Smutathon

With the grim inevitability of the humourless, authoritarian and puritanical Theresa May being returned as Prime Minister with  a larger majority on June 8th , difficult times await for all those of us who are into BDSM or any kind of alternative forms of sexual expression. This is why we should get behind campaigning organisations like Backlash UK. This is  exactly what a number of us  who know each other from Eroticon are going to be doing on Saturday 1st July when we spend 12 hours chained to our laptops writing filth. Some of us are meeting in London while others are taking part remotely but joining the party via Skype.

We are, all of us, perverted or debauchd, both (me!) , or simply see sexual self- expression as fundamental to our identity. The battle against censorship and puritanical legislative restrictions on what we do with our bodies is a fight for everyone. But it is laso our personal battle. Please support us

https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/smutathon2017

 

Not Such an Ugly Mug

On my real name Facebook account I have a group of friends I have never met, men and women from all over the world who have connected with me because of a shared interest in sex workers’ rights. I really value these connection s with these people who are a mix of sex workers and activists, sometimes both. They are all deeply committed and fiercely intelligent, a number of them prominent in the struggle. I am honoured that they wanted to connect with me. I want to talk briefly about one of them.

Alex Feis-Bryce announced this week that he is standing down as Chief Executive of Ugly Mugs after five years in the job. Ugly Mugs (the name comes from an Australian term for a rogue punter) is a project launched with Home Office funding and with the support of the police,   to promote sex workers’ safety. Sex workers can sign up and receive e-mail warnings of potentially violent punters, make reports, anonymously if they prefer, and also report incidents to the police. There are links too to the Merseyside Model under which offences against sex workers are prosecuted as hate crimes.  Fundamental to the success of this is sex workers feeling that they can trust the police.

The biggest threat to this comes from the strident and seemingly tireless advocates of the “Nordic Model” under which the purchase of sex would be criminalised (as it has been in Sweden since 1999). Advocates claim that it involves the decriminalisation of the sex workers themselves although, in practice, the introduction of criminalisation of clients in both parts of Ireland has NOT involved the lifting of legal prohibitions on, for example, working together  for safety. These advocates, including many MPs (Jess Phillips, Harriet Harman, Carolinse Flint and Gavin Shuker to name but four) believe that sex work is “violence against women” although they seem oddly uninterested in actual violence against sex workers. Indeed some police officers in Sweden have said on record that they believe it to be acceptable collateral damage that will discourage others from going into sex work. But it is clear to me that by driving a wedge between police and sex workers it will make them less safe. This is why the struggle for sex workers’ rights, and the battle for decriminalisation are inseparable from the wider work of Ugly Mugs.   As Ugly Mugs has grown under Alex’s leadership he has become an effective and articulate advocate.

What has this to do with BDSM? The answer is that professional providers of domination (or submission) are also sex workers. Indeed the term covers a very wide range of service providers. including men. Some pro- dommes that I engage with online actively support the struggle even if there are others who, disappointingly, reject the label.  But I think there is a further point, which is that political attacks on sex workers are part of a wider backlash against the free expression of sexuality.

Alex is moving on but leaves a strong legacy.  I would like to thank him for all he has done and wish him all the best for the future.  And, dear reader, I hope that you will too..

THE REAL DEAL?

Two weeks have passed since Jenni Murray’s infamous piece in the Sunday Times on why trans women are not “real women” and passions have cooled. It may be that most people have forgotten it already. But it certainly polarised opinion at the time. Twitter is not a place for subtlety and nuance and two rival camps quickly established themselves, supporters of Murray thanking her for saying what all women felt but were afraid to say too publicly, whilst opponents shouted “TERF” and “transphobe.” I fall into neither camp, but want to say, what I, as a trans woman, think and how I see relations between cis and trans women.

To begin with, it is necessary to point out that the piece is written in more measured terms than some recent contributions to this debate and it is refreshingly free from the abuse that the likes of Bindel and  Greer seem to revel in. The argument is, in essence, one have heard radical feminist make. It goes like this: I have nothing against people who identify as transgender but they can never be real women. They do, of course, suffer prejudice and discrimination. This is wrong and I support them on their struggle to be treated with dignity and respect but their struggle is separate from the women’s struggle. Indeed attempts to link the two are actually harmful to women as the battles that women fight in terms of reproductive rights, etc can be erased by the wider struggle particularly as the trans community is made up of people who were brought up male, in other words with privilege and who carry over male attitudes and behaviour onto their new identity. Trans advocates tend to be vocal, they can be intimidating and, cis gendered women’s issues get drowned out.

To illustrate her point Murray refers to two trans women she once interviewed. One, a priest of the Church of England, had nothing to say about the institutional misogyny of the Church but was quite keen to talk about her frocks. The other, the TV presenter India Willoughby was, apparently, unable to see a problem with the sexist work dress codes that many women were rightly getting angry about a few months ago.   The inference we are expected to draw, it seems, is that trans women are shallow, concerned mainly with appearance and unwilling to understand, or engage with, significant issues that affect cis gendered women.

It is difficult to avoid thinking that she has effectively put up tow straw women to knock down here and I know from my own experience that they are not typical.

But to return to the main argument. In one sense Murray is simply defining real as having, or having had, a uterus. Real is simply a synonym of cisgendered and in this sense, that argument is trivial. Nonetheless what Murray says touches on an important issue. For it is undeniable that social and legal control of women’s bodies revolve around reproduction. Menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth, lactation and menopause are elemental physical experiences for cisgendered women, and are at the root of control, superstition and oppression that women, at various times inm history have suffered. Trans women, by definition, cannot experience these things directly.

It is, however, a leap of logic to suggest that trans women cannot understand these things or cannot support the struggles of their cisgendered sisters. And there is not, I think, a dichotomy between trans and cisgendered women’s issues, but rather continuity on a spectrum of discrimination, and overlap.  Consider the bathroom laws on some US states. These were justified as protecting cisgendered women against the threat of violence from sexual predators masquerading as trans women as if men intent on rape and sexual assault need to put on a dress and go to the ladies bathroom to find victims. In fact a number of those humiliated and forcibly removed from bathrooms have been cisgendeed women who were considered by security people not to look feminine enough. There is, therefore, a real sense in which the discrimination suffered by trans and cis women overlap and intersect. I think too that rights are indivisible. The achievement of, for example, racial equality, actually benefits white people too, just as gender equality can be liberating for cisgendered men. The same goers for trans rights.

And finally a word on my experience. I have a wide circle of cisgendered women friends, two of whom are very close friends. Most women I meet, socially or otherwise, have no difficulty in accepting me as a woman. Some of them have given me support, encouragement, advice,  and love that I have found truly humbling. And really all I want to do is to get on with my life and enjoy these friendships. I know that I will never be as a cisgendered woman in so many ways, I know too that I would never wish to privilege trans rights over, for example, reproductive rights, in the feminist movement. I know too that it doesn’t matter to me that whether particular people want to describe me as not a real woman although it is disappointing that someone I always had enormous respect for should jump on the bandwagon like this. Some points she makes are pertinent and trans people need to answer them. But too often she falls back on cliché and caricature.    At the end of it all I am who I am. And that’s fine by the people who matter to me.

NOT THE GOLF CLUB….PLEASE

I have never had the slightest interest in golf, that is apart from the time some Frenchman called Van der Velde threw away the British Open on the final afternoon after getting stuck in a stream where it was canalised in a concrete trough and dropped a dozen shots as he hacked away like an amateur. Cue laughter and schadenfreude oh and a little anger at the crass misogyny of Peter Alliss who apparently thinks the sole function of any woman in his life is to make his tea. But I digress…..

One of the reasons golf has never really appealed is that most golfers belong to clubs, which are expensive to join, have bars full of back slapping self-satisfied white men and that, if these things weren’t off-putting enough , you have to be proposed and seconded by existing members if you want to join yourself. I have never been a fan of anything that required you to be approved by somebody else before joining.

I am concerned, therefore, to see that Fetlife is now effectively an invitation only club. New people can only sign up if invited by an existing member. Just like the golf club, really, but without the G and Ts and the Pringle sweaters……unless that’s a particularly esoteric fetish that has passed me by.

I can see why they might have done this. In my early days on the scene I got to know a man who was banned from Fetlife for stalking and harassment of one particular lady and kept rejoining under new IDs and I know, too, if only anecdotally that abuse, trolling, and general dickheadery are not uncommon. I have had to block a couple of people because of the latter. But the new rules will not necessarily deal with these issues. What, for example, is to stop a troll inviting him or herself under new names to have an account ready for when they are banned? And what about those who are simply blocked and ignored but never reported and remain on Fetlife to seek out new victims?

For those not yet in the scene this is a disaster. I, and no doubt many of you reading this, struggled for years alone with my fetishes and fantasies, unaware of the scene, unaware that there were so many like-minded people living within five miles of me. Joining Fetlife opened up to me a world of munches and play events, and led to me meeting a number of lovely people who helped me to love myself as I am and were influential, often in ways they might not realise, in making me the person I am today.

So, Fetlife, please think again. Think of those who don’t know anyone on the scene who have no-one to invite them and, because they cannot join, have no way of finding out about the munches and play events where they can meet kinky people. You have left them isolated in a vicious circle and made it impossible for us, as a community, to reach out and welcome them. Do not deny them the opportunities we all had.

The Prostitution Thing

Prostitute is not a word I like. When used about those who provide professional sexual services it is heavy with stigma, used either to convey contempt or to imply that the person is a helpless victim in need of rescue. It is often used too by lazy journalists. Take the case of the professional dominatrix who was for six months in a relationship with the Culture Secretary John Whittingdale. and who was described as a whore, a Miss Whiplash and so on.

Now most people who are reading this don’t need to be told that the job of a professional dominatrix is in many ways much more complex than that of a full service sex worker. She needs clothing, equipment, and specialised premises. She also needs skill and experience to engage in the various activities safely, Above all she needs empathy and psychological insight.

In saying this I do not want to be seen as driving a wedge between pro dommes and other providers. . although one pro domme (a lady for whom incidentally I have enormous respect) once upbraided me in an online exchange for comparing pro dommes to escorts when I referred to them as hex workers. I felt this comment was unfair. I had never suggested that she, or anybody else for that matter, had sex with clients.

There are reasons for thinking too that the rigid demarcation on some people still see between domes and escorts is anyway quite recent. The distinction is I think quite recent. A couple of years ago I found a fascinating article about the world of professional domination written in the early 1990s, just before the internet emerged as a real game changer for those who provide professional domination services. The piece was illustrated by ladies’ cards from which it is clear that, at that time, many dommes also doubled up as escorts.

But I think the key point is this. All of us who engage in BDSM are expressing an aspect of our sexuality. This very much includes the clients of pro dommes.  A pro domme I spoke to once put it like this..

“I do consider myself a sex worker. OK I don’t actually have sex with clients but it’s all about making people come isn’t it?”

The term sex worker embraces a large number of service providers many of whom do not have genital sex with clients and indeed some, such as webcam girls, may never even physically meet their clients. Melisa Gira Grant in her book Playing the Whore had no hesitation in making the connection. And this is surely right. The attacks on sex workers, the demands for the criminalisation of clients for example, need to be seen in the wider context of attacks on sexual freedom, for example the attacks on mainly BDSM porn and the creeping demands for ever more draconian internet censorship. These are attacks on all of us with alternative sexualities. So the next time someone proposes a law to criminalise the purchase of sex remember…..you and I could be in the firing line next. Get out there and make your voice heard.

Bathroom Balls

This week the Foreign Office took the unusual step of issuing a leaflet aimed at travellers to certain states in the USA. Unusual because this sort of thing is usually only done for countries  with repressive political systems and/or cultural norms very different from our own, essentially to help people not get into difficulties with the authorities. This leaflet is intended for transgender people and is necessary because the legislators of some southern states find our genitals really fascinating.

Now in all the years I have been using communal toilets I have yet to have sight of anyone’s genitalia. And, like most people, I am not interested in what people have between their legs unless they happen to be sexual partners which, I can assure you, is a small minority of the people I interact with. Yet, there are those who take a very great interest in what people have between their legs, particularly if they are trans. Some US states have enacted laws obliging people to use only the toilets corresponding to their birth sex which, if it were to be enforced, would mean that everyone would need to submit to a genital examination before being admitted.

This is not, of course, about bigotry…..really . We are told it is to prevent embarrassment and to protect women from sexual assault since, apparently all trans women are rapists. On the first point it is hard to see what embarrassment could result since all trans people of any gender use cubicles, And as for the second point, it is beneath my dignity to engage with it.

So ladies this could mean you have a man in a suit and a hipster beard walking in or a petite feminine lady in a dress using the gents, which in some cases, would expose her to risk off assault. But if trans people are to be denied rights, hey let’s do it properly.

And this is not just about the law. Most trans people who use the toilets corresponding to the gender they identify with have felt uncomfortable at some time. Some of them may try to avoid using the toilet at all when out, which is not a good thing when you’re having a meal washed down with a few drinks. It is no coincidence that trans people of all genders suffer an above average incidence of urinary tract infections.

This whole episode says most, however, about the people behind it. Do they feel threatened by us? Why? If they could look beyond the ends of their noses, or whatever other appendage they have, they might see that the open acceptance of trans people can be liberating for everyone both inside and outside the bathroom.

Why Corbyn is right on Sex Work

The debate on sex work, particularly the debate in feminist circles is a minefield for te unwary, a place where ideology trumps reason and one which may be leading to the implementation of policies that are not supported by any serious evidence, and may be harmful to many vulnerable people, mainly women. Jeremy Corbyn merely said what most informed observers think, that the best way to protect sex workers from violence and exploitation is to decriminalise prostitution. This was a courageous step and one think for which he is now being pillories.

I don’t want to go into the detailed arguments again but just say that decriminalisation of sex work is advocated by such well-known pimping organisations as the World Health Organisation, by charities working to help vulnerable sex workers such as National Ugly Mugs, and by pretty much every serious academic expert on the subject (many of whom are women). I have read widely on the subject in the last three years and find the arguments against criminalisation of clients, against “End Demand” and against the so-called Nordic Model cogent and well supported by evidence. Many of these making them are either sex workers, women or feminists, frequently all three. Jeremy Corbyn is saying nothing remarkable, in fact he is taking a rational and considered position.

Yet he has stirred up a hornets nest with many senior Labour women (none of whom, to my knowledge, has any specialist knowledge of the area) rushing to condemn him and repeating the tired mantras about the pimping lobby, about the need to rescue “prostituted women” and so on. These women are remarkably intolerant of anyone daring to disagree with them. Caroline Flint, for example, has blocked on Twitter a number of sex workers who had the temerity to ask her to provide evidence to substantiate her claims. She even blocked National Ugly Mugs. This refusal of elected representatives to engage in discussion is rather depressing.

I accept that some people are trafficked into prostitution although there is no reason to believe that they are other than a small minority. I accept too that many sex workers may not particularly enjoy their work and would rather be doing something else. If they are to exit sex work , however, they will still need to earn a living and the crusaders have not provided much in the way of serious proposals for how they might do this. Criminalisation will actually make the plight of those who are trafficked worse. The Police Service of Northern Ireland opposed the bill to criminalise purchase of sex in the province precisely because it would divert resources away from the investigation of trafficking and because they know (which the likes of Harriet Harman seem not to) that sex workers and clients are often a valuable source of intelligence about trafficking victims.

Anyone who thinks that criminalisation will reduce trafficking has evidently not looked at the history of the criminalisation of drug use over the last 50 years, or indeed the story of the prohibition of alcohol in the United States between 1920 and 1934. The story of prostitution abolitionism bears certain similarities. As in the case of narcotics and alcohol, many of the advocates are genuinely high minded and idealistic people who have a genuine moral aversion to the things they are trying to ban. I do not doubt their sincerity. But if they are not stopped, they do will cause a lot of harm to a lot of vulnerable people.