Men and The Issue of Timing- Desiree Alliance

Saturday late morning, or maybe it was early afternoon I rolled into the third day of the Desiree Alliance mid-way through the morning plenary. The room was half full and a panel of male identified sex workers were sharing the mic. People slowly trickled in, grabbed some fruit and found their seats as the guys talked.

The panel consisted of about 7 men, which was a noticeable increase from last year. They came from San Francisco, New York, and Chiacgo and maybe L.A. They were very well spoken as they discussed issues of inclusiveness, outreach and sexual orientation. When the panel opened up for questions, one of the first was from Naomi of St James Infirmary who brought up the excellent point that if we as a community want to really welcome and include the male workers, we would get up and show up for their plenary. If after a weekend night of partying the guys could be ontime and ready to present, the least we could do is be there to support and listen. Stacey Swimme, one of the very hard working key organizers responded that she was hoping that giving them the opening slot to kick off the day would show that they were valued and bring everyone else out to listen.

This made me think about the issue of timing at conferences such as these, and the message it can inadvertently send. I have never organized a conference so its easy for me to have an idea about it without full knowledge of all of the factors involved, but I know that it is complex and difficult and someone is always going to be unhappy with the position of their presentation. I think weekend mornings are naturally going to be especially difficult with our group. Its amazing how a schedule can affect the mood of all the participants: when the breaks are, what the day starts with, who gets undivided attention. I think the organizers to a fantastic job on working these things out, and that it is an ever morphing beast that will just get smoother and more fine-tuned.

Some other interesting points from the (second-half of) the “Male Sex Workers: How to Organize, Support and Advocate for Themselves in the Movement” Plenary:

-possibly there a less men in the sex workers’ rights movement because most male sex workers are gay and stigma against sex work is far less in the gay men’s community than the rest of society. As one man put it: “we (gay men) are all whores anyway” so they get more support and a sense of community.

-in response, one of the panelist classified himself in this way: “I’m me first, then gay, then a sex worker” so while he is very active in activist work, he proposes that many men may not necessarily feel the need to organize around sex work specifically as it is a outer layer of identity.

-there was a discussion about openness and inclusivity, and that they needed to start in the language and imagery of our own movement. Many of the panelist didn’t feel terribly represented or included in all of the “women”, “ladies” language and images that focus on female (often white and biologically female) sex workers. People often look at promotional material to determine whether or not an event or community or cause is “for them” and even if they are invited personally, they will not feel totally welcome or wanted if they do not see themselves represented in language and images of the group.

-another panelist shared a maxim he learned early on that helps him deal with stigma and oppression called the 3 F’s. “If someone isn’t Feeding, Financing or Fucking me, than why the hell do I care what they think? What right do they have to say anything about how I live my life? Fuck ’em!”

I can’t wait to see the groups of men and transpeople at the conference grow. It seems that numbers attract numbers and I think the more people we have from every group of sex work we have at our conference and in our movement, the stronger and more representative we will be as a force for change and helping each other and ourselves.

Desiree Alliance 2008- Day one

Here are some impressions from the first full day of the 2008 Desiree Alliance conference.

It is so goddamned hot here in Chicago but luckily sex workers know how to strip. Half way through the first day Stacey Swimme set the precedent by filling ice water spritzer bottles and peeling down to her comely skivvies. Many moans arose from those confined to their clothes because they arrived at the conference sans coulottes. Says ‘David’: “I never seen so many people in this industry take their clothes off with no money exchanged.”

The keynote anti-oppression workshop kicked things off and it also kicked my ass, emotionally. One of my favorite parts was the presenter’s metaphor of the house of ‘isms’; where adultism lay at the foundation since it is a cross-cultural experience for babies/children and youth, and mental health oppression as the roof as all deviations from socially established norms (emphasis on sex workers here) are pigeonholed as crazy and easily written off or persecuted for mental health instability. Other ism’s such as racism, sexism, anti-semitism, etc. are the pillars that hold the house up. Talking in small groups about our personal definitions of super loaded terms and creating lists of terms and phrases associated left a lot of us thoughtful, riled up and raw.

After lunch we split into different workshops, I went to “Transgender Intra-Community Relations”. It really felt like we didn’t have nearly enough time to hear the panel of eight or so women from Chicago and DC talk about their organizations, experiences, and the issues facing their communities. One thing that was mentioned several times were strategies to unite and unify young transwomen of color, the problems of transwomen sex workers who are harassed and incarcerated by police with complete lack of respect for their gender and are placed in men’s jails, and the idea of an accessible conference specifically for transwomen with emphasis on women of color.

We ended the first day with a plenary on Challenging Discrimination among Sex Workers where a wallop of topics were introduced including: accessing the porn community as allies and bridges, the horrible phenomenon of partners, friends and colleagues with a grudge turning sex workers into the police, and division and judgment between workers in different fields of the sex industry.

But I was fried, my brain was a weepy puddle of lust and attraction, fear of rejection, new ideas, old pains, empathy, self-reflection and the desire to be accepted. A conference full of gorgeous sweltering hos tackling topics like institutional oppression will do that to me. There is so much information and so many perspectives and so many people who have been marginalized and misunderstood by much of society trying to find their common ground. So as my act of harm-reductionist self care, I went to Bleeding Heart Bakery and drowned my intense sensitivity in delicious organic sugar….stay tuned for more Desiree updates!

The Latest Bestest Idea on Sex Worker-Media Realtions from Desiree Alliance

A note about Desiree Coverage:

I’m just talking about things that tickled or interested me particularly, or workshops I personally attended, this is not meant to be comprehensive and anything I write about is only a minute glimpse of the many amazing things happening here right now. Also I am leaving out names of anyone that I don’t personally know or I know to be public figures in an attempt to respect privacy. I’m sorry if this means that only the same 3 or 4 people get mentioned by name, please feel free to comment and take credit for anything you said or did that I didn’t attribute to you.

A group of well spoken media whores from SWANK/SWOP NYC are in the middle of a panel presentation called “Sex Workers and Mainstream Media: What We Learned from “Spitzergate”-Tools and Inspiration for Progressive Messaging” moderated by Audacia Ray.

They have explained some of the trials, horrors and hard-won victories against the New York Times that came from the media frenzy surrounding Spitzergate. So the issue of media accountability and how to handle mainstream media is a major topic of conversation. A fucked up interview can really do a lot of harm, one of the presenters lost her job based on misrepresentation from a New York Times interviewer. However after 2 weeks of hard work and legal threats to the editor they succeeded in getting a retraction printed; a major win in terms of realistic representation and the ability of sex workers to create their own image. Audacia has a helpful guide for talking to the media on her blog Sexwork 101, but the fact is that most of the mainstream media does not care enough to veer from their pre-existing concepts of what sex workers do and think (like the assumption that ‘sex worker’ means prostitute), and of course sensationalism sells papers ad gets clicks.

Ok, this may be redundant, there are very eloquent accounts of sex worker response to Spitzer all over this blog and many others.

But KittenINFINITE came up with a brilliant new tool to watchdog the media and train them to treat us respectfully and portray us realistically: a white list and black list of media contacts, widely posted and updated. So anytime a reporter does a story with fair and accurate representation of sex workers their name and contact is added to our media ally list, and anytime a reporter fucks up or drops the ball, they get added to the Hall of Shame. A key point to help encourage compliance would be that if someone googled the reporters name there place in the Hall of Shame would pop right up. A perfect addition to BNG, I think.

Stacey then followed with her own brilliant idea: A National (or possibly International) Sex Workers Speakers Bureau to create a collected resource of media savvy and ready sex workers who are willing to speak publicly on a variety of subjects. An intensive media training conference could be arranged, and there would be a variety of speakers with different core interests and back-grounds to address whatever demographic or issue the mainstream media was covering.

The call was then put for people to “bottom line” these two projects (New York terminology cracks me up.) So who wants to compile the media info and let us know who is worth talking to and who to avoid?  And who wants to work on organizing a media focused coalition of sex workers….Veronica Monet? Are you out there?

Just a personal note: the sex worker activists from New York always impress the pants right off me. They present such an organized, smart and dedicated face to addressing sex worker issues and needs. They can pull off the air of professionalism often required to get the lay world to listen and take us seriously, while retaining and conveying a broad scope of information and the interests of diverse communities of workers. I love the variety of styles of activism our community encompasses, and the $pread and Swanks of this movement play a key role.