‘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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My Prostitution Past

I haven’t really talked much about it, mainly because right now it’s all tangled up with many memories that bring a lot of conflicted feelings to the forefront right now.  I think about it several times a day lately, though, always with a sense of regret and not a little bit of sorrow.  I had a constructive conversation last night about that part of my past, quite a few reminders of how things went down at that time.  Here’s some of how (and why) it happened:

When I started smoking crack, after a few years of snorting cocaine, I quickly discovered that my methods up until that point of obtaining my highs would not suffice to satisfy my new level of craving.  Crack burns through money a lot faster — smoking cocaine creates a much higher level of euphoria, mostly because it delivers a greater amount of the drug into the bloodstream much more quickly.  Unfortunately, it also leaves the system more quickly as well.

When cocaine is snorted, it leaves a layer of powder over every surface of the sinuses, which then proceeds to seep into the bloodstream slowly, and continues to transfer as moisture from the sinuses slowly seeps into the dry powder layer (and any subsequent layers that are piled onto the first by continued snorting).  The drug-into-bloodstream-into-brain transfer continues taking place for an hour or more after one stops snorting coke.

When coke is smoked (freebased, either with ether or in rock form), almost all of the drug enters the bloodstream all at once, hitting the brain pretty damn near instantaneously.  It is processed out of the brain very quickly also, so the euphoria lasts anywhere from about 3 to 15 minutes (at the most, for most users).  The stimulation (awakeness) lasts somewhat longer, maybe 30 minutes or so, but once the euphoria wears off, cravings and irritability are pretty universal.  For me, after a couple of years of smoking crack, I stopped getting euphoria almost entirely, my “high” consisted only of just more cravings, followed by misery.  But I get ahead of myself, and have digressed for too long.

When I got tricked into smoking crack for the first time (I didn’t want to ever try it, I knew it would get a lot worse if I did, but I underestimated the power of a crack fiend’s desire to get me hooked so he can mooch drugs and sex from me) I quickly switched from sleeping with my dealers for drugs to walking the street to get money to feed my habit.  Back then, it seemed like “an adventure.”  I knew a few prostitutes, I had helped watch for police for them in exchange for information about how they identified customers, how they identified and avoided the “vice” and “jump-out boys” (police rolling down the Blade, four or more of them in each single large tint-windowed SUV, waiting for a vice officer to confirm having positively identified a target — a prostitute, pimp, dealer, or someone with an outstanding warrant or who was banned by the courts from the area for previous prostitution or drug activity — or, after seeing such activity taking place as they go by, they roll up to the target(s), quickly stop and all jump out to arrest everyone involved), how to keep from getting jacked (mugged), how to keep from getting killed/raped, how to negotiate the terms with the john, how much to charge for which activities, and so on.

After about six months of this, getting tired of subsisting on the money I got from “flying a sign” and “spanging” (panhandling by holding a sign next to a busy corner where cars had to stop or by begging people for money, like people going into a corner store or at a gas station), I hooked up with a guy who had had a prostitute as his last girlfriend.  It was the first time I was able to come by information on how prostitutes could work without a pimp.  He offered to help me by watching out for me as my “driver” (a very different dynamic than the pimp-ho situation I had studied before, which is what had turned me off about actually working the streets myself before then — the driver-prostitute dynamic was one where the prostitute shares a percentage or a set fee with the driver for each job she takes instead of giving all the money to a pimp and then begging the pimp to provide for her basic needs) with no fee required, only an agreement that after I did a job we would go back to our motel room and talk about it while we fucked.  That day I turned my first trick, and made a hundred bucks (which is not really all that typical for girls that work the street instead of Internet or local paper ads).  The sex was hot, but the date ended badly (for me).  But that’s a story for another day.

I had figured out how to work the Blade as a “renegade,” (also called an “outlaw” — as opposed to “in-law” – hos of the same pimp call each other “sister-in-law” and the group of them together “in-laws”).  The others on the street I came to know almost universally resented/hated me (unless I was buying from them, selling to them, sharing the cost of a room, or getting them high so I could stay in their room while we used) because I wasn’t “in pocket” for a pimp.  I didn’t meet any other prostitutes who worked alone for more than the hour or two it took to hop from one pimp to another.  That happened a lot for most girls out there.

I still live near the track I worked most often, it’s not far from the house I own with my husband.  I frequently have to drive down it to get somewhere, as it is one of the three main thoroughfares through the north end of the city.  Almost every time I do, I pass by at least a few people I know, people I used with, bought drugs from, sold stolen goods to, got cheated out of money by, or other prostitutes I knew from walking past each other or sharing a mirror to put makeup on in fast food restaurants or from turning tricks with on “doubles.”  Many of them look progressively more run down every time I see them.  A few of them always look about the same, mostly the ones who are able to maintain a pretty consistent standard of living (through mostly working off Internet ads and only rarely turning car dates when things get dry).  But none of them ever look better.

The street never brings people up, it only brings everyone down eventually.  I don’t ever see people I ran with coming into recovery rooms, at least not yet.  I wish I would, it would strengthen my hope and tenuous faith that I’m not fighting a losing battle.  Well, my faith isn’t so tenuous.  I know several other women (and some men) in the rooms that also spent time doing “corner work” like myself — just that they have been around a lot longer, so the street doesn’t show on their faces anymore, like it’s starting to leave mine.

I hope someday that street and the guilt I feel over my steps along its sidewalks will leave my heart, just enough to hold my head high again in my own neighborhood.  I’ll be glad when hubby and I can sell the house to buy in a suburb where street life isn’t so prevalent.  All I can do, though, is live for (and through) today… and know that (overall) things will only get better.

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.