Back again…

Well, hello there again, blogosphere!

My blogging experiment fell apart a bit – but here I am again! I love to write. Why did I stop? Maybe my thoughts weren’t coherent enough.

The last six weeks have been insane. There are so many things I want to talk about – hash out for myself, and perhaps for any readers (now or later) that come along and have input – but I haven’t yet figured out how to do that while maintaining the anonymity and confidentiality expected of me. To start, maybe I’ll just sum up what I’m doing.

In general, I’m in the beginning stages of writing my Master’s thesis on the clients of sex workers. I initially intended to write about clients (for lack of a better word) and their experiences with stigma. What is it like doing something that so many people revile? How do they deal with not being ‘caught’ by family members, friends, law enforcement? Do they think they’re doing something ‘wrong’?

Of course, these are totally leading questions. I struggled a lot with my own bias here, because I know that I am assuming that clients feel stigma, that they are aware of and internalize society’s rejection of the sex trade. On top of that, though, I made the problematic assumption that society is actually hostile toward the sex trade. From so many things (i.e. laws, policies, newspapers) I have read, I believed this to be the case. I honestly thought that it would be difficult being a client in Southwestern Ontario in the twenty-first century.

Turns out… it might not be.

This was a great example of something I have been told before, but not really seen in action like this: perspective is crucial. Maybe the media I am exposed to and the policy developments I am aware of makes me feel as if society as a whole is against the sex trade. But what about people who are exposed to an entirely different slice of media? Different individuals who they interact with each day? A different focus (or lack of focus) on legal developments in Canada?

Caveat: my interpretation of the  interviews I conducted is subjective. My sample is absolutely not representative. There is no way to guarantee the accuracy of the stories, feelings, etc. the participants shared with me. From seeing other things written on the online board that I recruited from, I’m sure that some feel stigmatized. The clients who feel very stigmatized may logically be less likely to want to have anything to do with me, a stranger, in-person interviews, and a published paper.

Still… it has been incredible. Fascinating. My eyes have been opened so wide it’s a miracle I still have eyelids – and everything I have learned has shown me how little I know.

How often did I hear “no, I’m not doing anything wrong”? Or “it isn’t really illegal anyways” (which is true)? Or “no, I don’t tell my friends or family, but I don’t really tell them about my sex life anyways”?

It was fun to have a bias shattered so neatly. The rest of what I’ve had to deal with, academically, has been just as fun. What I have had to deal with personally has not been so fun. I’m good now, after 14 interviews (and perhaps at the end of interviews… we’ll see). Transcribing is going to be great, though… I get to relive it all over again, at 60% speed!

 

Issues?

  • My identity as a sexual woman talking to men about sexualized women
  • Hearing women discussed as a commodity – but a treasured and (dubiously) ‘respected’ commodity
  • Being in a long-term relationship and empathizing with men who explain infidelity in very logical terms
  • Trying to force my own bias out of this, or at least know what it is when it comes into play

 

I want to write about these soon. Not now. Now it’s time to transcribe!

 
But if you have any thoughts on these issues, this topic, men who buy sex, anything of the sort… please feel free to share it with me. 🙂

Yours,

Z

 

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GEMS and Exclusive Responses to Commercial Sexual Exploitation

I am going to share with you, Reader (or Constant Reader, a la Stephen King) one of my weaknesses.

Advertising works on me, and so does the marketing of… my words are failing me. Virtue. Charity. Selflessness.

And so, sometimes, when I get offered ‘a $22 t-shirt!’ where ‘$7 goes to charity!’, and the t-shirt is cool, and the cause is just, I fall for it.

This type of behaviour is ridiculous, but rampant in our society. Why do we feel good about donating money when we are receiving something concrete in return, in addition to the good feelings that come from giving? Why are we so charitable and generous when we consume goods that donate an infintesimally small fraction of the cost to a good cause?

Sevenly.org is the home of the t-shirt I mentioned above. Each week they host a different cause and design a series of t-shirts and sweaters for that cause. Most shirts are $22 (some fancy ones are $27) and all donate $7 to the cause. I have caved once so far – I bought a shirt to support a shelter for battered women and their children – and received a neat, stylish looking shirt with ‘Enough Is Enough’ scrawled trendily (apparently that’s a real word) across the front. (I’ll post evidence soon!) Go me, I am so selfless and awesome. The package even included a note that said ‘Good for you, changing the world and stuff!’

The sale of that feeling, that charitable, generous, virtuous feeling, is often worth the money that it garners. And some would argue – and have, when I shared this with my Facebook crowd – that this is better than buying a shirt at the mall. At least the charity is getting something, when usually they wouldn’t. But did I refrain from shopping because I had this single shirt? Surely not. I feel that this type of logic works on the charity’s side, but on the individual side it is a fairly weak argument.

Oh, and I am so weak.

Now we get to the point of this post.

My anger.

My frustration.

Am I crazy?

This week, Sevenly.org is promoting a charity called GEMS, also known as Girls Educational and Mentoring Service. Based out of New York City, this grassroots organization is “designed to serve girls and young women who have experienced commercial sexual exploitation and domestic trafficking.” Okay, so far so good, although I was already curious as to what ‘commercial sexual exploitation’ is. I am not sure if they mean prostitution in general, or specifically exploitive prostitution. Well, maybe they don’t separate the two.

“Girls Educational and Mentoring Services’ (GEMS) mission is to empower girls and young women, ages 12–24, who have experienced commercial sexual exploitation and domestic trafficking to exit the commercial sex industry and develop to their full potential.”

Sad face.

I have a pet peeve. For those of you who know me (and there shouldn’t be any yet, since this blog is 100% covert thus far), you may know that I am interested in the sex trade. I am also a cautious advocate of the sex trade, where those involved in it choose to be in it. According to some sources, that’s the majority of the sex trade in Canada. According to other sources it is not. Each type of organization can support themselves on data like this.

You may see the problem. I am not going to advocate for a place like GEMS to close. I am sure they do wonderful work, and do not begrudge them money that they may gain from Sevenly’s campaign. But what about women who do not want to exit the sex trade? I have read fairly extensively on the sex trade in Canada and the U.S. This is a problem that many sex trade workers face. A great deal of available services include the caveat “if you are exiting the trade”. If you want to deal with previous trauma, but think you have a good thing going on now, that doesn’t cut it. If you want outside help making your life better, through education, employment, etc. while staying in the sex trade, that is equally unacceptable.

There is a fairly strong argument in the world of criminology that social services are agents of social control. GEMS is not officially a ‘social service’, as it is not a branch of government or connected to social workers in an official capacity. And yet, it perpetuates this notion that sex for money is wrong. Selling your body is bad. You cannot possibly continue to do it if you have seen the light and are asking for help. If you refuse to leave the trade, we cannot help you, we cannot save you; you are in denial, you are the drug addict that cannot yet admit she has a problem.

This is wrong.

Absolutely wrong.