THE GUARDIAN: Indian sex workers lobby for pensions and healthcare

Sex workers across India are lobbying candidates in the country’s general election to support their demands for better health and welfare services in return for votes.

“We wanted to see which party accepts sex workers as part of the community,” said Kusum (who goes by only one name), president of the All India Network of Sex Workers (AINSW), which is coordinating efforts. “Some express support for us behind closed doors, but never in public.”

The network has 5 million members, who between them have 20 million dependents – yet sex workers have little influence. Indian society and politics are too conservative to discuss sex work openly, much less debate or acknowledge their rights as citizens, said Kusum.

“That is why we are making a special effort in this election to get some visibility and get our voices heard. Our vote is important because we all come to a consensus and collectively decide which party to vote for,” said Kusum, who is based in New Delhi.

In Kolkata, sex workers are taking their demands directly to candidates for the first time. Sex workers have lobbied two-thirds of the 150-plus candidates standing in West Bengal, where Kolkata is located, to sign declarations of support for their demands. Election results are expected on 23 May.

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Indian Sex Workers lobby for pensions and healthcare by Amrit Dhillon

May 16th, 2019


REUTERS: No sewing please, we're sex workers: Thai prostitutes battle stigma

A group of women sit around a table making dreamcatchers with colorful bits of yarn, chatting about their families, work and the thick smog enveloping Chiang Mai city in northern Thailand.

Just another workplace scene, except the women are all sex workers who meet their clients at Can Do Bar, which they own as a collective, benefitting from health insurance, fixed hours and time off - which are typically denied to sex workers.

The bar was set up in 2006 by Empower Foundation, a non-profit founded in Bangkok’s Patpong red-light district for sex workers who are still stigmatized despite widespread tolerance of Thailand’s thriving sex industry.

Thousands of Thai and migrant sex workers have learned from Empower to negotiate with bar and massage parlor owners for better conditions, and to lobby the government to decriminalize their work to improve their incomes, safety and wellbeing.

“People say we should stop doing what we do, and sew or bake cookies instead - but why are only those jobs considered appropriate?” said Mai Chanta, a 30-something native of Chiang Mai, who has been a sex worker for about eight years.

“This is what we choose to do, and we feel a sense of pride and satisfaction that we are just like other workers,” said Mai, dressed in a calf-length skirt and a t-shirt that reads “United Sex Workers Nations”.

Millions of women across the world choose sex work to make an income. Yet only a few countries - including Australia, New Zealand, Germany, the Netherlands, Senegal and Peru - recognize it as legal, leaving prostitutes elsewhere vulnerable to abuse.

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No sewing please, we're Sex Workers: Thai prostitution battle stigma by Rina Chandran

May 15th, 2019


ALLURE: Introducing Ferly, a Tech Startup Creating a Sex-Positive Space for Women

Even if you're aware of your sexual desires, becoming confident with your kinks and needs can take work. As many of us were raised with sexual shame or stigma, even if we logically know that our wants are normal, getting to a place where we freely share our desires with our partner(s) can take time and effort. You may use a meditation app; now there's a mindfulness app specifically created to embrace your sexuality.

Ferly is a sex-positive app that aims to create a digital space for female-identifying folks to get in touch with their sexuality and what pleasure means to them. "We describe Ferly as your audio guide to mindful sex," co-founder and CEO Billie Quinlan tells Allure. "Ferly is a space for womxn to bring awareness into their sexuality so they can explore their beliefs, unpack narratives, and discover pleasure in new and exciting ways. It's a shame-free, accessible and fun way for womxn to invest in their sexual well-being."

Ferly is not a dating app, but rather a resource of podcast episodes on the science of sex, guided meditations, and body-mapping, and sensual stories created by London-based Billie Quinlan and Anna Hushlak. The app is available starting in June of 2019 on iOS, with Android to follow, and costs £10 per month or £60 a year, or roughly $12 USD per month or $78 a year.

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Introducing Ferly, a Tech startup creating a sex-positive space for woman by Sophie Saint Thomas

May 14th, 2019


ADVOCATE: Special's Ryan O'Connell Wants to 'Show the Humanity in Sex Work'

With Special, the Netflix show he created and stars in, Ryan O'Connell has redefined how gay sex is portrayed on TV. Sex is "awkward, funny, humiliating, affirming, all within the span of, like, five minutes," he says. O'Connell set out to depict onscreen sex in an authentic way, something rarely shown with LGBTQ people, and that includes having his character lose his virginity to a sex worker.

Like O'Connell, the character he's based on is gay and has cerebral palsy. To show a character with a disability who has a sex life adds to the groundbreaking nature of the show and it puts the onscreen character in a group with very few others.

On this week's episode of LGBTQ&AO'Connell discusses creating Special, why we shouldn't be afraid to talk about sex work, and the queer community's "garden variety self-loathing."

Jeffrey Masters: After your car crash, you didn't correct anyone who assumed you had a limp because of the crash and not your cerebral palsy. Why was that easier for people to accept and relate to?
Ryan O'Connell: There's a lot of ignorance around what cerebral palsy is, and honestly, it's not entirely their fault because, truly, cerebral palsy looks different on everybody.

Whenever I had to explain to someone that I had cerebral palsy, it always was met with confusion and I hated it. So then, with an accident, you're just like, "Oh, I got hit by a car." And people are like, "Oh my God, that's so sad. It could have happened to me."

And I think that just made me feel like much, much more digestible to everyone else.

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Special's Ryan O'Connell wants to 'Show the humanity in Sex Work' by Jeffery Masters

May 14th, 2019


TITS AND SASS: Review of BONDiNG

“It’s your life story!” a friend texted me on April 24th along with a screenshot of Netflix’s new show Bonding. It was one of five or six texts I received that day from friends and clients making sure I’d heard about this new program that follows a dominatrix/grad student in and out of the dungeon. As a dominatrix/grad student myself, friends were sure I’d be interested in the show. I’d already heard about it on social media, where opinions were pretty starkly divided between sex workers and non-sex workers. I wasn’t exactly interested in this show so much as I was morbidly curious, because I could tell from these reviews and from the show’s own promos that Bonding was not made for someone like me.

Hell, Bonding isn’t really even about someone like me; it’s really about the dominatrix’s best friend, Pete (Brendan Scannell). An audience surrogate, Pete starts the series as a vanilla naïf knocking on a dungeon door, summoned there to be Mistress May (aka Tiff)’s (Zoe Levin) bodyguard, or, as I shrieked while watching the promo, “a FUCKING body guard!” No domme I know can afford to pay twenty percent (later in the series, forty percent) of her income to a bodyguard, as Mistress May inexplicably decides to do. We don’t really need to, either; we often work in incall spaces with receptionists and other dommes. But a story about two women sex workers working together for safety wouldn’t allow us an audience surrogate, and if there’s one thing a non-sex working show runner like Bonding’s Rightor Doyle wouldn’t abide, it would be throwing the audience in head-first into a world populated mostly by sex workers.

At least, Pete (aka Master Carter) doesn’t start out the series as a sex worker. As it progresses, however, Mistress May coerces him into doing the work. As former pro-domme Gwyn Easterbrook-Smith writes at The Spinoff, “[Mistress May] treats [Master Carter] like a prop, and manipulates his financial need in a way that is deeply uncomfortable to watch.” Forcing Pete to play the role of Master Carter also makes no practical sense: who are all these straight male clients who want a male dom in on their sessions? The series is littered with this kind of nonsense logic, from May taking a golden shower session in a carpeted room to May claiming to be “full service” after clarifying she doesn’t have sex with clients to May showing up to work wearing a submissive’s collar. There was clearly no sex worker consultant or even a BDSM consultant on set; the actual bondage in Bonding is so bad that it’s laughable. And as dominatrix Mistress Blunt notes in her review for Vice “a nuanced understanding of power dynamics, consent and negotiation are utterly missing.” But as I said, this show clearly wasn’t made for someone like me. The target audience presumably doesn’t even notice that May’s corset is ten sizes too big.

Are such inaccuracies really such a big deal in fiction, though? Does it matter if the friend who thought my life story was on Netflix now assumes my life involves a buff house slave who pays me money to serve me coffee in the morning? When that slave also stalks Mistress May onto a vanilla date, yes, it does. Bonding isn’t just a throw-away comedy; it also attempts to depict violence against sex workers, and when it expends such little energy affording us the basic respect of an accurate depiction, the violent scenes just feel like an affront.

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Review of BONDiNG by Emily Dall'Ora Warfield

May 13th, 2019


ALLURE: A Guide to Pegging Your Partner With a Strap On

Can pegging make your partner a better lover? Some people, including experts in the sex and relationships field, certainly think so.

"When I have sex with cisgender men, the ones who receive anal penetration are much better lovers than those who haven’t," says kink-friendly sex therapist Liz Powell. Well, if that's not enough motivation to explore this misunderstood and even controversial activity, I don't know what is.

Of course, the decision to try pegging with a strap on is completely up to the individuals involved, and many folks are wonderful sexual partners regardless of whether they're interested in this form of sexual exploration. But what is pegging, why is it so hot for some of us, and what supplies and knowledge are needed to try it safely? Allure spoke with Powell and a professional dominatrix to learn all you need to know.

First of all, what is pegging?

Traditionally, pegging refers to a cisgender, heterosexual male receiving anal penetration from his cishet female partner with a strap-on dildo — and, actually, it's a word surrounded by a bit of controversy.

 

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A Guide to Pegging Your Partner With a Strap On by Sophie St. Thomas

May 8, 2019


THE ROOT: Sex Workers in New York Want the Cops to Stop Preying on Them; Proposed Legislation Could Make That a Reality

ALBANY, N.Y.—TS Candii stepped outside of her apartment complex in the Bronx last summer and was immediately stopped by an officer from the NYPD. First, he accused her of being a sex worker, a profession she has participated in, but not on that day, Barbii told The Root. Then he asked her to become a confidential informant, to rat out drug dealers in the neighborhood, offering her $1,500 to agree. She didn’t. And that’s when the situation escalated.

Candii understood well what was happening. She had been stopped by New York City police at least twice before that day for “being a black trans woman,” she said

Feeling as though she had no choice and worried for her safety, she complied, and the officer let her go.

“Every time I’m walking outside, I feel like I’m profiled for prostitution because I am a transgender woman,” Candii said inside of a McDonald’s inside of the state capitol in Albany, N.Y., on Tuesday morning. “I honestly feel like I’m a criminal. I feel like my existence is illegal in the state of New York.”

Candii’s story is similar to those of the more than 100 current and former sex workers from New York City who went to Albany to advocate for two pieces of legislation they say would protect them from abusive policing. Currently, a 1976 New York state law allows police officers to arrest people for loitering for the purpose of prostitution, even though “purpose” is not clearly defined. Several assembly members and senators wrote a letter to the NYPD inspector general last month questioning the wisdom of policing sex trafficking alongside sex work between consenting adults. As of now, sex work is illegal in New York state and virtually everywhere else in the union.

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Sex Workers in New York want the cops to stop preying on them by Terrell Jermaine Starr

May 8th, 2019


VICE: A Sex Workers Union Is Organizing Against Instagram Discrimination

A group of sex workers is starting to organize against Facebook and Instagram for removing their accounts without explanation. Around 200 performers and models have included their usernames in a letter to Facebook asking the network to address this issue.

“There are performers who are being deleted, because they put up a picture of their freshly painted toenails,” Alana Evans, president of the Adult Performers Actors Guild (APAG), a union that advocates for adult industry professionals’ rights, told me in a phone call. “It became really obvious that either people were being unnecessarily reported and removed without Instagram caring or Instagram just outright not replying at all, and locking them out.”

In an April 22 letter to Facebook, the Adult Performers Actors Guild’s legal counsel James Felton wrote:

“Over the course of the last several months, almost 200 adult performers have had their Instagrams accounts terminated without explanation. In fact, every day, additional performers reach out to us with their termination stories. In the large majority of instances, her was no nudity shown in the pictures. However, it appears that the accounts were terminated merely because of their status as an adult performer.

Effort to learn the reasons behind the termination have been futile. Performers are asked to send pictures of their names to try to verify that the accounts are actually theirs and not put up by frauds. Emails are sent and there is no reply.”

The letter goes on to note that celebrities like Kim Kardashian violate Instagram's community guidelines by posting pictures of themselves in "varying states of dress" without repercussions. The letter specifically mention posts by Kourtney Kardashian, where the celebrity is photographed mostly nude, but carefully positioned to cover her breasts. Instagram's community guidelines forbid nudity, including “sexual intercourse, genitals, and close-ups of fully-nude buttocks” and female nipples.

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A Sex Workers Union is organizing against Instagrams Discrimination by Samantha Cole

May 6th, 2019


TRUTH OUT: Anything Other Than Decriminalization Leaves Sex Workers Behind

Revolting Prostitutes: The Fight for Sex Workers’ Rights takes a global view of commercial sex and the legal regimes that govern it. Authors Juno Mac and Molly Smith bring the reader through Britain’s messy Victorian prostitution laws, the U.S. prison-industrial complex, the false promise of “utopian” Scandinavia, and finally conclude with a critical look at decriminalized New Zealand. In this interview, they discuss policing, borders and work as they relate to sex work.

Samantha Borek: An entire chapter of Revolting Prostitutes: The Fight for Sex Workers’ Rights is dedicated to the “Nordic model,” and how Scandinavia is held up by many liberals and feminists as being a beacon of socialist values. In reality, this “utopia” is borne of a lot of puritanical, racist values. How can such a “socialist” region lack the resources to address sex workers in a meaningful way?

Juno Mac and Molly Smith: The answer is sort of in the question – it’s not about lack of resources, it’s about the desire to punish certain groups of people. The Nordic countries have the resources to help sex workers if they wanted to do so; the problem is that they don’t want to help people who sell sex. In the book, we quote a policy maker in Sweden agreeing that, “of course the law has negative consequences for women in prostitution but that’s also some of the effect that we want to achieve with the law.” The Norwegian government sent a fact-finding mission to Sweden in 2004, which resulted in a report into the effects of the Swedish approach to prostitution. The report that found “the law on the Purchase of Sex has made working as a prostitute harder and more dangerous” – but a few years after that report, Norway implemented the Swedish model anyway. So, it’s not a mistake or a lack of resources that the law produces these harms for people who sell sex – policy makers know about the harms of the law going in. The harms are, at the very least, part of the point.

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Anything other than decriminalization leaves Sex Workers behind by Samantha Borek

May 5th, 2019


ATLAS OBSCURA: How Lesbian Potlucks Nourished the LGBTQ Movement

JEN MARTIN AND LIZ ALPERN lived in “that house.” Many queer friend groups have one. It’s the kind of place where a pot of soup is always boiling, where bread is always in the oven, where someone is always willing to read your tarot cards. Friends stopped to visit the Brooklyn apartment on weeknights. It was a space to cook and eat, to work and relax.

For years, Alpern, a chef, had contemplated expanding her house’s welcoming vibe into a formal event, a soup night that would promote queer chefs. After the 2016 presidential election, as Alpern wondered how to support swelling social justice movements, she thought: Why not turn her soup idea into a fundraiser? The first event—a donate-what-you-can dinner—happened the night after the 2017 Women’s March. Protestors returned to New York from D.C. with sore feet and crumpled banners. Exhausted but still revved up, they piled into a local cafe for soup and community. The love, says Kathleen Cunningham, a Queer Soup Night organizer along with Martin and Alpern, was palpable. Yet friends kept asking: What kind of soup could they bring to the potluck?

“We have this joke in Queer Soup Night land: that we’re not a potluck,” Alpern says. But it’s no wonder the trios’ friends were expecting collective cooking. Potlucks have been a hallmark of queer women’s spaces since the 1950s, when the Daughters of Bilitis, the U.S.’s first modern lesbian organization, began meeting in secret over coffee in San Francisco. Nowadays, the potluck is synonymous with lesbian tradition—so ubiquitous that lesbians have been known to potluck everything from protests to sex parties.

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How Lesbian potlucks nourished the LGBTQ Movement by Reina Gattuso

May 2nd, 2019