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.

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