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Black Trans Sex Worker Leaders Reflect On December 17th

For this International Day To End Violence Against Sex Workers, Tits and Sass asked two Black trans sex worker leaders what the sex workers’ rights movement should be doing in the face of the epidemic of violence against sex working trans women of color. 

Ceyenne Doroshow is an activist role model in the trans sex worker community. She has been mentored by Miss Major and the late artist and advocate Mother Flawless Sabrina considered her a daughter. She’s worked with Red Umbrella Project and appeared in the documentary Red Umbrella Diaries, and has written a cookbook/memoir. She now works for the organization she founded, GLITS (Gays and Lesbians In Transgender Society), helping trans women seeking asylum, fleeing domestic violence, or being released from incarceration.

With so many deaths that have come over the years, the numbers that we’re counting doesn’t match the work, the jobs [available]. If you don’t want sex workers doing the work, sweetie, employ them! Employ them, have a solution!

In New York City, just a couple of weeks ago—I think last week—the police raided, ICE probably, raided a brothel. A young woman threw herself out of a window to evade probably going back to her country. Is this systematic? Is this what the government wants?

On trans sex workers of color getting the brunt of violence against sex workers

Because we basically are street-based, basically because we have no backing.

Even if you look at the stories of these deaths [of trans sex working women of color] in any newspaper article, especially Black trans women, they get misgendered. So even in their death, they’re robbed of dignity. Why, because they’re a sex worker?

And if you read half the reports from the reporters that report these stories, it kinda says that the reason why [they died] is because of their “lifestyle.” You don’t know what their lifestyle is other than sex work! They could have very ordinary lives. They could actually be working minimum wage jobs that don’t give them sustainable living.

On what individual sex working readers of Tits and Sass and sex workers’ rights organizations can do to help protect sex working trans women of color from violence:

Form a buddy system, form a buddy system and a plan for girls not go out there by theirselves—that way, there is a system of reporting. So we can take care of ourselves as a community. We are a community that deserves dignity and protection.

We need to be a part of the decrim laws! We need to be a part of making sure that these people that murder people are caught and prosecuted—the same way they would do us for sex work!

We need to be a part of making sure that these people that murder people are caught and prosecuted.

On the sex workers’ rights community talking about sex working trans women of color when they die but not valuing trans sex working women of color while they’re alive:

That’s often, that’s often, that’s often [what happens]. Value the lives of the people who are living, then you’ll have less lives to value when they’re dead. Don’t wait until they die to do a December 17th—be a part of the process.

So, forming alliance to protect each other! It’s easy for a cisgender sex work [activist] agency to say, “Oh, well, we give money to trans women”, but you’re not a part of the process where you’re helping create a sustainable safe life for them. [Saying that is] sort of like, “I did my quota,” “well, I gave [to[ them”—instead, find out who we are! That’s often the case, where people are willing to say, “oh, we be putting out five percent,” and they’re not a part of “oh, we saved a life,” or “we actually helped this young woman, who was homeless, who’s on the street, who’s being attacked or beat up because she’s homeless and on the street”—be a part of the advocacy, be a part of trying to solve the problem!

Today we don’t have adequate places for trans sex workers to live, to reside. And this is on a global level. It’s not just here, it’s everywhere. And in some countries, they’d just rather kill them and say it’s ok. The girls that I’ve gotten over from Africa and from other countries [in other regions] have basically escaped by the hair of their teeth from being murdered. 

Ava Talley is a writing enthusiast, sex worker, operations director for the New York Transgender Advocacy Group, and PrEP outreach worker for the National Black Leadership Coalition on AIDS. She currently resides in New York City.

The sex workers’ rights movement needs to be more visible to TWOC in the trade.

Direct outreach is needed because, all too often, I find that TWOC are not aware of the work the sex workers’ rights movement is doing, even if on their behalf. Most TWOC are first introduced [to activism] through transgender advocacy efforts,  which stress “real” work over “sex” work. TWOC often have the perception that they cannot work due to blatant employment discrimination. So, many are survivalists and don’t recognize sex work as an empowering choice. That is often the divide.

I feel that trans community leaders are often implicit in furthering the shame and stigma attached to sex work because they have internalized shame.

It starts with [educating]  transgender community leaders on the sex work is work narrative. I feel that trans community leaders are often implicit in furthering the shame and stigma attached to sex work because they have internalized shame. I remember a trans community leader offering me a job with an organization she was about to launch and [she] said [to me], “You don’t have to do sex work anymore.” I was like, “Thanks, but I am fine. I’d be happy to work with you but I don’t need saving.” Then later, she turns around and asks me about online sex work and ways she could brand to reach a higher level of clientele…and she isn’t the only [one]. So many trans community leaders won’t admit to being sex workers. Even though we all know advocacy often equals ramen. Why?

It’s our 2018 call for pitches!!!

This picture is a pitcher pitching a pitcher because we’d like to emphasize that we want your pitches.

Happy New Year, readers! Per usual, we are taking our January hiatus—-just a small break from publishing while we do a little site maintenance. Tits and Sass wouldn’t exist without you, so perhaps considering resolving to write something this year?

We’re soliciting for your pitches! New writers, please familiarize yourselves with our contributors’ guidelines. A gentle warning: first time writers are usually edited rigorously (but kindly!). E-mail your pitches to info@titsandsass.com.

As usual, pitches from workers who are of color, trans, and/or genderqueer will always be prioritized, but don’t feel pigeonholed into writing on topics of identity. We know you’re experts on a wide variety of topics.

We love pop culture and media analysis, takes on breaking sex worker news, event coverage, and essays that illustrate the way the personal is political. We’re less keen on hyper-personal narratives but exceptions are sometimes made for the truly extraordinary. Pitch us almost anything you want, but listed below are a some specific topics we’re always looking for.

Porn workers: you didn’t get nearly enough coverage in 2018. We want to hear from you—-particularly about the ways your industry is both influencing and being shaped by the tech industry.

Sex working in the Trump administration: Has a second gone by when you aren’t reminded that Donald Trump is president? What are the sex worker angles? Migrant workers, we want to hear from you on how you’re navigating this especially hostile landscape and what other sex workers can do to help.

Movie, book, and television reviews: Vanity Fair said that the past year was a great one for sex worker portrayals in entertainment. What say you? We generally prefer reviews of entertainment that’s fairly current, but older material isn’t off the table.

The newest trends in criminalization we should watch out for: How are law, policy, and anti-trafficking discourse being leveraged against us black and grey market workers in this new year, and how are we adapting and resisting?

Survival workers and trafficking survivors: We want to make Tits and Sass accessible to your analyses and perspectives, so often shut out of the sex workers’ rights movement. Tell us what you’re thinking about and what issues are relevant to you.

Naked Music Monday: This column’s only parameter is that it must have some music. Write us the perfect playlist for a session or strip club shift. Is your favorite artists latest single sex work adjacent? Analyze it for us. In the past, writers have covered Cardi B and Beyoncé plus pole dancing with Bruno Mars, given us inspirational playlists and endorsed art haus indie for a session.

Support Hos: Does a sex working character on your favorite TV show warrant a closer inspection?

Activist Spotlight: Americans workers, show us who’s doing the work on ground in your area.

Don’t forget, if you need advice, we have some irregular advice columns. E-mail Dear Tits and Sass for any of your general sex work inquiries.  If you need advice about making a risky decision as safe as possible, send that to Ms. Harm Reduction.

 

Are You There, God? It’s Us, Sex Workers

(Photo by Flickr user gen_genxx)
(Photo by Flickr user gen_genxx)

Many people think of whores as being as far from God as possible. We are seen as “fallen women,” people whose moral deficiency has put them at odds with God. When God, morality, and religion are discussed in tandem with sex work, these conversations often promote religious dogma which serves to justify the marginalization of sex workers. Sex workers are rarely heard from on their own relationships with religion or spirituality, even though we have roots in religious and spiritual life as far back as Biblical times, with Rahab of Jericho and the Empress Theodora standing out as two early examples of celebrated historical religious sex workers.

Ideas of “morality” and “decency” inform the rule of law in the United States. Narratives around sex work and morality as defined by “God”—specifically, white Protestant notions of God—often allow punitive laws against sex work in the U.S. to persist. Yet, when asked about their own relationships to a higher power, many sex workers discussed relationships with monotheistic forms of religion:

“I was raised by my dad, who grew up Catholic but is probably an atheist or at least agnostic,” West Coast escort and stripper Red recounts. “My mom was a frummie (very, very very orthodox Jewish) convert in her youth who loosened up a lot and that was the only religion I got. I didn’t live with my mom so I only went to Hebrew school the once and shul a handful more times, but I saw her on weekends so we did Shabbos, either at hers or her friends, and that stuck with me.”

“But when I was a teenager I got really depressed,” she continues,” and during that [period] I read this biography of Muhammad that said that the whole point of Islam (and also Judaism) was to leave the world better than you found it. I found out later that in Hebrew this is called tikkun olam and it’s a Thing, it’s the whole point of everything, but …that’s not what 6 yr old me got out of Hebrew school or shul for sure! It was a revelation. And it saved my life and continues to save my life since my therapist insists we can’t opt out and I have a duty to stay alive and keep trying to make things better however I can. ”

Others described less orthodox relationships to a higher power:

“My conception of a higher power is a feminine energy, which for lack of a better word I call Gaia,” Oakland street and internet-based worker Keika explains. ”She is not associated with any organized religion. She is the spirit of the universe whom I meditate and pray to. I can turn to her like others turn to God.”

“I first discovered Buddhism when a neighbor had a Buddhist boarder who taught me and my friends how to chant nom yo ho renga kyo,” independent massage worker Julee Deree of San Francisco recounts. “As I grew into my teenage years and a body that looked like a Playboy centerfold at a very young age (tall, long legs, huge boobs), I used chanting to help me deal with the unwanted sexual attention that I was getting, and generally to calm me down during times of stress.”

One common thread in sex workers’ descriptions of their relationships to higher powers is the way sex workers’ resilience and resourcefulness are reflected through these relationships.

2018’s Best Writing and Reporting on Sex Work

photo via Elvert Barnes

How August Ames’ Suicide Is Changing the Porn Industry by Tina Horn
After the tragic death of August Ames left workers reeling, a sprawling industry realized it needed to do better.

Don’t Ask Sex Workers to Solve the Problems of Violently Angry Men by Gaby del Valle
Sex workers are not ethically obligated to fuck the unfuckable.

The New Orleans Police Raid That Launched a Dancer Resistance by Melissa Gira Grant
After a week of police raids and a failed human trafficking investigation, the dancers of NOLA drew a line.

Stormy Daniels’ strip club arrest highlights how evangelical Americans are criminalizing sex work by Susan Elizabeth Shepard
Strip club laws have nothing to do with protecting women and everything to do with appeasing the Christian right.

Columbus Officer Was Under Investigation When He Shot and Killed Donna Dalton by Melissa Gira Grant
Dalton’s murderer had already received eight complaints against him.

Stormy Daniels Isn’t Backing Down by Amy Chozick
“Part of what has made Daniels such an effective adversary to Trump is that she seemingly can’t be humiliated or scandalized. She doesn’t have a carefully crafted image or a political base to maintain. Threaten to leak her sex tape? ‘I’ll leak all of them, and you can have as many as you want for $29.95,’ she says.”

Abused then arrested: inside California’s crackdown on sex work by Sam Levin
Homeless Black and Latinx women were targeted.

Donald Trump Played Central Role in Hush Payoffs to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal by Joe Palazzolo, Nicole Hong, Michael Rothfeld, Rebecca Davis O’Brien and Rebecca Ballhaus
Stormy Daniels was right.

A Stranger Truth by Ashkok Alexander  Ashkok explains how as the leader of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s campaign against HIV he depended on one of the most threatened and marginalized communities—India’s sex workers—to help snuff out the country’s HIV crisis.