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Respectability, Respect, and Rights for Sex Workers: An Open Letter to Kate Zen

July 4, 2013

As you may have noticed, I moved my site to an independent host over a year ago. That site has gone down, and while I work to get it back up, I’m returning to this old blog so that I have a space to continue writing.  I’ve been feeling well enough to write regularly again,  mostly at other blogs and under other names and on other topics. Apparently I’m also feeling well enough to write very personal things that need to go in a personal space, so here we are.  This post is in response to this.

Note: I’m unsure whether it’s appropriate or even accurate to use the concept of respectability to talk about myself as a White woman in the context of sex workers’ rights. ‘Respectability politics’ was coined (as far as I can tell) by a Black woman scholar, Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, in the early Nineties as a way to describe a phenomenon that had been taking place in African-American communities since the late 19th Century, whereby certain Black people tried to gain social equality with Whites by distancing themselves from those Black people who were least respectable, i.e. least like the White standard, and typically poor and uneducated. The term ‘respectability politics’ has since spread, but it’s still primarily referenced in Black discussions about Black communities.  I could not think of an adequate alternative for the term ‘respectability’, and I’m unsure if coining a new term for what might be a permutation of the same phenomenon would be akin to intellectual theft.  So I went ahead and used ‘respectability’, but I am very willing to examine that choice further.

Dear Kate,

I came away from your letter with the feeling that I’m something of your mirror image. I tried to divorce the subject at hand—the sex worker movement as inhospitable to the Unhappy Hooker—from the self, and from you, and as usual I failed. It’s hard to talk impersonally about something that will always be so deeply personal, for both of us. So even though I probably shouldn’t have, I latched onto the details about yourself you included in your letter, pieced together some image of the personal reflected in the political, and saw someone who is the same as me, but in reverse.

I was born into a solidly middle-class White American suburban family. Both my parents are educated, white-collar professionals. The town we lived in was small and White and full of trees. Had things gone according to plan (my parents’ plan, I suppose, but also society’s and, for a long time, mine as well), I wouldn’t be having this conversation. But lots of things went wrong, all of which can be summed up rather inadequately with ‘domestic violence’ and ‘sexual abuse’ and ‘mental illness’ and ‘chronic disability’. Were my life to end tomorrow, one would be able to say I lived the reverse American Dream, moving from relative wealth and privilege and opportunity into relative poverty and oppression and a lack of options.

Chances are I’ll live at least a couple more decades, though, and should current health trends continue, I’ll eventually find my way back to somewhere in the middle of the Great American Shitpile Hierarchy. It’s of course much more complicated than being More Oppressed or Less Oppressed. One’s Privileged/Oppressed Status can’t be plotted on a two-dimensional chart as a fixed point. It’s a constantly shifting location on a three-dimensional grid. It’s being in multiple locations at once. Real quantum physics shit.

So while I am lacking in access to a lot of resources (emotional, financial, educational and otherwise), I also have a lot going for me, including a continued access to culturally middle-class, educated (read: pretty fuckin’ White) spaces. Sometimes I feel like a spy, getting access to these places, although most times I just feel like a failure and a fraud.  I wonder how long it will take people to catch onto the fact that I’m a college drop-out chronic abuse survivor with disabling mental illness and few people to rely on to keep me off the streets or out of an abusive living situation. It usually happens when they notice the self-inflicted scars, which, interestingly enough, have really affected my marketable value in this industry. “What a pretty, thin, young White girl, who drops phrases like ‘quantum physics’ so casually… and who destroyed herself with razor blades, holy fuck.”  But I digress.

The point I was trying to make was that, sex work status aside, I am not respectable.  Respectability isn’t quite like Privilege/Oppression, in that it’s usually pretty dichotomous. I fall on the unlucky side of that line. No one wants me as the spokesgirl for their movement, and I’m not particularly interested in being one.  What I am interested in is having a space.  On Twitter, I repeatedly mentioned a sex worker ‘movement’. That term mostly implies organized activism, but I meant it as a catch-all for any space where people who identify as sex workers come together for a purpose—online forums, published anthologies, social gatherings, and yes, activist meetings, too. I would expect that a space for sex workers to gather would be a place for all sex workers to gather, but as both of us have acknowledged, it doesn’t work out that way.

Read more…

It’s time!

April 30, 2012

For your… [click through]

Lori’s Birthday Surprise is Tomorrow!

April 29, 2012

And Lori’s actual birthday is on Tuesday!

(In case you were wondering, she’s giving herself a day’s berth (PUN) mostly because she knew she’d be staying up the entire night before getting shit done, and she didn’t want to be tired on her birthday, duh.)

See ya in the AM (or, more likely, PM)


Lori’s Birthday Surprise… Even Closer!

April 27, 2012

T -3, jerks.



Lori’s Birthday Surprise

April 25, 2012

In six days, Lori Adorable is turning 23, but in five days, you’re the one who’s getting the surprise :-)
T -5

Coming Soon: and the (Proper) Return of Lori Adorable

January 5, 2012

Woah. Hey there. It’s been a while, huh?

I’ve been trying to figure out the best approach to writing a come-back post. I’ve been considering it for, oh, about a month now, and the more I think about it, the more the perfectionism aspect of my OCD kicks in and the less I can write. I am literally physically uncomfortable typing this out right now (tremors, elevated heart rate), because that is how fabulously crazy I am.  But look! I’m doing it! Look at me go!  And I’m doing it by putting aside all of the things I was going to tell you about what I’ve been up to and why I haven’t been writing and telling you this simple, vital piece of info instead:

Read more…

Two Poems for the 10th Anniversary of September 11th

September 14, 2011

Trigger warning for violent imagery

Instead of doing the whole ‘this is what September 11th means to me’ essay post (which, to be fair, I did sort of do on the video blog you’ll be able to access next month), I’m going with poems. Yes, I write poetry. Yes, this is three days late.  Now that that’s out of the way, let’s see how poems go over with this audience (be warned, the second one is mildly epic):


for the Second Week of September



Across Septembers certain things
still sound the same—

my little ornamentals:
secret sadnesses that swell
as low and shallow mordents,
slipping up sometimes to wash upon

the groaning principal:
shared sorrow necessarily
sustained on a sea string
of a cello
___________It is braced


this country’s absent calves,
and music flows from where they aren’t
like water through canals



Across Septembers certain things
still sound the same—

a stoic giu’ arco stretches out
from the clear, cool morning,

from the sun-scorched mourning,

from the rain-rimmed mourning,

From the clear, cool mourning,
the same stream spirals on
in a fathomless fermata;

there’s no signal, yet,
to stop


Reaching for Butterflies
(A Found Poem*)

* Sources:“Let There Be Peace, and Trade,” by Iver Peterson, from the June 21, 1998 issue of The New York Times; “The Height of Ambition” by James Glanz and Eric Lipton, from the September 8, 2002 issue of The New York Times.


____All successful people have
 ___stories that are part of their
 ___personal mythologies.
 ___The story about Guy
 ___Tozolli began in 1930,
 ___when he went to see
 ___All Quiet on the Western Front.___He left the old Loew’s
 ___transfixed by the closing image,
 ___Lew Ayers being shot
 ___as he reached for a butterfly
 ___in the trench mud of World War I.

Guy Tozzoli led the team
of dreamers, planners,
architects, and builders of
the World Trade Center.
Sometimes it seemed as if
he had personally willed
into existence the tallest buildings on earth.

The most beautiful moment
on his daily commute each morning
was his first view across the Hudson.
Some days the skyline appeared
with such clarity, contours
so stark, the view suggested
abstract sculpture,
carved of the water and the sky.
The eye rose
from the Battery,
settling at the obvious trail head.

But on that morning, Tozzoli
lurched to a stop.
In a motionless mass of cars,
he stepped out and stood
among dozens
confronted with an incomp
rehensible sight:
not far above his office
in the north to
wer, waves of thick,
oily smoke, bill
from a gash.

“It’s going to take us a long time
to fix that.”
No one answered.

Then he heard the scream:
the second plane gunning
past the Statue of Liberty,
an orange billow of flame,
chunks of steel, a blizzard
of paper.
Tozzoli got back in his car.
On the Manhattan side
he said, “Listen.
I built that place.
I’ve got to get down there
to help.”
“I don’t care if you’re the pope,”
the policeman replied.
“You turn this car around.”
For the first time,
was doomed to come undone.
Tozzoli and the others made
dozens of decisions, small and large,
many now half-forgotten,
deeply buried, like clues
beneath the rubble.
They determined the enormous size,
they shaped it
into an icon, they drew
the blueprints for its construction,
they had written the script
for its eventual destruction.
Dozens of decisions, become matters of death.


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