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Re: Thank You for Making My Bday Fabulous!

18 Oct

Dear Birthday Celebrator:

While i did appreciate the lovely company last night and I am somewhat relieved that your birthday was not ruined by the ugliness of what happened – i do want to share that i find this email disturbing in the context of my experience, my night was far from fabulous and i wish the fabulousness of your night included a safe space for all your friends you invited to attend.

I get that you can’t control what happens when you bring people together and that you don’t necessarily know how to best respond. It feels pretty messed up that you would include me in this mass email knowing that I was forced to leave last night because I felt the space was not safe. It’s tough but understandable that you didn’t take any action to address the situation, instead asking that everyone just forget about it and move on, but sending this email that completely erases my traumatizing experience feels like insult to injury.

At the table last night I overheard two of the people talking about sex work in a very problematic way. I engaged them to talk about how i am a former sex worker, a sex worker activist and leader in the community, and that what they were saying was problematic and does violence to our communities. Perhaps the most upsetting and problematic of the assertions made about sex work was the idea that  many poor people are “trafficked into sex work”.

Let me make clear that trafficked people are not “trafficked into sex work”. They are trafficked into the sex industry. They are trafficked into slavery. Sex work is real work. Sex workers are workers in the sex industry. These distinctions are vitally important to sex workers and victims of trafficking. I mean, quite literally, these distinctions are a matter of life and death in our communities.

When I tried to explain how important this distinction is and how oppressive it was to assert this conflation of terms i was met with resistance in many different forms. There was the claim that the conflation of terms is a matter of opinion and the opinion is justified because the person making it had dated a sex worker and worked in the field of sex worker human rights. There was the claim that all capitalism is exploitation, that this was an argument over definitions. Also, they did not like my tone and I should stop picking fights with other queer women of color

When it became clear that there was a conflict happening and I was asked about it I said simply, “They’re saying fucked up shit about sex workers.” I was asked if we could all just move on and forget about it. I could not forget about it. This is my life. I am a sex worker. There is an assault on our existence. I have to fight these humiliations and violences on our dignity, on our right to exist, on our right to exist and tell our own stories – this is my every day. Forgetting about it and just moving on for the sake of the comfort of others is not an option for me. Too many of us are murdered and exploited by this refusal to speak up. These ideas about sex work make a concrete negative impact on my life and the lives of people who are dear to me and the lives of people who i never knew but that i think deserve dignity in their lives and deaths. All of this is more important to me than maintaining the polite and vapid civility that “moving on” serves.

I want you to know that i will go to bat for you if you are feeling unsafe in a space. If someone is gay bashing, or misogynistic, or racist, or otherwise oppressive – i will speak up for you. It’s more important to me than maintaining the appearance of diplomacy or figuring out who was “right” or “wrong”. I will honor you and your truth if you tell me you are not safe in the space. I will not always do the right thing, i will not always be there when you need me, but i will try because it’s deeply important to me.

Below a few resources on sex work vs. sex trafficking. For folks who think, as was expressed last night, that choice in sex work is largely determined by the class of the sex worker or that that non-sex workers are just as equipped to have opinion on sex work as those who have direct experience with the work – check out the official trailer for the Red Up Doc: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ECQkCKZ9ZFg&feature=youtu.be. And, check yourself before you wreck yourself – your ignorance and arrogance in speaking on behalf of our community is violent, appropriative and embarrassing.

Friends – Your reaching out to me about this directly would be so appreciated. Whether it’s “I didn’t stand up for you and i’m sorry”, “I didn’t know what was going on/I left before this happened but would’ve had your back”, “I was willfully ignorant because I was uncomfortable and I know that was wrong”, “Do you want to vent?”, “I would like to ally with you against the whorephobia you experienced”… I will gratefully receive anything you can say with honestly and kindness about the situation.

It really is true what MLK said: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

Sincerely,

Retired(?) Cunty Whore

– Sex Worker Project, Human Trafficking and Sex Workhttp://sexworkersproject.org/media-toolkit/downloads/05-HumanTraffickingAndSexWork.pdf

“Confusing sex workers with trafficked persons erases the voices of sex workers, worsens their working conditions, adds to their general stigmatization and impedes discussions on ways to end human trafficking.”

– Melissa Ditmore, Sex Work, Trafficking: Understanding the Difference http://rhrealitycheck.org/article/2008/05/06/sex-work-trafficking-understanding-difference/

“… treating sex work as if it is the same as sex trafficking both ignores the realities of sex work and endangers those engaged in it.”

– Ruth Jacobs, Knowing the difference between sex-trafficking and sex work – A survivor speaks http://womennewsnetwork.net/2014/01/16/difference-sex-trafficking-survivor/

“As awareness of trafficking grows, additional negative stigma is placed on sex workers because most individuals don’t understand the difference between sex work and sex trafficking.

“Sex workers are viewed by society as helpless souls who can’t possibly make healthy choices because they are victims and in desperate need of rescue. Trafficking survivors are viewed as pity cases who are incapable of doing much of anything besides art or sewing, and a pretty bedroom will solve the issues of complex trauma. Both views are wrong but it’s hard to hear the voices of sex workers and trafficking survivors through the billowing echos of the ‘voice of the voiceless.”

P.S. It’s not about you.

12 May

On our first warm Saturday of spring, the neighborhood thrums in the palm of a sub woofer beat. My part of Brooklyn is a Black-chic neighborhood in the heart of Bed-Stuy, halfway between Bedford Ave. and Stuyvesant St. Down the block in front of the boarded up Home Depot with the murals of Black leaders on the side Malcolm X, Ol Dirty Bastard, Rosa Parks, Biggie and others bear witness to a knee high child, cherub chocolate cheeks and tight ear-length braids. She is bathed in the sun and the attention of her elders, who were deep in conversation until she commanded their attention with an awesome kid dance. A few storefronts away someone is playing Kevin Little’s popular (and timeless) single Turn Me On. The little girl pumps her fists toward the ground in rhythm with her feet, bums and (roughly) to the beat of the song. Let me hold you/Girl caress my body/you got me going crazy/turn me on/turn me on. The men praise and clap for her as if she is fucking Baryshnikov, a dance prodigy.

Hey, watch us! Two kids playing ball stop me in my tracks. Ok, cool, show me. This is serious business. I’m on my way to a meeting at the brunch spot, but it’s only a stop-light away and I should make time for this, it’d be worth it. Kid 1 bends his legs deep and throws the ball “granny style” (do they still call it that?) between his legs and in a wide arc toward his target, Kid 2. Kid 2 runs and lunges for the ball unsuccessfully and it lands unceremoniously in the garden of our mutual neighbor. I shift my gaze from the ball back to Kid 1 and then Kid 2, who grins, unmistakably pleased with himself. I shrug my shoulders, shoot him a thumbs up and tell them, Good job guys! Another young girl throws down her violin case and peels off her purple peacoat in a dash to join the ball game; her mother’s voice chases behind her, Young Miss, you better give me your things and especially those glasses you begged me for so that you save me spanking you when you break them!

I arrive at the restaurant and think, Yes, this is my life, I’m here to meet with someone cool that I admire and we will talk ‘business’, which composes of us visioning to create programming that will fulfill unmet needs of folks in our communities. I order the turkey breakfast sausages that are my favorite reason for brunch here, because I don’t eat pork and love sausage. I make small talk; she has recently taken up marathons and I ask her about how she is affected by the Boston Marathon bombing. This is my version of small talk, which is hideous, but she’s mercifully nonplussed. She tells me that she ran a marathon the day before. She has a healthy dose of fear and reverence but, she says, when you figure all the lives that are lost around the world and in our own neighborhoods every day, you can’t let one random event like that paralyze you with fear.

North American centrism and exceptionalism – the way that North American people understand the world around them and their experience as inherently more meaningful – means that most people don’t see the Boston Bombing as an opportunity to come to terms with how our own governments met out this kind of damage in other people’s communities, as well as how this bad foreign policy makes us more vulnerable to vengeance and vindication at home. We don’t use these opportunities to talk about how the violence of U.S. international relations is not a violence that is the sole problem of foreign actors. We don’t use this event as an opportunity to break down the fallacy of The Foreign Other. We don’t internalize that our communities lack homogeneity and that lack of homogeneity is turned against us only when we refuse to embrace and address it.

I come from a place that is extraordinarily peaceful while hosting regular eruptions of violence. India. In every village, town and city there is a temple profound enough to make you weep. And there will be another symbol of a massive indignity to human life: a rotting limb swarmed with flies peaking out from underneath a blanket that drivers veer to avoid in the bustling traffic, rifles roaming the streets on the backs of quick tempered police officers. Like many Sikhs in the 70’s and 80’s, my parents fled to Canada from genocide of the Indira Gandhi Government. But I was not raised in ignorance of how my family lived on the other side of the world. The assassination of Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards and the subsequent Anti-Sikh Riots were part of our household and our community in suburban Toronto. One of my uncles is an Indian military officer and the Sikh military was split in rebellion against and for protection of the State.

Another one of my cousins helped stockpile weapons for Sikh militia on the the family farm. He fled too. He arrived at Toronto Pearson airport from Paris on false identity papers. My mothers father, my Nanna Ji, reached out to my father for help. My father had the most experience in this country. He married a woman for immigration and was a student at the University of British Columbia. They eventually divorced and he returned to India, got married to my mother. She was pregnant with my brother shortly after their wedding. My father returned to Canada, Toronto this time and with better English skills, when my brother was born in India. My father sponsored the immigration of my mother and my new born brother, who he had yet to meet.

Over the next several years he sponsored the immigration of many of our extended family members: three of my mother’s sisters, one of his own brothers and both my mothers parents. On my Nanna Ji’s request, he went to Toronto Pearson and negotiated the release of my Sikander Bir Ji, my cousin, into his custody. He argued that if he was returned to India he faced sudden death or, if returned to the authorities in Paris, he would be lost in the system since he spoke no English or French and knew no one there. Years later, he similarly negotiated the return of his own nephew to his custody after he escaped from a Pakistani jail where he served ten years and faced a death sentence for a non-violent hijacking that he participated in as a teenager in the Sikh sovereignty movement that exploded in reaction to the genocide. We vaguely inherited the violence that happened overseas along with the constant appreciation of escaping it as an every day experience.

On July 1st one year I walked around my Detroit neighborhood with my roommate to enjoy the fireworks show. We lived in Mexicantown amongst folks who are not spooked by the use of explosives. Cannons line the street and careen into the air as we stroll past, men handle the rockets with their bare hands and children squeals nearly drown out the sirens of the firecrackers lifting off into the air. There is a steady boom of fireworks blooming in the sky, punctuated by the more piercing sound of the Detroit tradition of busting shots into the air in celebration. My roommate, a Palestinian who’s family was forced to migrate to Jordan, turned to me and remarks that in Palestine, she imagines, some nights the sky is similarly pockmarked with explosives, that this same soundtrack causes people to run for cover and huddle together in fear. She says she wonders how folks with post-traumatic stress disorder from bomb attacks cope during these nights of celebration in Detroit.

A lot of guys in Detroit joined the military and many of them see combat in Iraq and/or Afghanistan. Recruiters roam the halls of the dilapidated school buildings like heat-seeking missiles. For many of the local young people, joining the army is the best hope to access higher education and prospects for employment are slim, especially since they are targeted by police on minor drug offenses. I date a man like this who came back from a tour in Iraq and takes too much ecstasy. He unloads some of his vast burden of stories on me in the night, instead of sleeping. Our affair is necessarily brief. I don’t know how to hold his trauma and I need my sleep.

I tell the woman I am brunching with about an argument I had with someone over Christmas. Namely, I tried to explain to him that many people throughout the world do not give a fuck about Christmas. We have our own holidays, I told him, and some folks have only distant and disinterested connection to North American media depictions of Santa Claus and candy canes. The worst part of the argument was not that he didn’t believe me but that he actually thought the mere act of making this argument was me being contentious. He was so incredulous about my challenging the universality of Christmas, of his experience, that he didn’t even consider I could be right. He was so sure that his experience was accurate and reflective of people everywhere, even while confronted with the knowledge that people have different religions, rituals and celebrations. This is instrumental to colonization, the drive for one-way cultural reproduction; I wonder what the world would be like if we imagined Indian culture as the center, people smeared in Holi colors and streets lit up in Diwali diyas annually. Looks much better than Talking Elmo rampages and mounting gift giving debt.

I want to shake the Man Who Loves Christmas Too Much. I want to tell him how 9/11 is taught differently around the world without insulting him. I want to tell him – my brunch buddy interjects – P.S. It’s not about you.

Five questions cool peoples should stop asking

4 May

Excuses for asking wack-ass questions:

 

    1. I was just curious
    2. I’m just trying to get to know you better
    3. It’s perfectly fair to ask
    4. You’re being too sensitive

 

To some these excuses will sound reasonable. To others they sound creepy. It greatly depends on the persons involved and context. Excuses aside, there are some questions that make the room measurably unsafe for those in question. There are other questions that are plain awkward. Whether these questions are innocuous or not, there is no question, they are oppressive questions.

 

  1. What’s your citizenship/work status? Even if you’re offering me salaried employment, I prefer that you ask me this question in writing only after we have engaged in at least preliminary contract negotiations. But your drunk ass thinks it’s appropriate to slur over cocktails “So umm… you were born in Mexico??? How do you work HERE then? You gotum ah GREENcard or sumthin?” I know you understand that people die and/or are imprisoned over this very question. This is not your cue to chime in with your thoughts on immigration policy. I didn’t ask and I don’t care!
  2. What with this whole “queer” thing? Hold on one sec while I get my Queer Identified membership card so that I can read you the universally recognized definition off of the back. Oh wait, first, let me ask YOU what’s with this whole gay/straight thing? You meet a person and you think “I am SO crushing on that person’s gender representation” or after getting to know some one better you say to yourself “I would really like to pursue a relationship with that person based on their sex organs“. And don’t give this bullshit that Queer is a political identity. It’s not. It’s a way of being, it’s the way that I exist. It’s what I am, which has nothing to do with white hipster lesbians gentrifying Brooklyn brownstones and adopting Haitian babies. I am not gay, or lesbian or bi-sexual. I am queer but it hardly matters because I have no interest in fucking you.
  3. Did you lose/gain weight? You’re being fatphobic.
  4. How do you make your money? Call me an idealist but I honestly believe that the most important things to know about some one has nothing to do with how they engage with the violence of capitalism. The paid gigs that we, as poor people of color, have to take on for the sake of economic survival often range from humiliating to illegal to stigmatized and sometimes a combination of these. Of course there are many of us who work perfectly awesome jobs. But even for them, for all of us, our jobs are not who we are. Our jobs are what we do. Sometimes our jobs intersect with who we are inside and sometimes they do not. We have varying privileges as to how much choice we have in this matter. It’s a source of hurt, conflict and stress. In short, all you need to know is that I keep it tight, aight?
  5. Are you single? Wouldn’t you like to know who and under what circumstances I am fucking. If I was interested in cluing you in, I would let you know the old fashioned way of putting a part of my body inside or strategically angled on top of a part of your body. The question you should be asking is Are you desperate? and the answer is, Not enough. Also, I find this question too intense. Like, I dunno, do you mean to ask if I’m alone and what constitutes alone? Do you mean am I alone in the world? You’ve raised an existential mystery that I don’t care to resolve in the polite company of strangers.

 

i’m glad i found your status “engaged” on fb

4 May

i’m glad i found your status on facebook changed to “engaged” on my live news feed.

 

Both of you with mundane first names, at first i thought: That couldn’t be my Dave, or Mike, or Slim or what ever the fuck your name, a four-letter word seared on my reputation and my pride.

 

But look! This social media tool is so efficient. I can just click on your dumb-ass name or hers, it hardly matters because you both display the same corny ass avatar of a couple smiling and happy and ready to get married forchristsakes.

 

You got rid of your dreads and you’re wearing a handsome and seasonal sweater. You are holding a boring woman. You are embarking on commitments we swore against on the rusty listening shores of Belle Isle. There is an appalling fake nature scene in the background of the pic.

 

Ultimately it’s for the best i found this out in public and on the internet where people are watching and you are beyond reach of physical or verbal violence.

 

i could click “comment” to contribute a string of incontrovertible slurs or salacious stories of your infidelity. i could ruin you with one message sent to your fiancee who is also on my list of “friends”. i could initiate a personal electronic intifada with one ominous statement, “You know i know what he likes, don’t you?”

 

Instead i navigated deactivation. Put my account on freeze. Euthanized the vapid curiosity that, at its peak, had me surfing your profile near constant until our next meeting.

Twin:

4 May

sis i need

[you to[o]] … [[w]ri[gh]t[e]]][?]

You, a better poem.

 

Enough

(of this!

pomo fuckin bull

 

– shit.”

 

Opening

4 May

i’d begin at the beginning if i knew when that was.

 

maybe it’s the earthy scent of the first pot of coffee brewing, but once it cries it’s last droplet you’ve already poured it out to the back-of-house who got in an hour before you did to do prep work. before they got in and began decapitating broccoli and peeling onions to nothing there is the kitchen manager who, despite his early-bird mentality, has yet to decide on the specials by 11AM opening. he is sweating over it with the owner who is stressing over sales from last night since he got in with the morning deliveries. by that time the pastry chef was just finishing up having baked, breaded, drizzled and sauteed since dawn.

 

that being said, the beginning is certainly not when i put out the hanging flowers, straighten each table, sweep the floors and adorn the doorstep with a welcome mat. then i make another round of the tables, tap each one gently on each corner and wait for it to wobble in the slightest. a few will sway, unsure of what they have to offer diners, and i prop these ones up with a wedge under the stunted leg. most will hang firm. ready itself for the first customer. it’s always preferable to call them people who patronize you with their orders “guests”.

 

what the “guests” need to understand, what we all need to know, is that there is always a beginning before you arrived. even if you are the first customer of the day, even if you are the pastry lady, even if you are the dawn. the sun doesn’t have the luxury or the hubris to deny it’s role in a machine, a system.

 

the sun presides over our universe, but there is always a solar system that encompasses that which is beyond her, and the restaurant is something different entirely. it rises and falls with the ring of the cash register and the pen scratches of tabs added up, delivered ambitiously to a business lunch, trucker pit stop, hungover college co-eds. some days it is a gasping for air, some days it is a sigh of relief, but every day there is a breath – a rise and a fall – and one before, and one after, and again until… then came me, an apron and a fresh pot of coffee brewed after the one poured already and a smile that speaks through clenched teeth and deception, “may i take your order?”