Well. last week, I posted that piece “feminist lesbian position on prostitution” here and at the Mediacoop.ca page. In English and French, there. Also on the Policy Action Research List (Par-L) which has somewhere around 2000 subscribers, feminist-ish in leanings, but all over the map in terms of analysis and agreements. It was written by three women, Kathleen, Jacqueline and me–but informed by our combined 50 years of idea-making, arguing, listening, organizing, agitating and providing crisis intervention and services to women escaping male violence.
Anyhow. So, it’s getting around. And we’re interested in engaging with people about it, and trying to expand our analysis and understanding of how compulsory heterosexuality operates to reinforce the patriarchy and prostitution is an integral part of that. How can we stand in solidarity with women still engaged in prostitution, pornography and other aspects of the flesh trade? So far, Vancouver does not have any exit services for women in prostitution. So far, women who get out, still get out because of a series of lucky breaks, or really fuckin’ unlucky breaks (she gets the shit beat out of her one last time and becomes no longer marketable; she develops chronic illness or pain as a result of the constant stress, anxiety, uncertainty; or she dies).
The “women’s” centre where I work, the drop-in, it also operates a night shelter. Now, this shelter, it’s set up in a place that was built as a clinic and learning centre kind of place. So it has a couple of small examination rooms, a few bigger meeting rooms, a kitchen, a library, and bathrooms with showers in them. We put out cots and blankets around 10:30 and heat up some soup. Women come in from 11 till 2 or 3 am, and grab their bedding and a bowl of soup. Some women put their cots right in the hallway near the desk where the staff sit at the phone. Some women put their cots in the furthest corner of the quiet room.
It’s a shelter. It’s a place for women to come who have no home, or who live in hotel rooms–there are no bugs there. There are other people. You share the bathroom and showers, but with other women (well. some of you have read other posts where i talk about the m-f transsexuals who use the centre–they’re at the shelter, too, some of them–and some of them, as at the women’s centre, are a danger to the women there–goddammit)–mostly. it’s safer than the street. It’s “harm reduction”. But it’s not a solution. Not by a long fuckin’ shot.
We recently heard that funding has been secured for the shelter to be open 24 hours. And my coworkers there are all happy about it and stuff.
But when i heard that, my heart sank, and I felt a little nauseous.
This is the fucking problem.There is NO safe shelter for women in Vancouver. Our place opens up at 11 at night and women have to leave by 8 am, and take their stuff with them. It is less likely your stuff will be stolen by the other people there than at a co-ed shelter, but it’s still one thing to worry about. It is less likely you’ll be raped (recently we heard of other shelters, notably one long-time shelter in a church, where women are routinely attacked and raped by men who use the shelter. http://www.rapereliefshelter.bc.ca/learn/resources/statement-vancouver-rape-relief-womens-shelter-rapes-women-shelter-first-united-church ), and more likely you will believed if you report a rapist. women find a kind of family there, as we do everywhere…women listen to each other, even when one of ’em talks in “word salad”.
But these women don’t WANT a shelter. They want freedom from fear. They want a home. They want people around whom they can love, and who love them, too. They want off the un-merry-go-round. They might say, “oh, that’s great, we need a safe place to be 24 hours a day. That’s gonna be great.”
But it’s not great. It’s barely a beginning. maybe it’s not even a beginning. There are no safe shelters for women there, true. And there must be at least two–one for single women, one for women with children–But that’s not enough, it’s not even that respectful of women to just have shelters. You know what, with the money that flows into that neighbourhood, all of those women could be housed in their own place, and supported with workers who can help them keep their place, develop a sense of belonging with a community, host others to a meal–make home. not shelter. HOME.
Anyhow. I kinda drifted away from my first thought, about the shitstorm stirred up by my previous post. Holy smokes. We hit a nerve, we did. Lots of people think we’re anti-sex, anti-prostitute, anti this n’ that. Because it’s on my blog now, people are reading other stuff i posted, and that’s good, I guess. But invective is flying around on crackbook. It’s painful. you know how that is, eh–most people want to be liked. I do. It matters to me what people think of me, and if they think that i’m hateful and dangerous (especially to potential allies), well, that’s difficult. Mind you, i think that some of their positions and actions are damaging–but the people aren’t hateful. No. We are all good people, and we want to do good, and be useful. I’m pretty sure.
We’re off on a different track. The “prostitution is a form of male violence” track is very far away from the “prostitution is labour” track. If you’re arguing to me that “sex workers want to be safe and respected in their careers as sex workers”– it is not an argument that addresses the points we raised in our position paper. Because we don’t start from the premise that prostitution is a form of labour, like hair dressing or retail sales or nursing. So, we say, “women are routinely violated in prostitution” and you may answer that with, “women want to work in well-managed brothels”–and the second sentence doesn’t follow from the first, although both may be true. Women will STILL be routinely violated in prostitution whether they are in well-managed brothels, in their homes, or on the streets. And women presently in prostitution often would much rather be in well-managed brothels than in the streets, or alone in their own homes or the johns hotel room or car.
But why settle? We are settling for ‘shelter’, and we are settling for ‘safer’. And it’s not enough. My allies and my friends and colleagues, we want Home. And we want Free. Even if we don’t know what that looks like, exactly. But for me, it doesn’t even include money. let alone ‘sex for money’. It does include sex, but not the coercive, commercial, ‘i get to own you for an hour’ kind. And it includes shelter, but not the ‘this is your corner for the night and keep an eye on your stuff’ kind.
One funny, random thing–(this really is random)–I’m going to be in my first triathlon this coming weekend, and there’s a woman in my gym who’s done them, too, the sprint and olympic distances–and she asked me the other day, “Have you ever transitioned?” and I said, “no. I was born this way.” anyhow. We thought that was amusing.
Okay. back to the other stuff. And you know what? About this whole “choice” business? It’s a really neo-liberal concept–and european, too. one of my advisors said the other day, she was offering me some criticism about a paper I’d written, and she said, “you really have to trouble this notion of choice here. When you consider Aboriginal women, who are really over-represented in street prostitution, the whole notion of individual choice is problematic. Aboriginal people don’t talk about ‘choice’ and individual decisions–they live in the world in a much more relational way–they talk about their relation to the land, and responsibilities to the ancestors and to seven generations hence, and relations to the community–“individual choice” doesn’t come into it.” So, you know, when you’re going on about how women can choose prostitution, it again privileges the choices of women who do operate in the world as individuals, who come from that world-view, and does not question how her choices affect her relationships to other women, to her people and community and all that.
And of course, nowhere in the comments are the choices of them men mentioned. Who are these men who buy women? who are they who are the johns and what about their responsibilities? How has he become a man who thinks it’s his right to be able to pay for sex? This kind of entitlement is also conditioned, he has learned to expect his desires to be accommodated no matter what. Even men who wouldn’t dream of buying sex, they use pornography–it’s everywhere, everywhere. How can we be human when the pull to the lowest common denominator is so strong?
Anyhow. this is getting too long. and i’ve got papers to write. I’ll post this for now, maybe add more later…