SPONSORED BY THE SOCIETY FOR HUMAN SEXUALITY
Copyright © 1995 by Carol Leigh
Ms. Leigh is a founding member of San Francisco ACT-UP, and has served on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors' Task Force on Prostitution as well as the Employment Committee of San Francisco's Commission on the Status of Women.
As an educator, she has created the course "Prostitution 101", which is delivered at San Francisco's Harvey Milk Institute. She has also taught video production for the San Francisco Community Access Television and the Street Survival Project.
As a writer, recently she has contributed to the anthology Uncontrollable Bodies: Testimonies of Identity and Culture, published by Bay Press, and guest-edited Gauntlet No. 7. [Note for 2005: she is also the author of Unrepentant Whore: The Collected Works of Scarlot Harlot which came out in mid-2004.]
She is an active member of COYOTE, the national advocacy group for sex workers, as well as the National Organization for Women and the Sex Workers' Action Coalition.
So without further ado, please welcome Carol Leigh.
MS. LEIGH: That's great. Thank you.
Well, I wanted to just bring up my suitcase here first. I don't know if people can see this, but these are photos from some demonstrations that I'd done in front of city hall, FLOP -- Friends and Lovers Of Prostitutes, keep your laws off my body, decriminalize prostitution, prostitutes use condoms -- do you?, U.S. out of my underwear, Johns For Justice, and oh, that's all the good ones. My favorite new one is "don't pathologize me."
So thank you all for waiting for so long. You've been sitting here what, for forty minutes, thinking about sex, I'm sure. Probably not. I will show you some video, too, and maybe we need to kind of raise that television, maybe put it on this...
I want to talk about how I got into prostitution, sort of just a personal view, in the realm of sex discourse, and I can talk a lot about the politics of prostitution and all that, but I started working when I was about 28.
It was in 1978, and prior to that, I'd been very political. I was a hippie, I went to graduate school in creative writing. I studied with Ann Sexton and that was the semester that she committed suicide.
When I was very young my parents had been socialists, so in my house there was sort of a discourse all the time about what's wrong with capitalism. They were sort of disenchanted ex-socialists, so they didn't like anything.
But there was a constant political discourse about what was wrong, and my father had a big pornography collection. And I remember my mother hid it in the closet at the very top shelf.
I knew where it was, so whenever my parents weren't home, I would go and look at those pictures. And those women were so beautiful, and I just wanted to be like that when I grew up. I kind of knew it was supposed to be sort of dirty.
In terms of other ways I was exposed to prostitution when I was young, my parents' relationship wasn't very good. They fought all the time.
She would say that she felt like a prostitute. I don't exactly know quite what she meant, but she didn't feel my father treated her very well. So my mother used to cry, and I always sided with her, and so when feminism came around, I was a feminist. It explained my family dynamics to a tee, and it also really empowered me.
When I got some kind of analysis that told me that, you know, maybe the guy sitting next to me wasn't really smarter than me. Maybe it was just because, as a female, my skills weren't valued. When I was exposed to that analysis, suddenly I felt like I could go out and do what I wanted to do, but as a feminist, I certainly was not supposed to become a prostitute.
I didn't really want to be one or anything. I kept trying to support myself in varied ways, like I did odd jobs for a while, anything so that I wasn't having to work forty hours a week.
I just wanted to write poetry, you know? I wanted to be an artist. I wanted to be a political artist, and I was sick of the fact that all the men were great artists.
So as a feminist, my friends were telling me, you know, it's not a good thing to do. And I became very good friends with Macha Womangold, and she introduced me to the Goddess and also to antiporn activism, and she -- committed some volatile anti-porn activism at Harvard Square.
She was a good friend of mine. We were in the Hampshire Street Women's Poetry and Fiction Cooperative and, yeah, she was my mentor, and I wasn't big about being a prostitute or anything. She told me that prostitutes are the new culture heroines, and was a big problem and I said, Oh, well, okay, whatever. I was just exploring.
In our writing group, we wanted to create new images of women. We wanted to reform women's images. Well, you know, what images need to be reformed more than prostitutes'?
So, I wasn't going to be a prostitute, and I just wasn't, and I wasn't now. Right before I moved to San Francisco, I remember I started dressing up in some lingerie and pretending I was a prostitute with my boyfriend. I did do that, I did. I did, and he liked it. I thought it was kind of hot. It was just like one of the first ways I experimented was by putting on the lingerie. So that was fun. It was good.
Then, so, I moved to San Francisco. And it's very different from Boston. There's sex all over the place. Sex, massage, girls. And I was out of money, and then my boyfriend broke up with me, and suddenly -- And I'd finished graduate school, and I couldn't do anything, and I didn't have a career, and I was on unemployment, so I didn't want to get a job. I just decided I would go to a massage parlor.
So I went to the sleaziest one in San Francisco, because I expected that the ones that aren't sleazy would be ripoffs a lot of the time.
If anybody here needs to know that information, if the parlor looks really fancy, sometimes on the outside, then, you know, if you go into these places, what they do is they'll pretend they're going to have sex. They say, "Give me twenty dollars more, you'll have a good time," but then if you keep giving them money, at the end they say, "You want me to have sex for money? Get out, you scum."
So that's what I was trying to avoid. I wanted to do the real thing. I wanted to do prostitution. So I walked into the massage parlor, and I didn't know anyone. It was kind of scary. I mean, I was sort of in another kind of consciousness, you can imagine.
I was totally desperate, but I was also thinking: Gloria Steinem went to be a Playboy bunny, right? And she investigated as a feminist. I'm a feminist; I can go see what prostitution is like. I can step over that line. I can look inside and just look.
So I got in, and right away I was just fascinated, and I realized this was my life's work. Not necessarily prostitution, but just the whole conversation about prostitution, the whole subject of prostitution. I realized that this had all the elements of sexual politics and of classism and racism, and it was all in this, kind of package of prostitution for me to look at, for me to see what it's all about.
So, I was fascinated by the women I met. They were from all over the world, and I mean I didn't know what prostitutes would be like, but they were older women, and they seemed particularly strong to me, and even as I worked there, there were some that -- I remember one woman who was on drugs, and she was just on the couch always and she was really in bad shape, and then another woman was always -- She used to show me she had ten thousand dollars in the bank, and she was from Vietnam, and she'd been a prostitute in Vietnam. She was forty years old.
It seemed like she had just a regular life, and I really admired her, and she was just a strong woman, down to earth.
I kept meeting all these different kinds of women, and I was impressed by the strong women I met, you know, in an environment where I would meet so many different women from all over the world. So, I just loved them, and we hada sisterhood in the massage parlor, and we'd always giggle together and wait for the clients to come in.
When I made my first 35 dollars for a blow job - I could not believe it, what a thrill - 35 dollars for a blow job. This was amazing for me, it's a high. It was a high.
And I don't mind having sex with a lot of different men, you know, I'm very experimental sexually so the whole thing was just -- I was amazed.
I remember looking in the mirror after I started, and I thought, "Now that's a prostitute." And I just realized that whole dividing line, that whole idea about separating a prostitute from another woman, that wasn't right. And even within me -- No, I was just the same person. So I did this trick? So what? Now all of a sudden I'm a prostitute?
I just thought, well, I'm going to keep, you know, investigating this area and just do it and do it. Well, I remember I had a friend, and she was in graduate school for psychology, and when I first told her I was going to do it she said, "You're not that desperate, are you?" But of course she did it later, and she made much more money than me. And then she got her inheritance and she got to get out of prostitution. I'm still doing it.
Let's see. At the massage parlor it was a little more dangerous than I thought. I was raped while I was in the massage parlor. There were these men going around to all the parlors and raping women, and you can't really do anything about it, cause if you tell the police, then they'll close the parlor down.
So it was really scary. All the women there always told me that I should use my intuition and be able to tell and not let anybody in who was bad. And they also told me like I should just do it on racial determination. There were certain races that weren't supposed to be let in. Now, this just didn't jibe with me. I couldn't -- First of all, I definitely couldn't eliminate people based on race. It was hard for me to figure it out. And it was hard for me -- I was too young, and my intuitions didn't work like that.
So I did let the wrong person in, and then he let his friend in. He put a paper bag over my head and a knife. I got raped. It wasn't really a brutal, long thing; it was quick, and you know, it was very -- It was 15 years ago.
At the time it was -- I just remember I went to rape treatment, and they were very good about it. They gave me good counseling, and I got over it, but - maybe - I hear about other more kind of brutal rapes, and I just -- I don't understand what the... I don't know how to compare or what happened to me.
So, anyway, the other woman who was there, my friend, didn't get raped. She yelled at the rapist, and remember, she was from Korea. She was tough and angry, and she was just yelling at him, "What do you think you're doing? You just get out of here." And he left.
So I was lucky that nothing worse happened that first time that I wasn't on my guard. I was lucky, which was fortunate, I guess. It could have been a worse thing, but after that I learned that I had to be super super careful, and after that I pretty much didn't really take -- I slowed down.
What happened was, I started working at a parlor in the suburbs. Then I went to the Financial District, but these things weren't safe. I knew it. I was just trying to figure it out.
So finally I developed a system where I would have men send me their business cards, and I would call their work a few times to make sure they were really employed in this particular place. And then I'd always let my clients know that I was getting references, so I really, really checked everybody out. And if I didn't do that, then I would only take referrals from friends.
So I got to the point where I would never -- taking any inordinate risks. I mean, I can't imagine that much more risk if you know exactly who the guy is, and he knows you.
Let's see. My sexual history. I think that's very important for you all to know. I was preorgasmic till I was 21, and I was really worried about that. I don't know how women are here, but I was -- I just felt like I was -- I don't know why, but I was really never as responsive as I wished I was, sexually, like I felt like I lost it at an early age.
And I wasn't molested, and my father used to yell a lot, and maybe -- I don't know why, but -- And with my boyfriend, we used to neck, and we used to play like Stop and Go, and I remember that's where things got really screwed up, where we'd go almost all the way and then stop. For about a year.
I think that might have done it. I think that had something to do with it, cause I feel like I was really able to have sex before that, anyway, so part of my mission in life was to have a lot of sex, learn about sex, get a grasp on it, try it out, do it. So, that was part of my idea about doing prostitution was also this idea about experimenting sexually. In the beginning it was fun. I had a lover also, and my clients - mm-mm - I did it not so much. The more people I saw -- Like if I saw three or four a day, that was pretty much a lot for me. I would get in kind of a sexual state, and by the end of the day I might feel kind of more responsive to my lover. Or if the right trick came along I might enjoy it.
But if I did it less, like say I did it once a week, like even now, I have only my old regulars, right? And I just -- Ooo, it makes my skin crawl, yuck, and I hate it.
Now for somebody else who's not a prostitute, it's might be more weird to have the sexual experience you kind of hate, but I don't know, after I get finished with this person and I've had sex with him and it's like, ooo, so yucky, I look at how much money I have, how much time I spent. Yeah. He's a nice guy; he just totally yucks me out.
And I don't see men usually when they're partying or drinking. I usually like it if they really just want a nice, nurturing experience, and I'm totally -- You can tell I love to please.
So, you know, really on there I do my very, very best, and I respect them as people, but, you know, you have to kind of pretend like you like it if you work the clientele I do. Kind of a lie, you know, you have to, (moans) "Ooh! It's so good!"
But still, it amuses me. Here I am, living my other life, and, you know, I have some serious work to do. I have the prostitution task force, and writing and video production, and so getting away and just having this little liaison with this weird guy -- not weird, a weird experience with a very nice respectable guy.
Let's see what we're going to do here now. Maybe I'll do a little bit more about background and then I want to show you a video, okay? We're going to have to rearrange this here.
Let's see. I want to give you like a little lead-up to how I started doing video and how we're going to do that. Let me -- where we dropped off was -- I just was working in a massage parlor; it was around eight months and I got raped. And now, as I explained, I'd been an activist before, I'd sat down for the flag salute when I was in high school and got suspended.
I protested and got arrested in Washington for the Vietnam war, and I was just so myself, you know, some kind of hippie radical, and I would still do that with prostitution, and I mean as soon as I became a prostitute, I put a paper bag on my head, went to a NOW meeting, and said, "This paper bag symbolizes the anonymity prostitutes are forced to adopt," and I went there.
It was very nice, and actually there I met another wonderful prostitute mentor there, and I met Priscilla Alexandra from the National Task Force on Prostitution, so it was good to go to that meeting.
I formed bunches of little groups of prostitutes to empower each other, and the first woman I worked with was Annie.
She had worked in massage parlors. She had been a dyke for a long time and was very involved in dyke politics and working-class consciousness. All the issues of whore politics, like the prostitutes are saying it's up to us, let us decide, let the prostitutes decide how prostitution should be. Self-representation, I guess, was what people really promote in prostitution politics.
So I had been in all these different little groups, and I was a poet, definitely. Right away when I started writing I wrote little poems. This is "Requiem For A Good Girl."
"My boyfriends are no good. They fuck me too rough. Not rough enough. They come too quick, not quick enough. And they don't pay for it. Cheap. Cheap is when you fuck them just to shut them up. Cheap is when you do it because they are worth so much. Cheap is when you want less than pleasure, a baby, or a hundred dollars. Cheap is when you suck them till your jaws hurt so they won't say you're uptight. Cheap is when you do it to keep them home at night. Cheap is when you do it for security. Cheap is what you are before you learn to say no. Cheap is when you do it for approval, friendship, or love."
I put on a little one-woman play. Actually, I was one of the first sex worker performance artists, and I put a play together, The Adventures of the Scarlet Harlot, performed at the National Festival of Women's Theatre.
And I did a collection of poems. I went to meetings but -- Well, we wrote manifestoes, little manifestoes, but we didn't really do anything too much, just little manifestoes about what whores were like or something.
It was also good because, as a bisexual, I felt very alienated from the women's community. I didn't fit in. Like, I'm really a kind of a wannabe dyke. I still am. Because the bisexual movement's early, right? It hasn't really gotten there.
I felt like I wanted to be a lesbian, and people weren't really supportive of me. Because, I was having sex with men, it seemed like some women didn't want to have sex with me. I always felt really awful about that, and I always felt like, when I was with women, that people...
I couldn't really deal with a group of -- I wasn't really happy with women that were that straight-oriented and not at all alternative. I really was mostly hanging around dykes, I like hanging around strong women, but it was like I was never really accepted, and I always felt really bad about that.
I didn't have an identity. I was pretending I was a dyke, actually. I was totally never out as straight. I would always pretend. But it was so sad. I just couldn't tell anybody I was straight, because I'd never get a date.
And it was always weird with the conversations that were going around. The conversations were always about, maybe bad things about men and how straight women were stupid or something. It was just depressing. It was hard. I felt horrible. That's why prostitution was so great to me. Finally I had an identity.
Okay, maybe I'm not a dyke, at least I can be a whore.
So true. I needed that, I really needed that. And you know, it's the whole thing about this identity construct of the prostitute and where it comes from. I mean, all around the world, different people who do sex for money have very different identity constructs.
I spent a lot of time trying to figure out if there is, like, an essential sex worker identity construct that maybe is, like, through some cultures -- I don't know. There's some European cultures, I've heard it comes from, it's like in small places in other countries if there's some sort of construct or identity? I'm not sure.
Whatever it is, here in this country, certainly it's burgeoning. And there is a lot of women, it seems like, that do identify as sex workers or whores over the centuries.
So, I want to get to the videos. That's where I am now. So, there I have my play, and I was having a good time, writing a lot. And the AIDS crisis hit. I was not using condoms that much.
One of my weak points is sexual health. One of my weak points is being assertive in bed with men. My friends were telling me that prostitution is supposed to be a crash course in assertiveness training. Not for me.
I just was being too nice. I just couldn't, I just couldn't. I would just, you know -- I'm good at getting by, but I couldn't get the condoms all the time, cause I had just had sex with lots of guys without condoms, and a lot of gay men too. I had a lot of sex without condoms, and then AIDS hit.
I was sure I had this fatal disease. And here my whole life is built on, like, this whole, this play I was doing about prostitution and, you know, about the whore stigma. It was about the stigma. It was how about people thought I was bad and irresponsible for being a whore, though I wasn't really; I'm just a normal girl. And then I just like got a fatal disease because of it?
It was just too much, and I was doing some media, and then the press was calling and saying "Do you use condoms all the time?" And I hate to lie, so I did lie.
I mean, I tried to use condoms from then on, but it's hard to get a guy to use a condom if you haven't been doing it for a long time, and my clients -- We couldn't negotiate the condoms after we'd been doing it for three years without condoms. He would rather just not see me for a while and take a break.
But of course, you know, he did, I mean they did. I lost my clients, and I had to get new clients. But the way I'd been working it, I tried to maintain regulars. I wasn't just being with guys who didn't want to take the risks. So there I was with these guys, and it was so difficult to get them to use condoms, and I was going to have a fatal disease, and everything's so scary. So that's when I decided to leave San Francisco. Because I didn't want to be around publicity about it. You know, it was so...
I didn't want to hear about AIDS one more minute. I mean, I didn't want to hear anything. I didn't want to lie; I wanted to get out of town. And I knew I was going to go stay with prostitutes' rights and work on it but just not be in the middle of all that.
So I was going to go to Texas. Yes, Austin, Texas. I was going to Austin to be a country western star. Because my last boyfriend, Smelly Kelly, was a really good singer, and I was in tons of little bands with him, and not only was I doing my stage show, but then by then I was singing and dancing and doing characters.
I spent all of my money on acting lessons and singing lessons. I was going to go and be a star in Austin. So I decided to drive my car to Austin, and I was going to form TWAT, Texas Whores And Tricks. This is a totally true story.
But my car broke down in Tucson, which is very convenient. There's a lot of sex going on in Tucson. If you've been there, you know, there's all kinds of prostitution there. It's a big sex town. And there's all kinds of alternative little scenes, and TWAT. I could organize TWAT.
It was so weird, but, it was so amazing. So I met this artist, I looked at the ads in the personals; I looked for an artist in the personals, and he did just what I did: performance art as a poet. It was very cool. I gave him my publicity, and he took me down instantly to the studios of TWIT, Tucson Western International Television.
And it was an amazing thing, but I got sort of involved. They had a performance techno ensemble. And everybody did performance and singing and characters, and all the technology.
Now I know I had it in me to be a technician, because my father was a TV repairman. When I grew up there's televisions all over the room. When I was suckled as an infant I was surrounded by TV carcasses, and I knew it was in me, and I always wanted to be like Norman Lear, but I didn't know how to access the media. It was great. Basically they just kind of took me in and taught me everything.
I took to it right away. I did a major production, "War and Pizza in the Global Village." We got a big grant, and so - really - I mean my poetry was not great, it was cute, but -- You know, my play, it was good, everything was all right, but when I started doing video, that's when my art career took off. Somehow that was the right medium for me, to make an impression and do some new things.
So I was staying in Tucson for a while. I came back to the city, and since then I've been doing a lot of other different kinds of things, which hopefully, I'll show you.
But I want to show you a little bit of video, sort of maybe that I did in Tucson, a couple other pieces and then, I wanted to talk a little bit about politics of class in regard to prostitution.
I know there's a lot of questions that people have and a lot to talk about in terms of laws in terms of the fact that -- I mean, there are people here, perhaps, who have had experiences with prostitution, that are nothing like mine, people who've been forced into prostitution, people who were forced more than economically, a lot of time by some sadistic guy, or sometimes economically, and by some jerk, I mean there's a lot of people who, prostitution for them is a symbol of the worst things in the whole world.
And it's I mean it's quite in contrast to my experience, and also, I don't know if I was in a situation where I had had all the most negative experiences with prostitution and I had heard somebody who's coming from my perspective, I mean I don't know how that would seem, but I do know that it's very upsetting for people who have been through the worst of it to then be confronted with someone who has had -- I think I'm the example of somebody who's had the most of it.
For me it's been, it's been something that's just made my life and been everything I've wanted -- It's been a subject matter; it's been everything; it's been my life's work.
So I can imagine it would be very, very difficult from another perspective, and I want to talk about issues around that, too.
Could we take a break we're going to set this up and then take a five-minute break and do some video.
MS. LEIGH: I'm just going to show you a couple of things I did. I worked with Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. I have one really good one: Larry Lee came to San Francisco to exorcize the demons from the Bay Area, and all the pagans and all the other people had a big demonstration there, and it is the hottest thing, and I was naked outside dancing with a snake, and Jesus was next to me, but it was Pink Jesus so it was better.
MS. LEIGH: That was good. So let's see. Let's talk about this movie a little bit.
You could tell that's a real nice basic one, that's a 101 movie. It was just, like, a prostitute's rights perspective on prostitution, women from around the world. I made that one, and there's no bad words and no sex in it.
I didn't show you the one with my vulva. The vulva movie is later. But I really made this thing to be on television. It could be in every class in the whole world, but it was the movie Catherine McKinnon censored at the University of Michigan.
She didn't do it. Some students did it, that's even worse. It's so sad. This was on a reel -- it was part of an exhibit at a conference. The conference was put on by the Michigan Journal of Gender and Law, and it was Prostitution From Activism to Academia. You don't think they invited the Scarlet Harlot, do you? They didn't invite me.
You know, I really, I did invent the word "sex work." It was in about 1980, '79, 1981 it was a Women Against Violence in Pornography and Media conference, and it was about sex work, and I'm a feminist interested in these issues.
The title was something about the sex use industry. We're feminists. Let's call it by what women do, not by what men do. Let's call it sex work.
After that, I titled it the Adventures of the Scarlet Harlot: the Demystification of a Sex Worker, and we had slogans, sex work is holy work, whore means get more.
I began calling myself a sex worker. It seemed humorous. It makes it seem maybe more clinical than it is. It's a very reasonable term. In my play I wrote, my mom was talking to me, and she said, "What's a sex worker? Are you working in a dildo factory?" It's kind of like that, it's about labor.
Sometimes I work all the time on this issue. I'm always on the Internet - that's how I met Russ, actually - and always trying to write papers. I've been the actual chair of the Prostitution Task Force.
Like, the police are on this task force, the Commission on the Status of Women, and all those honcho types, and somehow I managed to be the coordinator of this thing.
MS. LEIGH: It's good, and it really took, and I learned the proper way to format footnotes and also how to write something that doesn't sound like propaganda. When you've been writing propaganda, it's quite a challenge. I'm really taking it seriously.
Back to Catherine McKinnon and why she should have invited me to Prostitution From Activism to Academia. They didn't invite anybody who was pro-prostitutes' rights.
AUDIENCE: When was that?
MS. LEIGH: Like '92 or something. 2, 1, 2, something like that. 2. I remember I was at Annie Sprinkle's mother's house - that's kind of a neat place to be - when I heard the news and Annie Sprinkle and her mom or sister it was Veronica Vera, and Veronica called me and told her that our work just got censored, and it was like I wasn't exactly upset...
AUDIENCE: How did they censor you?
MS. LEIGH: How? I'll tell you what they did, what the exhibit was. They didn't invite me. They didn't invite -- it was all -- okay.
So, Prostitution From Activisma to Academia. The conference was -- the exhibit had a lot of different artists, and this one had a tape of street workers from Detroit, it was a really interesting piece. Interviews with street workers.
Then there were phone cards from London. Prostitutes advertise in phone booths, and I think there was kind of an exhibit about that, and there was a tape about homeless transgender prostitutes in New York, and there was another one about young male prostitutes in Seattle. That's right.
And then there was another one about transgender prostitutes in Seattle, I think was RuPaul, then there was Veronica Vera's piece. Nobody else had any skin but Veronica. Everybody else was no words, no skin. Hers was about her experience in pornography, so it had like a few little clips from commercial pornography, but it also had, like, an S/M picture and that -- I mean, it was pretty mild, but I could imagine how if somebody doesn't like it they would focus on it.
Anyway, I don't exactly know what happened. I've heard a lot different accounts, but the account of the artist that was censored, Carol Jacobsen - she was the curator - she says that John Stoltenberg, he's like Andrea Dworkin's partner, and some other people saw the movie and then started talking about maybe...
They saw the compilation tape, and they said, "This is not good, this exhibit. This is bad for survivors of prostitution," because it would put them into a bad state if they saw something, and it could bring up stuff.
They also said that the prostitutes' rights people were potentially violent, and that it shouldn't be around, although my friend just went and studied and prostitution in Sweden, and she said the antiporn people, they're famous for attacking men as they exit the porn theaters. It's a violent thing there, it's really interesting, and they had like an actually violent way to do this.
She said that people talk about it like it's known all over. I think it was Sweden.
And my experience isn't really like that the prostitutes' rights people are violent. I don't know. I mean, I'm sure some people attached to the industry must be violent, but non of the activists I know are.
So there were two reasons: It causes harm, pornography causes harm. If a survivor happens to see it, it would be hard for her.
So they stole the tape from the exhibit. They just stole it. And then the curator, Carol Jacobsen, she didn't know it was stolen. She had another copy. She put another copy in.
Then somebody told her it was censored, and it was stolen because it would be dangerous for women to see. And oh, I forgot to tell you, she didn't even want to do the stupid conference. The students were begging her.
She said, This is a Catherine McKinnon conference; Catherine McKinnon might not agree with me.
Not like this Carol Jacobsen was a big prostitutes' rights advocate; she was really basically a feminist. Her last movie is about women who've murdered abusers and are now in prison. So her emphasis was not really prostitutes' rights, necessarily, but I guess she's an advocate for free speech, women's rights.
Anyway, it was just amazing. So, they insisted they couldn't possibly show that tape at the conference, and Carol basically said, Well, you can't just take out the tape; you have to take the whole exhibit.
But they didn't even choose, want Veronica Vera's tape. They wanted to get rid of mine, too. It's not like they said, Get rid of Veronica Vera. They didn't like the whole tape. They didn't like -- I saw on the Internet, somebody characterized the tape as pictures of prostitutes who are homeless interwoven with people, women, claiming it was a choice. Which is true, because some people say it's a choice, and so people call it a choice.
Anyway, it was all censored. The ACLU took the case, and they got some kind of settlement. So I mean, it got a lot of publicity for the situation. But the students were so mad, though. The students there were really behind Catherine McKinnon and felt that the media was misrepresenting them, saying that Catherine McKinnon censored it, when they had decided it.
Now, even when they started the conference, the people who were antiprostitution were pressuring them to not invite anybody proprostitution, saying that they wouldn't come or do this conference if anybody was there from the other side. And they kind of, as Carol Jacobsen tells me, they kind of felt a little blackmailed, but they went along with it.
But apparently, by the time they totally went along with it, they really did go along with it, they really felt like they were manipulated. They felt like the whole censorship thing wasn't really fair. They wanted to control what was going on in the conference.
It's just one of those things. It's certainly not very problematic. I don't know what's going to happen next, there's a new conference in November about trafficking, and it's a digression, and COYOTE and -- I'll tell you about the different prostitution groups.
COYOTE is supposed to be kind of sex workers, mostly sex workers. There's some ex-prostitutes, and it's supposed to be based on representation by prostitutes who are working. I mean, at this point a lot of the people are more older, ex-prostitutes who are really in the leadership situation. There's a lot of prostitutes in COYOTE and San Francisco, we have a lot of call girls and, like, middle class independents, dancers, middle aged women.
There's a lot of artists and students. Some people who work on the street, not that many people who do, but I've organized more with people who work on the street.
I've been doing outreach on the street in the Tenderloin for two years in San Francisco. I just feel like I have to know what it's all about. Massage parlors, I worked the Bohemian Club, with all the rich Republicans, and I tried to work everywhere I could, but I haven't gotten to work on the street yet, I don't know.
But I just, you know, I go out and I give condoms and health and safety information, and I network with people on the street, do some organizing with them, try to figure out what we could do to help.
It's still confusing to me what can be done. I mean, to me it's just absurd that there's all these women working out on the street and nobody's, like, helping. Nobody's really doing enough outreach.
The people that I do -- I'm out at midnight, like, Saturdays. But there's no other outreach groups that go out, and that's when all the women are out there getting arrested and all this stuff, and nobody goes out there. It's really pathetic.
So, I was kind of doing two subjects at once. So COYOTE. I'm kind of giving a background about COYOTE. COYOTE is mostly call girls. It's gone through different gestations. I've been involved with COYOTE a lot, and I'm always doing all sorts of things.
It's definitely more middle class; I can't say it's not. Middle class people who are pretty happy with their work.
Then U.S. Prostitutes' Collective, they're part of the English Collective of Prostitutes. They're part of the Wages for Housework Campaign. They were in Beijing doing the cat women's work and saying, and they kind of form a broad, I don't know, socialist analysis, about how you have to pay women for the work they do. So it's ideologically based, and prostitution's one of their issues.
I haven't seen a great deal of representation by working prostitutes at their meetings, but they represent prostitutes' interests very well, I think. I like to get along really good with them, and then I know of prostitutes who have worked with them. They do the representation of women who are on the streets, because certainly with COYOTE or PONY or any of those organizations, if you get -- It's gonna be more middle-class interests.
Sometimes you're not going to get people to do that much work in the community. People are in fact getting raped themselves. We have two rapists that are raping women. The police won't do anything about it.
There was one woman who was raped in Oakland, a torture rape, and they let him go, because she was a prostitute. It was like a torture rape, and an intern was working with us trying to figure out how to with this, and we couldn't even do anything.
We have, like, the address of this rapist. I mean, we know him, know women who will testify against him. We just can't -- it's just not going to happen, and so several rapists, before I left, an hour before I left, somebody called me up and said there was a serial murder, four prostitutes murdered, and they know who it is, and they can't do anything about it.
I mean, I don't know, it was just, like, a random call. It was a friend, actually, from Harvard, called me and told me, but I don't know if it's true, but there's the story.
And then last week somebody was telling me that the police are beating prostitutes up and raping them. I don't know. I haven't heard anything that extreme. I do know that...
It was weird. I was out on the streets and one of the women I know came up to me and told me that a policeman hit her. And I didn't know what to believe or what, but it turned out, like a year later, they finally -- The police pressed charges against this cop, and the thing is, she had gotten arrested.
The cop said, Oh, you black whores, you're all trash, I'm going to find you dead in an alley sometime, and I'll be glad. And then she said, "You can't talk to me like that," and then he hit her.
So here's like this real racist cop, and you know he's not going to get thrown off vice. I hope we can do something about it. In San Francisco we're lucky, cause there are a few people who are dedicated prostitutes' rights activists. We are working really closely with the Board of Supervisors, and we are kind of close with city government people, but it's still not enough of us to know how to be effective.
I've been very involved in the Commission on the Status of Women, and sometimes I just don't know how to get something done. It's overwhelming when you don't have a bunch of other people around you to figure it out. And we got very involved with a Democratic club, the Gay Democratic club. They're very powerful in San Francisco.
They're very supportive, and all the candidates have to answer questions about prostitution before they get their endorsement from the Harvey Milk Club. And they all have to say they're nice, and they have to be nice to us, cause we're the swing vote in the Harvey Milk Club. That's cute. We're having fun with that.
And then one of our main people is the press secretary to Senator Milton Marks, and she's good, and Margo St. James is pretty well-connected with people, so we're working. But there's only really five of us who are working, but we have thirty people in our meetings, and then we have coffee-klatsches, sex workers only and another twenty people show up.
So it's good, and as far as people on the street, the group I started is more like we just go on the streets more, and we don't meet with women on the streets indoors. We reach out, and that's not heavy, but we go out there and meet and hang out. So we try to do everything.
AUDIENCE: I'm interested to hear about the Sex Workers' Action Coalition. What's that?
MS. LEIGH: Well, that's really the same. We just have demonstrations. It's kind of another configuration of the people who are working on the street with the street workers, and that's about what it is.
It started as Women's Action Coalition. WAC was very good in these things. They were supportive of prostitutes' rights. I mean still, I'm not saying no feminist groups have really, totally put themselves on the line around this thing.
I mean NOW, they say decriminalize prostitution, but now it's kind of run in a real electoral kind of way. You just have to get your votes in your little community. It's not the kind of thing really -- It's hard to get national support for anything. You have to lobby for it. You have to have numbers in NOW to get anywhere.
The Sex Workers' Action Coalition, that's really -- We're like another name for the Coalition On Prostitution, and we're funded by the Women's Foundation, so that's pretty good, and we -- Basically it's outreach, and I think it's basically in the COYOTE network.
The U.S. Prostitutes' Collective, you hear they get with COYOTE is to WHISPER -- Do you know about this? Are people familiar with WHISPER?
WHISPER is people who define themselves as survivors of prostitution, and a lot of them who are involved in WHISPER are women who have worked on the street and have worked otherwise under the most adverse circumstances in prostitution and had really horrible experiences and really prioritize finding, like, kind of recovery methods to help women get out of prostitution and find the same path that they did, out of this horrible situation.
And part of the whole thing about WHISPER is that COYOTE's supposed to be the people glamorizing prostitution? I mean, you know, I'm always torn, personally, about glamorizing. I'm so glamorous.
It's hard for me, you know? If I stand up and say I'm a prostitute, it's, like, hard that you have to apologize for yourself, you know, it's hard -- It's a different situation. It's very confusing.
Sometimes -- I mean, I'm kind of sorry that -- You know, WHISPER is like this Catherine McKinnon school, and the idea is that the analysis should be more in terms of ending prostitution, that women are basically faking it if we say that we benefit from it or like it or...
It's basically saying that the real, the best analysis would be one that seeks to end prostitution, because prostitution is inherently exploitative; it's inherently problematic.
You can think -- It's very interesting to think about, if you believe it's inherently problematic. Now, U.S. Prostitutes' Collective also believes that there's something wrong with it, but they say that because of economics, poor women are forced to do it.
So they have, like, an economic agenda; they want to reform the world's economic system, and along with it, maybe -- They would like to see an end to prostitution.
Now COYOTE, I have to say I don't really know. COYOTE is sometimes defined as taking a particular stand. I'm not sure there's a big party line in COYOTE, although a lot of times prostitutes will say, "Well, it's a job." Something like that. WHISPER says that COYOTE thinks prostitution is a job like any other job.
Now, I've always expressed my views on prostitution in a lot of complicated ways, so whenever anybody puts it into any box, I always say no.
When I talk about it now in the media, the thing I always put forward is that it's not a monolith, that the worst thing is talking about it in terms of, you know, ideology, saying it's a monolith.
In San Francisco there's so many different people doing it, different and races and ages and genders. It's very, very difficult to talk about what it means to different people, so -- I'm afraid of being put in a box.
In terms of -- I mean, the wars against the feminists around prostitution, for me, it's totally taken over my life; it's made me really miserable and really wound up. Every day I think about it.
And I think about the fact that WHISPER sent an intern, and then another group, the Coalition on Prostitution Alternatives, in Portland, they sent one, to convene and start a group in San Francisco.
And when our task force, our great liberal task force, progressive task force started to meet to change the prostitution laws, they wrote in the newspaper that we were child molesters. The head of this organization that came from WHISPER wrote an article in the newspaper saying that the people on the task force promoted child molesting.
It was the saddest thing, it was like -- I was -- the idea that they sent this little group, you know -- That there's these people, and that they're going to get bigger, and when I see like how antiprostitution campaigns have grown in San Francisco, I think that something's really going to happen.
People are telling me the antiporn movement is dying, and I think people who are in the antiporn movement that's happening in our city move over now and talk about trafficking, and -- I will explain that.
AUDIENCE: How do people line up on the pornography and prostitution issues? Are they similar camps?
MS. LEIGH: You know, it's funny. Politically, yes, but on an everyday level, you'll see a lot of prostitutes, they don't like pornography, and a lot of women in porn don't like prostitution and would never want to do it.
So randomly, when I go into the random general public of prostitutes or porn -- people who work in the porn industry, I don't hear like that kind of sympathy and understanding.
But in political circles people act like they're totally the same camp. We work with the Exotic Dancer's Alliance in COYOTE really closely. We're just like one group working together. We're all in the Harvey Milk Club; we just now merged our agendas, but what we want to do...
Oh, this is important. This would be great in Seattle. Sex industry regulation really needs to be done in terms of working conditions at the club, and if you can take legal sex industry and kind of start there, I think, and bring the prostitutes on board. That's what we've been trying to do, try to figure out how we can deal with the working conditions in the legal sex industry. I think there's a lot of promise there.
You know, when a lot of different cities are looking into prostitution reform, they're all going to come up with kind of crummy legalization systems that give more...
Like in Nevada, where you can't even like leave for a few weeks, and you have to stay there twenty-four hours a day. You have to get up for every guy that comes in and line up. Although a lot of women like it there, I know. Some women do.
Well, I think it's time for other people who might have experience in Nevada. You don't think Nevada's good?
AUDIENCE: I think it's really bad.
MS. LEIGH: It is, you think?
AUDIENCE: I think it's very controlling. I think it's a good example of what will happen if we allow people who don't work in the sex industry, by which I usually mean men, to decide how it should be.
I thought it was awful, and I had lots of really bad experiences there with people taking money from me that didn't belong to them, the people that were controlling the atmosphere not controlling problems between the workers and the girls. They didn't really care, and all they wanted to do was to take as much money from me as possible. I did not relate with the clients very well.
MS. LEIGH: If anybody wants it, I have a lot of articles, various assorted coverage. I have some cool things about Nevada. It has some interesting stories and stuff, if anybody wants it, I have some here.
I definitely agree with you, but I always like to be careful not to feed into the image of prostitution as some kind of purgatory, because I am thinking of the feelings who may work in Nevada. Some people who work in Nevada didn't mind. I talked to some women, but I know, a lot of my friends didn't like it, but then...
AUDIENCE: Well, I think once you've worked, and you don't have people controlling you in that way, and then when you do, the transition is really bad.
MS. LEIGH: I feel good for my friend. She's working as a call girl. She told me she sees three or four guys a week, and this year it's so hard to get business and keep your business going. It's hard to make money if you don't have the structure.
Like, I loved working in a massage parlor, because you don't have to do anything. It's so hard to get -- to do all the work. To get your clients, to screen everybody. to worry about your security, to worry about your ad in the paper, and to see these guys. I couldn't do it.
AUDIENCE: I've been reading some articles about changes up in Canada, and I just wondered if you had any, or anybody had any informational material in regards to Toronto and Vancouver.
MS. LEIGH: You know, I talked to some people up there. They said it's just in the talking stages. They don't know what's really going to happen, so I don't know and that's the only thing I heard.
AUDIENCE: Well, I don't think they're going after them much in Vancouver. They haven't necessarily legalized it, but they're kind of just leaving them alone.
MS. LEIGH: On the streets, now, they're leaving them alone?
AUDIENCE: I don't know about the street, but more like...
MS. LEIGH: In San Francisco we only had thirty-nine arrests for indoor prostitution last year. We had like five thousand on the street, but we arrest more on the street, so they really leave people alone indoors in San Francisco.
But what's leave alone? It's like, if you're working indoors, you get really scared about being busted, I guess, because then you have your taxes problem, and you get working indoors, and you always exchange numbers with other people, so you have the felonies hanging over your head.
We want to get rid of the pimping laws, definitely. Because the pimping laws means that we can't work for somebody else, and you can't have somebody work for you. And it's pimping to, like, trade numbers with your friends, so it's a felony to do any kind of prostitution business that would be safe.
What we say is, why don't you take -- you know, use the laws against abuse and force and use those in those situations and be able to, like, outreach and work with the prostitutes groups, so that prostitutes -- so that you can enforce those kind of laws.
But if we keep it in this state where pimping is illegal, business organization is illegal, that's a problem. In Amsterdam they just tried to change it. So even though they have tons of brothels, it's illegal to have a brothel. And they were trying to change it, but even in Amsterdam they couldn't really change it, because the government just wasn't coming up with laws that were really going to make it better; the controls would be too tight.
In San Francisco I don't really want them to get rid of the pimping laws first. I'd like the pimping laws to go last, but I don't want them enforced. I don't want any big businesses in the sex industry. I like to limit the size of businesses, personally.
I don't know yet. I'm just saying my guesses, but I'd like to get involved in some kind of regulation where there's not big giant sex supermarkets in the beginning. I don't want to start there, so there's not too much competition.
I want to do it regionally, not just...
People say It's going to be an influx, and then I have to sit and argue with somebody who's telling me there's going to be an influx. I think there's going to be an influx, too.
But it's a very difficult position to argue with a prostitute when people are telling you things that sound like they make sense. You don't know what to say. You know that it's not fair, it's luck.
So in Seattle, I don't know if people are working with people in the clubs and dancers and stuff, but it's a place to start, and in terms of working with city government people, some kind of local task force.
But you just have to make sure that only open minded, compassionate people are on it. And I guess it's up to the supervisors, so it's all a matter of finding your city counselperson who's really progressive, and not to do it unless you get a real progressive group thing, because otherwise it's going to be bad. But I'm pretty sure that all around the country we're going to have some different systems, and maybe some of them will be legalized.
AUDIENCE: One of the things that I've noticed about Seattle and Seattle's larger area is there's a lot of different kinds of sex workers, people who have been doing it for a long time, and not a very long time. There are some semiorganized routes to remove oneself from prostitution and the sex industry.
MS. LEIGH: Like?
AUDIENCE: There's a program called Up And Out.
MS. LEIGH: Oh, yeah.
AUDIENCE: There's another one that I can't remember the name of.
But I've noticed there's not that much unity among dancers who work in different clubs or between dancers, street workers, call girls. I guess it's a common problem, but we're coming from a place where I don't think there's a lot of unity. There's not a good place to start from.
MS. LEIGH: Well, like horizontal hostilities, and I guess it's hard to, like, love the people who you're working with when your industry has such a bad stigma, and you think everybody's going to rip you off, or she's a slut or you know.
Well, I think the sex worker movement is growing. It's possible -- I heard it's getting a little bit hip to be a sex worker. Is that true here?
AUDIENCE: In Seattle?
MS. LEIGH: Yeah.
AUDIENCE: Depends on who you are and what you do.
MS. LEIGH: So almost.
Well, if this kind of identity construct does sort of take hold and develop, it's possible that maybe some of that will be abated. I mean, you know...
AUDIENCE: A lot of it's drugs.
MS. LEIGH: Drugs in this country. You know, other countries, there could be no drugs in places like Seattle, San Francisco...
AUDIENCE: What do you mean by that, exactly?
AUDIENCE: Well, a lot of people that are doing drugs, and that's why people are getting ripped off a lot in the dance clubs.
MS. LEIGH: It's weird that there's a link. There's a whole debate about the link. You see it's so weird that, you know, the way drugs are criminalized, and people have to end up doing sex work they do it to pay for drugs.
But even in countries where it's not associated with drugs, a lot of the same kind of stuff happens. I mean, I don't recall people debating about that.
AUDIENCE: It's basically the symptoms of the black market. It doesn't matter what the subject is. It's a way of controlling people.
MS. LEIGH: Sometimes it seems to me like when I'm sitting down with people and talking about, you know, the different camps, sometimes it seems like the people who think that the police are supposed to, like, control society and the people who don't. I mean, that's what I think it breaks down to.
When I'm talking to other women who are feminists, or to people from WHISPER, or Up And Out, or whatever it is there, I mean it's like, how much do you distrust the police? How much do you really feel like the police just should totally get out of the way? I mean, that's what I see as the dividing line, because, I don't know...
AUDIENCE: Well, I think the horizontal hostility is all about denial. I mean, I have been an exotic dancer, and it is prostitution. Just because someone may or may not have an orgasm in a dance club does not mean you're not selling sexual gratification for money. That's what you're doing.
But when you tell another dancer that, she's, "No, no, I'm not a prostitute." I'm, "Yes, you are. You're a sex worker." And as long as you're in denial about it, you're not going to be empowered.
So the dancer is "Oh, a call girl. I would never do that," and the call girl goes, "My God, on that stage they show everybody everything. I would never do that." There's all this stuff. It's all about denial, because of the stigma. Until you get rid of the stigma, you're not going to get empowered.
MS. LEIGH: Then we have Camille Paglia. She said something that made me think. She said she thinks it's weird the way prostitutes' rights activists are always going after feminism.
She said we're not doing it right, not doing it right, should capitalize on our bad stuff and let ourselves be bad and own that as much as possible. She said that we would be better off in that direction. So, I don't know. Let's keep it.
AUDIENCE: Do you think prostitution has become more dispersed geographically, moved into the suburbs recently in the last few years.
MS. LEIGH: I don't know here? As far as there's more traffic, more strolls. Well, I'll tell you, on the prostitution task force we're even debating whether there's more prostitution now, because it's a worse economy. We could not figure it out. Some of us decided that we don't really have proof of that.
Because it could be more like the sexual mores of the time, like perhaps in the '60s they let it happen more in the street. Maybe it was looser. Maybe some of this repression means there's less. I don't know. We don't know. I don't even know, I don't know what I think. Somebody get a grant and study it.
That's another thing, is people aren't studying this. Why isn't there, like, a whole part of the sociology department dealing with prostitution?
AUDIENCE: How come there aren't any statistics on how many prostitutes there are in any given area of the country?
AUDIENCE: Cause they don't sign up.
MS. LEIGH: They don't go, "Hey, it's me."
People have done a few studies. Some people do pathologizing studies like, getting prostitutes to say that they are, you know...
AUDIENCE: Have been abused as children.
MS. LEIGH: Things like that, although obviously there's a correlation. In that book -- it's interesting, this woman in this book talks about it as a way she's worked through her incest. I think that's really true. A lot of women like too...
Because there's so much stigma about, well, you were molested and now you're a sex worker. So they have to deny it, and then we can't get discussion going about how we live in this way and it helps us work through stuff, so I think that that's kind of a problem. They used to pathologize gay people the same way.
AUDIENCE: What are some of the reasons besides money, that a woman would want to dance and prostitute herself?
MS. LEIGH: It's a sexual thing. Or like money, just money.
AUDIENCE: Freedom of hours.
AUDIENCE: What do you think about the dynamics between men and women as far as sexuality goes. Because it's mostly men who frequent prostitutes. It's not hardly women, frequently.
MS. LEIGH: What do I think? I'll just give you my own little picture of this. I don't know.
But this is my -- This is my little dream. See, I think that -- This is sort of an ideal society. It used to be men used to hunt.
AUDIENCE: Hunt and fish.
MS. LEIGH: They hunt; we have babies. So I think the basic thing is, it would be natural. Why give up our paternity rights, to every guy we happen to have sex with.
Paternity is so cheap these days. You get married; he knows exactly he's the father, without this marriage contract -- I think the marriage contract is like what the man's right in the patriarchy revolves around, and I would say that maybe women, if we're going to own the actual power that we do have and own our bodies, then we would, naturally, you know, matrilineal descent, not necessarily giving up any rights in matrimony, including the right to the child, and the way we get along is prostitution. Guys go out and hunt, and...
What I'm saying is, maybe like marriage is not like the central way. Maybe this model we have of male/female, making these long-term commitments that don't work anyway, right?
Because the men leave, and the women are stuck with the children, and we're sending the police after the men. They don't have the money anyway to take care of the kids. It's pretty gross.
I mean, maybe we have to figure out other kinds of relationships. It makes sense to me. I would think of better ways to have prostitution, but maybe having some kind of exchanges around single men and women who are doing prostitution isn't that weird a way to have -- Maybe it's not that strange of stuff. Maybe it's not inherently exploitative or bad.
I mean, if you deconstruct marriage, that contract, then what kind of relationships do we have with men? That's what I always think.
AUDIENCE: I guess I'm wondering, do you think, there's sort of a bell curve of desire for the different sexes? Do you think there's a different, more of an aggressive drive with men, sexually? I mean, the fact that it's men who are, frequenting prostitutes rather than women who are frequenting prostitutes? I mean, they are going to pay for sex, they want it so bad, you know?
AUDIENCE: I have to put my two cents in. I think they do because they have to, cause women don't. If you want to get laid you can really easily, if you're a woman, and you can't if you're a guy. And so that's why men do it. So, I think it's like an available thing, and like, that may not be true, but it's what I always think.
AUDIENCE: I would like to know, I have heard that there have been societies that were not patriarchies, basically, and I want to know what happened to prostitution in societies like that.
MS. LEIGH: I'm not a real scholar of issues, you know, and I've heard all kind of conjectures, did you see Whores and History? Did you look at that book? This is a book in the stores. She would agree to that. She's got a lot of scholarly stuff. This is fun reading. This is a good book about how, what the relationships could be.
AUDIENCE: What's the author's name?
MS. LEIGH: Nicki Roberts.
AUDIENCE: What's it called?
MS. LEIGH: Whores and History.
AUDIENCE: Do you remember what she says about it?
MS. LEIGH: Yes, just a few chapters. She just says that, yeah, it was kind of what I said, men worship you, and they come and you're mighty.
AUDIENCE: So there is still -- Women are the prostitutes, and men are the customers, even in a nonpatriarchal?
MS. LEIGH: We're the priestesses, and they're our supplicants.
AUDIENCE: But it's still the men come to women. That's interesting.
MS. LEIGH: I don't know. I don't like to get fast and stuck on these things. I like to ponder, but, you know, I can formulate opinions.
AUDIENCE: I wonder, is it an illusion that women who are not working as prostitutes or whatever, do any of them like to be looked at in a lustful way? I notice a lot of times, like more often than not, I guess, if I have, like, lustful thoughts or look at a woman's body, and man, she's great, I can't talk to her. Or she -- I go up and talking to her, and then that thought will come into my head, and all of a sudden there's, like, a separation there, and it doesn't work out, I can't...
MS. LEIGH: That's why you have to give women money, and we'll help you through these things.
AUDIENCE: But why?
MS. LEIGH: A lot of men feel intimidated about sex, and men are confused about sex, and there's no information about sex. It's kept from all of us.
AUDIENCE: But do those people who do work, do you really like it when a guy looks at your body and looks at you...?
AUDIENCE: I'm a dyke, so no, I don't like it. I'm working for money. Give me your money, and I'll be nice to you.
AUDIENCE: So no woman likes to be looked at?
MS. LEIGH: No, no, no. People have different attitudes. Everybody's different. I mean, personally...
AUDIENCE: Is that true, because that's what I want to know, and some women, like, let the guys do that and take money for it. Is that how it works?
AUDIENCE: No, that's not true at all.
MS. LEIGH: Everybody's different.
AUDIENCE: If you have a relationship with the woman, it depends how she feels about herself. I don't think you can say yes or no. I mean, if it's not a sex situation and all of a sudden you're, like, checking her out, she's going to be like that, whoa, why are you addressing this kind of dynamic if you're just -- Like, if you're on a date, and you're in this passionate embrace, of course you can look at her, go oh, you're a babe, that's the situation...
AUDIENCE: -- and the person. I don't think it's a working girl/nonworking girl split at all.
AUDIENCE: And how you come across.
AUDIENCE: Be subtle, for God's sake.
MS. LEIGH: We need to give you lessons.
AUDIENCE: That's one of the reasons they have to pay, because they're socially retarded.
MS. LEIGH: It seems also it's easier for women to be sexual, to be teachers about sex, I mean, I think it would be nice if women were taking that lead and being able to teach.
You were raising your hand.
AUDIENCE: Yeah. I had a little chunk on that. I think at least for me, it comes down to whether that person's approaching you with respect or not. If you're leering and slobbering and acting like a total jerk, I'm sorry, you'd better have money in hand.
AUDIENCE: That's not what I'm talking about, really. It's like you're talking with a girl, and you're coming across with respect and all that, and she would like me too at first, or whatever. We'd talk and then I'd like, think, man, that girl's really hot, and then just start imagining like sexual whatever, and see her the next time; it's like, whoa, there's a total separation there, and I'm wondering why.
AUDIENCE: Do you understand there's a power thing going on there?
AUDIENCE: It sounds like it's probably more about you than it is about women in general, and that perhaps you're injecting a different attitude in your behavior than in the behavior of women in general, cause you had a sexual thought about that person, so you're interpreting your behavior towards them as a change in your behavior.
MS. LEIGH: Don't you have a sex information hotline in this city?
AUDIENCE: We should, we should.
MS. LEIGH: You don't have a switchboard for sex information in Seattle?
AUDIENCE: I don't think so.
AUDIENCE: It's in the yellow pages.
MS. LEIGH: There is?
AUDIENCE: In the blue pages.
MS. LEIGH: I want to talk about one more thing before we get too excited. I want to talk about trafficking, because, as I said, I think sort of the antiporn movement might be kind of, just, you know, a little bit...
AUDIENCE: Can you define that?
MS. LEIGH: Trafficking? The question is what does it mean. I think it means illicit transport from, like, anything, guns, drugs, whatever. Trafficking, I think, means you're moving something; you're dealing in it; you're distributing it; you have a business in something. It's an illicit context. I think that's what trafficking means.
So, doing prostitution business and having people work for you. It's sort of another word for pimping. If it's prostitution, it has to be trafficking, because it's illegal to do prostitution, so basically, you could say trafficking is another word for -- sort of like pimping with transportation.
It doesn't have to be in a car. Sort of like offering for sale. Like, they're trafficking in guns. You're selling them. It's another word for pimping.
The anti-trafficking movement wants to stop trafficking. Part of trafficking does involve kidnapping women and sexual slavery. That's part of it, that's definitely a part. That's gotten a lot of attention in this country at various times.
We have a law against international trafficking, the Mann Act. And I think Charlie Chaplin was prosecuted in fact. The first person prosecuted against that was an African-American man. I think he was a sports hero, and he married or he was dating a white prostitute, and they were just lovers. He was one of the first people to get charged with that.
So it's very, very rare that they actually nab any evil exploitative traffickers with the laws, just like the pimping laws.
You know, it would be really good to prosecute the people for abuse, prosecute the exploitative traffickers for slaves or kidnapping, whatever we're talking about, but instead there's a whole movement against trafficking.
In San Francisco we have a lot of massage parlors, and there's a lot of Asian people working in massage parlors and from my look at the history of San Francisco, all the anti-immigration stuff started around the Asian prostitutes. It started around making sure the Asian prostitutes weren't coming in.
What I imagine is, we're going to start looking at the antitrafficking movement, and they're going to use it to deport women who are working in massage parlors. When somebody's prosecuted under trafficking laws, they just send them back to their country.
The deal with trafficking is, you get -- In your country, you make a deal with this person for fifty thousand dollars, and they'll let you come here for fifty thousand dollars. It's six hundred tricks or something.
So if you calculate, you can fuck enough guys in four months to make the money back, and then the last two months you get to keep everything. Even with these calculations, you make more than you would in some other country.
The women agree to the contract, and then default on it when they've been here for a short time. The traffickers are looking for them, but they women are managing to make money and work anyway.
When the traffickers find her, he demands five thousand dollars. If she has five thousand dollars, she gives it to him, or she borrows it from a friend.
So you're working in the city; you're doing prostitution; you're making a lot of money. What you're doing is, you're independent, pretty much, except you're supporting your family back home. Big family back home.
The idea of sending these women back to Thailand, or wherever, is really bad, because they're still going to feel like they owe the traffickers money, and they're going to be stuck there. They're going to have a really bad life, because that's a lot of pressure from them.
We don't want to deport them. I don't understand every detail about about trafficking and immigration laws, but it seems to me like we should help women from other countries come here, and we should have programs, and instead of telling them they can't be trafficked here, we should let them come from for free.
They come here on fake visas, tourist visas anyway. So why can't we have programs, and we'll just let them come as tourists, have sister cities and invite women and let them be free so they don't have to depend on those nasty traffickers? Maybe we can help them get medical services here.
That's been kind of pie in the sky, but the other issue, of why don't we have like, even in Seattle, like asylum programs, that make sure that we don't deport them if they've been doing sex work. Still a lot to ask.
But instead, people around, the Kathleen Barrie, Catherine McKinnon, the people involved in that are talking about antitrafficking. They're talking about stopping the traffickers and not really talking about what that means in deportation and what that means in terms of asylum.
They say they won't give asylum to women who are forced and have problems returning, like, you heard in Burma, they murdered women who were coming back HIV-positive? Did you see that? That was in the news once, yeah.
So they got deported, because they're HIV-positive. They got deported back to their country, and supposedly they were murdered there. I mean, certainly, people who are against trafficking are addressing those extremes, but there's a lot of middle ground, and there are a lot of people who really just want to make money in another country, because they can't make much at home.
And this whole movement to stop trafficking can be sad, in terms of immigrant prostitutes, and that's one of my big concerns in terms of antiprostitution, major issues. So beware of it. Do everything about it, and form an organization.
AUDIENCE: When you're talking about trafficking, you're talking about always from another country to this country?
MS. LEIGH: Well, I don't really know, because I'm not sure...
AUDIENCE: Because we've had a lot of arrests here in the last couple of years of people who own businesses.
MS. LEIGH: Right. That's pimping.
AUDIENCE: And they have passed a law about money laundering, and they also passed a three-strikes-you're-out law, and promoting is on the list for that.
So if somebody who were to work for women's working conditions, and have a place for them to work, like a massage parlor or something that was a decent place to work, could actually end up with life in prison.
MS. LEIGH: Oh, definitely.
AUDIENCE: Because they were prosecuted for that.
MS. LEIGH: Totally. That's ridiculous. That's why you have to know a good city counselperson, and have them do something about it, I guess. Because it's just ridiculous.
You're in this organization. You probably know more about how the sexually repressive laws are working in this country, but I think this is really at the forefront of what we have to worry about in terms of repression. Legislation.
Yeah, it's as bad as it could get. For immigrants who are prostitutes. Or for people who are trying prostitution because I don't know what's going to happen. It could be that people start talking about legalization. All around the country, I see little blurbs about different places trying to legalize.
AUDIENCE: Have you heard anything about the prosecution of people who work under racketeering law?
MS. LEIGH: RICO charges?
MS. LEIGH: That's CAL PEP. That was an AIDS outreach group in San Francisco to street prostitutes, and COYOTE set them up to be an AIDS outreach organization, and it was mostly African-American people who worked on the street.
And the way the cops had gotten them before this -- this is actually how they turned over to an AIDS outreach. Before that, the cops got them, and then they were street workers, the cops...
But they were working all over and in every different city, and they got them on RICO because they were interstate.
Anyway, the prostitutes, a lot of people who do prostitution travel on a circuit, you know, and do travel, and they got them also for fraud, because they all had insurance as secretaries, they were a pretty organized group.
That group is interesting, because it has a lot of scandal, because the pimp was also in the outreach end of it, and he was bad, because he was harassing outreach workers. And boy, WHISPER never forgot that. We hear about that every day.
They threw COYOTE out, the people who were running this agency who were the people who had their little prostitution group. They got rid of all the feminists so they could have it by themselves. But the same time, this guy was kind of harassing people. But then COYOTE kind of got blamed for promoting it. But it wasn't even that evil.
Now it's a great outreach organization. The bad guy, he just left. He's just friends with them now, and they're doing the best work in Oakland. They're going into crack houses, and they're really helping people. It's not even prostitutes. It's actually just African-American community-based now. It's not just sex workers. It's very good.
Have we talked about everything?
MS. LEIGH: I know that you're all involved in these issues. I wish there were things that -- I want everybody to do something. I want you to change the laws and...
AUDIENCE: What do you recommend as effective? I don't see a lot of direct advances being made. What do you think is a really effective means of changing things, something cheap that you could do?
MS. LEIGH: I would say writing about it is good. I'm trying to think of papers, articles, for magazines, just writing more and more about it.
AUDIENCE: Call the media.
MS. LEIGH: I like to think of the simplest thing for people to do is just write. But it's -- We just don't have enough people putting out information for prostitutes' rights, et cetera. If you feel like that, that's what I would recommend, if you're not out organizing.
AUDIENCE: Just recently there was a national council of mayors proposed a grant for $80,000, so that former prostitutes could provide information to current prostitutes about safe sex, and part of that deal was kind of weird. They were also supposed to hand out a little newsletter that said, this is how to get out of prostitution if you want to.
MS. LEIGH: Right, right.
AUDIENCE: But when it went to the committee, the majority Republican committee overruled it.
MS. LEIGH: I know, because they were prostitutes who were employed, right?
AUDIENCE: Because they said that prostitution is not an industry, it's a crime.
AUDIENCE: It finally went through.
AUDIENCE: It went through the second time.
MS. LEIGH: They gave them a lot of pressure. I know Sheila Robinson for POCAAN -- they're great -- People Of Color Against AIDS Network. She was one of the original people who did outreach here.
Social services, you can never do enough in terms of street outreach. One of the things we're trying to do is take a tally of who's out where at what time. We want to know when the outreach workers are there to see if we can pressure the health department, get more people out there. Mobile. I've been studying services a lot, so that's what I know, mobile services.
AUDIENCE: Do you think that the needle exchange is useful.
MS. LEIGH: They have women-only drug treatment, too.
AUDIENCE: It seems like the legality is the biggest barrier. I think That these people should have the right to be protected by the police, so they can call the police up. Health care, health plan like any other job. The right to have some kind of employee pension and all the other stuff is great. But unless you legalize it...
MS. LEIGH: But somehow, I know, I feel like it's so weird to think in terms of -- You know, people have to be social workers and do outreach, but it's better from an informed prostitutes' rights perspective, because, you know, way criminal justice is growing, the way the prison-industrial complex is growing, it's really scary, because the only energy or money going anywhere is going into kind of the criminal justice analysis of this. It's very complicated. That's why I think writing is probably...
AUDIENCE: Do you think people should work for legalization as opposed to decriminalization?
MS. LEIGH: No, no. For legalization? Well, you see, it's hard to really distinguish what those are. Legalization means have the state control it.
AUDIENCE: Right. Put in licensing of some sort.
MS. LEIGH: Right. No, no. No, I don't like legalization. In terms though, of regulation, I would say that it would be good to work the with the sex industry. My idea is based on kind of a buyer's club like for marijuana, but actually a sellers club. I work with the cannibis people in San Francisco. They give sick people pot.
And I've watched how they just did their things, selling pot, and, you know, I wish that we could overcome some of our problems and organize healthy, sex positive businesses.
I have another article in this book about a madam who was interviewed, but to develop businesses that are really positive, for models, and if we say we want to, for like, our johns, we don't have a business model to deal with. That's a problem, too.
AUDIENCE: I have a question about the legalization. You don't want it because it will turn into Las Vegas?
MS. LEIGH: We don't want prostitutes to register because they don't and because it's something you don't trifle with. It's difficult in a custody case you lose your children.
You know, if you think about it, you would realize you can't register as a prostitute, and if you look at the statistics, only in Singapore they have 50 percent registered, but it's 10 or 20 percent usually registered, and in Las Vegas -- But most people don't work for the brothels, so registration is pretty much out of the question. But it is not going to happen anyway.
If they do decide to register and let some people work, supposedly, like, some people think it just comes down on the other people, and since other people are the majority it's very, very rare, so, but, I mean, regulation I think...
I still think if we work on bias, and we talk about regulation in terms of workers' rights in the sex industry that we have, I don't think that's a bad place to start.
AUDIENCE: Because I saw a newsreel from the Phillipines because we saw them in front of the bars where the bar girls worked, and they round them up, and what they said was, yes, we're taking them all downtown to check to see that their business licenses are correct. If they go down to that, whores are probably licensed, and they bring cops and drag them out.
MS. LEIGH: Oh, man.
AUDIENCE: So the whole thing of licensing would be just instant abuses.
MS. LEIGH: We really suffered on the prostitution task force, because the workers on the street, asking them what they want -- If you're going to survey street workers, since they don't know about all that, I heard them asking for some kind of structures, and legalization sounded appealing to them.
Ones that are more not using drugs and more healthy will be pretty quick to say, let's put the ones that are not using drugs and not healthy in jail. That's self-serving regulation for you, but I can only assume that we would work in an equitable direction. Of course, self-representation is the key. Basically a group of sex workers' and legal advocates should be meeting regularly with city officials, as a start.
AUDIENCE: Some of this is a self-employed problem, but what about street vendor licenses, not a prostitutes' one, but...
AUDIENCE: An espresso cart.
MS. LEIGH: And I think the way to just -- outreach agencies maybe. You don't have to pass any health tests. It's all pie in the sky; it's not going to happen; there's no way to have it work. I just keep want to think of a productive way, just get them to stop. I don't know what you have here, but the people in San Francisco on the city streets act like prostitutes are so evil, and they call the police all the time, and there's so much activism against prostitutes that they identified them, but they're going after the tricks now. But the direction...
AUDIENCE: That's good. All this mild stuff, which is interesting, too, all this stuff is not okay. It's against people's civil rights, and a lot of the feminists feel it's okay. At least we're getting the right this time.
AUDIENCE: I thought after they're arrested. It meant...
AUDIENCE: Perhaps if they started to enforce the law equally then it would actually inspire some political...
MS. LEIGH: People on the task force, some people don't want to provoke that. People just don't want to say "arrest people." It's somehow nobody's wanting to say, never arrest anybody. I don't...
AUDIENCE: Is anybody doing anything with underage male prostitutes?
MS. LEIGH: In San Francisco?
AUDIENCE: And what is the proportion of that to the women's industry?
MS. LEIGH: I don't have any idea. I don't know. San Francisco has 25 percent male prostitution, they estimate, and 20 to 25 percent of women are transgender, so it's a lot -- It's even more equal.
AUDIENCE: What was the percentage?
MS. LEIGH: 25 percent of women are transgender and 25 percent of prostitutes are male.
AUDIENCE: Because I remember in Seattle, there was a time when there was an area in Seattle that was specifically underage kids, mostly male, and then there was somebody got busted that was kind of keeping that area relatively organized, and then a bunch of pimps came in, and then the area got unsafe pretty quickly.
MS. LEIGH: There's a youth group on the prostitution task force, and the more youth -- She says the child labor laws were part of what is keeping them there. They hate those things. Curfew laws are the laws, because then they just go to jail. But the child labor laws are supposed to be really evil, because the child labor laws -- They can't work.
Supposedly, I think that got passed it was some insidious deal between the left and the right. It was some weird, oh, child labor laws, it was good, but supposedly that was the first -- one of the early insidious selling-outs. I don't know. I don't know my history, really, it was supposed to be bad, child labor laws.
AUDIENCE: No, the child labor laws passed because kids were working for a dime a day.
MS. LEIGH: No, I heard this, that was the idea, but the thing is that the way they were structured was kind of something right wing-left wing. It really wound up that kids don't get jobs. It was to get kids off the market so that the grownups could work.
AUDIENCE: It was a union thing. Actually, it was really a labor union thing. That was a lot of the, a lot of the antiimmigration of the early part of the century is also labor union. That was pushed through by labor unions. That's really true with child labor laws, restricting the hours that women could work, and those were gotten rid of later, but in the late 19th century and the early 20th, that was the early influence.
MS. LEIGH: There was some insidious thing.
AUDIENCE: I don't know what the insidious thing is, except that I think unions are insidious.
MS. LEIGH: When was this?
AUDIENCE: I don't know what the details would be.
MS. LEIGH: Read your textbooks.
AUDIENCE: I have a question as to how you see the role of religion and the Goddess.
MS. LEIGH: There's a prostitutes' Goddess meeting, and we evoke the Goddess, and there are prostitutes in the church.
AUDIENCE: What are the dynamics? I don't think that there is between prostitution and the church, except that they owned all these brothels and most of our moral laws are based on the Christian. They're grossly outdated, but then isn't that really what the focus is? If people's morals won't allow them to accept something? My father's a Christian; I have a lot of experience in this. Then there's, I mean, passing laws is very difficult if you can't...
MS. LEIGH: Very easy to pass, to repeal them, I heard it's very hard if a legislature -- and I'm worried about that -- very easy to pass a law against prostitution. Everybody goes for it.
That's why I'm not too sure anything's going to -- I don't like to foresee -- I always draw...
AUDIENCE: Between the green movement and sex work movement, I am a lesbian, and I am seeing this inch-by-inch progress we're making and this forward and back, and when this can be moved forward as well, in spite of the Judeo-Christian miasma that no one wants to cop to unless they're one of the hard-core far-right Republicans.
MS. LEIGH: Maybe we'll emerge or evolve to another spiritual concept.
AUDIENCE: Let's hope so.
MS. LEIGH: I'm concerned that it's getting late, that we need to -- It's like almost ten, isn't it? There's no more questions?
So then, I want to thank you all incredibly for all of this, and as I leave, I'm going to put on my own little vulva movie, so if you don't want to stay you can just pass by.
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