This Time, It’s Personal

via soulkreations on Etsy

via soulkreations on Etsy

Monica Jones was both a student in and a target of the Arizona State School of Social Work when she was arrested in a sweep that was part of Project ROSE, the prostitution diversion program that’s a partnership between the school and the Phoenix PD. We asked sex workers who, like Monica, are students in or graduates of social work programs, to talk with moderator Tara Burns about the ethical and professional intersections of sex work and social work. The participants are:

Serpent: I’m a longtime sex worker, an active board member of SWOP-Chicago and one of the people behind AIT Research, a research project on trafficking in the sex trade. I’m also currently enrolled in a MSW program in Chicago. Find my websites at sexpros.net, redlightdistrictchicago.com, and AdultIndustryTruth.com, and my tweets at @redlightchicago and @AITResearch.

Katie: I have been a dancer for about 18 months, and I recently entered and withdrew from a Masters of Counseling in Marriage, Couples, & Family Therapy program. I currently work full time as a domestic violence advocate and work with our local sex worker outreach coalition. I write at sexualityreclaimed.com.

Cyan: I danced and also did the more private variety of sex work from age 21 to age 27 in Los Angeles and in Vegas. Now I am in my second year of a Masters in Clinical Counseling program. I’m currently too busy with school, work, and single parenting to write in it very much lately, but I have a blog called snapshots of a spiral path.

Annie: I have been involved off and on in sex work for about the last seven years, mostly escorting, some massage. I’m currently in a Social Work Ph.D program, and finished my MSW in 2010. I also work as the program coordinator for an LGBTQ IPV program. Before starting my Ph.D program, I coordinated a harm reduction program for folks working on the street. Right now, I’m doing a lot of education with a colleague, to various organizations and university programs, on students working in the sex industry. Annie is one of my working names.

Tara: I’ve done all kinds of sex work off and on for well over a decade, and I recently had a brush with an MSW program. I blog at ecowhore.com.

What is/was your experience with a social work/counseling program? Did they know you were a sex worker? [READ MORE]

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littledickI

Let’s admit it; the job does follow us home. Instead of protesting otherwise, we should claim the potential insight and knowledge of using what we learn and practice while working in our personal lives . While we rightfully contest the ways in which abolitionists frame us as the walking dead—victims who must disassociate to perform the labor (because no one else does that at work ever), brainwashed automatons with no agency—we should also challenge the proscriptive models for intimacy that these parties are covertly espousing through their wish for our extinction. Sex workers unsettle dominant cultural narratives about intimacy and romantic love. We may ignite a set of scorching critiques about these culturally under-examined realms; critiques that expose why abolitionist feminism is so attractive to many people who have no actual interest in the well-being of those in the sex trades.

Amongst ourselves, we talk about how to navigate relations with clients, third-party management, law enforcement, social service providers, and other sex workers. We theorize and debate how to conduct these relationships dependent on various aims. We call for people to become allies and try to provide a model for what that looks like. But how often do we talk about the messy experience of what it can mean and feel like to be a whore in the ‘private’ realm? What happens after we decide to disclose our status as sex workers to SOFFAs (significant others, family, friends, and allies)? How are our intimate relationships shaped by our experiences as sex workers? Inevitably, we experience and negotiate whorephobia in these relationships, so why don’t we discuss how working in the sex industry shapes our experience of intimacy? Perhaps because we fear walking into a trap set by those who are only too happy to look at our departure from social norms and pathologize us. If so, I challenge us: let’s talk about intimacy.

You fell in love with him partly because he was such a good ally. You never had to define terms for him or defend the work to him. He went out of his way to educate himself and others, he asked you about your work day, and he electrified your workplace by periodically bringing his swaggering butch self in to visit. Until one night, a long-brewing fight about the relationship explodes in a rage, and he pulls a Don Draper on you.

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(photo by worth1000.com user garrettkipp. image via worth1000.com)

(photo by worth1000.com user garrettkipp. image via worth1000.com)

Sex work comes with a lot of fringe perks: convenient hours, creative work uniforms, and basically having the coolest job on the planet. One of the lesser-known perks of sex work are the gifts we receive: the tokens of appreciation that the men that favor us hand out around the holidays. Most of the time we get the traditional pretty girl-type gifts. A box of chocolates. An austere piece of jewelry. Maybe a bottle of perfume.

Any veteran sex worker will tell you that he or she has also unwrapped something a little…peculiar. It’s true—we get a lot of weird gifts (it’s worth noting that weird isn’t necessarily synonymous with bad). We’ve learned over time how to gracefully accept some, shall we say, unconventional presents.

Our clients and customers try, they really do, to mixed results. Bless their hearts.

We wondered: What sort of oddities have our readers received?

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Mariko Passion, from "Colonizer Fantasy" series (Photo by Alex Safron, copyright Mariko Passion 2010)

Mariko Passion, from the “Colonizer Fantasy” series (Photo by Alex Safron, copyright Mariko Passion 2010)

Participants: Ho Lee Fuk 1, Nada 2, Christian Vega3, and Kate Zen; moderated by Mariko Passion

We at Tits and Sass wanted to run a series on racial fetishization in sex work. We were interested in questions like “What is it like for sex workers of color to labor in an industry where customers’ racist attitudes are often allowed to run rampant and may even be encouraged by management or workers themselves as a way to generate more income?” “How does your race shape the way you create and market your work persona?” “Are there advantages as well as disadvantages to being of color and working in the sex industry?” Mariko took this idea, found participants, and ran with it, creating an East Asian sex worker round table. We’d also love to hear from non-Asian sex workers of color on their fetishization in the sex trade and how they cope with it, capitalize on it, and rise above it.

Note from Mariko: This is just one roundtable. No social justice lens was used to select the voices heard here, and to be transparent, all the participants have a four year degree and all except one are part of pretty exclusive circles of global activism and First World/class privileged cisgendered folks. This post is not meant to be THE voice of East Asian sex workers, just an interesting, well voiced snapshot.

What are some racialized marketing techniques you have experimented with in your sex work?

Ho Lee Fuk: My ad did say Asian, and I had a full face pic, but it was both to advertise my race and to warn off clients who weren’t seeking [an] Asian [provider]. Of the great and minor disappointments in life, there’s nothing like getting dim sum when you really want lasagna.

Nada: I just try to be myself, I don’t put ASIAN ASIAN ASIAN everywhere.

Kate Zen: Oh, I market it consciously. Especially here in Quebec, where there are fewer Asians around.

Ho Lee Fuk: There are like four male sex workers in the whole East Bay (location, location, location!), and I was the only Asian. Which meant I didn’t have to compete with these muscle girls with nine inch cocks working in SF. I was kind of the prettiest dish on the knick-knacks table at the church bazaar.

What is one scene involving Asian race play that you refuse to do? What is your criteria for rejection?

Kate Zen: I’m kind of ashamed to say that I don’t have a strong criteria for rejection. If you pay me enough money, most dominant roles are fair game, since it’s all clearly pretend to me anyways. I feel that my client’s personal ignorance is his own problem. I don’t usually make it my job to educate him. However, I don’t often switch or play submissive roles, which is more often the Asian stereotype—so sometimes, just by insisting on a dominant role in every scene, I feel that I am rejecting many Asian stereotypes. In fact, it’s a relief that I can say: “Hey Mom! I’m not exactly a doctor like you wanted, but sometimes, I still get to wear a stethoscope!”

Nada: I refused to be a yoga teacher. I think it is the worst kind of appropriation in the West. But don’t worry—I only apply this criteria to my own actions. I understand everyone will do what they need to in their own lives.
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World War II military propaganda poster, circa 1940 (Image courtesy of the National Library of Medicine)

1940 World War II military propaganda poster (Image courtesy of the National Library of Medicine)

I was in the midst of a pretty good day when I received a phone call from one of my non-client lovers. The poor boy had come down with a case of throat gonorrhea, which I didn’t even know was a thing.  He was just calling to let me know I had been exposed the last time we had sex, since we had made out with great vigor and he had also gone downtown, like the sweetheart he is. I thanked him for letting me know, told him to feel better, hung up and began to evaluate the situation in the calm and rational fashion that any sex-positive, non-monogamous person might try to evaluate a situation such as this.

Gonorrhea. No big deal, right? I have always expected to contract an STI at some point in my life, and as far as STIs go that’s not such a bad one. I was feeling a little funny in the junk, which I figured was probably due to a yeast infection. It seemed likely to me that I might, in fact, have gonorrhea, and I should probably get tested ASAP either way.

Then I remembered what I do for a living. I remembered that there weren’t just lovers whom I may have exposed, albeit unwittingly, but possibly about three clients as well. Even worse, I remembered that I desperately needed to make the money I was planning on making over the coming weekend— or else I wasn’t going to be able to pay my rent.

Mother. Fucker.

In my work as a full-service escort, STIs had always been a sort of intellectual, if abstract, concern. It is something I knew could be a really detrimental thing to have happen to my business, but it hadn’t happened yet, so I wasn’t too worried about it. Now here I was, in the exact situation I had only considered in the abstract. The one where I need to make money but can’t really figure out an ethical way to do so without exposing myself as every client’s worst nightmare: the poxy whore.

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