playboy

Hugh Hefner the image. (Photo by Flickr user Sarah Gerke)

Content warning: this post contains brief references to rape and abuse. 

Hugh Hefner died.

Of course he did. Dude was 91. When my castmate announced it after rehearsal, I didn’t feel shock at the news. Hefner may as well have died when he stopped being the editor of Playboy magazine. Or when The Girls Next Door tried selling us on twincest. Or when the magazine stopped publishing nudes. He was a go-to pop culture joke about debauchery and smoking jackets, but he’s hardly been relevant for years.

Still, I had some mixed feelings. I never much cared for Hefner or his image, having been introduced to him as a doddering grandpa on reality TV, but Playboy the brand had been in my life since I was a child. It molded my early ideas of what it meant to be attractive. It introduced me to the idea that sexiness could be playful or serious. When I turned 18, I bought an issue just because I could and delighted at the articles and interviews just as much as the pictorials. This, I thought, was the intersection of brains and beauty. By thumbing through the pages at my grandma’s house I was somehow becoming a well-rounded adult.

To say nothing of the accidental connection between Playboy and queerness. For generations, Dad’s secret stash (or in my case, my mother’s boyfriend Chad’s collection that he just left out in the open in his office) was a gateway not just for teenage boys but also girls. It felt like fate that my first issue featured a spread with Adrienne Curry, the first out bisexual I had ever seen. Since Playboy could also be “for the articles”, I was able to hide my queerness even from myself. Perhaps even more than the cool girls I had met in high school, Playboy gave me the most intense stirrings of looking at a woman and not being sure if I wanted to be her or be with her. As I grew I realized, hell, why not both?

When I went to college I found vintage issues and hung the centerfolds in my kitchen, aspiring to their fresh-faced, breezy beauty. I copied the makeup, teased my hair higher, and then rebelled against the streamlined pin-ups in favor of some Hustler-esque trashiness. Those styles helped me experiment and come into my own again and again as I rolled through my early 20s. Even now, I’ll sometimes look at them and imagine living in a dreamy world of sheer babydolls and fur rugs. It’s a world I realize I now have the means to create for myself at any point. Several photographer friends are just a Facebook message away, and within the week I’ll have a pin-up of myself to tuck away. In them, I’m eternally 19, 21, 24, and these versions of me seem younger and younger every year. They’re my own digital flashbacks that I wish I could share with my younger self. “Look,” I’d say. “You’re pretty too.”

But none of that was Hefner. It was the women I idolized—women who were paid peanuts to be immortalized in soft focus.

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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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