Carman Fox
E.D. Meds

SP School


Apr 26, 2004
SAN FRANCISCO - The 25 students in jeans and T-shirts could have been in any career that requires hustle. The classes, covering topics such as effective marketing, stress reduction and legal issues, could have been part of any professional development seminar.

But this was "Whore College," and any illusion it was just another corporate how-to for young go-getters abruptly ended at the sex toy display and was stripped away for good during a graphic demonstration that put a whole new twist on the concept of hands-on training.

"We are still illegal," instructor Kimberlee Cline said before her 20-minute demonstration. "If we want to be treated as business professionals, we need to act ethically within the industry."

Presented in conjunction with the San Francisco Sex Worker Film and Arts Festival, the class Wednesday at an erotic art gallery was billed as away for working girls and guys to polish their skills in a supportive atmosphere.

It was the first time the biennial festival, begun in 1999 to showcase films about and by sex workers, included a session devoted to how to maintain a satisfying career.

Although famously permissive San Francisco has long been a hotbed for prostitutes' rights activism, the school reflects the movement's maturation away from a focus on decriminalization toward a broader agenda that includes occupational health and safety and community-building, said organizer Carol Leigh.

Other cities, including Tucson, Ariz., Portland, Ore., Montreal and Taipei, Taiwan, have similar events, said Leigh, a veteran activist who takes credit for coining the term "sex worker" as an anti-euphemism.

By light of day, the women and men of the night swapped tips, argued over personal grooming choices and heard from others considered experts in their field. Many of the attendees said they were motivated as much by the networking opportunity and doing what they could to normalize the world's oldest profession as furthering their education. During Cline's workshop, for example, some in the audience skimmed magazines and chatted despite the carnal knowledge unfolding in front of them.

Participants who stuck it out for the whole day received diplomas certifying them as G.S.W's — graduates in sex work.

Several students went to lengths to explain that they see themselves as inheritors of a proud tradition — specialists with a choice instead of exploited victims. Sporting nary a stiletto heel among them, their expressed reasons for turning to sex work — an umbrella term that encompasses everything from exotic dancing and acting in pornographic films to turning tricks — were as varied as their hair colors and body types.

"My own personal experience has been negative and positive, as with any job," said Kymberly Cutter, 36, a mother of two from Tucson who returned to prostitution two years ago to boost her income and regards it as part of a journey in "personal self-discovery." Her children, ages 7 and 9, know what she does for a living, she said.

The more shadowy aspects of the profession were covered in the curriculum. Lawyer Erin Crane explained that accepting money for a specific sex act could land someone in jail, but she repeated several times she couldn't advise anyone on how to break the law.

Students practiced using assertive screaming for self-defense and they were told how to assess dangerous situations, and how to break free from an assailant's grasp.

Erin O'Bryn, 36, who has appeared on adult television networks, worked in massage parlors, owned an escort referral service and last year ran for Congress in Hawaii, said wearing a power suit and good heels dissuades clients from thinking they can take advantage of her.

"Sex work is work. Prostitution is work," Leigh said. "The most important thing is that we are diverse. Some are on the streets and in a very desperate situation. Others are in a working-class situation and maybe bored in their jobs. And others see sex work as their calling."