When I talk to people about the politics of sex work, certain buzzwords are apt to be thrown around. And while dialogue is a good thing, sometimes I feel a bit like Inigo Montoya: "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." So let's break down the three terms I hear bandied about most frequently.
Unionization: As in, "Don't you think sex workers should unionize?" It's a nice idea in theory, but extremely unlikely. The only union I know of for sex workers was formed in San Francisco by the peep-show dancers at the Lusty Lady. These ladies occupy a rare niche in sex work in that they are legal employees—the majority of sex workers are considered independent contractors. Before any other attempts at unionization could be considered, sex workers would have to sue business owners to get employee status—something that takes years of expensive legal wrangling, with no guarantee of winning. Even Lusty Lady union organizer Robyn Carter says, "Our success was a total anomaly."
Legalization: This is a more useful concept to discuss, and one not without precedent in the U.S. Certain counties in the State of Nevada have a system of legalized prostitution. (Not the counties where Las Vegas and Reno are, though.) But it's still highly problematic. Legalization means that laws strictly define how, where, and when sex workers can work, and in Nevada, those laws are all to the advantage of the business owners, not the workers. One can't be an independent prostitute, for example: You must work in a state-licensed brothel. A license to operate a brothel is extremely expensive and only a limited number are issued, so you can really only buy one if another brothel owner goes out of business, which doesn't happen very often. Each prostitute must also get a license from the local sheriff's office, where she is fingerprinted, photographed, and asked a lot of really personal questions. And if you've ever been arrested for prostitution before, you can't get a license to do it legally, which is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. Prostitutes cannot come and go from the brothel freely, shifts are long, and the women's power to reject undesirable customers is often curtailed. The result is a system that can be just as stressful and restrictive to the workers as the current one.
Decriminalization: Now we're talking. This means that all laws about what an adult may do sexually with his or her own body to make money are simply repealed. Like any other business, sex workers would pay taxes and be subject to reasonable regulations about health, safety, and zoning issues. Sex workers who work from home would not be permitted to create a true nuisance to residential neighbors. But otherwise, it would be up to each individual to decide exactly what he or she wanted to do to make a living. This is what I'd like to see happen in my lifetime, although between sex-negative theocrats and nanny-state liberals, I doubt it will ever be as I wish.
THURSDAY 3/1RAIN CITY JACKS PARTY
SATURDAY 3/3SEXUAL PARTNERING FOR LESBIAN COUPLES: HOW TO CREATE AND SUSTAIN VIBRANT SEXUAL RELATIONSHIPS
Felice Newman, author of The Whole Lesbian Sex Book, is on a mission to end lesbian bed death in her lifetime. In this workshop, Felice introduces concepts and practices to help lesbian couples create a satisfying sex life. Please wear comfortable clothes and warm socks; bring a blanket or yoga mat for bodywork. Wet Spot, 1602 15th Ave W, building E, 270-9746, www.felicenewman.com, 1—5 pm, $160 per couple, nonmembers welcome.
SATURDAY 3/3BEGINNING CROCHET: BETTER THAN CUNNILINGUS
Barb Johnson, sworn enemy of Felice Newman, is on a mission to spread lesbian bed death in her lifetime and, to that end, teaches crochet and other lesbian-specific distractions to keep the ladies sexually frigid. Acorn Street Shop, 2818 NE 55th St, 525-1726, 10:30 am—12:30 pm, $50, registration required.
SATURDAY 3/3NINA HARTLEY MEET AND GREET
Porn legend Nina Hartley is celebrating the release of her new book, Nina Hartley's Guide to Total Sex. Nina is just as sweet and beautiful in person as her videos would have you believe, so come by, say hi, and get your book signed. Babeland, 707 E Pike St, 328-2914, 7 pm, free.
SUNDAY 3/4ROPE FOR ME: SELF-BONDAGE
Bridgett Harrington, author of Shibari You Can Use, teaches a class about self-bondage with rope. Wet Spot, 1602 15th Ave W, building E, 270-9746, www.bondagelessons.com, 2:30—5:30 pm, $30, nonmembers welcome.
MONDAY 3/5THE WOMEN'S WELCOMING COMMITTEE
A friendly discussion group for women of all orientations, the WWC meets monthly to answer questions and provide resources for women new to the Seattle BDSM/fetish community. Hot Dish, 2255 NE 65th St, www.wwcseattle.org, 7—9 pm, $3 suggested donation