Interview with ESPLERP Founder and Activist Maxine Doogan
By Sol Finer
We at SWOP-Seattle were incredibly lucky to have activist Maxine Doogan visit this week. To those unfamiliar with Maxine, she is one of the three erotic service providers along with one client that filed suited in Federal court against the DA in California and four counties for enforcing the laws that they feel are infringing on their Constitutional rights by allowing the exchange of money and erotic services (among other things) . Maxine has been a sex worker for over two decades and an activists for nearly as long. She was one of the initiators of Prop K back in the early aughts that looked to decriminalize prostitution in California. Before I get into too much detail, I’d rather let her tell her own story…. Please be sure to read to the bottom where links to to the ESPLERP, the court brief, twitter accounts and other important info. As Maxine so accurately says, it is time to take back the sex worker narrative. Read about Maxine’s story below and be sure to support her efforts by clicking on the liberate to emancipate link to make a donation!

·      Let’s start with some background for the folks that aren’t familiar with you. Who are you, where are you from, how’d you get into sex work?

 I have been working for 25 years. I always wanted to work in the business – I read “The Happy Hooker” when I was 12. I was lucky to find somebody who had worked in the Anchorage massage parlor. She was able to place me, you know, she wanted me to have the best situation. And so I did, I had a really good situation. I was trained by an old Nevada brothel worker.

I began working in Alaska, where I am from but in the late 1980s the price of oil dropped. The resulting massive budget cuts caused a mass exodus from the state. The jobs losses coincided with the Gulf War. Alaska is very much supported by military bases. We were getting military guys to coming into our massage parlors who were being deployed. They felt like they were going to their deaths in the Middle East. Coming to see us in the parlor was their hurrah. It wasn’t a good situation. I migrated to Seattle with everyone else and lived there for 5 years. Then onto California and have been there since. I lived for a year in San Francisco then a year in LA on Venice Beach (which was great!) and then moved back to San Francisco.

·      The internet has changed the industry at a fundamental level. It has brought the majority of women off the streets, increased safety/visibility; some would even say that things like Twitter have truly galvanized the community. As someone that has been in the sex industry for so long, how do you feel about these changes?

 Well, I wouldn’t necessarily agree with ideas that moving the population indoors is what has happened. We don’t have any in depth research. The statements you just made are statements made by white, mostly indoor workers who never worked before the internet. We don’t even have any idea what the facts are behind these statements. What part of the industry has moved indoors – we have no stats. We just don’t. I’ve worked the streets. There are a lot of changes, we don’t have any good research on our population. Part of Erotic Service Provider Legal, Education, and Research Project (ESPLERP), is we put together a research evaluation tool. Researchers are asked to look over and providers are asked to looked it over.  Those are the best practices. We have been trying to get good research. But there is no funding. The work we do is all unpaid labor. Some of the research that’s out there does not meet the most basic scientific standards. It is essentially just people’s opinions put forth as fact and we need to do better.  We need to organize Labor/Solidarity style to take control of our narrative. Regardless of the rubber stamping of “accredited institutions”, we need to do our own community-based research.

·      Using the non-profit, Erotic Service Provider Legal, Education, and Research Project (ESPLERP), you have filed suit with three other providers and a client against the state of California. Can you provide a bit of context, i.e., tell me about what prompted you to move forward with litigation and what you hope to gain from it?

 What prompted the litigation is that as a union organizer for our industry, we want to “do that ask.” Our bosses are our voters, essentially – voters who vote for the legislators who then implement these bad laws. With Prop K, we didn’t get the response we had hoped for. A good part of that is that we didn’t have the fundraising capacity. In America, money is speech. People were reluctant to donate because they were worried about having their info published under campaign finance laws. We were not able to raise funds.  The issue was to try to figure another mechanism to collect donations and provide anonymity. That was why we created the 501(c)3. That’s pretty typical.  In the failure of Prop K, I called Margo St. James and she said ‘ you are going to have to do a court case.’  We knew that legal actions is was what we had to do. It took a year of doing stuff with groups like the Free Speech Coalition which put me in contact with the attorney who filed our case, Louis Sirkin.

We are going to have the California prostitution law,647(b)  invalidated. We filed in federal court so any good ruling will have an affect on all the other similar laws in federal ninth circuit court district– Alaska to Hawaii. That way we will be able to invalidate the bad laws across the land because they violate our constitutional rights.  Right to free speech, right to associate, right to privacy-private sexual commerace. Hopefully we can get a good ruling. We are suing the state Attorney General. She is supposed to uphold the Constitution and we think this law is unconstitutional. We are suing four counties for enforcing the anti prostitution law. They are supposed to uphold the Constitution as well. Regardless, this is our opportunity to organize in a bigger way.

 My concern too is that Robyn Few, the founder of swop died when she was 57 years old. I’m close her. We need the next generation to step up and get some training.  The end game is organizing. The end game is having a highly organized work force that can promote the good values that we all hold as erotic services providers. We contribute to society and we want to be able to contribute without being discriminated against.

·      Filing a lawsuit means giving up your anonymity and facing the court, the press, the prohibitionists, the law, and so on under your real name. This is a tremendous risk to your practice… your life… how have things changed in since the filing?

Well, I was out way before the filing. I have been out for a long time. I was out in 2008 because I was the proponent of Prop K. I was out before that because I did a bunch of media at KPFA (A Berkeley radio station) as an out whore. I was organized and my mentor, Daisy Anarchy was out. I spent about 2 years with Daisy. I wanted to figure out why the sex workers rights movement was in the toilet. It was the late 1990s/early 2000s and there was no focused effort on decrim. Now I know why. It takes a tremendous amount of work and it’s all unpaid. It’s a lot of unpaid time. I learned from Daisy what was not working. And what was not working was the sex worker rights’ movement where everyone had their own agenda. They didn’t have a strategy or solidarity. One of the things I work on – is getting our members into labor school. The movement has missed so many opportunities, due to lack of teamwork- those are our problems. The only way around that is to get training.

 I started negotiating my anonymity a long, long time ago. I had already planned on being out when I made my first movie – Legalization Sucks. But I had kids. So I had to wait until my kids were on their way to college so that anything that happened to me wouldn’t impact them.  My kids understand criminialization can harm. Most of the women I run around with are mothers. If something were to happen to them, they and their children would be severely impacted financially. I wanted to make sure by the time I really put myself out there, my kids would not be impacted. I have already been to jail, I have really bad things happen to me so I wanted to minimize my risk in any way I could. There’s not much more they can do to me!

 ·      The press loves salacious, sensationalist stories. What has your experience with the mainstream media been like? Do reporters seem interested in decrim? Or has your experience been more along the lines of, “tell me all your dirty secrets”?

Nobody has in mainstream media has asked that question. As a result of social media there are tons of whore stories out there. I don’t feel like there has been much interest in any salacious aspects of my story. At least in the bay area when I did prop K, the media realized that wasn’t really what they wanted to report on. They could see that it was a serious ballot initiation. I feel really respected by the media, I have had training to deal with the media. We just had Reason TV come and they wanted to do a piece on client. We have a client who is part of our movement, who is not a plaintiff in our case, and he was able to tell his story. I am able to line the media up with our narrative. I can negotiate people’s anonymity for them and have the media respect them to get their stories out there.

We need to change the narrative for whore nation. The narrative is old and tired. Our job is to give the public a story and move them to action. I do enough unpaid work. I am not going to entertain media for shits and giggles. I am busy. I have to work really hard to support myself and have enough to do without more unpaid work. I am not going to be pissing around if there is no benefit. Is the activity I am involved in right now have any benefit? How is it going to benefit whore nation?? If you are just telling whore stories, you are repeating history. We already have notorious media whores that have been the face of our movement for decades and good on them but it hasn’t moved anyone to take action.

 ·      There has been a push over the last couple of years in WA state to move toward the “Nordic model” under “End Demand.” How do you feel about this model and what are the benefits/detractions of such a program?

 Well, you know, it’s a failed approach. And I think the makers of that policy feel that already. That they know the whole trafficking narrative was funded by big oil. Who’s behind all that is big oil. It is a distraction for the public, for activists in our movement, and it is a really good strategy. It is one that the bosses often employ to move the attention away from workers being in struggle of their rights. The reality is that anyone who is being forced, fraud or coerced to work as a whore is not going to benefit from being arrested for prostitution. If you really care about forced fraud and coercion, further criminalizing our clients isn’t the way to go. Clients are often times the first responders to people who are in bad situations. Clients and erotic service providers alike have provided the means by which folks are able to move on to their next right thing without expending police recourses.  That’s a good thing! We’ve used our resources in these situations over and over again because we know there are no real ‘services’ out there that don’t involve praising the lord.

 We included a client plaintiff in our case because we wanted to ensure that the primary transaction has as much dignity as possible.   All parties  must have the right to negotiate for services and safety.  And beyond that I really wanted to say that I know its hard to tear our attention away from that train wreck of the anti’s narrative but its what we have to do.  I know personally of the hardship of spending my unpaid time railing against their discriminatory legislation, but its an opportunity for us to put forward what we want.

 Everyone would stand to benefit from meaningful and accessible anti discrimination We need to educate legislators at the local, state and national level and demand that they enact the Obama administration statement that was included in the 2010 Universal Periodic Review of Human Rights, “We agree that no one should face violence or discrimination in access to public services based on sexual orientation or their status as a person in prostitution” in, (

 It would behoove us to move our legal sector sex industry brothers and sisters; adult film performers, webcammers, exotic dancers, pro doms/subs, to spend their social and political capital to demand meaningful and accessible anti discrimination legislation in housing, employment, education, child custody and access to financial instruments for themselves now.  This would go a long way to help lay the foundation of what equal protection under the law should look like for our whole industry.

Support Maxine and the legal effort by making a donation at:

 Read the legal brief here.Erotic Service Provider Legal, Educational, and Research Project website is here.

Also, check out for union info and Twitter accounts: @espunion, @esplerp

Whore Nation needs your support, your voice, and your financial donation (in whatever amount works for you). Show your support, use your voice, and make a donation. This matters.