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Thursday, January 30, 2014

An Open Letter To Anti-Sex Work Activists

Dear Sex Work Abolitionists, Nordic Model fans, Morality Police, and so-called "radical feminists",


I get it. We live under an oppressive, bullshit, ridiculous, totally imbalanced and unfair patriarchal system, all around the world, with varying degrees of institutional violence and oppression, especially for marginalized folks. I understand your frustration with the dynamics at play within the sex industry. It's largely men, using their privilege and financial capital, to buy the time/bodies/love of mostly women (though I see that you often forget, or simply don't care, about trans and male sex workers, who maybe don't generate enough feminist buzz), in what are sometimes shitty conditions where consent is sometimes difficult to navigate. I get it. It sucks that people have to work under shitty conditions. We should work to change that. I know you feel that this is precisely what you're doing when you call for the abolition of sex work, and for the criminalization of clients who purchase sexual services.

But people still HAVE TO WORK, or somehow earn a living, if they want to be able to function in this society. It would be amazing if everyone could do what they love, and get paid not only a living, but a GOOD wage for their labour. That would be amazing, and I think we should continue to work towards that goal.

I also understand that workers, but especially women, in particular Trans women of colour (who, again, you never really seem to care about), experience violence at the hands of clients, police, and society in general. I understand that a lot of you are survivors of that violence. I'm sorry you had to endure that, and I'm sorry the sexist, misogynistic "justice" system in this country, and in most countries, is so woefully inadequate, uncaring, and unfair. Law enforcement in general does not give a shit about violence against women, unless they're rich, or white, or really pretty. When you're a sex worker, the indifference is quadrupled, victim-blaming is common, and violence is casual. It sucks, and is wrong, and we should continue to work to change that.

Where our paths diverge is when you start calling for the abolition of sex work and/or the criminalization of clients. Because you've experienced (or know someone who has) violence while doing sex work, that's justification for you to actively attempt to destroy an ENTIRE INDUSTRY, along with the livelihood of folks who still engage in that industry? Because one, or several, people violated your person, that's reason to criminalize an entire group of people (based SOLELY on gender) who've never violated anyone? Are you serious? Do you not see the parallels with racial profiling, or with gender stereotypes? What if every industry where workers have endured violence, duress, or coercion were abolished? There would be NO INDUSTRY AT ALL, including health care and social services.

Where it gets personal, and where, frankly, a lot of you start to piss me off, is when you, especially those of you who've never done sex work, call for either the abolition of my industry (which is the way I earn my living), the criminalization of my clients (from whom I earn my living, and with whom I've almost always had positive experiences), and when you refer to sex work as "inherently violent". I literally fill up with rage when you refer to me, and folks like me, as "prostituted women". I am not being "prostituted" by anyone. I am a free-thinking, independent person who decided, a few years ago, when I got so tired of being unemployed and and in constant poverty, to market myself and grow a business around something I enjoyed immensely, and regularly did for free: sex.

*I* made that choice. Not some vague "pimp". Not some trafficker. Not some agency "madam". ME. I decided that, since this society values fat women as either jokes or sex objects, that I would capitalize on this oppression. I still liked sex, but I always felt used by guys who pretended to want a relationship when all they really wanted was to see my boobs. I wanted more from them, and it was becoming clear that finding a suitable partner for dating or marriage wasn't going to happen. So I decided to start charging for access to my body. Maybe that sounds sad to you, but this is the reality. Romantic relationships with cis-men aren't easily accessible to women who look like me. And given that, at the time, I was earning $8/hour doing outdoor postering, walking around for literally 9 hours per day, in the hot summer sun, my sunburned skin (sunscreen? haha, rich people things) and clothes covered in toxic glue, being unable to move for a day afterwards, and having my lunch breaks deducted (when I couldn't even afford to make/take a lunch), this seemed an ideal way to kill two metaphorical birds with one metaphorical stone.

And I know what you'll say: that you all are working tirelessly to abolish the system that makes this kind of exploitation and fuckery possible. That's great. I wish for, and work towards, a society where everyone can get a minimum income or gainful employment, can access love/sex/relationships, and where we really challenge each other on beauty standards, violence against women, capitalism, patriarchy, and rape culture. I'm with you on all of these points.

I get that women in sex work face violence at work in a way that, say, a woman working in an office would not. And do you know WHY that is? Because if that office woman calls the police on a would-be rapist/attacker, the police can't simply ignore that or blame her business casual attire, even though they rarely pursue rape cases. If a sex worker called police because a man (not necessarily a client) raped her, what do you think the police would do? Pursue the attacker with full force? No. They would more than likely arrest her, possibly rape her themselves, seize her earnings, and/or use her safer sex supplies as evidence to prosecute her. More than likely they will think she deserved it and do nothing but re-victimize her.

And do you know why THAT is? Because of stigma. Because we're just damaged whores with daddy issues, right? They know nobody will believe us, even if we do have the privilege and courage needed to come forward. This stigma is further perpetuated by people like you who insist on calling sex workers "prostituted women", "damaged", "sexually broken" "delusional", and the like. It happens because men fear women's sexuality. But this is not unique to sex work. Do you honestly believe that exploitation, coercion, and super fucked up racial/gender/ability/etc. dynamics don't play out in offices, fields, restaurants, academic institutions, and anywhere in this fucked-up society? I know you don't believe that.

So, why focus on criminalizing clients, the majority of whom, based on the experiences of myself and at least a hundred other sex workers (indoor, outdoor, agency, survival, etc.) that I personally know, are just regular folks? Your fathers, brothers, doctors, bosses, pastors, etc., are our clients, I can promise you that. Why aren't you focusing on the people who perpetrate the violence? Just because almost all violence against women (and men) is at the hands of men, doesn't mean ALL MEN are innately violent (no more than all radical feminists are clueless, ignorant, privileged assholes, though A LOT of you are). Why do you insist on conflating trafficking with sex work? THESE ARE VERY DIFFERENT THINGS, and akin to comparing rape to sex. Rape is not sex anymore than trafficking is sex work.

I get that you want to amplify the voices of survivors of violence, but actively working to fuck over people who STILL DO SEX WORK to earn their living isn't the way to go about this. How is being disrespectful, ignorant, and oppressive towards sex workers radical, feminist, or at all productive? I think WE ALL want violence against women (and anyone) to stop. But demonizing men who've never hurt anybody, because some men do hurt others, is NOT the way to do this. Use some of that anti-oppressive analysis to see how fucked-up your thinking is. Use your immense privilege (yes, you are privileged if you're university-educated, employed, able to pay rent, or white) and power to combat TRAFFICKING and rape (what you like to call "forced prostitution" - when prostitution implies consent) not the clients who just want to get off/feel wanted/talk to someone, or the women who provide those services.

Of all of the jobs I've had in my life (janitor, Tim Horton's drive-thru, bill collector, market researcher, call centre rep, graphic designer, childcare provider), sex work was BY FAR the most empowering, fun, easy, educational job I've had, and it allowed me the most freedom from oppression and poverty. In sex work, I set the rules, work conditions, hours, and rate of pay. I understand that I am VERY privileged in this regard, and I want to fight for EVERYONE to be able to work this way, if they so choose.

But please, please, don't tell me that sex work is ALWAYS "violence against women". Don't tell me that my sweet, awkward, unable-to-find-dates client who pays me for two hours and MASSAGES me, without having sex, in a candle-lit room, because I tweeted that I had a bad day, is exploiting or violating me. Don't tell me that the outcall guy, in a wheelchair, who also can't find a partner who isn't a judgmental fuckface, wanting some affection and a blow-job (because he's never even been touched sexually before) is violent. Don't tell me that my 65 year-old divorced client, who can't navigate modern dating, and who just wants to be kissed while I jerk him off is doing anything wrong. He isn't. And neither am I. They don't deserve to be arrested for that. I shouldn't be harassed, intimidated by police, and forced to retire from sex work (out of fear of being outed) because of moral panic, which, thanks to police now targeting independent sex workers in Southern Ontario, I've now had to do. I'll be applying for welfare next week, because I still have to pay for luxuries like rent, food, tampons, and soap. Are you happy now, radfems? Will you be satisfied when myself, and a lot of my community, will be forced to move back in with our parents (those of us lucky enough to have such options), or go hungry, or live on coffee because it suppresses our appetite?

THIS is the REAL WORLD consequence of your misguided and ignorant campaigns. I'm happy that you want to help those who want to exit sex work. But I am pissed, angry, and occasionally suicidal because you see fit to fuck with the last option I had for basic survival. What the FUCK am I, and folks with a lot less privilege and options than I have, going to do now? Work and risk jail, or getting put on some list that will show up at borders, welfare offices, and RCMP stations?

This comes down to choices. Whether you believe it or not, or whether or not you want MORE choices for people (I think we feminists ALL want this), the bottom line is that, for a lot of sex workers, this is a CHOICE we make, and no one, especially anyone calling themselves a feminist, should be working to take that agency away, regardless of how violent, dirty, immoral, or sexist YOU THINK sex work is. There is a word for that, and it's OPPRESSION. Stop acting like patriarchal morality police, and focus your efforts on reducing the stigma that makes sex workers targets for rapist and murderers, holding police and law enforcement accountable, and shifting the public's perceptions of sex workers, thus reducing the stigma/violence/bullshit we constantly face.

What you're currently doing is exacerbating the problems we face, and, frankly, making a mockery out of feminism.

20 comments:

  1. Well, mainly I just have this to say: YOU'RE AWESOME \o/

    I will also say this, though: There is no such thing as the 'Nordic Model'. Selling and buying sex are still legal in Denmark, and we (the Danish sex workers' rights organisation, SIO) are working to try to decriminalize procuring too. We're not making anymore headway than sex workers in the rest of the world, but at least we've staved off client criminalization.

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    1. Thanks! The model I'm referring to is the Swedish model, where I believe the purchase is criminalized.

      Thanks for the information, too :)

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  2. Thank you! We needed this in the debate in Norway.

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  3. Thank you! This is wonderful and very true

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  4. OMG! This. Is. The. BEST!!!! I am saving it to use in conversations with radfems and other abolitionists. Well said. So comprehensive, so compassionate, so... touche. Thank you!

    Lilithe Magdalene

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  5. It seems to me that the reason why people like to conflate prostitution and the victims of sex trafficking, what I call the "victimization" of sex workers, is due to the new thinking of radical feminism. The problem is that radical feminism views any power or persuasion in sex as an evil and even go so far as to call it rape. According to this view, a boss having sex with a subordinate is a rapist (or so I've been told). Drink one beer and have sex... you're a victim. The sex was not good or you regret it the next morning, you're a victim. It's not about civil rights anymore. Feminism of 2014 is all about women no longer being accountable or being capable of thinking for themselves. Thus, radical feminism equates a woman being paid for sex as a victim, regardless of whether or not she chose to do so freely (because how could she?). You are a victim and you didn't even know it!?! (In North America, we live in a culture of victimization. I'm a victim of being short, fat, bald, being too pasty white, having to wear glasses, and a childhood of divorce and poverty; I do not accept any responsibility for my circumstances because it was thrust upon me. Sorry, I digress.) Personally, I think people should be free to do as they please as long as it's between consenting adults and it doesn't negatively affect anyone else. I have never paid for the services of a sex worker but I don't think the government should be or needs to be in the business of being "morality police." Thank you for standing up for "common sense." You are on the right side of history; the rest of the world just needs to catch up.

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    1. Thanks for your comment!

      While I agree with most of what you say, and appreciate the comment, I do think we live in a society where rape culture is the dominant culture, and where a lot of us ARE victimized (for being fat, bald, female, of colour, disabled, etc.), and I do think we need to work to change that, and that the effects of that stigma and oppression are very real and often damaging. DOWN with oppression in all forms! Personally, I try to be sensitive, and I also consider myself a survivor of mental abuse, borne mostly of a fat-, whore-phobic society. Though, I also think that identifying as a victim, and being labelled a victim by someone with a political agenda, are very different things.

      And the irony, of course, is that "radical feminists", in the common discourse, are neither radical nor feminist.

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  6. Brilliant piece! Too bad that people like you are apparently rarely invited to policy-making discussions, where only "prostituted women" and "survivors of prostitution" (WTF, I hate this phrase!) are.. To me the main problem with people's attitude towards sex work comes from religion, where anything related to sex (sex outside marriage, homoSEXuality, promiscuity, abortion) is seen as dirty, immoral and wrong, only based on false notions of morality imposed by millennia of religious oppression. As for the radfems, I really don't understand why they are against sex work - in my opinion sex work should be the epitome of feminism - it's a woman's bold choice to do what she wants to do with her body; in a free sex worker-client relationship (which is not prosecuted by the law and there is no abuse) the sex worker is the one in control, the dominant one - because your client is in need and if you say "no" he'll have to go back home and jerk off in frustration. How can they say that prostitution is male dominance over women when the desired object always has the upper hand! They also don't see anything wrong if a guy buys you fancy dinners and jewellery basically to get you into bed but if he just gives you the cash - oh no, he's violating you and is an obstacle to achieving gender equality... F*cking hypocrites!
    It's unbelievable how far LGBT rights have gone in the past 20 years while sex workers' rights are still somewhere in the middle ages.. I'm a gay guy and the discussions on sex work remind me a lot of the discussions on LGBT rights in Eastern Europe, which really pisses me off. State regulation of adult consensual sexual activity is just wrong! And the Swedish model is promoted as a "protection of women" just like the anti-gay-propaganda law in Russia - as a "protection of children". But I plan to write about the similarities on my blog one day..

    And now in Europe, which I always thought was more freedom and human rights-oriented than the USA for example, we hear voices and reports from all sides, recommending the Swedish model. Maybe you know that the FEMM committee of the European Parliament came up with a completely bullsh*t report last month which will be voted on next week. Luckily, it won't have any real legal meaning, i.e. will only be a recommendation and not a law, but I'm still deeply frustrated from this development. And I work in an anti-trafficking organisation, which supports the rights of sex workers and respects people's decision to undertake sex work and be free from violence and abuse. But organisations like ours also seem like a minority in the anti-trafficking world :(

    Cheers again for this great post!

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    1. Thanks so much for your comment!

      I'd be very interested to know 1. Which anti-trafficking org you mean, because those seem to be very rare, and 2. Your blog address? If you'd like to share. If you'd like to share privately, you can email brazenlee@gmail.com. If not, no worries.

      Thanks again!

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  7. Thanks for your response, Brazen. I work for La Strada International - we and the Global Alliance against Traffic in Women are among the relatively few anti-trafficking organisations that support the rights of sex workers. As for my blog - unfortunately I'm a bit lazy to write everything I want to but for now there's three posts - on trafficking, migration and sex work (it's is in Bulgarian - an e-mail to the Bulgarian MEP's who signed the Brussels Call - a hateful anti-sex work campaign of the European Women's Lobby). It's bgerasimov.blogspot.nl (doesn't have to be nl I think).. Cheers!

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    1. Awesome Bobby, thanks for sharing!

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    2. I've been sending the link to this open letter to everyone I can. It is absolutely the best -- it's provocative and powerful and tight as hell. It challenges on so many levels. Thank you so much for writing it!

      I have something I think your readers might be interested in (please pardon the spam)

      http://worldphoto.org/news-and-events/wpo-news/collection-photographer-interview-peter-brian-schafer/

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    3. Thanks for the link and the comment :)

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  8. Very, very well-written post :)

    I've been doing a lot of reading of this debate, and I've come to the conclusion that the 'antis' really couldn't give a shit about sex workers. They like to use 'prostituted women' to advance their cause, but in reality, these women are just Stalin's 'useful idiots'.

    The campaigners' end goal is to re-shape society in a way which is more pleasing to them. The women who lose a livelihood are just collateral damage.

    This was brought home to me watching a debate with Mary Honeyball, the key political cheerleader for the Nordic Model in the EU on one side, and Laura Lee, a sex worker, on the other.

    Upon being confronted with a woman who said not only had she freely chosen sex work, but she for the most part found it a very rewarding and lucrative career, Ms Honeyball's response was to look her in the eye and say "Well, you're in the minority, and you legislate for the majority."






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  9. I always wonder why feminists want to abolish the only job where women are better paid than men.

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  10. This was an interesting read and an eye-opener, thanks! I've shared it on Facebook. It makes me wonder, though: is the welfare system in Canada really that bad that you can't survive on it? Does it not cover food, rent and other basic needs?

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    1. Hey, thanks for your comment. I've only researched the welfare system in one city, Toronto, and yes, it's horrible. The maximum single person payout is $660 (a number which, luckily, has gone up several times in the past few years). Rent in Toronto, for anything remotely decent, is $600+ for a room only. If you're looking a bachelor basement apartment, rents start around $800. That doesn't even touch on the other expenses (food, phone, transit, etc.) I know that some other cities and towns, with more reasonable rents, pay less to recipients. There is no way you can survive on $660/month in a city like Toronto without external income. You're allowed $200/month in employment without deductions, and $2000 per year in "gift and loans". There is also a very basic drug and dental benefits plan (VERY BASIC). It's still, though, WAY better than a lot of other countries' systems.

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