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Hookers Stand Up

Last Sunday, BDSM community site FetLife did what a lot of popular sites do every once in a while—it crashed. And the person running FetLife’s Twitter account made a poorly chosen joke: “Whoops… FetLife just went down like a drunk hooker…”, later saying that they “Couldn’t think of anything better to say!” and “I make equal fun of everyone.”

People (most of them polite) called FetLife out on both the comment and what sounded like a justification wrapped in apology packaging. All in all, they were pretty gentle reactions for a tweet that encouraged the stereotype of the incapacitated hooker:

There is a tendency to believe that if you are or perceive yourself as marginalized, you have free rein to make fun of either other marginalized people (the Derailing for Dummies excuse of “But That Happens to Me Too!”) or the group of people you identify with (“Gay people can make homophobic jokes because they’re not homophobic.”) This is just not true. Women can say misogynistic things. People of color can say racist things. Sex workers can say things that are anti-sex work (see Furry Girl vs. Madison Young).

Why is a drunk hooker joke a problem? In this case, it’s the context. I have friends who make offensive jokes sometimes, though they’re far too sensible to post them in a public forum. But FetLife is not a person, it’s a company. And a company—particularly a sexually oriented one with a focus on alternative sexuality—should not be fucking around with jokes about marginalized people. It’s bad marketing. More than a few sex workers donate to the site, so they’re pissing off the people who financially back them. Bad idea. They’re telling the world at large that they don’t have a problem with being offensive. FetLife already has issues with that, considering some of the posts I’ve seen there that include guides on how to rape people and Holocaust denial.

So it was offensive, and it was stupid. FetLife apologized, eventually with more sincerity, even thanking people for calling them out because they wouldn’t learn otherwise. Fine. And it might’ve blown over, especially if they had gone out of their way to demonstrate how they do actually support sex worker rights by following Jiz Lee’s suggestion and donating some free ad space to sex worker advocacy organizations.

But where it really became an issue was with a rant on EdenCafe that took a page from “You Just Like Being Offended.” People who were saying “not cool, FetLife” were dubbed “rape culture warriors” hell-bent on demanding censorship and “full of fire and brimstone” (Rayne’s words, not mine). She said she didn’t understand why people were so upset, that it was just a bit of harmless humor and, anyway, “everyone has their detractors. It’s part of life.”

Well, since you don’t seem to understand why joking about these things is not OK, let me break it down for you.

There were two ways I initially read the comment “went down like a drunk hooker.” One is that a drunk hooker is easier to get sex acts from (which to me has undertones of suggested coercion/nonconsent, because if you want a sex worker to go down on you, pay them, right?). The other is some form of potential violence. Use of the word “hooker” is derogatory in this context, kind of like using the word “faggot,” so it’s not an emotionally uncharged statement in either case. I mean, for a kinky site, why not say “obedient submissive”? Wouldn’t that have the same joking intent while actually being about kinky sex?

Call me a humorless bitch, but we live in a culture that is violent in many ways towards sex workers. Joking about these things has multiple effects. It silences people who are offended, because they’re afraid to come out and say why. Not everyone can be out as queer, a rape victim, or a sex worker. It normalizes and humorizes violence, racism, lack of consent, stereotyping, and other problematic behaviors that have painful realities attached. It serves to add to a culture of disrespect that makes physical violence not only OK, but a punchline. And it’s just lazy.

When people call you out on the entitlement that often comes with such humor, reflect on why it’s so important to you to cling to your “joke.” Is it that important to you to tell drunk hooker jokes? Really? Is that an important part of your sense of humor? Why? Does freedom of speech include hate speech? Should it? Where do you draw the line on what constitutes such speech? If you say something offensive, is it really so terrible to apologize? Is that “political correctness gone wild” or just being a polite human being who doesn’t like to inflict hurt on others and apologizes when things they do or say adds to institutionalized violence?

Thank goodness for freedom of speech, because without it it’d be a lot more difficult to tell who the asshats are. Want to not be an asshat? Try reading this essay on “How Not to Be a Doofus when Accused of Racism.” The summary of what’s said there—”Apologize, move on, and consider the criticism seriously so that you can improve your thinking, if need be”—is applicable for many cases of “Accused of Saying Something Offensive.”

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Kitty Stryker is the founder of the award-winning Ladies High Tea and Pornography Society, and was nominated by the Erotic Awards as Sex Worker of the Year for her charity and activism work. Stryker has been developing Consent Culture combating entitlement culture within alternative sexual communities. Kitty blogs about her professional and personal experiences (and her cats, Foucault and Nietzsche) on her site.

26 COMMENTS

  1. I have heard the pun/”joke” before, but “down” has never been a synonym for oral sex. It was a synonym for nothing. It literally meant falling down drunk. The hooker part automatically makes “down” to be perceived by some as a sex-related thing, because of course anything that any sex worker does EVER is sexual, right? (again, as you said see also: furrygirl vs madison)

    That joke is all about perpetuating the myth that all street sex workers are drug/alcohol addicts, working to fuel their addiction.

  2. Agreed. Maybe I’m just slow, but I saw that joke over and over and never once thought it was referring to oral sex… I just pictured a stereotypical looking “street walker” falling down because she’s drunk and wearing high heels.

  3. Its always fun to still be part of a group that its ok to discriminate against, ain’t it? (that is a joke!) I’m glad some folks called them out, I find the site to be a little too yuckily hetero for my taste (I’m a queer girl) not that hetero icks me out, but assumptions that M/s follows gender ID i find super squidgy. Considering how BDSM originates in queer culture, you wouldn’t think they could manage to twist it to follow heteronorms, but to my way of thinking this happens often enough, possibly just bc there are so dang many of em on there. Again, I don’t have issues with heteros, I have issues with sexism and the assumption of power/lessness based on gender. That’s a long way to say, I’m not surprised fetlife admins come off like idiot frat boys, as there is all too frequently not enough distinction between those two groups.

  4. Very well put, Stryker.
    The point that *I* feel should be heard most clearly is that sex workers are a part of the community of FetLife, and the twitter comment makes a joke at that one groups’ expense. That, regardless if whether the joke was funny or not or what it meant or didn’t mean, is the issue. No, we aren’t all in the same boat laughing together, FetLife hosts enough diversity that subgroups can still offend and misunderstand each other (obviously!).
    FetLife fucked up, and while it was a slow going, at least they apologized. I don’t care if they really understood what went wrong (as there are as many reasons that people are upset as there are folks that just don’t get it), as long as they try hard not to do it again. What is mostly frustrating is that others within our own greater Fetlife community are being so stubborn as to be offended that someone else is offended. Why? If it doesn’t involve you, why not just let it go? The only thing that is more frustrating than feeling insulted is when some other dude steps in and says, “HEY, LEARN HOW TO TAKE A JOKE!”. You’d think that we’ve all had enough life experiences to know, there are some things too close to home to joke about, either dependent on a person or situation, and having a little sensitivity towards that is just good manners.

  5. I just love how I am attacked in this piece as “anti-sex work” because I am against using babies as a prop to sell porn. Yeah, that is so “anti-sex work” of me. *rolls eyes*

  6. “Down” has never been a synonym for oral sex? What planet do you live on? That’s EXACTLY what it means and has meant, in American culture, for 30+ years.

    • Yeah, down ON. I’ve never heard someone say, “my boyfriend’s coming over tonight and I’m going to go down!” Or heard a guy say “oh yeah, she went down. It was awesome.” If you say someone went down, full stop, it means they had a downfall. Are people renting “Igby Goes Down” thinking they’ll see porn? Maybe it’s regional, or maybe the “joke” was an unfunny mess regardless.

  7. Just a quick reminder of our comment policy, which can be found in full here: comments need to be on topic (i.e. related to the subject matter directly at hand) and ad hominem attacks are not approved.

  8. On the ‘down’ issue – is it just a UK thing to reference ‘going down’ on someone as a term for giving them oral? It’s definately a legitimate phrasing here.

    Just thought it was worth mentioning.

  9. I think that maybe what people are saying is that just “going down” does not = oral sex, but “going down on” does. So it would have been clearer, say, if it was “Fetlife went down on me like a drunk hooker”. Still problematic, but at least easier to construe a clear sexual meaning.

  10. “Does freedom of speech include hate speech? Should it?”

    Um, yes, as a matter of fact, free speech does include “hate speech”. What constitutes “hate speech” is quite subjective, and to say that it falls outside the category of free speech is to turn legal protections for free speech into a pissing context over what groups are sufficiently aggrieved to declare their pet butthurts to be outside the realm of free speech protections. I’d hate to see the outcome if radfems, Islamists, or some other fringe group came out on top of that contest.

    The argument that FetLife’s statement was ignorant and alienating stands on its own and is not helped by dragging in “progressive” authoritarian rhetoric about banning hate speech.

    • I’m just asking these question, I’m not saying I know the answers. It’s really difficult to say where the lines are. Technically, and like it or not, Fetlife’s TOS does not allow for hate speech: “You agree that you will not use BitLove Inc’s Products and Services to: Personally attack, make fun of, troll, flame, bully, stalk or otherwise harass another member….Make or promote any type of racism or hate towards anyone in specific or a group of people. Unless in the context of role-playing between consenting parties”. ::shrug:: That’s why I asked!

      • If FetLife put that in their TOS, then they’re the ones who get to make that call. Unlike defamation, “hate speech” does not exist as a legal category in the US.

        Now if they want to engage in speech that alienates a large part of their own online community, then they can suffer the consequences of that without anybody’s formal free speech rights being violated at all.

  11. This was my response to Rayne’s article on Eden Cafe:

    The phrase “going down like a drunk hooker” is full of slut shaming. It is not celebratory, or honoring of sex work. It has the full feeling of frat boy ignorance of the life of a sex worker. It fuels the image of sex workers as strung out ho-bags. When you hear “drunk hooker”, does the wonder of a person sharing their body for the joys of sex come to mind? No, the image of a used up piece of substance strung sex garbage who will do anything for a buck does, and THAT is why an apology to sex workers was in need. Especially because a lot of us sex workers ARE Fetlife supporters. I was personally offended. Not overly offended, but offended nonetheless.

    One other aspect of this, is that the bulk of sex workers who do use substances, are people who do not want to be doing sex work, or are trafficked, and they use substances to deal with the pain, to disassociate themselves so that they can work (or live with being forced to work).

    There is a certain privilege for those of us who have chosen sex work, and in ignorance we can say “oh it’s just a joke”. It is not a fucking joke for the suffering of those in sex work who are forced to be there against their will, or are so hopeless they feel there is nothing else for them to do. It is an ignorant, tasteless and insensitive joke – not so much for us privileged sex workers, but for the ones who are not.

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