26 October 2006

Whores and Whoring and Elections, Oh My!

I guess it's an old cliche to say that as a writer, I'm a whore. I sell myself for money. Or at least I try to. Parts of myself at least. My readers, read "customers," get to buy what's going on in my brain. My body's off limits, usually.

The more traditionally acknowledged sort of whore, doesn't usually sell what's going on in their brain. If they do, they ought to think about getting out of the business.

Now this is on my mind today because of what I did a couple of nights ago. I drove 67 miles round trip to spend an evening with a book club. On the drive there, through rush hour traffic, I was thinking: "The things I do to sell my books. Am I out of my fucking mind?"

On the drive home, singing along with the radio, happy as a clam (I've always wondered how happy clams can be, really) I was thinking: "Hey, that was great. I oughta find more book clubs to hang out with."

What happened, of course, was that my ego got stroked and it was also an interesting, thought-provoking evening. There's an old saying about how whores shouldn't come (an aside here: most porn writers spell this "cum," but in my Oxford American Dictionary of Current English it is spelled "come") with their customers. In a sense I violated, happily, that maxim. (Or in my case perhaps, that canard.)

I spent the evening with 14 or 15 (I lost count) women, ranging in age from about my age to, perhaps, 80, all, or at least most, of whom had read my book THE LIVING ROOM OF THE DEAD and were intrigued enough by it to want to know more about me, the story I told and the issues the book raised. It's a privilege to spend an evening like that, one of the perks of getting a book published. Last night I was one very happy hooker.

Speaking of which, one of the questions that came up, since the book deals with prostitution, was what do I think of it? Is prostitution good or bad? What should be done about it? Since this is my blog and an election is coming up in which prostitution isn't an issue, at least in terms of anything we're voting on, I'll answer that question here:

I think that whether prostitution is good or bad is irrelevant. It exists. It has, near as anyone can tell, always existed and in all likelihood it always will. Even in societies where it is punishable by death, it has continued to exist. Even in societies that aren't terribly impoverished, where women have full rights and where there are opportunities for other types of work, it continues to exist. So, it must, in some way fill some very elemental human needs.

To me it all boils down to issues of consent, coercion and exploitation. I think that every adult has the inalienable right to do with their own being, mental or physical, whatever they damn well please just so long as it doesn't harm or interfere with anyone else. I think they have the inalienable right to do whatever they please along with other informed, consenting adults so long as it doesn't harm anybody else. I think that right extends to things that other people might find morally reprehensible, just so long as they don't force those other people to watch what they're doing. That's a matter of privacy.

If a person, of their own free choice, decides to sell their sexual services, I think that should be just as much their right as it is mine to sell the fruits of my brain, fingers and computer keyboard. If you don't want to buy and read my books, that's your choice. If you don't want to go down to the corner massage parlor and have some sex along with your shiatsu, that's your choice too.

But this all depends on choice, and informed choice at that. Too much of the prostitution in the world is coerced. It is engaged in by people who have been kidnapped, enslaved, tricked or bullied into it. That sort of prostitution is, and ought to be, criminal. But it is not the prostitutes who have committed those crimes, it is the people who have trafficked them, tricked them or bullied them and those people should have the full force of the law brought against them.

Laws against prostitution get in the way of enforcement of the laws against the people who enslave and exploit prostitutes, the victims of those crimes. A woman who has been smuggled into the U.S. and bought and sold by pimps and is now working in an apartment brothel in Los Angeles, is afraid to go to the police because what she's doing is illegal. She's told she'll be arrested and deported and get in even worse trouble than she's already in. And for the most part, that's true. She has few, if any, legal rights or protections.

It is rare, nearly impossible, for prostitutes to get the services they need: health, social, police, financial, etc. Criminalizing their profession contributes to the AIDS and other STD statistics, helps to keep them impoverished, makes it difficult if not impossible for them to get police protection in matters such as rape and physical abuse and generally victimizes the victims, rather than the real bad guys.

In Thailand and China, where prostitution is rampant, open but technically illegal, the men and women engaged in it are fiercely oppressed by the legal authorities, pimps, traffickers and their customers, all of whom rely on the laws to assist their exploitation. The same goes on, less obviously but just as much so, in the U.S., with one notable exception.

Prostitution is legal in most of Nevada's counties. Prostitutes in that state are licensed and regulated. They work in safe environments. They are given weekly health checks. (More than 10,000 legal prostitutes have been tested for HIV in Nevada and not one case has been found. That's a much lower percentage than the general population.) Their money is not stolen from them by corrupt cops and pimps. They have access to social and financial services that in many cases have helped women to get out of the business.

In nearly every place that prostitution is legal, the people who work in the trade are better off, healthier and have greater opportunities to get into other work if they choose.

People don't become prostitutes because they are bad people. They aren't like bank robbers. They get into the business because they dont have an alternative; because someone has forced them into it, or poverty has made it seem like a better choice than other work, or their society doesn't value women or gay men and makes outsiders of them in any event so why not. (There are undoubtedly a few who get into it because they actually enjoy the work or are curious to try it out, but my guess is that that's a pretty small minority.)

Laws against prostitution victimize people who circumstances have already fucked over. We ought to be voting to get rid of them.

We also ought to be voting to tax religious institutions. I just paid my property tax and it was a lot higher than it needs to be. One of the reasons is that the Catholic church is the largest private property owner in the County of Los Angeles. Throw in other churches, Jewish temples, mosques, etc, and there is an enormous amount of untaxed property in this county. That leaves the rest of us to pay for everything.

Recently, October 11, there was an article in The New York Times about the tax breaks given to religious institutions and their employees. For all kinds of things, even paying state unemployment or workers compensation benefits or sales taxes on religous books.

The whole thing disgusts me. Separation of church and state should mean that everybody, even religous leaders and groups, should share equally in the same rights and responsibilities. I wish we were voting on that too.

But we aren't. Instead we're voting on the usual passle of crooks, cretins and assholes and in California we get to pass judgement on the latest round of badly written, confusing and undoubtedly ineffective initiatives and referendums. I'm a great lover of democracy, but it sure does take a lot of work to maintain the relationship.

1 comment:

David P. said...

Yes! Eric Stone for Prez, Ladies and Gentlemen! You are 100% on the money with this one! Making prostitution legal would stamp out many of the indignities and coercion that is rampant today in that profession. Legalizing and taxing Marijuana is a no-brainer as well. And taxing religious institutions is so long over-due it's a joke.

Best,
David