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Confessions of an American Whore: Sex Work Holds a Mirror Up to S.F.'s Hidden Kinks and Communities 

Wednesday, Jan 29 2014
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Once there were naked pictures of me on the Internet, I knew I had to say goodbye to (openly) dating senators and being crowned Miss America. I thought that perhaps traditional long-term commitment might have to be crossed off the list as well. Even though I felt confident about my new professional identity, I understood that bringing a whore home for the holidays is not something many people are keen to sign up for.

Then, in February 2011, I met Jesse James, a sweet Midwestern boy who moved to the big city with the secret hope he'd someday get to date a girl who worked at the Lusty Lady. He loved Star Wars and had studied third-wave feminism. He even had friends who had put themselves through school by doing sex work. So he came to the table with an understanding that sex work was my job, and not a threat to our relationship. He also understood that I had no interest in leaving the industry any time soon. The stigma that comes with dating a sex worker can be cruel. Many people have negative opinions about sex workers, so coming out to friends and family can be challenging. Moreover, that stigma also informs legislation that criminalizes the partners of sex workers. I worried that Jesse wasn't sure what he was getting himself into.


In November 2012, Prop. 35, the "Californians Against Sexual Exploitation Act," landed on the ballot. Although the guiding principle of the bill — to crack down on the sexual exploitation of minors — was noble, it was a confusing piece of legislation riddled with problematic components. The main sticking point was that Prop. 35 sought to expand the definition of "trafficking." One of those expansions states that any person who lives with or derives support from someone who is a prostitute is considered guilty of human trafficking and can face a minimum of eight years in state prison. This definition took on absurd implications: If Prop. 35 passed, then Jesse, who shares a home with me, could be charged with human trafficking. Or, if I pay bills for my mother after her brain surgery, would that make her my trafficker? Sex workers already faced social stigma, and now Prop. 35 provided a legal framework to reinforce it.

"When Prop. 35 was put on the ballot and sex workers got wind of it, we were very concerned," says Carol Leigh, one of the founders of the sex-worker rights movement. Leigh actually coined the term "sex worker" in 1978 to reduce the stigma associated with "prostitute." The sex worker community vehemently spoke out against Prop. 35, but it seemed the arguments fell on deaf ears. The proposition was almost guaranteed to pass. Former Facebook executive Chris Kelly provided the major funding for a campaign that seemed to have an endless budget for billboards and commercials depicting images of nameless young girls with chains around their wrists and teary eyes to evoke the horrors of human trafficking. If I saw Prop. 35 on the ballot and didn't know any better, I may have voted for it too.

"Everyone's against trafficking and sexual slavery," Leigh says. "Of course issues of force and coercion are of concern to sex workers. ... At the same time, usually that's done in a way to dis-empower us, and Prop. 35 was no exception."

Sex trafficking is an appalling crime in which a person is forced, coerced, or exploited into sexual labor. It is prevalent worldwide, and San Francisco is certainly not immune. "We know first-hand that there are incidents of trafficking within the San Francisco Bay Area," says Laura Lasky of Solace SF, an organization that provides aid and services to both sex workers and survivors of trafficking. However, sex work is a business transaction between two consenting adults; it is simply my job. When sex work is criminalized under the same laws that criminalize trafficking, it drives the industry further underground and results in a climate where consensual sex workers cannot be involved in the fight against human trafficking. If I meet someone who is working under force or coercion, I wouldn't be able to report the crime without facing legal ramifications myself. Anonymous reporting is potentially an option, but if sex workers like myself could actually work with law enforcement and legislators, then real atrocities like rape, assault, forced labor, and trafficking could be more effectively addressed. For now, sex work continues to exist on the boundary between the socially acceptable and the morally repugnant.

As Election Day grew near, I knew I had to do something more than just cast my vote. Then I remembered a road trip Jesse and I had taken once. We were listening to one of filmmaker Kevin Smith's podcasts. Smith is kind of a podcasting evangelist, so when he started to rant about how everyone should make one, Jesse turned down the stereo and said, with a twinkle in his eye, "You should start a podcast."

About The Author

Siouxsie Q

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