Anonymous said: Hi, Lori. I just read a Melissa Gira Grant interview on Guernica, and it left me demoralized. She outlined that women who were against the sex industry need to look at their anxiety/think about it, & how we should forgive men who pay for sex especially if we're in relationships with them b/c they're good people. The whole thing left a bad taste in my mouth b/c it was basically treating feminists as the problem, & protecting "johns". I know you mentioned capitalism is he problem, but I was
wondering what your opinion is on this (if you don’t mind sharing it)? I don’t like the idea of moral absolutes - that if you recognize problematic aspects of the sex industry that you must hate sex workers. The most insulting part is this idea that we should embrace infidelity and men who pay for sex wholeheartedly. You’re written some multi-faceted things on here, so I was wondering how this kind of piece factors into your particular view? Thank you so much for taking the time to read.
Let’s take a look at what Melissa actually said in the interview that Guernica decided was going to be limited to talking about sex work + feminism.
I think the anti-prostitution feminists need to do some consciousness-raising amongst themselves about their feelings. But that’s a different political activity. Asking ourselves, how do we feel about the fact that our boyfriends, our husbands, our male partners might hire sex workers? They should have that conversation, but they shouldn’t attach it to policy conversations that affect people.
Uh oh, looks like you put words in her mouth such as to change the meaning of her statement completely, conveniently allowing you to elide her point about criminalization! Boo fucking hoo, how awful that you were demoralized to hear you’re a major part of the problem. Guess what? If sex workers had mainstream feminist support as we did in the early 70’s, sex workers would have the same legal protections as women seeking abortions + DV survivors— not much, but a hell of a lot more than what we have now. We’d also have community spaces full of women who are supportive instead of spaces like my women’s studies program where I constantly fear for my continued enrollment lest someone figure out What It Is That I Do + ‘rescue’ me by telling the Dean, who might then expel me for violating the student code of conduct.
THIS— ALLLL of this, including your twisted reading of MGG’s words— is what’s at issue here, not this strawman that “if you recognize problematic aspects of the sex industry[…] you must hate sex workers.” Take your “oh gee golly gosh, whatever could the problem be” bullshit and keep it the fuck out of my inbox.
Lori Adorable, I owe you a drink.
(Also, what’s w/ folks taking this to her Ask box when I’m right here? *waves* *uh, on second thought…*)
“The most radical thing I could think of to do was to make it ordinary.”
I Get Email: Men Who Want To “Help”
I have been photographing and telling the stories of street walkers, addicts, homeless, for last three years. I have formed very close bonds and I get asked for help often. I also get offers of help, but sadly they are often unrealistic. Attend a workshop is beyond the resources, often its about just getting enough money to get the next fix.
I see the same thing when it comes to advocacy for other issues I cover, like “stop and frisk.” The ACLU wants me to hand out iPhone apps. That is missing the point, “burn phones” are not app friendly.
I know its well intentioned, but the ones who suffer the most from the negative stereotypes, from the patronizing smugness of people liks Kristof, from the police, are the ones least served.
The offers of support come in two types, both wrong. 1) Women are all victims of sex traffic, lets put them in van, move them to convent or something. 2) Lets put them in a workshop and have them write about their experiences.
What is needed is writers helping them tell their stories, lawyers helping them learn their rights, and politicians realizing they are humans not statistics. Boots on the ground.
Sorry for rant, I know what you and others are doing is fantastic work. I just find that resources seem to drift towards the liberal arts student who does escort to pay her way through college, rather than the down and out addict who is just sucking dick to get crack.
Cheers and keep up the great writing”
I hear that you want to help. So with that in mind, I’ve got two pieces of feedback to help —
In the way you are talking about the kinds of help sex workers need, I think you’re creating dichotomies here that aren’t especially useful. I’ve worked in direct services for sex workers, and am a former sex worker myself. People make all kinds of assumptions about what sex workers need — and you are correct in identifying that. But sex workers who have been working for the health, safety, and human rights of all sex workers identify a spectrum of needs. You’re totally right that legal aid is critical — and almost no funding is available for that. Likewise, there’s little funding for basic needs like housing, child care. And what there is usually is only offered to people after arrest.
And I’d caution you to not use language like this, even as a joke —“Sucking dick to pay for crack” — that’s a really hard thing to hear. I’m not denying that it’s a reality, but it’s not your reality — it’s a reality you observe, photograph, and to an extent, derive value from in creating photos from it.
As valuable as your work might be, it is not as valuable as stories sex workers themselves share about their own lives.
“Prostitution itself is a technology, a communication system, as much and at times more than it is a system for organizing sexuality. It signals. Walk for a moment through a red-light district in your head and you won’t see sex—just its red-hot flares.”
– A new excerpt from Playing the Whore up at Guernica for publication day. (Or, get the whole thing.)
“Sex workers should not be expected to defend the existence of sex work in order to have the right to do it free from harm.”
Melissa Gira Grant
As quoted in a Washington Post blog about her book “Playing the Whore”
The sentence in Grant’s book that most changed my mind about the topic was this simple observation: “Sex workers should not be expected to defend the existence of sex work in order to have the right to do it free from harm.”
Like many people, I have a mix of conflicting ideas, thoughts and reactions when it comes to the issue of sex work. But that sentence was clarifying. We shouldn’t have to solve a Big Question to ensure that people are not subject to risks and threats from both the people who hire them and the state itself through its policing powers. Those simple labor-market issues aren’t new. And, historically, they’ve been best addressed through democratic accountability and action.
Most sex workers will have conflicting opinions about their work. But that’s true of all workers. And sex work exists within a larger labor market at all times. As Susan Dewey found in her ethnography of women working at strip clubs in the Rust Belt, it was the low-wage work outside strip clubs that the women found “exploitative, exclusionary and without hope for social mobility or financial stability.”
The debate over sex work isn’t going to go away anytime soon. But hopefully, with more books like this out there, it will move forward to a place where the workers under discussion are seen as people we are trying to empower to make decisions, rather than merely criminals to punish or victims to save.”