Arts Festival Highlights Sex Workers: Strippers, Prostitutes and Educators

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The San Francisco Sex Worker Film and Arts Festival has screened close to 300 movies, challenged stereotypes, resurrected archetypes and provided a forum for the accomplishments of sex worker performers, artists and filmmakers from San Francisco and around the world.

Sex work had never lacked for social stigma. The names pinned on us, like the images and ideas of us in the scholarly and popular media, are rarely created by us and our opinions are not sought.

“The many films that deal with prostitution reflect a culture’s unease and obsession with sexuality. They are the realization of the fantasies that surround the act of exchanging money for sex.”

                                                     --Encyclopedia of Prostitution and Sex Work

The San Francisco Sex Worker Film and Arts Festival (http://www.sexworkerfest.com), presented at San Francisco’s Roxie Theater for well over a decade, recognizes and honors diverse prostitutes, dancers, porn performers and other sex workers who have been integral members of arts communities throughout history. The San Francisco Sex Worker Film and Arts Festival has screened close to 300 movies, challenged stereotypes, resurrected archetypes and provided a forum for the accomplishments of sex worker performers, artists and filmmakers from San Francisco and around the world.

An affirmation of this community’s strength and creativity, the Festival highlights work such as “Global Sex Workers on the March!” the latest from the extensive body of videos by Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers (http://www.blip.tv/sexworkerspresent). Michael Kasino’s “Pay It No Mind’” memorializes co-founder of Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (S.T.A.R.). Marsha P. Johnson, activist, sex worker and Stonewall instigator, who “threw the shot glass heard around the world.”

While recognizing the courage of these artists and activists, much of work addresses repression, stigma and violence. In Kristen DiAngelo’s “American Courtesans,” many of the women featured relate a past of family or professional victimization, and pull the viewer through the trauma and catharsis stories to bear witness to eventual claiming of spaces of radical empowerment as whores, writes festival curator, Laure McElroy. “American Courtesans” debuted at Women International Film & Arts Festival and is heralded as a passionate film as well as a game-changing tool for therapists to “educate our community about sex and sex work in order to abate and abolish the misunderstandings and violence against sex workers.” (Natalie Mills, LMFT) (http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2013/05/16/18736911.php)

Victims, survivors, workers, Alex Perlman’s "Lot Lizard" does not take any easy ways out by simplifying the stories of the featured or making them pithy. “A brilliant and moving documentary, Lot Lizard looks closely at figures in the shadows of the nighttime truck lots, and allows the participants in this hidden economy to speak for themselves,” writes Southern Methodist University Film Professor Kevin Heffernan, “...over the course of the film, we come to see them in their fully complex humanity and as participants in an equally complex and interlocking economy of which we all are a part.” (http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2013/05/16/18736915.php)

When it gets too tough, these artists revert to satire ala former stripper Gina Golds’ hilarious “Stripper Damage,” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cpwG4u_ofjY) as well as Festival favorites “Whore Logic” with The incredible Edible Akynos by PJ Starr and “Last Rescue in Siam” by EMPower in Thailand. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=70rPAxLFFKU)

Other highlights include events and performances such as Oral Services (a spoken word event) with Amber Dawn, Brontez Purnell, Laure McElroy, Juba Kalamka, Rhiannon Argo, Ckiara Rose, Lola Sunshine, Jacques La Femme, editors of Dear Dawn and Doug Upp.

Activist and educational highlights include “Anti-Trafficking and The Carceral State” with Emi Koyama; “Privilege, Oppression and InterseXionality,” an innovative four day social justice training for sex workers and allies; and “The Institute of Sexworkology with classes with Lambda Award winning author Amber Dawn, Alice in Bondage Land, The Incredible Edible Akynos and Mission SRO Collaborative exploring “how Housing Justice can be used as a powerful framework for building solidarity with street-based sex workers.”

On Friday, May 24th Mariko Passion presents the “Whorrific Cabaret and Popcorn Theatre Bus Tour,” a long running San Francisco tradition, encouraging audience participation, costumes and performances at mystery locations around San Francisco. “This sex worker 'show and tell' edition visits the haunts and landmarks of SF whoredom (like City Hall) where sex workers dish the dirt about what really goes on in ‘the city that knows how.’ ”

The culmination of the festival is back by popular demand, Whores’ Bath, a day of pampering and “magical healing” by and for sex workers as newly defined in the Urban Dictionary. (http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=whores%20bath)

Sex work had never lacked for social stigma. The names pinned on us, like the images and ideas of us in the scholarly and popular media, are rarely created by us and our opinions are not sought. But we know who we are, we will TELL YOU who we are: whores of color making our money and flashing our titties in a sea of stereotypes; females-to-males-to-females-to pro/dommes; punk-rock trans*brats; drug addicts who do not deign to repent using OR whoring; workaday prostitutes out there in the lot trying to function under a police state that criminalizes our livelihoods and shames the lives that we have, sometimes out of necessity of poverty and sometimes out of a vocation to provide pleasure...
                                                                 --Laure McElroy, Film Curator

The San Francisco Sex Worker Film and Arts Festival will be presented at locations in San Francisco and the Bay Area including the Roxie Theater, the Center for Sex & Culture, Faithful Fools, Hospitality House, the St. James Infirmary and CAL-PEP. from May 18th-26th. (http://www.sexworkerfest.com/swfestprograml.pdf)

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