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?