March 28, 2011

Forging on Into My Internet Future

I’ve been blogging here at Waking Vixen (Blogger, then MovableType, then WordPress) since July 2004. As you’ve surely noticed, I don’t blog as much or the way I used to. I used to write daily: long personal stories, cultural analysis, pictures, TMI— but I don’t anymore. Waking Vixen was once my entire online home, a sex media production company, the center of my internet universe. But I have changed, and so has the internet.

Waking Vixen has been sitting quiet and unposted-on a lot in the past few years. That’s a shame, but I haven’t been exactly silent. I have been super active in other places online. Blogwise, I spent 8 months running Naked City for the Village Voice in 2008, and for the past two years I’ve been editing and writing for Akimbo, the blog I launched at my job at the International Women’s Health Coalition. I’ve also been especially verbose on Twitter, hang out a bit on Facebook, and document my reading habits on Goodreads.

And during these years, Waking Vixen has been languishing. I occasionally drop in to make an announcement or write some commentary. But the truth is, no matter how many times I vow to myself that I’m going to blog here more, I don’t. It’s taken me a while to even think about letting go, but its time. I keep resisting the urge to write “Waking Vixen, RIP” – because that is and is not what’s happening here. Waking Vixen and the silo’d solo blog doesn’t feel organic to me in the way it once did, and the way other platforms do now.

So, this is my last post here on Waking Vixen. The entirety of the blog will be archived at – I will not be pulling it offline. I also will not be shutting up. For the past few weeks, I have been rediscovery blogging and figuring out how to make it fun again. I’m thriving on a different platform – Tumblr. If you read Waking Vixen by RSS you’ve already noticed that there are a ton of posts – they’re all coming from Tumblr. If you use Tumblr, we can hang out there. If not, all the posts will be published at There’s a lot of stuff I’m still tinkering with and deciding on, but I’m not doing any kind of super-coordinated relaunch because that’s not how I work, and the internet is always a work in progress anyway.

There’s a part of me that feels sad about saying goodbye to this domain, to this part of my internet identity. Waking Vixen has played an enormous role in my life over the past seven years, in good and bad ways. But hanging onto it has become an act of nostalgia, not a reflection of how I’m actually using the internet. So: a big cheers and a fond farewell to what this space has been. I’ll be seeing you around the internet.

January 31, 2011

Support Speak Up! and (Safer) Sex Worker Visibility

If you’ve read Waking Vixen or interacted with my other work for any amount of time, you know that I focus a lot of my energies on creating space for sex workers to use their voices, and trying to support sex workers to do this in a way that best suits their circumstances and goals, while hopefully also destigmatizing the lives of people in the sex trade.

For me, this work started to take shape at $pread magazine when I first started showing up to meetings in the fall of 2004, and then became an editor in 2005 after the release of the first issue of the magazine. $pread rapidly became – or really, always was – bigger than the 80 or so pages between each issue’s covers. It was a community-building project. It was a storytelling project. It was an exercise in learning how to interact with mainstream media and the world as a sex worker with opinions. At the first Desiree Alliance conference in 2006 Eliyanna Kaiser, with whom I shared the title of executive editor at $pread, and I taught a “Journalism for Sex Workers” session – and it was something of a lightbulb moment. We began to understand that making a magazine and teaching media and advocacy skills were different pieces of a similar project. When I and several other $pread staffers left the magazine in 2008, Sex Work Awareness and what is now our Speak Up! media training began to take shape.

We are now entering our third year of offering the Speak Up! training for sex workers who want to engage with the media on April 8-10 (link goes to full info and the application – deadline is February 17). These trainings are possible financially because of the fundraising efforts of Tess Danesi and Dee Dennis (Debauched Domestic Diva) and their Tied Up Events. Without them, we couldn’t offer a free training, food, and stipends for the ten current and former sex workers who come to New York to learn. This Friday, February 4 they are throwing a fundraising party for Speak Up! at Madame X in NYC. Tickets are $15, and if you’re not able to join us in New York, you should consider buying a ticket anyway, since the funds will make the training program possible this year. We are also lucky to have a donor who will match funds up to $1500.

This week is also a Red Umbrella Diaries week: Thursday, February 3rd is our Price of Love event, featuring the Screw Smart team (Rebecca Alvarez, Kira Manser, and J.D. Ackerman), Aimee Herman, Matthew Lawrence, and Billy Pelt. Though Red Umbrella Diaries is free to get into, I do get 15% of the bar tab, plus pass a boot – and this will help make Speak Up! possible, too.

These projects are growing, and its pretty exciting to see that happening – or rather, to have it sneak up on me a bit so that I realize I need to figure out how to make things better and grow in a logical way. The big thing that will be happening this year is that a decision has been reached to merge Sex Work Awareness (SWA) with the Red Umbrella Project. The Red Umbrella Project is currently taking steps to becoming a nonprofit, and I am excited about the process of enmeshing all my program ideas (there are so many! all the time!) within an organizational structure. After a few years of working with SWA and entering the nonprofit world via the International Women’s Health Coalition, I’ve begun to understand the value of being strategic and having boundaries that give a shape to projects. This is the year that I really make that happen, and give that professional polish to the work I’m obsessed with. All that work will also benefit the community more broadly, as I figure out how to offer better programming and support for people in the sex industry who want to tell their stories to each other, to live audiences, in the media, and in public forums.

But in the short term: check out the info about Speak Up! and encourage sex workers who want to engage with media to apply, and if you want to support this effort, check out Tied Up Events plan for Friday night.

January 19, 2011

Looking Back / Looking Forward

I know I’m not at the outer limits of the acceptable time frame for 2010 wrap-ups, but what can I say? I’ve been busy. I’m not going to belabor the point. Here’s a look at my last year.

I spent my last week of 2010 quietly in Brooklyn, planning and thinking about what I want to get done and make happen in 2011. Last year was good to me. I worked hard, traveled a lot (some of it even for fun!), and improved the quality of my life with stuff like starting to cohabitate with my boyfriend, the aforementioned travel for fun, plus getting in on Kensington/Windsor Terrace community supported agriculture, cooking a lot more, and spending more quality time wandering Brooklyn. I celebrated 11 years in New York and 6 years of writing this blog. My work here on Waking Vixen was rewarded with the Best Sex Blogger award from the Village Voice, which was racked up beside another Best of 2010 Award for my storytelling series the Red Umbrella Diaries.

Workwise, I completed my second year of full time employment at the International Women’s Health Coalition as Program Officer for Online Communications and Campaigns, plus I consulted on communications for the Global Network of Sex Work Projects (culminating in the launch of a gorgeous new website), and I reconceptualized the monthly sex worker storytelling event I’d been collaborating on since August 2009 and turned it into the Red Umbrella Diaries.

In my world of media producing, I did a lot but also got a lot more strategic about how I do my projects. At IWHC, I led the redevelopment of the Young Visionaries program, a contest which drew 71 applicants from 27 countries; I oversaw the grant for the winner, Sunita Basnet of Nepal. I also produced some videos in collaboration with other media makers. The Dutch magazine LOVER held an event in Utrecht that served as a discussion forum on prostitution law in the Netherlands. I was asked to create a keynote framing things with the international rights-based perspective. The result is this video, my most-viewed video of 2010. At IWHC, the video I’m most pleased with is Abortion in India: Legal But Not Always Safe. And for the second year in a row, I collaborated with the Speak Up! media training class to produce a public service announcement. In 2010 we went for a much more narrow audience, harm reduction organizations. Nothing About Us Without Us: The Shared Goals of the Harm Reduction and Sex Worker Rights Movements is not just a video, but also a packet of materials that can help facilitate conversations between sex worker organizers and harm reduction groups.

In 2010 I also branched out from blogging and video and started producing a weekly audio podcast: the Red Umbrella Diaries. The show is a way to document the stories told at the Red Umbrella Diaries monthly live events, and there’s a new episode every Sunday. During 2010, with the help of my editor David Beasley, there were 26 episodes of the show, and we’ve now reached almost 10,000 listens, a big growth in just the last few weeks. I was really excited to hit 5000 listens with our twentieth episode, but now that’s doubled over the course of the last eight episodes.

While a lot of my projects grew and evolved during the year, $pread magazine evolved in a sad way: in August, a group of past and present $preadsters came to my apartment for brunch, and we decided that it is time to end the magazine’s run. Five years is a pretty awesome run for a quarterly, independent magazine run entirely by volunteers – but it’s still sad to see it go. The final issue (perhaps two of them) is in production right now. Here’s a post I wrote about the decision to shut down the magazine.

Though this was a pretty slow year for blogging here on Waking Vixen (as admittedly, most of my years have been since going pro as a blogger), I did write a few pieces that I’m really proud of, both here on the site and elsewhere in the world. Here on Waking Vixen, I wrote about the ways in which sex worker activism is broken, an analysis of the news coverage of the Melissa Petro scandal – she was removed from her teaching job after her online writing about sex work was discovered, and dominant narratives in sex worker storytelling. Elsewhere online, I wrote a piece for the Guardian about institutional violence against sex workers in Uganda, an advice piece for Scarleteen about sexual pleasure after genital cutting, and a feature for RH Reality Check about sex worker rights struggles in India. I also had one piece of writing appear in a bound book – a personal essay, “The Johns,” in Melissa Gira Grant and Megan O’Connell’s anthology Coming & Crying.

I consented to more major network television appearances than ever before, with a very shouty appearance on Fox News and two appearances on NBC. All were really intense in their own ways, but I enjoyed them and felt like I brought something useful to the conversations. Hopefully in 2011 I’ll do some more of that, plus bring some other sex workers into the fold and get them to do more media.

Speaking of which… in 2010 I produced some trainings I’m pretty proud of. In April, I did the second annual Speak Up media training for sex workers with Sex Work Awareness, and this time around it was a full weekend, with participants from seven cities. SWA also did a training on Sex Work Issues and the New York State Legislative Process. I also created a Personal Storytelling for Social Change training, which I taught for the first time at HIPS in DC in early December. I also attended a training run by the OpEd Project and joined the PROS Committee on Community Education.

Running a monthly storytelling series meant that I had plenty of events in 2010. From January through June, I collaborated with David Henry Sterry on Sex Worker Literati, but then we decided to go our separate ways. He moved SWL to the Bower Poetry Club and brought Zoe Hansen on board as a co-host, while I stayed at Happy Ending and began solo hosting the Red Umbrella Diaries. I participated in a few panels and discussions over the course of the year as well: a Feminism and Sex Work panel hosted by Paradigm Shift in March, a Sex Work and Feminism Dialogue with the Sex Workers Project in May, an event on Art, Sex, and Difficult subjects with Laurenn McCubbinn in San Francisco in July, a symposium on Projects for a Revolution in New York at the New Museum in July, and in a panel on Talking About the Taboo at the Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health in Rhode Island, plus the huge International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers event at the Metropolitan Community Church on December 17. I stuck to my resolution of not attending any conferences, which I think improved the quality of my life a bit. As an introvert, conferences are tough for me, plus I end up interacting with the same folks at every event. In 2010 I pushed myself to really listen to different people’s perspectives. Stepping away from the conferences I usually present at gave me the opportunity to listen more deeply instead of just keep talking.

I did a fair amount of travel throughout the year, and a surprising number of the trips were for “vacation” (which is pretty fun, actually) instead of work. For fun, I went to Niagara Falls, Toronto, Minneapolis (twice), San Francisco, Amsterdam (twice, though one was for work), Berlin, and Richmond. For work I ventured up and down the eastern seaboard to Rhode Island, Maryland, and Washington, DC.

I’ve got (as always) big plans for the next year, many of which involve getting my projects more solidified, more strategic, and just more awesome. I’ll be producing the Speak Up! media training again the weekend of April 9-10, expanding the Red Umbrella Project, and planning to write more. I’m also trying to get better about evaluating projects and saying no when I should – which is hard, because there is just so much stuff that needs to be done in the world.

January 16, 2011

Red Umbrella Diaries: The Price of Love – February 3

Hosted by Audacia Ray
Happy Ending, 302 Broome Street between Forsyth and Eldridge, in New York City
Doors at 7 pm, reading from 8-10
21 and up – FREE

15% of the bar tab supports Speak Up! Media Training for Sex Workers

Starring The Screw Smart team (Rebecca Alvarez, Kira Manser, and J.D. Ackerman), Aimee Herman, and Billy Pelt:

Billy Pelt is the lead singer of Billy Pelt and The Plaid Panthers, a cuntry and cabaret band based in the East Village and is the founder of the Grendel Socialist Music Theatre. He’s 5’10”, 160, 6.5c, versatile, bisexual and great in groups. He can be found on #220965.

Aimee Herman, a performance poet, has been featured on radio, at various poetry festivals, and erotic salons. She currently works as sections editor of erotica for Oysters & Chocolate. Aimee has facilitated numerous erotica writing classes and writing workshops that reconfigure the language of the body. She has been published by Cliterature Journal, InStereo Press, and can also be read in the anthologies, Oysters & Chocolate Erotic Stories of Every Flavor (NAL), Best Lesbian Love Stories (Alyson Books), and Best Women’s Erotica 2010 (Cleis Press). She is turned on by Canadians, women with curly hair, and peanut butter.

Rebecca Alvarez is a Brooklyn-to-Philadelphia transplant who totes around a panache for BDSM, a devotion to kindness, and a seat at her table for all sweaty freaks. She emerged as a fledgling sex educator in 2004 with the women owned-and-run sex shop Babeland in New York City. She went on to write a sex column for the Indypendent newspaper and the Sex Herald. Her love/disdain for the written word was tested during her tenure as a bookmaker/letterpresser with Booklyn and as the host of the NYC-based small-press reading series Cup and Pen. Currently, she works as one-third of the pleasure-based sex education collaborative ScrewSmart and a gynecological teaching associate while earning her dual masters degree in Social Work and Education in Human Sexuality at Widener University.

Kira Manser traces her sex education roots from Miko, a feminist run sex shop in Providence, to her current position as an educator at The Velvet Lily, a sex-positive shop in Philly. Besides being a retail goddess, she’s worked as a high school peer sex educator and in legal sex-work. Currently, she can be found working on a dual masters program in social work and education in human sexuality at Widener University. She brings home the bacon working as a Gynecological Teaching Associate (GTA) and is always excited to chat about her current labor of love, the sex education collaborative ScrewSmart.

J.D. Ackerman J.D. is a new media sex educator and sexuality writer with a Masters of Education in Human Sexuality. Not only is she a co-creator of ScrewSmart, Philly’s own pleasure-based sex education collective, she works online, creating a sex-positive community with, a video-on-demand adult movie site specifically for women. With a focus on pleasure education and queer sexuality, J.D. spends her days making sure that every person is experiencing the most pleasure they can, as well as baking, sewing, crafting and pretty much doing anything else that involves her hands.

December 17, 2010

International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers 2010: NBC Coverage and My Speech

Below is my speech for the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers event in New York.

The night had an amazing turn out, site and NBC followed up on a story they did on Thursday (which features me as a former prostitute talking about violence) about the discovery of bodies in Long Island and a potential serial killer. Video clip below of probably the best television coverage our community has gotten.

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View more news videos at:

Thank you for joining us. I’m Audacia Ray, and as a former sex worker who is very devoted to this movement, I’m very glad to see all of you here tonight.

I consider everyone in this room to be a stakeholder in ending violence in our communities. Thank you for being present and standing together against the violence that people in the sex trade experience on a daily – really, hourly – basis.

So let’s talk a little bit about violence, even though it’s hard to hear and hard to bear.

This day – the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers – was created seven years ago after the conviction of serial killer Gary Ridgway, who was sent to prison for 48 counts of murder. He later admitted to killing more than 90 women over a twenty-year period. The vast majority of these women were sex workers.

Ridgway famously said, “I picked prostitutes as victims because they were easy to pick up without being noticed. I thought I could kill as many of them as I wanted without getting caught.” On Thursday, Joel Rifkin – who killed 17 Long Island sex workers over a 4 year span – laughed when he gave the Daily News the reason serial killers target sex workers: “No family – they can be gone six or eight months, and no one is looking.”

Although these are the assumptions that are made about sex workers again and again – we are here together tonight to prove that sex workers do have family, we do have people who care when we don’t come home. Our families are made by blood, by choice, and by love. The idea that no one cares when we go missing comes from people who don’t care. We care and we are the experts on our own lives and experiences.

The violence that makes the news is violence done by serial killers, but that kind of violence is a symptom of greater ills. It is horrifying, and I feel cold and alone when I think about the sex workers who have met their end at the hands of these men. But the violence that sex workers experience is a deeper and more complex thing than mentally ill men killing vulnerable women.

Because prostitution is illegal in New York and all kinds of sex work – like professional domination, stripping, and others – are stigmatized, sex workers are vulnerable to violent acts that they can’t report. A study conducted among street-based sex workers in New York reported that 80% of sex workers interviewed had experienced violence on the job, and 27% experienced this violence at the hands of police. In a study in Europe that was conducted in eleven countries, it was discovered that 74% of the sex workers interviewed said that they did not feel it was safe or effective to report instances of violence to the police.

The legal and cultural forces that make it very difficult for sex workers to avoid violence and nearly impossible for sex workers to get help are forms of institutional violence. All sex workers are subject to institutional violence, but we are especially when we are transgender or young or people of color or queer or HIV positive or mentally ill or drug users.

I want to tell you a bit about the experiences that sex workers in Uganda have with institutional violence.

Public health clinics that offer HIV testing and treatment services in Uganda regularly deny sex workers access to care and withhold anti-retroviral medications on the grounds that there are other people, whose jobs are legal and who aren’t engaged in immoral activities, who are more deserving of treatment. Some health care workers regard time and HIV/AIDS resources spent on sex workers as a waste.

Last month a Sex Workers Leadership Institute in Kampala, organized by an African feminist group, was shut down by Uganda’s Minister of Ethics and Integrity. A letter to the hotel hosting the conference stated that “prostitution is a criminal offence in Uganda” and as a result “the hotel is an accomplice in an illegality.” The Ugandan Constitution affirms the right to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association – but not for sex workers, apparently.

Just days later, a police commander in Western Uganda ordered his police force to raid bars and streets where sex workers congregate. On this night, the police delivered beatings to everyone whom they perceived to be a sex worker. About twenty women spent the night in jail and the women who were not detained were forced to pay fines to the police. There were no charges made against the women – which means that they were unlawfully detained.

This is what institutional violence looks like.

And the reason I’m telling you about someplace far away is not because this isn’t happening here, but because sometimes it is easier to see these things in a culture that you are not immersed in. The same kinds of things are happening right here, and we are connected to sex workers in Uganda and other places around the world by this struggle for our human rights.

So let’s talk about violence.

Violence is being called a whore by an intimate partner who is ashamed of what you do. Violence is when the media ungenders you and uses your birth name because you are a woman and trans. Violence is when your client demands sex without a condom, and you comply because you’re afraid what he’ll do if you don’t. Violence is when you don’t want to be a sex worker at all, but it is the highest paying work you can find. Violence is when you are denied access to public housing because you have a prostitution conviction. Violence is when child services deems you an unfit parent because you are a sex worker. Violence is when an entire country – this one – denies you entry because you have been a sex worker or a drug user. Violence is when you are a minor and are treated as a victim, no matter what you say about your experience. Violence is when you are “rescued,” forced into a rehabilitation program, and given a sewing machine so you can lead a more honorable life working in a sweat shop. Violence is when the country you live in doesn’t treat you like a full citizen, but instead regards you as a criminal – and all because you are trying to make a living.

Tonight we are going to hear from sex worker rights advocates who care about stopping all of these kinds of violence that exist in our communities. Together, we have many ideas, and many solutions. And together, we must support each other – not just in doing the work to create a better world for people in the sex trade; but in the hardness of the world against us, we must support each other emotionally through these struggles.

December 2, 2010

Dear December: Let’s Do This, with Plenty of Activism and Events

This year will be going out with a bang, with a flurry of events and launches. A summary:

December 2 is the Red Umbrella Diaries Family Affairs event in NYC, to ring in the holiday season. Featured storytellers include Lily Burana, the author of the memoirs Strip City and I Love a Man in Uniform: A Memoir of Love, War, and Other Battles, Tré Xavier, a predominantly gay bisexual porn performer, and Sydney Seifert will relate what it was like to grow up the daughter of a single mom who put food on their table by doing sex work. Also starring Katelan Foisy and Fiona Helmsley. Join us at Happy Ending, 302 Broome Street (between Eldridge and Forsyth) from 8PM-10PM. It’s free, but 15% of the bar tab will help cover expenses for the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers event on December 17.

Last spring, when I decided to branch out on my own and try my hand at curating a sex worker storytelling event by myself, I wanted to also create something that would have life beyond a monthly event. I just published the 21st episode of the weekly podcast this past Sunday (it features Joanna Angel). And on Monday, December 6th at 7 pm in Washington, DC, I’m launching the next piece of the project: storytelling workshops. I’m doing one exclusively for HIPS clients in the afternoon, but the evening one is open. Join me for Personal Storytelling for Social Change: A Workshop for Sex Worker Activists. Personal stories are powerful and essential elements of campaigns for social change and initiatives supporting the human rights of sex workers. Sharing personal experiences of the sex industry is key to connecting with people, both those who understand where we’re coming from and those who don’t. In this workshop, we will look at examples of effective storytelling in social change movements, identify campaigns that could benefit from storytelling, and do some basic storybuilding exercises to help us think how we can use personal stories to move people to action using independent and mainstream media. Monday, December 6th from 7 – 9 pm. $15 per person, at HIPS 1309 Rhode Island Ave, NE #2B. Washington, DC 20018. call 202.232.8150 for more info.

The little Kickstarter anthology that could, Coming & Crying, is having its selling out party on Thursday, December 9th at McNally Jackson at 52 Prince Street, 7 pm. Join editors Melissa Gira Grant and Meaghan O’Connell, with contributors Matthew Gallaway (The Metropolis Case), Audacia Ray (Naked on the Internet) and Diana Vilibert for highlights from the book and a moderated group discussion on writing about sex when the people you are writing about are real, including yourself. You can listen to the podcast of me reading my C&C piece, “The Johns” at the Demand Side edition of the Red Umbrella Diaries here.

December 17 is International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers – join us in NYC for a vigil and community speak out. There are also events happening around the country and around the world, learn more here. NYC event takes place at the Metropolitan Community Church of New York, Sanctuary (2nd floor), 446 West 36th Street, New York, NY 10018 btw 9th & 10th Aves from 7:30PM – 9:30PM. I’m the master of ceremonies and will be giving a speech. The event is co-sponsored by Sex Work Awareness and the Red Umbrella Project.

Also – on December 17th I’ll be launching the brand new website for the Global Network of Sex Work Projects along with the annual journal Research for Sex Work. This year the focus is on sex work and violence, and it is published in English and Russian. More on all that when I’m ready to link to it!

December 1, 2010

December 17: International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers

Join us in NYC for a vigil and community speak out

When: Friday, December 17, 2010 at 7:30PM – 9:30PM

Where: Metropolitan Community Church of New York, Sanctuary (2nd floor), 446 West 36th Street, New York, NY 10018 btw 9th & 10th Aves. < >

Who: Current & former sex workers, our allies, friends, families, and communities. This event is free and open to the public.

Join us in observing the 7th annual International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers.

Join us in remembering those we’ve lost to violence, oppression and hate, whether perpetrated by clients, partners, police or the state.

We stand against the cycle of violence experienced by sex workers around the world. Recently in Geneva, the United Nations Human Rights Council reviewed the human rights record of the United States during their Universal Periodic Review. Uruguay’s recommendation to the Obama Administration – to address “the special vulnerability of sexual workers to violence and human rights abuses” – is the moral leadership we have been waiting for!

Join us in solidarity to fight the criminalization, oppression, assault, rape and murder of sex workers – and of folks perceived as sex workers.

December 17, 2003 was our first annual day to honor the sex workers who were murdered by serial killer Gary Ridgway. In Ridgway’s own words, “I also picked prostitutes as victims because they were easy to pick up without being noticed. I knew they would not be reported missing right away and might never be reported missing. I picked prostitutes because I thought I could kill as many of them as I wanted without getting caught.” (BBC,

We come together each year to show the world that the lives of marginalized people, including those of sex workers, are valuable.

  • Speakers:
    • Audacia Ray, Red Umbrella Project & Sex Work Awareness
    • Chelsea Johnson-Long, Safe OUTside the System Collective of the Audre Lorde Project
    • Michael J. Miller, The Counterpublic Collective and PROS Network
    • Andrea Ritchie, Peter Cicchino Youth Project and Streetwise & Safe (SAS)
  • Readings
    • Reading of the names of sex workers we have lost this past year
    • Memorial for Catherine Lique by her daughter Stephanie Thompson and read by Sarah Jenny Bleviss
    • Speak out: Bring poetry, writings or just speak your truth.

Light snacks, beverages, and metrocards will be provided.

The red umbrella has become an important symbol for Sex Workers’ Rights and is increasingly used on December 17: “First adopted by Venetian sex workers for an anti-violence march in 2002, red umbrellas have come to symbolize resistance against discrimination for sex workers worldwide.”

This event is co-sponsored by: Audre Lorde Project, Counterpublic Collective, FIERCE, MADRE, Peter Cicchino Youth Project, The Queer Commons, PONY (Prostitutes of New York), PROS Network, Red Umbrella Project, SAFER, Sex Work Awareness, Sex Workers Project, SWANK (Sex Workers Action New yorK), SWOP-NYC (Sex Workers Outreach Project), the Space at Tompkins, and Third Wave Foundation.

Facebook Event:

For events outside of New York, visit:

November 24, 2010

Things That Are Broken: Sex Worker Activism

I started my sex worker activism career as a writer – initially I chronicled my personal experiences here on this blog, and then I moved into using writing (mine and others’) and other forms of media making to shake things up. Writing, storytelling, and speaking up are really important aspects of activism – I’ve built my life and projects around them via $pread magazine, the Red Umbrella Diaries, and Sex Work Awareness respectively.

This year, as my career grows and I wiggle into places where I think I can be most effective as an activist and a media maker, I have found myself struggling to find my voice. In the past, I’ve always assumed that more speaking out was better, always and all the time. I felt like I should comment on the state of affairs as much and often as I had the energy. In the past year, I’ve taken a step back from the communities I’ve been immersed in and talking at/about and have spent a lot more time listening.

What I’ve heard has been a big wake up call for me. Through my work with the Global Network of Sex Work Projects I’m understanding more and more about the international situation of sex workers, and about the chaos and harm Americans bring in that arena. But my main context is still the United States and especially New York. Particularly in the American sex worker rights movement, there are just… a lot of issues and gaps in knowledge and understanding. Among the most prominent of these issues are: class and the related entanglements of sex positive/pleasure focused folks and the sex worker rights movement; an over-emphasis on the experiences of cisgender women in the sex industry, to the serious detriment to transgender women and cis and trans men; lack of cohesive work on issues facing both indoor and outdoor sex workers; ignorance of the experiences of migrant sex workers, perhaps because of anxiety around the anti-trafficking hype but also because of a general disconnect; racial dynamics of not just the sex industry but also the sex worker movement… I really think I could just go on and on. I know I shouldn’t just rattle this list off without writing a major treatise about each item, but that is yet to come. It’s important to me to take this step here on Waking Vixen. I’ve been talking to lots of different people about these issues in lots of different places, but haven’t been synthesizing my thoughts in writing. Which is what this blogging thing is about (or so I hear).

To be sure – I am not just pointing fingers about these issues. I have been complicit in maintaining the status quo of a lot of these injustices – it’s not too harsh to call them that. When working with and inside communities to make change and make things better, it’s not the intentions that count -I have always wanted to do good by and for my community- but actions. And a lot of actions come with collateral damage, especially actions that are meant to make change. Some of the struggle to rediscover my voice and place has been about feeling stuck, because as I’ve become more sharply aware of the ways my privilege intersects with my ignorance I’ve constantly thought, “how can I do or say anything that won’t be fucked up? is it worth talking if I know it might be harmful?”

I don’t think my work is all bad or useless. But I do know that I’ve perpetuated the harms that privilege brings. And now I have to work to understand what this is and does, and just do better.

I have been working (and failing a lot, but trying still) to figure out ways I can shift these dynamics in my own work, trying to figure out not just how to make the space but how to create stronger alliances and relationships to flesh this stuff out. It’s slow going because these injustices are entrenched, as much as I want it to be fixed now. I don’t have a magic, uplifting discovery about how to fix everything. But I do know that gaining a deeper understanding of the things that are broken has given me greater conviction that I am indeed in this for the long haul.

Red Umbrella Diaries – December 2: Family Affairs

Hosted by Audacia Ray
Happy Ending, 302 Broome Street between Forsyth and Eldridge, in New York City
Thursday, July 1. Doors at 7 pm, reading from 8-10
21 and up – FREE

15% of the bar tab supports the New York City vigil for the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers on December 17

Starring: Lily Burana, Tré Xavier, Katelan V. Foisy, Fiona Helmsley, and Sydney Seifert.

Lily Burana

Lily Burana is a punk rock girl turned writer and editor. Since starting her writing life as a columnist and editor at punk and alternative ‘zines, she has gone on to write for numerous publications including The Washington Post, GQ, The New York Times, Self, Glamour, Entertainment Weekly, Details, The Village Voice, Slate, Salon, and The New York Observer, and her reviews and cultural criticism have been picked up by magazines and newspapers around the world. She has been a Contributing Editor at SPIN and New York magazines. Her essays have been included in numerous anthologies.

Lily is the author of three books. Her first book, STRIP CITY: A Stripper’s Farewell Journey Across America (Miramax Books, 2001) made Best Book of the Year lists in Entertainment Weekly, Salon, New York Newsday, and Rocky Mountain News, and was selected as a Barnes and Noble Discover New Writers title. Strip City was also named in the Top Six “EW Picks” in Entertainment Weekly’s 2008 “So You Want to Write a Memoir” roundup, which featured a thousand recent memoirs. Her novel, TRY (St. Martins Press, 2006), an alt.Western romance, was lauded by Kirkus Reviews as “a touching winter-spring romance set amid full Western regalia.” Her third book, I LOVE A MAN IN UNIFORM: A Memoir of Love, War, and Other Battles (Weinstein Books, 2009) was called “a notable historical document” by the New York Times.

Tré Xavier is a predominantly gay bisexual entertainer and author who writes about sex, life & love in his blog, Tré’s X-Ray Vision. While he has retired from performing in studio-based gay porn, his continued exhibitionist displays online and telling of his sexual adventures and explorations for his blog maintains his being considered an adult entertainer.

During his time in the industry, Tré’s writing skills at creating vivid pictures and expressing valid points has led to him writing blog entries for Pitbull Production’s ThugPornBlog, and more recognizably, MOC Blog, which he still maintains being a contributing writer for. He has also had his opinions published in a book review for FlavaMen Magazine, and in the Feedback section of The Advocate. In the vein of his published words on MOC Blog and in The Advocate, he is an active and well-recognized voice for racial equality in gay adult entertainment by way of comments on various websites like Fleshbot, Gay Porn Times, and The Sword. And since retiring, Tré’s voice fighting for that racial equality continues to be heard by the aforementioned, and even more places now as he has spread to fighting for it in gay mainstream entertainment as well, including most recently the gay cable channel, LOGO. All this while he resurrects his skills as an actor, dancer, singer, artist, poet, and songwriter. Most of which can be found on his YouTube channel.

Katelan V. Foisy is a visual artist, pin-up model, writer, and tarot reader living in NYC. Her fine art pieces have been displayed at The Worcester Art Museum, Ohio History Museum, Mae West Fest, MODA, Museum of Contemporary Art DC, as well as the A&D gallery in London. Her illustrations have graced the pages of the Grammy Awards, Scholastic Books, as well as appearing on the stage of Ensemble Studio Theater. She is the art director for Constellation, an astrology-based arts magazine, and released her memoir Blood and Pudding earlier this year.

Fiona Helmsley is a thirty-something momshell, navel-gazer and recovering fun slut. Her first book, There Are A Million Stories In The Naked City When You’re A Girl Who Gets Naked In The Naked City was released in June. A writer of creative non-fiction and poetry, her work can be found scattered about the print and online worlds while her irreverent fashion sense stays static at

Sydney Seifert is a writer and photographer interested in youth led research, sexuality & social justice. Her masters thesis, “Beyond Risk: The evaded curriculum in sexuality education for marginally housed and homeless young women,” has helped shape and focus her lens through which she sees the power in education and knowledge. She has been a passionate photographer since the age of 14, continually documenting her life in New York City and Beyond.

She has a BA in Sociology from St. Lawrence University and her MA in Sexuality Studies from San Francisco State University. Currently she is working with queer youth in NYC, c0-creating and building a peer sex education program with 15 amazing youth interns.

Her photography has appeared in publications by the National Sexuality Resource Center and The Center for Sex and Culture and The Richard F. Brush Art Gallery. Her writing is published in $pread magazine and the San Francisco State University Library. She is interested in Photo Journalism & Art/Erotic Photography.

This Cuban/Greek sex geek lives in New York City with her Pound Pup, Henry Marie Elizabeth and is always on the look out for a new restaurant to try.

October 28, 2010

Why Scarleteen Matters and What You Should Do About It

Good, honest sexuality education is almost impossible to find in the United States. The reasons for this are rooted in our weird system of morals, fear of arming young people with information, and deep discomfort with sexuality. This all manifests in systems of funding. Which is to say, a really good way to control information is to fund what you (which is to say, the U.S. government and funders) want people to know, and don’t fund the dangerous stuff.

Scarleteen has never taken funds from the U.S. government or its agencies – to do so would make their work impossible. That’s a catch-22 if there ever was one, but many of the curriculum and reporting requirements that are in place along with much of the available funding make it really hard for folks like Heather Corinna and her team to be real with the young people her organization Scarleteen serves.

Which means: Scarleteen has and will always have a money problem. But you can help to contribute to the continuation of their programs. When you donate to Scarleteen, this awesome and scrappy little org gets your money directly, and it gets fed right back into their programs.

Through November 15th, if you make a donation of $10 or more to Scarleteen and send me the receipt, I will send you a signed copy of my book Naked on the Internet.

From October 15 through November 15, Scarleteen is running a blog carnival to help raise awareness and funds for their work. This post is part of that carnival. Last week, I also did a guest advice post on the site. One of Scarleteen’s major online projects is answering questions from their community. Here’s the question and part of my answer; check out the full post here.

Anonymous asks:
I was just wondering…can a girl have sex if she has undergone genital mutilation? Because I know a girl who has, and she said it was a TYPE 1 circumcision and that she couldn’t have sex EVER. Also, is there any way she will ever be able to reverse the mutilation? What limitations will she face, compared to a person who hasn’t been mutilated? Thanks a lot for your answer!

The World Health Organization defines a type one female genital cutting as: Clitoridectomy: partial or total removal of the clitoris (a small, sensitive and erectile part of the female genitals) and, in very rare cases, only the prepuce (the fold of skin surrounding the clitoris).

Many people who have a fully intact clitoris find touching their clitoris or having someone else touch it to be a source of pleasure and a kind of stimulation that does or may play a part in orgasm. However, the clitoris is not the only key to pleasure and/or orgasm. Most of pleasure and orgasm aren’t about our genitals at all, but about our brain and central nervous system. Even when it comes to the clitoris, there is much more than meets the eye: the visible hood and glans of the clitoris are attached to deeper structures. Underneath the skin, the clitoris is actually wishbone shaped, with long legs, or crura, that are underneath the labia majora. For some people, light touch or pressure on the crura is pleasurable and potentially orgasmic. In type one FGC, the crura are not harmed, so the “invisible” part of the clitoris is still intact and functional.