by Furry Girl

08.02.15

I was reading some recent thoughts on sex work from Brooke Magnanti, which carried the obligatory disclaimer, "I am by any measure an incredibly privileged white, well-educated, successful ex-sex worker & as such a poster child of choicey-choiceness." Having not done much of reading of sex worker blogs in the last few months, I was especially struck by this standard opening many visible (ex) sex workers use.

I've seen these disclaimers countless times, and generally tried to avoid them on my blog. It isn't that I don't acknowledge that I have more privilege than most of world's population - I'm white, middle class, and have had a reasonably successful life, free from famine, displacement, violence, illness, and disability. However, I avoid privilege disclaimers of my opinions for two reasons: the way the left deals with "privilege" is simply as an insult to be avoided and defended against rather than an evolving dynamic to ponder, and because admissions of privilege are starkly one-sided in sex work debates, and I don't want to contribute to that.

Why is it that "our side" feels so constantly obligated to disclaim our ideas as coming from a position of privilege, but anti-sex worker activists - many of whom have much higher salaries than the sex workers they lambast as "privileged" - never say a single word about their own economic/racial/education status?  When you have a debate and on one side are all these "I am privileged, but..." arguments, and on the other, no such acknowledgement ever, then it sets up an appearance that professional feminists and anti-sex work activists are the down-trodden victims.  And we all know it's bullshit, but we still perpetuate it be defensively prefacing everything we think with, "I am privileged, but..." This disclaimer has the effect in lefty circles of being read as, "My opinion doesn't matter because I am actually an oppressive, obtuse, and shitty person."

Most of the sex workers I've known have been from lower and middle class backgrounds, who have gone onto to become the same or inching up the economic ladder a notch or two. We are not a very privileged or powerful group, honestly. Being a sex worker, even a "privileged" one, is less profitable than being a feminist academic. The wealthiest and most successful sex workers I know of are ones who own homes. Not 6 bedroom palaces on the water with yachts in front and a collection of designer furniture and appliances inside, but basic middle class homes. Think about that - you are held up as an icon of economic eliteness and ruthless capitalism because you can afford the things that other middle class adults in your country can also afford.

To me, there's actually nothing more emblematic of the concept of privilege than being a professional feminist - whether an academic position or working for an organization that campaigns against sex workers. I can't imagine a better job than to get paid a large salary with benefits to read and think about the things that interest you, and then to tell others your opinions. I do that every day, but for me it's a hobby, it's not a high-paying career with tenure. Which is why it makes my blood boil that professional feminists - who, again, have a job which is easier and pays a lot more than just about any sex worker makes - are the ones droning on about how people like me are "privileged," and "not representative." (As though there even is such a thing as "representative" for sex work. Sex workers are not a monolith, spanning all cultures, all races, all social strata, all sizes, all genders. Sex work is perhaps the most diverse occupation, so any one is "not representative.")

Is there a better way to handle these things than our current method of prefacing everything we say with, "I admit I am privileged, but..."?  I don't know.  I'm in favor of honest discussions of the ways privilege affect our lives, but think the left botches this issue by invariably turning it into a shouting match of accusations and insults.  I do hope we're aware of how we're tacitly creating this absurd framing that it's sex workers and sex workers' rights advocates who are the ones in a position of privilege, whereas moneyed and powerful feminist academics, lobbying organizations, and celebrities are representatives of the weak and voiceless.

It's an upside-down world when we are expected to apologize constantly for our "privilege" when we advocate against criminalization policies that enable violence, rape, and abuse - policies which disproportionately impact the least privileged sex workers.





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