"a 'vice' not a person not a job"

Friday Letter // 00085

2019.05.31 // DESK // BROOKLYN //

Today the New York Times cited an apparently non-existent group in a story about trans teens and chest binders, while not quoting anyone who uses a binder, and in another story, the New York Times neglected to cite the real sex workers’ rights group backing the decriminalization bill their story was about, in favor of running long quotes from several groups opposed to full decriminalization. Both are breezy, corny, skimming along like there’s nothing (it’s not like the federal and several state governments are putting any of these lives on the line) of consequence here! manner we all love to hate about the paper that too many people still comport themselves as if preparing for a future desk there.

These are deadly moves. As Noah Zazanis put it, “Seeing a pattern here? They're presenting marginalized people as ‘controversial issues’ rather than human beings with lives. The bigots who want to keep people criminalized and closeted? Just concerned feminists! But if we speak up in our defense, then we're silencing dissent.”

This is Friday Letters.

If you can, see The Garden, the film by Derek Jarman. It’s been restored, I think because this year is the 25th anniversary of Jarman’s death. We should all be staring at this sea.

If you can see it at Metrograph in New York over the next few days, you can also see it with Blue.

Blue was the first Jarman film I saw, my one day off on book tour years ago, drifting in and out of sleep on a bench at the Tate Modern where it was installed at the time. This is the film Jarman made in blindness, his last. There’s no moving picture. Maybe? Maybe the blue field moves? Half awake I think I thought it could be. You could close your eyes to the blue and just listen. Tilda Swinton. Miranda Sex Garden. His voice. It felt wrong, though.

Tilda Swinton made an appearance at Metrograph to introduce The Garden on Tuesday night. She said, to her, Jarman’s films are like family movies. It thundered out so loud the theater stopped for a moment and everyone thought it was just him.

I only want to work at my table now. (It’s not an internet “thing” about photographing the wood surface, I swear. I’ve had it almost as long as I’ve lived in New York; Meaghan and I walked it three blocks from a flea market into my old apartment.) I don’t have a window at my desk, like I did in New Orleans (a backyard in the Bywater with a fig tree) or Las Vegas (a view of the strip from far off in the Arts District, centered on the Stratosphere), the two cities where I’ve made the most progress on the next book. Now I can’t work without it, and the kitchen is the only place in this apartment where I can get just enough sky. I didn’t know how much I needed just to stare and be aimless that way.

The last few weeks since New Orleans have been a readjustment, which maybe I can say more about later, if it’s actually interesting. It’s just been 18 months non-stop writing about the dead and violence. Saying it like that, of course scheduling some staring out the window seems obvious.


I’m going back to Las Vegas for a little bit, either to finish or revise the proposal for the next book, called WAYWARD (will I keep the title all-caps? I doubt it, but I go on styling it that way), mostly depending on how much progress I make this week, reading about girls’ reformatories, and a little depending on how long I underestimated it would take.

I finished my first story for The New Republic so watch for that in the next print issue, and more to come.

And if you love KLUTE something good is coming here in July, and it’s not just the Criterion release, but it’s connected…


Inside The New Movement To Decriminalize Sex Work In NY” / Gothamist, 2019.02.25


This is Friday Letters, by Melissa Gira Grant (me), the author of Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work and a journalist covering gender, sexuality, law, and power.

My back hurts, too. See you in June.


// melissagiragrant.com
// 00085

Surface desires

Friday Letter // 00084

2019.05.24 // DESK // BROOKLYN //

Full summer has hit here, at least for a few days, and I’m in my kitchen this Saturday morning, hitting “send” after roasting some golden cherry tomatoes.

Friday night, I was not at my desk. There was an emergency rally in Washington Square Park, after a wave of deadly violence against Black trans women and the current administration’s aggressive rollback of legal protections — in health care, in shelters — for all trans people. I’m in the early stages of reporting a story on how we got here, thanks in part to the alliances some feminists have been willing to make. But I was there last night for more reasons than that.

This is Friday Letters.

The wonderful folks behind Red Light Reader packed Bluestockings last Saturday for what was a kind of fifth year reunion for Playing the Whore. I arrived there straight from a screening of three (rare) films Samuel Delany worked on — two as “script boy” (writer) and one he directed, called The Orchid. Before, I met him for the first time, and he autographed a twentieth anniversary edition of Times Square Red, Times Square Blue for me, dating his signature, “May 18, 2020.”

Then I carried it with me to my own reading and let everyone know Samuel Delany had signed a book to me from the future. I read for the first time from the chapter called “The Peephole,” which kicks off with Delany in the 1990s, and North Beach in San Francisco in the mid-aughts, and the City Lights bookstore (an applause line in that room), and the only red light district I have ever worked in.

I never had an iPhone while I worked up there, but I did have a jailbroken Nokia smartphone, originally released in Europe and Asia, with a camera that wasn’t even so bad. I shot dressing rooms, and late night donut shops, and the F line streetcar. It is not news to me, then, that some report in 2019 that to live in San Francisco means to live within a layer of nostalgia. Were you there in 2009? 2003? If it was true then, and it was, it’s always been true.

The day the iPhone came out, I wove through the carnival barker line along Post Street that morning, and by the evening, blind drunk, put my hand on a wall of a building on the corner at Montgomery Street, pulling myself up the hill to my apartment on Sutter and Taylor, and in my bag was a book someone had just given me as a gift at the Palace Hotel bar, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol, an on-the-nose thing in an on-the-nose day I keep writing about like there is something more meaningful in it than knowing I knew that day someone would think the day was something: June 29, 2007.

One week before, Facebook launched Video. I remember that day more for the night, going for the first time to a bar on 22nd Street between Valencia and Dolores Park called the Lone Palm (there is one queen palm outside, planted in the 1990s). “Video,” whatever: they showed black and white Hollywood movies on old tv’s and had rose water in the ladies room.

These “new” technologies were — like these places and how we were in them — intimate, as I remember it. Grandiose, yes, in the manner in which they were presented, but the scale of them, using them, was more about the couple than the global, about sex and not death, glamour and not propaganda. Or that’s what it was like within those few blocks, where it was only their use that was really invented.

(Maybe I missed my chance to write my small San Francisco story, at scale. But that’s what I’m working on over the next few days, an essay for Katie West’s new anthology.)

To get oriented with me, my map, laid over a 1907 geological survey:

What’s in red was mostly built of brick one hundred years before the city’s real big day, when much of it was destroyed.

I had to fake the map out here to get the Lone Palm in, but you understand, and understand how small this place is still. Allegedly what kept the Mission — that neighborhood with the bar to the west of that part of town, “but also in the imagination” — from burning was one fire hydrant, later painted gold and memorialized with a plaque that reads in part, “May their love and devotion for this city be an inspiration for all to follow and their motto ‘The city that knows how’ a light to lead all future generations.”

You will note “lone hydrant” is not what they named the bar.

San Francisco is not entirely over. That hydrant still gets a new coat of paint each April 18th. But please don’t go fuck up my bar.

Very slow roasted cherry tomatoes. Just as you forget about them, but before they’ve fully wrinkled down, slice up your tomatoes, put them on a rimmed baking sheet with some parchment paper if you’ve got it. Turn the oven on to 240 or 250 or whatever you’ve got that is lowest. Maybe put on this week’s Desert Oracle Radio. Drizzle olive oil over the sliced tomatoes (I have a bottle of Wonder Valley from California right now, it won’t last the summer), season with some salt and pepper, and lay down a few cloves of garlic still in the skins. Give it two hours, three if you can stand it. Toss the tomatoes with bitter greens, or fold them into soft scrambled eggs, or as suggested by the writer I borrowed this from first eight years ago, just eat them off the tray immediately.


Are you a documentary filmmaker in or near Columbus, Ohio? I would like to hear from you this week: <melissa@melissagira.com>

Also: should I start this blog again?


Family, Former Attorney of Queens Woman Who Fell to Her Death in Vice Sting Say She Was Sexually Assaulted, Pressured to Become an Informant” / The Appeal, 2017.12.15 (To read before you read this outstanding and tough new essay from Sophia Rossi, “Free Fall,” in the latest issue of The New Inquiry)


This is Friday Letters, by Melissa Gira Grant (me), the author of Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work and a journalist covering gender, sexuality, law, and power, as a senior staff reporter at The Appeal and a contributing writer for the Village Voice, Pacific Standard, and Valleywag (RIP). You may have read my feature reporting at BuzzFeed News and the Guardian, or my commentary in the Washington Post and the New York Times, or my criticism in Bookforum and the New York Review of Books. Or maybe you’ve followed some of my more far-flung projects, like Terrific City or w4m.club or What Price Love? or Coming & Crying. Or you were on LiveJournal in the summer of 2000, too.

Thank you.


// melissagiragrant.com
// 00084

Backs, saddles

Friday Letter // 00083

2019.05.17 // DESK // BROOKLYN //

This is Friday Letters, by Melissa Gira Grant (me), the author of Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work and a journalist covering gender, sexuality, law, and power, as a senior staff reporter at The Appeal and a contributing writer for the Village Voice, Pacific Standard, and Valleywag (RIP). You may have read my feature reporting at BuzzFeed News and the Guardian, or my commentary in the Washington Post and the New York Times, or my criticism in Bookforum and the New York Review of Books. Or maybe you’ve followed some of my more far-flung projects, like Terrific City or w4m.club or What Price Love? or Coming & Crying. Or you were on LiveJournal in the summer of 2000, too.


Friday Letters was first on TinyLetter without an archive, then here on Substack with a subscription-only archive (were you a paying subscriber? And wondering why your subscription ended this week? Thank you — and that’s why. With the change of format, I wanted to give you a chance to re-subscribe only if you want), and now… still here, but as a totally free letter.

That’s because I want to write to more of you, more often, and to just keep subscriptions as more of a tip jar, really. Down the line, there may be a subscription-only special thing, but we’ll get there, if we get there. For now, welcome and welcome back.

April 2019, New Orleans, Pontchartrain Hotel.

The last time I was back there was right before the last staff job, and it was right to be back again, in another writer friend’s house, in another neighborhood (the Bywater this time, Gentilly last), assigned to leave the house at least twice a day to walk the dog and otherwise free to sit in the back office with the view out into the backyard, where I did steal some hours after all to start entering revisions to the [W———] proposal into the new computer.

And then I spent the last night of those 8 or so at a hotel, blown there through a downpour, waking up to this different light. In the lobby, there’s a framed reproduction of a page from A Streetcar Named Desire, which I had never read, and was allegedly written in the hotel — whose stationary Tennessee Williams used for that page, anyway. (I never read the play; I hadn’t read any Williams, other than a monologue from The Glass Menagerie I was assigned perhaps inappropriately in middle school, before I knew what “quinine” or a “cotillion” was. I bought a used paperback of Streetcar the next day in Baton Rouge and finished it on the plane home, though.) In the rooms, there are chandeliers and everything is either mint, dusty rose, black, or white. The desk is a real desk, with a real hardback notepad (I hope you are meant to take it away with you), and a real vintage (reproduction) desk lamp. I didn’t do anything at it. The bed was better.

You know my favorite hotel, or at least the hotel I always imagine, is the Sunset Tower in Los Angeles, the only hotel I know of with an in-house librarian to maintain the collection of books written by its guests, but the Pontchartrain is that, that glamorous, that still-wearing-its-patina, but without all the psych-up to slip through the lobby. It’s work to belong at the Sunset, or work at least to manage the other people who you think may belong more. The Pontchartrain takes nothing.

When I am back in October, if I am lucky or at least if I hit the deadlines I set for myself, I will be writing the thing itself here. The book is about being on the move, but that doesn’t mean I can’t work on it at home. I just forget everything I do at home, and when I pick it up elsewhere, it’s like someone else did the last round of edits.

I don’t believe in saying “it” ahead of time is a jinx. I have to say these things out loud so it feels like the days are passing with accomplishment. One of the only bosses I’ve ever had told me once to just list what I did every day so I would remember what happened, because we did most of our work alone, and no one else was going to notice. Which is what writing a book is like, or anything that’s not a blog post, maybe. Definitely a letter like this.

Can I remember the week? Not as well as the hotel.

I’m in the middle of a biography of Truman Capote and so far it’s all about money and apartments and hotels. I had one lunch in the city, and one work date in Brooklyn, and two “drinks” (one each). I received a royalty check and deposited it — amounting to 2/3 the advance I was originally paid. (Capote got $1500 I think for this first book, or maybe that was the option Twentieth Century Fox took on it… and that was in the 1940s.) I worked on the next stages of my Columbus reporting on police and my New York decriminalization reporting, still my two major projects this year. I had a box of Zapp’s chips delivered because I’m not really back from New Orleans yet. I sandpapered off a part of the excess grout around the bathroom window that had been left there long ago and every time I looked at it over the last seven years I was reminded that you can be kind of okay but that doesn’t mean you get an okay bathroom. It was gone in less than ten minutes. I put a bag of dry cleaning together (black silk full skirt, camel linen high-waisted trousers, two cashmere sweaters, a cream knit top, a mohair sweater) and left it on the floor. I wrote this and the elderly woman who does the mending at the dry cleaner walked by and reminded me. I bought a glass of wine so I could sit outside. I gave money to a bail fund in Brooklyn and I need to give money to an abortion fund in Alabama. I opened this window again.


Saturday, May 18th: I’ll be at the bookstore Bluestockings on the Lower East Side in New York, where there’s a new book club called Red Light Reader and for their first book they chose Playing the Whore. At 5pm I’ll be joining them for a reading and a discussion.


Kamala Harris brought sex work into the 2020 spotlight. Here’s what she should do next.” / Washington Post, 2019.03.02


This is Friday Letters. You brought me back.

Thank you.


// melissagiragrant.com
// 00083

It's nothing

Queens' Court

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