whorephobia

Anyone who knows me will tell you I struggle with nuance.  Different people have different ways of expressing this: two of my friends describe me as a typical Capricorn, I’ve been called an “angry bumblebee,” “strident,” and “ideologically rigid” by some of my best friends.  They aren’t exaggerating! I’m capable of nuance, especially when talking about my own experiences, but when I see good things said about the sex industry without any mention of the bad, my internal alarm starts screeching.

Which makes me a really weird pick to review Jacqueline Frances’ (AKA Jacq the Stripper) celebration of strippers, Striptastic!, right?
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That worshipful look we hope they’re directing towards you.

You’ve met that new person, and boy, are they different! They aren’t an unemployed boyfriend living off of your lap-dance money or a girlfriend making snide remarks about you supporting the patriarchy. They’re different from the partners assuming you’re always down to fuck or the ones constantly asking how much you make. No. This new person is so enlightened. They get it! They’ve got some neoliberal politics, are woke as fuck, and they told you on the first date that they are 100% a sex worker ally.

Clearly, they are perfect.

Until they aren’t. Because as many sex workers can tell you, it’s often the open minded, polyamorous, sex positive folks who will smash your heart the most. It’s harder to see coming from them, though, because unlike the usual whorephobic partner, their red flags tend to be a lot less obvious until hindsight kicks in.

I’m here to share my dating history with you and let you know about some warning signs you should look out for in your new and improved sweetheart.

1) They won’t hear a bad word about Moulin Rouge (or other anti-sex worker media)
I use Moulin Rouge as an example because I have literally been brought to tears by two ex-girlfriends who refused to admit how problematic it was, but this can apply to any tragic hooker media. Do they view everything else they watch through a feminist lens only to tell you to “just enjoy it” when you mention not wanting to see dead sex workers? That’s a problem.

If your SO laughs about having problematic faves but doesn’t see violence against sex workers as a problem, then that person is a problem. They’re not seeing fictional sex workers as people, and if they don’t see the fictional ones as people, I guarantee there’s at least a small part of them that doesn’t see you as a person either.

2) You can only have good days
It’s perfectly fine to be annoyed by your job! It’s total bullshit that our capitalist society forces people to give up years of their lives being unhappy in a workplace that devalues them. Especially when people are just trudging along, trying to make ends meet as cost of living soars!

Except when it comes to you. You’re a healer. Your work is so important. You provide this amazing service that everyone really needs to respect. WHAT DO YOU MEAN A CLIENT CALLED YOU A BITCH?

Does your partner expect you to console them after a long day at the office but act distant when you talk about time wasters? Have they maybe flat-out said, “I prefer to only hear about work when it’s good’?

That’s not support. That’s someone with a glamorized view of sex work who wants to leech cool points out of their association with you. Having a porn star girlfriend is really neat, until you have to hear about unsafe shoots. It’s so cool dating a stripper, until she tells you about a guy smacking her ass so hard she had him kicked out.

See, if you’re on top of everything and always flush with cash and 100% job satisfied, then they are too. They get to live vicariously through all the pros of the job without having to think of any of the cons. Bonus: the partners who only look for the best case scenario in your work are often also the ones who will tell you how much they wish they could be a sex worker. They’re the ones who might even ask you for an in, but who will never take the plunge and actually do it. As long as you keep up their dream job fantasy, they never have to deal with the reality that they’d never cut it as a whore.

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Happy Mothers' Day. (image via Flickr user owly9)

Happy Mothers’ Day. (image via Flickr user owly9)

The illusion of “common sense” and its alleged empirical certainties is one of the the most steadfast means by which we collectively propagate whore stigma. As a recent example, critics lampoon Imtiaz Ali’s short film, Indian Tomorrow, for portraying an economically savvy sex worker. “Prostitutes who rattle off sensex [India’s stock market] figures during sex,” proclaims one critic, “exist only in the world of fantasy art.”

Tacitly deferring to “common sense” as a barometer of a sex workers’ intellect is not only deeply paternalistic, but it also acts as a censor for the kinds of stories we tell as a society. Surprising no sex worker rights advocate, it seems like the only acceptable cultural depictions of sex workers are those that fall in-line with the “common sense” stereotype of harlots as intellectually inferior. Art allows us to envision a better world. If artists are deterred from producing nuanced depictions of sex workers as agents of their own lives, even if these depictions are utopic fantasies, our culture will likewise be deterred from envisioning better circumstances for sex workers.

But this cultural imperative to tell one dimensional stories is limited to the stories of marginalized people like sex workers. Stories that transcend the simplistic theme of victimization are critiqued as dangerous and sexist. This is in spite of Standpoint Feminists themselves claiming that the moral obligation of any society is to tell more stories, not fewer. 

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Beyonce’s “Formation” can be described with two words: unapologetically black.

Images of black babies sporting their natural hair, lyrics such as “I got hot sauce in my bag (swag)”, and Beyonce atop a sinking New Orleans police car in what appears to be the wreckage of Katrina are what make that description a snug fit.

The scene that made tears well up in my eyes, however, was at 3:45 – a little black boy in a hoodie, clearly an homage to Trayvon Martin, dances, carefree and passionately, being,well, unapologetically black. But here’s the catch; he does this in front of a line of police officers, all standing at ease. When he finishes and throws his hands up gymnast-style, their hands fly up in surrender. This scene is immediately followed by footage of graffiti that reads:“Stop shooting us.”

Last night, Beyonce went even further. She made history when she brought this imagery to one of the most widely watched television events of the year: the Super Bowl 50 Half Time Show. Her live performance of “Formation” continued the theme of unapologetic blackness. Her costume was a tribute to one of the greatest performers in history, Michael Jackson, and her dancers mirrored the attire of the Black Panther army.

The line in the song that hits home the hardest for me as a black sex worker is “always stay gracious/ the best revenge is your paper.” It’s reminiscent of Missy Elliot’s “Work It,” where she spat, “get that cash/ whether it’s 9 to 5 or shaking your ass.” It acknowledges us black sex workers in a way we usually don’t experience in our community. Beyoncé has alluded to sex work positively before in lines such as “a diva is a female version of a hustler.” She’s come a long way from the rampant whorephobia in her earlier work (side eyeing “Nasty Girl” here).

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The author in a selfie with the Red Umbrella Project team. (Photo courtesy of Cherno Biko)

The author in a selfie with the Red Umbrella Project team. (Photo courtesy of Cherno Biko)

Every year since 1995, thousands of people all over the world have joined forces in an effort to end police brutality, repression, and the criminalization of our lives. In America, yesterday, October 22nd, has become known as the National Day to End Police Brutality. These efforts were launched by the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA and have historically focused on violence perpetrated against men.

As the developer of the hashtag #BlackTransLivesMatter and a national partner of the larger #BlackLivesMatter network, I must point out that the violence against folks like us manifests in many different ways and hits black cis and trans women the hardest.

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