ZINE CALL-OUT: a zine about feminist change & self-reflection in politics around the sex trade

Deadline: April 20th, 2016.



  • Submissions are open to all women, and to anyone who is not a woman but who experiences oppression as a woman (eg non-binary and agender people).
  • You don’t have to be a feminist, because obviously many women (or people who experience oppression as women) often have very deliberate reasons for rejecting the ‘feminist’ descriptor. However, this zine is centred on debates within feminism(s) about sex work, so I’m looking for submissions that speak to those debates and that context.
  • I’m mainly looking for submissions from non-sex working feminists, because at least part of the point of this zine is to help other non-sex working feminists shift their sex work politics, so it’s about people who can speak to that experience. But if selling or trading sex or sexual services is or has been part of your experience and you have something you want to contribute, I definitely don’t want to exclude you – you’re also welcome!❤


  • I’m looking for submissions on the theme of how your politics around sex work have changed. Obviously, if your politics have become more carceral, that’s not what this zine is for🙂 I am interested in various kinds of ambivalence; I’m interested in revelatory moments and long evolutions and everything in between (or outwith that spectrum!). I’m interested in personal narratives/histories and also in stuff that is not directly tied to recounting an experience you had that changed your mind – just your analysis or your thoughts on the theme.
  • Submissions can academic in style, or very informal, or however you want. They can be a poem or a piece of creative writing. They can be drawings or any other kind of media that can be put into a zine. If you’re writing something, it can be very short (like, three tweets’-worth of text) or pretty long – probably topping out at about 1k words max because printing costs, but if you really want to write something longer, we can chat about it. (In general I think being as specific as you can be is probably good. Can you pin-point a specific conversation, a specific phrase, a specific idea that changed how you saw the issue? Include that! But that’s just a thought and if it’s not relevant to what you want to say, ignore it.)


  • I’m happy for submissions to be anonymous or pseudo-anonymous or for them to be published with your name, twitter, blog, etc etc all included. Just let me know.
  • I can’t pay you (even though #writingworkiswork) because I don’t have any money and this zine isn’t going to make any money. When/if I take it to zine fairs, I’ll sell it at a price that attempts to recoup some of my printing costs, but I’m not envisioning making any kind of profit. If you write something for the zine, I can post you a free copy, and the whole thing will be available as a PDF to read for free online (and anybody who wants to print it out, from the PDF, to distribute, or just to have, is obviously very welcome to do so!).

Note to students.

I seem to be getting a relatively high number of requests from students (undergraduates and high schoolers) these days. I genuinely want to chat – I do want to help educate people about sex worker rights, after all. But I have limited capacity: I balance work and activism, both of which can be very time-consuming (perhaps more-so than I sometimes let on via twitter). Plus I obviously want to have A Life: time with friends, with James, with my cats, etc.

If you’re doing an MA or a PhD (or research as a post-doc academic) that seems interesting to me, or if you’re working jointly with a sex worker-led organisation (i.e on a project that they’ve developed in partnership with you, presumably because they think your work will will help them), I am pretty likely to be happy to speak with you for free. Get in touch: twitter is best as first point of contact, and you can drop me a line on glasgowsexworker[@]gmail dot com

If you’re doing any kind of school project or undergraduate study, or MA/PhD/postdoc-research-that-I-don’t-consider-particularly-interesting (sorry! It’s not personal – I mostly mean “interesting” as in “useful for advocacy”; your work can obviously still be good without being within that category!) I’m still happy to speak with you, but I’m gonna charge you £50 for my time. Apologies if that seems a lot – I do want to help, I just don’t want to be exhausted or burnt out, or over-commit myself and then I find I don’t have the time. As above, the best way to get in touch is via twitter initially, and then drop me a line on glasgowsexworker[@]gmail dot com.

Against “Choice Feminism”: four new suggested topics

Feminism is not about an individual’s choices, and not all choices are feminist just because a woman makes them. Furthermore, “choices” don’t happen in a vacuum: they are shaped by the world around us. Many widely-shared articles on feminism make these points, and yet they typically seem strangely limited in terms of which “choices” are up for discussion. The choices discussed are generally “what amount of makeup to wear, whether to go ‘natural’ or buy mascara that makes your eyelashes look like false eyelashes … whether or not to make a first move with a man”, or choices as regards to “the sex industry, … marriage and makeup” – or (yes, this again) the ‘choice to participate in the sex industry’, or to wear makeup. You get the idea! It seems that some issues – makeup, sex work – come up repeatedly in these ‘did-you-know-not-every-choice-is-feminist’ articles.

These issues are up for ‘discussion’ in only the loosest sense: the authors generally get no deeper into the topic than name-checking them, and then telling us “yes, we make choices, but these are shaped and constrained by the unequal conditions in which we live”, or “[it is not] the case that by definition any choice a woman makes must be feminist simply because she is a woman”. Often feminists adopt a slightly confessional tone in relating that they wax or wear makeup themselves, in the spirit of demonstrating that it’s not just ‘other women’ whose choices they are ‘interrogating’: we’re all in this together, sisters!

For a while now, I’ve been struck by the repetitive nature of the of ‘choices’ cited as up for examination. As such, I’d like to suggest some new choices to examine – some choices that mostly seem to remain “invisible choices” within mainstream feminism.

  • The choice to talk about beauty and makeup as if everyone experiences these issues the same way – which erases women of colour, trans women, disabled, fat, working class and queer women (and women who experience oppression on several of these axes at once). The choice to leave these women out of the conversation glosses over the fact that ‘beauty ideals’ are policed with more aggression for some women (for example: for trans women and women of colour, using makeup might be a strategy to attempt to avoid violence or harassment, and therefore not something they can simply opt out of having read a ‘not-all-choices-are-feminist!’ article). The choice to present the argument in this way also obscures the extent to which women who have been excluded from white supremacist, cissexist, queerphobic and disablist beauty standards use makeup and other modes of femininity as tools of creativity, self-care, and resistance – in ways which aren’t accounted for by a simple “not all choices are feminist!” analysis. Whose perspective is being privileged by the choice to gloss over the experiences of women who experience intersecting oppressions? How does choosing to gloss over those women’s experiences reify existing structures that govern whose experiences are centred as default, and whose are ‘other’, and marginalised?

The choice to present complex conversations and decisions as simple “choice feminism” flattens womens’ lives (and the lives of femmes of other genders) into simple binaries, and seems designed to enable columnists to then patronisingly explain, “no, not every choice is feminist” (again and again and again). It also functions as a derail: sex workers often have conversations about our rights and safety dominated by people saying “choicy choice McFeminism”, or arguing over whether our “choice” is “feminist” (who cares?). The fiction that marginalised women invariably seek to focus on “choice” (rather than survival, rights, resistance) is used to as a bludgeon to caricature conversations that mainstream feminists can’t be bothered to listen to – or don’t want to happen, because those conversations might de-centre their concerns.

We’re used to being told that ‘choice feminism’ serves power by facilitating the co-option of feminism into neoliberalism, but I’m struck by how ‘choice discourse’ often seems to be used by women with more power writing about women with less power (non-sex working women writing about sex workers, a white cis woman writing about a black trans woman). How might the choice of feminists with relative privilege to caricature other womens’ politics into “choice feminism” serve power? (It’s certainly been a successful tactic so far in helping to prevent sex workers from gaining labour rights.) Feminists who write critically about ‘choice feminism’ are mostly at pains to emphasise that all choices are made in a context shaped by patriarchy, and yet only some choices seem to crop up over and over, and it’s not the choice of a journalist to write about the ‘success’ of sex work legislation, and only bother to talk to the police. Let’s interrogate some choices! Let’s talk about that choice.

SWOU at Edinburgh Reclaim The Night

Hello, I’m [pseudonym]. I’m here speaking as part of the Sex Worker Open University. We are a worker’s collective comprising current and former sex workers (and some allies). People within SWOU have done lots of different kinds of sex work, for different reasons at at different times in their lives. SWOU members do or have worked on the street, in brothels, parlours or saunas, from working flats, independently, or been dancers, strippers, worked in porn, done phone sex work … Our collective does not include bosses or managers, because although we want our managers to be decriminalised so that we can have labour rights and workplace safety, we have an analysis that holds that the interests of workers are not the same as the interests of our bosses, and so we do not include those people in our collective.

Thank you for having SWOU here. Reclaim the Night has not always been friendly to sex workers (with some sex workers facing harassment on RtN marches, including being interrogated by the police at the request of stewards). At previous Reclaim the Night events, in other cities, I’ve seen RtN be deliberately routed through red light districts, to disrupt the income of women working there, and as if to “reclaim” the streets from sex workers as well as those who perpetrate harassment. In Edinburgh, I’ve heard feminists describe our workplaces as if merely seeing them is an assault – either against their dignity, or, I guess, their house prices.

This, of course, taps into a more general hatred of sex workers. In particular, a form of violence against street-based sex workers that is often overlooked in a widespread keenness to blame all the violence those workers experience on a shadowy ‘Other’, “pimps and johns”, is the substantial amount of violence that street-based sex workers face from the general public (p89). This can be shouting, it can be groups of people driving or walking past and throwing bottles, eggs, or bricks. A decade ago, Leith Residents Association was organising against the women who worked in the tolerance zone by forming vigilante gangs and going out and threatening the women with baseball bats. The tolerance zone was closed due to this local campaign, leading to a huge spike in violence against street-based sex workers perpetrated by men posing as clients. With the women unable to work safely, the number of violent attacks they reported to outreach workers went up from eleven, in the final year of the tolerance zone, to a hundred and eleven in the year after it closed (p70). This was in addition to the harassment and violence from the resident’s association, which was on-going and which was essentially endorsed, given that their tactics – baseball bats, etc – led to politicians giving them what they wanted, i.e the closure of the tolerance zone. (Street-based sex workers in Scotland still cite the renewal of tolerance zones as one of the key ways their work could be made safer, but its politically pretty toxic. The house prices and baseball bats crowd have won, for now.)

So when we talk about violence against women (or people read as women) on the street, we also need to think about the violence of stigma and criminalisation, the ways in which those are mutually reinforcing and in turn drive both violence – and we need to include sex workers in the community of people we want to protect, because that’s not always the case.

One of the arguments that’s often used against sex workers’ safety is: “yes, but sex work hurts all women”. This gets wheeled out when we’ve shown beyond doubt that criminalisation – whether of us, or of our clients or managers – hurts us. When we’ve proven that, the goal posts shift: “yes, but sex work hurts all women”. This suggests that violence against sex workers is acceptable or even necessary to protect “good” women from the harm that we supposedly do them. One amazing thing you could do to tackle violence against women – against sex workers – is to call out this argument when you encounter it. Since criminalisation manifestly harms our safety from violence, our access to justice, and our ability to protect ourselves from HIV, start asking feminists who make this argument how exactly an increase in assaults against us, how increasing our vulnerability to HIV, helps to build the gender equality of other women.

I want to conclude by quoting a blog post called ‘“Hey Baby, How Much?”: stop blaming street-sex workers for street harassment’, which is a really amazing blog and you should read it. It says:

“For those of us who get sexual street harassment on the regular, blame the patriarchy, don’t blame it on sex workers or the class and race character of the neighborhood. As targets of the patriarchy, sex workers understand it intimately and have some of the best solutions to resisting it. We have analyses which are critical for building feminist movements.

Think about the communities you belong to, the ones you love and want to nourish. There are sex workers amongst you – are you seeing them? There always have been sex workers in your communities – do you know our heritage and legacies? How can you learn to listen and believe us better? How can you challenge the attitudes that push us into silence? If you have participated in anti-sex work feminism (and we all have) how can you be accountable for the harm you may have created and prevent it? What have you got to learn from us, from the ways we navigate multiple identities and locations to what sex work has taught us about sex, bodies and gender?

There are many ways to be respectful. It might include supporting sex workers human and labour rights. Doing some research and making yourself someone a sex worker would want to talk to about their work. Getting real about who your feminism is excluding/disrepsecting and excited about how much you have to learn from sex workers about resistance to patriarchy, sisterhood, community based resistance to violence, how the patriarchal state tries to exert control over women’s reproductive & sexual labour, the gorgeous and nourishing fierceness of femininity–and so much more. Wherever you are, start by respecting the sex workers around you and in your neighborhood streets”.

Thank you for having us here. If you are able to, a good way to support sex workers in Scotland right now is to donate to Scot-Pep. (SWOU doesn’t have a bank account, which makes handling donations a bit difficult, though still possible!)

Edinburgh saunas consultation

Edinburgh City Council is consulting on sauna licensing. I know that sounds yawn-inducing but the survey is DEAD SHORT (woo). I’ve produced my answers below as guidance. I wrote them very quickly. The questions I’ve reproduced are paraphrases, duh. GO FILL IT OUT. Nothing ever stops, I know. THERE WILL BE CONSULTATIONS ON SEX WORK POLICY TO FILL OUT FOREVER & EVER UNTIL WE ARE ALL DUST, soz.

What do you think about our stupid proposals?

Having worked in a sauna myself up until May this year, I can tell you the impact of removing the licensing system would be seriously harmful. Don’t get me wrong; licensing is CRAP – it puts all the power in the hands of the few people who have enough money etc to apply for licenses. But it is so much better than the alternative that you’re suggesting. When the saunas were raided, the police treated the women appallingly – tipping off the press for photos, taking all the women’s money & phones, keeping women trapped for up to seven hours (CHILDCARE?!). Without licenses you know very well that the police would raid & raid, all those horrible & abusive police practises would happen all the time, & eventually all the saunas would close & women would go to working flats. And they’d be working in FEAR of the police – fear of the police using condoms as evidence, fear of the police raiding them & traumatising them & taking their money. That makes us less able to report crimes against us; how can we report crimes to the people who are looking to raid us? It’s not safe to do that – we’ll get raided. Dangerous people would know that working women in Edinburgh were less able to report crimes against us, and therefore these crimes would become more common as violent people would know they could act with impunity.
Impact on public health? (Honestly this question gets my back up. I know public health is a legit thing but I just can never read it as not “do you think normal people might catch diseases too? We might care if so”)
Bad. When you put sex workers & the state in oppositional roles you drive women away from health services as well as taking away their ability to report crimes. Plus condoms as evidence, because in the real world obviously the police will use condoms as evidence BECAUSE THEY OBVIOUSLY ARE EVIDENCE and when you criminalise sex work WHAT ELSE DO YOU EXPECT THE POLICE TO DO.
Any other suggestions?
Grow a backbone & call for the decriminalisation of sex work, so that (for instance) sex workers could work safely together indoor as friends without a manager and without the fear of police raids. I note that the very latest WHO guidance on effective HIV programming for sex workers calls for decriminalisation and SEX WORKER-LED service provision as a *miniumum Global standard*, i.e the WHO is addressing the Global South but it should literally be a national embarassment that Scotland doesn’t meet the MINUMUM GLOBAL STANDARD. Full decrim now please, in line with what SEX WORKERS are saying is best for our rights + health.

Scrapbook: sex work services in Glasgow

‘Edinburgh had an unofficial tolerance zone until 2001 while in Glasgow the Glasgow Community and Safety Services [GCSS] runs a targeted exit scheme. “We don’t wait until [prostitutes] say they want to exit and we share all our info with police,” says senior operations manager Louise Belton. “We try everything to engage with them. That could be a charge, which puts them in a system where they have support.”‘ The Guardian, 15th July 2013

Services for sex workers in Glasgow are predicated on deliberately and knowingly ignoring what sex workers say about themselves and their own lives and what they want; sharing all information with the police, and seeking convictions for sex workers, because jail is some kind of rehab

THIS IS BULLSHIT. This is why we’re running Confide

Ladyfest Glasgow response to Rhoda

Ladyfest HQ,

Thursday 13th December 2012.


Submission to the consultation on the Bill to criminalise the purchase of sex.


Dear Ms Grant


                        Thank you for allowing us the opportunity to comment on your proposed Bill. Ladyfest Glasgow is an explicitly feminist (and intersectional) group, and as such we feel it necessary to oppose in the strongest terms every aspect of the Bill which you have put out to consultation. We would comment in any case, but we feel particularly moved to do so due to the manner in which you have cloaked your proposed legislation in the language of feminism, despite the fact that a feminism that ‘others’, excludes, and stigmatises sex workers is no ‘feminism’ that we would recognise or endorse.


                        You write, “currently in Scotland, it is possible for a consenting adult to have sex with another consenting adult in return for payment without any offence being committed by either person”. We would be profoundly alarmed to see the principle of consenting sex between adults, that occurs in private, being criminalised for any reason (or, based on the evidence you’ve provided, none.) As a collective that includes trans* women, queer women, and sex working women, we have good reason to be highly suspicious of any state-originating discourse that sees the starting point of “it is possible for a consenting adult to have sex with another consenting adult [ … ] without any offence being committed by either person” as an opportunity for change. We stand with Transgender Europe in their view that, “sex work is work. We believe that the only way to end violence against sex worker women is to respect sex workers’ right to be free from all forms of violence and to take proper measures in parallel with the demands of sex worker communities”. (Emphasis ours.)


                        Additionally to your casual disregard of a principle (the inviolability of private, consenting, adult sex) that any LGBTQ activist or ally could tell you has been hard won (and is still fought for – look at the recent debate over equal marriage), we would like to direct your attention to a huge body of evidence contrary to the thrust of your legislation.


                       In on the topic of the fight against HIV-AIDS, you appear to have missed the recent landmark report joint-authored by the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), which found, “where sex work has been decriminalized, there is a greater chance for safer sex practices through occupational health and safety standards across the industry. Furthermore, there is no evidence that decriminalization has increased sex work”. Also, “evidence from the jurisdictions in the region that have decriminalized sex work – New Zealand and New South Wales (Australia) – indicates that the approach of defining sex work as legitimate labour empowers sex workers, increases their access to HIV and sexual health services and is associated with very high condom use rates.”


                      This is in addition to the findings of the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, which in its report HIV and the Law: Risks, Rights, Health, states that “countries should decriminalise private and consensual adult sexual behaviour, including voluntary sex work”. And of course, Secretary General of the UN, Ban Ki Moon, is on record as stating that reducing by half the number of “countries with punitive laws and practices around HIV transmission, sex work, drug use or homosexuality” is an agency goal for 2015.


                     Perhaps most notably, in January of this year we saw the publication of the Report of the UN AIDS Advisory Group on HIV and Sex Work. While other UN documents have not tackled directly the criminalisation of clients – preferring to merely recommend decriminalisation, and point out the many risks that come with more punitive approaches – this report goes into some detail to emphasize that the criminalisation of clients carries substantial risks for sex workers. It says, “the approach of criminalising the client has been shown to backfire on sex workers. In Sweden, sex workers who were unable to work indoors were left on the street with the most dangerous clients and little choice but to accept them”. Furthermore, “policies and programmes to reduce the demand for sex work, designed ignoring the voices of sex workers, often result in unintended harms including increased HIV risk and vulnerability for sex workers and their clients”. Sound familiar? Finally, it notes that “there is very little evidence to suggest that any criminal laws related to sex work reduce demand for sex or the number of sex workers. Rather, all of them create an environment of fear and marginalisation for sex workers [ … ] These laws can undermine sex workers’ ability to work together to identify potentially violent clients and their capacity to demand condom use of clients”.


                     Most recently, in the World Health Organisation report published yesterday, it is stated under ‘Summary of Recommendations’ that, “all countries should work toward decriminalization of sex work and elimination of the unjust application of non-criminal laws and regulations against sex workers”.


                    It goes without saying that we at Ladyfest Glasgow are not epidemiologists, or experts on public health. It is therefore all the more troubling that we appear to be better informed about these issues than you. The complete lack of mention of the issues surrounding HIV in your consultation document suggest either, a) you don’t think these issues are relevant to a discussion of sex work, b) you’re not aware of these issues, or c) you didn’t include a discussion of them because you couldn’t find any evidence on this topic that would back up your poorly informed crusade. None of these options suggest that you’re the best person to be legislating on these issues.


                       Additionally to issues around HIV/AIDS, we’d like to discuss violence. There is a substantial body of evidence emerging from Sweden and Norway which suggests that the sex purchase ban has lead to a huge increase in violence towards sex workers. For example, politicians in Norway are now calling for the law the criminalises clients to be repealed, as this news article details. “Anniken Hauglie called for the law to be scrapped after the city’s official help centre for prostitutes, Pro Sentret, released a report on Friday detailing deteriorating conditions for sex workers in the capital. ‘The reality is that the law has made it more difficult for women in prostitution,’ Hauglie said. ‘It’s our political responsibility to take this feedback seriously. In my view, the sex buyer ban should be repealed … ‘“. If only all politicians were so intellectually honest.


                       Hauglie made those comments after the release of a report by Pro Sentret, which revealed that the sex purchase ban “… has in fact made prostitutes much more susceptible to violence at the hands of their clients as the sex trade moves further underground. What’s more, prostitutes have become less inclined to seek help since the law came into force, with many now perceiving that they too are viewed as criminals, the report says. Many of the women also said the new law had scared off many of their more reliable customers, while troublesome and violent clients were relatively undeterred.” (Quotes from the same article.)


                     Its not just sex workers who are saying this. Ann Jordan is the Director of the Program on Human Trafficking and Forced Labor at the Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law in the Washington College of Law, and in her paper titled, ‘The Swedish Law To Criminalise Clients: A Failed Experiment in Social Engineering’, she discusses how the Swedish approach (which she calls “not reality-based”) has increased violence against sex workers, the stigma that they experience, and HIV transmission, while causing their access to justice and health services to be diminished.


                       Prof Jordan’s paper notes that there is no evidence that the law has decreased the clients of sex workers, (“ … the government does not have any evidence of a decrease in sex buyers since the law went into effect. They do not know how many men were soliciting on the street before or after the law. They do not know if men moved from the streets to indoors and on line, or out of the country. They have not collected such data and so cannot prove any success in achieving the primary goal of the law”), no evidence for a reduction in trafficking (“the government does not know whether there has been any change in the number of ‘exploited sex workers’ between 1999 and 2010”), and finds that “the government contemptuously tries to avoid any responsibility for violence caused by the law by shifting the blame for violence to the women themselves”. This is problematic.

                      Prof Jordan also talks of the social construction of “good sex”, and quotes another academic: ““[w]hat I believe is ultimately at stake in this transition is a much wider phenomenon, namely the entrenchment of an official sexuality, a national sexuality, to which all Swedes should adhere, not because they will be punished if they do … but because official sexuality is good sexuality, the morally comprehensible way to be”. Ladyfest has already alluded to our uneasiness at the idea that state interference in private sex between consenting adults can ever be justified, and as women who refuse to participate in any officially designated “good sexuality”, we don’t see any difference between your punitive, othering version of ‘gender equality’, and the patriarchy you are supposedly against. Especially when this “gender equality” and “sending of a message” is backed up by the threat of violence – as your proposed law clearly is, given all the evidence regarding the increase in violence that accompanies its implementation.


                    You tell us that you want to bring the indoor sex industry in line with the laws governing outdoor workers. Have you looked at what happened to Scottish street workers after the implementation of the 2007 Prostitution in Public Places Bill? Violent attacks on sex workers skyrocketed. In just the twelve months following the introduction of enhanced penalties for clients of street sex workers, reported attacks increased by 95%. ScotPEP was still funded to do street outreach at that time, and can see from its own figures that in fact the increase in attacks was much, much greater even than that – but of course, most sex workers didn’t report.


                    You say you want to send a “clear message” that the purchasing of sexual services in Scotland is a hinderance to gender equality and will not be tolerated. You say much less about how how or where a huge increase in attacks on sex workers, and in HIV transmission, fits into this “message” about “gender equality”. Collateral damage, maybe? We at Ladyfest wholeheartedly reject any so-called feminist analysis that places real, immediate, tangible harms to sex working men and women as secondary to some poorly-referenced, ideological fixation based on second-wave catchphrases. There can be no gender equality that is built on such a foundation of violence and erasure.


                 Finally, we fundamentally reject your Bill’s unspoken but all-too-clear premise, that sex workers are a separate, discrete segment of the population that you can talk about rather than to. Sex workers are valued participants in our communities, projects, and politics, and an attack on them is not only misinformed, wrongheaded, and the cause of profound harms, but also an attack on all of us. We want nothing to do with any analysis that posits “good” women against “bad” (‘pity is very close to contempt’, as Libby Brooks recently observed in the Guardian), or invokes the power of the state to police consenting sexualities and sex acts.


                   Thank you for letting us contribute, and we hope that the responses you have received will be useful in deciding on your future course of action.


The Board of Ladyfest Glasgow.