2014

My book was published.

Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work

And was translated in German (and forthcoming in Japanese, Dutch, Spanish, and Korean).

And a chapbook (with Sarah Jaffe) was published.

For Love or Money

And I wrote.

My <3’s: 

on the kink factory that tech built (Dissent)
interviewing Evangelical anti-abortion activists now targeting sex workers (Salon)
profiling the fight of trans activist Monica Jones (RH Reality Check)
on what the “sex work debate” isn’t (melissagiragrant.com)
about spying, sex, and online finance (Salon)
on American cities and invisible vice (The Atlantic’s CityLab)
demolishing sex slave fantasies (The New York Times)
how sex workers are winning (The Atlantic’s CityLab)
on sluts and value (Al Jazeera America)
breaking down the cost of my book (Scratch)
tl;dr feminism (melissagiragrant.com)
no justice in “trafficking court” (New York Daily News)
on how every camera can be a police camera (VICE)

I spoke to (many) other journalists.

A notable assortment of interviews:

Tits and Sass (part one, part two)
Citizen Radio
VICE
Radio Dispatch
Melissa Harris-Perry
WNYC
The Awl
The Billfold
The Toast
BBC
Bitch

A few notable for their trouble:

The Observer (who never fact-checked my sex work history before printing it anyway)
Channel 4 (this presenter seemed to forget there was another guest there for me to debate, so consumed with debating me herself)
The Telegraph (who also concocted a sex work history for me & called me “scary” in a first version, now scrubbed from their website)

Playing the Whore got reviews.

“Underneath Grant’s strategically inclusive argument lurks a harder political critique of the transformation of politics and economics since the 1970s.” London Review of Books

“Grant is one of the most interesting policy thinkers in the country when it comes to sex work.” Washington Post’s Wonkblog

“…Grant, I think rightly so, is less interested in eliciting from her reader a position on sex work than a position on police violence against sex workers.” The Rumpus

“sharp, persuasive and comes at a time when it is sorely needed” Rabble

and one of Autostraddle’s Top Ten Queer and Feminist books of 2014

and one of Baltimore City Paper’s top ten non-fiction books of 2014: “Think of this tightly written and impressively argued treatise as both a state of the sex work activism now and a complete redefining of the discussion. An absolutely vital read.”

and was named one the Village Voice’s favorite books of 2014: “Keeping the focus on ideas instead of autobiography has an impressively unsettling effect, as we’re forced to acknowledge the writer’s boundaries, and our own voyeurism.”

I talked 

imagining the end of the American red light district (Berkman Center, Harvard University)
about online abuser dynamics (Eyebeam)
on digital labor and sex work (twice: The New School; Theorizing the Web)
and about Playing the Whore, in book shops, bars, theatres, and festivals

I traveled

Washington. San Francisco. Los Angeles.
London. Brighton. Bristol. Edinburgh. Glasgow.
Baltimore.
Zurich. Berlin. Hamburg. Cologne. Bonn.

I wanted

For myself – not very much at all, aside from a few days on a beach warmer than Coney Island is right now, health insurance, more time for more celebration on more friend’s floors, and some deep quiet for the sake of the next thing.



Speaking at Eyebeam on New Topics in Social Computing: “Online Abuser Dynamics”

On Thursday, November 20, I’ll be speaking at Eyebeam in Brooklyn as part of Joanne McNeil’s series, “New Topics in Social Computing.” Our topic is Online Abuser Dynamics.

In this discussion we will review the dynamics and patterns of online abuse on social networks. How does a minor scuffle so quickly become an avalanche of online harassment? Why are women, people of color, and the queer and trans community disproportionately targeted? What are steps we can take to build safe spaces on the internet? A killfile or block button is no longer a sufficient tool to prevent abuse and the common advice “don’t feed the troll” ignores the contemporary climate of online abuse. We will discuss tactics to minimize online abuse and the potential for structural change.

Space is limited so please RSVP here.

Doors: 7:00PM
Panel begins: 7:30PM

Eyebeam
34 35th St., Brooklyn, NY 11232



Playing the Whore, in German (and Touring in Germany)

playing-the-whore-German-alt

In October, I’ll be speaking about Playing the Whore and the politics of sex work at a series of events in Germany and Switzerland, on the occasion of the book’s translation into German as Hure spielen: Die Arbeit der Sexarbeit. There will be strong talk, most likely strong drink, and it’ll be my first time back in Berlin since I was grounded there by a volcano in 2010.

Come out.

The World’s Oldest Procession: #Sexarbeit

Zurich
Wednesday, October 15, 2014, 8:00PM

Book presentation and discussion with Melissa Gira Grant
Facilitation and Translation: Mithu M. Sanyal

Venue:
Les Complices
Anwandstraße 9

Berlin
Friday, October 17, 2014, 7:00PM

Book presentation and discussion with Melissa Gira Grant
Presenter: PG Macioti

Venue:
Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung Salon
Franz-Mehring-Platz 1
10243 Berlin

Hamburg
Saturday, October 18, 2014, 7:30PM

Book presentation and discussion with Melissa Gira Grant
Facilitation and Translation: Mithu M. Sanyal

Venue:
GOLEM
Große Elbstraße 14
22767 Hamburg

Köln
Monday, October 20, 2014, 7:00PM

Book presentation and discussion with Melissa Gira Grant
Chair: Susanne Kleinfeld

Venue:
Odonien
Hornstr.85
50823 Köln

Bonn
Tuesday, October 21, 2014, 7:00 PM

Book presentation and discussion with Melissa Gira Grant
Chair: Susanne Kleinfeld

Venue:
Bookshop Le Sabot, Bonn
Breite Str. 76
53111 Bonn

More information can be found via my publisher Edition Nautilus and my host Rosa Luxemberg Stiftung.


tl;dr feminism

(adapted from something that started like this)

Finally, I’m reading books again by other people that have nothing to do with my book, my work, or anything else but what I want to give five minutes on a bench, and that’s where and how I found myself with enough space to rattle out the following after reading exactly one and one-half pages of Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist, which by my recollection could be the first New York Times bestselling feminist book of the Internet feminist age. And if that’s true, then one of the bestselling books right now opens with an acknowledgment that feminism is painfully dominated by those with the biggest platforms. Of all the things about books that have thrilled (and pissed me off) this year, that this is the book on feminism dominating now is amazing.

I got online in 1994. Made a website in 1996. Added a diary in 1998. Feminism, trust, was alive on that Internet. Blogging – let’s see, I remember installing MovableType in 2003. “Real blogging.” We were getting the sense that what all we were getting up to on LiveJournal was girly, unserious. Probably we were getting that sense from elevated profiles of the handful of men who were getting known from blogging c. early 2000’s.

By the time “feminist blogging” happened, I had been online ten years. New gloss on an old convo. More people raised their profiles.

Some of us oldsters started getting jobs. I mean, my first writing job was online, in 1999, reviewing goth clubs for a porn site. (A porn site. With a hyphen in the URL. In 1999. I know.)

I got a steady writing job from Valleywag in 2008. Blogging was so grown up it was something we argued about being over. (Twitter, at that time, was two.)

What was then crystallizing as “feminist blogging” was just the tippest top of the iceberg. Very white, fresh out of college. The issues that rapidly-crystallized slice of feminist blogging drove soon became mainstream lingo: rape culture, slut shaming, “the war on women.” Not so much sex or reproductive justice. A bit of branding was going on. Rough edges were hewn off, if ever posted in the first place.

(Quick pause to remember the Xeroxed underground paper and zines where I published my first feminist writing in 1993…)

I was a feminist writing for a living on the internet, mostly for men, about technology and sex. (Not gender. Fucking.) As I found my place, I saw mainstream media found places for more of us outside weirdo bloggers. And predictably, shit got less weird.

That white, recently-graduated slice of Internet writing about rape culture & slut shaming? Soon became synonymous with “feminism” in media.

I miss the bigger, broader, messier online feminism I owe my analysis and desire to write from. Even as media has shrunk it down. (Ok, not just “media” shrunk it down. Patriarchy, white supremacy, capitalism shrunk it down.)

So now we have outlets who never would hire bloggers let alone feminists five-or-even-seven years ago scrambling to get a feminist blogger on staff. Yet the thing they are hiring when they are hiring a “feminist blogger” is that white, millenialish grad. Who can hot take with blogger speed.

I don’t think I’m an old lady when I crave the days when even the Internet moved slower. Email lists. Usenet. LJ threads over months. Losing the slow, incremental crawl of ideas over weeks and months online is structural. Tweets decay too fast.

Meanwhile, “feminism” is enjoying a brand revival, just as the web content maw cannot be satisfied by any number of tragic sexist tales.

I was having a drink w a fab radical lawyer this week. Talking about journalism. The “abortion law shit show of the day” beat. I was saying, as someone who covers a similar shit show on sex work, as depressing as it is on abortion, it’s almost worse. If you cover abortion law, you have the Guttmacher Institute. Planned Parenthood and NARAL. Communicationss staff at their desks and phones. Press releases. Quick quotes. If you cover sex work law, chances are there is no one seeking you out, let alone returning your call on deadline. There’s simply no comparative infrastructure. You have to build it.

So part of what defines a “feminist writer” or beat is shaped by those resources: this is how some issues are mainstream or are considered whole beats.

You do work with a gender lens outside the “feminist issue” mainstream? You have to compensate for all those deficits, these systemic disinvestments in our culture, politics, and media. You cover women & labor, the drug war, women’s prisons, queer women’s issues, transmisogyny in law? You are doing triple work. You are building sources outside the usual feminist suspects you see quoted again and again, outside and in absence of organizations. You are convincing editors it is a story. You are educating a newly cohering audience.

(And you know, being posi. Supporting ladies.) (Only slight sarcasm.)

None of us does this alone. So who made my job with me? Audacia Ray, a deeply principled sex worker rights’ advocate and media maker, over a long time and with many hats. Sarah Jaffe, a hardworking labor journalist and old friend, who made space for me in her networks. Joanne McNeil, the most human of tech and culture minds, always for the longview.

I wouldn’t be here without their late nights, networks, messy convos, shit-stirring. I’m hyperaware how hard it is to get anywhere right now. And hyperaware how limited this space is, how easy it is to fall off, fall out, claw in only to be pushed out.

It’s why I always look back.

tl;dr I’m a feminist writer, who feels desperately constrained by what’s regarded right now as feminist writing, and so all hail Roxane’s book kicking ass, and wish me luck finding a few minutes to get more than a dozen pages in some time soon.



Interview with Hürriyet (Turkey)

Melissa Gira Grant in Hurriyet

I was interviewed by Mehmet İren for the Turkish paper Hürriyet on Playing the Whore and the politics of sex work.

(You can read my unedited answers in English below.)

How did you decide to work and stop working as a sex worker?

Have you ever had a disturbing experience during your time as sex worker?

How long were you doing sex work in general?

I was expecting conclusions based on your own experience as a sex worker in your book. Instead it’s political, more like a manifest. What was your motivation for the book?

I’ve been working as a freelance writer and journalist for over a decade. It’s interesting to me, that you haven’t asked me any questions about my work as a writer, as this is a book drawn from my criticism and my reporting. The labor of this book is writing and reporting and research, not sex work. Yet you correctly understood that the motivation of the book is to expose the politics of how we understand sex work. It’s not a memoir. So why would you expect it would include autobiographical stories about sex work?

One of the main feminist arguments against prostitution is that man is driven by a belief that he has the right to access women as a commodity because he sees women as his inferior. Would you agree?

There is no one feminist analysis of sex work. In Playing the Whore I describe how American feminists in the 1970’s did not seek to abolish prostitution, but to find common cause with sex workers and to support sex workers in their political organizing. It’s only been in the last decade or so that mainstream feminists have sought to use law enforcement to abolish sex work and to remove sex workers from their jobs, which they say is for their own good. And of course, many sex workers who are feminists vehemently oppose this, and find this attitude towards their work and their rights to be what places them in an inferior position.

You suggest us to concentrate to ‘work’ instead of ‘sex’. But still, isn’t there a problem in relationships where the social roles are clearly defined by a cash transaction?

That’s to look at sex work from the perspective of an outsider. For sex workers, this is what they do to earn a living. It’s work. No sex worker understands herself or himself completely or solely through their job. Most people would resent this idea, that they are fully defined by their work. Sex workers are no exception.

There are many it girls and it boys in porn. They’re writing columns in Salon or Daily Beast, they have interviews in magazines like GQ. Do you think sex industry, especially porn, became somehow glamorous?

You mustn’t confuse the interest of a handful of publications in giving space to sex workers to write for them with “glamorizing” sex work. (And — speaking of “glamorous” work — despite being well-known names, those publications also pay far less than sex work does. Any sex worker who writes for them is taking a pay cut.)

What do you think about the coverage about sex workers on mainstream media?

It’s mostly lazy, but I can’t entirely blame writers. Editors have a narrow way they tend to want to cover sex work. You only need look at the usual photographs that run with sex work stories — headless women on streets at night — to understand how cliched most media on sex work is. The media is responsible for creating these faceless stereotypes of sex workers. They must be more critical, or at the very least self-reflexive about the power they hold. It’s getting better. Sex workers routinely speak back to media who misrepresent them, and sometimes get results. It’s laughable now that any reporter can pretend to have greater access to sex workers’ stories than the general public can just by looking at social media. This is why I don’t report only on sex workers, but on the policy makers, police, and press who create danger in sex workers lives.

You claim feminists getting wrong the prostitution. You don’t consider yourself as feminist than?

I’ve been a feminist for most of my life. Certainly before I did sex work. Which is why it’s quite painful to see how mainstream feminism has rejected sex workers. But then, when some feminists don’t listen to sex workers and value their expertise, no, it should not be surprising that they don’t understand sex work. But that obscures what’s really happening: it’s not that some feminists don’t want to understand and listen to sex workers, it’s just that they think — even those who have never done sex work — they understand better than sex workers do.

Is there really a ‘choice’ for all sex workers?

Ask me that question again about writing professionally. Did I have a ‘choice’ to accept money for my writing? Surely I could have continued to write for free. Who am I to commodify my most valuable intellectual labor? How am I to be sure I’m not being exploited? What’s a choice, accepting too little money for a story or not doing the story at all? Ask me about ‘choice’ as an author promoting a book. Do I turn down an interview when most of the questions are cliched and personal and inappropriate, or do I do the interview anyway because publicity is important? Work always presents us with a range of unappealing choices from which we must choose. That’s not a problem with sex work. That’s the problem with work.

For example in my country there is no other work for transgenders. If you are a transgender in Turkey you can be a sex worker or nothing (%99 at least. a few exceptions with one of them being the most famous ‘diva’ of the country but this doesn’t change the general rule anyway). How can they choose in these conditions where they are not even considered legal persons?

For trans sex workers, who face employment and social discrimination, yes — in many places they are over-represented among sex workers. That’s an issue of anti-trans discrimination. They face additional stigma. But further stigmatizing sex work as something “only people without choices would ever do” doesn’t help people with few choices. You need to fight discrimination, not fight sex work.

“No one ever wanted to save me from the restaurant industry.” Do you think there is no difference between serving coffee to someone than you don’t choose, and sleeping with someone you don’t choose?

I’ve never served coffee to anyone for pay. Which is why I don’t presume to know what people who do work in the service industry need. Whereas countless people who have never sold sex believe what sex workers need, without trying to find out from them directly, is to be rescued from sex work.

What should be the ideal politics about sex workers?

Listen to, believe, value, and give resources and power to sex workers. As an activist said at one of my book events in London, understand that any answer you have, sex workers have already come up with it, and they either found it lacking or simply lacked the resources to make it happen. The “answers” and ideal politics are out there. Too few people are listening.


Scratch magazine: “Selling Myself: A Book Tour Diary”

World's Longest Procession, Diary (itinerary)

Scratch, a digital magazine for writers, asked me to recount my book tour, with a focus on the money:

A book tour runs on invisible money. From March 12 to April 10, 2014, in ten cities (in seven time zones) over sixteen events, I toured my new book, Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work. I “took her out.” For four weeks, I performed my value. My publisher, Verso Books, (almost entirely) covered my expenses, and I paid with my time away from freelancing. As a publicist friend told me, for the duration I should try to cultivate calm and remember that I was not the caterer—I was the party.

Read: “Selling Myself: A Book Tour Diary” at Scratch.

 


On Biographies