Saturday, November 9, 2013

How it Feels to Force-Feed

June 2013

The intubation of prisoners on hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay, the use of force-feeding to stifle dissent, took on a disturbing clarity for me in the process of becoming a registered nurse. I had to ask myself how a nurse, in the context of the prison system, could agree to perform an act of torture.

The procedure itself, typically used when a patient is unable to swallow or otherwise maintain adequate oral nutrition, is a familiar one. Supplies are gathered and laid out. The patient or prisoner is positioned at an angle of at least 45 degrees to avoid aspiration of the feeding contents. Physical or chemical restraints may be ordered to prevent self-harm resulting from resistance to the procedure. A flexible plastic nasogastric tube is held and measured from the tip of the nose to the earlobe, from the earlobe to the xyphoid process, to approximate the distance from the nostril to the stomach. The tip of the nasogastric tube is lubricated and inserted through the nare, guided through the nose to the back of the throat. The patient or prisoner may cough and gag when the tube reaches the epiglottis and should be instructed to tuck his chin down toward his chest and swallow to guide the tube into the esophagus. When the tube has been inserted to the measured point and secured to the nose, placement in the stomach must be verified by x-ray. The most accurate bedside technique to verify placement is the extraction of gastric secretions by syringe and testing to confirm an acidic pH. Liquid nutrients are then delivered directly to the stomach by force of gravity. The tube is flushed with 30 cc 's water or normal saline to ensure complete delivery of the feeding contents. The tape is removed from the nose and the patient or prisoner is instructed to hold her breath as the tube is removed.

Violence is not innate in any person, and a nurse does not independently decide that performing torture is compatible with her role. To some, the violation of a prisoner's autonomy and bodily integrity may be justified by concluding that the breach is necessary for the protection of the prisoner's life. In no other context is it considered justifiable to force-feed a patient who will not consent to eat, whether or not it is necessary for the preservation of life. I believe another force is at work here. In treating patients under a privatized medical system organized by profit, nurses are regularly asked to place speed of production over quality of care. Performing all necessary procedures in a timely manner on a floor with a low nurse-to-patient ratio may require that a nurse treat each patient as a set of necessary tasks to be completed and documented. Guidelines for the use of restraint and the acquisition of consent are set in state Nurse Practice Acts and clarified in a facility's Policy and Procedure Manual. This provides a baseline of ethical practice, but it may also distance nurses from daily engagement with ethical reasoning. Selective dehumanization of prisoners or patients is more conceivable in this context.

The insertion of a tube through the narrow nasal passages, along the length of the esophagus and into the stomach is uncomfortable at best, and by circumstance, technique, or a patient’s condition, painful and terrifying. The ease of the procedure is determined largely by the patient's cooperation; positioning of the head and forceful swallowing guide the nasogastric tube into place. In 1914, Djuna Barnes underwent the procedure, then used on hunger-striking suffragists, as a journalistic experiment: "All of life's problems had now been reduced to one simple act-- to swallow or to choke." I cannot claim understanding of how it feels to be tortured for having performed a medical procedure on myself in the safety of my apartment. I have no means of identification with a prisoner held in indefinite detention, denied confidential counsel, stripped of consent. In performing the procedure of nasogastric tube feeding on myself, I did not attempt to understand the impossible contradiction of being forcibly fed by my own hand, but rather, sought a relationship with the experience of a nurse acting as a torturer.

"Limits surely there are to the subservience even of those who must sternly execute the law." --Djuna Barnes

Untitled, 2013

toilet paper tubes, polyurethane, hair, leather, acrylic paint, jar, caulk 

A friend told me that the bricks used to build most of Chicago around the turn of century were softer, fired in kilns to a lower core temperature. The city’s older, soft-bricked buildings have been repaired with mortar intended for the newer, harder bricks, leading to the cracks and buckling that are as critical to the city’s architectural landscape as the bricks themselves. The overgrown lots reclaiming bricks from 1893 and 1963 into the soil and the cinderblock condo buildings built at the peak of the housing bubble with sheets of artificial brick sealed onto their facades and already crumbling are also critical to that landscape, how we read it and relate to it. 

My intimacy with the city and its landscape is the same intimacy I share with friends and lovers— emotional commitment lacing into ideological critique, history into fantasy, structural material into garbage. This pair of objects embodies that intimacy and provides a tool for seeing and building these relationships. 

Yelp Reviews of Correctional Centers written by Formerly Incarcerated Americans

screen print on birch plywood, red wriggler compost in plexiglass box, printer paper, wheat-paste, ceramic plates, compost liquids 

In the United States, 1 in every 32 residents is on parole, on probation, or currently incarcerated, and 1 in every 5 adults has a criminal record. Those who are tied into the prison system by incarceration, probation, or parole are its products; formerly incarcerated Americans who are tied in by a criminal record, probation, or parole are, like all non-incarcerated Americans, its consumers. 

Our identities as consumers under late capitalism are our most visible and clearly defined identities. Consumption at its most basic — how and what we eat — may be the most divisive aspect of those identities, separating the foodies and the locavores from the junk-foodies in the food deserts. Yelp, as a consumer-created product, is a website that depends on self-selected consumptive identities, and in turn, gives consumers a sense of creative control over systems in which they have no other role. The reviews of jails, prisons, and juvenile detention centers on Yelp, written by those who have lived as the products of this system and live now as its most disenfranchised consumers, are digital relics of not just the fact of lining up at 4 a.m. for “Shit on a Shingle” but the meaning of that experience and a means of controlling the uncontrollable. 

The cycle of incarceration in the U.S. can appear to be a closed system, a loop defined by lack of choices and bad luck (it is unlucky to be a young black man in a major city, where your chance of incarceration is as high as 3 out of 4), recidivism or reincarceration a near inevitability. Conscientious consumer choice is defined by its polarity with choicelessness, and its relation to limitations of choice. The non-incarcerated, the incarcerated, and the formerly incarcerated are also connected by this polarity and relativity. 

Robin Hustle at Woman Made Gallery, July 2013

Friday, November 8, 2013

SLIPPERY SLOPE event and installation photos by Ruby Thorkelson

SLIPPERY SLOPE at Woman Made Gallery, July 2013. A group porn show curated by Robin Hustle with work by Virginia Aberle, Margaret Bobo-Dancy, Clothilde, Megan Diddie, Mikey Estes, Darcy Fangi, Sarah Faux, Ektor Maria Garcia, Vanessa Harris, Alyssa Herlocher, Young Joon Kwak, Daniel Luedtke, Noelle Mason, Ulrike Müller, Betsy Odom, Caroline Picard, Ruby Thorkelson, Xara Thustra, Lainey Waugh, Shoshanna Weinberger, Dustin Yager
Noelle Mason gives a talk about trauma in her work.

Anne Wells presents sexy title sequence typography from the Chicago Film Archives
Megan Milks (center) reads from her Traumarama Project.

Sarah Weis (right) performs Intimate Chats

An intimate engagement with Ruby Thorkelson's Spit Mixer (Robin Hustle, left; Ruby Thorkelson, right).

Left to right: neon sign by Robin Hustle, Fond (Fingerbang) by Noelle Mason, Anxious Accidents by Megan Diddie, and Ruby's Spit Mixer.

Daniel Luedtke's Cheap Douche (L) and Shoshanna Weinberger's Menage a Trois

Installed work by Alyssa Herlocher, Betsy Odom, Xara Thustra, Ektor Maria Garcia, and Sarah Faux

Left to right: Alyssa Herlocher's Scrotal Mountains, Margaret Bobo-Dancy's Conch Critter, Dustin Yager's FUCKFACE, and painting installation by Xara Thustra

Wednesday, January 30, 2013


SLIPPERY SLOPE seeks work that recognizes and adopts pornographic aesthetics and conceptual modes. We encourage submissions that borrow from the ephemera of pornography: theater marquees, tongue-in-cheek narrative, sexual set design; that make use of its modes of production: collaboration, artist as director, artist as sexual actor; that share its vision: sexual arousal, utopian exploration, and the establishment of a relationship between the artist and the voyeur. Explicit sexual depictions are also welcome. Work in all media by artists of all genders will be considered.

Entry Deadline: May 1, 2013
Notifications: June 1, 2013
Exhibition Dates: July 12 - August 22, 2013

A note from the curator:
Woman Made Gallery is a non-for-profit gallery that supports the work of women artists through exhibitions and community programs; they rely on entry fees and donations to make each show happen. If you can’t afford the entry fee, you can give less or not at all, and it won’t affect the reception of your work. If $30 won’t put you out, though, please consider supporting this twenty-year-old stalwart of feminist arts and culture.

Artists who identify as woman, genderqueer, or trans are encouraged to submit work; Woman Made Gallery is a space for all artists who are marginalized by gender in the art world.

Robin Hustle

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.