After the 2016 election I thought I would die if I didn’t do something now, immediately, something tangible where I walked away knowing that both I and the other person were better off after interacting: them with something concrete—whether it was a sandwich or hot coffee or condoms or whatever—and me feeling like I had made something better for someone. I needed that to keep on going.
If you’re at that point now, street outreach can be that something. Something solid to focus your energy on, and a tangible human interaction to keep you going. Something that requires planning and focus but something that your whole life doesn’t depend on, unlike making rent, which is a nice change of pace!
How do you start doing street outreach? Good question! Luckily I am here and you can benefit from all the mistakes I made.
I have friends that work in the sex industry…One of them is a woman named Daisy Delfina. I was messaging with her and felt like it was worth reading her quote. She said, “Sex work is work. And, like any other business, it’s bad laws criminalizing consensual transactional sex. He just sounds like the typical cheap blank that can’t afford our services.”
What a week it’s been for sex worker organizing! The first sex worker Lobby Day on June 1st was followed by nationwide sex worker action on International Whores’ Day on June 2nd. Post-SESTA, this annual day of organizing picked up more momentum than ever. Here’s our attempt at curating the coverage of this week’s news for you:
Community organizer and cam and porn worker Anna Moone wrote for Vice’s Motherboard on sex worker Lobby Day in D.C. this Saturday. Organized by SWOP and Survivors Against SESTA, 40 sex workers found a surprisingly welcome reception in Capitol Hill from both staffers for reps who voted for SESTA and for those who voted against it:
I expected these meetings to be an uphill battle of fighting for our humanity, but we all left the meeting feeling surprisingly hopefully about our prospects for the day.
Even more surprisingly, the other two representatives whose staffers we met—Mark Takano (D-CA) and Don Beyer (D-VA)—both voted against SESTA. Instead of having to explain why SESTA is a harmful bill, we were able to spend our meetings strategizing on how to work together better moving forward. In addition to feeling that the law would hurt sex workers, both Takano and Beyer felt that this bill would make it harder to stop sex traffickers, and they both also had concerns that SESTA might expand mandatory minimum sentencing laws. They also gave us advice on what other staffers and representatives would make good allies for us to reach out to and build relationships with. Finally, they told us how important it was that we came to speak with them, because sex workers contacting our representatives about how bills will harm us gives them the information they need to use to justify opposing bills. ”
“I need to earn a living, but I also have to be safe. So I have to make a really hard choice about what to do, whether I’m going to invite this person into my home. … I’m crippled by fear and anxiety. I was homeless when I was younger, and I just never want to go back there,” Jackie said.
Red says that sex workers’ anger highlighted and validated in the media “allows us to be fully formed human beings in the news.”
“And we deserve that,” Red continues, “because we are fully formed human beings that are just working and surviving and supporting ourselves and our families and our friends as best we can.”
The Daily Beast also covered the New York event, noting the diverse set of speakers that addressed the crowd, including trans sex worker leader Ceyenne Doroshow:
Ceyenne Doroshow, the Founder and Director of the advocacy organization GLITS (Gays and Lesbians Living In a Transgender Society) shared, “I’ve buried so many children. I’ve seen so many girls get murdered…losing my sisters, losing my brothers. This is sick.”
As the rally occupied the space surrounding Washington Square Park’s arch, protestors learned that across the river in Brooklyn, one New York woman working to change anti-sex work laws sat in jail. Tiffaney Grissom said that the previous night she was in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bushwick, and at about 4 a.m. she was arrested and charged with “loitering for the purposes of prostitution.” Grissom, who is Black and trans, is also a plaintiff on a class action suit challenging this law, charging it is unconstitutional and that the New York Police Department enforce it disproportionately against Black and Latinx women.
Sixteen hours later, Grissom was still waiting for her court appearance. When I met her in 2016, she told me she had engaged in sex work sometimes, but most of the time that she was charged with loitering she was just hanging out. “It’s a way to arrest a lot of people for nothing,” said Cynthia H. Conti-Cook, a staff attorney at The Legal Aid Society, who is involved in bringing the class action suit against the loitering law and who Grissom called after her Saturday arrest. “It seemed like an easy arrest,” Grissom told The Appeal just outside the Brooklyn court where she was released just before 9 p.m. on Saturday. “I don’t need to have to prove myself as to why I’m outside, or defend myself for being outside.”
UPDATE: Emily Witt at the New Yorker published an in-depth longread on NYC IWD events and their leadup, starting from The Black Sex Workers Collective’s fundraiser a few days before, moving to Lobby Day, and then to the day itself. Akynos, Mariah Lopez from STARR (Strategic Trans Alliance for Radical Reform), Red Schulte, Ceyenne Doroshow, Yin Q, Lorelei Lee, and other speakers and organizers are quoted at length. There’s a bit too much scandalized attention on what people were wearing, but Witt does goes into more detail on Tiffaney Grissom’s arrest and release, including the fact that another woman was also released from incarceration for a solicitation arrest that evening:
The arraignment took less than five minutes; Kings County refers low-level misdemeanor cases to a special court. The judge offered the defendants two possible dates, June 20th and June 27th—“Before Pride or after Pride,”[Mariah] Lopez said under her breath. (The New York City Gay Pride March and its attendant celebrations are June 24th.) Both defendants chose June 27th.
Their court dates set, and released from their handcuffs, Lopez led the two women out into the lobby. Lopez hugged Tatiana Hall, who was tearing up. “I was so scared,” she said. It was her first time getting arrested. We went outside and they told their stories. They had both been in Bushwick—“very up-and-coming and trendy,” Grissom said. The police arrested Grissom first, around 4 a.m., Hall later. Both said they were simply outside on the street. Hall had been talking to a man—a gay man, she added. Grissom said she was alone. “I’m not waving, I’m not being extra, I’m not throwing myself into cars, I’m not doing anything abstract, I’m just walking by looking pretty,” she said. “So it’s easy to recognize me, but when you see somebody and they’re not giving you a reason to arrest them, you have to try and figure out ways to get them.” Police officers are allowed to use their own discretion to determine a person’s intention to prostitute, criteria that might include the clothes a person is wearing. As Shekera had lamented, “You never had any rights. The Internet just made you have that false hope and you got comfortable and now the rug has been pulled out from underneath you.”
These are a few of my foster kittens, on the day before they got adopted! I hide them in my spare room or spare bathroom when clients come and try to make my apartment somewhat resemble an upscale incall, not a smelly cat ranch. These kittens (plus two more and the mom) were abandoned, so my partner and I took them all in at one week old and raised them for three months. I collected all the hundies from my drawer for the picture. —Emily
Being a sex worker who doesn’t disclose their transgender status is a minefield, and it’s one I have to navigate every day. The trials workers like me face range from navigating transphobic workplaces and colleagues to selling sex to people who would likely not be happy if they knew our truth.
I began doing sex work a few months after I had sex reassignment surgery. I entered sex work for fairly typical reasons: poor mental health, poor physical health following my operation, and the resulting need to make money without working long hours. I had to choose between advertising myself as a cisgender person or a transgender person. Considering the lack of a profitable market for trans women sex workers who have had sex reassignment surgery, I decided to not disclose my trans history in my sex work, and instead to advertise myself as a cisgender woman.
There is a trope that trans people only do sex work in order to “save up for the operation”, but this is not true. Trans people, like everyone else, do sex work for myriad reasons, reasons which are too numerous and diverse to be reduced to one easily digestible motivation. But as a result of this common misconception, people regularly refuse to believe that trans people who have gone through surgical reassignment could still need to enter sex work. Yet our position as a minority group that faces a lot of discrimination in employment and housing doesn’t disappear should we choose to go on the operating table. This reality is a hard one to accept, but it’s our truth—people don’t suddenly start to treat you as human when you have surgery. Our struggles as individuals living under a transphobic society remain regardless of our genitals.
I entered sex work ignorant of the ins-and-outs of the industry. I simply walked into a local place that specialized in the field I felt most comfortable working in and signed up for my first shift. I’ve since been doing sex work without disclosure as a trans woman for a couple of years. I’ve met many sex workers, seen many clients, and managed to succeed at making a living.
There are some close friends who I work with whom I do disclose to and others who I’ve decided will never get to know about my past. Every time I tell someone I have to make absolutely sure they will be okay with it before taking that leap. All it would take is sharing my history with one person who reacts badly, and before I know it my whole client pool could find out, and I could end up in poverty, or worse, dead.