Honest Courtesan

Over the next stretch of time, one thing I hope to do is to share with you some blogs that I find especially interesting, thought-provoking, or whatever.  You’ve read me rave about Liza a gazillion times – if, by now, you haven’t been to her blog (or to the other blogs I think of as being in the family of “hot writing and pictures about sex”), then what the fuck is wrong with you?

But today, I plan to write just a bit about “The Honest Courtesan.”  I only discovered her blog recently, and can’t say how I did, who linked to it, or what trail brought me there.  But it’s fucking awesome.

“Maggie McNeill” – the nom de plume of the author – is a retired prostitute who’s damned smart, articulate, and thoughtful.  She writes, more than anything, about the humanity of sex workers, and the intellectual laziness, and worse, of those who would control our associations with prostitution.  As an aside, I recently wrote about Paying for It by Chester Brown, and among other things, wrote that one thing I really liked about the book was the way in which it humanizes prostitutes – in part, by portraying them as heterogeneous, but also, by portraying them as human, as people with feelings, desires, sexuality, and lives, not all of which are defined by the work they do any more than you or I are defined by the work we do.  Maggie McNeill does all this and so much more.

She single-handedly takes on the Nick Kristofs of the world, who would have us believe that “human trafficking” is a horrific, devastating worldwide problem.  For years, I’ve grown weary, and worse, of Nick Kristof’s articles on human trafficking.  They rubbed me the wrong way in an amorphous way that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.  Well, Maggie McNeill has helped me figure it out:  while trafficking may well be a problem, the focus on it by people like Kristof is about something different. It’s about controlling women’s sexuality, stigmatizing sex work, and limiting all of our sexual freedom.

She writes almost exclusively about prostitution – the social construction of sexuality, the history of prostitution in life and in the arts, the way we regulate sex, the impact regulation of it has on all of us (but, in particular, on prostitutes). She’s an absolutist, and capable of a monomania in her focus on prostitution and “human trafficking.”  But she writes really well, and every single word I’ve read of hers I’ve found interesting.

She’s one of the few people whose every blog post I read, and whom I’m excited to see has posted something new.

Check her out.  She’s the real deal.


  1. while trafficking may well be a
    problem, the focus on it by people like Kristof is about something different.
    It’s about controlling women’s sexuality, stigmatizing sex work, and limiting
    all of our sexual freedom.

    The quote above rubbed me the
    wrong way. While it may be a problem?

    You make it seem as
    if the subject matter is the trafficking of goods and not humans. I have no
    problem with prostitution existing but actual human trafficking? Why do you put
    human trafficking in quotation marks? People trying to shed a light on the topic are limiting your
    sexual freedom? Really? I have absolutely no idea what the prostitution world
    looks like from the inside. No idea what percentage of women chose the line of
    work because it suits their needs. No idea what the numbers are on women, men,
    who are in this line of work because they’re “just” in it and have no more
    qualms about it than they would a 9-5 job.I do know that referring to human trafficking as a “problem” and not a
    horrific devastating problem is an
    insult to the women, men, children who are in it because it’s their ONLY
    option. Because if they don’t do it they’ll die, because if they don’t do it
    their children won’t eat. Whether the
    number of these cases is in the millions or thousands, calling it a “problem”
    is insulting to the many or few.

    I visited one of my relatives (she works in a third world
    country) a few years ago and I saw a child prostitute. The child (a boy, around
    11) was sitting on a park bench with a 40 something year old man, the man
    stroked the child’s cheek, the little boy smiled all while looking down at his
    feet. They got up, the man wrapped his arm around the boy’s waist. You can’t ‘unsee’
    that shit.
    It bothers me when people downplay issues that they’ve never had to encounter
    because of the privileged world they live in.Forgive me for making assumptions here (if I’m wrong).

    I have no solutions to the problems that come with legal or
    illegal prostitution nor am I pretending to understand them.
    Being sex positive
    for yourself is great but I think that putting your needs and freedoms before the needs and
    safety of others is really selfish.I may not be getting your point here but I also
    think that the tone in which you talk about human trafficking is definitely
    off. I see it as more than just a “problem”.

    1. I really recommend reading her blog, because she’s far more articulate than am I. Her basic point is that the problem – which is real, and substantial, for the people involved – is more often used as an excuse to accomplish other, more repressive means, than it is genuinely, honestly addressed.

      It certainly is true that just about anything you read about trafficking features lots of lies in it (women *only* go into prostitution out of desperation, because they have no other choice, etc.). The presence of lies in rhetoric is almost always a sign that something’s up.

      I may not have captured “what’s up” here that well, and the Honest Courtesan certainly has an extreme view, but it’s compelling, and intelligent, and that’s why I recommend you read her. I don’t disagree with anything you write – I only think that a casualty of the war on trafficking, as waged, is truth. That’s bad.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.