‘Revolting Prostitutes’: some thoughts after reading

Just finished this remarkable book. Concise, intelligent and impeccably well-researched.

The authors, sex workers themselves, describe sex, work, and the rights of sex workers in different legal systems around the world. Drawing from a range of sources, the book lays out the stark evidence without pontificating, but asking readers to consider workers’ safety and security ahead of any internalised moral position.

Think you don’t know any sex workers? Think again. Prostitution laws globally are failing to protect your family, friends and neighbours who choose to sell sex.

“[sex workers] need so little little– some basic safety and resources – that it is easy to imagine society meeting those needs. Yet, at the same time… so much– in that to imagine a society that takes their safety seriously is to imagine a society profoundly transformed” (p90)

I was particularly astonished, and disheartened, at the extent to which female sex workers (as opposed to male sex workers) are disproportionately targeted, stigmatised and punished by the state, law enforcement and carceral feminists. This, to my mind, reveals the intrinsic double standards and biases of many anti-prostitution movements.

You don’t need to be sex-positive, left-wing or even particularly open minded to want people to be safe and secure in their chosen work. If you care about workers’ rights, women’s rights and human rights, this is recommend reading.

Ask yourself:

  • Do you know the prostitution laws where you live?
  • Do you know if those laws apply equally to migrant workers?
  • Do these laws put control in the hands of the workers? or managers? or the police?
  • Do you know the difference between legalisation and decriminalisation?
  • Whose interests do these laws protect? The sex worker themselves, or non-sex workers?

Most importantly, if someone you knew told you they were a sex worker, would you be confident that they enjoyed the same rights and safety at work as anyone else you know?

…would you even care? This book reveals a world where one particular group of people is seen as somehow less deserving of rights than others. How comfortable are you with that?

Margaret Atwood said a thing, and I wrote a thing…

“The other area that we have been hearing a lot about is social behaviour: what is supposed to go on, what is expected to go on, in the area we could loosely call dating. This is something that young people are going to have to sort out, to come up with an idea of how they would like it to be different.”

-Margaret Atwood


A few years ago my sister gave birth to a young person (a very young person, a baby in fact, as is usual). I quickly became aware that having a younger family member makes you consider the things you’d like them to know… and thus the things you’d like the world to know. So when I read the above quote from Margaret Atwood, I considered what I could do to help the young people I know ‘sort out’ their relationships, without simply dictating how I think it should be.

My niece will very likely grow up in a social world which is largely heterosexual, sexually conservative and strongly oriented towards monogamy. Fortunately, she will also know from a young age that the first of these is only a majority trend. In fact, she probably already knows this. If she decides she wants to date girls, she is unlikely to face any serious prejudice from friends or family. She’s fortunate to live in a time and place where that is one of many accepted types of relationship.

On the other hand, she will probably attend a religious school. She will be encouraged – through a thousand small influences and messages – to look for one romantic partner, to stay with them for as long as possible, and to not act on any physical attraction to others during that time. Marriage will be repeatedly presented as the normal and desirable evolution of any sufficiently long relationship.

This arrangement might suit her, as it seems to suit many people. If so, she will enjoy social endorsement and rarely have to explain or justify her life choices to anyone… which must be nice.

Yet there are other ways of having a committed relationship. Young people (and older people) may want to consider some of these alternatives when “coming up with an idea of how they would like it to be different”, to borrow Margaret Atwood’s words.

I’m writing this to share some of my thoughts about that.

I’m not suggesting anything new or revolutionary. Everything falls under the broad category of ‘open relationships’, a term familiar to most people these days. I’m sharing my thoughts because someone out there might find that I describe things a little differently, or in a way that speaks to them. In brief, I’m writing to be another voice in the conversation, and to prevent the status quo from being seen as the only reasonable option. Perhaps I am also writing to let those who recognise or relate to what I’m saying know that they’re not alone in thinking the way they do, even if it’s not the same way as their parents, their friends, or the people who run their country.

I write all of this as an atheist. If your religion specifies a sacred or exclusive nature to sex, and if you believe that, then you may struggle to accept much of what I have written. But I hope you’ll enjoy reading it and give it some consideration none the less.

Affection is not like cake.

It doesn’t run out. You can eat it and have it too. Giving it to one person does not mean taking it away from someone. Spending time with someone else, be it in a conversation, a sexual encounter, a shared meal, whatever… does not imply that you’ve lost interest in your partner.

In fact, much like reading a good book or listening to an inspiring piece of music, the experience of being with others may expand your horizons. You will approach your relationship with a new perspective, new ideas and stories to share …and possibly some new tricks in the bedroom.

It’s true that there are only so many hours in the day. Spending all of your time with an ‘other’ will likely make your partner feel left out or neglected. However, this is equally true for constantly working long hours, or spending all evening drinking at a bar with friends. If you’re not the sort of person who would do those things, because you know it’s inconsiderate, then nobody should fear that you would do the same with your sex life.

Spending time with others, sexual or otherwise, does not automatically mean neglecting one’s partner.

The first rule is…

Some people in open relationships find it helpful to set rules, and if that works then great. Personally, I’m not a fan of ‘rules’ as such. It would be seen as unusual, possibly even abusive, if people set rules about how their partner should interact with work colleagues, or dictate under what conditions they are allowed to share a meal with their friends, or guidelines about how they should catch up with their family, so I don’t see why romantic encounters should be a special category.

I think all these interactions can be guided by the same general principle of dealing with other human beings:

Be kind.

You’ll probably find that’s the only rule you really need. Kindness is about consideration, understanding and forgiveness. Kindness is what stops you from being too distant. Kindness is what helps you remember plans you’ve made with your partner. Kindness is knowing when someone needs you and being there for them.

Inevitably, people get hurt in relationships. This happens even when there are rules, because people misunderstand them, find loopholes in them, or simply break them. Relationships work on honesty and communication.

Instead of telling your partner what they can’t do, tell them what hurts you, or what you’re afraid of, and trust them to make choices that prevent those things, because they want to be kind …and remember that you must also be kind to yourself.

It’s not an endurance race…

The success of a relationship is often measured in time. Longer relationships are seen as inherently more successful. This sets an unhelpful expectation. Time is certainly a good indicator that things are probably going well but there is also immense value to be gained from brief but meaningful relationships. All relationships end. Some end in death, some end in mutually-agreed circumstances, and some unfortunately end before one or both people would like. Importantly, relationships can end when no one has done anything wrong.

Fear of openness in relationships is usually rooted in a fear that the relationship will end. Fear that the other person will find someone they prefer, fear that they will enjoy their freedom and want more. This jealous fear is perfectly natural, and evidence of genuine affection. However, reacting to that fear by placing restrictions on your partner’s behaviour doesn’t make the fear go away and it stops people enjoying themselves in the meantime.

Don’t be afraid of endings, that’s a battle you can’t win; if you fight the sunset you’ll never see tomorrow.

All relationships end, so aim for meaningful time, don’t just count the years.

…but always give it your best.

Words like ‘wedlock’ are not often used these days and I think most of us are glad. In many societies, relationships can be stopped with very little cost or administration. However, ease of separation should not automatically mean that people give up more easily when things are difficult. Too much misery is obviously unhealthy, but don’t run at the first sign of trouble. You may find a whole new kind of relationship on the other side. In her TED talk ‘Rethinking Infidelity… a talk for anyone who’s ever loved’, Esther Perel says, “Today in the West, most of us are going to have two or three relationships or marriages, and some of us are going to do it with the same person.”

Commitment does not reveal itself in marriage vows, or padlocks on a bridge. Those things are simply statements of intention. Staying with someone and being kind to them every day that you’re together, is what takes work and selflessness, whether your relationship is open or monogamous. Every day that you wake up and decide to stay with someone, and love them, is a demonstration of true commitment.

Great comfort and security can come from enduring hardships, arguments and even betrayal with someone. Surviving these difficulties teaches you about each other and about yourself.

They’re just genitals. Have fun.

Many of us live in societies that have inherited a pervasive conservative attitude towards sex, often due to religious influence. By guiding people towards monogamy, religious groups ensured that the next generation would be raised by parents who shared similar beliefs and transmitted their religious affiliation to their offspring.

Sexual conservatism also took hold because of the historic lack of available treatment for sexually-transmitted diseases. Chastity and abstinence were declared virtuous because otherwise we would make heathen babies, and get syphilis while doing it.

Allow me to gently point out two important things:

  • Reproduction is only one aspect of human sexuality.
  • There are now various methods of contraception and protection available.

If you believe that the purpose of sex is exclusively to repopulate the planet, I would suggest that you at least consider who taught you that, and why it may have been in their interest to have such an opinion and influence regarding your sex life.

As for sexually transmitted diseases, you should be aware of these things the same way that you are aware of conditions like the flu, sunburn and cancer. Promiscuity leads to disease the same way that going to the beach leads to skin melanomas.

Inform yourself, learn the risks, take precautions… and have fun. The only things that are truly sinful are wilful ignorance, unquestioning faith and lack of kindness.


from Harold & Maude (1971)
HAROLD [in tears] : Don’t leave me Maude, I love you.
MAUDE [dying]: Oh Harold, that’s wonderful. Now go and love some more.

I want to let good news be good news.

Today it was announced that Australians have voted in favour of legislation allowing same-sex marriages. That’s good news.

Roughly 62% of Australians voted ‘yes’ to same-sex marriage. 6 in 10 people therefore agree with me that if my sister is allowed to marry a man, then I should be too. I was never asked to vote on her rights, but let’s leave that alone.

4 in 10 people, for various reasons, believe that I should not be allowed to marry a man, because I am one. They believe that I belong to a specific sub-category of people to whom marriage should be forbidden.

I take that personally because it is literally an opinion on the quality of my person. It is very explicitly stating that I am somehow inferior, less worthy, unqualified or incapable of enjoying the same rights as they are.

I don’t seek to deny the 4 in 10 their opinion. They’re well entitled to it.

…but it still hurts.

I’m grateful to those who took the time to vote ‘yes’ and I’m relieved to know that they are a majority. I’m disappointed that they are not a larger majority, but perhaps that says more about me than anyone else.

Today it was announced that Australians have voted in favour of legislation allowing same-sex marriages. Let good news be good news.

Yes, that’s my bum on a carrier bag

For the second time in as many years, I am standing at the entrance of a fetish shop staring at myself. It’s not my reflection. The entrance has been covered with an image of me: life-size, naked and poking my tongue out. Seeing myself here was not unexpected, but still a surprise. I do a lot of modelling for artists, but not much commercial work, so I’m not accustomed to seeing myself frozen in large format in public spaces. I’m amused to find out that I’m also on the carrier bags.

gear.jpg

The image that graces the entrance to Gear London (now open!) was taken from a particularly fun, but somewhat risky, shoot on the London Underground. It was risky because Transport for London doesn’t like photographs being taken at the best of times. They are even less enthusiastic when the model is completely naked.

Neither the entrance nor the carrier bags have a full frontal image. My bum is on the carrier bag, and I’m holding a well-placed jacket in the entrance. Still, there I am, for the good folk of Shoreditch to see, with nothing more than a cheeky smile and some good lighting.

The texts have been trickling in since the store opened. For the most part, people have been delighted to see me. Which is flattering. Then I was amused to discover that some people were concerned. Did I know the picture was there? Did I give my permission? What if someone from work saw it? The enquiries were invariably well intentioned, but somehow left me a little nonplussed.

I’m often naked and I’m often paid for it. It’s a perk of having a healthy lifestyle and limited inhibition. I don’t broadcast that fact to everyone in my life because it’s not usually relevant. I also don’t bother to hide it because I don’t see any reason why I should. The implication from the concerned texts, that I’m doing something unscrupulous or unseemly, is at best misplaced, and at times outright hurtful.

For starters, if I were in the window of a fashion store, nobody would question the legitimacy. One would assume I had agreed to a photo shoot, been adequately paid for my time and efforts, and that I had given some kind of formal consent. The fact that Gear sells fetishwear shouldn’t render any of these assumptions less valid.

I am involved in sex the same way I am involved in science and the same way that I am involved in story telling. I use these aspects of my life to communicate and to express myself. They are not destructive. They are not exploitative. To be clear, exploitation can exist in sex-related industries (as in all industries) but it is a problem independent of the sexual nature of the work.

People who know me should know that the integrity of my work is important to me. I don’t allow my scientific output to be misrepresented or plagiarised. Similarly, I don’t allow my image (clothed or otherwise) to be used without my consent or in a way that promotes an agenda that I don’t support. The only difference is that anything I do that involves sex and sexuality is often undermined by a pervasive and condescending moral viewpoint.

Anyone with access to the Internet can learn pretty much all there is to know about me. I’m not one for secrets or confessions. The same month that my image appeared on the doors of a fetish boutique was the same month I submitted my thesis in cognitive neuroscience. I do more than one thing in my life.  I am proud of everything that I do.  I am only one person.

gearbag

Is it “remarkable” that there is now a way to avoid HIV and people are using it…?

The BBC reported a “remarkable drop in new HIV cases“. Which is great, but it’s only “remarkable” if you haven’t been paying attention.

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#notremarkable

Here’s what happened: A drug that prevents transmission of HIV became available. People at risk of HIV infection thought that was jolly good, and they asked to have some.

In some cases, they get it easily because their health care providers provide health care (to reiterate, the drug prevents the spread of HIV – it’s healthier than quinoa). They also realise that HIV is an expensive lifetime condition. Each person with HIV costs the health sector hundreds of thousands of dollars, pounds, bones, clams or whatever you call them. Seems like a no-brainer.

Some people have questioned why ‘the gays’ can’t just use condoms, practice abstinence, be monogamous and get married (wait, no!) These suggestions are, at best, naïve. Let’s be clear, the money gets spent on treating an infected person regardless of whether or not you think they’re a promiscuous disease-bag, so why not save that money for more healthcare, hm?

Well because in some places, health care providers are prevented from providing health care because of bizarre attitudes about sex and specifically homosexual sex that we’ve inherited from a time when churches were allowed to make the rules. The fact that these same health care providers are allowed to hand out contraceptive pills doesn’t appear to strike policy-makers as hypocritical. It is.

So people who are at risk have found a way around the system. They go on the Internet and order it from elsewhere. This is largely thanks to the heroic efforts of websites like ‘iwantprepnow’, who saw the need for trustworthy information and went about providing it. Equally heroic are the clinics that will monitor your health – free of charge – while you’re taking the drug they’re not allowed to give you.

In short, there’s a way to prevent infection, so people are using it, even if it’s slightly more difficult for some people to obtain than others. It turns out people like the idea of being able to have sex without the risk of contracting HIV. Who’d have guessed?

So it’s not remarkable. Essential services are being saved. Money is being saved. Lives are being saved. Now wouldn’t that be a nice thing for our health care policies to have achieved, rather than something achieved in spite of our health care policies?

HIV & World AIDS Day & you

Originally written 1st December, 2016 (World AIDS Day)

World AIDS Day is incredibly important. People who believe themselves to be forward-thinking and open-minded may be surprised that some of their opinions are at best hurtful, at worst dangerous. This could be you.

stormboys
These guys get it!

I don’t have HIV, but I’m not afraid to say that I very easily could have, given decisions I’ve made. I am and always have been very careful, but I’m not perfect.

It is sometimes said – more often believed – that people who contract HIV somehow deserve it. This is an illogical and unpleasant twisting of a simple truth, which is that we are all responsible for the decisions we make. Given the probability of infection, contracting HIV is almost always ‘unfortunate’ (if you disagree, I’d be happy to discuss statistics with you in a few months when I’ve finished my PhD). If you’ve ever participated in extreme sports, drunk so much that you’ve passed out, or even spent too long in the sun, then you have also participated in risky behaviour that could have had ‘unfortunate’ results. The only difference is a pervasive (and to my mind out-dated) attitude about sex.

If you feel that HIV is a fair punishment for behaviour that you consider ‘promiscuous’, ‘sleazy’ or ‘stupid’, then that’s your opinion and you’re entitled to it. Please at least consider that your opinion may be based on lessons that were handed down to you from a parent, a teacher or a church. If you have never questioned these lessons before, please take a moment to do so now…

The veneration of chastity and the condemnation of promiscuity are values we have inherited from medieval society. You may think they are values worth keeping. That’s fine. However, please remember that they are man-made conventions, not self-evident truths. Simply being in the majority does not make you right (or wrong). Personally I think it’s time to think a little differently.

I’ve taken the time to write this because the stigma associated with HIV is real and it prevents people from living the best lives they can. It clouds debates about which treatments and preventative methods should and shouldn’t be made available. It reveals hidden prejudices that should have been buried decades ago. It reminds us that we are far too quick to place lifestyle choices on a spectrum of good and evil – and if we haven’t learnt what dangers that brings by now, then we’re really in trouble.

World AIDS Day isn’t just to make you aware that AIDS exists. It’s asking you to be aware of and consider your own thoughts and feelings about AIDS and people living with HIV. You might be surprised what you learn.

 

Babies: optional

Reflecting on Ian McKellen’s recent comments about being too selfish to have children: Choosing not to RAISE a child that’s been born would be selfish…. choosing not to HAVE a child is neither selfish nor selfless. A not-yet-conceived baby doesn’t exist. You owe them nothing. You also do not owe the planet, the species, the nation, your religion or your family, despite what any of them may say. Young women, this is especially important for you to remember: don’t be bullied by people who say that one day you’ll change your mind. Plenty of people live full and happy lives without children. You do not owe the world a baby.