2007, 31:45 minutes
“Prostitutes Are Safe Sex Professionals!” read the slogan proclaimed by prostitutes’ rights activists in the early 90’s. Responding to vicious social and moral stigmatization that attacked prostitutes as “vectors of transmission”, as agents infecting the “heterosexual community” with AIDS, these activists sought to rectify the public image of prostitutes by portraying them as responsible and necessary allies in the battle against AIDS. Politically short-sighted or not, this position convinced funding bodies to support prostitutes rights organizations – or as they would be baptized: “sex worker” projects - throughout the world.
However well-intentioned, this political strategy was created by sex workers who were some of the least affected by the AIDS crisis: sex workers who were the most likely to practice safe sex on a daily basis and therefore the least likely to get infected.
Obvious contradictions also abounded: On the one hand, sex workers’ rights activists claimed prostitutes were no more at risk or no more dangerous than anybody else for HIV infection. But, for example, surveys of transsexual and transvestite prostitute populations showed HIV infection rates that were dramatically high; in some regions, 70-100 percent of the individuals tested positive for HIV.
Furthermore, sex workers’ rights activists claimed that prostitutes were very well informed on matters of sexual health, that they practiced safe sex most consistently but at the same time asked for hundreds of thousands of dollars in order to create “peer educator” positions within their organizations to teach prostitutes proper safe sex procedures. Prostitutes, we were told by these same activists, suffered from low self-esteem, from stigmatization, from addiction, and from a vast array of other “social determinants” that made them practice unsafe sex.
From then on, the few prostitutes - like Griselidis Réal in France - who dared to say they practiced unprotected sex were met with anger, indignation, and a host of uppity moral attitudes from sex workers’ rights activists. Millions of dollars and thousands of peer-educated sex workers later, something as low risk as sucking a dick without a condom has become a terrible sin that can be redeemed only through some sort of bizarre confessional process involving the offending prostitute as the penitent seeking redemption from her social working peers.
Mirha-Soleil Ross is a transsexual prostitute who has practiced unsafe sex in her personal and professional life. In this performance, she uses video, images, music, text, and one on one contact with members of the audience to contrast the various dynamics involved and the interests at stake in this debate.
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