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.

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