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The Peculiar Political Economics of Pro-Domming

lumpenproletariat meme 1“So, I figured out what happened to Jane,” the dungeon manager said.

“Oh?”

“My friend ran into her the other day. She’s a cop now.”

“I guess that makes some kind of sense ,” I said.

“Mmhhmm. She can beat-up people legally now.”

That’s the punchline. Do you get it? Let me take all the humor out of it by explaining: in most U.S. jurisdictions, professional dommes are criminalized under prostitution laws 1, and police can de facto brutalize whoever they want, especially if that person is Black like the dungeon manager is. Her joke isn’t funny-ha-ha; it’s ironic. It’s also funny-strange: why would a fascist like Jane spend years working as a petty criminal?

I’m going to hazard a guess and say that Jane bought the popular line about pro-dommes. It seems we’ve confused dressing up in Slutty Cop Halloween costumes and consensually slapping men’s scrotums with having real power. And when I say “we,” I don’t just mean Jane and other BDSM pros. I mean everyone. I mean, look at this recent example of how the media covers professional domination:

“The new group Dommes for Bernie placed an ad on Manhattan’s Backpage.com classifieds on Friday, calling for Wall Street workers to step up for punishment worthy of the Bernie Sanders presidential platform,” Mary Emily O’Hara writes at The Daily Dot. Both O’Hara and the DfB present ad copy as testament to a reality in which pro-dommes really do discipline our clients. “We think it’s poetic justice to dominate men who benefit from capitalism, and then donate their tributes to a candidate who stands up for those most harmed by it,” O’Hara quotes one of the dommes as saying. I fail to see the poetry or the justice of a man quite happily paying a woman for a highly gendered form of labor, and the woman taking her money and doing with it as she sees fit—in this case, donating to a center-left candidate for the presidency of a neocolonial empire that stands on stolen land.

But then, I also don’t see how a half dozen or so fin-dommes have transformed “fuck you, pay me” dirty talk into a semi-coherent rhetoric of wealth redistribution on certain strains of social justice Twitter. It seems obvious to me that gamely paying $20 in Amazon gift cards for a carefully calibrated performance of sexualized bitchiness is not full communism. Where did everyone else get it twisted?

Stay In Your Fucking Lane, Male Reporters

Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 5.15.31 PMThe past week certainly was a banner one for record lows in sex work journalism, wasn’t it?

Queer Muslim Sex Worker (2017)

(Photo courtesy of Amy Ashenden)

Queer Muslim Sex Worker: These are labels that aren’t supposed to go together, but in the life of Maryam, a genderfluid Pakistani Muslim person living in London, they do. A newly released, independently-funded podcast with this title by journalist Amy Ashenden aims to shed light on how Maryam’s different identities are sexualized, vilified, and ostracized in their own ways.

As she navigates her various forms of closetedness “like a maze,” Maryam’s candor lets the listener in on how stressful this life is. In fact, it is so stressful that she’s often had suicidal thoughts because of it. At the end of the podcast, Maryam relates how since finally being disowned by her family after hiding her sexuality and her experience in the sex industry from them, she’s been unable to focus on her responsibilities, dealing with the trauma of abandonment by numbing out with alcohol and partying at strip clubs. I feel for her because I can relate to that sense of hopelessness.

In a culture with highly communal values, your life is not your own. Your life actually belongs to your family, and anything you do or say can either bring honor or shame to them. For this reason, it’s extremely rare for Muslims to talk openly about gender and sexuality.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t Muslims who are LGBTQ, it just means they’re not welcome in the Muslim community. As Maryam observes, “I’ve never seen a queer Muslim person who came out to the community and was welcomed with open arms.”

If being gay is bad news to the community, being a sex worker is even worse. However, the Muslim community itself creates the necessity for survival sex work by rejecting members of the community who are queer. As Maryam explains that she is saving the money she earns from webcam work to support herself in case she is rejected or disowned by her family for being gay, she illustrates how Muslim youth are not exempt from one of the most typical ways young people first become involved in sex work: by being disowned by their parents for being gay. The ability to take ownership of our bodies and sexuality is even something that draws people like us to do sex work.

My recommendation to Muslim youth who ask me about coming out is always to wait until they’re financially self-sufficient. We already know what happens to people like us. “I think I’d be sort of exiled from the community until I changed my ways,” Maryam says sarcastically when asked what would happen if she came out.

When traditional Muslim family values clash with the individualism that is the hallmark of Western culture, we take up a new fight beyond oppressive regimes and occupation back home and racism, xenophobia, and anti-immigrant sentiment here. Now we’re fighting for the freedom to be ourselves, beyond those labels and intersecting identities.

2016’s Best Sex Work Writing

Caty’s picks:

Media Coverage of Sex Workers Erases Our Voices by Lily Fury
Tits and Sass contributor Lily Fury’s Establishment piece confronts a problem which we’ve devoted thousands of words to on this site: the flattening, sanitizing, and sensationalizing of sex workers’ stories by the mainstream media. The quotes she elicits from interview subjects like Shagasyia Diamond and Akynos Shekara on their misrepresentation and erasure by journalists in favor of whiter, more well-heeled, and respectable representatives of our profession are searing: “The white victim is always the victim people feel sorry for,” Shekara observes. And Fury turns the endless debate about listening to sex workers on its head, asking: “Should non-sex-workers be allowed to speak for us? Is there a way for journalists who haven’t worked in the sex industry to write about it responsibly?”

I’m A Sex Worker Who Was Raped, Here’s Why I Didn’t Fight Back by Holiday Black
[Content warning: graphic description of sexual assault] This was the piece I saw linked most often this year within my sex worker peer group. I wish we all didn’t identify with it so much, but Black excels in depicting the profoundly fucked up reality we live in.

My Hopes & Fears About Becoming A Mother After Being A Sex Worker by Melissa Petro
Petro delves into intimate territory with testimonies on the often fraught relationships sex workers have with their mothers and reflections on how this shapes us if we become parents ourselves. I couldn’t get this quote from Meg Valee Munoz out of my head: “There’s this painful thing that happens when you’re a sex worker and become a mother. You start to realize how incredibly intense a mother’s love is, yet start to question why your own mother’s love was not strong enough to reject stigma and accept you.”

#Black SexWorkersLivesMatter: White-Washed “Anti-Slavery” And The Appropriation of Black Suffering by Robin Maynard
Feminist Wire posted this stunning manifesto in 2015, but since we didn’t point it out last year, I’m taking the chance now. Maynard’s piece explains why the prohibitionist lobby’s use of the term “slavery” drowns out the concerns of Black sex workers. In the process, she creates an information-packed primer on Black feminist and sex worker movements against the prison industrial complex.

The Peculiar Political Economics of Pro-Domming by Lori Adorable
Adorable is at her brilliant best here inquiring why pro-dommes confuse the paid performance of control with material power: “I…don’t see how a half dozen or so fin-dommes have transformed ‘fuck you, pay me’ dirty talk into a semi-coherent rhetoric of wealth redistribution on certain strains of social justice Twitter.”

The Tedium of Trans Sex Work by Sarah
In a wryly funny and insightful piece, Sarah tells us about the extra heaping of objectification that comes with being a sex working trans woman: “[Clients] want some kind of once-in-a-lifetime bucket list sexual experience, have no idea what that is, and expect that you’ll be able to provide it—because that’s what they think trans women are there for.”

Porno-Enlightenment: How Pornography Propagates A Liberal Worldview by Angel Archer
Angel Archer/Rebeka Refuse stands out among sex worker writers in her sharp command of Marxist analysis. In this piece, she examines porn as part of the political ideology of liberalism, tracing the connection from the Marquis de Sade, to the Cold War, and on to Pornhub.

What Trump Means For Sex Workers by Juniper Fitzgerald
In impassioned but incisive prose, Fitzgerald explains why Trump’s election should make us think about guiding the sex workers’ rights movement away from my-body-my-choice libertarianism into a collectivism which defies what the President-Elect stands for.

As A Sex Worker, I’m Terrified For The Next Four Years by Hennessy Williams
On a more personal note, a couple of weeks after the election, Williams gave voice to the the way we all fear for our safety under Trump, especially those of us who are people of color and LGBTQ.  She also spoke to the cognitive dissonance of seeing clients who rejoiced in the new regime: “Already, I’ve heard my clients who work in the pharmaceutical and finance industries express excitement about how their industries will flourish under Trump, giddy with the results many Americans took as bad news.”

Josephine’s picks:

Why Prince Was a Hero to Strippers by Lily Burana and Naked Music Monday: Prince by Bubbles (Susan Elizabeth Shepard)
Because Prince was uniquely important to strippers.

Support Hos: Deadpool by Maggie McMuffin
A Marvel superhero film whose romantic lead is a kick-ass sex worker: what could be better? McMuffin’s review is a delightful read even if you’re not a comic book geek.

“Junkie Whore”—What Life is Really Like for Sex Workers on Heroin by Caty Simon
The writer draws from her personal life and the lives of other opioid-using sex workers to illustrate how inaccurate the junkie whore trope truly is.

2016’s Best Investigative Reporting on Sex Work

Murder in the Bayou, by Ethan Brown
Eight murdered woman from Jefferson Davis parish in Louisiana had two things in common: a background in drugs and/or sex work. The police blamed a serial killer. But Brown discovered something else the victims had in common: they had all worked as informants for law enforcement of some kind. The rampant police misconduct Brown uncovers in his careful reporting illustrates that the people who should have protected those women are partially responsible for their deaths.

Badge of Dishonor: Top Oakland Police Officials Looked Away as East Bay Cops Sexually Exploited and Trafficked a Teenager, by Darwin BondGraham and Ali Winston
Two reporters expose one of the most extreme examples of law enforcement exploitation when their investigation reveals that an alarming number of police officers slept with the same sex working youth in Oakland, California.

“We Can Help One Another”: Drug Use, Survival Sex, And Hope Among Afghanistan’s Marginalized Women, by Michelle Tolson
Michelle Tolson manages to obtain raw, poignant interviews with a mostly invisible population, illustrating why gender-specific support is even more vital for sex working and/or drug using women in Afghanistan in light of problems like the strictures of short-term marriage contracts, the lack of legitimate income sources for women, and heightened stigma and victim-blaming.

The Truth About the Biggest Sex Trafficking Story of the Year, by Elizabeth Nolan Brown
Innocent men are criminalized while migrant workers are called victims. Spoiler: the police exaggerated—when they weren’t outright lying.

Daniel Holtzclaw: Lawsuit Claims Police “Covered Up” Sexual Assault Complaint, by Molly Redden [Content warning: descriptions of sexual assault]
The Guardian details how the lawsuit filed by Oklahoma cop rapist Holtzclaw’s victim Jamie Ligons maintains that the Oklahoma City Police Department was well aware of Holtzclaw’s assaults. They’d received complaints from many of his Black, low-income, sex-working and/or drug-using victims as early as 8 to 10 months before his suspension from the force. But it was only after Ligons, a woman with no record who had a “familial relationship” with the department, made her complaint that the department finally took decisive action.

The Throwaways: How Detroit is becoming a flashpoint for violence against transwomen, by Allie Gross
A spate of deadly violence in Detroit forces us to examine exactly how hard trans women of color have to work to survive.

The NYPD Arrests Women for Who They Are and Where They Go — Now They’re Fighting Back, by Melissa Gira Grant
New York’s Loitering for the Purpose of Engaging in Prostitution law gives the NYPD clearance to surveil, stereotype, target, and arrest women as possible sex workers—most of whom are low-income, black, and gender nonconforming.

The Audition, by Sydney Brownstone [Content warning: descriptions of sexual assault]
Brownstone painstakingly traces the roots of an elaborate and long-running faux porn recruitment scheme, in which a photographer invented a friendly adult film agent woman persona to scam vulnerable young women into sleeping with him. His rapes led one victim to attempt suicide.

Threadbareby Anne Elizabeth Moore
A vital condemnation of the global garment industry that illustrates (literally! it’s a comic!) its questionable relationship with anti-trafficking NGOs.

The Disturbing Trend of Vigilante Attacks On Sex Workers, by Frankie Mullin
All of Mullin’s sex work reporting in Vice this year, from her examination of an anti-sex work charity misrepresenting their research on a small sample group of survival workers to portray all sex workers as poorly paid and desperate to her piece on October’s Operation Lanhydrock and the history of raids on migrant massage parlor workers in London’s Soho and Chinatown over the past few years, has been uniformly excellent. But perhaps her best this year was this article on the under-reported phenomenon of vigilante attacks against sex workers cropping up throughout the UK and Ireland. To follow this story, Mullin spoke to outreach centers as well as individual sex workers and gathered the few statistics that were available. She even spoke to a man who started a Facebook thread online in support of a menacing brothel protest in Belfast’s Donegal Pass, in which people posted comments advocating “ethnic cleansing” and “a night of the long knives.” The author ties all this reportage together by considering the utility of extending the Merseyside Model, in which crimes against sex workers are counted as hate crimes, as well as pointing out the connection between the violent rhetoric of criminalization and these vigilantes acts.

How Canada’s Immigration Laws Make Migrant Sex Workers’ Jobs More Dangerous, by Brigitte Noel
Pulling together telling quotes from interviews with representatives of Immigration and Citizenship Canada and Canada’s Border Services Agency, as well as with Asian migrant sex worker advocacy organization Butterfly’s president Elene Lam, Brigitte Noel outlines how Bill C-36 and immigration policies combine to persecute and deport immigrant sex workers.

Pizzagate Rumors Falsely Link Death Of Sex-Worker Advocate To Nonexistent Clinton Probe, by Glenn Kessler
This Washington Post writer employs the paper’s penchant for rigorous fact-checking in service of sex worker rights advocate Monica Petersen’s memory. Petersen was a brilliant researcher who traveled to Haiti for her work critiquing the trafficking narrative. But after Pizzagate blew up, a fresh spate of fake news painted her suicide death there as retaliatory murder by the Clinton Foundation for an anti-trafficking investigation against them—an investigation Petersen never conducted.

Impunity Has Consequences: The Women Lost To Mexico’s Drug War, by Nina Lakhani
Lakhani’s reporting reveals that many sex workers contracted for political events and private parties with cartel members and government officials have gone missing along with thousands of other women in Mexico. The theory is that these drug war victims were disappeared because they knew too much about the connection between high-level drug dealers and corrupt politicians. These women are vulnerable to both abduction and femicide by the cartels and illegal imprisonment and torture by the security forces.

Why Are Strippers More Heavily Vetted Than Uber Drivers?, by Susan Elizabeth Shepard
Same labor model, vastly different regulations. An explanation.