Green Frog Cafe

"Living in nature, listening to the rain, Green Frog Cafe, that's where I want to be. The hemlocks are green, the creek is tricklin, there's geese on the pond, the forest sighs. Green Frog Cafe that's where I want to be, home of my soul, spirit of the mountains." Ruminations of Rhona McMahan

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Translating Gabriela Leite at CUNY Grad Center

Yesterday I acted as the translator (Portuguese-English) for Gabriela Leite, the founder of the Rede Braileira de Prostitutas (Brazilian Sex Worker Network). She is part of the Brazilian delegation to the current UN meeting on AIDS, and was part of a panel of sex workers sponsored by PONY (Prostitutes of New York) held at CUNY in the Department of Sociology. Chelsea and I have participated in PONY for many years, and have always adopted the position that the single most important legal change benefiting trans people would be the decriminalization or legalization of prostitution. This has been one of our most unpopular positions.

The PONY panel included women from India, Ivory Coast, and Canada (Montreal) in addition to Gabriela. A woman from Cambodia was also scheduled on the panel, but the was not able to get a visa to travel to the US (or perhaps it was a visa to leave the country of Cambodia).

I learned several things from the panel. The biggest thing I noticed was that sex workers in many other countries are organized and able to have a voice in the political arena, whereas in the US, and in New York especially, the prostitute organization is a semi-clandestine activity. This is yet another area in which, in my opinion, the US falls short. Of course I have always been pro-prostitution, and agree with Gabriela that "prostitution is all about how a culture deals with its sexual fantasies."

The second thing I learned is that the US is seriously intervening in the internal affairs of other countries through its AIDS Funding policies. A woman from India told about how the prostitutes in Sangram, a small town in India, had developed a strong organization growing out of the traitional role of some women in the area as temple prostitutes serving an ancient Goddess. Somehow an American activist arrived on the scene backed by USAID and a US political front group and forced the arrest of more than 50 women. The relationships which had been established by the prostitutes organization with the local authorities was completely subverted. Another example of how we win the hearts and minds of the world.

Gabriela followed with her story from Brazil which involved the USAID AID's Division offering US$48 million HIV-AIDS prevention money to the government of Brazil if they would adopt the principles of "fidelity, condoms, and no support of sex worker organizations." The Ministry of Health in Brazil met with Gabriela's organization and agreed to refuse the money. They said in effect "the prostitutes organization is a part of Brazilian civil society, we support them, and no money for AIDS will be accepted by any Brazilian organization because of the US conditions." The AIDS office for Brazil was subsequently closed by USAID (otherUSAID programs continued, unrelated to AIDS).

I sequentially translated all of these stories in Portuguese to Gabriela, and in English from Gabriela's Portuguese to the audience. It was exhilarating to me to be able to translate, since Colin my son is always telling me that I speak terrible Portuguese, and my own fear that time and age are dulling my language ability.

The third thing I learned was that the movement against trafficing of women for sex work has had a tendency to go overboard into an unthinking PC orientation against sex work period. Gabriela pointed out that many third world sex workers immigrate of their own accord precisely to increase their income. Chelsea and I well know this through our conversations with trans women in Brazil who have returned from sex work careers in Europe and the US with capital to buy homes, support their families (especially mothers), and live a comfortable life in retirement.

Gabriela's basic view is that people don't "fall" into prostitution, they choose prostitution from among other options. The Christian church is behind the idea that prostitutes are fallen women, and this attitude is an oppression of women. Gabriela feels that prostitution is a job, a profession, and is pushing draft legislation in Brazil to give sex workers legal status as workers in Brazil.

Chelsea and I are aware that a traditional role for trans women in many cultures has been ritual prostitution in service of a (the?) Goddess. In fact, the Cybelene priestesses in Rome in the 500 years or so before Christianity was made the state religion had this role. You can see this in certain episodes of the TV series "ROME" if you look for it. It is in the history books in any event.

Inana, one of the great Goddess figures coming out of the Middle East, is also known as the "whore of Babylon" by the Judeo-Christian-Moslem patriarchal monotheistic religious traditions. Study of this Goddess tradition clarifies my thoughts. The Christians have given the "whore" role to Mary Magdalene, underlining the fact that Mary Magdalene is a part of the divine feminine figure which has been grafted into the Christian myths. Of course orthodox Christianity, Catholicism and its protestant offshoots, ignore the parallel line of Christianity in which Mary Magdalene is seen as the first disciple and the companion of Jesus. This line is well documented in the documents and books held by the Hermetic Philosophy Library in Amsterdam, where Chelsea and I study every chance we get.

Gabriela's organization in Brazil has started a fashion line called Daspu to raise the level of discussion surrounding the stigmatization of sex workers. It comes out of the old saying "she was dressed like a whore." They have a line of kick-ass T-shirts, one of which is Maria Magdalena "She who many love."

Another of their shirts is also attractive to me. It is for the World Cup, in green and yellow (Brazil's colors) and says roughly "to be a Brazilian is not for amateurs." This is a phrase coined by Antonio Carlos Jobim.

Rosa Marie Muraro published Gabriela Leite's book "Eu, Mulher da Vida" (I, a Woman of the Life). Gabriela told me the sad news that Rosa is very ill. This makes me want to go to Brazil soon to see her.


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