Tag Archives: sex work

On sex work, intersectional feminism, the anti-trafficking movement, and SWERFs.

Sex workers and feminists have a fraught relationship, in part due to the mainstream nature of SWERF (sex worker exclusionary feminist) narratives, that hold the very existence of the sex industry as a form of gendered, misogynist violence. This makes it very difficult for sex workers to feel safe in feminist spaces, unfortunately. So I wanted to highlight sex work’s place in intersectional feminism, and exploring the sex work community’s role in outside dialogues on the sex industry.

Continue reading On sex work, intersectional feminism, the anti-trafficking movement, and SWERFs.

On the expectation of exploitation in sex work

I’m recovering from some personal issues, but my mind’s as active as ever. And there’s been something on my mind for a while. So here goes.

I’ve slowed down on publishing Love and Lapdances, although I do have a lot of material ready to go. Too many other projects demanding my attention, and Love and Lapdances is a niche project, in part because it’s so far from the stories the market usually bears about sex workers. It’s more a labor of love than a for-profit endeavor, and that sometimes means it takes a backseat.

So, to satisfy my own desire to share my insights, I’m going to be trying to blog a little more, explaining some of the thoughts that make it into the subtext, the little things I hope people carry with them after reading works like the newly-released Bad, Bad Thing, and Love and Lapdances, which star sex workers.

First up, let’s talk exploitation, the thing that comes first and foremost to most people’s minds when they think about sex work.

Continue reading On the expectation of exploitation in sex work

When “help” hurts worse than none at all: 8 Minutes and “saving” sex workers.

Okay. So if you’ve been following my facebook feed or have seen other media coverage of the clusterfuck that was the television show 8 Minutes, you already know the basics. But here’s a synopsis.
A show called 8 Minutes was planned for A&E, focusing around an anti-trafficking former cop and current pastor who believes that he has 8 minutes with a sex worker he books to convince her to let him help her leave the life before her pimp catches on, endangering her life and the pastor’s. Assumption being that she’s always a trafficking victim who is there unwillingly, and who has never imagined she might do anything else.
Since before it aired, sex worker activists were concerned: this type of attitude bears little connection to reality and assumes a link between sex trafficking and sex work that erases the presence of consensual sex workers and nonviolent economic/systemic coercion, in favor of xenophobic and racist visuals of foreign and/or black pimps/managers/owners preying on vulnerable young innocent white women, or submissive, silent Asian women. Even the promo images showed a slender, young white woman with her face blurred (which they didn’t do for a number of the women on the show), to prey upon “it could be your DAUGHTER” fears, erasing the presence of non-binary, LGBT or trans sex workers (Calling out trans specifically, because many trans sex workers face challenges that other cis-appearing sex workers might not), sex workers of color, any and all intersections of both, as well as implying a “helpless” dynamic through her youthful appearance and perceived fragility.
These images and the cultural shorthand they evoke champion policies that force a lot of innocent sex workers as well as sex trafficking victims into the criminal justice system, and hurt all sex workers and sex trafficking victims alike. But worse yet, it exposes a core problem in the way that outsiders approach the proposition of helping sex workers.
See, what this pastor did, according to several of the show’s participants, wasn’t to help the desperate sex workers/ “trafficking victims” involved… it was to mislead them about the extent of the aid available, out them on national TV by failing to blur their face, and link them to lists of services they’d already exhausted as “compensation” for wrecking their lives, despite earlier promises to provide concrete aid. Much has been written on this, and a lawsuit is in progress on behalf of three workers whose lives were upended by this practice, to negative effect. The production company that made the whole thing happen is declaring bankruptcy to avoid financial repercussions. But another vile facet rarely discussed is how 8 Minutes let down the general public, as well as the people caught in its net. 8 Minutes framed the sex workers who agreed to accept their assistance as trafficking victims, thus perpetuating misleading myths about sex trafficking to the general public. Workers were approached in advance, and some were brought to the appointment by friends or partners, who were falsely portrayed as their pimps or traffickers to confirm the Good Pastor Brown (all sarcasm intended)’s claim that they were trafficking victims controlled by violent pimps. This is pretty par for the course when sex workers or trafficking victims who don’t consider what happened to them trafficking seek help. Many organizations require the person to label themselves a victim, even when they do not feel that label is accurate, or beneficial. And this mentality is at the core of why some jurisdictions have relabeled the courts that hear prostitution charges trafficking courts, instead. Positioning themselves as helping the people who come through the court…. with the same incarceration and threat of legal repercussions as before, but with an added dose of “self-esteem boosters”.
This is what happens when we don’t  listen to sex workers who want to get out, and trafficking survivors. Because this behavior benefits neither, and any of them could tell you that. Raising “awareness” through publicity stunts like this show comes on the backs of the people they’re trying to help. The truth becomes meaningless, as do the lives of the people they’re targeting to aid. Because what those people want or need isn’t relevant- only their savior’s cause, that elusive awareness that we somehow don’t have, despite billions of dollars and dozens of high-profile shills.
The way to help someone isn’t misleading them into burning the bridge into the one option they had, and telling them you’ll pray for them when you won’t offer real help, as Brown did to Kamylla, one of the sex workers suing Relativity Media. Or demanding they volunteer for the political candidate who pays your budget and gave you the In to “help” them to stay out of jail and have a better chance of returning to their family, through influencing their hearings in court, as Kathryn Griffin’s “We’ve Been There Done That” diversion program- another friend of the show- does.
It’s shitty human behavior of the worst kind. It’s fraudulent, and it shows a reckless disregard for others’ safety. It’s inappropriate professionally, ethically, morally, or any other term you can think of that we use to compartmentalize our behavior.
Yet people do this to marginalized and disadvantaged people all the time, in the name of “saving” them from their bad choices. To some, it’s better to wreck a prostitute’s life than to let her whore around as her own choice.
In what way is this behavior Christian, spiritual, or even decent human behavior?
And in what way is anyone served having a general public that’s been repeatedly mislead about the nature of a problem, to raise money for the organizations trying to “raise awareness” or solve it?
To help Kamylla, one of the 8 Minutes victims, who is still unable to get a job with a fraudulent prostitution charge on her record, donate here.
To view sex worker reviews on rescue organizations, and charitable organizations offering help, check out Rate That Rescue.

Not Good For Me: An Interview with Suzy Favor Hamilton

Sometimes I get to do really effing cool things. Now’s one of those times. Recently, I reviewed Suzy Favor Hamilton’s memoir Fast Girl: A Life Spent Running From Madness, and now I’m back, having gotten to speak to the lady, herself!

Both the review, and the interview can be read on Tits and Sass, one of the best websites out there covering sex work-specific interests.

If you aren’t familiar with Suzy Favor Hamilton’s story, she’s a former Olympic athlete who was outed in 2012 as a Las Vegas agency escort. With a family history of bipolar disorder, and after obtaining her own diagnosis, she wrote the memoir to discuss her experiences with mental illness and her early career, and how she found her way to escorting. Lots of fascinating stuff, since mental illness and sex work are both highly stigmatized, and that puts those who have experience with both at a particular disadvantage in the public discourse.

So check out T&S for what she has to say!

I’ll be back with news of exciting new releases, and whatnot, just as soon as I can take a break from my hellish NaNoWriMo quota.

On Aspirational Figures and Life After Sex Work

Margaret Cho just came out on twitter as a former sex worker. And maybe that doesn’t seem too exciting, but for a field that’s largely kept underground, and whose stories are portrayed by outsiders, it’s huge.

Think of the first time you heard a story about a stripper or a full service sex worker. Was it a story of violence and exploitation focusing on their murdered body? Was it a cautionary tail about their spiral down, drawing broad connections between their whoredom and other “tragic” melodramas, such as substance abuse, mental illness, childhood abuse? Or was it a story about the white knight saving them, in which they wring their hands and wait for him to do the right thing, removing them from this life of depravity and danger? Was she a hooker with a heart of gold, who deserved better than that life?

How many sex workers can you think of who’ve been portrayed after they left the work, compared to how many who were shown as dying because of the work? Not many, I’ll bet. I certainly didn’t see many, growing up. This imbalance has drastic and far-reaching effects on the lives of sex workers. From family who immediately assume we’re unsafe or sick when we come out about the work, to partners who always assume we’re “less than”, because of our previous or ongoing choice to be a sex worker. To employers who a sex worker must conceal her work from, rather than have it held against her. Or one who’s denied employment because it can’t be hidden from that background check. It even affects public policy that dictates what legal recourse sex workers have to protest exploitation, through government employees encouraged to see sex work as an inherent evil to be punished, with no nuance or attention paid to the details of the lives of those in that life. It undermines sex workers’ ability to seek support, making harmful and devaluing judgments cultural shorthand.

It ties into a far larger pattern of devaluing our labor. Think about it. When was the last time you heard someone imply that sex work was “easy money”, or “not a real job?” Or that those who did it were short-sighted, stupid, talentless, or somehow unemployable or worth less than normal workers? While it’s true that not all sex workers may be MENSA candidates, it’s a far cry to apply those judgments to them as a collective whole. Sex work requires a very particular set of skills that can be quite intense and difficult to acquire. And judgments like that undermine the fact that those skills can translate well into other fields. The experience of running your own business, whether a sex work related one or not, is a huge boon, helping a worker be independent, self-sufficient, confident and more resilient when faced with no’s, or criticisms… all of these qualities are never explored over the trajectory of sex workers’ lives, in the media. Let’s just say she lays on her back and that’s it.

Sex workers deserve aspirational figures same as everyone else. We deserve celebrities who do sex work through the hard times and go on to blow people’s minds. We deserve discussions on how to translate sex work skills to the larger economy.

If you know where to look, you can find an amazing community of activists, former sex workers, current sex workers trying to rewrite the way our stories are told, but the deeper down the rabbit hole you have to look to find it, the fewer people are gonna be able to. Most of us don’t pick up memoirs for our fun reading, after all. And the process of pulling together a memoir is long and intense and rewards particular kinds of privilege, which makes it harder to get the full range of stories out and visible in a field that’s cluttered with genre fiction subplots written by people who still think the average age of entry into prostitution is 13.

No. If we’re gonna tear this thing down and start making room to show a variety of sex work experiences that would enable us to examine the systemic factors that contribute to people feeling forced into it, or continuing in the work when it’s not healthy for them, we need to start from the ground up. We need sex workers writing about sex workers in every story imaginable. From romances that don’t revolve around their saviors, to police procedurals that don’t begin with them dead. There’s plenty of stories to tell, and we need to be the ones telling them.

A little on the importance of respectful representation.

Okay. So some of you’ve noticed that I’m *ahem* outspoken on some issues, such as issues related to sex work, domestic violence, etc.

And the why for that’s what I want to talk about today.

Trigger warning for discussions on sexual abuse, self-harm, mental illness, all that stuff.

Continue reading A little on the importance of respectful representation.

Sex work and Criminalization: 10 Harms of Criminalization

Some of you (those who follow me on facebook, you poor souls) may have heard me agitating about Amnesty International’s draft proposal to decriminalize sex work. This week, a variant of that proposal was voted into policy. This changes nothing for sex workers immediately, however Amnesty’s support enables sex worker rights organizations and other groups to apply pressure to countries to change individual laws that infringe on the rights of sex workers.

In celebration, let me break down 10 ways criminalization and stigma harms sex workers, trafficking victims, and marginalized communities. For those who got bored by my massive post, with links, on the terms that define the sex industry. Visit that post for links on this one; I don’t have another 50+ link research paper bibliography in me. Not when I’ve still got stories to tell, and books to share with you. Also, this is far from a complete list; this issue is exceedingly complex. If you want more information on it, Amnesty’s draft proposal is great, too, containing a plethora of new research.

TW: sexism, racism, abelism, transphobia and homophobia, sexual assault and violence, exploitation, police violence.

Continue reading Sex work and Criminalization: 10 Harms of Criminalization

On Amnesty International’s recommendation to completely decriminalize prostitution and related work (AKA pimping).

So. Amnesty International just came out in favor of decriminalizing prostitution and related work.

“consensual sexual conduct between adults—which excludes acts that involve coercion, deception, threats, or violence—is entitled to protection from state interference.”

In response, many organizations purported to be anti-trafficking, as well as a great many celebrities, including Anne Hathaway, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Meryl Streep, and Lena Dunham have spoken out against that policy, stating “[We are] deeply troubled by Amnesty’s proposal to adopt a policy that calls for the decriminalization of pimps, brothel owners and buyers of sex — the pillars of a $99 billion global sex industry.” (The full letter can be downloaded at that link.)

And in the wake of this disagreement, I’m seeing a lot of misunderstandings pop up. So I’m gonna try to clear a few of them up. Massive trigger warning on this: rape, violence toward women, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, racism, poverty, and a host of other issues are gonna come up. Much of this is US centered, however many things also hold true for the global sex trade, though the specifics of the laws may vary.

Continue reading On Amnesty International’s recommendation to completely decriminalize prostitution and related work (AKA pimping).