For the first time in my life, I attended a professional conference – meaning one that dealt with my work. Last week was the West Coast Convergence which was the meeting of a lot of sex work –related happenings. There was Sex Worker Fest, SWOP national meeting (I’m a board member of SWOP-East), St. James Infirmary’s Fantasy Sex Me Academy and the Desiree Alliance 2007 Conference.

Although I have a few quibbles, what I came away with was a profound feeling of love and acceptance. I’m still high from it (and I didn’t partake of anything stronger than champagne on my last night). My small-publisher meetings chronicled on here do not compare and must’ve happened on another plane of existence entirely.

So, my first day. I arrive in SF Tuesday (7/17) about noon, just in time to miss SWOP’s big rally. I had hoped to attend since I’ve never done this sort of thing before, but it was not to be. I walk to the SWOP meeting place, which of course means I got lost and walk an extra mile or so – carrying a heavy bag (I didn’t bring my backpack because I somehow thought it would look dorkier than my crooked back and slumped shoulder as I carry a 20lb bag my right hand).

The SWOP people slowly trickled in and our board meeting reconvened about 2pm, well behind schedule. They were pumped from the rally.

SWOP National is going to apply for 501(c)3 status and that’s what this meeting was about. I got there in time for the mission statement to be hammered out. It took 2 hours. And it introduced one of the problems I had with the whole week.

First, understand that I’m observing from a complete outsider’s perspective. Most of these people have been activists of some kind or another since they were kids. They’ve worked on nonprofits, staged protests, that sort of thing. That was not the environment I grew up in or currently work in. Their passion is commendable but they seemed more likely to talk an issue to death than actually do something.

They spent a lot of time discussing semantics and etymology. Most of these debates were of the overly-sensitive kind. SWOP is still debating the term “client.” Frankly, the outside world barely acknowledges the term “sex worker” as a viable phrase, much less is capable of understanding the nuances of class, gender roles, racism and oppression apparently inherent in words such as “client.” (I’ve offered my own observations in these discussions, so I don’t stand totally apart from the debate.)

Sensitivity and inclusion is good, but not when it stalls action from taking place. Action creates change. We need words that the general public can readily identify and use or nothing will be accomplished.

And the racism/oppression stuff eventually wore on me. (It was like the Suicide Girls credo in action: “We’re so radically different from you, we all have tattoos, piercings and funky hair. We’re different – and look just like everyone else on this site.”) My life experiences have repeatedly shown me the differences that matter are on the inside. And heck, my outside appearance was quite different from the majority of the people there because I looked completely mainstream. Although no one was piping up in my defense. (Maybe I was being oppressive sitting there trying not to fall asleep?)

Once again, I’m in a group that I don’t really feel a part of or truly connected to. That’s not a surprise to me, but with all this talk about awareness and sensitivity, I found it ironic. I think a large dose of salt would’ve toned the discussion down to tolerable levels.

When I finally gave up and left to go check into my hotel (they were holding my luggage), I reflected on everything in an effort to ignore the pain in my back and the blister forming on my foot. I was now aware of issues I hadn’t realized were issues and that was important. I was surprised at the power ascribed to words by this group. Of course, since our entire language is derived from patriarchal, oppressive societies, there’s only so much we can do with the definitions anyway. We really should invent a whole new language. I was disappointed at how little progress had been made against the list of topics that needed to be discussed. Sure, the conversation had been enlightening but we were there to get some work done.

Did Greenpeace spend six months debating the word “boat” or did they just get out there and get in the way of whaling vessels? I’m curious.

Like I said, I don’t identify as an activist. Not really. I like to put my hands to good use and that’s about it.

The group met at an Internet café to do some group blogging (on Bound not Gagged). I didn’t blog, just sat there and talked a little. I got hungry and left when it was obvious dinner wasn’t going to be soon. I trudged back to the hotel with my damn bag (on a strict budget so no cabs) and had room service. I was in bed before 10pm. I had some personal issues I was dealing with too, so I was not in a good frame of mind.

That was my first day and easily the worst day.

7 thoughts on “the conference: day 1

  1. One of the first things they ought to do is get SF to legalize it. SF has to be the best place to start something like this.

  2. JW,

    Good to hear from you!

    They did indeed try to decriminalize prostitution in Berkley last year. Here’s a video about Measure Q.

    The movie sounds great! I will look for it.

    And thanks for the article. Will comment on it after I read it.

    XX

  3. JW,

    Read the Ghetto Feminism article. I could identify with a lot, even though she and I come from different places. Then I read another article for a different perspective. Agreed with it in some ways too.

    There are no easy answers, but criminalization isn’t a working solution.

    XX

  4. I’ve never been to a discussion like this, but if they are indeed focusing on words rather than action, I totally agree with you.

    On thhe other hand, I know that a friend of mine was there and she is working on decrim proposals. There are usually multiple interest groups withing any large social movement. Could it have been that you simply found a group that wasn’t particullarly fitting?

  5. Thais,

    I’m willing to give SWOP the benefit of a doubt because they were hashing out organizational structure (needed for the 501(c)3 application). But given the ease everyone had with discussing word-related issues, it seems like this is business as normal for activist organizations. I have a real problem with that.

    SWOP is intensely interested in decriminalizing, though I don’t know if they’ve done anything in 2007. I’m starting my own project through SWOP-East (info will appear on this blog very soon) so I’m thrilled about that opportunity.

    Could you email me privately and tell me what group your friend was with? There were few Canadians there (that I knew of) and the few there were very well-informed.

    In all honesty, I’m not sure where to put my energies best. SWOP seems to cover issues that are near and dear to me, although there is a difference between talk and action. I’m also aware that I have many great plans that I never get around to getting started. Should I expect more or less of an organization that is run by fallible humans, like myself?

    XX

  6. Thais,

    Actually, they did do something in 2007, the rally last week, which included SWOP’s founder, Robyn, talking to city counsel members and other people in city hall.

    I linked to that in my post, and look at the Measure Q video from last year (linked in a response to JW).

    I guess my personal feelings are still the same: that educating the public comes first, political/legal issues will fall into place after. I feel our gameplan should be a mix of the Civil Rights and gay movement. I honestly don’t know if we’ll get anywhere just by changing a law.

    XX

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