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Sex Working While Jewish In America

(Photo via Flickr user Howard Lifshitz)

We are witnessing the blossoming of a white nationalist nation. Being the person that I am is not easy in the United States right now. It’s not easy for my friends, my family, or millions of Black people, Jews, and LGBTQI people.

I’m an Iranian, Tunisian, French and Jewish sex worker. I immigrated from France to the U.S. as a child. I still hold a fair amount of privilege; my skin is light, unlike that of many of my family members, and I am a high-income sex worker. With that, I’m still confronted with Islamophobia—many people assume I’m Muslim because I’m Middle Eastern—and anti-Semitism both in my personal and professional lives.

I was raised with Judaism but I’m a secular Jew. I’m a Hebrew school dropout. My feelings about religion are very complicated and honestly, it often makes me quite uncomfortable. Every time I walk around New York and see white Hasidic Jews, I feel both otherness—we are culturally different and I’m not a nice Jewish girl—and a connection to them.

The thing that makes me feel most Jewish is knowing how much people hate us. People hate them as people hate me. I’ve been to Nazi death camps and I remember looking at a flyer in one camp’s museum. There were excerpts from a pamphlet the Nazis passed out during the war. It was titled How to Spot a Jew, containing several highly racist caricatures presented as what to look out for. Those racist caricatures all looked like me. I don’t need to have religious garb on to be recognized as Jewish, and I still see those caricatures being used in reactionary media today.

I’ve been conflicted about saying anything about anti-Semitism under my work persona. I struggle with being politically vocal while still trying to make money and remain appealing to wealthy clients.

But when I’m faced with these prejudices at work, it hurts to be silent. I feel like I’ve lost. My racial identities come up too often at work to ignore. I once posted a photo online of myself post-menstrual sex, and someone’s response was: “Now I know why Hitler gassed the Jews.” People frequently point out my big nose. I’ve been called a “terrorist,” “camel pussy”, and “kike” on client-facing social media quite a bit.

When I was younger and new to sex work, I was afraid to set boundaries and money was scarce, so I took jobs that I wouldn’t take now that I’m in a better financial situation. I think all performers of color are faced with this experience. I’ve been in a movie called Women Of the Middle East, and have been cast as a belly dancer many times. I was always being given the information that I would be participating in a racial fetish scene only after I had traveled, paid for testing, been booked, etc. I’ve had a director make jokes about needing machine guns as props for Middle Eastern vibes, and I’ve had to fuck a white man in a turban with black eyeliner. Clients still ask me to wear hijabs.

Page from a 19th century anti-Semitic work by Thomas Telemachus Timayenis identifying supposedly Jewish features.

I’m afraid of racist attacks when doing in-person sex work. Sometimes I see clients and have fans that support Trump. They are fine consuming my sexual labor but do not care about my safety or my rights, or they look at me like they would an “exotic” bird or rug.

The far right thinks pornography is a Jewish conspiracy to turn white men into cuckolds. Yes, that’s actually a thing. In contrast, I’ve had many deep conversations and connections with my Middle Eastern clients. I don’t see that side of my family much. I do not have the Irani community present in my life. I was even outed as a sex worker by my cousin to the Irani side of my the family after I posted an anti-Zionist article on Facebook. Middle Eastern clients are one of the very few ties to my culture I have.

My work doesn’t escape the realities of identity, racism, and anti-Semitism—that is not a privilege I have.

I’ve seen many articles on the rise of anti-Semitic harassment online. As a stereotypically Jewish-looking sex worker, this is nothing new to me. I’ve spoken a lot about how sex workers get to see human beings without their social masks on. Sex workers of color have known for quite some time just how prejudiced and racist people are. Many clients feel no need to pretend around us. Many people, including Jews, were surprised when the Tree of Life shooting happened, but many of us knew it was only a matter of time. It doesn’t make it less painful.

The Israeli government’s response to the shootings wasn’t a surprise either, and it proved that they don’t actually care about Jews—surprise, their priority is colonialism! Israeli leftist leader, Avi Gabbay said the attack should inspire “the Jews of the United States to immigrate more and more to Israel, because this is their home.” Then it was widely reported that Israel’s Ashkenazi chief rabbi refused to use the word “synagogue” to describe the Tree Of Life, because it is not Orthodox, but Conservative, part of one of the more progressive branches of Judaism rejected by the Israeli state’s definitions of Jewishness. It turned out that this was a distortion of what the rabbi had actually said, but the divisions this misreporting revealed run deep—Israeli Orthodoxy has often disavowed Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist Jewish practice, alienating millions of Jews. Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett visited the U.S. last week only to offend American Jews by implying that anti-Semitism is overblown here and we have nothing to fear, and staunchly defending Trump, the person responsible for inciting these white nationalist attacks in the first place. Israel chose its political ties over American Jews.

Israel did not show up for Jews this last week, but you know who did? Two Muslim organizations, Celebrate Mercy and MPower Change, raised more than $130,000 for the victims of the attack and their families. This has been my only sliver of hope this last week or so—hope that Jews, Muslims, people of color, and gay and trans people create ties. Hope that marginalized communities will fight back, that we will acknowledge our communities intersect and that we have no choice but to fight for each others’ rights.

That being said, I hope such unity will include sex workers. The sad fact is that sex workers also need to fight for legitimacy within their intersectional communities even as we all are forced to fight white nationalism. It’s quite a lot of work to do simultaneously, but the only thing we can do in order to continue to survive is to try.

6 COMMENTS

  1. As the “token” Jew when I was migrant sex worker in the former U.S. National circuit I hear, and intimately connect, with your words. A fourth generation Baltic Jewess I used to try to have providers bill me as “All American Brunette”, though often I would earn 100 to a Nationalist 1000 for being too “ethnic”. In my mid twenties was thrown down to the lower tier for being like “Chinese” or “Mexican” where I worked quite a few years in low price fast houses originally set up for smaller remote area working class men, and which mainly filled Hispanic workers and transient crack whores. Though I worked my way up and through back to full tribute, it certainly was not an easy path or assimilation. We are “othered” here. And though I had made that an asset with my own unique offerings, FOSTA & SESTA are taking away our independent advertisements and effective filtering methods.

    Most sadly and what outsiders really do not appreciate is accurate you are in that, “sex workers get to see human beings without their social masks on. Sex workers of color have known for quite some time just how prejudiced and racist people are. Many clients feel no need to pretend around us.”

    Yes. This does hurt. I know the feeling well. My peers often do not even realize that I am not considered white, and have no idea how hard I had to work for the value of my dollar to be as their dollar. An example being at a bachelor party in Illinois where the men screamed “Jew Girl” all night instead of remembering my name and then not tipping as they call Jews cheap; or men asking for second rounds for free tho repeat business since “obviously my daddy wasn’t there and taking care of me”. I strive to make my work enjoyable, safe and sustainable, and every dollar solid and strong as titanium as opposed the pennies that were chucked at me when I was a teenager, or that I’ve worked for while interacting within the reality of the U.S. sex underground. Be safe, Sister. May Lilith clear your path of predators. And for those within our own communities who judge us? Baruch Dayem Emet …

  2. Thank you for opening up and sharing your experience with the world. Few people know what things are like from your perspective as an individual who has such a diverse background and who is fighting for the rights or sex workers so I really appreciate seeing this side of things. The tragically oft-forgotten human perspective. Please keep fighting the good fight against the patriarchy. Hwyl

  3. Thank you so much for your work & words! Great article in general, and I appreciate the super informative & succinct paragraph on how Israel “chose its political ties over Jews.” so true.

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