Toughing It Out

What I did this weekend — April 12, 2017

What I did this weekend

I spoke at the 31st annual CLPP conference at Hampshire college this past weekend and I was on several panels speaking through the lens of incarcerated sex workers.  I worked with another colleague on 2 workshops and then spent the Monday and Tuesday with another activist of legendary proportions meeting and greeting people who were accomplishing amazing things in her community.  But one always stands out.


Mama Dread and her Mission of Love impacted me in a way I hadn’t ever felt before and I want to tell you about her.

Mama Dread was once homeless and – while homeless – she started a community based organization called Mama Dreads Mission of Love and she worked to feed other people in the community who were also homeless.  She developed a following and almost everybody knows her.  Including the commissioner, city council folks and – of course – the police know her pretty well too. They harass her and her crew when they are going around town feeding people and helping them access safe resources, and they threaten her on such a regular basis, she carries around a card in her pocket that has the Homeless Bill of Rights on it.  She’s tried to get a regular place to let her cook and serve her homeless community but the churches and the politicians?  Well they just put up more barriers.

She even won an award for being the BEST COMMUNITY SERVICE PROVIDER TO THE HOMELESS in her town and that award came with a $500 prize.  But the folks who gave her the award told her they couldn’t give her the check because she wasn’t a licensed service provider with a 501c3 non-profit.

Mama Dread and her crew of about 20 other people weren’t swayed by this AT ALL!  They just kept doing what they do, however they can, and you can find them at almost every civil rights action meeting, working to change policies that affect not only them – but their community.  She partners with PRYSM and DARE and Coyote RI as well as many others – and she attends city council meetings and shes in the room with politicians and council members and law enforcement folks every chance she gets – and she is everything we admire in grassroots social justice movements.

Mama Dreads Mission of Love got some unexpected support yesterday from a pretty surprising source and I’m gonna come back and tell you how you can support her activation and her work.  In the meantime – you can follow her activity on Facebook and I think you’ll see why I want to see her work grow.

Love ya Mama Dread.  You all that!

Wild Aunts Guide to Life — April 7, 2016

Wild Aunts Guide to Life

I wrote this Guide To Life when my first niece left for college to mitigate potential crisis.  I have been asked for it several times since so I thought I would post it

1. Don’t lose your keys. Ever. It’s also a good idea to not lose your ID, your purse and your phone but stuff happens. If you focus on never losing your keys you probably won’t lose the other stuff. Make photocopies of all your Identification documents and keep them in a safe place.
2. Don’t walk in parking lots, garages or around the campus by yourself. Ever. Especially at night.
3. Don’t trust everybody.
4. Trust your gut. If you don’t feel 100% about something or someone – walk away.
5. Make a safety plan for everything. Put your friends on notice that you have one and encourage them to do the same.
6. Don’t talk bad about other people. Even if they talk bad about you. Particularly other women.
7. Don’t get pushed around physically, spiritually, emotionally or psychologically. Ever.
8. Don’t drink and drive. And don’t ride with someone else who has been drinking. Ever.
9. Don’t let your friends leave you by yourself if you don’t feel safe. Don’t leave your friends by themselves and if one if them disappears for more than 15 minutes go look for them with another friend. If they are gone longer than 30 minutes – notify the person in charge. If the person in charge doesn’t do something appropriate – call 911. You’ll only have to do this once and then everybody will know they shouldn’t disappear without letting someone know where they are going and when they will be back.
10. Treat yourself well and put yourself first.

I love you.

Aunt Alex

Rape, Sex Work and Opinions — September 15, 2015

Rape, Sex Work and Opinions

I really dislike bathing my 2 nine-year old golden retrievers.  I can delay it forever and they wouldn’t mind if I never did it again at all, but all of us know it will eventually have to get done and we all look forward to it being over.  I felt similarly about reading an op-ed article regarding the rape of a Sex Worker in Chicago.

Mary Mitchell of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote an opinion editorial regarding a sex worker who had called the police after being raped by a man who had contacted her from an ad she posted on the adult section of Backpage.  My Twitter feed quickly filled up with links to the article accompanied by condemnations of Mary Mitchel, the Chicago Sun-Times and then later more links to more publications, blogs and posts with both large and small organizations and individuals  calling for apologies and retractions.  My inbox filled up with angry and hurt emails and my Facebook page was deluded with more links and comments.   The intro to the links on both Facebook and Twitter were filled with fury and resentment and I delayed actually reading the article for the better part of two days because I knew this was going to be a trigger for my anxiety to crush any hope I had that the lives of Sex Workers were going to improve any time soon.  So yesterday afternoon over a cup of chamomile tea, I read – and reread – Mary Mitchells opinion piece.

Violence in general, has always been a good way to get me riled up, but violence against women by other women is just unforgivable.  Women have fought too hard for too long to allow any one of us to behave in such a way without concern for consequences.  There is no room for a woman in a place of power as a board member of the editorial staff of the Chicago Sun-Times to voice her opinions about the victimization of another woman.  Particularly one, like this sex worker, who has been violated in such a horrific criminal act and then shamed for her profession in such a public manner.  For Mary Mitchell to say that it was “hard to see her as a victim” and to be “grateful” that the perpetrator hadn’t done this “to an innocent woman on the street” and to have the Chicago Sun-Times rubber stamp their approval and publish it, was like a knife to the heart.

Mary Mitchell has been found guilty in the court of public opinion of violence against women by her op-ed piece and she should have to pay a price for that.  She has nothing to offer the community in Chicago or anywhere else for that matter that will ever makeup for this gross violation of ethics.  Mitchells insinuation that Sex Workers cannot be raped and her own “risky” behavior was just cause for her bad luck at being raped at gunpoint are the verbal equivalent of a hate crime.   Victim blaming, minimizing the act of rape and a complete disregard for the framework of “consent” are all issues that Mary Mitchell completely disregarded, setting us back decades in the Human Rights for Women in general and Sex Workers in particular.

I spent some time looking at other issues that Mitchell has written about and she seems to enjoy controversy and almost appears to have taken this stance in an effort to gain notoriety.  I think she got the notoriety she sought but I’m hoping she loses her job, her place on the editorial board of the Chicago Sun-Times and is forever considered a pariah in the media.  I also hope that this despicable article reinforces the need for better protection for Sex Workers and the furtherance of the cause for decriminalization of Sex Work as recommended by Amnesty International this past August.

But my greatest hope is that women everywhere will recognize that we MUST unite and force each other to be accountable for our actions.  We could achieve so much if we would simply understand that we are stronger together and find our commonality instead of looking for ways to be divisive and unkind to each other.


Amnesty Decision on Sex Work For Anti-trafficking NGO’s — September 13, 2015

Amnesty Decision on Sex Work For Anti-trafficking NGO’s

The week before the “Big Decision” by Amnesty International, someone told me that NGO’s who were anti-trafficking supporters would fold if they voted to support the decriminalization of Sex Work.  I was doubtful that it would have such a serious impact that it would cause them to pack up and go home, but I could see that some who had been fence-sitting on direct questions regarding consensual sex work might take this opportunity to gracefully bow out of this arena.  After all, the most common complaint I heard about Prostitution Outreach efforts from Anti Trafficking groups was their efforts were met with such resistance from their target audience.  I thought they would welcome the opportunity to relinquish their freakishly self-righteous control on a subject they clearly had no knowledge about how to address, successfully or otherwise, and refocus their efforts in places they could make a difference.  I was almost amused that most of them didn’t even bother to read more than the Headline on this pivotal Amnesty decision, and instead immediately started the process of demanding Amnesty “change their mind” and reverse their decision.

That is simply not going to happen.  And if they had taken the time to read the entire decision, the Anti Trafficking community would have found they had truly been given a get-out-of-jail-free card instead of wasting more time and resources trying to change that which cannot – and will not – be changed.  In fact, when Amnesty International makes a decision you don’t agree with, you really need to step back and reassess your position from a Human Rights perspective.  Amnesty International has brought us so far with so many other Human Rights issues and we should listen to them.

But just in case you are an Anti Trafficker and have sand in your ears, here is a quick primer on what this policy decision really could mean to this – in the very words of Amnesty International – most marginalized group of people world-wide.

Decriminalization does NOT mean legalization.  Legalization – as in Germany and in Nevada  – have unintended consequences and most Sex Workers do not support it.  Legalized sex work leaves sex workers tangled up in a mess of burdensome regulations where they must conform to license requirements that bring an unfair burden on women who are already living in poverty and the very application of a license can immediately stigmatize a sex worker and keep her from eventually accessing other employment opportunities.  For example – a Sex Worker in a legalized model in the United States would be required to register as a sex worker and pay a licensure fee – kind of like an occupational license – before she began working as a Sex Worker.  This would probably mean she would have to have a physical and be tested for STD’s which is a good thing if she is not already having problems accessing affordable healthcare.  Women’s Healthcare – particularly low-cost affordable healthcare – has always been a problem and even more so with the problems organizations like Planned Parenthood has faced over the years.  Before she got her license, she may even have to attend government sponsored Sex Work classes or submit to questionnaires that she may or may not fully understand.  She might also be required to perform or conduct Sex Work business in a location that also requires a legalized, bureaucratic process as well and might be hampered unfairly by a lack of transportation to get to this location. This legalized location would most likely be a brothel. Brothel owners have a clear interest in maintaining their image as law-abiding, trouble-free businesses to keep their licenses and maintain good relations within their communities. The owners ensure this by making it policy to call the police at the slightest hint of trouble to send a message that they don’t tolerate bad behavior. The whole name of the game is control.  Just that statement alone is cause for concern about legalizing Sex Work in a Legalized environment – it almost immediately removes the control from the Sex Worker over who and when she sees a client and who she alone decides what she considers bad behavior.

Women in a poverty situations often undertake Sex Work as an intervention to crisis (pay the rent, buy food, provide for her children)  and would be subject to fines and tickets and court costs to defend themselves about participating in sex work while unlicensed in a legalized environment.  Then, of course, she would be ineligible to get the required license or registration because of the financial penalties that would accrue if she were “caught” performing Sex Work without a license.  This sequence of events amounts to the criminalized system we already have firmly in place in most areas of the United States.

Legalization would mean the regulation of prostitution with laws regarding where, when, and how prostitution could take place.

Although often presented as a more tolerant and pragmatic approach, the legalized model still criminalize those sex workers who cannot or will not fulfill various bureaucratic responsibilities, and therefore retains some of the worst harms of criminalization. It disproportionately excludes sex workers who are already marginalized, like people who use drugs or who are undocumented. This makes their situation more precarious, and so reinforces the power of unscrupulous managers.

The US has actually had some experience with both models. Nevada has a highly regulated legalized prostitution system.  Rhode Island also decriminalized prostitution in 2003 and, according to University of California researchers, instances of reported rape and sexually transmitted diseases plummeted after Rhode Island stopped policing prostitution.  Nevertheless, due to public moral outcry and absolutely NO input from Sex Worker voices, Rhode Island outlawed prostitution again in 2009.

The Amnesty International policy recommendation that calls for the decriminalization of one to one consensual Sex Work refers to the removal of all criminal and administrative prohibitions and penalties on sex work, including laws targeting clients. Removing criminal prosecution of sex work goes hand-in-hand with recognizing sex work as work and protecting the rights of sex workers through workplace health and safety standards.

Decriminalizing sex work allows workers to access financial services like bank accounts and insurance and other financial services.  Moreover,
decriminalization means sex workers are more likely to live without stigma, social exclusion, and fear of violence. All good things, right?  To effectively protect the health and rights of sex workers, governments must remove all criminal laws regulating sex work, including laws that criminalize the purchase of sex.  Systems that maintain criminal penalties for clients – like the Swedish model – who purchase sexual services continue to put sex workers at risk.  Rather than ending demand for sex work, penalties on clients force sex workers to provide services in clandestine locations, which increases the risk of violence and limits the power of the sex workers in the transaction.
Not only does the decriminalization of Consensual Sex Work benefit the of-legal-age Sex Worker, there are a host of other benefits as well.  For one, in a decriminalized environment, who do you think is in a better position to recognize and assist in the identification of underage sex workers?  Do you think it’s an actual full-time Sex Worker or a church lady who volunteers for one of your Faith Based Alliances a few hours a month?  And you can bet your bottom dollar that a Sex Worker will recognize – and report – a predatory member of the community faster than you can say “Call 911!”
When sex work is decriminalized, sex workers are empowered to realize their right to work safely, and to use the justice system to seek redress for abuses and discrimination. 
Even if sex work is decriminalized per the Amnesty International policy recommendation, the prostitution of minors and human trafficking can and should remain criminal acts although we should really take another look at a better plan for minors than criminalization as well.
So Anti Trafficking Organizations should happily put their stamp of approval on this Amnesty Policy recommendation and be assured that your lucrative efforts to freak out the general public about Human Trafficking “taking place in your backyard” is safe and secure.  You just don’t get to speak for Sex Workers anymore without even bothering to consult them.
Scale? What Scale? — September 11, 2015

Scale? What Scale?

I’ve had a pretty bad relationship with my bathroom scale for – well – forever.  I really don’t care for scales in general. Or math or measurements or portion control or counting calories or carbs or fat grams or whatever tricks are played to calculate my self worth in relation to my body image.  And at the same time I am facinated by the numbers games – or really mind games – that I am willing to play to register my dedication to the process.  In the days before smart phones, I kept a food diary and I was less than accurate about my food budget.  The new apps on my iPhone are much more condusive to accurate reporting my intake of not only calories and other nutritional info, they are generous with calculating the activities that burn the calories and carbs.  I’ve actually lost two of those expensive wearable fitness accessories that communicate steps, sleep and activity.  Maybe it was for the best.


In fact – I have signed up for so many of these diet and fitness apps that I frequently get alarming emails admonishing me to enter what I had for breakfast or asking me if I plan to go to the gym in accordance with my profile goals, or even announcing a new sequence of ab exercises I have mysteriusly “unlocked” by virtue of being a “member”.   One of them even tells me how much I would weigh in 5 weeks if I were to have the exact same food and exercise routine every day after I proudly complete my entry for that day.  Some of them sync with each other and others don’t so really all I have managed to do is feel incompetant.  But feeling incompetant to manage my addiction for electronic apps that tell me how I should be feeling have not really impacted my actual fitness results.

After 7 and one half months of going to the gym every day (I’ve only missed 6 days total when the gym was closed completely and 2 days when I drove there and just couldn’t get out of the car) I can easily say I feel pretty good.  I don’t feel satisfied that I am making the kind of progress I would like to have made but there is a deep satisfaction in the achievement of simply showing up that supercedes my reaction to the reflection I get in the mirror and the number on the scale.  Spending this first hour of my day at this independently owned gym on a treadmill or reminding myself to count the number of reps is where I find sanity in the numbers.  Even when the scale doesn’t say a number I’d like, there is an overwhelming peace in this place.  Its become a refuge.  A shelter.  Even the physically brutal time with my trainer twice a week is something I look forward to because all of my preconceived notions of what kind of brain a personal trainer would have have been dashed.  We have breathless (or rather I am breathless and he picks up my counting reps slack) discussions of philosophy and community and humanity and often transition to business discussions of ROI or joke about how nice it would be if we could do business without clients or employees.  It has become my preferred form of therapy.  It is making me a better person even if not the skinny person I was hoping.

I still have my bathroom scale although I have been setting it in the bathtub behind the shower curtain in an effort to honor my pledge to only weigh in once a month instead of 3 or four times daily. I lost 8 pounds in two months for a grand total loss of 23 in 7 and a half months and I recite “MUSCLE WEIGHS MORE HAN FAT” out loud three times before getting on.  I take three readings at each weigh in to satisfy myself that it is as accurate as its going to get and immediately pet my beloved golden retriever Sugar Bear afterwards, who stoically has accompanied me for these dreaded weigh ins, afterwards.  She loves me regardless of the number on the scale.

My husband and lover (same person) of nearly 15 years has been guardedly respectful about this process.  His love for me has never been measured by the number on a scale or the size of my jeans.  I think it is partly because the gym and the trainer and the dedication I have demonstrated the past 7 1/2 months has curbed my desire to power-shop for silly outfits which I will never wear.  I have a closet full of designer labels from size 4 to size 14 that still have tags on them and I’m not even sure I would wear most of them if I could.

The other number in my life that is not a reflection of who I am is my age which recently rolled over to 51 years.  Some days I feel older than that pesky number and some days I feel like I am in my mid 20’s.  If you have read earlier posts you will know that I have been taking HGH injections as part of an anti-aging regimen and I have reported a general overall sense of well being in addition to smoother skin and lasting energy.  I don’t give all the credit to the HGH, but I think it has been a large part of my devotion to making the rest of my lifestyle match that effort and expense.

I know my relationship with fitness and health numbers are going to always be a part of my life but it is no longer the method that determines my mental attitude when taking on my daily activities.  I have accepted my age and my weight as a part of my overall desire to be a better person and I feel ready to take on new challenges that reflect all that I am becoming.  A recent visit to my physician for the whole annual physical was a positive reinforcement of my progress when my blood tests, sugar and cholesteral and all the other “lady stuff” came back with an all clear.  And if the doctor says I’m doing well…well than I must be doing well.

Health and Fitness gets a BOOST from HGH! — June 22, 2015

Health and Fitness gets a BOOST from HGH!

So yeah.  I turned 50 last August and times were bad.  Not “Natural Disaster” or “Permanently Scarred for Life” bad but menopausal, sad and depressed bad.  I’d gained the 50 menopause pounds (What?  Thats not a thing?) and I felt like my skin was starting to melt regardless of whatever expensive potions I’d been using.  This was strange for me because I am by nature a pretty happy person – and I don’t allow myself to feel bummed out for long.  And I had never let my weight skyrocket like it had – I’ve been pretty good about taking care of myself.  I taught aerobics in my 20’s – in the jazzersize days and I’m relatively careful about what I eat until the past few years.  But the past two years I felt completely out of control and by Christmas of 2014 I knew that it was going to require some real intensity to change the path of things if I was going to survive this phase of my life.  I never thought I would still be alive at 50 – but it was clear that if I was to grow old gracefully I needed to drag my dignity out of the ditch I was in.

In January I started going to the gym and almost immediately caught a really nasty cold that literally took my breath away for a few weeks.  By February I knew I had lost some momentum but I thought I’d head back to the gym and just see if I could rally on my own.  My husband suggested I try out a gym a friend of his owned and I immediately dismissed it as “a meat-head, bodybuilder boys gym” but his friend offered to let me just use the cardio room and assured me no one would try to trick me into doing any dead-lifts.  I was reluctant but I agreed and showed up on a Tuesday in some pretty ratty workout clothes I could still manage to get my fat ass into.  After 35 minutes of walking no where at 2.8 miles per hour I was a weak sweaty mess and my feet hurt.  I was whining before I even got out the door.  It took a good week before I was able to feel like I was going to survive this brutal 35 minutes – gradually increasing the elevation to burn an extra 25 calories than the day before and then 50 extra calories and then a hundred extra calories.  By the end of the first week I was burning 300 calories in 35 minutes and I felt pretty good about it.  The worst part was that I was sooooo bored.

The second week I found out that Netflix had released a new season of House of Cards almost a year before and I was really upset that I hadn’t seen it so I loaded the tablet in my gym bag and set it on top of the treadmill while I groaned my way through 35 minutes of cardio.  But alas!  The episode wasn’t over!  There was no possible way I could wait until tomorrow to see how Claire was going to manage Franks insatiable appetite for power!  So I ratcheted up the treadmill for another 25 minutes and huffed and puffed my way to the end of the episode.

And the proverbial tables turned.  I no longer could wait until the next morning when I could get back to the gym and watch another episode and I figured that while I was there I might as well get the most out f it as I could.  So I went faster and at higher elevations until I was easily burning 600 in 53 minutes.  And then it became a game where the burned calories became more important than the time I had left on the Netflix episodes.  When Claire and Frank closed out the season of House of Cards I watched 3 seasons of Luther.  Then a series about a crazy family and then the first season of Reign and a really cute series written and produced by Tina Fey.  Every day – seven days a week – I would head to the gym first thing in the morning and negotiate my performance to coincide with a random Netflix drama.  I am no longer bored while doing cardio.  I am on my 5th week adding in weight training 2 days a week and there have been a couple of days I have found myself at the gym twice in one day.  I’ve lost around 20 ponds but more importantly – I am regaining my swagger and I have more energy and enthusiasm for the day.

I talked with my Doctor and my Trainer about supplements to increase the effectiveness of all the work I’m putting in.  And in keeping with my tradition of non-traditional therapies – I wanted to know more about a particular hormone therapy called HGH.  I had worked at a day spa in Miami in the late 90’s when HGH was primarily something you could only find in Hollywood.  Human Growth Hormone is naturally produced by the pituitary gland and starts to decrease around age 25-30.  It was expensive back then and was hotly debated as to its effectiveness and – in truth – its safety.  As with anything – its not to be used indiscriminately and it should never be used to excess.  What is it supposed to do?  The benefits can vary from person to person and are pretty wide ranging.  An increase in lean muscle and a decrease in fat  is the leading effect but other benefits are better skin and increased energy.  I started a low dose HGH regimen on Friday and started noting that my mood was – shall I say – QUITE pleasant.  On Sunday my workout seemed to be easier so I increased the intensity.  And it doesn’t seem possible but I thought the skin on my face – particularly around my eyes – had a better texture.  This was confirmed when I caught my husband looking at me strangely and asked me if I was using different makeup.  I was not.

There is very little research posted online regarding women and HGH therapy.  The clinics I called to ask for more information started at around $1500 for a consultation and estimated it would cost around $1400 a month for a 5 on 2 off regimen.  This may sound expensive but in the late 90’s this same treatment started around $15000.  Most users notice improvements within a month.  Several noticed sooner but were not willing to commit that it was due to the HGH.  This type of therapy should really start a lot earlier than age 50 as anti-aging is not the same as reverse aging.  And its absolutely imperative NOT to overdo it.  The side effects of overdosing can be grotesque and they are irreversible.  Hormone testing for HGH can be done for around $300.  If you have a family history of cancer than my research indicates this is not for you.

I’ll be reporting my own progress in hopes that other women can benefit from this therapy if it is appropriate.