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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.

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.

Quote of the Week

No one is owed consequence-free hiring of sex workers, not when sex workers themselves labor under some of the most hostile conditions imaginable. And the idea that the outed man should be allowed to do what he wants with whatever other adult he wants? That, basically, adults should be able to carry out victim-less actions to improve their own lives? It would be really amazing if such a vociferous commitment to that notion were in evidence when credit card companies are furthering endangering sex workers’ livelihoods and safety, TV shows are treating sex workers’ precarious safety as entertainment, or when men brutally murder sex workers with impunity because they know this is a class of people who are not publicly valued.

—Former T&S co-editor  Charlotte Shane on the misguided outrage concerning Gawker’s now-pulled story about Condé Nast’s CFO’s hiring of a male escort.

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.