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How To Start A Post-SESTA Emergency Organizing Group

Maxine Holloway and Arabelle Raphael, co-founders of BAPS (photo by Light Theif, via BAPS)

This post was jointly written by Maxine Holloway and Arabelle Raphael, co-founders of BAPS.

On the morning after the Senate passed FOSTA we texted each other about whether we should remove our ads from our social media accounts. We weren’t exactly sure what to do and knew that many other people were in the same situation. FOSTA had not yet been signed into law, and sex workers all over the country already had difficult decisions about our livelihoods and safety to make. Mercurial legal and cyber information and advice were flying around Twitter, online forums, text threads, and worker Facebook groups like wildfire.

We decided to host an emergency meeting for Bay Area sex workers that very weekend. We hoped we would gather a few people in Maxine’s small Oakland living room to share information, and figure out the best ways to move forward. Our small meeting quickly turned into 60-plus concerned workers RSVPing for the gathering. Because of the gravity of this situation the event promptly developed into a comprehensive cybersecurity and risk analysis training; an overview of current advertising platform options; and strategic action planning around local sex worker safety, media advocacy, and policy work.

But the most crucial thing that came from our meeting that we were able to come together to support each other. We didn’t all know each other, but so many of us were able to share and somewhat sooth the fear, sadness, and anxiety that FOSTA created. This worker-to-worker support and solidarity didn’t leave a dry eye in the house.

After our first meeting, we knew we realized how much work there was to be done to keep our communities safer, connected, informed, and empowered. We decided to create an organization to centralize the work needed to advocate for the health, safety & livelihoods of sex workers post-FOSTA/SESTA legislation: Bay Area Pros Support (BAPS).

An integral part of BAPS is to recognize the diverse and intersecting identities that make up our larger sex worker communities and to center the needs of sex workers who have been hit the hardest by FOSTA and experience the most criminalization. It is important to our organization leverage the power and privilege in our communities to create support for workers with fewer resources. One of the most critical subcommittees we have is our Outreach Committee, created to reach workers that are not online, and work with them to connect them with support.

The purpose of this article is to share the information and resources that BAPS has gathered thus far—on cybersecurity, general FOSTA/SESTA information, and post-FOSTA-SESTA organizing. Below are detailed notes and action plans for our meetings. One of the biggest lessons we have learned is that having community support through this process has been crucial. We hope that the creation of BAPS will encourage other sex workers who wish to organize in their communities as well.

When reading this guide, please keep in mind that everyone is making decisions that are incredibly hard, and only you can know what’s right for you. We tried to gather as much information to share as possible to empower people to make the best decisions for themselves. There is no one or “right” way to navigate this complicated situation.

Saving Face

He was the perfect client. Well dressed and freshly showered, he brought me a small gift in which my precious dollar bills were discreetly enclosed, and our session finished before I was even fully undressed.

“How did you find me?” I asked him over cacio e peppe. I needed to recreate whatever marketing techniques scooped this guy for the rest of my career.

“I’ve been following your Twitter for years,” he replied.

My whore brain, which is really just a saloon girl holding an abacus after seven years of doing this job, quickly ran a rough estimation of every dollar I had lost by somehow failing to convince Mr. Right to get in touch sooner. He sensed the twinge of disappointment in my surprise. “Your photos are great!” he corrected, “I just…never understood the whole ‘hiding the face’ thing.”

My heart sank. There’s simply nothing that competes with the magnetism of the human gaze in a sea of faceless profiles, and it’s something I’ve heard from clients before. In sad contrast to a warm smile, my feeble Photoshop techniques for obscuring my identity can give my images the uncanny valley effect of an alien shapeshifter caught briefly between corporeal forms. While my areolas are available to the world in high resolution, my face is just something I can’t—or won’t—expose.

Industry professionals who do online advertising are noticing that an increasing number of their colleagues have forgone the usual online security measure of hiding identifying features like faces and tattoos, opting to share all of the above plus apartments, city views, and even cameos from their dogs. In a city of millions, I’ve unintentionally run into workers who I can identify only from their online profiles. This trend that unquestionably puts workers at greater risk is troubling for many. It’s a phenomenon that coincides with ever-more-restrictive criminal laws on prostitution, a lack of reliable advertising options, and an unrelenting global media culture that frames privacy as a puritanical, outdated value. Historically unprecedented invasions into our private lives are now commonplace and increasing, and the pressure to truly ‘bare it all’ in order to compete is palpable. The repercussions for sex workers, though, reach far beyond what regular civilians face.

On Hustling

Obama really cares about all of you, especially the ones who paid $35,000 for a ticket to have dinner with him (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)

It’s no secret that politicians are whores—they lie to make you feel good and appreciated, but are always out to make as much money off as many people as possible. So it turns out President Obama is visiting my hometown tonight and getting a bunch of wealthy businessmen to pay for the privilege of having dinner with him. Sound familiar? And don’t fancy escorts call themselves “dining companions” these days anyway? Obama’s not giving it up cheap though, with tickets ranging from $25 to $35,800.

Shadowbans: Secret Policies Depriving Sex Workers of Income and Community

Written collaboratively by Juniper Fitzgerald and Jessie Sage

Several months ago, we attended the Adult Entertainment Expo in Las Vegas, which included the Adult Video Network (AVN awards). The problematic aspects of such conventions notwithstanding—for example, a panel of “industry leaders” at the Expo admitted to never hearing of FOSTA—it is an event many sex workers count on for networking. This year, one thing stood out at the various parties and meetups: none of the people in attendance, from well-known porn stars to newly minted cam girls, could find each other on social media platforms. So we—your very much alive and visible authors—decided to search for one another. Sure enough, even typing our exact handles into Twitter’s search bar yielded “no results.”

Since AEE/AVN, other sex workers have publicly addressed shadowbanning. The day after International Whores’ Day on June 2, NYC-based Dominatrix Mistress Blunt tweeted, “It’s really upsetting that when I go to tweet about #IWD everyone is #shadowbanned and I can’t find them to tag and I can’t livestream important speeches because I’ve been banned from that feature too.” Sex workers are finding that Twitter and other platforms have shadowbanned a significant portion of our community. Shadowbanning is the increasingly common practice of social media platforms silently censoring a user’s content without either the user or her potential followers knowing. In the The Economist, the anonymous writer G.F. describes Twitter shadowbanning:

Shadowbanned users are not told that they have been affected. They can continue to post messages, add new followers and comment on or reply to other posts. But their messages may not appear in the feed, their replies may be suppressed and they may not show up in searches for their usernames. The only hint that such a thing is happening would be a dip in likes, favourites or retweets—or an ally alerting them to their disappearance.

In the year since The Economist column was published, shadowban testers have been created. Shadowban testers are able to determine whether a Twitter user is banned in search suggestions, general searches, and/or in their thread. Essentially, the test detects whether a user’s Twitter handle is suggested to others, whether their handle pops up in a general search, and/or if the user’s entire thread is invisible to other users.

In the column, G.F. further maintains that “the currency of social networks is attention.” While there may be some truth in this statement, for sex workers, the currency of social networks is also, well, currency. Accessing community and clients translates to income for people like us who are marginalized, stigmatized, and criminalized. So, when sex workers lose access to social media, we lose access to income. Shadowbanning, then, is an opaque practice that effectively denies sex workers their livelihood. Sex worker Leana Lane tells us over Twitter DM, “I suspect that fewer clients are seeing and booking me than they would otherwise [because of it].”

Realizing how pervasive shadowbanning had become, we began to ask questions: What exactly is shadowbanning? How do sex workers on Twitter know that they’ve been shadowbanned? What have sex workers tried to do to get around shadowbanning? And, perhaps most importantly, how has it impacted their businesses and their community?

On Common Stripper Hustle Fails

Remember the first time you watched Nomi Malone lick the pole at Cheetah’s? Weren’t you all “Ew, who does that?” as you decided Windex was one of the better things coming into contact with her tongue? Have you seen a new girl at the club cruise by in a mullet tutu and been like “What just happened?” I die a little on the inside witnessing less glaring hustle mistakes. One of the most humbling things about stripping (besides the constant rejection) is that you’ll still be fine-tuning your sales skills and learning from your mistakes even after working long enough that dumb regulars call you a “lifer.” Maybe you’re all business in the front resulting in not enough party in the back. Here are a few cringe-inducing moves I know I’ve been guilty of.

Next On Stage We Have Amnesia: My number one personal problem is consistently forgetting about customers who express interest. Thanks to garish carpet, lasers, loud music, and other things designed to disorient patrons into spending, my attention span seems to clear and reset approximately every thirty seconds. If I’m collecting my stage tips and a guy tells me to come talk to him, I’ll go straighten up in the dressing room and get back on the floor with the interaction erased from my memory. He’ll watch me walk around, cold-calling other men like his money isn’t good enough. By the time I work my way to him and say that he looks familiar from somewhere, the damage has been done. So remember your medication, write on your hand with eyeliner, and set a phone alarm for three minutes in the future. Mostly, don’t get sucked into dillydallying in the dressing room.