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Editor’s Note: Infighting, Woodlands Pride, + the Room Bar

Update: Both Ryan Elkins and The Woodlands Pride issued statements and apologies to the Room Bar & Lounge this afternoon following this piece. 

Screen-Shot-2018-08-24-at-8.51.17-PM Editor's Note: Infighting, Woodlands Pride, + the Room Bar

Let me start by saying that this is not going to be a gossipy piece about some silly Facebook argument. If that’s what you’re looking for, it’s best to go and trot back along to Facebook. What this is is an opinion piece about the behavior of an individual high in the rankings of Texas’s newest Pride celebration that made remarks about something I hold near and dear to my heart, how it has the potential to negatively affect the LGBTQIA community, and why that’s not okay.

This past weekend, the Woodlands hosted its inaugural Pride celebration to mixed emotions when the news initially came out (no pun intended) many months ago. Many were excited and proud, and many were also curious as to why the Woodlands (which is only an approximate 40 minutes outside of Downtown Houston) needed its own Pride. I, personally, thought that the idea was lovely and wanted to support the Woodlands Pride in whatever way we could. While the Woodlands is considered by most to be a part of the Greater Houston Area, the cultures of LGBTQ Houston and LGBTQ Woodlands are quite different in many ways, which is something important to remember. The bars in North Houston for LGBTQ people are limited and there is no “gayborhood” proper like Houston has in Montrose. To add to that, and in a more general sense, life outside the loop is far different than life inside it. But what I’d like to focus on the most is that second point I made about the bars.

In The Woodlands — which is an independent township in Montgomery County lying partly in Spring, TX and partly in Shenandoah, TX (basically South Conroe) — there is only one gay bar, Ranch Hill Saloon. Ranch Hill is owned by Debbie Steele, a prominent member of the North Houston LGBTQ community that dedicates her life and bar to serving its people. And in the rest of North Houston, there is only one other gay bar for people of our community to flock to, the Room Bar & Lounge. The Room is owned by another important person of notoriety, Lorraine Crowne, who opened one of Spring’s first gay bars in 1997, the Rainbow Room (a separate entity). Both Ranch Hill and the Room are excellent bars in separate ways, and also in those that intermingle. They both have excellent staffs, small and hometown feels, and serve a community of LGBTQ people that don’t have a lot of other places within their niche to relax and be themselves on their side of town. That being said, they’re also very different bars. Ranch Hill serves a more rural, country feel to it that one might expect at a place such as Neon Boots in Houston, while the Room has a more go-with-the-flow vibe and sort of acclimates to whatever audience walks through the door.

But their aesthetic differences and similarities aren’t really the point here. The point, if I may, is that both are bars that serve an underserved community of people in a predominantly conservative area of Houston.Both, however, prove to get very busy on the weekends; and since they are so small, they often see a variety of patrons that cross over from the other’s side of the tracks. They’re both hosts of several events that support the community with fundraisers, drag shows, karaoke nights, and more. Neither is perfect, but both are pretty fantastic. And that ain’t easy, folks; and it certainly does not come without hardship.

That’s why it struck me as odd when I was directed to the Room Bar’s Facebook page this weekend and saw a negative review (which has since been deleted) about the Room Bar from board director of the Woodlands Pride, Ryan Elkins. The review read as follows:

Screen-Shot-2018-09-10-at-1.34.44-AM Editor's Note: Infighting, Woodlands Pride, + the Room BarThis rubs me the wrong way for two reasons: one of which is a bit personal, and the other regards our social actions toward one another in the LGBTQIA community. I’ll start with the latter. I’ve also included some personal photos here to show just how much time I have spent at the Room Bar and why I love it (you’ll have to pardon some of them, as I’ve lost about 50lbs since they were taken).

Historically, gay bars were the only places in the world that LGBTQ people could go and be themselves. When Sodomy laws and the criminalization of homosexuality was prevalent, these bars were the only places to go and be around people like you. Moreover, they were some of the only places queer people could go to meet partners and friends that shared adversities, trials, tribulations, successes, and joys. In 2018, it may not seem as though queer bars hold quite as much significance, but the fact of the matter is that they still do. Being LGBTQIA is still illegal in many places around the world — some of which are even known for punishing these people by death. Gay bars are churches, homes, safe havens to people on the LGBTQIA spectrum. There are still many in the world who feel forced to remain in closets or fear coming out that seek out these places in order to let out a sigh of relief. It’s a bit like that cigarette you sneak at work when things get particularly overwhelming or that dance you do when you get out of the shower naked because no one can see you and you just need to feel a reprieve from real life. Granted, it is both of these things and much more on a greater scale. It is, however, a similar sensation.

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Friends and I at the Room Bar in 2017.

And that’s what makes this review not just useless to our community, but degrading and regressive. Surely the board of directors at the Woodlands Pride has a partial attitude toward Ranch Hill, as Ranch was the official after party sponsor for the Woodlands Pride and the Room was not. Making Ranch Hill the official after party venue was a smart decision. It’s not only a great venue, but it is conveniently located to the site of the Woodlands Pride, and the visitors of the event were likely familiar fans of the bar. But what does it say about the attitude of at least one member of the board of directors of the Woodlands Pride about the community when one of those directors is publicly smearing a safe haven for queer people on social media? How is it progressing us toward equality and normalization if we are tearing one another apart rather than lifting one another up?

With that said, I don’t know what Elkins’ experience at the Room in late August was like before he posted that status update. I have a few details from sources close to the situation that say Elkins allegedly was served by a bartender who didn’t seem all that interested in customer service. I also am not completely cognizant of what exactly went down at the Woodlands Pride between them and the Room Bar. In a comment left on the original review, Elkins stated that there were comments being made about the after party at Ranch Hill that were unkind to both Ranch and Woodlands Pride. From my understanding, these comments, however, did not come from the staff of the Room Bar, and were unbeknownst to the staff until after the review was posted online.

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Actor James Reed Lowrance and I rehearsing the live performance of About’s “The Anthony Project” in July 2017 at the Room Bar.

And I’d like it to be said that if that was the case, I am in no way making excuses for the Room Bar’s staff or patrons. The issue here isn’t one on the side of the bar exclusively. It’s an issue of why we, as LGBTQIA people, feel the need to perpetuate infighting within our community rather than rising above snide remarks, regardless of who they come from. It’s also one of why higher-ups in Pride Celebrations don’t recognize that they have a responsibility to set that example. I, for one, worked as the volunteer coordinator for Pride Houston for two years, and was an occasional volunteer in the years that passed before that. What I learned in that time — and not without a lot of working on myself to make changes to my behavior — is that everything that we do is a perpetuation of the organization we represent. I had my ass handed to me more times than a few from our board directors about how I behaved and spoke on social media. And while I’m a staunch believer that everyone has a right to say and behave how they feel so long as it isn’t hurting anyone, I also understand that when affiliated with something, your words and actions not only impact your reputation, but that of the others around you. More importantly, I had to learn for myself as the volunteer coordinator then and as the editor-in-chief of one of Houston’s largest queer publications that our job as pillars of the community is not to put down one another or to react to silly commentaries that ultimately are trivial in the long run.

But as I said before, I have a personal connection to the Room Bar. While I (again) don’t know the experience in great specificity that Ryan Elkins had at the bar, I’d like to share with everyone my experience with the bar, its staff, and the community I became a part of there in order to reiterate that one bad day does not undo the good that a person or establishment does over many years. That statement is two-fold. This one bad Facebook review does not undo all the good that I know Ryan Elkins to have done and continue to do in the community, nor does it undo the good of the Room Bar.

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Room Bar bartender Natalie Brackin and I at Bunnies on the Bayou 2018.

The Room Bar has been open at 4915 Fm 2920 Road #148 for eight years now, the better part of a decade. Its owner, Lorraine Crown, may not be LGBTQ herself; but she has been in this community advocating for our rights and providing a safe space for queer people for over twenty years. Back in 1997, she opened one of the first gay bars in the area, The Rainbow Room located off of Ella and I-45. When the Rainbow Room shut down several years ago, Crown opened the Room Bar and Lounge on 2920, transforming what was once a bar named Uncle Sam’s.

The Room Bar was my very first gay bar. I wasn’t even out to anyone yet except for a handful of close friends, and I would sneak over to the Room when I had nothing else going on — scared and hoping I’d not run into anyone that I knew for fear they’d tell my mother. What I was met with was not a tension of anxiety, however, but a sigh of relief. From the moment I walked in and saw the flame-haired bartender Natalie Brackin standing on the other side of the bar, I was made to feel like I was a part of a family. Brackin introduced me to new friends, took the time to get to know me, and remains to be one of my closest friends to this day, some three years or so later. That bar was my reprieve for the next couple of years. I’d spend my time there after work to take solace in being around people like me after being overwhelmed by homophobia at work, met my first boyfriend there, hosted our first fundraiser for my forthcoming TV show there, released my American Library Association Award-nominated book there, and made some of my favorite memories there.

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Table tents at the Room Bar for the release of my novel “Where He Lay Down” in April 2017.

While I neither live on that side of town any longer nor make it out to the Room Bar as often as I’d like, I still spend a great deal of time with Brackin, as well as my other friends that I made there. My close friend Nick and I still get together for drinks and good music, my friend Ryan (Fuller) is the karaoke DJ there who goes to great lengths and key transpositions to let me sing any song I want, and some of my best friends and drag queens perform there on a weekly basis. The Room was even kind enough to let us film an episode of Wineding Down with Anthony there just a few weeks back. Brackin, in particular, has a way of making people feel special, and not because she’s looking for a fat tip. It’s because Natalie Brackin is genuinely invested in the bar and wants it to succeed; but this is more so because she is genuinely interested in the people that pass through its doors and wants to see them happy and well. That’s a rare thing to find amongst bartenders, who truly have some of the most chaotic and stressful jobs in the world. They’re friends of patrons, therapists of patrons, and sometimes even the only family patrons have, especially so in this community. It speaks not only to the Brackin’s work ethic that she behaves this way, but also to her heart. In the years that I’ve been patronizing the Room, I’ve never once seen or heard Natalie treat any new customer differently than the next or those that she’s been friends with for years. The bar’s manager, Chris Vega, is equally kind, which is what has made them such an effective team since Vega made his way to the Room Bar after leaving Ranch Hill a little over a year ago. When Brackin recruited him, he brought a new kind of life into the bar — not to mention many of Ranch Hill’s customers — and took it upon himself to aid in reinventing the bar’s aesthetic. He too is a genuinely kind person who speaks in a soft voice that he almost never raises and smiles and laughs with all his friends and customers. You couldn’t find two better bartenders.

It’s also fair to mention that they make excellent drinks.

The Room Bar — just as I’m sure Ranch Hill is to many — is a special place to me even after being out and moving into Houston where I quickly ingratiated myself into the LGBTQ community deeper than I ever had been with my role at Pride Houston and here at About. But there was a moment when I realized how special the bar was to me that I’m certain to never forget for as long as I live.

It was in the wee hours of the morning of June 12th, 2016 when I was at the Room Bar while another gay bar in Orlando, FL was being gunned down by a domestic terrorist. I was at the Room to see the Tatiana Mala-Niña perform in her monthly drag performance at their “Roomers” show, which also featured Veronica Strutts and since-retired Akira Sky and Estella Blow. Many other people like me were at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando that night having the same sort of fun we were, until a man entered the club and opened fire, killing 49 queer people of color simply because they identified as LGBTQ and dared to go out and celebrate themselves.

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Rebekah Knight, Tatiana Mala-Niña, and myself at the Room the morning of the Pulse Nightclub shooting.

I remember waking up later that morning, seeing the news of the shooting, and crying like I’d never cried before. These people — while different from me, certainly — were like me in a lot of ways. Many of them were gay Latinx people like myself who had only gone out to have a good time with their friends. Some of them were out of the closet to their families and friends, but others — like me — were not. I couldn’t help but think about how real the violence against LGBTQIA people was and how that could have been any bar in the world, including that same night that I sat on a bar stool on the left side of the Room bar watching my soon-to-be friend Tatiana celebrate herself and her audience.

That evening, I made a trip to my mother’s house and deliberated all night long how to tell her that I was gay. We watched the coverage together as I working up the nerve to tell her during it, backing out, and trying again. I spent the night at her house because I couldn’t make myself do it then, and I went to bed sick at my stomach, never having felt before that I’d been lying so blatantly about something in life. But the next morning when I got up for work, I took a shower, caught my mother outside while she was smoking a cigarette, sat down with her and told her the truth about who I was and the life I’d begun to put my toes in the water of over the last year.

“I’m gay.”

Once I said it, before I even saw how she was going to react, my whole life changed. Weights I’d been carrying around for twenty-two years flew off of me and I could finally move my extremities again because the chains and shackles had come off. I felt liberated, and I owed it in immense amounts to those poor souls that had lost their lives at Pulse Nightclub the morning before in a way I knew they’d never get to know. They changed my life, which is the least respect I could pay to them after they’d met such a tragic end. I wished they’d been around for me to thank them. And my mother was supportive, and she was kind, and we moved on with life as per the usual. She was raised a conservative Christian, but as a nurse knew that there was science emerging daily to prove that people are not making a choice to be gay. How could they? Who makes a choice to live a life of ridicule and adversity, all-too-often one that ends the way it did for those 49 people in Orlando. But she asked me that very same question I’d been asking myself all along through the coverage of the Pulse Massacre: what if it had been you?

And, you know, what’s funny about coming out is that even moments after you do it, you have these tiny, pocket-sized moments of clarity that just seem to make you go, “Oh. I’m not sure why I didn’t see that before.” I had one of those right then, thinking about how much fun I’d had the night before with my friends — new and old, gay and straight — as I danced and drank and took for granted the fact that I had been safe in my own safe haven.

“You know, I would never want to die,” I told my mother, “but if I were to have died last night, I can’t think of anywhere else I would have wanted to be or where I would have been happier.”

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Bartender Natalie Brackin welcoming a regular’s new fur baby.

You don’t have to understand my story, Ryan Elkins; although I’m sure that if you look back in your own timeline as a gay man, you have a similar story relating to a similar establishment or person. Maybe for you that’s Ranch Hill. Maybe not. But if you don’t think that that’s something ‘unique’ or ‘special’ about the Room Bar, as stated in your review, I’m not quite sure what else is. Because, you see, LGBTQ bars are sometimes hit-or-miss. But the defining aspect of them is not one person’s snide opinion about the establishment; it’s the way they protect our people from the ugly, nasty world out there where we are not yet equal or normalized. And as leaders of our community, as you and I both are, it is our job to see to it that all LGBTQ businesses that are working toward goodwill, equality, intersectionality, and normalization are boasted rather than shot down.

This is not the part of this letter where I call for Ryan Elkins’ resignation or anything. Quite the contrary. I know Ryan through mutual friends, and I like him a great deal. Thanks to those mutual friends, we have had the opportunity to have spent time together. I have always and will always continue to support The Woodlands Pride, including in our forthcoming highlight of it on Wednesday that two reporters from About wrote up about the event. They were so impressed, and I was sad to have missed it due to having plans with a close friend of mine I’d had scheduled for several months. I think it is a lovely — and clearly successful — endeavor to have another Pride in our larger, spread out area of Texas. But I will say this to Ryan Elkins here publicly: Shame on you for posting a nasty review about a bar that paid to be an entry into your festival, that showed up and supported our community and your cause — as well as countless others throughout its near-10 year life, and that continues to do so inside its four walls in more ways than I think you realize. But more to the point: Shame on you for doing so while preaching about equality, diversity, intersectionality, and inclusion to the LGBTQIA community of North Houston. I know you enough to say that you are better than this.

And to the Room Bar, I say this: Get your people. If you hear something, saying something. I am not here to excuse any actions or words that may have been perpetuated, as they clearly upset Mr. Elkins and the staff of both the Woodlands Pride and Ranch Hill. We cannot, however and to both parties, continue infighting in the community if we want success and normalization of our people. We must set aside our differences and come together to continue to raise people up. The Room Bar has a responsibility to the community just as Mr. Elkins does. I do not, however, believe that anyone on its staff or any of its regulars were the speakers of the not-so-nice language, nor do I believe they have it in them to intentionally hurt anyone. They wanted to support the Woodlands Pride, and that’s what they were there — like so many others — to do.

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About Media writers and producers Lea Alonso, myself, and Allie Bakeman at the Room Bar following the first table read of “The Anthony Project.”

This is, however, the part of the letter, where I call on not only Ryan Elkins, but the Woodlands Pride as a whole, to issue an apology to the Room Bar for Elkins’ commentary. While he is entitled to his opinion, just as I am here in this letter, it is important for all of us to be more accountable of the things we say and do. I for one am not innocent of behaving the same way. I often make jokes like, “Screw OutSmart!” as there is a misguided belief that OutSmart and About have some sort of rivalry going on. But anyone who knows me or my publication knows that I genuinely support OutSmart and all our other publishing partners in the community. We’re all hear with a similar goal (to spotlight and raise up our community) and we all do so in different, yet equally effective ways. And I know for fact that Mr. Elkins wants the same for Woodlands Pride. Unfortunately, words of inclusion and diversity and support are not enough when you perpetuate actions that speak louder than hollow words.

The Room Bar is small, and quaint, and it is sometimes dead as hell. But whether there is 1 patron in the bar or 100, the staff always does its very best to give the community — myself included — a place to call home.

Do better. Be better. Love each other.

Love always,

Screen-Shot-2018-08-24-at-8.45.43-PM Editor's Note: Infighting, Woodlands Pride, + the Room Bar

Anthony Ramirez
Editor-in-Chief
About Magazine + About Media Group

Prostitution by Any Other Name

Photo by: Eric E Castro

Why is the world okay with sex, but not okay selling it?

pic2-300x160 Prostitution by Any Other NameHooker. Bawd. Concubine. Harlot. Streetwalker. Whore. Working girl. Gigolo. No matter what you call them, prostitutes have held a prominent place in society throughout the timeline of humanity. They also do so much more than provide sexual release. If you had ever engaged their services, you would know that prostitutes are also very capable councilors and massage therapists. Sex workers may provide a way for people to play out their fantasies without the risk of offending or harming someone. In some rare cases, sex workers even keep people from serious offenses by granting consent for the illusion of non-consent. 

Since the dawn of time, humans have spent a significant amount of time devoted to the pursuit of sexual contact. We join online dating apps, hang out in bars, and approach strangers with the intention of getting to know them better. In the Victorian Age, writers became famous based on their erotica. The ruins of Pompeii are a smorgasbord of nudesignpic-225x300 Prostitution by Any Other Name art, and sex was so plentiful that the women there brought a plant capable of preventing pregnancy to extinction.  In modern times, people are encouraged to live out their fantasies, as long as it only involves consenting adult partners. So, why is it that we still have an issue with prostitution?

Why are we so offended at the thought of people selling their truest possession? Is it religion? Society? Maybe the media is to blame. I think it’s a combination of many factors. Societies are often built around religion, and the media plays a strong role in what we believe. When we surround ourselves with a constant barrage of information from others, we tend to form our beliefs from that input. We mirror the thoughts of our friends and family. It’s very hard to change those ideals, even when presented with conflicting information. If we meet someone who is a sex worker, we may judge them based on nothing but that, because that’s what we have been told to think.

pic1-300x263 Prostitution by Any Other NameSo, here’s the challenge. Many of you reading this may know me personally. I’m sure you have opinions about who I am as an individual. I’ve worked hard to build a solidly positive reputation. To break this taboo, I’m going to share something personal:

I was once a prostitute. That’s right … me. I advertised my services through a website and would take clients after they had been vetted by the company I contracted with. I was very popular and received requests from all over the state. My work provided me with a comfortable living, but in the end, it just wasn’t for me. Living as a woman was hard enough; but as a transgender man, being treated like one during intimate scenarios just proved too much as my dysphoria worsened. I do not, however, regret a moment of my work, and in many ways found it rewarding. What’s better than giving someone happiness, or providing a release they may not find otherwise? The lack of sexual contact can result in depression and social anxiety. By giving someone an orgasm and allowing them to feel intimate contact, a person can provide them with a momentary distraction from their loneliness.

The next time someone you know brings up the topic of prostitution, challenge the taboo. Speak openly about the subject, without fear or shame. Do what you can to change an opinion respectfully. If you hear someone making fun of a sex worker, let them know that it’s not okay to shame anyone, regardless of their chosen profession–especially considering that many sex workers have fallen into this industry due to the fact that they’ve run out of options. In challenging others, you may find your own opinions evolving as well. Get to know someone for who they are, not what they do. Imagine scenarios where you could have had to do anything to survive, and know that not everyone who lives this way is desperate. In the end, you may find a respect for sex workers you never thought possible. It’s time to realize that the oldest profession humanity has ever established isn’t shameful, after all.

OPINION: The Complicit Exodus of Julie Chen

Julie Chen Les Moonves The Talk CBS Sexual assault

In the wake of sexual assault allegations surrounding husband and now-former CBS CEO Les Moonves, Julie Chen has voiced her support of his claims to innocence, having left one of her two CBS TV hosting gigs at The Talk while remaining onboard its reality game show, Big Brother. Columnist Rachel Abbott weighs in.

Content Warnings:

Sexual assault, rape, violence against women.

In the wake of sexual assault allegations against her husband (former CBS CEO, Les Moonves), TV host and personality Julie Chen announced that she will be stepping down from her position at CBS daytime talk show The Talk. Along with that announcement came the news that she will, however, retain her position as host of the reality game show Big Brother. Chen made a public note about her position on the issue. Stating the following: 

“I have known my husband, Leslie Moonves, since the mid-90s, and I have been married to him for almost 14 years,” Chen said in a July 27 statement. “Leslie is a good man and loving father, devoted husband and inspiring corporate leader. He has always been a kind, decent and moral human being. I fully support my husband and stand behind him and his statement.”

Chen continued on to announce via Twitter that she would be taking a brief hiatus from The Talk a few days ahead of its ninth season premiere to spend time with her family, but made splashes in the media by signing off from Big Brother for the first time in her eighteen year tenure as host not as just Julie Chen, but as Julie Chen-Moonves.

At the height of the #MeToo movement earlier this year, twelve women stepped forward and accused Les Moonves of sexual assault and harassment. Moonves was formerly a Chairman and CEO at CBS, as well as an executive at Showtime and the publishing house Simon & Schuster. His victims stand by their allegations of Moonves, which include an array of acts of sexual violence ranging from forced kissing to rape, all of which spanned over a series of decades from the eighties to the late aughts. He reportedly threatened to end women’s careers if they didn’t acquiesce to his advances; and more of these allegations against him can be read in Time Magazine and the New Yorker.

I have no doubt in my mind that Les Moonves is a predator and rapist. After all, a key component of the #MeToo movement is to believe women when they share their experiences, and I believe the twelve women who have spoken out against Moonves. They’ve demonstrated great bravery in speaking out against one of television’s most influential and profitable leaders. Moonves fiercely denied the allegations, saying that he may have made advances but never crossed a line of consent. He has since stepped down from his positions at CBS but remains employed in a limited capacity while they train his predecessor.

His wife, Julie Chen, lingers somewhere between neutral and supportive of her husband. As stated above, as host of Big Brother, she recently began greeting and signing off as Julie Chen-Moonves, a subtle but significant addition to her professional name. Watchers have taken this as a signal that she’s standing by her husband in light of his rape accusations. Logic follows that if she’s standing by her husband, she’s denying the validity of the accusations made against him. However, her exodus from The Talk, of which she was a founding employee since its inception 9 years ago, indicates that the accusations are taking a toll on their family and personal lives.  

 

“Right now I need to spend more time at home, with my husband and our young son, so I’ve decided to leave The Talk,” she said in her farewell statement.

On a personal level, I find this entire situation difficult to grasp. My knee-jerk reaction is to be angry with Julie Chen. How can she so blatantly disregard the accusations of twelve women against her husband? Moreover, why would she want to? I can’t imagine aligning myself with a man accused of such monstrous and reprehensible behavior. I wouldn’t want that kind of human to be my husband. The logic to follow is worse, that being the thought that perhaps she knew all along. Perhaps she’d heard stories of him fondling his employees and chose to look the other way. But even that seems too evil. It’s easier for me to imagine that she didn’t know and learned of this news at the same time as the rest of us. Given the timeframe of the accusations, not only was he assaulting women in the workplace, but he was assaulting women in the workplace while married to Julie Chen. Sexually abusive, cheating, manipulative of the careers of a dozen young women—these signals should send Chen running — not walking — in the direction opposite her life partner.

And yet.

And yet, we also must be cognizant of the fact that we do not have access to the Moonves-Chen household. We don’t have access to whatever surely painful conversations have occurred over the past few months. At the very least, we can guess that Chen is distressed by the news about her husband — whether that be because of the realization that her husband is, in fact, a sexual assailant, or due to the overwhelming coverage the press has given this issue. Given that Moonves has assaulted at least a dozen women in his life, Julie Chen could very likely be experiencing assault and manipulation herself. Leaving now, as Moonves grapples with his damaged career and reputation, could spell disaster for Chen and her son. It does not matter how wealthy, established, or accomplished Chen seems to us; serial abusers have highly developed tactics of manipulation that can bring even the most powerful woman to her knees. Indeed, many abusers get off on targeting powerful women in particular.

That’s not to say that Julie Chen is necessarily suffering from domestic abuse herself; we don’t know her life and cannot fairly draw conclusions based on the actions of her husband. And while the actions of her husband are not a reflection of Chen’s character, we must remember that she is sharing a household and a child with a rich, influential man with a track record of abusive and violent behaviors. Whether she had acknowledged it to herself or not, she is in a dangerous position.

I want to ask Julie Chen to be better. I want her to state that she believes the women who have accused her husband, that she’s ended her relationship with the man she thought she knew, that she and her son will be creating a beautiful life for themselves away from that evil man. I want her to remove all traces of this abusive monster’s influence in her life. I want her to apologize to the survivors of her husband’s abuse, as well as for not believing them sooner. I want least want her to stop using her husband’s fucking name on national TV. Maybe I want too much.

On the other hand, I must remind myself that wanting these things from Julie Chen is akin to making her atone for her husband’s crimes, which as mentioned a moment ago, we cannot do. Chen herself hasn’t done anything wrong, apart from being too publicly passive. Is it fair to ask that she apologize and uproot her entire life? It should be him of whom we ask for atonement, him that we ask to throw his life into uncertainty, not her. As someone who was recently making $70 million a year, he can certainly afford to put himself into intensive therapy and community service.

Julie Chen’s situation is complicated and precarious. Above all, I wish for her safety in the coming months as she and her husband deal with the allegations against him. However, I also wish for her to take a stand on the side of the abused — on the right side of history (or, in this case, herstory). I want her to live a life free from abuse and free from complicity. I hope she can find that.

In Defense of Sex Work

prostitution sex work legalization decriminalizing

Decriminalizing prostitution and sex work is about more than just sex.

In a country where we dictate what a woman can and can’t do with her own body, as well as one in which homosexuality is compared to beastiality and Donald Trump is president, we shouldn’t be surprised that prostitution is still illegal. It’s a debate that has continued for decades and caused major controversy throughout the world. Prostitution is known as the “world’s oldest profession,” and whether it should be criminalized—or not—is one of the oldest debates among social reformers. Today, a growing consensus around the world claims the sex trade perpetuates male violence against women, and so customers should be held as criminals. On the contrary, it’s decriminalizing prostitution that could make women—in and outside the sex industry—safer.

This modern debate has roots in Victorian England, which branded prostitutes as wicked, depraved and a public nuisance. Yet a shift in social thought throughout the era introduced the prostitute as a victim, often lured or forced into sexual slavery by immoral men. Today, we’re seeing a global shift in prostitution attitudes that looks startlingly like the one in Victorian England. Many areas have adopted or are considering what’s known as the “Swedish” or “Nordic Model,” which criminalizes the buying, rather than the selling, of sexual services (because, as the logic goes, purchasing sex is a form of male violence against women, thus only customers should be held accountable). In this nouveau-Victorian view, “sexual slavery” has become “sex trafficking,” and it’s common to see media referring to brothel owners, pimps, and madams as “sex traffickers” even when those working for them do so willingly. From a practical standpoint, criminalizing clients is just the flip side of the same old coin. It still focuses law enforcement efforts and siphons tax dollars toward fighting the sex trade. It still means arresting, fining and jailing people over consensual sex. If we really want to try something new—and something that has a real chance at decreasing violence against women—we should decriminalize prostitution altogether.

How would this work, exactly? “Decriminalizing” may sound like a less radical step than “legalization,” but it’s actually quite the opposite. Decriminalization means the removal of all statutory penalties for prostitution and things related to its facilitation, such as advertising. It does not mean there are no municipal codes about how a sex-work business can be run or that general codes about public behavior do not apply, explains Mistress Matisse, a dominatrix, writer and prominent sex-worker rights advocate. Legalization, on the other hand, is a stricter regime, wherein the state doesn’t prosecute prostitution per se, but takes a heavy-handed approach to its regulation. “This is how it works in Nevada, for example, where legal brothels exist, but one may not just be an independent sex worker,” says Matisse. Under both schemes, forcing someone into prostitution (aka sex trafficking) and being involved in the sale or purchase of sex from a minor would obviously remain a crime.

But other crimes supposedly associated with the sex trade could be reduced if prostitution were decriminalized. Research has shown incidences of rape to decrease with the availability of prostitution. One recent study of data from Rhode Island—where a loophole allowed legal indoor prostitution in 2003-2009—found the state’s rape rate declined significantly over this period, especially in urban areas . (Tthe gonorrhea rate also went down.) “Decriminalization could have potentially large social benefits for the population at large—not just sex market participants,” wrote economists Scott Cunningham and Manisha Shah in a working paper about their research.

In New Zealand, street prostitution, escort services, pimping and brothels were decriminalized in 2003, and so far sex workers and the New Zealand government have raved about the arrangement. A government review in 2008 found the overall number of sex workers had not gone up since prostitution became legal, nor had instances of illegal sex-trafficking. The most significant change was sex workers enjoying safer and better working conditions. Researchers also found high levels of condom use and a very low rate of HIV among New Zealand sex workers.

The bottom line on decriminalization is that it is a means of harm reduction.

Keeping prostitution illegal is done in the name of women, yet it only perpetuates violence against them while expanding the reach of the carceral state. Decriminalization would end the punitive system wherein sex workers—a disproportionately female, minority and transgender group—are being separated from their families, thrown in jail, and saddled with court costs and criminal records over blow-jobs. It would also allow them to take more measures of precaution (like organizing in brothels) and give them access to the legal protections available other workers (like being able to go to the police when they’ve been wronged). Yet for Swedish Model advocates, only the total eradication of the sex trade will “save” women from the violence and exploitation associated with it.

Certainly some in the sex trade – like minors, for example – are exploited, abused and forced into prostitution, while others aren’t literally trafficked but feel trapped in the industry by economic necessity. These are the people who should receive attention and resources, from social reformers. And there would be a lot more resources to devote if we left consenting adults to exchange money for sex in peace.