Wednesday, 4 November 2015

What being at #Junket was like from someone who didn’t at all fit in.

Christian Vega

It was weird being invited to #Junket.  I don’t know how they got my contact details but an invitation turned up in my inbox one day

WTF?!  Hm. OK. Someone’s obviously been punk’d… or they’re about to be.  When one has experienced the lifetime of stigma and prejudice that I had, an intense apprehension accompanies any social situation that does not explicitly state that your community or allies will be present. 

My thought process eventually concluded with, “y’know just go, it’s not like I’ve got much in your diary these days*?” and this would be the thought I would keep coming back to in order to convince myself to go.  (* I’ll eventually get to this)

So in the lead up to the (un)conference, delegates were invited to sign up to the event’s app, allowing one to check out who else was going.  This didn’t make it any easier- there was CEO of this and founder of that; the twitter elite and the tumbler famous; next-level hipsters and celebrated youf leaders - everyone was intimidatingly impressive- and though I had worked hard to make achievements in my own little corner- I felt this wasn’t comparable to what others had done with their careers.  Also, at this moment, I am unemployed, technically homeless, completely robbed of my professional confidence* and I’m not really one who naturally enjoys mingling and meeting new people- what could I possibly contribute to this self-declared “junket”? 

Welcome Donuts
After driving down from Sydney, I checked in to the ridiculously lush QT Canberra.  There was lots of fanfare out to welcome delegates who had gathered around the hotel lounge. I made a bee-line for reception so I could quickly get to my room and hide in my self-doubt and anxiety until just before the welcome session. 

5:30pm finally rolls around and after a quick shower and shoving the hotel “welcome donuts” into my face to settle my nerves, I made my way to the hotel’s conference space and found no one I knew (or maybe just one person I hardly knew) and sat down. 

“This is a safe space for optimism; this is a safe space for altruism,” Jess Scully, the “curator” (ie: the person who headed up the delegate selection process) announces. OK. Keep an open mind, you cynical arsehole. “Go to this fun thing and that- there’ll be free drinks!” Hm. Not that effective for someone who doesn’t drink and with already massive reservations. What am I doing here?!

“Now all of you who are hosting a session get up and you have 60 seconds to pitch your idea to the audience.” My heart rate shoots through the roof.  You see, in the week before the conference Jess had encouraged (pressured maybe?) me to identify some a topic I might want to discuss.  Again, being so full of self-doubt and super time poor* I kind of ummed and ahhed and bashed out a rough idea on my keyboard and emailed it through.  I didn’t think I had refined it enough to actually lead a discussion with a bunch of young go-getters who I didn’t know let alone throw it into a pitching session, a competitive corporate process that isn’t really part of the way I work.   

A line for the microphone had formed.  I deliberately placed myself behind about 60 other delegates- giving myself about an hour to observe others pitch and start to put together something I could present.  Again, this didn’t make it easier; everyone was super articulate, racing against a 60 second countdown, the professional development and training that formed the public speaking skills being exercised was obvious. But then some of the ideas people were pitching were ones that embodied a politic I could identify with- encouraging more young people to vote, dismantling white supremacy, preserving indigenous culture in a digital age, challenging sexism in video games, normalising differently abled people, making representations of sex in the media less weird. Every pitch was met with applause and encouragement. Hm, while I’m out of my comfort zone, at least there’s stuff I can talk about. Then came a pitch that surprisingly that was surprisingly reassuring.

“… how do we value introverted leadership as much as extroverted leadership?” Again, massive applause.  Encouragement. This was a moment that I thought, alright, so you’re a bit different, that’s fine. These peeps seem cool, it’ll be ok… oh wait… Argh, What the hell was I going to say?!

With about 5 delegates in front of me my mind retreated to its zen-like survival state.  “Just do what you always do,” I told myself.  So I did…

“Hi. My name is Christian and while I don’t have a lot of time to introduce myself I’ll say 2 things: I’m someone with a history of being an actual junkie and a whore and while those words may be slurs to you- ones that you probz shouldn’t use- to me they, are my job, my life, and my community.”

Everyone became silent. Just keep going and no one’ll hear the crickets…

“So people like me spend a lot of time fighting for acceptance, to be recognised as a legitimate part of the broader community. But the prejudice, stigma and discrimination we are tired of dealing with is not experienced by us alone. Laws are a way of saying who is in and who is out in this country. So rather than constantly arguing for recognition- because I think we actually shouldn’t have to- I want to turn this conversation around and ask instead, in Australia, what is a crime?”

 Applause.  Encouragement.  Just like any other pitch.  Phew. 

Following the pitching session was dinner and as I made my way to the eating space out of nowhere some random walks up to me, shakes my hand and says, “hey I really respected what you did up there and I’d like to talk to you more.” When acceptance so earnestly expressed one takes a moment to scan for insincerity… nope… whoa!

In fact that was a recurring instance.  People were genuinely curious to hear from someone of my experience- but more than that, people were interested in building solidarity- either by self-identifying their own drug use or sex work, or some other personal link to it. I made lots of connections, planned future collaborations, and met a few new friends out of the experience. Even the issue of the exclusion created by alcohol (at one stage the hashtag morphed from #Junket to #Drunket) was discussed.  It’s weird, all of this kum-ba-yah positivity was not something with which I was used to being comfortable but it made me realise something- I had been punk’d. 

*For the past eight months I’ve been involved in a fairly intense bullying situation. I don’t really want to go into the details of it (it involved me losing my job and moving interstate as recently as a week before Junket) but I’ll say when one is the victim in that situation it becomes second nature to retreat, to hide, to shut down.  I hadn’t engaged with social media in any significant way during that time and my once on-the-verge-of-burnout portfolio of community activity had now faded to near obscurity.  It made me scared. I had been tricked into seeing everything through the lens of doubt and cynicism. And it was fucked.

As well as learning heaps, being inspired, and having way too much fun, Junket made me face these fears and reconnect to a world I had hidden away from. I needed that pressure- no, encouragement- I needed the opportunity to step out of the cage that had been built around me. Of course the process wasn’t perfect (what process ever is first time around?) and “the brightest minds” are aware enough to know that Junkee and corporate sponsors were gaining from our participation, but ultimately it’s indisputable that the organisers had made good on the (urban) dictionary definition of what a Junket was going to be: “An… event for which an individual personally pays little to nothing, but reaps extreme benefits.”

For me, what I gained was summed up by a delegate during the feedback session: “it’s OK to be uncomfortable.”

I’m back, cunts.   
#Junket Last Day 6AM Alone contemplating an amazing 2 days of listening, learning, sharing, and being welcomed and inspired.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Eamonn Duff convinces his readers that raping sex workers is a “dream job”

It’s come to light that a man has claimed to have raped sixty sex workers.  Instead of condemnation, here are some quotes written by Eamonn Duff and published in the Sydney Morning Herald over the weekend:

"Never in a million years would I have imagined ... doing it," the 60-year-old said, with a hint of a smirk.

“I enjoyed myself.”

While Mr Allen said he enjoys the thrill of [raping sex workers]...

To date, he has only shared his secret with one other person: "I told one of my mates ... he was a bit incredulous and a bit envious, too."

[about his sons finding out about what he did] “... I hope they have a good chuckle”

It’s a pretty horrendous way to describe sexual assault. 

Let’s be clear: What these operatives are doing is rape.  From the government’s Australian Institute of Family Studies, “If the accused knew the other person consented to sexual intercourse only because ...  they held a mistaken belief about the nature of the act that was brought about by the accused's fraud, then the law treats the accused as knowing the victim-complainant was not consenting.” Sex without consent is rape.  The nature of these sexual interactions is to gather evidence; the sex workers obviously haven’t consented to that.  Therefore, what these operatives are being paid to do by councils with ratepayers’ money is rape sex workers. 

In neither of the stories that appeared in the SydneyMorning Herald over the weekend was there any mention that what was happening was sexual assault.  Eamon Duff clearly doesn’t have much respect for sex workers- fine, whatever, he’s entitled to his opinion.  But it’s absolutely disgusting that he would use his position at the Sydney Morning Herald to persuade readers that raping sex workers is not only acceptable, it’s something to be admired. 

Looking at the paper’s Facebook page, comments from readers included: “Hahaha Frikken legend! What a sweet gig.”, “Good for you Fred - go gettem tiger”, “half his luck”, “Dream Job”, “Hahaha well done FRED. ENJOY IT ALL”, “Livin the dream”, “Lucky prick.” Let’s be clear, these people are talking about rape.

Imagine what this does to sex workers.  A person rapes a number of people like you, they were paid to do so by local government, a journalist practically high-fives the person who did it and the public responds by calling him a “frikken legend”.  It just made me sick.

How this can be considered ethical, professional journalism is absolutely incomprehensible.  We are pretty used to mistreatment by the media (who can’t even use the correct words to describe us) but what Duff and the Sydney Morning Herald did this weekend is just appalling. Sex workers deserve more respect than this.  

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Stop Tolerating Sexual Assault- Decriminalise Sex Work Now

Tom Meagher: 'The justice system failed Jill'

Adrian Bayley was previously convicted of 16 charges of sexual assault against 5 victims.  He served less than half the maximum sentence for one when he was on parole- and free to attack Jill Meagher. 

"It sends a disturbing message.  What it says to women is if we don't like what you do, you won't get justice. And what it says to people like Bayley is not 'don't rape', but 'be careful who you rape'."

There’s no denying that I, along with many of my fellow sex workers, were very moved by this sentiment.  This is the first time I’ve heard a member of the public articulate the impact of the prejudice that we suffer on their lives.  And for his respect and his compassion during what obviously has been a very distressing time, I say thank you.   

It’s clear.  The more we de-legitimise sex work and exclude sex workers, the more we accept sexual assault, misogyny and degradation as a part of our community. 

The light sentence Bayley received is merely the tip of massive iceberg of whorephobia entrenched in the practice of policy and underpinned by moralistic community attitudes. 

5 victims of sexual assault.  How did you think it was for these sex workers? Do you think the immediate thought that these people had after being violated was, 'I must go to the police'?  These are workers who avoid the authorities on a daily basis- if the role of the police is to prosecute them- routinely initiating operations that threaten their freedom and livelihood, how can police effectively protect sex workers?

Dig a bit deeper; these were 5 people that came forward.  How many more would there be out there that didn’t? We know that sexual assault is underreported in the general community- it's horrific to think of the number of people- including sex workers- that were possibly targeted by people like Bayley.

Turn towards the justice system- we know in our community that the Victims of Crime Compensation sex workers receive is significantly reduced if we continue to work.  This is reduced even further if the victim has been previously convicted of a violent crime. A victim of crime is a victim of crime- it shouldn't matter what their job is or what's in their history. 

We should be furious. Meagher probably doesn't know how true his words are, " What it says to women is if we don't like what you do, you won't get justice. "

Street based sex workers are human beings- they deserve the rights and protections that we all enjoy.  It will not help them if we continue to perceive them as victims or desperate.  If we infantilise them and undermine the perception  of their agency- we perpetuate the idea that what they are different to the broader community.  If we exclude and marginalise them then what we are doing is serving them up to perpetrators of violent crime. 

What’s sickening is the reaction from sex work abolitionists. 

Kathleen Malthzahn was quick to jump on Meagher’s words to push her own agenda. 

In her article appearing in the Guardian, Maltzahn calls for “adequately resource specialist organisations that support women subjected to violence in the sex industry,” a poorly veiled appeal for money for the organisation she founded, Project Respect.  (Or as it has become known as amongst the sex work community, Project DisRespect)

Until recently, the organisation had among its aims, “the  promotion of policies and practices that reduce the conditions which cause the sex industry to thrive.” Perhaps this was changed after it was embarrassingly pointed out to executive director KellyHinton while on air on ABC radio (skip to 26:39) that this runs contrary to their other aim of “supporting and sustaining the wellbeing of women in the industry.” 

What’s clear from its history, its founder, its persistent masquerading as an authority with the prerogative of speaking on behalf of sex workers is that Project Respect is anti- sex work.  They don’t believe in the legitimacy of our work- they just want to rescue the poor sex workers. 

Sex workers don’t need another hero.  

If we experience violence in our workplace there are already mechanisms in place that should appropriately respond to such cases. And if there’s any justice in the world it’s the same service that you would call if you experienced violence in your own workplace- to say we should be treated differently just furthers discrimination against us. 

If we are interested in protecting sex workers in illegal settings from the experience of violence then the first step is the decriminalisation of all sex work.  As we’ve seen in New Zealand, sex workers feel more enabled to access legal recourse in instances of violence.

We don’t need to fund another rescue organisation.  Abolitionsinsts are forever on a crusade to reduce the needs of sex workers to responding to "violence against women." Well guess what?- We're not just women. While violence may be a challenge faced by some sex workers, there is a plethora of other stuff that we struggle with.  If you want to dedicate resources to improving the lives and  working conditions of sex workers then fund sex worker organisation. 

In 1987, Melbourne was the first place in the world to see an organisation of sex workers receive government funding. Through mergers and acquisitions in the community sector, the Prostitutes Collective of Victoria was replaced with a service that was no longer made up of sex workers. It has been more than 10 years since a funded peer based organisation has existed in our state. Maybe it's unsurprising that I was probably the only person who paid tribute to the hard work of sex workers who had come before me.

It’s not like sex workers are incapable of speaking- how about you as a community be more capable of listening?

Sex workers are just like you, regardless of the way we work.  Look around you.  I can guarantee there are sex workers in your life. And if you think that you'll never hear from someone who was a drug dependant street based sex worker- you just finished read reading an article written by him.   

Sunday, 28 April 2013

A Comment Mamamia Wouldn't Publish

So in the last week somewhat of a blog war broke out between Brooke Magnanti and Mia Freedman after they both appeared on ABC's Q&A on Monday the 8th of April.

Magnanti asked, "Should Mia Freedman Apologise...?" and Freedman had posted "No, I won't..."  and supporters and detractors have aired their opinions across the internet.  When I attempted to post the comment below on Freedman's site it disappeared. An editor's note appeared later claiming that "Any comments overly personal in nature towards Mia Freedman or Brooke Magnanti will be deleted." People who know me, know that I don't take to being silenced submissively, so I'm publishing it here.  Is this too personal? I'll let you be the judge.

I'm not going to ask Mia Freedman to apologise. 
Instead, I am going to share a story because I was in the similar situation to her- except rather than being the parent (I don't have any children) I was the one who heard my mother say something like what she broadcast over national television. 
When I was little- perhaps I was around the same age as her child, seven- I overheard my mother say something like, "I wouldn't want my son to be gay." Which was fine at the time, I was really young, my sexuality hadn't dawned on me. I could just put it down as an attitude my mother had just like many others that had no bearing on me at the time.  
But then I grew up and things changed.  I realised I was queer. And one of the most devastating things for me was the sudden realisation that I would possibly no longer have the support of my mother. I questioned whether she would be there for me if I needed help or if she would ever understand what I was going through as a teenager. These are sad burdens to carry as a 14 year old.  
The weight was much more than that.  I realised that the lack of acceptance I could expect from my mother was the tip of a very big iceberg of rejection that existed in the world.  The ideal of "unconditional love" had been forever shattered for me.  My identity as a young person- a queer person- became confusing and my life, chaotic.  Some people use the word that Mia does in her article, "appalling".  
This is the experience of sex workers everyday.  People wonder why many of us hide- it's the judgments Mia made- judgements she gives other mothers and people permission to make (and if you'd like to read this judgement one doesn't have to look beyond the comments some of her readers have made on her post)- that keep many of us silent. It is this silence that isolates family members from each other is the same silence that prevents sex workers seeking recourse if they have been assaulted, discriminated against or otherwise need help.
As a fellow writer/broadcaster, I feel I have a responsibility to not perpetuate prejudice- but perhaps that is a value that I hold and Mia Freedman doesn't given our different backgrounds.   
Years later, I have made peace with it all.  I am on speaking terms with my parents again and they accept who I am- but I had to reach an age and a strength where they had no choice in the matter- if they weren't going to accept me, I could turn around just as easily and not accept them. 
 And I am a sex worker. They had had to accept that too. 
 I'm not going to ask any mother for expressing their prejudice to apologise for two reasons- 
1) I feel sorry for them and their children because
2) the people their judgement is going to have the most profound impact on is not me but those children. 
The question of whether a parent wants their child to be a sex worker or not is irrelevent.  The issue is that parents who act in the way Mia Freedman does have sent a clear signal- if your children are ever to become sex workers they cannot rely upon you for support and, as someone who knows what that is like, it can be a hard and sad place to be. 

And here is where I feel most proud of people in my community who are parents.  These are rare and special creatures.  These are the minority of parents who are equipped with the knowledge and experience that could support a son or daughter who has chosen to do sex work. This is a support I could have only dreamed of when I grew up.  
PS: the use of the word "sex worker" is not a mere preference.  It's use is identified by Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, UNAIDS,  as best practice to ensure scientific accuracy, the preservation of human rights and respect for minority populations.  As a supposedly professional writer, one should become familiar with these international standards.

The terminology guide can be found here:    

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

How To Date A Sex Worker

The following text was originally published as a zine.  I had the pleasure of speaking to the writer of these words on The Vixen Hour. There are scant resources for the partners of sex workers so I am very grateful that someone has made this effort and shared his story. It's with his permission that I am able to share these words with you.  

My girlfriend is a sex worker, and I love her deeply.

This article is intended to be a resource for people in or considering a relationship with a sex worker, with advice on the more common difficulties that come up. (Stuff I would have liked to have been told back when I started dating my girlfriend, basically, and couldn't find any advice on the subject.) Most of what's written here translates into relationships of other genders and orientations, but because I'm writing from my own experience, the advice contained here will be primarily directed towards heterosexual cisgender men. 

I hope it helps someone get the love they deserve.

1. Talk about it.

This is crucial. A lot of guys, when put in the situation of their partner/crush informing them that they do sex work, will instinctively reach towards some agreement like, “Well … okay ... you can do that, just never mention it to me.” This way lies madness. You'll build the sex work up in your head into something far worse than what it is – which is a job – and give your jealousy a virtually infinite amount of tawdry ammunition to work with. Talking about it will probably be awkward at first, but talk about it anyway. When you're able to discuss her day at work openly, it loses its power over your ego. The unspoken always hurts us more than what's said aloud.

(Note: lots of sex workers might not be immediately keen to volunteer information about their work. Based on prior experience, they may assume that you won't be able to handle it, and frankly, most of the time they'll be right. It will probably be up to you to ask.)

2. If you feel insecure, don't hide it – work through it.

If you've never been in a situation where your partner having sex with someone else isn't cause for IMMEDIATE BETRAYAL-PANIC, feeling jealous (or at least a bit unnerved) is to be expected. Sex is an intimate thing, and there's a panicked little voice in the back of all of our minds that worries that if your partner has sex with other men, even in the most detached way, she'll never be 'fully with you'. That panicked little voice is an idiot. A sex worker can be a fully committed part of a deeply loving relationship – you just need to make sure that your insecurities allow her to be.

Sex workers who've tried to have relationships often have stories about guys who swore that they were fine with her job, only to have it surface later in much uglier ways (i.e. endlessly putting off having her meet their family, or suddenly calling her a “whore” during an argument). Don't be that guy. Don't lie to her, and don't lie to yourself. Jealousy is natural, but it's also conquerable. The most important thing is that you don't pretend that you're okay with it when you're not.

This is the hard part. The internal part. Our culture tells us so much damaging bullshit about sex workers, but do everything you can to block it out. Instead, try and focus on these four basic, golden, obvious truths:

  1. What other men have to pay tons of money for, she shares with you for free.

  2. Not even having sex with those other men – some of whom can be pretty unpleasant – puts her off wanting to be with you.

  3. Work-sex is a performance. With you, she gets to be herself – animated and vulnerable in a way that she would simply never be at work.

  4. She didn't choose to be with those guys. She chose you.

Keep those four things in mind, and the prospect of dating a sex worker becomes the exact opposite of emasculating. Even though there are all these men who pay to have just a brief experience of (heavily mediated) intimacy with her, it's you that she wants to share something real with. It's you that she chose. 

Don't make her regret it.

3. You shouldn't need her job to suck.

A lot of sex workers love their jobs, and will  have some really great, enjoyable sexual experiences there.

This is not a threat to you.

If a client turns out to have been a really amazing lover, you should just be glad that she had a good day at work – the same as you would if she were a teacher, waitress or CEO. If you require her to hide whenever she's had a great time at work, purely to satisfy your insecurity, it's going to drive a wedge between you. When she feels like she can speak openly about her experiences at work (the good stuff and the bad), it will bond you closer.

4. Respect her boundaries.

Crucial advice for any relationship! But particularly so with a sex worker. The 'playing a role' aspect of sex work can be disassociating, and as her partner, part of your role is to know how to make her feel like herself again. Sometimes this might mean giving her time as she adjusts from one sexual environment to another; sometimes this might mean backseating your desires. The idea that sex workers do not have the right to refuse sex is one of the most damaging aspects of the cultural bigotry surrounding them. Everyone has the right to refuse sex. Respecting boundaries doesn't end there, but it's a necessary first step, before any others may be taken.

5. Don't tell other people she's a sex worker without permission.

A minority of sex workers are completely 'out' to everyone they meet, but most are somewhere on a spectrum between 'my friends know' and 'you're the first person in my real life I've told'. It is not up to you to decide who else gets to know. In certain circles, telling people that you're dating a sex worker might get you appreciative gasps of shock, a smattering of activist/feminist cred – whatever, it doesn't matter. It's her choice who she lets know what she does. 

(And none of that “telling someone but making them swear they won't tell anyone else” bullshit. What was true in primary school is true now: when you do that, it gives implicit permission for the person you told to do the exact same thing you just did – that is: tell one other person – and before you know it, everyone knows and you no longer have a girlfriend.)

The ideal thing would be if our whole society grew the fuck up and let sex work be seen as a regular, respectable profession, but we're a long way from that. Pressuring her to be more 'out' than she's comfortable with is exactly as bad as pressuring her to hide her profession more than she wants to. These are her decisions, and you need to respect them.

6. Don't tell her to stop.

When she's had a bad day at work – the clients were annoying, one guy's dick was uncomfortably big, she forgot her lip balm, et cetera – the correct response is not “You should quit.” Everyone has bad days at work sometimes, and it's wrong to use those days as evidence that she should stop working, when bad days are accepted as inevitable in other professions.

There's a tendency in some guys to try and 'save' women from sex work, which is a devastatingly condescending attitude when the work is freely chosen. If the respect you have for a person doesn't include room for their autonomy, that isn't real respect. (This is why “I respect you too much to let you do this kind of work” is a bullshit, paradoxical position. “Let”?) As with #5, the important thing is to respect her capacity to make decisions about her own life.

7. Be on her team.

If you're anything like me, after you start dating a sex worker you'll start to notice disparaging comments made about them everywhere. All of the fashion advice that's based on not looking like a streetwalker; all of the jokes that treat 'dead hooker in the trunk' as an amusingly incidental consequence of a wild night out. Small signals that you don't accept the ignorant and destructive premise of shit like this – even if it's just squeezing her hand when someone in a movie says something stupid – can make her feel a little less attacked by them. It's a way of showing that you're on her team: of affirming her humanity in the face of a culture that frequently seems intent on taking it away. This is a small, important thing.

8. Listen to what she tells you.

There are lots of different kinds of sex work, and a variety of perspectives and needs held by those that do it. This article was written from my own experience, and it's limited by that. If a sex worker tells you that she's uncomfortable with something because of an experience she had at work, listen to her. If she tells you she loves her job anyway, listen to her. If she tells you to never call her by her work-name (even playfully, because it's a really important way she demarcates between her work and the rest of her life), listen to her. If she tells you that a particular piece of the advice I've given here doesn't apply for her, for fuck's sake listen to her.

There's a lot to unlearn around this stuff, and it hides in the language we use. Sex workers don't 'sell their bodies'; they sell an experience to lonely guys that need it. Their bodies remain their own. We have this received notion that because a sex worker has sex with their clients, they're somehow 'spent' – unavailable to a boyfriend in some crucial and irredeemable way. It's not true, any more than it's true that kindergarten teachers ignore their own children.

The truth is harder to face. The truth is that what most often blocks relationships between men and sex workers is men – our insecurities, jealousies, and need to own the people we love. If you work on yourself and are honest about your needs, there's no reason that your partner doing sex work needs to be an issue. (Honestly, the only times it's still weird that my girlfriend's a sex worker are when we're forced to conceal it in front of people who'd judge her.) The problem isn't that sex workers are incapable of devoted love, but that our masculinity is too scared and anxious to accept that love. The problem isn't sex workers, but the culture that degrades and dehumanises them.

Changing that culture begins with changing ourselves. Go for it.

by anonymous, because #5

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Headlines that Perpetuate the Stigma of Sex Work

Stigmatising, derogatory, misleading, the media reporting of sex work is often more about shocking the audience than being accurate and respectful towards sex workers.   

These are all real headlines from the last few years.  

They come from a diverse rage of media outlets.  

This list is by no means comprehensive; it is a snapshot of the how the media perpetuates the stigma against sex workers.  

Part of show 3 of the Vixen Hour on JOY 94.9, 11pm on 21/01/2013

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Monday, 7 January 2013

Exploring the Curiosity Around Sex Work: a Vixen Hour Vox Pop

The Vixen Hour is a radio program that is entirely produced and presented by sex workers and broadcast on JOY 94.9.

On our first show we discussed why sex workers were putting together a radio show. Part of this was acknowledging the many unanswered questions people have about sex work.

This vox pop is a compilation of responses that contributors made when asked the question, "If you could sit down and ask a sex worker a question, what would it be?"

A big special thank you to all the volunteers at JOY 94.9 who took part.

This vox pop was discussed as part of the Vixen Hour that was broadcast on the 7th of January, 2013.  You can listen to the whole show here.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

For Nada

I made this short film for one of the most interesting and beautiful people I know, my friend, Nada.  Merry Christmas 2012. 

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Interview in Fjorde Magazine

This interview was part of a feature on sex work.  to view the edition of Fjorde Magazine this appeared in click here
F: Why did you get into the industry? How old were you?
I was about 15 years old and it started when I was hanging out with other homeless queer young people and it was something we just did.
F: Do you have another job?
C: I work as a community drug educator for a primary health service.
F: Have you ever tried to leave?
C: A couple of times I’ve needed a break. It was pretty easy.
F: How did your loved ones react when you told them your profession?
C: My mum simply said, “Look you’re a grown up whose always been strong and made grown up decisions.”
F: How has being in the industry affected you mentally, spiritually?
C: This industry has taught me so much about what it means to be human, in our bodies and
what they are capable of. It’s taught me so much about sex and intimacy and emotion and
control. It’s given me an appreciation of the diversity of humanity and the fact that beneath
our clothes we are all equal but so different.
F: How does your work make you feel about yourself?
C: Work makes me feel empowered, strong and independent. It’s made me think positively about my body and its value beyond dollars.
F: How is your sexual life outside of work?
C: Pretty good. I’m in a long term relationship and sex is very different in that context and sex work has given me the opportunity to appreciate the difference between sex with someone you love and someone you don’t.
F: Although the number of clients and hired time is different, what is the average you make a night?
C: I might see 2-3 clients a week, which is enough to keep me comfortable and fits in easily around my day job and my boyfriend.
F: What is the weirdest thing someone has asked you to do, and did you do it?
C: This question assumes I would judge someone as weird. I am just not that judgemental.
F: How offensive do you find the word ‘prostitute’?
C: People who use the word prostitute either hate us or are ignorant. It says more about them than it does about me.
F: Working at night means this profession can be quite dangerous. Do you ever get scared?
C: No. As a sex worker you quickly learn how to be safe in whatever situation and how to avoid potential danger.
F: What is the most dangerous situation you have been in? And how did you get out?
C: The most dangerous situation I’ve been in was when a bunch of homophobic teenagers turned up with baseball bats on the street I was working on. All the sex workers gathered in the area around at the time and the teenagers weren’t expecting us to act as a community to protect each other.
F: What are your boundaries? Do you say no?
C: My boundaries are negotiated prior to the service and I say no by saying, “no”
F: Who is your typical/stereotypical customer? What do they ask for?
C: There is no typical customer - they’re all different with different needs and from different backgrounds.
F: Have you ever dated a client? Or fallen in love?
No. I feel that would be unprofessional.
F: How have your clients treated you?
C: My advertising pretty much lets my clients know that I’m intolerant of bullshit. They know they have to be respectful or they’re out.
F: If you had the chance to change anything, would you go down that same path?
C: Everything I’ve done has taught me so much. Sex work is the best job in the world, why would I change?

Friday, 5 October 2012

Chasing Tales- Without Listening to Sex Workers, You’re Going Nowhere

In a recent article in the Age all sorts of outlandish claims were made including-

St Kilda Street Sex Workers Are Migrating to Footscray and Dandenong!!!

Street Sex Workers Are Using Grindr!!!

 Social Media Is Putting Sex Workers At Risk!!!

Police Operations Are Having Unwanted Consequences!!!

As I read through, the stench of bovine excrement almost made my eyes water.  The lay person may have little option but to accept these statements as news but anyone familiar with any of these issues would ask a few questions.

Firstly, street sex work doesn’t relocate itself to another suburb on the other side of town.  Sex Workers don’t have a closing down sale and put up signs telling their customers they’re moving shop; it’s not how street sex work works.  If there is street based soliciting for the purposes of transactional sex in a particular area, it is because individuals in that community do street sex work, there is not an itinerant population of these workers who move en masse from one place to the next like migrating wildebeest across the African savannah.  Sure, there are common members of one community of street based sex work and the next but to claim that this is a single herd moving to a community near you is assuming the highly questionable.  I know this because after spending almost nine years working with street based sex workers in St Kilda, I’ve now worked with the marginalised of Footscray for a year and there is but a tiny intersection between the two.

So why the assumption? 

It’s more comfortable for people to think that sex work doesn’t happen in their community.  “Surely everyone in my neighbourhood is law-abiding and respectable.  None of them would ever be that desperate.  I’m offended by the mere thought of it…”

Sorry, but I have news for you: WE ARE SEX WORKERS AND WE ARE EVERYWHERE!

That’s right, we are there- in every neighbourhood, in every community, in every family. In all likelihood, you know a sex worker but they are so oppressed by social stigma that they have yet to tell you.

But back to street based sex work.  Individuals who make the choice to do street sex work exist in many communities.  They do so because they have to pay bills, feed children, make rent.  Some may have drug and alcohol issues.  Some may not.  Some may be experiencing homelessness.  Some may not.  The reality of the situation is that people are in need- sometimes dire need and for many, myself included, making the choice to do street sex work is a way of meeting those needs.

This is a bitter pill to swallow for many communities.  It’s much easier to assume that street sex workers must board a shuttle from planet Whore to our neighbourhoods under the cover of darkness before disappearing as the sun rises. (I have to credit Janelle Fawkes for that metaphor)  But the reality is sex workers are a part of your community.  Some of us go to brothels to work, some of us wait by the phone for people to respond to our advertising – and yes, some of us may work on the street.

Now I want to focus on the apparently innovative notion that sex workers may be using smart phone apps to do sex work. 

Well Duh.  Of course in any form of social media that people use to create opportunities to meet people for sex, the potential for sex work to happen is there.  It’s not rocket science.  But to imagine that there is an exodus of sex workers from the street into cyberspace is a tad fanciful (I'm imagining them boarding this magical shuttle again).  Of course, some resourceful sex workers may explore as many opportunities to do sex work as possible but apps as an alternative to the street? Really? I doubt it. 

For one, it’s hard to work on apps- believe me I have tried.  These apps are used for sex- their creators are hyper aware of the potential for these programs to be used for sex work- and because a number of them were created in the United States, where sex work is highly criminalised, it is always stated (or at the very least heavily implied) in the terms and conditions of use for these apps that you can’t use it to do sex work.  Further, these apps are internally moderated- if you are explicitly soliciting other app users for money, your profile’s going to get shut down pretty quickly.  Look, using apps to successfully do sex work is a painstakingly slow and tenuous process. I’m not going to say it’s impossible but as a viable alternative to street sex work, where sex workers have immediate and quick access to clients- I don’t think so. 

The other tell that gives away the cheese is the claim that apps “could be taking [sex workers] to more dangerous areas for work.” Clearly, the person claiming this hasn’t used these apps. There is absolutely no reason why using new technology to do sex work is going to present more or less risk than anyone else using apps to get laid.  Appeals to safety are clich├ęd but I guess that’s what you say when you’ve got nothing useful to contribute. 

So why the claim?

It’s a tasty little sound bite, isn’t it? You hadn’t thought of it, had you? Interesting? Perhaps. Titillating? Sure. But the ultimate function of this MacGuffin is to make its speaker seem like they know what they’re talking about.  But upon examination we can see what this claim is: utter rubbish. 

And what can we learn from this. 

When speaking about street sex work there are a number of stakeholders, the article is made up of quotes from a welfare worker, the police, a lawyer.  But where are the voices of street sex workers?

There is a fact that is almost always overlooked in the seemingly endless search for the answers to the questions of what to do about street sex work- there have been thousands of people who have experienced street sex work.  Some of these people have ceased sex work, some continue and have transitioned from the street to other ways of sex working.  This is a rich resource- perhaps the most effective in coming up with ways of responding to the issues associated with street sex work yet it is NEVER drawn upon.  Not a single person employed at RhED has this knowledge- not one.  Without this experience informing practice, any response is a mere shot in the dark.   

The police are quoted in this article as saying, “We might be creating things that we haven't thought of yet.” And yet the article pontificates on a couple of unlikely hypotheses.  If you want to read about some of these ACTUAL consequences, I discuss them in an article that appeared earlier in the week in the Port Phillip Leader. 

There are enough issues to resolve within street sex work before making up a bunch of rubbish to deal with.  Without listening to the voices of sex workers- particularly street sex workers- we’re just going to be asking the same questions over and over again. 

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Police putting St Kilda sex workers at risk

Police launched operation nocturne on Carlisle st. recently
THE STATE'S peak body for sex workers has slammed the police crackdown on street prostitution in St Kilda.

Vixen Victoria spokesman Christian Vega said violence against sex workers statistically increased after police operations in red light areas.

"It sends a message that sex workers are an easy target," Mr Vega said. "Perpetrators think 'she won't go to the police'.

"When social stigma reaches such an extreme level, people don't recognise the humanity of these people."

He said sex workers were forced into risky situations when the men who visited them became paranoid about getting caught.

"When clients are targeted, it puts the pressure on them to get in and out of St Kilda quickly," Mr Vega said.
"Previously, they would wind down the window and have a conversation."

But when police presence was high, he said, workers were more likely to jump in the car and be driven to another location.

"Once they're in an unfamiliar area away from the other sex workers, it maximises the opportunity for violent crime," Mr Vega said. "It's really dangerous."

He said workers could be more likely to agree to unsafe sexual practices when clients were scarce.

Police have increased their street sex work operations in the past month, targeting "kerb crawlers" during Operation Nocturn and both sex workers and clients during Operation Biscuit.

Friday, 31 August 2012

International Overdose Awareness Day Speech


So this is an address I made at work on the 31st of August, 2012
When I think of overdose and Overdose Awareness Day, I think, I am truly blessed.  It’s unusual for me, I’m not at all religious or spiritual.  All of the pain, all of the sadness, the people I miss- and yet I am able to find comfort and today I thought I might share why. 
I am blessed. 
But not because my life has been drug free- it has not.  If we are to challenge stigma, as this day of remembrance strives to, then one cannot remain closeted- so I say before you now, without guilt or shame, that yes, drugs have played a role in my life.  I do not condemn or encourage the use of drugs but I can say the experience of using drugs; the hard times it has seen me through, the people who have been there along the way, the lessons I have learnt about senses, about my body about my place in the world- I am truly grateful for. 
But that is not why I feel blessed today. 
Nor is it because I have been fortunate enough to evade overdose- I have not.  Things go wrong, we are not perfect people who do things perfectly and drug use is no perfect process.  I count myself as very lucky- the circumstances were such that I survived and people looked after me.  Upon reflection of my overdose I realise that, life is precious, our bodies are wonderfully forgiving and to be there for each other is a humbling source of strength and life. 
But still, that’s not why I feel blessed today. 
No, today I feel blessed because I remember the gift of many friends, friends who are no longer with me. For me, despite the stereotypes, to be part of a community of people who use drugs has been a blessing.  These friends were strong, talented, bright and beautiful spirits, who, through some twist of fate, crossed my path, gave me something very special and enriched my life in a way I couldn’t put into words.  And though there have been many funerals I have attended and many funerals I was not invited to, to remember our loved ones, I feel truly blessed. 
Today is a day to remember the ones we have loved and the ones we have lost.  This might be the first time you have been able to do this but we gather here today to tell you that you are not alone.  The silver badges we wear signify the profound loss of someone cherished and are a symbol of understanding, of condolences and – when we wear them together as a community- they are a symbol of solidarity. 
But remembering is not the only blessing of the day. 
A friend of mine, Sally Finn, and NSP worker in St Kilda, began Overdose Awareness day back in 2001. At the height of heroin deaths, I was homeless in St Kilda.  Yet Finn and others reminded me that yes, we are important to each other and that those of us who can, have a responsibility to not only remember but to contribute to the bettering the lives of our fellow community members.  I feel truly blessed because I have been given the opportunity to honour the memory of my friends through the work I do today.
The service I work for has had a number of service users pass away in the past year from drug overdoses and they - like those before them- will be remembered on Overdose day and remain in our hearts into the future. 
 As well as being a special time to remember our friends, Today is an opportunity to honour their memory by being aware of the importance of overdose prevention.  Over the past month, Harm Reduction Victoria, our state drug user association, has facilitated workshops to teach drug users the skills to not only recognise but respond to overdose.  We do this to remind those of us who remain and still use drugs to be careful and to instil in each and every current and former drug user that, yes, you matter, that we value you as a member of our community and that you can make a difference.  I believe it is not said enough, but as a representative of my team I would like to say, we believe in you, we are proud of you. 
We thank you for participating in this year’s Overdose awareness day. Please stay and share some food with us and remember those we have lost by placing a star on our memorial board, lighting some incense or burning some prayer paper.    Again, thank you all for being here today.  That you are here with me today is truly a blessing. 

Thursday, 16 August 2012

The Hypocritical Victimisation of Asian Sex Workers in Victoria

This Asian woman was accused of operating an "illegal brothel" in suburban Melbourne. She could not hide her face from the newspaper cameras who published it in their paper and online. Click here to watch the dramatic police raid. All of this because she was offering hand jobs at a massage parlour- evidently all that's required to deem a premises an "illegal brothel". 
  By Christian Vega*
*No, my name has not been changed.

“Are you HIV+? No offence I’m just asking coz you’re Asian.” That was an actual question asked by an actual client to me, an actual Asian sex worker.  I cannot tell you how offended I was and needless to say the only thing this person caught off me was angry vitriol. 

At a pub with an acquaintance I had described the Australian Sex Worker rights movement, the importance of sex worker organisations and the reflected on the reasons I was not only a sex worker but an active advocate for our rights.  The conversation (and our relationship) went downhill when they said, “that’s all well and good for you, but what about the thousands of sex slaves in Australia? ”

During a public forum I organised as part of the Melbourne Festival of Sex Work, a member of the audience and came up to me and disclosed that he had regularly visited a Asian brothel but he felt overwhelmingly guilty because he could not tell if the sex worker he was seeing was a “trafficked victim” or not.  He had conversations with this sex worker but still could not be entirely persuaded to believe that the sex worker was there by choice, even though that is what she had repeatedly articulated to him.

These incidents are a constant reminder of my place within the Australian consciousness- I am presumed to be a vulnerable victim of exploitation, unworthy of being trusted, incapable of agency and in dire need of rescue.  I must be stripped of my human rights, indeed my humanity, in order to fit within the public’s understanding of who I am: an Asian Sex Worker.  

Trans Sex Workers in Thailand Support each other
The constant reporting of the supposed tragedies faced by Asian sex workers is a relentless kick to the guts.  Not merely because I am an Asian Sex Worker and these tales do not at all reflect my experience of sex work, but more so because I am an advocate for sex worker rights whose goal is to work towards a future where me and my community are not perceived to be the bottom rung of Australian society.  These reports do nothing but keep us down. 

Adding extra bitterness to this disappointment is the fact that I have had contact with these journalists.  Both Maris Beck of the Age and Beau Donnelly of the Port Phillip Review, in my conversations with them, had expressed a desire to be respectful of sex workers and listen to their voices.  It is such a shame that neither of these wishes is reflected in their writing.  The bigger shame is that these stories broadcast to the sex worker community a clear message: “We are not interested in your stories unless you fit into our agenda”. They forfeit the trust of sex workers who exercise agency about choosing to be a sex worker (the majority of my community) and, in turn, our stories are seldom told.  Without this authentic perspective being made available to the broader community, enough ignorance is created to perpetuate the prejudice against Asian sex workers. 

The fact of the matter is there is high value attached to the stereotype of the poor exploited Asian sex worker victimised by criminal Asian syndicates- and the money is not flowing our way.  Academics and journalists have built their careers on it and non-government organisations have made an industry of convincing the public that I am some sort of hapless victim. Project Respect, repeatedly referred to in media reports of trafficking as somehow an authority on the sex industry , has an agenda to see the entire sex industry re-criminalised.  It’s interesting, the organisation claims to see approximately 20 “victims of human trafficking” annually, that is  0.2% of the estimated 10,000 sex workers in Victoria, yet this organisation not only provides the representative case studies that journalists base their media coverage on, they are influential at a policy level.  All of this would be harmless charity- except it’s not. 

Cambodian Sex Workers protest
 against police abuse
The rights of sex workers- particularly Asian sex workers- are constantly being undermined.  In addition to the episodes of racism I have experienced directly, this prejudice entrenches itself in the policy and practice of sex work regulation.  Throughout our community we have heard of sex industry workplaces targeted by the race of workers alone.  Where premises have workers from a range of ethnicities, Asian sex workers are sorted out from the rest to be questioned.  Despite the fact the majority of migrant sex workers come from countries such as New Zealand, the USA and the UK, rarely do these sex workers face the same scrutiny as their Asian colleagues.  When discussing our industry, “does not speak English” is treated as an indicator of exploitation.  According to current Victorian advertising regulations I’m not even allowed to say I am Asian, doing so places me at risk of receiving a $5,633 fine.   And while some commentators may point out that this policy applies to everyone regardless of ethnicity, it is undeniable that this policy has much more of an impact on sex workers of colour than it does anyone else.  With the sheer number of the examples of the victimisation of Asian workers it's hard to feel much other than that these are part of the wider racist agenda in Australia.

Sex Workers in South Korea threaten self-immolation in 
protest against the crackdown on their workplaces
Further supporting the investment in the ‘Asian sex workers as victims’ paradigm are the entrenched systemic causes of issues of non-compliance and clandestine activity.  While much attention is paid to alleged exploitative intentions rarely are the more mundane factors examined.  While licensees of non-English speaking backgrounds are over represented amongst CAV’s reporting of non-compliant operators, there is a negligence to report that all of the information resources regarding sex work regulation only comes in one language: English.  

Hong Kong Sex Worker Organisation Zi Teng
Just as ignored is the discriminatory immigration policy that prohibits single women flying in from Asia.  Sex workers wanting to enter Australia cannot elect to do so in an open and transparent way. Instead, they are forced by our policy to engage with agents who organise not only the workplaces and accommodation for these sex workers but facilitate the process that circumvents Australia’s closed door, which may include bribing government officials or paying a male companions to create the facade these women are not single. The expense of this whole process might amount to $40,000 and is then charged to the sex worker (this what is interpreted as debt bondage), which she can pay off in about 2-3 months.  If the Australian government was serious about addressing this problem it could bust the business model of these supposed traffickers, just as it is interested in doing so for people smugglers, by granting working visas to migrant sex workers, as has been recommended by sex workers for years . The product of supposed “people traffickers” is passage, this is an easy enough demand to eliminate with small, cost neutral changes.  But no, if I was a more cynical sex worker I could suggest that the government’s inertia on this issue is more indicative of an interest in maintaining the problem. 

The Asia Pacific Network of Sex Worker
Projects, in Kolkata for the
Sex Worker Freedom Festival
These causes are not sexy topics of conversation.  People would rather read about stories of desperation, victimisation and exploitation.  It’s easier to believe that there are evil exploiters in the world and the solution is to stamp them out.  It’s hard for Australians to believe that their own policy is complicit in the perceived problems of human trafficking.  It’s hard for Australians to believe that people of colour from countries much poorer than our own and who speak a language other than ours could have enough agency to stand and make a choice.  I am not saying that incidents of criminal activity do not exist in the sex industry, I’m saying, if one is genuinely interested in addressing these it cannot be done while ignoring or disrespecting the people who are not only most affected, but the people who are most familiar with the issues and are the people that can most effectively assist in the  implementation any resolution: sex workers. 

I am Asian. I choose to be a sex worker. I have as much control over my life as you do. I deserve to be respected as much as you are.  Just because I use my real name and my real face to tell this story shouldn’t make it less believable than some anonymous case study.  Asian sex workers deserve to be listened to and we don’t need anyone speaking on our behalf.  It’s time the Australian public puts away its prejudice and start listening to us. 

Within Australia, Asian Sex Workers are active in supporting each other as well as representing their own community. 

The Scarlet Alliance Migration Project is staffed by migrant sex workers and supports migrant sex workers and the services that may work with them.  Click here to read about the project, its message and how get contact them.

Organisations of sex workers exist across Australian States and some of these have sex workers of non-English speaking background providing peer education and support for migrant sex workers.  Two such organisations are SIN in South Australia and Respect Inc. in Queensland

Unsurprisingly, there is no funded sex worker organisation in Victoria.