Shaming Clients Is Not Going To Make Sex Work Safe

When I first heard about john schools, I thought they were places run by sex workers where prospective or current clients could learn how to be respectful and mindful. I thought they sounded like a great idea, in fact. How naive I was!

The belief that criminalizing clients will lead to an end in the sex industry is a prominant one across the globe. Many rescue industry evangelists claim that when clients are made illegal, sex workers will be saved from their jobs and encouraged into other lines of work (they often fail to mention the difference in work hours and pay). So much energy and time is spent on these constructs of “rehabiliting” both clients and workers, diverting attention from the sex workers actual demands and pleas for rights, not rescue.

What’s the big problem with this precedent of rehabilitation? Let’s start with what “john school” is. It’s a place where people who have been arrested for purchasing the services of a sex worker can go, often used as a diversion program to avoid jail time. Once at “john school”, these people are taught about the criminal justice system’s view of its role in the adult industry, along with the possible risks of sex work, such as violence, sexually transmitted disease, and impacts on families or communities. Many programs also cover trafficking, particularly as the media has pushed the issue to the forefront.

All of these topics are important aspects to discuss, especially from the perspective of intersectional oppression. But this curriculum, presented in an 8 hour block, isn’t exactly unbiased. Often taught by women with a strong abolitionist stance, these educators often equate all sex work to forced sex work, a generalization which is actively harmful both to those who entered the industry by relative choice and those who did not. The sex workers themselves do not have a voice within these discussions, a glaring error that leads to the spread of misinformation and silencing of the marginalized.

So, ok, there’s the fundamental issue with this john school thing- the assumptions around who sex work clients are, why they see sex workers, and how they behave. But there’s other issues too. Entrapment is obviously an important one- often times entrapment is a legal way to catch clients, which means that even if someone is purchasing sex work for the first time, they’ll get slapped with a fine the same as a regular. I understand that the idea is to prevent people becoming clients… but, when you make something illegal, the only people who will do it are people who don’t give a shit about the law- not really a “safe” option. Not only that, but, as an article from the Sex Workers of Vancouver points out:

Allowing police forces the power to carry out the full procedure of justice, which is currently reserved for the courts, would set a dangerous precedent. Currently, when someone (usually a police officer) cuts a deal with the police in order to avoid criminal prosecution, it is considered to be an instance of corruption.

I also liked this point:

Speakers at john “school” are typically women with a negative or ambivalent attitude towards johns. This necessarily creates an adversarial atmosphere and discourages johns from voicing their true opinions, or disagreeing with what they’re being told. Johns are made to feel that prostitution is a “women’s issue” and as such their “teacher” is always right, regardless of whether or not she has anything in common with the sex workers the johns see. Sex workers and their clients would benefit more from john “schools” run by sex workers, who could teach johns how to be more courteous, to tip well, and other ways to improve their chances of getting good service.

Throughout the john school process, SWAV points out, clients are treated like they’re women-hating assholes:

John “schools” fail to recognize the diversity of sex workers and clients alike. Sex workers are categorically portrayed as victims of exploitation, while clients are categorically treated as psychopathic manipulators out to satisfy their sexual addictions. While both of these stereotypes may be true of specific individuals, they deny the reality that often sex workers and clients are simply engaging in a mutually agreeable act between consenting adults.

Not surprising, as the media often also paints clients as being unattractive, demanding, and misogynistic. Many of these depictions are ableist and ageist, depending on the “no one else will have sex with him” cliche. Because of these kinds of messages, when I come out as having a history of sex work I get mostly questions about the people I saw professionally and my safety with them. But are clients always messed up men?

To judge by the response currently favoured for criminalizing sex work, the criminal justice system seems to think so. John schools are one example in an ever-growing list of creative ways law enforcement has been seeking to penalize those who purchase sex work, rather than the sex worker themselves. There’s a growing belief that if the purchase is made illegal, the industry will starve. Unfortunately, that’s far from the truth, as some countries are discovering who have enacted the Nordic Model.

One particularly telling and tragic case is, of course, the story of Petite Jasmine, a Swedish-based activist and sex worker. The Nordic Model, initially called the Swedish Model, did not help her in any way- in fact, she lost custody of her children to her abusive husband because she “romantised prostitution”. The government told her that she didn’t realize that her work was “self harm”, something that gets taught in the aforementioned john schools. Well, Petite’s husband later murdered her. Sounds like this model isn’t so great for reducing the stigma around sex workers, huh?

When Pye Jakobson was interviewed for Tits and Sass by Caty Simon regarding the state of sex work under the Nordic Model and the murder of Petite Jasmine, she said this:

Street workers have lost valuable assessment time they need before getting into a client’s car. Also, their clients have more control and can say, ” Don’t drive to that spot, I know a better one the police don’t know about.” Police target indoor workers too, trying to catch their clients. That means the focus is now on making clients feel safe enough to see us, rather than us focusing on our own safety. In addition, the pimping laws force us to work alone. It’s also illegal to rent out premises to us. Many work from home, and if the landlord finds out, he is forced to evict you. So they want to save us, but they punish us until we are willing to be saved. And if we say we want to be “saved,” all they offer is therapy.

Pye adds, “The social service state is a state that runs on “saving” sex workers… I’m SURE the added stigma and prejudice fabricated by the Swedish Model played a major role in this whole story. He killed her, but the bloody state gave him the power to think he could.”

Yet this hasn’t stopped countries like France from claiming this model is “the right side” of the war against prostitution and its abolition. The goal, says the Womens Rights Minister, is to suppress sex work altogether. Germany, a country that decriminalized sex work and allowed workers to have legal status, making them eligible for health insurance and pensions, is feeling the push to move towards the Nordic Model instead.

I cannot speak for all sex workers, of course, being white, born middle class and cisgender. But what I can say is that while my work was sometimes fulfilling and sometimes survival, my clients were not horrible people. They did not treat me like meat.

The way that anti-sex work feminists, politicians, and men who “want what’s best” for me treat me is more patriarchal, problematic, and meat-like than the way my clients ever treated me. Because my clients LISTENED. My clients gave me agency. They respected my choices, and my humanity. They were male and female, able bodied and not, straight, bi, and questioning, kinky and vanilla.

I think we need to call out this criminalization of clients for what it is- the government standing in the way of women even independently and safely working the one job where they consistently earn more than men. And while people talk endlessly about ending demand, they are silent on what sex workers can do after they leave the business- a transition that is incredibly difficult thanks to stigma that still punishes the workers. If society wants to talk about treating women like crap? I’d suggest based on the data that we send the anti-sex work activists to school, instead. Sex workers could teach them a lot… starting with history.

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Consent, Critique & Feminist Porn: Madison Young’s Hard Lesson

290 x 290 web bannerSo yesterday a video was unearthed that rippled through the feminist porn community. It featured self-described feminist pornographer Madison Young and performer Billie Sweet post-filming for the Feminist Porn Award nominated “Heartland: a Woman’s POV”. this particular clip showed the two discussing SOPP at Antioch College, in particular making fun of explicit consent policies.

What was particularly startling, however, was the way in which they decided to joke about it, and what Madison revealed. She talks about having sex with a drunk girl then acts it out, using language like “shut up” and “I gave it to the bitch”, while also mentioning how hurt she was that the girl spoke out about it.  This was pretty surprising coming from someone who regularly is booked to speak about feminism and consent.

Now, I want to say that I know, especially when young, people say and do fucked up things. No one is perfect on consent. That said, joking about a situation where a woman felt violated enough to report rape seems pretty messed up- saying things like “so I gave it to the bitch” when talking about sex while drunk perpetuates rape culture, and is especially insensitive when in the context of college campuses. 

I’ve tried to focus on the main points spoken, here in the below Storify (which this writing is expanded from). I do encourage people to look further into this call out by researching it on Twitter. 

Madison’s formal response is here, but comes after some defensiveness. I understand- being called out is hard!- but I think that the critique is necessary and while I hope Madison understands what was not ok here, I’m not entirely convinced by her response that she does, unfortunately.

Even the President has spoken out about rape on campus, so Madison’s tweet about how no one takes Antioch College’s SOPP seriously seems particularly tone deaf. A professor who taught at Antioch said elsewhere how the policy was taken seriously by people on campus, and that it was actually a really good idea- a student echoed that sentiment, so Madison’s dismissal isn’t across the board. It was, no surprise, the media who reduced it to a joke, with Saturday Night Live making a date rape skit out of the policy. When Antioch College shut down, some people blamed the policy and the feminists who were instrumental in making it happen.

Yet here we are, watching as universities consider positive consent policies instead of depending on negative consent policies, insisting on a yes rather than waiting for a no. Ivy League schools, interestingly enough, seem to struggle the most to take on these policies. Harvard has the highest sexual assault stats. One third of women who experienced rape did so when college aged, between 18-24.

Maybe Antioch was ahead of its time, and if the media had taken it seriously instead of taunting it, we might have a better grasp on this issue in colleges now. 

While I can appreciate that context and tone can be removed from a video and therefore hard to assess for the viewer, I also find the difference between how it’s discussed in the video- “shut up”, “I don’t care what people say”, and “the drunk bitch woke up the next day and felt differently”- vs in the written response, which suggests they were both drunk, defensively states that it was mutual masturbation (like that cannot be a form of consent violation), and that they were both concerned about how other people would perceive the violation of the SOPP, is concerning. In the video, Madison expresses that her “feelings were hurt” when it was brought up at a meeting, while in the written response, she says that she and this unnamed girl sought out advice from their hall advisor. Having that hall advisor be the one to characterize the situation as “she felt differently when sober” is also concerning. 

In short? If it was meant as a joke, it’s not a funny one. And it’s one that perpetuates a culture in which people don’t report sexual assault, especially if they were intoxicated, because they don’t want to deal with the consequences of their experience being a laughing matter on social media.

Additionally I think it’s very important to recognize that being an expert in a field does not mean you are incapable of massively fucking up in your understanding of what that field embraces (or ignores)- see Hugh Schwyzer, RuPaul Charles, and Gail Dines for just a little taste of how you can be an “authority” on something and still say ignorant things. 

What I would like to see happen is that this be a jumping off place to discuss consent and intoxication, how clear negotiation can be sexy, and how to respond when called out. I understand the desire to be defensive, but that isn’t going to fix the problem. Like a muscle, we need to allow ourselves to relax and work the knots out, rather than tense up to “protect” ourselves in ways that ultimately harm us. Perhaps we’ll see Madison do a film that prioritizes different types of consent, and models how people can negotiate during play in ways that feel natural, so that nonverbal guesswork isn’t our only model for what’s “hot”.

On the plus side, it sounds like the Feminist Porn Awards are looking into increased accountability, and they’re going to be creating a community forum to discuss future concerns:

There will always be situations and interactions we will never be privy to surrounding directors and performers and productions. We see now that this has not been made that clear to our community, and also that it may not be possible to separate filmmakers from their work. In the future if we have knowledge about a filmmaker or actor or person involved in a production who is displaying problematic behaviour we will attempt to address a matter privately before taking it to a public forum.

I’m really excited about this move as I think it’s a step towards creating some framework around defining what feminist porn is and isn’t. It’s a move towards a focus on transformative justice rather than a focus on punishment or just ignoring the problem.  And it also is a step towards taking these situations seriously on a level other businesses are held to- for example, when American Apparel’s creative director says fatphobic things, she is taken to task. When Pasta Barilla’s CEO said homophobic things, he was critiqued heavily. Why wouldn’t we hold the same standards for porn producers/directors?

Guest Post: Changing The Game: Pinball, Sex Work, & Proletariat Panic

pinballgirlSo Jetta Rae, also known as Doublecakes, is an incredible writer as well as acting as my  guide into the worlds of pinball and lube wrestling. In one of those very San Francisco moments, I was telling a lover about Jetta’s work around pinball (and our subsequent flirtations). I told him what I had learned, about the illegality of pinball and the regulations around it. As I described it, he nodded and said “oh, I see, a lot like sex work then”. And thus was this article born. Jetta wrote it beautifully and I feel like it’s a fun and educational read about decriminalization and money. Always money. I mean, her wrestling name is Big Business.

Hope you like! Check out her further writing here

Hark, hucksters and love slaves! Take to heart this harrowed harbingering:

I convene, ever still reeling, from my dying, dime store dimension of the internet, where I am but a modest pinball journalist.

I come to your comely corner of the digital cosmos to dilate upon the dire. It seems the plight of our pursuits are interconnected, their fates plied by the immeasurable impetus of a common oppressor. It finds form and shape in many names. Capitalism. Criminalization. The Prison Industrial Complex. It’s imperative we don’t run out the clock splitting hairs on the proper protocol on identifying our oppressor. Is “oppressor” too endowed a nomenclature for the legislators and hired municipal muscle that regulate the prevalence of a game you can play on your computer? Who’s to say, really?

Well. I’m to say. And I say “no”, for at the union of these concentric struggles is a vast and concerted effort to regulate the pursuit of autonomous pleasure and reduce a woman’s body to a commodity of equal standing with a machine that has a naked woman’s body painted onto it.

In June 2014, the City of Oakland decriminalized pinball. Verily, that benign pastime you see so imitated in Windows 98 or in your favorite video game franchises has an impressive rate of illegality across the US. Before flippers became the core focus of gameplay (they were introduced in 1946 with Humpty Dumpty), pinball was believed by the conventional wisdom of yore to be a game of chance, which squarely sequestered it into the Nice Things We Are Not Allowed To Have category. The Federal and State laws regarding gambling and liquor have an ire for “games of chance” that is rivaled only by their complete and utter fucking confusion as to what constitutes a “game of chance”.

fa_953_pinballban3_970 (1)Before the advent of flippers, multiball, and other in-game incentives, the real draw of pinball was in its potential for profit. A pinball machine in the old town watering hole was a catalyst for unaccountable earnings: in addition to the inevitable wagers between wayward patrons, some bars and arcades would pay out their “rainy day fund” to whoever’d rein in a high score. American lawmakers, still in mourning from having to put down their last hobby horse, alcohol prohibition, took sledgehammers to pinball machines and waged a war on gambling. In 1941 the military received enough scrap metal from destroyed pinball machines to make four 2,000-pound bombs to drop on the Japanese.

Prohibition is always about profit; a capitalist government cannot afford its citizens financial autonomy. Every avenue of income must be surveyed and QA’d to ensure it poses no threat or means of disrupting the top-down. If I can make an extra buck here and there beating you at Ballyhoo on the sly, I probably won’t enlist to die in a trench on foreign soil or wade past the starving strikers of a picket line. Are you picking up what I’m putting down? This is stuff they  make poor people do.

Prohibition cleans up nicely, and it does, in its glowering gown of moral panic and crocodile tear compassion, befit a tiara for a belle, but once we get to the “questions” section of the pageant you’ll see it doesn’t understand or care for the poor.

Well I wouldn’t know anything about how a standard forty hour work week at a wage grossly disparate from the cost of living overcommits and burns out the proletariat, ensuring their non-participation in socio-political process and the pursuit of solace in entertainment and consumption of recreational substances, ; I’m just so busy trying to save these poor wretches from themselves. I wanna be a veterinarian when I grow up!

Pinball was illegal in New York City until 1976, after Roger Sharpe entreated them to the wisdom of lanky school kids picked last at dodgeball: a fucking thing that requires hand eye coordination is not a “game of chance”. Though his demonstration did trickle forth a trend of take-backsies on pinball prohibition, the game is still illegal and/or heavily regulated in American cities, including Alameda, where the museum is. To comply, for some inconcrete definition of the word, the PPM had to remove the coin slots in their older machines (most solid state machines have a “free play” mode in their programming) and register as a non-profit. Our patrons pay a flat fee ($15 for adults, $7.50 for children) for unlimited games. Remember that: it’s gonna be important in a second. I mean, it’s important now, too, but I have some more points to make before I forget and then I’m in the shower muttering to myself all morning and my roommate is late to work.

How does pinball find so notable of a niche in a city where it’s still illegal? I’m glad I asked; great question!

LaGuardia1This is one of those “letter of the law” shits: Alameda is known to not enforce the ban on pinball to the degree of other cities in the East Bay. Oakland PD has been supplying Alameda with confiscated machines. As gifts! Oh god: did I just spoil the police state apparatus for you? I’m so sorry. No, contraband of value is never just kept locked up in storage. ESPECIALLY NOT WHEN THAT CONTRABAND’S VALUE IS INFLATED BY ITS CRIMINALIZATION.

Okay, back to Door Number 1: pinball law and how this is relevant to you.

As the law/s stand/s, you cannot pay a pinball machine to play it. Instead, you can play the machine “for free” and pay a 3rd party for access to the machine, and that 3rd party may observe you playing the machine.

And where’ve you heard that before?

No no, you got this one.

It’s on the tip of your tongue–

YEAH. YEAH. YEAH. That’s what that is.

Some of you are sharp: you saw where this was going when I mentioned the police employing the variances of jurisdictional enforcement to contain illegal activity within predictable parameters.

I’m a former sex worker who has paid for sex. And probably will again. Because it’s fucking great. It’s not even about the sex, really: I get gratification out of supporting people in my community. And I’m a great John: if I can host, I make tea, and sometimes I even pack ‘em a lunch to have later. The last person who I paid to top me? I made them soup. From scratch. Are you listening to me? What we do is safe, sustainable, and consensual. Also, illegal.

Conversely, I could: call a hotline, book a date through an escort agency, or visit either of the unmentionable dungeons/brothels hidden within the East Bay. I could buy a ticket to an SF play party. You know the place. I could even approach a woman at that self-same party and offer her money to cane me and call me a fag until I cry. I know this because I’ve seen those transactions transpire in full view of dungeon staff. We are only allowed milk after someone, literally anyone who is not the consumer or purveyor, has taken the cream off the top of my bottle.

“But DoubleCakes (if that is your real name),” I hear you proclaim, “those places don’t offer ‘sex’. They’re very explicit about it. At that one place you mention, they’ll kick you out if you even ask about ‘sex’.”

To which I reply in rebuttal: as if. Tell that shit to Oaksterdam. Ask them if following the letter of the law gave them a hall pass. Or, if youŕe looking for something less explicit of my specific agenda: ask the pinball arcade in Beacon, NY, which was shut down in 2010 because they realized hey, the law’s still on the books, why not. It’s not like some blogger in 2014 is going to point out that New York State was where it was proven that pinball is not a game of chance or even an effective vehicle for gambling anymore. Not when you have fantasy sports or the lottery, you know, that government-sanctioned gambling that’s been speculated to be just as addictive and completely hopeless for the average–

I apologize. I’m letting the plot get away from me.

And thus the Jessica Valenti-scented sect of feminism has churned out and bequeathed us a new Child-Like Empress to lead and legitimize sex work to the mainstream. Sex Worker Political Identity 2.0 has a host of Whorearchy-supported features: white, early 20s, college educated or comes from an educated home, well versed in all waves, eager to identify themselves as a sex worker to friends and acquaintances, and hates sex.

screenshotIt’s a shame that MyRedBook has been shut down. There would have been an ample sample size of ads full to bursting of lusty loquaciousness of services rendered laid atop a very firm and very emphatic disclaimer of “I do not have sex. Do not ask me for sex.” I mean, I wouldn’t have posted or linked to any; the struggle is real and I understand that everyone is doing the best they can with what they have given their understanding of the law and solidarity within it.

But–

But–

Adherence to the law that has a flawed and specific scope of what “sex” entails is neither morally or politically advantageous. To lay it down like a layman: it doesn’t mean anything and it won’t protect you.

In 2012 I was asked to join the staff of Folsom Street Fair to set up and run the “women and trans” space. At our initial planning meetings, we were informed that no sex would be allowed on the premises of the Fair, per San Francisco law.

Now guess which of these constitute “having sex at Folsom”:

*Pleasuring yourself in front of a crowd.

*Beating someone with a flogger until they orgasm.

*Pissing in a stranger’s mouth*

*Tying someone up and–

NONE. NONE OF THESE. You’re two months away from pissing in someone’s mouth in public without reproach from the law. This is the future. Veni Vidi Vici.

You can also pay to have someone do those things with/to you at [Redacted] or [Not Redacted, per se; Don’t remember the name]. Truly lewd they may be, those things escape the legal definition of “sex”.

And yet: the modicum of cover this nebulous nuance afforded MyRedBook didn’t save it from The Man. And they won’t save you and they won’t save me. And trimming your resume with reassurances that you’re not that sort of girl serves only to muscle more marginalized sex workers out of the venue of visibility. You literally make sex work less safe for everyone else, (including clients) by plying the privilege towards erasing “sex” and those who have it from the manual of acceptable discussion in sex work negotiations.

And those other sex workers you are disenfranchising with La Vida Hugo Schwyzer: you’re going to need them when a cop tries to take you in because it’s 1am and your garter’s showing under your skirt, or a client’s gotten a little possessive and knows where you like to get a taco. And if you end up needing medical attention or get held overnight, it won’t be the Game Night Gang who visit you and bring a charger for your phone and tell you that it wasn’t your fault and there’s no shame in the work you do. Especially not the guy who lost because you wouldn’t let him have “horcrux” on the triple letter square.

The profit motive mobilizes forever. The goal of shutting down MyRedBook is not to curb the carnal market: it is to yield the crop and let the soil rest. Another site; another seizure.

Prohibition is not about justice or morality or any of that. It’s about getting the fattest harvest.

The Federal government stands to make $5.4 million dollars from MyRedBook’s seizure. Don’t allow the notion that your local DA will not try to seize everything you own when your number gets pulled to occupy your mind for one single second. It’s written in the law: you have no more standing or autonomy than a bunch of Rolling Stones-branded wires and lights.

The pinball community is being modified in realtime. There are women’s leagues in Oakland and Portland; within and between the two is a thriving, active community of people of color. The face of the game is shifting away from a prior paradigm of older white men with lots of money. I mean, those guys still more or less run the community, because pinball is a very intricate and expensive hobby on the other side of the machine, but I believe in time they can be the outlier. That is, of course, unless, you know, a bunch of women and people of color try to start hosting their own pinball spaces or parties in a city where it’s still “on the books illegal” (or requires the momentum-busting bureaucracy of getting approval from the entertainment commission) and suddenly there’s cops in someone’s garage and hey why are you taking my machines those are mine I bought those that’s personal property there’s still coins in there why is it illegal to have friends playing my machines and asking for something back in return I mean electricity isn’t free–

Thus: a practical pact is proposed.

The enemies of prohibition, in all its forms, must unite; pinball perverts and pervert perverts.

A woman’s body is worth more than all the pinball machines in Hi-Life; the heart and soul within it deserve dignity and autonomy and pursuit of, if not happiness, than survival, to suffice. But, as divided, we are complicit in the commodification of women’s bodies and ultimately our pursuit of pleasure and fulfillment on our own terms. Those of us with access to pinball spaces must make room for visible, tenable solidarity with sex workers. And those of you/us with access to sex worker space need to hammer down whoreiarchy and fight  tangible sexphobia within the community. As long as any of us believes we are better than or worth more than another, we are fated to fail in presenting a unified front.

You may surmise that this isn’t your fight, and it probably isn’t. The presence or absence of a safe space for sex workers to negotiate and provide community has little bearing on my ability to re-skin Lasercue and make it into an adaptation of HUGPUNX. But: it’s the same boot kicking down both our doors. And if that boot thinks you’ll be at my house or I’ll be at your house, then he might think twice. Or he’ll bring friends. And we’ll bring friends. That’s not stupid or spurious: that is spitting image of solidarity in the face of struggle.

Divided we drain; together, we cannot be tilted.

They’re–they’re pinball terms. Just look ‘em up.

Consent Culture Briefs

-Art history – 500 years of women ignoring men. Good for a bit of a laugh!

-Angelina Jolie, who just starred in Maleficent (which has its own rape metaphor), opened the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict. A worthy goal, for sure, and I appreciate that she makes a point to say that rape is about power, not sex. I find the idea of training peacekeepers interesting, though, as peacekeepers and soldiers are often the perpetrators of rape in conflicted areas. I think it’s going to be difficult to change things as long as rape isn’t really prosecuted even in times of peace. 

-High profile sex trafficking cases are having a PR nightmare. With Somaly Mam being exposed as a fraud and Chong Kim’s story unraveling, the “not for sale” crew are scrabbling to show themselves as helping women rather than lining their own pockets.  Never mind that trafficking actually exists and is horrific enough without making shit up. Why would you base a project on lying about your experience? I suppose if it’s about ego rather than actually helping people, and god knows trafficking isn’t the only charity that’s had these issues. I hope there will be some writing on how these trafficking narratives are used, even with consent, in exploitative fashions, further harming those the projects are meant to help.

-An anonymous post on Black Girl Dangerous underlines issues of abuse, activism, and where personal accountability intersects with “the cause”.

Reflecting back on that night, I now understand this heinous act within the kaleidoscope of his insecurity, anxiety and fear that I would eventually leave him.  I realize that our early conversations were exclusively concerned with systemic forms of patriarchy.  He was never interested in how his personal actions were misogynistic.

As I’ve had similar experiences, and know several “feminist activists” who are also serial abusers, this is an important topic and one I think that will need to be addressed at more length.

-A report was posted last week on street harassment numbers in America. Surprising no one, it’s a massive fucking problem. 65% of women and 25% of men said they had experienced street harassment, though as usual the numbers may be greater due to how we’re taught to tune it out and what we define as “harassment”. Also not surprising,  men were overwhelmingly the harassers, whether the victim was a woman or a man (I don’t know if they identified trans or genderqueer people in this). Additionally people of color and LGBT people were a lot more likely to say they’d been harassed than white or straight people were. I think the fact that PHYSICAL harassment is so widespread is also notable, as we’re so often told catcalling isn’t a big deal because it’s just words.

-“Professionalism” is taken to task by genderqueer person Jacob Tobia, and I think it speaks to an interesting way in which we establish and enforce whiteness, cissexism, and masculinity as norms without really thinking about it.  This is where coercion begins to rear its ugly head.

Professionalism is a funny term, because it masquerades as neutral despite being loaded with immense oppression. As a concept, professionalism is racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, classist, imperialist and so much more — and yet people act like professionalism is non-political. Bosses across the country constantly tell their employees to ‘act professionally’ without a second thought. Wear a garment that represents your non-Western culture to work? Your boss may tell you it’s unprofessional. Wear your hair in braids or dreadlocks instead of straightened? That’s probably unprofessional too. Wear shoes that are slightly scuffed because you can’t yet afford new ones? People may not think you’re being professional either.

 

For years, professionalism has been my enemy, because it requires that my gender identity is constantly and unrepentantly erased. In the workplace, the gender binary can be absolute, unfaltering and infallible. If you dare to step out of line, you risk being mistreated by coworkers, losing promotions or even losing your job. And if you are discriminated against for being transgender or genderqueer, you may not even have access to legal recourse, because in many states it is still perfectly legal to discriminate against gender non-conforming employees.

-PS: we have a twitter account and will be using it more! @consentculture

Guest Post: The T Word

I have read a lot on this topic, and my partner Phil wanted to write a piece of his own after one of our discussions. For additional context, I would also recommend reading Kate Bornstein’s piece, “Who You Calling a Tranny?“, first published in 2009, and this rebuttal by Quinnae Moongazer from 2010, “An Open Letter to Kate Bornstein“. It is certainly a complex topic, and a debate that has been going on for a while. I welcome anyone wanting to write on terminology and consent, or language and consent, to drop me a line! 

So I’ve been seeing a lot of back-and-forth discussion about the use of the word “tranny” lately, and debates as to whether or not it is problematic, and I really wanted to analyze that a bit.

I’ll give a disclaimer before I begin – I am a cisgender white male and as a result have a lot of privilege that certainly influences my thinking. Sure, I’m pretty pansexual, or at the very least bisexual, but I can’t claim to have gone through the hardships that a lot of my fellow LGBT community members of all stripes have. That said, let’s take a look at this issue.
I can’t claim to have never used the word “tranny” before, mostly before I knew people who were members of the trans community and began to understand the negativity that often surrounds that word and really makes it the slur that many feel it is. I, like many people, never meant any harm in it, I just thought it was an acceptable label, as it was the main word I’d heard used to refer to any trans-identified people.
I know for a fact that there are absolutely transgender people who have no problem with, and perhaps even prefer the label “tranny” but in my limited observation, they seem to be dramatically in the minority.
The loudest voices I see in the modern day advocating for the use of the word “tranny” seem to be those within the drag community, who have used it as a personal label for years. This, to me, is at least mildly problematic. These voices seem to be championed by RuPaul as of late, and I think RuPaul is a great example of WHY this is so problematic in this circumstance.

I have really really mixed feelings about telling a group of people “Hey, that word you use as a proud personal identifier is inappropriate because it offends me!” At the same time, if your reaction to being told that a label you use is offensive is to effectively reply with “Well I’ve been using it for decades, so fuck off” that is also problematic.

Ru themself specifically pointed out:

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And I think that’s worth taking a look at. Correct me if I’m wrong (please!) but it seems to me that the drag community has used the word “tranny” for it’s shock/humor value. That may have been acceptable in the past, but in the modern day it’s basically alluding to there being something shocking and/or humorous about BEING trans, which is, I think, why so many people are finding it so damn offensive.

This really is the most important point I want to make here, so let me repeat that – to all outward appearances, as Ru put it the “intention behind the word” by the drag community seems to be rooted in the shock and humor value it adds to their acts, which implies there is something shocking and/or humorous about being trans, and that is pretty clearly an offensive stance to take.

I am trying very hard to understand and accept this on both sides. Like I said, if the drag community wants so hard to use this label, I’m not sure if it’s right to tell them that it’s not acceptable. On the other side, if the TRANS community is saying the use of that word is offensive at all, I don’t think it’s right to tell them that they’re wrong to think that way.
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This may be Ru’s intention, but this is also where I see them failing. I think the biggest problem with this whole thing is awareness. If Ru, and the drag communities reaction to this whole thing was more along the lines of “I understand your position, but it is a word we are strongly attached to. How can we make this right so we can continue using the word as we have been, but make it less offensive to you?” then things might be a bit different.
Telling a marginalized group though, that “this is how it’s been for decades, so deal with it” just does not seem to be a position that is coming “from a place of love.”

Guest Post: Is Consent Sexy?

sexyI’m glad to bring to you some guest posts now that I’m organized to do so! Today’s is from Emilie, who blogs at Any Girl Friday. She contacted me wanting to write about the phrase “consent is sexy” and as that’s one that’s being used a lot in advertising consent culture (in theory) I was excited to see what she’d say! I want Consent Culture to host a myriad of ideas and thoughts on the topic of consent, so expect to see more guest posts (and please use the form to let us know if you want to write something yourself!)

You know what pisses me off? More than the head imploding misogyny that is rampant in advertising on magazine stands across the globe; more than the lyrics in songs that encourage men to think of women as little more than holes to be claimed, mouths to be filled, bodies to be possessed; more than the idea that women get up and dressed every morning with no other aim than impressing men and being found fuckable;  it’s this idea that the only way to ‘sell’ consent, is to sex it up.  That the only way to get people on board with the idea of consent is to intrinsically link it to the idea of sexiness, of getting laid, of being found ‘sexy.’

We shouldn’t have to be teaching kids that consent is sexy. Consent isn’t sexy, it shouldn’t be sexy – it’s mandatory. It’s integral. Hell, it’s the law. By saying ‘sexy’ we are almost implying that it’s preferable but not necessarily necessary. I mean, I find beards and tall guys ‘sexy’ but wouldn’t say no to Dave Franco; him of miniature proportions and fuzz free face, thus highlighting the fact that my understanding of what is ‘sexy’ is dependent on the situation, malleable, subjective, open to change given the arrival of a fit short guy with a fetish for Gillette. Consent is none of those things – It should never be accompanied by the suggestion that it is anything other than ABSOLUTELY CRUCIAL. By linking it to a term that is so open to interpretation leaves it subject to confusing questions. Am I not sexy if I don’t give consent? Am I only saying yes so that he thinks I’m sexy? Is saying no merely just  ‘unsexy’ then? An inconvenience rather than a ‘back the fuck off and stop touching me?’

Consent as a word brings about so many clinical, sanitary connotations; you have to sign a consent form in hospital before you have surgery. You sign a consent form to get your new sofa delivered. Consent is what we have to get before carrying out sociological research. Applying that to sex is about as sexy as stopping mid way to play ‘would you rather’ and asking if they’d rather die by spider bite or snake venom. It brings about a mental image of whipping out a clipboard and Biro and asking them to sign on the dotted line; ‘I hereby consent to you fucking me in the living room’ etc. I get that to some, it might be the term that gives them the creeps about this campaign; Initially I thought that maybe it was the semantics that got me so twisted about it as well  but then I thought nope; consent can be as simple as asking ‘is this ok?’ ‘Should I carry on?’  It’s not the terminology that’s riled me up, it’s the contribution to rape culture, the trivialising of something so paramount that makes me want to scream. It’s once more putting the onus on ‘us’ to ‘give’ consent, rather than on ‘them’ to be decent human beings and not take what they feel entitled to without merit.

consentTo be honest,  instead of dancing around the issue, we should be saying ‘don’t put your dick in things that don’t want it in there.’ ‘Don’t rape.’ ‘Don’t touch anyone that doesn’t want you touching them.’ These are the conversations we should be having with our children. Respect each other, respect personal space, don’t shove your tongue down strangers’ throats or feel entitled to grab someone’s arse as they walk past. How on earth have we reached a state where we need to dress up consent in sexual language in an attempt to get the point across? How fucked are we all if the people in positions of power have invested time and money into tackling rape culture and all they could come up with is ‘consent is sexy?’

Anything less than fully informed consent is assault. Let’s not dress it up or trivialise it. If you haven’t got consent, you are assaulting someone. It really is that simple. But, but…. I hear you cry. Short skirts. Drunk girls. She kissed me first. Blah, blah. These are things I hear a lot, mainly from men who argue that rape isn’t always black and white and that sometimes a ‘woman deserves it.’ My response is always the same; rape is black and white, and no, she never ever does. No one deserves to be raped. A troll on twitter saying I deserved to be raped brutally  for daring to voice the opinion that rape culture exists, is evidence enough that we live in a society where sexual assault and victim blaming is rife. There are so many issues at play here; patriarchal institutions that protect men rather than tackle injustice and put support in place for victims; objectification and sexualisation of women in the media and porn leading to the notion that all women are fair game and up for it; entitlement and privilege and this idea that a man is somehow entitled to a woman by default of being male; binary, narrow notions of sexuality and sexual identities leading to skewed expectations of sex and interest etc. ‘Consent is sexy’ really does play into rape culture. It is focusing on the WRONG part of what consent should actually mean. Giving consent means you are trusting someone with your body, your pleasure, trusting someone to respect your boundaries,  to meet your fantasies and limits. Consent is intrinsically linked to other concepts such as respect and consideration for others. It shouldn’t be reduced down to such basic terms as ‘sexy.’

This campaign is a start. A tiny, baby step in the right direction, start. We need to start challenging the idea that rape is somehow preventable by just sticking to well lit streets and carrying a whistle; by emphasising the role of consent before access to muffzilla is granted, we are taking a stand against passivity and against simply teaching the biological aspects of intercourse. We still need more though; we need to be tougher when teaching about rape – if you haven’t been given access to my vagina, stay away. If you have, be fucking grateful and treat it with respect. Consent isn’t sexy – it’s necessary, it’s vital and necessary. It isn’t just preferable or something that’s desired but not necessarily a requisite.

Yes. All Men.

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image of Tank Girl by E-Mann at DeviantArt

Elliot Rodger’s misogynist rampage has been on many people’s minds over the weekend.

I’ve observed with interest the conversations that are being had,  about gun control, about mental health, about why exactly white men are so often the ones to commit mass murders. These are the usual topics of discussion, as they were with Sandy Hook, as they were with Aurora. New additions to the table are questions and critiques of pickup artistry, toxic masculinity, entitlement culture particularly around misogyny.

I’ve heard a lot of “not all men”, “well, I’m different”, “this is just one guy, this isn’t a cultural thing”.

Bullshit.

***

Why are men defending pickup artists when they drive personalized rape vans? Or write posts on Reddit detailing serial rapes (receiving congratulations and further stories of “conquest”)? Or encourage men to overcome “last minute resistance” because women who freely consent are “sluts” and to be avoided? Or publish books that are guides to rape?

Why are men defending MRAs when they regularly employ rape and death threats to women they disagree with? Or defend George Sodini, a man who shot up women at a gym in 2009? Or spend their time complaining about how they’re demonized instead of, I don’t know, *critiquing men who are harassing, raping, and murdering women*?!?

Just fucking stop.

***

Yesterday I went on a radio show. I’ve been on it before, and I enjoy it. The guy in charge is a stand up comedian, who I am generally highly suspicious of because of Reasons, but I’ve felt comfortable on his show and looked forward to a fun break from the intensity of my Facebook and Twitter feeds.

Until a joke was cracked about that old joke, “take my wife, PLEASE”. And somehow it turned into jokes about shoving her into the trunk of a car. I sat there, somewhat stunned, at how people could joke about murdering women when there was so much focus on misogynist violence.

The person who started the joking was a woman. Misogyny- not just for men.

***

Is there something new in the air? One BBC documentary asks if we’re seeing misogyny, sexism, or liberation. I have issues, of course, with the way it equates female objectification under the male gaze as “liberation”, as if to equate the myriad ways in which women do find themselves sexually liberated to women ultimately lying to themselves. But there is some really scary shit in here that needs to be taken seriously. When female sexual liberation looks exactly the same as male gaze objectification, and men are ultimately profiting from it, I too question if we’re really liberating ourselves. Does being a porn star, or burlesque performer, or glamour model, require a personal critique to be “liberated”?

Of course, liberation takes many forms. I’m a porn performer and in many ways I find it liberating, though in other ways I do not. Financial security is a form of liberation. Feeling safe at work is a form of liberation. Accepting and loving your body is a form of liberation.

As long as we live in an imperialist capitalist patriarchy, liberation really only goes so far. We do the best we can with the tools we have.

***

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Here’s why you should be reading #YesAllWomen.

***

As a society, when white men kill, we consider them as individuals. Often we want to label them as mentally unstable, even though the statistics suggest that people with mental illnesses rarely commit violent crimes, and the people who do commit violent crimes are rarely considered mentally ill. “If only they sought help,” we say, “then these men wouldn’t be so violent!”

Courtney Anderson responds:

“In a study released this year that evaluated the characteristics of 37 high profile school shootings from 1987 onward, it was found that the majority of offenders struggled with the same kinds of personal problems. Social marginalization and issues at home or work were found in all cases. Feelings of chronic rejection were common and categorized as feelings of being “bullied, threatened, or injured.” Also, it is worth noting that a significant percentage of shooters felt that they had “failed in developing their manhood.” As per the YouTube video submitted by Elliot Rodger prior to the Santa Barbara shooting, feelings of masculine or sexual inadequacy were significant.

It should be noted that reputable studies avoid hyper-generalizations of mass shooter psychology. According to the professionals behind mental diagnoses, the reason for this is because the media does significant damage by creating a rhetoric that paints the mentally ill as highly prone to violence. While psychiatrists support “reasonable restrictions” on gun access for persons diagnosed with mental illness, they continue to stress the fact that it will have little affect on total gun-related violence. The reason: people suffering from depression, schizophrenia, and bi-polar disorder account for, at most, only five percent of violence.”

It would seem that as much as we’d like to think that these people are some “other”, they are not. Like rapists, they are potentially our friends, our lovers, our family, our neighbors, our community leaders. In fact, if the victim is a woman, statistics suggest that her murderer or rapist will be someone she knows.

It’s hard to feel safe when every man you know is a potential statistic.

***

In the previously mentioned BBC documentary, I find the discussion with the ex-editor of Loaded, Martin Daubney, particularly telling. He says how the “New Man” with his hoovering was “asexual” (suggesting asexuality is bad, and that doing “women’s work” desexes men).

When Kirsty Wark starts showing him the teeshirts joking about rape, or hitting women, he recoils, saying how that’s absolutely misogyny. Stand up comics making jokes where women are the butt of cruelty and insult gets the same response.

He obviously SEES that jokes can be misogyny, but not HIS jokes (or the jokes he enables in Loaded), and therein I feel is the crux of the problem. When men say “not all men”, they often me “not me”. But listening to sexist jokes without speaking up, even, does have consequences on behaviour.

Thomas Ford’s research into the effect of sexist jokes on behaviour lays it bare:

“We found that, upon exposure to sexist humor, men higher in sexism discriminated against women by allocating larger funding cuts to a women’s organization than they did to other organizations,” Ford said. “We also found that, in the presence of sexist humor, participants believed the other participants would approve of the funding cuts to women’s organizations. We believe this shows that humorous disparagement creates the perception of a shared standard of tolerance of discrimination that may guide behavior when people believe others feel the same way.”

I found it particularly interesting to read the comments about this study over on the Penny Arcade forum, considering how shit-poor the creators of that comic have been about rape culture.

***

Elliot Rodgers was not unique, however much men are trying to suggest he is. Just this weekend another man shot at women for refusing sex with him in California. A 16 year old girl in Connecticut was murdered by a schoolmate when she refused to go to prom with him. A Californian man murdered his girlfriend when she refused to have makeup sex with him. In Florida a 14 year old girl was kidnapped and choked into unconsciousness when she refused his sexual advances. A woman jogging in California was run over when she refused to get in the car with strangers. Last year a jury in Texas acquitted a man who shot a sex worker when she refused him sex. In 2012 a woman was shot to death in her car when she told them she was trans in response to their flirtations.

And on. And on. And on.

This isn’t just individuals. This is a crisis. And it’s been a crisis for a long time.

Are we only now angry because pretty white cis women were Elliot’s intended victims?

***

I applaud women who are fighting cultural conditioning and fighting back against the men who abuse them. People like the Gulabi Gang, who will beat a rapist with sticks so he dares not do it again. People like Susan Walters, who strangled the hit man her husband sent to murder her. Women are taught that things will be worse if they fight back, but statistics indicate the opposite is true. We can fight back, and we need to learn the most effective ways how. Fuck being “nice”.

***

Martin’s piece in the 2014 BBC documentary sounds very different from his 2012 Daily Mail article, in which he expresses how fatherhood caused him to feel guilt that his work at Loaded may have contributed(!!!) to the further profiting off objectification of women. “Fortune gave me a son, but not on my life would I want any daughter of mine to be a topless model,” he says, before expressing how porn is “a world devoid of aspiration”. His piece is ultimately not against lads mags, however (in the documentary he says how Loaded “celebrates” women), but rather censorship of internet porn.

This sort of lack of awareness is part of why I think people are so often complicit in systems of oppression. We want to point the finger at anyone else, at the “other”. It’s us. We’re the problem, and we need to fucking address it.

***

I keep hearing from men “what should we do, though? We don’t want to take up space!”

Men- you need to confront each other. You need to speak up when you see street harassment. You need to shut down sexist jokes. You need to tell other men that talking about women like we’re sexual prizes to be won is not ok. And as Chuck Wendig says:

“I understand that as a man your initial response to women talking about misogyny, sexism, rape culture and sexual violence is to wave your hands in the air like a drowning man and cry, “Not all men! Not all men!” as if to signal yourself as someone who is not an entitled, presumptive fuck-whistle, but please believe me that interjecting yourself in that way confirms that you are. Because forcing yourself into safe spaces and unwelcome conversations makes you exactly that.

Instead of telling women that it’s not all men, show them.

Show them by listening and supporting.

Show them by cleaning the dogshit out of your ears and listening to their stories — and recognize that while no, it’s not “all men,” it’s still “way too many men.” Consider actually reading the #YesAllWomen hashtag on Twitter not to look for places to interject and defend your fellow men, but as a place to gain insight and understanding into the experiences women have. That hashtag should serve as confirmation that women very often experience the spectrum of sexism and rape culture from an all-too-early age. Recognize that just because “not all men” are gun-toting, women-hating assholes fails to diminish the fact that sexism and rape culture remain firmly entrenched and institutional within our culture.”

Men, you have a part in this, and it’s in male spaces.

***

Why do men feel entitled to women, I hear?

Here’s why. And here’s why.

Now fucking go out there and do something about it.

Not Waving, But Drowning: How WePay Failed Eden Alexander

UPDATEWe do have a new campaign set up here! We’ve heard from people at this fundraising site AND their payment processor and gotten their blessing, so it obviously CAN be done.

“Cofounder and CEO of Crowdtilt here. Happy to help and pitch in. Jamesb @Crowdtilt.com is my email in case anything comes up. Cannot imagine the amt of stress and uncertainty you guys are going through, glad we can help remove one concern (credit card processing and fundraising).” 

We love you CrowdTilt! Send them love on Twitter and on Facebook!

WePay has responded
 (summary: two porn studios offered perks on their own, and she was removed for that) and now wants to help restart her campaign! They’ve reached out to her to discuss it. How kind of them. Too bad she couldn’t respond because she was in the ER.

I wrote earlier about Eden Alexander’s fundraiser, in which she was trying to raise funds to get the medical care she desperately needs while also paying rent. After having a reaction to a prescription drug, and misdiagnosed care, by the time she created a fundraiser she was in pretty dire need and asked a few friends for help creating and orchestrating the campaign, including me.

She used GiveForward, a service that friend Eric Cash recommended as it had been instrumental in raising funds for his wife, Hollie Stephens, an adult performer who died of breast cancer at 30 in 2012. They also helped performer Cameron Bay raise funds for HIV treatmentwithout any issues, as well they should. Cause that’s what we do when shit hits the fan – we fundraise to help, especially since adult performers are often shunned by charities.

And hell, while it’s disgusting, payment processor WePay initially funded a revenge porn site, leaving it up until publicly shamed for it, so surely they weren’t going to take some sort of moral high ground? Right?

Here’s the text of the fundraising page, taken from Google Cache:

 As you can see, it doesn’t mention anything about Eden’s work. There were no perks offered, no dirty pictures. Just a woman in trouble, unable to work due to sudden, undiagnosed and dehabilitating illness and a sudden change of circumstances at home.

Let’s take a look at WePay’s Terms of Service, shall we? I’ve written about it (and Paypal) before.  Here’s the bit they decided Eden was on the wrong side of:

According to the message WePay sent to Eden, this is the area she violated. Not by raising money FOR porn, but by being a cam girl at all.

What WePay (and therefore GiveForward) is effectively saying is that because Eden is a cam girl by profession, raising money for medical funds is suspicious and banned. Because we all know sex workers can’t be trusted, and we’ll probably blow our money on porn rather than self care, and we all have robot bodies that never get ill, right?

However, and here’s where I’m really, really fucking angry, here’s some other areas they ban.


Oh yeah, WePay? Like “revealing the evils of the homosexual agenda“? How about going to other countries to spread imperialist Christianity among communities of colour? AWESOME SO GLAD YOU FUND THAT


Yeah cool so you’re totally not helping fund “love donations” for psychic readings. Cause science has totally explained that.


But you’ll totally help people go to fat camp, or get post-weight loss surgeries. Even if it’s someone raising money for their partner because he’s decided she’s too fat.


If they seriously ban everyone who has ever worked retail from using WePay, I’ll eat my hat. Not for selling the products through WePay, but ever selling licensed products ever.

That’s the problem, see. I get that they’re trying to cover their asses, but it’s not consistent, and it’s not logical. So if covering their asses is the goal, they’re doing a terrible job. Instead, it comes off as moralistic judgment calls that make sure sex workers are trapped, unable to get help for their rent, medical care, or other needs outside of the adult industry they work in.Basically, WePay was an idea spawned to fund a bachelor party… but if a hired stripper needs to raise money for medical care, she’s shit out of luck.

And the fact is? There’s not another option for us to go to. We’re wanting to raise money for Eden so that she doesn’t have to cam while horribly sick. We can’t use PayPal or WePay, and most alternate payment processors have vague terms of what constitutes “adult services” or “pornographic”. Because Eden is a cam girl, I guess she doesn’t deserve fundraising. And thus we see where the anti-porn arguments ultimately fuck us over – because society makes damn sure that once a sex worker, always a sex worker.

Eden was hospitalized this morning and is now being cared for, but she is still in crisis, chronic pain, and struggling. And it’s notable to me that other sex workers were the core of her support network. The fact is, being a sex worker often means more resources are cut off for you. Services meant to help you instead turn out to be frauds. You can lose your job, your home,your childrenyour privacy, because you were a sex worker. I am hard pressed to think of a sex worker who isn’t dealing with a sense of instability and anxiety about being found out and losing everything. Even the most privileged among us are still at great risk. We’re all drowning, and yet we’re often the only ones willing to take care of each other… a floatation raft of exhausted people, paddling as best they can, knowing the ocean is vast and getting colder every minute, but there’s no rescue boat coming. And knowing all the while that our profession demands that we smile and pretend everything is great, because otherwise the sharks (the media, anti-porn feminists, religious nutcases) will devour us all.

I also feel the need to say that we need to make sure to take care of each other when we *aren’t* in crisis. Isolation makes minor setbacks into severe desperation. Too often I’ve found myself overwhelmed when struggling with suicidal feelings, but radio silence when I start to get a handle on it. I know that I, too, focus more on people when they’re in their lowest points, and forget to follow up when they’ve got their head above water. Creating systems of sustainable care are vital for our community to survive. We don’t have to live our lives paddling water.

In this particular case, there was no pornographic content, no perks, no lingering on the adult industry, yet it was shut down anyway. Other people have had their payments pulled out from under them for being in the legal adult industry, including me with PayPal. It shouldn’t matter, though, whether you mention being a porn performer or not, whether you’re a legal sex worker or not. You should be able to ask for help if you need it, rather than needing to take on more dangerous sex work or endanger yourself to survive because you can’t raise money any other way. That is some fucked up bullshit and we need to speak out against it, to really fight this. It’s discrimination against marginalized people and we need to do something about it.

There’s a massive flurry of activity on Twitter about this right now. I recommend sending tweets to @WePay and @billclerico, the cofounder and CEO of the company. Molly Crabapple, Patton Oswalt, Neil Gaiman, and Wil Wheaton have tweeted about this among others. Twitter not your thing? You can email them at legal@wepay.com, call them at 1-855-GO-WEPAY (their offices are closed this weekend, so start Monday) or write to them/protest in person:

WePay, Inc.
380 Portage Ave
Palo Alto, CA, 94306

There’s a lot of eyes on this situation, and it’s not going to be great PR for the payment processor. It’ll also be excellent PR for the company who steps up and offers to process the donations that people are eager to offer.

This is a good time to step forward and be that payment processor, by the way.

Other coverage:

Stand Up for Sex Workers: Eden Alexander, WePay, and Whorephobia by Laurie Penny /@PennyRed

Porn Star (Re)tweets About Porn, Gets Her Medical Fundraiser Suspended by Fruzsina Eördögh for VICE

The Scarlet RT: How WePay Denies Service to Sex Workers and Surveils Everyone by Melissa Gira Grant

Eden Alexander, Crowd Funding, and Discrimination Against Sex Workers by Stephen Elliot at the Rumpus

WePay Withholds Funds from Ailing Sex Worker by E.J. Dickenson for Daily Dot

Crowdfunding Campaign Ends in Disaster for Porn Star by Tucker Bankshot for Fleshbot 

WePay Blames “The Rules” For Withholding Medical Funds from Sex Worker by Nitasha Tiku for ValleyWag 

Crowdfunding Site Cancels Fundraiser For Ailing Sex Worker by Andrew Dalton for SFist

Who Makes Your Money: WePay and Eden Alexander by Bubbles for Tits and Sass

WePay’s Disastrous Decision: Seeing Sex Workers as Risks, Not Human Beings by PJ Rey for The Society Pages 

Porn actress battles crowdfunding processor over fundraiser for her medical bills by TBogg at The Raw Story

WePay Withholds Funds From Sick Woman Due To Offer Of Porn For Donations by Josh Constine for Techcrunch

WePay Cancels Crowdfunding for Adult Performer’s Medical Treatment by Isha Aran for Jezebel

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Paying For It: Are Crowdfunding Sites Hurting Sex Workers?

f4e17eac40567660a0f022b877927434“In a sluggish economy, never, ever f*** with another man’s livelihood.” – Risky Business

As a sex worker, I hear “why don’t you leave the industry?” all the time. We all do — it’s one of the big questions I see Duke student and porn performer Belle Knox fighting off too. I’ve been in the industry for about 10 years, so I’ve had a lot of time to think about the answer. For me, becoming a sex worker was part survival and part career path, as I had been working three jobs at a mall for very little and knew it wasn’t sustainable. I brainstormed how I’d transition from one aspect to another, taught myself marketing strategies, learned how to best utilize social media in order to connect to clients. I expected that I would stay in the industry for quite a while, either as a worker or an organizer. I enjoyed my work (most of the time), speaking publicly and without shame about it at universities, on television, online and over the airwaves. As an Internet-savvy professional, I blogged regularly, used online advertising and branded myself on social media. All publicity is good publicity, right? And I could always write about my experiences.

I discovered that leaving the sex industry was far easier said than done. I spoke to faith-based organization Solace SF about options. I had encountered them multiple times and they seemed friendly and not too pushy. Many groups that focus on the intersection of sex work and religion (or sex work and radical feminism) talk constantly about how much they want women to leave the industry, how it drains us, how it mistreats us. I didn’t feel mistreated myself, but I was exhausted and ready to leave the adult industry behind. Solace promised to help me with my resume, get me interview clothes, advise me on applying for jobs when my primary work was adult in nature. Ten years is a long time to have a gap in a resume, after all!

A representative from Solace told me that I had two choices — work as a freelancer, continue to hustle and don’t worry about my history… or say goodbye to Kitty Stryker, delete everything related to that name and try to wipe the slate clean. I sat with that for a while, turning over in my head how it would feel to delete a persona I spent 10 years creating, honing, perfecting. I would lose all my contacts, lose all the work I had done in media. I couldn’t tell prospective employers about speaking at South By Southwest if I distanced myself from this persona, because I had done a presentation on sex work under that identity. I considered it, but ultimately decided I’d rather take my chances and get whatever help I could without destroying my past like I was ashamed of it. But the help never came, and I discovered that Solace had fallen apart with rumors of fraud following in its wake. I can’t say I was altogether surprised. All I had gotten in the end were cupcakes and the very occasional gift card for Safeway, nothing to help me move forward and start a new job.

And people wonder why sex workers don’t trust the organizations available to “help” them.

Even if that help had panned out I was (and still am) somewhat conflicted about whether or not I want to leave the sex industry. I know I don’t have the energy for it anymore on the one hand, but I don’t know if I can get started anywhere else. I was outed under my legal name for a piece I wrote about Porn Wikileaks, so it’s not easy, but is possible to link my legal name to my adult one. If an employer Googles my name, they’ll find my “sordid past” and then will it matter how many Twitter followers I have or the success of my blog? Even if hired, I could be subsequently fired for having been in porn or written about dildos. What do you do when your brand is adult-based and all your best connections, writing and media appearances relate not to SEO, but SEX?

I’m a fighter, though, so I decided to try working independently, first as a marketing manager (sex work teaches you a lot about social media and branding) and later as a writer. I found Patreon, a service that allowed content creators to gather patrons who could pay for your art on a subscription basis. Knowing that crowdsourcing was unfriendly to sex workers and needing a sustainable option, I started up a Patreon account, making sure the content I posted followed their guidelines. It encouraged me to work harder on my writing, and was, for the first time, a viable alternative to sex work. It was great for the first few months. I funded a business trip to the upcoming Feminist Porn Conference in part because of the financial assistance Patreon provided, where I’d be speaking on porn and privacy.

Then I got an email from Patreon, saying that the payment processor PayPal had threatened to shut down all integration with their site because of “adult content.” The email stated, “as you can imagine, this would be detrimental to creators — hundreds of thousands of dollars were to be “frozen” unless we flagged all adult content pages, made them private and removed PayPal functionality from their individual pages… I’m so sorry that we had to do this without warning you first, but it was SUCH an emergency! We simply had to take action to avoid a situation where creators would lose hundreds of thousands of dollars of legitimate pledges.” Patreon emailed all of our patrons to warn them, and suggested we also email them to ensure payments went through as usual at the beginning of April. They worked around the clock responding to my panicked emails. While Patreon was open to artists creating work that was adult in nature, their hands were tied. And not in a kinky way.

This was not my first clash with PayPal or similar service WePay, of course. As I’ve discovered by seeking out stories on Twitter and Facebook, if you have anything to do with sex in some capacity and have tried to use an online payment processor, you’ll have had a run-in with one of them freezing your account, returning donations in best case scenarios and just taking it in the worst cases. As the organizer of an event with burlesque, I once had my account frozen for a week, losing vital time to purchase supplies, and I had to submit via email all sorts of information to “prove” I was legit (meaning, of course, not a sex worker). Companies like PayPal or WePay will Google people they deem suspicious and then take the money out of their accounts if they decide it’s “adult” without ever clearly defining what that means. Like obscenity, the rule seems to be “we’ll know it when we see it”.

Of course, it’s not just me. Andre Shakti found herself in similarly hot water in March for crowdfunding travel costs using Fundly to make it to the Feminist Porn Awards and Conference. While her offered perks followed Fundly’s terms, WePay, the payment processor they used, shut down her account because they were “adult,” causing the Sex Workers Outreach Project to write to Fundly encouraging them to stop using WePay and actually do what their tagline says… “raise money for anything”. Or there was Maggie Mayhem, a porn performer, tried to raise money for going to Haiti to do relief work using PayPal, and, despite the fact her fundraising had nothing to do with porn, she found her account shut down. Michelle Austin, another porn performer, had accounts at both companies shut down at different times — WePay did because her company was “linked to an adult company” (which can mean anything from linking to an adult company to having adult content show up in a Google search). She thinks PayPal shut down her donations simply because there was a porn shoot on her personal blog. Makes me wonder how many Tumblrs asking for donations for medical care get their accounts shut down for that reason?

PayPal and WePay are not required to give answers as to why they freeze or shut down accounts, but often all that’s required is the history (or even the suspicion) of sex work. It’s not just them, either — Amazon Payments joined the list when Polly Whittaker raised money to fund publishing her memoirs of her experiences with sex culture, but when it came to cash out, Amazon decided her memoirs were too sexual in nature. Google Wallet has had similar issues for those looking to receive payment for handmade BDSM toys. And Square has banned Courtney Trouble for life, even though they were using it for non-porn purposes, because their Google search uncovered that Courtney is a porn producer.

Why do these payment processors have such a strict policy on adult performers, so strict that having worked in the industry means you could find yourself banned for life? I looked into this somewhat and found many such companies claiming that statistically, adult companies were more likely to be high risk for chargebacks (when someone buys the content, often downloading what they want and then calling the company to report fraud). However, I couldn’t actually find these supposed statistics.

Instead, I discovered indie porn site owners saying their chargeback percentages were low enough to not warrant calling them high risk, and arguments about what constituted pornography (considered a “risky” investment) versus adult content (not necessarily deemed “risky” but a gray enough area to make enforcement completely arbitrary). I also discovered other types of business often considered at risk for chargebacks (travel, computer services, sorcery!). I spoke to someone who works in PayPal’s fraud department, and he said that 90% of the cases he had deal with digital goods, as people could get the item or service immediately, and there’s no traceable trail. But it’s adult companies that get this treatment, time and time again. These businesses aren’t targeted the way adult performers are. While current indie developers have had their accounts frozen, I haven’t seen a situation yet where someone *used* to be an indie dev or had links in their sidebar for games they had made, and because of that they got their account shut down when they tried to crowdfund going to SXSW.

Also interesting is that being associated in any way with adult services or performers does not seem to be enforced across the board. Multiple erotica sites dealt with PayPal, telling them that “morally objectionable” content wasn’t allowed… including books with BDSM content (they later sort of backed down from this, though it still seems to be case by case). Vicki Gallas, a former escort, was banned from using PayPal to process payments for her memoirs, because they included sex work. Seattle Erotic Art Festival had their account frozen even though they only used the service to process fine art submission fees. The SF Citadel, a BDSM community space in San Francisco, had no issues with WePay, though, though they’ve since stopped using it out of solidarity. SWAAY, a sex worker community project, accepts PayPal. It seems like what counts as “adult” shifts drastically and is impossible to anticipate.

Particularly interesting is that PayPal really got its start, not only through online auctions like eBay, but adult websites and online gambling. Both are things they now refuse to have anything to do with, even though porn sites and online casinos helped rocket PayPal to the popularity it enjoys today. In 2003, citing high fraud rates, Paypal stopped accepting adult transactions or gambling ones, offering instead to monitor user transactions and report potentially illegal activities.

Our economy is pretty terrible right now. When jobs are difficult to come by, people are starting small businesses out of their home, selling stuff on eBay, making mobile apps, crafting things to sell on Etsy. And, of course, more and more people are trying their hand at something in the adult entertainment arena to help them get by – perhaps camming here, maybe doing a porn there, possibly stripping or selling their dirty socks. College is expensiveRent is rising in many major cities. Sex work can be and is a ticket out of debt for many people.

Yet, we live in a culture that brands us permanently for dipping a toe into sex work while simultaneously insisting sex workers should leave the industry and do other work. The subsequent shaming becomes a double-edged weapon. With PayPal and WePay controlling most of the online payment market, banning sex workers past or present from using either can mean that any other sort of small business idea is made impossible for us. I may want to stop doing sex work and write instead, but if I can’t process online payments because of having an adult history, and companies won’t hire me because they can Google my sex work history, I’m stuck in the business, whether I like it or not.

Interestingly, as faith in PayPal and WePay falls, companies like Verotel are moving forward, accepting Bitcoin as a possible alternative form of online payment for adult companies. Perhaps Bitcoin and other similar payment systems outside of the Visa/Mastercard monopoly is the way of the future for those on the margins when companies like PayPal or WePay can steal unfettered from marginalized populations.

But, until we can use Bitcoin to pay rent and buy groceries, the only payment sex workers can count on is the anonymity of cash in hand, and as long as that’s true, that scarlet letter makes it hard to leave the industry. When payment processors can dictate morality, that’s a scary road to walk down. I’ve felt sharply the need for society to stand with me, with all sex workers, to recognize that sex work is, in fact, work… and that staying employed during hard times is a sign of our resourcefulness in the face of a hostile world. Sex workers learn how to use tech as a survival strategy — we’re the CEO, CFO, marketing director, PR department and human resources, all on our own. I don’t know a company alive that couldn’t use that skill set in an unsteady economy.

In case you were wondering, my Patreon patrons all switched over and rent got paid. Guess PayPal just lost out on the fees for all those transactions.

I hope it was worth it for them.

Consent Culture Briefs

-Twitter was swarmed with the hashtag #rapecultureiswhen, with many people expressing their thoughts on the subject. It started off really well:
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Until of course the MRA types entered the hashtag to prove the points being made by making rape jokes and “angry feminist” accusations.

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Thankfully there were some men in the tag who demonstrated an understanding of what rape culture is, and why it was a problem.
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As one woman put it:
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-Dr. Nerdlove posted an article called “Socially Awkward Isn’t an Excuse” and in doing so explains how in creeper situations, being socially awkward is not an excuse for violating boundaries. He points out that the “socially awkward” situation is raised as a form of justifying the creeper behaviour, and often of blaming the person receiving the creepy attention. A quote:

But being anxious or socially clumsy or inexperienced isn’t the same as being creepy. Someone who is socially awkward will occasionally trip over somebody else’s boundaries by accident because they may not necessarily understand where the line is in the first place. A creeper on the other hand knows exactly where those boundaries are… he just doesn’t care. A socially awkward person frequently realize that they fucked up almost as soon as the words are out of their mouth and will often freeze up or try to verbally backpedal; a creeper who is using “socially awkward” as an excuse on the other hand, will wield their supposed infraction against the other person as proof that they didn’t do anything wrong… or rely on others to do their defending for them.

It’s a great article, and a useful one.

-I heard recently about the analogy of Ask Culture Vs Guess Culture when explaining why some people get upset by others asking for help and favours, while others get annoyed at someone’s wishing for help but never making it clear. I think this is going to be a useful distinction in setting expectations of each other, and may help in friend circles and communities that struggle around who gets heard and who gets the resources. Captain Awkward has an excellent rundown/analysis here.

-Interesting art/performance piece happening in Phoenix, Arizona with the Consent Project by Chelsea Pace. She seeks to put people in situations where a victim is often blamed for their assaults (for example, a room filled with televisions and trees made of alcohol bottle trunks and red Solo cup foliage to represent “too much to drink”) to confront if it is, really, deserved.

-A police officer in San Jose stands accused of raping a woman… who called 911 for a domestic violence situation. He brought the woman (believed to be an illegal immigrant and therefore even less likely to fight back) to a hotel, waited for the other officer to leave, and then raped her. Obviously this brings into question *even more* the idea that rape victims should talk to the police, particularly if they are POC, queer, trans*, or sex workers. He is on paid administrative leave, which is fucking shocking.

-A gang rape victim with MS says that when she tried to report her assault, police accused her of being a drug addict and a sex worker (as if those are reasons to not take a rape seriously). She and her mother both say the police acted “like it was a big joke and a waste of time.”

-Upsetting Rape Culture is still fantastic with their direct action and their quilt of survivor’s stories. Check them out if you haven’t, because their sense of humour and critical analysis of consumerism and sexuality is pretty damn good.