So yeah, the conference has been over for several weeks now, but I honestly haven’t had the time or been in the right head-space to write this blog until now. It’s been a rough month, to say the least, and I’m finally getting back into the swing of things. Kinda. The event isn’t as fresh in my mind anymore, but I have some good memories off it, as well as some really bad ones. However, I’m not gonna do a flippin’ video podcast detailing all my gripes, because let’s face it, I’m not that kind of person. Moving on…
I’d say this year’s Desiree Alliance Conference was the biggest one yet, with big name keynotes, 4 full days and 5 “tracks” of presentations, a decent hotel in Vegas to stay at, and over 250 attendees. Much bigger than our Chicago conference a few years back, which had more of a DIY vibe goin’on. The planning process for this took the better part of the year so I think we had a lot of time to think things through and plan them accordingly. The event kicked off with a keynote from former Surgeon General Dr. Joycelyn Elders, who detailed the “5 C’s of leadership”- clarity, competence, control, confidence, and something else I forget, but I encourage you to click the link to watch her whole speech. She is by far the biggest name we’ve had speak at one of our conferences and she vowed to defend the cause of sex worker rights as a human rights issue, but I still think she skirted around the issue when Amanda Brooks asked her if she’d be willing to take our message to the media. Either way, it was brave of her to come.
Truth be told, some of the lesser known keynote speakers were my favorites, that of Deon Haywood of Women With A Vision, and escort and performer Kirk Read. Deon’s organization does harm reduction work in the New Orleans area and she talked about LA’s “Crimes Against Nature” law that requires prostitutes to register as sex offenders. Talk about fucked up. Every time I think about the battles we are going through in Illinois…they’re nothing compared to what these women have to go through in Louisiana. Her stories really painted a portrait of the challenges of doing harm reduction work in a post-Katrina New Orleans.
The most entertaining keynote however, was Kirk’s. I remember seeing him at the Sex Workers Art Show several years back, where he did a performance piece called “white cotton panties”, in which he spun this story of a client who wanted him to wear a specific kind of underwear. It was the performance I remember most vividly from that show and I was excited to finally meet the man, who I think is a storytelling *genius.* His speech had the room in hysterics, as he labeled himself a “full service” escort and told the tale of him getting out of jury duty by announcing in a courtroom full of people that he was a prostitute who had police officers as clients. It was pure gold. Kirk was definitely one of my favorite people I met during my stay in Vegas and it’s been cool to exchange Facebook messages with him over the past weeks. he’s one of those community members whose work you admire from afar and then feel so privileged when you can actually refer to them as a friend.
Unfortunately, most of my time during the conference was spent rushing around, videotaping presentations, and being stressed out in general. I retreated to my hotel room one night in tears, only to emerge to a pool party that I felt entirely out-of-place at and then on to a street-action in front of the Venetian hotel which I’d wanted to enjoy more, but hadn’t been quite in the mood for. That day, my co-presenter had announced she might not be able to make in in town for our presentation the next day and I’d spent all day disappointed and worried about how I was going to re-work what we had planned to do. She did make it in, though, and the next day we led our “Ethical Sex Worker” round-table discussion, which was productive and well-received. We talked about a range of issues, but mostly dealing with how we feel about ourselves, our clients and our peers within the industry. One woman came up to me afterwards and said it was her favorite panel she’d attended at the conference (who was that??? please contact me because I didn’t get your name.) Another woman came up to my co-presenter later, saying “that was just what she needed to hear” after finding out another escort from back home had committed suicide that day. It was pretty emotional. It’s stuff like that that reinforces why we need to be doing this work.
In the end, things worked themselves out, but I’m sad that I spent most of the conference running around like a madwoman and didn’t get to meet or talk to as many people as I would’ve liked. Next time around, I’m scaling back on my duties at the conference and am not going to get as wrapped up in the organizing process as I have been. We had thought we’d put on a wonderful conference that inspired a lot of new faces to get involved, but as soon as we all returned home, the shitstorm started. Somebody on the media team was yelling at me for posting the videos online (this was always our intention), another person accused me (and others) of speaking to her so harshly that she was brought to tears, an incident I don’t recall at all and am still not sure ever happened. And, worst of all, I had people in Chicago calling me out for not having a response letter prepared about the End Demand bill that’s sitting on the Governor’s desk. There was no escape from the post-conference shitstorm of whining, criticism, and drama. One complete nutjob even made a YouTube video about the Conference host hotel saying it was “racist, sexist, and thieving,” an experience nobody else had there (and no, I’m not gonna link to it.) I lost a lot of sympathy and respect for a lot of people in the past few weeks, some of which I had previously looked up to as leaders in the movement. I’ve reached my limit as to what I’m willing to put up with and am tired of apologizing to people.
I did have some good times in Vegas- riding the NY NY rollercoaster twice, doing all the rides at the Stratosphere, and seeing the Beatles “Love” Cirque de Soleil show at the Mirage were some of the highlights. I went to that crappy “world’s largest gift shop” and only bought a postcard. It also seems like we have a lot of new faces in the movement that want start organizing all over the country, so hopefully they won’t read this blog. I can’t comment on too many of the other presentations, but I’d say there were definitely some really well put-together and fascinating ones. I got to have dinner with “Belle De Jour” and drink a bacon martini, which I later traded in for some “ass juice.” Good times.
The last few weeks since returning have been hell. I’ve been doing to majority of work on this End Demand situation and a meeting with the Governor’s office a few days ago went rather poorly for reasons I won’t discuss. Work has been rather slow, I barely have time to work out resulting in weight gain, and I basically feel like shit.
But you know, I’ll keep on doing what I’m doing. That’s just me.
Here’s a link to all the Conference Keynotes. if you have some time, they’re worth watching.