Oh, LOL. Sike. Before I go, I present the conclusion of my email interview with the one and only Ms. Caty Simon. Part one is here.
Why do you think people on all sides of the issues involved have such strong feelings about Natalie Dyan and the choices she makes/made about how to make money and what to do with her own body? I’ve heard people argue that her exploitation of the patriarchal concept of virginity serves to increase/strengthen virginity’s cultural currency rather than undermine it and thus is problematic from a feminist standpoint (shockingly, this is not my take on it.) Thoughts?
Do you think you could just post a link to my N Dylan piece? I feel like I’ve said all I have to say about that. [Yes, you can read said piece here]
As you know, I’m in favor of decriminalizing prostitution and all drugs. Some people in the sex workers rights/decrim movement seem to distance themselves from drugs–which is understandable given the stereotype of sex workers as drug addicts, but also problematic as plenty of sex workers (like plenty of the population in general) do use illegal drugs. I noticed some local NYC harm reduction trainings recently by sex workers orgs. Do you think there’s a shift happening, that sex workers rights organizers are moving towards addressing drug use (in a non-paternalistic way) rather than trying to run from it? How do you see criminalized sex work and criminalized drug use as being intertwined? Do they intersect strategically?
Short answer: I do see a shift happening, but not nearly enough of one and not soon enough.
I do understand the political distancing, because we did want to get away from the agency-less TV movie image of the low income (when most of us are actually middle class ), exploited & abused (when most of us are independent workers & thus have no one to exploit or abuse us, or work with people we trust), STI infected (when most of us have safer sex than the general population), and horrendously, obsessively drug addicted (when–although there’s no real statistical evidence, because all of the evidence we have comes from abolitionists with an agenda that study the most downtrodden in jail, not a representative population, and most of those of us caught in that position tell researchers what they want to hear in order to cope and survive–it seems, like we are not more likely to use drugs than the general population, only excepting the two facts that many young, middle class or affluent people use drugs of some kind–in fact, this population uses the most drugs in this country, contrary to popular belief; and the fact that black markets often intersect.) The crack ho walking around with sores and track marks and disease is unfortunately still the image that comes to mind when many mainstream people think of the word “prostitute”. So I do understand the initial tactic of distancing–what I don’t understand is the contempt. I remember excitedly receiving every issue of $pread I ever got, only to see sex workers who were interviewed say dismissive awful things about girls working to support habits and self-righteously differentiating themselves from them. I remember reading a blog by a prominent sex worker’s rights activist which haughtily stated that there was obviously a difference between decriminalization of drugs and decriminalization of sex work, without even deigning to mention what that difference was . Callgirl, by Jeanette Angell, a woman I very much admire and a text I think is incisive and sophisticated, just fell back on the disease model of addiction to understand her friend’s problems with crack, without using any of the anthropological insight and nuance that shone throughout the rest of the book on that topic.
Even now it feels like the attention being paid to drug using sex workers is an us vs. them thing–the poor ignorant them who don’t know any better, a sort of noblesse oblige. The white, middle class, educated sex workers that, let’s face it, dominate the movement, believe that the harm reduction services they offer at places like St James’ infirmary are for powerless street workers, not for their own drug use.
It’s a shame because I do believe these two issues are intrinsically connected. It’s all about Puritanical criminalization of the ownership of one’s body ( a major tenant of feminism and the reproductive rights movement) and the right to take risks with it–sex workers take on the risk of stigma, STIs, and most of all, meeting strange men in a male-dominated society in which sex and violence are constantly intertwined and confused. Yet, they make our jobs more dangerous by criminalizing us instead of allowing us to go to the police for our safety.
Drug users take risks with their bodies as well–but most of these risks are either magnified and turned into bogeymen by the media and drug enforcement or exacerbated by criminalization. People die of cigarette habits eventually from lung cancer, but although the physiological addiction is as strong as that of heroin or tranquilizers, nobody ever has their basic day to day life patterns disrupted because of nicotine addiction, b/c cigarettes aren’t subject to ridiculously inflated black market prices so that one has to spend an inordinate amount of time earning money for them. Heroin and opiates, my drug of choice, are seen as the most deadly, pernicious drugs–yet they really have no long term health risks involved with them besides addiction and overdose that aren’t caused directly by criminalization, inflated black market prices and the poverty they bring about, and lack of clean needles and harm reduction education. Even addiction and overdose could be risks that were minimized in a decriminalized environment—a pure supply would ensure the easy calculation of one’s tolerance and dose, preventing overdose, and widespread harm reduction education would allow people to understand the timing of doses necessary, to prevent physiological addiction.
This culture is in fact truly absurd in its mores around mind altering substances. The pharmacopoeia that we know of as illicit drugs has been with mankind for thousands of years, and, for example, before the Harrison Narcotics Act in 1914, cocaine and heroin were available over the counter and did not cause any major social upheaval. In fact, most users of opiates were middle class women and doctors, and many among those two groups distinguished themselves while having active habits . In contrast, the pharmacopoeia that Big Pharma shills us to cure the every new ill of our psyches they invent by the year is not truly tested, since, as congressional committees are finding out around now, most of the research trials and the journal articles written about them are directly financially linked to the companies which sell them. Lately, interoffice documents have been discovered by mad movement groups that prove without doubt that the makers of drugs like Zyprexa and Prozac knew about serious side effects of their products such as adult onset diabetes and common suicidality and even homocidality among children and teens that took their products, but hid them from the general public. Class action suits are now in progress. Sometimes, this strange ambivalent attitude about mind altering drugs reaches ridiculous heights when drugs that are scheduled and criminalized without prescription are legitimized and prescribed at high doses under the auspices of psychiatrists—the fact that we demonize speed users and yet prescribe children with amphetamines (without even giving them a choice, in their status as minors) is frankly crazy, especially in light of recent finding that such “treatment” stunts their growth and makes them extremely emotionally volatile.
As for the argument that drug users hurt others because of drug related crime, the only drug with a statistically significant correlation to violence is alcohol, and the vast majority of other drug related crime is based around black market turf wars in a market that has no other way to mediate itself but violence, a market that the prohibitionists themselves have made lucrative enough to kill for by making it illegal and therefore highly profitable because of monetary compensation for the risk. Decriminalize, and just like the gangland violence around liquor disappeared when the Prohibition of the 1920’s ended, so would this violence. As for the small proportion of violence that remains that is caused by altering one’s mind with these substances, the crime should be in the act itself, not in the ingestion of the drug. We teach people to drink responsibly even though alcohol is the most volatile, physiologically addicting and damaging drug there is. There are certainly ways to use other drugs responsibly, as the fact that statistically it seems that most users of addictive drugs are not, in fact, addicts, attests.
Just like sex workers, drug users are criminalized for a non violent act that truly only has to do with themselves and their bodies–except that drug users are punished much more harshly, serving sentences that can be much longer than those of murderers and rapists under mandatory minimum sentencing drug laws. In fact, our drug laws are one of THE major reasons that our prison industrial complex is the most highly populated in the world. And just like sex workers, drug users are seen as agency-less, except that, instead of being exploited women or loose nymphomaniacal tramps, they are seen as the helpless against evil compulsions–physiological addiction is seen as the demon possession of our age, as if drug users were incapable of making moral decisions or any decisions that valued anything else above their drug of choice. And finally, just like sex workers, there are those who feel they are being liberal and benign towards us by advocating programs that force us to transition away from our current lifestyle–to medicalize rather than criminalize the problem, force us into treatment, the way sex workers in newly Communist China were forced to learn factory skills. These factions may be more well meaning than those that favor criminalization, but again, they’re about denying us our own ability to choose.
Both sex workers and drug users are subject to the policing of their own bodies, coercion, and criminalization. Perhaps in the short term sex workers might be wary of taking on the other group’s stigma, but in the long run, we’ll be stronger in political unity–strength in numbers seems like obvious political strategy to me. I’d like to see sex worker’s movements, as the more established groups, stop making derogatory references to drug users, run informative stories about drug decrim in their publications, fight ALL the injustices of the prison industrial complex and not just stick with their single issue, and acknowledge the fact that drug use is classless.
Finally, like all of mainstream America, we need to stop seeing drug use as always destructive. It’s all about set, setting, and situation, not the drugs themselves–context. Almost any drug, used in a particular way in a particular circumstance, can be a spiritual journey, can be therapeutic, can even be a healthy way to cope in the short term, can be good clean fun–cleaner than alcohol or cigarettes and even coffee, for the most part. No drug should be “angelicized” or demonized totally–they’re just inert substances, it’s our relationship to them that matters. Richard De Grandpre writes a brilliant and readable thesis about this topic in his book The Cult of Pharmacology, which I urge you all to read.
Taking these issues to a global level–do you see the drug war as intersecting with the war on The Sex Trade and/or “trafficking”? How does the criminalizing of drug use and prostitution in/by the US negatively effect the global “victims” of both trades?Taking these issues to a global level–do you see the drug war as intersecting with the war on The Sex Trade and/or “trafficking”? How does the criminalizing of drug use and prostitution in/by the US negatively effect the global “victims” of both trades?
Globally, I see the same outlook towards Third World people making their way in both black markets—they need to be shown the errors of their ways and rescued by the First World, as if they were childlike and could not take responsibility for the considered choices they make. Thailand’s EMPOWER sex worker’s rights organization recently issued a demand from Cambodian migrant sex workers—STOP RESCUING US! The raids in which they are “rescued” and deported back to Cambodia (much like many similar raids throughout the world), are violent, abusive and economically crippling. The workers must then spend money and time to find their way across the border again. Similarly, when the crops of coca or poppy farmers are sprayed from the air by the US with substances that poison their soil and then condescendingly told to a grow a food crop they won’t even break even on, the same sort of violence to their livelihood is done. These people are making rational economic choices in the context of their environments, and yet, they’re treated like misbehaving and/or lost children.
Similar Posts (automatically generated):
- Caty Simon and The Virtues of Vice (Part One) by Constintina September 3, 2009
- International Sex Workers Rights Day by Cara March 3, 2009
- “Balka: Women, HIV, and Drug Use in Ukraine” short harm reduction documentary by Clarisse Thorn October 20, 2011
- International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers by Cara December 18, 2009
- Die-In tonight; Tomorrow is International Day To End Violence Against Sex Workers by Clarisse Thorn December 16, 2011