Harm Reduction / David / Look into the Mirror
Wicked Wednesday | David | Look in the Mirror | Harm Reduction
Note – This is a story of sex professionals, harm reduction, and one brave soul who dared to ask a group of politicians to look themselves in the mirror. It may not be wicked sexy, or sexy wicked, but it certainly is wicked true.
I once had a very dear friend and mentor who worked in the Harm Reduction field. I’ll call him
It’s not as though David was shy about having his name in print anyway. Frankly, there was very little about that man that was shy.
Sadly, he’s no longer shuffling on this mortal coil. I lament his loss greatly, as he was once my Buddhist mentor. Certainly, David is greatly missed by many, I’m sure.
If you aren’t familiar with the ‘harm reduction’ idea, it focuses on the concept of ‘any positive change’.
Here in the US, that essentially means folks working in that field are the individuals who give clean needles to injection drug users. They also give condoms to sex workers.
It’s really tough work, being immersed in the day to day business of folks selling their bodies and/or addicted to illicit drugs.
Not everyone can do that sort of work, myself included. If you have no experience with addiction, it’s very likely you’d have no credibility with the people in need of outreach.
On the other hand, if you do have experience with addiction, you’ll find temptation there at your fingertips with nearly every client you meet.
I know it was heartbreaking work too. David would spend months working to earn the trust of an addict, perhaps years supplying clean needles to prevent the spread of HIV, only to lose the client to an overdose. “I know we can’t save everyone…” he’d say, his voice trailing off. I know how hard each defeat of that sort hit David. It was the words that went unsaid that
“But we should…”
No doubt… I can only say this with tears in my eyes, there’s no other way to even write the words. David would die
harm reduction and sex professionals
As I alluded to before, one of the standard responsibilities of harm reduction outreach workers was interactions with sex professionals. David was always very careful to never use the term prostitute, just as I never heard the term junkie come from his lips. The term ‘sex worker’ didn’t work for him either, he preferred to use ‘sex professional’ instead. That practice has rubbed off, obviously.
Sex professional outreach was David’s favorite part of the job. If David had a real fault, it was that he loved women too much. All women. He once told me he’d been unfaithful to every
Believe it or not, condom use was pretty well non-existent among sex professionals in the area when David began his work. He put on demonstrations on how to properly use condoms, as well as why it was so vitally important. Most folks worry about men catching an STI and taking it home to the wife, but David’s concern was the girls themselves.
He used his harm reduction office as a “sex-professional warming station” during the worst cold of winter. Fresh hot coffee was always brewed for anyone who needed a cup. I know he bought meals for some of the sex professionals if they struck out on a bad night. I saw him do it with a smile on days he had not eaten himself.
When local law enforcement finally got wise and showed up one night, David swore under oath he was leading an AA meeting. I’ll never forget his laughter when telling the story. Perhaps the best part was his portrayal of the vice-squad gumshoe who ‘raided’ the fridge looking for contraband. Instead, he consumed David’s lunch!
harm reduction – look in the mirror
Which brings me around to the reason Marie’s Wicked Wednesday prompt – mirror – brought to mind my friend and mentor. It was perhaps one of his most inspired moments of activism.
After having his fridge raided a few times, my friend David managed to get himself placed on the City Council Agenda. While he felt the need to occasionally purchase a meal for a down and out sex professional, he was tired of feeding policemen.
David showed up to the Council Meeting with a box under his arm, a box of hand mirrors. When finally called for his time, his was the last item on the day’s agenda, David broke open the box. He handed a mirror to each of council members. David had a theatrical air about him, each mirror was delivered with a flourish.
When David went back to the podium where guests stood to address the council, he asked each councilperson to look at themselves in the mirror. He asked them to imagine the face staring back from the mirror as being a little dirty, their hair more unkempt. Then he said to imagine that they hadn’t eaten before coming to the meeting. Perhaps they hadn’t eaten in days…
Then he asked that they imagine having no place to sleep that night. No family to call. That all the local shelters were full (as they often are during poor weather). David asked them if they knew how to survive a cold night with no shelter, and no food to fuel their body for warmth.
He asked that they imagine themselves in those circumstances. And then to consider if maybe, just maybe, they might consider selling themselves under those desperate circumstances? If the promise of food, bed, and warm shelter might tempt them? How would it truly feel to be hungry, cold, desperate? To have no good options?
Needless to say, most folks in politics love to look at themselves in mirrors. They are in love with themselves and their own image. Unfortunately, they usually aren’t very good at picturing themselves as less fortunate. When council members tried to return the mirrors, David said the most poignant line of the night.
“Keep the mirrors, I’m sure you need them far worse than me…”
harm reduction – the mirror and you
There are many reasons why people might consider working as a sex professional, not all of them are born of desperation. I don’t want anyone to think I’m mischaracterizing an entire profession. But, I also know from conversations with David, that desperation is a factor in how many sex professionals get started in that line of work. It’s the same with drug abuse too, in that case, the desperation is to escape.
Regardless of how they choose the profession, sex workers deserve our respect. If it’s perfectly legal for individuals to offer their body up for medical experimentation, if it’s ok to sell our vital fluids (blood plasma etc.) – then why is it illegal to simply sell a body for sex? I suppose ‘rent’ their body for sex would be a better way to look at it. Sales may be final, but the resulting action is certainly temporary.
And that’s the other prompt (if you can call it that) that brought David and harm reduction to mind. The words “sex work is work” written on a bathroom stall. The image showed on my twitter feed moments before I started writing. The image reminded me of David, which reminded me of hand mirrors being passed around to a city council.
If you are an individual who believes that sex work is a legitimate way to earn a living, I’m simply preaching to the choir. If you are a sex professional, I could probably learn a thing or two from you. But, for the rest of my readers, who may have different ideas, I’ll simply ask that you go over the exercise David led the City Council through.
Look into the mirror. Use your imagination. Perhaps you’ll see that we’re all human beings worthy of respect, no matter our profession…
harm reduction epilogue
The same harm reduction profession that allowed David to help so very many others, ultimately was his own undoing. Part of what made him so good at helping others was the fact that David had walked a mile in their shoes. He knew addiction all too well.
If you’ve ever heard of the “Freedom Riders”, the brave young idealists from the 1960’s who went into the rural south to register black voters, then you know a little bit about David too. He was a Freedom Rider, back in his youth. And, for his trouble, he was beaten nearly to death by white supremacists. Seeking relief from that pain, both physical and mental, David turned to illicit drugs. He struggled with addiction his entire adult life…
The last time I spoke with him, I accepted his collect call from the County Jail. Even with the political connections I’d developed through the years, he was beyond any aid I might offer. I still feel that I should have found a way to intervene, even though the offense was far above anything I could ever have helped resolve.
Then later, I heard the news about David, just as he’d heard the news about so many of his own clients…
Goodnight and goodbye my friend. I hope your next life is filled with the same joy you took from the last, with none of the pain! Every time I look into the mirror, I’ll remember!
Image edit by Sinnjara Samadhi
Edit – Endnote – In retrospect, I should have avoided mentioning David’s death as part of this story’s retelling. I am afraid (from the first two comments) that folks will focus on the loss of my friend and mentor. Yes, I grieve his death. Yes, it is a cautionary tale about losing oneself in trying to save others.
Somewhere in the retelling, I didn’t get my point across as well as I wish. While I mourn David’s loss, I wrote to celebrate his life. If a man is measured by the difference he makes in other’s lives, David was a true giant.