The H-Word presents first person stories from current and former sex workers across the U.S. Jessie Nicole describes herself as a queer, stubborn, and committed anarcha-feminist. A former prostitute and dedicated activist, she lives in West Hollywood with her longterm partner. I asked Jessie to talk about why she no longer sells sex.
"Retired" feels like such an odd term to use when I'm about to turn 25 but, yeah, I can talk about retirement. If 1 is "I'd go back tomorrow" and 10 is "I'd rather starve first," I'm somewhere around an 8.
Not so good morning, America. I woke up yesterday to discover that on Monday night the police had cleared Zuccotti Park. As of this morning, Zuccotti Park remains largely unoccupied and quiet, thanks to a judge's ruling that the city needn't allow them back in. At a press conference yesterday, NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended his decision to effectually shut down the protest, which had lasted 61 days and counting, saying that the "health and safety conditions became intolerable." In a statement made yesterday morning, Bloomberg said: "I have become increasingly concerned ... that the occupation was coming to pose a health and fire safety hazard to the protestors and to the surrounding community." Hey, disease is no joke, Bloomberg seems to be saying. Politics aside, you've all heard of the black plague, right? Who wants that to happen again!!? Certainly not our mayor! Sounds pretty rational, until you consider how sanitation and the interest of public safety, including fear of the risk of communicable disease, is a rationalization our country has relied on historically to control its population, particularly minorities.
As important as it is for activists to establish sex work as work, it is equally important we acknowledge that not everybody who sells sex calls themselves a sex worker. As the current feminist debates about the Slutwalk march make all too clear, there is power and privilege in reclaiming a word and—like slut—to call oneself a "hooker" or even a sex worker is not everyone's preference, nor is it a privilege everyone can afford.
I did it for the money but it was also true that I enjoyed it. Like no job I'd had before, stripping took skills. Yes, it was physically strenuous, but it was not only physical. Interacting with customers required intelligence and personality. I was free to be myself—or, at least, a part of myself. Indeed, of all the jobs available to me at the time, there was no question: stripping was, by far and in many ways, the best. It had the best uniform. I could make my own hours. I liked to dance. I felt genuinely good at it. And then there was the money.
"Working as a dominatrix was empowering. I dressed exotically, did creative roleplay, and was worshipped—physically and psychologically—on a regular basis. It helped me cope with my other part-time job: receptionist."
Welcome to the H-Word, a series dedicated to evaluating, challenging, and re-presenting sex worker portrayals in the media from a feminist, pro-sex worker (though not necessarily pro-sex work) stance. If that seems contradictory or impossible, keep tuning in. Besides my perspective, this column will present first-person stories from individuals across the country and from all areas of the industry sharing a part of their story and describing their experiences. Sex workers speaking for themselves, about themselves?! It is not so radical an idea—why, straight white guys have been doing it since the beginning of time!
Last year in Canada, there were two nation-wide campaigns to fight mental health stigma.
The first focused on the financial cost of mental health. It was launched by one of our major banks, and had a slick advertising campaign full of dark colors and statistics. There were multi-page discussions in the national newspapers, as well as multiple bus shelter advertisements driving home the point: Mental illness is a cost to the Canadian economy.
The other, Stand Up For Mental Health, was launched by actual people with mental health conditions. The program is open to people with a variety of diagnoses, and trains them to become stand-up comics, making jokes and wise-cracks about the experience of being mentally ill, as well as other aspects of the lives of the comics. Last year, Stand Up for Mental Health did a cross-country tour to university campuses in the hopes of raising enough awareness to get a Pepsi Refresh Grant so they could get more funding for their work.
I encountered both of these programs at university.