The new issue of Creative Loafing is out, and they didn't run my letter to the editor. I had gotten an email from someone on their staff saying they might run it, which is why I waited before posting anything on my blog. So here it is. Later I might do a follow-up post on my blog, expanding on some of these points and including some other points that I had to cut out in order to keep it around 500 words.
Also, if you have not contacted Creative Loafing regarding this story, please consider doing so. Nothing will change if people don't speak up, loudly and unapologetically!
I'm writing to express my disappointment with the 1.16.08 feature, "One man's battle against Midtown prostitutes and their johns," by Andisheh Nouraee.
There are two separate matters here. The first, and most obvious, is that Gower and Denby are dangerous vigilantes. I am glad that their deplorable tactics are being exposed.
It should go without saying that posting videos of sex workers on YouTube is a horrible idea. What is the goal? Sex workers — especially street prostitutes — are disproportionately the targets of violent crime. Violent criminals target sex workers because they know they can get away with it. (In fact, this was the exact justification given by Gary Ridgway, who was convicted of the murders of over 40 prostitutes.) Gower's dehumanization of sex workers through his behavior and language perpetuates the cultural mores that make such violence acceptable.
But I am also disappointed with Nouraee's treatment of the issue. Nouraee learned about Gower's harassment of street workers at an event I helped organize at Charis Books, commemorating the 5th annual International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. After the program, he spoke with the other two organizers and me and expressed interest in learning more and possibly doing a story.
Nouraee sat through our program that night and listened as people recounted individual encounters with Gower, citing Gower's blatant homophobia and transphobia. He listened as we discussed the glaring absence of sex workers' voices in the media, as well as the fact that when sex workers are mentioned in the media, they are either troublemakers or victims — in other words, they're not people; they're useful objects in making a point and reinforcing a stereotype.
He spoke with several sex workers that night and a few weeks later, while doing research for this story. He expressed concern about making sure to include sex workers' voices.
If Nouraee tried to speak with street prostitutes in Midtown and they did not want to speak to him, he could have mentioned it in the article. Reporters do this all the time ("so-and-so declined to comment"). If that were the case, he could also reflect on why sex workers might be wary of talking to a reporter. Could it be because they're tired of having their words (and existence) twisted to fit whatever agenda is at hand?
Nouraee fails as an investigative reporter with this piece, especially as one for a paper that claims to be alternative. Terms like "transvestitute" and "real female" go unchallenged and uncorrected. Nouraee does not probe Gower about why Gower is so fixated on harassing prostitutes. He does not examine how the criminalization of prostitution perpetuates the violence that many people associate with street prostitution. He does not discuss the societal and economic conditions that lead to many transpeople working on the streets.
For people who are interested in learning more about sex workers' rights activism, some good sources of information are SWOP-USA, Desiree Alliance, COYOTE and $pread Magazine.