Beware the “rescue” industry

A “rescue” operation that has no idea who it’s actually rescuing sounds like the start of a bad Hollywood film, right? It’s the reality for sex workers though, who have to navigate these moralizing agencies with no clue or care for their material conditions. It’s “stop helping me” writ large. Sex workers generally agree that the most effective and achievable way to make them safe is to permit labour organizing, but proponents of the much-vaunted “Scandinavian model” undermine that by criminalizing their customers and banning sex worker collectives. Instead, you get a cottage industry of 12-step programs with little conclusive evidence as to their effectiveness essentially receiving a pipeline from criminal court.

Mike Ludwig has a lengthy expose on one such rescue program in Houstan, Texas.

Griffin is currently under fire from sex worker and human rights advocates who say her tough-love, one-size-fits-all approach is flawed and fails to respect basic human dignity. People who are arrested for prostitution are not necessarily poor and dependent on drugs, and so-called “rescue-and-recovery” operations that lump sex workers in with victims of sex trafficking have lead to human rights abuses across the globe. Many activists say Griffin’s habit of thrusting her clients into the limelight, whether in the local and national media or at PR events for the former sheriff’s mayoral campaign, isn’t just manipulative, it’s dangerous.

Back at the meeting, there’s a pause as Griffin invites a group of observers to the front of the room. They introduce themselves as a local television production team that Griffin has hired to make a TV show about We’ve Been There Done That. A member of the team explains that the show will follow the women through their journey to recovery. Everyone is welcome to appear on the show, but participation is not mandatory. Griffin, who has appeared on “Dr. Drew’s Life Changers” and a Jerry Springer spinoff, claps her hands and chants, “Oh yeah, oh yeah” – she wants to know if everyone is interested in appearing on the show, and asks for a show of hands. Nervous glances are exchanged across the room, but almost everyone raises a hand into the air.


On the other side of town, Kamylla wipes tears from her eyes as she recalls the time she spent with We’ve Been There Done That earlier this year. She had little in common with the other women in the rehabilitation group besides being arrested and charged with prostitution. She didn’t need any tough love or drug rehabilitation; she just needed some money. The experience was “humiliating,” but it wasn’t the first time she had been humiliated by the same people who claimed to be coming to her aid.

Kamylla, who cannot reveal her real name due to legal concerns, is one of three plaintiffs suing the television network A&E and an affiliated production company over the now-defunct reality television show “8 Minutes” for breach of contract, fraud and other complaints. The following reporting is based on the legal complaint against “8 Minutes,” which was recently filed in a Houston court, and interviews with Kamylla and activists who were in contact with her in the months following her appearance on the show.

“8 Minutes” featured Pastor Kevin Brown, an ex-cop whose California-based Christian ministry includes missions to rescue women from the sex industry. Reports indicate that these missions rarely lead to successful “rescues,” but Brown was able to land the leading role on the reality show based on his supposed success in the anti-trafficking field. In the show, Brown travels to Houston and poses as a client or “john” to meet with sex workers and “possible victims of sex trafficking” in hotels, where he claims to have eight minutes to convince them to quit the sex business before a potentially violent sex trafficker lurking nearby could catch wind of the situation and put everyone in danger. With the clock ticking, Brown’s team offers the women “a way out” of “the life” with resources such as a safe place to sleep, health care and educational, employment, legal and rehabilitative services. At least, that’s what they said on TV.

Read more here.


TERFs are misogynists? Say it ain’t so

File this under “I am so surprised by this news I literally died.”

In the grand scheme of Women Having Opinions About Things In Public, I have it really easy. The tireless harassment, often escalating into abuse and even threats, that many women (especially but not exclusively Black women and other women of color) deal with online, is enormously well-documented. The worst that’s ever happened to me is an exhausting days-long barrage of messages on all my social media profiles calling me every misogynistic or homophobic insult under the sun. It comes in waves; there are days—and I know this is unimaginable to many women writers—when nobody trolls me at all.

Most of the people who have sought me out to denigrate my character (rather than criticize my work, which is an entirely different kind of exchange) are right-wingers, anti-feminists, conservatives, anti-queer ideologues, or just open and unabashed misogynists. But because I believe transgender people exist and deserve safety and dignity, I also have more experience than I’d like being harassed (again, distinct from criticized) by people who describe themselves as feminists.

I’m still learning how to respond to trans hatred from ostensible feminists, though I’m well aware that the vitriol they direct my way is infinitesimal compared to what trans people have to contend with. It’s disorienting to encounter someone who claims to share your goal of liberation, but espouses reactionary hatred for your most deeply held ideals. But if anything, I’ve spent more time being harangued by trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs) than by men.

Read more here.


Fundraiser against felony rioting

When news first broke out of the mass-arrest at J20 (Trump’s inauguration), I expected a non-specific blanket charge as a means of intimidation. I was wrong, as it turns out–the Department of ‘Justice’ alleged eight blanket charges, not just one–but the basic principle remains the same: Hold the group accountable for the actions of a few. While many liberals have tsked tsked about the anarchist presence at the J20 protest, they seemed to miss the actual point: If the J20 charges stick, that’s a blank cheque to not only mass-arrest protesters, but slap them with enough charges to imprison them for life as long as someone tips over a garbage can. It is, effectively, the single greatest assault on American civil rights that can occur in a single trial, regardless of how you feel about anarchists (this is without going into the fact that they’re facing 75+ years for wearing the same colours as someone who broke a window).

Well, as it turns out, the police and prosecutors haven’t waited for the trial. Felony rioting, a crime so loosely defined that you can be charged for being present around someone else’s property destruction, has been applied another ~250 times at protests since J20. Counter Repression Spokes is planning a fundraiser to support the legal organizations that have been helping the accused navigate their trials. These groups include Dead City Legal Posse (for J20); One People’s Project, who have been tracking violent extremist activities that go largely ignored by police; and St. Louis Legal Fund, for bail and defence lawyers for the St. Louis protesters who rightly objected to the acquittal of Jason Stockley, a police officer who admitted on camera that he intended to murder Anthony Lamar Smith, and who attempted to frame Smith by planting evidence.

Please consider donating to the fundraiser here. And also considering raising awareness in your own activities about the way prosecutors across the United States are using felony rioting charges to mass-arrest protesters.


TERFs aren’t above the Nazi playbook either

The thing about TERFs is that, as a trans woman, I cannot play optics with them. Many TERF theories craft elaborate narratives that paint my mere existence as a threat–there is literally nothing I can do that won’t be perceived as violent for someone steeped in these narratives. So I am not even slightly surprised when we can be assaulted at a rally and the footage of a 60 year-old TERF dragging a wisp of a teenager across concrete is held up as evidence of “trans violence.” (Apparently it’s impolite to not pass-out when one is being choked).

Stavvers noticed the meta-strategy here: It’s a page from modern Nazis.

What I want to point out is the similarity in tactics between the transmisogynists’ narrative, and tactics deployed successfully by Nazis. Our current face of Nazism–the alt right, neo-Nazis, the far right, whatever your style guide demands you call them–rather like to play the victim. When Richard Spencer got punched (lol) the Nazis were very keen to whine about it. When anti-fascist protesters come out to defend their communities, the Nazis, and their chum Donald Trump, are falling over themselves to denounce violence “on both sides”. Centrists are always eager to back up these narratives, because they love a good middle ground almost as much as they love pretending they’re not enablers of fascism.

This, of course, serves a purpose. It drags discussion away from “Nazis are bad, how can we stop them?” to “punching is bad”. It has been a Nazi tactic since Nazis were invented; Hitler rather liked to claim that he and his were victims of unprovoked violence from the people they wanted wiped out.

Now, transmisogynistic bigots have rather a lot in common with Nazis already. They both share an unhealthy fascination with trans people’s genitalia, where trans people pee, concern trolling about safety, and a general desire to see trans people eliminated entirely. They have been known to work together on certain projects, in particular surrounding “bathroom bills”. It seems, in their cosy discussion groups about how to ban trans people from public life, the transmisogynistic bigots and the Nazis have also been exchanging tactics.

Read more here.


Silver-lining-in-genocide Senator wants to assimilate you

If there was ever an argument for abolishing Canada’s appointed Senate, Lynn Beyak is it. After defending the first genocide of the continent’s first nations by European colonials, then the second genocide through the residential school program by bonafide Canadians, Beyak spent her summer months supposedly meeting with Indigenous communities. Her takeaway? Give up your culture and assimilate–also, apply for citizenship that you already have.

“Trade your status card for a Canadian citizenship, with a fair and negotiated payout to each Indigenous man, woman and child in Canada, to settle all the outstanding land claims and treaties, and move forward together just like the leaders already do in Ottawa,” she said in an open letter published Sept. 1 on her Senate website.

(Indigenous people born in this country are Canadian citizens, and were given full voting rights in 1960.)

“Like the leaders already do in Ottawa” is an interesting euphemism, considering the outstanding criticism is that we flout our treaties. Perhaps Beyak is unaware, but a federal government dishonouring its agreements is generally perceived as a high-risk partner in diplomacy, and it severely damages your government’s ability to bargain. There’s a reason North Korea has exactly zero friends, with their supposed ally mostly using NK as a proxy to undermine the United States. The fact that Trudeau is undermining “fewer” of these treaties isn’t… exactly… progress.

Also, she’s apparently unaware that status first nations are still citizens? Why is this twit being paid with my tax money?

“None of us are leaving, so let’s stop the guilt and blame and find a way to live together and share,” she wrote. “All Canadians are then free to preserve their cultures in their own communities, on their own time, with their own dime.”

Great! So we’re de-funding the Catholic systems then! (Somehow I doubt that’s what she actually means)

How about, instead of paying this leaking ass-pimple her salary, we use the money to fire her into the fucking sun.



A brief history of menstrual taboos

The construction of menstruation as an “unclean” process is an important cornerstone in misogyny, as it provides the sexist asshat a permanently available means of character assassination. Jen Bell gives us a brief review of the taboo’s presence for the past 100 years or so in advertising.

Modess was a brand created by Johnson & Johnson in 1926, which became a household name thanks to a glamorous advertising campaign they did in the US from the 1940s to the 1970s. The ads featured high fashion models, gorgeous gowns and the text: “Modess… Because.” There was no description of the product or what it was for. Periods were a taboo topic that was not directly spoken about, only alluded to. It took until 1985 for the word period to be said in a TV commercial by none other than Courtney Cox.

In the 1950s Modess promoted the fact that their sanitary napkins came in a plain brown paper box to save embarrassment.

Many brands still use terms like “virtually undetectable” or advertise that their product has a “discreet wrapper” to ensure “discreet protection.” This suggests it’s important to hide the fact you’re menstruating. In 2010, Kotex challenged period shame with their “Break the Cycle” campaign, showing that it’s cool to carry your tampons proudly in a transparent handbag.

At first the Softcup ad from 2015 above seems like it’s breaking taboos about period sex: the viewer can peek through an open door to see a couple in bed, with the text promoting “12-hour leak protection so you can sleep. Or not.” But the Softcup is actually designed to hide the fact you have your period, so you can go about your (sex) life “without him knowing.” Friendly reminder: you can have sex during your period — some people even prefer it! There’s no need to hide the fact you are menstruating from your partner. Periods shouldn’t be a source of embarrassment.

Menstruation is also used in other oppressive constructs (e.g. its presence is sometimes cited as “evidence” against trans men’s manhood, or to undermine any AFAB individual expressing a gender other than woman). This demonstrates some of the previous arguments I’ve made about how an attribute can exist but its broader “meaning” remains in dispute.

Maybe we can just generally stop being shitty about people’s bodily attributes.

Read more here.


Away from declaration, towards euphemism

Obscurity has been a feature of politics probably since politics was a thing, but it got especially severe starting with Nixon and his Southern Strategy: Court racism without actually saying openly racist shit. The principles of the strategy seem to have spread quickly, and Kristen Cardozo reviews its modern impact:

And yet this is a strangely naked moment we’re living in. If there has been a historical progression, it has been in language, moving away from an open declaration of our alignments and into euphemism. Now, in Trump’s America, our euphemisms are being set aside in favor of the open, forthright bigotry modeled by officials in the highest offices in the land. We live in an America where a sitting US president has insisted that some people marching under a Nazi flag, at a rally where an American woman was murdered, are good, a president who has referred to a “they” who are stealing “‘our’ history and ‘our’ heritage,” as Confederate monuments tumble. The president, in his first major policy decision post-Charlottesville, cancelled the wildly popular DACA program that allows undocumented people brought to this country as children to work, presumably because it will play to his rapidly shrinking and very white base, as well as thwart the will of the first Black president. Trump’s alignment to white supremacy is expressed loudly, not in a polite whisper.

Our president literally opened his campaign with a claim that Mexicans are rapists and criminals. As Trump won primary after primary, white pundits repeatedly said, up until the moment that Trump took office, that his bigotry “wasn’t funny anymore.” That it could ever have been seen as “funny” at all shows a divide in how people of different races read. For people who have been on the receiving end of American racism, the blunt declaration of a candidacy predicated on open hatred of brown bodies was another sign that, to white people, the fundamental American was always white. White Americans found Donald Trump’s overt racism humorous because too many of us saw it as an aberration, one that had no place or purchase in our egalitarian culture. People of color, who live under a daily onslaught of micro and macro aggressions, saw it as a clear reveal of the racism that underlies American culture.

Read more here.


At this point the anti-trans crowd isn’t shy about lying through their fucking teeth

Lydia Bilton (nor her editor, for that matter) couldn’t even make it one article without contradicting herself.

An expert gets it wrong? Do tell.

Journalism pro-tip:

The mom

is not

an expert

And frankly, she’s blaming the doctors because she didn’t follow their orders. That’s bad enough, if she wasn’t trying to “warn” people about the fucking healthcare regime that she deliberately defied.

Fuck off, 9News, and fuck you, Ali.




My Chacha is Gay makes another appearance

When we last signal boosted My Chacha is Gay, we found another example of the unenviable position between white progressivism and Islam that many ex-Muslims find themselves in. Eiynah, a Pakistani-Canadian blogger, wrote the children’s book to address homophobia within Islam. For a brief time it was taken up by Toronto public schoolboards, before both conservative Islamic parents and white liberals complained. While it ought to be recognised by white progressives that we have a delicate balancing act critiquing oppression within an oppressed minority in the North American context, there shouldn’t be any excuse for stifling conversation that comes from said community.

It wasn’t just a blend of extremist Muslims and run-of-the-mill internet shitheads (though of course there were plenty of those). A lot of ordinary Muslim Canadians were mad as well. “In Toronto, a radio show broadcast calls from angry parents, punctuated with a few obligatory calls from people defending the book. Some parents threatened to sue the school board, and predictably, the LGBT-supporting liberal school board backed away from the book. It was never used in an official capacity again.”

Eiynah continues: “The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) published a blog post claiming that the school board was the one bullying parents into teaching their kids about LGBT diversity. I was branded an ‘Islamophobe,’ and that was it. A resource that many children/teachers enjoyed and found useful was no longer available.” And while it’s crazy that acknowledging the existence of gay people was perceived as an attack on a religion, it’s kind of understandable that the Muslim community was hypersensitive to attack …

Read more here.