‘Listen to survivors’ and the fetishisation of experience

I am a “survivor” who had traumatic experiences during my time as a survival sex worker who was also trafficked on more than one occasion by multiple pimps (aka “pimples”). Even so, it is crystal clear that the “Nordic Model” increase of criminalization (and the corresponding unwillingness to allow for the possibility that there might be a proportion of sex workers who are NOT trafficked, along with shutting out THEIR voices in legislation over their bodies and human rights from the debates on this topic) – well I can just walk a few blocks to my old track, talk to any of the women who ARE trafficked, and I can give you MANY clear examples of how the “End Demand” legislation has made their lives A LOT worse, a lot more DANGEROUS, a lot more HARMFUL to what little wellbeing they have left. Trafficking is a form of domestic violence, as trafficking is carried out among the adult women I have seen, which is the majority of sex work that takes place where it is visible. FORCING domestic violence victims to get “help” (as the diversion programs for prostitutes in my state is called) has NEVER helped any domestic violence victim! If legislators REALLY want to help adult trafficking victims and, at the same time, not INCREASE victimization and decimate the basic human rights of non-trafficked CONSENSUAL sex workers, they have to INCLUDE voices of ALL SEX WORKERS, not just cherry-picked survivor stories, but also survivor stories like mine (yes I was a sex trafficking victim, but I still support decriminalization and legalization of consensual sex work), and the stories of the larger percentage of sex workers, who are NOT TRAFFICKED.

genders, bodies, politics

The debate over Amnesty International’s draft policy supporting the decriminalisation of sex work has been heated. Although the organisation developed the policy following extensive research with sex workers and consultation with key stakeholders, it has been accused of wanting to protect the rights of ‘pimps’ and ‘Johns’ to buy or profit from the sale of sex. The position of those supporting Amnesty’s draft policy is clear – the vast majority of sex workers globally oppose criminalisation (including the ‘Nordic Model’ of criminalising clients), because it jeopardises their incomes, creates health vulnerabilities and puts them at risk of violence. As the community most directly affected by sex work law and policy, it is argued, their voices should matter most.

Although this may seem uncontroversial, it has been claimed that this injunction to listen to sex workers is an identity politics which fetishises personal experience and is an insufficient basis on which…

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Lasting Impressions

When I was fourteen, and just beginning to show the worst symptoms of bipolar depression, I experienced the death of someone close to me for the first time.

I still remember when my mother came into my room to tell me Nana (my mother’s mother) had died, from pneumonia she had contracted because the steroids she needed to be on to keep her autoimmune disorders (including lupus, among other things) in remission, had destroyed her immune system.  It was also the first time I truly understood the meaning of the phrase, “damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” as ultimately, it was the medications that kept her alive that killed her.

My memory of that event is different than most of the memories before that, in that I remember seeing myself from the door to my room, as my mom came in and told me the news, that Nana had died, and watching myself shrink away from my mother and curl up around the scruffy and worn long-eared rabbit that Nana had given me a decade before then.  It was then I began to understand grief (for someone else, I had dealt with a different kind of grief secretly on an ongoing basis for the last few years at that point following several severe sexual brutalizations), this grief seemed more acute than any feeling I’d ever experienced before.  The grief was so strong, that I feel it now still, in my eyes welling up with tears as I recall, in the feeling like a ball of iron is weighing down my gut, pulling on the bottom of my rib cage…

I started a photography class at a local college a few weeks ago, and instead of checking out a camera from the school a few days at a time, I remembered a recent offer from my mom for her to give me a 35mm camera.  I thought she was referring to the Canon that mom had used in college herself and that, when I was deemed responsible enough with the almost-disposable cheap snapshot camera I’d been given around age 5 when I showed interest in shooting pictures, I was allowed to borrow mom’s hallowed Canon.

The idea excited me.  This whole class excites me, really.  It had been so long since I worked with film, I’d forgotten how thrilling it used to be to me to hoard each exposure for *just* the right moment, because each roll of film and each print had to be begged for following endless hours of chores, and every exposure was priceless.   But I digress.

I was wrong.  I went out to mom’s for dinner after talking to her, she was tickled pink that I came to visit.  As I was getting ready to go, she brought out the camera.  It wasn’t the Canon.

The camera she brought out was a mid-80’s Minolta, a nice 35mm SLR that is IDEAL for the work I’m doing for the next three quarters for the film portions of my photography classes.  As she opened the case to show me, she said the camera had been Nana’s, that Nana bought it right before she started to get really sick, and had used it on her travels to see states she’d not visited before now that she was permanently retired from the hospital where she’d been an RN for close to four decades.  Mom said that it had been sitting in storage since Nana had started getting sick in ’88, that other than two or three times mom and the other kids had taken it out to check on it, it hadn’t been handled, and that it hadn’t been used.

I’ve been using it the last couple weeks.  Ineptly, because it’s been a little over two decades since I last shot film, but I’m anxiously awaiting my shot at checking out a canister and developing this first roll tomorrow.  Digressing again…

Tonight, just a short while ago, I went to clean off the dust that has been on the lens this whole time with a few cotton swabs and some rubbing alcohol, since I’d accidentally touched the surface today and left a fingerprint.  I swabbed the surface gently, switching swabs as soon as they started to leave lint behind.  When it seemed as clean as it would get, and it dried, I held it to the light to check the job I’d done.  Despite my work, a fingerprint still clearly reflected.

What the fuck?! was my first thought – how can that be?  Until I realized, the fingerprint is on the *other side*.  It wasn’t a lens surface I’d cleaned, but only a filter left screwed on the lens to protect it.  I unscrewed the filter to clean it, and then it struck me, hard.

This was the last remaining fingerprint that Nana left behind.

I almost looked for a box to save the filter, but I’m trying to work hard on not hoarding shit anymore (and keeping this would be a step backward on a moderately serious problem I have in that direction).  I would have taken a picture, if I had the right lights necessary to show its reflection on the filter’s glass, but I don’t, and so I didn’t.  And really, it seems to me that the purpose of death for me, as someone left behind, and of grief, is to learn to let go.

And so I let go, and gently swabbed the last traces of my maternal grandmother from the only thing of hers that I still own.  I wonder who will miss me when I go, like I miss Nana now — even though she’s been gone for most of my life.

I spend a lot of time reflecting on ideas for what legacy I hope to leave behind, especially since I have no children and plan to keep it that way (for many very good reasons – a discussion for later).  What fingerprint will I leave behind for decades after my death?  And who will be there to find it?

Poetry – Crack-Ho’s Cookbook

Note: This poem is written primarily in street slang, so it probably will only confuse you or be irrelevant unless you have an interest in the urban dialect of the pacific northwest. It also speaks of numerous deviant activities, with which I became familiar in recent years. I no longer spend any time hanging out with my former street “friends” but my experiences were liminal and fairly formative in my current inner personality. I don’t dwell on it much lately, this was written during a period at the beginning of the year when I was not clean or sober in the slightest.

If you are a minor, please wait until you have some adult experience before trying to comprehend these concepts. Kids, stay kids as long as you can, some people (like me) never had that option.

Okay, disclaimer done. Read at your own risk.

Crack-Ho’s Cookbook

Ten toes down for that rusty renegade rock-bottom crown
That prehistoric hustle of hips hovering horizontally, they
Numero ocho their way above the ground.
This well-designed dawdle is a marketing ploy, out on the
Bleak blustery razor of the blade,
Saying simultaneously, “Come catch me!”
And yet, “Too pricey for your pocketbook, Loverboy.”

You can only make it here if you
Stay always somewhat out of reach.
It’s unattainable for me to stay in pocket
Me, the potentially top-dollar head doctor
Still intrinsically the same small-town whitey-whitebread reject kluck
Finding over and over that “I got you”
Equates to “I’ll bop you” time and again.

Unlike the other ho’s I was born to the trade
but not to The Blade.  I didn’t trick, didn’t have no licks, cuz
I was the trick, I was the lick.
Not for my Johns but for those damn gorilla pimps
Who take a “No, thank you” personal and so maneuvered
To be my non-consensual gigolos

Here, where a head-game
Is naught but the time of day (where no one wears a watch)

So I branched out to feed my habit
Boosted bottles and such, switched up those toes
For a few fingers – five, to be exact.
Slung a few rocks, but couldn’t stop myself
From lezzing it up for that cold, hard, White B**ch
More than a little, for
More than a little too long
But because I didn’t also fall for the Midnight Lady’s numb embraces
I was constantly inundated by my emptiness.
The street can only be home when you no longer feel your heart.