A Sex Worker-based Approach to Media

Though I know not everyone here is on the SWAN bandwagon, I do think they’re doing some good work.

Here are two news items from their feed about how they’re dealing with mainstream media, sex worker media and getting out their messages. Though these news items are vague on the how-to of it all, I like the concepts.

media sensitization seminar

sex worker training on community media

Add Matt Smith of the SF Weekly to the Salacious Sex Work Reporting Blacklist

At the Desiree Alliance this summer in Chicago, there was much discussion around media and one of the ideas that was brought up was to create a blacklist (and a good list) for reporters and interviewers who cover sex work-related issues.

Well I’m starting by adding Matt Smith of the SF Weekly to the blacklist based on this article. Not because it was an article that doesn’t support Prop K or sex workers rights per se, but because of the use of ridiculously sesationalized phrases like “blowjobs-for-badges” and his general tone of discrediting sex workers, their self-reported hardships, and any research conducted by people who have worked in the sex industry about sex work.   He spends the entire article tearing down Alix Lutnick’s SWEAT study, (as well as mis-spelling her name and the St. James Infirmary) and the idea that cops may regularly solicit sex, either as a bribe or as a client, from sex workers, and then only comes in at the very last paragraph to admit that possibly this phenomenon is worth looking into (based on the testimony of a public defender, who as someone who only works with sex workers from the outside is the only person he’s willing to believe on the matter, certainly not anyone who’s ever been in the industry themselves.)  Anyway, for somebody criticizing research techniques and demanding “hard science” this is dirty, sloppy, biased reporting and I don’t think Mr. Smith deserves the privilege of further interviews.

Sex worker spies on salary

Well just to break up all the serious and amazing work and conflict this community is working on with my patented brand of salacious frivolity I bring you this story reported from Japan by a Brit.

This woman leads a double life. Her boyfriend thinks she’s a secretary. In fact she is one of Japan’s new breed of professional seducers, hired by embittered spouses to entrap their straying partners. And she’ll stop at nothing to get the desired results.”

Japan’s New Professional Seducers

This is a typically sensationalized (double life! double life!) article about Japanese private eye agencies that make their business out of sneakily forced break-ups and make-ups,  but it also gives a really interesting loophole for legal sex work as well as a fairly repugnant (and expensive!) “Temptation Island” style seduction trap for people wanting to divorce their spouses after they pay to be cuckolded. Man this shit makes basic cheating and/or paying for sex seem exceedingly simple (not that I consider these acts equitable). Of course I wonder just how much of this account is accurate, after hearing the $pread peeps relay their stories about media mis-representation and the Dashiel Hammett-esque format in which this article is written, I’m especially wary. Writers seem generally pretty incapable of fair reporting on anything potentially “juicy”, and hoo-boy do they love some money/sex/secrecy/scandal. At least there is some gender parity in the reporting, I guess.

Also noteworthy is that this article is posted under the Life and Style>Women>Relationship categorization, which just struck me as funny, and the author wrote a book entitled “The Last Concubine” which makes me think they may be a Japanese sex worker fetishist, though that’s just my suspicions talking.

P.S. Keep up the good work and hard thinking everyone. It feels like growing pains, but hopefully in the end we’ll all be a bit taller. I know, that was heightest of me. I’m slapping my own wrist.

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.

Submit for Best Sex Writing 2008

An open call for submissions of personal essays and reporting for the 2009 edition of the Cleis Press series Best Sex Writing, which will hit stores in November 2008. For submission details, click here.

Sexies Awards

Here’s a contest for honoring the best in sex-positive journalism. The nominations are for 2007 and close on March 23, 2008. Self-nominations are allowed. The only catch is that the piece must have been published in print. Maybe next year they’ll add an online category.