Identity

This post arises from the happy coincidence of two books I have been reading recently, books which, at first sight, don’t seem to have much in common. The first is Maya Angelou’s “See How The Caged Bird Sings.” We discussed it this morning at the monthly Birmingham Feminist Book Club. Part of a wide-ranging discussion revolved around literature as a means of self understanding, this arising from Angelou’s won discussion in her book of what reading the classics of English literature, and especially, Shakespeare, meant to her, and how she was able, by engaging with the texts, to make sense of her own experience.

This was a concept that was made real for me a couple of years ago when I was a volunteer buddy for a Community Interest Company that worked with adults experiencing mental health difficulties, in particular by encouraging them to read literature and sharing their experiences. To get a flavour of what they did I was invited to attend one of the meetings. We were reading Rose Tremain’s novel The Road Home. The group consisted of people of varying ages, many of whom lived in considerable isolation, an isolation made worse by anxiety and phobias. Some of them only left the house for the weekly meeting in a local library. Most of them had little experience of serious reading. From the discussion, however, it became clear that the book was opening doors for them and all of them were able to use the text to make sense of their own lives, at the same times bringing their won experiences to bear in interpreting the text. As they talked they gave me new insights into the book. This experience was both illuminating and humbling.

These experiences and thoughts are particularly relevant to the other book I have been reading. This is an anthology called Identity, whose contributors all attended the recent Eroticon conference. I have to declare an interest. I was one of the contributors. But that is now why I am writing about it. The content is pretty eclectic, some of it personal reminiscence, and painful reminiscence at that, some of it fantasy, some of it opinion, some of it seriously hot, you know, the stuff you read one handed.  And then there was Meg-John Barker’s piece on erotic fiction as means of self understanding which got me reflecting again on my own identity, or in this case my sexual identity and what it means to me. This short essay was in my head as I read the other pieces and enriched my reading experience.  This really is as a wonderful anthology and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Erotic fiction has changed my life. I really don’t know why, one day in 2012, I felt the urge tio write a story about a carer in a elderly person’s home who has a relationship with a gay man whose carer he is. Other stories followed. I went online, I set up a Twitter account, I read voraciously, I discovered Eroticon and became part of a community. And a new Eve emerged, an Eve who is kinky, bisexual, who is proud to know sex workers she can call friends, an Eve committed to the freeest possible expression of human sexuality (subject to consent). In short an Eve I could not have imagined even existed only 6 years ago. It is through erotic literature that I have discovered what was previously latent, and been able to articulate it.

The main protagonist of my first story was Eric, an Oxford graduate who had been jailed for “gross indecency” in the dark days before 1967 and who experienced late sexual joy with a younger man. I killed him off at the end as the younger man had to move on and make his own way as a gay man in a different age, but acutely aware of the debt gay men, indeed all of us who are in some way not heteronormative, owe to those who suffered for daring to be different. I made sure, however, that Eric died happy, at peace with himself. I knew then that I owed him that. I know now that I owe him much more.

He’s In Love With Rock’n’Roll Woah

This year seems to be quite big for anniversaries. I have probably heard enough about Sergeant Pepper and anyway always preferred Revolver. The 40th anniversary of the first Clash album passed yesterday with rather less fanfare but it is a milestone of its own particularly for those of us old enough to remember it (and buy it). A lot of the songs still stand up, fast, frenetic and angry. Career Opportunities is probably even more relevant in an age of zero hours contracts than it was when it was written. Those who don’t remember the 1970s may not know who the first song on Side One was about. When I listened to it first, aged 15, I remembered this story from three years earlier.

I remembered reading about the singer Janie Jones being jailed for 7 years in  1974 for “controlling prostitutes”. What this amounted to in practice was procuring sex workers for prominent people who wanted paid sex, in this case at parties she organised. In effect she was a middle woman putting sex workers in touch with clients. The press reported extensively on this, with no end of titillating detail. The News of the World printed lurid stories about Janie in  Holloway, and the pink silk sheets she allegedly had on her prison bunk. These stories were really the fetishisation of Janie as “caged woman”, and evidence, if any were needed, that this was a newspaper for wankers. In 1977 Janie herself was not long out of prison and, seeking to lie low for a bit, not thrilled to hear that a punk band had recorded a sing about her. That is, until she heard it. She apparently loved the song and later worked with the band.

Her case is another example of the prurience and hypocrisy that still surrounds sex and sexuality in this country. She was made an example of to protect the better connected people who had been guests at her sex parties. Her 7 year sentence was, by the standards of 1974, an era before the sentence inflation of the last two decades, incredibly harsh. The cycle of hypocrisy was: it happens but we pretend it doesn’t. If it becomes public we find a scapegoat and fetishise them for the benefit of the plebs who also have to sign up to the hypocrisy.

If attitudes to sex in 1974 were essentially infantile, we may ask if anything significant has changed. In recent years we have had the ATVOD rulings on the depiction of things like face sitting and squirting, all this from a body whose Chief Executive, according to those who have had direct dealings with him, knows an awful lot about BDSM practices for a man who thinks mature adults need to be protected from them. We now have the Digital Economy which will bring in its wake further chilling of sexual self-expression. And all the time we have the tireless and rather unholy alliance of religious fundamentalists and radical feminists who think that consensual sex with an exchange of money is “violence against women” and that sex workers need to be rescued, even if they don’t want to be. Thus we have the ludicrous spectacle of feminists trying to control the bodies of other, usually less privileged, women in the name of giving them bodily autonomy.

And, in 2017 no less than in 1974, it is women’s sexuality that is stigmatised, women’s bodies that need to be controlled. We should be angry. Just as The Clash were forty years ago.

Another Girl, Another Planet

This is a short story I wrote specially for the Eroticon reading slam. There was a certain amount of inspiration from a song, as older readers may notice.

‘Space travel’s in my blood’ she said, pulling off her silver boots, ’there’s nothing I can do about it.’

‘Tell me about yourself, how you came to be doing this.’

‘My name is Neptunia. I was born on the Neptune colony four thousand years ago and came to this galaxy through the time shift, after the solar system was abandoned I have travelled a lot, I enjoy it and when..’

‘they allowed sex again?’

‘Yes, I was chosen to apply to be an inter-galactic sex worker and I jumped at  the opportunity. I see a lot of the cosmos, the money is good  and I ways wanted to be a teacher.’

A teacher was what I needed. This was my first permission to visit our galaxy’s pleasure planet. I had read about sex in antique data storage from the days before humans destroyed planet Earth and the solar system had to be abandoned, musty stained things called books. I grew up after the move towards the more efficient asexual reproduction of the species.  For millennia sex was forbidden. Oh we still married, but only for companionship. Ova and sperm were produced by industrial process so there was no need for the human body to be involved. And sex for pleasure was deemed harmful, detrimental above all to the efficiency of the galactic economy. Like all males I had been locked into a chastity device on my thirteenth birthday. It was only ever removed under medical supervision for purposes of washing and so on,  and we knew nothing other than the dull aches and throbbing pain of the erection being crushed by the pitiless kryptonite.

And now sex was allowed as a privilege, but only for those with the means to travel to the pleasure planet and pay one of the few handpicked sex workers like Neptunia.

‘We only have an hour’ she said ‘maybe we should get on with it?’

She removed her gauntlets and pulling down the shimmering suit revealed two small firm breasts followed by a stomach tattooed with a pink meteor shower and then her pussy, her pubic hair shaven into what Earth language called a Brazilian. As the suit fell round her ankles she stepped out of it and walked towards me. I gazed at her. I had never seen a naked woman before. She took my hand and guided it to the hair, the lips and made me feel my way gingerly up and down.

‘You’ve never seen a woman before have you?’

‘No I er…….’

She gently kissed the top of my head.

‘The pleasures of the body couldn’t be denied for ever’ she said, ‘ and I am so glad the Administration realised that. Just relax……feel my hair, feel the roughness of the stubble, then feel your way down..’

She guided my hand to wear I could sense an opening, then put one of her fingers in and pulled it, put it on my tongue.

‘Taste. I’m getting wet, that’s what women do when they are ready for sex.’

She knelt before me, pulled my head towards hers and kissed me, forcing her tongue between my teeth.    I pulled away horrified.

‘But that’s so unhygienic. It’s gross.’

Neptuia laughed.

“You need to forget all they taught you at school. This is not dirty. It’s really wonderful to get close and intimate with another human being like this. Besides I’m clean and if you want to suggest otherwise you know where the door is,’

She wasn’t laughing now.

‘Just get this straight. I am proud to be a sex worker and any ideas you have about dirty disease ridden whores are just so ancient solar system. Just get them out of your head. Besides only I have the cyberkey to your chastity device. So you had better be nice to me.’

She began to laugh again.

She pulled a thin metal rod out of her bag and pointed it at my crotch. The chastity device loosened with a click and she was soon on me, Gently sliding it off, pushing me onto my back as she kissed me again. This time I could feel her strength as she pinned me down and pushed her tongue into my mouth so hard that I struggled to breathe. I made a token effort to throw her off but she was too strong for me. She slid down my body, her tongue leaving a damp trail until she arrived at my penis. She licked the end before whipping it delicately with the end of her tongue. I felt it harden and rise, now unrestrained for the first time in thirty years. She took it into her mouth and began to suck.

I stiffened and made to draw back.

“What’s wrong?”

“It’s just that I’ve never done this before i…..”

The move into her mouth had drawn the foreskin back and the unsheathed bellend, all purple and shiny with her saliva felt vulnerable and exposed. I shuddered.

“Trust me. I won’t hurt you.”

I lay back on the bed took a deep breath and tried to relax. She started again.  This time I shut my eyes and tried to yield to her. She began to move in and out in slow rhythmic movements, and I felt myself beginning to enjoy the warmth and softness of her mouth. Another tongue whipping, another couple of swift movements in and out and I had come, feeling more pain than pleasure as one huge ejaculation quickly followed another.

Neptunia swallowed but kept a little in her mouth as she kissed me and passed some of the creamy fluid into my mouth.

“That’s the taste of a man. That’s your taste.”

She wiped her lips and smiled.

‘That’s it” she said. “Your time is nearly up.”

“And sex?” I asked not hiding my disappointment.

“Not today. I need to file my report and the Pleasure Ministry will decide if you can have a second appointment with full service.”

“And if they don’t?”

“If they don’t they don’t” said Neptunia matter of factly. “It’s down to the Ministry to decide if you need sex, or if the productive capacity of the state will be enhanced. It’s not my decision. And to be honest I don’t care either way. I’m a sex worker. I service my clients and show them the door. I don’t get emotionally involved.”

Perhaps she could see the disappointment on my face because she quickly added

“I like you and I’ve enjoyed spending time with you. So I will write a positive opinion. And maybe you will come again.”

She reached behind her and picked up the chastity cage and cyberkey.

“Come here. I have to put this back on.”

“No” I said, surprised at the firmness in my voice. “I’m not going back into that.”

I backed away but she stood up and walked towards me with a determined look.

‘That chastity device IS going back on. It’s inter-galactic law and I am here to enforce it.’

She pushed me back against the wall and hissed

‘Are you going to do as you’re told or do I have to hurt you?’

The last words came out with such venom that her spit flecked my glasses.’

‘Just remember the report I have to file. Piss me off and you’ll never come here again. You’ll live the rest of your life like a fucking monk. Is that what you want?

‘No’

My resistance was broken. She clipped it back into place, locked it with the cyberkey. I looked at her, as he pulled on her boots. I felt desire for her again, felt the blood pumping into my penis, which rose and swelled until cruelly restricted by the cage. I bent low with the agony and sank to my knees crying. It was not just for the desire of Neptunia but for what I had understood. Chastity was slavery, I had always wondered about the things I had read from earth days when chastity was a form of play in something called BDSM. I realised that when we are not free to use our bodies as we want, when we cannot express ourselves sexually then we are slaves. My head was teeming with subversive thoughts. Did The Administration realise how dangerous this could all be?  I knew too that I could say nothing of this to Neptunia who was after all a spy for the police, part of the control apparatus. What an irony there was there!

In any case I had to come back, to push my penis for the first time through those mysterious soft folds of flesh, into that secret place of the ultimate warmth and softness.

‘Come on’ said Neptunia. ‘it’s time for you to go.’

She led me out to the docking pod and I was soon on my way, her planet a distant speck and her body a sweet memory. It is a long and tiring flight to the Pleasure Planet and back but I know I will return. Long journeys wear me out but I know I can’t live without it.’

 

Police and Thieves

This is a post I originally published on the Everyday Whorephobia blog two years ago. Following  the criminalisation of clients in Northern Ireland it appears that the flawed arguments of the sex work prohibitionists are enjoying a second wind. They remain however deeply flawed. One of the flaws is the naive faith in the police as agents of”rescue”. Melissa Gira Grant, in her book Playing the Whore, discussed how the police are themselves a major source of violence against, and exploitation of sex workers. Here are some more examples.

POLICE AND THIEVES

We can argue theoretical points all day, about women’s right to bodily autonomy, about whether sex work can really be a free choice in a patriarchal society and so on, but some of the most important issues connected to the criminalisation of sex work are essentially practical.   Are the laws enforceable and who will do the enforcing? It is with the second of these that serious questions emerge.

It has been said that a good police force is one that catches more criminals than it employs. The British police certainly aren’t doing too well on that score at the moment. We have heard stories from Sweden about police harassment of supposedly non criminal sex workers. The Swedish police, by the way, are those nice people who gave Joan Smith a free tour of night-time Stockholm in exchange for an advertising spread masquerading as critical journalism.

A three hour ferry crossing from Sweden is yet another country where the police can’t be trusted. That country is Poland. Here are a few examples of how the Polish police treat women, sex workers and otherwise.

A woman accused a policeman, a friend of the family, of raping her. Several months later she has been interviewed several times but her alleged attacker remains on active duty and has yet to be interviewed. The investigation is focussing on blood tests carried out on the woman, aimed at determining whether she had taken substances that could have caused psychological disturbance and so lead her to make false allegations.

On 9th June this year a 27 year old woman was stopped by a traffic policeman in a southern Polish town as she drove her car. She was tied up with masking tape, raped and had her mobile phone destroyed to prevent her calling for help. At least this case is being taken sufficiently seriously for the alleged attacker to have been arrested.

A senior officer of the Gdansk police was caught carrying out a sexual assault on a disabled 14 year old girl. He has been arrested and suspended from duty but a statement from the press office of the Gdansk police expresses ‘disbelief’ that he could have done such a thing.

Outside the city of Bydgoszcz in North West Poland sex workers stand by a busy road leading to the German border to attract clients among the thousands of lorry drivers who pass this way each day. They are offered “protection” by the local police which means, in effect, free sex in exchange for being left alone.  Some of these sex workers are so fed up with all this that they have gone to the press. One told a journalist that she had had sex with and given oral to one particular policeman on several dozen occasions, usually in the back of his patrol car. This man evidently has a uniform fetish as he makes her dress in his uniform for sex. A reporter who had been seen taking photographs of a policeman forcing himself on a sex worker was stopped and held for over an hour to be breathalysed and have his car checked. When he complained to the local police he was told that these enhanced controls were part of a new campaign to stop pimping and trafficking.

All this happens in an EU member state. Poland is probably no worse than many other countries in the way the police treat women and sex workers. Those who favour criminalisation should answer this question. You will be giving men like these even more power to harass and abuse women. Is that what you really want?

The Policeman in the Bedroom

It is nearly three years since I stumbled on the debates about sex work and its legal status and following the arguments about Rhoda Grant’s attempt to criminalise the purchase of sex in Scotland was certainly an education. This was particularly true of reading the cogent, well informed responses to the consultation by opponents of the proposal. Two and a half years on two responses have stuck in my mind. One was from a Scottish professional dominatrix who lives and works in England who raised the issue of the grey area legally that her work inhabits and pointing out what being unable to session with her might mean for many of her clients. The question of whether professional domination is sex work for the purposes of any legal definition is, as far as I am aware, still unanswered, The second response came from a Glasgow based feminist collective and argued that after the advances in sexual freedom over several decades which had largely removed the state from our bedrooms such a law would be thoroughly regressive.

Rhoda Grant failed in her attempt. Across the water in Northern Ireland Lord Morrow succeeded and, 21 and a half hours ago as I write, the policeman re-entered the bedrooms of those of the province’s women who make all or part of their living selling sex. To be fair to the police they didn’t want this and made a well argued submission to the consultation saying that they didn’t see it as their role to police sexual activity that they had no reason to believe was not consensual in the vast majority of cases, and that they considered that attempting to police such a law would divert scarce resources,from the fight against real trafficking. Tellingly they pointed out that clients are often a valuable source of intelligence about trafficking victims, a source that would be choked off by criminalisation.

Lord Morrow, of course, knew better and the PSNI now have to police a wholly unworkable but nonetheless damaging law. You may well have read in the newspapers today the litanies about “victims” “prostituted women” and so on. These comments are wholly disingenuous. It has been a criminal offence for clients to have sex with coerced or trafficked women for several years now. The sole effect  of Morrow’s law is to outlaw consensual sexual activity between consenting adults. I will say nothing about the legal arguments that will doubtless ensue  over what constitutes payment but finish by saying that in Northern Ireland the fears of the Glasgow feminist collective have been realised. The state is back in the bedroom. And that is bad news for us all.

Lord Morrow and the Balloon Man

Last year I blogged here about a Midlands sex worker called “Katie”. I was reminded of her this week when I read about the new clause that has been added to the Northern Ireland Human Trafficking Bill. In the course of the interview my friend conducted with her she talked about clients who come to see her for things other than penetrative sex. In particular she talked about a regular client she calls “The Balloon Man.” He sees her once a month for half an hour. He blows up half a dozen balloons with which Katie rubs him down before bursting them with her long finger nails while he lies on the bed and masturbates. No penetration takes place, in fact there is not even any direct physical contact between sex worker and client. Anecdotal evidence suggests that clients like Balloon Man are not unusual.

This is a problem for the prohibitionist zealots. If you are going to enact a law prohibiting the purchase of sexual services you need to have a robust definition of sexual services. Even Lord Morrow who one imagines coming from a background where they do it in pyjamas with the lights out has realised that there was a potential gaping hole in his pet legislation and he has now, late in the day, moved to close it via Amendment Ten to Clause Fifteen which adds the following to the definition of sexual services:

“B touching B in a sexual manner for the sexual gratification of A, B being physically in A’s presence.’

With the unspoken assumption that A will manually stimulate bellend C resulting in emission D which can on occasion have a pungent smell but is, it seems, acceptable to ATVOD. But I digress.

There are obvious difficulties with this. If, as Lord Morrow seems to believe women are trafficked to touch themselves sexually on the presence of clients, can they  not also be trafficked to perform on webcam, which the amendment specifically excludes? And then we come back to the definition of touching in a sexual manner. How is that to be defined? Is it only touching the genitalia? Or anything erotic? Consider how many men must have masturbated over this since 1946.

Will Lord Morrow now be adding a further clause to stipulate how women may remove their gloves in the presence of men? Defining sexual is, it seems to me, like catching a bar of soap in the bath,  ever elusive. Attempts to define legally what eludes clear definition can only lead to bad law, and what generally follows bad law, function creep. Providers of domination services, for example, may be targeted under this clause. It was apt to start this piece with a fetish since it is in the nature of fetishes that some people find various things sexually arousing that most others don’t. Fetishes lay bare the incoherence of attempts to define in legalistic manner “sexual”. They are a manifestation of human sexuality in all its joyous anarchic diversity. If the new moralists start trying to plug every gap in the law as it appears we will soon have left sex work and trafficking behind and we will be looking at what many believe to be the real agenda: an attempt by religious fundamentalists aided and abetted by people who should know better, to bring the police back into our bedrooms. Remember that what is happening in Northern Ireland today may yet happen in England. Not that Lord Morrow had anything to fear. He always has the lights out.

Hoping that ToMorrow Never Comes

A look out of the window at the greyness that cloaked the Midlands today tells me that  time has moved on from last summer. Some things seem not to have changed. Unfortunately one of them is the quality of responses to consultations on proposals to criminalise the purchase of sex. Last summer it was Scotland, this time round it is Northern Ireland. I did blog about the Scottish consultation here but will not be doing the same for Northern Ireland. There is no need to as pretty much everything I said about that consultation applies here – not least the preponderance of copy and paste responses from people who clearly know nothing about sex work. You can find a list of the responses here. If you only have time to read a few please read the submjssions of Amnesty International, the Police Service of Northern Ireland   and of Wendy Lyon who submitted what is pretty much a fully annotated academic paper. The police say that, as far as they are concerned, the majority of sex workers in Northern Ireland are independent and not trafficked or pimped, that the proposed legislation would be difficult to police and consume large amounts of police time better spent on dealing with real trafficking, and that by cutting the police off from sex workers and clients it would close off a valuable source of intelligence.

The Northern Ireland Bill is not actually only, or even primarily, about sex work. It is actually a Bill to do with combatting human trafficking and it is Clause Six that would criminalise the clients of sex workers. The Clause is not an essential part of the Bill and could be dropped without impairing the legislation in any way. In fact it would improve it  since, as the Police point out, Clause Six is not really compatible with the rest of the Bill. A stubborn insistence on retaining the clause could, of course., lead to the whole Bill, with its worthwhile provisions, being lost.

Will the supporters of Clause Six, notably the Democratic Unionist Lord Morrow, listen? Sadly experience suggests that the noisy advocates of the Swedish model and similar are immune to fact and argument. Ideology rules.

While the police in Northern Ireland are making a positive contribution to a public debate of importance, thing are, sadly, different in West Yorkshire.  I heard on Twitter last week about a case involving Polish brothel keepers where the sentencing hearing had to be postponed because the useless Capita Applied Language Solutions could not find an interpreter. I was intrigued but depressed when I read about the case today. Poles are enterprising and hard working people at least when not in Poland where enterprise is held back by labyrinthine bureaucracy . and these ladies had been suitably enterprising. They were sex workers who, fed up with exploitation at the place they were working, set up on their own, effectively a co-operative brothel. Things were fine until the police raided the premises and the ladies were prosecuted, receiving unbelievably harsh sentences of long hours of community service and suspended prison sentences, the main effect of which will be to prevent them earning a living in the way they choose.

So in Northern Ireland we have a Bill that purports to end the sexual exploitation of women while in Bradford two women receive a criminal record for escaping exploitation.  There can be no more eloquent, no more depressing comment on official policy towards sex work in the UK. The time for decriminalisation has surely come.