|ANNUAL SEX WORKERS EVENT CREATES AN EDUCATIONAL AND SAFE ENVIRONMENT
BY Ross Raihala
January 17, 2002
OLYMPIA -- The term "sex worker" comes loaded with all sorts of connotations, most of them negative. And no one knows that better than sex worker themselves. "People have this image of a sex worker as a prostitute on the street, smoking crack and getting arrested," says Jayson Marston. "That makes up five percent of the industry and 95 percent of the arrests." Yet, says Marston, that's the human face most people put on sex workers. The fifth annual Sex Workers' Art Show, which takes place Saturday night in downtown Olympia seeks to change that.
The 27-year old Marston, who lives in Los Angeles, is one of more than a dozen performers who will appear at the event, which is open to the public. (A related conference will be held during the day Saturday, but most of its events are open only to sex workers.)
The cabaret-style evening will feature singing, dance, poetry, short plays, film and video on the stage of the Capitol Theater. Visual art pieces, will he on display in the theatre's mezzanine throughout the evening.
One common element ties the evening together - the creators are all current or former sex workers. And they run the gamut from strippers and porn stars to phone-sex operators and escorts.
"It's actually a really friendly environment," says Marston. "The important thing is that people are there for the art."
And everyone - sex workers or not - has something to share, says Marston. This event gives them a venue.
Marston, for instance, will read several pieces of his fiction for the show. And during the confercuce. he'll discuss some of the health-care issues he deals with as an employee at the Adult Industry Medical Health Care Foundation.
Blues Singer Candye Kane, meanwhile, is probably the event's most recognizable mainstream name. The former stripper and adult film star left the industry for musical career more than a decade ago and released a trio of records before signing to the major label Sire Records for 1998's "Swango."
Folk label Rounder Records released Kane's most recent effort, "The Toughest Girl Alive." Along the way, Kane has been profiled by CNN and People, magazine, worked with comedic magicians Penn & Teller, toured Europe extensively and earned a reputation for her singing and songwriting. Thr All Music Guide called her: "an updated version of Bessie Smith with a wicked sense of humor and a gleefully omnisexual persona." Still, Kane can claim firsthand knowledge of the difficulty sex workers have in being seen as anything but a sex worker.
"I've worked very hard to overcome the public stigma of my background, mainly by being brutally candid and honest about it," says the California based Kane. I think there are some strippers and porn stars who are bimbos. But there are a lot of journalists and movie stars who are bimbos, too, you know?"
Kane says her sex-worker past will follow her forever - "Blue movie star sings the blues," she says with a laugh - but doesn't apologize for it.
"I asked for it, and I did it," she says. "Sex work is not for everyone. But for me, I was a fat welfare mom from east L.A. and I didn't have a lot of options. Through the sex industry, I got off welfare, supported myself and my young son, and used the money to subsidize a musical career.
"The Sex Workers' Art Show began at the now-closed Liberation Cafe in Olympia. A South Sound sex worker and activist who goes by the pseudonym Annie Oakley founded the event and remains its primary organizer. It has grown to the point of attracting more than 600 people last year.
The art show are always incredible. They're a really good time," says Shane Luitjens, a 27 year-old who lives in Boston and produces Hook Online, a resource for male escorts.
"It's wonderful to be in an environment where you have a bunch of people willing to talk about these issues with a sense of humor and a sense of purpose."
A Sex Workers' Art Show veteran, Luitjens will perform several spoken- word pieces during the show, and will display a selection of his photographs.
Marston, who hosted a panel discussion with Luitjens at last year's conference, says Saturday's show is unique within the sex worker industry. Usually, such events focus on health care issues or commerce. "This is a bigger event that encompasses more than that," says Marston. "It's a safe environment to talk about issues and to perform. It's amazing"