Archive for December, 2010

Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And days of auld lang syne?
For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We’ll take a cup of kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.
–  Robert Burns

Well, here we are on the 7th day of Christmas and the last of the year.  I started this blog back in July because I’ve been wanting to write a book about this subject since 2004 but could never make myself sit down to write it.  See, if writing were running, I’d be a sprinter; I come on very strong for a short period of time and then wind down, so while I do quite well with essays and tolerably well with short stories, books and novels are quite beyond my ability.  Now, don’t say “Oh, that’s not true!” because it is; knowing one’s limitations is not defeatism, it’s simply realism.  My style of composition is wholly feminine; what I mean by that is, women tend to see things as unified wholes while men tend to see them as collections of attributes.  The masculine viewpoint is very helpful when writing long works; each portion of the book can be considered separately and then combined into one long work.  This is not to say women cannot write like this; of course they can, and many do it very well, but I’m not among them.  Try as I might, I’ve never been able to construct stories or articles; each work forms as an organic whole in my mind, which as you might expect limits me to a few hundred words at a time.  Ever notice that a couple of times a month I write a column which sort of rambles?  Those are the ones which did not form whole, and I’m usually less than satisfied with the results.  And a novel written that way would be a shambles.

But then early last spring my husband pointed out that I actually can write very long works as long as the whole is composed of small, independent parts.  And that gave me the idea to do a blog; one essay a day, each one a distinct small unit, with a single underlying theme but no overarching plan. Each day’s column is a thing unto itself and can be read in isolation, so though the whole amount of text here is more than enough for a book I only had to think of it, plan it and write it one short essay at a time.  If I ever get a book offer, it’ll consist of a series of essays (either selections from the blog or articles of the same type) rather than one unified whole.  Anyhow, once I came up with the idea I was still paralyzed for a while; I had no idea how to go about it, nor what it would cost.  Then early in July I followed a link from a message board discussion on Wonder Woman (yes, I’m a fan) to this post on the Human Scorch’s blog; I was impressed with the way it looked and since I knew Scorch from another board I timidly asked him how I could start one of my own.  He gave me a link to WordPress and I found it spectacularly easy to use…and the rest, as they say, is history.  Scorch, have I ever adequately thanked you for the tip and the design pointers?  If not, THANK YOU!!!

I was asked a few months ago how I manage to write a coherent column every single day, and I replied that a lot of this stuff has been bouncing around in my head for years.  Most of my early columns were adapted from chapters of my aborted book, the ever-popular essay “Modern Marriage” was edited down from a longer one written in 1997, and “Painted Devil” was an idea which first came to me over 20 years ago but never quite gelled until I realized the heroine needed to be a courtesan.  Since I arrived fairly late to this whole blog scene I felt it was important to get a lot of material in place in a relatively short period of time, and since my husband travels a great deal for his job I have a lot of time to kill when he isn’t home; I therefore had both the time I needed and the drive to do it, though frankly I’m surprised that I’ve actually managed to publish a column every single day without fail since the beginning.  There were a few times when I honestly thought I would be caught flatfooted, but all I had to do was visit the websites linked in the right column there and I would always find a subject on which to write.

Sooner or later, though, I’ve got to run out of steam, and since my husband’s travel schedule is much heavier in the second half of the year than in the first I won’t have as much free time for the next six months as I did for the last.  I’m therefore allowing myself a couple of days off per week from here on out; I’m not sure exactly how I’m going to do it yet but I promise the off-days won’t be back to back so those who like to read every day will only be disappointed for one day at a time.  Since I write most of my columns in advance (this one was written on Monday) I can take both Saturday and Sunday off and still publish prewritten columns on those days, so I’ll probably end up skipping Sunday and Wednesday or something like that, but we’ll see. Don’t worry, I’m not quitting!  In fact, by lightening my work load a bit I hope to prevent future burnout.  And though my husband has been extremely supportive of this venture and reads every column (though not always right away if he’s on the road), I have no intention of neglecting him to keep up my present daily pace.

What a year it’s been!  Just in the six months I’ve been writing we’ve seen the first two inductees to my Hall of Shame, the suicide of the “Craigslist Killer”and the subsequent censorship of Craigslist, the invalidation of prohibitionist laws by the Supreme Court of Ontario, the Melissa Petro scandal, sleazy schemes by the American government to censor the internet and divert federal funds to persecute voluntary adult prostitutes, the presentation of a report condemning U.S. abuses of prostitutes to the U.N. Human Rights Council, the infiltration of the morally reprehensible “Swedish Model” into American police department rhetoric, the exposure of a sexual predator masquerading as an escort blogger, repeated attacks against the porn industry by condom fetishists, numerous incidents of violence against whores, the rather suspicious persecution of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and the discovery of a potential cure for HIV.  And while trafficking rhetoric has become increasingly popular with governments, public sentiment has largely turned to decriminalization.  And though I haven’t said anything directly about the new TSA molestation procedures at airports, I think most of you can probably guess where I stand on the issue.

I wish all of my readers a Happy New Year, and I hope to continue providing you with interesting reading for a very long time to come!

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A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. –  Lao-tzu

Though I’m sure the significance of the date was lost on New Orleans City Council members, it’s appropriate that the virtual cessation of New Orleans’ decades-long war on whores was announced to the public on December 17th.  Yes, you read that correctly:  Though the city stopped short of decriminalization, it decided to classify prostitution, marijuana possession and a few other misdemeanors as municipal offences, meaning police can write a ticket for them instead of making an arrest.  And while cops will still have the option to arrest hookers if they please, it’s likely they will be discouraged from doing so because the move was intended to cut costs, reduce crowding in Orleans Parish Prison and unclog courts.  This also means escort stings will likely become a thing of the past in New Orleans; can you imagine their setting up an expensive operation just to write a girl a ticket?

The following is paraphrased from an article in the Times-Picayune:

In order to reduce the dockets in Criminal District Court and give police more time to deal with real crimes, the New Orleans City Council voted unanimously Thursday to designate prostitution, marijuana possession, and two other minor crimes as municipal offenses, giving police the option to issue a summons rather than make an arrest.  If you get picked up for marijuana possession or prostitution in New Orleans, police no longer will have to arrest you and take you to jail.

Until now, these activities have only been illegal under state laws, so police had to arrest offenders and take them to Central Lockup for booking.  But because a summons is prosecuted in Municipal Court rather than Criminal District Court, the change will reduce the caseload of the judges and prosecutors who handle serious crimes.  And because those accused of such offences will no longer be jailed, even for a few hours, the city will be spared the expense of housing and feeding them and the lives of the accused will not be needlessly disrupted, council members said.  Councilwoman Susan Guidry, co-chairwoman of the council’s Criminal Justice Committee, called the changes “an important step in increasing the effectiveness, efficiency and equity of our criminal justice system.”

The four crimes involved are:

Prostitution, defined as “indiscriminate sexual intercourse with others … for compensation,” and soliciting someone for prostitution.

Possession of “marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol or chemical derivatives thereof, or synthetic cannabinoids” unless the substance was “obtained directly or pursuant to a valid prescription or order from a practitioner.”

“Flight from an officer” by the operator of a motor vehicle or boat if a police officer has used an emergency light and siren to signal the operator to stop.

“Interfering with a law enforcement investigation” by refusing to move or leave the scene of a crime or accident when ordered to do so by police.

Guidry said the new city laws mirror the state laws covering the same misdemeanors, including identical maximum penalties: a $500 fine and/or six months in jail.  The idea of making these four crimes municipal offenses was backed by all segments of the criminal justice system, including judges, prosecutors and the police, Guidry said; she quoted Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas as saying the change is “not being soft on crime but smart on crime.”  She also pointed out that such cases can be prosecuted more quickly in Municipal Court than in Criminal District Court, where District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro found more than 1,000 marijuana cases “clogging the dockets” when he took office in 2008.  At his initiative, marijuana-possession cases already are being tried in Municipal Court, but the new law means that prosecution of those cases now can be shifted from the district attorney’s office to the city attorney’s office.

Thursday’s actions continue a drive started by the previous City Council to reduce the number of people arrested and taken to jail, with the aim of saving the city money and freeing police officers to concentrate on arresting violent criminals.  In April 2008, the council passed two ordinances directing officers to issue a written summons instead of arresting and booking people found to have outstanding traffic tickets and people who were stopped for most nonviolent municipal offenses (including disturbing the peace, trespassing, making threats, urinating in public, playing loud music and public intoxication).  At the time, the Metropolitan Crime Commission said that half of the 58,219 arrests in New Orleans during 2007 were for municipal or traffic offenses, meaning the Police Department was wasting precious resources on minor offenses; it can take an officer as long as two hours to book someone, and the person is often released from jail within hours even if he can’t make bail, the council was told.

Since the new ordinances of 2008, the Police Department has doubled the proportion of summonses issued in municipal cases, releasing cops to spend more time on the streets.  One exception is public intoxication, because officers are instructed to arrest anyone who is a possible danger to himself or others; to address that issue and reduce the numbers of drunks booked into jail, officials are considering the establishment of a “sobering center” where an inebriate could sleep off intoxication and perhaps get help for substance abuse (though he could still be issued a court summons on discharge).  Other cities do this successfully, said a city legal advisor, and the state might even pay for up to seven days of care for addicts.

This is several years too late to help me, but I still find it immensely satisfying considering that for literally decades freethinkers have been pointing out the colossal waste of resources resulting from consensual crime prosecutions.  Of course, the politicians have to pretend it was their idea, but let them do so if it results in the right thing being done.  Similarly, if it’s economic issues which force this type of move then so be it; the important thing is New Orleans whores of all levels can breathe more easily now, and it’s likely that the sick little “crime against nature” game will vanish as well because the city can no longer afford to subsidize cops’ sadistic pleasures at streetwalkers’ expense.

I’d like to point out a few things I noticed in the story; first, prostitution is defined as “indiscriminate sexual intercourse with others … for compensation,” which technically means I never prostituted myself in Louisiana because I was not indiscriminate in my customer selection.  Yes, I know that’s splitting hairs, but it does support the point I made in my column of December 16th about the definition of prostitution being extremely difficult to pin down.  Second, notice that marijuana possession is called a “minor crime” (how the feds must hate that!) and the DA doesn’t bother to disguise the fact that he clearly considers marijuana prosecutions a court-clogging nuisance he would prefer to dispense with.  Third (and most importantly), I see this move as symptomatic of a larger trend; cash-strapped jurisdictions all over the United States, tired of the endless “mandates” from higher levels of government which force them to waste precious resources on things which shouldn’t even be crimes in the first place, are thinking of clever ways to avoid having to do the higher government’s dirty work.  It’s a wonderfully subversive trend, and I hope it becomes much more popular in the next few years.

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After us, the deluge. I care not what happens when I am dead and gone. –  Madame de Pompadour

Jeanne Antoinette Poisson was born in Paris on December 29, 1721 to François and Madeleine Poisson.  As a child she was educated at the Ursuline convent in Poissy, but when she entered adolescence her mother took over her education with an eye toward fulfilling a prophecy pronounced by Madame le Bon that Jeanne, then eight, would one day win the heart of a king.  Accordingly, the beautiful, intelligent girl was educated as only courtesans tended to be in her day; she was taught to dance, sing, play the clavichord, paint, engrave and recite poetry and drama by heart.  This extremely expensive education was funded by a family friend (and Jeanne’s guardian while her father was in exile due to a financial scandal), the chief tax collector Le Normant de Tournehem, thus igniting rumors that he was actually the girl’s natural father.  Jeanne soon became an accomplished actress and singer, and at 19 entered into a marriage of convenience with her patron’s nephew, Charles-Guillaume Le Normant d’Étiolles, in order to gain access to the court where she could pursue her goal.  She had two children by her husband, a boy who died in infancy and a girl who was born in 1744 and died of peritonitis in 1754.

Jeanne, now Madame d’Étiolles, was very popular in fashionable Parisian circles and soon founded her own salon, which was attended by a number of the philosophes including Voltaire.  This accomplished exactly what it was intended to accomplish; King Louis XV heard of her and invited her to a royal fancy dress ball on February 25th, 1745.  Though the King was in disguise, Jeanne had been tipped off to which costume was his and made sure she caught his eye; her costume as a shepherdess neither covered her exquisite features nor concealed her bewitching hazel eyes, and no man could have failed to notice her.  They danced and then talked, and the King was smitten; he began to make overtures to her and she let him know that her favors were not to be had for free.  But when he asked her price, the wily young woman stated that the only fee she would accept was the position of royal mistress, vacant since the death of the king’s previous mistress (the Duchesse de Châteauroux) a few months before.  The bold gambit succeeded; the monarch was impressed with her confidence and charm and agreed to the arrangement.  By March she had moved into Versailles and was given an apartment directly below that of the King, and on May 7th, she was officially separated from her husband.

Portrait by François Boucher, 1750

Though Jeanne had captured the King’s heart as had been foretold, she could not yet be named official royal mistress because she was a commoner.  The King therefore purchased the marquisate of Pompadour on June 24th and gave the estate and title to Jeanne, thus making her a Marquise and granting her the name by which she is known to history:  Madame de Pompadour.  She was formally introduced to the court on September 14th and quickly mastered court etiquette, but could not cement her position quickly enough for her mother, who died on Christmas Eve, to see Jeanne defeat her enemies at court to become the undisputed royal mistress.  And she had plenty of enemies; some of them felt it was a disgrace for the King to have a common-born mistress (despite the title she had been granted), while others blamed her for the loss of France’s North American colonies following her defeat in the Seven Years War, which the King had entered as an ally of Austria on Madame Pompadour’s advice.  And of course there were lesser mistresses who challenged her position, though they could not match the Marquise’s quick wits; one such challenger, Marie-Louise O’Murphy de Boisfaily, was defeated by being married off to a provincial nobleman and thus removed from Paris!

Her charm and winning ways gained her far more friends than enemies, however; among these was the Queen, who had been avoided by previous mistresses.  The King deeply appreciated her respect for and deference to his wife, which eased his guilt and allowed him to have a strong relationship with his children without her interference.  She also exerted considerably effort to amuse the King and ease his many cares; she would accompany him on hunts and when he went visiting or touring his properties, she threw dinner parties for him and had plays written specifically to appeal to his tastes, with her as the female lead.  She even arranged orgies to stimulate his jaded sexual appetite, and frequently reminded him of her beauty by commissioning portraits of herself, mostly by Francois Boucher.

Portrait by Maurice de la Tour, 1755

Madame de Pompadour is best remembered today as a patron of the arts, science and literature; she sponsored many painters, sculptors, architects, furniture craftsmen, interior designers and writers, including Voltaire as mentioned earlier.  She supported the development of Diderot’s Encyclopedia (among the first such works), commissioned a topographical survey of France and even helped her brother Abel-François (who had by her influence become director-general of royal buildings) to design several public facilities.  She facilitated the development of Sèvres, which soon became one of the largest manufacturers of porcelain in Europe and provided many high-paying jobs to its district.  She exerted a strong influence over the development of the Rococo style, and advised the King on matters ranging from art to foreign policy.  She even corresponded with Maria Theresa, the Empress of Austria.  The pompadour hairstyle is named for her, as is the marquise style of diamond cutting, and according to legend the bowl of a champagne glass was modeled on the shape of her breast (though it is not very likely that this is true).

Unfortunately, the Madame’s body was neither as strong nor as active as her mind; vigorous sex tired her, and she suffered two miscarriages in 1746 and 1749, at which times she arranged lesser mistresses for the King while she was unable to tend to his needs during her convalescence.  Eventually the combination of her poor health and His Majesty’s roving eye caused him to replace her in his bed as of 1750, when she was only 29.  He was still quite fond of her and she continued to advise him throughout her remaining years; in fact the period of her greatest influence over him was the decade after they had ceased to sleep together.  Late in the winter of 1764 she was diagnosed with tuberculosis, and due to her fragile constitution succumbed to it in only two months; she died on April 15, 1764 at the age of forty-two.  As her coffin left Versailles in a downpour, the King was heard to say “The marquise won’t have good weather for her journey.”  Her old friend Voltaire wrote: “I am very sad at the death of Madame de Pompadour.  I was indebted to her and I mourn her out of gratitude.  It seems absurd that while an ancient pen-pusher, hardly able to walk, should still be alive, a beautiful woman, in the midst of a splendid career, should die at the age of forty.”  Even her enemies admired the brave manner in which she faced death (though of course they were also relieved at her departure), and nobody then or now could deny the powerful influence a courtesan of humble origin had exerted on French arts and letters.

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The question you’re not supposed to ask is the important one. –  Mason Cooley

Our first question was posted in a new comment on an old post by a reader who resides in the Netherlands:  Just today, when we were coming back home from a restaurant, my 8-year-old daughter, out of the blue, asked: “Daddy, what’s a prostitute?”  Before I could answer, my mother-in-law (who went with me, my wife and my daughter to the restaurant) launched into a short description of the standard stereotype (“pariahs…” “dirty…” “horrible lives…” “bad women…”).  Since I don’t think it’s a good idea for adults to fight in front of children, I let her go and kept silent. I’m still thinking about what I should tell my daughter later on… and how long I should wait.  Any advice?

At her age, you might try something like this: “Sometimes men get lonely when they don’t have girlfriends, and a prostitute is a lady whose job is to keep them company for a little while so they won’t feel so lonely.” It’s inexact, but it covers the basics in terms an 8-year-old can grasp. I wouldn’t wait too long; since your mother-in-law has already said something you might explain that some people think prostitutes are bad because they think they’re trying to fool the men, but that isn’t really true.

If your daughter responds with something like “That sounds nice, I want to be a prostitute when I grow up,” you might say something like, “Well, it’s sometimes hard work, and some people might think you’re bad if you do it, so it’s probably best to wait until you’re grown up to think about that.”  After all, you wouldn’t want her going around telling people her daddy said she could be a prostitute when she grows up!

I don’t see escorts very often, but I treated myself the other day; she was a polite and reasonably attractive brunette, a little older than me.  Unfortunately she wasn’t very tight down there, so with a condom on it was hard to get any friction going to keep it hard. I was able to finish but it took A LOT of work on my part.  I’ve never experienced that with any woman before; I know each person is different but when you ran your own agency did you get complaints of  workers being “too loose”?

Everybody is indeed different, and some women are large to start with, but the degree of looseness you describe almost certainly resulted from having babies (especially if they were large or the births were difficult).  Contrary to popular belief no amount of intercourse can loosen a woman permanently like babies can, not even several times a day for years.  The lady you saw could probably have restored much of her tightness with Kegels exercises, and if that proved insufficient there is plastic surgery which can do the trick.  Either way, if she intends to stay in the business she probably should do something about the issue or she’s going to get more complaints than she might like.  I never received any complaints like that on any girl I employed, and certainly not on myself!  But then, I was small to start with, never had babies and perform my Kegels religiously.

I’m a new reader to your blog with a question, and I was just curious as to what you would define as a slut? Is a slut just a promiscuous woman who isn’t a whore or something else? Also, is a slut the same thing as a nymphomaniac?

I don’t really care for the term “slut” myself because I feel it’s both pejorative and imprecise, but if I were going to define it I’d say a “slut” is a woman who is promiscuous without a profit motive.  I think, however, that the average man uses it to mean any woman he wants to insult (regardless of her behavior) and the average woman uses it to mean any woman who is more promiscuous than she is!  Given that, I just don’t feel it’s a really useful term even if it weren’t so judgmental.

However you use it, though, a nymphomaniac is definitely something different; nymphomania is a psychological disorder which causes the sufferer to be obsessed with sex and to have a sex drive so high that it causes her distress and serious problems.  Nymphomaniacs are usually unable to maintain relationships for obvious reasons; the behavior is compulsive and thus results in trouble like any other compulsive behavior.  Therefore, you might say a nymphomaniac is to a slut what a kleptomaniac is to a thief and a pyromaniac is to an arsonist.  Incidentally, the term “nymphomania” applies only to women; the corresponding disorder in men is called “satyriasis”.

What does it mean on a escorts ad if it says willing to see basic plus one or two?

Preferred 411 (P411 for short) is a verification service which does a background check on its male members, so if you’re even a basic member girls know you aren’t a cop or other type of liar.  Whenever an escort member sees a client member she can give him an “okay”; the more “okays” the more girls he has seen who will vouch that he’s an acceptable client (not abusive or scary).  So “basic plus two” means she’ll only see a guy who has two or more okays.

My husband wants to try anal sex but I’m afraid it will hurt.  Is there a right way to do it so it doesn’t?

There sure is; you’ve got to relax.  Ask your man to follow your instructions exactly, and use plenty of lubrication (I don’t care what you’ve read, spit is NOT enough).  Make sure he’s rock-hard; semi-soft won’t work for anal.  Tell him to put it inside you just until you start feeling discomfort, then stop and hold it right there; this is the part where trust comes in, because a man’s natural instinct once he’s inside is to start stroking and if he does it will hurt you.  Remain in that position, breathe regularly, and calm yourself; within a minute or two your sphincter will relax and the discomfort will pass.  Then tell him to start stroking, slowly at first until you adjust to the feeling, then give him the go-ahead and tell him not to hold back.  This form of sex is VERY intense and you won’t want it for more than a few minutes.  Done correctly, it is very pleasurable for both partners and can be an interesting variation on your regular lovemaking.

A note to my male readers:  If your wife or girlfriend doesn’t want to try anal, don’t coerce her because if she gives in just to placate you she will NOT be able to relax and it will be a bad experience for both of you.  Tell her you would like it, ask her to consider it and even show her this column, but beyond that leave it alone.  If she agrees, follow her instructions exactly and don’t hold back once she tells you to start stroking, but climax as soon as the urge strikes you; anal sex is like cheesecake, best enjoyed in small servings.

Would you rather have a guy who was well endowed but so-so in bed or smaller but a studly lover?  I’ve always wanted to ask a lady who knew what she was talking about and I consider you a subject matter expert.

Thanks for the vote of confidence!  It’s hard to answer that because it really depends on so many factors.  I personally am not really a connoisseur of male sexual skills; I just enjoy being “screwed into the mattress” as Amanda Brooks says.  But many other women do appreciate technique.  Plus, if I’m in love with a man none of that matters two cents, and I’m not remotely alone in that opinion.  In the final analysis, only guys with really, really tiny cocks need to worry about the issue at all, and even a man like that could be compatible with a woman who loves cunnilingus above all else.

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The better a work is, the more it attracts criticism; it is like the fleas who rush to jump on white linens. –  Gustave Flaubert

Last Tuesday (December 21st) I received a request for moderation of a comment on my column of December 13th.  As regular readers know, I don’t approve comments from posters who seem very belligerent because once a particular commenter is approved all subsequent comments by that same poster are automatically approved; I don’t want anyone who seems prone to negativity having free reign to scatter such comments all over my board while I sleep, eat or otherwise live normal (offline) life.  I have no wish to censor anyone, but I reserve the right to maintain a positive tone in my own site.  Since the commenter is a fellow supporter of whores’ rights I felt I should reply via email, and did so.  The following is the series of emails which resulted; I asked for permission to publish this and he did not answer, but since he intended the discussion to be read by everyone in the commentary I see no harm in featuring it in a column instead.  The following messages are reproduced exactly as written, with no additions, subtractions or modifications other than the correction of four typos (two each) and the truncation of my signature line to simply “Maggie McNeill”.  N.B. :  The term “cisgendered” is a neologism meaning people who aren’t transgendered.

His initial message:

I don’t mean to defend Burts’ actions, but your critique would do well to exclude the whorephobia and homophobia on which it is founded.  Your explicit and stigmatizing language (e.g., undermining Burts’ statement that he has a girlfriend by claiming she is a beard, your overwrought scare quotes to mock homosexual men, and your very clear hatred for gay and-or bi male escorts as perceived vectors of disease) betrays your motivations.  Get with it; there are men and women, including transgender men and women, in the sex trade that don’t fit into your neat little hierarchy of needs, and we deserve the same rights and the same respect you demand for nontrans women trading sex.

Also, your assumptions, as well as those of the ACLU’s, about the application of ‘prostitution’ laws being more often applied to women more than men are an oft-repeated and misleading factoid.  While it is true that ‘prostitution’ laws (i.e., with ‘prostitution’ in the title) disproportionately affect women, this is especially so for transgender women.  Also, studies show that, for instance, young men who trade sex are 160 percent more criminalized than women, only using different laws (e.g., possession, assault, loitering, etc.).  See the recent study by Dr. Ric Curtis on minors who trade sex in New York City.  The study, which was sponsored by the Department of Justice, also found that an estimated 54 percent of minors who trade sex in New York City are nontrans boys, not all of them gay-identified.  Consider that the next time you dismiss queer and trans sex workers, as well as straight-identified male sex workers who serve men, as a minority.

The fact is that queer and trans hookers were throwing heels at the police at Compton’s Cafeteria and Stonewall before you were old enough to buy a beeper.  Your consistent misrepresentations are harmful to solidarity in the movement.

My reply:

Dear Will,

I’m sorry, but I can’t approve this sort of comment for my blog.  While I accept criticism, I do not allow commentary which criticizes my refusal to subscribe to groupthink and accuses me of nefarious psychosocial motives where there are none.  I have written about the misuse of the word “homophobia” (which doesn’t mean what you use it to mean), and though I have nothing against homosexual men you cannot be convinced of that and allowing you to start a flame war is therefore pointless and unproductive.  The only “clear hatred” is in your mind; just because others disagree with you doesn’t mean they “hate” you.  The presumption that they do is, quite frankly, childish; hatred is an immature, destructive reaction to fear and/or anger and I do not partake of it, not even toward men who raped me.

I absolutely agree that homosexual and transsexual prostitutes deserve equal respect, but since I know nothing about their world it would be extremely presumptuous for me to say anything about them.  Others have blogs in which those issues are covered; mine is not among them.  My primary focus is on female prostitution, with a strong emphasis on pointing out that we aren’t so different from other women.  As you can see if you view it rationally, talking about male prostitutes or transsexuals would result in distraction from that emphasis.

As I said to a commenter on Bound Not Gagged recently, we are on the same side.  That does not mean we must travel in lock-step, however, and indeed to promote such unity of rhetoric is destructive to the point we’re trying to make that whores are nothing to be afraid of (and therefore inevitably repressed).  Non-whores don’t all spout the same rhetoric, and neither should we.  Diversity of opinion isn’t destructive to solidarity in the movement; attempts to impose an agenda of “correct” speech and thought are.  I became a whore in part because it allowed me freedom from arbitrary rules, so as you can imagine I’m no more interested in subscribing to your notion of “correct” language and tone than anyone else’s.

If you like, I will print both your letter and this response within a column next week; if you prefer that I don’t I will honor that request.  We are not enemies, but not even allies have to agree on everything nor necessarily like each other at all times.

Maggie McNeill

His response:

Glad to hear your snide conjecture and censorious conduct is not just a performance for your readers.  Try to hide behind the accusation that this is about being ‘PC’ all you want, but I suspect you’re a cold and selfish egoist who doesn’t have the ovaries to think and talk and work in solidarity with your peers who are equal stakeholders in ending whore stigma and criminalization.  Talking about men and women, including transgender men and women, who did not fit into your boxes would distract from the point?  It in fact undermines the anti-sex work argument that prostitution is always already ‘violence against women.’  Consider that many straight-identified men trade sex with men for money, and yet the right-wingers aren’t trying to rescue them.  You’re repeating the same fallacy as your enemies.

I’m not asking you to stop focusing on nontrans women, I’m asking you to edit your language to indicate that there are others in this trade besides straight cisgendered white women.

My final reply:

Dear Will,

I have never implied that “straight cisgendered white women” are the only ones who prostitute ourselves; in fact I have made many comments to the contrary.  It seems to me that you derive your criticisms from the reading of a small number of my posts, and that you interpret not mentioning something as tantamount to condemnation of it.

As for “I suspect you’re a cold and selfish egoist who doesn’t have the ovaries to think and talk and work in solidarity with your peers,” I repeat that groupthink is neither necessary nor desirable in activism.  That’s the mistake the feminists made, and it does not behoove us to repeat it.

Will, I have no quarrel with you or with any other person who cares about this cause, but I cannot be bullied into dancing to somebody else’s tune.  I will continue to fight the good fight in my own way, just as you will fight it in yours.  I wish you good luck on your own path, just as I hope for it on mine.

Maggie McNeill

Since this is the second such attack on my style in just a few days, I think it’s pretty clear some activists are making incorrect assumptions about what I’m trying to do here.  Though I stated it pretty clearly in my introduction, I think it’s time for an elaboration and I will publish that on Saturday, January 1st.

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Good King Wenceslas looked out,
On the feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even.
Brightly shone the moon that night
Though the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight
Gathering winter fuel.
–  John Mason Neale

In the Church calendar today is the feast of St. Stephen, and therefore the day upon which Good King Wenceslas looked out.  The day (though not the saint) has long been associated with assistance to the poor, which is probably why the carol portrays the king assisting a poor man on that day; it was the day on which English churches opened their alms boxes to the poor, the day on which servants were allowed to “box up” the remains of Christmas feasts and take the day off to visit relatives, and the day on which tradesmen came by to collect their “Christmas boxes” from families who wished to give them such gifts.  For one or more of these reasons the day is called Boxing Day in the UK and most of the Commonwealth, and even in some portions of the US along the Canadian border.

As JustStarshine explained in her essay about Yule the festival went on for twelve days (much as the Roman Saturnalia had gone on for six), and this tradition was transferred to Christmas when the celebrations merged toward the end of the first millennium.  Today is therefore also the second day of Christmas, Wren Day in Ireland and Wales and Mummer’s Day in Cornwall.  The Celtic celebrations are very old, predating Christianity by many centuries, and strongly resemble the better-known Celtic celebration of Samhain (Halloween) in many ways.  Traditionally the day was celebrated by wearing costumes and masks and going from house to house singing seasonal songs and being treated to food in return; the practice of course entered the British Christmas festivities in combination with “wassailing” (itself originally a pagan celebration intended to honor and bless apple trees), and gave rise to Christmas caroling.  In modern times, some locales still honor the original traditions with formal or informal costume parades on this day, and even Philadelphia, Pennsylvania holds a Mummer’s Parade, though this occurs on the 8th day of Christmas (modern New Years Day) rather than the 2nd.  And of course, the English tradition of the Christmas pantomime goes back to the Mummers as well, and features the same kind of role reversal (in this case gender reversal and audience participation) as occurred in Saturnalia.

For anyone who knows anything about the history of Christmas, it’s strange and sometimes amusing to hear activist Christians whining about the holiday being “theirs”, because as we have seen it existed for at least 3000 years before Jesus was born and most of its traditions have nothing to do with him or with Christianity.  Clergymen have recognized this from the very beginning, and at first attacked the festival for its pagan origins.  Eventually, however, they were forced to admit that, like prostitution, Christmas was not going to go away, so by the Middle Ages the Church embraced the celebration and worked to insert as much Christian symbolism into it as possible. Nativity scenes first appeared in 10th-century Rome, and were popularized by Saint Francis of Assisi beginning in 1223 (St. Francis also popularized religious Christmas carols sung in the vernacular).  Christian explanations were developed for pagan traditions like the Christmas tree, and apologists even denied that the date of Christmas had anything to do with the festival of Sol Invictus.  By the Renaissance Christmas was fully established as an important Church festival…and then the Reformation came, bringing preachers who thundered against Christmas as “popery” or even the dreaded “heathenism”.  The Church responded by trying to make the festival more religious, and many German Protestants continued the celebration quietly but replaced Saint Nicholas or other traditional gift-giving figures with the Christkindl (Christ child), a term corrupted in English to “Kris Kringle”.  But in the English-speaking world the Protestants continued to hammer away at Christmas, which was actually banned in England under the Commonwealth government from 1647-1660, and in Boston from 1659-1681.

But even in parts of the colonies where Christmas was not actually banned, Puritan influence made it unpopular; indeed, it was due to German, Dutch, French and Spanish influence that Christmas finally “caught on” in the United States in the first quarter of the 19th century.  Meanwhile, in England, industrialization and the resulting explosive growth of cities had broken up extended families, and many people had begun to think of Christmas as old-fashioned.  Some writers began working to re-popularize the holiday but none succeeded as well as Charles Dickens, whose immensely popular 1843 novella A Christmas Carol did more to revive Christmas in England than any other single influence; even the modern preeminence of the phrase “Merry Christmas” over all other holiday greetings is largely due to its prominent use in the book.  Dickens emphasized the secular, family-centered celebration and the display of generosity toward the poor over the church-centered religious elements of the holiday, and that soon became the pattern of Christmas in England.

In the United States, Christmas has always been a largely secular holiday despite Christian claims to the contrary; even many atheists, lapsed Christians and non-Christians celebrate it.  But in recent years concerted efforts by conservative Christians to claim the holiday for themselves and nobody else have resulted in an equal and opposite reaction from groups like the ACLU who have attacked public displays of even secular symbols and traditions of the holiday on the grounds that it constitutes an establishment of a state religion.  Now, the ACLU has done a lot of great work in maintaining civil liberties in this country, but I think fighting non-religious Christmas displays is a ridiculous waste of money and resources which could have been spent fighting prostitution laws instead.  Anybody who is offended by Santa Claus, Christmas trees and holiday cheer is far too easily offended; despite its name Christmas is for everyone, not just Christians.  Of course, even if nobody ever filed another Grinch lawsuit again the present don’t-dare-risk-offending-anybody social climate would do the same work anyhow; businesses self-censor rather than risk offending the pathologically offendable and thereby hurting sales.

And speaking of sales, Boxing Day in the UK and Commonwealth countries has in recent years evolved into a shopping holiday; stores drop their prices dramatically and throngs rush out for bargains.  As on “Black Friday” in the US, many retailers open early and long lines form to get in, and frenzied mobs of greedy consumers fight each other and trash displays in order to snatch up the bargains before they run out.  And like “Black Friday”, Boxing Day has in recent years become the one day which generates the greatest income for British merchants.  And so this day, like Christmas itself, has degenerated in recent years from a day dedicated to helping the less fortunate to a day dedicated to helping oneself at the expense of others.

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I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
–  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

As I discussed in my column of December 21st, there have been winter solstice festivals for at least as long as there has been agriculture, and perhaps longer than that; even hunter-gatherer cultures in the temperate zones would have been adversely affected by winter and would therefore have feared the sun’s “death” and rejoiced in his return.  But the story of the Western celebration we now call Christmas begins in ancient Greece with the festival called Lenaea, whose origin stretches back to the beginning of the third millennium BCE.  At this time the primitive Aegean peoples were still very worried about the coming winter and so the festival we now observe as that of peace and goodwill was at that time anything but.

As JustStarshine explained in her Yule essay, the first solstice-season gifts were not exchanged between humans but rather offered to the gods in order to placate them and thereby induce them to restore warmth, vegetation and life.  And in the ancient Middle East, as in so many other cultures, that meant living sacrifice…and the most valuable form of sacrifice to the ancients was that of a human.  At Lenaea, women (the givers of life and representatives of Gaea, the Earth Mother) would drink wine, work themselves into a religious frenzy and go out into the forest, running wild until they encountered a lone hunter from another tribe, whom they would then literally tear to pieces and devour so as to restore fertility to the earth.  Afterwards, a newborn male baby was dedicated as a symbol of the reborn Dionysos, god of the vines which were their most important crop.  Of course the festival always worked, and the sun soon began to increase in strength again, but as the Greeks evolved they began to find human sacrifice repugnant; the human victim was replaced by a wild bull or goat (the sacrifice must be male to identify with the dying god), and the myth of Tantalus arose to demonstrate the repugnance of human sacrifice and cannibalism to the gods.  Note that the story specifies the time of the abhorrent sacrifice as soon after the rape of Persephone, thus tying it to the mythological origin of the seasons.  But even in its earliest form Lenaea featured three elements which are still essential to the Christmas celebration:  feasting, drinking and veneration of a newborn baby as a god.

Eventually, as the Greeks became confident that sun and vegetation would return without such ghastly appeasement, the sacrifice became a goat which was killed by a priest and then cooked and prepared for the feast rather than devoured raw.  The women became funeral mourners and presenters of the baby selected to represent the newborn god, but the memory of the terrible old ritual was preserved in the myth of the Maenads.  By the 5th century BCE Kronia (the festival of Kronos, god of time) had been added just before the solstice, and eventually most of the solstice celebration became attached to it rather than Lenaea (which became a formal festival rather than a popular one).  When the Romans “borrowed” much of Greek culture and religion, Kronos was identified with their popular and important harvest-god Saturn, while Dionysos was conflated with the Roman wine god Bacchus (who did not symbolize nearly as important an idea to the Romans as he had to the Greeks).  Thus, though both Kronia and Lenaea were adopted into Roman culture (as Saturnalia and Brumalia, respectively), the former proved much more popular and soon grew from its original one day (December 17th) to an entire week (December 17th-23rd).  Saturnalia was celebrated with the usual feasting and drinking, and also with a reversal of the social order (masters waiting on servants, an idiot being declared the ruler of the celebration, etc) to symbolize the reversal of the sun’s course.  It is also in Saturnalia that the tradition of giving a gift to the gods (i.e. a sacrifice) became the giving of gifts to each other.

When Julius Caesar reformed the Roman calendar in 46 BCE, he established the official first day of the sun’s return (astronomical winter) as December 25th; the solstice itself therefore usually occurred on the 24th or sometimes the 23rd.  But because the Julian calendar did not adequately compensate for the slight difference between 365 days and one year, the actual date of the solstice slowly drifted backwards and by the beginning of the 4th century it usually occurred on the 21st rather than the 24th, making the first day of winter the 22nd rather than the 25th.  But the Romans were a tidy, well-organized people and couldn’t let a little thing like that bother them; the birthday of Sol, the sun, had been declared as December 25th by Julius Caesar and so it stayed even when the actual event moved.

The Roman Empire was vast and home to many different local cults, a number of which spread empire-wide thanks to the well-developed Roman infrastructure; the three most important of these for our purposes were the cult of Isis, that of the Persian sun-god Mithra, and Christianity.  We’ve already talked about Isis on November 3rd and December 23rd and we’ll get to Christianity in the next paragraph, but for now let’s talk about Mithra.  Being a sun-god he was born at the winter solstice, springing up full-grown and armed from a rock.  The miraculous event was witnessed by shepherds, and they greeted the newborn god with gifts from their flocks and harvests.  Mithra was very popular with warriors, and his cult became so widespread in the legions that the Emperor Elagabalus (218-222) decreed the worship of a new deity named Sol Invictus (the Unconquered Sun) who was a combination of Mithra with the minor Roman god Sol and the Syrian sun god El-Gabal, of whom Elagabalus had been a priest in his youth.  The god’s festival was (as you might expect) celebrated on the official date established by Julius Caesar, December 25th.  Despite Elagabalus’ short reign the cult of Sol Invictus proved popular and soon absorbed many smaller cults of sun or warrior gods; the Emperor Aurelian later declared him the chief god of the Empire with the intention of giving all Roman subjects a single god they could worship in addition to (rather than instead of) their own gods.  In 274 he declared the festival of Sol Invictus to be a major Empire-wide holiday, and transferred the old Saturnalia celebrations to the new festival.

Christianity was, of course, quite popular in the Empire by this time, and the association of Jesus with Sol Invictus was so natural that it quickly became an established fact, much to the consternation of church leaders.  By the beginning of the 4th century many Roman Christians celebrated the birth of Christ on December 25th, thus giving the public holiday their own private meaning; earlier writings on the subject theorize that Jesus was born sometime in the spring.  And when the Empire was Christianized a few years later, the Sol Invictus festival seamlessly turned into Christmas, with all traditions intact and the Christian nativity myth added to it.  Incidentally, the date of the solstice continued to drift backward in the calendar, so by the time Pope Gregory XIII ordered calendric reform in 1582 it was occurring on December 12th!  When Gregory corrected the discrepancy, he only had it calculated back to 325 (the year of the Council of Nicea), by which time a three-day error had already accumulated as mentioned earlier; but since Jesus was not regarded as a sun god it hardly mattered that Christmas wasn’t on the day of the reborn sun any longer.

The Church fathers weren’t too happy about Christ’s birthday being celebrated with pagan rituals, but there wasn’t much they could do about it; the people wanted their winter festival and they got it despite repeated efforts by priests (and after the Reformation, even more vicious assaults by Protestant ministers) to discourage it.  As the Church expanded into the Germanic and Celtic countries, their native celebrations merged with Christmas and brought in such traditions as the Yule log, Christmas tree, holly, mistletoe, etc (which we already mentioned on the 21st) and also caroling and the Christmas pageant or pantomime (which we’ll talk about tomorrow).  We also discussed the origins of Santa Claus on the 6th and the modern commercialization of the holiday yesterday.  And so arose Christmas as we know it, the end product of a long series of transformations from a terrifying ritual enacted to avert ecological disaster to the traditional celebration of peace and joy to the modern commercial festival of consumerism.  Personally, I think we should’ve quit while we were ahead, so I’ll just keep observing the traditional love-and-goodwill way and leave the frenzied fighting for holiday bargains to the modern Maenads.

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Christmas is not a time or a season but a state of mind. To cherish peace and good will, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas. –  Calvin Coolidge

When I was a wee lass, Christmas was pure magic.  We always set up our tree on the day after Thanksgiving, and that was also when the cultural signs started; Christmas decorations went up in stores and on houses, television stations started airing Christmas specials, kids started thinking about our letters to Santa Claus, radio stations started adding Christmas songs into rotation and people started cashing in their Christmas clubs at banks.  And in New Orleans, the Maison Blanche department store would set up its vast and fantastic Christmas display, a wondrous tableau of animated characters and music which stretched from the front windows all the way to Santa’s throne.  Every year we made the drive into town to see Santa there, and the long wait in line did not matter at all because we were so absorbed in the display.

The star of that show (and of a series of long-form commercials which aired during the season) was Mr. Bingle, a magical “snow fairy” puppet operated and voiced by Oscar Isentrout, a drifter from Brooklyn who fell in love with 1940s New Orleans and never left.  And I think it says something about the Big Easy’s style that the veritable voice of Christmas in New Orleans for over 30 years was Jewish.  Every morning during the Christmas season I’d get up extra early on school days so I could be ready for school and sitting in my little plaid skirt in front of the television set to see Mr. Bingle, and at night I anxiously looked forward to specials like Rudolph the Red-Nosed ReindeerSanta Claus is Coming to Town and How the Grinch Stole Christmas.  Every year my father’s employer threw a very generous Christmas party for employees and their families, with food, entertainment, gifts and of course Santa; how well I remember those!  Despite my precociousness in other areas I steadfastly continued to believe in Santa well past the time when most of my classmates had given up on him, and I remember crying when my brain would no longer allow me that level of faith.

But as the years have gone by, Christmas has changed; the commercialism which Charlie Brown bemoaned in his Christmas special (which first aired the year before I was born) has now completely taken over the holiday, and most of the magic has been lost as a result.  Though many of the signs of Christmas I loved (such as the Maison Blanche Christmas promotion) were certainly motivated by commercial concerns, they were not “the reason for the season” but rather helped to enhance it.  But now it’s all about shopping; Christmas displays start going up on November 1st, and many have referred to Thanksgiving as a “forgotten holiday”, overshadowed even by what is vulgarly (and endlessly) referred to as “Black Friday”.  You know, that day we used to call “the day after Thanksgiving”, which was once merely the official start of the Christmas season but is now touted as an observance in its own right.  The endless urging to buy buy buy, the artificial sense of urgency, the stress caused by overspending on far too many gifts (we used to get one gift from Santa and one from our parents, plus a few small gifts in the stocking), the whining by Christians that it’s their holiday and they want it back, the hand-wringing by multiculturalists who agree with the Christians and therefore insist on draining every vestige of traditional symbolism out of the observance, and all the other modern enemies of the Christmas spirit conspire to reduce it to an “autumn shopping season” rather than a time to be happy and to show love to friends and family and goodwill to strangers.

In other words, like so many other things in the modern world, Christmas has expanded in quantity while dramatically decreasing in quality.  The old Christmas was roughly 30 days of sweetness and magic, while the new “holiday buying season” is 60+ days of saccharine hype.  The old celebration was nutritious to the soul, while the new one actually leaches spiritual vitality.  And while the old one was organic and aromatic, the new one is wholly synthetic and entirely lacking in any bouquet other than fake pine scent to be sprayed on artificial Christmas trees.

It doesn’t have to be this way.  The hype can be avoided by turning off the TV set (or at least avoiding commercials by fast-forwarding prerecorded shows), tossing sales flyers and setting one’s spam filters to reject any rubbish with “Black Friday” or “Cyber Monday” in the subject line.  The crush and stress can be avoided by shopping early and/or online, and the joys of a simpler time can be recaptured by watching favorite old Christmas shows and movies on DVD while munching on homemade (NOT store bought) gingerbread men or Christmas cookies and drinking cocoa or egg nog.  Watch Norad track Santa Claus on its website (as of this posting he’s about to cross from Thailand into Cambodia).  Think back to your own childhood, and bring those fun and magical activities back.  Even if everyone around you is eating tasteless, frozen TV dinners, there’s nothing to stop you from cooking a real meal, and so it is with Christmas; just because everyone else has swallowed the prefab commercial “holiday” doesn’t mean you have to as well.  This is a time of joy, celebration and renewal, and you’ll be much happier if you treat it as such. Because that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

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The scientific mind is atrophied, and suffers under inherited cerebral weakness, when it comes in contact with the eternal woman—Astarte, Isis, Demeter, Aphrodite, and the last and greatest deity of all, the Virgin. –  Henry Adams

In ancient Rome today was Larentalia, the festival of an apotheosized courtesan named Acca Larentia; she was referred to as the “most noble whore” and was sometimes associated with Lupa, the she-wolf who nursed Romulus and Remus.  As I discussed in my column of November 3rd there were a number of Roman goddesses who were associated with prostitution; Bona Dea’s rituals included what we would now call “two-girl shows”, Flora’s involved public orgies, Fortuna Virilis was worshipped by dedicated acts of low-class prostitution in public baths, and Ceres and Isis allowed streetwalkers to entertain their clients in the temples.  But the most important Roman whore-goddess was of course Venus, goddess of love and beauty and, in her aspects of Venus Erycina (Venus of Eryx) and Venus Volgivava (Venus the Streetwalker), patroness of all whores.

The Roman Venus was a complex goddess of many faces, including Venus Felix (Lucky Venus), a protective aspect, and Venus Genetrix (Ancestral Venus), one of the patrons of Rome due to the Caesars’ descent from her through her son Aeneas.  It is likely that this complexity is due to Venus actually being a fusion of a native Italian goddess with the Etruscan goddess Turan and the Greek Aphrodite, who had a much more unified sphere of influence.  Aphrodite was the goddess of love and sex and the patroness of prostitutes, and her temples were home to some of the last true temple prostitutes in the Western world (though it is possible the institution existed in a limited form in Roman temples of Venus and Isis).  Though in the classical era temple prostitutes were mostly slaves, in earlier times they were free-willed priestesses in the ancient tradition.  It is certainly possible that some of the lore taught to young hetaerae in the gynoecia had been handed down from the sacred whores of the Homeric period, and was in turn passed on to the venerii of Rome.

Yet though Aphrodite was unencumbered by the wide range of duties which befell her in later days as Venus, she still partook of the darkness inherent in sexuality and some of the myths surrounding her hearken back to a time when sex was bound up with the fertility of the crops and sex-goddesses were also vegetation goddesses.  The most important of these was of course the myth of Adonis, the young and virile lover of Aphrodite, who was gored in the groin by a wild boar and died; the goddess mourned over him, then descended into the underworld to restore him to life.  Adonis of course represents vegetation, cut down in the autumn by the scythe, then restored through human nurturance in the spring.  As you have probably already guessed, the winter solstice was the time at which his cult changed from mourning his death to looking forward to his rebirth; it may also interest you to know that the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem is built over a cave that was originally a shrine to Adonis.

Students of mythology will recognize the close resemblance between the myth of Aphrodite and Adonis and that of Isis and Osiris, but this may simply be due to the fact that they represent the same natural process; Aphrodite was previously called Astarte, under which name she was worshipped all over the eastern Mediterranean (especially Phoenicia and Cyprus).  Sacred prostitution first entered the Greek world via her cult, and though as Aphrodite she was only the lover of the war god (Ares), as Astarte she was a war-goddess in her own right.  But Astarte was really only the Phoenician form of the goddess’ older Babylonian name: Ishtar, goddess of love, fertility and war and the courtesan of the gods.

Though Ishtar had been worshipped by sacred prostitution in her earlier incarnation as the Sumerian Inanna, the practice reached its height in Babylon (which is perhaps why the goddess is remembered in Christian mythology as the Whore of Babylon).  Besides the many full-time temple whores (ishtaritu), some sources indicate that every Babylonian woman was expected to perform the rite with a stranger at least once in her life.  But unlike the popular modern view of prostitution as degradation, the ishtaritu and other women who made this spiritual pilgrimage were honored as following in the footsteps of the goddess, who is quoted on a tablet as saying “a compassionate prostitute am I.”  One of her bynames, Har, is said to be related to the word “harlot” and possibly even “whore”.  The act of sacred prostitution was a way for women to identify with the goddess and thereby receive her blessing of fertility, and for men to be blessed via conjugation with Ishtar’s representative, the sacred whore.  And though the fertility aspect was in later times assigned mostly to other goddesses, in Ishtar’s time it was her responsibility alone; one of her most important myths tells how she descended into the underworld to rescue her dead lover, the vegetation-god Tammuz, who was either killed by a bear or, in some versions, by a thoughtless act on Ishtar’s part.

The whore-goddess became less cruel as she aged; while Venus was merely capricious Aphrodite was fickle and catty, Astarte was actually warlike and Ishtar could be downright treacherous; clearly this cruelty was tied to her fertility aspect, because it decreased over time as she abdicated those duties to other divinities.  So as we might expect, in her earliest remembered form (the Sumerian Inanna) she is so volatile and callous that it is she who causes the death of her husband Damuzi and thereby triggers the death of the vegetation.  Inanna was held so responsible for fertility that her high priestesses regularly had ritual sex with the king in order to make the crops grow and to anoint the king with Inanna’s blessings.  But they were not the only ones doing so; sacred prostitution in Inanna’s service was so celebrated in Uruk that it was called “the city of the courtesans”, and was believed to be particularly blessed by the goddess.  And every Akitu (New Years Day), which fell on the vernal equinox, the high priestess would prostitute herself to some lucky young man and attempt to conceive a sacred child by him.  This later evolved into a tradition that all married couples would have sex on that day in order to conceive children under the goddess’ special blessing.

But though the goddess named Inanna, then Ishtar, then Astarte, then Aphrodite and finally Venus is the best-known and most widely-worshipped of the whore-goddesses, there are others as well.  Besides the Roman ones mentioned in the first paragraph there was Basileia, a minor goddess who protected prostitutes and courtesans in Pandemos; Cotytto, who performed the same function in Thrace, Illyria and Dacia; Belili, a minor goddess of Sumeria & Babylon (sister to Damuzi/Tammuz) later worshipped by the Canaanites as Belit; Bebhinn was the Celtic goddess of pleasure and was worshipped by pre-Christian Irish prostitutes, and Xochiquetzal was the Aztec goddess of both prostitutes and pregnancy.  In addition to these, the Hindu god Shiva and his wife Shakti have been worshipped for millennia by the devadasis (“servants of god”), who are both temple dancers and sacred prostitutes who convey the divine female energy to male worshippers through ritual sex.  Devadasis were highly respected; like Catholic nuns they were considered married to the gods, and like courtesans had education and privileges denied to other women.  Some were essentially high-priced “temple courtesans” who entertained an exclusive clientele.  And though thanks to British influence India has made numerous attempts to prohibit temple prostitution (the devadasi system was completely outlawed in 1988), thousands of devadasis continue the practice today anyway; they are the last remnants of a once-respected tradition, the only true sacred prostitutes left in a world which prefers to think of sex as dirty and humiliating rather than recognize it as a gift of the Divine.

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One sticks to an opinion because he prides himself on having come to it on his own, and another because he has taken great pains to learn it and is proud to have grasped it: and so both do so out of vanity. –  Friedrich Nietzsche

As some of you may know, I also post on Bound, Not Gagged, the blog of the Desiree Alliance.  I recently had there a rather unpleasant interaction with a commenter, and I’d like to talk about a few issues she raised in that discussion.  I do not in any way wish to make this woman look bad; it’s clear from her statements that she is very passionate about prostitutes’ rights, but apparently feels that there is only one “correct” way to fight the oppression of our shared profession, and that I don’t do it in that “correct” way.  As far as I’m concerned no way is more “right” than another, but since she did seem a bit confused and/or offended by some of my positions and opinions, I feel it would be a good idea to set those things straight for the record in case she isn’t the only one.

A few weeks ago I posted there on the average age of entry into prostitution (as also discussed here on November 27th), and in the subsequent commentary I made the following statement in response to one of the replies:  “Most surveys are indeed conducted among streetwalkers who have been not merely arrested but actually convicted, or else those in drug rehab; in other words, the least well-adjusted and least successful of the lowest stratum of our profession.

On Sunday night, I received this reply:

“the least well-adjusted and least successful of the lowest stratum of our profession”

…really? really?

I immediately knew that I had run afoul of an activist.  Let me explain:  Some advocates feel that if we allow decriminalization legislation to exclude streetwalkers, it’s tantamount to “throwing them under the bus” and we should therefore hold out for total decriminalization.  While I admire these ladies’ idealism, I’m afraid I’m a far more pragmatic soul who recognizes that if we wait for that we’ll be waiting until doomsday.  The fact of the matter, whether one cares to admit it or not, is that many people who would allow discreet prostitution  in a heartbeat balk at the idea of streetwalkers, just as people who rent plenty of porn still want adult shops kept out of residential neighborhoods.  Most people are at least somewhat prudish, and even those who aren’t often find streetwalkers annoying.  If it were up to me I would decriminalize all prostitution, but one must recognize that even if prostitution itself were legal the cops would still harass streetwalkers with laws against loitering and the like.  So we may eventually have to accept some intermediate form of legal tolerance (such as that in Canada and the UK) and work from there; gay rights were not all granted in one court decision, and neither will prostitutes’ rights be.  Even the Founding Fathers were forced to remove anti-slavery language from the Declaration of Independence in order to secure the approval of the southern colonies, without whose cooperation independence was unattainable.

Even beyond that, these activists tend to be highly critical of anyone who acknowledges that there are general classes of prostitutes or points out that some whores are far less fortunate than others, less in control of their lives, and less able to command prices high enough to maintain a decent standard of living without working themselves to death.  They rightfully point out that not all streetwalkers are pimped drug addicts, but ignore the fact that drug addiction and pimp domination are disproportionately represented in the streetwalker population for the simple reason that streetwalking requires less preparation, expense and overhead and is therefore more accessible to women whose personal or emotional problems make greater levels of organization difficult or impossible.

With all that I mind, I responded cautiously:

Maggie: I think it’s fair to say that imprisoned, drug-addicted streetwalkers are the least successful segment; if you have another candidate for the position I’m all ears.

Activist: I do, actually.  I would say sex workers who perpetuate “hierarchy of whoredom” and “lowest stratum” bullshit are the least successful, particularly in terms of empathy, ethics, and commitment to social justice.  FYI, when it comes to prostitution, arrest and conviction are almost always synonymous.  As for “least well-adjusted” I would reference MLK;  I too am proud to be maladjusted.

Maggie: “Convicted” and “sent to jail” are two very different things, especially when it comes to misdemeanors.  I consider drug addicts maladjusted; if you don’t that is your business.  And as for the rest…you seem to have a chip on your shoulder, and since I don’t think it’s appropriate or productive for two people who are on the same side to argue about minutiae, I’ll leave it at that.

Activist: Minutiae, eh?  We are not on the “same side.”  I am working for sex workers rights, you are working for holier-than-thou “courtesan” rights.

Maggie: You are incorrect and clearly haven’t read any of my writings.  As for “holier than thou”, you seem to be an expert on the subject.  If you feel the compelling need for the last word, you may have it.  Good evening.

I then went to bed, and found this Monday morning:

Activist: All right then, “snobby.”  Though I do think both apply.  I don’t give a flying fuck about the “last word.”  In perusing your blog, all I’ve seen is that you use the term “streetwalker” in a derogatory way in just about every post, that you use deliberately convoluted language to try to appear more intelligent than you are, that you have MRA-like ideas about child support, that you are super classist and whore-phobic when the whores in question aren’t “your kind” of whore, and a number of other things that really don’t make me like you any more than I did when all I knew about you was what you wrote here.

Maggie: I’m not going to argue with you, because this is not the place for it; furthermore, it would accomplish nothing since by your own statement your mind was made up about me before you actually read my blog.  I can’t answer your opinions because it is your right to have them, just as it’s my right to have mine.  I do, however, feel the need to make three factual points for others who may read this:

1)  I don’t use language to “try to appear more intelligent”, but rather to appeal to my own sense of aesthetics (which was largely honed on 19th and early 20th century literature, a time when a more florid style was typical).
2)  I’m not sure what you mean by “MRA”, but it’s neither fair nor useful to discuss my ideas on child support without also discussing my ideas on child custody and marriage in general, and this is hardly the place for that.
3)  No, I am not remotely afraid of any kind of whore; the very idea is absurd. As for “classist”, I guess you missed the part where I use words interchangeably, the criticism of “platinum pussy syndrome” and the recent column where I talked about all whoring being a continuum.  I’m sorry you have a personal dislike for me; in the interests of solidarity I think it best we not communicate any further.  I will therefore not answer any additional posts from you on this or any other thread, no matter how deliberately provocative you choose to make them.

I think most of my readers already recognize that this poster was responding to a perceived insult without really getting to know my views.  This is not unusual among activists, and I since I must plead guilty to exactly the same error I certainly can’t condemn her for it (though I certainly wish she would reserve her bile for our mutual enemies).  But I may not have ever clearly spelled out my views on child support.  For the record:  In the past men controlled nearly all of the money and there was no adequate birth control, so child support laws were both reasonable and just.  But now thanks to modern sexual freedom, dependable birth control, “morning after pills” and accessible abortion, a woman need not have a child unless she wants it; any child is therefore entirely the choice of the woman, and it is wrong and unjust for one free adult to extract payment from another free adult for the consequences of her personal choice.  It would be as though you agreed to have a drag race with someone, and in the process you purposefully crashed your car into his and then presented him with a bill for the repairs.

But certainly a marriage is different, isn’t it?  If a wife gets pregnant it’s not like a one-night-stand.  But modern American divorce practice holds that child support and paternal involvement are separate issues, when logically and morally they aren’t.  If a woman doesn’t want a man to be a father to his children she has no right to charge him a monthly fee merely because she used his DNA to create offspring which are otherwise exclusively hers.  If I were the dictatrix a woman would automatically be assigned full custody and no child support in a divorce, and if she and her ex-husband wish to negotiate a separate contract detailing his post-divorce financial and parental privileges and obligations that is their affair and not that of the state; disputes on the terms of such contracts would be handled under simple contract law, not a special court which presumes to tell the two of them what is “correct” for them and treats men as “walking wallets” who have many obligations but no rights.

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