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 a 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 coersion/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.”