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Activist Spotlight: Nine, on Bad Policies and Holding Abolitionists To Account

nineNine is an itinerant writer from Northern Ireland, who spent several years working at an outreach project for sex workers in Scotland before being made redundant in 2009.  Recently, she has written and spoken against attempts by politicians and feminist organisations to criminalise the purchase of sex in Scotland, most notably in the barnstorming essay “Taking Ideology to The Streets: Sex Work And How To Make Bad Things Worse” and in her zine Sex industry Apologist, now on its second volume.  Nine’s writing has also appeared in Autostraddle and The Rumpus.

I’d like to ask about the work you did supporting street-based sex workers, and what you’ve done since that came to an end?

I spent six and a half years at a sex work project, from 2002 to 2009, providing outreach services to sex workers on the streets, in flats, saunas and massage parlors, and online. I gave out condoms and needles, linked people up with specialist services, took reports of violence and circulated them to other sex workers, provided emotional support, gave advice on legalities and personal safety—basically I just responded to whatever issues sex workers brought to me. However, we were sometimes limited in terms of what we could actually do, given that we were operating on pretty much a shoestring, and adequate support was not always available to sex workers from other agencies. I guess that’s what happens when the funding is almost entirely focused on sexual health, as if sex workers couldn’t possibly have any other needs. Hi, I may be ranting already.

Activist Spotlight: Hawk Kinkaid on Negotiation and Shared Knowledge

Hawk Kinkaid (photo of himself)

Hawk Kinkaid, a former escort, Internet porn performer and pro-dom, is the founder of HOOK, a grassroots non-profit organization that since 1997 has undertaken to share knowledge, reduce harm and build community among male sex workers. HOOK has published guides on best practices, negotiation, and legal issues, has collected stories and interviews, and runs the innovative educational program Rent U. He’s been a contributor to $pread magazine, performed at Sex Worker Literati, competed nationally in spoken word, and contributed to the upcoming omnibus anthology Johns, Marks, Tricks and Chickenhawks, edited by David Henry Sterry. We welcome new Tits and Sass contributor Dominick—a fellow contributor to Johns, Marks… and advice blogger for rentboy.com—who interviewed Hawk about the relaunch of  HOOK and his other projects.

So tell me about your piece that appears in David Henry Sterry’s new anthology. It’s called “Ice Cream”—when did you write it? Is it cold and sweet?

I wrote “Ice Cream” a year and a half ago. It is a true story, but it happened over a decade ago. Cold and sweet? I love ice cream. The story is not about ice cream, the dessert. It’s about a man who makes ice cream; it’s about going cold when it’s part of your business.

Does Ice Cream Man know you’ve written about him? I wrote about a client, a married elementary school principal exploring raunch/kink/humiliation on the rentboy blog, and he actually saw it! He left me a friendly comment.

Ice Cream Man has no idea. And I don’t think he would appreciate the story. It’s true, but I don’t think he would like it. He may not even be alive now. I have no idea, actually. Discretion with and about clients is part of the job, but after all this time, it’s a different world.

Well, I think a decade is plenty of time to hold a good story in. Has writing always been a part of your sex work practice?

HOOK along with other great programs like the now extinct $pread magazine have always been great outlets for me to share important stories or thoughts about working in the industry. Poetry is another significant part of my life, ranging from national spoken word slamming to my work’s inclusion in a number of literary journals. Writing has always been part of my life—I think it just made sense to also use words to shape the many experiences I had as an escort, pro-dom, etc.

HOOK definitely helped me when I was escorting. I kept that wallet card on me at all times, and wrote the number of a lawyer on it. I never had reason to use it, thankfully, but I felt better prepared.

That’s awesome! It’s what we work toward in being a resource for working men.

One Black Trans Sex Worker’s December 17th

A December 17th collage of Black sex working trans women victims of violence (Image by A Passion, courtesy of A Passion)
A December 17th collage of Black sex working trans women victims of violence (Image by A. Passion, courtesy of A. Passion)

On December 17th, we reflect on the overwhelming reports of violence against sex workers and put together plans of action to rise above it. We experience violence at the hands of law enforcement, clients, pimps and abusive partners, and each other. Though I have never found value in comparing suffering woe for woe, it is my goal to speak only from personal experience. Call it luck or divine intervention, but my life as a sex worker has been relatively charmed. I have flirted with danger, but for the most part I managed to get by unscathed. Physically, that is. It is important to remember that not all scars are visible and that those that are not can sometimes be the deepest and most difficult to heal.

I live the life of a career sex worker who is black, a woman, and transgender. Blacks, women, and transgender people are three marginalized groups, and often the thought of encompassing all three is overbearing. I’ve looked for purpose in the eyes of strangers—whether they sat behind a desk, confused as they dissected my qualifications and wondered about my gender identity, or loomed over me, swollen with the often lethal combination of lust and disgust.

Job discrimination is a form of violence. Denying anyone the right to support themselves legally and then criminalizing the means to which they turn to sustain themselves is inhumane and deplorable. For many of us, sex work is a job of last resort. The fact is that we are rarely given an alternative. Many employers simply will not hire trans workers for fear of losing customers. Another act of violence often overlooked is theft of service, typically defined as “knowingly securing the performance of a service by deception or threat.” When theft of services happens to us, it is rape, and the damage goes beyond the monetary value of what we’ve lost. I have been the victim of both. Like many of us, I considered rape one of many occupational hazards and did nothing about it when it happened to me. How do you report something like this, and to whom?

During my time as a street-based sex worker, I personally witnessed multiple acts of violence. Some girls survived and some didn’t. It was our own Mufasa-esque circle of life, and many of us dealt with it the only we knew how: Not dealing with it at all. To live in fear is to lose money, to lose money is to starve and ultimately become homeless. The key to survival is adaptation. Learn from the violence you experience, but do not succumb to it.

I developed a strict code of conduct for myself, necessary for my survival in the business. No drugs, no excess drinking, never steal, and always use protection. I thought this was enough to shield me from the bulk of the misfortunes that befell so many before me. For a while it did, but as the saying goes, “all good things must come to an end.” I still have issues with thinking of myself as a victim, because I know what happened to me could have been worse. Despite all of what I taught myself, as safe and as smart I thought I was, no matter how much I wanted to believe it would never happen to me, it did.

Four years ago I climbed into a stranger’s car, like I had so many times before. I began to direct him toward a crowded movie theater parking lot which provided the privacy and safety necessary to conduct my business. When I noticed that he was deliberately missing turns, I attempted to open the car door while at a red light. It wouldn’t open from the inside. I turned to look at him and was met with a swift blow to the mouth. I looked up to see the barrel of a pistol. I should’ve been afraid, but I wasn’t. This was not the first time a gun had been in my face. In fact, it was the fourth. I’d never been hit and they usually wanted money, sex, or both. However, I was always able to talk myself out of the situation or escape somehow. What I lacked in strength I certainly made up for in cunning. This time was different.

Protect, Don’t Prosecute


(Reposted in full from The Red Umbrella Project)

In the week leading up to December 17, 2010 – the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers – the remains of four women who were killed while doing sex work were discovered on a beach in Long Island. Over the past two weeks, the remains of six more bodies have been found in the same area. Suffolk County Police Commissioner Richard Dormer has requested that anyone involved in the sex industry who may have information about the disappearance of colleagues come forward and share this information with the police. But there remains a rather large barrier: prostitution is criminalized, and sex workers have no guarantee that we will be protected from prosecution if we step forward. Therefore, we are calling for amnesty for all prostitution related offenses in Suffolk County until the killer is apprehended.

Turn Off the Blue Light

A friend turned me on this Irish sex worker organization, Turn Off the Blue Light, and their great poster campaign. Prostitution is currently legal in Ireland, but an opposing campaign called Turn Off the Red Light has been picking up momentum in their push for criminalization—ya know, to “end sex trafficking.”