Proposition 35

 Scarlot Harlot at the Portland Sex by Sex Worker fest (courtesy of BAYSWAN)

Scarlot Harlot at the Portland Sex by Sex Worker fest (courtesy of BAYSWAN)

Carol Leigh, aka Scarlot Harlot, was the first sex workers’ rights movement celebrity I ever met. I’d been escorting for only a few months when she came to speak in my area, and I identified deeply with her writing in my dogeared copy of the 1980s edition of Sex WorkI was struck immediately by her spaced out, comforting voice, her self-deprecating yet confrontational humor, and her political conviction. My coworkers and I enjoyed how frank and matter-of-fact she was with us, dishing about clients like we were already old friends. Carol is the kind of person one needs in every movement: able to connect with anyone and everyone, able to bring people together easily. No wonder she’s been so effective in her pioneering role as one of the first artist activists of sex workers’ rights movement.

I caught up with Carol while she was working on two events, the upcoming Desiree Alliance Conference in Las Vegas and the 8th Biennial San Francisco Sex Worker Film and Arts Festival, and yet she still put aside time to do this interview with me.

One of the things you’re most renowned for is coining the term “sex work” in the late 1970s. How well do you think the term has held up as a way to describe our work and unite us politically?

When I think of the term and concept of “sex work,” I think of how it has empowered our activism through international use. This global proliferation of the term was largely due to the work of my mentor, Priscilla Alexander, who worked at WHO (World Health Organization) in the 80s. “Sex work” is particularly powerful as it was the first term that referred to this act without euphemism. The term “sex work” implies a rights advocacy.

At the same time some issues have come up with the use of this term.

I have heard from some quarters that sex work implies consensuality. At first I strongly resisted that notion, from the perspective that if sex work is basically work, then, in general, all work can be forced. Someone doing factory work, domestic work, etc. can be forced. (I use the term “forced” in a very general way as forced labor is part of a continuum of labor abuses.) It has been very basic in sex work advocacy to emphasize that prostitution is work, as opposed to an expression of one’s personal deviance, or a form of rape.

I often hear sex workers explain that they are not trafficked victims, but rather workers. I want to remind people, as we hold the reins of our options, that when force and choice are seen as a dualism, it obscures class and other divisions. Economic factors greatly impact one’s choices. In response to accusations about prostitution defined as rape per se, sex workers are moved to defend our work as “choice,” when we mean relative choice or choice among certain options. It’s just another typical case in which our message can’t come forth with the clarity we need and want, because we are in such a tight corner, due to laws and stigma. The term “sex work” can fall prey to dualistic thinking when one claims that by definition “sex work” implies consent. This is a long discussion and I haven’t seen much written about this. I look forward to the ongoing work of developing political philosophy based on our experiences of sex work. There is a lot we can learn from each other about discrimination, sex, minority rights, race, class, and survival.



During a dressing room brawl at Hot Bodies in Austin TX, a stripper put out a man’s eye with her shoe. She’s been booked on assault charges, and the arrest warrant stated “In the manner of its use, the high heel shoe could have been a deadly weapon.”

The New York Times sided with the dissenting opinion in the Nite Moves case.

Lawmakers in Queensland, Australia are working to amend anti-discrimination laws to allow hotel owners to refuse to rent to sex workers.

Tomorrow profiles “Sue,” the Nairobi prostitute who authored the Nairobi Nights blog.

Tits and Sass contributor Elle writes about “mommy porn” at Elephant Journal. [READ MORE]


It took us a while to realize that the joke in this ad was “bust a nut” and not “crack a nut.”

Narratively has a feature on sex work activism that features our own “Ask A Pro,” Sarah Patterson.
The Naussau County NY District Attorney wrote about her decision to prohibit prosecutors in her office from using condoms as evidence in prostitution cases. While “Few defendants are more worthy of compassion than sex workers” is a little condescending, her action is admirable.

Someone wrote to an advice columnist asking how they could show their appreciation for a local strip club that “really takes care of the local residents and members of the community — from contributing to schools to supporting food pantries.” Give them five stars on Yelp, of course.

Californians: Here’s a piece on why the frightening Proposition 35 won’t help trafficking survivors.

Melissa Petro wrote about Tiffany Webb, a guidance counselor who was fired over her past as a lingerie model, for XOJane. [READ MORE]


Boy, it was a big week for Nick Kristof, what with the PBS premiere of his “Half The Sky” documentary. We know you all would much rather hear some actual sex workers talk about the damage he’s done in the guise of saving women.

President Obama’s speech at the Clinton Global Initiative last week also had some troubling views on how to handle human trafficking. Melissa Gira Grant also wrote about Obama’s speech and the worrisome tactics of the International Justice Mission.

 Strippers, here’s one excellent reason to avoid doing those corny bachelor dances on stage: your club could wind up getting sued by a severely injured bachelor.

A Kansas City man was sentenced to 30 years for the murder of a transgendered prostitute.  [READ MORE]

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