Why Feminists Should Listen to Sex Workers

As a “fictional” sex worker having spent countless days, months, and years in feminists spaces, there’s one thing that continues to stand as the key staple ideology among them: sex workers are treated like and thought of as victims.  Having graduated with my Bachelor of Arts undergraduate degree in 2006, I discovered that academia didn’t understand the complex circumstances surrounding sex workers.  None of my professors outed themselves as sex workers at the time. Having been one myself, I know that it’s not likely any of them were.  So how could they teach courses on the subject with any accuracy?

As an undergrad, academia didn’t portray sex workers as being in choice around their work.  The overarching ideology surrounding the industry of sex had me convinced that all sex workers, even those choosing to work in legal branches of the industry (like dancers and phone sex, as examples) were poor victims of circumstance.

I decided to investigate.  After I graduated, I chose to go into sex work (2007).  I quickly found a subversive group of sex work activists that were actively fighting for the rights of others in the industry.  It became clear that the paradigm surrounding sex work portrayed in the media and in academic courses all around the world was inaccurate.

For over 4 years I have worked with and been inspired by sex workers successfully organizing from the outside edges of subversive culture.  As a transgender man as well, I find myself on the outskirts of those margins.  As a sex worker, even more so.  I’ve witnessed a tremendous amount of infighting within these groups, which in my opinion is due to the pressure and stressed caused by having identities established in the innermost intersections of race, sex, class, gender, and the legal system.  No one can exist within these realms of society and seamlessly drive their way through the avenues of a narrow-minded world to complete their activism without an endless supply of challenges.

This is the very reason I am writing today.  If this movement of sex workers is to be successful, if we are allowed to impart our knowledge of the recesses of human consciousness discovered by us for the very reasons we are ostracized by society, we need others to walk alongside us – with us – not in spite of us while putting us down, not victimizing us, making us wrong, dirty or broken, but because we are valuable workers in society.

How do we accomplish this goal?  Women’s rights advocates who view people in prostitution as victims and slaves don’t bother to define between those trafficked and those consenting to be in sex work.  These people often advocate for anti-sex trafficking policies that create harm to sex workers.  These same people participate with the police to raid brothels.  In countries all around the world the outcome is the rape of women and the stealing of children in an effort to “save” the people working in them.

Listening to sex workers will stop the divide of information between those in academia, others who identify as feminists and sex workers.  People need to stop speaking for sex workers without actually knowing what would be best for us.  Much of the feminist movement and academics who label sex workers as victims and slaves have what I call the “savior complex”.  Without listening to sex workers, they insulate themselves from hearing important criticism of methods that are supposed to help sex workers but just lead to more human rights violations.  This should be obvious, but it’s not: the women’s rights movement should not support policies that harm sex workers.

Oddly enough, politicians have already been made known of how to help people who are trafficked: provide beds.  Provide housing.  Often people who are trafficked are without a place to stay at night and the proper supplies to meet their basic needs.  The challenge with this solution for most politicians is that providing housing and food costs money. Most politicians are less interested in providing solutions for those who are trafficked and more interested in boasting about their fast – yet unsuccessful (and even harmful) – solutions to helping “poor slaves and victims” of the prostitution trafficking industry (like getting rid of Backpage).  Lip-service doesn’t actually get anything done, but it does get people reelected.  Take note: we are in an age of transparency, and sex workers are speaking their truth.

The Fictional writing of Lucien: Some Sex Workers are Gateway Drugs for “Straight” Men discovering they’re “Gay” side

Let me ask you something — if a “straight” man goes to a transgender male sex worker (meaning born female but transitioned or is transitioning toward a more masculine appearance using testosterone and other means) and asks to receive anal penetration with the use of a strap-on and a dildo, is he still “straight”?  Perhaps the more important question is, does it matter???

I have had more than one client ask me whether or not they’re gay if they desire receiving anal penetration.  It’s a fascinating question when being asked while fucking someone in the ass with an apparatus resembling a penis.  ….pumping ensues….and a question arises….DOES THIS MEAN I’M GAY???….  My response is usually simple.  “It can if you want it to, but it doesn’t have to.”  The reason I say this to them is also simple: at the end of the day it doesn’t matter how they identify, but I care and enjoy helping them work that out with me if they’d like me to.  It’s not my job to figure out their sexuality, but I appreciate the process of inspiring questions.  I hold space so that people can figure out their sexuality.  My presence, whether I like it or not, usually creates questions about so-called hard-fast truths many people have when it comes to their gender and sexual identities.

Usually questions about one’s sexual identity means there’s something to be explored, and that’s why they’ve come to me (even without knowing this consciously)!  I think it’s helpful for clients to experience having sex in a way that most people would probably label as “gay” but without putting a label on it.  It interrupts the idea that every sexual activity needs to be accompanied by some sort of category, classification or definition.  While the physical act is taking place all that matters is that it’s opening up energies that may not have been experienced before.  Later it may be useful for the person to unravel what it means or deconstruct how their behavior may or may not fit into their current mode of existence, but in the moment, it’s useful to have an experience without attaching the stigma or judgement that might occur for someone experimenting with something for the first time by using labels.

For the past four or so years I’ve had a client call me once a month to chat me up about his new-found queer identity, although that’s now how he would identify.  Let me take you back in time a bit to tell you how we met and what sexual realizations ensued as a result.

An incredibly attractive man knocked on my door about 3 and a half years ago.  I was visiting New York at the time, which isn’t my usual residence.  Every now and then I travel there for work.  I love the city, the culture, and the clients!  I didn’t know he was attractive, not yet.  I answered the door and his handsomeness took my breath away.  I wasn’t attracted to him or other men at the time, but I know appeal when I see it, and this young man was incredible.  I wouldn’t have pegged him as gay (no pun intended), although at the time I hadn’t had that much exposure to the gay male community and I wasn’t quite sure what stereotypes to look for.

The session began.  Soon I put on my strap-on was fucking him anally.  As I thrusted inside him, he seemed to be shocked that he was enjoying it.  He LOVED it, but it was clear he was surprised.  He said “Oh my God you could be a guy right now.”  I thought to myself, “Oh the irony,” as I considered the fact that in my personal life I identify as a male.  He continued….and in fact, wouldn’t shut up while I was fucking him.  Usually I invoke a sort of breath-work style type of experience for people when I’m fucking them.  I ask them to breathe, try to relax, let their inhibitions go and feel into the physical experience.  But with this guy it was impossible.  He couldn’t get out of his head what was going on.  He was tripping on the fact that he was being fucked and that it could be a guy doing it.  As soon as I got that this was how the session was going to go, I let go of my need for him to relax.  This wasn’t about me, after all.  This was about the unraveling happening for him.

A month later I got a call.  “Lucien, I started dating a guy and I broke up with my girlfriend!”  My reply?  “Wow, oh my god good for you!  How is it going?”  “Good, but it’s way different than dating a woman.  Men are less cuddly.”  “Well, it probably depends on the guy you’re seeing.  I know a lot of men who love to cuddle.”  “Oh, right I’m sure that’s true.  Well not this guy.  We’re kind of like buddies but we fuck.  It’s really different.”  And on and on…

I ended up taking his calls now and then, which isn’t typical of me, but this guy seemed to want to talk about his newly developing queer identity and I felt inspired to talk him through it to some degree.  Of course, I suggested that he see a therapist because I thought it would be good for him to have someone objective to talk to who wouldn’t be invested in how he sexually identifies either way.  It seemed like this guy was bi, not only interested in men, but women also.  I don’t know that he ever took me up on that suggestion, but regardless he kept calling.

Years later I returned to New York after seeing him several times using female pronouns.  I hadn’t had top surgery yet, and I started taking Testosterone quite a while after meeting him.  I decided to tell him that I identified as a transgender male.  It made sense to me at the time.  He was clearly into both men and women and I felt as though I was both in a way.  During the session I told him I had something I wanted to tell him after we finished.

As we put our clothes on I started to tell him.  “I think I know what you’re going to tell me,” he said.  “What do you think I’m going to tell you?”  “No, you tell me.”  “Ok, well…I’m transgender.  I take testosterone and I’m transitioning from female to male.”  “Yeah, I thought that’s what you were going to tell me.  You mean, like Chaz?”  “Well, I’m very different from Chaz, but he’s also a transgender male.”  “I could feel the whiskers on your face during our session, so I knew what you were going to say.”  “Ah, I see, because you’ve been exposed to Chaz and you know what a trans male is like?”  “I don’t know, maybe.”

He ended up telling me he wasn’t into trans people, despite the fact that he’d just shown me he was totally into having sex with a trans guy.  I’d just had sex with him, after all.  He was still ignorant to this reality, it seems, even though I’d just come out to him.  But it also brought up the complexity of the situation.  He’s a straight/gay/queer man with a LOT of internalized homophobia and gender stereotypes to unfurl, and I am a female-born transgender male who hasn’t yet had top surgery but has whiskers and a lower voice.  My genitals look like a small cock, and in fact, that’s what I call it (proudly).  I have hairy legs, a hairy belly, a hairy ass.  I pass as male a lot of the time.  Yet in my sessions, I still have breasts so apparently, that makes me a woman in the eyes of my clients, as if my identity were that simple.  Many men have breasts, actually, and celebrate having them while simultaneously appreciating that they’re men.

In future blogs I’ll explore other experiences I’ve had with clients, revealing more about human sexuality, gender and the current revolution of both happening on the planet.  Experiences like the one I just wrote about and hundreds of others have developed a belief within me that most, if not all, gender and sexual variance is acting as the planets’ immune system, working on returning it to a harmonic balance of “what is, is, and it’s all perfect as it is.”  This statement may be true even as things are also “wrong”, but what’s also true is that humanity has a lot of work to do to restore equilibrium in core spheres of gender and sexuality.

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