Tuesday, 31 December 2013

The End Of A Certain Era

"The way we imagine our lives is the way we are going to go on living our lives. For the manner in which we tell ourselves about what is going on is the genre through which events become experiences." - James Hillman, Healing Fiction. Taken from the book Growing Into Myself written by my friend Thea Euryphaessa.

Sitting at my desk, my 'Bliss Beauty' playlist knocking out anthems of spirit and soul, candles lit, stillness of the dark moon surrounds me and it's New Year's Eve 2013. Called into making a choice between the external (going out) and the internal (being with myself in quiet reflection and solitude), I paused, though not for too long, knowing that for once I would honour my own needs and take this intent into 2014. To break free of the 'shoulds' 'would' and 'coulds' and instead to stride into the will, want to, and fully desire to, is a liberating thing. I have only just realised how much of my life is running from an old outworn pattern of fear; not the kind of rabbit-in-the-headlights fear, more a kind of fear of upsetting the apple cart by making choices that please me instead of pleasing others first. Kindness is important, regard for the feelings of others is important, but what use are we to the world when we constantly refuse to acknowledge our own needs first.

This year has been one of great expansion for me, and having started it with more dream sowing and visioning, to some degree I knew where I wanted to go and with whom from the start of 2013, yet there were some surprises thrown into the mix I'd have never seen coming. A sure test of our 'substance' is how well we handle the curved balls isn't it?

Following a wonderful beginning in being asked to speak at a local festival on the subject "My Body, My Choice: Sex Work As A Feminist Statement" (my title) I stepped somewhat nervously into the spotlight of public speaking. What I discovered here is that if we speak from a place of integrity, authenticity and a passion for what we're talking about, well it's ok really, this public speaking thing, for who can tell us we're 'wrong' when it's just a point of view? I think that talk gave me the courage to move forward into an even greater dream and so, when in the start of the year, I came across a conference to be hosted in Las Vegas on sexual health and politics, I knew I wanted to get there. Co-ordinated by the Desiree Alliance, an organisation working hard to ensure that the rights, voices and real experiences of sex workers are fully represented in U.S social and political reform agendas, the conference served as a platform for pushing these issues into the mainstream.

Seeing the conference I knew I wanted to be there, but not just as a delegate this time, as a speaker. I put together a proposal to hold a session on a project I was seeding, the 'Sex Workers Speakeasy'. The idea came to me largely because after 30 years of activism, I was tired of sex workers voices rarely being given a platform to speak their/our truths. Working backwards, I first put in the proposal and then tried to figure out how to get there. This saw the birth of my Indiegogo fundraising campaign where I raised around £1,100 to get me to Vegas; a pretty good job my proposal was accepted then, but you could say that when you know where you need to go, the rest just flows!

July 2013 saw me in Las Vegas in the 110 degree heat, in a hotel surrounded by hundreds of fabulously inspiring activists and sex workers from all over the world. A dream realised. That and the Grand Canyon by helicopter. Memorable moments of my year.

And then came August and the dawning of the Medicine Path and my explorations with the grandmother teacher Ayahuasca. Words can never do this justice, all that this blessed teacher has brought to my life and my personal journey. I've tried to write about it, but I find that the words are a betrayal of the depth of it. All I know is that it has changed me. Deeply. And continues to do so.

Layers upon layers upon layers are revealed.  Old patterns hold a tight grip but with willingness and deep desire to transform those self limiting beliefs, a commitment to growth and a vibrational change that makes my choices clearer and clearer with every day that passes, change does come. The emergence of a butterfly from the womb of the chrysalis. And we all know that growth can be painful before it is liberating; the metaphor of the butterfly actually here a perfect one. So how can it be that we are still driven by fear, fear of upsetting all that we know, of making 'wrong' choices, of losing everything that we think we need in order to live our lives? A fear that can grip us so tight that for many, no changes ever come, for some it is more comfortable to stay where we are and simply accept the inevitability of some large dollops of misery on the way.

My healing practice comes into growth this coming year, I feel it in my bones. This passing year has seen me stepping into holding my own space there on a couple of occasions, moving from the place of eternal student into that of sharing my own wisdom and learning. Offering drum journeys and workshops for women, I discovered an ease and comfort in doing so that again surprised me. From this movement into trusting my own abilities, I now seek to collaborate more in this coming year. I'd like to invite the Universe (Yoniverse!) to bring me into more partnership with other healers to co-create amazing opportunities for growth, transformation and expansion. My medicine path expands and somehow merges with my passion for juicing, good health and tantra. I know not where these paths and changes will lead me, nor where the path will end (does it ever?) but I know one thing, my pledge to myself this year is to honour myself with clarity and bravery, with deep self love before giving over my personal desires to the needs and desires of others. And stillness beckons. She calls to me like a Siren singing her sweet song with ever increasing volume. My life has been busy these last twenty years - I've lived in another country, been married and separated, set up four businesses and birthed three children and now it's time for more reflection, more roots, more clarity and definitely more grace and stillness, for in the presence of stillness only then can a whisper can be heard, and only in the whisper may the truthful essence of the soul emerge.

And so, with the absolute majesty and magic that is the birth of the butterfly from the form of the caterpillar, I invite transformation of my new dreams and visions. Those of womanhood with roots. Those of community with communion. Those of deep contentment with life. And so rather than seeing the opening quote in the way of 'thoughts create reality' as per The Secret, more it's that I recognise that the way I view the world is how the world will be. Not that I necessarily conjure up whatever I desire in an instant, rather that I am conscious of what I create by virtue of what I believe and how I choose to view the world and it's possibilities.

And I will sit tonight, and contemplate my 2014, a year of love and learning, of honouring the Journey of The Soul, my soul, in coming into her remembrance. Of the timeless essence of why I am, and why we are here. Not to just fill my boots with possessions or dispossession, but to bring forth my own legacy, for my children, for my children's children and for LOVE.

Thank you 2013, you have been a real teacher. Welcome 2014 - I salute you!

Blue Goddess painting by Rita Hraiz Sacred Art.

This blog post is dedicated to Lauren Breckon: "An end is never an end but only a chance for new beginnings, and all things must die before they can be re-born". With love and gratitude for every lesson.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

My Summer of Deep Healing

Blessings Familia! I start by honouring the commonality shared by many a tribe across our divine planet, our love for Madre Terra, Pacha Mama, our Mother Earth.

The end to this summer of 2013 has proven to be one of revelation, integration and manifestation on so many levels. Starting out this year I'd never have guessed it, but as part of a longer journey into wholeness it's been pretty fabulous all in all. Actually let me re-phrase that for what I've learned is that we are already perfectly whole but it's more that we've simply forgotten that fact. RE-membering is the trick. Re-Calling in our divinity, but sometimes we need a hand with that remembering yes? And so, from a synchronistic moment at a summer festival, which led to a random and unexpected meeting with David Icke, which in turn led to a book landing in my lap, a book which left a profound imprint upon my soul, and through that story (The Shaman's Last Apprentice) I found myself gently led towards our plant teachers and the facing of many a fascination and a fear.

I've held a sense of distant reverence for the mother vine, more commonly known as Ayahuasca for some time now, however the key word here was 'distant'. I've given a cursory glance or two to many a website or article, thinking that really it was more for others this particular pilgrimage, than it was for me. Truth be told I was fearful of its potential potency fearing two things: first, that following a few bad acid trips that this too would be some hellish and inescapable journey resulting in my certain madness, and secondly that my personal 'demons' would engulf me, leaving me in tatters, a shell of the woman I once was, unable to put myself back together again. Now, having since followed the series of synchronistic events that led to my initiation, I can clearly see how unfounded these fears actually were, but I voice them on behalf of others who may feel the same, for I know we are many. In voicing these fears though, I found myself experiencing so many strange and timely meetings and people that I was left in no doubt that I was meant to be doing exactly what I was and just 'listening' to these messages. 

Now, at this point my blog post could get very lengthy! I could give all the details of these random events and tell all about how they brought me to a place of communion, or I could just tell you that I got there, to that magical place where the soul is bared and the heart revealed, truly revealed, for us to bear witness to our tiny and somehow insignificant place in this amazing Universe, insignificant and yet holding so much capacity to choose to do either harm or good with the custodianship of our planet. What I learned about myself that was perhaps the single most liberating thing for me was that in letting go of fear, control and some false beliefs about my inner demons, that my 'freedom' lay on the other side of that fear. I learned that it is never possible that these fear based ego voices can be greater than us, for they are simply a part of us, one part of the whole, and that the whole is pretty wise and knows far more that the vessel we inhabit, this body, in this lifetime, insofar as knowing that we are absolutely meant to be here and have a unique role to fulfil whilst being so. 

When you journey with the mother vine, you see beyond doubt how ultimately connected we all are, to each other and to the earth, to our history, our evolution and our future, and it is the most breathtaking realisation I've ever experienced. It is impossible to contemplate doing harm to it, or to consider a return to living in the same ignorant ways we may once have done, when we have seen and felt what magnificence truly lies beneath our feet, and the possibilities for what sustains our lives and the lives of generations yet to come. I envisage clean water for my children and my grandchildren, I envisage fresh air and good food, enough to share with all, and I know that this is infinitely possible if we can but release our fear riddled grip on our need to possess, and take endlessly without giving back. 

So this summer, I've taken part in several plant medicine ceremonies; Ayahuasca, San Pedro and Komba (the venom of the tiny, somewhat cross looking, emerald green Amazonian tree frog). I've been blessed to spend time in the company of people truly awakening to other possibilities, people open to love, open to healing, and open to honouring not just the self but the planet. People committed to standing in integrity, committed to forging new pathways and changing what is for what can be and in that witnessing I am left humbled and deeply peaceful. I'm surprised by that sense of peace because for the first time in a long time, I feel that change is not only possible but is inevitable and it starts with our relationship to the self. Deep peace must be possible to conceive within before taking deep peace outside of ourselves, but more than that, it has to be a kind of selfless sense of peace if we are to truly create transformation and change in our world. 

Honestly, I don't know where to begin in sharing the magnificence of these experiences but I am full of gratitude for the people who have been there with me, and to those I have yet to meet on this path. My teachers have been as much the wondrous souls holding the space as the other people courageous enough to show up and share. There are many pioneers and adventurers who have gone before me, Shamans and ordinary people, visionaries, healers, scientists, artists and psychonauts. People desperate to make changes in their tough lives, who seek to live anew, people who are just curious, people who are open mined, social engineers and lovers everywhere. All I can say is Health and Healing be ours Brothers and Sisters and AHO to that! 

Alex Grey affirms that all we need to know is already inside us, and how ayahuasca takes us there.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

From The Sacred To The Profane

Once upon a time Prostitutes were Sacred Healers. Women were revered as the Goddess, men as the Warrior/Hero. Once upon a time our connection to love, to our earth, to our higher self and to simplicity outweighed our occupation with fear, pollution, base desires and conflict. Somewhere along the way we found ourselves lost and the Sacred Prostitute became the Whore, the symbol of all ill. For some, this fall is connected to the Garden of Eden and the Fall From Grace, though personally I've never been able to relate to a story that casts any god or ascended being as a punishing one (except maybe Kali who offers a kind of tough love!) nor to a story that suggests women's curiosity unleashes all manner of evils and suffering into the world. For me it's far more complex (and yet paradoxically simple) than that - we forgot. We forgot our divine essence, our holy nature, our true nature; the nature of love, compassion and innate wisdom.

The prostitute has become the symbol for the distortions experienced by women around the divine feminine. She* is the vessel into which we can literally empty ourselves of our own 'sin' - her body contains our desires, her spirit contains our fears, her soul contains our history.  And we fell, through time from natural order into chaos, manipulated by ego, and by money, power and greed, people began forgetting the harmony and bliss of this union of the divine feminine and the divine masculine, both within and outside of ourselves and irrespective of our gender.

When I started the Sex Workers Speakeasy Project, I wasn't really sure what was driving me other than a personal recognition that I have been occupied with the Sex Worker Rights Movement for over 25 years now and I know that it's important to me. Having a voice is important to me. Offering a platform for marginalised groups to speak out in the face of great stigma and judgment is important to me, for how we treat the marginalised reflects upon how we treat the perceived 'small' in this world - the mouse, the shy, the timid, the humble. It reminds me how those with 'power' can misuse it, or can choose to channel it for great good. Sharing my experiences of being a literate, articulate woman with a wealth of stories to share allows me to envisage healing in this world which is another area of great importance for me, for if there was a Fall from Grace, for me it is in our forgetting to honour, deeply honour our greatest Mother; Planet Earth. Channeling my own courage, strength and integrity for the greater good, I began making an example of myself and my story to bring light to dark places, and I thankfully find myself standing beside others who have found the courage to stand up and share this stage, all of us speaking out for those who for many reasons cannot, and I salute them all, those who can and those who cannot, for in every story lies a history. 

Going to Las Vegas to present at the Desiree Alliance Conference in July of this year really began to transform some of these stories, or at least how they live in me began to be transformed. Rather than holding them in shame and stigma, they began to emerge into light and into empowerment in sharing with others in a stream of positive and inspiring dialogue. The women and men who have so far shared their stories with me have touched me deeply, every single one of them. I'm inviting ongoing contributions to this project so please message me at tantraheart@rocketmail.com if you would liek to contribute and get your voice out there

We need to re-connect not just to the masculine/feminine divinity in us but to our hearts, to that which allows us to listen to the experiences of another human being without politicising everything. To remove the stigma and reveal the source. The video below is Terra Burns - with thanks. 

Speakeasy #3 from Sex Worker Speakeasy on Vimeo.

*use of the feminine pronoun here reflecting my own experiences though this is not gender specific. The 'prostitute' can be any gender or gender neutral of course, and the divine masculine/feminine are in no way tied to birth gender. In this instance however the use of 'she' does refer to the overcoming of the 'feminine' and of women within many of our societies.

Monday, 12 August 2013

It's a Basic Human Right, right? Sex Workers Speakeasy

When I first started thinking about this project, I wasn't entirely clear about where my primary motivation was coming from. Was it personal healing, was it global politics, was it health and safety, workers rights, human rights or feminism? Was it appealing to my creative arts background?

Starting up the Indiegogo appeal to get myself to Las Vegas for the Desiree Alliance Conference in July of this year, the project emerged organically from that same appeal. With the help of an old friend, I made a short clip, my mouth, my words, speaking about why I needed crowd funding help to get to Vegas to present at this amazing conference, now integrating the full-circle journey I'd undertaken to go from delegate at ICOP sixteen years previously, to presenter at #DALV13 (the Desiree Alliance Twitter hashtag adopted for the duration of the event).

On arriving in Las Vegas, it soon became clear to me that the week ahead was likely to be a full one, in every possible way. It's not possible to listen to people's stories, hear about their lives and livelihoods, share motivational and inspirational workshops, and to engage with the current political and social key issues and remain unmoved.

My project, 'Sex Workers Speakeasy', was launched there - its primary intention to give sex workers a voice (a theme that has run through my life) allowing us to speak for ourselves, and to ensure that our diverse experience of the work is heard, recognised and respected. It took courage to launch my appeal, for in doing so I took the decision to out myself and to make public some aspects of my private life. Many cannot.

Whilst at the conference, a conversation with the very prolific blogger and truly engaging woman that is Maggie McNeil opened the door for me into why I do what I do. It's about social justice. Both Maggie and I share a very strong sense of social justice, and speaking for myself here, I know it's something I've carried through with me for most of my adult life and no doubt a fair bit of my childhood too. I remember being little and just knowing when something felt really wrong despite being told sometimes by the 'grown-ups' that 'that's the way it is' - for me, there would inevitably be a "why is that the way is?" retort. Every time.

So, in coming to this seedling of an idea, as I started connecting with contributors, as I heard their stories, I was left in no doubt that it had to happen. It's the thing I can give back to all I've ever been given by those who have inspired me, who light the way, to the brave and courageous activists who have changed things through sheer determination, a whole lot of courage and more than a fair bit of 'chutzpah'.

This contribution by Bella of the Rhode Island chapter of COYOTE (Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics) reminds me of the 'why'. Sex workers are dying as a result of being denied basic human and workers rights and as a result prejudice and stigma. In Scotland (UK) right now, brothels and saunas are being shut in what I can only see as a sadly regressive move. Those employees don't just stop selling sex, they simply get driven onto the streets or further underground where safety is even more eroded. And why? To satisfy someone else's view of what is 'moral' or not.

Help us to change things. Speak out! Stop allowing slut shaming. Challenge the language and please....above all, listen to the voices of those who know.

This post is dedicated to the lives, families and friends of Petite Jasmine and Dora Oezer who were both murdered in the last two months. May your spirits rest in peace and may your legacies create change.

Friday, 2 August 2013

So you think you know what a sex worker looks like?

They look like this right?

or maybe like this?

or occasionally like this?

Well guess what? Some of the above is true. But mostly, sex workers look like any ordinary joe, cellulite, disproportionate bodies, a range of colour, caste, social background, political intent. A range of reasons. A range of experiences.

Sex work/ers suffer the same fate as we do as human beings right across the media; in the case of the sex industry, often romanticised or pilloried, cast in one light, idealised in another, and in just the same way that magazines, newspapers, movies and television portray romance, love, women's bodies, and ideals of masculinity, femininity and other-ness, most of which is a long way from the truth.

Sex Workers Speakeasy aims to set this right.


Sex Workers Speakeasy #2 from Sex Worker Speakeasy on Vimeo.

These videos have yet to be edited so that my questions aren't included. This is the raw first proof. They will eventually form a short length feature of our voices, in our own words. 
Please contact me if you wish to take part in this project. Current call for submissions deadline November 1st 2013. Message me for details. Let's smash the stereotypes!

Thursday, 1 August 2013

The problem with gender assigned qualities and Tantra

Dear readers, it's a balmy summer afternoon, August springs upon us and time flashes by so quickly I sometimes fear I cannot keep up! Since returning from the U.S where I attended the very awesome Desiree Alliance conference 2 weeks ago, I find I'm given to serious consideration of gender, both in general but perhaps even more specifically within my tantra practice and my personal awareness.

Now before I went to the conference, I'd already expressed concerns in various tantra chat threads on Facebook and elsewhere about assigning qualities to gender within healing practice. Of course this doesn't only apply to our work practices, but to life in general. One thing that really impressed me, amongst many, at the conference was the very keen awareness of allowing people to self identify their preferred gender pronouns, and to keep out of assumption about what that then meant to those individuals. Some make choices for political reasons, some for personal reasons, some for social reasons and many to challenge to status quo. So, on getting back to the U.K (where in my view we are still pretty behind on this), once again I find the issue of not only gender pronouns but gender meaning is up in my face.

Even as I try to find images to suit my blog today, I am still besieged by pink for girls blue for boys and pinky-blue for transgender, half dress half trousers. How woefully inadequate is that?!

One thing I've found in my tantra practice that has consistently troubled me is that within tantra there is an idea mooted that women, as 'shakti' or the 'divine feminine' need to bring men, or shiva 'the strong masculine' into healing and into their hearts. Well now, for me as someone working with sexuality and healing for over 25 years now, I don't personally want that job! I don't think it's up to women to bring men into healing, I think it's up to MEN to bring themselves into healing. You see the problem in assigning this quality of the nurturing feminine into gender roles is that for me, we can get so easily stuck there. My personal inner Goddess is way more Kali than Tara. That's not to say I am all fire and no frill, or all rage and no receptive, but I most certainly am more than this soft 'feminine' I hear about a whole lot in tantra practice.

My Kali is powerful and strong in her sense of self autonomy. She has clear boundaries and knows her own mind. She can breathe fire when necessary and can heal and transmute with equal potency. For me, her depiction atop a male figure is not about destroying the masculine, more the quashing of the rigid and unyielding elements of either the self or the other. In other words as easily applicable to slaying the internal demons as externalising a negative image of the masculine. I do not wish to be perceived as woman responsible for healing all ills in the world if it means I can only get there from my soft heart space, my womblike womanhood. Sometimes my passion comes from my sex, from my core of the wild woman, like those Women Who Run With The Wolves in Clarissa Pinkola Estes's seminal book. The archetype of the Wild Woman and the Witch suit and serve me better than those of the Virgin (not literal) and the Mother (again not a literal interpretation). I quite like Crone as it seems she too holds the capacity to be more akin to the Medicine Woman or Shaman of the tribe.

For me, some of these wilder gender assignments hold a distinct element of the 'other' within them. Genderless, wild and free. For men, I imagine you too get tired of having to uphold the strong masculine, the Warrior? What if those archetypes don't speak to you. In retrieving our sexuality, we MUST reject gender based stereotypes in my view and move beyond the 'soft feminine' and the 'strong masculine', or at the very least remain super conscious of how, why and where we assign those qualities.

Men are more than capable of stepping into their own healing, their own vulnerability, of finding their own courage. Women too. Let's challenge this assumption that all women are nurturers, and all men active proponents. And for all genders, however we may choose to self-determine, let's free up the range of possibility.

My tantra has teeth, and it has balls. Where do you stand?

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Sex Workers Speakeasy

An example of my film project: 'Sex Workers Speakeasy'. Sex Workers Speakeasy is a film and media project, launched at the recent Desiree Alliance 5th Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The aim of this project is to allow current and former sex workers a platform from which to express our experiences of working in an industry besieged by blame, discrimination, prejudice, and stigma. What makes sex work challenging? What makes it liberating? What frustrates us? What educates us, and so much more. Rather than existing as the marginalised group all too often talked 'about', here we take back our voices and become those doing the talking.

Using only the mouth to convey the message has a two-fold intent - firstly it allows more anonymity which for many people working within punitive legal and/or cultural frameworks, or who are facing massive discrimination is absolutely crucial and reflects that which we hope to change through ongoing activism. Secondly, it stops the viewer from over identifying with, and then projecting onto the image; focussing only on the message thus offering far greater impact. The Words not The Person.

All contributions range from 1.5 minutes to 4 minutes maximum. I intend to collaborate with sex workers across the board, regardless of location, culture, gender identity, age, and experience of the work, in fact, the greater the diversity the more powerful the message.

Please message me if you would like to contribute to this documentary. Your community needs YOU!

You can send me your words as a recording only if you do not wish to be identified by your mouth/voice, and a representative will read your words over a film still to indicate that this was a submission where the contributor was unable to 'come out' in any way whatsoever. This too should hold significant relevance.

Nothing will be published without your constant and ongoing approval, and all contributions are anonymous unless otherwise specified.

Please email tantraheart@rocketmail.com with your questions or contributions.

And a very big "Thank You!" to those who have already submitted to this project.

Maggie McNeil's blog can be found here - well worth subbscribing, it's packed with interesting and thought provoking articles. Maggie writes daily. 

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Atlanta Banishment Proposal Blocked

It would seem that there is good news in the fold! I've been back from Vegas for a day now, still re-integrating, still digesting all that I learnt, shared and was touched by. So much and so many.

One of the things that arose in the course of the weeks events was the mention of the Atlanta Banishment Proposal. The proposal, originally mooted earlier this year and passed in a fairly sudden and unexpected manner, naturally created a wave of shock and objection; could this really be 2013? Are we really still proposing to 'banish' people from their communities, their families, and their homes? Denying access to services and support? How can this be possible in this day and age? We'd be right in thinking it was an error and understandable if we though we were reading a law introduced in the middle ages rather than the times in which we live now. Progressive times of transformative change and increased awareness, at least we'd like to think so. Not so in Atlanta earlier this year.

Well I'm pleased to read that one day after our week of dynamic activism and sharing there is for once, some progress to report. Shock horror, it would seem that people DO think of banishing as a retrogressive move, and whilst there may be other aspects to the proposals we may also like to see offered as more healthy alternatives, the retraction of this proposal remains good news. Read it here.

So instead of banishing, punishing and praying for the salvation of those involved in the sex industry, how about keeping this focus on listening, consulting and offering real services based upon well informed demographic needs, as identified by those who know and those who keep morals out of the equation when focussing on harm reduction.

Ultimately, we need to keep the pressure on, keep the networks strong and keep sharing our knowledge and skills. Challenge oppression and backward thinking policy and we just may, like the Atlanta activists, make that difference that really counts.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Desiree Alliance Conference, Las Vegas 2013

Good evening readers! I'm literally just back from the 5th Desiree Alliance Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada. It's fair to say I spent most of the rather tediously long flight home, saved by one thing and one thing only; the super warm glow I felt after having spent a week in the most inspiring, supportive, educational, uplifting and validating company I've had the recent good fortune to find myself in.

This very important meeting of international sex workers was organised as a space for us, as current and former sex workers, allies, activists and advocates, to engage in dialogue around the manyfold aspects of our work, and our lives and to identify what impacts directly and indirectly upon them. I felt the bubble of excitement brewing as I arrived on the Friday two days prior to registration, and found myself surreptitiously looking at every person I passed in the hotel complex, wondering silently "are you one of us?" 

Gradually, as delegates started to arrive and we started to identify each other in that instinctive way us hos are so good at, we found our kinsfolk. It's fair to say that a strongly developed sense of intuition has probably saved many of us in the course of our work, and the 'why' in that last statement is actually a very serious issue, and one for the agenda several times over this last week. Why do we face the violence we face? Why do so many project so much onto such a marginalised group and what's it all about? Are we still so hung up about sex that dreadful things still happen as a result of these prejudices?

Our hope is that in speaking out about our experiences and in subsequently organising, networking and sharing, that we may transform some of these harms. 

I can tell you now that I have RARELY met such a wonderful group of people. I sat on that plane journey hugging moments into my heart, breathing in so much of the last week. New friendships made that I've no doubt at all will last for life. New allegiances to build stronger coalitions. And new ways of getting there. 

If there's one thing I would ask you readers it's this - LISTEN TO US talk about our experiences. Don't assume, don't pre-judge, just listen a while, and as the great St James Infirmary tee-shirt says so succinctly "NOTHING ABOUT US WITHOUT US" 

I will be writing a fair bit about the conference and my Sex Worker Speakeasy Project over the coming weeks. Thank you to all who already shared their voices, more to come and meanwhile remember....

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

The Joy of The Cunt

Sometimes I post about great stuff other people are doing. Today is one of those days.

I came across these fantastic women just prior to the Erotic Awards (see my blog page in the Campaigner category there?) and Night of The Senses ball on Friday just gone. They are collectively called Cherish The Cunt, or occasionally CuntCraft aka the Clitorarty.

What I love about these women is their attitude and approach to working with, and celebrating the diversity of that universal female wonder, also known as - the cunt, the fanny, the vag, the poonani, the minge, the gash, the lady garden (yes really!), the yoni, the sacred cave, the pussy, the beaver, the clunge, the vajayjay, the bearded clam, the quim, well you get the drift? More names than a tax dodging official on a bad day! 

So Collette and Rebecca in collaboration with several other fabulous women artists, set up their business with a wonderful set of objectives which you can read here. Removing shame and celebrating difference are so vitally important in moving towards a healthy expression of sexuality, womanhood, and by default, manhood. We are drip fed false ideas of beauty, of what is normal, and of what is acceptable to the point where we can no longer share our real truths or even identify what they are. Think your labia are abnormal? I bet firstly you're not alone and secondly, you'll find you are absolutely in fantastic company. Sites like Vulva Love and Vaginas Of The World go a long way to de-mystifying this sacred and extremely mystical place, the Holy Hole, the palace of wonders, the root of creation. 

So, please take a moment to find out more about their work. They are currently fundraising to provide "sexual health materials with a pleasure twist" and you can see their campaign here. I for one think it's a much needed and important resource.

We're taught about sex as a biological act rather than a pleasurable one and most of us have grown up clueless about what we should be thinking and feeling about sex, about our bodies and about intimacy that isn't about procreation and/or self restraint. We don't then know how to manage situations where we feel violated, we don't know how to find our boundaries and ask for what we truly desire as we've generally got no idea what that is. Along the way in my own voyage of discovery, I was fortunate enough to stumble across the teachings of Shakti Tantra  which have forever changed the course of my life. Let's out the CUNT and celebrate her magnificence. She is pretty damn amazing!

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Bluebeard's Key

Evening all - today sees your hostess Claudia contemplating morals (again I hear you gasp!)

After reading an article this morning which raised my blood pressure to unhealthy levels, I could not help but find myself jaw dropping-ly amazed by the blatant hypocrisy that seems to rule our societies major financial and governmental systems. What could have incensed me so much I hear you ask - well, it was the news that a number of porn stars have recently found that their bank accounts have been shut down on the grounds of "compliance issues." You can read the article here. Compliance issues here representing the 'improper morals' of the client, in the case of the bank subsequently receiving and handling money presuming to be made from pornography.

F**K me! Was I getting this straight I wondered? The banks, notorious for investing their money in arms and warfare, unethical trading, large scale corporate corruption both from within and without, were refusing to take money from porn stars on the ground it is 'immoral'? Am I missing something here?

Chanel Preston (pictured above) makes porn and enjoys it. It might not be everyone's cup of tea but it operates within the realms of adult, consenting, co-operative sex. It does not pretend to be anything other than it is. You either love it or hate it, avoid or ignore it, use it to enhance your sex life or reject it, wish you could do it or are frustrated by the often joyless representations of women's sexual power in it, or some other variable of response. So how did the banks, with their squeaky clean record of investing our global finances (spot the irony) then become our moral arbiters? And what is it about sex that still shakes us up so much.

All of this got me thinking, and led me as these things often do, down a fork in the next road where I came across a delightfully frank article where my long time heroine and inspiration Annie Sprinkle (pictured below) was discussing the taboos around paying for sex.

I believe that we are still incredibly hung up about paying for sexual services despite the fact that we think nothing about paying for almost every other aspect of our personal desires and needs. We pay for alcohol and drugs to relax us, we pay to enlist the services of people whose skills we need at any point in our lives, we pay to experience the lives and cultures of others, we often pay to work or perform, and we pay for just about every need we have without too many questions being raised. We are human beings conceived in sexual bonding, and it's fair to say that the exploration of our own sexuality then continues all the way through our lives - the good the bad and the ugly all entering the fray, for most of us that is. How is it then that we still balk, moralise and intervene on the issue of the buying and selling of sex?

For me, it's the Bluebeard's Key of our lives - the key to the door we are given but told not to peek into, never to venture in for the rivers of blood that will be unleashed if we dare to cross the forbidden threshold. "Here, I'm offering you this in trust but you must not let your curiosity reign supreme." Discipline (but not paid!) must be found or the devil may cavort!

It's curious to me that should I have a sexual desire or need that I could never openly admit I may choose to pay for. Honest, clean negotiation? What's wrong with that? At least the bank aren't my caretakers or judges on the matter at hand. At least the choice is mine. Sex, the most normal drive and urge in the world, so distorted, so misrepresented, so repackaged and re-sold to us that we even believe the mythology now. That everyone else is having better sex than we are and that it's wrong to pay for it.

Give me one good reason why?

For centuries women have been getting into trouble for daring to unleash their curiosity or their need - Eve, Pandora, Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Bluebeard's wife and so many many more, all of them/us doing little more than expressing a desire. What then of women's sexuality when it is unleashed and expressed?

Whilst sex remains the Bluebeard's Key, we will never change things and it's most certainly time to change things. Unlock the door and dare to get the pleasure you deserve!

Let's turn it into a pleasure zone! 

Thursday, 16 May 2013

The Lion's Den

It's the night before the event of the year people! Tomorrow, at a secret venue in London, the Erotic Oscars are announced, and the country's perverts, pleasure seekers and pace setters gather and celebrate their diversity and their right to free sexual expression (consenting + adult as per...)

The hard work and organisational skills which go into getting this event set up need no explanation, save to say that many of us are eternally grateful for the devotion and discipline shown in managing such an event. 

I've been nominated this year in the category 'Campaigner of the Year' and I'm both honoured and exited. I'm in great company in so many of the categories, an overwhelming array of talent indeed. You can see the finalists listed here 

Personally, this is my path in life, to bring healing and intimacy into the world to the best of my ability. To restore health, passion and pleasure into the lives of those who feel disconnected or at a loss and in this capacity, I am fiercely committed to the right to self determine and express our own sexuality. I always seem to feel the need here to insert the proviso that I'm talking about ADULT CONSENTING sexual freedoms here as so many seem to feel threatened by sexuality and it's very nature. It's like the great big theatre where all of our shadows, demons, fears, insecurities and histories are most certain to come and join us! But fret not, the good news is that when we begin to befriend them, there'a a jewelled path to pleasure awaits us if we're willing to risk exploring. It's significant to me that I still have to add that proviso to rebut the claims of those who conflate sexual freedom with harm, trafficking, oppression etc etc, as if one did not have the intellect to distinguish those states from the right to choose what we do with our bodies and with whom. 

For sex workers, it would seem that we remain the scorned woman, the one who represents the great fall from grace, the absence of the sacred, the harlot, the temptress and the whore. Why is that? A recent letter from the feminist Rahki Kumar to Michelle Obama could not have laid out on the alter this sacrificial lamb any clearer. The letter you can read here. What do YOU think? I'd be interested to hear?

Now, I have real issues with this letter. I've been working for over 30 years in sexual freedom activism and sex work rights campaigning, and I am sick and tired of people equating all that's bad and negative around sex work with poor and disempowered versions of womanhood. What if a woman WANTS to celebrate her independent sexuality, and chooses to sell sex? Not all sex workers are trafficked, drug addicted, pimped victims, and the stats quoted in the letter are unfounded and untrue.

Now then, if a person (man, woman, trans, child) is trafficked into any kind of indentured labour, and  not just sex, but sweat shops or dreadful demeaning jobs, or hang on even corporate immoral bondage!, well then yes, we should offer the support that is needed, as defined by those people experiencing that issue (otherwise it remains patronising and moralistic) to help them change their lives. It is possible to have a sacred soul that includes sexual freedom and the celebration of sexual FUN. So what if my nipples show whilst I'm celebrating, that doesn't invite anyones judgement (women get raped for wearing the wrong clothes - tell the attackers to stop raping!). If I want to wear a sheer bodysuit, let me. 

I agree that there are huge aspects of Beyonce's and many other pop icons (and other role models) imagery and lyrics etc that are problematic, largely as they/we are so manipulated by the media, but let's stop bloody equating this women's emancipation with a purity that for me, is actually quite alarming and certainly does NOT speak to me in any way at all. I have sacred sex, AND I enjoy it, and sometimes I wear outrageously sexy clothes when I'm having it! No...my letter would read VERY differently, Let's stop marrying poor role models with unproven stats about sex work, it's not a pretty liaison and it's erroneous, harmful and does women no favours whatsoever.  

Celebrate your sexuality as you choose, respect others, have fun or get the support you need. Not too much to ask is it?

And in the meantime, good luck to all of the finalists tomorrow! Have a great one. 

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Sex Work as a Feminist Statement

Happy Beltane everyone! I've been away from the blog the last couple of months setting up my new healing centre, focussing on developing my client practice and how to integrate that with my other health and wellbeing work. Those who know me, know I'm an ardent juicing proponent, and I'm slowly moving towards a more raw food diet. All of these aspects of my life have been flying around needing my attention, hence a slow trickle through the blog. I've also been giving more talks on sex work, its relationship to feminism and sexuality in general, which I really enjoy. For me it's a crucial part of spreading the word about sex work, of taking the real voices of sex workers further into the community and going some way to shattering judgment and prejudice.

I've never professed to be an academic. I've never claimed to be an expert on anything. In fact, it's fair to say that I have a tendency to mistrusting anything or anyone who presents themselves as being somehow more able to express an opinion on something based upon pure theory as opposed to life skills or experience, and a great suspicion of anyone laying claim to the mantle 'guru'. In my time as a drug publications researcher and support worker, coming across many drug workers with absolutely no experience of what it really feels like to live under the omnipresent shadow of addiction, I came to understand very clearly that it's important to listen to the voices of those who know how it feels to live something. If you want to know how it feels to live with addiction, ask an addict. If you want to know how it feels to run a marathon, ask a long distance runner. If you want to know how it feels to build a shopping mall, ask a construction worker, and if you want to know what it feels like to sell sex, ask a sex worker. That would be logical right? That would make sense wouldn't it? So why are sex workers so consistently and routinely omitted from any serious debate and discussion around health, social and law reform that directly impacts them? Why are they so deliberately ignored, and told they are deluded if they dare to suggest they not only choose their work but have opinions on it?

Explain it to me would you.

Most objections I hear seem to come from the basic premise "but no woman would ever choose to do that would she" and here I find the concept of choice really quite fascinating. Of course we may well choose to engage in sex for money, why not? Why do we still get so stuck on the idea that something that can be immensely pleasurable can at the same time make us some money? Why is it okay to trade our time, skills, expertise in other areas, but not our bodies, and who gets to decide that morals, which are generally entirely subjective, suddenly hold court over our capacity to make a self determined good living. Note the key words there "self" and "determined". We're not talking about coercion, non consensual or trafficking here, we're talking about free will, about independent agency and the right that all people have to say YES to things as much as they have the right to say NO. So why is it still so damn tricky to speak out and say "I choose to earn a living exchanging sex for money." Is that so different from the other ways we may trade sex and our bodies for progress, favours, approval, security, things of value etc etc?

I recently came across a job description. The job title was 'Awesomeness Arranger' and was followed by an equally vacuous, extremely patronising and quite frankly outrageously sexist job description which included things like "a masters degree in making people smile", and "a degree in bubliness" as preferred qualifications. It also offered 'totally rad badges' as perks, and stated that 'girls' must not make duck faces, engage in unnecessary high pitched laughter or have bangs or small pet dogs. You get the jist.

By contract, I read this job description:
High hourly rate, flexible scheduling, a sexually safe work environment with carefully chosen and monitored staff. High standards of customer behaviour, a safe place to discover your sexuality and a supportive working environment.

The first was for a burrito chain, the second for a well know and highly regarded strip club, the first of its kind to become unionised by the women and men who who worked there with the support of those who ran the place. Which would you choose?

No job is ever all good, most are a mix of good days, bad days, dull days, frustrating days and inspiring days. Some more leaning toward the bad end, some the good, but the point is that it's important to focus upon working conditions just like any other job. We need to be focussing on what makes a job safe and healthy, and how can we operate within the law as far as is possible in accordance with the individual laws of each country and/or state.

"Prostitution is not a monolith. Each woman experiences the profession differently."

Again, just like any other job. Imagine this: I dislike the international trade in sweat shop labour, how it serves large conglomerates at the expense of real humanitarian consideration. Would I try to ban clothes? No! I'd look at improving the conditions, pay rates, breaks, work environment of those producing the clothes. We all need income, and as the song goes 'it's not what you do it's the way that you do it, that's what gets results'! Sex workers are still consistently ignored. As a marginalised group, can you imagine any other marginalised group being as constructively excluded from any debate around how to make things better for that group without consultation? Again - no.

And as Gail Pheterson puts it so well "the stigmatisation of prostitution and sex work underlies the social control of women"- I am most inclined to agree. My body, my choice.

My one plea if you're reading this; keep your heart open, your mind open and keep listening, and maybe slowly we will see change for the positive in this profession. Sex is the final frontier, it's where our fears, shame, anxiety, guilt and judgment can all find a cosy nesting place if we let them. So let's not let them any longer. Speak out and be heard. Listen and reflect, and above all have fun and stay safe.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Forgive Me Father, For I Have Most Definitely Sinned!

...and I enjoyed it! 

Today's blog post sees me rattled and I'm not afraid to admit it. Over the last months we have seen ever increasing revelations about sexual abuse, endemic in various institutions it would seem and historically covered up and then even 'justified' (i.e., the cover up) on some levels. Today, I log into my my lovely laptop to see a random number of comments about Kevin Le Vell, mostly joke oriented comments, just like those I'm sure we've all heard now about Jimmy Saville and the now de-moted pope Benedict (with a small p....). 

As the Vatican prepares to appoint a new Pope, it is staggering to me that those who knowingly concealed this abuse are being afforded the right to vote for the new pope, on the grounds that "wisdom is not (God)-given just to saints but also to sinners," and "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone."* Well now, surely there's sinning and there's sinning, and who am I to judge? Well, In this case I do! Violating my rights to speak out about, and negotiate healthy consenting adult sex whilst hiding the distortions? Perpetuating the myths about the kind of sex we want or we're having and making inaccessible the bridges to moving towards a healthier attitude, that's where the true immorality lies.  

It's true that humour can be a really good way of taking the charge out of things. Only recently I had to give my young son some life lessons in managing bullying, suggesting that when bullies don't find a response, or emotional charge for you in what they come at you with, they usually leave you alone. Make light of it, turn it into humour or act mad, three top tips for dealing with crazy or aggressive behaviour. You can always try reason of course, and as an adult this will often work, less so with kids who generally shoot from the hip. But is it always appropriate to use humour in talking about really serious issues such as sexual abuse? No, I don't think it is really and here's why. 

It seems that something is going on, has been for years in fact, that is distorting our perspective on healthy sex. We peep into the lives of others, wondering if our own drives and desires are 'normal' or 'ok'. We have feelings we don't always understand and often can't manage, and without support, a friendly ear or an outlet, all too often the Ugly Sisters of secrecy, scandal and shame appear. We have come to confuse our feelings with our emotions, all too often acting on emotional triggers which are residue from feelings unexpressed in the moment, frequently childhood. As adults, its critical we start taking responsibility for our feelings and our actions, and the way to do this is to find our courage and support, our love and our honesty. Distorted behaviour comes from a marriage of fear and habit - simple, but it's not so simple to change that when we live in a society that generally jokes about or vilifies sex, sexuality and the body. 

My work focuses on moving into a healthy view of sexuality but it's way bigger than that really. It's about moving into intimacy and love through awareness and accountability. Now don't get me wrong here, people get twitchy when I speak about intimacy and accountability as if assuming that fast sex, hard sex, dirty sex and fantasy all get thrown out in this new age 'sacred sexuality', which it's fair to say they sometimes do, however my brand of coaching and bodywork most certainly doesn't jettison the baby with the bath water. Sex should be fun, it can be lewd and rude, funny and irreverant, or tender and soulful, sensual and aware. Actually, I am purporting that the connection and awareness is always there, but not at the expense of the bawdy irreverence. 

I believe (as does my mentor and teacher Hilary Spencely of Shakti Tantra) that if you can't play with it's got you, but the problem is that so much about sex has well and truly got us by the metaphorical balls, and it's just not fun to be there. For me, rather than making jokes about Saville, Le Vell and the pope, why aren't we taking it seriously and looking at the cause not the symptom? Why aren't we asking ourselves what judgments we hold that contribute to this dis-ease, and it is a sickness we're looking at here. Health does not use the bodies of non-consenting people for their own pleasure. Women who get attacked because of the way they dress, or act, children who get abused because someone else is bigger than they are and just can...men who are smaller or slighter than other men, it doesn't matter what age, gender, culture or size you are, NO means NO! And guess what...so does silence. 

I can only give my consent when I give a voice to my feelings. I can only give my consent when I am old enough to make choices for myself. I can only give my consent when you allow me to negotiate and/or change my mind whenever I want. We are not in charge or runaway horses, wild stallions of no-mind, but in charge of brains and a capacity to evaluate, think and respond rather than react in any given moment, and if I can, you can!

And so to my next point. Many people find an open communication about sex to be 'distasteful' and yet it's in our secrecy that sickness is born. I think it's the height of hypocrisy to declare judgment on those who do, whilst all the while doing it yourself behind closed doors and with those who haven't even consented. Ironically, my lifelong commitment to sex work rights and campaigning for changes in the law is based entirely on the premise that what consenting adults choose to do with their money, their bodies and their sex combined is nobody else's goddamn business! If you or I want to pay for it, and if you or I want to sell it, please...a golden ticket to Nirvana for the person who can give me one good reason why this should be any different to the sale of our intellect, our creativity or our skills? 

Whilst you're considering this, take a moment to laugh in the face of this distortion, recognising it for what it is, all smoke and mirrors.  If we're going to make light of the symptoms, then at the very least we need to acknowledge the cause, and do something positive to change it. Change the dialogue around sex and the body, change the way we see intimacy, challenge the messages we give and receive about the body, about romance and love. THINK! Let's engage our brains, for they are beautiful and have immense capacity. And while you're at it, remember:

"Pleasure is medicine and love has the power to heal" and then ask yourself how you can love better and experience real pleasure.  

...all roads lead to the heart. 

*Source - Deccan Herald, Monday 25th Feb 2013.