except there’s more representation in the porn industry for female directors and producers than in the mainstream film industry.

But I’m going to put aside my sarcasm for a minute, because this is a serious issue with serious consequences. There’s been a lot of discussion about “authenticity” in porn and how amazing and valuable and feminist a quality it is, but I call bullshit on that discourse. Indie porn performer Arabelle Raphael made a great point last year by stating that porn is still labor, and as such, it is by its very nature performative. All labor requires some sort of performance, from smiling at customers you dislike to being polite when you hate your boss. Labor in the entertainment field, whether that be acting on stage, screen, or in adult movies, is even more explicitly staged. Activist sex worker Siouxsie Q wrote about how when she was working with a feminist pornographer, the actual, negotiated sex she wanted to have with a real life play partner was considered “too much” to be “authentic” as defined by that director. So who decides, then, what is authentic and what is performative? Are these actually opposite ends of a spectrum?

(Editor’s note: Content warning—NSFW images after the jump.)

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RIP London sex worker Maria Duque-Tanjano (photo by Scotland Yard, via the Metro)

RIP London sex worker Maria Duque-Tanjano (photo courtesy of Scotland Yard, via the Metro)

Trafficking survivor Jes Richardson offers a concise, helpful critique of most ‘rescue’ operations: “When someone is rescued the power, strength, courage, and control is placed in the hands of the rescuers, rather than empowering the person being rescued.”

Here are a few “no duh” sex tips from sex worker Siouxsie Q.

This guy read Melissa Gira Grant’s new book and now he gets it: sex work is labor, period.

Also, Melissa’s first interview for that book, Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work, came out in NY Magazine. But don’t worry, she promises her interview with us will be much juicier.

Police in the southern Chinese city of Dongguan reacted to a nationally televised exposé about local sex work with raids on February 9th against 2,000 entertainment venues and the arrests of more than 60 people…with the unintended consequence of opening up a nation wide debate about legalization of the industry.

Northern Ireland’s justice committee met a real, live sex worker and it looked and felt a bit like The Crucible.

There only seems to one growth industry in the communities surrounding Zimbabwe’s diamond mines: sex work. Unfortunately, even some children have entered this market, as a means to elevate their families out of poverty.

Somebody is killing sex workers in Kenya and they have very few people to turn to for help and protection. And this isn’t the first time it’s happened.

Police in Sonoma County are rethinking the way they handle sex crimes by—you guessed it—focusing on clients.  A decoy named “Amber” was used instead of a the traditional model of a police officer posing as a john. Gee, the trial sting they ran seemed awfully similar to a legitimate prostitution ring. HMMM. The first commenter hits the nail on the head: “‘Amber’ was not a victim of human trafficking. ‘She’ was a male cop. I think police should focus on helping actual human trafficking victims rather than creating opportunities for men to commit the world’s oldest crime.”

Paris Lees says what we wish we all could say to concern trollers, in response to some of the letters she got on her Vice piece last week about escorting to get through school: “Speaking from personal experience…I doubt any sex worker appreciates your disapproval hard-on—so why don’t you just take it, like any decent whore, and shove it up your ass?”

A manhunt has been launched in London to find Robert Richard Fraser, connected to the murder of one local sex worker, Maria Duque-Tanjano, and the attack of another.

Hey, Upworthy, pick a side. First you feature videos by industry abolitionists about how all migrant sex workers are duped trafficking victims, and then you post this video by Red Light District Chicago on how, as we all know, sex workers are best positioned to stop trafficking? As the sex workers in this video state themselves: “Conflating consensual sex work and sex trafficking is a disservice to both sex trafficking victims and sex workers.”

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oh yeah is that the problem, Nick? Maybe stop helping cops, then.

oh yeah is that the problem, Nick? Maybe stop helping cops, then.

Virulently transphobic and whorephobic radical “feminist” lawyer Cathy Brennan was at it again this week on twitter, intensifying her campaign of terror against trans women by threatening to out trans sex workers. One trans sex worker whom Brennan has victimized told Tits and Sass, “She has a webpage for me on her…site, where I sit alongside male rapists and murderers, and she accuses me of misogyny. She has collected information from various social media profiles of mine, and [g]ives links so her followers can harass me. She has collected all this information together with what she believes to be my real name. I fully believe if I were ever to say on twitter I had found a job outside sex work she would attempt to contact them [a]nd show them my adultwork profile. The irony of her being anti sex work yet in a position where she would make any other job impossible [for the sex workers she outs] is particularly bitter. She only ever picks on people without the resources or backup to challenge her. She’s a bully, and seems determined not to stop until some one is dead. Maybe not even then.” Thankfully, twitter has once again suspended Brennan’s accounts.

The former White House official behind twitter account @NatSecWonk, who notoriously ridiculed the D.C. National Security community, is allegedly also behind infamous escort client twitter account @DCHobbyist. Sic semper hagglers!

In the wake of being raped and beaten by a client, a sex worker in California fights discrimination in victims’ aid.

NYTimes writer and sweatshop advocate Nicholas Kristof  livetweeted a trafficking op in a “southern U.S. city” last night. He seems to have edged close to, but then backed off of, self-awareness. Kristof pulled this kind of stunt before when he livetweeted a brothel raid in Cambodia. Read Melissa Gira Grant’s Kristof primer for more on his white savior antics.

The Somaly Mam Foundation, named for Kristof’s partner in the Cambodia raid, has come under scrutiny for fraud. This feature in Cambodia Daily talks about woman who was coached by Mam to lie about her trafficking victim history in a documentary. This Metafilter post collects several stories about the questionable financial practices within the foundation, which participates in the unlawful arrest and detention of Cambodian sex workers.

You know what’s news this week? Justin Bieber groping a stripper’s ass. Hands to yourself, Bieber. The stripper in question later tweeted, “I’ve Danced For A lot Of Celebrities And They Normally Don’t Phase Me But Justin just Had Me In Shock !” No, we don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, either.

The University of York’s student paper, Nouse, and the Huffington Post still seem surprised that students often use sex work to fund their education. Yawn. Meanwhile, the former chief constable of  the South Wales police spoke out in support of a new study into the extent of student sex work in Wales at Swansea University.  We yawned yet again at ex-chief constable’s Barbara Wilder’s specious distinction between students and those OTHER sex workers: “[T]hey [the prostitutes Wilder encountered before] were mainly people who had drug addiction or had mental health problems or in really desperate desperate financial situations. They were often driven into it with no choice. Whereas with students we think we are dealing with a different set of circumstances. They are intelligent, starting their lives.”

Ex-porn performer/current anti porn activist Alexa Cruz/Vanessa Belmond shared her story on British TV show Date My Porn Star, claiming that, ““[n]obody really wants to date a porn star, stripper or escort. Also the whole family thing and having kids, I’m like ‘who’s gonna have kids with an ex-porn star.’ ” Many of our partners and children would disagree.

The Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee, Astitva Sansthan, and other Calcutta sex workers’ rights organizations protest an anti-trafficking law that criminalizes their brothel clients.

An abandonedVictorian brothel was turned into a temporary art gallery, with employee files and other confidential information on display as part of the installation. Thankfully, local sex workers convinced the gallery’s management to close it down.

Police in Scotland plan to use condoms as evidence. The Conversation gave us another entry to file under The Headline Says It All, documenting the outraged responses of Scottish NGOs: “Police Attitude to Sex Saunas is Wrong, Bizarre, and Dangerous.”

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