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Michael Kimmel, #MeTooSociology, and Feminist Betrayal of Sex Workers In Academia

I’ve made an entire alter ego out of the things people hate most about women: bodily autonomy and self-determination in the form of sex work and body modifications, among other things. The recent allegations against prominent sociologist Michael Kimmel, a man known for his scholarship on masculinity and masculine entitlement, unveil the things people love most about women—complicity in the form of apologetics and silence, among other things.

As a former sex worker and sociologist, the allegations against Kimmel sent me spiraling in ways I did not anticipate, and not just because I have repeatedly experienced sexual harassment in my academic career. I am particularly revolted by the allegations against Kimmel because I disavowed my hard-earned sex worker gut feeling in order to elevate his career.

The lauding of Kimmel as a feminist hero and the white, cis women who still defend him, are particular kinds of institutional, personal, and professional betrayals. Black feminist sociologists like Patricia Hill Collins have, for years, pointed to the “insider within” position of marginalized people, explaining how social, racial, and sexual marginalization contributes to a clearer vision of society (a fish doesn’t know it’s in water, after all).

Despite my sex worker red flags going off every time I used to show Kimmel’s TEDTalk in the college classes I teach, titled Why Gender Equality is Good for Men, I’ve used his work for years. I’ve assigned his books. I’ve suggested him for paid lecturing gigs. More than anything, that’s how the “game” of academia works—in order to succeed, one must deny the knowledge gained as an “insider within.” Having played the game of sex work and the game of academia for quite some time, I always suspected that Kimmel was the kind of man who’d believe that fucking him was its own form of liberation. But I pushed that feeling to the side because YAY FEMINISM!

The allegations against Kimmel produced the hashtag #MeTooSociology, which is teeming with horror stories of sexual assault in higher education. Relatedly, after experiencing sexual harassment as an undergraduate and graduate student, I decided to do my Ph.D. dissertation on the sexual harassment that sex working femmes in academia experience.

In my dissertation, I interviewed 20 sex workers who were either students or faculty at an accredited university in the U.S. or U.K. Every single one experienced unwanted sexual attention in intellectual spaces—classrooms, offices, conferences, etc.—because of the lingering perception that sex workers are perpetually available. I also included my own experiences in academia as a once current, now former sex worker. I have been sexually harassed, sexually assaulted, and propositioned by no less than nine cis men in academic positions of power.

2017’s Best Writing By Sex Workers


No One In The Porn Industry Likes A Broken Vagina by Andre Shakti
2017 was a year suffused with the healthcare issue, so this Andre Shakti piece was never more needed. There’s plenty of discussion about the emotional labor of sex work, but very little talk about the physical labor: what is it like being a sexual athlete? What does it do to your body? What is it like to work in an industry which attracts those with invisible disabilities, composed of independent contractors who have trouble accessing affordable and stigma-free health care? Shakti explores these problems and offers some sound policy solutions, referencing her own struggle with chronic yeast infections which nearly tanked her career.

Top Six Reasons Melania Trump Should Get Involved in Anti-Trafficking Campaigning by Vanessa D’Alessio
Who better to spearhead a campaign based on propaganda and untruths than the First Lady herself? (Who was definitely never an escort, no ma’am.)

Once You Have Made Pornography by Lorelei Lee
Lorelei Lee with a searing, and all-too-relatable prose ballad on all the brutal and tragic ways civilians deny our humanity, how we learn to defend ourselves through our years in the industry, and how, ultimately, it is the love of other sex workers that makes it all worthwhile: “They will call the person who used your image for their own narrative fearless. They will make claims of shining a light. They will say they’ve explored a subculture. That they’re lifting the veil. People who have viewed these few seconds of tape or this single still image will say they’ve seen your humanity. Lucky you, you’ve been humanized. Prior to this, your humanity was unviewable.”

We don’t do sex work because we are poor, we do sex work to end our poverty by Empower Foundation
The sex workers of Empower with yet another eloquent manifesto, detailing the facts on the ground behind being the breadwinners in their families, whose income builds Thailand up, but having to navigate a criminalized landscape despite all that.

Sex Work Is Inherently Traumatic by Kit Snicket
“…but not the way you think it is, and if you’re a civvie it’s probably partially your fault.” Snicket’s essay is a marvelous companion piece to Lee’s, exploring the micro to Lee’s macro in its dissection of sex workers’ personal relationships with non-sex workers . And just like Lee’s piece, it is sharply and lyrically observed, and all-too-identifiable: “Every so often I’ll make friends with someone, usually another woman, but not always. Everything will seem great until I start meeting her friends and this civvie broad introduces me as ‘this is Kit, she’s an escort,’ uttered in a stage whisper as if I’m an alien from another planet, there to be exhibited.”

Call #FreeBambi What You Like, It’s Racism by Peechington Marie
A Black ex-sex worker on the exhaustion of existing in a racist movement and how heartened she was when it finally started to shift towards something better, only to be disappointed tenfold.

How I Became A Husband, Father, And Sex Worker by Da Xiong
This gem comes from Sixth Tone, an excellent media site featuring “fresh voices from modern China.” This reflective, plain-spoken oral history of a closeted gay man’s 12 years sex working in Shenyang, supporting his wife and family with it in the latter half of his career, is complusively readable. (For those who want more from Sixth Tone, we recommend this poignant account—“Love In The Lowlands As A Mongolian Lesbian Tomboy.”)

For Black Sex Workers, The Deck Is Already Stacked Against Us by Domina Cascarilla
Cascarilla paints a shrewdly observed picture of how white clients use her to compare themselves to the Other, forcing her to disassociate her light-skinned self from other Black people in order to improve her standing with them, and how she uses them right back to help her family survive.

Surviving As Working Class After Backpage by Kelly Michaels
On the obstacles a sex worker faces transitioning into a straight job.

As a female sex worker, I’d like to propose my own Google-style gender equality manifesto by Holly Lang
Hey, remember in August when we all got a good laugh reading that load of typical sexist nerd boy tropes about gender as biologically determined destiny in that Google employee’s manifesto? This parody in The Independent by Holly Lang on how science tells us men just aren’t good enough at sex to be capable sex workers is still funny: “Men…are more interested in things like data and logic and numbers than they are in people, making sex with a man the equivalent of blundering against a robot with a hard-on.”

Why The #NYCStripperStrike Is So Relevant And So Long Overdue by MF Akynos
We loved this straight talking, hilarious, and wide-ranging piece by Akynos, originally posted on her blog blackheaux, so much that we near-begged her to repost it on Tits and Sass. Akynos looks back on a long career as a darker skinned Black dancer and escort and the colorism and racism she has had to face because of it, with entertaining side-bars on how industry racism even shows up on TV in Secret Diary of A Callgirl.

If You Want to Understand The Violence White Men are Capable Of, Ask Any Sex Worker by Juniper Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald’s writing acutely illustrates male entitlement as a bellwether of male violence. Her sharp coda: “…we should all be extremely distraught by the fact that our entire country would have much more information about the Las Vegas shooter if sex workers could come forward without fear of immediate arrest. The social and legal control of sex workers’ bodies, the fact that even post-national tragedy the people with the most information cannot come forward for fear of arrest, demonstrates the pervasiveness of violence against sex workers and the toxic, masculine control of our bodies. And once we stop blaming the sex industry for that violence and start blaming the entitlement that leads white men down a path of violence, perhaps the United States will cease to be the world’s leader in mass shootings.”

I Sold Sex To Pay For My Unpaid Internship. Poor Kids Are Still Battling The Class Gap by Paris Lees
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this essay is that no editor hassled Lees to go into salacious detail about being a trans sex worker, so instead we’re left with this thoughtful examination of why she had to do sex work in order to establish a foothold in journalism, Britain’s class system, and the possibility of basic income.

what’s in a name? by suprihmbé/THOTSCHOLAR
A thoughtful and patient primer on the racialized terms we use in sex worker discourse. “White women’s flippant use of these words has always made me feel some type of way, mainly because these words have been used to describe Black women/femmes since we were little ‘fast’ girls. To see white women and white sex workers using all of these terms colloquially bothers me. While heauxdom is something a majority of them (and by them I mean able-bodied, cis white women) can dress to escape, Black women and femmes, whether cis or trans, civilian or sex worker, cannot escape these labels so easily. And white sex workers, in particular, grind my gears when it comes to discussing race, because many of them are so invested in feeling extra marginalized, and when Black and brown sex workers point out inequalities, we are either dismissed, talked over, or called ‘divisive.’ They don’t like to think of themselves as oppressors (white) within an oppressed minority (sex workers).”

Sex Workers Are Not A Life Hack For ‘Helping’ Sexual Predators by Alana Massey
Ah, the incredible vindication that followed the post-Weinstein era, watching the careers of one prominent sexual predator after another laid to waste. Too bad that glorious feeling was tainted by listening to civilians opine that famous abuser X or Y should’ve just seen a hooker. Thank god Alana Massey is here to explain lucidly and succinctly why this notion is bullshit: “The idea that Louis CK or any other man who has been accused of predatory behavior would spontaneously develop a healthy respect for boundaries in the context of hiring a sex worker is magical thinking in a world where sex workers remain dangerously stigmatized and frequent targets for violence.”

Stigma Against Sex Workers Must End by Tansy Breshears
Breshears tackles whorephobia in the Black community in the Root with confrontational honesty: “The thing is, the judgment is so much worse when it comes from your own people…”

Sex Workers Are Tired of Your Literal Shit

(Via Flickr user Bjorn Soderqvist)
(Via Flickr user Bjorn Soderqvist)

I worked as a nanny, and in a daycare. (Twice! I worked in daycare twice!) Once, one of the Pre-K kids’ parents gave their five-year-old a laxative, no, I don’t know what they were thinking either, and I was called to remove the giant column of shit that ensued from the toilet. There was nothing else for it but to put on industrial size gloves and reach in and manually remove it.

So believe me when I tell you that I’ve dealt with a lot of literal shit in my day.

I dealt with it and moved on. And I thought that entering this new phase of my life as a hooker I would be leaving poverty and, with it, all the gross, sad things we deal with resentfully to stave off poverty behind. Like shit!

So you know the one thing I was not expecting to have to deal with as an adult, a very intelligent and charming and attractive paid companion for other adults?

Shit.

And yet, the amount of times I have ended up dealing with shit—left on sheets, left on fingers, left caked on ass hairs—well, I’m sure you get the idea. 

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?

Fundraisers For Sex Workers Struggling Post-SESTA

Editor’s note: Inclusion on this list does not indicate that Tits and Sass is endorsing a particular fund.

Newwhoreizons is “a wealth redistribution club by [sex workers] for [sex workers].” $newwhoreizons on cash.me to donate, newwhoreizons on a private Instagram account for information—DM to request to join the club or ask for help.

Lysistrata is a member-led sex worker fundraising collective which originally formed after the Backpage adult ad closures. They maintain a standing emergency fund for marginalized sex workers as well as promoting and signal boosting individual fundraisers and events. You can donate on Paypal, Venmo, squarecash, or directly through their website. They also have a monthly donation option. You can request emergency assistance over email at lysistratamccf@gmail.com.

Note: Both the organizations above have stated that they are currently receiving more requests for help than donations.

The Black Sex Worker Collective is hosting its first community strategy meeting this coming Saturday, April 15th. Non-Black workers may attend as long as they don’t take up space and make sure to allow Black sex workers to speak and lead. You can donate to the collective here, tax-free through their fiscal sponsor Project Prosper.

CUSP in Alaska is raising money for street outreach supplies to help the many Anchorage workers who’ve been driven into street-based work since this SESTA-fueled series of ad platform closures. They’re going to start a needs-assessment program, and if they receive enough money, they will be expanding their efforts into subsidizing workers’ phone bills.

The Third Wave Foundation is starting a cross-class, multiracial, intergenerational giving circle for women, queer, and trans people with experience in the sex trade to raise money for sex worker-led organizations. Third Wave is framing this as a response to silence from the funding community in general to the passage of SESTA. Participation in the first round of the giving circle will be confined to the NYC area and the deadline for application is April 15th. They are specifically encouraging people of color as well as working class and low-income people to apply for these stipended fellowships. The circle will begin with $150K already raised and fundraise from there—it looks like a promising way for low-income and marginalized sex workers to access philanthropic resources.

As you can see, this list is a bit thin so far. Readers, feel free to link any other fundraisers you’re aware of for sex workers hit hard by SESTA in the comments.