Ugly Mugs – I am not your victim

Ugly Mugs is a play written by a non sex worker about sex workers lives, containing the misinformation and stigma one would expect to result from someone writing about a life they have not lived.  The main character is the nameless “working girl”, played by Peta Brady herself.  Brady in her role as a health outreach worker accessed sex workers accounts of rape, violence and trauma via a closed sex worker only publication and then used this as ‘inspiration’ for her work.  In the play itself one of the characters reads aloud onstage from the closed sex worker only publication of the same name (see picture).

Read ‘Ugly Mugs: confidential accounts of rape and violence should never be ‘entertainment’’

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So what has the response been from Peta Brady and the Griffin Theatre?

Originally when approached by concerned sex workers after the play moved from Melbourne’s Malthouse Theatre to Sydney’s Griffin they asked for a copy of the local Ugly Mugs publication for “publicity purposes”.  Indicating quite clearly that they had either completely failed to listen to sex workers concerns, didn’t care, or both.

Now that sex workers have raised concerns on social media and they actually have to be accountable in public?

Griffin Theatre have posted a response failing to address most of the key points in the original blog but instead emphasizing that:

1) The “entire play is a fictional work”

2) Refering to the pamphlet the character pictured above reads from “It is not a real copy of an Ugly Mugs issue”

Well, I completely agree on count 1 and that’s what we’re complaining about – when writing about the lives of sex workers as a non sex worker you get it wrong, because you are not speaking from lived experience.  This is disturbing to sex workers as a marginalized group because we do not need our lives explained to us, we do not need or want to be rescued from our work.  What I want as a sex worker is to have my human rights, my labour rights, recognised.

On point 2, check the photo.  Your denials don’t mean much to Melbourne sex workers when we recognise what’s in his hand.

A reference is made to sex workers (in previously publicity the term “working girls” was used) seeing the play in rehearsals, but Vixen Collective (Victoria’s Peer Only Sex Worker Organisation) met with Malthouse and provided feedback while the play was still in rehearsal and our concerns were ignored.

Griffin also says in reference to Scarlet Alliance (Australian Sex Workers Association) “suggested that if they felt the differences, or localised issues, needed to be further addressed, we would be happy to collaborate by providing a platform through the media, a public forum or online publication”.

Well it’s not every day the Australian Sex Workers Association gets suggestions on how to do it’s work from non sex workers putting on a highly problematic play..  I guess we better take that seriously then?  The meeting was for you to listen to our concerns, but obviously you missed the point of that.

You are still not listening.

You say – “We believe that this play describes violence not to glamorise it as entertainment, nor to create ‘pity’ for the ‘victims’”

Let me be clear: since you have not lived my life, you cannot describe it.

Let be be clearer still: you have no right to access the private accounts of rape, violence and trauma of my community and recycle these as entertainment, no matter how you attempt to justify it.

Listen: I am not your victim.  You do not speak for me.

#uglymugs #iamnotyourvictim

Want to read the Griffin’s excuses?

 

** Updated to include current media coverage as of 8:00pm EST 13th Aug 2014 **

Sex workers accuse Griffin, Malthouse of exploitation – Arts Hub

Sex workers accuse playwright of exploitation – Daily Review (Crikey)

Ugly Mugs & the politics of representation – ABC Arts Critic Alison Croggon (on Storify)

Sex worker union member attacks Peta Brady play Ugly Mugs (Sydney Morning Herald) this story also ran in The Age, Brisbane Times and Canberra Times.

CROMWELL RE-VISITED

… this is a continuation of Mondays post ‘MANORISMS‘…

I am sitting in a sex workers bedroom not wanting to look at the stack of paperwork sitting on their bed.  Sex worker’s individual paperwork and medical information is here.  My own worker paperwork from Cromwell is here.

In an environment of prevailing whorephobia no-one should ever have this information.

Anyone, sex worker or not, would prefer that their personal and medical information is secured.

The worker whose bedroom I am sitting in, who is also an ex-Cromwell sex worker, found the records in an open cupboard in the Reception area of Cromwell, last Friday night at the ‘Manorisms’ exhibition opening.

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I listen as they describe their experience & show me photos that they took of the ‘exhibition’ –

  • an art ‘installation’ including a handmade knife, pieces of human skin (molded in latex), reproduction human bones, ‘instruments’ laid out on a table as if ready to dissect – in one of the rooms I used to work in
  • a shower unit in one of the rooms, where our names have been painted – having been accessed from records left at Cromwell – my name is there, my best friend’s name is there, the worker who is showing me this points out their name
  • one of the beds left ‘untouched’ as if to memorialize Cromwell, essentially fetishising both sex work and sex workers
  • a sex worker’s belongings left sitting out, accessible to anyone, on top of the lockers in the locker room
  • telephone numbers left taped up behind reception, visible and accessible to anyone in the space

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I go outside and smoke a cigarette, my hands are shaking.

We agree that all of the paperwork should be burned.

I call Consumer Affairs Victoria (as I did in June 2012 when Cromwell Manor closed). They advise they will look into it and get back to me.

I spend the day speaking to sex workers.  Online.  In person.  We talk about how angry we are.  We talk about our memories of Cromwell.  It is decided that a public statement is necessary, so I write a blog post.  A pretty restrained blog post given all of the above.  I call StrEAT & leave a message.

Then something happens.  StrEAT call back.

We have a tense conversation – I find myself stating several times “you must let go of the idea that what you have done is defensible, it is intrinsically whorephobic.  Admit that, admit you have made a mistake and we can begin to move on”  I say sex workers feel the exhibition must close, it is non negotiable.  I explain that any meeting is the first step in a process rather than simply a token gesture to make this go away.

We arrange to have a meeting.

We discuss all of the above issues.  We resolve some and make progress on others.  The names have been removed from the ‘installation’ listing sex workers names by the artist.

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StrEAT has closed the exhibition and it will remain closed.

We agree that we will need to meet again.

At the end of the meeting I thank StrEAT.

Why would an angry sex worker thank the organisation that committed a whorephobic act against their community?

Because they did two things that are necessary for progress when an individual or organisation has committed an act of whorephobia:

  • they LISTENED to sex workers
  • they acknowledged they had made a MISTAKE

These are not easy things to do.

People should listen to marginalised communities.  But they generally don’t.  StrEAT did.

It’s not easy to admit when you made a mistake.  StrEAT did.

StrEAT spent time working through the concepts with sex workers and spent time listening to our stories.

Am I still angry?  Hell yes.

There are still sex workers records that need to be handed back.  We have informed StrEAT that these need to be handed to Vixen (Victoria’s peer only sex worker organisation), so that they are under sex worker control.  Any sex workers that want to access their records should be able to do so (& do so via a peer organisation) and remaining records should be destroyed – by sex workers.

There is still the issue of the breach of privacy, for which there is now a RMIT ethics complaint in progress.

There is the matter of what will happen with the current site & the ‘artworks’, even though it is not re-opening as an Art Gallery prior to re-development.

There is much yet to discuss, but importantly – sex workers are part of the discussion.

Where sex work is the topic – sex workers should ALWAYS be part of the discussion.

To borrow a phrase from NSW sex worker organisation, NAUWU (who hopefully won’t mind):

NOTHING ABOUT US WITHOUT US!

MANORISMS

A sex worker friend called me on Friday afternoon – have you heard about Cromwell?

Instantly he has my attention.  Have I heard what?  What could have happened?  Last I heard the building was for sale?

I know the building was for sale because I walk by whenever I am in the area.  I keep tabs.  Because Cromwell was important to me.  Cromwell was important to many of us.  Cromwell was a family.

Maybe you don’t get that?  As a sex worker I should hate every place I work, or the work itself, or fit some stereotype.  But actually – it’s a job.

Get that – IT’S. A. JOB.

Cromwell Manor was a workplace that held tremendous value for me as a queer sex worker and for many other sex workers.  Few truly diverse venues exist, although at Cromwell men and women, including trans women, worked together.  It was not only fun, but it was a haven of being free from both whorephobia & homophobia.  For me it was a safe space.

This is not to say that Cromwell didn’t have it’s problems.  Just like any workplace does.  When Cromwell closed unexpectedly in June 2012, due to issues the owner was facing at the time, workers were unable to access their belongings onsite.  On the advice of the Business Licensing Authority, Consumer Affairs Victoria, & the Workplace Ombudsman (none of which would help us directly) we went to the police.

The police refused to to take a report.

Eventually SOME workers managed to negotiate to get SOME of their belongings out.

We reported to Consumer Affairs Victoria at the time our concerns that the business records, which included sex workers legal names & working names, might be either abandoned or disposed of inappropriately.

Fast forward back to 2013…

Have I heard about Cromwell?

Ex-brothel turns temporary gallery

I feel ill.  I come from a background that includes periods of homelessness. I can’t believe that in the name of people who genuinely need help (those experiencing homelessness) RMIT University & STREAT, with “ethics approval”, have built a monument to WHOREPHOBIA in the building where some of my best sex worker memories occured.

Rosie Scott the curator is quoted as saying of Cromwell’s closure that it may have been due to “..police raid..for drugs or illegal workers or practice”.  Is that a quote designed to make the exhibition look edgy?  Or was that not even the point?  Was that just some throw away line of hatred against my community?

It makes me feel ill.  Literally ill.  If you read this, & I hope you read this, I hope you try to think about that.

In the article the curator is quoted as saying – “The office was in disarray, with papers and paraphernalia strewn everywhere, suggesting some kind of frantic search or abandon ship moment.’”

A sex worker who visited the Gallery on Friday night viewed Cromwell Manor business documents & worker files, easily accessible, as part of the art ‘installation’ that the space has become.  Victorian sex workers details open to staff, students & members of the public – not to mention the partying crowd there to gawk at the opening.

There is a quote from Rosie Scott the curator in the attached article saying “we have to reserve or remove judgments (if that is possible, it probably isn’t)”.

I do not reserve judgement.

THIS IS WHOREPHOBIA. THIS IS DISCRIMINATION.

What should you do to fix this?

Admit you need to fix this, but

– accept you must LISTEN to sex workers to know how to do so.

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