You may not have known that March 3 was International Sex Workers Rights Day. Ten years ago, thousands of sex workers took to the streets of India to protest the violations, violence and discrimination they experienced every day. The day is celebrated by sex worker activists and allies alike every year with everything from potlucks to vigils. Stories told by those most affected by the stigma is an essential part of the celebration and the “Red Umbrella Diaries” is where to find them. The monthly readings are hosted by activist and former sex worker Audacia Ray at the aptly named Soho bar “Happy Ending.”
The evening’s theme was “No justice, no piece” in honor of the day. Readings from AIDS activist and former sex worker Richard Berkowitz kicked off the evening. He read from his 2003 memoir, Stayin Alive: The Invention of Safe Sex, A Personal History. Androgynous queer pornstar Drew Deveaux talked to the audience about being in both mainstream and queer porn. Sex work expert Melissa Ditmore read the story of the prostitutes’ strike in Hawaii from her most recent book Prostitution and Sex Work. Playwright and former lap dancer Essence Revealed read a portion of her one woman play “Essence Revealed,” in which she describes an officious customer who was more interested in saving her than just letting her do her job.
When sex work pops up in the media it’s usually not in a good way. An important someone in office is busted with a prostitute, a teacher’s porn past comes back to haunt her or another body is found and the last place she was seen, if she’s identified, was getting into a stranger’s car. But the Red Umbrella Diaries aims to put faces to sex workers, the issues they encounter and to let them tell their stories themselves. “Everyone has a story,” says the website “and the people who are best equipped to tell the stories of people in the sex trade are the people who have personal experiences in the industry.”