It is not incidental that Prop 60 in California mandating condom use in porn was defeated in the same election cycle as marijuana was legalized in many states and Donald Trump ascended to the presidency. We are witnessing the inherent contradictions of a neoliberal marketplace, contradictions that should make sex workers and our allies reconsider our “my body, my choice” rhetoric. This rhetoric, like our new president-elect, is ultimately unsustainable. We cannot fight the ills of neoliberalism with neoliberal rhetoric. We, as sex workers and labor rights advocates, must reconsider our individual-centered framework for one more structural.
It is no longer enough to talk about individual choice or populism. It is no longer appropriate to support a libertarian insurrection, even while that insurrection fights for sex workers’ rights. The rights of bodily autonomy gained from our allegiance with libertarian parties don’t do jack shit in the face of mounting hate crimes. They don’t do jack shit for all those arrested sex workers in the Global South forced to toil in sweatshops, making all the whips and ball gags we in the North use as evidence of our “liberation.” It is time for sex workers and our allies to adopt an anti-imperialist, anti-individualistic mindset.
I know this will upset the sensibilities of many vocal sex workers who claim that a right to privacy and individual autonomy eclipses “communist” collectivism. Despite libertarians’ claims that their political model is value neutral, it is most certainly a normative philosophy, one which makes ethical judgments. But sex working libertarians and their allies tend to only pay attention to the bodily autonomy and individualism promised by this political philosophy, a concept of individualism that Donald Trump shares. This is perhaps why many so-called libertarians now unapologetically boast support for our President-elect.
And that’s why I call fucking bullshit. Bullshit—to everyone who refuses to acknowledge the interconnectedness of bodies; bullshit—to any sex worker or ally who voted for bigotry, silence, or violence on Tuesday; bullshit—to any populist fury that scapegoats entire ethnic and racial groups in the name of “freedom.” And even in the wake of significant gains for sex workers in California, I call bullshit on any labor rights ethos centered entirely on “choice.”
Indeed, having one particular body means very little in terms of ethics in a global culture where the interconnectedness of bodies matters. What’s good for one body may ultimately hurt another, thus the paradox of individual choice. After all, “choice” evokes a very particular intersection of race, class, gender, sexuality, and body. Cambodian women forced to choose between staying in prison indefinitely on prostitution-related charges or sewing in H&M sweatshops are probably not afforded the same kinds of choices as college-aged American girls who join burlesque troupes for purposes of “sexual liberation.” And if our choices as Western people ultimately ensure the continued abuse of laborers in the Global South, can we really defend those choices? If we, as Western people, demand a “right” to the consumptive practices that have become integral to the many neoliberal presentations of self that are packaged and sold to us, despite their global impact, are we really toting a progressive ethics?
On the surface, Trump’s domestic policy includes bringing manufacturing jobs back to the United States. Great! Wonderful! Long live the working class! But as economist Peter Goodman stated in the New York Times on Thursday, “A rupture of trade […] is likely to hit these industrial [working-class] communities hardest.” The economic devastation of working class folks will have far reaching and obvious implications for sex workers across the globe. You know all those lavishly wealthy clients you see, those reckless investment bankers who are immune to financial crises and pay you in solid gold? Yeah, me neither.
If economics and imperialism are the structural concerns affecting sex workers under a Trump presidency, a debauched, white supremacist, and patriarchal “morality” is our cultural and social concern. Trump is the incarnation of the problem of individualism—when an individualistic marketplace mentality intersects with bigoted cultural values, you get tons of legalized weed but no health care. You can fuck bareback on screen, but good luck convincing a courtroom that sex workers actually can get raped. You can sell your wares in a legal brothel that boasts “grab her by the pussy” specials, but if you need or want an abortion, forget about it.
Radical feminist structural critiques trump (sorry) so-called sex-positivism or “choice” feminisms because, as Tits and Sass contributor Giulia Abrami states, “choice will never be a matter of pure desire.” If we don’t acknowledge our place within a white supremacy or how that structure influences both sex and labor, we tacitly apologize for the rise in racist hate crimes following the election. White supremacy is a historical institution that organizes everything, from the 53% of white women who sided with bigotry on the 8th in hopes that they, too, could get a piece of the pie; to legal brothel workers rejoicing over Trump’s election. Ignoring white supremacy as a structure is part of the neoliberal falsehood of free choice. And sex and labor are included in this fraudulent model of choice. After all, sex and labor do not exist in a vacuum. Nothing does.
As sex workers and labor rights advocates, we can either fight on the platform of bodily autonomy and individual rights or one of collectivism. The former will only ever defer to the established doctrine, whatever it happens to be at any historical moment. And our established doctrine in the United States at this particular historical moment is one of racism, sexism, violence, and fear, all thinly veiled in working class discourse.
Actually, Trump represents an uprising of the very status quo he claims to oppose. The right to individualism, the right to a particular brand or a branding of self, the right to perform the spectacle—no matter the cost to other autonomous bodies, including sex workers in the Global South and women of color more generally—has become more important than any overhaul of the structures that oppress us all. In short, Americans have demonstrated their allegiance to charisma and brand over actual people, which neither benefits working class people or sex workers. Neoliberalism is not pro-sex worker; neither is a fascist demagogue.
As fellow sex worker Kimberlee Cline wrote in a text to me this week, with a message which all white Tits and Sass readers should heed, “All we can do now is support our communities, organize, and brace ourselves. And by ‘organize,’ I mean do whatever the fuck black and brown women tell us to do. Their votes were consistent. We—white women—have catching up work to do. And it’s bound to get worse before it gets better.”