On Why Sex Educators Owe Solidarity to Sex Workers

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When people ask what I do, I say “I’m a sexual health educator”. While I do a lot of things related to sexual, gender and social justice, “sexual health educator” just seems to fit both my professional and personal lives best. 

So what is success as a sexual health educator? The best sexual health educators cultivate a space where people feel free to explore and ask questions. Quality sexual health education sets students up with the curiosity and confidence to continue to explore their own sexuality, and ask questions throughout their lifespan. Good sexual education is non-judgemental, confidential, and challenging. It’s a bit raunchy, and very ‘real’. Sexual health educators who are creating change are talking about stigma, social constructs, oppression and sexuality to people of all age and genders. 

And, if we’re successful as sexual health educators, we’re also standing in solidarity with sex workers.

That last one is where many people press the brakes. I can talk endlessly about ending fear based education, working towards trans* inclusion, and the importance of pleasure without much trouble. But sex workers. How do sex workers relate to our work as a sexual health educators?

I sometimes wonder why I consider sex worker solidarity to be a part of my job. Maybe it’s just a bit of mission-creep that I should reign in? 

In those moments of doubt, I always return to Sabrina Morgan’s article on sex work’s intersection with sexual health education.

“When we’re too scared to defend sex work, because it’s not our battle, because there’s a legal gray area we’re scared to touch, we’re saying it’s okay to let the sex workers – our front-line sex educators – take the bullets as long as we get to play the game. And we get to play the game only as long as we play it safe.

Playing it safe means being afraid to show what it is that we’re teaching. Playing it safe means we can’t make our material too erotic or explicit or we’ll lose our billing. Playing it safe means knowing our client needs to see a sex worker but being afraid to make the referral because of what it might mean for us professionally.”Sabrina Morgan, Why Does Linked In Hate Sex Education

Pornography as education

I’ve already discussed how I’ve learned a tremendous amount from porn performers and directors (who may or may not identify as sex workers), as an activist. Porn performers and directors have some of the most powerful and important things to say about fatphobia, ableism, racism, transphobia, and the intersection of oppression with sex, sexuality and gender.

The anti-porn activists of the world are always going on about how porn is so awful because people are learning from it. And while it’s important to note that mainstream porn can be problematic (although not always, porn is not monolithic, more on that sometime in the future), most people can differentiate between reality and representation, and most can understand that it’s not always a great idea to imitate what you see in porn. But we should also consider why we think it’s so detrimental to occasionally take cues from performers who are dedicated to providing authentic representations of sexual behaviours. What is so wrong with looking to porn performers or to sex workers, especially those within feminist and queer porn, as educators and sources of expertise? 

My favourite quote from the feminist porn book is: 

“Good pornography, like good sex education, is useful as a therapeutic tool not because it sets out to convince my clients and students that they want to do everything- or anything- they see, but because it helps to build somatic and visual vocabularies from which to make empowered choices” Keiko Lane, Imag(in)ing Possibilities, from the Feminist Porn Book

My entire copy of the Feminist Porn Book is highlighted, starred, and annotated with my chicken-scratch, but when I’m feeling doubtful I come back to this quote again and again. It’s my touchstone as a educator.

There have been many times where I can’t quite figure out the physics of *that one thing*, and I’ve looked to porn as a visual cue, both as a person who has sex and as an educator. I’ve had many a “hm. So that’s how that works”moment from watching pornography (the good, and the bad). 

These are lessons that I take into classrooms. My talk on g-spots? Based on Tristan Taormino’s pornographic work. My talk on safer sex? Fundamentally informed by the ways I’ve seen gloves, dental damns, and condoms used in porn. My ability to talk with folks with limited mobility due to dis/ability, age, etc. about ways that they can have sex comfortably? Porn, porn, porn. 

When I wanted to learn about g-spot stimulation and ejaculation, the only expertise I could draw on that weren’t mansplaining doctors were porn stars. I include this information in my standard education because I’ve heard one too many stories about young girls embarrassed about their own experiences of squirting. Now, I’m not pointing students towards porn, (in part because it’s technically illegal for people under 18 to view porn, and because the school system is not ready to have frank and non-judgemental discussions about porn consumption), but my expertise as an educator is based in the “somatic and visual vocabularies” that porn has given me. 

Porn is part of the toolkit I draw on as a sexual health educator, it’s my visual lexicon. It would be nothing short of cowardly for me to not stand in solidarity with it’s workers as part of my own work. 

Sex Work, Oppression and Rights

Good sexual health educators understand the ways in which transphobia, racism, ableism, fatphobia and colonialism play out in the classroom and they take steps to unlearn oppression and to ensure that classrooms are places where they status-quo is questioned, challenged and deconstructed.

When I teach in schools, I set aside a chunk of time to collect anonymous questions. I’ll pass around a box and encourage the students to put on as many questions as possible about anything related to sex, sexuality and gender. Often, I get questions related to sexual double standards. For example:

“Why is it that when girls have sex they are called sluts, and when men have sex they are basically congratulated” 

When I go about answering these questions I try to root them in analyses of sexism, racism and colonialism (tailored to a middle school audience). Within this, I constantly draw on the arguments made by sex workers about the ways in which oppression impacts their work because their work is so clearly affected by the ways in which our communities think about sex and sexuality. Sex workers are knowledge creators. They navigate discourses based in moral views of sex, to protect and defend their own safety and security constantly (see: the Bedford case, Bill C-36).

Listening to sex workers has given me an understanding of the ways in which patriarchy denies sexual autonomy to women and trans* people. The stories I have had the opportunity to hear have allowed me to give meaning to the questions that the students I teach have. Sex work is the place where my understanding of oppression, pleasure, justice and health meet.

We have to acknowledge our privilege as sexual health educators. We are ‘playing the game’, as Morgan explains, but our jobs depend heavily on discourses created and advanced by those working within the sex industry. Therefore, sexual health educators have an obligation, and a duty, to speak out for sex worker rights.

It’s not mission-creep. It’s an acknowledgement that our work is a continuation of theirs, that their fight is ours, and that in the struggle for sexual and gender justice we are stronger together.

Ways of Acting in Solidarity with Sex Workers This Week

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1. Call your Member of Parliament before the second reading of the bill (this will be happening either tomorrow (June 12th) or Thursday (June 13th) by the sounds of things). While you’re at it, send them an email, a tweet and a Facebook message. Feel free to use the text below:

Dear ______________________________________ , I’m writing to call on you as a Member of Parliament to defend sex workers’ right to safety and security by taking a vocal stand against Bill C-36. The Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act does not protect the safety of people working in the sex industry. In December 2013, the SCC unanimously decided that Canada’s anti-prostitution laws were unconstitutional because they imposed dangerous conditions on sex workers and violated their right to safety and security. Bill C-36 does not assist individuals in need of support or eliminate the dangers of the sex industry. Instead, there is clear evidence that the new laws will force sex workers into dangerous conditions by pushing them into isolated areas, limiting their ability to take life-saving measures such as screening clients, limiting their ability to negotiate consent and safer sex practices, and preventing them from working together. If passed, these laws will have disproportionate consequences for marginalized people including people of colour, and Indigenous, and trans* sex workers. I call on Peter MacKay and the Government of Canada to draft legislation that truly protects sex workers’ lives and livelihoods. I call on Members of Parliament from all parties to vocally oppose any criminalization regimes, and to ensure that sex workers’ voices are included in any decisions about laws that will impact them.

2. Stop by the South House (6286 South St) to pick up a postcard, or print your own postcard and get it in the mail as soon as possible.

3. Attend the National Day of Action: Criminalization Costs Sex Worker Lives. This rally and march is a great opportunity to stand in solidarity with sex workers across the country.

4. If you’re able, donate some cash to your local sex-worker run, harm-reduction organization. There are lots of costs associated with advocacy (printing, rallies, travel, etc) and many of these organizations are already strapped for cash. Alternatively, help cover these costs in other ways; maybe your work can offer free space or offer a discount on printing.

5. When newspapers publish godawful stories about sex work, or quotes people in power saying awful stuff, say something. Write letters to the editors, and demand better journalism about sex work.

6. If you know a sex worker or a person who works with sex workers, ask them what they need and how you can help. This week has been hectic for many, so maybe the answer will be “yeah, we’ve been fielding calls from the media all week and our dishes haven’t been done”. Doing the dishes, and other support work, is a great role for allies.

Required Reading about Proposed Laws for Non-Sex Workers

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The last couple days have been very hard for sex workers and harm-reduction organizations who advocate for sex worker rights around the country. On Thursday, Justice Minister Peter MacKay tabled new sex work legislation; while it comes as no surprise that the proposed laws criminalize the purchase of sexual service, many were surprised at how much further the government has gone. Besides being an emotional whirlwind, organizations have been trying to sort out the eventual implications of the proposed laws for their organizations and their clients. 

In the midst of all of this, it’s important that non-sex workers inform themselves, and take on the work that will make this time easier for sex workers (offer to put up posters, do the dishes, buy some coffee, call your MPs, etc.).

While I plan on writing more about how non-sex workers can act in solidarity with sex workers, especially in Halifax, lots of folks have been asking questions about the proposed laws and wanting to learn more. So, I wanted to produce a round-up of articles and perspectives as soon as possible.

This list is geared towards non-sex workers who are interested in learning the basics about the new laws so that they can provide accurate information to others, and advocate against Bill C-36.  I imagine I’ve missed a couple good pieces, so if you think anything is missing, let me know!

Katrina Pacey of Pivot Legal Society talks to CBC after the proposed laws were tabled.

The New Sex Work Legislation Explained. Pivot Legal Society breaks down the key provisions within the proposed laws and discusses the key considerations and constitutional implications.

My Work Should Not Cost me my Life. This report by Pivot Legal and the Gender and Sexual Health Initiative (GSHI) looks at the experience of Vancouver sex workers and the impact that criminalization of clients has on sex workers. 

New Prostitution Laws, Same Old Harm to Sex Workers. Kyle Kirkup covers the new laws for the Globe and Mail.

“When it comes to criminal justice policy, perhaps this government’s slogan should be: “Got a complex social issue? There’s a prison for that.” Kyle Kirkup

In Their Own Words: Sex Workers on Canada’s New Prostitution Bill.  Justin Ling speaks to five sex workers about the proposed laws.

Not Quite the Nordic Model: The federal government has tabled its new prostitution bill. But does it put the lives of sex workers at risk? Justin Ling talks to Canadian lawyers about the proposed laws and the potential for a future legal challenge.

John Ivison: Peter MacKay’s Prostitution Law a Failure on all Counts. Ivison discusses the numerous failings of the Conservative Party’s proposed bill. 

“Peter MacKay’s role as Attorney General of Canada requires him to be the guardian of the rule of law. He is mandated to protect the personal liberties of Canadians and advise Cabinet to ensure its actions are legal and constitutional. By introducing a new law on prostitution that is all but certain to be struck down by the courts, he has failed on all counts.”John Ivison

Terri-Jean Bedford responds to new proposed prostitution laws. Terri-Jean Bedford slams the proposed laws.

“Mr. MacKay called the sex trade degrading. Who the hell is he to tell women they have to only have sex for free? Who the hell is he to tell consenting adults what they can and cannot do in private?”Terri-Jean Bedford

Sex Work and Self-Determination: in Solidarity with the Bedford Case. Sarah Hunt discusses why she supports decriminalization as an Indigenous non-sex worker.

“Canadian law is carried out by police, lawyers and judges who use their discretion the application of law. The legal system is created within, and used to sustain, a racist colonial society.”Sarah Hunt

An Open Letter to Peter MacKay and my MP About Bill C36, “The Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act. Simple and straightforward letter to Peter MacKay that the author has encouraged others to use and adapt.

Info sheets from the Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Reform.  The Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Reform, composed of sex worker run organizations from across the country, have produced a number of info sheets on a variety of topics including third parties, the New Zealand Model, criminalizing clients, the Bedford care, and 10 ways to be an ally to sex workers.

John Ivison: Harper pitched new prostitution bill to caucus as a compromise despite staunch social conservative opposition. Interesting article that discusses the dynamics of the Conservative party and how, for many of them, Bill C-36 doesn’t go far enough.

Sex Work on the Hill: A Guide to Getting Involved in Legislative Processes that Impact on Our Lives.  A guide to political organizing produced by the Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform for sex workers and allies.

Government releases results of public consultation

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Yesterday, The Government of Canada released the final report for the Online Public Consultation on Prostitution-Related Offences in Canada based on the 31,172 responses they received.

I’ve expressed my distaste for the way the consult has been done in the past (and some sex worker groups have outright dismissed it), so for those looking at the results as though they matter all that much, I have three questions: 

  • What do you actually know about sex work? What is the source of this information?
  • Why does your opinion on sex work matter?
  • What do you stand to lose if the Swedish Model (often called the Nordic Model) is implemented?

I certainly didn’t expect the government to ask questions that would disrupt the narrative that criminalization is the best way of dealing with a perceived problem, after all, they have a huge amount invested in maintaining the prison system. But in my opinion, the Minister and the Government have brought their biases to the table, and to the consult. So while some may point to the consultation as proof that Canadians want clients of sex workers to be criminalized, in an issue as morally charged as this one, where there is a willful blindness to quality information and militant silencing of lived experience, we need to think carefully about the value of public consultations.

“We know there is tremendous violence and vulnerability associated with prostitution. Prostitutes are predominately victims.”Peter MacKay, via CBC 

“We believe that prostitution is intrinsically degrading and harmful to vulnerable persons, especially women and we intend to protect women and protect society generally from exploitation and abuse.” Peter MacKay, via CBC

As non-sex workers, we don’t have the right to lead the conversation about sex work or make decisions about other’s lives based on what would make us feel most comfortable. And yet we see clearly that many Canadians still put their flawed understanding of sex work ahead of the voices of workers themselves. According to the consultation report, while the majority of Canadians agree that selling sex shouldn’t be illegal, they are in also favour of the criminalization of clients.

These shortsighted views will no doubt be used to justify the governments imminent and inevitable implementation of a model that doesn’t serve the needs of the sex worker population.

It seems extremely likely that the Government will introduce a “made in Canada” version of the Nordic Model. This model is essentially the explicit criminalization of the purchase of sexual services. It’s logic rests in “ending demand”, or making it harder for clients to seek out sex workers, in the hopes that without demand, there will be no need for a supply.

Maybe, in some people’s feminist utopia, sex work doesn’t exist; maybe they see the Nordic Model as one step towards achieving this vision. And I can’t really blame them for thinking that if they haven’t been talking and listening to sex workers or doing research on sex work. Punishing men who purchase sex (bad men, men who cheat on their wives and bring home STIs, bad men who “use” sex workers and who “buy” their bodies) makes “common sense”, seems to make the issue easily “solvable”, and makes non-sex workers feel good for taking a “stand” against bad men. 

Now, while that may make you feel warm and fuzzy inside, very few people who start to work with sex workers stick with this perspective for long. It is neither an accurate reflection of the realities of sex work, or solution to the violence and marginalization that sex workers do face.

I know this may come as a surprise, but most sex work involves at least two people: a sex worker and a client. The Supreme Court struck down the laws that criminalized sex work because they infringed on worker’s right to safety. But sex work is an exchange. Therefore, when you criminalize clients of sex workers, you will affect the ability of sex workers to do their job. =I would argue that you essentially criminalize the relationship between sex worker and client. After all, it takes two to tango, and no matter which side governments chooses to criminalize, we’ve seen that the result is reduced safety, security and wellbeing of sex workers.

The Nordic Model is associated with any number of negative consequences.

Criminalization means that clients who fear prosecution want to meet sex workers in isolated places, which weakens networks between sex workers and reduces their ability to support one another. Sex workers also have less time to screen their clients, in much the same way as under the challenged laws. Katrina Pacey laid out the importance of these measures on behalf of the Downtown Eastside Sex Workers United Against Violence Society, PACE Society, and Pivot Legal Society during the Supreme Court hearing of Canada v. Bedford (Pacey presents around 417 in the video).

In addition, police have confiscated condoms as evidence and service organizations are less likely to hand out condoms under the Nordic Model in case they are seen as complacent to criminal activity. Given that sexually transmitted infections (STIs) were an area of concern for many who filled out the Canadian consultation, I wonder how many actually looked into the effects of the nordic model on STI transmission and sex worker safety. 

The Nordic Model does nothing to address the stigma faced by sex workers. In Sex Workers In the Maritimes Talk Back, workers in the Maritimes identified stigma as one of the worst parts of their job and often linked it to the violence they face.

 “Like I said, there’s good and bad [people] but, I don’t know, I don’t have [faith in the residents], and I don’t because if you get in court they treat you like a piece of shit. They treat you like you’re a nobody, right, like you’re just, oh just an old prostitute, like, standing on the street corner… like you’re a nobody. That’s not a good feeling.” Lydia*, Halifax

“The reason I feel that [clients have become more violent] is because the media portrays us as non-people.” […] It’s a job- it’s not a person. They’ve made it a person and they’ve made it a stereotypical low-life person and a disposable person, and the more that the media continues to do that, the more the tricks feel that they are allowed to be violent”Dana*, Halifax

I would imagine that most Canadians who filled out the consultation are interested in protecting people that they see as marginalized or vulnerable. But the Nordic Model doesn’t reduce stigma or make it easier for sex workers to seek services or go to the police when they need to. On top of that, when clients are criminalized they are unlikely to report violence they may see or approach the police with information for fear of prosecution. 

Bottom line? The Nordic Model simply recreates the harms created by the recently scraped model, and misses an opportunity to talk about sex work as labour. This moves us away from complicated discussions on creating safer working environments, workers rights, and resisting racism, transphobia and sexism within the sex industry. 

None of this is new or surprising. Reports on the effects of criminalization and the Swedish model have been around for a few years, sex worker run organizations across Canada have been producing resources and info-sheets, and most importantly, sex workers themselves have been warning about the effects of criminalization for far too long. 

“The experiences and expertise of sex workers should be the paramount considerations in any law reform that takes place in Canada. Like those in any other profession, sex workers have specific knowledge about how their profession should operate and expertise about the occupational health and safety issues that they face. The voices of sex workers are key in the development of laws and policies that will support safe working conditions and create possibilities for positive change in Canadian society” Katrina Pacey, Address to Parliament, March 2005

Despite all this work, the message seems to have not stuck with 56 per cent of Canadians who are pro-criminalization of the purchase of sex work. Yet because of the idea that we, as non sex workers, know what’s best, laws will be shaped in a way that makes us comfortable while sex workers suffer. It’s nothing short of shameful. 

You want to keep sex workers safe?

Listen to them, or get the hell out of the way. 

* Names in Sex Workers In the Maritimes Talk Back were changed.

Reproductive Rights Are Human Rights

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Today I attended and spoke at a rally to commemorate the first anniversary of Dr. Henry Morgentaler’s death and to call for improved access to abortion for Maritimers. It was also a rally meant as an expression of solidarity with reproductive justice advocates in New Brunswick who are pushing back against the imminent closure of the Morgentaler Clinic.

I also think it’s important to publicly discuss some of the issues that exist with the pro choice movement, and to acknowledge the privilege that many of us who are outspoken pro choice activists have.

It was heartening to see a good turnout at this important event, and I am grateful to the organizers for their work and to all those who came and showed their support. As a sexual health educator and activist, it’s so lovely to see the community stand in solidarity with those who are working towards reproductive justice.

It’s also important for the white cisgender women who are often at the forefront of the pro-choice movement to acknowledge our privilege. It’s important for us to educate ourselves on the ways that the experiences of people of colour and people with disabilities are erased when the issues of the access to abortion is framed as simply pro or anti choice. Andrea Smith’s article “Beyond Pro-Choice Versus Pro-Life: Women of Color and Reproductive Justice” is required reading for white feminists who identify as pro-choice (well, and also those that don’t, but that’s a harder sell).

Secondly, I think that the bare minimum we can do is to acknowledge that all of the speakers today were white women, and we therefore represented only one small part of the experiences of people seeking reproductive and sexual health care. We must begin to work hard to disrupt this homogeneity in our work, and acknowledge that our movement is not universal and that we do not speak for everyone. Most importantly, we must acknowledge our privilege within these spaces (and always, but especially within white activist spaces).

It’s also important that we recognize and work to end the cissexism of reproductive justice movements. Transgender people and genderqueer folks need access to reproductive and sexual health services too. They also face more barriers to access than cis people. Trans* people regularly face physical and verbal violence within the healthcare system,  a health care system that erases their experiences and renders them invisible. When we talk about abortion, it’s fundamental that we begin to acknowledge these experiences. Simple shifts like saying “cis women and trans* people” when we’re talking about abortion, or simply saying “people who need abortions” goes a long way in disrupting the cissexist narratives that dominate the pro-choice movement.

It’s exciting that we’re in a time and a space where we can challenge ourselves and critique our own movements. There is no weakness in this, and taking an intersectional stance on abortion will only make our movements stronger.

And without further ado, here are the things I said this afternoon:

“As someone who grew up in New Brunswick and saw the effects of the lack of reproductive justice education and services, and as a current sexual health educator and activist for sexual and gender justice I wanted to talk about how the imminent closure of the Morgentaler clinic is a tremendous blow to not only New Brunswick, but also to the Maritimes.

New Brunswick needs to address issues of access.

The Morgentaler clinic has been picking up the slack for an apathetic, irresponsible, and willfully ignorant New Brunswick government for close to twenty years.

While we’re here to advocate for the Morgentaler, it’s important to note that the Morgentaler would not need to exist if the New Brunswick government would simply do it’s job and respect the reproductive rights of New Brunswickers.

While we need to have a discussion about a province and a country where there is no demand for the Morgentaler clinic, we first need to address the current political indifference to the wellbeing, health and safety of all those who need reproductive and sexual health care.

We are here to demand that the New Brunswick government remove the barriers that have been purposefully set up to restrict access to abortion.

Until Section 84-20, Schedule 2 (a.1) of the Medical Service Payment Act * is repealed and the province’s hospitals can meet the demand for abortion in the province, the Morgentaler is a fundamental resource for people throughout the Maritimes.

With the closure of the Morgentaler Clinic, New Brunswick will lose about 60 per cent of it’s ability to provide abortion. In addition, 10 per cent of the abortions provided in the clinic are provider to Prince Edward Islanders, and PEI would lose about 50 per cent of it’s abortion services according to UNB law professor Jula Huges.

In 2010, 471 people had abortions in New Brunswick hospitals, while 627 had abortions at the Morgentaler clinic, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information. This means that close to 60 per cent of people who needed abortions in NB chose to use the Morgentaler, despite abortion being available in hospital. This speaks volumes about the inaccessibility of abortion in public hospitals.

The government has not explained how they intend to pick up this slack, and it appears they are operating from an “end demand” model, operating under the naive assumption that if they strangle access to abortion services, the demand will simply dry up.

New Brunswick needs to address issues around reproductive health care more broadly.

It is necessary that the New Brunswick government grant those who need abortions safe, legal and free access to those services, and they can begin by repealing section 84-20 . But it’s also important to draw attention to the other barriers that exist, and demand that the government address these as well.

Making access to abortion easier, safe, and affordable is the bare minimum. New Brunswick must also ensure that all people of all genders have access to quality education, services and information about their sexual and reproductive health.

Rural isolation, high poverty rates, and lack of quality sexual health information make accessible pro-choice services even more critical. We know that access to comprehensive, quality and non-judgemental sexual health education reduces unplanned pregnancy. We also know that when abortion is illegal or inaccessible that people still seek abortions, they just get them from unsafe, underground services.

It’s not enough to simple have a hospital or two that provides abortion (although it would help). Our governments need to recognize the rampant racism, transphobia, poverty and lack of quality sexual health education that create barriers to access to reproductive health care in the Maritimes.

Access to sexual and reproductive health services is also an economic issue. By stubbornly refusing to fund abortion, the New Brunswick government is further oppressing marginalized people. I regularly speak to people who cannot access care in their own communities, a common situation in New Brunswick. The cost associated with travel, missing work, and finding a place to stay is often restrictive. Recently, Canada lost the program that provided free birth control to those who could not afford it, a tremendous blow especially in rural areas. How can we expect those who struggle to afford birth control to pay for an abortion? It is necessary that the government begin to address poverty and oppression by providing better sexual and reproductive health services, funding all abortion, and ensuring that people can access affordable birth control.

In Nova Scotia, we are lucky to have several organizations that are funded and able to provide services related to reproductive justice and sexual health. The Nova Scotia Association for Sexual Health and it’s member organizations, including the Halifax Sexual Health Centre, provide a wide range of educational and clinical services. But organizations like these across the Maritimes can barely meet the demand, and receive minimal support from governments who don’t recognize the complexity of the issue.

If New Brunswick does repeal section 84–20 and fund the Morgentaler until such a time that the province can provide free abortion in hospitals to everyone who needs it, it will be a good start. But it will only be a start.

We must call on New Brunswick, and all Maritime provinces to provide comprehensive sexual health education throughout grade schools, fund trans* inclusive services related to sexual health, address the racism and transphobia that is so pervasive within sexual health narratives, fund harm-reduction services, provide affordable birth control, and act deliberately to support a persons right to choose when and if to become pregnant, when and if to have children and when and if to parent.”

* Section 84-20, Schedule 2 (a.1) of the Medical Service Payment Act states that an abortion will be covered by Medicare in New Brunswick only if (1) it is done in a hospital, (2) by a specialist in the field of obstetrics or gynaecology, and (3) two doctors have certified in writing that the procedure is medically required. These regulations cause significant barriers for people seeking abortions.

Anti-porn is anti-sex worker

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Throughout the history of sex worker activism, those who support rights and safety for sex workers have had to push back against feminists who seek to make their careers off of sex workers’s backs.

Anti-porn academic Gail Dines is in Halifax this week, speaking at a conference– Emergent Learning–that you, too, can attend for $300. The cost of the conference is extremely restrictive to most, let alone the survival sex workers in Halifax who should have access to a space where their lives are being debated, discussed and analyzed.

This is a pivotal moment in Canada for sex worker activism. The laws that have made prostitution de facto illegal were struck down by the Supreme Court of Canada because they denied sex workers their rights to safety and security. In Halifax, spaces like Dines’ presentation are unsafe for sex workers who may want to have their voices heard. If they are able to pay the registration fee, they would have to take a tremendous risk to speak up and against Dines, a prolific academic whose authority has been validated by the organizers.

I face risks when I speak against anti-sex work and anti-pornography activists. I risk being excluded from jobs working with children and youth, losing job opportunities at feminist organizations that take the position that sex work is inherently violent. But as a non-sex-worker, the risks I take are minuscule in comparison to the risks faced by sex workers who speak out. They face violence, ostracization and persecution by outing themselves as participatants in the sex trade.

We must reject the notion that safety and security are only given to those who demonstrate “morally correct” behaviour, and recognize that sex workers’ rights are human rights. In her book Sex Workers Unite: A History of the Movement from Stonewall to Slutwalk, Melinda Chateauvert writes, “Human rights activism empowers the disenfranchised to create the conditions in which marginalized people can speak their truths and craft their own solutions to the problems they identify.” Emergent Learning disenfranchises sex workers by giving Dines an unchecked soapbox from which to preach, and allowing her to dictate solutions that she champions from her self-perceived moral high ground.

But as a non-sex-worker, the risks I take are minuscule in comparison to the risks faced by sex workers who speak out. They face violence, ostracization and persecution by outing themselves as participatants in the sex trade.

Statistics and research used by anti-porn activists are skewed, cherry-picked and decontextualized to support their conclusion that porn is inherently bad. While the conference promises to “support open, frank and constructive conversations,” had the organizers done their homework they would have known this is exactly what Dines does not want. Anti-porn and anti-sex work activists are not interested in a nuanced or complicated discussion of sex work or pornography. As a sexual health educator I’ve routinely given support to attendees of Dines’ presentations who feel shamed.

Why should we talk about porn? The fairy grandmother of pornography, Annie Sprinkle, has said, “the solution to bad porn isn’t no porn, it’s to make better porn.”

Courtney Trouble’s porno Lesbian Curves helped me challenge my fatphobia; Mia Gimp’s performance in Clark Matthew’s KRUTCH is a tool to address abelism. Mireille Miller Young, Sinnamon Love, Cinnamon Maxxine and Shine Louise Houston have all challenged me to think about racism and representation in pornography. Gayle MacDonald and Leslie Jeffrey’s book Sex Workers in the Maritimes Talk Backpoliticized me, challenged me to stop thinking of sex workers as disposable and antithetical to “feminist ethics.”

Rape and violence existed before porn, and would continue to exist if porn didn’t. Why not focus on how rape is structurally permitted due to rape culture, how criminalization and incarceration permit and condone rape, how white supremacy reinforces poverty and institutionalized violence and how notions of moral acceptability make sex workers “rapeable” and “disposable”?

We need to have discussions about what constitutes ethical porn; how we can represent diverse sexualities and genders on camera; how we can explore and broaden ideas of sex beyond hetero-patriarchal ideals, and how we can fight racism and transphobia within pornography. We need to listen hard and think about how we can support the rights of sex workers and create spaces where they speak to their own experiences.

Emergent Learning’s organizers could have done this by putting sex workers’ voices at the forefront. They could have offered free tickets to local organizations that represent sex workers, invited a speaker who teaches porn literacy from a shame-free approach and they should be challenging the idea that Dines, even while she has her feet squarely on the backs of sex workers, has the last word on pornography.

This article originally appeared in The Voice of the City in The Coast, Halifax’s alt weekly newspaper. You can visit their website for the original posting as well as for the lovely comments that say I don’t know what I’m talking about.