Sex Workers Breastfeeding

There’s already been more than enough attention, time, and trouble paid to a startling allegation of pedophilia and child sexual exploitation by sex worker activist and performer (Furry Girl) to another sex worker activist and performer (Madison Young). The situation got more than ugly:

The story has been covered by Salon.Com and Jezebel.Com along with a ton of commentary by colleagues, fans, performers, and culture war voyeurs all over twitter and the blogosphere. It’s not hard to find anything of this, gumshoes. The story is at your very fingertips.

This article is intended to work with the allegations in and of themselves. However, it is also important to remember the context to these photographs.

  • The alleged “sex event” where the now-infamous breast feeding took place was an event called “Sizzle” hosted by Femina Potens at the venue Viracocha SF on August 6, 2011.Viracocha is a retail store/performance venue known for its collection of antiques. Jazz shows, poetry readings, art exhibits, and other verysafe for work but eclectic events are hosted in its basement.  The event was free for youth under the age of 23 and for health workers and the tagline for this edition of “Sizzle” was, “Learn all the things they wouldn’t teach you in health class in this evening of raw, radical, and raunchy wellness.”The lineup for the night started with Madison Young who informed the crowd that August 6 was the conclusion of World Breast Feeding Week and the date of The Big Latch On. Careful! There is a photograph of an entirely topless woman breastfeeding her infant in her arms right on the front page of the Latch On website. This image may be revolting and obscene for some of you and if this is genuinely the case, I strongly advise not clicking on that link.The objective of The Big Latch On is to encourage as many mothers to publicly breastfeed and to commemorate the Innocenti Declaration made by WHO and UNICEF policy-makers in August 1990 to protect, promote and support breastfeeding.Madison got on the stage, invited other mothers in the audience to join her in feeding their children, and read an essay about balancing her work load as a pornographer and her work as a Mom, specifically citing how her child is at home and away from her all day because of the nature of her joband then she comes home to bond with her child and feed her.  It was a story about necessary boundaries and keeping children away from those contexts. She also shared a story about running into problems in Germany when she attempted to transport breast milk across country borders. She was stopped, questioned, and carried away all for transporting the deadly substance of breast milk.This piece was followed by one of the San Francisco Slut Walkorganizers taking the stage talking about the walk, the key note speakers, her own experiences with sexual assault, and the importance of sharing these stories and working to prevent them from happening to others. There were tears on the stage in the audience. We definitely had slut walkers present in the audience.Next on the lineup were screenings of Buck Angel PSA’s about transgender healthcare and the importance of pap smears and prostate exams.

    Then I took the stage and talked about my experience with post exposure prophylaxis when I was working in Tanzania, Africa in 2009 and had a needle stick accident and HIV exposure. In this story I also talked about organizing an HIV prevention festival with the village where I was working and getting through the side effects of my twice daily dose of AZT.

    Maxine Holloway presented information about Hepatitis C in a piece called, “Safer Sex C” and how to prevent it in some of the more kinky and alternative sex acts that some people do enjoy. It talked about what this virus in general, vaccination options for types A and B, the fluids that contain Hepatitis C, how it can be communicated to another partner, its lifespan outside of the human body on another surface, and ways to prevent it.

    Kitty Stryker closed down the night in full clown for an upbeat lesson on the difficult subject of consent. Kitty talked about the importance of consent, how consent is very sexy, some of the myths and barriers that can make negotiation and clear conversations about desires alongside limits less likely to occur, and some examples of ways to make these conversations hot and dirty.

  • Sizzle is a literary event. From the website:“Sizzle!” is an award winning cross-generational writing and performance program that has presented emerging performers and writers on the same stage with established LGBT women and transgendered artists for the past 5 years.Our Sizzle program has featured artists such as Jewelle Gomez, Michelle Tea, Jack Halberstam, Dossie Easton, Lee Harrington, Annie Sprinkle, Susie Bright, Keva i Lee, Carol Queen, Meliza Benales as well as emerging artists and first time performers in our legendary open mic. Sizzle has tackled topics that range from kink, sex work, and dirty talk to motherhood, trans-identity, differently abled issues, breast cancer awareness and STI prevention.In 2011, Sizzle is expanding to include writing workshops and will be publishing collections of works by featured Femina Potens’ writers. We are currently working on a collection of stories and interviews by mom’s and mom’s to be in the sex industry. -Femina Potens
  • Images of the infant in question do not appear on any of Madison Young’s adult websites.

 

This part of the post is referring to the formal statement behind these allegations:

Parenting is not the only conversation about sex work but it sure as fuck does not dominate the sex work conversation. In this attack, Madison Young is bearing the brunt of a verbal assault that goes out to many more people other than herself. I do not accept the notion that these pictures of public sex workers breastfeeding their children should not exist because anti-porn wingnuts will come down upon us. Right now there are serious and major custody disputes, school expulsions, and children of sex workers who are wards of the state simply because their parents were kinky, poly, transgender, sex workers, queer, into watching porn, sex writers, and other instance of “caught enjoying sex” you can imagine.

That is a motherfucking injustice. I’ve worked in public health and social welfare long enough to say that removing a child from the custody of their parents should be reserved for very extreme situations because the system is not a pretty and happy place free of abuse, molestation, or violence. If you do not fully believe that there is harm or imminent real world harm occurring to the child you really need to consider the extent of your words and the situation you create for that child. The word pedophile is not one for hyperbole or metaphorical language. If you say it, mean it. That means that a child’s life is at immediate danger. It means that public safety officials have to make the decision to act. It’s not something to use lightly and expect to stay within the confines of Twitter.

Alleging that someone is using a child as a publicity prop is a much different claim than one of pedophilia. Throw up as many of those pictures of children holding signs as you want because a claim of pedophilia is one that compels do not pass go, do not collect $200, remove the child from the premises immediately. This is a government process. It’s not going to pretty and dainty. It’s terrifying for every single person involved, especially an infant.

You have to balance the gravity of that claim to its real world implications. Let’s put the breast feeding issue down to the side for a moment: I’m not at all comfortable with the idea that a child should be immediately placed into government custody for holding signs with their parents no matter how hateful they are. I don’t believe that justice has prevailed if children marching with their parents in a pride parade were immediately removed from their homes by the government. That does not mean there isn’t abuse occurring in the home but with a claim of pedophilia you take the kid first and ask questions later because you have to. I have worked in public health and social welfare. It’s not a pretty, happy, and warm experience where children are embraced as whole and unique individuals with hopes and dreams. This process is where dreams go to die on every single level.

Pedophilia cannot be used as an incredible claim. Pulling the fire alarm because you didn’t like the history lecture is annoying and has potential dangerous outcomes. It’s not a tool for hyperbole.

No one benefits from iterating that publicly sexual people should never be able to show people their family in a non-sexual way. The argument that being a sexual person draws a sexual audience that can’t differentiate between a XXX website and a personal blog or twitter stream authored by a human being talking about their life as it happens is disingenuous. When the net is cast that broadly it includes a much bigger pool of people who should never talk about or depict their family in public lest the lurking pedophiles start getting aroused and dangerous. Now this would include performers who don’t do porn but play safe-for-work-sexy on TV and in movies shouldn’t post photos of their children, sex writers, sex educators, sex toy manufacturers, cam models and really many more people when political is vaguely defined. No kids in political ads or non-profit endorsements, no stand up comedians telling jokes about their kids in the middle of a blue or sexual set, pop singers…

We start to run out of people who can post photos of their kids when its categorized as a remove from the home immediately grade of abusive behavior.

It is important that we do not gloss over the accusations as they occurred. This was not formatted as a debate. It was a declarative claim. This is not a matter of a cute pornstar v. pornstar debate. It’s not funny, it’s not gossip fodder, and it implicates a room full of innocent people. I don’t think it’s acceptable to be comfortable with someone using pedophilia as a form of exaggerated rhetoric. It wouldn’t be nice, it wouldn’t be welcomed, but it would be better off for everyone if you said that the whole fire department didn’t really need to come out to your school and that you pulled the fire alarm because you think one of the teachers is full of shit and shouldn’t be teaching the class. No one is going to agree with you more about the teacher situation because you pulled the fire alarm.

Calling a portrait that hung in the context of an art show about balancing the roles of sex work and motherhood pedophilia is not just a logical fallacy of equivocation, it’s outright dangerous. San Francisco offers a modicum of safety but the fact is that there are a lot of people chomping at the bit to remove children from parents that are part of alternative sexual minorities. It’s dangerous to create and spread blatant misinformation. A health, wellness, and awareness event is not an orgy. There is no giant conspiracy to uncover that the “mommy cult fetishists” are concealing. This event took place on a day organizing as many public breast feedings as possible. Madison Young did not invent this event for self-promotion, she participated in it and told other people about it. It was not inappropriate for her to create a safe and non-sexual venue for her participation and support of this pre-existing event. These choices do not amount to obtaining sexual gratification from her infant.

The people and the culture who would take our children away aren’t going to stop if we eradicate any images that indicate their existence. If we cannot depict sex workers as mothers we cannot ever fully depict sex workers as humans. We need images of whores as they are as people across every single stripe of humanity. People need to see us as as we are, parents and non-parents alike. The anti-sex people we are arguing with are not rational and reasonable. There is no back room bargain we can make where we concede talking about our families in return for some kind of respect or decency. No one is making that offer and we do not progress by observing it. We are going to have to fight every step of the way and we have to show the public the slices of our life that are off the XXX screen.

That’s what the process of humanization is about. That’s why it’s important to keep creating media that depicts our humanity. That’s why we need to talk and keep talking about our trips to get fast food, travels, challenges, dreams, talents, interests, and families. That’s how you show people that when you treat a sex worker as a discardable inhuman object you are discarding an entire life and community of people.

When a sex worker takes a photo with their child, it is not pulling the child into the politics. The child is already political. I wish to fuck that weren’t so because it shouldn’t be. No child should be political. The brutal reality is that children are politicized by forces far beyond their control. The government has the power to remove children from our homes on the basis of our jobs alone and they have the public support to do so. There are people who think sex workers should be forcibly sterilized. This is a fucking reality. When we don’t present out own images and thruths, the grotesque fictional depictions will prevail in people’s minds and continue unabated. How is it better for the sex worker revolution not to include images of sex workers as moms and not to show the ambivalence and difficulty of doing both well?

Americans aren’t going to wake up some morning suddenly endowed with the higher consciousness that we are human beings worthy of human decency and respect. They are going to have this delusion torn apart piece by-painstakingly-slow-piece. The price of admission to a world where sex worker deaths are regarded as tragedies and not inevitabilities is high. It’s not easy. It involves a lot of people writing you letters about how you should be raped to death for opening you stupid whore mouth and an elevated chance that this could come about. I’m in this fight to show people that sex workers are human. Images of mothers are important to this cause.

Using the Marilyn Monroe costume was the most tactful way for that image to convey the contradiction of being a sex symbol and being a mom. If you don’t know who Madison Young is and what her career is about you aren’t going to understand the point of the piece if she’s wearing sweat pants with frazzled hair. The point of that portrait is for it to stand alone without including any of the XXX rated shots and her child in the same environment. Marilyn Monroe is as sexual as perfume. People without a sexual context will only smell flowers.

I’m also deeply uncomfortable with the notion that all pictures of women breastfeeding must be done in sweatpants and grubby attire. Breast feeding women have lives outside of breast feeding. Many are working and breast feeding at the same time. Not everyone can afford to stay inside in sweats for the entire time that they are nursing. That idea doesn’t benefit anyone and certainly not sex workers who juggle being the primary breadwinners and the bread.

If we want to be totally logical about it, someone with a sexual attraction to pre-pubescent children isn’t hanging out on an adult porn star’s twitter stream hoping for the golden chance that they might see a glimpse of a child. Pedophiles are going to be hanging out in the family friendly spaces like playgrounds, swimming pools, child beauty pageants, churches, etc. It’s an odds game. If you are into children you’re going to go where there are a lot of children. Pedophiles aren’t heading out to the strip clubs to kidnap victims, they’re going to Chuck E. Cheese.

People aren’t suddenly converted into dangerous pedophiles lusting after infants from watching a woman breastfeed or shall we go arrest the romantic partners of breast feeding women for watching a breast feeding and fucking immediately after? Human beings are perfectly capable of holding these concepts together without children being harmed for it. It is not “pedophile courting” behavior to share these pictures on personal blogging and micro-blogging services outside of a XXX porn site. Boogeymen don’t advance the argument, credible threats do.

The number of people fighting back are listening to those words, recognizing their significance, and unwilling to allow them to be used as synonyms for “my opinion is that this person is annoying.” I am deeply concerned about the sex worker revolution and that is why I’m not going to perpetuate the myth that the children of sex workers are in constant and unending danger of sexual exploitation and should be governed under a special set of laws about what they can and cannot depict when the set is closed, safe, and protected and no harm came to the child.

This has nothing to do with anyone’s affiliation or non-affiliation with feminism, it isn’t because Madison Young is getting a special pass, this doesn’t even have anything to do with San Francisco other than that it was largely people from the Bay Area who were present at these events and can speak up about their context and non-sexual nature. We have to respond. If we do not, then we are allowing an allegation that we are sexualizing an infant to go unchallenged and be accepted as truth. Speaking as though there were people openly masturbating to this infant is not a matter of opinion or perspective. You can’t state and imply that it is or does and act baffled when people correct the record. Putting that infant at risk of being taken away by police and subjected to that process to express a personal distaste of someone’s politics or PR is a far, far greater expression of child exploitation than posing for that photograph ever had any reasonable potential to be.

Say what you mean and mean what you say. Don’t put that child in danger to express your opinion about the mother. It’s not just the hypocrisy of using the machinations of a system you are trying to erode to hurt someone standing beside you in the battle. It’s the fact that it carries on to someone who didn’t get a say and chills a group of people into hiding for no good reason. Don’t throw another sex worker under the bus as a lesson of the power of the system posed against sex workers. This is not a claim that you should not disagree or challenge people’s beliefs. Pedophilia means more than Gail Dines writing a shitty article in the Guardian. Accusing Madison Young of hosting erotic breast feedings is not merely “pissing off the mommy bloggers.” It is suggesting that a child is being molested and that compels action. It’s like fighting for a sensible drug policy and planting crack cocaine and a machete on another activist but worse. I can’t sit back and let an accusation that extreme stand without correction. I cannot.

21 Comments

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21 responses to “Sex Workers Breastfeeding

  1. Beautiful, Maggie. I don’t know what else to say for the moment, but this is a fantastic piece that says so many things which shouldn’t need to be said, but have been completely missed by the writers in Salon and Jezebel. I had truly expected better from FG, but it comforts me to see the intelligence and wit that you, Kitty, Madison, and others have brought to bear on the situation.

  2. Sorry, but what did you expect in a country where adults can’t even sit in a park that has kids unless they have a kid with them. Because, you know, they might be pedophiles. Where, in a country every fucking law that restricts sex and personal freedom is created to “Save the Children!”
    This is bull shit, and the fact that it went as far as it did says a whole lot of bad things about so many American’s.
    Madison, you totally rock babe. More power to you.
    Thanks for the article Maggie.

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  4. Good for you. I’m neither a sex-worker, nor a breast-feeder, but the comments made against the mother really offended me.

    It’s a bizarre stigmatization, and all the worse coming from someone who does porn for a living. When people really press this point, it seems to say, “No, you cannot have a normal life with normal events. No, you cannot have children. Your whole existence must be about pleasing others sexually, or you must set aside sexual expression entirely.”

    This train of thought also goes back to the repressive idea that all breastfeeding is inherently sexual in nature (which is of course completely untrue).

  5. Shen

    Yeah, I think I’m with FG on this one :/

  6. Just wrote a long comment that was essentially just probing FG’s reaction, but I just saw that Madison’s asked people to let the issue drop, so I’ll attempt to do that.

    However, I do have to echo you concerning the pedophilia accusation. That was the point I became horrified at the complete lack of responsibility being shown by FG. She wants to raise issues of context and worry about how the anti-porn movement will see this, and yet she’s going to load THAT gun and sit it on the counter?

    There’s only one context in which an accusation of pedophilia should come from someone other than the victim, and that’s on the phone to the police. If you don’t think that’s necessary (and thank Whoever that FG apparently did not), you need to reconsider what it is you think is happening.

  7. I didn’t see the initial explosion due to work commitments but yet again glad that I subscribed to this blog’s RSS feed. Puts the whole situation into context.

    Also agreed with chrislowrance’s comment: “here’s only one context in which an accusation of pedophilia should come from someone other than the victim, and that’s on the phone to the police.”

    Spot on.

    Thanks Maggie taking the time to do this.

  8. Reg Robson

    I’m not certain I’m comfortable with public breastfeeding. I’ll admit I have trouble separating sexuality from breasts. But I can’t see how anyone with an ounce of understanding of this could possibly equate it with paedophilia.
    Would it be wrong to characterize this as one woman’s war on motherhood?

  9. Thank you, Maggie. I’m so sorry that Madison had to deal with this foofaraw, and I appreciate you adding some serious context and commentary to this “hysteria.”

  10. Well said. It’s sad when someone trying to fight an abusive system takes on the rhetoric of their abusers.

  11. Excellent post. I come at this from a different perspective I have a BS in dietetics and nutrition, when I saw the offending image before click over here, my thought process was something like this: “white female, likely of high social economic class, possible nutrition concerns included maintaining feeding schedule in between social events….” . I seriously I’m taking you guys word for it that the imagine is Marylin-like because it would have never crossed my mind.

    Sure the image is glam…but breastfeed children feed consistently if you’re glam at some point when your breastfeeding odds are you going to be breastfeeding while glam…so ya nothing odd there, actually the opposite the image suggest a “individual is highly motivated to overcome barriers to breastfeeding”, in quote because again that is what actually goes on in my head….and based on stuff like this….the inside of other people heads scare me….they scare me a lot.

  12. Madison is a loving, caring, wonderful mother, and a wonderful artist exploring important issues. Obviously she is holding up a mirror to horrible prejudices, ignorance, and hysteria. Thank you for defending her in this smart piece.

  13. As somebody said somewhere else, there has to be something else going on. I don’t know if there’s a history between the two or whether FG is just repulsed by motherhood.

    She was obviously not going to apologize so she just brushed off all criticism by saying (in effect) “Oh, well if you guys are cool with pedophilia…” or “All those crazy hippie feminists are upset”.

    I know Madison wants it to go away but the comments FG made absolutely qualify as defamation of character. It’s not like Twitter offers magical libel protection.

  14. @Wolf & Rhys

    That’s a good summary of the long response I wrote and didn’t post. It really seems like FG had a knee-jerk reaction, and may even realize that, but won’t apologize and has instead built an eggshell of weak arguments around her original statement.

    And it definitely feels like FG is grinding multiple axes in the process. The San Francisco Sex-Positive Feminist Pedo Mommy Cult apparently.

  15. Mick

    I saw the picture in question on another blog and it is clearly meant as art. I’m no expert on such things but my best guess is that the look on Madison’s face in the piece (a vacant expression) is meant to contrast with the obvious joys of motherhood. The only way I can see that it possibly could be sexualized would be if her husband were going down on her at the same time or some faux sexual act were being foisted upon the child. As this is not the case, I think I’ll chalk it up to furrygirl going temporarily insane or just being a massive troll and looking for attention.

    As to the issue of consent, I have to say that pageant show mothers creep me out about 1.5 billion times more than a shot of a mother feeding her child, whether it is for art or just a photograph of everyday life.

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  17. Thank you from my heart for writing this blog.Not only are you bringing up points that defend a person of good character but I also feel it defends all of us, the Mommy’s that choose to Breastfeed to nourish our children that just so happen to have eccentric day jobs. The Mommies who have joined together in our own Mommy group here in the Bay Area of which Madison and I are a part of.
    I was supposed to be with Madison that night, breast feeding my child on stage in solidarity to the great “Latch on”. Alas, my family came out to visit and were too tired from their travels to go all the way to the city and we missed out.

    I have been to Sizzle previously to perform with my country band and have brought my baby and *gasp!!* I fed her her right there in my seat before I embarked on stage to sing some lullaby’s to the attendee’s. I wasn’t the only one, there were 2 other women who brought their children to hear us play and when their babies got hungry, they offered their breast to their child.

    In other cities in other countries, I was told by an audience attendee, such as in Rio, seeing live music and having children around is a fact of life as is feeding them. I like to think that perhaps since these children had readily available nourishment that none of them cried or fussed, but enjoyed being a part of the community of people seeing a short film, some not too loud country music provided by my band and some great spoken word.

    Just because I have a child doesn’t mean I have to hide out in my home in my sweats, I still perform. I may not perform in bars (or other not child friendly places) with my child, but an appropriate place such a cafe, restaurant or art gallery seems to be the ideal setting where I can involve my family in my art and have adjusted what gigs I can take because of my new role in life.

    FG’s comments angered me. Not only was she attacking a friend and colleague but she attacked our community as a whole.Her animal and pedo comments were appalling and she sullied the Seattle communities name with her accusations of ours. Its ok to be a prude, it’s ok to state your opinion or have many qualifiers after your name on your profile so we can put you in a little box of classification, but I think it states more about the person by how they say it. Saying that we are peds because we watch our friends feed their babies is ridiculous. The girl’s got issues.

    I grew up abused by a pedophile my entire childhood into my teens before I ran away and received help. I recovered from the abuse and have become a healthy happy Mother determined to have open and honest communication with my child and not neglect her needs so that she can grow up safe,healthy and happy. I in no way was triggered by the photo or thought it was anything other then a very pretty mommy and a baby being fed in the way it was biologically created to.

    Perhaps Ms. Young’s success has created some jealously in FG ?

  18. Tina Horn

    Maggie, the world is a better place with you in it.

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  20. This reminds me a bit (although this example is far nastier) of the “Oscar with Chicken” debacle in 93.

    A summary:
    ‘The last time in memory that Tucsonans got exercised about the issue of “pornographic” art was in 1993. Police staged a raid on a downtown gallery and seized Robyn Stoutenburg’s photos of her naked four-year-old son holding a plucked chicken. The Pima County Prosecutor bandied about allegations of “bestiality” that could have landed the artist in jail for 12 years—if she had ever been found guilty by a jury. The uproar died down when people actually got a gander at the photo, a sweet look at a sweet child. The county prosecutor quietly dropped the charges.’ (http://www.tucsonweekly.com/tucson/bunch-of-dicks/Content?oid=1472989)

    Further: ‘deputy Pima County attorney Kathleen Mayer conveniently forgot to read this subsection before they jumped on the child-pornography bandwagon. Mayer, a bit confused about identity of the fowl offender in the picture, claims that the image depicts a minor male “simulating sexual contact with a dead turkey.” Stoutenburg, afraid that her child will be taken away from her by Child Protective Services, claims that no sexual intent was involved in “Oscar With Chicken” and that “it’s just a little kid trying to hold up a heavy chicken.” ‘
    (http://www.phoenixnewtimes.com/1993-12-29/culture/eros-in-judgment/)

    Here is the work in question:
    http://www.cd.sc.ehu.es/FileRoom/documents/Cases/205oscar.html

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