Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Harlots and Housewives - A Sexpo for Women

Exotic Goddess Night: A SEXPO for Women was my idea. I came up with the name and everything. I sat around a table in the back room of a little bookstore in North Vancouver with three other women I hardly knew, but was incredibly intimidated by, and proposed a sex exhibition fundraiser by sex workers for mainstream women.

Susan Adamson was there. She was the one I looked at when I spoke. I could tell she made an effort to put me at ease (Goddess bless her) and it worked. Mary Trentadue, a sultry but studious-looking woman with the soul-saving habit of making little jokes when you least expect it, was the owner of the bookstore at that time. She made sure we all had something to drink and napkins for the munchies.

Maggie DeVries was there. I felt supremely humbled by Maggie because she had done two things that I felt called to do – stand for something important and be published. Maggie, a children’s book author by trade, wrote Missing Sarah to honour her sister, a casualty of the quiet war.

That’s how I always think of it now – the quiet war. Susan Davis said it in a guest editorial for The Province newspaper on December 15, 2006. Let us “take time to remember the casualties of Canada’s quiet war. They had families and dreams. The loss to the community of their potential and light is immeasurable. They may be gone but they must never be forgotten.”

Maggie’s book ensured that her sister’s story would not be forgotten. I knew why she sat at that table. But I wondered about the other two. It’s been almost five years and I still don’t know how they came to be board members for PACE Society – a by and for sex workers organization in the Downtown Eastside. Yet they remain to be.

I got involved with PACE after I read about them in a local paper in 2003. Prostitution Alternatives Counselling & Advocacy – hence “PACE” – Society, was described in the article as an organization that had been started by sex workers for sex workers. Well, they said “prostitutes,” but who’s complaining? Lots of reporters are using “sex worker” now. It’s one of our triumphs.

But I’m getting off track…

I was looking for a volunteer opportunity. All of my instructors in the Public Relations diploma program at Kwantlen strongly advised building a portfolio for our futures. But I was doing the single mom thing and school, so volunteer work didn’t sound so great to me. Until I found PACE.

I identified with PACE because I had started a by and for strippers website at www.nakedtruth.ca, and they were a by and for sex workers organization. I could hardly contain my excitement at having found the opportunity I was looking for. Who wouldn’t want free help? And me having been a stripper, well, I had the right philosophy. It was destiny.

Getting someone on the phone or to call me back was another thing altogether. I quickly realized that although PACE seemed open to the idea, they really didn’t know what to do with me. So I was invited to a board meeting. And that was that.

I had imagined writing press releases for them. I’d already researched stories on sex work and began a media list of reporters who seemed somewhat supportive of the cause. I foresaw press release headlines and hooks that would use the missing women to draw the reporters in.

Thankfully it was Raven Bowen who first fielded my enthusiasm. She didn’t bite my head off for my ignorance. She calmly explained to me how using the murders of countless women as bait for reporters was exploitive in the extreme. By the time she’d finished speaking, I was horrified with shame for the callous way I’d handled the issue before. But she did not turn me out. She educated me. What a woman.

It quickly became clear that not only did PACE have nowhere to put me, but they were managing with great difficulty on project-dependent funds. There was no one paid to just answer the phones. Each PACE employee had a job because of a grant application that Raven had submitted on their behalf. And they were overworked, underpaid, and watching women die before their eyes.

With nowhere to put me and no one to manage me, PACE just didn’t know what to do – so they did nothing. You’d think I’d have moved on. But I was not so easily deterred. Raven and I still chuckle about how I forced myself on PACE in those early days of our friendship. I bet she was thinking what a determined little stripper I was.

I wasn’t fully inducted into the PACE fold though until Exotic Embrace for PACE. Although event planning was something I intended to avoid as far as my PR future was concerned, the obvious funding issues of PACE inspired me to plan a fundraiser for them. It was a stripathon. That means all the dancers from The Naked Truth forums got naked for charity – including me.

I planned, organized, and pulled off that event with the help of several other strippers, completely independent of PACE. Many board members helped out at the event. It was a lot of fun. We raised around $2000 for PACE.

I also got my first taste of conflict management when PACE started receiving outraged emails about taking money from exploited women. Which exploited women, you may ask? Why the lowly, degraded strippers, of course. I sent back an email explaining that this event was planned by strippers and no one was being coerced to participate.

On the day of the event, several reporters including television showed up. But alas, there were no protestors, and our event went on as planned. We were not featured on the evening news.

That event made me family. I was invited to join the fundraising team – this engaging group of women from the board who were sitting beside me around a table in the back of a bookstore in the winter of 2004.

Seven years of stripping and a few awkward moments with what I call “regular” people – anyone who has never been a sex industry worker – made me nervous at first with Mary, Susan, and Maggie. But my fears disappeared when they jumped on my idea.

A Sexpo for Women. Not just another “sex” show with expensive booths selling scary-looking dildos. Something just for women. A chance to learn from the professionals – the real sex pros. A by sex workers for “regular” women sextravaganza! Pole dancing and lap dancing lessons from strippers. Fellatio lessons from a real live hooker! Betty from Computing chatting over drinks with Susie from The Province’s Adult personals.

This event not only represented raising money for an organization in need, but an opportunity to bridge so many gaps. Gaps between different areas of the sex industry – strippers, hookers, porn stars and companies that sell sex-related products. And even more importantly, gaps between bad girls and good girls. The harlots and the housewives.

After all, many harlots are housewives! And the work can keep a decent roof over your children’s heads.

But again I digress…

We set a date and Exotic Goddess Night was born. I was nominated to coordinate the first event. It’s four years and three Sexpo’s later, and I’m coordinating the fourth annual Goddess Night right now. This time our event venue speaks political volumes as well.

The Penthouse Nightclub has historically been a safe place for both exotic dancers and sex workers to earn a living. In 1975, police began to push sex workers out of the clubs and onto the streets and by 1976 owners of the Penthouse were on trial for “keeping a common bawdy house.” Since then, the sex industry in Vancouver has been divided.

On Thursday, October 18, from 6 till 10 p.m., history will repeat itself and sex workers will once again be welcomed into the city’s most notorious strip club. But this time it won’t be to conduct business. This time, it is to support the women who’ve been pushed into the streets by laws and police initiatives that have made sex work the most dangerous job in Canada.

We are making history ourselves by working with the Penthouse to build awareness and raise funds for the women who were most impacted by police raids on the club in 1976.

The event is two weeks away now, and I’m working my ass off (instead of showing my ass off) to make it a success. We’ll be raising funds through a $30 door charge, a silent auction, and the sale of t-shirts that say “Working Girls are Working Women” – a statement that emphasizes sex work as an occupation, not a crime.

I’m going to strap on a dildo for the fellatio demonstration because I’ve always wondered what it’s like to have a penis. But I’m most excited to show off my much-improved skills on the pole.

For more information about Exotic Goddess Night, contact pace-admin@telus.net.

Also see: Ladies Night - Pass it on!

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