Cromwell RE-BOOTED

It is the 17th of December, International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, I am on a tram on my way to a rally when I get a text that begins “Hi Jane sorry to bother you if you know this already and if you don’t warning that its about Cromwell…”

It contains a link to a site called ‘Slate’ and mentions interior photos of Cromwell.

The story so far on Cromwell can be found first here MANORISMS & also here Cromwell Re-Visited

But the short version is that a Victorian sex industry workplace was closed with workers records and belongings inside, re-opened as an art gallery (with records and belongings still there), and then the exhibition cancelled after workers protests.  It’s been a highly traumatising process for the workers involved – compounded by persistent failures to communicate with workers, to treat their records/belongings or their work as anything other than some sort of sideshow.

This is probably why I react so strongly to the Slate article.  It includes so much stigmatizing language I don’t know where to start.  I am mystified that Christian Pearson (the photographer) is talking like this.  Did StrEAT not contact this person and explain the situation after the exhibition closed?

Pearson begins the article by mentioning (& linking to) an Arts Hub interview suggesting that Cromwell was “abandoned”.  Actually that’s a LIE, workers were locked out.  But I guess that’s not as interesting as suggesting that Cromwell is the Marie Celeste of brothels?  Also interesting is the fact that Arts Hub have removed my original comment on their article pointing to my Blog posts on the subject…

Pearson continues the Marie Celeste motif saying Cromwell is “frozen in time”.  Talking about “cigarettes..left in ashtrays”, “sheets..dormant in dryers”.  Holy cow!  You can find both of those things in my house at the moment but it’s in no way “abandoned”.

There’s an extended bit about how freaked out Pearson is to be in alone in the building, that they “felt a sense of dislocation from my own reality”.  Seriously?  I’d get that checked out if I was you.

Apparently “the rooms were full of easy-to-make gratuitous images”.  Is that a reference to the fact that sex used to happen there, for money?  Subtle.

But I think my least favourite bit is Pearson stating “he was determined to photograph the brothel in a way that did not place any judgment on the space” – well you know what?  That’s a FAIL.

Talking about my ex-workplace as some weird, scary fucked up place – divorced from the reality of what actually happened – which has now been brought to the attention of both StrEAT (the current lease holders) and RMIT (who were involved in the art exhibition) is actually extremely stigmatising.

I would seriously invite Christian Pearson to take the time to meet with some of the Cromwell workers and other Victorian sex workers who have been supporting us in dealing with this.

As usual I will report back to let you know whether I get taken up on this offer (& also on what StrEAT have to say about this…)

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.

Cromwell001