Saturday, January 5, 2013

Published in 2012

Short excerpts from some pieces I've published this year--plenty more if you follow the links. 

They Still Have Rights: The Search for Humanity and Justice for Sex Workers, on Jezebel

This piece includes interviews with Brian Turner of TaskForce Prevention and Community Services and Sharon Lettman-Hicks of the National Black Justice Coalition, and a conversation with my friend Teresa about violence against sex workers.

Brianna Gardner, a 22-year old woman from Texas, was found murdered in a Chicago hotel on August 13th, 2012. A day later, Tiffany Gooden, 19 years old, was found murdered in an abandoned building in the city's Austin neighborhood. Her body was just three blocks away from where Paige Clay, 23 years old, was found murdered in an alley on April 16th. These three young black women were mourned by their friends, families, and communities, and were picked to shreds in the local news. Though it's unclear if they were working when they were murdered, all three were engaged in the sex trade, and Paige and Tiffany were transgender. We read the brutal details of how they were murdered; we saw their mug shots and advertising photos. We were bombarded by language that implied that they were less than human, that their deaths didn't matter, and by proxy, that our lives didn't matter. From a legal perspective, their deaths were unrelated, but for those of us who shared communities with these women-as sex workers, trans women, or people of color living in one of the most segregated cities in the country-their deaths are intimately connected.

Brian Turner at TaskForce

Some Things to Consider When You Think You Want to be a Prostitute, on Jezebel

Demystification disguised as a tutorial.  

The stigma that follows us around forces a lot of former sex workers to denounce their careers. It's a legitimate PR move and a balm for the soul of a woman who's been told she's sick. Most often, it's not prostitution itself that makes former prostitutes feel bad-it's the judgment and shame that's been heaped on them because they chose a job that other people wouldn't choose. Half the time, we can't even complain to our friends about a frustrating day at work because they'll read our annoyance as damage. Stigma works to sever women from their own decisions, to push them into self-denial and split identities. It's the culturally acceptable equivalent of ex-gay brainwashing. It also serves to delegitimize the experiences of former prostitutes who actually encountered violence and abuse, erasing their singular, lived experiences in favor of blanket denouncement. When we become sex workers, we accept the reality of the job, with its ups and downs like any other; we should not be coerced into accepting the meanings and experiences written for us by others.

Trafficking in Wrongs: Why Californians Need to Vote No on Prop 35 and Why the Rest of Us Should Care, on Jezebel

Unfortunately, Californians didn't.

The criminalization of prostitution is the biggest hindrance to fighting sexual exploitation. Victims are afraid to come forward because they know that interactions with law enforcement lead not only to arrest, but to physical and sexual abuse. Any legislation that further criminalizes sex work means more police targeting prostitutes, police who have little to no training in distinguishing between sexual exploitation and sexual labor, who themselves engage in sexual coercion with impunity. The CASE Act conflates all sex work with trafficking, dismisses the experience of other trafficking victims, and will work against the survivors it claims to help by punishing them for their victimization and inadvertently redistributing funding that currently helps them. Criminalization pushes trafficking further underground, standing between survivors and the organizations that work for them, putting their lives in the hands of a criminal justice system that punishes them for their experiences.

An Interview with the Man Who Pays Me to Burn His Feet With Cigarettes While He Masturbates, on Jezebel 

A conversation with my friend and client, Greg. 

Like most clients, he's respectful—he even offers to cover himself with a blanket for women who are unaccustomed to seeing men they don't know masturbate—and his fetish, though particular to him, is not particularly extreme. Sessions with Greg are unique because he is an incredible person who is part of our community.

His sexual desire is not frivolous, not a luxury he allows himself because he has money to throw around. It stems from a dark place, from childhood sexual abuse, and working it out this way is absolutely essential to his ability to be the incredible person he is.

How to Tell Your Parents You're a Prostitute, on Jezebel

Or, you know, how I told my parents I'm a sex worker.

There are some things we're better off not telling our parents. Mom doesn't need to know about your creepy obsession with Chatroulette or your predilection for Sarah Palin porn. And when it comes down to it, talking about your job is (in most cases) the most boring, soul-sucking kind of small talk there is, so it's sort of nice when that's off the table. But hiding your life as a sex worker from your parents doesn't feel like acting on a need-to-know basis. It feels like lying. Deception is a shitty fact of life for a lot of sex workers, and de rigueur for plenty of people who really have nothing to hide. That's not the kind of relationship I want to have with my family, though — and after years of stressing out about what I would do if xyz happened and my parents found out, it was actually something of a relief when they did.

My Hooker-Cation in Palm Springs, on VICE

A client took me on a trip, started feeling guilty, and things got strange. 

When a john emailed me plane tickets to Palm Springs this winter, I felt like I'd climbed another rung on the golden ladder of prostitution. Then it settled in that I'd be spending the oversexed weekend taking my brutal morning shits mere feet away from a man I hardly knew. And, I would need to be ultra-sneaky about shaving my face. Nevertheless, I was being offered $2,000 in the middle of January to spend a couple of days tied to a bed, with the occasional break to swim in an outdoor pool. So I threw my ropes and ratty swimsuit in a bag and took off in pursuit of the good life.

Everyone asks prostitutes how we separate our working sex lives from our nonworking sex lives and avoid getting emotionally involved with clients. It's a pointless line of questioning, because for most of us, these are nonissues. We do put in a fair amount of work to help our clients work through these distinctions, though; we make them feel like they're getting the "real thing" (i.e., not paying for it), while ensuring their understanding that the interaction has a beginning (money on the table, or more precisely, the screening process before we even meet) and an end. The end, more than sex, is often what they really pay us for. However, they are not professionals in this matter and need some guidance at times to know where their life with us cuts off and the rest begins.


  1. Hi Robin,

    First, I want to thank you for your writing. Recently, I've read your articles in Vice, on Jezebel and the Chicago Sun-Times. I've reached out to the editor of Jezebel to get in touch with you, but I thought just in case they're swamped, I'd reach out to you here as well.

    I write from the Rees Literary Agency in Boston. We represent leading authors (our clients include Siobhan Fallon, Nicco Mele, Jack Welch, Alan Dershowitz, Senator John Kerry, and many other bestselling writers.)

    I’ve really enjoyed your articles on sex work. I think your point of view is mature, frank and intriguing take on an industry that without question is relentlessly judged and stigmatized, and I'm fascinated by the decision to fund your art career in such a field.

    I would love to learn more about your work and make your acquaintance. You can reach me at

    Again, and as always, thank you for the captivating read.


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  3. Hey, Robin!

    In an article you wrote for Jezebel you said you liked johns who would make out with you and try to get you off; in other words (mine, that is!), ones who wanted you to enjoy the experience as well. When I read that I thought, "Why couldn't I have met and known this woman when I was still unspoken-for?". I think we would've had fun together. In any case I wish you well in your endeavors.