The Week In Links—May 16th

One of the images Red Umbrella Project used in their campaign against the use of condoms as evidence. (Art by kd diamond, image courtesy of Red Umbrella Project)

One of the images Red Umbrella Project used in their campaign against the use of condoms as evidence. (Art by kd diamond, image courtesy of Red Umbrella Project)

Go Audacia Ray and Red Umbrella Project!!! The big news this week is that the NYPD has finally ended the policy of confiscating condoms from suspected sex workers to use as evidence! The change still leaves a loophole, however: they can still seize and use condoms as evidence in sex trafficking and promotion of prostitution cases.

There were several really great pieces this week deconstructing the trafficking conversation and calling for labor and human rights for sex workers: Georgina Orellano, with the Argentine Sex Workers Association, “is adamant that women who choose the sector to make a living should be given the same labour [sic] rights as everybody else.” Orellano is consistently brilliant at shutting down the interviewer’s hand-wringing attempts to make sex work into some kind of metaphysical violation; especially gratifying is her distinction between men who pay to have sex with kidnapped women (criminals), and the clients of sex workers.

Also satisfying: Anne Elizabeth Moore takes apart the racism and imperialism of the anti-trafficking movement and Christian “anti-trafficking” organizations (shady as always). Like many of us recently, she needs clarification about the concept of women “trafficking themselves.” THANK YOU FOR ASKING ABOUT THIS! Also: “Arguing that, in an ideal world, no woman would willingly sell sex, abolitionists aim to eliminate the industry entirely. Sex workers, when asked, note the absence of this illusory world.” High five! Continue reading

Emotional Truth: Cheyenne Picardo, Director of Remedy

Cheyenne Picardo, director of the independent film Remedy.

Cheyenne Picardo, director of the independent film Remedy. (photo by Rose Callahan)

Cheyenne Picardo wrote and directed Remedy, a film based on her experiences as a professional switch that is currently making the rounds at film festivals internationally. Her movie is an unflinching look at what it’s like to work in a Manhattan ‘house dungeon,’ in which dommes, subs, and switches work shifts for the owner, who in turn provides clients, space, and equipment. I worked as a pro-switch in a Manhattan house myself and spoke with Picardo via email about Remedy and her experiences in the sex industry.

You’re open about the fact that Remedy is based on your time working in a house. As someone who did the same job, I have to say I was blown away by just how true-to-life the movie was. In telling this story, was realism a major concern for you?

It was paramount. When I first started working on the script, back in 2007, I was preoccupied with recreating, with absolute accuracy, every detail of sessions that had happened a good three years before. Because I was producing my own film as part of my MFA thesis, I never saw the need to format the screenplay in the traditional way, so it read like a long journal entry with dialogue.

Then, a year after writing Remedy, I began to shoot the film, and the limitations of the script started to become obvious. Clients were rewritten according to the best actors I could find. Some of my dialogue was scrapped entirely because it was so laced with narcotic haze—I wrote the first draft while bedridden with a spiral fracture. Some scenes were rewritten the night before shooting, often with my assistant director Melissa Roth or the actors who would be playing the parts. For other scenes, like ones involving heavy bondage or corporal, my only direction was to hit a few dialogue points and dramatic beats but otherwise talk normally, and I shaped the acting and language as we shot. I think these methods enhanced the realism tremendously in the final product.

Whatever changes I made to “my story” were OK—as long as I retained emotional truth, and as long as what I depicted was either something I had experienced firsthand or something that a friend in the industry had told me over takeout while we sat the overnight shifts watching gonzo porn or Charlie Rose.

Ultimately—and I’m very free with this—the biggest “lies” in the film are these: I did have a dungeon boyfriend, but we didn’t actually lip-lock; the manager is not based on any single person; and the co-workers are meant to represent certain types of women who work in dungeons, not caricature the actual people I worked with. Continue reading

Remedy (2014)

remedy cover“So you went domme on a dare,” a co-worker remarks to the eponymous protagonist of Remedy. It’s one of the movie’s more memorable lines. It’s also the reason I watched this flick in the first place: a dare. I challenged myself to sit through a movie about a twenty-something who lands a job as a pro-switch in a midtown Manhattan commercial dungeon even though I’d already lived that exact experience. Because it’s an incredibly specific kind of sex worker story, I anticipated that this depiction would either be inaccurate to an enraging degree, or familiar enough to require drinking away the feelings it dredged up. To put it simply: I knew that viewing this would be unpleasant, and I did it anyway. It seems Remedy (newcomer Kira Davies) and I share a certain mentality as well as a job title.

We share much more than that, actually. The movie is said to be “based on [writer and] director Cheyenne Picardo’s own experiences,” but I hadn’t anticipated the honesty of the details. Remedy goes to SMack!, a long-running fetish party in the New York scene, she meets a domme who can get her a job at a dungeon a few blocks north of the Herald Square subway stop, which is where I used to work, and then she meets the clients. Oh, the clients. Remedy’s clients are painfully real, in all their whacked-out, hairy, sweaty, groping, preachy, leering, cordial, charming, and manipulative incarnations. I don’t just mean that they’re plausible. No, despite the obligatory legal disclaimer, the resemblances to persons still quite living is undeniable for those of us who know them. I gasped as Remedy was introduced to her first client (played by the perfectly gross Chris Reilly), a certain dental fetishist familiar to everyone in the New York house scene. This movie isn’t just realistic; sitting through it was like watching my own biopic.

I admit that it’s hard to get past the shock of watching someone who looks just like you doing just what you did with the very same people you were doing it with. I admit that this two-hour movie took me nearly four booze-soaked hours to get through. I admit that I have quite a lot of feelings about it, and that I am not an impartial observer, not at all. Then again, neither is the professional critic whose only experience with the sex industry is that time he went to a strip club for a bachelor party, or the stripper who’s never set foot in a commercial dungeon. Continue reading

The Week In Links—December 20

Behold that jubilant smile, and that everpresent, oh-so-stylin' riding crop. Terri Jean Bedford is a woman who knew she was going to win. Along with the two other sex worker plaintiffs of Bedford v. Canada, Amy Lebovitch and Valerie Scott, Bedford won the day today when the Canadian Supreme Court struck down Canada's anti-prostitution laws. Looks like Canadian sex workers have a lot of decriminalized whipping to do. (Photo by Jack Boland/QMI Agency Files, via northumberlandtoday.com)

Behold that jubilant smile, and that ever present leather jacket and the oh-so-stylin’ riding crop. Terri Jean Bedford is a woman who knew she was going to win. Along with the two other sex worker plaintiffs of Bedford v. Canada, Amy Lebovitch and Valerie Scott, Bedford won the day today when the Canadian Supreme Court struck down Canada’s anti-prostitution laws. Looks like Canadian sex workers have a lot of decriminalized whipping to do. (Photo by Jack Boland/QMI Agency Files, via northumberlandtoday.com)

What a triumphant end to this week of International Day to End Violence Against Sex Work: today, the Canadian Supreme Court struck down the country’s prostitution related laws in a unanimous decision on Bedford vs. Canada, calling all three statutes—prohibiting brothels, living on the avails of prostitution, and communicating in public with clients—over-broad and “grossly disproportionate.” A resounding, grateful shout out is due to the eponymous Terri-Jean Bedford, Amy Lebovitch and Valerie Scott, the three sex workers who began this court challenge in the Ontario court system. However, this victory is not unmitigated—the court gave Parliament a one-year grace period to redraft a legislative scheme on full service sex work that could be judged constitutional. In the meantime, Canada’s anti-prostitution laws are still in effect. But, if twelve months from today, the federal government has not redrawn the laws to address the Supreme Court’s concern that they are too arbitrary, vague, and excessive, full service sex workers will be free to legally practice their trade; hire drivers, bodyguards, and accountants; and screen their clients as they see fit.

Here’s more on the story from the Business Insider; the Toronto Star; BBC News; a Globe and Mail op-ed expressing worry about the fact that the court’s decision, is in a way, “an open invitation to Parliament to write new criminal laws”; another Globe and Mail editorial on the ruling’s implications re: the right to self-defense; an Ottawa Sun piece on local sex workers’ reactions to the decision, quoting a representative of Canadian sex workers’ rights organization POWER; a Herald News article on the comments of staff at Stepping Stone, a Halifax support and outreach organization for sex workers, after they heard the news while celebrating their Christmas party; a CBC News blog round up of twitter reactions to the ruling; a Vancouver Sun profile of how Pivot Legal Society, an organization which was instrumental in this landmark victory, is taking the good tidings; and an op-ed in the Ottawa Citizen on how the decision represents Canada’s movement towards more progressive politics.

Oh, wow, so much coverage this week 0n movement actions around the world for International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers on December 17th: here’s a video and an article on the protest in Kenya, in which sex workers marched along with members of the GLBT community, demanding an end to violence against both groups; the L.A. Times on vigils in Los Angeles and New York, along with a summary of violence against sex workers throughout the year; Best of New Orleans on SWOP-NOLA’s December 17th second line parade through the French Quarter;  SWOP-LV’s press release on their event in the Las Vegas Sun; a radio interview with SWOP-Denver members (about three quarters through the audio file); the Times Colonist on Victoria, BC sex workers’ rights organization PEERS’ march (though they call it “Red Umbrella Day”);  HuffPo on SWOP events throughout the U.S., with a slide show of photos of some of this year’s sex worker murder victims; a piece in the Bristol Post on  Avon and Somerset’s Police and Crime Commissioner marking the occasion by publicly supporting the Ugly Mugs scheme, Naharnet on a protest in Skopke, Macedonia; Turkey’s Red Umbrella Sexual Health and Human Rights Organization’s statement for the day; Rabble with statements from sex workers’ rights organizations Zi Teng, EMPOWER, the Native Youth Sexual Health Network, and Maggie’s on the issue, plus a lament for non gender normative Indonesian migrant sex worker murder victim Rosa Ribut; a speech by sex worker activist Gina de Vries at the San Francisco event, urging the movement to center the voices of trans sex workers of color; and finally, an Australia Broadcasting Company radio interview with sex worker activists Jane Green and Ryan Cole at the Melbourne protest: “Don’t call me darling. That’s patronizing.”

Whew. We’re overwhelmed. And oh-so-delighted.

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The Week In Links—October 11th

RIP Gabriella Liete, veteran Brazilian sex workers' rights activist (photo by Tomas Langel)

RIP Gabriella Liete, veteran Brazilian sex workers’ rights activist (photo by Tomas Langel)

An open letter extravaganza began this week when Sinead O’Connor wrote to Miley Cyrus, warning her that the music industry “will prostitute you for all you are worth, and cleverly make you think its[sic] what YOU wanted.. and when you end up in rehab as a result of being prostituted, ‘they’ will be sunning themselves on their yachts in Antigua, which they bought by selling your body and you will find yourself very alone.” Oh, Sinead, please don’t use the word “prostitute” and all that anti rhetoric—all we want is to keep listening to I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got, admiring your bravery for disclosing your Magdalene Laundry trauma. Amanda Palmer joined the fray, writing an open letter on her blog to Sinead, in which she maintains that there should be “room for Miley to rip a page out of stripper culture and run around like a maniac for however long she wants to.” Right, go ahead, Miley, please feel free to keep appropriating Black sex worker culture. Shut up, Amanda Palmer (this should really be said more often.) Autostraddle posited that all this would start a never ending sequence of offensive open letters. O’Connor then wrote a second and a third open letter to Cyrus in which she expostulated further about “acting like a prostitute and calling it feminism,” and how such behavior engenders mental illness (?).

Gabriela Leite, veteran sex workers’ rights activist and founder of Brazilian sex workers’ rights organization Davida, died of cancer yesterday, October tenth, at the age of sixty two.

Tracy Clark-Flory rants in Salon about why she didn’t want her husband to get a lap dance at his bachelor party (but, hey, she’s cool, she’s spent so much time writing about porn!) In the process, she reveals more about her own dysfunctions than any problem with strippers.

Ottawa police officer Sgt. Rohan Beebakhee is under fire in court for meeting with escorts, giving them his card, and saying things like: “I’m just here to let you know, should you have a bad date, or you find yourself in a bad situation, I don’t want you to be hesitant about calling police.”

The World Health organization published a new document informing government agencies and NGOs that sex worker led programs are a fundamental part of the fight against HIV. Sex workers themselves have known for ages how important peer-led projects are, but it’s nice to see it affirmed by mainstream organizations.

In related news, Kenya’s Medical Research Institute states that gay men working in the sex trade need to be included in the country’s HIV prevention strategy. Men who have sex with men are often prevented from accessing HIV testing and medication, and consensual sexual activity between men is illegal under Kenyan law and carries a maximum penalty of fourteen years’ imprisonment.

Cathy Reisenwitz critiques New York’s new prostitution and trafficking courts in Reason. Her op-ed also discusses recent FBI trafficking stings, and there’s a choice quote included from an FBI special agent’s press conference which makes the agency’s agenda of stripping sex workers’ agency abundantly clear: “The FBI is part of the apparatus in place to protect people, sometimes even from their own poor choices.”

In reference to the closing of Edinburgh’s saunas, Vicky Allan writes in a Scotland Herald op-ed that one thing much worse than a world full of super brothels is a world in which sex work is driven underground. At this point, though, we’re pretty tired of feminists prefacing pro-sex workers’ rights sentiments by going on about how uncomfortable they are with sex work. This isn’t about your comfort.

Strip club Rick’s Cabaret banned Giants watching at the club, because their recent string of losses soured customers’ moods.

Socialist PM Maud Olivier, writer of a new proposal for the French government to fine clients of sex workers, acts like she invented the Swedish model. The Local interviewed a spokeswoman for French sex workers’ rights organization STRASS, who explains how the law would further endanger sex workers.

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