Category Archives: public discourse

Another Address Change

Some years ago we moved from this WordPress-hosted site to our community site at sexinthepublicsquare.org. Now we’re moving again. For archives from April 2007 through June 2011, visit http://sexinthepublicsquare.org

For new content beginning in June 2011, please visit me at my new home at Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance!

http://woodhullalliance.org

http://woodhullalliance.org/category/sex-in-the-publics-quare

I’m excited about this move. I’ll be joining folks like first amendment attorney Larry Walters, sexual freedom and education scholar-advocate Marty Klein, and the folks at AVN in providing commentary for Woodhull. In addition, the mission of Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance is to affirm sexual freedom as a fundamental human right, and I’ve been working with them for two years now on human rights and sexual freedom issues. From their web site:

Woodhull envisions a world that recognizes sexual freedom as the fundamental human right of all individuals to develop and express their unique sexuality; to be personally autonomous with regard to bodily integrity and expression; and to enjoy sexual dignity, privacy and consensual sexual expression without societal or governmental interference, coercion or stigmatization.

That’s really what Sex In The Public Square has been all about, and I’m glad to be making Woodhull’s site my new home. Join us there and be part of an even bigger conversation!

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If you are looking for new material from Sex In The Public Square…

I had intended to keep this blog alive while transitioning to the community site I opened with Chris Hall a year ago. For most of that year I posted content both there and here. It is getting too difficult to keep this site updated given the work involved in managing the other one.

Please check out Sex In The Public Square dot Org for my writing and also for smart sex-and-society writing by Chris Hall, Michael Goodyear, Lou FCD and others.

Recent posts include:

IN SHORT: There is much more going on there than here, so please update your bookmarks, point them to http://sexinthepublicsquare.org and get more of what you’re looking for.

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SITPS.org: A Labor Day Call to Johns

From Sex In The Public Square dot Org, Friday, May 2008:

sex worker rights red umbrella logo only rights can stop the wrongsYesterday I’d intended to write a Labor Day post. It was going to be about the importance of workers organizing across all types of work, recognizing that we are all workers, and it was going to be the beginning of a conversation I want to have about why established unions need to support the organizing efforts of sex workers.

And then I read about Deborah Jeane Palfrey’s death and all that went out the window for a while.

This morning I went back and looked for last year’s May 1 post. I couldn’t remember what I’d written about. My breath caught in my throat when I found that I’d written this, also about Deborah Jeane and about my speculation that perhaps the exposing of high profile clients would help in the effort to reduce the stigma attached to sex work.

Obviously I’d been overly optimistic last year. While there continues to be the occasional exposing of a high-end john, we also continue to see sex work trivialized in the press and sex workers treated as criminals and victims and rarely as people making choices, sometimes difficult and sometimes obvious, but always from a range of options that is circumscribed by economic and social circumstances.

I no longer think that the exposing of clients is going to be the source of any great reduction in the stigma attached to sex work. Why? Because they always apologize.

They apologize by admitting their “sins” a la David Vitter or they apologize and resign their posts, a la Eliot Spitzer, but they always apologize, and by doing so they reinforce the impression that consciously and explicitly exchanging sex for money is wrong, and they reinforce the stigma. In fact they often refer to that stigma when they include in their apologies their regret for bringing shame on their families.

Note that they do not apologize for any mistreatment of the workers. They apologize for being clients in the first place.

So my new call on Labor Day is a call to the clients and not a call to the workers. Clients of the sex workers of the world: stand up for the people whose work you are paying for. Treat those workers respectfully and protect their safety and don’t apologize for paying for their services.

Yes, you may have much to apologize for:

Apologize if you have actively worked to keep the services you pay for criminalized.

Apologize if you have said insulting, demeaning or paternalistic things about sex workers.

Apologize if you have contributed to the shaming of sex workers.

Apologize if you have jeopardized the health of a sex worker.

Apologize if you have committed violence against a sex worker.

And by all means apologize if you have lied to your partner about sex you are having with other people.

But for being a client of a sex worker?

Please, no more apologies. We can’t afford them.


Links to sex worker organizing efforts:

Please add others in the comments on this thread and on Sex In The Public Square dot Org.

Technorati Tags: Deborah Jeane Palfrey, labor unions, labor day, prostitution, sex work, sexuality

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Filed under activism, human rights, labor organizing, News and politics, prostitution, public discourse, sex, sex work, sexuality

Sex 2.0 – a very brief recap

Sex 2.0 was amazing.

What do you get when one exceptionally talented organizer and her team bring together 80 or so people to talk about sex, feminism and social media in a gorgeous and very well appointed dungeon? You get Sex 2.0, which took place this past Saturday, April 12, in Atlanta.

It was a really amazing event. (Note: this was a conference, not a party. Despite the number of desirable and skillful people, and the amazing equipment, we all kept focused on the important discussions taking place.)

It was amazing because it brought together people will a huge range of connections to sex and the ‘net. There were sex workers, BDSM practitioners, bloggers, academics, sex educators, community organizers, outreach workers (please note that many people fit in more than one of those categories). It was amazing because of the range of topics covered.

I led a discussion about building and maintaining the sex commons, and you can read a brief outline of my remarks here.

According to Amber more than 80 people registered. There were twenty separate sessions plus an inspiring keynote address by Audacia Ray. Participants traveled from all over the country. Some of the people I met there included Regina Lynn, Stacey Swimme, Ren, Melissa Gira Grant, Minx, Kimberlee Cline, Furry Girl, Match Point, J. Brotherlove, Kristi Kane (who will be linked as soon as she gets a blog), Ellie Lumpesse, Subnouveau – and there were many others, some of whom are not mentioned just because I can’t remember what your privacy needs were and I wanted to err on the side of caution. I feel privileged to have had the chance to meet such smart people. Of course some of the very smart sex writing folks from NYC were there, too, and it was great to see Viviane, Twanna Hines, Rachel Kramer Bussel and of course Audacia Ray again. (Even though they live near enough that you’d think I’d see them here in New York, I’ve been too busy to make it to Viviane’s tea parties or to most of the other gatherings where we’d run into each other.)

You can see the list of sessions here, but let me just recap some of the important themes that ran throughout the conference.

• Identity: Who are we, how are our identities fragmented? How do we protect our privacy or maintain boundaries between parts of ourselves. What happens when those boundaries begin to dissolve?

• Community: Are we becoming increasingly specialized in our sex/community interests? Is there more cross-pollination between communities than there used to be because of the Internet? How do we create and expand spaces for sexual expression?

• Power: How do we retake control over how we are represented in the media? How do we resist the dominant culture’s sexual restrictiveness? How do we use technologies to advance our own sexual/cultural agendas? How do we teach each other what we know so that we empower ourselves and our communities?

I really hope that this will be the first in a series of annual events. The information sharing, the community building, and the pleasure of being with so many people who are so smart about such a wide range of sex-related topics are all so important as we work in our own ways to create a more open sexual culture.

Note: This post was originally published on Sex In The Public Square dot Org. Join us there for a more community-driven approach to intelligent sex conversation!

Technorati Tags: conferences, sex, sex 2.0, sexuality, feminism

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Important voices: Lisa Chavez and Liz Derrington tell their stories

A couple of days ago I posted about some stories we’re following on Sex In The Public Square dot Org. One of those stories was about a conflict in the English department of University of New Mexico over the investigation of Lisa Chavez, associate professor who also worked for a BDSM phone sex service where one of her graduate students and a former graduate student also worked. The investigation was apparently instigated by a colleague who felt that there was an improper relationship between Chavez and the graduate student, because they were photographed together for an advertisement for the phone sex service. The investigation did not find any impropriety, but some of Chavez’s colleagues are still pressing for sanctions.

Lisa Chavez and Liz Derrington, the graduate student who had been in the photograph, both tell their stories on Sex in the Public Square dot Org, and I am grateful to them both for their openness and their courage.

Click here to read my interview with Lisa Chavez.

Click here to read Liz Derrington’s story.

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Filed under BDSM, News and politics, pornography, public discourse, sex, Sex in the Public Square, sex work, sexuality

Some recent blogging from Sex In The Public Square (dot org)

I realize I’ve been neglecting this space. I’ve been spending all my time either at work or over at Sex In The Public Square (dot org). If you enjoy my blogging that’s a good place to look for me these days. To give you an idea of what I’ve been up to over there, here are some glimpses:

A very strange story about a sexual assault case

Amber Rhea sent me a link to a news story about a very bizarre ruling in a sexual assault case. It is a strange story and I’m wondering if it has been accurately reported. It sounds too awful to be true. If it is being accurately reported, it is beyond outrageous.Here is what we can know based on the news story:

Melanie Ross alleges that she was sexually assaulted by Daniel Day at his Mercer University fraternity house in 2003. (According to the article, Day comes from a powerful Georgia family. His father is Burke Day, a State Rep and he is of the Days Inn Days.)

Melanie Ross is brought a civil suit against Day because of the assault.

A Bibb County judge ruled in the civil suit that the lacerations she had did not prove rape, and that she needed to provide a list of her sex partners because “only virgins can bring a case for sexual battery in civil court.” In addition, she was ordered to pay $150,000 of Day’s attorney fees. (READ MORE at SexInThePublicSquare.org)

When is it okay for faculty and students to be sexual in the same place?

If you ask it that way it’s kind of an odd question, isn’t it? I mean we’re basically sexual all the time. We just aren’t always acting on our sexual desires. But we are not without our sexuality. Still, any time personal sexuality makes itself visible in relationships like those between coworkers or between students and teachers things get very muddy very quickly

I ask the question because of this story. I read it about it first on the dankprofessor’s blog. (The dankprofessor is Barry Dank, and he writes frequently about the politics of sex on college campuses.)

Briefly the story is this:

A creative writing professor at University of New Mexico, posed on a BDSM web site in the company of at least one of of her graduate students. The web site was for an organization called People Exchanging Power, a national network of support groups for BDSM-oriented people, and for those curious about BDSM that Lisa Chavez*, the professor, learned about from two of her grad students. (The web site for the Albequerque branch does seem to focus heavily on phone fantasy exporation, as indicated in the news article.) It seems that after that, Chavez posed for some pictures that were shown on the web site, and at least one of those pictures included one of the grad students. An investigation was prompted, somehow, at the University, and the deputy provost found no use of college resources, no undue influence, no hostile environment, and no coercion. He said that while he thought she’d exercised poor judgement, that the incident “did not rise to the level of calling into question her ‘unfitness for duty’.” (Read more at SexInThePublicSquare.org)

We also have:

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Filed under BDSM, Carol Queen, Chris Hall, Daniel Day, Melanie Ross, pornography, public discourse, rape, sex, sex crimes, Sex in the Public Square

The Myth of the Liberal Media, or Further Evidence that the NYT is an Elitist Paper

Originally posted on SexInThePublicSquare.org – join us there!

I’ve always known that the New York Times is an elitist paper. Most national papers are pretty directed at the upper middle and upper classes. You can tell just by looking at their advertising. Million dollar studio apartments and thousand dollar watches are not for the masses, after all. And I learned from a beloved sociology instructor in college to recognize the significance of the fact that there is never a labor section but always a business section and that the Times has two “Style” sections a week where you can learn about the newest expensive trends. So it isn’t like this is a revelation. But today’s Metro Section really beats all:

new york times screen shot of headline emperors club sold an oxymoron high class prostitution

The story itself is worse than the headline. It contains stereotypes, overgeneralizations, faulty logic, bad assumptions and lots of other problems that I warn my students about. And aside getting the prostitution stuff wrong, it’s very clear message is this: don’t try to pass yourself off as belonging to the upper classes if you weren’t born and bred among them.

Where to start?

Perhaps with the faulty logic. Susan Dominus asserts that Emperor’s Club was selling a fantasy image of “Kristen” that didn’t match Kristen’s real life. Of course many sex workers do in fact shield their identities by disguising other aspects of their lives. Dominus must know that. What she is pointing out in her article is that Kristen’s image was one of upper middle class or upper class upbringing, and to prove that Kristen was not in fact of such a background she poses a series of what she presumes to be inherently contradictory statements:

that she was a successful swimsuit model who’d traveled the world (as opposed to a singer getting nowhere with a boyfriend who’d paid her rent, as The Times reported yesterday); that she enjoyed civilized pursuits like dining at exclusive restaurants (actually, she’s been hoping for work at a friend’s restaurant); and that she liked sampling fine wines (no mention of the drug abuse she’d reported on her MySpace page). The site also described her as 24 (in fact, she’s 22, an age that might have sounded dangerously collegiate to an affluent clientele).

Can Dominus really believe that a working class or middle class person could never enjoy “civilized pursuits” like dining at fancy establishments, or that a person who enjoys fine wine never abuses drugs? (Wall Street, anyone?) Are these things really logically related in any way at all?

Only if one buys the assumption that pursuits like fine wine and fancy restaurants are reserved for the upper classes. And only if drug abuse is somehow different from addiction and the Betty Ford Clinic only serves the masses.

Then there are the overgeneralizations:

Once the story of Ashley Alexandra Dupré’s life actually came out, it was a fresh reminder that the words “high class” and “prostitution ring” pretty much never make sense in the same phrase (expensive prostitution ring, yes; high class, no). This was not someone who’d been turned down by the consulting firm of her choice and decided to make an alternative entrepreneurial move. Ms. Dupré’s MySpace page said she’d left home at 17 and had been abused. She’d been homeless. She said she knew, at 22, what it was like “to have everything and lose it, ” even if she’d built herself up since. Her story was not self-empowering; it was, even in its scant detail, profoundly sad, all the more so because of her extreme youth.

Somehow because this young woman herself is not of the upper classes no prostitute ever is. Somehow because her profile fits that of the stereotypical sex worker she must represent all sex workers. And somehow the fact that she reports having built herself back up (in part using sex work) after having lost everything is not evidence of any kind of self-empowerment.

Sudhir Venkatesh is quoted later as if his work supports this overgeneralization about prostitutes but if you heard him on the NPR the other day or read his piece on Slate.com you’d know that he has in fact interviewed women who left professional-class careers for upscale escorting. I have not reviewed his research so I’m not attesting to its quality, though I think highly of some of his other work. (And I should note that Melissa Gira Grant has taken Venkatesh to task for oversimplifying things, too.) But he introduces a three-tier categorization of prostitution that would certainly challenge the statements that Dominus makes in this article.

My real anger, though, actually comes from Dominus’s acceptance of the term “high class.” I know that is the term that much of the press has been using to describe the escort service in question. But to accept its use and to apply it to people is appalling.

“High class” is a value judgement and a way of obscuring the real stratification of wealth, power and privilege in the United States. Why not talk about the upper class, the elite, or the working class or the middle class, which are much more meaningfully descriptive?

And why not come out and make the message clear:

If you aren’t born among us you can never be one of us and we’d much prefer it if you’d stop pretending.

The ad at the top of the NYT screenshot is for Loro Piana and the Americana Manhasset, shopping for the wealthy.

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Filed under Eliot Spitzer, feminism, Gender, inequality, New York Times, public discourse, sex, Sex in the Public Square, sex work, sexually oriented businesses