When I was a fledgling domme, I would try and distance myself from the term “sex worker” and all the stigma that came with it, especially in front of clients and on message boards. I was wrong to. Many of us have made distinctions at one time or another, using terms like “hooker with a whip”, always trying to set ourselves somehow above those others who have less working autonomy than we do, or who offer sexual services that we ourselves don’t, or who work on the street, or have problems with addiction, or immigration status, or poverty, or any number of factors that society judges sex workers on.
I now know that we all suffer that same stigma, whatever our role in the kink, sexuality and titillation industries, and that we are strongest in solidarity. I see things I once wrote and cringe. If we reinforce stigma, we’re part of the problem, whether we’re fellow sex workers or allies.
It’s 17th December, a date marked by sex worker organisations across the world, and the words below offer instructions on how to be a better ally to sex workers. They were written by @Fornicatrix and posted here with permission:
“Today is International Day To End Violence Against Sex Workers. Today we remember the sex workers killed throughout this year by police, clients, partners, and others. We also stand in solidarity as current or former sex workers who are survivors of violence, and we demand better working conditions. Sex work is work – sex worker rights are human rights.
In addition to the physical & sexual violence sex workers face at the hands of the state and while on the job, there are many micro aggressions that are part of the day to day experience of being a sex worker.
If you call yourself an ally to sex workers, use this day to recommit to thinking about the following ways you might contribute to violence against us.
I have made a little list of small AND big ways you can do better, that you might have missed.
1.) Educate yourself on the nitty gritty – sex work is not an easy topic to wade in on noncommittally. Make the effort to give yourself a rudimentary grounding in the legislative terms of the sex work debate or better yet, amplify the voices of sex workers so we can speak for ourselves. Too many non-sex workers make a mess of being our mouthpiece, and do more harm than good. Do you know the difference between legalisation & decriminalisation? Sit down.
2.) Don’t participate in a culture of shame around STDs – that means thinking about your language when describing yourself as ‘clean’ (who is implied to be unclean?) and recognising how much discourse around STDs elevates them to a higher status of repulsiveness, when many are treatable & minor. Much of the stigma against sex workers is drawn from the idea that we are vectors of disease, and a threat to public health. This idea is irrevocably tied to collective shame around sex – a shame that sex workers bear heavier than anyone. Remember that those who are ill deserve human rights just as much as anyone, and that stigma and criminalisation are the barriers to healthcare sex workers face. Educate yourself on issues relating to HIV – learn about the risks that positive sex workers face before passing judgement on their personal strategies.
3.) Think about the violent rhetoric you normalise when you uncritically support feminist journalists, activists and politicians who benefit from ‘saving’ sex workers.(See: Lena Dunham, Meghan Murphy, Sarah Ditum, Helen Lewis, Gia Milinovich, Glosswitch, Julie Bindel, Kat Banyard) Treat with suspicion anyone who speaks for us but apparently not with us – boycott those who are openly hostile to our demands for labour rights. ~Rescuing fallen women~ has been part of a brand building exercise for privileged feminists for a long time – when you openly support these people, you are telling sex workers in your life that that isn’t a big deal for you, that you don’t *see* this. We see you.
4.) Be considerate when chatting to sex worker friends. If you have friends that are sex workers, and they ask you how you’ve been, don’t neglect to ask them how they are, because you’re nervous of the answer, Check in with them about work, their activism, sex worker community stuff – anything that they’re comfortable updating you with (if you don’t know, ask them what’s ok to ask about, and don’t wait two years into your friendship to do this!) Be careful of pretending we have no job at all – your discomfort is obvious, and can make us feel ashamed.
5.) Get the terminology right. Stick to ‘sex worker’ or ‘people selling sex’ – avoid hooker, prostitute, whore. I know it’s tempting. Just…..don’t. Plz.
6.) Recognise the links between sex work prohibitionism and the war on drugs – don’t stigmatise people who use drugs, don’t say ‘junkies,’ and think about what arbitrary problem groups are being created when we disparagingly discuss ‘addicts’ and ‘dealers.’
Just like sex work, the debate about drugs falls on class & race divides. Think about respectability, and the drugs & privileges YOU enjoy without a second thought.
Also rethink your definition of ‘problematic’ drug use, and respect the personal strategies of people who use drugs. Many sex workers are drugs users, and the laws that criminalise them work in close harmony.
7.) Don’t participate in a politics of sanitisation. Don’t divide ‘acceptable’ sex workers from ‘victims.’ The same sex workers are held up again and again as ‘respectable’ – those who are white, cisgender, middle class, educated, those who are not unhappy with their labour conditions, those who are not visibly profiled as using drugs, those who are alleged to have ‘chosen’ to work (there is no choice under capitalism)
YOU take part in this when you create a binary divide between ‘force’ and ‘choice’ in sex work, or when you discuss the difference between ‘empowered’ sex workers and ‘victim’ figures (usually brown & black folks, migrants, working class people, people with disabilities or people who use drugs)
Capitalism drives all of us to work – some of us have better working conditions than others. We struggle for those most marginalised, always.”