Thursday, October 15, 2009

drug users, civil rights, and A&E's "The Cleaner"

I haven't written in this blog in so long, that instead of writing an extended essay, I'll warm myself up by going over several short items in the next week or so.

1) A&E's "The Cleaner", currently the most offensive show on television re: the drug war. The main character, William Banks, played by Benjamin Bratt, is heroicized for "extreme intervention" on drug users which includes a) breaking and entering into their homes, b) kidnapping them, c) hacking into freezing their financial accounts, to name just a few of the invasive crimes the character is shown committing, actions paid for by their families or friends. The vast majority of these users are adults, which means their families have no legal power over them. If a character committed crimes like these against any other group of people, the audience could hardly be expected to have sympathy for them, but somehow the fact that these people are drug users justifies these acts to most viewers.

Note to A&E--not since fanatical first drug czar Harry J Anslinger of the 40s and 50s has the state of simply *being* a drug user been a crime. (Anslinger instituted an extralegal edict that allowed people to be stopped and searched for track marks and detained indefinitely if any were found. A lot of creative body parts used to inject at this time in order to evade the arm search, ha...(If you'd like a vivid description of this era, you can find it in Burroughs' _Junky_..) Anslinger, ironically and hypocritically enough, became a user of illegally procured morphine later in his life to treat pain from angina and an enlarged prostate gland, and distributed this drug to his friends. We also have Anslinger to blame for most of
the hysteria and misinformation about marijuana in the middle of the last century and its criminalization in the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act, through the use of racism and lies about its supposed violent effects.

What's most chilling is that "The Cleaner" is based on a real life "extreme interventionist", Warren Boyd,whose methods were similar and who also avoided prosecution for them--beyond that, he's lionized in the special A&E does on him and admired by many law enforcement officials. He's actually co-producer of the show, so one can't argue that the station is misrepresenting him--it obviously has his stamp of approval. In the interview I link, he claims he doesn't break the law, yet in A&E's special on him--which I didn't have the stomach to watch to completion, but even a few minutes of watching revealed this much--he himself proudly relates that he held a heroin user hostage in his house by threat of physical violence. And even in the interview, though I doubt he realizes what he's admitting, he says he's not beyond the use of fraud. He also claims he participates in "The Cleaner" to lend it authenticity--so I can't quite believe his methods are drastically different from what the show portrays Banks doing.

A dramatic and totally unrealistic gimmick that the show uses in almost every episode is to have the drug user Banks is "helping" overdose right in front of him, so he can resuscitate them. Not only is this an instance of laughably overly convenient timing, it doesn't make any sense--these are habituated users with high tolerance, so why is it that they suddenly miscalculate their doses as soon as Banks is around? Of course, this perpetuates the fiction that any drug user is one step away from death at any time, regardless of any harm reduction methods used or the user's experience,justifying any violation of their person because the drug user's situation is an immediate life or death one. It also glosses over the fact that so many of the dangers of drug abuse are born from criminalization itself--such as the fact that overdose is often due to the unreliable and changeable purity of black market product.

This is doubly disappointing to me because Benjamin Bratt is one of the few mixed race actors successfully working in TV and film today--and actually a very accomplished actor in all the other roles I've seen him in. In fact, according to Wikipedia, "Bratt has been a strong supporter and board member of San Francisco Bay Area's Friendship House Association of American Indians and Native American Health Center for years". Doubtless the fact that he's playing a character who oppresses another marginalized group is totally lost on him.

The show perpetuates the idea that drug users are somehow a special category of human being, whose rights are null and void. Despite the fact that the show purports to be about redemption and compassion, in reality it is an example of the same attitude that has allowed ultra right wing drug warriors such as Newt Gingrich and others, to suggest the death penalty for drug dealers. "People who are dealing crack and dealing heroin have zero social value and should be put to death," said one politician, expressing the core of this attitude quite well. Dealers and users have no social value like other people do, so why bother with going through the pretense of pretending we have rights? This without any consideration of the extenuating circumstances, the poverty, that has so many people depend on the black market to survive--that poverty which is itself often a result of right wing policies.

Warren Boyd praises "Intervention", another A&E show, and I'm looking forward to dissecting that show for you as well--a reality show where real life addicts are manipulated and violated.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

well, at least my interview on feministe has me interested in writing in this thing again

I was, no surprise,<pilloried on the drug stuff, though the pimp question went off okay. But now I'm into reviving this blog, which is marvelous. Look out this week for a post on how the A&E show the Cleaner manages to glorify breaking& entering, kidnapping, & freezing other people's financial assets if they happen to use drugs. It's a shame, b/c that actor smolders with Filipino butch sexiness--sad he had to waste himself on a role that not only is sentimental ponderous shit, but is also simply politically revolting.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

"mothers, tell your children not to do as I have done": sex work through the viewpoint of parents

So, this country music video, affiliated with this organization, tries to get those slavering, sick, depraved men who are into porn and strip clubs to "maintain their self-control" by reminding them that the stripper or porn starlet they are watching is "somebody's daughter/somebody's child/somebody's pride and joy/somebody loves her for who she is inside/she has a mother and father/she's somebody's daughter.../ when her beauty is defiled I demean us both.."

Bitch offers some weak second waveish criticism here:
This is actually only one of several music videos made for, offering “freedom from the crushing grip of porn.” Are strip clubs and pornography frequently problematic? Yes. If it’s ruining your family life should you seek counsel and remedy? Well yeah. Are there better ways to address it than imagining her mom and dad at her college graduation/birthday party/dance recital? And reinforcing images of all women as “our little girls all grown up?” Oh yeah! This video adds to some recent conversations on the prevalence of porn in society, and while I'm pretty uncomfortable with most porn and strip clubs, if the Somebody's Daughter campaign is all about casting men as sexual perverts for liking porn and women in the sex industry as a dependent innocents, then I doubt it's adding anything new or progressive as far as curbing the more harmful aspects of pornography and "gentleman's clubs"....though I have to give them some credit, this is by far one of the unsexiest videos I’ve ever watched.

(But thanks for the bit about how casting women in the sex industry as dependent innocents isn't progressive, Bitch magazine.)

What I really think we need to talk about in reference to this video is the question it raises, a question that opponents of sex worker's rights & decriminalization of sex work often ask, a question they ask as if it's the ultimate question and all debate can be defused by it:

"What if your daughter wanted to be a prostitute too?"

[Or stripper, or porn actress, or phone sex operator, sex cam worker, etc etc etc, insert relevant branch of sex work in the right spot...]

I think it's important to face the melodrama and taboo evoked by this question head on. Though perhaps my opinion might not matter that much, because I'm not planning on having children, I say, "If my daughter wanted to work in the same profession I do, I hope I could be proud of her and respect her choices."

The question posits workers in the sex industry as passive victims of objectification, rather than skilled artisans controlling the way they are viewed. It implies that any work that has to do with sex is shameful and victimizing, not a part of "who she[you] is [are] inside", as the country video puts it. That no mother *could* be proud of a skillful sex worker daughter, or be anything but horrified, ashamed, and deeply concerned. That sex work could never be seen as a respectable profession. And that has much more to do with this society's view of sex than with what actually takes place in the sex industry.

(Furthermore, it is not a universal view, but culturally specific, as demonstrated by the fact that geishas, Japanese sex workers/entertainers/artists, were honored and mothers put their daughters through a several year apprenticeship in the exacting art so that they could continue the family name within the trade--which was obviously viewed as a positive outcome.)

The fact that my mother isn't proud of all the work I do, not just the more wholesome activism, but my escorting, does disappoint me. I understand the cultural context, the prejudices that have been passed down to her, behind her view of my working as being a horrible fate that's befallen me, and I don't blame her entirely, but that doesn't mean I have to like it. As I write in my interview in Alexa of The Real Princess Diaries' My First Professional Sex project:
They know. My mother prays for me. She thinks it’s a symptom of a mental disorder, as does my father. The one time I was arrested, my father wrote a letter to the DA calling me a heroin addicted mentally ill prostitute who should not be allowed to leave the court room, who should be sent to jail or drug treatment immediately. He wrote a pathos ridden paragraph about how every day they worry I might contract HIV (although I practice safer sex than the vast majority of the general population–I practice safer sex than *he* does.) I always wondered why he was dumb enough to send that letter to the DA–not my lawyer or the judge–why he was dumb enough to think the DA could possibly have my interests, rather than the goal of a conviction in mind.

I know my father did it because he thought it would help, but with good intentions like that, who needs malevolence? I haven’t spoken to him since. I don’t *blame* my parents–there’s a huge cultural divide there, they are Russian and come from a culture with totally different values. But sometimes I do long for a mother who would be proud of me, like the depictions I see of Carol Leigh/Scarlot Harlot’s relationship with her mom.

So, yes, as Carol Leigh/Scarlet Harlot's mother's support attests--her mother appears in many of her video documentaries about her sex work and sex worker's rights activism, standing firm in her approval of what her daughter does in interviews--there is a way for parents to move beyond prejudice in their view of their child's sex work. But that's not the reality for the vast majority of us. In fact, most of us don't even bother to come out to their parents b/c of the overwhelming disapproval, pity, and anguish we're (justifiably) sure we'll experience--most of the time I wish I hadn't been dumb enough to come out to my mother and brother, who then told my father. Some of us internalize our parents' and this culture's whorophobia and sadly, are even ashamed of ourselves sometimes.

I'd love to hear any comments about this touchy subject I've brought up. The less silence there is around it, the less prostitution abolitionists can use the question of parents and children to silence debate about sex work in general.

Monday, June 8, 2009

just watched The Girlfriend Experience on Comcast

Everyone's said something, if not exactly IT, better before, so here are a few scattered impressions just in case you wanted to hear yet ANOTHER sex worker chime in:

*First off, I don't think I could ever fuck a chasid as a client. All that Ortho Jew upbringing, it'd be like a Catholic ho fucking a priest. The scene where he stripped to his tzitzit might be the most personally shocking bit of film I've ever viewed. But something about how he held her & shook in such an Ashkenazi unrestrained sort of way rang true somehow. Soderbergh knows his Jews, I guess.

*I can't really emphasize with an empty headed, apolitical, high femme capitalist, even if she is in ostensibly the same profession I am. & I GET that half the film was a muted recession era American Psycho showing us affluent Manhattanites scrambling to maintain their standard of living in new economic circumstances, but still. I thought the whole point of the black market, and being in a recession resistant, if not recession proof business was--you get paid for taking more risk so you don't have to talk and think that way ALL THE FUCKING TIME. Improve and grow your business, and gag me with a spoon.

* High end escorts, how do you not sleep in your own beds at night? I shudder. The *displacement*.

*I found myself agreeing with her boyfriend a lot when he spoke to her. Serpent Libertine said, yeah, of course the escort got it in the end, but why did they make an escort that acted so selfishly and childishly to begin with?

*So is there something wrong with me that I look down slightly on women who consider dating clients, who think about a relationship after just a few (or ONE) meeting in a commercial context? Is it that I'm just not heterosexual enough in the right way? Should every cis male, no matter how you meet them, be a prospect? Okay, now I guess I'm just being cruel. At least they did have a character voice this critique, her older less traditionally pretty escort friend foil (whom she, of course, ignores.) Seriously, though, I have never seen this work in the history of hookerdom. One can feel close to clients within the boundaries established, sure, and it's even important to feel close to them in some sense or another. But you can't turn a *transaction* into such a fundamentally different kind of interaction.

*Though I disagreed with the journalist's facile differentiation of the "real you" from how one behaves in a call. G does not do and say everything Caty does, but G does behave in a way that is authentic to Caty towards her clients.Abridged and appropriate behavior for a situation is not the same thing as a false front.

*I did find myself actually agreeing with the asshole hobbyist reviewer (a thinly veiled portrayal of that asshole who owned Big Doggie or something?) How does this girl keep clients? "Flat affect" indeed! Sasha Gray was robotic, and anything but a Girlfriend Experience. If I was her client, I would have felt like I was sitting with my absentminded, sullen teenage daughter, who wanted to finish eating dinner with me and issuing polite, programmed responses so she can watch "Gossip Girl". It was dissapointing, b/c Sasha Grey looked like she had great presence, & I was really looking forward to her performance, and came in with no expectations b/c I'd never seen any of her pornos. And I'm not gonna be sexworkerphobic about another branch of the business and say porn actors can't actually act, b/c the 70s porn I like certainly has people with a little something to them even in the most moronic scenes. Nina Hartley exudes sassy authority everywhere she goes, and could fill a role made for her as easily as breathing.

*So are we not supposed to sympathize with her? And even high femmes are not that vapid about conversations and obsessive about clothes in their journals, I guarantee you.

*Though the one time I did find myself emphasizing with her was as she cried (while confiding to a client, ughhh) about the hobbyist's awful treatment of her. I'm so glad I have never found myself on a review board--maybe I've stayed in a print medium too long, seen too many blue collar guys who are good earners but internet illiterate, or maybe no one can spell my nomme de whore on the net, but thankfully, I've never had to read such poison about my performance.

*Doofus, most clients will never have a specific compliment to make about your outfit, no matter how expensive and perfect it is, unless they have a fetish for some accessory or other.

Friday, June 5, 2009

keep tuning in

I wanna write something about the new drug czar, though so many already have, beginning with my first impressions of him and his bravery in taking a stand disciplining an officer in a "controversial jaywalking incident" (I just love saying that), to his rebranding of the drug war (keeping prohibition on the books and coercively shuttling us into treatment centers isn't the end of the drug war, it's just better PR for it), and then his comments on how legalization isn't in his vocabulary, as indeed by law in terms of his job description it shouldn't be, but how I don't see his recent statements as a coded plea for us to change those laws as drugwarrant's Peter optimistically does.

Couldn't Obama have chosen anyone but a former cop for this position? Of course, this shouldn't surprise, after the broken campaign promises about lifting the federal funding ban on needle exchange. But so it goes.

Be careful, I might drag out my old co-authored paper with Will Hall on how forced treatment goes against harm reduction principles. If I can find it. (I hear a collective sigh of relief, with the sound of fingers crossing in hopes I won't find that boring little number in my files.)

In the meantime, check out Alexa's of the Real Princess Diaries new project,My First Professional Sex.My interview is here.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

telling encounters with clients, IV drug use, class assumptions,good ole hypocrisy, hobbyists, & a blast from the past

Watch this space for a post on how drug use is negatively associated with street workers, inspired by an encounter I had with a client, a jittery, nerdy Asian accountant who liked to hear himself talk, who said he wouldn't go near a street worker b/c of the needles who then went on to tell me, without any consciousness of the irony, about all the Adderal and coke he snorted and all the Valium and Adderal (amphetamines) his doctor brother overprescribed him.

I asked, "Don't you think escorts might have drug habits too?"

And he said, "Not needles!"

I nodded and smiled--obviously he didn't know track marks when he saw them.

Then he went on paternalistically about how he "saved" his best friend,a woman,from heroin addiction,by paying for her treatment. (Not that this isn't great if she wanted to get rid of her physical addiction. But the way he put it--oh, Superman!)

This was far from the first time I've had an encounter like that with a client.

So it'll be about assumptions about drug use that are erroneous,based on class,
and how those assumptions are magnified when it comes to sex work. How the way upper middle class people's use of scheduled drugs is legitimized, and how upper middle cclass people--even if the are very sexually active, or use many addictive drugs themselves, assume that prostitutes, especially street prostitutes, and IV drug users are disease ridden, though both groups, especially the former, are usually more educated when it comes to harm reduction techniques like condoms and clean needles and works.

I also want to talk about the ideological ghetto heroin, esp. IV heroin, is put in when compared to all other drugs, its reputation as "the worst drug", when actually, it's relatively nontoxic and plagued by the many apocalyptic myths surrounding it. Especially when a legal drug like alcohol causes the most organ damage and long term health damage, and is the only drug firmly statistically correlated to violence, and both legally prescribed benzodiazipines and alcohol can cause death during withdrawal.

I am an IV heroin using sex worker. I get tested regularly, and have never used a dirty needle. I haven't had unsafe sex in ten years--not even an uncovered blowjob. There are many like me.

That was the other thing about this client-- he was a "hobbyist". For the non-sex workers among us, a hobbyist is a man whose avocation is to see many escorts and go online to sites like The Erotic Review and Big Doggie and review their encounters with them. Some escorts do value the reviews, because when they get good reviews, they can refer prospective clients to them. But in some big city escort scenes, reviews can make you or break you, and so can these sites in general. That means you have to spend more time on your job, unpaid, interacting with clients and prospective clients on these sites, pretending you just happen to like spending your online social time with them. Also, some manipulative hobbyists use the fact that reviews are so vital to the workers they call "providers" that they pressure them to do unsafe acts or acts they're uncomfortable with under the threat of bad reviews. I'm not partial to hobbyists, and very rarely encounter them--they tend to cluster in bigger cities. In fact, I think this was the second time I encountered someone who identified that way. (Though in a way I do admire someone who can own being a person who unashamedly buys sexual services.)

So it was with this guy. He wanted me to do a bbbj, in their parlance--a "bareback blowjob." Keep in mind I haven't performed fellatio without a condom for seven or eight years. "My brother's a doctor, an epdiemologist, he says it's fine." "I'll stick with my own research, thanks." Then he offered to show me his clean bill of health--but all his test results mentioned were HIV and Hep C, which weren't even the STDs I'd be worried about catching from giving uncovered head! What about HERPES, I asked. He didn't get it. The clear light of ignorance and total self-assurance and certainty shone in his eyes. To be fair, he wasn't all bad. I randomly mentioned I was having trouble sleeping, and he just *gave* me a bunch of his nepotistically prescribed Valium and Soma.

Anyway, I've learned to keep my mouth shut around clients like this when it comes to the topics of needles and sex work, drugs and sex work, etc. But I didn't always know best. Here's an old livejournal piece from a few years back about confronting these prejudices during a call (a caveat--I was really burned out then, and not so much from the job as other circumstances in my life--I feel *much* better about my clients now, enjoy interacting with them):

It happens more and more often these days. He tells me on the phone that he's seen me, he gives me the details he couldn't possibly know otherwise--my parents from Russia, the blue birthmark on my left breast.

And I think, it's just the monotony of male voices--they fall into a few
subspecies, the duuuuh-ed out cokehead drunk Valley boy voice, the salt-of-the-earth-honest-man blue collar guy, the refined and pretentious professional--they fall into a few subcategories, these staticky bassos and baritones, but that's about it. I think, it's the monotony of white male names, the monosyllables--Kyle Dave John Chris Tod Tom Pete Jake. But as soon as he walks through the door, I think, I am fervently certain---as soon as he walks through the door--*I never forget a face*, another tired phrase, but it has to be true, it has to be true. I see him b/c he's seen me--I'm leery these days, I've been arrested once, and that was enough, and I
only had my stupidity to blame. The frisson is gone, the adventure gone, any motivation for risk taking gone. It's just a living and I'm just doing security. It's so fucking normal and that's what would be most shocking
to everyone, maybe.He walks through the door and I draw a blank. Can't tell him, he'd be insulted, he doesn't want to think about all the men I've slept with just like him and how hard it is to keep track, though maintaining the lie is
so irritating b/c what does he think? He thinks I materialize in this air conditioned motel room purely for his pleasure, and so it should be, so,"Oh, I remember *you*," I smile and say.

But it scares me, it's as if they're interchangeable. It's so sordid sordid sordid just like everybody thinks, and I sound almost self-pitying, just like they think I really should be. I'm not, not at all. I love being sex embodied without even being turned on. I love being the most beautiful woman in the world for that one hour. I love the performance art, I love the anonymity. I love the world beginning again in the confines of that room populated only by two strangers. And besides, go too far over to the other extreme, away from interchangeability to the human service worker with a big fat load of concern and understanding for each and every client and it just boils down to that heart of gold bullshit anyway.

But I'm so sick of thinking of what everybody thinks. Image and image and image. I *must* be the political posterchild, not the sad stereotype, I must. I must be a perfectly wholesome all American girl who just happens to have sex for money. The movement depends on it, right? All the other callgirls were so angry at me when I started doing heroin. It wasn't just concern--I was giving them a bad name. Not that most of my regulars knew.They couldn't; I have bills to pay. But last week, at 7:30 PM on a Wednesday night, with some man in publishing who was en route from New York back to Vermont, I got my revenge.

Putting on his clothes while I wipe up the results of my pleading with him breathily to come all over my tits--they think it's something slutty and
fantastic, but it's all just about speed and safe sex. I have this down
to a science, to an art form--it's my art, after all. Our half hour almost up, we banter while I massage his back with an aloe lotion on clearance for a dollar at Walgreens(I ripped off the price tag.) He puts on his serious face for a second
and tries to compliment me in a way I've been insulted before, "You know,
your vocabulary is so impressive. I knew immediately you were different, just
talking on the phone with you."I think of Samuel Johnson as I always do, the dog standing on its hind legs, "not that it is done well but that it is done at all." A ho mustering some intelligence. He goes on: "Some of these get on the phone and you know immediately--gee, I'm supporting someone's crack habit."

I'll never see this man, this publisher from Vermont, again. Now that I have his $150 for his half hour in my purse, I have nothing to gain telling him what he wants to hear, If he'd been looking at my arms instead of my ass, he would have seen them--but they never do. I don't bother putting on makeup anymore b/c since I can't find the right shade of foundation, the weird orange cream only serves to highlight them. Methadone clinic this past year or not, this man needs to know something, and I need to show him. I turn my Jewish middle class face towards him. I bare my arms to the light and show him my track marks.

"How do you know you're not supporting my habit?"

Monday, May 4, 2009


Natalie Dylan wrote an article for the Daily Beast, and it turns out my interpretation of her motives weren't far off the mark:
Like most little girls, I was raised to believe that virginity is a sacred gift a woman should reserve for just the right man. But college taught me that this concept is just a tool to keep the status quo intact. Deflowering is historically oppressive—early European marriages began with a dowry, in which a father would sell his virginal daughter to the man whose family could offer the most agricultural wealth. Dads were basically their daughters’ pimps.

When I learned this, it became apparent to me that idealized virginity is just a tool to keep women in their place. But then I realized something else: if virginity is considered that valuable, what’s to stop me from benefiting from that? It is mine, after all. And the value of my chastity is one level on which men cannot compete with me. I decided to flip the equation, and turn my virginity into something that allows me to gain power and opportunity from men. I took the ancient notion that a woman’s virginity is priceless and used it as a vehicle for capitalism.

Are you rolling your eyes? I knew this experiment would bring me condemnation. But I'm not saying every forward-thinking person has to agree with what I’m doing. You should develop your own personal belief system—that’s exactly my point! For me, valuing virginity as sacred is simply not a concept I could embrace. But valuing virginity monetarily—now that’s a concept I could definitely get behind. I no longer view the selling of sex as wrong or immoral—my time at college showed me that I had too blindly accepted such arbitrary norms. And for what it’s worth, the winning bid won’t necessarily be the highest—I get to choose.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Of Pimps, Running Partners and Other Bogeymen and Bad Boyfriends--Relationships In The Context of Criminalization

(This will be part one of a series.)

On my escorts' listserv, we had an exchange about pimps that started me thinking. Two of us spoke up to deconstruct the concept, another woman and me. Here's what she said:

I imagine many girls who have pimps view it like THIS-

In the past they have had a crappy family/friend structure. In their current pimp/ho network they have people to talk to and cuddle in bed with after a long day and tiring day of seeing clients. They have other people to drive them to sessions if they feel unsafe or if their car breaks down. They have other people to share bills, living space, meals, and social activities with... It's something of a sex work version of intra-personal communism/fascism... But if you envisioned your whole life as a never ending expanse of wage slavery... working 40 or 50 hours a weeks for minimum wage, only to have $20 extra dollars to yourself after paying all the bills and getting gas and groceries every month...? Maybe having companionship and a "higher class" lifestyle are worth giving up many personal freedoms to some people...? If we look at American society at large, it would seem so!

I said:
Many "pimps" really are just
manager/bodyguards/clientprocurer/boyfriends, who do split their
earnings with their girlfriends evenly. Others are abusive. *Many*
probably are. But I think that there a class culture clash which
doesn't allow us to totally understand it.

Remember, the *legal* definition of a pimp in this state is someone who receives
money knowingly from a prostitute. If you were working and your
husband was taking care of your kids, he'd be your pimp. If you had a
friend staying with you to escape a domestic violence situation and
she wasn't paying rent (as I have, now) *she'd* be a pimp. If you have
*ever* given money to anyone, expecting nothing in return, they are a
pimp, if they know what you do.

I think we should judge every working relationship, every personal
relationship, and every relationship which straddles these two categories
on a case by case basis--not assume what they're like based on class and race
(remember, all the evil pimps of the media imagination are usually
black), based on labels. I've had a boyfriend who's taken care of my
by hook or by crook when I've been too depressed to work, and I've
also taken care of him--while he did a bunch of work driving me,
protecting me, and all sorts of other stuff. I decided where our money
went, but some of it did go to him. I have never thought of him as a

The guys on craigslist who are trying to look for us to "manage" us
are evil b/c they're trying to exploit us, not b/c they're "pimps".

I want to say further that to survive criminalization, people team up to conquer
odds with those they trust most. In a heterosexual context, this can often mean a husband/wife or boyfriend/girlfriend team. Women make the most in the adult industry, and certainly someone working on the black market makes more than someone who doesn't, so the woman ends up being the main wage earner (especially since most couples realize that having *two* people work on the black market in the same household is too risky). Often rather than having their male partners work in the legitimate marketplace while they have to hire some stranger to do call in checks, to drive them to outcalls and do bodyguard work, or worse, have an agency that provides these services take a huge cut out of their earnings, they prefer to have their partner do this backup work for them. And as the other escort on my listserv implied, it's hard to work in a profession so beset by criminalization and stigma all alone.

Why is this so shocking? Is it because many libertarian or leftists accept and respect the sex work that independent, single indie escorts do,but when we talk about a man in a couple who accepts and abets his partner's work in the industry, they fall back to old sexist knee jerk responses? Like a "real" man would never accept having his partner do sex work, and would certainly never actively back her up in the business? And if he is doing so, then he must be a batterer? If we were talking about the woman being the main wage earner because she had a high paying straight job, we'd never hear a peep about the man in the relationship, even if he did work for the woman--and if you understand sex work as "real" work, there should be no difference between a woman doctor paying the household bills and a woman escort doing the same thing.

Maybe it's because "pimps" are most often associated with street work, and poor women *must* be the object of exploitation? I would argue that street workers are more in need of security backup work than sex workers in other venues, and while networks of street workers can certainly watch each others' backs, what's wrong with a street worker having an agreement with her intimate male partner to do more intensive security for her?

I'm not saying that these relationships can't be abusive or exploitative. But I don't think they are *inherently* so because the woman is working in sex work and her partner receives some of her profits, and may work for/with her. In fact, criminalization protects the abusive partner in these relationships when things turn sour. A woman who is intimidated into giving a man all of her income from prostitution is less likely to report that kind of abuse than a woman who suffer the same kind of treatment who earns money through legal means. And because criminalization makes it hard for women to protect themselves, especially on the streets--most prostitutes do not feel comfortable calling the police when a client physically or sexually assaults them (given how this U Michigan law school student was treated, for example, when she reported being assaulted in the context of a call, it's easy to see why). So when they have protection, they are reluctant to strike out on their own, even when the person who protects them physically and sexually assaults them and exploits them for their income.

So, yes, certainly, the manipulative, controlling pimp of the Iceberg Slim variety, with his "stable", his wirehanger beatings, and his brainwashed women vying for the position of "bottom bitch" certainly existed, and in some places may still be alive and well. But I think that the way these men treated women had more to do with the era than with these women's professions--can one really say that women outside prostitution were treated much better in the forties, fifties, and early sixties? And now that women don't really need such a pimp to procure customers (not with so many venues available to advertise prostitutes' services--even former street workers often use craigslist) and with the option of hiring a security guard/driver, plus the effects of the feminist movement in general on women's sense of independence, this sort of arrangement is dying out.

I'm really surprised that in all the coverage of the Craigslist murderer, more has not been made of the husband who saved his erotic masseuse/exotic dancer wife's life from this monster. The husband obviously knew what his wife was doing for a living, and it seems like he was providing security for her. This is a "pimp" as hero. But we don't get much about this story--no one has followed up with an interview with the husband or the wife--but whenever we hear about an abusive prostitute/intimate partner relationship, we're sure to get a comprehensive account.

As for "pimp" interpreted simply as an escort's manager, outside of any romantic relationship between the two of them, what's wrong with *that*? Not everyone wants to work as an independent, taking on all the tasks of running an escort business by themselves--working the phones and screening clients can be some of the most exhausting parts of the job. Other workers aren't criticized for having managers or bosses. Sex workers should be free to choose to work for themselves or someone else. As Stella, a community organization that provides support and information to sex-workers, informs and sensitizes the general public about the topic, lobbies for decriminalization, fights discrimination and lobbies for decriminalization states in a booklet which defuses preconceived notions about the issue:

According to stereotypes, a pimp is a man who controls a sex workers’ work and income. The reality is that many sex workers work independently. Some choose to associate with colleagues to share their resources, such as a workplace. Some prefer working for various employers, particularly women or men who own escort agencies or massage parlours. Some associate with partners to ensure that they get help and protection in case of need. The stereotypical image of the pimp does not correspond with the different contexts for sex work. Sex work may, indeed, require maintaining professional relationships with third parties such as employers, managers, drivers or receptionists, for economical or security reasons, or to make sure that the initial agreement is respected. The criminalization of pimps (employers or third party) makes it difficult to perform sex work safely. Once again, this criminalization is seldom used to protect women against violence.

Sex workers who are under the control of another person are most often in a situation of conjugal violence within their working context. This situation results from the intimate ties that sex workers may have with the employer or third party. When sex workers want to file a complaint and break the cycle of conjugal violence, their efforts are difficult because they are criminalized.

I'd also like to talk about another sort of relationship formed in the context of criminalization: "running partners". Unlike "pimp", this term is relatively unknown in the straight world, but most people know what "running partners" are, even if they don't recognize the term. It is a phrase mostly used in heroin circles, but the concept applies to people who use other physically addictive drugs as well. Running partners are two or more people who help each other score drugs every day, and share their spoils with each other. Given the artificially inflated cost of drugs in the black market and the danger of getting caught and arrested while obtaining the drugs, it is often easier and safer to team up and pool funds,and delegate tasks, assigning each part of the process to the person who is most capable in that particular task . For example, maybe one person is better at making money, and another has more street smarts and is more likely to be able to cop drugs in bad neighborhoods without getting caught. The outside world often looks down on these kinds of partnerships.

I remember when I was still using heroin daily, an ex-boyfriend accused my relationship with my new boyfriend of consisting only of using each other to obtain drugs. Again, nothing could be further from the truth---the reason that I worked with my boyfriend to obtain drugs for each other is *because* I trusted and loved him. In the dangerous world of criminalization, I trusted him to care about protecting me from the police and other people who might want to take advantage of me, I trusted him with the money I gave over to him, trusted that he would split the spoils with me fairly, and trusted that he would watch over me and care about my safety when we injected together. He lived up to these implicit promises, and my trust in him as a driver/bodyguard/running partner was vindicated the one day that I did have a problem with a sex work client--he scared away a client that approached me aggressively, got between me and the violent person with no hesitation, wielding a tire iron and getting the man to back down. I didn't choose him as a lover because he was handy to me in terms of scoring drugs, I chose him as a running partner, driver, and bodyguard *because* I loved and trusted him. In an environment in which drug users and sex workers are reviled and criminalized and their safety is not a concern for most people, it only makes sense to team up with good friends and intimate partners, people who actually do care what happens to you. To paint all these relationships as exploitative and abusive by definition does a huge disservice to the people involved---many of whom are trying to take care of each other in an environment that cares nothing about their welfare.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Why Natalie Dylan is A Genius

...for auctioning off her virginity to the highest bidder through a Nevada brothel in order to pay for grad school, in case you haven't heard.

How many "virgins" are totally sexually inexperienced? The vast majority of people have kissed and touched and gone through several of those junior high "bases" before engaging in heterosexual intercourse. Many have also experienced *some* form of genital contact. (Dylan obliquely acknowledged this when she said, " I think people misconstrue virginity with being prudes... ") Why do we make the insertion of the penis into the vagina such a sexual milestone? Sure, it's different in that it is a potentially reproductive act, but fewer and fewer people lose their virginity in order to have children. In the age of effective birth control, it is no more of a reproductive act than any other sexual activity. Many people who only have same gender lovers have *never* had heterosexual intercourse, but it would be an insult to their rich and extensive sex lives to call them virgins. The idea that having a penis in one's vagina marks one's transition away from sexual innocence is a recapitulation of heterosexist, patriarchal norms that are really no longer relevant. Natalie Dylan, a young woman from a generation with changing viewpoints around sex, with a sister who's worked a sex worker who has also probably given her more expansive ideas on the subject, and a degree in Women's Studies where she's examined just these sorts of questions, probably doesn't view heterosexual intercourse as some huge turning point in her sexual life. But cleverly, she's exploiting the obsolete ideas of men who do see her lack of experience with this form of sex as holding some huge cache. So both parties get what they want--the man who makes the winning bid gets to believe he's buying a once in a lifetime experience, while Dylan loses nothing b/c she understands that " losing her virginity " is merely a technicality bolstered by a huge amount of hype, and after a sexual tete-a-tete that will take no more than an hour, she gets to walk away with the cash to pay for her degree, plus a few million to spare.

Of course, the hold that the idea of " virginity " still has on this culture is incredible, judging by the fact that more than 10,000 men have bid on the auction. Dylan is also benefiting in yet another way, by analyzing the phenomenon as a Women's Studies scholar:

" We wanted to study the dichotomous nature between virginity and prostitution. There’s really been so few case studies of it… "

And thank you, Ms. Dylan, for tying in sex work with the feminist credo of my-body-my-choice, an obvious connection that's often lost on too many second wave feminists, in a mainstream venue:

" I think this is about being pro-choice with your body, " she said on the Tyra Banks show.

Of course, coverage of the auction has been as hysterical and insulting as one might expect. For some trenchant commentary on that, check out Sex In The Public Square.

I'd also like to put in what a commenter in my facebook said when I posted this link---" It pisses me off to see this stuff in the media as part of a moralistic debate on how one should/should not make a living instead of a conversation about the cost of education and the realities of low wage jobs... " It's the usual sleight-of-hand with the issues of sex work and economic need, similar to the way people focus on low-income women streetwalking rather than why they need to do so,in depressed urban areas in a country where so many low skilled jobs have been shipped abroad to sweatshops where corporations can pay pennies on the hour for the labor. With welfare cut so that poor people often have to make a choice referred to bitterly as "heat or eat" during the winter, it's no wonder that the inflated wages of the black market appeal to many people struggling to get by. Whatever your opinion of the morality of prostitution, surely people should understand that the greater crime is not the nonviolent offense of prostitution but the systemic violence that leads low income women to make desperate choices trying to feed themselves and their children. At Arise For Social Justice, a low income rights organization I worked with that advocates de facto decriminalization of prostitution in Springfield as one of its goals, we often made this argument, and I still have the pin proclaiming, " OUTLAW POVERTY, NOT PROSTITUTION. "

Monday, April 13, 2009

what do *you* want me to write about?

Contemplated and half-worked on posts:
*"Of Pimps, 'Running Partners', and other Bad Boyfriends ( Romantic and Economic Relationships in the Context of the Criminalization of Prostitution and the Drug War)(A plea for people to look at relationships on a case by case basis to see if they're abusive, rather than judging them solely on whoraphobia,junkie stigma, classism, and racism--with some personal stuff along with the analysis, going on about the love of my life--my "pimp" and "running partner". Also analysis on how people team up to work the blackmarket effectively and protect each other, often with couples running a blackmarket business or survival racket, b/c they know they love and trust each other the most in a dangerous situation. And acknowledgement that many of these relationships have been abusive, just like so many relationships between "straight" people are--and how criminalization protects the abuser.)

*"Natalie Dylan Is A Genius" (For auctioning off her virginity to pay for grad school in the state of Nevada, in case you hadn't heard)

*" 'Occupy Everything Now'? Maybe Not, but...Notes Towards An Effective Student Left for the 21st Century" (Talking about how college students can be great at macropolitics and oncampus politics, but don't seem to really participate where their voices are most vital--in how their colleges swallow up college towns economically for example, using them for marketing and development purposes, while gentrifying and driving low income people out. How the situation we're dealing with in my local activism now, with Smith developing and destroying low income housing in its development, and joining the Business Improvement District to basically buy more control of the town, is analogous to the 1968 Columbia student occupations in protest of the development of the gym in Morningside Heights--that did achieve many of its goals, despite the sacrifice 30 students made in being suspended, and the suffering many more experienced in being victims of police brutality. Acknowledging that I'm part of the disaffected left, and that I did roll my eyes at the dramatic notion of occupation from student activists in my movement, but looking at the New School and NYU occupations and seeing that some of their goals are to draw attention to how the colleges and universities exacerbate economic disparities in the city. Urging the exhaustion of "legitimate" avenues of protest first, but not crossing direct action off the list. Recommending everyone read _The Strawberry Statement"--fun, sweet diary of a student in the Columbia occupation. Looking to a nation wide movement of students that hold colleges accountable for economic decisions.)

So, please talk about this stuff, and scream in my ear urging me to finish one post or another...

Thursday, April 9, 2009

support the troops-until you bring them home

Sorry, no drugs or sex in this entry. But this topic still has some personal significance for me. Gianna blogged about this and brought it to my attention, but I just have to say something.

You see, my partner of five years is a heavy combat Vietnam veteran of two and a half tours. When we first got together, he sat me down one night and said, "I want to tell you everything I did during the war." He cried. He said he knew my politics and he didn't want to slip and refer to something later that would make me end our relationship, recoiling from him because he was a "babykiller", in the parlance of some particularly insensitive people in the peace movement of his time. He knew he had participated in atrocities. But he was a 17 year old slum kid when he enlisted, from a gang run neighborhood where you "either got out in a uniform or a box." (Recruiters still prey on that desperation today, setting up shop in urban ghettos and targeting poor young people of color, dangling the hope of a college education and banking on the fact that the kids won't read the small print-- a surprisingly small number of soldiers ever get that subsidized GI Bill ride through school because of new, more stringent qualifications for that "privilege.") For the first time in his life, because he was good at being a soldier, good at leadership skills so that he soon made sergeant, and the people who commanded him, first the Marines and then the Black Ops people who made use of him, made him feel good at something, made him feel special, when before he'd just been one more anonymous street kid. It's easy to manipulate a barely literate teenager from a lower class background who just wants some attention and affirmation. Way too easy.

On his first leave home after his first tour, they put him on a plane back to the States still in muddy combat fatigues. No debriefing, no transitional programming. He was asked to check in his rifle but left with his small arms. As he took a cab back from the airport back to his NYC home, they passed through a huge traffic blocking peace protest. He knew nothing about the peace movement, barely anything about the huge cultural changes of the mid 60s. He'd shipped out in 1965, one of the first wave of Marines. Media censorship in the military was tight and the America he remembered was the Kennedy America, and here were these protesters, in tie dyed fashions he didn't recognize, screaming in one vast roar, condemning him. He got back, said hello to his parents and took off camping in the mountains of upstate New York for the remainder of his leave, so he could be alone.

He couldn't handle what America had become or the consequences of his decision to enlist. As a lower class kid, he had no political vocabulary to make sense of what was happening. But he knew things were deeply wrong when he heard guys in his platoon bragging about raping women, when he saw a soldier shoot a village elder in the back. He was happy in the villages, making small talk with his pidgin Vietnamese and French, watching the children ride their water buffaloes, seeing a communal way of life he had never encountered but felt strangely at home in. "These people just wanted to be left alone to live the life of their village," he told me. Most of the other soldier embarrassed and disgusted him. "I truly found out the meaning of the phrase "the ugly American"--no wonder everyone hates us!" But he couldn't go AWOL either and go home--the home he remembered wasn't even there anymore. He got himself stationed so far North, next to the DMZ, that he had barely any supervision. He went on black ops missions alone with just a radio man (they had picked out and discovered a few soldiers like him who were good cannon fodder for this kind of thing) and tried to make as many of his own moral decisions as he could.

He volunteered for his third tour. He didn't fit in the States, or in the rear. The only place he belonged anymore was the jungle.

Eventually he got wounded and they forced him back to country, though he tried to stay in the Japanese military hospital for as long as he could, selling his plane tickets home a few times. He embarked on a number of lively careers on both sides of the law, smuggler, dealer, art student, fashion photographer, antique trucking company owner...Then one day when he was 35, during a particularly stressful period, the PTSD came down and hit him like a hammer. He blacked out, but they told him later he'd been walking around, swinging a lead pipe at parked cars and screaming at passerbys.

So, I'll get to the point of this long winded, melodramatic account. The point is that in some ways my boyfriend was lucky. His was one of the first signatures on the Agent Orange class action suit, and they had a powerful case and prevailed, getting coverage for the damage they suffered after being exposed to the chemical. He got good treatment for the heavy duty PTSD he suffered from for years, with the VA sending him to this area to a specialized PTSD unit, the best in the country. He eventually qualified for 100% disability benefits for both his physical and psychological injuries.

Young veterans coming home aren't so lucky now. The Valley Advocate predicted at the beginning of the Iraq war that there would only be 1/4 of the resources needed to deal with the number of PTSD cases that could reasonably be predicted in the soldiers coming home. So how would you expect the military, that bastion of fair dealing, to respond when they're faced with the bill now, in the form of thousands of veterans coming home with their most common injuries being a subtle form of brain damage from IEDs and big helpings of PTSD? They get their doctors to fudge things. They invent pre-existing psychological conditions for these men and women when there were none so that they're left without coverage. My boyfriend says they were playing the "pre-existing condition" game back in the Vietnam and post Vietnam era, but as he says, they've gotten better at it. And back then there was still a muckraking independent media that wouldn't let them get away scotfree for Agent Orange conditions, for example. Now we have a media controlled by only three major corporations, a monopolized media that's in bed 24-7 with the Powers That Be. So it's no surprise that an online venue was the first to cover *this* story:

So, we've been hearing about their denials of PTSD diagnoses for Iraq and Afghanistan war vets for some time, but now we have *proof* of orders from above to use these tactics. Proof gathered by a veteran suffering from PTSD with the Army refusing to acknowledge it, in fact.

Here are quotes from the Salon story :

April 8, 2009 | FORT CARSON, Colo. -- "Sgt. X" is built like the Bradley Fighting Vehicle he rode in while in Iraq. He's as bulky, brawny and seemingly impervious as a tank.

In an interview in the high-rise offices of his Denver attorneys, however, symptoms of the damaged brain inside that tough exterior begin to appear. Sgt. X's eyes go suddenly blank, shifting to refocus oddly on a wall. He pauses mid-sentence, struggling for simple words. His hands occasionally tremble and spasm.

For more than a year he's been seeking treatment at Fort Carson for a brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder, the signature injuries of the Iraq war. Sgt. X is also suffering through the Army's confusing disability payment system, handled by something called a medical evaluation board. The process of negotiating the system has been made harder by his war-damaged memory. Sgt. X's wife has to go with him to doctor's appointments so he'll remember what the doctor tells him.

But what Sgt. X wants to tell a reporter about is one doctor's appointment at Fort Carson that his wife did not witness. When she couldn't accompany him to an appointment with psychologist Douglas McNinch last June, Sgt. X tucked a recording device into his pocket and set it on voice-activation so it would capture what the doctor said. Sgt. X had no idea that the little machine in his pocket was about to capture recorded evidence of something wounded soldiers and their advocates have long suspected -- that the military does not want Iraq veterans to be diagnosed with PTSD, a condition that obligates the military to provide expensive, intensive long-term care, including the possibility of lifetime disability payments. And, as Salon will explore in a second article Thursday, after the Army became aware of the tape, the Senate Armed Services Committee declined to investigate its implications, despite prodding from a senator who is not on the committee. The Army then conducted its own internal investigation -- and cleared itself of any wrongdoing.

When Sgt. X went to see McNinch with a tape recorder, he was concerned that something was amiss with his diagnosis. He wanted to find out why the psychologist had told the medical evaluation board that handles disability payments that Sgt. X did not, in fact, have PTSD, but instead an "anxiety disorder," which could substantially lower the amount of benefits he would receive if the Army discharged him for a disability. The recorder in Sgt. X's pocket captured McNinch in a moment of candor.
"OK," McNinch told Sgt. X. "I will tell you something confidentially that I would have to deny if it were ever public. Not only myself, but all the clinicians up here are being pressured to not diagnose PTSD and diagnose anxiety disorder NOS [instead]." McNinch told him that Army medical boards were "kick[ing] back" his diagnoses of PTSD, saying soldiers had not seen enough trauma to have "serious PTSD issues."

"Unfortunately," McNinch told Sgt. X, "yours has not been the only case ... I and other [doctors] are under a lot of pressure to not diagnose PTSD. It's not fair. I think it's a horrible way to treat soldiers, but unfortunately, you know, now the V.A. is jumping on board, saying, 'Well, these people don't have PTSD,' and stuff like that."

...McNinch told Salon that the pressure to misdiagnose came from the former head of Fort Carson's Department of Behavioral Health. That colonel, an Army psychiatrist, is now at Fort Lewis in Washington state. "This was pressure that the commander of my Department of Behavioral Health put on me at that time," he said. Since McNinch is a civilian employed by the Army, the colonel could not order him to give a specific, lesser diagnosis to soldiers. Instead, McNinch said, the colonel would "refuse to concur with me, or argue with me, or berate me" when McNinch diagnosed soldiers with PTSD. "It is just very difficult being a civilian in a military setting."

McNinch added that he also received pressure not to properly diagnose traumatic brain injury, Sgt. X's other medical problem. "When I got there I was told I was overdiagnosing brain injuries and now everybody is finding out that, yes, there are brain injuries," he recalled. McNinch said he argued, "'What are we going to do about treatment?' And they said, 'Oh, we are just counting people. We don't plan on treating them.'"...

When McNinch learned he would be quoted in a Salon article, he cut off further questions. He also said he would deny the interview took place. Salon, however, had recorded the conversation.

On the tape and in his interview with Salon, McNinch seemed to admit what countless soldiers not just at Fort Carson but across the Army have long suspected: At least in some cases, the Army tries to avoid diagnoses of PTSD...

"Each diagnosis is an acknowledgment that psychiatric casualties are a huge price tag of this war," said [David Rudd, the chairman of Texas Tech's department of psychology and a former Army psychologist]. "It is easiest to dismiss these casualties because you can't see the wounds. If they change the diagnosis they can dismiss you at a substantially decreased rate."...

There is some evidence that Sgt. X's experience with McNinch represents part of a broader scandal, as suggested by the former Army psychiatrist who told Salon about identical problems at another post. Last year, and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) released an e-mail from Norma Perez, a psychologist in Texas, to staff at a Department of Veterans Affairs facility there. In addition to the Army, that department also provides veterans with benefits. "Given that we are having more and more compensation seeking veterans, I'd like to suggest that you refrain from giving a diagnosis of PTSD straight out," Perez wrote in the e-mail dated March 20, 2008. She suggested the staff "consider a diagnosis of Adjustment Disorder." As opposed to those with PTSD, veterans with adjustment disorder, a temporary condition, typically do not receive disability payments from the government...

Do read the rest of the story to find out about soldiers plastered with insulting "personality disorders" so that the Army and the VA can avoid that expensive admission of PTSD, and to find a link to another Salon article which identified a pattern of medical officials searching to pin soldiers' problems on childhood trauma instead of combat stress at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Salon also promises that it will "explore Thursday how the Army was made aware of Sgt. X's tape, how the Senate Armed Services Committee declined to conduct an investigation, and how the Army absolved itself of any blame for wrongdoing."

I feel it is vital for the peace movement to support the troops in a way that many hawks never do--that is, we should recognize in our leftist analysis that what the army calls enlistment is little better than a subtle draft, determined by conditions of poverty that leave young people thinking there are no other options for them to leave their desperate environments. And how many options are there? Arise for Social Justice, a low income rights organization I worked in for years, tried to run an educational program letting high school students in Springfield, MA ghettos know about all the consequences of enlistment before a recruitment official glitzed the military up for them. We also tried to offer them other options. The problem was, there weren't that many other options.

That doesn't mean we shouldn't hold low ranking soldiers accountable for their actions during wartime. But if you want to focus your rage at the wars, focus it at the decision makers, the politicians and the defense industry bigwigs and the privileged West Point educated generals light years away from knowing what the privates and non-commissioned officers experience on the ground.

Let me use a dirty pinko commie freak word here and remind you all that the soldiers from poor backgrounds that the military focuses its pitch on deliberately, who are hoodwinked into traumatic combat situations, are just as much victims of *capitalism* as the populations of countries we invade with our new brand of American Imperialism. and the many others in the Third World our corporations work to death in sweat shops.

Veteran's rights should always be a progressive issue.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

So proud of the mother country

The US is to blame for the global drug war and its devastating results, it's true. But just when you think things are bad *here* and yearn for a good old dose of European Socialism or start daydreaming about moving to Portugal...

Both government and public health officials agree that the epidemic of heroin addiction in Russia has reached terrifying proportions that could in the long run prove devastating. But while the Government hints that the Western intervention in Afghanistan is the root cause of Russia's drugs woes, its critics claim that Russian Government policy on drugs is responsible for worsening the epidemic.

"The Russian strategy is to stifle serious debate about the problem and demonise drug users," said Dasha Ocheret, of the Eurasian Harm Reduction Network in Moscow.

Any addict who seeks medical help for addiction is immediately put on the state "narcological register". This information is available to police, who can have the drug user arrested and put in prison, and causes huge problems for people if they kick their habit and want to reintegrate into society.

A report by Human Rights Watch claimed that Russian policy decisions on treating drug users were outdated and "deliberately ignore the best available medical evidence and recommendations".

Substitution therapy using methadone is banned in Russia, and needle and syringe exchange points are regarded as highly controversial. "Task number one for any drug user is to hide away from everyone," said Ocheret. "They worry that if they go to get clean needles and syringes they will be arrested and sent to prison."
This in turn drives other devastating epidemics in the country, such as hepatitis C and HIV/Aids. More than one million people in the country are thought to be HIV positive.

More than 30,000 people die from drug use every year, and in a sparsely populated country, it's a statistic that Russia cannot afford.
--The New Zealand Herald 3/12/09

Reminds one of the the draconian conditions under Anslinger described in William Burroughs' _Junkie_, where the state of *being* an opiate addict was an arrestable offense and people started injecting in all sorts of creative places b/c of the regular demand to pull up one's sleeve in drug neighborhoods, an encounter that usually led to a stay in jail.

On another note, a lighter one--and maybe this blog should start having more of those--why are Russian tattoos, especially Russian prison tattoos, so superior to American ones? No garish ink colors, no cartoonish aesthetic. Intricate detail, ink that fades gracefully into a pleasing dark green, cool subverted Orthodox Church religious imagery & art, a complex code of criminal identity...
Check out this incredible blog devoted exclusively to this topic---Russian tattoo porno for eccentrics like me!

Monday, April 6, 2009

hos and junkies unite?

(A public "sharps container", a receptacle where used syringes can be safely disposed of, next to a condom machine in Lausanne, France)

It warms the cockles of my little junkie heart to see SWOP (Sex Worker's Outreach Program) and SWANK (Sex Worker's Action New yorK) send me a message over facebook about a workshop they're holding on using Narcan/naloxone as an antidote to opiate overdose.

Not only because I think more people need to be given the knowledge to use these tools and have Narcan dispensed to them before the ambulances come to late, as they often do, to what they think of as another dumb drug overdose call ("when people are *actually* suffering out there...") (Even when paramedics are well intentioned and speedy in arriving, the neccessary delay still often kills. "If people have to rely on paramedics, more often than not, the overdose is going to be fatal, just because of the amount of time for people to get there," explained Casey Cook of Prevention Point Philadelphia to the Associated Press on August 1st, 2008.) Not only because these life saving tools have been denied to us for so long,with the last drug czar expressing disapproval over such workshops in Philadelphia, saying they encouraged drug use by eliminating the risk, making users feel too complacent, the old not-giving-them-condoms-keeps-them-from-having-sex argument.

(If the czar had ever taken Narcan while he was habituated to opiates, he'd know that no one *planned* on taking a super high dose and then banked on torturing themselves with the pain of naloxone ingestion afterwards.) Not even because we need to make sure that these methods are not exclusive to medical professionals because of how these medical professionals so often use them: naloxone is often used *punitively* in hospitals or in ambulances after an overdose, as junkie punishment medicine. What naloxone does is inhibit opiate receptors, thus, it takes out the high and often plunges a person into a concentrated bout of withdrawal--plus pain, seeing as how opiates are so similar to endorphins. Often, EMTs and other health professionals use twice the effective dose in order to Teach The Junkie A Lesson. The results can be traumatic. (Sometimes it just teaches the person never to trust doctors, hospitals, or ambulances.) On the other hand, harm reduction workshops which dispense Narcan and teaches users how to administrate it usually tell them to use the smallest effective dose on the overdosing user, taking most of the horror out of the experience.

No, all of that is important, but not as marvelous to me as the fact that this particular workshop is being sponsored by a sex workers' rights organization. For far too long, the sex workers' rights movement has been distancing itself from harm reduction and drug decriminalization movements. Some of this has been understandable, at least from a strategic viewpoint if not from a moral one. Even though most prostitutes work middle or upper class venues, the TV image still casts us as the desperate, mangy street worker. That media phantom uses loads of disreputable drugs like heroin and cocaine, injecting herself on scabied and abcessed skin. (This imagined street worker doesn't even bear any resemblance to the street workers of actuality, who are agents of their own destiny who deserve the public's respect.) The sex workers' rights movement needed to normalize ourselves to the outside world, show them that no more of us are desperately poor drug users than they are. It's easy to feel alienated from "hard" drug users that the drug war so effectively demonizes, so we needed to make sure people knew we were not them--which, in fact, we weren't, not many more of us use drugs than people in any other profession. When we struggle to show that the vast majority of us come to our work voluntarily, that we are not victims of human trafficking or patriarchy, it's hard to demonstrate that if people think you turn tricks to support your habit--people have come to think of addiction as as powerful a force at destroying agency as demonic possession, and if we acknowledged drug use in our midst as anything but the bad habits of a sad, pitiful, tiny minority, we risked having people think that we can't freely choose to perform sex acts for money since we depend on that money for our next fix. ( An argument we had to defuse, but a ludicrous one, really--so a heroin addict accountant can't freely choose her job because she depends on her salary to buy bags, among other things? And trust me, there are plenty of "functional" heroin addicts in "straight jobs" out there, living necessarily totally closeted lives. I'll link to some of their stories in a later post, perhaps.)

But the pendulum has swung too far. Because while we probably don't have many more drug users in the sex industry than other professions do, we have as many as they do--a lot, because the fact is there are quite a few drug users in this country. And the issues are inextricably linked--how can sex workers fight for a person to have control over how they use their body and the kind of goods they choose to sell, in the context of a nonviolent crime that hurts nobody, and not realize these very same arguments apply to drug use and sale? People sell drugs for the inflated black market money when other choices become limited, just like sex workers go into the business during those kinds of times. They also sell because they aren't made for and don't believe in traditional legitimate job wageslave labor--and that's why many sex workers choose to work off their ads as well. Drug users take risks, but no more than extreme sports enthusiasts do (perhaps less), no more than people who like to drive fast, and using harm reduction methods and researching the drugs they ingest, they minimize those risks. A call girl takes a huge risk every time she enters a room with a stranger, but by screening callers and using other harm minimization techniques, she cuts those risks down to an acceptable level. Sex workers and drug users are both scapegoated for evils spread by non-pros and non users--sex workers are accused of spreading HIV, whereas in the First World they're much more likely to use safer sex methods than people having noncommercial sex and one is much more likely to pick up HIV from a free fuck one finds at a bar. Illegal drug users are seen as being crazed and super violent, impervious to pain when on a Reefer Madnessesesque rampage, yet alcohol, the *legal* drug, is the only one with a significant statistical correlation to violence. And while both sex workers and drug users and sellers are victims of the violence of the black market, sex workers who don't manage other prostitute's earnings are only facing a misdemeanor, while drug users and sellers often face mandatory minimums that leave them rotting in prison for years longer than rapists and murderers.

How can we fight for the decriminalization of one and not the other?

A long time $pread, the great sex worker's glossy based in NYC, commissioned a article from me about drugs and sex work. I balked, I wrote thousands upon thousands of words but couldn't put them together neatly in any way. I never sent it in. The article was a political justification of my whole life--what, a junkie ho who considers herself victimized by a society that controlled the way we use our bodies, not a victim of her own bad choices? A junkie ho who--ha, ha, ha--considered herself an *activist*? And I looked over the pages of $pread, and while I loved this magazine, over and over I saw nothing but contempt in interviews in memoirs for "girls who worked to feed a habit", and never a word from those girls so dismissively referred to. I remember doing the research for the article, and looking at one sex worker blogger's little rant about how tired she is of liberals who say "legalize it all--sex, drugs, and gambling!" Not the same thing, she fumed, without even bothering to explain why--the difference was self-evident to her readership, obviously. She was a a lady courtesan, & this other marginalized group of people were just trashy junkies. What more needed to be said?

And while sex workers constantly questioned the way they were psychopathologized because of their profession, labeled masochists and nymphomaniacs, they used traditional tropes about addiction and trauma and self-medication to talk about drug use. There was never the consideration of the wide range of reasons that people had to use illicit drugs--for fun, for ritual, to "expand the mind", to socialize, to cushion a difficult time, as therapy--even though sex workers in the movement write about the huge variety of different reasons people have to do sex work all the time.

Why, I wondered, was the sex workers' movement's view of drug users as one dimensional as the public's view of sex workers?

I'm not saying things were totally bleak. At the 2006 Desiree Alliance conference I helped find methadone treatment for me and others, and helped accomodate and especially invite drug using sex workers and ex-sex workers by offering them scholarships. And now SWOP-NYC & SWANK send this. Hopefully it's not just about Helping Their Downtrodden StreetWalking Sisters, who are the only ones who would Stoop to *That*. Hopefully it's the beginning of real change, of a united movement to decriminalize nonviolent crimes, nonviolent practices as old as human history hit hard in the last couple of centuries by an upstart Puritanism that does not know when to stop when controlling the behavior of consenting adults.

more on how speed is speed

And don't tell me the method of ingestion makes all the difference. The tablets of stimulants given out to children are easily crushable and snortable, damaging the nose by making a deviated septum more likely, intensifying the drug's effect, and leading to a shorter if stronger high that peters out all the faster. It is rare that a child does not learn to snort the pills by tween age.

Another issue: Many parents complain that their child's ADD medications "poop out" by late afternoon or evening, and stop working. This is what any recreational user of speed worth their salt recognizes as the speed crash. It is not that the medication has "stopped working", it is simply that it is time to pay the speed piper. The law of mental gravity applies here and what goes up must come down--the user becomes irritable and tired and yet unable to sleep for a few hours. Yet, how do doctors advise solving this problem? By adding another dose of amphetamine at the end of the day, merely exacerbating a speed crash that is now delayed, but not eliminated.

If the children were using it recognizing the drug as a risky stimulant, choosing to use it of their own free will and approaching their use from a harm reduction standpoint, it would be one thing. But as minors, children are forced to ingest an intensely mind altering substance (I, for one, see being forced to take uppers in multiple doses every day as sheer torture, and I'm sure many of these pathologized children are experiencing it as exactly that.) Their parents might not even be aware that the drugs their children are taking are good old fashioned uppers. And the doctors, who in another context would recognize a speed crash when they saw one, are blinded by the false conceptual divide between drugs that are marketed as cures for "psychiatric disorders" by Big Pharma and drugs that are sold by the blackmarket for recreational or lifestyle use--not even when, as in this case, it's the *exact* *same* drug under discussion.

This why the mad movement and the anti drug war movement need to begin a dialogue.

For a brilliant explanation of how our society alternately demonizes and angelicizes certain drugs in different eras (and in this case, the same drug in different packaging in the same era!), read Richard DeGrandpre's _The Cult of Pharmacology_.

Here, Will Hall, co-founder of mad movement group the Freedom Center(full discosure, I'm an organizer and collective member)interviews the author on Madness Radio, our Valley Free Radio show.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

ADD medication or amphetamine--a hit of speed is a hit of speed by any other name

This from Psychiatric Times (thanks to Gianna for the quote):

"Medications used to treat ADHD in children may lead to psychotic symptoms and hallucinations, according to Dr Andrew Mosholder of the US Food and Drug Administration and colleagues.

"The researchers looked at 49 randomized, controlled clinical trials in the pediatric development programs for ADHD products and found evidence of psychosis or mania linked with almost every one of the eight ADHD medications/compounds studied (including extended release variations, tablets and transdermal patches). Although there were no reports of such reactions in patients on placebo, the overall rate was 1.48 events per 100 person-years for those on the ADHD medications.

"In data from manufacturer postmarketing studies, the researchers found 865 unique reports describing symptoms of psychosis or mania; the majority of the cases were pediatric and nearly half were children age 10 years old or younger. Symptom resolution resulted in 25% to 59% of cases after medication discontinuation."

And theLA Times reports

"Just under 8% of U.S. children, ages 4 to 17, have been diagnosed with ADHD, according to a survey conducted in 2003 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than half of these children were taking a medication for the disorder. However, the research reported today shows that psychotic symptoms occurred even in children who were not considered at high risk for psychosis or mania, such as children who abuse drugs or have other mental illnesses. In more than 90% of the cases, the children had never experienced hallucinations or psychosis. In most cases, the hallucinations were visual and tactile and involved seeing or feeling bugs, worms or snakes. The symptoms typically disappeared after the children stopped taking ADHD medication."

"It's not clear just why some children experience psychotic reactions to the drugs or what causes the symptoms. However, doctors should explain to parents that any psychosis or mania that occurs during treatment could be from the drug itself, said the authors of the report. And, they add, their paper is fresh evidence regarding the limitations of short-term clinical trials. The clinical trials of stimulant drugs showed a much lower rate of psychotic symptoms, but it wasn't until the medications were widely prescribed in a broad range of people that psychotic adverse events became prominent."

Now, why is this such a surprise? Why does the last paragraph have the researchers putting on their best baffled face? We've all been aware of the fact that uppers like cocaine, amphetamine, and meth can induce temporary psychosis in their users for years. In fact, the psychiatrists themselves have an entry in their DSM-IV for drug induced psychosis. Why is it that when the label on the pill bottle says Adderal, when it's prescribed rather than bought on the street, when a difference in learning styles labeled ADD by an American Psychiatric Association committee offers Big Pharma an opportunity to cash in that we see the amphetamine pills in the bottle as somehow benign?

The artificial conceptual division between licit and illicit mind altering drugs does us harm, crippling our common sense. We KNOW how illicit drugs work. In fact, the scare tactics of the drug war have been letting us know about exaggerated accounts of their risks for years. And the harm reduction movement has taught us how to take those risks into account and deal with them. But when the psychotropic drug is psychiatrist prescribed, we tend to treat them as if they're as harmless as candy, and our natural skepticism disappears. It takes journalistic exposes to tell us that Zyprexa causes adult onset diabetes and that Prozac causes suicidality and homocidality in some, even though their makers knew about these ill effects for years. It takes medical journals years to admit that psychiatric drugs make for horrific withdrawals, even when some of the withdrawal effects rival the most atrocious cold turkeys that illegal drugs can provide--Paxil, with its subjective experience of electric shocks to the brain, its aches and pains, its weeks of hysteria, had makers jumping through hoops to deny these effects until finally too many people experienced them

So especially when the illicit drug and the psychiatric drug are the *same* substance--and don't talk to me about meth, because in Europe amphetamine sulfate--yes, Adderal--is the upper of choice, a hugely popular club and lifestyle drug--we need to look past the packaging and the social context and apply what we know about the drug as a recreational substance to its effects as a psychiatric "medication".

And, in the Washington Times, on 3/27/09:

"One principal scientist in the study, psychologist William Pelham, said that the most obvious interpretation of the [longterm] data is that the medications are useful in the short term but ineffective over longer periods.... [Let's not even go into what this article has to say about what this man's colleagues are doing to obfuscate or try to explain away the damninng results of the study]

"...The MTA [the study] was designed to test whether children diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, do better when treated with drugs, with drugs plus talk therapy, with talk therapy alone or with routine medical care alone. Children with the disorder have trouble paying attention, are restless and hyperactive, and are sometimes disruptive in school.

"The initial 14-month analysis published in 1999 randomly assigned children to one of four treatment options and showed clearly that those treated with medication did much better than those who got only talk therapy or routine care. The drugs' manufacturers distributed thousands of reprints of the article to physicians at a time when diagnoses of ADHD were spiraling upward. Because children given drugs alone appeared to do about as well as those treated with both drugs and talk therapy, the study skewed treatment in the direction of medication...

"In August 2007, the MTA researchers reported the first follow-up data, which by then no longer showed differences in behavior between children who were medicated and those who were not. But the data did show that children who took the drugs for 36 months were about an inch shorter and six pounds lighter than those who did not.

Now, again, anyone who has taken speed to study, from the first university students in the 50s who sniffed benzedrine inhalers before their midterms, could've told you all this. Speed works at first for what the psychiatric industry labels ADD because it improves short term concentration (and don't talk to me about paradoxical effects, with speed making "normal" people hyperactive and those with ADD calm--it calms *everyone* in a way because it temporarily improves focus.) But the mind cannot sustain this artificially honed concentration for long, and soon enough speed leads one into tangents or mindless rote behavior which makes study and focus just as difficult as ever. Over long term use, the strain on the body becomes quite a problem. These researchers should have known intuitively what it took a study with suffering, young human subjects for them to discover--that children would suffer the worst from that strain because their bodies were not yet fully developed. Stunted growth, to the extent of being an inch shorter and six pounds lighter? I bet these kids would have preferred the extra trouble of organically learning to deal with their difficulties in paying attention in classes that utilized traditional learning formats to the ruin that years of amphetamine they had no choice but to take wreaked on their bodies. If it were not given the lofty name of research, forcing children to take amphetamines would probably have NIDA and other drug war organizations up in arms--thankfully, they save their ire for people of color in the black market attempting to support their families rather than white, respectable research doctors with fancy degrees.

To see how the researchers have "bent over backwards", in the words of one of the more honest among them, to explain away the results of this study so no harm is done to Big Pharma's reputation, here's the original Washington Post article I was quoting from.

drug war SWAT teams take the old homily about shooting first and asking questions later to heart

So, SWAT Teams should wait judiciously before entering a situation.

Up to three hours, if they need to. Hey, a hostage situation can only get better as time goes along, right?

Unless, of course, drug are involved. Then, barge in, and sort out if it's the correct address later.

And feel free to mow down innocents,dogs, and
while you're at it.

Now, one thing we really need SWAT teams for is to curb underage drinking.

(Mentally, I file this case under WTF, But Should I Really Be Surprised?)

As blogger JD Tucille does, let's rephrase this: "Paramilitary police officers trained for high-risk, violent confrontations were dispatched to arrest college students who were a year or three younger than the current legal age for drinking alcoholic beverages." Sounds like an effective use of this resource, doesn't it?

SWAT teams were originally created by the LAPD--the source of so many wonderful things. As the following report on the Symbionese Liberation Army details,they were intended to address "riots," "the sniper," "political assassins" and "urban guerrilla warfare." Their training was "to successfully combat urban violence". Whether you agree with this use of paramilitary forces against our citizenry or not--which I do not, for many reasons, including the fact that the police often conveniently misinterpret protests as riots--this is at least a somewhat reasonable limitation of their use. Yet, nowadays, SWAT teams are being used on nonviolent offenders, that is, they're being used to deal out death in the drug war. And as this frat party attack demonstrates, this is being extended now to underage users of licit drugs.

Here below is a list of botched drug war SWAT team raids. Often, SWAT teams do not identify themselves, so terrified residents utilize the rights given to them by the Constitution and defend themselves against armed intruders, often causing more damage to themselves and their dependents in the process. Those among the wounded and dead include a one year old boy, many grandparents, a mentally disabled boy, a woman seperated from the oxygen tank she required to breathe, an Army reservist, an Alzheimer sufferer who fired back at police in his confused state and was slaughtered for doing so, a man with severe gout and a pacemaker, and a mentally disabled man who was hogtied by seven police officers and died agonizingly in the process. The police handcuffed an 11 year old and a 12 year old in one case. The vast majority of these cases were no knock drug warrants on the wrong addresses. When the police did find drugs, it was usually only a few joints of marijuana. Eyewitnesses report gratuitous violence on the part of the SWAT teams while subjects did not resist arrest--in one case, the team replied to a 68 year old lawyer's pleas that the team had the wrong place by striking him on the head with a police shield and slamming him into a closet door.

In all but one case, the suspicion that led to the SWAT raids were tips that small amounts of marijuana were present. In only one case, police alleged that they believed two small rocks of crack had been sold at the address.

I urge you to sign the form letter has prepared to urge decisionmakers to limit the use of SWAT team raids, occasioned by the murder of a mother and a child by a SWAT team a little more than a year ago: