Posts Tagged ‘events’

2012 13 Nov

[review] Burning Man 2012

This is a slightly longer version of a piece that was originally published at The Point, a Chicago-based print journal on contemporary life and culture. It will also be printed in Issue 6, and here’s the Issue 6 Annotated Table Of Contents.

* * *

BurningManWhen I wake up at the hotel in Reno, my memories are a messy pastiche. I reach for an image to encapsulate my review of Burning Man, but everything I grasp feels like a flat cliché. Dancing beside a fluorescent art deco bus and a fire-belching metal octopus. Bonding with a new friend by solving a maze’s secret doors. Randomly encountering a fake film crew composed entirely of trenchcoated noir buffs, who welcome me into their game. Accepting, with gratitude, the recitation of a poem about self-awareness and another about kissing. Walking to the edge of a desert dance floor to stretch and greet the dawn with an exhausted grin.

Each of these are all of it, and yet the smallest piece. So I’ll start at the beginning.

* * *

I am in a garage with a neuroscientist, a sales executive, a teacher, a bike co-op manager, and some dude whose deal I don’t know. Me, I’m a feminist sex writer specializing in S&M and moonlighting as a new media consultant. We’re loading a truck with toolboxes, barrels, bicycles, and more. This camp’s theme is watermelons; the garage is strewn with watermelon umbrellas, and we pack in a bike rack painted to look like a giant watermelon slice. Unknown Deal Dude doesn’t recognize it for a full minute. “Ohhh! It’s supposed to look like a watermelon!”

“Maybe that’s a sign that the theme has become too abstract,” I say to Bike Co-op Manager.

“Maybe it’s a sign that it’s become abstract enough,” he says serenely.

I wander into the back and pick up a plastic bag full of sequined watermelon pins. “Where did these come from?” I ask the teacher. She shrugs. In the corner, someone is wrapping a cooler packed with dry ice in a Mylar space blanket. The plan, apparently, is to transport an ice cream cake to the desert. Apparently, there will also be many watermelons.

The executive is “working from home” during the 40-hour drive, using a batch of car chargers and a cellular uplink. As he clicks away on his laptop, we discuss the philosophy of social networking sites; the neuroscientist’s latest research on rat brains, and her anxieties about handling her undergraduate mentees; the people in our lives who we wish we hadn’t lost touch with; the ethics of eating human meat; plus the spiritual usage of psychedelic drugs.

I learn a new phrase: “thinky thoughts.” The co-op manager tells me that it describes “thoughts one has on acid that seem really deep, and are.”

A few hours in, we pull up at the “World’s Biggest Truck Stop.” (Their words, not mine.) I wander through the place with Unknown Deal Dude. We are floored and astonished by this culture clash. I am so floored that I text my best girlfriend.

Me: Sold here: wolf and horse t-shirts; confederate flags, “don’t tread on me” snake flags, “mess with the best die like the rest” US marine flags; John Wayne DVDs; auto tags for “redneck girl”; infinite self help books


Me: Is there any vegan food?

Her: Haha.

Me: Fritos it is!

Me: Dude, on the way out I noticed the door says “support independent truckstops.”

I emerge, slightly shell-shocked. “That place is confusing,” I say to Bike Co-op Manager.

He grins. “Confusion is an important state of mind.”

* * *

Burning Man began in 1986 when the founder Larry Harvey decided, on a whim, to Burn a wooden Man on a San Francisco beach. Five years later, Harvey had acquired some dedicated co-conspirators and the event had morphed into a bigger, artier free-for-all in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. Twenty years after that, it’s an internationally-famous camping-out festival that drew over 50,000 attendees in 2012.

I first heard about it as an Internet junkie in the 90s; one of my online friends enthused about the explosions and gun usage, another about the drugs. Apparently, when the Burner population got too large and a basic “no gun” rule was instituted, some folks felt this was an unacceptable infringement of their freedoms that made it not worth going anymore. But plenty continued to attend, and the sheer size of the crowd led to further mild regulations and infrastructure. This included the development of a circular layout with street signs, a medical station, a Department of Mutant Vehicles, a post office, radio stations, an airport, etc. The year 2000 marked the creation of the Temple, which became one of the most important structures: a space to meditate, reflect, and mourn loss. The temporary city of Burning Man — which is only fully-realized for a single week per year — is called Black Rock City.

In 2004, Larry Harvey tried to pin down Burner culture by laying out “ten principles.” These are:

Radical Inclusion: Anyone is invited and welcome.

Gifting and Decommodification: The event is devoted to “unconditional gift-giving.” Thou shalt not engage in commercial transactions, sponsorships, advertising, or barter.

Radical Self-Reliance: “Burning Man encourages the individual to discover, exercise and rely on his or her inner resources.”

Radical Self-Expression: Do as thou wilt, but don’t hurt anyone.

Communal Effort and Civic Responsibility: Collaborate, cooperate, and take care of each other. Oh, and don’t break the law.

Leave No Trace: Don’t hurt the earth, and especially not the federally-protected environment of the Black Rock Desert.

Participation: “We make the world real through actions that open the heart.”

Immediacy: “No idea can substitute for this experience.”

There are critiques to be launched. So many critiques. Perhaps those of you who share my Advanced Degree In Social Justice Snippiness, claws honed by hundreds of Internet catfights, spotted critiques in my first few paragraphs. For example, while Burners may Leave No Trace upon the surface of the desert, an awful lot of fossil fuels are burned to get there. Scarce resources are used when — say — transporting an ice cream cake in a dry ice freezer. And my spidey sense for “Third World exploitation” was tweaked by those cheap, beautiful, mass-produced sequined watermelon pins.

Plus, the Burning Man organization charges for tickets, which arguably puts a cramp in Radical Inclusion. To be fair, the event has enormous costs to cover, like a $750,000 land usage permit. There are also “low-income” tickets available for a mere $160 apiece (most 2012 tickets ranged from $240-$420), but the bigger individual costs are equipping oneself and getting there. You can already see certain demographics represented in the crew I drove out with — and in our reaction to the World’s Biggest Truck Stop. All my campmates had degrees from prestigious universities, and included a doctor and a Google engineer. Also: I can count the number of people of color I met on one hand.

According to 2010 statistics from the Burning Man census, 20 percent of Black Rock City makes over $100,000 per year (compared to 6 percent of the USA’s general population). A bit over 30 percent of the city makes under $30,000 (compared to a bit over 50 percent of the general population). As a writer, I myself wouldn’t have gone if my journey weren’t heavily subsidized and I hadn’t been given a free ticket by generous, well-heeled friends. And let’s face it: I may not be at my friends’ earning level, but I’m still in their social class. Offering me that access isn’t nearly as Radically Inclusive as offering it to Joe the Plumber would be. But here we have the perennial problem of class segregation: none of us know Joe the Plumber.

Burning Man came from San Francisco, and to San Francisco doth most attendees return. 1986-2012 has seen San Francisco shift from hippie beach town and radical sexuality haven to Silicon Valley boom times. If a bomb hit Black Rock City, then the Valley would need a new crop of CEOs. My understanding is that even the art of Burning Man reflects this evolution. The hippie and radical sex elements remain, but attendees who have watched for ten years say it’s shinier now, costlier, with an “engineered” feel to it.

A worthy comparison might be the super-hippie Rainbow Gathering, which stemmed from a late-60s San Francisco group and first came together in 1972. The Gathering moves from forest to forest each year, is free to attend, does not have a single leader at the helm, and is considerably more working-class than Burning Man. There’s less art at the Gathering and more environmental issues; the Burning Man organization purchases a permit that helps the government deal with its impact on federal land, something the Rainbow Gathering has apparently resisted. On the other hand, the Gathering seems to help genuinely down-and-out folks, like marginalized homeless kids.

With all that said: our Advanced Degrees In Social Justice Snippiness are important, but if I lay mine aside for a moment, I can’t help liking Burning Man. A lot of things are just plain cool, like the art. I love the whimsy of bringing an ice cream cake, even though it uses lots of resources. But most importantly, despite my considerable grumpy skepticism, the festival keeps surprising me.


2012 12 Nov

Free Tickets to CineKink: Chicago, and The End Of Sex+++

Okay, so I’m about to offer free tickets to CineKink …. but firstly, an announcement: my epically awesome sex-positive documentary film series, Sex+++, is ending with 2012.

Sex+++ has been quite a journey. When I curated the original film series in 2009, I imagined that it would be a self-contained set of films and would only last nine months. Sex+++ succeeded beyond my wildest dreams, collected incredible community support, and lasted four years! Jane Addams Hull-House Museum, a historic Chicago social justice site, took a huge and generous risk by hosting Sex+++ this whole time. I’m grateful to the Hull-House Museum and to the volunteers who have stepped up to make Sex+++ amazing this whole time.

Our November screening is on the 13th, and our December screening is on the 11th. The 2011-2012 calendar, plus other details, is here. If you or someone you know is in Chicago, tell them to come join the conversation — it’s free, and we serve delicious conversation plus hot snacks! Also, it’s not too late to join the mailing list or Facebook group. We will continue to spread the word about sex-positive stuff around Chicago, and we may even continue to co-sponsor sex-positive film events!

* * *

And of course, as always, it’s time for CineKink: Chicago on November 16 & 17.

Just like I’ve done for the past two years, I am currently offering TWO PAIRS of FREE TICKETS to a film of your choice at the upcoming CineKink: Chicago:

Celebrating and exploring a wide diversity of sexuality, the films and videos in this sex-positive and kink-friendly showcase range from documentary to drama, camp comedy to hot porn, mildy spicy to quite explicit — and everything in between.

If you want the tickets, then just email me with your name, tell me how long you’ve been reading my work, and include the title of the first post you ever read on my blog! My email address is clarisse.thorn at gmail dot com. (It’s okay if you’ve never heard of me before and the first post is this post.)

I’ll put all the names in a hat on Thursday (November 15). I’ll pick two names randomly, then I’ll email the winners. And you get to choose which movie you see for free with a friend or partner!

Once again, CineKink: Chicago will take place on November 16 & 17. Here’s the lineup. See you there!

* * *

2012 22 Aug

Catch Me at Burning Man for a Signed Book, ALSO, upcoming stuff!

The Bliss Dance statue was my favorite thing at Burning Man, the first year I went. Here’s a picture of the statue as it was set up later at San Francisco’s Treasure Island:

Bliss Dance Statue - Treasure Island

Photo credit to jdm650, on Flickr

I wasn’t planning to head to Burning Man this year, but a friend awesomely gave me a free ticket, so I shall unexpectedly be there. (You know who you are. Thanks again.) I’m leaving today.

If you or someone you know will be at the Black Rock Desert, then find me on the playa and I’ll totally give you signed paperback copy of either The S&M Feminist or Confessions Of A Pickup Artist Chaser (while supplies last, I guess …). If I’m wearing lipstick, I’ll even put a lipstick kiss on it.

A clue for locating me: Ceci n’est pas une pipe dream. Or you could just, you know, look up Clarisse in Playa Info. Assuming I get around to entering my location.

Upcoming Stuff!

* I am really, really excited to announce that I’ve been developing an anthology on the topic of rape in gaming with the legendary tech journalist Julian Dibbell. (Julian’s article “A Rape In Cyberspace” is a landmark; he was one of the first smart writers to take on Internet culture. I’m honored to be working with him.) Hopefully, the anthology will be out in late September. I am, however, feeling stymied and uncertain about the cover design. If you or someone you know would be able to design an awesome ebook cover for an anthology about rape in gaming, please get in touch!

* I was hoping to finish and release my erotic romance, Switch Seductress, previous to departing for Burning Man. Unfortunately some technical concerns intervened. So: look for Switch Seductress in early September. In the meantime, here’s the description for you:

Kara, a beautiful escort-turned-history-professor, has married the man of her dreams. He’s an ethical, dedicated activist who loves to torture her sweetly — and loves ordering her to seduce and destroy his political enemies from Corporate America. But Kara is falling for one handsome corporate target. Can she keep her hot dominant husband, her hot submissive lover, and stick it to the Man?

Heh … I can’t get over the fact that I wrote that.

* I also plan to release a short story about Sita, of the South Asian epic The Ramayana. If you aren’t familiar with the Ramayana and you have any interest in folklore whatsoever, then I highly recommend the fascinating anthology Many Ramayanas: The Diversity of a Narrative Tradition in South Asia — it’s free to read online!

* And there’s more! Stay tuned.

Moderation Note

Burning Man is off the grid, so there’ll be no Internet for me while I’m out there. For the next week and a half, prolific commenter Infra has generously agreed to moderate comments; I figured I could rely on him because he’s left the most comments around here lately, and he seems like he won’t be driven power-mad by the responsibility. (Right Infra?) (Also, thanks.)

2012 24 Jun

Open Thread, San Francisco Edition (incl. upcoming reading at Good Vibrations!)

I’m in San Francisco! I’ve had a weird couple weeks, and I’m also — as always — distracted by this glorious puzzle-box of a city, so I don’t have much to say. I’ll just tell you that I’m reading from The S&M Feminist at the Polk location of classic feminist sex toy store Good Vibrations on July 5th. Come see me and buy my books! (I’ll have copies of Confessions of a Pickup Artist Chaser there, too.)

Also, general notice to commenters: I’m going to be at a music/art festival here in California starting Thursday the 28th, and through the night of Monday the 2nd. Internet access might be iffy or nonexistent up there, and I apologize in advance for slow comment moderation.

Oh San Francisco. The story I always tell about this hallucination city took place years ago, when I dragged a close friend out to walk along the cliffside. “It’ll be foggy and cold,” he said, and I said “No it won’t!” and then it was foggy. He didn’t say “I told you so,” because he’s a good friend. He also consented to walk with me through the fog for a while, anyway. It was still beautiful.

Eventually we came to a restaurant. “Come on,” he said, “it’s cold, let’s go get a drink.”

“Noo, I want to follow this tiny dirt path I just found,” I said. “Just for a moment? Please?”

He shook his head, but went with me, and then two minutes later the fog suddenly opened upon extraordinary ruins.

(photo credit to Patton at this blog)

The Sutro Baths. In how many major American cities will you suddenly find ruins while wandering around?

And where else could you turn around after descending a staircase, and realize that the grey-from-above stairs look like this from below?

(a staircase near Grand View Park, with a slice of mosaic set under the lip of each stair; photo credit to a blog about filming locations)

I love this place. The city calls you to take that extra moment for chasing down a tiny path. It also calls you to keep your perspective open to radical rearrangements of what’s behind you. The moral of the story is obvious.

Also, open thread! If you have something random to say, feel free to say it in comments. Or don’t.

2011 28 Oct

Marriage, Singledom, Social Evolution, and that Kate Bolick piece in “The Atlantic”

Okay, so. Since I am a Feminist Commentator ™, many folks have asked my opinion on a piece that recently ran in “The Atlantic” called “All The Single Ladies“, by Kate Bolick. Many of you have probably already seen Bolick’s piece — I’ve got a roundup of a few relevant links and snips at the end of this post. Here are my thoughts about the article, in order:

1) Wow, I dealt with many of these issues and did a better job several weeks ago, when I wrote my piece: “Chemistry“. I’m also going to examine a lot of these issues in my upcoming eBook Confessions of a Pickup Artist Chaser: Long Interviews With Hideous Men. (I know, I’ve been plugging the eBook a lot lately. What can I say — I’m a starving artist and I use the platforms available to me.)

2) Well … okay. I’ll try to be more fair. I am coming at this question from the perspective of a 27-year-old woman, who is just starting to think about getting married — and I have considerable experience in liberal sex subcultures. Kate Bolick is coming at this question from the perspective of a 39-year-old woman who has clearly thought a lot about getting married — and who was somewhat influenced by second-wave feminists like Gloria Steinem … but is clearly uncomfortable with liberal sex-positive feminist perspectives.

(If Bolick weren’t uncomfortable, then when she tried to get a grip on the modern dating scene she might have talked to lefty feminists, rather than speaking only to the relatively conservative Susan Walsh. As a matter of fact, Susan Walsh has openly insulted and attacked a number of high-profile modern feminists, including women who I greatly respect. Personally, I find Walsh to be somewhat interesting and mostly harmless; during our brief exchanges, I’ve gotten the impression that she feels the same way about me. I have found some of Walsh’s critiques of sex-positive feminism echoed in my own experiences, and I try to take such critiques into account during my ongoing project of building more flexible and universal sex-positive feminist theory. But I 110% disagree with where Walsh takes those critiques — for example, Walsh has been known to assert that we ought to do more slut-shaming. Which is just no. The last thing we need is more slut-shaming.)

3) Given that Kate Bolick is a bit more conservative than I am, and given that she has very different experiences, it’s not surprising that she has taken such a different journey in her thoughts about this topic. What’s more interesting is that she arrives at very similar conclusions. Like many other commentators, I liked where Bolick was going at the end of the article, when she talks about potentially building collective lives with like-minded people, rather than depending on marriage to create our family structures.

Unlike many other commentators — and unlike Bolick, apparently — I already have a great deal of experience with collectives and cooperatives. I don’t usually write about this, because it’s not directly relevant to sex & gender, but I’ve mentioned it before, like for example in my old post “Grassroots Organizing for Feminism, S&M, HIV and Everything Else“. I hate to sound like a true believer, but I really think that cooperatives can be the wave of the future … if we let them.

Building an intentional living community with like-minded people is very difficult. But there are thousands of examples of cooperatives around the world — some dealing with housing, some dealing with other matters. Most of my experience is with housing cooperatives, and I can attest that participating in even a very functional housing cooperative can be infuriating, heartbreaking, and scary by turns. But functional housing cooperatives have also taught me an enormous amount about humanity, relationships, grassroots action, interdependence, efficiency, and sharing. (Awww. I know. It’s so sweet.)

And I fully expect that my experience in building intentional “family” will be great for me as I grow older and my life takes me either into marriage, or not into marriage. Cooperatives are living communities that do not depend on these outmoded ideas of nuclear families. And, by the way? Living in a cooperative does not preclude marriage. Plenty of married couples live in cooperatives together. Some have kids in the cooperatives!

I wish that Bolick had wound up her article by doing some serious research on the cooperative movement. But she didn’t, so I’m going to give you some resources off the top of my head right now. If you want to learn some basics, then definitely check out the website for the non-profit organization North American Students of Cooperation (NASCO).

As it happens, NASCO is about to host its yearly educational Institute, which is a totally awesome opportunity to learn more. I wish I’d thought to post this sooner, because I just realized that today is the last day you can register for NASCO Institute. The conference will happen from November 4-6 in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Another great resource is an old article by a gentleman named Jim Jones, who used to work for NASCO. This article is called “Death in the Co-op” and it’s a brilliant exposition of Jim’s thoughts on why co-ops go under — what the potential weaknesses of co-ops are. As far as I know, this paper has basically been passed hand-to-hand for years, but has never been posted openly on the Internet. I view it as required reading for anyone with a serious interest in housing cooperatives, so I’ve put it up on my own site for download.

4) Aaaand back to Kate Bolick’s article. Do I have any other thoughts? Just one: at least it wasn’t another article by Caitlin Flanagan.


2011 27 Oct

Free Tix to CineKink Chicago AND Group Discount to Reeling Film Fest!

November is an awesome month for sexuality-related films in Chicago. First of all, there’s the ongoing Sex+++: my sex-positive film series at Jane Addams Hull-House Museum. Sex+++ is pro-sex, pro-queer and pro-kink. The films are all totally FREE to attend, and we serve enticing snacks and delicious conversation. Our next screening is November 8, and you can read the full 2011-2012 film calendar by clicking here.

November is also when CineKink: The Kinky Film Festival brings its annual national tour to Chicago, November 18-19 — and I’m offering free tickets again this year!

Plus! November features Reeling: The Chicago Lesbian & Gay International Film Festival, November 3-12 — and this year, I can offer a group discount to one of the screenings.

For more information, keep reading ….


2011 17 Mar

The Sex-Positive Documentary Film List: 2011-2012!

pro-SEX, pro-QUEER, pro-KINK

a FREE documentary film series for people who like sex
curated by Clarisse Thorn and the awesome Sex+++ Committee!

+ Join our Facebook group, and invite all your friends!
+ Join our Google Groups mailing list to receive updates!
+ Want to volunteer to help out? Join our volunteer mailing list!

* * *

2nd Tuesdays at 7PM
Jane Addams Hull-House Museum
800 South Halsted

Sex+++ is a film series and discussion group that’s open to all, where we discuss sex, culture, and sexual fun. When I started the series in 2009, I thought it would only last 9 months (here’s the original film list) — but Sex+++ ended up succeeding beyond my wildest dreams!

This year, we’re exploring some new themes:

+ Activist Sex (how sex and activism intersect),
+ Sexual History (how sex has been viewed in the past),
+ Love And Sex (how romance and relationships shape sex),
+ and Sex Everywhere (how people think about sex outside the USA).

You can RSVP by phone if you like: 312.413.5353. If you RSVP, we’ll save you a seat — and if the venue fills up, you’ll definitely be able to attend! In other words, RSVPs are not required, but they’re in your interest. Please note that we unsave seats at 7PM.

* * *

MARCH 8, 2011: “Margaret Sanger: A Public Nuisance” (1992) + “Jane: An Abortion Service” (1996)
#1: Highlights Margaret Sanger’s pioneering strategies of using media and popular culture to advance the cause of birth control, and discusses some of her early-1900s arrests and trials.
#2: Tells the story of “Jane”, the Chicago-based women’s health group who performed nearly 12,000 safe illegal abortions between 1969 and 1973 with no formal medical training.
+ themes: Activist Sex, Sexual History

APRIL 7, 2011 — THURSDAY: “A Jihad for Love” (2007)
+ This is a special event and will take place on Thursday, April 7 rather than the second Tuesday in April, because the filmmaker is coming into town for a talkback!
+ Fourteen centuries after the revelation of the holy Qur’an to the Prophet Muhammad, Islam today is the world’s second-largest and fastest-growing religion. Muslim gay filmmaker Parvez Sharma travels the many worlds of this dynamic faith, discovering the stories of its most unlikely storytellers: lesbian and gay Muslims. After we screen “A Jihad for Love”, Sharma will talk about his more than a decade of work and experience in countries like Egypt, where he filmed in secret, without government permission, during Hosni Mubarak’s repressive regime.
+ Note that there will also be a brown bag lunch with Parvez Sharma at noon on April 8, on the topic of race and identity.
+ themes: Activist Sex, Sex Everywhere

MAY 10, 2011: “Sister Wife” (2008) + “The Love Bureau” (2009) + “Muslims in Love” (2010)
#1: A fundamentalist Mormon woman in a polygamous marriage explains how she feels about it.
#2: Profiles a modern-day mail order bride service that specializes in matching Eastern European women with Italian men.
#3: Shows devout American Muslim young people pursuing love and marriage, searching for alternatives to arranged marriages common to traditional Muslim culture.
+ themes: Love and Sex, Sex Everywhere

JUNE 14, 2011: “Trans Entities: The Nasty Love of Papi’ and Wil” (2008)
A unique, sexy, thought-provoking and above all touching portrait of an interracial, polyamorous, transgender couple. The film involves several personal interviews and three explicit sex scenes: the first with Papi’ and Wil; the second involving an extra partner; and the third an S&M role play scenario.
+ themes: Love and Sex

JULY 12, 2011: “Outrage” (2009)
Examines the issues surrounding closeted homosexual politicians and their hypocrisy in voting anti-gay on measures from HIV/AIDS support to hate crime laws — and how they have harmed millions of Americans for many years.
+ themes: Activist Sex, Sexual History

AUGUST 11, 2011 — THURSDAY: “The Canal Street Madam” (2010)
+ This is a special event and will take place on Thursday, August 11 rather than Tuesday. It will also take place at the Everleigh Social Club, 939 W. Randolph St., rather than at the Hull-House Museum, because we are partnering with the Sex Workers Outreach Project on their upcoming sex worker film fest!
+ “The Canal Street Madam” follows the story of Jeanette Maier, a New Orleans madam whose clientele included a number of powerful, high-ranking politicians. When she was busted by the FBI and torn apart in the press, they escaped censure, so after her trial she set out to fight back against a system that silences the powerless and protects the elite.
+ themes: Activist Sex, Sexual History


2010 17 Dec

Whore stigma makes no sense

(The above image is a slide from a presentation by Marlise Richter, a researcher at the AIDS Law Project, Centre for Applied Legal Studies, University of Witwatersrand, South Africa. It is described at the bottom of this post.)

Stigma is an interesting beastie. Whore stigma is particularly interesting, in part because it makes no sense and falls apart the minute it’s exposed to any rational analysis whatsoever. Yet somehow, even though it makes no sense, it is a constant and often overwhelming social force that shapes the lives of all women.

There’s an old joke about a man who walks up to a woman at a bar and asks, “Would you have sex with me for a million dollars?” She says, “Yes.” He says, “What about fifty dollars?” and she snaps, “What the hell do you think I am — a whore?” He replies, “We’ve already established that you’re a whore; now we’re just negotiating the price.”

Inherent in this joke, and in the slide I showcase at the top of this post, is the tension and confusion that happens pretty much automatically whenever anyone tries to point out the difference between a “nice girl” and a “whore”. It’s one of the best ways to show that whore stigma makes no sense: the difference is impossible to pin down.

What’s weird about these conversations, though, is that everyone almost always gets caught up in the question of who’s a whore and who’s not a whore — and in the confusion, very few people think to question whether whore stigma itself is ridiculous and divisive and harmful. This even happens during conversations that start with the intent of questioning the very concept of whore stigma, such as this post by sex work researcher Laura Agustín; the post’s whole point is that the concept of whore stigma makes no sense — but commenters on the post immediately start trying to define what a whore is.

Indeed, this even happens among sex workers. My friends at the Sex Workers Outreach Project have told me how complicated it can be to pull different sex workers together, in order to work towards legal rights and societal recognition. One recurring issue is how some sex workers will refuse to associate with other sex workers: for example, professional dominatrixes or strippers may refuse to associate with escorts because “You’re whores, and we’re not whores, and we’re not like you.” This is one more factor making it hard for sex workers’ rights advocates to achieve social momentum. Which may mean that when — for example — the law randomly decides that dominatrixes are actually whores (surprise!), those non-whore sex workers may find themselves without resources.

But of course it happens among non-sex workers, too. Because being an “actual” sex worker is in no way a requirement for being called a whore, or for having whore stigma slammed in your face. Any woman who carries condoms might as well be a whore, right? Not even thirteen-year-old girls are exempt from whore stigma or its twin, slut-shaming, as we learned from Hope Witsell’s suicide last year. Hope sexted a boy who betrayed her and sent her message all over the school — at which point she was punished severely, was socially ostracized, and killed herself.

Examples of whore stigma abound, and none of us are innocent from reinforcing it. I’ll cop to it: before I had a grip on how problematic whore stigma is, I myself called one or two women whores because I felt threatened by them. I hadn’t thought through how easily I myself might be harmed by the label; I hadn’t yet identified my fears of being labeled one myself. I was insensitive — and I was also stupid, because whore stigma could come get me as easily as it could get an “actual” whore. Contributing to it wasn’t just hurting other women, it was also shooting myself in the foot.

Plus, the more effort women put into distinguishing ourselves from whores, the less effort we can put into actually working on the issues that harm women. Or making common cause with, say, sex workers who aren’t women and therefore get completely disappeared during all this anxious finger-pointing.

When we will acknowledge that whore stigma makes no sense, that it’s ridiculous and divisive and harmful? What does it take? All women’s appearance and activities — especially our sexuality — are attacked, limited, and kept in line by the threat of “sluthood” and “whoredom”. In that sense, we all pay. We all have a stake in taking down these social structures.

And we can start by accepting and acknowledging sex work as an honorable job that deserves both legal and social recognition. Today is a fantastic day to do just that. December 17th is the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, and there may just be an event in your area. It’s also worth considering reading up on how to be an ally to sex workers and passing that information on to your friends.

Please note that The Wisdom of Whores, the awesome book by Elizabeth Pisani that I encouraged y’all to read for free on World AIDS Day at the beginning of this month, is still available for free download — all the way through the end of December. Pisani’s book is one of my favorites, ever — there are some valid critiques to be made, but even with those in mind, I just love it. It’s free! What are you waiting for?

* * *

(The slide at the beginning of this post shows a straight horizontal line with an arrow at each end. At the top, the graphic is labeled “Sex-for-reward continuum”. The right end of the arrow is labeled “Illegitimate”, and the left end is labeled “Legitimate”. From right to left there are five points, labeled as follows:

* “Self-identified sex worker on a street corner?”
* “Woman who has sex at the back of a taxi in exchange for a ride into town?”
* “School girl has sex with her ex-boyfriend for cell phone airtime?” [Note: This slide was used in an African presentation. In Africa, or at least in the parts I’m familiar with, cell phone airtime is a somewhat expensive commodity. A school girl having sex in exchange for airtime is somewhat analogous to having sex in exchange for a nice piece of clothing.]
* “Student sleeps with her lecturer in order to pass?”
* “Wife has sex with her husband as she knows they are going to the mall tomorrow?”

At the bottom of the slide is a triangle pointing up to the line. It is labeled: “Who do we put in jail?”)

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This post was cross-posted at Feministe. This version has a few small edits for the sake of clarity and sensitivity; those edits are lacking from the Feministe version. However, the Feministe version has a hell of a lot more comments.

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2010 11 Dec

Call for Sexy Documentaries: Sex+++ Has Five New Themes!

I hate to post two press releases in a row, but I’ve been very caught up in some Chicago community issues lately, so I haven’t had time to write anything more personal. I’ll bore you all with details about my life soon, I promise! In the meantime, please feel free to repost this …

pro-sex, pro-queer, pro-kink

Clarisse Thorn :: clarisse.thorn at gmail dot com

+ Q. “What is being sex-positive?”
+ A. “Defining sex on my terms.”
+ A. “Understanding my sexual needs.”
+ A. “Being in charge of my sexual experiences.”

The Sex+++ Documentary Film Series is now entering its third year. We want to make it bigger and better than ever — and take it in new directions! We’re still discussing next year’s film line-up, and we’ve got a lot of ideas, but we also want to throw open the floor. We’re looking for suggestions and submissions: documentaries that are pro-sex, pro-queer, and pro-kink.

In 2011, Sex+++ will focus on several themes. We’re still discussing these themes, and they are subject to change as we research documentaries and develop the program, but here’s what we’ve thought of so far. We’re open to hearing more about any and all sex-positive documentaries — but in particular, if you’ve encountered documentaries that fit within these themes, please let us know!

+ THEME: Sex Everywhere

We want to explore how sexuality, sexual culture, sexual identity, and sexual pleasure are recorded, experienced, and understood outside the USA.

+ THEME: Love And Sex

We want to explore the many ways sex happens within romance, dating, relationships, marriage, and love.

+ THEME: Sexual History

We want to explore the history of sexuality, sexual culture, sexual identity, and sexual pleasure; we want to learn about sex-positive heroes.

+ THEME: Activist Sex

We want to explore sex-related activism and how sex-positivity intersects with other social issues such as class, race, labor, health, justice and the environment.

Sex+++ will continue at its current amazing venue, Chicago’s own Jane Addams Hull-House Museum. Click here to learn what’s up with Sex+++ right now. And again — if you’ve got any documentaries to recommend, please get in touch! The primary contact for Sex+++ is Clarisse Thorn, who can be reached at clarisse.thorn at gmail dot com.

(Note, as of February 2011: The fifth theme, Talking Sex — about how we discuss sexual pleasure, desire, and consent — was ultimately dropped due to a lack of corresponding films. We’ll cover related stuff, though.)

2010 17 Nov

Free tickets to CineKink Chicago!

I am currently offering TWO PAIRS of FREE TICKETS to a film of your choice at the upcoming CineKink: Chicago. If you want the tickets, then just email me with your name, tell me how long you’ve been reading my work, and include the title of the first post you ever read on my blog! (It’s okay if you’ve never heard of me before and the first post is this post.) I’ll put all the names in a hat tomorrow evening (Thursday) and pick two randomly, then I’ll email the winners. And you get to CHOOSE which movie you see for free with a friend or partner!

CineKink Chicago has a great 2010 lineup. These three films sound especially awesome to me:

Friday, November 19th, 8pm: S&M Judge (Trailer)
The 2010 CineKink Audience Choice Award Winner! A compelling drama in which a respected judge finds his job, reputation and family life in jeopardy after he and his wife begin to explore sadomasochism, with an opening reception for CineKink: Chicago to immediately follow the screening.

Saturday, November 20th, 2pm: My Sexuality: A Sensory Experience followed by a panel featuring meee! (Trailer)
Shines light on five ordinary women from different backgrounds, sexual preferences and past experiences as they experiment with activities intended to boost both sense of self and sexuality. Immediately following the screening will be a panel discussion about women, representations of sexuality and sex-positive filmmaking, including Clarisse Thorn!

Saturday, November 20th, 4.30pm: Waxie Moon (Trailer)
Takes the world of neo-burlesque by storm in a thought-provoking and hilarious documentary look at one artist’s unlikely journey.

But there are a bunch of other good films showing as well. Don’t you want free tickets? The films are being screened at the awesome Leather Archives & Museum (up at 6418 N. Greenview Avenue in Rogers Park). Local sponsors of CineKink Chicago include my pet sex-positive documentary film series, Sex+++; the wonderful sex toy store Early To Bed; and the rope bondage convention ShibariCon.

RECAP: For a chance to win TWO FREE TICKETS to CineKink Chicago, all you have to do is:

1) Email me, Clarisse Thorn: clarisse.thorn at gmail dot com.

2) In your email, tell me how long you’ve been reading my work, and write the title of the first post you read on my blog. (It’s okay if you just found my blog, and the first post is this post! And if you can’t remember the title of the first post you read, just tell me what the post was about.)

3) Sit back and wait until Thursday night. I will email you if you win the tickets! And remember, if you win, you get to decide which CineKink movie you see for free!