sex work

Chicago in Solidarity to End Violence Against Sex Workers: Resist the Swedish Model!

So, I live in Chicago now and I want to promote this important event I helped organize. I encourage folks to check out the original page at http://chicagodecriminalizenow.wordpress.com. [Updated, 7/20: Reportback from the demo added!]

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When: Friday, July 19th, 6:30pm central time
Where: 
Consulate General of Sweden (150 N Michigan Ave, Chicago)‎
What: Rally to demand justice for murdered sex workers and an end to all policies criminalizing sex work
Social Media: #JusticeForJasmine #JusticeForDora #StigmaKills
To RSVP: e-mail chicagodecriminalizenow@gmail.com
Global Facebook event: International Day of Protest against the violent Abuse and Murder of Sex Workers
Allies Welcome!!

via jasmineanddora.wordpress.com:

On July 19th, 2013, people are gathering across the globe to protest against violence against sex workers.

Following the murders of Dora Özer and Petite Jasmine on the 9th and 11 of July 2013, sex workers, their friends, families, and allies are coming together to demand an end to stigma, criminalisation, violence and murders. In the week since the two tragedies occurred, the feelings of anger, grief, sadness and injustice – for the loss of Dora and Jasmine, but also for the senseless and systemic murders and violence against sex workers worldwide – have brought together people in more 36 cities from four continents who agreed to organise demos, vigils, and protests in front of Turkish and Swedish embassies or other symbolic places. JOIN US on Friday the 19th and stand in solidarity with sex workers and their loved ones around the world! Justice for Dora! Justice for Jasmine! Justice for all sex workers who are victims of violence!

via http://jasmineanddora.wordpress.com/new-york/:

As the sex trade becomes an ever more important part of how neoliberal economies handle the poorest and most marginalized, violence against sex workers – particularly against transgender and immigrant women – has become a tragic epidemic. Please join us this Friday, where we will be rallying in solidarity with sex workers all over the world to commemorate two women, Dora Özer and Petite Jasmine, who brutally lost their lives last week in Turkey and Sweden.

Despite being organized at the last minute and many sex workers and allies currently being in Las Vegas for the Desiree Alliance Conference, it is still important for Chicagoans to demonstrate solidarity with the international call for a day of action for sex worker justice.

As the cases of Dora and Jasmine show, the criminalization of sex work is a global problem that is literally killing our communities. It takes global solidarity to combat this kind of systemic, legitimized, state-sanctioned violence.

Why the Swedish Consulate?

Many people interested in sex workers’ rights have heard of the so-called “Swedish model” or the “Nordic model” — a strategy aimed at decriminalizing some aspects of selling sex, while increasing the criminalization of buying sex. The goal of such laws is to eradicate sex work by “ending demand,” – presenting it as a more “humane” (or even “feminist”) response. While Turkey has an extremely high death rate for sex workers and transgender women, it is also important to challenge the growing number of people (including here in Illinois — see below) who want to follow the Swedish example of pushing ill-informed policies that give stricter punishment for the purchasing of sex. As the tragic loss of Jasmine shows, this false alternative is just another form of violence against sex workers.

This model is not a kinder, gentler alternative to arresting and giving heavy sentences to sex workers. In reality, these laws haven’t eliminated demand. They have only made things worse for sex workers, especially those already most vulnerable — street workers, transgender women (who are often profiled as sex workers even if they aren’t), homeless/street-based young people, undocumented immigrants, etc.

People will continue to do what they need to do in order to survive, and should never be punished or stigmatized for how they do so. By conflating all forms of sex work with violence or human trafficking (which is not the same thing as sex work) or calling sex work ‘sexual slavery’, proponents of “End Demand” policies erase the agency and autonomy of people who chose sex work. Even by criminalizing clients, End Demand denies the reality that sex workers and our clients can have consensual relationships. Far from being feminist, proponents of End Demand are trying to legislate what we can and cannot do with our bodies.

Why Chicago?

Because “End Demand” policies are coming here — in fact, they already are here. Almost anyone who rides the CTA or drives along the highway has seen prominent ads purchased by End Demand Illinois, an organization pushing (somewhat successfully) for “Swedish model” type legislation in our state. (For further critique of the End Demand ad campaign, check out this from the Sex Workers Organizing Project-Chicago.) Some of these laws, advertising campaigns, and the policies they are lobbying for have already had direct, negative impacts on the lives of sex workers in Chicago and across the state. We don’t want to see the very same laws that contributed to the death of Jasmine in Sweden come here, or anywhere. Now is the time to soundly reject these policies and demand full decriminalization.

More on why the “End Demand” or “Swedish” model is dangerous…

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Toward Participatory Gender: Trans Self-Determination and Movements for Social Justice

A friend asked to see my thesis, so I found a copy. I spent over a year and a half writing this in 2008-2010. Some of the writing was taken from pieces even older than that. This is the first time I’ve looked at it in a year or two, and I’m surprisingly still pretty fond of it! It’s especially kind of fascinating in light of my involvement in the Occupy Wall Street movement, and linking that back to my work with the DC Trans Coalition and trans-centric organizing more broadly.

I decided to share some of it, since only a couple people have read it so far (and I’ve promised to share it with a lot of folks but never followed up). Given that it’s a thesis, it’s slightly more academic than my usual writing, but I tried to write as accessibly as I could. Here’s the Abstract, and the Introduction and Overview (the first 20ish pages of the entire thesis, which contains a summary of most of the rest) are below the cut. The whole thing is around 250 pages. Perhaps I will eventually get around to sharing the rest someday! As I do, I will post links on the Table of Contents below. :)

Toward Participatory Gender: Trans Self-Determination and Movements for Social Justice

Goddard College
June 2010

Abstract

This paper explores notions of identity, gender, and social justice by delving into the histories and politics of trans communities in north america. The author explores how trans people have actively built communities around shared experiences, and how these communities both contribute to and benefit from engaging in struggles for social and economic justice. She urges broader progressive, radical, and feminist movements not to ignore how forces such as cis supremacy and transphobia situate oppression, and thus how we organize resistance to it. She passionately develops her own vision for a movement that is both capable of realizing a participatory gender system and grounded in a shared ethics of total liberation.

The author argues that academic studies of trans people have largely neglected trans people’s own agency in shaping our identities and communities. She claims that medical, psychiatric, feminist, and queer accounts of trans issues have all so far failed to critically examine the material conditions of trans people’s lives or recognize the diverse strategies we have created to transform those conditions. She reexamines these histories, with a focus on the participation of poor trans women of color and other marginalized voices, in order to give context to her own experiences of embodiment and political action.

The project also discusses how trans liberation activists will fail if they focus only on fighting “transphobia” without analyzing the ways in which other institutions and systems – such as the state and white supremacy – also shape trans experiences. The author argues that trans praxis must be grounded in our everyday lived experiences, and thus must also account for the ways in which differing privileges and oppressions intersect in our selves. She does this with detailed accounts of trans people’s interactions with policing and incarceration, the politics of hate crime legislation, her own engagement with doctors and government bureaucracies, the stigma of mental illness and sex work, and much more. Throughout the work, she blends personal narrative, theory, and research to explore the ethics of gender self-determination, her own identity as a genderqueer transsexual woman, and her involvement in organizing for collective empowerment in trans communities.

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After Another Death, What’s Left When Coping is Killing Me?

This is an account of the days leading up to and following the murder of a young trans woman of color in my community. It is also about falling in love, and how my anxiety and panic are intertwined with an internalized acceptance of my own social marginalization, especially relating to drug use and sex work. Finally, it is about my conflicted (sometimes irrational, self-destructive) strategies for surviving those things.

I wrote it awhile ago during a very dark time. I had to wait for the wounds to heal a bit before I let people read it. They are still raw, and it’s still hard for me to say these things. It’s especially hard to admit my recent addictions. There’s a lot of judgment around being poor, trans, crazy, and a sex worker — but for whatever reason, that derision is easier for me to shake than the bullshit drug users have to put up with. But I think sharing it will help. I hope it means as much to someone else as it does to me.

It is a hard read. It has already made people cry. When I wrote it, I was very lost. I was facing so many tragedies that I couldn’t see the blessings. If you’re looking for something to give you hope, this is not it. This is a story about how sometimes, even when I have completely lost all hope, I just keep going — simply because I just don’t know what else to do.

It ends somewhat ambiguously, because that is honestly how I felt at the time. I still don’t have an answer to the question that is both the title and subject of this essay: How can I rationalize continuing to live when the pain always seems to outweigh the good, and when my coping mechanisms for dealing with that pain are often causing more harm?

Trigger Warnings: Contains vivid descriptions of drug abuse, addiction, mental illness, panic attacks, sex work, violence against trans women of color, and references to sexual assault.
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Discussing the Causes of Violence Against Trans Women

originally posted to the DC Trans Coalition’s blog

Violence against trans women does not only exist as individual hatred or bias-motivated crime. It comes in many forms and for many reasons. Trans women are systematically placed in circumstances where we are more likely than others to experience multiple forms of violence.

In order to end violence against trans women, it is important to understand that more than just personal prejudices are at fault. Other kinds of oppression like racism, laws like the criminalization of sex work, economic forces like poverty and gentrification, and many other forces are also at play.

Wednesday, DCTC’s Sadie Vashti spoke about violence against the transgender community with the Latino Media Collective. The interview was broadcast on the radio, but you can also listen to it anytime at this link. (The interview begins about 1/4th into the clip.) In order to be more accessible, click below to read an abbreviated transcript broken into headings by topic.

Note: The views expressed in this interview belong only to Sadie. DCTC is a collective of many people with a variety of views. To learn more about our official organizational principles and stances, see here. Also, this interview was conducted before the most recent attack on a group of trans women by an off-duty MPD officer.

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(1) Everyone Deserves Safe Work Places. (2) Self-Defense is a Human Right.

Two things.

The DC Trans Coalition released summary findings from the first phase of our ongoing Needs Assessment Project. Click the link to read the full four-page document, and see the press release below the cut or at our website. Please read it. We’ve put a lot of work into this project, and the information is extremely important.

I’d like to highlight one point. Over half of all 108 trans people surveyed marked the trans sex work stroll as a place that is central to their identity as a trans person in the District. The percentage is even higher for the trans women of color who participated. When asked about it, almost all described the (now heavily gentrified) stroll as a place where they hang out with friends, distribute resources, and make sure everyone there is safe from harm.

What does it tell us if one of the primary, tangible spaces where trans people (especially women of color) create communities and build networks of mutual support is also one of the most heavily policed and criminalized places in the world? And what if that place is also the primary work environment for many people within those communities?

Next.

In Minneapolis, a trans woman of color was attacked with racist and transphobic slurs by a stranger. A brawl ensued when the stranger, a white cis man, attacked her and her friends. The attacker was killed somehow, and now that woman is in jail facing criminal charges. This is the same criminal “justice” system that institutionally disadvantages youth, people of color, low income people, trans people, and feminine presenting people.

The woman’s name is CeCe McDonald. The Trans Youth Support Network has organized a campaign to rally around her. If you’re in the Twin Cities, join them. They are also raising money to make sure she can afford a lawyer that will help get her a fairer trial. Visit their site at Support CeCe McDonald! and show solidarity with working class trans communities who are targeted by the prison industrial complex!
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“The Best of Both Worlds”: Navigating the Porn Industry, Tranny Chasers, & My Own Trans-centric Sexuality

Content warning: Graphic discussions of sex, sex work, and transphobia

“The Best of Both Worlds”: Can a tranny whore also be a tranny chaser? Or: Toward a trans-centric sexuality. Or: How porn taught me to trust people and love my body.

This is dedicated to the amazing sex I had last weekend, and the beautiful women with whom I had it. Also, many thanks to Mira for clarity and critical thoughts.

Since transition, all but one of the people I’ve dated, hooked up with, or crushed on have been other trans women. I don’t care to reveal that number, but let’s just say I’ve gotten close to a lot of trans women.

Recently, I half-jokingly called myself a “tranny chaser.” My off-hand comment sparked an interesting conversation between me and a friend, who is a gay trans man. The heart of our discussion was this: I am a tranny whore.[i] Can I also be a tranny chaser?

Shemale Fan Clubs: An Introduction to the World of Being Chased

The term ‘tranny chaser’ is used primarily amongst trans women to describe cis men who aggressively seek out sex with trans women. It usually has negative connotations. The prototypical chaser is creepy and misogynistic.

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Austerity Hits Home – DC cuts services for sex workers and trans people

I recently started working at HIPS. Working on a harm reduction and anti-oppression philosophy, HIPS assists thousands of sex workers with peer support groups, crisis counseling, safer sex workshops, help accessing services, a drop-in center, syringe exchange, HIV testing, a clothing closet, and more. Every weekend night until 5am, HIPS runs a van that gives out condoms, hot chocolate, referrals and other support to people working the strolls. Plus, they’ve been amazing allies to the broader (non-sex worker) trans community, too. I was honored to be working with them. I have so much respect for HIPS and the work they do. As someone who has used their services and been a volunteer there, I know they are a powerful resource in my communities.

Unfortunately, I’ve already been laid off. The local government decided to cut funding for social programs instead of raising taxes on the top 5% of earners and we lost a crucial grant.

Isn’t it interesting how, during an economic downturn, the government is quick to abruptly discontinue funding to an agency dedicated to supporting sex workers, and whose major constituents are poor Black and Latin@ trans women, but refuses to raise taxes on the ultra-rich?
I’m not surprised, of course. But this one just really hit me directly. In addition to my position, HIPS had to cut peer education classes, a program manager, and will no longer be doing the outreach van on Thursday nights. We were given no notice at all. HIPS has received this grant every year since 1995, so no one saw this coming.

As my friends know, I’ve been dealing with some serious mental health issues. This news has been especially hard on me. I put a lot of my heart and soul into the program and clients I worked with. I was just finishing getting settled and beginning to feel confident in my position there.

For the brief time I worked there, it was wonderful. I got to use and develop all of my favorite skills: designing and writing resource manuals, one-on-one counseling, talking about anal sex, advocating clients through the legal system, leading workshops, and teaching trans women about empowerment, self-love, and the importance of using lube. I was working in my own community (trans sex workers) and my own neighborhood (Northeast/Brentwood). Also, I felt very supported by the HIPS family.

So I’m pretty devastated. I do have my other job at the coffee shop. I’ll survive. But losing this job was a huge set-back to my already-slowly-recovering mental health. Having relief given, and then taken away so soon after, was also especially harsh.

I woke up this morning and felt completely unable to get up. I was overcome with feelings of panic, despair and depression. This was also the first time in a very long time that I had serious thoughts about hurting myself. I had a clear idea of how I was going to cause myself physical pain. That is something that (even during panic attacks) doesn’t usually happen.

I took the day to spend with and think about loved ones. I was able to jump back from this crisis so far. Seriously, to the people (especially at HIPS and my sisters) who stepped in to check on me and sent me supportive messages: I love you all so much!

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HIPS will go on providing really important services, and I’m sure they’ll continue doing an amazing job with the resources they do have. But these funding cuts just gave one more trans woman a choice between poverty and sex work. This time it’s me. (Guess what I’m going to choose?)

I basically just went from being in a position where I was able to help my community get out of poverty, to being another person who will need to access those services.

When the government cuts funding to social programs, we all suffer. The whole city is negatively impacted when sex workers aren’t getting condoms or HIV testing or counseling and all the other stuff HIPS gives.

I know HIPS will be relying more on volunteers than ever, so come sign up with me! Both I and HIPS appreciate the support.