‘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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The Death of my Porn Star Dreams

Shortly after I hooked up with my now-husband, I became aware that there is a fairly large market for adult films starring women of my shape and size (and larger).  As highly sexual and exhibitionistic as I was, I immediately became enamored of the plan to become an adult performer and take at least a few film jobs, maybe start a “personality site” (a site about my film persona with regular postings of new erotic media starring me for paid members), and do phone sex, web cam chats, and sell my used panties for money, things like that.  Hubby (then boyfriend) was excited by this idea, and encouraged me to pursue it.

I had a friend with connections to a few well-known people from the early days of modern adult film (late 70’s – early 80’s) – a director who directed John Holmes more times than any other director, and a former adult performer who had starred in more than a hundred well-known (now vintage) adult films.  Both people enjoyed helping new performers navigate the adult film community and avoid potentially problematic situations.

Before I could make any serious plans, I started snorting coke as a habit, and while this addiction increased my desire to perform sexually for others’ entertainment, it severely curtailed my ability to follow through on specific goals.  Additionally, hubby began to worry about my increasingly poor decision-making, so the few opportunities I did have to go down to L.A. to find work, he was adamant that I not pursue those opportunities without taking him with me which, for various reasons, was not possible.

So I started taking erotic pictures of myself and making my own short adult videos with my webcam and smartphone camera, and at the same time, I started hooking up with guys on online dating sites and on Craigslist to share those pictures and videos and to “cyber” (dirty chatting over IM services while each person masturbates) with… at least at first.  Soon, I started breaking the rules of hubby’s and my open marriage by sneaking out when he was asleep or at work without his permission or knowledge to fuck other guys.  I’d borrow his car, supposedly to run errands, but instead would use up all his gas driving to far suburbs to go fuck strangers.  While I was doing this, I was interspersing these anonymous hookups with visits to fuck my dealers to get more drugs.  Everything about me and my life became a lie to everyone I loved, yet I was brutally honest and clear about everything I was doing to the strangers I hooked up with, to my dealers, and to a few other fellow writers that I knew exclusively online.

I even went so far as to develop a list of all the ways I had thought of to keep from getting caught in lies or cheating.  I called this list, “Detection Considerations” and frequently updated it with methods for manipulating situations to continue my reprehensible behavior so that my husband would not have any tangible clues or proof of my betrayals.

I progressively cared less and less about what I was doing to myself and those in my life.  My apathy toward my husband’s, my family’s, and my friends’ feelings became (I’m certain) more and more apparent to them, and everyone pulled away from me emotionally.  When I did get lonely and reach out for help on occasion, there wasn’t anyone left willing to help anymore.  This encouraged me to sink deeper into the darkness that drug-related activities had cast over my soul, so I used more, and cared less about keeping the promises that I’d made to myself before the start of my use of hard drugs – not to steal or “skim off the top,” not to use needles, not to use heroin, not to use meth, and not to prostitute myself on the street.  Instead, I revelled in my descent into the depths of filth — I saw my involvement in “street life” as an adventure.  In a way, I viewed myself as an amateur anthropologist or sociologist developing case studies on the “aboriginal tribes” of the local street cultures I encountered.

I justified, in part, these adventures with the goal of writing a book instructing aspiring prostitutes on how to do the job, how to navigate the streets, how to stay as healthy as possible (e.g. how to keep from losing teeth, how to minimize blackheads), and how not to get hurt or caught.  Over and over, I made glossaries of the local lingo, lists of methods for common drug or tricking procedures such as how to cook crack or how to make a guy cum as quickly as possible while giving him head, lists of what supplies were essential to carry around (such as disposable wipes, condoms, paper napkins, and lube packets, etc), different ways to shoplift, how to clean meth pipes (bubbles) without breaking them, the lists were endless.  But everytime I’d get about halfway through a journal with my notes and ideas, I’d lose it or the purse containing it to forgetfulness or theft, and I’d have to start a new journal all over again.

One of my writer friends, the only one who knew everything, who I also knew in person, and who was a lover of mine that I had permission from hubby to play with, he pointed out that most of the the information I wanted to present in my free book (a la the Anarchist’s Handbook, I called it “The Crack-Ho’s Cookbook”) went against the *responsible* drug users’ code of never being the person to encourage or help another person take a hard drug for the first time.  He mentioned what I had not thought of, with my drug-addled brain, that there was no way to keep the information out of the hands of minors who might become underage sex workers (something I abhorred the concept of).  I dropped the idea as a serious goal, but still fantasized about a world in which I could publish something like that and give it away for free.

All during my time of using hard drugs, I consistently managed to brainwash myself into associating sexual activity with drug use.  That association, coupled with my shame over everything I did in betraying my husband and other loved ones, has left me with no discernible sex drive since I stopped using drugs this time.  All my adolescent and adult life, I’ve had a higher libido than even the horniest guys I’d ever met.  So the current state of near-complete asexuality is extremely strange for me.  Likewise, as I clear our the e-mail and computer file remnants of all those crazy sexual behaviors, I’m amazed, disgusted, fascinated, and repelled by everything I wrote and did.  I remember those events almost remotely, like watching a documentary about someone else, yet I remember being in those situations physically as well.  I no longer know who the person was who did those things, nor do I know who I am now, either.

Anyway, I no longer have the slightest desire to fuck strangers or to fuck for money, so I can say ‘good riddance’ to my former porn-star dreams.