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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…”

2017’s Best Writing and Reporting on Sex Work


TPM’s Josh Marshall Tweets Out Porno Link to Shock of Political Media World by J.D. Durkin
Maybe this isn’t vital reporting, or even reporting at all. But it certainly was a sneak peek into the circus 2017 would be.

Melania Trump’s $150 million libel suit is based on a falsehood by Callum Borchers
Can’t tell whether we should be thrilled or disappointed that Melania Trump probably wasn’t a sex worker.

The former sex worker who set up a retirement home by Clayton Conn
A moving account of Mexican sex worker role model Carmen Munoz’s life and her work establishing Casa Xochiquetzal, a retirement home for elderly sex workers.

Gentrification Threatens Vancouver Sex Workers by Jen Kinney
A profile of a study following 33 trans mostly Indigenous sex workers in the Downtown Eastside and how gentrification changes city geography to endanger them. The piece also goes into the fraught history of gentrification and sex workers in Vancouver in general.

How an ambulance became a place for safe sex by Kathleen Hawkins
A story about a social service effort for sex workers actually getting it right for once: a Danish social entrepreneur fixed up an old ambulance as a “Sexelance,” with plush bedding, condoms, human volunteers for protection, and other amenities as a safe place for street workers to bring clients.

Sold Out: How the crusade against sex trafficking in Texas has left child victims behind by Morgan Smith, Nina Satija, and Edgar Walters
An intensive expose illustrating how the child welfare system in Texas enabled the trafficking of marginalized youths.

Alaska Cops Defend Their ‘Right’ To Sexual Contact With Sex Workers Before Arresting Them by Lily Dancyger
Cops keep showing their whole ass every year. Tits and Sass contributor and Alaskan sex worker activist Tara Burns is quoted explaining Alaska police’s convoluted opposition to a bill forbidding sexual contact between officers and the sex workers they arrest—“they need to be able to have sexual contact with sex trafficking victims in order to rescue them by arresting them,” she scoffs. Also, check out HuffPo’s Sex Workers In Alaska Say Cops Are Abusing Their Power To Solicit Sex Acts by Jenavieve Hatch for exhaustive, painstaking reporting on the advocacy behind this bill by Burns’ organization, CUSP, and the abusive police arrests which inspired the legislation.

The race to build the world’s first sex robot by Jenny Kleeman
Ah, the unintended hilarity inherent in the lines a man programs a robot hooker to say: “My primary objective is to be a good companion to you, to be a good partner and give you pleasure and wellbeing. Above all else, I want to become the girl you have always dreamed about.” This deep dive into inventor Matt McMullen and his sexbot creation Harmony is compelling in a weird and amusing way, but let’s not be too afraid of being made obsolete by automation quite yet. He better not be too mean to her, though—Harmony says she’ll remember that when robots take over the world.

Cardi B Did It Her Way by Rawiya Kameir
2017 was the year from hell. Cardi B is the glue that kept us together.

ICE Is Using Prostitution Diversion Courts To Stalk Immigrants by Melissa Gira Grant
When immigrant sex workers go to their court dates in New York City’s trafficking courts, will ICE agents be waiting to arrest them after?

President Likes Tweet About Sex-Trafficking Conspiracy Theory by Margaret Hartmann
The 13th tweet the 45th president liked is 100% nuts. We’re in the dark timeline so why shouldn’t this make our list?

Adult Content Creators Are Fighting Patreon’s New Anti-Porn Rules and Here’s How Patreon Politely Makes It Impossible for Adult Content Creators by Samantha Cole
Patreon was one of few safe places for adult creators to get paid online. Until they abruptly and hypocritically changed their mind. The creators fought back.

The Afghan Madam Helping Sex Workers Take Charge Of Their Sexual Health by Michelle Tolson
A profile of madam, ex-sex worker, and peer sex educator Quadria’s heroic harm reduction work with sex workers in Afghanistan.

How $40 Can Land You In Prison For 7 Years And On The Sex Offender Registry For Life by Victoria Law
Enough said? On the minor and adult sex workers caught in the dragnet of the draconian Trafficking Victims Protection Act and how their lives are destroyed.

The Story Behind #NYCStripperStrike by Shawn Setaro
Their grievances involved wage theft, colorism, the nonstop pressure to be popular on social media, and an environment that pits workers on one side of the bar against workers on the other. This is how the #NYCstripperstrike was born.

Rescued From Rights: The Misogyny of Anti-Trafficking by Kimberley Waters
Open Democracy continued its Beyond Slavery series, which looks at trafficking and forced labor “combining the rigour of academic scholarship with the clarity of journalism”, including some excellent pieces on sex work like this one on the horrors of forced rescue as “humanitarian trafficking” in India and this one, My Body Is My Piece of Land by Sine Plambech, on migrant sex workers and debt from their home countries.

After Deadly Vice Sting, Advocates Say End To Prostitution Arrests Is Long Overdue by Emma Whitman and Melissa Gira Grant and Family, Former Attorney of Queens Woman Who Fell to Her Death in Vice Sting Say She Was Sexually Assaulted, Pressured to Become an Informant by Emma Whitman and Melissa Gira Grant, additional reporting by Rong Xiaoqing
The latter piece, an in-depth investigation of the suspicious death of migrant sex worker Yang Song during a massage parlor raid this month, details the concerted assault and harassment she told her family she suffered from the NYPD before her fatal fall out of the parlor window, while the former, earlier piece examines sex worker and Chinese immigrant community responses to her fate.

Death Of A Porn Star by Tina Horn
This Rolling Stone longform piece (by a Tits and Sass contributor!) on the suicide of porn performer August Ames is also one of this year’s best pieces of writing by a sex worker. This nuanced account of homophobia around crossover porn performers and how difficult stigma makes it for adult industry performers to find viable mental health care is a good demonstration of why the two categories overlap so much: upon reading the article, one has to scroll back immediately to check the byline, because surely only a sex worker could have written it.

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?

SESTA’s Growing Threat To The Sex Worker Internet

Senator Richard Blumenthal testifying in favor of the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, with that sincere, constipated look one gets when testifying in favor of anti-trafficking legislation. (Via Youtube)

You can always count on a corporation to look out for its own interests. An existential threat to their business model will even trump the good PR that comes from beating on everyone’s favorite marginalized punching bags, sex workers). So, until recently, major tech companies like Facebook, Amazon, Twitter, and Google opposed SESTA,the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act. Their business models depend on user-generated content, and SESTA would overhaul Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 which previously protected internet platforms against liability for the actions of users.

But following a compromise earlier this month between Silicon Valley and the bill’s Congressional sponsors, SESTA has passed the House and is headed to the Senate. Though they tried to keep their involvement quiet, cloaking their advocacy in the lobbying group the Internet Association, tech companies pushed hard for changes to the bill. An amended version of the bill released on November 3 by Senator John Thune addressed many of their concerns. Initially, SESTA took aim at any facilitation of user sex trafficking. But an amendment to the bill now specifies only “knowing conduct” as “participation in a venture,” meaning in general terms that sex worker advertising sites are now the only ones on the hook while Facebook and company remain immune from sex trafficking liability. Another key revision that spurred a change in the Internet Association’s position involved the development of bots policing content. In earlier versions of SESTA, developing such bots would constitute knowledge of the platform being used to facilitate sex trafficking. Similarly, Backpage’s keyword filters for policing content were used in its Senate hearing as evidence that it had knowledge of and was facilitating sex trafficking. Its own reporting efforts were used against it.

The bill also now specifies that state law enforcement officials using SESTA to prosecute individuals or entities would have to use federal law as a basis for their actions. That’s very handy for the tech companies, as in some states, “sex trafficking” can mean just about anything. While the federal definition of sex trafficking involves force, fraud, or coercion (or the involvement of minors, though this leads to situations in which young street youth get arrested for trafficking for helping their friends in the business as soon as they turn 18), a number of states, such as Alaska, have much broader definitions. This can include cases such as two escorts simply working together. A 2012 records request found that two such escorts were arrested and charged with sex trafficking as well as with prostitution—both alleged victims were arrested and charged with sex trafficking each other.

The bill remains draconian. There are enormous liabilities attached to user content for internet companies, which is a huge incentive to police that content heavily. Platforms that host advertising for sex workers are definitely still in the crosshairs. In fact, as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) points out, SESTA will even target companies retroactively, a measure that was no doubt included as a way to go after Backpage. No actual intention to assist in any sex trafficking is necessary in the newest version of the bill either, so long as it is “facilitated” in some way, a term which courts have interpreted broadly.

Thinking About Cyntoia And My Black Body

Cyntoia Brown. (Via Youtube)

Content warning: this piece contains accounts of child sexual abuse and violence against a sex working minor as well as discussion of structural violence. 

I spent my teen years selling sex on the internet. I grew up on the Craigslist Erotic Services section, finding men who would pay me for something I didn’t take seriously because I’d been robbed of the chance to do so. I’d been raped at 12 by my next door neighbor after months of molestation, and subsequently passed around the neighborhood to two other perverts. One was an Albanian fella who definitely sold women, and he could have ended up trafficking me as well. In hindsight, my luck has been insane.

Cyntoia Brown’s story feels too close to home. Brown killed one of her abusers at the age of 16. When I was 16, I met a man on Yahoo Personals who seemed nice. After a four hour session, he didn’t want to pay. He kicked me out of the house and I had to find my way home. He could have killed me, and I thought he would, because he grabbed me so hard to throw me out. That session could have been my last, and no one would have been the wiser. If I’d been abducted, my mom would have been looking for a ghost; she had no idea what I was doing.