A visit to a Chicago sex summit and how to get through the Canada-US border

This morning I received a message from Anna Smith, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent, who lives on a boat in Vancouver.

I felt I should share it.


Anna Smith, Chicago Virgin

Anna looks back on her recent trip visiting a Chicago Virgin

I am back from Chicago.

I was there for four days to help initiate the first North American Sex Worker Summit.

Sex workers (including strippers) are technically not allowed to enter the United States because of our moral turpitude, whatever that means.

Fortunately, Richard Branson doesn’t seem to have a problem with that, so we stayed in his hotel – The Chicago Virgin – where we sat in a spacious conference room around an enormous table which was decorated with flags of the United States, Canada and the United Nations. The standard blue and white United Nations flags had the words United Nations of Sex Workers added to the bottom. We discussed problems and defined policy for the North American region of the international Network of Sex Work Projects.

There are many problems. The United States currently has the 12th highest rate of AIDS infection in the entire world, ahead of most countries in Africa and Asia. Sex workers have always been on the leading edge of disease prevention, not only practicing safer sex, but producing films, performing at benefits, educating medical professionals, students and youth and doing outreach work including distributing condoms, lube and safe injection supplies where needed. I have done all of those things. Shockingly, in the United States

Anna Smith, Chicago Virgin, with one of her editors

Anna with one of her editors at the Virgin hotel

The hotel was lovely: a 26-storey former office tower. It now has a rooftop bar with an encircling patio and other fashionable bars and restaurants interspersed throughout the building with a spa in the basement.

In the homey coffee shop, I glanced through a little book of photos called Horrible London. While I sat at the coffee bar looking out the window, the Cream song Tales of Brave Ulysses was playing on a record player and that made me feel happy because it reminded me of my friend, dear Martin Sharp, who wrote the lyrics and I knew it would have made him happy that I heard them at that time when I was feeling a bit lonely, before the conference started.

I had been very concerned about crossing the border because, although I used to do that all the time as a dancer, I had not done it in a while.

A lawyer working for the conference had advised me not to bring my cell phone, high heels, lingerie or condoms or anything to indicate I was planning on having a good time – and under no circumstances was I to say I was going to attend a hookers’ convention. I felt a bit lost without the necessities of life and tried to figure out how to explain why I was going all the way to Chicago. Was it to just look at Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks painting? Why had someone else paid for my airfare and hotel?

Fortunately, I had visited a drop-in center for street girls a few days before my trip (there are no drop-in centers for boat girls). I was looking for some more normal clothing, since most of my clothes are either costumes or rags or a combination of both. I found a nice thin loose grey sweater, a cheap quilted pastel plaid vest and a bulky grey below-the-knee skirt. Best of all I met a capable, bright young lady with a shaved head and skin riddled with piercings and tattoos who told me the secret of crossing the border. She said she did it all the time.

Anna Smith, Chicago Virgin

Anna reflects on cross-border dress protocol

How, I wondered, did she get away with it? Surely she would have been detained for hours and scoured for drugs?

They held my sister for an hour – and she dresses in fine hand-woven fabrics and she’s an archaeologist (not my priest sister – she is totally fashionable).

My archaeologist sister is a textile conservator. Well I guess she does look a bit suspicious, because she often wears hand-made clothing rather like what they wore in the Middle Ages.

She’s in Colombia right now because the museum she works for sends her abroad to deliver artefacts because she is entirely trustworthy. She has to carry the artefacts in her hand luggage. If the artefacts are extremely valuable – like some beaten-up flag from an Arctic expedition – they send an armed guard to accompany her. If she has to use the toilet at an airport, the guard watches her luggage. Sometimes, because of the way she dresses, she gets mistaken for a Buddhist monk and that causes confusion, because Buddhist monks don’t usually have armed guards.

She says the rest of her work is bureaucratic and mostly tedious, but I think it’s great. She usually gets to listen to the CBC at work and she has a washing machine and ironing boards in her office. In the summertime, they sometimes park John Lennon’s yellow Rolls Royce in the lobby of the museum and put barriers around it so nobody can touch it. When this happens, my sister goes into a closet and fetches a special long duster that says Rolls Royce Only written on it by hand. She puts on white cotton gloves, slips under the barrier and she dusts each part of the exterior very modestly and precisely, almost like a dance. Japanese tourists especially like to watch her do the dusting.

Anyway, at The Chicago Virgin hotel, I was very, very well behaved and only used the sink for the purpose for which it was designed.

Anna Smith’s Virgin Chicago sheep present

The Virgin Hotel shower sheep present from Richard Branson

I found a little sheep in the shower. I think it is a hotel thing. Someone did a study. A sheep in the shower. I heard some hotels put a doll on your bed, which would be revolting. The sheep I found to be mildly intrusive, but then I took it for a walk.

The main thing I bought in Chicago was crisps – a surprising request from a relative in Vancouver. He wanted foreign crisps.

I found the secret to crossing the Canada/US border is, when they ask the reason for your trip, to say: I am going to a Women’s Health Conference.

The immigration official will blanche and hurry you along without many more questions.


As Cream’s Tales of Brave Ulysses was mentioned, here is a video on YouTube with annoyingly tinny vocals.

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Filed under Censorship, Sex

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