Stop using our passive bodies as props for your agenda. (Photo by Anton Marcos Kammerer, via Flickr and the Creative Commons)
I am a sex worker who was coerced into doing work I felt violated by, and I am horrified by SWERFs (Sex Worker Exclusionary Reactionary Feminists) who insist that all sex work is by nature coerced and non-consensual.
Recently, I’ve noticed a disturbing rise in anti-sex work rhetoric that rests on the premise that all sex work is coerced. The proponents of this claim argue that because the workers may need the money and thus feel unable to turn down a proposition they are uncomfortable with, sex work encounters are always non-consensual. As far as they are concerned, if money is involved, sex can never be consensual. They claim that by promoting the criminalization of all forms of sex work, they are “protecting” sex workers and engaging in “feminist solidarity” with us.
I’ve already seen a number of brilliant sex workers debunking this argument: by discussing their own consensual sex work experiences, by pointing out that all professions involve money and thus a potential for coercion or abuse of workers, and so on. Tits and Sass contributor Red wrote a particularly interesting piece on her tumblr in which she notes that she finds the term “constrained consent” a far more accurate term than “coerced consent.” All of those points are valid and important, if often ignored by the audience they’re intended for.
But I’ve noticed one perspective missing from the discussion: that of someone who was sometimes unable to consent to sex work, and is harmed by those who would tokenize that experience and devalue the experiences of other sex workers. After seeing my experiences casually commandeered by SWERFs as a talking point, I’ve decided to speak up.
Marcia Powell, RIP (Photo by Gary Millard, 2008, courtesy of SWOP-Phoenix)
The often brutal side effects of Truvada, or PrEP, as well as general lack of adherence to medical standards, may be the undoing of widespread PrEP use. Studies have shown the prophylactic may be too flawed to work, in fact, “a public health disaster in the making.”
“Susan, you, of all people, have a problem with this? I mean, shit, you’re the one telling us not to give away the milk for free while simultaneously harping on our youth and attractiveness to men as our primary assets in finding a husband who will (hopefully) support us (financially) for life,” wrote one alum. “I swear, you can’t write this stuff.”
If you’ve been hanging out in the digital sex work community for long enough, you’ve learned a handful of things. One is that some men really like to interrupt your conversations uninvited to assume that you do your work for the sake of your sexual liberty, and to assure you that they’re totally cool with it. Secondly, sex work statistics are kind of like recipes and can be tampered with to fit the occasion of the person whose hands they’re in. And the third is that sex workers are really fucking funny. In the very likely event that I out myself one day in an effort to feed an ego that is starved for affirmation from strangers, I want to start by writing a book called Everyone Is Basic But Us: The Story of Some Funny Paid Sluts I Know From Twitter. I am currently accepting submissions for the collection.
I came across this brilliant satirical press release from Sex Worker Open University that pokes fun at the plans of Scottish Police to conduct “welfare visits” at the homes of sex workers as part of “Operation Lingle.” Putting aside for the moment that “lingle” sounds like a medieval wasting sickness, the plan itself was clearly a surveillance effort dressed up as charity. The response from SWOU instead suggests home visits for the 17,000 known police officers “plying their trade” in Scotland. It turns the tables on law enforcement and makes clear just how invasive and ridiculous such visits would be if directed at any other profession. It was one of many examples of how sex workers have used humor to their advantage when combatting the grave injustices and daily humiliations to which we are constantly subjected.
But in the same moment that I was applauding another job well done, I was reminded of a recent conversation I had with a civilian dude who loves Sex Work Twitter for its entertainment value. He isn’t a client (to my knowledge) and isn’t an activist, he just thinks sex workers are really funny. Seeing as I think of Sex Work Twitter as an impenetrable digital slumber party where we make fun of shit clients and antis, it hadn’t occurred to me that people outside of sex work or the surrounding debates paid it much mind. So if you were wondering what remarkable naivete looks like, add me on Snapchat and I’ll send a selfie. It made me wonder to what extent our movement is taken seriously when so much of our public discourse is decidedly unserious.
…please, please, don’t tell me that sex work is ALWAYS “violence against women.” Don’t tell me that my sweet, awkward, unable-to-find-dates client who pays me for two hours and MASSAGES me, without having sex, in a candle-lit room, because I tweeted that I had a bad day, is exploiting or violating me. Don’t tell me that the outcall guy, in a wheelchair, who also can’t find a partner who isn’t a judgmental fuckface, wanting some affection and a blow-job (because he’s never even been touched sexually before) is violent. Don’t tell me that my 65 year-old divorced client, who can’t navigate modern dating, and who just wants to be kissed while I jerk him off, is doing anything wrong. He isn’t. And neither am I. They don’t deserve to be arrested for that. I shouldn’t be harassed, intimidated by police, and forced to retire from sex work (out of fear of being outed) because of moral panic, which, thanks to police now targeting independent sex workers in Southern Ontario, I’ve now had to do. I’ll be applying for welfare next week, because I still have to pay for luxuries like rent, food, tampons, and soap. Are you happy now, radfems? Will you be satisfied when myself, and a lot of my community, will be forced to move back in with our parents (those of us lucky enough to have such options), or go hungry, or live on coffee because it suppresses our appetite?
THIS is the REAL WORLD consequence of your misguided and ignorant campaigns. I’m happy that you want to help those who want to exit sex work. But I am pissed, angry, and occasionally suicidal because you see fit to fuck with the last option I had for basic survival. What the FUCK am I, and folks with a lot less privilege and options than I have, going to do now? Work and risk jail, or getting put on some list that will show up at borders, welfare offices, and RCMP stations?