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Piracy and distortion of my work at University of Washington

Date: January 14, 2013

Last Thursday, I went to University of Washington in Seattle to give a presentation titled “‘War on Trafficking’? Resisting Criminalization as the Solution to the ‘Modern Day Slavery’.” It was scheduled to preempt a big conference on human trafficking that was being held on Friday and Saturday because some people at UW were afraid that the conference was going to focus on ramping up further criminalization to combat “domestic minor sex trafficking” as many anti-trafficking conferences these days seem to, even though the conference actually turned out to be mostly about labor trafficking, labor rights abuses, and fair trade. I attended the conference and plan to report about it too, but there’s something else I want to write about.

After my presentation at UW’s student union building (which was very well attended–thank you very much!), someone started distributing pirated copies of my old article, The Transfeminist Manifesto, before I noticed it. I found a copy myself, and it looked like this:

The Transfeminist Manifesto pirated zine cover

Even though I’ve never published anything that looked like this, many people thought it was my zine, because it had my name on it and did not identify who printed or distributed it.

I personally do not want this particular article to be distributed further, unless it is made explicit that Manifesto is a dated, historical piece. I wrote the article more than a decade ago, and given that transgender community has expanded and changed rapidly over the last decade, I feel that it is no longer relevant. There are also many other texts exploring the intersection of feminism and trans politics, so there is no reason to keep Manifesto around, except of course as a historical artifact.

One of the ways I’ve tried to explain that Manifesto is a historical piece is to include “postscript” at the end of the article to criticize some aspects of the article itself. I included the postscript in the version published in Catching A Wave: Reclaiming Feminism for the 21st Century as well as in my zine, Whose Feminism Is It Anyway?. So I opened the pirated zine to see if they included my postscript along with the main article. This is what I saw:

The Transfeminist Manifesto pirated zine postface

They did include the postscript, but changed the heading to “postface.” According to a dictionary, “postscript” is “an additional remark at the end of a letter” or “an additional statement or action that provides further information on or a sequel to something,” while “postface” is “a brief explanatory comment or note at the end of a book or other piece of writing.” So technically, “postface” seems to be a more appropriate term than “postscript” in this case, but the reality remains: they changed my language and presented the edited version as my work. This worries me (though I do not have the time or energy to read the entire zine to find out what else they have changed).

Further, I found this statement on the back cover of the zine:

The Transfeminist Manifesto pirated zine quote

I have never written “SCUM! KILL KAPITAL! REVOLT!” anywhere, nor is it something I might ever say. And yet, there is no name printed on the entire zine except for my own name on the cover, so most people would think that I wrote that phrase, and I do not want to be associated with it in any way. I am not so much offended by the piracy of my work itself, but this slogan, along with the fact they have edited my words without permission and without clarifying who was responsible for it, offends me.

I don’t know who was responsible for pirating and distorting my work. I would feel a little bit better if it was done by a trans woman, but I doubt it: most trans women understand that Manifesto belongs in a different historical moment, and probably would not distribute it, other than to discuss the history of transgender activism. I imagine that it is not a trans woman, but non-trans people who are so out of touch with transgender community or politics that they found a 13-year old article curiously new and refreshing. They also must not think very much about trans women speaking for themselves if they are willing to “correct” my language without my permission and to add an inflammatory slogan like “SCUM! KILL KAPITAL! REVOLT!”

I hope that whoever was responsible for the incident would recognize how their action was harmful, and work on building true coalition with and amplifying the voices of trans women in their community.

“didn’t know at the time” – a high school romance

Date: January 6, 2013

didn’t know at the time

I finally looked up the whereabouts of my high school band teacher, Miss Jackson. After being transplanted from the streets of a West Coast city to a fundamentalist Christian household in Southern Missouri to “rescue” my soul, I managed to fake my transcripts and was allowed to take four music classes every day, three of which were with her.

I didn’t know it at the time, Miss Jackson was a classical butch woman, with very short hair, undecorative clothes, and independent, tough, dependable personality. Students adored her, especially the girls, because there weren’t any other adult women like her in the rural Missouri town.

My best friend at the time was girl named Helen, who was also taking all four music classes with me. We also went to the same Southern Baptist church, which met four times a week for different activities. I didn’t know at the time that we were practically dating, so we just styled each other’s hair and copied each other’s fashion. On one occasion, we even performed a duet during a Sunday morning service, a deeply romantic ballad about Jesus’ longing for a former believer who has strayed away from the faith.

Helen and I often went to Miss Jackson’s house after school. She lived with a big dog and a housemate, the skinny emo guy, who was probably a gay man when I think about it, but I didn’t know at the time and was puzzled what their relationship was. We watched women’s college basketball on tv (“Go Lady Bears!”) while eating Hamburger Helper, which she cooked like every day.

The year after I graduated, and a year before she was to receive tenure, the school fired Miss Jackson. After some hesitation, adults at the church told me that she was fired due to a “lifestyle problem,” but I didn’t know what it meant. I thought I knew Miss Jackson well, and could not think of any devastating personal secret that could be described as a “lifestyle problem.” Later when I realized what it meant, I felt guilty because I felt like our visiting her may have triggered the firing. But, as I found out recently, she is still teaching music to very lucky middle school students in a different State.

I didn’t know what a butch woman was or even what townfolks meant by a “lifestyle problem,” but she did save my life. And it’s not just because she fed me (and Helen) Hamburger Helpers when I was not eating breakfast or dinner at “home.”

— January 2013

What Businesses Should Know About Service Animals: A Guide

Date: January 5, 2013

[Download PDF]

Many people are confused about what service animals are, or what rights people using service animals have under Americans with Disabilities Act. This document is intended to help businesses understand what obligations they have to customers and members of the public who have service animals under law.

1. Service animals are not pets.

Service animals are different from pets because they are trained to perform tasks to assist persons with disabilities. Service animals must be allowed to accompany their owners wherever people without service animals may enter, even if the premises do not generally allow pets.

2. There are psychiatric service animals, too.

In addition to guide dogs, seeing eye dogs, and other more commonly recognized ones, some service animals are trained to assist people with psychiatric disabilities. The DOJ guideline lists dogs that are trained to calm people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack as an example of service animals that must be accommodated.

3. Service animals do not need to be trained by professionals.

Some service animals are trained by professionals to perform highly specialized tasks and are certified by established institutions. But service animals can also be trained by their owner, and do not need to receive any certification or license to be recognized as service animals.

4. Businesses cannot require any documentation.

Under ADA, businesses are not allowed to require any documentation for service animals such as a certificate or a physician’s letter. They are not allowed to demand people with service animals to “prove” that they are service animals, or to demonstrate their ability to perform tasks.

5. Tags/harnesses marking the animal as “service animal” are optional.

Some people with service animals put a tag or harness that marks their animals as service animals in order to inform other people, but they are not required. It is entirely optional.

6. There are only two questions businesses can ask.

When it is not clear that an animal is a service animal, businesses may ask: 1. “Is this a service animal?” and 2. “What work does the animal do?” Businesses are not allowed to ask what disability the person has, or to demand a proof.

7. Businesses can expect service animal to be under the control of the owner.

People with disabilities are expected to keep their service animals under control (not barking or making a scene) and on a leash (unless it would prevent the animal from performing the task). Also, service animals must be potty-trained. Businesses can ask a person using a service animal to leave the premise if he or she cannot keep the animal under control.

8. Businesses cannot discriminate.

Businesses cannot charge extra fees for people with service animals, even if they charge extra for people with non-service pets. They cannot isolate or segregate people with service animals from other customers, or treat them less favorably.

9. Fear or allergy are not legitimate reason to exclude.

Some people are afraid of dogs or are allergic to dogs, but these are not legitimate grounds to exclude people with service animals. When appropriate, businesses may need to accommodate both customers with service animals and those with allergic reactions, for example by seating them away from each other.

10. People with service animals cannot be singled out.

When service animals cause damages, it must be treated the same way damages caused by people are treated. For example, a hotel may charge for an extra cleaning fee for a mess made by a service animal if another customer who made a similar mess is also held responsible.

This document is based on “ADA 2010 Revised Requirements: Service Animals” issued by U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division.

(Also posted in System Failure Alert!)

Going Places with Your Service Animal: A Guide

Date: January 4, 2013

[Download PDF]

Many people are confused about what service animals are, or what rights people with disabilities have about bringing their service animals to places like buses, restaurants, schools, and other places. Some businesses violate the law when they refuse service to people with service animals out of ignorance, but we can’t demand our rights effectively if we don’t know them better than they do. This guide is designed for people who are interested in going to places with their service animal.

What Are Service Animals?

Service animals must be dogs (with some exceptions) that have been trained to perform a task to assist a person with a disability. They are different from pets, “companion animals,” or “emotional support animals” because they are specifically trained to do something for a person with disability.

Examples of “tasks” given by the Department of Justice include:

  • guiding someone who is blind
  • alerting someone who is deaf
  • pulling a wheelchair for someone
  • protecting someone who is having a seizure
  • calming someone during an anxiety attack (licking, nuzzling, etc.)

Service animals must be trained to do one of these things (or some other task), but they do not need to be trained by professionals. Some organizations train and certify dogs as “service animals,” but you or your friends and family members can train your own dog as well. There is no requirement for certification or registration for service animals.

What Are My Rights and Responsibilities?

Businesses, government buildings, clinics, and non-profit organizations that other people can enter generally must allow service animals. There are some exceptions, but they are very specific (such as an operating room at a hospital).

Service animals must wear a harness, leash, etc., unless these devices prevent them from working. They must be under control (not barking or making a scene) and must be potty-trained (they are able to hold off until they are in an appropriate place to relieve themselves).

What Are Businesses’ Rights and Responsibilities?

There are only two questions businesses are allowed to ask about someone’s service animal: 1. “Is this a service animal?” and 2. “What work does the animal do?” They cannot ask what disability you have, require documentation of any kind, or make you “prove” that the animal can perform tasks.

Businesses cannot charge extra fees for people with service animals, even if they charge extra for people with non-service pets (hotels, airplanes, etc.). They must allow service animals even if they do not allow other animals (restaurants, grocery stores). They cannot treat people with service animal any worse than they treat other customers.

Businesses can ask people with service animals to leave if the dog is out of control, or the animal is not potty-trained, but not just because someone else is afraid of or allergic to dogs.

Businesses can make people with service animal pay for damages their animals cause only if they would also ask customers without service animals to pay for damages they cause.

What Else Should I Know About Service Animals?

Some people make their service animals wear “service animal” tags, harnesses, or jackets. They are not required, but they might stop other people from questioning if your dog really is a service animal. You can buy them at a pet supply store or online.

This document addresses your rights in most places of “public accommodation.” There are different definitions of “service animal” or “assistance animal” for having service animals in housing (including shelters), or for air travel, which might give you more rights. Talk to your friendly disability justice advocate to find out more!

This document is based on “ADA 2010 Revised Requirements: Service Animals” issued by U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division. Download the original document, print out a copy and hand it to ignorant businesses to educate them!

(Also posted in System Failure Alert!)

Roundtable on California’s Prop 35 and “War on Trafficking”

Date: December 24, 2012

I participated in the roundtable discussion about California’s Prop 35 and “war on trafficking” in the current (January 2013) issue of In These Times magazine, which is also available on its website.

ITT Jan. 2013 Cover

Proposal for Bad Date Line 2.0: Text-Based “Bad Date” Blacklist for Sex Workers

Date: December 20, 2012

This is something I thought of today: a text-based “bad date” blacklist for sex workers and people in the sex trade. I know that there are several online “blacklists” out there, along with local “bad date” lists, but this is unique because it can be offered for free, and used from cheap cell phones many street-based workers have.

HOW TO USE:

Using a cell phone, sex workers can text the license plate number, phone number, or email address to a specified number. The text could be something like “5031234567 ?” (phone number 503-123-4567) or “OR*ABC012 ?” (Oregon license plate ABC-012).

The server computer looks up the information in the central database for a match. The worker would receive a response within seconds indicating whether or not there was a match, and if so what kind.

If there is no match, the server would respond with the message “NO RECORD.” If there are matches, it will give discreet codes like “VI” for violent or abusive client, or NC for someone who refuses condom. There may be multiple reports for the same person, in which case the response would say something like “VI NC*2”.

HOW TO REPORT:

When a sex worker experiences a bad date, she or he can text the license plate number, phone number, or email address to a specified number.

When reporting, the worker can include a code to indicate what kind of “bad date” it was, such as:

VI – violent or abusive
NP – no payment
HG – persistent haggler
NS – no show
NC – refuses condom
DR – especially disrespectful
PO – police
ST – stalker
PH – keeps calling, no intent to pay

A worker would send information such as:

5031234567 VI NC = phone number 503-123-4567, violent, refuses condom

OR*ABC012 PH NS = Oregon license plate ABC-012, repeated phone calls without intent to pay and no show.

ADVANTAGES OF USING THIS SYSTEM

  • it can function via text alone, making it easier to use even on cheap prepaid phones; workers don’t have to carry an incriminating piece of paper on them.
  • it can be implemented for relatively cheaply–cheap enough that we can probably get it funded by donations, and offer as a free service to all. (We can probably get it started for $1,000 seed money.)
  • unlike “Bad Date Line,” it doesn’t have to publish the master list (it only responds to the specific number or email address that was inquired).

POSSIBLE PROBLEMS:

  • Someone could make false reports.
    • True, but if someone was led to make a false report, there must be some reason. We don’t guarantee that the information is always correct, but workers can make their own decisions about whom they interact with.
  • Someone who is blacklisted might dispute it.
    • Solution: any client who disputes the information can come to us with a proof of identity, and we would agree to replace the code(s) with “DP” for “report was made, but is disputed.”
  • The record might be used as evidence for prostitution.
    • We won’t keep the record of who is texting us.
    • Also, we could modify the system to make it available to the general public who are going on date with people they met online. That way, usage of the service does not necessarily indicate that someone is doing sex work.

This is the kind of cost that we’d be looking at. I think it’s entirely possible to fund with individual donations.

Is there any tech person who is interested in volunteering with a project like this? Do you know anyone?

Announcing SYSTEM FAILURE ALERT!

Date: December 18, 2012

System Failure Alert! Flier

System Failure Alert! is a new grassroots project in Portland, Oregon that empowers street youth and other people by helping each of us share our stories and experiences about “system failures”–problems we had with social service, medical, law enforcement, and other systems that are supposed to help us–and about how we cope with these problems and take care of ourselves. We let people know about these stories through SFA! zines, internet, and public events, and try to make “systems” treat youth and adults better.

We are just starting out! Let us know if you want to get involved, and/or have stories to tell us. We are looking for youth, adults, activists, advocates, students, rogue social workers and medical providers (ya know, the good ones), and others to join! More information & SFA! zine issue #0 are forthcoming!

voicemail: (503) 567-8537
email:systemfailurealert@gmail.com
facebook: http://www.facebook.com/SystemFailureAlert
tumblr: http://systemfailurealert.tumblr.com/

State Violence, Sex Trade, and the Failure of Anti-Trafficking Policies – New Zine Released!

Date: December 17, 2012

In celebration of International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, I am announcing the release of new zine, titled “State Violence, Sex Trade, and the Failure of Anti-Trafficking Policies.” This zine is yet another compilation of short essays and articles I’ve been writing about sex work, sex trade, and the anti-trafficking movement.

In spring of 2011, I wrote “War on Terror and War on Trafficking: A Sex Worker Activist Confronts the Anti-Trafficking Movement,” which focused on debunking main claims of mainstream anti-trafficking organizations. In “Understanding Complexities of Sex Trade/Work and Trafficking” published in late 2011/early 2012, I discussed what sex trade actually looks like for people who come from complicated backgrounds, demonstrating how mainstream anti-trafficking rhetoric and politics harm the very people they are intended to “rescue.”

Essays in this new compilation extend the analysis of the previous two booklets on this important topic, with a special emphasis on the context of pervasive surveillance and criminalization of communities of color, immigrants, street youth, as well as people in the sex trade. Throughout the booklet, I am calling for a new multiracial coalition against state violence and criminalization, instead of narrowly focusing on sex workers’ rights or on sex trafficking.

I hope that this booklet stimulates conversations among feminists, sex workers, progressive activists, and all others who need to be part of this emerging coalition.

Table of Contents

The new zine is available for download (PDF) and purchase (hard copy) at http://eminism.org/store/

“Complexities of Sex Trafficking and Sex Work/Trade” handout updated for December 17

Date: December 16, 2012

Just in time for International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, I’ve updated my half-page flier, “Understanding the Complexities of Sex Trafficking and Sex Work/Trade: Ten Observations from a Sex Worker Activist/Survivor/Feminist.”

Please feel free to download PDF and distribute copies at your local December 17 event!

Anti-Criminalization: Criminalization happens on the ground, not in the legislature

Date: November 27, 2012

I attended Harm Reduction Conference for the first time this year, and it was also the first year this conference had the “sex worker track,” a series of workshops and presentations throughout the conference dedicated to addressing harm reduction approach to meeting the needs of sex workers and people in the sex industry. Many of the presentations I’ve posted on this blog last week were part of the sex worker track, and I attended many presentations by other activists.

But there is a downside to holding a specific “track” on sex workers’ issues, as it became clearer as activists and advocates working for people in the sex industry discussed among ourselves: I felt that “sex workers’ issues” was treated like a separate set of issues, distinct from issues affecting people who use drugs–the central focus of the conference overall–despite the fact there are large overlaps between issues and concerns faced by both groups. And it is not just in the sense that many people in the sex trade also use drugs; more importantly, it is because social and economic circumstances that exacerbate risks both groups face are often the same.

For many activists participating in the “sex worker track,” it was obvious that the ascent of the mainstream “anti-trafficking” discourse that reduces the complex issue of sexual labor to evil “traffickers” forcing innocent “victims” into prostitution and prescribes further policing and prosecution as the solution is not just harmful to sex workers, but to people of color, immigrants, street youth, and all others whose lives are under pervasive surveillance and criminalization, as I’ve discussed in my presentation about “war on trafficking”.

We were also keenly aware that police encroachment of social service systems under the guise of fighting human trafficking (mainly domestic minor sex trafficking), as discussed in my presentation about youth services, is dismantling the coalition based on harm reduction principles between social and economic justice movements and public health administration that we have built over last several decades, with serious negative consequences for many other vulnerable communities in addition to people in the sex trade. But I’m afraid that the rest of harm reduction community are not recognizing this clear and present danger to the entire harm reduction movement because they compartmentalize “sex workers’ issues” as a side business, rather than one of the central themes of the entire movement.

One of the most exciting things that came about as a result of our discussions at the Harm Reduction Conference is a new framing for addressing how attacks on people in the sex trade which are perpetuated by the mainstream anti-trafficking discourse operate in relation to other ways communities are targeted and criminalized by the state.

Mainstream (white, middle-class) sex workers’ movement in the U.S. puts lots of emphasis on “decriminalizing” prostitution and sex work–i.e. eliminating laws that prohibit consensual adult commercial transactions involving sexual contact–as well as destigmatization of sex work. But to those of us who are street-based, immigrants, youth, transgender, etc. this agenda appear to be based on the naive premise that people engaging in prostitution are targeted by the state because the legislature passed laws to criminalize prostitution. Those of us who live under pervasive surveillance and criminalization know that the cause and effect run the other way around: we are just targeted and criminalized for who we are, and the laws are passed by the legislature to justify it and make it more efficient.

In other words, criminalization happens on the ground, not in the legislature. For example, even though some States have passed “safe harbor laws” that define minors who are “rescued” from prostitution as victims, not criminals, young people are still arrested and detained as juvenile delinquents, “material witnesses,” mentally incapacitated, etc., or are “charged up” with drug and other crimes that result in longer sentences than simple misdemeanor prostitution offenses. Young people, especially young women of color and transgender women, are still profiled as suspected prostitutes, and are targeted for “stop and frisk” in search of drugs and condoms–which is construed as an evidence for prostitution. They are still forcibly placed under the child welfare system that many young people had to run away from in the first place for years, instead of serving 12 days in jail as they did before. We are not targeted because we trade sex for money, food, shelter, survival; we are just targeted, period, and it is simply slightly more convenient for the state that some of us are also breaking laws against prostitution (and even if we aren’t–we are automatically suspects).

We need an anti-criminalization movement, not decriminalization movement. An anti-criminalization movement is not just about sexual freedom or “right to choose,” although it supports these ideas too. More fundamentally, it is about fighting for social and economic justice in the face of pervasive state violence against communities of color, immigrants, street youth, drug users, and others. An anti-criminalization movement is not just about changing laws, but about delegitimatizing state violence from its very foundation of colonialism and genocide to slavery and the Prison Industrial Complex.

We saw a beginning of this new alliance in California, where voters earlier this month overwhelmingly approved Prop. 35, a ballot measure enacting several “anti-trafficking” laws that focus on increasing criminalization and policing. Even though Prop. 35 was easily passed statewide, the array of organizations that publicly stood against this problematic statute was impressive: along with some sex worker and civil liberties organizations, the list of critics included Black Women for Wellness, Latinas for Reproductive Justice, and Causa Justa / Just Cause–organization led by people of color for people of color who saw through the anti-trafficking rhetoric of Prop. 35 and recognized it for the racism, sexism, and xenophobia that underlie the increased surveillance and criminalization of their communities.

It is this new, emerging alliance against criminalization of our people and communities in an increasingly multi-racial and queer/trans-friendly America that gives me hope despite of the massive overreach of policing and criminalization advanced by the mainstream anti-trafficking movement. We need to continue having conversations not just about decriminalization as a matter of legal reform, but about anti-criminalization, linking the struggles of people in the sex trade with other people and communities that are facing state surveillance and criminalization, building alliances with organization for racial, economic, gender, housing, queer/trans, and immigration justice.

(Thanks to people I spoke with at the conference, especially S. and K. for your insight that informed much of what I wrote here. This isn’t my personal manifesto, but something that came bubbling in the space among and between all of us. I love you.)

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