Exotic Cancer is a 24-year-old stripper who has been dancing for four years down under in Melbourne, Australia. Since just before the start of 2018, her Instagram account has amassed a respectable fifty thousand-plus followers—many of whom are strippers that delight in her Easter Egg-colored snapshots of the minutiae of work.
Puttering around the Mojave as a child, I shouted “Tu madres es una puta!” to the delight of my father and other day laborers. Before I could even count in Spanish, I knew how to say, “Your mother is a whore!” The colloquialism revealed two truths about living under a heteropatriarchy: first, a woman’s worth is calculated by her perceived sexual currency, a currency that ostensibly depletes with every sex partner she acquires. Second, a man’s worth is based on his proximity to high currency women. To have a mother for a whore, then, is akin to social death.
These truths of heteropatriarchy are intimately tied to the shame of sex. Sex working mothers not only reveal the doltishness of this shame but help dismantle heteropatriarchy in the process.
I spoke to several sex working mothers about shame and “coming out” to their children. While there are varying degrees to which a sex working mother’s social and legal situations allow her to be “out,” (for example, sex working mother Autumn S. cannot be out to anyone about her work because she fears losing her child to the state) one thing is for sure: sex working mothers have profoundly healthier ways of talking to their children about sex than the general population in the United States.
To the readers of this post, let me say first: I’m sorry, and I sympathize. I’m displaced and down in the trenches with you. I’m a ‘lower-end’ full-service and fetish worker. My way of life got taken down with the personals section of Craigslist. It’s the only platform I have ever used, and I’m taking my platform back. In order to help my fellow workers in the trenches and fight this censorship, please allow me to impart my tips and tricks on the loopholes of Craigslist.
One of the great things about this community of workers is our resilience and intelligence. The loopholes are always there, especially if you’ve got a sharp wit and way with words. I’ve been on the scene for seven years, and I’ve never met another fellow worker who was not also part entrepreneur and part lawyer. We are strong. We are powerful. We are a community. And Craigslist is no match for us.
The first major thing to remember about Craigslist is that the market is still there. Clients will always be there.
At this point in the SESTApocalypse, as I finally emerge from the paralyzing fog of wtf-wtf-wtf around the death of our business model, we’re all sick of thinking and talking about it. We’re sick of wondering how the hell we’re going to manage, sick of watching high-end workers become paranoiac internet security experts, sick of low-end workers being driven back to the streets. We’re sick unto death of the media requests, media requests in our inboxes but no money, media requests just as blithely uncaring about outing us as always, media requests which cheerfully expect a response that night before the news cycle stops giving a shit about hookers. (Oh, but could you connect us to someone even more abjectly fucked than you? Could they talk to us in between dodging assault as they re-acclimate themselves to the shittiest and most dangerous sort of desperate street-based work? How do you feel about your imminent impoverishment, the obsolescence of your only survival mechanism, and your bleak and possibly nonexistent future?) And when we do accept these media requests and bravely strive to make ourselves understood—when they don’t just quote our snarky emails refusing the most ignorant ones without our permission—we’re sick of the coverage that results, always appearing underneath that sickeningly familiar synecdoche for us, those disembodied legs in thigh high boots leaning over a car under a streetlight.
We’re understandably sick of it all as we attempt to keep body and soul together in this new landscape, but I feel I have to write a eulogy for Backpage.
Alas, poor fucking Backpage. I’m not crying any crocodile tears on your grave—your owners can sit and stew in the hundred charges in their indictments and take that instead of true justice for cynically profiting off a criminalized population—but I will lament what you meant for us.
We’ve lived with you under threat for so long, your demise hardly feels real. From innumerable lawsuits to credit card companies cutting ties with you to Senate hearings to your flagrant strikes for free speech, it seems like something has always been promising to put an end to you. But you persisted.
Personally, I was with Backpage from its murky beginnings to the end of the line. I advertised in a print ad in the back of an alternative weekly back in the aughts when Backpage founders Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin’s company, Village Voice Media, owned a large swathe of those weeklies. I paid $200 every two weeks for that ad, $160 for a week if I couldn’t manage to put together that $200. $200 for 100 characters, briefer than a tweet—no pictures. I had to walk into that newspaper office personally to deliver the cash, forget any concerns about outing (oh, yes, kids, and I walked uphill in the snow, both ways).
It was this crude newspaper model, these back pages only a few escorts could advertise on, which would eventually become the much more accessible Backpage. (Larkin in an internal company document, as quoted in the unsealed Backpage indictments: “We have with the Village Voice probably the longest run of adult content advertising in the United States and it is, like it or not, in our DNA.”) In fact, Lacey and Larkin initially used Backpage’s revenue stream to keep those alternative weeklies alive in a newspaper industry that was failing even then, in the late aughts and early tens. Though, as anti-trafficking discourse intensified nationally, Village Voice Media came under new ownership which denied any connection, financial or otherwise, between their high-minded journalism and Backpage’s taint.
(Though now both independent print journalism and online escort advertisement are dying models, so we have something in common again.)
Newwhoreizons is “a wealth redistribution club by [sex workers] for [sex workers].” $newwhoreizons on cash.me to donate, newwhoreizons on a private Instagram account for information—DM to request to join the club or ask for help.
Lysistrata is a member-led sex worker fundraising collective which originally formed after the Backpage adult ad closures. They maintain a standing emergency fund for marginalized sex workers as well as promoting and signal boosting individual fundraisers and events. You can donate on Paypal, Venmo, squarecash, or directly through their website. They also have a monthly donation option. You can request emergency assistance over email at email@example.com.
Note: Both the organizations above have stated that they are currently receiving more requests for help than donations.
The Black Sex Worker Collective is hosting its first community strategy meeting this coming Saturday, April 15th. Non-Black workers may attend as long as they don’t take up space and make sure to allow Black sex workers to speak and lead. You can donate to the collective here, tax-free through their fiscal sponsor Project Prosper.
CUSP in Alaska is raising money for street outreach supplies to help the many Anchorage workers who’ve been driven into street-based work since this SESTA-fueled series of ad platform closures. They’re going to start a needs-assessment program, and if they receive enough money, they will be expanding their efforts into subsidizing workers’ phone bills.
The Third Wave Foundation is starting a cross-class, multiracial, intergenerational giving circle for women, queer, and trans people with experience in the sex trade to raise money for sex worker-led organizations. Third Wave is framing this as a response to silence from the funding community in general to the passage of SESTA. Participation in the first round of the giving circle will be confined to the NYC area and the deadline for application is April 15th. They are specifically encouraging people of color as well as working class and low-income people to apply for these stipended fellowships. The circle will begin with $150K already raised and fundraise from there—it looks like a promising way for low-income and marginalized sex workers to access philanthropic resources.
As you can see, this list is a bit thin so far. Readers, feel free to link any other fundraisers you’re aware of for sex workers hit hard by SESTA in the comments.