For some, the jury is out on whether being a sugarbaby counts as sex work, for others it’s pretty clear that it is. The ladies of Tits and Sass think it is, even if we don’t all have the same opinion on it. So, we decided to have a little Sugarbaby Roundtable on the topic. What could be better than the opportunity to share experiences, especially when the subject at hand is generally treated like a secret?
June 2 marks International Sex Workers Day, commemorating a 1975 sit-in staged by French sex workers and allies at a church in Lyon. How do we celebrate this, exactly, and what can we expect from it? Holidays like this can be a good way to start a conversation or rejuvenate your own commitment to activism, but other than that, they’re essentially another calendar-condoned opportunity to preach to the converted.
This day, and International Sex Workers’ Rights Day (celebrated March 3), get significantly less attention, at least in the U.S., than even the December 17th International Day to Prevent Violence Against Sex Workers—yet another day largely ignored by anyone outside sex work activist groups and indie media. While these are days for community building and solidarity, they arguably don’t achieve much, if anything, in the way of tangible social or political progress outside our insular communities. The vague notion of “raising awareness” makes its way into every article and event announcement, but it’s quite difficult to measure how much awareness is raised beyond the awareness raisers themselves and their immediate group of allies. More frustrating than a somewhat arbitrary holiday’s lack of power in dictating change is its reminder of how desperately necessary that change really is.
I feel nothing but pity for people who don’t “get” Twitter, anyone who has ever rejected me, and most of all, those who missed the 2nd Annual Vagina Beauty Pageant that happened this past week at Club Rouge in Portland, OR. I generally have a strong disdain for gimmicky strip club events and formal exotic dance pageants, but I feel like a child on Boxing Day now. I haven’t been able to get out of bed since realizing that I have to wait an entire year before I get to celebrate again.
I had considered entering when I read that the top vagina gets $500. I wasn’t sure what competing entailed, but felt like I had a solid entry. Plus, I thought maybe I could start charging extra for dances after I flashed customers my blue ribbon* (which I would carry on my person for the rest of my life, ready to show cops who pull me over for speeding, my future husband’s parents, etc). I boasted to a friend that I could win with toilet paper stuck to my junk, which I figure is the vaginal equivalent of doing a one-armed pushup. Ultimately, I was too confused (read: wimpy) to compete, but I did stop by to check it out just for the fresh blog material.
Imagine Lysistrata—the classical play you probably read in Greek Lit class —but in the hood.
In this fictional but all-too-real version of Southside, Chicago, the women of Chi-Raq, lead by Lysistrata (Teyonah Parris), opt to withhold sex as a negotiating method to force an end to the gang related violence their men engage in. Lysistrata is inspired by the story of Leymah Gbowee, a Liberian woman who organized a sex strike amongst her peers to end a gruesome civil war. Her efforts were successful and earned her the Nobel Prize. The purpose of the Chi-Raq women’s strike is not so much to save their men from themselves as it is to bring a stop to the stray bullets that kill innocent children caught in the crossfire. These female revolutionists consider their responsibility to put children first an unwritten condition of womanhood. While Lysistrata herself is not a mother, her solidarity with them over her gang leader boyfriend, whom she loves, is powerful.
Is the labor of the Chi-Raq women’s strike itself a sort of sex work? As a sex worker myself, I have a very liberal definition of what falls under that (red) umbrella. I consider any situation where sex is used as a means of negotiation to be a form of sex work. Cash exchange is not a requirement. This definition can include negotiations between married couples or any suggestion of potential future sex to get what you want in the now—what some might call “flirting.” I understand this is a controversial opinion and an incredibly broad demarcation of sex work. But the reason I keep my definition of sex work so broad is because it normalizes the behavior. The more parallels I can draw between prostitution and sexual labor within civilian relationships, the weaker the arguments for intimate labor being an inherent evil become. This also means that when I work, I feel no guilt over avoiding terms such as “escort”—which would get me targeted by law enforcement—in favor of “sugarbaby” or “spoiled girlfriend”—even though nine times out of 10 they mean same goddamned thing, just without leaving me subject to the same legal implications.
The women of Chi-Raq considered themselves activists, and peaceful ones at that, but they still end up facing federal charges for their disruptive behavior. “Activists” sounds much better than “pissed off girlfriends.” There exists near infinite terminology to frame sexual negotiations depending on the conditions in which you negotiate. As the leader of this unconventional protest, Lysistrata is careful in navigating PR—it is her articulation of the dire circumstances in which the neighborhood lives, in addition to her resolve, that makes her a force to be reckoned with as opposed to being considered a joke, or worse, a terrorist. Different titles for the same actions produce vastly different outcomes.