Syria: Dancing for Their Lives

Dancing for Their Lives
Making an undercover visit to an Iraqi expat nightclub in Syria, where the refugee crisis’s illicit economy is on full display.

Um Nour checked her watch. It was close to midnight and my guide to the Iraqi refugee underworld in Damascus wanted to get to the nightclub so she could start making money. I had failed the dress test, attempting to camouflage myself in an alluring outfit and eliciting only a pursed-lips stare, but Um Nour’s transformation was remarkable. I would not have recognized her on the street. On the many daytime occasions we had met during my reporting trips to Damascus in 2008, she dressed in baggy track pants, black hair tied back in a ponytail, her face lined and tired. This time, her long black hair was shiny and brushed with thick bangs that framed her face. She wore a tight-fitting black T-shirt sprinkled with sequins and black stretch pants tightly cinched at the waist. Her lipstick was deep red, her eyeliner heavy and black. She wore two rhinestone rings, her stubby fingers extended by fake red nails curled around an expensive cell phone. Continue reading

Karen Slack confident in singing Violetta in Sacramento Opera’s ‘La Traviata’

By Edward Ortiz
Published: Sunday, Feb. 21, 2010 – 12:00 am | Page 1I
Last Modified: Monday, Feb. 22, 2010 – 9:59 am

RANDALL BENTON "I love this character," says Karen Slack, who sings the role of Violetta in the Sacramento Opera's "La Traviata." "I think of Violetta as a real woman. She's the most real character I've ever had to play."

As she walks across the bare stage of the Community Center Theater during a photo shoot, soprano Karen Slack exudes unwavering confidence and regal sensuality.

Those are two attributes Slack will bring to the Sacramento Opera production of Giuseppe Verdi’s “La Traviata.” In the production, which opens Friday, Slack will sing the most famous courtesan role in the operatic repertoire – Violetta.

The role is a demanding one for a soprano. It calls for sensitive acting that conveys a woman living outside societal norms. And it demands a versatile singer, who can sing lyrically in one act, powerfully and darkly in another.

“I love this character,” said Slack. “I think of Violetta as a real woman. She’s the most real character I’ve ever had to play.” Continue reading

Prostitution in Georgian London: Harlot’s progress

Oct 15th 2009
From The Economist print edition

The Secret History of Georgian London: How the Wages of Sin Shaped the Capital. By Dan Cruickshank. Random House: 688 pages; £25. Buy from

"Connoisseurs" by Thomas Rowlandson

"Connoisseurs" by Thomas Rowlandson

AS MANY as one in five young women were prostitutes in 18th-century London. The Covent Garden that tourists frequent today was the centre of a vast sex trade strewn across hundreds of brothels and so-called coffee houses. Fornication in public was common and even children were routinely treated for venereal disease. A German visitor observed a nation that had overstepped all others “in immorality and addiction to debauchery”.

English society expected, even encouraged, men to pay for sex. Prejudice barred women from all but menial jobs. Prostitution at least offered financial independence: a typical harlot could earn in a month what a tradesman or clerk would earn in a year. For a few beautiful and savvy women, the gamble paid off. Lavinia Fenton, a child prostitute, married a duke. But most prostitutes were destined for disease, despair and early death. Continue reading

Vancouver: Stroll recalls West End’s sex work history

SEX WORK / Group raises funds for memorial in Vancouver’s gay village
Nathaniel Christopher / Vancouver / Friday, July 03, 2009

On Jul 2, the Davie stroll came alive once more as community members, sex worker advocates and politicians marked the 25th anniversary of a court injuction that quashed the once vibrant sex trade in Vancouver’s gay village.

Check out the event pamphlet (PDF download), read more about when the West End had sex worker strolls, and watch the video from the Jul 2 event:

The West End Sex Work Memorial Project seeks your financial support for installing a permanent marker near Davie and Bute. For more information, visit, email or call 604-822-4389.

Original on Xtra

Secrets of Sexual Forced Labour in Nazi Concentration Camps

Tuesday, 30 June 2009
by Kathryn Hadley

I have vivid memories of a school trip to Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Oranienburg, 35 kilometres north of Berlin: the crematories, the so-called ‘Station Z’ built for the extermination of prisoners in 1942, the infirmary… I have no recollection, however, of the camp brothel.

Robert Sommer’s latest book The Concentration Camp Bordello: Sexual Forced Labor in National Socialistic Concentration Camps (Das KZ-Bordell) provides, however, for the first time a comprehensive study of this dark, hushed-up and largely ignored chapter of the history of Nazi Germany. Sommer is a cultural studies Continue reading

Montreal: Group aims to save legacy of Montreal’s red light district

Thursday, June 18, 2009
Lina Harper

MONTREAL / City threatens demolition of historic bar

IT’S GETTING HOT IN HERE. Café Cleopatra hosts a monthly fetish night called Club Sin.
(Michel Laloux photo)

A proposed development in Montreal’s red light district has jeopardized the future of a neo-burlesque strip joint used by members of the queer community.

The proposal would see Café Cleopatra, the oldest show bar in town, demolished to make way for a 12-storey office building and a strip of retail stores on St Laurent Boulevard. Three other buildings are also slated for destruction if the city allows the development to proceed.

Café Cleopatra has always attracted people who don’t fit society’s norms, says owner Zoumboulakis. “We have room for the alternative, the different. For the people [who] want to express himself or herself differently. Especially the transvestites, the transsexuals,” he says, referring to the bar’s popular second floor shows. Continue reading

Michell Pfeiffer reclaiming cinematic stake with Cheri

Weekend June 19-21, 2009

p. 30.

Michell Pfeiffer plays an ageing courtesan in Cheri.

For Michelle Pfeiffer picking roles carefully has paid off well. Not only has her discretion afforded the soft-spoken actress a lengthy career in Hollywood but decent scripts have led to three Oscar nominations, including one for Dangerous Liaisons.

It may not be surprising then that after not appearing on film since 2007, Pfeiffer is reclaiming her cinematic stake by re-teaming with the filmmaking duo behind that aforementioned film — scribe Christopher Hampton and director Stephen Frears. Continue reading

Oldies: Civics Lesson in Leopardskin

Robyn Few believes the recent Supreme Court ruling on sodomy paves the way for prostitution to be legalized.

By Susan Goldsmith
December 10, 2003

Robyn Few wants to prove Antonin Scalia right. When former Berkeley high-school teacher Shannon Williams was arrested for prostitution earlier this year, no one would have imagined that her case would become a real-world civics lesson. She was busted in August after allegedly arranging to have sex with an undercover Oakland police officer, and was reportedly arrested at her home soon after she was handed $250 in marked bills.

Williams’ arrest made plenty of news in its own right, but it also convinced a recently convicted San Francisco prostitute named Robyn Few that it was time to start a crusade of her own. Williams’ case was what Few had been waiting for: the perfect vehicle to galvanize a long-dormant movement to make prostitution legal. Continue reading

Prostitute Buried Next To Theologist In Geneva

By Karmen Horvat

Swiss prostitute Griselidis Real will keep the company of theologist Jean Calvin and writer Jose Luis Borges in the afterlife.

Former Swiss prostitute and human rights activist Griselidis Real was buried next to theologist and religious reformist Jean Calvin at the famous royal cemetery in Geneva, media report on Tuesday.

Griselidis Real died in 2005 and seeing how she gave up on her career of a prostitute, she became famous by establishing a charity institution in the 70s with which she helped male and female prostitutes.

– Writer, painter and prostitute – is her epitaph and the decision on moving her remains next to the founder of the Calvinist Protestant Church did not go by without criticism.

An official explained that the decision to move her grave was a sign of gratitude to Griselidis Real for her charity work and not an accolade for her former profession. Continue reading

Older Story: Griselidis Real

Virtuoso writer and ‘revolutionary whore’

Tuesday, 7 June 2005

It sounds like a pseudonym. But Grisélidis Réal was the real name of a unique woman who was a highly talented writer and also a revolutionary prostitute. Ironically, her first name is that of Boccaccio’s long- suffering victim of a brutal husband, the “Patient Griselda” of his last story in The Decameron. She became a universal symbol for marital fidelity, which was certainly not the outstanding virtue in Grisélidis Réal’s agitated existence.

Grisélidis Réal, writer, courtesan and social worker: born Lausanne, Switzerland 11 August 1929; married (children); died Geneva 31 May 2005.

It sounds like a pseudonym. But Grisélidis Réal was the real name of a unique woman who was a highly talented writer and also a revolutionary prostitute. Ironically, her first name is that of Boccaccio’s long- suffering victim of a brutal husband, the “Patient Griselda” of his last story in The Decameron. She became a universal symbol for marital fidelity, which was certainly not the outstanding virtue in Grisélidis Réal’s agitated existence. Continue reading