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What's So Illegal About Sex?

by Andrea Michaela Gonzalez

As much as we at Anything That Moves wish to avoid tagging undesired labels on people, it becomes difficult in this instance. The term "sex worker" is an amorphous one. Its meaning is not even agreed upon by those who work in the sex industry, but for the purposes of this magazine, we're using the term to refer to anyone whose job includes entering physical or mental sexual space -- from phone sex operators, strippers, and porn actors to prostitutes, dominatrices and sex surrogates, and anyone else whose job revolves around sexual contact of some sort.

Perhaps it's not immediately obvious, but the crossovers between the bisexual and sex workers communities are very real. For one thing, bisexuality (or at least the appearance of it) is practically a job requirement -- the obvious image of straight women pretending to be "lesbians" for mainstream porn comes to mind. Less obvious is the fact that many of the actors are gay men, and many of the actresses are lesbian. Many also engage in bisexual behaviors, whether they identify that way or not. We share the same neighborhoods, the same clubs and events, and often, the same friends.

We also share a problem with repressive sex laws.

In a lot of ways, we here in San Francisco have it good. California's sodomy laws fell two decades ago. We're getting more and stronger anti-discrimination laws covering sexual orientation. Gender identity protections are slowly moving into the mainstream, although I expect it will be several decades more before the legendary "transsexual job-interview runaround" really goes away. In the pressed-collar concrete caverns of the Financial District, out queer people can generally work without fear for their jobs or their lives, and transgendered and transsexual people are even moving into the realm of the everyday.

The phenomenon that the "mainstream" can only handle one issue at a time seems unlikely to go away anytime soon, however -- it seems there's always at least one sexual minority left behind. In many parts of the United States, police still actively harass and arrest gays and lesbians. Here in San Francisco, queer folk are pretty much left alone; gay sex clubs thrive and BDSM has become mainstream -- pretty much anything goes as long as it remains "amateur." However, the police here work overtime going after "professionals" -- sex workers.

Compare this to England, where commercial sex is not a crime per se, although all auxiliary necessities for the trade -- advertising, work space, etc. -- remain criminalized. There, however, police actively infiltrate the BDSM scene. In the recent Spanner case, they actually prosecuted and jailed "bottoms" for aiding and abetting an assault on themselves! [For more details, see "Who's Watching Big Brother" in Issue 17, p.61. -- Ed.] And so it goes on.

Laws regulating private consensual adult sexual behavior, by definition, constitute an invasion of privacy. They are impossible to enforce without deception, fraud, and entrapment by the enforcers -- there's really no way for undercover officers to get into someone's private affairs without pretending to be something they are not.

Since the online community is both one place and everyplace, the national and international differences come to light most profoundly on the Internet. In the same forum where Bay Area computer users post reports of companies which have progressive policies describing the handling of on-the-job transitions, a Saudi Arabian transsexual contemplates the possibility of transition in a country that sentences crossdressers to death. In another newsgroup, British women gawk in amazement at the San Franciscan openness about BDSM, and U.S. women gawk back at the openness of the U.K. and Australia-based whores. It becomes impossible to talk about sex without talking about the culture in which it exists.

For queers and the gender-different, this patchwork of freedoms and oppressions is especially frustrating since so many of us carry multiple marginalizations. Sexual xenophobia comes in constantly changing forms, and one legal loophole can render all other protections more or less void. Think how many things have to change before a queer-identified, pre-op MTF, professional BDSM sex worker is really protected anywhere.

What does this have to do with us? Everything. In this issue, we present voices from a community still waiting to see progressive change -- the complex pseudo-community of sex workers. Heterosexual and queer alike, they remain legally stigmatized, and they are likely to be the last in the nation to see reform.

Suzan Cooke is a bisexual transsexual woman and former prostitute currently living in Los Angeles who began her "coming out" as herself in San Francisco during the 1967 Summer of Love, when the word "transition," the Benjamin Standards of Care, and the psychological concept of "Gender Identity Disorder" were still a decade in the future. In "Not My Child", she paints a disturbing portrait of the familial abandonment, institutionalized physical and psychological abuse, desperation, sex work, and suicide that many trans youth encounter when they come out or are outed as gender different.

If the lack of choice many trans youth face is one extreme, the choices made by Teri Goodson are definitely another. A quiet woman of 42 with a middle-class background, Teri Goodson doesn't seem like the kind of person who would be in trouble with the law. She is well-liked; as she walks through the hallway of her apartment building, neighbors smile and exchange friendly, familiar greetings. Nonetheless, this rather normal-looking, unobtrusive neighbor is a woman of notoriety -- she's an "out" prostitute, who started working in the brothels of Northern Nevada at 29, a COYOTE -- Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics member who went on to found an independent organization called the Cyprian Guild. In mid-1998 she started her own escort agency, Qadisha of San Francisco. And as of late January 1999, she's facing three years in jail on felony charges as an alleged madam. The story of her arrest -- "The Body Politic" (p.22) -- parallels the process by which police "sting" gay bars back East, and by which the British "Spanner" group was brought down.

Contrary to popular mainstream perception, not all sex workers are desperate, in trouble with the law, or otherwise victimized. In fact, not all of them are female, either. In his piece, "Troubles", New York-area resident Aaron Lawrence shares a page from his life, and a glimpse into the everyday life of a successful male escort.

There are more parts of the trade than escorts and streetwalkers and prostitutes, and we're privileged to hear from two women who have worked in other parts of the sex industry. In "Dancing Shadows" (p.8) author and former exotic dancer Gina Gold discusses her experiences as a woman of color in the strip clubs of San Francisco and Hawaii. Also appearing in this issue is "Sex, Power, and Identity" (p.32), wherein Jeanna Fine shares her point of view about life, work, and childraising while making a living as a stripper and porn actress.

Finally, we have an unusual twist -- a woman for whom sex with paying clients is a perfectly legal occupation, right here in California. Some would consider her a therapist, some would consider her a callgirl (although she would disagree), and some might say both. You can decide for yourself as Linda Poelzl describes her work as a sex surrogate in "Keeping the Sex in Sex Therapy."

Six people do not make a conclusive sample, but six real-life firsthand accounts aren't meaningless, either. And if Norma Jean Almodovar gets her way, the historic Dumas Brothel in Butte, Montana will host the International Sex Worker Foundation for Art, Culture and Education's Cultural Center and Museum ("Restoring the Past: The Dumas Hotel").

So that's the feature focus for this issue. We can't wait to see the mail.


Andrea Michaela-Gonzalez lives in San Francisco and is a staff writer at Anything That Moves. A sex-positive bisexual woman, she prefers that the government remain outside her bedroom door. (unless she chooses to invite it in).

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