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11/09/2005 Archived Entry: "Tracy Quan in Reason"

Sex worker advocate Tracy Quan has a fascinating interview in the recently posted issue of Reason. Excerpt: I've always been attracted to the hookers' movement, and I admire the advances of activism. But I have noticed that, though we're behind politically, prostitutes in America who are accustomed to working illegally are often more trustworthy people than prostitutes who have worked under a legalized system. The value system is an outlaw value system. I think outlaws are more trustworthy people. They're forced to think about what they think is right and wrong. You are forced to think about the ethics of your behavior in terms of loyalty. It's a very tribal mentality: us against the world. In the respectable world, it's about what you can get away with legally. There are a lot more loopholes in the respectable world. People will tell themselves: "It's OK because it's legal." An outlaw doesn't have that option.

I know Tracy from the years I spent doing research in the sex worker's rights movement; she and I have corresponded erratically since then...mostly when one of us publishes something the other likes. To me, she was always one of the most interesting voices...largely because she does not proceed from a hard-left framework politically as do so many of the prostitutes' rights advocates, especially those from outside the States. (The Europeans...fagetta 'bout it.) And I always like that Tracy mixed very practical observations in with whatever political advocacy she advances. Her comment about sex workers being "outlaws" is particularly interesting to me because that's one of the fascinations I had with that subculture. Namely, how do you function in a business that has none of the protections of courts, (enforceable) contracts, police reports, Better Business Bureaus, etc. I discovered an entire alternate system of how businessmen/women can make a reliable living with well-established contacts over a period of time. Private arbitration, reputations, buzz on the street, personal referrals, paranoia, underground publications...many practices replace the more traditional protections that the average employer/employee expects.

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