He gave her an address that she believed to be his house, but when she showed up, it was an abandoned property.
We cannot imagine any circumstances more violent or coercive than being forced to have sex with four men at gunpoint. Protesting the lack of justice for the victim, writer Catherine Plato also underscored the danger in letting an alleged armed rapist go untried, a gesture that stopped barely short of inviting him to rape again. The entire affair, she argued, was predicated on the marginalization of sex workers.
Its life was brief but influential, at a particularly volatile time for public perception of the industry. While organizing an event for Prostitutes of New Yorkthey bonded over their frustration with seeing sex workers stigmatized and stereotyped in media. They weren't going to ask them a question. And if they were, they weren't going to give the answer weight and credibility in a way that they might if they were asking a question to someone in another sector.
In pop culture, they were not people with opinions and ideas and a story of their own to tell. It was less about words or tone and more about just a lack of humanity. So Aimee, Lynn, and Strega set out to create a platform where sex workers could speak for themselves. The first issue came out on March 16,at a party advertising the first openly lesbian Playboy playmate would be in attendance. The first issue featured articles on safe-sex negotiation and an analysis of the representation of black women in pornography.
Later issues included reviews of lube and lipstick, health and advice columns, and stories of labor issues. We feel no hubris in saying this. We watched it shift. Kaiser is currently raising two children in Manhattan. The conversation that follows has been condensed and lightly edited.
Hamblin : The existence of a magazine by and for sex workers and allies was predicated on legitimization of the industry, but you were at a national sex-worker rights conference inand you were asked to onto a statement about decriminalization of prostitution, and you said no.
Kaiser : If we were going to truly be a platform for anyone in the sex industry to speak about their lives and their perspective, we had to make sure we erased any hint of bias from the editors.
What we ended up with was definitely leaning on the side of choice and empowerment and labor rights, getting away from the victim frame. But we did publish things we didn't agree with, often. Aimee : I interviewed Tracy Quan, who's a former call girl and novelist, about her writing. And she's quite outspokenly anti-feminist.
She said something about feminists having been raised in the suburbs and having unnatural attachments to their mothers. We got a letter from one of the founders and former editors of Bitch magazine, and she was horrified that I had allowed Tracy to say that. Our response was, well, our magazine is a platform for sex workers regardless of their perspective on anything.
Kaiser : There was a general sense within the sex-workers rights movement around the time that we started publishing that we were, as a movement, in a defensive position. Looking back on it, a lot of people who were writing for the magazine, regardless of how privileged they were, were defensive in those first few years of publication. Aimee : There was one meeting where we realized, we need to find some people to write about their negative experiences, and why they don't like their work. Because it was just not representative.
Kaiser : I think that contributed to different groups of people who had less empowered experiences reading the magazine and thinking, maybe this isn't a community that's for me. It got more nuanced as time went on. Hamblin : I should probably ask you to define sex work as you use the term. Kaiser : Sex work was coined by Carol Leigh in as an umbrella term that brings together people who in some way exchange labor that is erotic for something of value, whether that's money or something else.
So that encompasses strippers, prostitutes, people in the porn industry, phone sex, professional domination — there's a pretty long list. I think a lot of people see that linguistic changes as something that was done to be polite, as a way of coming up with a nicer way of saying prostitute.
But it was really a political community-building project. It was a way of saying that these people all have something in common, and there's a shared stigma here. The word work being part of it got to the heart of a political point that was trying to be made: that people in this industry are laborers, and their issues are labor issues. Now it's almost more common to hear people in media say sex workers than anything else. Usually they just mean it as a synonym for prostitute — they'll specify if it's another type of sex work.
Because not everyone's comfortable with it.
Lots of people don't think of it as work. Others, for reasons of criminality or stigma, don't like being associated with every element of the term.
For instance, not every stripper wants people to think they might be a prostitute. Hamblin : You chose to get into print magazine publishing at an interesting time. Kaiser : That's putting it mildly.
We could never afford to have salaried staff, and we could never afford to make it anything more than this all-volunteer project that threatened to burn us out and take over our lives. Hamblin : You write about how the inability to pay people influenced who was able to write for the magazine. I think falling pay rates for writers is a problem throughout journalism, in that the voices people hear from are the one who are able to accept meager freelance rates and take unpaid internships to work their way up.
A big part of your expenses was that you were tied to costly print magazine publishing, which ultimately limited who you heard from in the s. Kaiser : One of the real reasons that we wanted it to be a physical, print magazine was that we thought there was something — this might sound a little strange, but — psychologically important about holding it.
For sex workers, it was important that they should be able to walk into a bookstore and see it on a shelf.
It should come in the mail, and people should be able to hold onto it and realize that their community produced it. There was some importance to that physical weight. We also wanted it to be something that people could pass around and share with their coworkers.
When we thought about the types of magazines that sex workers had, at strip clubs or brothels, the thing that kept coming up was, mostly, women's magazines. And of course not all sex workers are women or read Cosmobut that's what was kicking around sex workplaces. Lots of magazines have, as part of their circulation s, a pass-through data point of how many people touch a given issue. Ours was at five or six people per copy.
So that part really did work for us. Hamblin : You write, too, about how because you only heard from people who were financially secure enough to write for free, you only reached readers of certain privilege, at least initially.
It seems like you set out to build a community but ended up in some ways highlighting the diversity within that community — people of all permutations of sex and gender identity, economic and educational strata, types of sex work, et cetera.
How were you able to get to a more multidimensional editorial voice? Aimee : The magazine was founded by three white, cisgender, college-educated women.
We mostly recruited through our own social networks. So that perpetuated that bias in our leadership. In a way, what I loved about the magazine was that we jumped in not knowing what we were doing at all and not having any money. But at the same time, if we had planned out what we were doing in advance and secured some funding to enable us to pay staff, we might have been able to do a better job at reaching beyond our own networks.
When we sent boxes of magazines to outreach organizations for low-income sex workers, we would include fliers encouraging people to contribute to the magazine.
We wanted them to be able to contribute even if they didn't really have experience writing magazine pieces. So we set up a bunch of columns that we thought would help make the magazine more accessible for people to contribute to. We had a column called Double Take, which was basically a style column where people took pictures of themselves in their work outfits and in their regular clothes and then answered short questions, like how would you describe your personality and your professional persona.
Another one was Scene Report, which was just a place for day-to-day stories about where people work. And then we had Indecent Proposal, which was a regular illustrated column where sex workers would write about the weirdest thing a client ever asked them to do.
Aimee : Now there is a lot more out there, because of the Internet.
Kaiser : I lived in Vancouver for a long time before I moved to New York City, and during the time that I lived there, there was a serial killer who was killing a lot of sex workers. Even though it was many years later when we published [a story about] it, and Robert Pickton had already been arrested on accusations of killing almost 50 women [he was later convicted in the cases of six], most of whom were First Nations.
I felt that it really got away from the sensationalist serial-killer news media stuff around this case and brought it to a human level, and spoke about it in a way that was culturally related to the people who had died. I was extremely proud to publish that. But since Eliyanna's was about violence, I'm thinking I should pick a piece that isn't.
Otherwise people are going to think the whole book is about violence. She just has a lot of quotes and anecdotes about the things that customers, other strippers, and managers have said about issues of race, and she has a lot of funny anecdotes.
Or, anecdotes that come across as funny, even if they might not have been funny in the moment. Hamblin : Is mainstream media improving in representing perspectives? There's a lot of stuff that maybe doesn't really, really matter in terms of people's everyday lives that I find incredibly frustrating.
In terms of policy, right now the problems that the sex-worker rights movement is having with engaging people on trafficking keep me up at night. There's complete conflation of prostitution and trafficking policy. They're inseparable legally in a of ways, and there's no capacity amongst elected officials and most feminist advocacy groups to absorb any criticism on bills and proposals that are labeled as trafficking bills even if they also impact non-coercive prostitution.