Where I’m At

This post is a year later than I anticipated, and several years later than most people wanted. A lot has happened in the years since I last posted under this name. A lot has changed in the world and a lot has changed for me personally. But many of the fundamentals have remained the same. I am still in Los Angeles. And I am still not only committed to, but actively involved in sex work organizing.

Before anything else I need to give credit to the fucking amazing team of people who have made this possible. From the bottom of my heart, I cannot thank you enough. You, my friends, my team, my comrades, my loves… this is also about the power of your collective strength, determination, generosity, and of course, sheer stubbornness.

So here are two projects that I am proud as fuck to be a part of:

Hookers Army – Los Angeles (HALA) – we have a weekly self-defense collective for sex workers! We take time for peer support and learn / share / train self-defense tactics! For more information email: hookersarmyla@gmail.com

Sex, Please! Radio – KPFK Safe HarborWeekly live call-in show about sex, gender, and sexual politics led by a team of queers, sex workers, and sex educators.

Wednesdays Midnight (12:00am) – 90.7FM Los Angeles, 98.7FM Santa Barbara, 93.7FM N. San Diego, 99.5FM Ridgecrest - Worldwide streaming – KPFK.org or TuneIn Radio App. Call in live! 818-985-5735 (KPFK)

Follow us on Twitter: @SexPleaseRadio or email us sexpleaseradio@gmail.com

Missed a show? Listen to our podcast! Available on iTunesStitcher, and Soundcloud!

Looking for my writing? I’m already flattered! At the moment there isn’t a place where my writing is centralized. I haven’t been publishing very much in any case, though it’s probable that will change soon. Ya’ll know I just can’t help myself. But I’m pretty pleased with my current work and am not actively looking for extra gigs right now…. though if you have leads or requests – I’m always open! I like hearing what other people are up to and trying to connect people to others or resources that might help if I’m not able to do so myself. 

I won’t be updating this blog again. Jessie Nicole as a persona just doesn’t exist anymore. But I’m not deleting anything either. It would feel like bad karma after all the hours and wisdom I’ve collected from old blogs of other sex workers / activists / heroes. But look to the information above for updates or below the cut for more info on where to find me around the internet.

Finally – I’m sorry. I owe more people than I even know an apology for disappearing. I’m sorry to the friends I worried. I’m sorry to the comrades I let down. I’m sorry for the work I left unfinished. I’m sorry to the people who were looking to me for help or support and couldn’t find me. I made mistakes. I was wrong. And I apologize for that with everything I have.

I needed that time to get my shit together. I needed that time to heal and grow and learn and take care of things. There were crises to be handled and pets to be cuddled and work to be done. But I should have gone about it differently. And I am sorry for the hurt, confusion, concern, and anger that I caused. That whole “running away and disappearing” thing is something I’m still trying to wrestle with in myself.

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Sex Work Activist Burn Out / Sex Work Community Love

I’ve taken giant steps backwards from activism and activist communities in the past year. There have been a lot of factors, some of which have been deeply personal and some of which have been struggles with activist institutions and communities themselves. However, despite my ambivalence about “formal” organizing and activism, one thing that has not wavered has been my dedication to sex work communities. While I’ve been pulling back from sex work activism, I’ve been much happier and successful as a sex worker and forming stronger bonds with other sex workers. Go figure.

Being the director of SWOP-LA wasn’t good for me. It was never a position I particularly wanted, nor a structure I was completely comfortable with. I didn’t want to speak “for” sex workers. I didn’t want a “leadership position.” And I didn’t want to do the enormous amount of bureaucratic work that went with the position. I think I’m ok at it, but I don’t think it plays to my best strengths. I was overwhelmed by the responsibility I felt, and then resentful because I felt like I didn’t have a choice.

At the same time, I kind of got off on the recognition. It felt good to have business cards that had a real position on them. I liked the awe and respect people showed when I described what I did. And I took real pride in both mine and SWOP’s accomplishments. I don’t think that any of those are necessarily bad things. But it distracted from some of the toll the forms my activist efforts were taking on me.

Writing, presenting, conferences, email lists, conference calls, and fundraisers were never what I wanted my top activist priorities to be. Building strong communities of sex workers was, and is. Again, it’s not that any of those are bad or unproductive things. They just took time from other goals. One of the things I’m most proud of helping to organize as a sex work activist didn’t happen through any official organizations. It happened because sex workers and allies could be connected through a network of mutual friends and acquaintances. Maybe it’s weak or depoliticized activism, but that’s what I want to focus on.

In that spirit – the next Sex Worker Social is much more informal. So informal, in fact, that it’s also a birthday party for Vanessa and not limited to current or former sex workers exclusively. We’ve built some pretty kick ass friendships and camaraderie in LA, and we’re going to keep strengthening that.

More to come soon.

Politics Are Messy

I had my purse stolen at gunpoint this weekend. After five years of living in major cities it’s the first time I’ve ever been mugged. And it’s been a mindfuck all around, but especially as I try to reconcile my politics with my emotions.

The area I was in is a predominantly black and predominantly poor neighborhood. The man who threatened me with a gun was a young black man.

As a result, I have privileged guilt flaring up all over the goddamn place. Guilt that I live in a more affluent neighborhood. Guilt that I don’t spend more time organizing around race and class. Guilt that the reason we looked like such easy marks is because we were – because we obviously had markings of wealth that stood out in that area.

It’s not an area I’m going to be comfortable returning to. And I feel awful about that. Part of me knows that avoiding the corner where you were last threatened with a gun is perfectly reasonable. Part of me is shouting at myself for being racist and classist for avoiding the surrounding area. And part of me even feels guilty that it’s likely most people who are mugged in that neighborhood CAN’T avoid it – because they fucking live there. And that just makes me angrier.

I’m angry at the whole fucking system that creates violent neighborhoods. Violence and poverty are inextricably linked, and the institutional responses to that relationship have traditionally been MORE violence instead of LESS poverty. It’s an evil cycle.

It’s a cycle I wish that I weren’t a part of, but I am. My phone’s GPS contributed to increased police presence on a particular street. Just as the Diet Coke I drink contributes to the deaths of union organizers. We are all complicit in oppression.

But I am still deeply troubled by it. There’s nothing like being a privileged crime victim to make your head spin with intersectionality.

When I was giving my phone’s location to the police, my partner asked me if I would be ok if they asked me to ID the guy. My first reaction was “hell yeah!” I’m fairly confident I would recognize his face and his voice, and am weirdly kind of proud of that. But then I was reminded of the severity of penalties for crimes committed with a gun. And I thought about the Three Strikes Law. And my conscience was stumped.

I’m socialized to believe in the justice system, even with my fairly radical academic parents. I still have ingrained worries that if I wouldn’t do my part this dude would hurt someone with that gun and it would be my fault.

Not to mention I’m fucking pissed. There’s a part of me that WANTS this guy to suffer. There’s a part of me that is absolutely not fucking ready to forgive him no matter what pitiable mitigating circumstances he could possibly offer. This guy made someone I deeply love afraid for her safety, ruined her vacation, and cost her money she can’t afford to lose. I am NOT ok with that!

But I also don’t believe in victims being in charge of punishments. And if I had faith in our justice system, I probably wouldn’t be so quick to lay that responsibility on myself. But I don’t.

I feel like helping deliver a young black man to the prison industrial complex isn’t something I could comfortably live with. My trust in my memory doesn’t overcome everything I know about the unreliability of eyewitnesses. Nor does my anger supersede the long history of criminalizing black men. And it’s impossible to take this case out of that context.

So I honestly don’t know what I would do if I were called and asked to ID a suspect in this case. I’m hoping that I don’t have to find out.

I do know that I wouldn’t testify. I couldn’t handle it. I’m not a respectable victim, even as a white girl in Crenshaw. I couldn’t stand in court talking about going to a dungeon party full of sex workers. I couldn’t stand listening to someone make a case to dismiss my credibility, and it’d be an easy fucking target. And I am angry as fuck that I’ve even thought that far into the hypothetical future. And furious that it’s a factor in my thought process.

I’ve already been through the victim blaming process on this. Twice. I don’t need to encounter it again.

The politics of trauma are inescapable. And there’s no good way to engage with them when you’re in the middle of it. Nor is there an easy way to work through it.

The past three days have been something of a blur for me. It’s been hard to distinguish this larger anger from small frustrations. But it helps that I’m not alone. I feel like I’ve been bouncing between close friends who have been holding me together while my brain is flying in a million different directions.

Honestly, if anyone wants to help me feel really damn good about the world help Sydney out. It’s really not her fault she was on that street in the first place. Seeing the support to her only amplifies my optimism. Both of our communities have been coming together in support and solidarity in ways that keep me from totally losing it.

And that’s something to be positive about, politically and personally.

I have faith in the power of communities and solidarity above all else. If nothing else comes out of this fucking mess – at least that faith has been proven well placed once again.

Writing Elsewhere

Here are a few of my favorite pieces I’ve had recently elsewhere on the internet in case you missed them!

The Worst New Years ResolutionsTits And Sass – Responding to the split between the Village Voice and Backpage.com in December as well as the Senate resolution asking Backpage to eliminate their adult advertising section. Favorite quote of mine – re: Will Bourne’s article in the Village Voice announcing their split with Backpage

This article is a cowardly, misinformed, self-righteous, and poorly articulated jumble of ideas that will ultimately prove ineffective. Bourne illustrates his complete lack of understanding of either the sex industries or the “human trafficking” he claims to be addressing. Co-opting the title of a seminal feminist text about health and sexuality was only the beginning of bad decisions in this piece.

Commentary On The Commentary: Sex Work and the Disabled ClientxoJane – Responding to the media surrounding Madam Becky Adams and her organization Para Doxies, a service connecting disabled clients to sex workers. Focuses more on addressing the media and our assumptions about disabled people, sexuality, and sex work. Here’s what sums up my feelings in brevity, and most of my feelings around major media around sex work in general:

But I’m still troubled by much of the coverage of the project. While it seems to be “less bad” than most media on sex work, and I’m stoked to see “sex work” as a term being used on the regular, it’s still not great.

Sex Trafficking and the Super Bowl: Penalties of a Media BlitzRole Reboot – This was published over a year ago, but is relevant giving the upcoming big game in a little over a week. Dismantling the myth that there is any correlation between “sex trafficking” and major athletic events.

I do feel compelled to point out that I did not choose the image connected however. I’ve already expressed my frustration with random shoes and legs being used to illustrate the sex industries. That was on the editors.

Some Problems I Have with Melissa Farley

One of the interesting aspects of publishing or presenting outside of my sex work community and politically radical bubble is hearing reactions from a wider range of perspectives. However, I’ve noticed a pattern of commenters or audiences citing Melissa Farley, or quoting “facts” produced from her research without knowledge of the source, to support their arguments. This makes it hard for me to carry on the conversation, as her research is so deeply flawed. I want to address her work in a general way here to offer a more comprehensive response than I can within the scope of a larger conversation. While I fundamentally disagree with Farley’s ideology, I am concentrating here on her practices as a researcher and academic. I feel that arguments against her principles are also important, but here I want to present why she is flawed as a credible source of information.

Why I Won’t See Zero Dark Thirty

Jessica Chastain in profile against an American flag

Mmmm Patriotism

I usually have a policy against joining critical conversations about things I’m not familiar with. I generally believe in watching, reading, or listening to whatever it is I’m commenting on. I also generally make an effort to engage with material that’s getting a lot of attention in critical or popular culture.

But I flatly refuse to see Zero Dark Thirty.

My adamant refusal is an act of self care. I’m trying to limit my engagement with material I that I know in advance is going to make me upset. I feel strongly about torture, and know that I am particularly sensitive to cinematic representations of it. I think the damage Zero Dark Thirty is going to do to my mood and outlook is going to outweigh whatever benefits I would get from seeing it (more knowledgeable position on the movie, aesthetic appreciation, ect.). Given that, I understand my role in any conversations is automatically limited. But I still feel compelled to explain what upsets me in greater detail.

I believe that torture, especially state sponsored torture, is wrong. I don’t see room for negotiation on that point.

On New Years I made some snarky, and admittedly uninformed, comment about Zero Dark Thirty as “torture apologism” and a friend of mine who had recently seen it told me that it wasn’t apologism, torture was simply there in the story. But that’s not enough for me. I feel that any statement regarding torture that doesn’t include “it’s wrong” is sorely lacking. The refusal to take a position at all makes a statement in itself. It states that this is an issue that is open to interpretation. I firmly disagree.

I’ve done some reading since that conversation took place. And what I’ve read about the movie has only strengthened by resolve not to see it.

Bigelow and Boal have emphasized that their film is fiction, and not meant to be a documentary. But at the same time they blend the lines between fiction and history with real news clips and a title card stating that what they present is “based on first hand accounts.” This is not a film, if one can exist, that can be taken out of historical and political context. Avoiding direct engagement with those contexts undermines any claims to realism or truth Zero Dark Thirty tries to make about the events it portrays.

One element I find particularly disturbing is that at no point in the movie is the use of torture questioned. Apparently the only scene that comes close is a clip of Obama condemning the use of torture playing in the background while Jessica Chastain shakes her head. Besides being historically inaccurate, as the debate about torture was raging within the US government and American public, this exclusion means that torture is an intrinsically accepted practice within the world of the film. To me, this suggests that the film itself, regardless of intentions, makes an argument for the acceptance of torture through it’s exclusion of alternatives or even interrogation of its use.

In this context, concerns about torture are then reduced to its efficacy. Critics have pointed out that the film implies a connection between the use of torture and capture of Osama bin Laden, as well as challenged the veracity of that claim. Another major exclusion is the disproportionate amount of false information learned from torture. That exclusion makes the argument that torture can be an effective tool, and therefore useful to the government. But honestly, I don’t give a damn whether torture is effective or not. Even if it led to reliable information (which it doesn’t) my feelings would stay the same.

Sitting through a film sympathetic to, and largely informed by, the CIA would make me uncomfortable in just about any situation. But graphic torture with the responsibility of interpretation left to the viewer is more than I can handle. I don’t trust viewers, and I don’t think the government’s use of torture should be debatable.

There’s a part of me that wants to see Zero Dark Thirty. It’s the same part of me that led me to read Stieg Larson’s trilogy. It’s the part of me that values curiosity over emotional health. But in this case I’m going to resist the impulse.

EDITED TO ADD:
Just as I was in the middle of posting this I was pointed to Kathryn Bigelow’s response on the LA times to the controversy regarding torture in her film. She defends her decisions claiming that “confusing depiction with endorsement is the first step toward chilling any American artist’s ability and right to shine a light on dark deeds, especially when those deeds are cloaked in layers of secrecy and government obfuscation.” I think she has completely missed the point. The arguments, or at least most that I’ve read, are not arguing that she should NOT have depicted torture, but rather that she depicted torture BADLY. This is an important distinction, and I think her defensesiveness about depicting torture at all is obfuscating the issue and is unfairly dismissive of criticism of her movie.

Non-linear thoughts and progress

I wrote this in the middle of the night after kind of a rough day. Fair warning for rambles, rants, and cursing.

There is no major progress that happens in a straight line[1]. I suppose if we really consider histories nothing really does. And I suppose the very language of “progress” assumes a sort of linearity and end destination. But it’s what I have right now. I’m thinking about non-linear processes both in larger senses of social movements and my own personal history. Timelines are often too reductive and erase the complexities in which we live them.

For social justice – this means having serious conversations about compromise. We can’t avoid it. I think that if we as activists accept that it’s a reality we’ll be much more conscious of how, when, and what we already compromise in our work. And we can find ways to do so without harming or devaluing other communities or issues. At some point in our lives and work, we have to accept that we can’t work on everything at once. Not everything can be everyone’s highest priority. That can be painful to grapple with, or certainly has been for me. But trying to impose centralized goals or value systems doesn’t leave much room for coalitional work or solidarity with other communities that we might not fully agree with.

Social justice isn’t going to happen off of one giant collective to-do list. We don’t have a diagram for achieving all of our goals. Because there will never be a point where everyone in the movements we align ourselves with agrees on what the goals should be, let alone what the steps are. And that’s ok. I firmly believe in decentralized movements with a multiplicity of tactics, goals, and beliefs. But that dedication to non-linear and non-hierarchal organizing includes a lot of discomfort and a lot of uncertainty. It’s fucking hard.

For me personally, accepting non-linear progress in my life has mostly centered around examining my recovery from this latest depressive episode and continual management of my mental health. I knew from the beginning it was going to be perpetual work. I knew that there would be ups and downs, and that some days would be far harder than others. But it’s much harder to live than to understand theoretically. Bad days can feel like failures. And a bad couple of days can feel like an unstoppable regression. But it’s all part of the fucking process of living and living with mental and emotional struggles[2]. Did I mention it’s fucking hard?

I know all of this rationally. But it’s a struggle for me to accept. I want to fit my life and our struggles into narratives. I want clear analysis and understanding to be enough. I want to have a map of where this is all going.

On good days I take comfort in the fact that we are open to wider possibilities than we would be if those constrictions were a reality. I can see opportunities for imagination and creativity for resistance and subversive actions. I feel good that my self-care by definition will be uniquely suited to my needs and desires. I am optimistic that while I’m working within the confines of a fucked up system and dysfunctional thought processes, I can do work to change those conditions a little bit for the better. And the future will bring new possibilities that are literally impossible to comprehend under our current structures of thought. Knowing that all my current planning and even thought processes will be totally irrelevant someday can fill me with hope and joy.

But some days it’s harder. Some days I don’t know how the fuck to even start addressing all the shit in the world. Some days social justice is a total bummer. We can’t even get through agendas at meetings. We’re working with little or no resources. And when we can’t even get along with each other (not airing personal shit – just happens to be true of every social movement like, ever). That’s not even starting on the internalized oppressions and harmful structures we recreate within our own movements.

And some days I can’t see how my life is going to change. I think about the prospect of being on medication for life and am overwhelmed. I look at my family history and see all the fucked up genes I would be passing on to my hypothetical children that I don’t even want. I get depressed about being depressed. And my only consolation is that I’m less depressed than I was. When I’m feeling cynical that isn’t much to hold on to.

None of this is new to my thinking either. Over one summer several years ago I thought I had figured out the secret to saving the world, but all I could remember was that it had something to do with circles.

I still don’t know what I meant by that.

So that’s where I’m at right now. I’m doing better than I was. I think movements for human rights / liberation / social justice / revolution have made things arguably better in a lot of situations than they were 50 years ago. I know that I’ve seen significant changes within my own lifetime. And I know that this will continue. I will have good days and bad days. Our movements will have ups and downs. We will all continue to succeed and fail in various cycles.

I just have to keep believing that while we’re collectively messy, we’re pushing in good directions.

1To be honest, I subscribe to the Doctor Who theory of non-linear time as well, though practically it doesn’t make much sense to apply to day-to-day situations.BACK

2I don’t even know the goddamn language for where my own experience fits. Mentally ill? Emotionally disordered? Neuroatypical? Crazybrained?BACK

PODCAST TITLE POLL

Hi everyone,

So as most of you know I’ve been experimenting with various forms of media and ways to amplify voices of sex workers. With Anonymous Heels I’m working with videos of sex workers talking about their experiences (a project I’m still dedicated to – just went on hiatus for a few months, but 2013 will see it grow further… I have lots of ideas!) Anyway I’m far less interested in engaging with existing media outlets to amplify sex workers voices and activist perspectives than I am finding ways to create our own. Both are incredibly important. This is more about my own comfort and interests than value judgments about either tactic.

And with that – I’m starting a podcast to talk about sex work and sex work policies, media, activism, ect. working with Tits & Sass. Siouxsie Q recently started This American Whore which is aimed at humanizing sex workers through sharing their personal narratives and voices. I love that project, and I hope that this can be complimentary and talk about issues that affect the sex industries, review popular media, and share projects we’re working on across the country. I’ve already started putting together some reviews and interviews, and am really excited about where this is going.

BUT – I need your help. I don’t have a title. And that’s kind of important. Here are my ideas so far, and if you have another suggestion please please please share it. I hate working on titles. It’s really not my strong point. So I’m begging you all for some input.

THANK YOU!!!

2012 Survey

I’ve been filling this same survey out every year since about 2004. Here was last year’s and here is this years.

1. What did you do in 2012 that you’d never done before? Was paid as a writer, visited the house my dad owns, came out to my mom, cooked bacon, spent time in NYC, met new highest ranked government official, visited Google campus, presented at an academic conference, tried some new pills (ambien saved my sanity early in the summer), went apple picking, and some other stuff

2. Did you keep your new years’ resolutions, and will you make more for next year? Closest thing I had from last year was “I think at least some groundwork has been laid for an improved day job. At least the conditions improved remarkably.” and in that case quite the opposite! New resolution this year: achieve modicum of economic stability.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth? Yup! A friend from grad school

4. Did anyone close to you die? Robyn Few

5. What countries did you visit? Stayed put in the USA. Again. :(

6. What would you like to have in 2013 that you lacked in 2012? A job that I don’t hate doing every day that compensates with money

7. What date from 2012 will remain etched upon your memory, and why? July 22- August 5 TravelPalooza which was International AIDS Conference where I reconnected with some amazing friends and activists and then straight into FetCon where I did the same. Crazy ass summer.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year? Dragging myself out of my depressive episode

9. What was your biggest failure? Falling into it in the first place

10. Did you suffer illness or injury? (See above) and yes! Strep throat and the flu right after the other in early fall.

11. What was the best thing you bought? Plane tickets to Philly

12. Whose behavior merited celebration? Kitty. She put up with my frantic text messages, showed the kind of personal bravery and honesty that continually inspires me, and lended her insight and compassion in some amazing ways.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed? Besides (literally) my own? Some of my activist colleagues. Struggles at national and international levels were heartbreakingly frustrating this year for me.

14. Where did most of your money go? Rent / travel / food

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about? Anonymous Heels

16. What song will always remind you of 2012? Somethin Bout A Truck – Kip Moore

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:

1. Happier or sadder? Sadder, but happier than I was earlier in this year
2. Thinner or fatter? About the same I think.
3. Richer or poorer? Poorer – and significantly more precarious

18. What do you wish you’d done more of? Dancing

19. What do you wish you’d done less of? Being depressed and angry

20. How will you be spending Christmas? I was with my dad and my partner in Oregon spending time together and it was lovely

[question 21 has always been missing]

22. Did you fall in love in 2011? More all the time :) (still true!)

24. What was your favorite TV program? DOWNTON ABBEY

25. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year? Yup. I’ve also met considerably more people over the past few years so proportionately I still don’t hate a lot proportionally.

26. What was the best book you read? Regency romances in general

27. What was your greatest musical discovery? Country music in general

28. What did you want and get? fucking published!

30. What was your favorite film of this year? Dear Reader Wizard People #HolidayTrad

31. What did you do on your birthday? I was just getting over a wicked case of the flu and met up with some friends and my partner at the HMS Bounty for drinks and hangs. Also my partner gave me my iPad which I’ve been basically glued to ever since.

32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying? Stronger meds earlier in the year probably

33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2012? I don’t wanna change my clothes or shower!!!

34. What kept you sane? Writing, friends, family, my partner

35. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most? Tay tay!

36. What political issue stirred you the most? Sex workers rights – pretty much a shoo in

37. Who did you miss? My partner. We spent most of the summer apart and it was brutal

38. Who was the best new person you met? Oh god, so many good people! So many new friends and allies and activists and colleagues.

39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2012: Self care needs to be a changable and continuous practice with regular reevaluation.

40. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:

“Just close your eyes,
The sun is going down.
You’ll be alright.
No one can hurt you now.
Come morning light,
You and I’ll be safe and sound.”

Safe and Sound – Taylor Swift