Saturday, September 22, 2007

Not in whose backyard?

Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore has an important message for the author(s) of Bilerico (which I also normally like, and find this extremely disappointing and dismaying):

I started sobbing when I read "The prostitute’s day in court,” one of The Bilerico Project founder Bil Browning's posts from the other day, and learned that residents from his neighborhood association attended a court hearing to ensure that a woman arrested multiple times for prostitution do jail time. These residents were successful, and the woman in question will now spend approximately 218 days in prison. Over seven months in prison. Can people think about that for a moment? What will that mean for this woman's life?

This issue is extremely personal to me. I supported myself for 12 years as a whore, and the practices, politics and cultures of sex work have been crucial to my understanding of and engagement with the world. Sex work has enabled me to structure my time and finances in order to move cross-country half a dozen times, live in half a dozen cities (and a dozen apartments), write two novels (both with sex work as a central theme), edit four anthologies (one about sex work), go on five book tours, help to start several activist groups, and become involved in innumerable direct action activist projects. Equally important, sex work has helped me, an incest survivor searching for home and hope, to negotiate the perilous intersections of sexuality, intimacy, lust, self-worth, longing and desperation with integrity and charm. Sex work has given me the space to envision radical queer alternatives to the violence of the status quo -- in relationships, activism, identity, desire and self-expression.

Has this been messy? Of course! Do I regret any of it? Well, sometimes... But the point is that everything I've learned over the last 15 years (or almost everything, anyway) comes from an active participation in radical outsider queer cultures that have always intersected, overlapped, and interwoven with sex work cultures -- from high-end dungeons to the quickie blow job in the car, Talk to a Model to "massage," streetwork to the kept boy/girl lifestyle.

And everywhere I've lived (but especially in New York and San Francisco), I've witnessed and struggled against the violence of pro-gentrification "neighborhood" associations that always see the annihilation of public sex and sex work cultures as paramount to the success of their urban removal projects. In New York, a group called "Residents in Distress" (RID) aggressively seeks to eliminate queer youth of color, hookers and other “undesirables” from sections of the West Village where these cultures have survived and thrived for decades. In my current neighborhood in San Francisco, a group of property owners and merchants calling themselves Lower Polk Neighbors (LPN), started by a pair of architects who opened their business/home on a notorious drug dealing/hustler block, across the street from a porn shop and virtually next-door to a homeless shelter, now decries the presence of -- gasp -- hustlers, hookers and drug dealers. What was one of their first things they did for the neighborhood? Shut down the needle exchange...

6 comments:

prof black woman said...

Hey I just wanted to say thanks for addressing yet another side of gentrification. I have never understood how people can embrace the rhetoric of "community" and claim to have "made the negihborhood better/safer" when they destroy everything but the buildings in order to achieve said "community" and then police it with threats, manipulation of the judiciary and state power, and general community disdain - my favorite thing is trying to walk in a newly gentrified neighborhood and watching the people "who embrace diversity" glare at me from their porches or call neighborhood watch & I have never been a sex worker. I cannot imagine what it is like for those women who are in this neighborhoods. Your post, definitely expanded my analysis on this issue. thanks.

belledame222 said...

Thank -you.-

Yeah, I just came from the West Village this afternoon; classic gentrification, that tension between the well-to-do, mostly white gay folk (among others) and the street kids, most black and brown, gender-bent or transgendered...

and the thing of it is, is, demographically i "belong" more with the NIMBY's, I expect, even if I'm not in their income bracket. I go to the shops and the restaurants, the world is familiar to me. I'm not gonna pretend to be what I'm not...but yeah, it's fucked up, the overall trend, and the disparity seems to get worse and worse, and more and more people get priced out of their homes and livelihoods, and the public spaces keep getting smaller and more hemmed in...

Samuel Delany's "Times Square Red, Times Square Blue" is a good read if you're interested in NYC and of course the old Times Square & the gay porn theatres in particular, but also has a lot to say about gentrification in general.

belledame222 said...

...technically you know it's not my post, it's MBS's.

it's about queer/transgendered stuff as well, I should say. there are a million ways of policing boundaries...

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

So lovely to see my post over here -- thanks so much for the support! And, I too think that Times Square Red, Times Square Blue is brilliant...

Love --
mattilda

Invisible Woman said...

I love the social awareness of your blog from a black woman's perspective. You cover things I don't see anywhere ele....keep up the good work :-)

belledame222 said...

Btw, welcome, PBW, MBS, IW.