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White Feminism, White Supremacy, White Sex Workers

(Photo by Kevin Banatte (@afrochubbz) of @MsPeoples)

A provocative critique of anti-trafficking celebrity spokesman Ashton Kutcher and the rescue industry complex penned by sex trafficking survivor (and Tits and Sass contributor) Laura LeMoon is making the rounds. Predictably, white people are pissed. “Kutcher is just trying to help!” exclaim my white, cishet acquaintances on Facebook, clearly missing LeMoon’s point that “being a good ally on the issue of human trafficking means listening, not talking.” LeMoon also offers a relevant take on the racialized and racist narratives inherent in much so-called philanthropy:

“The savior complex that activists and ‘allies’ typically display is particularly important to be examined through the lens of the white savior complex. It is no coincidence that most of these so-called allies are, in my experience, upper-class white people who seem to continually distance the realities of sex slavery from themselves and reward their egos through the integration of racist stereotypes that they often promulgate as justification for their domination and supremacy in the movement.”

Many of these philanthropic organizations associated with white savior complexes claim a feminist mission, which is why sex workers, particularly sex workers of color, have been some of the most vocal opponents of white feminism. White feminism, especially feminism that actively excludes trans people (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists, TERFs) and sex workers (Sex Worker Exclusionary Radical Feminists, SWERFs) is steeped in white supremacy. TERF and SWERF perspectives are reliant upon the preservation of white womanhood, which is always maintained at the expense of people of color. This is why Brittney Cooper writes that “[w]hite women have been some of the worst perpetrators of racial aggression and racial indignity in this country, but their aggressions frequently escape notice, precisely because white womanhood and the need to protect it animates the core of so much white supremacist aggression toward Black people.”

The inherent racism of white womanhood escapes notice precisely because doing white femininity entails curbing accountability. Eschewing agency, especially sexual agency, is essential for the performance of white womanhood. It’s why so many white feminists harbor disdain for sex workers—sex workers put a price on performances of femininity which are typically demanded of femme-presenting people for free and without full consent. Think of it this way—there is a reason Christian Grey is not a Black man. Rape fantasies like 50 Shades of Grey appeal to white women because doing white femininity means abating all culpability. White womanhood fetishizes submission to white men because it allows white women to skirt responsibility for all things unbecoming a “good girl”— namely, again, sexual agency. The toxicity of white womanhood is evident in TERF and SWERF feminisms; I’m sure I’m not surprising any Tits and Sass readers with my analysis thus far. What receives far less attention, at least in circles of predominantly white cis sex workers, is how we—white cis women—propagate the institution of white womanhood at the expense of marginalized sex workers.   

Let me be clear—I am a white, cis, former sex worker. I have a straight job these days. I experience a great deal of privilege on a day-to-day basis, even as a queer person who is also a single mother. And even though my girlfriend experiences hardships in the world on account of being trans, we are, after all, both white. All this is to say that intersectionality is not just about acknowledging the crossroads of oppression; it is about acknowledging intersecting privileges.

So, yep, I wear a Scarlet Letter. And yep, my lover is a woman. And yep, being a single parent is hard. But please, white cisters, stop ignoring how struggles like mine are compounded for non-white people. White cisters—particularly those of you in the sex workers’ rights movement—I’m coming for you.

What I Do Know: The Colonial Evisceration of Cindy Gladue

Medicines at a Justice for Cindy Gladue Rally in Ontario. (Photo via Ariel Smith)
Medicines at a Justice for Cindy Gladue Rally in Ontario. (Photo by Naomi Sayers)

Content warning: This piece contains references to rape, murder, violence against Indigenous women (especially Indigenous sex workers), and other disturbing material.

When I told my boyfriend that I was going to write an article about Cindy Gladue and the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women (MMIW), he reminded me that I should keep my bundle and medicines close to me. My elders tell me that all important activities should be entered into with good intentions and that the medicines help with this by providing strength and clarity of purpose. With that in mind, I made sure I took a moment to smudge and put out a tobacco offering before sitting down to write this. I know that writing about this is vital but it is also emotionally difficult for me. It is hard to describe through words the visceral sickening grief that I feel when I think about what was done to Cindy Gladue.

Cindy Gladue was a Nehiyaw Iskwew (Cree woman), like me. She had dropped out of high school, like me. She had worked in the sex trade, on the streets, like me. She had experienced a lot of violence and trauma in her life, like me.

On June 22nd, Cindy Gladue was found dead, naked, and covered in blood in a bathtub at the Yellowhead Inn in Edmonton, Alberta. She had bled to death from an 11cm wound on her vaginal wall. She was 36 years old.

A semi-truck driver named Bradley Barton was arrested and put on trial for her murder. Crown prosecutors argued that Cindy’s death was caused by Barton inserting a sharp object into her vagina. Barton claimed that Cindy’s vagina had been injured from him aggressively fisting her during consensual “rough sex.” Either way, Barton left the motel room for work the next morning, knowing that Cindy was in the bathtub bleeding profusely. He didn’t call 911 until hours later and lied to the police at first, saying he didn’t even know Cindy.

On March 18th, 2015 a Jury of 11 people, 9 men and 2 women acquitted Barton of first-degree murder and decided not to convict him of the lesser charge of manslaughter. There were no Native people on the jury.

World Leaders: An East Asian Sex Worker Round Table

Mariko Passion, from "Colonizer Fantasy" series (Photo by Alex Safron, copyright Mariko Passion 2010)
Mariko Passion, from the “Colonizer Fantasy” series (Photo by Alex Safron, copyright Mariko Passion 2010)

Participants: Ho Lee Fuk 1, Nada 2, Christian Vega3, and Kate Zen; moderated by Mariko Passion

We at Tits and Sass wanted to run a series on racial fetishization in sex work. We were interested in questions like “What is it like for sex workers of color to labor in an industry where customers’ racist attitudes are often allowed to run rampant and may even be encouraged by management or workers themselves as a way to generate more income?” “How does your race shape the way you create and market your work persona?” “Are there advantages as well as disadvantages to being of color and working in the sex industry?” Mariko took this idea, found participants, and ran with it, creating an East Asian sex worker round table. We’d also love to hear from non-Asian sex workers of color on their fetishization in the sex trade and how they cope with it, capitalize on it, and rise above it.

Note from Mariko: This is just one roundtable. No social justice lens was used to select the voices heard here, and to be transparent, all the participants have a four year degree and all except one are part of pretty exclusive circles of global activism and First World/class privileged cisgendered folks. This post is not meant to be THE voice of East Asian sex workers, just an interesting, well voiced snapshot.

What are some racialized marketing techniques you have experimented with in your sex work?

Ho Lee Fuk: My ad did say Asian, and I had a full face pic, but it was both to advertise my race and to warn off clients who weren’t seeking [an] Asian [provider]. Of the great and minor disappointments in life, there’s nothing like getting dim sum when you really want lasagna.

Nada: I just try to be myself, I don’t put ASIAN ASIAN ASIAN everywhere.

Kate Zen: Oh, I market it consciously. Especially here in Quebec, where there are fewer Asians around.

Ho Lee Fuk: There are like four male sex workers in the whole East Bay (location, location, location!), and I was the only Asian. Which meant I didn’t have to compete with these muscle girls with nine inch cocks working in SF. I was kind of the prettiest dish on the knick-knacks table at the church bazaar.

What is one scene involving Asian race play that you refuse to do? What is your criteria for rejection?

Kate Zen: I’m kind of ashamed to say that I don’t have a strong criteria for rejection. If you pay me enough money, most dominant roles are fair game, since it’s all clearly pretend to me anyways. I feel that my client’s personal ignorance is his own problem. I don’t usually make it my job to educate him. However, I don’t often switch or play submissive roles, which is more often the Asian stereotype—so sometimes, just by insisting on a dominant role in every scene, I feel that I am rejecting many Asian stereotypes. In fact, it’s a relief that I can say: “Hey Mom! I’m not exactly a doctor like you wanted, but sometimes, I still get to wear a stethoscope!”

Nada: I refused to be a yoga teacher. I think it is the worst kind of appropriation in the West. But don’t worry—I only apply this criteria to my own actions. I understand everyone will do what they need to in their own lives.

Going Negative In The Champagne Room: California Edition

Are California Republicans around just to make us appreciate how classy Philadelphia Republican strip club-themed ads are? Maybe! This little piece of work must be a parody, because there’s no way something like this gets taken seriously for a second. They’ve edited the face of LA city council member/congressional candidate Janice Hahn onto the body of a stripper surrounded by Black men who are holding guns and singing “Give me your cash, bitch/So we can shoot up the street/Give me your cash, bitch/So we can buy some more heat.” This is apparently based on her support for a Scared Straight-style program that worked with former gang members.

Pole Dancing Doesn’t Make You A Stripper, Twerking Doesn’t Make You Black

image via @darth
image via @darth

Chanel: When thinking about Miley’s horrible performance at the VMAs, I let out a big sigh. Where do I begin? There was so much wrong with her performance. It wasn’t tasteful or well-choreographed. I wasn’t expecting her to slip back into her role as Hannah Montana and give the VMAs a sweet and boring show, but I sure wasn’t expecting that.

As strippers, we perform on stage for one to three songs per set. Sometimes routines are choreographed well to music and other times it’s short and sweet and then it’s over. When it comes to twerking, it’s about more than just having a big round booty. I’ve seen white women and black women and every color in between shake it well on stage. There’s no huge thought process behind it but it’s hard when you don’t know what you’re doing, just like any other dance move. When (most) strippers shake it, we know it’s for entertainment, so it should be good which can mean extra tips on stage and off stage in terms of lapdance sales. When Miley shakes it, it’s because she’s trying to shock us with her uncoordinated hip wiggles. She’s not like the strippers in her song lyrics. I’ve seen those women, and they are much better than she will ever be.

The show was much like her video, complete with human accessories. I wasn’t shocked that there were big booty black women dancing on stage with her. It wouldn’t be the first time people have accessorized with black women (or women of any race) for entertainment. Countless hip-hop and rap videos use black heavy-bottomed women as accessories. As a black mixed woman, I’m offended by Miley’s choice to do this. I’m not sure what she’s trying to prove or say by hiring black women to act as her friends in the “We Can’t Stop” video and on the VMAs. It’s more than the bad pancake booty twerking. It’s the selected parts of black culture she attempted to portray though her song and dance. There’s more to black and hip-hop/rap culture than what she is picking apart and glorifying. She only glorifies ideas from the way black and hip hop/rap culture is portrayed in the media—grills, twerking, big butts, getting high, being surrounded by hot women and acquiring money. Her performance and song lyrics show that she is completely unaware of what actually defines black and rap/hip hop culture.