by Furry Girl

01.17.11

People, and social movements, cannot grow without dealing with their shortcomings, especially if those problems are uncomfortable, dramatic, or awkward to fling into the open.  This lengthy post is me throwing a molotov cocktail of things-that-have-gone-publicly-unsaid, but I wanted to start my critique only after I give some quick context of what else has been said recently.

For backstory on "this month in sex worker blog controversy", start with Amanda's post about excluding women like her who are mainstream sexy and heteronormative.  Snippets:

There is a deep prejudice permeating the sex worker rights movement in the US. Just because some of us have a mainstream appearance doesn’t mean we don’t deal with the same stigma that every other sex worker does, that we somehow work under a different set of laws. Just because we look much like the “pretty” depictions of sex workers in mainstream media doesn’t mean we’re not “real,” it means we’re making money (most sex workers are in sex work to make money).

[...]

“Inclusiveness” and “diversity” are such huge preoccupations in the movement that they often derail energy and focus on the real-world issues staring all of us in the face. In the stampede to be inclusive and make sure that all ethnic/gender/occupation/whatever boxes are ticked and that a token representative is present, a huge majority go unnoticed and unwelcome.

Then, she called out two of the biggest names in sex blogging, Susie Bright and Mistress Matisse.  Single sentence summary:

The Craigslist debacle of 2010 really separated the in-the-trenches sex workers from those quite obviously above it.

Amanda's posts are the tip of an iceberg, and it's not just her, and it's not just about any one or two famous sex bloggers saying detached or offensive things.  Overall, the big issue I've seen floating around America in the last 6 months is that there are a number of sex workers who aren't happy with the Big Name Visible People in sex worker politics, Big Names who notably couldn't even be bothered to attend this year's Desiree Alliance sex worker conference.  Many sex workers I've talked to aren't thrilled with the increasing inaccessibility and academic-esque nature of sex work dialog, don't feel like their world is being well-represented, and are privately whispering things like, "Wait, what was it that so-and-so actually did that makes them a sex worker?  And how many years ago was that?"

In sum, it feels like there's a lot of important and exciting shit brewing just under the surface in sex worker politics, and more people looking to get involved in some sort of political stuff - if they can find a way to do so.

For those of you who don't know me well: this is coming from someone who got started in sex work almost 9 years ago (full-time for 8 years), is not involved in any sex worker rights groups and has a semi-outsiders perspective on sex worker activism, but who considers herself to have a pretty good grasp of the history of social movements and activism in the United States over the last 50 years.

Here's what I see from where I'm sitting:

1.) The sex worker rights movement should be led by experienced and current sex workers.  No one should be excluded, but we sorely need more voices from folks who aren't hipster feminists with only brief involvement with sex work.

It's truly great to have part-timers and people who did/do only a small amount of sex work speak about their experiences.  I am glad that people who don't "need" to be involved in the fight for sex workers rights care to do so anyway.  It also testifies to how sex work is not a monolith and can often be something people do once in their lives, or for a few months, or a few years, or with one special patron they see twice a year.  I am not dismissing those folks and their stories or their work as activists, but for people who have flat-out spent less time sex working, they sure do comprise a whole lot of our tacit leadership and spokespersons.

The vocal sex worker scene needs more people whose primary motivation wasn't a quick bout of fun self-exploration.  That's a totally valid reason to do sex work, and I'm not saying you're bad or irrelevant if it describes you, but it's simply not representative of sex workers in this country as a whole.  (I enjoy the explorative and creative aspects of my work, but it's still my full-time job that I do for money.)  The over-representation of sex-positive dabblers also contributes to the anti camp being able to dismiss sex worker activism as something by and for a tiny minority of the most privileged and "happy hooker"-esque.  Even if we love our work, as I do, I think we do ourselves a disservice by over-selling the erotic/transgressive/feminist aspect of it in an attempt to counter false stereotypes that all sex workers are abused addicts who hate their jobs.

When I feel extra cynical, I wonder if there's some kind of unwritten rule that says the less sex work you've done, and the longer it's been since you've done it, the more aggressively you ought to shout about how you're a sex worker and thrust yourself into public conversations as such.  (Of course, this rule does not apply to typical sex workers, it applies only to the educated feminist types.)  I've been a full-time, no-"real"-job sex worker my entire adult life, and frankly, I think this buys me a bigger seat at the table than someone who appears in a few porn videos a year, or was a stripper for a semester a decade ago.  (Just as, of course, I think people who've been sex workers since before I was born deserve an even bigger seat at the table than I do.)

This doesn't mean I dislike part-time or former sex workers (I adore many of them and think they've made some amazing contributions!), nor do I think that they shouldn't be included, or that they aren't "real" sex workers.  I simply want the folks with the most at stake and the most experience to have the most say in what's going on and how their jobs are portrayed.  Radically offensive perspective, I know.

2.) The sex worker rights movement needs to make itself and its issues accessible to more supporters and sex workers, not just feminist bloggers, the kinkster/sex-positive scene, and academics.

If you were to casually surf across popular sex workers rights blogs and articles, you'll find stuff like how to reframe human trafficking through a lens of post-colonial theory, impassioned calls to stop cis-sexist language constructs, and the forced rehabilitation centers  in Cambodia.  These are all excellent and fascinating topics of discussion to me, but (sadly!) they only interest a very small amount of other people.  Sex worker discourse is dominated by people who chose to forget that most folk in America aren't familiar with the idea of being "cisgender", can't find Cambodia on a map, and all they know about "colonialism" is that pilgrims wore funny hats.

Your average person (sex worker or potential ally) does not have a graduate degree-level understanding of gender, feminism, or immigration politics.  They don't even possess the vocabulary to join the conversation we're having amongst ourselves.  Think of it this way: we're trying to implore people, "Save the whales from extinction!", except their concept of what a whale looks like is "a grey cow that can breathe under water", they don't know what save implies in this context, and they need to look up extinction in a dictionary because they've never heard the word before.  The steep learning curve is alienating.  When I see so many sex worker rights discussions going on, I wonder if some people have ever ventured outside of the intellectual pervert cliques of New York City and San Francisco.

It's not like I disagree with what most of the brainy clique is writing, or think they should stop saying it, but I'm a pragmatist who knows that deconstructing every facet of hetero-normativity is not the most pressing issue for most sex workers.  Yes, everything is connected, "let's not be single-issue", I get that - but some people are like a chef so busy trying to explain how to make impressively intricate fondant cakes that they forget that their audience hasn't even mastered Jello instant pudding yet.  I'm not anti- fondant cake, but let's start with getting everyone on board with that just-add-milk-and-stir thing, and then work our way up from there, shall we?

If you want to change the world, you have to be able to meet people where they're at, to explain things to average people using plain language.  Broad-based social change is not a competition to see who can talk the furthest over the heads of the general public.  That famous quip about how "the only thing that's ever changed the world is a small group of committed people" is complete bullshit.  You do need those core instigators, but if it starts and ends there, your cause is doomed.

Further, sex workers really need to reconsider what it means to "build bridges with other communities."  We can get every last feminist sex blogger and BDSM enthusiast to say they agree with our cause, but, well... that's not really progress. The way I see, the root thing we're working to change is public opinion and stigma before we can do anything else - like changing or repealing laws - and sex workers need to actually reach out to the general public.  I love sex bloggers and kinksters and think they have been great allies, but they are members of the choir, not the people that we most need to reach.  It seems like 99% of outreach efforts are focused on influencing less than 1% of the population.  We need to stop kidding ourselves and acting like it's a major accomplishment to convince someone who's already devoted to transgressive sexuality that they should support sex workers, too.  (I'm not dismissing our cool allies in the pervert scene, I'm stating that we need more allies.)

3.) The "working" class needs to be at the forefront of the sex workers rights movement.

In Jim Goad's polarizing book, The Redneck Manifesto, he lays things out thusly:

The working class doesn't write a lot of history books.  The working class doesn't produce many movies or radio shows.  The working class doesn't need to hire media consultations or theatrical agents.  The working class has played an itty-bitty role in fashioning its public image.

That's because the working class was too busy working.

I might not be "working class" in the sense Goad means it, but I'm "working" class within the sex work scene in that my focus has been on actual sex work, not on writing about it for liberal news sites and academic journals, debating anti-prostitution activists on TV, or promoting myself as a guest lecturer available to talk to college students about "feminist porn".  Even as I blog, consider writing a book, and start expanding into doing more political stuff, I'm still working a full-time job as a pornographer and web cam performer, which is where I devote most of my energies.

I know we're all busy, but I'd like to see more sex workers take just a bit of time to get involved in something, or speak out, or share their stories.  I don't want sex worker politics to belong only to a handful of feminist intellectuals, I want to see blogs and contributions and stories and ideas from people sprinkled all over the country, doing all sorts of different work, especially those who have no prior experience with activism and political organizing.  I want to see new faces.  I want these faces to be diverse, but without refusing to acknowledge the reality that most sex workers are able-bodied cisgender women who adhere to mainstream beauty standards.

It saddens me to see any sex worker feeling like there's no place for them because they're not a punky queer hipster (pseudo)intellectual.  It's such a bizarro-world scenario where a a teeny little minority of (ex) sex workers can make the majority feel like they are the ones who don't fit in.  I know a number of long-standing, smart, politically-minded, and/or boundary-pushing people whose work and opinions don't get mentioned in political sex work and "feminist porn" discussions because they don't fit into the established superficial mould of what a "smart sex worker" is supposed to look and act like.  Is sex worker activism a momentum-gathering social movement or a temporarily trendy subculture, like ironic mustaches?

I stated that I'm calling for a "working" class uprising, and I chose that word for a reason.  I didn't call for a coup.  I don't want to silence anyone or tell anyone to stop doing what they're doing.  I am calling for the rest of us to literally rise up, to become the dominant voices not because we take voices away from others, but because we are speaking up for ourselves.  If you don't like how things are going, or don't feel represented by the current sex worker political scene, it's up to you to make sex worker politics yours through your own participation.

4.) I live up to what I ask of others, so I'm starting a new project.  Its focus is on providing accessible information about sex work to a general audience.

I've had an idea for this independent project floating around in my head for a while, and decided that now is the time to finally get on it.  Independent as in something I can operate mostly by myself, without joining an existing group and devoting time to organization meetings, worrying about consensus processes, and frankly, having to rely on other people - who may end up flaking out on me.  While I will be asking for input, advice, and help from other people, I'm a ultimately a lone wolf, and I want something that's mostly operated by me, because then I know it will get done.

The political work (I sort of hate the word "activist" because of the subculture scene image it implies) I've been involved with off-and-on over in the last decade has been of a very different framework than general education and outreach.  My experiences are with more targeted issues where there's some clear goal and there are more definitive metrics to gage success.  Changing the big picture for sex workers is fucking hard.  This isn't "let's get this company/person to stop/start doing this specific thing."  Sluts and whores (and women falsely perceived to be so) are some of the most hated people across every human culture in the world.  Every single religion is anti-sexuality, and that affects our global psyche in ways I don't think all people realize or care to admit.  So, while this isn't little Furry Girl's first try at doing something political, it's a truly challenging construct due to its vastness and how much it's ingrained in our world.  Also, it's funny to me that I generally agitate for more "radical" positions on issues, but what most needs to be done for sex workers is providing polite, 101-level basic public education, so what's what I'm going to do.

The launch date on my project hasn't been determined yet, but some time in the spring.  I promise, it will be good, and I'll write more about this soon.  In the mean time, if you have a fancy-pants job and aren't hurting too badly from the recession, I would appreciate any early-bird donations to get the ball rolling.

I've decided on what I have the skill, time, and interest to contribute.  What will you start doing this year?

[Edit to add: this project is now launched at SWAAY.org]





31 Comments

  1. I have sashayed through so many different contexts for sex work and I agree with what you're saying.

    The first time I engaged with sex work, I was working on my B.A. and sex work was a good way to make money around my schedule. I was not doing film work at this time. At the same time, I was volunteering as an HIV tester and also working with sex workers on the street level.

    Then I graduated from college and took an HIV specialist position and started doing film work because it was an experience I wanted to have for many different reasons. Engaging in that form of sex work when I had a job to fall back on was different than when that wasn't there.

    It's a different game, there are different sets of challenges and perks. It was a very different way to be a sex worker.

    I do notice many others things that you've stated. I participated in a sex educator study and one of the questions asked about the age demographics we target. I noticed that rather than simply listing age brackets, 24 and below had been marked by levels of education. 18-24 had (college) listed next to it. I primarily worked with 18-24 year olds but they were not college students. They were homeless, most were sex workers, and they were HIV+. Not your standard bracket of outreach in terms of sex education. They don't stop into fancy sex boutiques for workshops. Many of them did not complete high school. Few of them had a sex talk from parents. They still deserved information about sex.

    Also, sexually explicit web sites are by and large completely blocked from computers in homeless shelters. The definition of explicit is pretty broad. I attempted to search for "post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP)" into a computer only to find that the entire search query was blocked by the software. PEP is a regiment of anti-retroviral drugs as a means to prevent infection after a high risk exposure. If someone has had a high risk exposure to HIV through either blood contamination or unprotected high risk sex, they can initiate PEP within 72 hours as a way to prevent actually contracting HIV. We have very good evidence to indicate that this is very effective. Sadly, if you are a shelter resident in San Francisco you might not have access to information about this option because any mention of the words "anal sex" on a website gets them blocked.

    There is a noticeable amount of voluntourism in sex work as well. The term originates out of vacation packages to volunteer in 3rd World counties where you get nice accommodations, nice meals, you sing songs with orphans, snap photos, and come home in a week. It's the bane of relief organizations because it takes everyone a decent amount of time to even start to figure what the fuck is going on around you.

    It's awesome that you're starting a new project and I'm sure as hell interested to hear more about it.

    Comment by Maggie — January 18, 2011 @ 6:46 pm

  2. This relationship between two categories of people, those with a "left" orientation and those who "work" in a particular capacity, is something that I've thought a lot about lately.

    I've always appreciated your preference for accompanying people in the "work" category rather than adorning yourself with an ever-more elaborate orientation, which is what a lot of the internet Left does.

    I think that's really important, and I admire and appreciate your commitment to doing so.

    I'm not well-versed in the kind of work that you do, but my relationship to labor concerns and feminism frequently lead me to the concerns of sex workers -- and I feel like I should be doing more about that. Anyway, just wanted to offer anything I might be able provide; or, alternately, welcome any opportunities you might be able to pass along!

    Thanks again.

    Comment by JRB — January 18, 2011 @ 6:57 pm

  3. You and I may sometimes disagree on the details but let me stand on a chair and applaud this. THANK YOU!!!! (And thank you for quoting me.) These are real issues holding us all back and I dearly wish the movement could have an open discussion w/o labeling to get moving forward again. Most importantly, the only way to change public perception is to change public perception.

    I have nothing else to add -- you've hit every major point and explained yourself well. All I can say is "Yes. Yes. Yes. And yes."

    XX

    Comment by Amanda — January 18, 2011 @ 6:58 pm

  4. You are trying to be very inclusive; you are not denying, but rather accepting, everything that is good in all the "leftist" and "intellectualist" content in the sex workers' movement. While accepting it all, and being thankful for it, you point out the need to talk to the masses, to talk about things that are of interest and relevant to actual sex workers, to move things ahead. You want to build bridges, and look at the basic issues as, well, more basic than the hypothetical and theoretical ones.

    That is ... awesome.

    I admit I don't have very high hopes for activist work. The Dao makes us smile at those who think their actions will only have only good consequences. Still... this is awesome.

    So, Ms FurryGirl, you're going to get a donation from me. I'm not American and I don't even live there anymore, but you've convinced me that you really mean what you say. So I'll run the risk and actually send you an early contribution without even knowing what your project consists of. (How do I do this, by the way? To your Paypal account?)

    Comment by Asehpe — January 19, 2011 @ 1:59 am

  5. Every single religion is anti-sexuality, and that affects our global psyche in ways I don't think all people realize or care to admit.

    I think you are misidentifying the cause in this. Humans tend to be prudes, and it leaks into all our organizations and movements whether it is part of the belief system or not. Communism and feminism, for example, have both been very anti-sexuality in practice, but what does it have to do with their core beliefs?

    Comment by Mousie762 — January 19, 2011 @ 6:52 am

  6. Current and active sex workers are just too busy trying to squeak out a living to get involved. Couple that with feeling like they are not represented and that their specific issues are not addressed and wham.. non involvement.

    I agree the majority is not represented and that's the dabblers or ex-workers have a lions share of the voice, likely because they have the time to speak out and they in turn speak about what interests them.

    There something i think you're missing which may be more of a reason as to why people dont get involved though. There are different kinds of sex work and each segment has different agendas. What is most important to strippers is no the same thing that's most important to escorts. What is most important to Dommes, is not the most important to Camgirls. etc, etc.

    Furry, you and i have even had this issue come up between us in a really non constructive way, with lots of ill feelings on both sides.

    Sex work means a lot of different things to a lot of different people, who do a lot of different kinds of sex work. What my specific segment of sex work most cares about is not going to jail and not getting killed/hurt because we meet clients face to face. I would guess that your segments wouldn't have the same emphasis on those issues and that you have you own high priority issues that directly affect you and that you think needs to be addressed.

    Changing and challenging the prostitution laws is an absolute high priority for my specific segment of sex work. The anti prostitution groups wrapped up in the anti trafficking flag are getting stronger, bigger and better funded, is that really the most important issue on the table to PSO's? No, why would it be.

    No one likes disingenuous self serving allys, there's a plague of them within the escort community right now and it's also frustrating for me to see the "big names" with the big voices dismiss the issues that most matter to me and my community. One of the people you mention by name casually dismissed as a non issue two of the biggest issues this last year (craiglist and fauxho) that made me wonder if she even likes sex workers at all let alone represent them. I know shes doesn't represent me.

    I dont know what the answer is, maybe its the Harvey Milk approach. Maybe we have to all come out to our friends and families until everyone knows a real live sex worker and then cant deny us our rights or our humanity. Of course that's brings its own set of concerns and issues to the table, especially for those of us in the Illegal business of sex work.

    Jenny DeMilo

    Comment by Jenny DeMilo — January 19, 2011 @ 9:50 am

  7. You are absolutely right that a movement with impenetrable (ha, punny) language will seem unwelcoming and, worse, unhelpful to those who aren't well versed in that vocabulary. Thank you for putting it forth so diplomatically.

    Comment by Monica — January 19, 2011 @ 10:29 am

  8. I can't help but agree and sometimes feel that for a certain kind of person, 'that year I did alt-porn' is going to be this decade's 'that year I was in Goa'.

    It does disturb me when media outlets are more interested in my take on sex work than on eliciting the views of someone currently in the business. Things have changed rapidly from when I was working (non-agency girls, for instance, are far more usual and visible in Britain now than they were in 2003). In spite of my not being 'reformed' as such there is still the flavour that they are more comfortable with an ex-sex worker than a current one.

    Thank you for your caveats, by the way: I hope people reading this recognise your point is for the voices of *all* sex workers to be included, not just a select group. Reference also to Amanda's recent post about people who appear mainstream and commercial still having valid views. It's 100% not about replacing one hierarchy with another.

    Comment by Belle de Jour — January 19, 2011 @ 12:21 pm

  9. Maggie (Mayhem): Interesting comparison to voluntourism. You've seen a good spectrum of people in the sex industry, from the street-based workers to being in the epicenter of feminist porn production.

    JRB: Thanks. The thing is, my politics are overall "left", but I find the focus on exploring one's gender and sexuality to be over-represented in comparison to the motivations of most sex workers: earning a living. You can be "left" and care about labor issues.

    Amanda: Big ditton on, "Most importantly, the only way to change public perception is to change public perception."

    Asehpe: Like I said, I want an *uprising* of more average sex workers, not a *coup*. I think we need all types. I need to decide if I want to go through the hassle of forming an LLC or something for this project, so I'll post soon about how to donate for interested parties. (Folks who know me personally can always just give me cash, but I need to suss out an official proper way of doing so.)

    Mousie762: I'm not going to waste my time debating religion with you. If you'd like to have that basic experience, just call up some videos of Christopher Hitchens on Youtube and tape a photo of my face over his on your monitor.

    Jenny: Yes, every part of the sex industry has different concerns. A porn person might be more concerned about condom and obscenity laws, an escort about prostitution laws. But, I don't see how anyone can disagree that trying to get the general public to respect and understand the realities of sex work is somehow not what their sector ought to care about. I really don't think it's possible for any part of the sex industry to achieve their more specific goals surrounding laws and issues that affect them without first working on quashing stigma and misinformation circulating in the general public. Without that foundation, none of us can build a house, even if we have different ideas of what our house should look like.

    Monica: It counts for both sex workers and supporters. The academic and "insider" language is confusing to everyone outside the bubble.

    Belle: Thanks for weighing in, and I love your Goa comparison. (Perhaps for us west coast Americans, "The time I went to Burning Man"?) I've also wondered about who the media likes to showcase, and if they prefer ex sex workers because they want someone who tacitly assures the audience, "don't worry, though, I'm not a bad girl any more," even if they are unrepentant about their own work.

    Comment by Furry Girl — January 19, 2011 @ 3:56 pm

  10. "I want these faces to be diverse, but without refusing to acknowledge the reality that most sex workers are able-bodied cisgender women who adhere to mainstream beauty standards."

    Exactly, and that's fine because they're also the ones the general public - who are, after all, the ones we need to win over in the end - most easily recognizes as sex workers.

    When I started my blog last summer I made a conscious decision to address most of my columns to that general public, for the very real reason that so few others are doing it; like you, I noticed that most of the discourse is academic, esoteric and nigh-inaccessible, and I didn't want to be like that. I like to think I'm getting through to at least some of my target audience, and I'm REALLY glad a number of very cool people I respect (like you and Amanda) are on a similar wavelength. :-)

    Comment by Maggie McNeill — January 19, 2011 @ 3:31 pm

  11. Maggie McNeill: I don't think people realize how profoundly alienating the language and vocabulary issue is for people outside the tiny sex worker academic feministy bubble. Casual supporters and the curious are not going to force themselves to read things that have heaps of words they have to google. My blog isn't the most accessible thing either, but I don't also see it as an outreach-centric project as much as one for other people similar to me. I understand that for real outreach, you need to write accessibly, and so few of the big voices in the sex work scene seem to get that.

    Comment by Furry Girl — January 19, 2011 @ 4:04 pm

  12. FG -- This is a big part of the issue: "I've also wondered about who the media likes to showcase, and if they prefer ex sex workers because they want someone who tacitly assures the audience, "don't worry, though, I'm not a bad girl any more," even if they are unrepentant about their own work."

    Part of the issue is that working girls have an aversion to media (and rightly so), which is hard to get around. And yes, they're working, just as Jenny points out (and you well know). However...I'm noticing a trend of current working girls (my invisible majority) showing a distinct interest in getting things done. So the will and energy are there. It can happen and it will happen more effectively as a group than as a bunch of little groups operating without collaboration.

    XX

    Comment by Amanda — January 19, 2011 @ 4:24 pm

  13. Amanda: I wrote a bit about the prominence of ex sex workers last spring: http://www.feminisnt.com/2010/three-out-of-four-aint-bad-my-thoughts-on-audacia-rays-post-on-the-dominant-narratives-of-sex-work/

    Comment by Furry Girl — January 19, 2011 @ 4:30 pm

  14. I'm with you on this one. Let me know if we can help you in any way.

    -arvan

    Comment by sexgenderbody — January 20, 2011 @ 2:44 pm

  15. This post said a lot of things that I've been thinking for a while. I've got no experience of activism and to be honest, wouldn't really know where to start. But ever since I started sex work, complete honesty about my work and answering any question from any person has been my way of doing things. It might not make a huge difference - but I have already changed the opinion of a girl who was completely anti-sex work before, as well as dragging a few of my more liberal friends out of the idea of "legalize it, tax it and force them to take STD tests" (no no no NO).

    I think the thing that sometimes shocks people the most is when I refer to it as a normal job. Market researchers who ask me what I do for a living, taxi drivers and similar who make small talk with me about work. It's not a 'sexy secret', it's not shameful, it's just my job.

    The way I see it, if people know a sex worker, it's harder for them to be against it. Not impossible, obviously, but it requires them to think about their position more than "oh, abused drug addicts having sex for money, how horrible". And if I engage with any idiot who wants to call me stupid, say I'm being exploited, ask personal invasive questions about if I was sexually abused as a child, or in the case of one feminist accuse me of running a "happy rape scam", maybe one or two of them will listen. Eventually.

    Comment by Krystal — January 21, 2011 @ 3:55 am

  16. This article is stellar. It represents a lot of thoughts that I haven't ever articulated well online.

    Comment by Jill Brenneman — January 21, 2011 @ 10:34 am

  17. For Arvan and everyone who's asked if they can help: I'll be posting something else in the coming week or two with a sort of "this is what I need" list, so thanks for your support. Right now I'm still fleshing out a lot of things and what I need help doing versus what I can do myself. But, one big answer is MONEY. I think I need about $1000 to start up, and it would be nice to get that in early-bird donations rather than needing to fund it all myself *and* do most of the work, too.

    Krystal: I really think that one of the most powerful activist tools we have is to be "out" as sex workers. I was formerly out to everyone except my neighbors, (yes, including grandparents), but a couple of months ago, one of my neighbors found me and posted to Facebook about it, so then a bunch of them found out. Oh well. At least no one's dropped by my place looking for a free blowjob from the slut enighbor.

    Jill: Thank you.

    Comment by Furry Girl — January 21, 2011 @ 4:43 pm

  18. Calling discussions (including my post) about trans-inclusive language that is more respectful "academic" is ridiculous. If you think sex workers who are trans are some insignificant minority then you are seriously out of touch. Before I posted that I had heard from more than one trans woman that they felt alienated by the disrespectful language. As far as the situation in Cambodia, sex workers and sex worker rights activists exist and build alliances all across the world. It is not a bad thing that our organizations communicate and that we are making connections and bringing light to issues all across the world. Especially when the situation in Cambodia is a US issue too seeing as how OUR GOVERNMENT CAUSED IT.

    I doubt you think I'm a "big name" but I haven't been able to make it to a desiree conference because IT COSTS A SHIT-TON OF MONEY. I applied for scholarships, got a very small one, and it wasn't enough to go. So I think you can take your opinions about who "bothered" to go and shove it. Also these conferences seem more like voluntourism than anything else you mentioned.

    Since you're not involved in actual activism/organizing you can't really speak to what we have and have not accomplished. Some of us are doing actual concrete things that are making an actual difference. Also I don't know if you think I'm a "feminist academic" or a "dabbler" but neither of those things are true. Some of us do devote thought to issues without actually being "academics."

    And you want to shit on people for trying not to be just a little privileged clique. Guess why *I* felt alienated by the movement before I joined? Little privileged clique, and fuck you if you think I shouldn't be trying to change that. The people at the bottom of the heap, the most marginalized, DO deserve to have priority in organizing. I suppose you want us to become like the rich white hetero-looking mainstream lgb(t) movement in the US? Throwing everyone else under the bus? Fuck that.

    Comment by sixtoedkitties — January 28, 2011 @ 4:45 pm

  19. sixtoedkitties: Yes, my post was all about how the sex workers rights movement need to focus its energy on oppressing trans people and Cambodian sex workers. You have genius-level reading comprehension skills.

    Comment by Furry Girl — January 28, 2011 @ 4:55 pm

  20. And apparently Amanda feels alienated but she's pretty alienating herself. Pot, kettle, etc. Maybe you ought to look at your own language Amanda.

    Comment by sixtoedkitties — January 28, 2011 @ 4:56 pm

  21. Nice. I guess when you called those issues "academic" and inaccessible you really just meant they are totally great things to devote time to! Gee, how could I have ever had a problem with what you wrote?

    Comment by sixtoedkitties — January 28, 2011 @ 5:00 pm

  22. sixtoedkitties: Whatever, feel angry and righteous, make this into a matter of my blog post personally attacking you. But, I will tell you this: if you want trans issues to be accessible to the general public, it's your job as a educator/advocate to make those issues accessible. I know this comes as a shock to people who refuse to venture outside the queer feminist gender-fucking bubble, but "cis"/"cis-sexist"/"cisgender" are terms that are only in the lexicon of about .00001% of the population in this country. I have explained "cisgender" and trans issues (including gendered language constructs) to more people than I can count. I'm not stopping you from doing whatever it is that you do, so why don't you go do that, and I'll focus on helping the GENERAL PUBLIC to understand sex worker issues?

    Comment by Furry Girl — January 28, 2011 @ 5:22 pm

  23. Well whatever. Thanks for telling me what my "job" is as an advocate. In my post I actually also gave options for language that doesn't even use "cis" but is still more respectful. And I do try to reach THE GENERAL POPULATION and don't actually need you to tell me how to do it. Kthanxbye.

    Comment by sixtoedkitties — January 28, 2011 @ 5:37 pm

  24. Ok, I wanted to come back to this when I was a little less angry. My SWOP chapter just lost half our membership in the past couple days due to personality conflicts and it has been stressful - I mean maybe you think trying to keep a group together and go through meetings and such is a waste of energy, but where would sex workers who want to change things go if things like SWOP didn't exist? I do want to say though - while I stand by the content of what I said, I could have said it less angrily.

    As far as what I and other activists/organizers in SWOP do, you've probably noticed some of it and not even realized it. The list of names for Dec 17th didn't compile itself for instance - while a lot of people made submissions, the bulk of the list was put together by a SWOP-NYC "intern" who wants to be anonymous and myself. And that is really difficult and emotionally draining work, by the way, as was helping put together and participating in the vigil that my chapter held. It is super important IMO that we honor our dead. My chapter is also really actively trying to change policy (for instance, getting invited to meetings where we can try to give the "demand reduction" folks a new perspective), and in the future we hope to be able to start influencing some of the laws - we have specific goals of what we want to target, who might introduce legislation for us, etc. As for the sex workers who have columns in the newspaper and such - I was suprised that you even object to that - I mean, what better way to try to influence the opinions of THE GENERAL POPULATION? We specifically (SWOP colorado) also do media outreach for the same reason.

    Trust me, I am all about getting shit done, and so are tons of other "activists."

    Robin

    Comment by sixtoedkitties — January 29, 2011 @ 12:01 pm

  25. Re-reading this there is also stuff I agree with. I am not a "pro" activist - sex workers rights organizing was the first actism/organizing I had ever done, though I got into economic justice organizing at the same time. I think that's a good thing - to bring in more activists who don't have experience with it. For me, my partner got me into it (activism/organizing) and it was a big deal to me - I felt accepted in a way I never had, and really did feel empowered to let go of shame and work toward changing things. I had never heard of "sex worker rights" or the term "sex work" until after I had left the sex trade/industry the first time. I don't have facial piercings or sleeve tattoos; I have worked with a buzz cut but not as a political statement - I am a queer woman, and also I wasn't intending or planning to be working at the time.

    But a lot of the online sex worker folks still make me very angry. Especially hypocrites who feel excluded but say and imply horrible things about other groups of sex workers that are IMPOSSIBLE not to take personally (not you necessarily, but folks you quote approvingly). I have checked on Amanda's blog occasionally but I generally avoid it for the sake of my own mental health. Her "hobbyist" commenters are pretty bad too. This is why I say, if you want to talk about exclusion TAKE A LOOK AT YOUR OWN SELF. If she and I are ever at the same conference, event, anything, I hope she stays the hell away from me so I can actually enjoy and get something good out of it.

    And, none of this means I think its ok to throw groups of sex workers under the bus I don't belong to (trans sex workers, immigrants, sex workers outside the USA)! I don't get why people even defend doing this. And I do think it is important to consider people unlike ourselves, especially people with difficulties we don't have, when building a social movement!

    Comment by sixtoedkitties — January 29, 2011 @ 3:53 pm

  26. Hi there, never commented before, but am enjoying your blog.

    I'm not a sex worker, nor do I plan on becoming one (or pretending that I am one). I enjoy reading about it though, as I enjoy reading about many people that do things for a living that are outside the norm and/or something Republicans wouldn't approve of, really.

    And again, while I'm certainly not "in the know" here, and while everything you've said above seems entirely reasonable and easy to agree with in principle . . . I'm wondering, well . . . um . . .

    Writers who write full-time (meaning full-time, it pays their bills, they don't do much else for a living, including sex work) always need new stuff to write about, new interesting people to interview, new topics to explore, etc. As long as sex work remains a titillating or controversy-provoking topic, I imagine they'll keep on writing about it.

    Meanwhile, as I think you've already pointed out, sex workers who do sex work full-time (again, meaning don't write for a living, at least in the sense they make enough money from that to pay most of their bills), are probably fairly busy with their actual job(s). I admire the fact that you've found the time and energy to do both, but I at least *imagine* (again, not in the know personally here, not claiming to be) you're a little different there.

    And I know you're also talking about political activism, but I think for many, writing or contributing a "voice" to a project is kind of similar.

    How could your project address this? It seems kind of essential that there is an inverse correlation between current time spent doing sex work and time/motivation/energy to write/do activist work regarding sex work. I'm certainly not saying it couldn't, just wondering how it could. It seems like it would be extremely difficult.

    Comment by Ramona — January 30, 2011 @ 3:47 pm

  27. Ramona: Thanks for your feedback as one of my non-ho readers. Yes, it is a big deal that most sex workers are focused on being *sex workers*, not paid writers. It's hard to make time for things that don't pay your bills, but I for one want to try and do more. I'll be writing more about my project soon in its own blog post.

    sixtoedkitties: I don't know you, and I have no interest in fighting with you about how you run your SWOP chapter and whether you do useful enough activism. But, for the record, just because I quote Amanda and agree with her on some things (that our tacic spokespeople are out of touch and alienate average sex workers), it doesn't mean I endorse everything she thinks. If you have an issue with Amanda, take it up with her, not me. I don't think I'll be replying to you again after this, because you seem to lack even the most basic reading comprehension skills. You're attacking me for things I've never said. No matter what I write, you read into my words that my call to action is that sex workers must lash out and attack trans people, immigrants, and non-Americans. That is patently absurd and insulting.

    Comment by Furry Girl — February 4, 2011 @ 2:56 am

  28. This concern about the movement being too largely led by former sex workers has come up before. What many people may overlook are the obstacles for current sex workers to become involved, especially if they go public with their advocacy. Even if they don't go public, there are still risks. With prostitution being criminalized in the vast majority of the U.S. and much of the world, sex workers in prositution may fear incriminating themselves if they become involved in advocacy or making themselves into targets.

    There are also sometimes issues with management. For example, a group called the Las Vegas Exotic Dancers Alliance strived to organize dancers in Vegas years ago, but I read that some clubs threatened to fire dancers if they became involved in advocacy. Needless to say, this is another obstacle towards attracting current sex workers to our movement. Yet, one club actually hosted an event for this organization, so not all clubs reacted negatively.

    Thus, though I agree with the importance of leadership by current sex workers, it's also important to realize the societal obstacles in terms of achieving this. That being said, I'm not sure if I agree with critiques that the movement is run largely by former sex workers, as I know of many more current sex workers who are major leaders in the movement than former sex workers. Also, over the past few years, I've noticed a lot more current sex workers entering our movement.

    Some former sex workers have made amazing contributions to our movement, volunteering a lot of time, energy and resources. Thus, it is important to be very careful how we say things and not make them feel unappreciated, even though Furry Girl made it clear that's not what she's trying to do.

    I totally agree with Furry Girl about speaking more to a wider audience instead of just speaking in our own sex worker advocacy language. For example, within our movement, we often differentiate between legalizations and decriminalization, but I seriously doubt that the vast majority of people outside of our movement know the different, and I don't think that everybody within our movement has the same idea of what the differences are. Thus, if we say things like, "We want decriminalization, not legalization," a lot of people who will likely be clueless about what we're saying. Instead, we need to be specific about what we want in ways that masses of people can understand.

    Comment by Vegan Vixen — April 7, 2011 @ 6:24 pm

  29. VV: If you read my entire blog post, you'll see that I in no way say that former sex workers are bad activists or shouldn't be involved.

    Comment by Furry Girl — April 8, 2011 @ 3:23 pm

  30. Thank you for the response, Furry Girl. I wasn't implying that you were saying former sex workers were bad activists or shouldn't be involved. I was hoping my comments wouldn't be interpreted in this way, which is why I wrote, "Thus, it is important to be very careful how we say things and not make them feel unappreciated, even though Furry Girl made it clear that's not what she's trying to do." That's why I added the disclaimer at the end of this sentence. I was saying that I didn't think you were trying to make former sex workers feel unappreciated.

    I'm actively involved in the movement and presently, the core activists are largely current sex workers who are career sex workers or long term sex workers (for lack of a better term) rather than dabblers. I've heard the criticism about there being an overrepresentation of former sex workers in our movement before, but I just don't agree with it. It's not what I'm observing presently.

    Comment by Vegan Vixen — April 10, 2011 @ 3:54 pm

  31. Comment by Trackbacks — October 20, 2017 @ 10:36 am

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