Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Labor Organizing in the Sex Industry - Hopes and Realities

Lisa has been raising some excellent points here recently concerning the need for formal organization among porn workers and sex workers in general, who she rightly sees as having more in common with one another than they do with anyone else, despite some individual differences.

I commend her for her passion and courage in pursuing this goal and think it has important possibilities that need to be explored and considered by all of us. I also think there are some significant differences between making porn and other kinds of sex work that pose particular challenges to the organizing process. 

There have been several previous attempts to unionize performers and all have failed so far, beginning with the ugly rebuff Nina and others got from SAG when they first tried to join that existing union twenty years ago. 

If that effort had been successful, how different things might have been for all of us. Alas, we'll never know. What we do know is that subsequent attempts at union organizing from within, most recently Mr. Marcus's efforts to assemble a performers' association just a couple of years back, have unraveled in the early phases.

Back in the day, when a handful of producers controlled the small number of active production companies, and thus the employment prospects of every player, it was downright risky to even whisper about the possibility of unionization of the talent pool. Even as cautious an approach as The Pink Lady's Social Club which  Nina, Porsche Lynn, Hyapatia Lee and a few other top names tried to form as a regular discussion group, met with direct threats from major company owners of collective black-balling. This kind of heavy-handed union-busting wouldn't have been tolerated in any other industry, but given porn's just-legalized status at the time, and the particularly shaky ground it occupied in L.A. county prior to the Freeman decision, there wasn't much of anyplace to turn for support from the outside. And that's all the sadder for the fact that the much smaller industry of that time, with far fewer workers concentrated in a much tighter geographical area, would have been far easier to assemble in one hall than the sprawling, disparate community we have now.

In a rabidly competitive atmosphere of hundreds of video companies and thousands of Web sites spread out all over every place and legions of short-time players coming and going in a matter of weeks, months or a couple of years at most, the bad bosses of old have pretty much gone extinct (good riddance IMV) and no producer has the power to prevent other producers from hiring anybody they want. A popular player who is good in front of the camera can always find work, regardless of who does or does not like him or her. 

That's all good as far as I can see. Having been a part of this industry's first, abortive try at creating some kind of collective response to the threat of HIV, I was on the receiving end of some incredibly ugly and vicious tactics at the hands of various underlings whose employers saw what we were doing as a nose under the tent for unionization. I even got a phone call from a "friend" who had been talking to some other "friends" of his who worked for "a certain kind of company" and just wanted to pass along a "friendly" warning that such talk could be bad for my health. I suggested he pass back to his other "friends" an equally "friendly" warning from me that I was pretty good with a .45 and not too shy about using it if some mooks with baseball bats decided to meet me in a studio parking lot after a late-night shoot sometime, as my "friend" implied might happen. When old-timers wax nostalgic about those times, that's what I remember, so good-bye to all that and happily so.

However, now we face a different set of difficulties. The very thing that has reduced the power of major producers has also diffused the potential power of organized labor in porn. A large, transient workforce with no long-term stake in the well-being of a business in which they know they won't be present long presents a daunting organizing challenge. Unlike strippers, who tend to work for long periods at particular clubs, or escorts who may move from agency to agency but remain in the seem locale, porn performers come into this business very young and don't stay here for more than a couple of years in most cases. They don't see themselves as having a common concern with the the welfare of others like themselves, who they tend to view as competitors for the same gigs rather than brothers and sisters in the same situation. 

The root problem is that most performers see themselves as small business operators rather than workers. This isn't just a fiction cooked up by company lawyers to avoid the burdensome regulations that apply to regular employment. Performers really are independent contractors. They may work for more than one company in a single day,  five in a week, twenty in a month, a hundred in a year. If they run into something they don' t like on a particular set, they just walk off the job and tell their agents not to book them for that specific company again. To the extent that people in this age and educational demographic have any politics at all, they tend to be libertarian in the extreme. They just want to be left alone to make their money and have their fun and, when they figure out how, move on to some other line of work before the phone stops ringing. This is hardly comfortable terrain for aspiring labor organizers. The question such organizers face, as they would from any group of workers, is "what can you really do for us that we can't do for ourselves?" In many industries, the answers are fairly obvious, because there are common conditions that those who possess particular skill sets work under in an atmosphere of limited employment opportunities. Solidarity is more easily built where there is a sense of common disadvantages around which to organize.

In porn, every company has different policies. Every shoot has different pluses and minuses. Every day presents a new set of ups and downs. And by the time you've been around long enough to see any connection among these things, you're probably almost done here. 

Moreover, the economics of legal porn are hugely different from those of other forms of sex work. For one thing, as I've discussed earlier, porn performers face no significant threat of prosecution persuant to making their livings. They work, get paid and go home without worrying about the cops. And the money itself is pretty good and pretty steady for as long as it holds out, which in a young sex worker's mind equals prosperity and independence. The notion of sticking around to set down roots, buy houses, raise families and someday retire on a pension is as fanciful to porn performers as it has traditionally been to hard-rock miners, another group that has never been successfully unionized. Unlike shift-working coal miners who inherit a dangerous family trade from which they see no ultimate escape, metals miners, from way back to the gold rush era, have tended to see themselves as prospectors who would one day strike it rich and never swing a pick again. 

Porn players almost all have long-range ambitions outside of what they're doing now. Many aspire to become directors and/or producers themselves, as quite a few have, ranging from John Stagliano to Jenna Jameson. On many key issues, such as regulation of working conditions, performers may well identify with their employers' values as much as with those of other workers. 

Then there's the flake factor. We're dealing with a very youthful workforce that often doesn't show up on sets where they have checks waiting, much less for the tedious, time-consuming tasks inherent in starting any kind of effective labor organization. That requires a long attention-span and a view over the horizon. It's harder and less satisfying, at least in the early phases, than simply partying away the ugly memories of a bad day on the job. After all, tomorrow's job may be a lot more fun, whether or not the performer does anything to make it better or worse individually or collectively.

Okay, so that's the strategic map upon which an unionization battles would be fought. It's not encouraging to contemplate, but neither is it insurmountable. The SEIU faced some very similar problems, greatly aggravated by the fact that much of its potential membership was in this country illegally and didn't speak English. They too were transient, unmoored from specific trades and invisible on the radar of mainstream media and politics, except as punching-bags for demagogues of the sort who bedevil porn workers. And yet the SEIU is now one of the most visible and influential unions in the country. Woe betide the politician or employer of whatever rank who crosses it.

Entertainment industry unions of other sorts have overcome similar hurdles. Writers, actors and directors in film and television are also competitive with one another, work mostly independently, seldom have regular employment from ongoing sources and experience great class disparity in their own ranks. At any given time, for example, the WGA has about 90% of its membership out of work, while the other ten percent is often extremely well compensated and may also have one foot over the fence into management. Yet we just saw the WGA stare down the producers over new media residuals in time for Oscar night.  Directors, actors and crews have managed to unionize successfully, while musicians, for example, have not, mainly I suspect for the same reasons porn performers haven't. They don't understand the long-term need.

Perhaps the model in the film industry, which is more trade guild than classic trade union, would hold some promise in our branch of the ent biz. Frankly, if this were going to be my cause, which it can't be for many reasons at this late date, I'd start with the crews. They are fewer in number, their terms and conditions of employment more homogenous, their stays in the industry much longer and, given how few of them have the technical skills needed to maintain a steady flow of new production, potentially more powerful than performers. They may not see what they do as sex work, which it only tangentially is, but they do see it as labor and the conditions under which it's practiced - long days, unreliable and inconsistent compensation, dangerous and unhealthful working environments, no benefits of any kind, short or long term - only inspire griping at present, but could eventually rile them to the point of making something of it.

Consider this, from a producer's point of view (and yes, I am a producer, which is one reason why the traditional union model excludes any direct assistance from me), crews are far more intimidating than performers. If a performer fails to show or decides to quit, I can just call an agency and have a replacement on the set in an hour. If my camera operator quits, I'm fucked. There are maybe a dozen guys in the whole business who could shoot what I need shot, and ten of them are probably already working for one of my competitors that day. So much for that shoot.

One thing I do not see, sadly, is performers as a group making common cause with other sex workers, whether strippers, escorts, massage parlor workers or street walkers. There is a cultural problem inherent in this climate that makes that an unlikely outcome. As I've explained before, most porn performers don't want to be seen as sex workers but rather as entertainers (while I think a good case can be made that other kinds of sex workers are also entertainers, with smaller audiences to be sure, but nevertheless, and might do better by viewing themselves as such). They fear for their legal status if they cast their lot with those who work even closer to the edge of prohibition, and for those performers who also provide in their off hours, the risks involved are real. 

And even for those who don't, the psychological barriers to accepting that what they do is sex work, whatever its called, are hard to overcome. It's one thing to play a whore on TV, quite another to face one in the mirror each morning. That takes a degree of self-actualizing fortitude that may be very hard to come by in this environment. Identifying with the oppression and the struggle of less privileged sex workers is not a pleasant thing to contemplate for someone who prefers to see him or herself as a "star." 

This is a wedge that APFs effectively drive between us all the time. They love to go on and on about how a lucky few of us get all the rewards while vast numbers of "enslaved, brutalized, prostituted women" suffer all the miseries into which our visible good fortune has seduced them.  

Somehow, we need to take that wedge out of the hands of those who want to see sex work abolished and those who profit by keeping it divided and powerless. Between them, our common enemies make a formidable opposition to be conquered, and before we can take them on, we have to rise above our own misgivings from within. 

This is going to take some doing, but I believe it is doable in some form.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Invitation to a Rumble (The Remixed Version)

[Reposting Ernest's last entry for those too lazy to hit the comment key]

Readers here already know that Nina Hartley was originally scheduled to appear on Nighline as a participant in a staged debate at OSU between herself and Ron Jeremy on one side and the dudes from the XXX Church on the other. If you check out the nice clip further down, you’ll see Nina in action at said debate (h/t Ren), with other participants in the BG. Who you will not see, as I explained in my previous rant on this topic, is Martin Bashir, Nightline talking-head-in-chief, who was supposed to moderate this confab but was mysteriously called away at the last minute to cover some more important story. Nighline kicked down for Nina’s ticket, then no-showed the event.

If you want to know what happened next, you can just visit the thread further down for details, but the bottom line is that Bashir and Co. showed up at Yale’s much discussed Sex Week, where the debate was re-staged with Vivid Girl Monique Alexander taking Nina’s place. I’ve already acknowledged that the Sex Week gestalt was probably viewed by ABC programmers as having more eye-ball drawing power, and I’m sure Monique, though young and inexperienced, did a creditable job. And Ronnie, though no forensic ace, has been at this for some time and picked up a few chops. He’s also developed some fun chemistry with the holy Joes from what I understand. But still a major opportunity lost to let serious people discuss a serious topic in a serious way, and a serious diss on Nina. No way they could slip Nina or anyone else from our community with significant credentials into the discussion, but somehow they found a slot for this joker:

Pauling is a former part-time “pornographer,” if you think that label really applies to a guy who shot a bunch of single-girl masturbation loops as Internet content in his living room, has since given his life to Jesus and, in between helping used car salesman push iron in cyberspace, now devotes himself to helping the god squad warn us all of the evils of porn.

Clearly a ringer, he was shipped in to shore up the anti side of the debate while the pro side was handicapped by the removal of a skilled advocate. Again, no knock intended on Monique, but she’s all of 25 and has no previous history as an activist. For that matter, other than in advancing his own career, neither does Ron.

Did Nightline stack the deck? Nah. They’d never do a thing like that. Come 11:30 p.m. this Thursday, we’ll all get to see what I’m sure will be a masterful exercise in broadcast journalism that I’m sure would make Edward R. Murrow proud for his whole profession.

So, enough already. After much discussion, Nina and I have decided to let those nice folks at ABC News know their game has been busted.

In the morning, this email will await to the ever-so-personable (and aren’t they always?) booker at nightline, Ethan Nelson, who initially contacted Nina to arrange for the Ohio State Gig:

Dear Mr. Nelson,

First of all, I’d like to thank you and your network for providing transportation to Ohio State University to participate in the November 4, 2007 debate regarding pornography held at the Mershon Auditorium. Though I was disappointed to hear that Nighline host Martin Bashir, originally scheduled to moderate the panel, would be unable to attend due to “a breaking news story,” and thus the OSU discussion wouldn’t air on ABC as planned, I was assured at the time that the opportunity to participate in a similar forum would be rescheduled for broadcast at a later date.

Though I haven’t heard from you since, I’m sure you won’t be too surprised to find out that I’m aware of your program’s subsequent decision to cover a reprise of that debate held February 15, 2008 in New Haven, Connecticut as part of Yale University’s annual Sex Week events. Apparently, there was no breaking news at that time, as Mr. Bashir did, in fact, act as moderator for the discussion in question, which featured Ron Jeremy, who would have been my partner speaking in defense of pornography, Vivid Video contract performer Monique Alexander, presumably acting as my replacement, and two representatives of the XXX Church denouncing pornography’s evils. I understand that parts of that debate, set against the general backdrop of Sex Week activities, will be broadcast on Nightline this coming Thursday, February 28.

Obviously, I’ll watch the final results of Nightline’s reportage with interest, though to be fully frank, I don’t expect to be surprised by what I see. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I expect to see a brief “actualities reel” long on tease and titillation, a few highlights from the debate (most likely featuring emotional and highly porn-negative audience responses), and some commentary on the broader issue of pornography’s societal impact, either by Mr. Bashir alone or with the aid of a carefully-screened “expert” or two, and a wrap-up leaving the viewer to ponder whether pornography more correctly constitutes a threat or a menace. Certainly, no one will take away the impression that ABC News in any way condones or advocates the production or consumption of pornography in any form. That such dog-and-pony shows are reliable ratings boosters in no way implicates ABC News or its parent company, the Walt Disney Corporation, in pandering to the public’s prurient interest in such matters, or seeks to profit there from, I’m quite certain.

As someone who makes no secret of earning her living as a performer, director and producer in the field of X-rated entertainment, I wouldn’t begrudge any mainstream media outlet its share of the attention and revenues generated by society’s seemingly inexhaustible fascination with my line of work. Pornography opponents of the right and left have repeatedly pointed out that many major corporate media interests derive income from indirect association with pornography, including satellite and cable providers as well as broadcast journalism organizations such as your own. Why should your stockholders miss out on their cut?
And as an entertainer, I can easily understand how Yale Sex Week, with all its attendant controversy and copious visual content, would possess an almost irresistible allure for any network programmer when compared to an isolated evening of rhetorical sparring a Midwestern campus venue. Thus I can find no real fault with the decision to refocus your coverage to a more telegenic locale.

Nor do I take any particular offense, personal or professional, at your choice to replace me on the debate squad with a younger performer directly associated with the production company that wisely seized on the publicity surrounding Sex Week to promote its personnel and products. I’m sure the Vivid staff eagerly provided ABC News full access to all the resources at their command, doubtless a great benefit to your organization as Ms. Alexander’s appearance, however brief and carefully edited, before your millions of viewers greatly benefited Vivid’s promotional objectives. After a quarter century of making videos, writing books, contributing to periodicals, conducting workshops, addressing groups of all kinds and acting as an advocate in for sex workers and an activist in the cause of sexual liberation, I enjoy a substantial following of my own and am in no way dependent on the attention of large-scale, mainstream media operations such as yours. My series of educational videos has sold nearly three-quarters of a million units. And while my Web site, on which this letter will be reproduced, averages only about five percent as much traffic as yours, as I am, after all, just another interchangeable porn chick while you’re a major TV news operation. On the other hand, Googling my name turns up about 4,610, 000 responses while Nightline draws a mere 2,670,000. Somehow, I’m sure I’ll muddle through without any additional publicity from you. My overhead is quite a bit lower than yours.

The only real losers I see in this exercise in infotainment are the viewers themselves, some of whom might conceivably have sought to educate themselves about the hotly-contested issues concerning pornography by hearing a thoughtful airing of those issues by those best informed from study and experience to explain them. Instead, they’ll be getting the predictable TV news helicopter over-flight of the topic, with emphasis placed on its most sensational aspects and as little time as possible allotted to any probative discussion of it, pro or con.

I intend no disrespect to Ron Jeremy, who is a longtime personal friend of mine, to Ms. Alexander, whom I do not know but am sure is an intelligent, capable and appealing spokesperson, nor for that matter to the representatives of the XXX Church, with whom I disagree emphatically on many matters but who have demonstrated an impressive ability to make their case whenever and wherever the chance arises.

However, none of these individuals has a lengthy history of pornography-related activism of any sort, or the depth of knowledge and understanding that would go with it. I don’t think it’s unfair to say that many others could have shed much more light on the central issues in dispute than those whose primary experience of them has been has been limited mainly to those directly impacting their individual careers.

I won’t pretend to speak for those who oppose the existence of pornography and the industry that produces it, but from our side of the fence, you could have chosen from a long, impressive, highly qualified roster of debate participants who would have brought genuine substance to the conversation. I was certainly not the only choice that would have fit that description. Let me just list off a few names that could have stood in for me with, perhaps, just a bit more background to support their arguments than your designated hitters:

Jenna Jameson – Best-selling author of How to Make Love Like a Pornstar, A Cautionary Tale, and perhaps the most successful, iconic performer in the history of this industry, head of her own corporation with annual receipts above thirty million dollars, subject of countless profiles and interviews in print and on the airwaves, frequent guest of Howard Stern and previously host of her own show on E! network, undoubtedly the most significant crossover personality from pornography to mainstream media;

Nadine Strossen – President of the American Civil Liberties Union and author of Defending Pornography: Free Speech, Sex, and the Fight for Women’s Rights (Scribner, 1995);

Diane Duke – executive director of The Free Speech Coalition, our industry’s principle advocacy organization, who deals with the legal challenges confronting X-rated producers on a daily basis, as well as organizing our legislative lobbying efforts:

Candida Royale – Performer, director and producer of X-rated video and film for nearly three decades, owner of her own highly-successful, woman-oriented production company, Femme Productions and author of How to Tell a Naked Man What to Do, which chronicles her critical role in breaking through adult-entertainment production’s glass ceiling;

Tristan Taormino – Village Voice columnist, author of several best-selling sex advice books, guest lecturer at Yale, Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Vassar, Swarthmore, and New York University and producer of an the award-winning adult video line, Chemistry for, of all people, Vivid Video;

Dr. Sharon Mitchell – One of the best-known performers in the history of adult film and video and founding director of the Adult Industry Medical Healthcare Foundation (AIM), which provides STD testing, medical care and counseling to adult-video performers.

Susie Bright – one of the first writers/activists referred to as a sex-positive feminist, co-founding publisher of the revolutionary lesbian erotica magazine On Our Backs, author of fifteen books related to pornography and radical sexuality, currently teaching at the University of California at Santa Cruz;

Linda Williams – author of Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and the Frenzy of the Visible and professor of Film Studies at the University of California at Berkeley, perhaps the most authoritative academic source on the origins, content and implications of sexually explicit visual depictions:

Dr. Carol Queen – co-founder of The Center for Sex and Culture, essayist, activist and educator whose pioneering book, Real Live Nude Girl: Chronicles of Sex-Positive Culture, is considered one of the founding texts of third-wave feminism, a movement that strives to reconcile feminist thought and teaching with the sub-culture of adult entertainment:

Violet Blue – sex and culture columnist for The San Francisco Chronicle, author of over two dozen books related to pornography, erotica and sexual health, free-lance contributor to magazines including Forbes and O, whose podcast, Open Source Sex, has made her one of the leading sex educators for the Internet generation.

These are just a few who spring to mind. I could easily name a dozen others, and so could you if you had done your homework instead of going for the easy and obvious choices.

Pornography is a serious subject deserving of serious consideration. That is an opinion I share with many, many people who either agree or disagree with my own views on the subject. I find it exasperating beyond description to see it played for cheap shock value in mainstream again and again, with whatever time may be given to its significant cultural impact repeatedly handed over to those who despise it while its defense is invariably left to those most easily dismissed for the nature of their participation in creating it.

I would dearly love to be proven wrong, but I’m quite certain viewers of this Thursday’s Nighline will come away from the experience neither informed nor enlightened concerning pornography, but rather with all their existing prejudices even more firmly entrenched. The real story here is one of opportunities missed, stereotypes perpetuated and sensationalism triumphant over responsible journalism.

Imagine, some people have the nerve to consider the way I make my living shameful.

Nina Hartley

And we’re not stopping here. We’re cross-posting this letter at and forwarding it on to every other site where we think it might be welcomed, as well as to all those mentioned in the letter itself to use as they see fit.

It’s too late, I’m sure, to change the outcome as far as the Nightline fiasco is concerned, and doing so is not our intent. We just want to let them know that we’re tired of this kind of being simultaneously exploited, denounced and, to borrow a word from our foes, silenced, in this manner.

It’s easy enough to shrug of this kind of episode with yet another “what do you expect from mainstream media?” dismissal, but it is the portrayal of our industry in mainstream media that influences public opinion and shapes public policy. We can’t afford to ignore their relentless distortions of who we are, what we do and how we live, any more than persons of color, gay people, Jews, Muslims or any other group suffering the effects of routine defamation can. Allowing ourselves to be routinely depicted in a false and injurious light without responding paints an enormous bulls-eye on all our backs. Anyone who wants to feels free to kick pornographers around the airwaves and news pages with impunity, indeed, with the approval of a noisy mob of hate-mongers who always can always get their soapboxes to deplore us, as Gail Dines does on Fox News, while we are reduced to being paraded across the screen at the direction of media ringmasters like trained seals.

Enough! Time to let the media-meisters know we’re done playing nice. As we’ve said before, we do not blame Ron Jeremy, the people at Vivid or anybody else in our business from trying to work the mass media while the mass media works them, we continue to believe that freedom of expression extends to commercial as well as political speech. However, that does not mean that we must continue to accept a status quo in which our side is used only for its entertainment value while our opponents are afforded the somber respect due important intellectuals and major political figures. This is wrong and we’re over it.

Therefore, we suggest that everyone here get everyone they know who cares not just for the First Amendment rights of pornographers, but for their own right to hear both sides of the story and think for themselves, to speak up with an email or a phone call to Nightline (easily accessible via the ABC News Web site) letting them know just how reprehensible they think this kind of biased, irresponsible coverage really is and how much harm it does to the state of public discourse. We’re mad as hell and we don’t have to take it.

Let them know we’re paying attention to them loud enough and long enough and they’ll have to start paying attention to us. Now, before you take your best shot, take a deep breath and think through what you’re going to say. Keep it short, polite, grammatical, clean and to the point. The last thing we want to do is give them more excuses to dismiss us as a rabble of foul-mouthed illiterates. If we want to be taken seriously, we must comport ourselves accordingly.

From here on, it’s up to you.

[Time to either sing it, bring it, or get off the stage, folks. -- Anthony]

Invitation to a Rumble

Friday, February 22, 2008

Nina Hartley Bringing The Fire To "THE" OSU (YouTube Video Clip)

This was from the porn debate at The Ohio State University last year....the one that Ernest said that she was promised airtime from ABC, who then stoned her for the Yale Sex Week debacle.

Perhaps this is why Gail Dines and the antiporn fascists want no debate with sweet and professional she can be, she does have the occasional short fuse that can blow up in your grill at the wrong time if you set it off.

Nina Hartley at THE Ohio State University (via YouTube) -- hat tip to Ren, Lisa Roenig, and Amber Rhea

(Oh...and slightly OT memo to Buckeye fan: What is up with "THE" OSU?? Like, you need to distinguish yourself from Ohio University??? LOL

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Upcoming online forum on sex work, trafficking, and human rights

For Immediate Release

Elizabeth Wood
Phone: provided upon request
Email: elizabeth (at) sexinthepublicsquare (dot) org
Assistant Professor of Sociology, Nassau Community College

Sex In The Public Square Presents:
Sex Work, Trafficking, and Human Rights: A Public Forum

New York, February 20, 2008 — Ten prominent sex worker advocates, writers, researchers will be publicly discussing the issues of sex work and trafficking from a human rights and harm reduction perspective, February 25 - March 3, on The week-long online conversation will conclude with a summary statement on March 3, International Sex Worker Rights Day.

Sex work and trafficking are two issues that must be discussed as distinct yet intersecting, and we've invited some of the smartest sex worker advocates we know to help sort out the complexities. "This forum is not about debating whether or not we should be using a harm reduction and human rights approach instead of the more mainstream abolitionist and prohibitionist approach to sex work," explains Elizabeth Wood, co-founder of Sex In The Public Square and Assistant Professor of Sociology at Nassau Community College. "Instead our goal is to create a space for nuanced exploration of the human rights and harm reduction approach so that we can use it more persuasively."

Wood explains: "The human rights and harm reduction approach seeks to reduce the dangers that sex workers face and to stop human rights abuses involved in the movement of labor across borders, a movement which occurs in the service of so many industries. We want people to be able to learn about this perspective, and to develop and refine it, without having to dilute that conversation by debating the legitimacy of sex work."

Questions and themes include:

Defining our terms: Is the way that we define "porn" clear? "Prostitution"? "Sex work" in general? What happens when we say "porn" and mean all sexually explicit imagery made for the purpose of generating arousal and others hear "porn" as indicating just the "bad stuff" while reserving "erotica" for everything they find acceptable? When we say sex work is it clear what kinds of jobs we're including?

Understanding our differences: How do inequalities of race, class and gender affect the sex worker rights movement? Are we effective in organizing across those differences?

Identifying common ground: What are the areas of agreement between the abolitionist/prohibitionist perspective and the human rights/harm reduction perspective? For example, we all agree that forced labor is wrong. We all agree that nonconsensual sex is wrong. Is it a helpful strategic move to by highlighting our areas of agreement and then demonstrating why a harm reduction/human rights perspective is better suited to addressing those shared concerns, or are we better served by distancing ourselves from the abolition/prohibition-oriented thinkers?

Evaluating research: What do we think of the actual research generated by prominent abolitionist/prohibitionist scholars like Melissa Farley, Gail Dines, and Robert Jensen? Can we comment on the methods they use to generate the data on which they base their analysis, and then can we comment on the logic of their conclusions based on the data they have?

Framing the issues: What are our biggest frustrations with the way that the human rights/harm reduction perspective is characterized by the abolitionist/prohibitionist folks? How can we effectively respond to or reframe this misrepresentations? What happens when "I oppose human trafficking" becomes a political shield that deflects focus away from issues of migration, labor and human rights?

Exploring broader economic questions: How does the demand for cheap labor undermine human rights-based solutions to exploitation in all industries, including the sex industry?

Confirmed participants include:
  • Melissa Gira is a co-founder of the sex worker blog Bound, Not Gagged, the editor of, and reports on sex for Gawker Media's Valleywag.
  • Chris Hall is co-founder of Sex In The Public Square and also writes the blog Literate Perversions.
  • Kerwin Kay has written about the history and present of male street prostitution, and about the politics of sex trafficking. He has been active in the sex workers rights movement for some 10 years. He also edited the anthology Male Lust: Pleasure, Power and Transformation (Haworth Press, 2000) and is finishing a Ph.D. in American Studies at NYU.
  • Anthony Kennerson blogs on race, class, gender, politics and culture at SmackDog Chronicles, and is a regular contributor to the Blog for Pro-Porn Activism.
  • Antonia Levy co-chaired the international "Sex Work Matters: Beyond Divides" conference in 2006 and the 2nd Annual Feminist Pedagogy Conference in 2007. She teaches at Brooklyn College, Queens College, and is finishing her Ph.D. at the Graduate Center at CUNY.
  • Audacia Ray is the author of Naked on the Internet: Hookups, Downloads and Cashing In On Internet Sexploration (Seal Press, 2007), and the writer/producer/director of The Bi Apple. She blogs at hosts and edits Live Girl Review and was longtime executive editor of $pread Magazine
  • Amber Rhea is a sex worker advocate, blogger, and organizer of the Sex 2.0 conference on feminism, sexuality and social media, and co-founder of the Georgia Podcast Network. Her blog is Being Amber Rhea.
  • Ren is a sex worker advocate, a stripper, Internet porn performer, swinger, gonzo fan, BDSM tourist, blogger, history buff, feminist expatriate who blogs at Renegade Evolution. She is a founder of the Blog for Pro-Porn Activism and a contributor to Bound, Not Gagged and Sex Workers Outreach Project - East.
  • Stacey Swimme has worked in the sex industry for 10 years. She is a vocal sex worker advocate and is a founding member of Desiree Alliance and Sex Workers Outreach Project USA.
  • Elizabeth Wood is co-founder of Sex In The Public Square, and Assistant Professor of Sociology at Nassau Community College. She has written about gender, power and interaction in strip clubs, about labor organization at the Lusty Lady Theater, and she blogs regularly about sex and society.
To read or participate in the forum log on to

For more information contact Elizabeth Wood at elizabeth (at) sexinthepublicsquare (dot) org.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Who's Being Silenced Now?

And here I thought, just because today was a holiday, I might get through a Monday without some kind of bullshit pissing me off, but noooo. As it turns out, today's bullshit is more infuriating than most.

We've already devoted some discussion to the flap surrounding Yales U's annual Sex Week, with more conversation to ensue anon, but in there's a bit of back-story here that merits specific attention.

Back in September a line producer for ABC's Nightline contacted Nina and specifically invited her to participate in one of the Ron-Jeremy-vs-XXX-Church debates,  to be presented at Ohio State University with no less a media mighty than Martin Bashir himself moderating. The discussion was then to air on Nightline.

A ticket was provided (although the promised reimbursement check for lodging has mysteriously never appeared) and Nina flew off to participate in the OSU panel. According to her, it went pretty well. You can see a bit of it on YouTube (  but you will note the conspicuous absence of Bashir. The line producer called at the last minute to inform Nina that "due to a breaking news story" Nighline wouldn't be covering this particular event after all. However, said producer promised, the show would arrange another debate in which Nina would be included and that would play on ABC sometime soon.

So, this morning, I found this on

Now maybe this is just a coincidence, or a matter of scheduling for the busy folks at Nightline, but I've been at this too long, both as a pornographer and as a journalist, to accept that explanation at face value. My own suspicion is that at the time Nightline ditched the OSU gig, the producers already knew of the "debate" planned for the much flashier Yale venue and decided that it would make better TV. After all, we're talking about the whole Sex Week circus at the Ivy's second most famous campus.  As a producer, I might have made that same call myself.

However, I would have made good on my promise to get Nina on that stage one way or another. Why? No knock intended on either Ronnie or Monique Alexander, who I'm sure was perfectly well-spoken and charming, but neither has the years or the chops Nina has when it comes to defending porn. Both are entertainers more than they are advocates or activists and with just the two of them up against the dudes from XXX church, the more serious and significant issues surrounding porn that Nina could have addressed in greater depth were unlikely to get a significant airing. Nonetheless, Bashir did show up to ringmaster that circus and I have no doubt it will run in the near future.

I guess the idea of having a "serious" representative of our community in the mix just didn't fit whatever framework the producers had already erected within which to spin their story. I don't have to strain my imagination much to picture how the final cut will play. I'm sure it will start out on  a light and farcical note, then turn 180 to present the "dark side of porn," with various familiar talking heads from the anti crowd given plenty of airtime to denounce the event itself, the manner in which it demonstrates the "pornification" of the culture, and the general "porn - threat or menace" POV that mainstream coverage of this type always takes in the end. That way, during sweeps week (doubtless when this reportorial gem will show up on our screens), the network can take full advantage of the most sensational aspects of the topic without opening themselves to significant criticism for "advocating" porn by making sure porn's most effective advocates are denied a level playing field on which to confront their opponents. 

This is all just business as usual in infotainment, and I'm undoubtedly especially pissed about it because it slights Nina, but the fact remains, contrary to Gail Dine's loud protestations that she's been "completely silenced ... completely!," those who are really silenced in the MSM are the individuals best equipped to make a fact-based case for porn's right to exist to rebut the lies and distortions routinely circulated as evidence of the porn's innumerable "harms" and "evils."

So far, Nina hasn't had a single significant network appearance since Oprah put her on way back in the Nineties. I can't say I've seen much of any of the other most influential opinion makers from our side - Tristan, Carol, Susie, Violet, Candida (it's not like there's a shortage of brainpower to call upon) on the box anywhere other than in late-night cable puff pieces intended to provide some justification for showing a lot of skin. If you have something serious to say in defense of porn, don't expect to be treated as newsworthy by the decision-makers at any of the major MSM outlets. It's just not going to happen. You might get on with Tyra Banks for 45 seconds, to be followed by the host's expressions of disdain for you and everything you stand for, but that's where your media access will hit the wall. Unlike Gail Dines, you won't get a stand-up on Fox to tell your side of the story, virtually unchallenged by talking-head-in-charge. 

As Bob Dylan says, "I've never gotten used it it, I've just learned to turn it off." But I don't have to like it and I don't. 

But wait, there's more. Even the carefully-chosen "good=guy porn" contingent from Vivid couldn't get through the Yale Sex Week presentation without being chopped off at the knees. Director Paul Thomas brought one of his films to show as part of the program (I can't even figure out which one from ace job of reporting to which I'll link momentarily), but an audience of students, there by choice, weren't even allowed to view the entire production because the content so skeved out the the event organizers they pulled the plug half-way through. Having seen the products Vivid releases, I can't imagine how mild the images must have been that caused such alarm to the supposedly open-minded folks who put this thing together, but I seriously doubt it would have caused much of a stir if those in charge hadn't been so nervous about all the APF "critics" spitting fire at them from the moment the whole thing was first announced.

But I forget, it's the APFs who have been silenced, not us.

So read this and see if you can a) make heads or tails of what it was that caused the aggro,  and b) whether or not college students should be allowed to make their own judgments regarding the content of the film that caused it:

I think I'l got take a long, hot shower now to see if I can wash away the feeling of having been slimed once again.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Hello and Thanks

To Ren for inviting me to join up here as a contributor and to all the fine people I've met through this blog. I look forward to many stimulating and informative exchanges on a variety of different topics, and to being in the company of such excellent minds.

I'll be shooting an instructional video for neophyte bondage enthusiasts with Nina for Adam&Eve over the weekend, so if I'm a bit less ubiquitous in the next couple of days, worry not. I'll be back in all my customary verbosity next week.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Gail Dines: Sex-Fascist. Hypocrite.

Everyone's gawking over Bob Jensen and his tomfoolery....but in my view, he's not the most dangerous of the Dynamic Duo of Anti-Porn Fascism. Dr. Gail Dines takes that award hands down, due to her mendacity in spreading smears and lies, and about her mission to completely control the debate for herself and her allies.

Case in point: This lovely editorial that Dines wrote for the Hartford Currant recently regarding Yale University's planned "Sex Week" festivities, which for this year features an entire day for the commercial porn megasite (Vivid girls have been featured in previous "Sex Week" festivities; but this is the first time that the entire magazine has gotten a day of their own. Amongst the planned events include a "Who Looks More Like A Vivid Girl" contest, where women would compete to decide whether they...well, look most like the girls who appear at Vivid, I guess.

Now, it should be said that Vivid is actually one of the more "respectable" and "cleaner" porn outlets there is. Their models are held to some very rigid requirements (no participation in more "extreme" sex acts; no "gonzo" sex, cannot film with other companies while under contract); but they do get some real protections (though Kira Kiner would probably disagree about that). Furthermore, they, through their Vivid.alt line and financing the work of Tristan Taormino, have been one of the few major porn producers to promote alternatives to "gonzo" and other forms of the "circus sex" vids.

So, why would they draw the ire of Doc Gail??? Do you really have to ask??

(All emphasis added by me.)

The Vivid Girls are the elite of the porn industry, women who earn a decent, if short-lived livelihood, and are somewhat protected from the much larger world of more violent and body-punishing hard-core movies called "gonzo" by the industry. The (mainly white) Vivid Girls are the respectable face of the porn industry; their job is to make porn look like a wholesome route to stardom; they act as a recruitment tool for a mass production sweatshop industry that needs to keep replenishing its supply of female bodies.
Gee, Gail..."the elite of the porn industry"?? I thought that Jenna Jameson was the elite until she retired....and what about companies like Wicked or Ninn Worx??

And how can a company that provides "a decent, if short-lived livelihood" become transformed in the next sentence into "a mass production sweatshop industry that needs to keep replenishing its supply of female bodies"??? As if the "female bodies" don't have brains and abilities to go on their own???

Ahhh...but we're just getting warmed up here....

One of the highlights of Sex Week is the contest "Who Looks Most Like a Vivid Girl," to be judged by two of the women on contract to Vivid. Women go to college for many reasons, but for most, it is to get an education and position themselves for a professional career.

I dare say that few if any women at Yale are aspiring for a career in the porn industry, as they are going to have a range of options open to them, thanks to their Ivy League degree.

Those women who do go into porn are mostly women from underprivileged backgrounds who, facing a life of minimum wage labor, see porn as a way out of anonymous economic drudgery. And why not? The only image they ever get of porn is one that highlights the lucky few who actually make real money and get to mix with a few B-list celebrities. What they don't get to see are the thousands and thousands of women who start in porn and end up, within a short time, working the brothels of Nevada for a pittance, or having to deal with substance abuse and sexually transmitted diseases.
Oh, OK, Doc porn is, you know, like the military, in that is is basically a way to escape real poverty and desperation. Of course, in the military, there is the very high risk of stress, PTSD, and, in this world of permanent war, the very real threat of getting killed...but porn is so, so, so much more dangerous, right???

And of those "thousands and thousands" of porn girls ending up tricking in Vegas or Nevada (did Melissa Fairley send you that stat, I wonder??), not even the legal brothels of Nevada are quite that big to hold that number. Of course, we all know that Steve Hirsch only trolls the best streets for pimping his girls...yea???

Oh...and what about the "millions and millions" (to extend Dines' hyperbole) of women who use the industry for a while, then simply leave and move on with their lives quietly without much aftereffect?? Of course, they don't quite make for antiporn boilerplate, now doesn't it??

For Goddess' sake, Gail: it's only a freakin' entertainment show, not the Great Debate.

But now we come the real reason why Dines is sooooo pissed at Yale: it seems that they didn't get her approval to run the event to begin with and add her "perspective":

The real story of porn, one which looks nothing like the chic media image, will be well hidden next week at Yale. The student organizers have invited mainly representatives from the porn industry and their supporters, with the only voice of opposition being XXX Church pastor Craig Gross.

Missing are the voices of women who have left the industry after being brutalized and exploited, for whom a college education, let alone at an Ivy, is unaffordable and almost unimaginable.

Also missing is the anti-pornography feminist voice, which sees pornography as sexist, violent and harmful to women. After 30 years of researching the industry, the business practices of the pornographers, and the effects on women and men, we anti-porn feminists are "disappeared" from the debate.

Two years ago I spoke on a pornography panel at Yale Law School. Of the six people invited, I was the only speaker to criticize the porn industry, with the others either being pornographers, or bar one, so pro-porn, they might as well have been industry representatives. After the panel, some students came up to me to express their disgust with the way the panel had been organized, and how they felt cheated out of a thoughtful dialogue.

Now, just a couple of years later there is no attempt by the organizers of Sex Week to even pay lip service to a feminist critique; one more sign of just how acceptable and mainstream porn has become at Yale, and in our culture. I get the creators of "Sex Week" have to not only get Gail Dines' approval to run their event (I didn't know that Yale was owned and operated by Wheelock College), but they are obligated to include "feminist" antiporn spokespeople as a counterbalance to the overwhelmingly "pro-porn" outlook.

Let's do some nice analogy here, shall we???

Would the NAACP have to invite David Duke to their next convention??

Would a gay-rights organization be required to have Paul Cameron to speak to them??

Would The Feminist Antipornography Movement be required to have Nina Hartley speak at their next confab??

Oh, and about the latter.....kinda hypocritical for Gail to play the "Waaaahhhh....damn pro-porn censors; they won't allow us to disrupt...ahhhhh, I mean, discuss...our issues" card, when, as our fearless Blog Leader and Henchwoman has already pointed out, Dines and her posse aren't too keen in inviting her critics to speak at HER venues. Remember, these are the folks who physically attacked a woman who dared to criticize their zealotry at a anti-prostitution confab in Berkeley, California three months ago. These are the folks who deliberately exclude sex workers who don't exactly march in total goosestep with their ideology from even posting in their blogs.

And yet, Gail has the freakin' nerve to claim that her side is being "victimized" and "censored"?? about major projection.

And many "pro-porn" feminists get their own editorial column in an establishment conservative newspaper like the Hartford Courant, anyway??

Between that and the ambush of the AbbyWinters girls and Nina Hartley at this year's AEE, that's more than enough to proclaim Gail Dines to be a vicious lady....and a bonafide sex fascist who hides behind "feminism" to sell her poison.

The real frightening thing: Gail has a full college platform to spread her hatred and bigotry. Maybe it's about time our side started spreading the truth...and gave back just a taste of what she's been dishing us.

[Cross-posted over at The SmackDog Chronicles)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A few things: Boston, A Semi-Open Thread, Ernest-rant on as it suits you...

So I have been reading and taking to heart a lot of what Ernest has been saying here lately. As y'all know, I respect the work he and Nina have done wrt to AIM and countless other things, the way they've dealt with the Dines/Jensen set...and I also realize they are knee deep in this kind of thing, along with their jobs and other concerns daily.

But I do think he is right in that the APRF set is far more dangerous than most people give them credit for, partially because a lot of folk think they are wingers than no one is going to listen to or take seriously...

Only people are, and they do. And he is right. Tons of these folk are in violation of 2257, people can now get College Credit for attending Wheelock Anti-Porn events, they are writing books, speaking at universities everywhere, and getting a whole lot of press...

Meanwhile, we're sitting here blogging.

I mean yeah, I have a fair amount on my plate sex workers organizations wise here lately, and Atlanta and Chicago coming up, plus daily life and job stuff going on, but this? This is important to me. And I think Ernest is right that we can't really sit around and hope the industry itself does something (aside from Ron Jermey), and making noise and getting heard is not going to be pretty or nice or easy....but I think it should be done. And why yes, I realize that since I am ON the east coast going on up to Wheelock and making noise is easier for me....but...

See, I am a relative nobody. A loud, abrassive nobody, but a nobody. And just one 5'2" female person. On the fringe of the industry. On the East Coast. I have alerted some like minded folk and hopefully they can make time. But yeah...Boston? Wheelock? I think I can do that.

So yeah, any advice you have, Ernest, or ideas for what (should anything happen) should be mentioned, so on, feel free to impart them.

And yes, IACB, I will take my video camera.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Robert Jensen sucks. There is no question.

Bob goes to Vegas and harasses porn chicks, but wants you to remember...

"The many different women who engage in sex in front of a camera make that choice to be used in pornography under a wide range of psychological, social and economic conditions. The choices women make to reduce themselves to sexual objects for men’s masturbation are complex, and we should be cautious about generalizations and judgments."

Emphasis MINE.

Well gee Bob, what's that if not some big old generalization and judgment right there????

You fucking fuck. Nary you mind, you can now get college credit off the backs of those women via attending Wheelock Anti Porn Conferences, you can be asked to leave them alone at an Adult Industry event and try to engage them anyway. you can fund you cause by selling, oh , I mean asking for donations, for your slide show which features their images (used without their consent), no , nevermind any of this...You should not generalize or judge them for allowing themsevles to be used, objectified, and reduced.

Unless you use them like Bob does, of course.

Hey Bob, how much have you and the crew spent on porn, you fucking asshole????

(h/t to Anthony)

Friday, February 1, 2008

About time!

Well, finally there appears to be finally a dissenting note in the mainstream media's love affair with Melissa Farley:

"Bewildered, academics pore over sex-trade hysteria", Las Vegas Sun, January 31, 2008.

Violet Blue comments on her blog here.