What Antis Can Do To Help, Part One: Aiding Those Still in the Industry

by Lori Adorable on March 19, 2013 · 29 comments

in Activism, Politics

Image via Telegraph

Image via Telegraph

I am a sex worker who hates the sex industry. As an anti-capitalist, I hate all industries. It’s not quite as if I’d prefer another system in place of capitalism. If I had to describe my ideology in positive terms, I’d call it fatalistic socialism, which I define as the belief that socialism would be really nice if we wouldn’t inevitably fuck it up. (Maybe I’m a Voluntary Human Extinctionist.) However, just because I have no solution to the current state of affairs and happen to be a misanthrope of the highest degree, doesn’t mean I can’t keep my hate-boner for capitalism in general and the sex industry in particular.

I’m not alone in my hatred of the sex industry, of course. Sex work abolitionist feminists* (see note below) — or as they are often known, the Antis — are right up there with so many religious zealots, conservatives, liberals, anarchists, and ecofeminists in the anti-sex industry brigade. They’re known as “Antis” because they’re also anti-porn, anti-prostitution, and anti-sex work in general (and typically anti-kink, anti-transgender, and even anti-penetrative sex as well.)  A particularly perverse sort of second-wave radical feminists, Antis are a loose collection of mostly white, middle-class, able-bodied women from the Global North, the vast majority of who have never been in the sex industry.  Still, they make it their mission to eradicate the industry by “ending demand” for ALL sexual services, so as to free ALL women from coercive male sexuality.

I find plenty of their theoretical points (if not their attendant practical solutions) agreeable to my own ideology. The sex industry is about satisfying male sexual desire at the expense of female sexual desire. Its continued existence is predicated on the economic and sexual exploitation of women, particularly queer women, trans women, poor women, disabled women, and women of color.  But, just like I wouldn’t try to tear down capitalism and free all the “wage slaves” by burning down factories and leaving the workers jobless, I’m not going to destroy patriarchy and “save” myself and my fellow sex workers by scaring off—er, re-educating our sources of income. If sex work abolition succeeds, it will liberate millions of women (and men, third gender, and agender folks as well) right into homelessness.  Further, in the interim, advocacy for abolition results in the kind of social marginalization and shitty public policies that exacerbate the discrimination and violence we as sex workers face on a daily basis.

I don’t think Antis should just throw up their hands and join the Voluntary Human Extinctionists though.  Despite my generally defeatist attitude, I can think of lots of ways they can channel their stated concern for sex workers for our benefit and, therefore, for the benefit of women in general.  That is, assuming they actually care about sex workers. The longer one interacts with them, the clearer it becomes that their primary concern with our exploitation is venting their own feelings about it. It makes them feel angry! It makes them feel sad! It makes them feel icky! It makes them feel objectified! They will share those feelings incessantly, will advocate based on those feelings, will push to legislate those feelings, all in an attempt to exorcise them and make themselves feel better. Their yapping has nothing to do with sex workers or our wellbeing.

Image via VHEMT

Image via VHEMT

If it did, however—and this is an open challenge to every self-proclaimed feminist who advocates for sex work abolition to prove that it does by listening up—it would behoove them to consider some of the suggestions below. I’m not a policy expert; I didn’t even crowd source this list.  This is just a handful of ideas I came up with off the top of my head that would do far more to help sex workers and women as a whole than the bullshit Antis currently espouse. It’s not meant to be a proclamation, but an example. It’s meant to spark dialogue… among sex workers, with Antis sitting back and learning from our discussion.

To that end, the first point: Antis need to LISTEN to sex workers. Actively listen. Listen to understand. Listen to each and every sex worker who speaks, and believe us about our own experiences.  Yes, this includes listening to the most privileged sex workers—the independent, high-priced, White, Western escorts with college degrees who gave up careers in accounting because they just loved sex work so much. It means believing when they say they find it personally empowering and enjoyable.  It also includes listening to the least privileged sex workers—the women who are working the streets, working for pimps, working across the Global South and in the poorest areas of the Global North, the women of color and trans women and disabled women who had no other options. It means believing when they say Antis’ advocacy is not helping and they prefer to organize for themselves.

Listening also includes paying attention to the rest of us, the majority of us: those of us who fall somewhere in the middle. Antis need to listen to those of us who have few options or shitty options and so chose this option. They need to listen to those of us who got into the industry pay for college, those of us whose disabilities make it tough to hold down a full-time job, those of us who enjoy it half the time and hate it half the time, who might like to leave sooner rather than later. Listening means not separating us out into the falsely dichotomous categories of Privileged Collaborator with the Patriarchy and Helpless Victim of Oppression and hearing us when we say there are other, better, helpful things they can do before taking our jobs away.

For example, advocate for decriminalization before “ending demand.”  As sex workers, we argue about the relative virtue of our clients “demands,” but if there’s one thing most of us agree on — sex workers of all sorts, from all locations, from all walks of life — it’s that full decriminalization will keep us safest while we’re in this industry. Criminalization makes it impossible for us to report physical and sexual violence, wage theft, and all sorts of other workplace issues. Legalization gives too much power to police and often results in de facto criminalization of sex workers with fewer resources or those who simply can’t keep up with the frequently draconian regulations. Partial criminalization, where only the buying of sexual services is made illegal (also known as the Swedish Model or Nordic Model) has also been proven ineffective for protecting sex workers.  The one-sidedness of the policy gives the clients leverage during the screening process (“Oh, I’d LOVE to give you a positive reference from another provider, but that would put me at a far greater risk than you, so just trust me that I’m safe, okay?”) and it leaves sex workers reluctant to report abuse, lest ALL of our clients be rounded up.  Given the outrageous level of violence sex workers face, it is imperative that we have full access to the recourse of the law immediately. That means before Antis get around to eradicating the entire industry and the patriarchy itself. That means NOW. And if they would like to go a step further, they can also advocate for hate crime laws for sex workers. The disproportionately high rates of abuse we endure and the disproportionately low rates of prosecution, conviction, and punishment that follow need to be remedied as soon as possible.

Image by Thierry Schaffauser

Image by Thierry Schaffauser

Another current, vital issue that no Antis are willing to address: establishing non-judgmental organizations to counsel sex workers in crisis. As someone who has searched for these kinds of resources myself and had other sex workers call up yet even more sex workers to search for me, let me tell you what’s out there: nothing. Okay, that’s not entirely true. There are Christian orgs and radical feminist orgs that are willing to aid me on the condition I listen to some bullshit about Jesus Christ or accept the fact that I am a ‘prostituted’ woman. I refuse to do that. After being assaulted by a client, the last thing I need is to subject myself to more abuse, and that is exactly what hoarding resources from those who refuse proselytizing and victimizing is. Aiding people involves meeting us where we’re at, even if Antis don’t agree with how we feel about being there. They need to cut the condescension and approach us with nonjudgmental compassion and an understanding of the particular issues we face. We are owed respect.

Respect also means referring to sex workers by our preferred terms, not in ways that dehumanize us or deny us our autonomy. Lots of us prefer the term “sex worker.” Some of us have more specific job titles as well. Fewer and fewer of us embrace the word “prostitute” and just about none of us will stand for being called  “whores” or “prostituted women.” “Prostitute” is outmoded and has connotations of illegal activity, framing our work identities in the terms of the people who prosecute us. “Whore” is an obvious slur meant to dehumanize, and “prostituted woman” is a passive term constructed to highlight the exploitation we are all assumed to face at the expense of the agency we do have. It conflates victims of trafficking with sex workers, which is an insult to both groups. Finally, no one should ever, EVER say that a sex worker “sells her body.” It doesn’t even convey some (real or imagined) passivity but simply reinforces the same notions that undergird the violence against us: that we maintain no control over our physical selves and, therefore, anything and everything can be done to us. Promoting respect means using the right terminology, and insisting that others do so as well.

It also means advocating for accurate and diverse portrayals of us in the media. Yes, even if it undermines Antis’ horrifically oversimplified position that all sex workers are victims needing to be saved instead of actors in a fucked-up system who are compromised to differing degrees by a matrix of intersecting oppressions.

“But Lori,” an abolitionist is typing into the comment box right now, “you ARE a victim needing to be saved! Calling you a ‘sex worker’ won’t save you! Stopping those nasty men from buying your body will!” As one of those sex workers who would actually prefer to do something else, you know, yes, I would appreciate not having those men paying my rent. But, as I pointed out earlier, I would also appreciate not being fucking homeless. If an Anti wants to save me from my “exploitation,” she damn well better set up something up for me in its place first. Until that happens, Antis are encouraged to hit the delete key and refrain from commenting.

*I use ‘abolition’ here in a value-neutral sense, but it’s worth pointing out the connotations of righteousness it often carries. This is especially true when used by sex work abolitionists themselves, who frequently compare the sex industry to slavery. I want it noted that I don’t mean to give credence to that viewpoint, because that’s offensive in at least three different ways.

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Jae March 19, 2013 at 11:49 am

I find this anti-capitalism thing quite interesting. I like buying things and making money but I feel that socialism would be a better route if we could just get it right.

Your final point is what I will now use in response to all antis.

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jd March 19, 2013 at 4:03 pm

Good Article. You should attempt to publish it in the WSJ and bring the conversation there.

Socialism is great if we live in a Star Trek universe and everyone is altruistic about the basic needs of life. But even in that fantasy universe sex work was mostly a Troi thing. Firefly got a little closer in terms of educating the consumer about the value of sex work.

Money is just information about value. The desire for it brings power. Power constructs the world around us. Capitalism to the extent that markets are fairly regulated lets the individual choose the level of power they wish for themselves. Socialism removes the personal response and reward of that individual choice. Thus why socialism will always fail when faced against human nature.

What is different these days is social networking(capitalism and socialism combined) and the ease and low cost to operating in the information world. One could theoretically socialize the sex working industry and its customers into an online society that self organizes and votes. Facebook for sex workers. Something like that is the first step to legitimacy and control of ones own body.

I see on twitter Mistress Matisse is advocating support of the queer life whether one does it or not. As the front life of sex worker rights. I don’t see much though in the way of the organized LGBT community supporting sex workers rights. They exist in all forms of government but seem to be anti’s themselves.

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eagerbeaver March 20, 2013 at 4:32 pm

Why would they listen if listening is for the purpose of protecting and accomodating. Antis are just prudes and misogynists who want it harder for men to obtain physical affection. Because they can’t outlaw unmarried people hugging (though they would like to), they join in on the pogromic demonization of sexual freedom that is the flag and color of right patriarchs.

I really don’t see an alliance with anti-sex feminists as possible or productive. Nobody gives a shit about them anyway, various groups just use their anti-sex rhetoric to their own ends.

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umwat May 7, 2013 at 3:09 am

eagerbeaver. Uh. No. I mean, I don’t really give a rat’s ass one way or the other about mens’ ease in obtaining physical affection, that much is true. Paying that fuckin’ above-mentioned rent is much further up my list. But “unmarried people hugging?” Dafuq? I mean, I’m against the institution of marriage, as are many of my “Anti” friends/comrades/lovers/motley crew of whatevers, but I doubt that’s what you mean.

Anyway, great article.

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Wendy March 20, 2013 at 10:13 pm

Bravo, bravo, bravo– I love this article!!! I have been a sex worker for seven years and hate most men, I am repulsed by them, as well as capitalism, civilization and work in general. I want it all to go. However, I fully support all of the suggestions to take care of sex workers while a capitalist patriarchy and civilization exists. I believe the antis described in this article are very ignorant.

I think “eagerbeaver” has it wrong and is over-simplifying things.

Most men are undeserving of physical affection, however the people selling it to them are doing nothing wrong in trying to survive and deserve to be treated with respect and rights.

I <3 misandry.

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BP March 20, 2013 at 11:53 pm

Just wanted to second Wendy’s points! This sex worker of 9 years feels the same way.

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MM March 21, 2013 at 10:31 pm

I’m not a sex worker, this article is great food for thought. Will try harder to be an ally!

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Elle Elle March 22, 2013 at 4:45 pm

I always like saying that nobody really ‘buys’ our bodies, they ‘rent’ them.

Awesome piece.

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MS June 12, 2013 at 12:04 pm

The only difference between buy and rent is a limit on the time for which someone owns something. Maybe there’s a vague implication for the kind of state it should be returned after the rental period, but it still gives license to do anything the client wants with the property during the rental period.

The way I read it, the objection to the concept of ‘buying’ bodies was the implicit relinquishing of all control and decision making over what that body does and is done to it. Which should not be the case.

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Rose March 23, 2013 at 12:58 pm

Sex worker of nearly 2 years … I approve very much of this.

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Magdalene Hart March 27, 2013 at 1:05 am

As a sex worker for the past 3 years, I applaud this article, and must say that for being “off the top of [your] head” these are excellent ideas, and I wish to all that is bacon that we could implement even half of your suggestions.

I don’t hate my clients, in fact I quite enjoy most of them. If any of those abolitionist women came at me calling me a “prostituted woman” and a “victim of patriarchy” I would probably punch them. Then tell them to stop hating sex and women and actually HELP real people get sustainable jobs and education.

Also, I second the WSJ idea. Maybe HuffPo?

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Mhairi McAlpine April 4, 2013 at 8:22 pm

Really interesting article. I veer towards the Nordic Model of the criminalisation of clients, but the Manchester model of industry led intervention is also interesting.

I agree, the priorities are the decriminalisation of wo/men in the sex industry and non-judgemental support services, regardless of standpoint on whether the sex industry as a whole is violence against women, the state sponsored VAW in prostitution laws and access to healthcare etc is something that we should all be opposing

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Lori Adorable LoriAdorable April 29, 2013 at 11:56 pm

I just checked the comments here. Thanks a bunch! The idea of taking this to WSJ or HuffPo never even crossed my mind, but I’m flattered you think I should consider it!
@jd I’m not going to argue for socialism (as I admitted myself in the article, I don’t think it will work), but that doesn’t mean I can’t criticize capitalism. And yes, the mainstream LGBT community should be more supportive of sex workers, especially considering how many queer + trans workers there are.
@eagerbeaver The way you talk about ‘obtaining physical affection’ as if it were a thing you can just grab instead of an interaction with another human being with her own rights and desires is deeply disturbing. And, frankly, I give no fucks about the clients. This piece is about the workers.

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Ginger May 1, 2013 at 12:24 am

What a thoughtful and well-written article! I have been a sex worker for just over three years and definitely don’t hate my job. Although I ended up in the industry due to financial duress, I’ve really enjoyed my time so far, made some great friends and it’s afforded me a great lifestyle.

It’s difficult to live a double life, lying to friends and family about my work, and this is the one aspect that I really hate. At times I’ve told strangers what I do when asked about my employment. Because I didn’t care what they thought, I was honest and it felt so liberating!

I’m fortunate to live and work in New South Wales, Australia, where sex work is decriminalized and we have access to wonderful organisations like SWOP (Sex Workers’ Outreach Program), which provides us with safe sex supplies, medical testing, counselling and legal advice. In NSW, we also have the Scarlet Alliance, our champions in fighting for the legal and social rights of sex workers. Other organisations exist around Australia, although not all states follow the same decriminalized model that we have here.

Whether you choose this work and love it, choose it and hate it, or feel that you have no other options, we all live with the same stigmatized phobias – at least here we have help, support and stepping stones.

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Barbara August 5, 2014 at 9:59 am

Here’s another aspect of the decriminalisation experience in New South Wales, Australia that may be of interest – although the Scarlet Alliance won’t tell you about it.
http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/brothel-barons-expand-as-councils-fail-to-act-on-illegal-activities-20131130-2yi9m.html

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Maxine Doogan May 1, 2013 at 12:31 am

My experience in prop 35 is that the antis are not going to listen to us ever. They’re never going to change. They’re clearly entrenched in suppressing prostitution, both current and former workers. Their oppression is so extreme, that they work hard to suppress the thought of prostitution. Their goal is to completely erase us as in extermination. A sex worker, even one who doesn’t want to be working, is too much for them. The antis are capitalists. They profit off the criminalization of prostitution in providing fake services because sex workers cannot even be legitimized to the point of being provided services of any kind. That’s why I call them haters. They’re not anti as that brings too much legitimacy to sex work. We have to stop wasting our time addressing them and move on and address our own situation through solidarity-because its the antidote to capitalist extremist haters.

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Slava May 1, 2013 at 1:08 am

A thought provoking and insightful perspective on a complex issue. Your recommendations are really on target and you expose the inherent flaws of the antis. Thank you for writing this. It has certainly caused me to think differently about several things.

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tori August 26, 2013 at 7:23 pm

The only thing here I have a problem with is that you are assuming trans women, women of color and disabled women have no choice. Not always the case. In fact, not usually the case in my experience.

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Lori Adorable LoriAdorable September 2, 2013 at 5:32 pm

There’s a difference between pointing out that most workers who are not here by choice are marginalized along some of those axes and saying that workers who are marginalized along some of those axes are always or even mostly here because they don’t want to be. Like, if most basketball players are tall, it doesn’t mean that most tall people are basketball players.

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Desirae September 8, 2013 at 11:16 am

I just wanted to say this article was super great. I appreciate it being pointed out that one can object to the industry on non-moralistic grounds, and I wish that were said more often.

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Luna December 1, 2013 at 2:26 pm

From one anticapitalist sex-industry-hating sex worker to another i must say- amazing article!

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