David Henry Sterry

Author, book doctor, raker of muck

David Henry Sterry

Tag: sex worker activists

On Huffington Post: Everything You Think You Know About Cambodian Sex Workers Is Wrong

I’m always on the lookout for people who have interesting things to say about the strange things that happen in the exchange of sex for money.  Heidi Hoefinger, author of the new book, Sex, Love and Money in Cambodia: Professional Girlfriends and Transactional Relationships, is one of those people.  Here are some of the fascinating things she has some to say about Cambodian sex workers. Click here to read piece on Huffington Post.

Sex Love and Money FINAL COVER

David Henry Sterry: Why did you want to write a book about Cambodian bar girls?

Heidi Hoefinger: I went to Cambodia 10 years ago as a backpacker and I ended up meeting, and connecting with a few girls really quickly. We identified on lots of levels — particularly around the way we dressed and danced, and the music we liked — so we became ‘fast friends.’ Phnom Penh, the capital city, also had a lawless and edgy magnetism about it and I decided then and there that I wanted to come back to Cambodia and write a book about the women who were at the heart of it all.

DHS: What did you expect, and how are your expectations met or shattered?

HH: I’m a little embarrassed to admit that when I first went to Cambodia back in 2003, I was filled with all the naïve assumptions and western biases that many people have when they first get there: all the girls are ‘trapped’ in the bars; they have little decision-making power; they are controlled by bosses and managers; they are all sex workers who are commercially available and negotiable for sex upon any request; and every inter-ethnic couple (Cambodian woman/western man) were commercially-based. Well, I had to confront all those assumptions pretty quickly, because when I got there in 2005 to start formal academic research, I learned right away that something quite different was going on. Most of the girls were working in the bars out of their own free will (to the extent that anyone does in Cambodia or beyond); their sexual decisions weren’t controlled by bosses or managers and the women could decide themselves whether or not they wanted to ‘go with customers’; and the majority did not actually identify as sex workers, or view their quest for foreign boyfriends as ‘work.’ They viewed themselves as ‘bartenders,’ ‘bar girls,’ or ‘bar maids,’ and viewed most of the sexual partners that they meet in the bars as ‘real’ boyfriends.

DHS: Did you spend much time in the bars, and what happens on a typical night?

HH: During several visits over several years, I spent every night out in the bars with the women. But in addition to that, I spent days with them in their homes, helping look after their kids; or we hung out at the markets buying clothes, or at internet cafes translating emails from western boyfriends, or even out in the countryside meeting their families in their villages. But indeed, the majority of our time was spent going out at night. A typical night out usually begins at the salon, where we would get our hair and nails done. The girls who work in the hostess bars that I was researching — these are bars where Cambodian women sit and chat with mainly western customers, but also increasing numbers of East and Southeast Asian men — are able to afford this daily activity due to the increased spending capacity they have which results from the material benefits they gain from foreign boyfriends. After we got dressed, many of them would go to their respective bars and work their shifts from 7pm-2am. After that, we would go to the dance clubs — with or without their male suitors — and when those closed, we would end up at the 24-hour bars to play pool. Finally, we’d end the night by having a bowl of soup on the street to catch up on the night’s gossip before going home to sleep as the sun came up.

DHS: Did you get to know any of these women, and if so, what would she like in terms of background, education, aspirations, dreams, goals?

HH: Over a decade, I got to know many of the women as close friends. And though we came from different ethnic, economic, class and educational backgrounds, we shared similar aspirations: to be happy and live in comfortable environments with our material, physical and emotional needs met. Most of the women were born in the Cambodian countryside, and a combination of familial obligation, financial need, and personal aspirations for adventure, freedom or romance drove them to migrate to the cities. Many but not all have elementary educations — but that’s it, so when they get to the city, their options are limited. They can either do domestic work like cleaning, or street trading of fruits or other goods, or garment factory work, or entertainment or sex work. Many tried their hand at everything and ended up preferring to work in the bars because they were the most lucrative, there was more flexibility of movement, they got to meet people from outside of Cambodia, and learn and improve their English skills, and the bars were just generally more ‘fun’ than the other jobs. Most women are very resourceful and entrepreneurial, and the ultimate goal of many of them was to open their own businesses — like a clothing store, bar, restaurant or salon, so they could support themselves and their families. Of course meeting a nice person along the way, who treats them and their families with love and respect, was also one of the life goals for many.

DHS: Do the bar girls see themselves as sex workers?

HH: Actually, the majority of women I spoke to in the hostess bars over the years do not, in fact, identify as sex workers, or their search for foreign boyfriends as work. Yes, they want and even expect, in some cases, to materially benefit from relationships with foreigners, who by default have more economic power over the women by nature of their western positionality, but the women normally don’t view these things (like clothes, jewelry, phones, tuition, rent or cash) as payment for sexual services from clients, but rather as gifts or support from boyfriends. Within Cambodian culture, there exists a thing called ‘bridewealth’ — which is when the potential groom’s family pays the potential bride’s family back the money they spent on milk while raising their daughter up — known colloquially as paying back the ‘milk money.’ So there is a deeply-rooted cultural expectation of economic benefits attached to marriage. In other words, it’s assumed that a man will financially support his female partner and her family — or at least provide a substantial gift. This is not as rigid as it used to be, and more and more women are equally contributing economically within their relationships, but the point is that just because they get stuff like cash and gifts from their western sexual partners that they meet in the bar does not mean they all identify as sex workers. There are plenty of women, men and transgender people in Cambodia who do identify as sex workers, and there is a growing sex worker rights movement in Cambodia led by a sex worker union consisting of over 6,000 members. But one of the main points of the book is that no matter how someone identifies — as a sex worker, prostitute, girlfriend, whatever — they should be treated with respect for the decisions they make. The book is really trying to destigmatize all the actors involved — the women and their male partners — whether they are involved in commercial relationships or not.

DHS: How are sex workers viewed in Cambodia?

HH: Typically sex workers, or entertainment workers in general — whether they identify as sex workers or not — are viewed with either contempt by general society, or even as subhuman by others. Otherwise, they are viewed as pitiable victims that need saving (and there are lots of local and international NGOs who make it their business to do so). There are written social and moral codes for women that dictate how they should live (originally known as the Chbap Srei, or Women’s Code): quietly, without drawing attention to themselves; obediently and submissively towards their husbands, while not venturing far from home; modestly, in the way they dress, etc. So the women in the bars go against these social codes 100 percent — they are the epitome of ‘bad women’ or ‘broken women’ (srei kouc, in Khmer). But, they can also materially ‘make-up’ for their tarnished images by providing their families with new houses, cars, and tuition for their siblings. So they experience extreme stigma and praise at the same time. It’s a difficult gendered social world for them to negotiate.

DHS: Do these bar girls in Cambodia see themselves as victims? Do they long to be saved?

HH: Most of the women did not view themselves as victims, and expressed a strong desire to instead by respected for the decisions they make under some really tough circumstances. They often referred to themselves in English as ‘strong girls.’ That’s not to say they didn’t know how to capitalize on empathy. That was definitely a strategy that some of the women used to tap into the ‘hero syndrome’ that many western men experience — which I define as an overwhelming desire by the men to use their status, resources, and knowledge to ‘save’ the women and their families from destitution. The problem with ‘hero syndrome’ is that once men offer their ‘help,’ they also expect a certain degree of power in decision-making about how those resources are spent. So really, those with this ‘hero’ mentality to ‘help’ aren’t really helping in the long run if they are just trying to control the families and their finances.

DHS: What is the best way for a well-intentioned white Westerner to help then?

HH: Cambodia has quite a bit of ‘help’ already. The country has been heavily funded by international aid agencies since the 1990s and is still a place where SUVs slapped with NGO logos take up far too much space. It’s also currently flooded with masses of well-intentioned but highly uninformed ‘voluntourists’ who actually pay money to volunteer their time at the plethora of dodgy orphanages or schools that line the cities. The country certainly doesn’t need more ‘help’ of this sort. If Westerners have a burning desire to spend their money philanthropically in Cambodia, I would suggest they donate to projects like the Women’s Network for Unity (WNU), which is the sex worker union I mentioned above, or to other community-run projects that are led by the women or workers themselves, so that the community members actually have a say in what their needs are and where the resources should be spent. I would not suggest throwing money at the hundreds of anti-trafficking groups that have wasted millions (probably billions) of donor dollars in unrealistically trying to ‘abolish slavery’ by forcefully ‘rescuing’ women from the bars, detaining them against their will in ‘shelters,’ and shoving sewing machines in their hands because that is supposedly a more ‘dignified’ form of work. Instead, people should ‘help’ by listening to the women themselves, and to what their needs and desires are, and to respect them for the decisions they make, rather then treating them like infants, victims, or criminals that need rehabilitation or rescue by those who think they know best — who most often have never even met or spoken to a Cambodian bar worker.

DHS: What was your most surprising take away after all was said and done?

HH: I guess the most surprising take away from the research is this controversial idea that not all women who work in bars identify as sex workers; that their relationships aren’t all commercial and often filled with love and emotion; and that the women aren’t all victims who want to be rescued by do-gooder westerners! Instead they are resourceful and using whatever tools are available to them — in this case sex and intimacy — to improve their lives and find happiness amidst tons of stereotypes, sexual violence, corruption, and domestic abuse. I also learned that all relationships around the globe mingle economics, intimacy, emotion and pragmatic materiality on some level, and so the relationships that transpire in Cambodian bars are really not so different from more ‘conventional’ relationships that develop anywhere. Of course there are certain power differentials that are present within these relationships based on economics, nationality and class in many cases, but I guess I’m trying to encourage readers of the book to stop stigmatizing sex and relationships between Cambodian bar workers and western men as something fundamentally different from ‘their’ sex and relationships, and to recognize the transactionality and materiality of their own relationships. And I think the most important thing I learned is that no matter how women identify, and no matter what circumstances they happen to be in, they are capable of — and should be valued for — the decisions they make and that includes their decisions to sell sex, trade sex, and have sex with the people of their choosing. It’s my hope that public understanding of the issues outlined in the book might ultimately help to reduce the stigma that most bar workers experience there, which is really at the root cause of all the discrimination and violence they experience.

BIO: Heidi is a postdoctoral fellow in drug research at the National Development and Research Institutes in New York, and an adjunct lecturer at Berkeley College in NY, and the Institute of South East Asian Affairs, Chiang Mai University, Thailand. She is actively involved in the global sex workers rights movement, and a member of Sex Worker Open University and X:Talk in London, Sex Worker Outreach Project in New York, and on the program advisory committee for the Red Umbrella Fund, which is an international granting body for sex worker projects around the world.

David Henry Sterry is the author of 16 books, a performer, muckraker, educator, activist, and book doctor.  His new book Chicken Self:-Portrait of a Man for Rent, 10 Year Anniversary Edition, has been translated into 10 languages.  He’s also written Hos, Hookers, Call Girls and Rent Boys: Professionals Writing on Life, Love, Money and Sex, which appeared on the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review.  He is a finalist for the Henry Miller Award.  He has appeared on, acted with, written for, been employed as, worked and/or presented at: Will Smith, a marriage counselor, Disney screenwriter, Stanford University, National Public Radio, Milton Berle, Huffington Post, a sodajerk, Michael Caine, the Taco Bell chihuahua, Penthouse, the London Times, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, a human guinea pig and Zippy the Chimp.  He can be found at www.davidhenrysterry.com.  https://davidhenrysterry.com/

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http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-henry-sterry/everything-you-think-you-_b_4086449.html

Publisher’s Weekly Review of Chicken: Self-Portrait of a Young Man for Rent, Ten Year Anniversary Edition

Chicken: Self-Portrait of a Young Man for Rent, Ten Year Anniversary Edition

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“Ten years ago, this debut memoir from Sterry burst upon the literary scene with an energy and inventiveness that captured his little-known subject matter—teenage life in Los Angeles as a rent boy working for a benevolent pimp named Sunny whose “rich, generous, horny friends,” Sterry explains, “pay good money to party with a boy like me.” Now back in print, Sterry’s memoir still crackles with its unsparingly honest approach: “I catch myself in the mirror, seventeen-year-old hardbody belly, pitprop legs, zero body fat, and huge hands. I’m seduced by the glitter of my own flesh.” Scenes from Sterry’s early dysfunctional family life not only add pathos to this tale of fall and resurrection but assure readers that he never sees himself as better than his clients, such as Dot, the wealthy 82-year-old, whose only desire is to experience cunnilingus for the first time—a desire that Sterry readily fulfills. “Even though I have no home and no family except for a bunch of prostitutes and a pimp, even though I have no future… at least I’m good at this.” (Oct.) – Publisher’s Weekly

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Dear John Letters: An Anthology of Stories from Hookers, Customers, and Assorted Sex Workers

Interview with David Henry Sterry for Johns Marks Ticks & Chickenhawks in San Francisco Weekly by Chris Hall

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Hos, Hookers, Call Girls and Rent Boys Gets Big Love

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Hos, Hookers, Call Girls and Rent Boys featured on the cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review.  Written by Toni Bentley. To buy the book click here.


“An eye-opening, occasionally astonishing, brutally honest and frequently funny collection from those who really have lived on the edge in a parallel universe…unpretentious and riveting — but don’t worry, their tales are also graphic, politically incorrect and mostly unquotable in this newspaper…”

“Lele,” a piece by Jodi Sh. Doff, who “grew up in the suburbs as someone else entirely,” recalls Henry Miller’s in-your-face exposition. She tells of a night at Diamond Lil’s on Canal Street, where “Viva’s sitting onstage, legs spread wide.” While her customer is buried and busy, she holds a cigarette in one hand, a drink in the other, and chitchats with a girlfriend about another girlfriend. “Every two minutes or so Viva taps him on the head and he hands her a 20 from a stack of bills he’s holding, never looking up.” We see in this wonderful set piece the whole money/sex connection enacted with raw charm and an immediacy that reaches far beyond this strip club, as the man’s stack of 20s, one by one, becomes hers. Multitasking Viva holds them “folded lengthwise in her cigarette hand.”

“Very brave, very moving.”

“This collection is a wonderful reminder that good writing is not about knowing words, grammar or Faulkner, but having that rare ability to tell the truth, an ability that education and sophistication often serve to conceal. While we are all, I suppose, in the business of surviving, some really are surviving more notably than others. The collective cry for identity found in this unsentimental compilation will resonate deeply — even, I suspect, with those among us who pretend not to pay for sex.” – New York Times


“Sterry — who has written a number of other books, such as “Chicken: Self-Portrait of a Young Man for Rent” and “Unzipped: A True Story of Sex, Drugs, Rollerskates and Murder” — spoke with Express about his idea for the collection, America’s most commonly held misconceptions about the sex industry and whether the book should go in the ‘entertainment’ or the ‘educational’ portion of your bookcase.” –Express interview in the Washington Post 


“’Hos, Hookers, Call Girls and Rent Boys: Professionals Writing on Life, Money and Sex’ is graphic in nature, but full of raw, unfiltered and enlightening tales regarding a side of life not many want to know about; the sex trade. What’s so fascinating and downright addicting is that many of the entries are from individuals one would wrongfully assume to be illiterate, stupid or unworthy to hear from. While proving the stereotype wrong, each contributor delivers his or her side of a lifestyle with poise, passion, nuance and heart.

Real and undeniably shocking, “Hos, Hookers, Call Girls and Rent Boys…” made its debut to encore readers last winter, and I haven’t been able to get it out of my head since. So, it’s one of the most impacting reads yet to strike my world. It widened my eyes, opened my heart and oddly made me want to listen to Madonna’s “Human Nature”—and that’s a good thing.” -Tiffanie Gabrielse, Top Five Reads: Tiff ranks her fave favorite page-turners Encore Online


“This kaleidoscopic portrait of sex work in America is all the more striking for its breadth.” –SF Weekly


The sprawling project offers insight into seemingly all aspects of the sex trade: high-profile celebrities like Xaviera “Happy Hooker” Hollander and Nina Hartley make notable contributors, but it’s the unknown writers who will stick. The selections from the book’s closing section alone, written by members of a writer’s workshop for sex workers, range from triumphant to harrowing, making up for a lack of style or form with passion. Aside from exposing the complex web of relationships among phone sex operators, dancers, massage parlor workers, prostitutes and their customers, the book is heavy with raw emotions ranging from celebratory to shameful, giving armchair sociologists plenty to ponder. It’s not all dark and heavy: Sterry’s own account of his experience as a birthday present for an 82-year-old grandmother is touching and sentimental; veteran performer Annie Sprinkle is characteristically blunt, funny and honest. This volume houses some real gems.” – Publishers Weekly


“The prose in this volume is fresh and the tales are both heart-rending and hilarious, sometimes simultaneously. What’s most striking about the volume is how relevant these intimate and detailed chronicles are for any reader, whether they’ve sold their bodies or just their souls. It’s not just about sex. Rather than ghettoizing prostitutes, strippers and porn actors, editors David Henry Sterry and R.J. Martin have brought together essays from a broad sampling of sex workers, keeping it balanced. There are gripping accounts of writers who struggle to pay bills and get their lives together, who have families, who are human beings. How this crew differs from the straights is they all opted for sex work rather than a drone job.” – New York Press


“In these dark days of brokedom, who amongst us hasn’t lingered a bit too long in the Etc. section of the Craigslist job postings? I mean, I do have dainty feet with nicely trimmed toenails, and if I could make my rent just by stepping on some random businessman’s face, well who’s to judge?? Granted, I am not brave enough (or hard up enough) to go through with such an evening’s work (just yet), but the selection of writers featured in the anthology, Hos Hookers, Call Girls, And Rent Boys were not only brave enough to do it, and keep doing it, but were equally brave enough to write about it.  The first hand accounts, interviews, and poems featured in this book are so well written and organized, that the fact that they all center around the exchanging of sex for money falls into the background, and what’s left is an intimate offering of on-the-job gossip and late night horror stories that have you wanting to spend more time with the writer than the three or four pages a pop you’re given with each one.” – Kelly McClure, Bust Magazine


“In a reading that brought down the house at Busboys and Poets, Sterry’s rendition of “I Was a Birthday Present for an Eighty-Two-Year-Old Grandmother” was both incredibly funny and a fascinating anti-ageist commentary on the things we’re all afraid to ask for (namely, women asking for oral sex).” – Allison McCarthy, Womanist Musings


“Sterry and Martin have managed to bring together a crazy quilt of essays, and work the fabric of the anthology into a rich tapestry… Some of the narratives are polished and savvy, some are as hard and rough as drug addiction that dogs a body and soul. Others reveal a tarnished realism about the painful truths of being in the life. The most compelling are those which give voice to the most vulnerable, in the chapter written by sexually exploited youth. Helping Daddy Pay the Rent is a devastating indictment of societal neglect and despicable acts of parental desperation combust in one abused child that will tear at your heart… The writing is diverse and eclectic, a mirror into the nature of the industry itself. Sex workers with advanced academic degrees, porn stars and anonymous phone operators, exotic dancers in various states of gender and undress, have more in common than sex for money; they are united in their courage to tell their stories. They unabashedly relate their emotions, actions and reactions, in situations from victimization to domination, hunger to satiation; size twelve stiletto wearing cross dressers, full body massage providers, plaster casted exhibitionists all tell their tales in gripping first person I-live(d)-it-so-there’s-no-sugar-coating-it manner. Hearts, heads and other assorted body parts, seedy strip joints, broken down bars and spirits, upscale hotels and high rollers are exposed with unflinching candor and gritty authenticity, bringing to light the world of industrial sex workers.  This book is more than an interesting and affecting read. In its entirety, in its insistence that the gamut of personal histories about sex/money/power/frailty is a reflection of the human condition, it speaks to a broad audience. A bit of paraphrasing may serve to place the content in its most valuable context: Roman philosopher, Terence, said nothing in humanity can be alien to man; and renowned psychoanalyst Carl Jung said that light is revealed by uncovering shadow. HHCG&RB presents the universality of ancient archetypal themes playing out in modern day scenes, and in doing so, uncovers shadow for all.”  –Barnes & Noble.com


“Hos, Hookers, Call Girls and Rent Boys is an extremely valuable and necessary book, not because it tells you what your perspective ought to be, but because it provides more perspectives than pretty much any other book on the topic. It covers more ground than I would have imagined possible. What I love is the fact that, for once, so many different voices are represented within the same space…I can’t help but feel that it should be required reading… precisely because it addresses, head-on, so many of the issues and schisms that have kept those conversations stalled for so long.” – Tiger Beatdown


“There’s something unique about being a member of the sex worker club, an instant camaraderie that bonds one to people who would otherwise be strangers, and this chemistry is something of which Sterry can’t get enough. You might be one of those people who doesn’t believe that sex workers are interesting. You may downright resent the cultural fascination with those who take money to titillate and masturbate strangers. Maybe you’re convinced that the only thing these men and women have going for them are passable looks and a wildly miscalibrated moral compass, and that paying attention to their déclassé life of the body glamorizes underachieving and turpitude.
If you belong to this camp, you probably don’t actually know any sex workers—at least none who would come out to you, and why would they? You’ve made up your mind about them already. You say things like: “Stripping is 1) a way to make a lot more cash than other “unskilled” service jobs [and] 2) incredibly degrading,” then add, “I’ve never been a stripper and I don’t know any strippers.” Never, for that matter, will you actually ever know anything about strippers, because they aren’t going to talk to you. Sex workers just don’t feel comfortable around you. But many do feel comfortable with David Henry Sterry, a former gigolo best known for his memoir Chicken, and what they share with him should convince even the grouchiest non-believers that sex workers are an engaging, unusual tribe. In Hos, Hookers, Call Girls, and Rent Boys, Sterry and co-editor R.J. Martin have assembled an array of poems, interviews, and essays in a professed attempt to humanize sex workers. The mission is an admirable one, but raises the question of how many individuals who don’t already believe in sex workers’ humanity are going to pick up this hefty anthology. It also masks the true motivating energy behind the collection, which is Sterry’s exuberant love of his fellow pros and his desire to celebrate their histories and personalities. There’s something unique about being a member of the sex worker club, an instant camaraderie that bonds one to people who would otherwise be strangers, and this chemistry is something of which Sterry can’t get enough. He refers frequently to this sense of kinship and stresses the uncommonness of his access to such candid and diverse workers. (This bragging about connections ultimately seems a little silly, given that many of the book’s contributors are well-established go-to writers like Audacia Ray, Annie Sprinkle, and Xaviera Hollander.) Sterry’s enthusiasm also manifests as frequent, ill-advised introductions to pieces written by individuals whom he personally knows. As he details first meetings with contributors such as Surgeon and mochaluv, the focus is directed on himself rather than the person he’s touting, and it creates the impression that the writing itself isn’t good enough to hold one’s attention—that without knowing how beautiful Lorelei Lee or Carla Crandall or April Daisy White are, we won’t care about their essays. We do care, though, because in addition to being porn stars and prostitutes, many of these people are talented writers with strong voices and precise observations. They’re natural born storytellers who manage to encapsulate an aspect of their experiences in wonderfully succinct (Sebastian Horsley: “Brothels make possible encounters of extreme intimacy without the intervention of personality.”) and stark, unsentimental ways (Brenda: “I have been arrested eight times for prostitution. It messed up my life.”) Among the most effective pieces is Melissa Petro’s “Mariposa,” an essay on her time spent in Mexico as a white American stripper, an unforgettable script-flip of the highest order (our girls go there to make money?)  Candye Kane reminisces about her sweet and genuine childhood friendship with an exotic dancer, while Sadie Lune explores the decadent excitement that comes from self-consciously inhabiting the role of an archetypal whore. Sterry himself reflects on his session with an 82-year-old woman, an encounter he initially dreads but eventually delights in: ‘I am making this happen. I have such a sense of joy and satisfaction.’ The standout offering, however, is Juliana Piccillo’s “Vice,” an exploration of her relationship with an invasive and needy client that rendered her alternately gratified and repulsed. Piccillo relentlessly mines the conflicting emotions that come with clients who want to play the white knight, a common but relatively undiscussed topic in most sex worker literature. “His fatherly concern co-existed with his hard-on,” she writes. “He left me to reconcile this.” She also admits to coming unintentionally (and practically unwillingly) while working in a job that generally disgusts her, and not wanting to leave in spite of hating the routine—paradoxes that many prostitutes shy away from acknowledging. Some of these essays barely even explicitly address sex work, particularly those culled from SAGE (Standing Against Global Exploitation) workshops. The focus is instead on struggles with addiction, particularly clear and affecting memories, and current personal relationships. The inclusion of these selections may be the book’s greatest, albeit most subtle triumph. It serves as an invaluable reminder that hos and rent boys aren’t as prone to filtering their complex lives through the sieve of clients’ orgasms as are the civilians who debate about and condemn them.” – The Rumpus

Excerpts

Featured Books by David Henry Sterry

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How Hos, Hookers, Call Girls & Rent Boys Ended Up in Bed with TV’s Friends Co-Creator

This story starts when I was 17, alone in Hollywood with $27 in the pocket of my nuthugging elephantbells.  I had just arrived to begin my collegiate career at Immaculate Heart College, where I planned to study existential under a bunch of radical nuns.  That night, while admiring Marilyn Monroe’s handprints in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater, I was approached by a very charming man wearing a shirt emblazoned with the word: SEXY.  He invited me back to his place for steak.  Turned out to be the most expensive steak of my life.  The steak was drugged .  SEXY raped me.  I escaped with my life.  But the happy-go-lucky lad who breezed into that apartment died in that room.  SEXY killed him.  I sprinted out of there broken and bleeding.  Within the week I was in the sex business.  I didn’t know it at the time, but I was suffering from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.  The part of my brain responsible for emotion was engorged, and the part responsible for communication shriveled.  I was a living breathing fully-loaded semi-automatic weapon just looking for an excuse to go off.  So given my economic situation, (making minimum-wage frying chicken), my alienation from my parents, and my newly acquired mental illness, it seemed absolutely like my best option.  I was in the sex business for nine months.  One human gestation period.  But it changed me forever, and in ways I wasn’t even aware of for years to come.  Certainly I had great times in that world, and made gigantic money for a person my age and with my work experience.  But I also downloaded the sexual trauma I encountered in that world, and it infected me like a virus.

I became a sex addict and a cocaine addict.  Which is not nearly as much fun as it sounds.  In my mid 30s I realized that if I didn’t change I was going to die, or my penis was going to fall off.  I’m not sure which scared me more.  I knew I had to find a panic mechanic.  Fast.  Since I was living back in Los Angeles, naturally I found a hypnotherapist.  She gave me some tools to stop my sick twisted behavior, and helped me unraveled the huge gnarly knots inside myself.  I was a professional screenwriter at the time, so she suggested I write about my experiences.  Thus was born my memoir Chicken.  Writing down the most miserable things that ever happened to me helped me understand why I became a man child rent boy.  It helped me embrace my inner ho.  See myself as the survivor not the victim.  Accept responsibility and not blame everyone else.  Appreciate the good and not obsess about the bad.  Do things that made me happy and healthy instead of miserable than sick.

When that book came out it changed my life and I was so grateful I was overwhelmed by a fierce desire to help somebody.  Be of service.  So I decided to start a writing program for people who’d been arrested for prostitution.  For two years every Tuesday me and my ex-literary agent/current wife would go down into a basement of a nonprofit organization and run a writing group.  The hos, hookers, call girls and rent boys we worked with wrote shocking, funny, smart, mind-blowing, jaw-dropping stories.  And they always left the workshop in a better mood than they arrived.  As did we.  Part of my mission became to put a human face on these people who are glorified and stigmatized, worshiped and reviled, spat upon and paid outrageous sums of money.  Thus was born the anthology, Hos, Hookers, Call Girls and Boys.

One of the great things about prostitutes is that they are amazing networkers.  They pretty much have to be.  So I put out the word that I was looking for writing by people in the sex business.  Me and my partner Richard Martin were flooded with submissions.  I was already the author of a bunch of books by then so I started shopping the anthology.  I showed it to my agents.  Not interested.  I showed it to other agents.  Even less interested.  I showed it to publishers I knew at HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Random House, and lots of the big boys of publishing.  They laughed at me.  Or ignored me.  On to the small publishers.  Nothing.  University presses seemed like the next logical choice, since this is really a piece of American oral history.  No pun intended..  I actually got the head guy at Duke University on the phone.  He told me in a disdainful, dismissive, condescending, adenoidal and freezing cold tone that this was certainly not the kind of book published by Duke University.  He told me they preferred material that was much less vulgar, rude, crude and illiterate.  Finally I approached places like Joe’s Publishing Co., where you call the number listed on the website and a guy answers, “Hi I’m Joe, can I publish your book?”  Even Joe turned me down.

After a year my partner Richard was ready to give up.  I was furious.  I knew I had something valuable.  Even though “experts” from the top to the bottom of the food chain told me that I was a deluded, moronic ex-ho.  Objectively, in the face of universal rejection, I should’ve quit.  I did not.  Me and Richard worked our asses off to make the proposal better, refining, buffing and polishing.  Then I came up with the title.  I did it with this game that we use to come up with titles.  You get a bunch of your intelligent friends, if you have any, you get a bunch of drugs and alcohol, and you write down every single word you can think of related to your subject.  Then you just start mixing and matching.  That’s how I came up with Hos, Hookers, Call Girls and Boys.  And I kept asking every single person I knew, wherever I went.  Finally I got connected to a guy named Richard Nash, who ran Soft Skull Press. A week later we had a book deal.  They gave us such a tiny advance that by the time we ended up paying all the writers, me and Richard lost money on the deal.  But we were ecstatic.

We were even more ecstatic when our Little Ho Book That Could, the redheaded step-child nobody wanted, ended up on the front page of the New York Times Book Review. I happened to be in Hollywood doing my Sex Worker Literati show to promote the book, when I got a call from my agent.  Marta Kauffman, co-creator of Friends, wanted to talk to me about the anthology.  I was excited yet slightly confused.  Why was someone in the center of American culture interested in our book, which was so rooted in America’s dark, dank, filthy underbelly? I tried to imagine a show about a group of perky, attractive, funny, fresh-faced BFF-sex workers trying to deal with life, love and turning tricks.  Sure, I thought, why not?  As I drove up to our meeting, I was expecting much Hollywood slickness.  But Marta was just like people I worked with in the theater for 20 years.  After we had our getting-to-know-you chat she told me how taken she was by Hos, Hookers.  How she had a vision of the characters and stories being brought to life as a modern dance piece, realized by some breathtaking choreographers.  Would I be interested in something like?

My eyes popped while jaw dropped.  I would’ve never imagined this scenario in million years.  But I liked it.  Sex is, after all, the ultimate primal dance.  And when sex is exchanged for money, a window opens into the human soul.  What a great way to let people to take a peek.

Yes, I said.  Yes.

Writing down the worst thing that ever happened to me was the final piece of my odyssey from out-of-control self-destruction, working at Chippendales, acting on Fresh Prince of Bel Air, writing screenplay for Disney, living in a fancy house in the hills; to getting my head cracked open, almost dying from a massive coke overdose, having my house stolen, and going bankrupt; to making Ross, Rachel, Joey and Chandler end up in the same sentence as Hos, Hookers, Call Girls and Boys.

David Henry Sterry is the author, with Richard Martin, of the anthology Hos, Hookers, Call Girls & Rent Boys.  He runs the monthly reading series Sex Worker Literati, giving voice to sex workers telling their stories about the exchange of sex for money, at the Bowery Poetry Club in NYC. The next show is November 28, 2010. https://davidhenrysterry.com/ http://www.facebook.com/sexworkerliterati

How I Became a Whore @ Sex Worker Literati

Ontario Superior Court judge strikes down prostitution law

  • Amending prostitution law puts kids at risk, court told
  • In prostitution case, Crown’s witnesses characterized as liars and alarmists
  • Court challenge takes on sex work prohibitions
  • In a landmark decision striking down the core of the controversial law, Ontario Superior Court Judge Susan Himel said that the law forces women to operate their business furtively in an atmosphere of constant secrecy and danger. “By increasing the risk of harm to street prostitutes, the communicating law is simply too high a price to pay for the alleviation of social nuisance,” Judge Himel said in her 131-page ruling which took almost a year to produce. “I find that the danger faced by prostitutes greatly outweighs any harm which may be faced by the public,” she later added. The ruling means that the law can no longer be enforced in Ontario. If the decision were to be upheld on appeal, it would topple the use of the prostitution provisions across the country. In the short term, however, the Ontario Crown is expected to seek a stay of execution that would permit police to temporarily continue enforcing the law. Three prostitutes launched the challenge in an attempt to bring Canada into line with other nations that have relaxed their enforcement of prostitution, including New Zealand, Australia and Germany. In particular, the litigants challenged three key provisons relating to communicating for the purpose of prostitution, living off the avails and keeping a common bawdy house (brothel). The litigants would have viewed winning on one of them as a major triumph. They hardly dared to imagine gutting the law entirely. “We got everything,” the lawyer behind the challenge, Alan Young, yelped as he read the concluding portions of the decision. “We did it!” Mr. Young said that the judge refused to suspend the effect of her decision while the government moves to fill the legislative gap. “It takes effect right now,” he told reporters at Toronto’s downtown courthouse. If upheld on appeal, the decision will plunge Parliament back into the extremely divisive and complicated job of criminalizing an activity that is not itself illegal. Indeed, successive governments have been branded hypocritical for taking a legal act and erecting criminal impediments to every aspect of carrying it out. Judge Himel said that any doubt about the dangers to women was dispelled when serial killer Robert Pickton’s targeted women in a killing spree at his Vancouver pig farm. She heard evidence during a weeklong hearing last year that as many as 300 sex-trade workers, most of whom were street prostitutes, have disappeared since 1985. “It is estimated that street sex work makes up less than 20 per cent of prostitution in Canada, but they appear to account for more than 95 per cent of the homicide victims and missing women,” said a key witness for the litigants, Simon Fraser University criminologist John Lowman. Judge Himel stressed that several other provisions relating to the sex trade remain in effect. These include prohibitions against child prostition; impeding pedestrian or vehicular traffic; and procuring. She said that these are sufficient to give police the power to keep prostitutes from bothering passersby or turning neighbourhoods into sleazy dens of iniquity. Judge Himel also said that pimps who threaten or commit violence against prostitutes can still be prosecuted using other sections of the Criminal Code. “In conclusion, I respectfully reject the argument made by the (Crown) that a legal vacuum would be created by an immediate declaration of invalidity in this case,” she said. However, Judge Himel gave the Crown a 30-day window in which to make arguments against legalizing bawdy houses on account of a concern that “unlicenced brothels may be operated in a way that may not be in the public interest.” Mr. Young tried to prove that the women’s constitutional right to life, liberty and security were jeopardized by repressive laws that exacerbate the perils of a notoriously hazardous profession. The litigants argued that there is no harm to a sexual act between a consenting prostitute and her client. Sporadic attempts have been made over the years to chip away at aspects of the prostitution law, but the challenge was the first in two decades to aim for a broad sweep of its provisions. With the Charter challenge almost certain to reach the Supreme Court of Canada, both sides amassed a vast body of evidence, including dozens of witnesses. Lawyers for the federal and Ontario Crown focused on proving the inherent dangers of prostitution – whether it is conducted in a car, an open field or a luxurious boudoir. They also argued that prostitution is inherently degrading and unhealthy, and should not be encouraged as a ‘career choice’ for young women through a slack legal regime. The prosecutors urged Judge Himel not to intrude on the terrain of legislators who have studied and vigorously debated prostitution provisions. They said that, even if prostitution were made legal and moved indoors, it would still entail a high degree of danger its practitioners. “Any time you are alone with a john, it is dangerous,” federal Crown Michael Morris told Judge Himel. “There is no safe haven when you are involved in prostitution. There is overwhelming evidence that johns can become violent at any moment.” However, Prof. Lowman countered that prohibiting communication renders prostitutes unable to “screen” potential clients, hire security or move behind the relative safety of closed doors. He said that he purposely delayed his challenge until after the Pickton trial, cognizant that the Supreme Court insists on strong evidence of actual harm, rather than abstract arguments. Prof. Lowman also testified that, according to public opinion polls and research, a majority of Canadians believe that prostitution between consenting adults should be legal. “So do the Bloc, Liberals and NDP, according to the 2006 parliamentary report of the Subcommittee on Solicitation Laws,” he said. “Clearly, Canadians are ready to end what one judge has characterized as the ‘Alice in Wonderland’ state of Canadian prostitution law.” Several cities – including Toronto, Victoria, Windsor, Calgary and Edmonton – charge fees to licence body-rub establishments despite the general understanding that many sell sexual services. “We have this strange situation where the biggest pimps in the country right now are municipal governments,” Prof. Young told the court. “It’s just another irrationality of the law.” The hearing grew heated when Prof. Lowman said that many of the Crown’s experts have a history of lying to foreign legislators, conducting simplistic research, fabricating scare stories and employing absurd rhetoric to help stall the global liberalization of prostitution laws. He accused them of travelling the world trying to convince permissive governments of their errors.

Hookers, Writers & Other Strangers: Red Orbit Article on David Henry Sterry

http://www.redbankgreen.com/2010/02/in-orbit-writers-and-other-hookers/

Ho’s Hookers, Call Girls & Rent Boys: Professionals Writing on Life, Love, Money & Sex

HO’S, HOOKERS, CALL GIRLS & RENT BOYS:
PROFESSIONALS WRITING ON LIFE, LOVE, MONEY & SEX
AVAILABLE ONLINE & AT YOUR LOCAL BOOKSTORE

The miracle is manifest.  The anthology has hit the streets.  Half a decade in the making, this love’s labor, the product of so much blood, sweat, tears and other assorted body fluids, has finally traveled down the birth canal, and has been delivered by an able-bodied team of midwives, editors, dulas, copy editors, birth coaches, art directors and sweaty worried nerve-wracked family and relatives.  Below please find information about the website and events.  Many thanks to all involved.  We are very proud of this book.

HosHookersSmash Review on cover of Sunday New York Time Book Review.

“An eye-opening, astonishing, honest and funny collection from those who really have lived on the edge in a parallel universe… Unpretentious and riveting, their tales are also graphic, politically incorrect and mostly unquotable in this newspaper.” Toni Brantley, NY Times

REVIEW FROM PUBLISHERS WEEKLY

“The sprawling project, grouped loosely by topic (Life, Love, Money, Sex, etc.), offers insight into seemingly all aspects of the sex trade: high-profile celebrities like Xaviera “Happy Hooker” Hollander and Nina Hartley make notable contributors, but it’s the unknown writers who will stick. The selections from the book’s closing section alone, written by members of Sterry’s San Francisco writer’s workshop for sex workers, range from triumphant to harrowing… Aside from exposing the complex web of relationships among phone sex operators, dancers, massage parlor workers, prostitutes and their customers, the book is heavy with raw emotions ranging from celebratory to shameful, giving sociologists plenty to ponder. It’s not all dark and heavy: Sterry’s own account of his experience as a birthday present for an 82-year-old grandmother is touching and sentimental; veteran performer Annie Sprinkle is characteristically blunt, funny and honest… This volume houses some real gems.”

Hos, Hookers, Callgirls, and Rentboys is a collection of short memoirs, whore war stories, confessions, nightmares, journalism and poetry.  It contains new writing from sex worker literati: art-porn priestess Dr. Annie Sprinkle; the infamous Happy Hooker, Xaviera Hollander; author and LGBT activist Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore; star of The Devil in Miss Jones, Georgina Spelvin; best-selling memoirist David Henry Sterry and sex educator/movie star Nina Hartley. But it also includes crack hos, male hustlers, pimps and the teenagers they exploit.  Funny, terrifying, tragic and inspiring, this collection of oral history, short memoirs, war stories, confessions, nightmares, social criticism and poetry is unprecedented because it includes people from all walks of the sex for money world.

From back-alley Tenderloin massage parlors, to glittering Beverly Hills hotels, to Times Square porn palaces, to the meanest streets in Harlem, Hos, Hookers, Call Girls, and Rent Boys is a collage of sex and money, shining light on this hidden underbelly of America, from sea to shining sea.

NY Press – 8/11/09

“The prose in this volume is fresh and the tales are both heart-rending and hilarious, sometimes simultaneously… What’s most striking about the volume is how relevant these intimate and detailed chronicles are for any reader, whether they’ve sold their bodies or just their souls. It’s not just about sex.”

Tiger Beatdown 8/26/09

“Hos, Hookers, Call Girls and Rent Boys is an extremely valuable and necessary book, not because it tells you what your perspective ought to be, but because it provides more perspectives than pretty much any other book on the topic… hilarious… Sexy and sunny pieces (the sunniest, actually, often come from Sterry himself) coexist with downright harrowing narratives; sex workers who choose the work freely and love doing it are represented, as are sex workers who were forced to do the work and suffered immensely. The book is free of any agenda but a commitment to giving voice to sex workers.”

The Rumpus 8/26/09

“In addition to being porn stars and prostitutes, many of these people are talented writers with strong voices and precise observations. They’re natural born storytellers who manage to encapsulate an aspect of their experiences in wonderfully succinct (Sebastian Horsley: “Brothels make possible encounters of extreme intimacy without the intervention of personality.”) and stark, unsentimental ways (Brenda: “I have been arrested eight times for prostitution. It messed up my life.”)

Daily Beast – 9/12/09

“The book never feels like a naïve glamorization of the industry. ‘Ultimately, the stories in Hos, Hookers, Call Girls, and Rent Boys are all about money, says Sterry. ‘In our culture, happiness means money, a big house, and an expensive car. So when I, as a 17 year old, could make $100 by pleasing an 82-year old woman, that to me was a great American success.’

Style – 9/15/09 

“Taboo, clever, wrenching and compulsively readable, you’ll be stripped of your stereotypes between the covers of this book.”

Antalffy Tibor honlapja 9/27/09

“Rögtön a hívás után a fejemben megjelent egy szörnyű kép: egy ráncos, löttyedt, aszott nagymama átlátszó hálóingben közvetlenül előttem áll, és az én szegény, picurka péniszem egy élettelen, használhatatlan, húsdarab ott lógott a lábaim között, és a pénzt vissza kellett adnom, miközben szégyenemben el akartam bújni a szőnyeg alá, mert a nemi szervem brutális cserbenhagyása megszégyenítő volt. És ez a kép egészen addig nem múlt el, amíg az előkelő Swank Swish szálloda megadott ajtaján be nem kopogtam.”

Revista Fuscia

“Hace poco me encontré un libro realmente sorprendente, que trata de historias de profesionales del sexo. Se llama Hos, Hookers, Call Girls, and Rent Boys, en español sería Putas, prostitutas y muchachos para arrendar. Se podría argumentar que para qué pierde uno el tiempo leyendo libros basura, pero la verdad es que desde el punto de vista de las relaciones humanas, es un texto muy interesante, a veces brutalmente honesto, pero también con sentido de humor.”

Acik Radyo

“Kitabın adı  Hos, Hookers, Call Girls, And Rent Boys, Professionals Writing on Life, Love, Money, and Sex. Yani Kevaşeler, Orospular, Telekızlar ve Kiralık Oğlanlar, Profesyoneller Hayat, Aşk, Para ve Seks Üzerine Yazıyor. Yepyeni bir kitap bu, temmuz ayında Amerika’da Soft Skull Press tarafından yayımlanmış. Kitabın elimize geçiş hikâyesi ayrı ilginç. Mahallenin Fahriye Ablası’nın bir kıyağı bize diyelim teferruata girmeden ve hemen kitaba dönelim.”

Bust 10/06/09

“The first hand accounts, interviews, and poems featured in this book are so well written and organized, that the fact that they all center around the exchanging of sex for money falls into the background, and what’s left is an intimate offering of on-the-job gossip and late night horror stories that have you wanting to spend more time with the writer than the three or four pages a pop you’re given with each one.”

SF Weekly – 7/25/09 “This kaleidoscopic portrait of sex work in America is all the more striking for its breadth.”

Book Marks 11/30/09

“Sassy, sexy and certainly informed essays by sex workers. the oral histories by hos and hookers that conclude this collection – funny and tragic, matter-of fact and terrifying – give the book its authentic heft.”

NoPornNorthampton 11/17/09

“This fascinating anthology of personal essays by current and former sex workers gives readers a glimpse into the complex emotions of those who make a living selling intimacy… Fascinating, moving and darkly funny… humor, tenderness, pain, and aggression… unexpectedly sweet… it’s a great read.”

The Skinny 11/23/09

“From the big screen to the street, phone sex to stripping, and incalls to escorting… they’ve experienced sex work as an empowered choice, as a living hell, as a drug-fuelled necessity. They cover migration, burnout, criminalisation, violence, keeping secrets, coming out to family, and interactions with clients and colleagues.  It delves deep and illustrate the complexities of the writers’ experiences. Alternately eye-opening, funny, moving, and devastating, this book should be required reading for those who still think any kind of sex worker is ‘representative’.”

Womanist Musings 11/24/09

“The book unflinchingly represents the voices of survivors of pimping, rape, abuse, thrust upon those who are forced into the sex industry.  Editor David Henry Sterry has successfully etched out a safe space for these survivors’ sharp, sensitive prose… In a reading that brought down the house at Busboys and Poets, Sterry’s rendition of “I Was a Birthday Present for an Eighty-Two-Year-Old Grandmother” was both incredibly funny and a fascinating anti-ageist commentary on the things we’re all afraid to ask for.  I sat in the audience, enraptured by Sterry’s uncanny vocal impressions and gesticulating… Hos, Hookers, Call Girls, and Rent Boys is a must-read for anyone who wants to experience first-hand the voices of contemporary sex workers.”

Meet, Pay, Love

hos hookers cover-500

By TONI BENTLEY

Published: August 20, 2009

Money and sex. Sex and money. Sounds dirty already. Is it the money that makes the sex dirty? Or the sex that makes the money dirty? Or, rather, the puritan strain that says they’re both dirty? How sexy! I mean, how inappropriate! And yet here we are again and again . . . and again. It’s former Gov. Eliot Spitzer of New York spending $80,000 on escorts, the parents (the parents!) of Senator John Ensign of Nevada distributing $96,000 to their son’s mistress and her family, Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina using taxpayer dollars to visit his South American “soul mate” and the $4 million rock on Kobe Bryant’s wife’s finger after his adulterous mishap. Money to get the sex, and money to make it go away.

If you are thinking this dynamic pairing is only for public figures, just contemplate your own divorce, past, present or future. And yet, still, it is taboo to regard sex and money as inextricably interwoven, to openly speak of them together. Why is sex supposed to be free? It never is. Ask anyone. Like Sebastian Horsley, England’s low-rent Oscar Wilde. “The difference between sex for money and sex for free,” he writes, “is that sex for money always costs a lot less.” Money is the elephant in every bedroom, making your parents’ constant presence look positively bourgeois.

But the connection is seeping into the mainstream. Witness Steven Soderbergh’s recent film, “The Girlfriend Experience,” which is about an expensive call girl and stars the real-life porn star Sasha Grey, and the new HBO series “Hung,” about a nice middle-aged dad who becomes a gigolo. The show, however, plays it safe, making him a financially strapped, reluctant gigolo and not, God forbid, a lusty one. Here, ironically, sex for money is more decent than sex for pleasure.

But if you want to know the real price of pleasure, ask the strippers, streetwalkers, Craigslist prostitutes, phone-sex operators, madams, pimps, drug addicts, porn stars and “performance artists” who offer themselves up in “Hos, Hookers, Call Girls, and Rent Boys,” a collection of essays, vignettes, rants and poems, edited by David Henry Sterry (who wrote the very good 2002 memoir “Chicken,” about his life as a young hustler) and R. J. Martin Jr., the director of development for the SAGE Project (Standing Against Global Exploitation) in San Francisco, which offers support of all kinds for sex workers. While good girls require dinner, trips, “commitment” or even an engagement ring for sex, here is a book by those who simply get the cash upfront.

From the unappealing title, you might think this is a truly trashy paperback. Far from it: it’s an eye-opening, occasionally astonishing, brutally honest and frequently funny collection from those who really have lived on the edge in a parallel universe. Their writing is, in most cases, unpolished, unpretentious and riveting — but don’t worry, their tales are also graphic, politically incorrect and mostly unquotable in this newspaper.

There are some well-known names here. Xaviera Hollander informs us that “it’s much harder to be a writer than a hooker,” and the ever-sprightly Annie Sprinkle gives “40 reasons why whores are my ­heroes” and then asks, “Do you have what it takes to be a whore?” Probably not. (Easier to be a writer, I think.) But the joyous glibness displayed by Hollander and Sprinkle is nowhere to be found in the best of the entries.

“Lele,” a piece by Jodi Sh. Doff, who “grew up in the suburbs as someone else entirely,” recalls Henry Miller’s in-your-face exposition. She tells of a night at Diamond Lil’s on Canal Street, where “Viva’s sitting onstage, legs spread wide.” While her customer is buried and busy, she holds a cigarette in one hand, a drink in the other, and chitchats with a girlfriend about another girlfriend. “Every two minutes or so Viva taps him on the head and he hands her a 20 from a stack of bills he’s holding, never looking up.” We see in this wonderful set piece the whole money/sex connection enacted with raw charm and an immediacy that reaches far beyond this strip club, as the man’s stack of 20s, one by one, becomes hers. Multitasking Viva holds them “folded lengthwise in her cigarette hand.”

Audacia Ray, who now teaches human sexuality at Rutgers University, certainly earned her degree out in the field, having at one point paired up with a woman named Lily as a massage team offering happy endings. “Money got us hot and bothered,” she writes, and one evening, after Lily cashed a disability check from the federal government for $10,000 (she had no bank account, of course), she poured the money — “mostly $20 bills” — onto the bed. They shut off their phones, bathed together, got “very, very high” and then rolled around “naked in the cash. . . . Even now, when I think of the hottest sex we had, I think about currency stuck to her flesh.” Now there’s an image to promote the beneficence of Uncle Sam.

One online dominatrix, Sadie Lune, pooh-poohs all the knowing talk of the “natural power” of a domme making a “proud man” stoop — you know, the lawyer, doctor or judge who wants to clean toilets on a leash. “What we talk about, often off the Internet and out of leather, is the power of money. . . . More often than not the money tops the scene. . . . Money demands slow heavy bondage when all we feel like is smacking a grateful subject around. . . . The biggest trick is really coming to terms with the fact that money is the boss’s boss.” So which is more powerful, money or sex? I forgot.

There’s plenty of useful information in this book for those of you planning a little adultery or prostitution, or even just some old-fashioned phone sex. Lilycat describes the protocol of “Feed Me the Line”: “We couldn’t use any sexually explicit words or phrases till the caller used them first. . . . And strangely enough, getting a very horny man to talk dirty to you isn’t as easy as it seems.” The women were permitted to use medical names for body parts, but “Baby, I would like to do something pleasurable with your penis” was not — surprise, surprise — what the client wanted to hear (though it’s all you’ll get in this review). If the caller refused to talk dirty first, moaning was the fallback, and Lilycat reports the little-known fact that “if you moan for long enough you can become lightheaded and almost pass out” — “so baby, use your dirty, dirty words” and help the lady out.

The most devastating section of the book — its broken heart, its guts on the page — is found in a few horrifying stories that came out of a writing workshop Sterry gave for severely abused young women. For example, Jessica Bertucci writes about her “weekend visit with my dad”: “I begged my mom not to take me but she did anyways. Oh, by the way, my dad raped me when I was 2 years old.” After being blindfolded in a room with her father’s drinking, crack-smoking buddy, she heard her dad “whispering in my ear, ‘Don’t be scared, you’re helping Daddy pay the rent.’ Oh, by the way, I was 9 years old.”

Sterry, as editor, inserts himself considerably more than necessary, introducing many of the writers in such relentlessly lengthy and glowing terms as to patronize them. On the other hand, the actual bios for the contributors make for provocative reading and can leave one feeling like an unadventurous slacker. Berta Avila, “a Chicana from El Segundo Barrio of El Paso,” is now a translator but has been an “exotic dancer, escort service worker, brothel worker, waitress, medical-legal assistant and instructional assistant for elementary-school children.” Zoe Hansen “achieved stability through methadone maintenance and felt it was time to open her own brothel, Sterling Ladies, which was on Park Avenue and 21st Street. It was the first of five brothels she opened during the next three years.” (I’m starting to get a brothel-opening feeling myself.) Carol Queen “got a Ph.D. in sexology so she could impart more realistic detail to her smut.” (Dr. Queen writes about her “oral clairsentience,” but I can’t explain here.) While many, perhaps most, of these writers use pseudonyms, they are everything but anonymous.

Kirk Read tells the magnificent story of Ray, a rich, hairy, middle-aged Texan, who hired Read to be his witness as he methodically enclosed his entire body in numerous “stretchable layers, one upon another.” With the final touches of “gold gloves that reached up past his biceps” and a black spandex hood, “he turned and faced me, holding his hands up into the air like a victorious Mexican wrestler. Humble. Brave.” Very brave, very moving. The scene, in its inherent perversity, has the feel of a crucible, a kind of spandex crucifixion bestowing grace on one who has the courage to go “to the underworld” and find “erotic freedom by any means necessary.” The two men shook hands, the only time they touched, and parted ways, an encounter with more tenderness and dignity than many a marital one.

This collection is a wonderful reminder that good writing is not about knowing words, grammar or Faulkner, but having that rare ability to tell the truth, an ability that education and sophistication often serve to conceal. While we are all, I suppose, in the business of surviving, some really are surviving more notably than others. The collective cry for identity found in this unsentimental compilation will resonate deeply — even, I suspect, with those among us who pretend not to pay for sex.

Toni Bentley danced with New York City Ballet for 10 years and is the author of five books, including “Winter Season: A Dancer’s Journal” and “Sisters of Salome.” She is working on a book about Balanchine’s ballet “Serenade.”

 

 

The War on Whores: The European Conference 2005: Sex Work, Human Rights, Labor & Migration

You may not know it, but there’s a world-wide war on whores.  And George W. Bush is leading the forces, just like he is in Iraq, where the death toll mounts daily.  All over the world, he has tied United States financial support to his agenda of making prostitution a crime, with willing sex workers and the clients criminals.  I found this out recently at the European Conference 2005: Sex Work, Human Rights, Labor & Migration in Brussels.

   Sex Workers' Rights For years there’s been a raging debate between abolitionists who want to make all exchange of sex for money (whether voluntary or not) illegal; and sex workers who view the willing exchange of sex and money as a work issue, not a moral issue.  The abolitionists, many of whom have never had sex for money, often contend that any exchange of sex for money is slavery. 

The sex workers, all of whom have exchanged sex for money, are adamant that they should be able to make money in the sex business if that is their choice.  And they insist that they should be able to do it in safe, sanitary conditions, with the same rights as any other worker to ply their trade.
Abolitionists have often used the trafficking issue (the international buying and selling of sex slaves) to cloud the voluntary exchange of sex for money.  Many claim that if sex work is decriminalized, trafficking will flourish.  However, the fact is that in America, sex work is illegal, and there is much trafficking.  In the Netherlands, sex work is legal, and there is much trafficking.  Furthermore it is clear that by focusing so much energy on criminalizing willing clients and buyers in the sex business, these resources cannot be used to fight real sexual slavery.
Traditionally people in the sex business have not had a voice in how we are treated.  We are jailed, deported, beaten, silenced.  Academics, social workers, lawmakers and do-gooders have spoken for us.  And we’re tired of it.  That’s one reason this conference was organized: so sex workers can speak for ourselves about the deadly serious issues that are at the core of the debate about sex for money.
Here’s what happened to me at this historic gathering.  On Thursday October 14th I arrived sleep deprived at the Mercure Royal Crown Hotel in Brussels, Belgium for the.  Excited, thrilled, yet terrified that I would be shunned and ostracized for being an ugly American stupid white breeder man. This is what it’s now like for an American abroad.  Even as I arrived, my fears were quelled as I was greeted sweetly and immediately put me to work assembling documents.  I was quite pleased to be put to work, as I come from a long line of beasts of burden, and as an ex-whore, I live to please.
As I stuffed manifestos into whore-red folders, I heard my old friend Scarlot Harlot downstairs practicing a speech in Russian.  Apparently “bitch” is “bitch” all over the world.  Why did I travel 6,000 miles to be here?  “Connect.  Celebrate.  Challenge.” That’s what the folder said. Challenge the world’s perception of sex workers, prostitutes, whores. Attitudes, laws, policies, rights to work safely and move freely.  Connect with my European sex worker friendly brothers and sisters. Celebrate good times, come on!
In the conference room, 75 or so current and former sex workers and allies congregated, mingled and chilled.  Art hung on the walls: rentboy photos eating breakfast; line drawings of whore heroes; transgender warriors and brave streetwalkers. And in the corner was Scarlot Harlot’s Whore Store.  For the whore in all of us.
My earlier trepidation now seemed ridiculous.  I communed with sex workers from Russia to Washington.  Suddenly I was face-to-face with the one and only Margo St. James, legendary icon activist and all-around hot mama.  I have, of course, heard stories about her for years.  Even performed at benefits for St. James Infirmary and Coyote (Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics), sex worker institutions she co-founded that provide help with medical, mental, professional, legal, financial and compassion needs in my San Francisco.  It’s slightly odd to finally meet someone you’ve admired for so long.  And such a relief when she is so smart, funny, down-to-earth and mad sexy.  We talked about SF’s history as the sexual capital of America, the Hooker’s Ball, Dizzy Gillespie, cokeheaded lawyers and crooked-ass cops.  I thought how odd it was to travel to Brussels to meet a legend from my own hometown.
First night a big group of us went out to dinner.  Picture the scene: 17 sex workers dropping in on a nice unsuspecting Brussels restaurant at 10pm Friday night.  A Scottish lap-dancer sat next to me.  Apparently the women in Scotland pay a deposit before their dance shift, are required to do a couple of stints on stage, then do their lapdancing in a booth, which is carefully monitored by a closed-circuit camera. No touching policy is strictly enforced.  So there is a real sense of safety in the workplace.  Juxtapose this with SF, where I recently spoke to a lap-dancer who told me the woman have to pay to work, and if they don’t make the $300 they’re charged for a night, they lose their money, goodbye, sayanora, tought luck, baby!  And in the booths she descibed, which woman are often forced into, the door is locked, and they are left unprotected.  Coersion, rape and forced sex often ensue.  And the cops don’t care, cuz they’re often the customers.  Again I am embarrassed to be an American.
On the other side of me was an English sex worker man I’d been corresponding with electronically.  Part of the joy of this conference was putting faces to e-mails.  He was charming in a way only the English can charm, and whip-smart, with a fascinating story: from evangelic angelic English school/choir boy to wildly successful hustler.
Finally I dragged my raggedy ass to bed at 2am and slept until 5am, when my brain popped open and started gyrating wildly around the room.  Sadly I was unable to find any way to stop it.  Next thing I knew it was 9am, and I crawled like a dazed Kafka cockroach down to the conference room.
An absolutely radiant sex worker woman living now in the UK was decked out in a sexy boustier type deal, with a big feather headress flapping exotically on her head. She instructed us to blow up the red balloon on our seat, write something on it, bat it around the room, grab another, and write something on it.  It was grand fun.  And a beautiful sight, watching 99 luft ballons flying around the room, with all those whores batting them about.
Favorite things I saw on a red balloon: “Money can’t buy you happiness, but it can rent some for awhile,” and “Practice random acts of kindness.”
Then they were popped:
BOOM! BAM! BANG!
We were then addressed by the committee who put the whole conference together.  What an enormous undertaking: getting everyone here, translating everything into four languages, picking a clear agenda everyone could agree on.  The most basic goals were laid out:

·        Creating a network for sex workers and allies to share information easily and instantly
·        Getting sex work addressed as a labor issue, and working to get sex workers rights to free movement and safe work, with dignity and respect
·        Drafting and ratifying a manifesto and a declaration to state our needs and desires

It was stressed that people who want to make money from sex of their own free will should have the same human rights as everyone else: protection from harm and harassment, sanitary working conditions, a living wage, freedom of movement.  But often when sex work is legalized, prostitutes are forced to register, often with their home addresses.  They are given mandatory health tests, and often this information is made public, causing stigma and sometimes violence to be heaped on the worker.  Many times they are taxed outrageously, and can have their children taken from them with no recourse.  Of course where sex work is prohibited, the workers have no rights at all, and can be abused by clients, employers, and the police, which sadly happens all too often. To view the issue as a labor/human rights/migration issue seemed a good start in improving the world for people who want to work in the sex industry.
In the afternoon I attended a Network Workshop.  The idea is to create an international network where information of all kinds can be exchanged instantly and freely.  The problems inherent are enormous and obvious: no money, no existing infrastructure, too many languages, every country with different customs and laws, so many workers underground and inaccessible, shadow players in a dark dangerous game. A sex worker who lives in French told a horror story of an African woman working in Paris in deplorable conditions.  When she complained to the government, they assured her they would help.  Instead they used the information to swoop down on the area and make massive arrests, deporting many many women who were working there without documentation.  And nothing could be done.  The French sex worker reflected that if there had been a network in place, perhaps the sex workers could have been warned.
Next was a media workshop, which I had agreed to help facilitate.  It was distressingly depressing how many of my fellow sex workers had media whore horror stories.  One transgendered sex worker living in Norway told about being interviewed extensively, then getting quoted in the paper in a tiny box with a huge unflattering picture above and a caption that read: “WHORE REFUSES TO PAY TAXES!” Time and again the media portays us as sadsack immoral slut dregs-of-society losers, or sex freaks in miniskirts bending into car windows. A general theme emerged: Control the interview, plan and rehearse your message, and deliver it kindly, nicely and relentlessly. And as with all whore work, it if feels weird or bad, JUST SAY NO!
On to the Manifesto.  A statement of needs and desires by sex workers themselves, not policy makers, social workers, or deluded do-gooders who have no idea what it’s like to actually do the the work. The Manifesto addresses everything from working conditions, to migration, to labor practices, to securing basic human rights, respect and protection.  So many of these conferences devolve into pointless theorizing and painful in-fighting.  But here is a real document with real substance written by real sex workers.
Another joy of this conference: the conversations you would never ever have anywhere else.  After we rehearsed for the show we were going to put on, a new stripper friend said, “Please don’t tell anyone about the buttplug, I want it to be a surprise.” I assured her that no word of the buttplug would pass my lips.  And I was true to my word.
At the group meeting Sunday morning, a sex work expert reported that new German legislation doesn’t decriminalize sex work, but now it is tolerated.  Sex workers are expected to sign contracts if they work in houses.  But there is much mistrust, and many workers don’t want to sign them.  Part of the problem is that the workers don’t know about changes in the law, so they’re in the dark about their rights. Legally, it is not against the law to run a house of prostitution in a residential neighborhood, but because of ignorance and stigmatization, many houses are being closed down.  And in every sector their are small variations in law. Apparently in Germany, politicians and government officials are so ignorant about how the sex business works that they tax sex workers when they aren’t even employees.  A pleasure tax is also levied on sex workers, who are not allowed to deduct legitimate expenses.  So they often have outrageous tax bills.  And with the change in law also comes a crackdown on migrant workers, who are deported, even though many have nowhere to go, and face horror stories when they are dumped back in the home lands. On the positive side, the law is a start towards legitimizing sex work.
Laura Agustin’s presentation on migration and trafficking followed.  Apparently there’s a great discrepancy between what is actually happening in the world, and the hysteria that is presented by abolitionists and the media.  Yes, of course there are slaves of all kind being trafficked in the world, but all too often the reality of migrants willingly exchanging sex for money is ignored, and the worker suffers for it.  This makes it all the more difficult to track down real traffickers who are using humans as slaves. Only when governments acknowledge and respect the right to travel and trade sex for money will migrant sex workers get the rights and protection they desperately need and deserve.
An Italian sex work legend, who for many years has been studying human and sexual rights, as well as discrimination and persecution among woman and the transgendered.  Sex workers, she said, are perceived as victims, and stripped of all rights and abilities to determine their own fate. Sex workers and migrants are the subject of racism, violence and abuse.  The perpetrators are not pursued or punished.  The message was: This must end.
A sex worker expert who now live in Swedish presented the new Swedish model of controlling sex work.  Apparently, for better or worse, the Swedes believe that the whole world should adopt their social policies, so they are madly going around trying to get every country under the sun to run sex work the way they do.  The only problem is: What they do doesn’t work.  Their idea is to arrest and prosecute the client.  Which is better than arresting and prosecuting the women certainly, but the point is, why are they arresting willing buyers or sellers at all?  The feminist-driven Swedish government argues that criminalization will empower women, making them less susceptible to being talked into the business.  And their theory is that trafficking will be stopped.  However, the reality is much different.  Sex workers can no longer afford to be choosey about picking clients, since the clients are fewer, scared and edgy.  So often times only the violent, extreme buyers are left.  And if something does happen, the clients, who used to be able to help police, now no longer cooperate for fear of being arrested themselves. Undocumented workers are shipped out.  Police clandestinely film sex workers, trying to collect evidence against buyers.  Sex workers are now loathe to carry condoms, which can be used as evidence of having sex for money. And in Sweden, the government will not listen to the sex workers themselves.  But the Swedish expert said he is bound and determined to “stop the virus from spreading” and urged us to help stamp out this terrible policy, which tramples all over human rights of sex workers.
Gail Pheterson and Margo St. James then gave a presentation, complete with pictures and text, about the history of the sex worker rights movement. They have had a wonderful partnership as academic/sex worker, and this reflected in their beautiful give-and-take rapport.  They said that from the beginning they didn’t back away from words used to denigrate prostitutes, which is why they called the inaugural event, The First World Whore Conference.  This was in 1985-86.  Twenty years ago.  From the beginning, prostitute rights and women’s rights seemed to them intrinsically linked, and they’ve been working (with varying degrees of success) for years to get feminists to understand this, and have sympathetic support for sex workers.  “We are all for rights of sex workers and against violence, exploitation and slavery.”  Gail and Margo did a very interesting thing from the beginning: they dressed up civilian allies as whores so that no one could tell the difference.   We are not who you think we are.  We are not freakish amoral monsters.  We are brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers.  We live next door, up the street, and down the hall.  Looking at Margo and Gail, it was impossible to tell who was the academic and who was the ex-whore.  They quoted Norma Jean Almodavar: “There’s a difference between politicians and prostitutes.  There are some things prostitutes won’t do for money.” I laughed.  We all laughed.
Ana Lopes and George Martin talked about starting a sex woker union in the UK.  Ana got a job in the sex industry, liked the work, but was frustrated that she was stigmatized, had no labor rights, and was treated unfairly, with no recourse. So she and fellow sex workers met in her apartment, with no money, no resources, and formed the International Union of Sex Workers.  They put up a website, recruited more members, and went about making themselves into a valid union.  After being rebuffed by many many organizations, they contacted the George Martin and the GMB.  They found they had much common ground, and joined forces.  They wanted to establish sex work as legitimate labor, thus helping with training, individual benefits, legal representation and rights, as well as better working conditions.  And now they have actually made a recognized union.  Forcing people to see sex work as a labor issue as opposed to a moral issue.  And in giving invisible sex workers a face and a structure to be seen and heard.  Ana and Martin were inspirational indeed.  Sex Workers of the World Unite!
Sunday night was the party/performance, at a nightclub in Brussels.  The place was packed to the rafters with sex workers and allies in all their feathery finery.  Wigs, slits, tits, stilleto heels, big hair, short skirts, silk, leather and lace.  By the time the show started the atmosphere was electric, like being in a cloud just before a lightning storm.  After two beautiful poems by two beautiful French sex workers about activist warrior Gristeledes, Scarlot Harlot, looking like a cross between Mae West, the Statue of Liberty, and a Madame at a Brothel in Heaven, brought the house down with her unique blend of vaudevillian sloganeering.

Stop the Wars On Whores!!!
Outlaw Poverty Not Prostitutes!!!
Keep the Government Out of My Underpants!!!

Solitair has legs longer than I am, a black river of hair running down her impossibly long back, huge spotlight eyes that shine on high beam, and when she paraded onto the stage to the tune of “I Like the Way You Move” in a tiny purple see-through teddy, a hot shiver ran through the room.  Lean lithe and lovely she played the crowd like it was a violin and she was Itzak Perlman in a purple teddy.  And when she bent over and moved her G-string to reveal the butt plug, I was gratified that I had not revealed her secret, because the stunned pindrop silence, full of gaping mouths, stolen breath and bugged-out eyes, was priceless.  To shock this crowd took some doing, but Solitair did it in spades.
I was next, and as I looked out at all those beaming sex workers faces from all over the world: the rentboys and ladyboys, the whores and the hustlers, the disenfranchised and the reviled, the hated and the desired, the objects of revulsion and lust, I was overcome by these people, who had all traveled many miles to be here, to try in some ridiculous way to make the world more fair and humane and safe.
I have done my show, or bits of it, almost a hundred times, on three continents. This was the only time I have been translated on the spot into Russian and French.  Strange and amazing to say a line, then wait and hear my words in Russian.  Then French.  I had been a little worried that it would be too long and too weird.  But for me it accentuated how we were doing something global, and yet incredibly personal.  In my show I portray a client who was a tantric sex expert.  My piece climaxes when she has the mother of all climaxes.  I’ve always said that Orgasm is the ultimate international language, and this proved true on that Sunday night in Brussels.  It felt like we all came together in a celebration of sex work and being human.
Gypsy Charms, my new Scottish stripper friend, had asked me to play a client getting a lap-dance from her.  After the dance I was to yell at her, growling gruffly about what bad her body was.  To me this illustrated a subtle part of sex work that I felt over and over when I was in the business, that no one had really discussed at the conference.  How clients inflict their sexual pain on the sex worker.  How as a whore I absorbed so much sexual illness from my clients.  As a race we seem to suffer so much sexually, and sex workers are a well into which the world dumps its sex misery.  In the piece, I was told to reach up and touch her, which is strictly forbidden.  When I did it, she reached back and slapped me.  The crowd reacted audibly, happy to see an abusive client get some of his own back.  I thought of the men standing outside the booths in Amsterdam, drunk and screaming horrible degrading things at the women behind the glass, laughing like sadistic barbarians.
After the show an amazing DJ ripped some crazy mad tunes, with all manner of Afro/Latino/Eurotrashing rhythms thrown into the pot to create a tasty stew. Boys danced with boys.  Girls danced with girls.  Boys danced with girls.  Girls danced with boys.  Trannies danced with everybody.  It was a slamming jamming euphoric release.  A celebration.
Monday morning, blurry-eyed but bushy-tailed we loaded into buses and headed for the European Parliament.  By this time I was so sleep deprived I felt sure that if my head weren’t tethered to my body, it would float away like a red balloon.  As we approached the huge gleaming glass and metal structure of the European Parliament, its modern majesty made it feel like we were about to enter a center of money and influence. We had to get individuals badges and go through the metal detectors, adding to the effect that something terribly official, and potentially dangerous, was happening here.  It was a fabulous contrast: all of us queer birds dressed like bureaucrats and politicians rubbing elbows with all the straight-laced button-down bureaucrats and politicians.  The room where our meeting took place looked just like you see it on TV.  A table with microphones on a platform in front of many long curving tables with microphones, going back 30 deep, with chairs for about 250 people.  Around the perimeter, behind glass partitions, sat the translators from a dozen or so countries.  Nice gig, I thought, sit around and wait for somebody to speak in your language, hope they’re not too longwinded, then hang out in the European Parliament.
Entering this room was surreal.  Made everything seem more real and possible, because after all, here we were, in the very seat of social power, where laws are changed, compromises are hammered out, and policy is made.  An official from the Green Party, which sponsored us, spoke about how much we have in common.  We both want to stop violence and abuse, and get rights in place for all sex workers.  The funny thing is, you could not have picked this Green Party politico out of a line-up of sex workers.
An Italian member of the European Parliament showed up.  He was attentive, energetic and seemed like quite a sharp fellow.  He talked about putting the sex work struggle in the broader historical context of the struggle for human rights by any underrepresented, oppressed, reviled, stigmatized and beaten down group.  The Italian Parliament said he was going to take our Declaration to other politicians so they can study it, and make changes accordingly.  He said he was on a committee that was responsible for spreading democracy and human rights all over Europe, and that he was going to push our agenda of civil rights and the fight against repressive punitive laws and regulations.  Most importantly, he thought that making sex work seen as a profession would be a huge step.  He suggested we hook up with other organizations to build our power base, and to find specific violations to draw attention to the larger issues.
Then he did something amazing.  He actually signed our Declaration.  Right there in front of all of us.  Out in the open. In the European Parliament.  When our Chairperson asked him, he said he would sigh it, “Very happily.”
When ten basic demands were read by sashed sex workers, a chill went through me, and a feeling of triumph spread through the room.  Stop criminalization, prejudice, violence, ignorance, cruelty and abuse, to ensure that people can work and move free and easy, proudly and with dignity.
Afterwards I thought what we really should do is film our members having sex with all the major leaders of Parliament, then blackmail them into giving us what we need.  Hey, by whatever means necessary.
WARNING: If you ever eat in the European Parliament, DO NOT have the salad.  The green beans were wilted, the corn tasteless, and the shredded carrots a disaster.
So now we had to load into a bus and go to the Street Demonstration.  If you’ve ever tried to move 150 sex workers through the European Parliament you know how difficult that can be.  Somehow we succeeded.  Then suddenly there we were on the steps of the Brussels Stock Exchange.  I thought ruefully of all the bankers who rent us, then revile us.
We were all given red umbrellas, and as we assembled with them on the steps, it was a beautiful sight, like a field of blooming poppies with sex worker flowers growing under them.  A huge banner read:

SEX WORKER RIGHTS = HUMAN RIGHTS!!!

Instantly it was a mob scene, as onlookers gawked and gaped, glued to the spectacle of the whistle-blowing whores dancing and chanting:  “VOUS COUCHEZ AVEC NOUS, VOUS VOTEZ CONTRA NOUS!!!”  You sleep with us, you vote against us!!!
Journalists hungrily buzzed about with notepads, microphones, movie and still camera, hunting for the nectar of the right angle to make the news.
Suddenly there were sirens, and the police showed up.  My first impulse as an American was that they were going to arrest us. Great! I thought, this is the best thing that could possibly happen.  I saw us on the front pages of the London, New York, Los Angeles Times, on the BBC, CNN, Al Jazeera:

150 SEX WORKERS ARRESTED IN BRUSSLES!!!

Alas, sadly, they were only there to keep the peace.  After about 45 minutes, we took off through the streets of Brussels, a police car clearing the road for us.  It was a joyous celebration, and a challenge to the public: we’re here, we’re not who you think we are, and we’re not going away. Globally and locally.  As we moved through the streets of Brussels singing and chanting with our red umbrellas and our banners, we were cheered and waved at by walkers, drivers and passersby.  I also heard that a couple of Belgians saw us and said, “They should all be killed.” They should all be killed.  They should all be killed. We passed a group of boys, 8-10 year olds, on bicycles.  They started cheering and shouting sweetly with boyish enthusiasm, staying with us for quite a while, having a fine old time.  I smiled as I thought that maybe when they grow up they’ll have an image of sex workers as fun, smart and political, instead of uneducated, drug addicted wretches of society.
On the march, one of the member of our contingency was passing out cards for our organization.  She gave one to an onlooker, who looked at the card, then looked at us, and asked what the card said.  Our member translated: “These are sex workers.” Onlooker looked at the card, looked at us, and asked, “What’s a sex worker?”  Our member explained, “People who work in the sex business, like prostitutes and strippers.” Onlooker’s eyes went wide: “Ï am a stripper and a prostitute. And and transsexual.  May I join you?” Our member said we would love to have her.  She introduced Onlooker to one of our own transsexual sex workers, and they walked arm-in-arm through the streets, telling each other their life stories.
Yes, of course, there is much to do, the situation is dire, but I for one, left excited, encouraged and inspired.  From the streets of Brussels to the European Parliament, our voices are being heard.

TOP TEN LIST FROM THE EUROPEAN CONFREENCE 2005
1.     European Parliament member signs official sex worker demand document
2.     Whore Manifesto created and ratified
3.     Margo St. James and Gail Pheterson stroll us down hooker activist Memory Lane
4.     10 sex workers read our needs in European Parliament
5.     Hearing whore stories from around the world
6.     Demonstrating on the steps of the Stock Exchange then dancing in the streets
7.     Meeting sex workers from Greece, Italy, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Russia, Scotland, England, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Holland, Belgium, Germany, and God knows where else
8.     UK strippers
9.     Sharing a room with tantric massage expert
10. Getting my ass squeezed by a lesbian, a gay man, a straight man, a straight woman, and a transsexual all in one day

As an added bonus, I have included a list of things I think every activist should know.  Enjoy!

10 COMMANDMENTS OF ACTIVISM
1. If thou marcheth in the streets, weareth comfortable shoes
2. Talketh not for more than three minutes if thou hast nothing to say
3. Putteth the needs of the group before thine own
4. Forgeth not thine business cards
5. Getteth contact information from everyone thou meeteth
6. Eateth apples instead of candy
7. If thou hast a roommate, tryeth not to snoreth
8. Listeneth more than thou talketh
9. Findeth solutions instead of bitchething about how bad everything is
10. Smelleth good
David Henry Sterry

To view pictures:  http://www.espacep.be/

Here is the Manifesto:

SEX WORKERS IN EUROPE
MANIFESTO

We come from many different countries and many different backgrounds, but we have discovered that we face many of same problems in our work and in our lives.

Within this document we explore the current inequalities and injustices within our lives and the sex industry; question their origin; confront and challenge them and put forward our vision of changes that are needed to create a more equitable society in which sex workers, their rights and labour are acknowledged and valued.

This manifesto was elaborated and endorsed by 120 sex workers from 26 countries at the European Conference on Sex Work, Human Rights, Labour and Migration 15 – 17 October 2005, Brussels, Belgium.

BEYOND TOLERANCE AND COMPASSION
FOR THE RECOGNITION OF RIGHTS

We live in a society where services are bought and sold. Sex work is one of these services. Providing sexual services should not be criminalised.

Sacrificing sex workers for religious or sexual morals is unacceptable. All people have the right to hold their own personal religious and sexual morals, but such morals should not be imposed on any individual or determine any political decision.

We wish to see a society in which sex workers are not denied social power.

We condemn the hypocrisy within our societies where our services are used but our profession or businesses are made illegal. This legislation results in abuse and lack of control over our work and lives.

We oppose the criminalisation of sex workers, their partners, clients, managers, and everyone else working in sex work. Such criminalisation denies sex workers of equal protection of the law.

Migration plays an important role in meeting the demands of the labour market. We demand our governments acknowledge and apply fundamental human, labour and civil rights for migrants.
The right to be free from discrimination
We demand the end of discrimination and abuse of power by the police and other public authorities. Offering sexual services is not an invitation to any kind of violence. The lack of credibility of sex workers must end.

We demand that crimes against us and our testimonies are taken seriously by the justice system. Sex workers should, to the same extent as anyone else, be presumed innocent until guilt is proven.

Defamation of sex workers incites discrimination and hatred. We demand that sex workers be protected by anti-discrimination legislation.
The right to our bodies
Sex work is by definition consensual sex. Non consensual sex is not sex work; it is sexual violence or slavery.

We demand our right as human beings to use our bodies in any way we do not find harmful; including the right to establish consensual sexual relations, no matter the gender or ethnicity of our partners; regardless of whether they are paying or not.
The right to be heard
We assert our right to participate in public forums and policy debates where our working and living conditions are being discussed and determined.

We demand our voices are heard, listened to and respected. Our experiences are diverse, but all are valid, and we condemn those who steal our voice and say that we do not have the capacity to make decisions or articulate our needs.
The right to associate and gather
We assert our right to form and join professional associations and unions.

We assert our right to demonstrate publicly.

We demand the right to form business partnerships, both formal and informal, and to participate in social projects.
The right to mobility
We assert our right to be in all public spaces.

We assert the right of all persons to move within and between countries for personal and financial reasons, including seeking gainful employment and residence in the area of their choice.

The trafficking discourse obscures the issues of migrants’ rights. Such a simplistic approach to such a complex issue reinforces the discrimination, violence and exploitation against migrants, sex workers and migrant sex workers in particular.

Violence, coercion and exploitation related to migration and sex work must be understood and tackled within a framework of recognising the worth and fundamental rights of migrants.

Restrictive migration legislation and anti-prostitution policies must be identified as contributing factors to the violation of migrants’ rights.

Forced labour and slavery-like practices are possible in many trades. But where trades are legal and the labour of its workers recognised, it is more possible to denounce and put an end to the violations of rights and prevent abuse.

We demand our governments prioritise and protect the human rights of victims of forced labour and slavery-like practices, regardless of how they arrived in their situation and regardless of their ability or willingness to cooperate or testify in criminal justice proceedings.

We call upon our governments to give asylum to victims of forced labour and slavery-like practices, and to provide support to their families and friends. Failure to do so perpetuates their exploitation and further violates their fundamental human rights.
Abuse in sex work
Abuse happens in sex work, but does not define sex work.

Any discourse that defines sex work as violence is a simplistic approach that denies our diversity and experience and reduces us to helpless victims. It undermines our autonomy and right to self-determination.
Restrictive legislation contributes to discrimination, stigma and abuse of sex workers.

We demand our governments decriminalise sex work and end legislation that discriminates against us and stigmatises us. We demand the right to report abuses against us without risking prosecution.

Granting rights for sex workers would allow them to report infringements of their human rights.

We demand protection from those who threaten us and our families for exposing them.

We demand methods that allow us to remain anonymous when reporting grievances and crimes against us.
Abuse of young people in sex work
It is essential that education focuses on empowering young people to have sexual autonomy. We demand that support, services and outreach be provided to young people to give them real choice and the possibilities of alternatives.

Young people should have a voice in legislation and policies that affect them.

OUR LIVES

Being a sex worker
Society imposes an ‘identity’ and ‘social role’ on sex workers that goes beyond the recognition that we use our bodies and minds as an economic individual resource to earn money.

The ‘identity’ and ‘social role’ imposed on us defines us as intrinsically unworthy and a threat to moral, public and social order; labelling us sinners, criminals, or victims – stigma separates us from ‘good’ and ‘decent’ citizens and the rest of society.

This stigma leads to people seeing us only as ‘whores’ in a negative and stereotyped way – the rest of our lives, and the differences amongst us, become invisible. It denies us a place in society. To protect ourselves and to ensure we have a place within society most sex workers hide their involvement in sex work, many absorb the societal stigma of shame and unworthiness, and live in fear of being exposed. For this reason many sex workers accept the abuses inflicted upon them. The social exclusion that results from the stigmatisation of sex workers leads to denial of access to health, to housing, to alternative work, separation from our children and isolation.

Societal perceptions impose a moral hierarchy within the sex industry – based on migrant status, race, ethnic origin, gender, age, sexuality, drug use, work sector and the services provided – adding to the stigma and social exclusion of certain groups of sex workers. Amongst sex workers themselves there are those who agree with such views. We assert that all sex workers and all forms of sex work are equally valid and valuable and condemn such moral and prejudiced divisions.

We recognise stigma as being the commonality that links all of us as sex workers, forming us into a community of interest – despite the enormous diversity in our realities at work and in our lives. We have come together to confront and challenge this stigma and the injustices it leads to.

We assert that sex work is a sexual-economic activity and does not imply anything about our identity or value and participation as part of society.

Active citizenship
Sex workers should not be perceived purely as victims to be assisted, criminals to be arrested or targets for public health interventions – we are part of society, with needs and aspirations, who have the potential to make a real and valuable contribution to our communities.

We demand that current mechanisms of representation and consultation are opened up to sex workers.

Privacy & family
We assert our right to be free from arbitrary interference with our privacy and family and to marry and/or found a family.

We are capable human beings, who have the ability to love and care for other human beings – as any human being does. Our work sometimes gives us more financial security and time for a child or partner than other more time consuming and lesser paid work.

The labelling of our partners as pimps and exploiters/abusers simply because they are our partners, presupposes we have no autonomy and implies we are not worthy of love or relationships denying us the possibility of a private life.

We assert our right to establish personal relationships and have self-determination within those relationships without judgement.

We demand an end to discriminatory legislation that prohibits us from being with and/or marrying the partner of our choice and criminalises our partners and children for associating with us and living off our earnings.

The labelling of us by social services and courts as unfit parents and the removal of our children, simply because we provide sexual services, is unjustifiable and unacceptable. Such stigmatisation removes our ability to seek support and assistance if we need it in relation to parenting or abusive relationships for fear of losing our children.

We demand an end to such discrimination.

Media and education
Our voices and experiences are often manipulated by the media and we are seldom given the right to reply and our complaints are dismissed.

The portrayal of sex workers in the mass media all too often perpetuates the stereotypical image of sex workers as unworthy, victims and/or a threat to moral, public and social order. In particular the xenophobic portrayal of migrant sex workers adds an additional level of stigma and increases their vulnerability. Such portrayals of sex workers give legitimacy to those within our society who seek to harm us and violate our rights.

Alongside the misleading images of sex workers, our clients are represented in the media as being violent, perverted or psycologically disturbed. Paying for sexual services is not an intrinsically violent or problematic behaviour. Such stereotyping silences discussion about the reality of the sex industry – it perpetuates our isolation and obscures the actual violent and problematic behaviour of a small but significant number of clients.

Prejudice and discrimination against sex workers runs throughout our society. To overcome this we require our governments to recognise the actual harm that is being done to us, and the value of our work, and support us and our clients in educating and informing not only those in public authorities but also the general public to enable us to participate fully in our society.

Combatting Violence against sex workers
Sex workers experience disproportionate levels of violence and crime. The stigmatisation of sex workers has led to society and public authorities condoning violence and crime against us because it is seen as inherent to our work.

We demand that our governments recognise that violence against sex workers is a crime, whether it be perpetrated by our clients, our managers, our partners, local residents or members of the public authorities.

We require our governments to publicly condemn those who perpetrate actual violence against us.

We demand our governments take action in combating the actual violence we experience, rather than the perceived violence of prostitution put forward by abolitionists who are seeking to eradicate all forms of sex work.

– Time and resources now spent arresting and prosecuting sex workers and non-violent  clients should be redirected towards dealing with rape and other violent crimes against us.

– Mechanisms must be developed to encourage and support sex workers in reporting crimes, including early warning systems amongst sex workers themselves about potentially violent clients.

Health and well being
No-one, least of all sex workers, denies there are health risks attached to sex work, however, it is a myth that we are ‘dirty’ or ‘unclean’. In reality we are more knowledgeable about our sexual health and practice safe sex more than the general populace and we act as sexual health educators for our clients.

We call for our role within society as a valuable resource for sexual well being and health promotion to be recognised.

Stigma remains a barrier to health care for sex workers. Prejudice and discrimination occur within healthcare settings where sex workers experience degrading and humiliating treatment from some health care workers.

We demand that all health care workers treat us with respect and dignity and that our complaints of discriminatory treatment are taken seriously.

In furtherance of the health and well-being of all sex workers we demand our governments provide:
– access to health services for all migrant sex workers
– access to needle exchange and drug treatment options for dependent drug users
– access to treatment options for all people living with HIV, without which many may die unnecessarily.
– access to transitional treatment options for transgender persons

Registration and mandatory testing
Registration and mandatory testing of sex workers has no preventative value, particularly while there is no requirement for clients to be tested. Where mandatory testing still exists one of the consequences is that clients assume sex workers are ‘healthy’ and resist the need to use condoms as they do not see themselves as a threat to the sex worker.

Registration and mandatory sexual health and HIV testing are a violation of sex workers human rights and reinforce the stigmatisation of sex workers as a threat to public health and promotes the stereotypical view that only they can transmit infections to clients.

We demand an end to registration and mandatory testing.

Entitlement to travel, migration, asylum
The lack of possibilities to migrate put our integrity and health in danger. We demand that sex workers be free to travel within and across countries and to migrate, without discrimination based on our work.

We demand the right to asylum for sex workers who are subjected to state and/or community violence on the basis of selling sexual services

We demand the right to asylum for anyone denied human rights on the basis of a “crime of status,” be it sex work, health status, gender or sexual orientation.
OUR LABOUR

Our bodies and minds are an individual economic resource for many people in many different forms. All forms of sex work are equally valid, including dancing, stripping, street or indoor prostitution, escorting, phone sex or performing in pornography.

For some remunerated sex remains part of their private sphere, as such they operate out side the labour market.

For many others sex becomes work, while some work independently, others work collectively and many are ‘employed’ by third parties. For them it is an income generating activity and must be recognised as labour.

Alienation, exploitation, abuse and coercion do exist in the sex industry, as in any other industry sector, but it does not define us or our industry.  However limits are placed when the labour within an industry is formally recognised, accepted by society at large and supported by trade unions. When labour rights are extended it enables workers to use labour regulations to report abuses and organise against unacceptable working conditions and excessive exploitation.

The lack of recognition of sex work as labour and the criminalisation of activities within and around the sex industry results in sex workers being treated like criminals, even if they do not break any laws. Such treatments alienate us from the rest of society and reduce our ability to control our work and our lives. It creates greater possibilities for uncontrolled exploitation, abuse and coercion – unacceptable working hours, unsanitary working conditions, unfair division of income and unreasonable restrictions on freedom of movement – certain groups of sex workers such as migrants are disproportionately affected by unacceptable working conditions.

We demand the recognition of our right to the protection of legislation that ensures just and favourable conditions of work, remuneration and protection against unemployment.

We demand that sex work is recognised as gainful employment, enabling migrants to apply for work and residence permits and that both documented and undocumented migrants be entitled to full labour rights.

We demand the creation of a European Commission Ombudsman to oversee national legislation on the sex industry.  This can be a newly created post or be made part of an existing role.

Professional and personal development

We assert our right to join and form unions.

We as sex workers require the same possibilities for professional development as other workers. We demand the right to be able to develop vocational training and advice services, including support to establish our own business and work independently.

We assert our right to travel and work in other countries. Access to information about working in the sex industry and its different sectors should be available.

We demand that foreign education and qualification be recognised appropriately.

We demand that anti-discrimination legislation is applied both within the sex industry and for sex workers seeking alternative employment given the specific difficulties sex workers face as a consequence of stigma.

We call for support to be provided to sex workers who wish to further their education or look for alternative employment.

Taxes and welfare
We acknowledge every citizens obligation to financially support the society in which they live.  However, when sex workers do not receive the same benefits as other citizens and while our right to equal protection of the law is denied, some sex workers do not feel this obligation.

We demand that we have access to social insurance which gives the right to unemployment and sickness benefits, pensions and health care.

Sex workers should pay regular taxes on the same basis as other employees and independent contractors and should receive the same benefits. Taxation schemes should not be used as a means of registering sex workers and issues related to stigma and confidentiality must be prioritised.

Information on taxes must be accessible and easy to understand, and provided in many languages for migrant workers. Tax collection schemes should be transparent and easily understood for workers to avoid exploitation and abuse by employers.

The purchase of appropriate goods and services, including health services, where paid for, should be considered tax deductible.

Health and safety at work
Our bodies are our business. In order to maintain our health we require free or affordable safe sex products and access to health services.

We demand our governments prohibit the confiscation of condoms and other safe sex products from sex workers and sex work establishments.

We demand our governments provide free or affordable access to sexual health care for all sex workers, including vaccinations for preventable diseases.

We demand the health care needs of sex workers be included in all health insurance schemes and that sick pay be available for work related illness as with other occupations.

Violence within any workplace is a health and safety issue. Our employers have an obligation to protect us and to take action against those who violate our right to be safe within our work.

We demand that our governments take our health and safety seriously and promote safe working environments in which violence and abuse will not be tolerated. To this end we urge governments to establish emergency telephone advice lines through which sex workers can seek advice and report abuses anonymously.

Working conditions
The fact that sex becomes work does not remove our right to have control over who we have sex with or the sexual services we provide or the condition under which we provide those services.

We demand the right to engage in sex work without coercion, to move within the sex industry and to leave it if we choose.

We demand the right to say no to any client or any service requested. Managers must not be allowed to determine the services we provide or the conditions under which we provide them – whether we are employees or ‘self-employed’.

We demand the right to fair conditions of work – such as entitlement to the minimum wage, breaks, minimum rest periods and annual leave. Such conditions should also apply to those who are nominally ‘self-employed’ within a collective workplace.

We demand an end to unacceptable practices such as requiring sex workers to consume alcohol and/or drugs at work, to pay excessive costs for food, drink, services and clothing in the workplace.

We demand that health and safety be prioritised in our workplaces and that for those who work independently in public places their health and safety also be protected.

We demand that employers comply with data protection legislation and that our personal details are treated confidentially and that any abuse of our personal details be taken seriously by the authorities.

Legislation regulating working hours and conditions is complex, it is important that clear and accurate information be provided to sex workers and displayed within workplaces about their rights, such information must be provided in many different languages to ensure that all migrants have access to this information.

To improve our working conditions it is important that we have opportunities to self organise and advocate for our rights. We call upon trade unions to support us in our self organisation and in our struggle for fair working conditions.

We call for the establishment of designated areas for street prostitution, in consultation and agreement with sex workers, to enable those who work in public places to do so safely, without compromising an individual’s choice to work wherever they choose; such areas will enable us to work collectively and facilitate appropriate services, while the police can ensure we are free from the interference of criminals and other undesirables.

Decriminalisation of sex work
Selling sexual services and being a sex worker is often definined in our societies as criminal, even when neither is an actual criminal offense. The hypocrisy of current legislation is that it criminalises many of the activities within the sex industry that enable us to work collectively and safely. Such legislation – which governments tell us is to protect us from exploitation – actually increases our alienation and gives greater possibilities for exploitation, abuse and coercion within our industry. It treats us as legal ‘minors’ as though we are unable to make informed decisions.

We demand an end to legislation that criminalises us, those we work with and for, organisers and managers who follow good practice, our clients and our families.

We demand an end to legislation that denies our freedom of association, and restricts our ability to self organise.

We demand an end to legislation that denies our right to freedom of movement within and between countries

We demand the right to be able to work individually or collectively; as either independent workers or as employees with the full protection of labour rights.

We demand the right to be able to rent premises from which to work, to advertise our services and to pay those who carry out services for us.

We demand the right to use our earnings in any way we choose.  We demand the right to be able use our earnings to support our family and loved ones.

We demand that sex work businesses be regulated by standard business codes, under such codes businesses would be registered not sex workers.

We demand the right to spend time in public places and support the call for designated public areas for street sex work, in consultation and agreement with sex workers, whilst not removing an individual’s right to work wherever they choose

We defend the right of non-violent and non-abusive clients to purchase sexual services.

In order to make sex work safe for all we demand that criminal laws be enforced against fraud, coercion, child sexual abuse, child labour, violence, rape and murder within the sex industry.
(Pictures: http://www.espacep.be/)

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