london

(“Flurry” by Marilyn Minter, 1994)

This year’s London Frieze art festival included an exhibit called Sex Worka retrospective on the first wave of feminist art. “Your Art (Probably) Sux!” cried sex workers, upon realizing that the only one of us formally involved was an anonymous porn actress’ cropped pussy lips in a photo.

But to be fair, we hadn’t even seen much of the show. So how have we gotten to this cynical place, where giving an artist the benefit of the doubt seems like a losing bet? Because when it comes to conversations about sociosexual mores, the deck is stacked against us and the house always wins. Sex workers have long been used as muses, metaphors, and props, sensually strewn throughout the art world’s most famous boudoirs but rarely recognized as cultural producers in their own right. When it comes to the era of radical feminism at the heart of  Sex Work, a period of artistic fascination with (fetishization of?) prostitution, a time integral in the creation of a violent anti-prostitution feminist politic, the stakes seem life or death. Fool me once, you know?

For the record, I don’t think the art in Sex Work sux. Considering the recent death of Hugh Hefner, a misogynist whose myopic hetero vision of men, women, and sex shaped a generation, it is still somehow precious to see bodies represented through the eyes of anyone but straight cis men. Betty Tompkins’ black and white “Fuck Paintings” feel spectral, like catching a glimpse of her hazy vulvas through a steamy window. They were all too real, though, in 1973 when she had to order pornography from “the far east” to a secret mailbox in Canada, and then smuggle it across the American border.  Marilyn Minter’s color-saturated orifices aren’t nearly as shocking as the idea that only a few years before I was born she was told by a gallery that women artists don’t sell and to come back in ten years—or never.

The historical context of these works can’t be overlooked. They herald from a time that is eerily recent, when an exhibit featuring only women artists like this one would be so transgressive a curator might lose a career over it, and where the best an artist could hope for in terms of positive reviews was a patronizing remark about a work’s alterity—its “feminine qualities. “I like this art and yet I still struggle to release the distrust lingering from a many-decades-long betrayal committed by the epoch in question. Because after all, there is a historical context for sex worker outrage, too.

[NSFW image after the cut]

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Bianca Baxter, RIP. (Photo via Baxter's Google + profile)

Bianca Baxter, RIP. (Photo via Baxter’s Google + profile)

Ballroom dance star, actress, model, and former Playboy Playmate, Bianca Baxter, aka Barbie Mizrahi, passed away on December 21st.  You can contribute to the fund for her service here.

Ashley Renee Benson was found murdered in a Doubletree Inn in Portland, Oregon. Her family, whom she spent Christmas Day with, said they had no knowledge of her sex work. The police say contact with family is rare in cases like this:

“A lot of the time in human trafficking cases, the victims are not able to live one place and they’re not living apart from the criminal activity or their abusers.”

The police have quickly co-opted her into the trafficking framework, all evidence to the contrary.

A woman in Adelaide, Australia died under similar circumstances, and is suspected to be a sex worker although her identity hasn’t yet been established.  The way she is being written about is already significantly different, however: she’s being described as a woman who potentially came to Adelaide to work in the sex industry, no mention of trafficking.

A woman from Queens was arrested for running a brothel and “promoting prostitution,” after being found with hundreds of condoms in her car and three younger women who admitted to being sex workers but denied being trafficked.  No matter, the police were determined to fit them into the trafficking framework anyway.

A New Zealand brothel worker made history by winning a sexual harassment case against the manager of her brothel, although the IBTimes appears to find the grounds a little questionable:

What makes the case interesting is that the woman was never assaulted or raped, ripped or dismissed, trafficked or forced to do things she did not like. The victim was Williams (name changed), who worked at a Wellington brothel, and her boss used to say certain things that made her feel uneasy.

Although verbal sexual harassment is understood as harassment in most other industries, apparently nothing short of trafficking qualifies as harassment in the sex industry.

Street workers in Malawi are in conflict with bike taxis over methods of payment: according to one taxi operator, street workers use the taxis and then refuse to pay cash, offering an exchange of services instead.

Newsweek takes an unexpected (and unexpectedly pro-sex worker) look at Anita Sarkeesian’s sex work politics and her ongoing refusal to engage with sex workers around our requests for her to, please for God’s sake, stop saying “prostituted women.”

“What this tells us is that she sees men as creatures able to make sexual choices,” [Maggie] McNeil says, “but she sees women as creatures who can only have sex for traditional reasons—love, or romance or whatever. But if women are [having sex] for tactical reasons, then she sees this as somehow suspect—that a man must be doing that. Hence the [term] prostituted; someone has done this to her.”

Maddie Myers picks up the bat for us that Sarkeesian left in the dirt with this thoughtful post on Grand Theft Auto:

We need to think about what these games say about not just the people who make them, but the thousands and thousands of people who buy them, for whom this depiction of sex workers as disposable victims has become normalized past the point of even seeing the horror in it. If these games are always going to exist and never change, fine. But that does not excuse our own ignorance of them. And that does not remove our responsibility to talk with other people who play games, especially young teens, about what is being depicted.

The United States Food and Drug Administration has lifted the ban on blood donations from gay men, but still requires a year long wait after having gay sex, paid sex, or sex with an injection drug user.  Which, effectively, means there’s still a ban on gay men, sex workers, and people whose partners are IDUs or sex workers. I didn’t want to give you my blood anyway.

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Orange Is The New Black actress Laverne Cox in Arizona backing trans and sex workers' rights activist Monica Jones' appeal against false charges of "manifesting prostitution" (Photo via Monica Jones'Facebook)

Orange Is The New Black actress Laverne Cox in Arizona backing trans and sex workers’ rights activist Monica Jones’ appeal against false charges of “manifesting prostitution” (Photo by Leah Jo Carmine, via Monica Jones’ Facebook, courtesy of Monica Jones)

Laverne Cox supports Monica Jones’ appeal against trumped up charges of “manifesting prostitution”! We couldn’t have dreamed up a more exciting celebrity cameo in our wildest activist dreams. Catch up on Monica’s case by looking through Tits and Sass’ Monica Jones tag, and stay tuned for an exclusive Tits and Sass update on her appeal by her SWOP-Phoenix comrades.

Coverage of the Portland Cupcake Girls’ Spa Day in the local press had a few of our readers writing in to us and other venues, infuriated. Apparently, neither the Oregonian nor the Cupcake Girls understand that strippers are not all unloved waifs and that actually, they can make themselves up and even (gasp!) pay for their own salon visits without the group’s charity. In fact, they do so consistently in order to work in a field in which their appearance must be immaculate. Read Red’s longform piece on shadowing the Cupcake Girls for more on these well meaning altruists’ fundamental misunderstandings about the sex industry.

Despite the fact that the former head officer was sexually assaulting the very women he was supposed to be helping, the Hamilton trafficking unit carries on, making fake dates with workers through online ads and attempting to rescue them. No charges have yet been filed in the past year and a half, though the former head, rapist Derek Mellor, faces a continued disciplinary hearing in September.

Sex workers in Jakarta have returned to work with the end of Ramadan, a fact that the Public Order Agency finds less than thrilling.

“We will address the issue soon. We hope both streets will soon be free of sex workers,” he said.

Sounds like he has a solid and not at all abusive plan.

The Economist makes an argument for decriminalization that, essentially, boils down to a pro-gentrification (“get the seediness off the streets”) point.Worlds collide when the interests of white male privacy and sexuality come up.

Margaret Corvid writes about some of the prices incurred by the loss of the fourth wall, as internet presence and accessibility becomes mandatory for many sex workers. Tighten your privacy settings, y’all.

MediaUpdate pays tribute to Nokuphila Kumalo, the sex worker assaulted and murdered by South African artist Zwelethu Mthethwa.

Without even a photograph of her, it is difficult to put a face to her name. Access to the fragments of her life prior to her murder is also hindered by the stigma associated with sex work. Although the oldest profession in the world (apart from politics) it remains shrouded in secrecy and shame, criminalised in most countries and regarded with contempt by mainstream society. 

Mthethwa’s trial begins in November.

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Chinese activist Lanlan at ICAAP 2013 in Bangkok, with Gisa Dang of Asia Catalyst interpreting

Chinese activist Lanlan at ICAAP 2013 in Bangkok, with Gisa Dang of Asia Catalyst interpreting

After the state aired a documentary on a so-called “sin city” in China, exposing the prevalence of sex work (amongst other things), support for damaging anti-vice campaigns is growing. Support for the legalization of sex work in China is also growing.

Oh, COME ON, Canada! Just ask sex workers what the best way to re-write prostitution laws is, because the stupid survey you’re offering isn’t cutting it . This survey is much better and PLEASE, PLEASE SUBMIT YOUR ANSWERS.

In more Canada news, suspended Conservative senator Patrick Brazeau is working as a day shift manager at an Ottowa strip club. He’s also known as the man who lost a charity boxing match to Justin Trudeau.

That awkward moment when the founder of an anti-trafficking organization is accused of rape, then flees the country.

This promotional video for a Sochi resort hotel includes a clip filmed in the on-premises strip club. We’ve queued it up for you.

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(image via TheLengths.com)

(image via TheLengths.com)

When did I last read a novel about gay male escorts that didn’t make me want to set the world on fire with rage? It was probably Rupert Everett’s Hello, Darling, Are You Working?, one of the sex workers’ rights advocate/actor’s less well-known works. But also I read that book years ago, so long ago in fact that I don’t really even remember too much about it, beyond that it wasn’t completely maddening.

I haven’t done a study or anything, but it seems that rent boys feature in memoirs a lot more than they feature in novels. (The most recent example I know of was self-published by gay porn star Christopher Daniels in November; I haven’t read it.) But even some of the fictional works—Everett’s among them—are at least somewhat autobiographical. Howard Hardiman, author of eight-issue comic The Lengths, fits into that category. In an interview with The New Statesman he says he “did a bit of sex work” with some of his escort friends, and it’s evident that he sympathizes with his characters. The Lengths is fiction, but in addition to (presumably) drawing on his own experiences Hardiman clearly did a lot of research, interviewing London’s male sex workers as he assembled the story of a wayward dog named Eddie.

Yes, Eddie is a dog. I think he’s a bull terrier? [READ MORE]

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