I’m Alive and So Are You!

So it’s been a while!

Thank you to everyone who has asked or emailed me to check in. It means a lot to me! And if I haven’t written you back yet I will 🙂

A month has gone by and I stepped away from SR mostly because I mentally couldn’t keep up with myself. But I’m back.

In my world, in no particular order:
I start school (again) today
Work is going well. I’m officially a supervisor!
My dear friend who I have been crushing hard on for two years finally realized it was a good idea to try dating me! 😉
Domestic violence is a hard thing to see and hear about
I did one nonsexual escort date and long story short, I got paid $2500 and J and I have gone out to dinner with both the dude and his wife (more on that to come)
I still LOVE dancing
I only have one box left in the house to unpack
We’re flying home next weekend to see the fam
I want to go Hawaii SO BAD. Especially since today is the first really dreary day in Portland.
Have you checked out Bitch media?The falll issue is called Love/Lust and has several excellent pieces on the questioning identity, feminist porn, and more
Still trying to figure out why my most comfortable state is naked. Or rather, trying to be naked more often

What’s new with you all?

End of Week Links

Honorary degrees for legendary pornstars

St. James Infirmary: I am in awe of this organization. I wish I had known about it sooner! It is an occupational safety organization for sex workers. They have an amazing handbook for workers, they employ workers on their staff, they do harm reduction and outreach services, and provide free healthcare to workers… all in SF. It would be so amazing to have something like this in Portland.

Beware the Kerkeslager Effect

What Happened When One Woman Had Her Picture Photoshopped In 25 Different Countries

Politics of Respectability

About the politics of respectability, and how having an education and other successes in life clouds our other, more taboo, experiences, despite their worthiness and depth in our lives:

The Erasure of Maya Angelou’s Sex Work History

Or, how the politics of respectability makes our collective experiences look crazy, strange, or shameful:

Stripper with a PhD

The politics of respectability are those that I have tried countless times to discuss on here in relation to my own struggle as both a lover of school and education and desire to work in the mainstream, and a lover of the strip club stage. How can I be both? Perhaps I am neither? Am I a feminist? Or not? Perhaps both? Am I a slut? How complex can I be and still be accepted? How complex can I be and still love myself? Can I respect myself and be everything that I am? Will others respect be despite, and hopefully because of, everything I am?

Sex Worker/Social Worker

Somehow I missed the publication of the roundtable I participated in for Tits and Sass. Here it is:

Sex Worker/Social Worker: An Ethics Roundtable

I am floored and humbled and motivated reading (and re-reading) the other workers’ experiences with school and sex work. There are so many rich and complex stories here. So much insight, pride, solidarity, and action. I love it.

And thanks to T&A for including me!

Social Work, Sex Work, Students

It’s been simmering in my head for a little over a week now:

I got into my MSW program!

I feel relieved, tired, and gritty thinking about it. More school. And this time, part time school with full time work- something I’ve never done before. But this is important to me, and I feel like my life keeps pushing me toward this experience.

I posted a link last week to Tits and Sass piece on social workers who work with students sex workers, and this week I want to post a link to a Huffington Post interview that was done with the woman who works as the sex worker advocate at the Women’s Resource Center at Portland State (where I’ll be going for my MSW), and with two anonymous student sex workers. I haven’t even had the chance to watch the full thing, but it was encouraging to know that the interviewer asked the workers what their ideal questions would be- at least we had a chance to set the tone for the interview. (I wanted to participate but had to work- darn it!)

On Campus: Life as a College Sex Worker

(Try not to read the asinine comments. Or if you do, leave something intelligible to counter them! Ha)

I am encouraged and heartened about the culture of PSU’s MSW program: there is a sex worker advocate in the WRC, a few fairly out sex workers in the program, and at least one professor who has been supportive of student sex workers. I don’t know for sure if I’ll be coming out or not in the program, but at least it feels like a safe possibility.

Patting myself on the back. Now time for sleep so I can do this 9-5 thang.

Working with Student Sex Workers

I can’t wait to see the roundtable I participated in on being a sex worker and going into counseling or social as a profession, but in the meantime, Tits and Sass published this lovely interview with two social workers who work with sex workers: Discussing Other People’s Lives: Social Work & Student Sex Workers

Quotes of note:

 Programs like Project Rose send the message that you can only be a social worker if you are a) not a sex worker and b) see sex workers as people that need to be rescued.”

In social work right now and in dominant white feminism, we need to be really critical about how we think and talk about this issues, and how our ethnocentrism impacts how we think people “should” live their lives. I am deeply troubled with the way that we are discussing other peoples’ lives over and over again in these conversations.”

A really dangerous liaison is happening between evangelical trafficking organization and “radical feminists” and social work organizations. There is a history of this, it’s not new. It’s my opinion that in social work there isn’t a critical eye being turned to this work because we are so deeply uncomfortable with sex work and social workers are so deeply invested in their identities as “helpers” and “saviors.” Annie and I present to lots of different audiences and recently I heard some feedback that there was the impression we were “encouraging” students to enter the sex industry, simply because we did not “condemn” the existence of the trades. Moving away from theoretical conversations about “empowerment” and victim/agent dichotomies makes people deeply uncomfortable because you aren’t making an assessment about if you think the sex trades are “right” or “wrong”.”

PS: This interview makes me so much more excited about my potential MSW program since these women work at the school I applied to 🙂

Word Gets Around

It is so gratifying to know that people talk to each other, and that my story of school and stripping has gotten around. I received an email from a former fellow student who heard about my story through another student and put two and two together, and wanted to make sure I was okay and offered to give me any support I needed. They and I had had only one class together, but I had disclosed my stripping experience to them and felt really supported by them. It was really nice to hear from them and to know that they found the courage to reach out to me.

And then, I met someone through the sex worker outreach coalition who is starting the exact program at the school that I just withdrew from. So of course we had to talk about it all. Since she is a former sex worker, she is also trying to decide how much disclosure she feels safe making in her new program and moving forward in her career. (No surprises: she feels pretty darn unsafe in disclosing her past work experiences)

Hearing her get fired up on my behalf, and on behalf of all workers, was gratifying and intensely pleasurable. It gave me chills.

Social network + solidarity = one happy Katie

Solidarity-Hand-Tree-blog-770x380

Sex Workers, the Internet, & Stigma

Last night I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Emily Kennedy, a sociology PhD student studying the role of the Internet in shaping the ways in which we view sex work and sex workers. It was a fantastic experience- one of the highlights was when I started talking about my experience with withdrawing from my counseling program and she jumped in her seat: “That’s you?! I saw that post on Tumblr!! I can’t believe you’re part of my interview sample!” She was so excited, and I loved that she had seen the HoP post. We talked about how Internet use has helped me attract customers, how I have communicated with regulars, how I got started stripping and why, who I have disclosed my experiences to and why, if I have had any negative experiences with school or law enforcement or other people in my life, and whether I think there has been a shift in general attitude toward sex work in the past 10-20 years. It was really fun to talk about all of that with a sociology student who herself has direct experience with sex work and also has a deep curiosity for how sex work is viewed and treated culturally in our country.

My interview came after an interesting afternoon at work, something I am still somewhat processing. I met with a coworker to discuss planning a financial planning workshop for sex workers in the area, and after about 20 minutes of me offering a lot of information without much clarity of source, she asked me:

So… how did you get involved in this work?

I stumbled for a minute, and probably looked a bit uncomfortable. Ummm…

You don’t have to tell me at all! It’s okay.

No, I’ve been struggling with this. And so I guess I’ll just tell you, and you (as I nodded to the coworker who I share an office with). I’ve actually been a stripper, so that’s how I got really interested in sex workers rights and advocacy.

Well that is so cool! You have a lot of insight then and probably a better ability to reach this population. What an asset. How great!

After I told my two coworkers I started doubting myself- was that a smart decision? Why can’t I just keep my mouth shut? What is wrong with me? So many people don’t talk about their personal lives at work- why do I have this compulsive need to be out everywhere?

I remember Louisa Leontiades telling me in a Skype chat once:

It’s addicting to be yourself.

It’s so true. Once you have felt what it’s like to be yourself, totally and completely, without shame and without regard for what others think, it’s hard to go back. It’s hard to stuff pieces of yourself away, for fear of retaliation or judgement.

I had a longer conversation with my officemate after the other person left, and she understood completely my need for discretion and to continue to feel out the culture of our program and the attitude of other coworkers. I trust her and I don’t worry about her telling anyone or gossiping about it. Then later, I emailed my other coworker and thanked her for her understanding and respect and discretion. And she replied with more kindness and a confirmation that she adheres to the Vegas rule- whatever was said in our office, stays in our office.

I need to trust my intuition about people- my coworkers felt like safe and supportive people to disclose to, and they are. While I have largely had good experiences coming out as a stripper, I also have enough experience from my school snafu to know that not everyone sees my stripping experience as an empowering, rich, and positive perspective. So taking it slow in my new work environment in disclosing feels like a good path to take. I am also feeling more “all here,” which is freeing and grounding at the same time.

One of the last questions that Emily asked me last night was: You’re only 25, but how do you think general attitudes toward sex work has changed in the past 20 years?

To which I replied:

Well, I was only 5 20 years ago, but I know from the time I was in high school to now, I personally have undergone a massive shift in how I view sex work. I used to have my mom’s attitude toward sex work- that it is objectifying, degrading, and hurts all women and people. I carried that through college, and it wasn’t until my partner and I opened up that I had a catalyst to unpack my views surrounding sexuality and sex work. I have noticed that a lot of other women in my age cohort have gone through similar transformations with how they view sexuality and sex work, although they have had different catalysts than me. It gives me hope!

She laughed and agreed.

Community Connections

The past week I have been offered some wonderful connections:

-My dear friend is the creator of the amazing Humans of Portland project. She offered to interview about my experience with school and take an anonymous photo. This past Monday, we had a lovely and in-depth conversation about it all, and took some fun photos of me wearing my favorite dance shoes in front of my library of sexuality books. I am excited for it to come out. (And I may share a link once it’s published)

-One of the dancers in Portland is putting together sort of an anthology of stories, poems, etc written by strippers about their experiences stripping. I had been toying with the idea of submitting something for quite some time, and late last night I finally got my creative juices flowing. I cranked out 4000+ words in less than 24 hours. It’s in poetry form, but I have worked on subjects ranging from the how I got started to regular relationships to getting ready for a shift to my rage over tip outs to my therapeutic relationship with dancing. Even if she doesn’t end up wanting the piece for her collection, I feel so relaxed and energized at the same time from getting to process my experiences in this way. I’ll probably post pieces of that here when I have finished editing it all.*

-I was contacted by the producer of Mystery Box Storytelling to submit a story! I have had friends tell me that I should tell a story at one of the shows, but I’ve never known what to do. I feel excited to brainstorm and potentially craft something to share. I’ll keep y’all posted! 🙂

*Here are a couple of parts that I love so far:

“Do you ever have that feeling

that somehow your life is unfolding

and you’re just watching? marveling at the mystery? laughing at the novelty of it all?

You’re doing what now, Self?

Stripping.

Stripping?

Stripping.

Okay, then. Let me grab some popcorn, ‘cause this is going to be entertaining.”

***

“Body image

Issues

have plagued me since I was about seven years old.

I carried a lot of baby fat through elementary school

feeling Fat and Fatter than all of my friends

I had my last growth spurt at 12

And suddenly I felt

Skinny

which equaled/s

Being Worthy (of love, appreciation, respect)

And the Hyper-vigilance began

when might the weight return?

the extra fat around my stomach and butt and thighs?

I kept myself hungry throughout high school,

priding myself on going to bed starving and eating small

amounts of food

at dinner.

When I began exercising in college,

and fell in Love,

I began eating more, my curves

filling out More.

I became More.

And the hyper-vigilance cranked up

and continues on.

At times,

dancing has helped me

feel beautiful and worthy and sexy

and at other times,

dancing has worsened my

Anxiety and Self-Shaming

as I watch my curves in the mirror,

trying to pray away my god-given shape and size

No amount of Hollow Flattery

or even Genuine Desire and Admiration

can ease the pain

It must come from inside, a

Recognition and Belief

that I am Worthy of love and belonging

simply because I am alive

and here.”

 

Life is Short

My heart was racing, my body was trembling. I read though my letter one final, agonizing time, and pressed print. And then send.

And then it felt finished. Mostly finished anyway.

I wrote a letter to the faculty and staff at the school I just withdrew from, explaining my reasons for withdrawing. It took me about two weeks to write it. J edited it a few times, and a friend of ours did as well (thank you both for helping me with the nitty gritty part of making it sound all professional and intelligent).

Here’s my favorite part; it happens to be the concluding paragraph:

“I highly encourage the faculty members to reconsider the process in which they evaluated my experiences, to examine their own personal values and perspectives related to sex work and social justice, and to be more mindful of the messages they give to students regarding sharing personal information and the potential ramifications of sharing that information. I also request that the faculty, on behalf of future and current students, consider how they will include and exclude various populations from this profession for which they are gatekeepers. If sex workers, in the opinion of this institution, cannot become competent and ethical therapists, then perhaps the school should include that piece of information in the application process as well as consider the ethics and legality of such a claim.”

I have mostly felt really good about my decision, with the occasional twinge and shade of regret and questioning that seeps into the back of my brain (are you sure that was the right decision? why couldn’t you just stop dancing and agree with your professor so you could stay? most people would think you’re crazy! what if you were just being idealistic and radical? what if there isn’t a program that will feel right? you should have just stayed!). And then I shake it off when I remember the absurdity of the situation and try to imagine myself staying there given the atmosphere. This has been my mantra lately; I love this quote so much that I got a wall decoration with it:

Life is short break the rules forgive quickly kiss slowly love truly

Life IS short. Why waste it on an institution that clearly is un-supportive of my perspectives and experiences? Especially when I can be me somewhere else?

I am talking to a reporter about my experience at my school. We’re waiting to see if I receive any kind of response from the school before moving forward with a formal story. I’ll keep y’all posted on that one for sure.