in defense of sex workers

(apologizing in advance for the rambly nature of this post. it’s taken me weeks to finish it.)

i am privileged. i come from a middle class background, both my parents are college educated, i went to prep school, and i attended a liberal arts college. i am privileged. i grew up with access to healthcare, to many resources in my neighborhood and in my city at large, and access to the information that can be used to improve just about any situation i’ve entered. the golden standard of my life has been one influenced by steady employment, education (self or institutional), and class-based values.  i have never taken a pay cut or been in a situation where i had no choice but to claw my way to the top. i’ve always been “employable” in situations that would improve my financial standing.  and, within my privileged status i have had the opportunity to do something that folks a the bottom of the capitalist ladder do not do: i have chosen to reject many facets of (if not all of) this privilege in the name of satisfying myself first.

my privilege, my access, my black bourgeois status means i have not yet in my life faced a situation where i had no choice but to work illegally to take care of myself.  i have never been a dope girl in that conventional sense; my existence has never hinged on the distribution of any package.  i have never robbed folks, participated in identity theft or other fraud, and i have not ever become a sex worker to support myself.  this is because often, choice is directly linked to access. it’s linked to privilege.

within my very strong interest in human sexuality, i have always considered sex workers in my conversations and thoughts.  sex workers are prostitutes, sex workers are porn stars, sex workers are phone sex operators and everyone in between. many (if not most) sex workers live lives devoid of fortune, fame, and glamour. instead, this is about the commodity of their bodies’ abilities to perform — not unlike those of us who work in settings viewed as “legitimate” by the larger society — and the profitability of their skill sets as well as the rate at which they produce.  this is about making money.  do not get it confused.

and though there’s a prevalent notion that anyone who does sex work is contributing to the decline of society as a whole (and that their morals are non-existent or “wrong”), i think it’s safe to say that a lot of folks know sex workers personally.  in my personal experience, stripping was a rite of passage for some friends. it was what you did to hustle up some money when there wasn’t any available.  lots of shake dancers are single moms; lots of women who turn tricks have mouths to feed. it’s a simple fact. and if nobody wants to hire you because you have kids (let’s face it, emergencies at school turn into hours lost at the plantation), or if you’re competing with dozens (even hundreds) of people with identical or better qualifications for the same job, your chances for hire are simply not that good.  everyone’s taking applications & resumes, but ain’t nobody hirin’. we all know that.  the present economic climate is beyond volatile; brown folks and women are feeling the pinch most of all.

i said all that to say that most ppl who know the life do not actually aspire to the life.  it is dangerous.  it is a source of shame. but it’s money. fast, usually, getting paid the same day you work (perfect for those emergencies, like food!), and almost a guarantee that you will spend less money on child care because the hours are shorter than day jobs or retail gigs.  it makes sense if you have an immediate need, it makes sense if you’re trying to stack a lot of money in a short period of time, & it makes sense to be a sex worker (namely a stripper or prostitute) when you cannot find a “legit” job that will pay you what you need. 

i have quite a few girlfriends who’re trade school grads, high school grads with some college under their belts,  and  college grads who’ve been sex workers. we live in a world where money is what you need, almost always, to get what you want/ need.  anyone who says they’d clean toilets for a living before being a sex worker probably doesn’t know that cleaning toilets for a living tends to have a 30 day (or more) turnaround period from inquiry to hire.  again: immediate needs tend to trump the “legitimacy” of a job.  this, to me, means that most of the folks talking shit about what’s wrong about sex work in regard to morality have no idea what it is to be that close to nothing.  this is beyond hand to mouth, beyond two checks away from poverty; this is poverty.  stepping away from privilege creates a whole other consciousness around what poor is, what poverty is, and what might be required of a parent (or of a family) to even begin to make ends meet.  i daresay that when some poor folks indict the character of sex workers it’s the result of internalized classism combined with the comfort of being able to point a disapproving finger at someone.  

the choices we make about the jobs we accept are framed by privilege, including the kind of work we do. my forays into sex work have been limited to working as a pro domme & subject of foot worship. i am not a prostitute.  i am not a shake dancer. i am not an escort. i am a pro domme.  i had the opportunity to research this type of sex work before deciding to participate. i have access to resources that have enabled me to decide the kinds of domme work i’m going to do, to advertise myself in arenas that maintain my anonymity & privacy, to do all of these things that give me a certain level of protection not afforded to women or men who walk the street or dance.  i am able to shut my business down or take it to another level whenever i’d like. i have more control over the whole situation because i’m informed enough and can create safety measures for myself. there’s time and space for me to create the situation i desire. though my privilege does not guarantee my safety i know that i at least have a buffer between myself and danger.  there’s something like a respectability factor that, if i got “busted” by someone’s wife, i could always throw prostitutes and strippers under the bus.  “at least i’m not fucking your husband, lady. i’m a domme, not a whore.” 

if i were selling my ass on the street, it’d likely be a different story. whether i had a pimp or not, i’d be in immediate danger of being subjected to attacks by citizens and police alike.  if i were dancing, i’d be subject to all manner of abuses both inside of the club and out.  as a matter of fact, as i type these last sentences there is very likely someone on the loose in philly poisioning girls who dance, either with drinks or drugs. (more on that later)

i could very easily, with a few changes to my life story, be one of these women.  the women we blame for being sex workers when they are assaulted or killed.  the women  whose lives we assess with two or three words because it’s convenient for us to do so (whore. dirty slut. home wrecker. trash. good-for-nothing).   with a few modifications to my background — or even my present situation — i could be the conspicuously invisible or missing family member who died mysteriously but has nobody to speak up for her.

& maybe that’s my whole point. there’s misrepresentation and misunderstanding around sex work.  regardless of whether you domme, you’re a porn star, you dance, or you escort, there’s an automatic marginalization.  the idea is that you are lesser than, you don’t deserve to walk with dignity or hold your head up high — especially if your station in life is not “honorable.”  but, in this structure, there is not built-in honor for all. there is no common knowledge that reminds folks of the idea that none of us deserves to be degraded or downtrodden by virtue of who we are. we do not earn or deserve suffering or mistreatment because of what we do to make money any more than by simply being who we are.

links for the week of 11 january 2009:

becoming a quality black woman, by monica @ transgriot.

if oscar grant were an athlete, by the super hussy herself.
grand torino: clint eastwood and the white man’s burden, by renee @ womanst musings.
aliyah’s choice, by melinda @ muslimah media watch.
i haven’t done a lot of blog reading this week. but if there’s more, i’ll come back with it.

i support the DREAM act.

it’s quite simple:

people with the opportunity to advance themselves tend to be functioning, contributing members of society. if we have fewer of them, we develop something called social decline.  social decline means fewer teachers, fewer qualified persons to replace retirees, brain drain in college towns and states w/ great education systems, and all around suckage.
i don’t want the united states to suck because people who came here as undocumented minors aren’t allowed to improve their lives. especially if they actively seek the opportunity to improve their situations — isn’t this why parents would risk legal action by the US government in the first place? to see their kids improve their situations?  isn’t that what any parent wants for their child(ren)? if we’re allowed to go to the polls and vote away another person’s rights, why can’t we influence our lawmakers to grant rights to others? the right to incur obscene amounts of student debt and then work their asses off to pay it off? the right to go into the armed forces to serve in whatever capacity necessary?  there are undocumented minors who want to do this. so why say no?
to encourage the obama administration to pass the DREAM act, click here. to read about the DREAM act and the people who’d benefit from it, go here.

moving forward with thanks.

i know that i am in a position of privilege. i have a job that i can choose to quit in order to pursue my dreams; i have the time to dedicate my energy to those dreams & map out a way to make them happen. i am privileged, even by comparison to my mother and many of my peers. even when i’m so flat broke that all i can do is pray that i can stay afloat until payday, i am still privileged & living a blessed life. because people sacrificed, people died, people worked so that i wouldn’t have to put myself through more shit to earn less.

i am thankful. i can’t articulate it all. i don’t even have full knowledge of all of the things that add up to my being here, afloat, & capable. there are ancestors, there are strangers, there are secret acts of support by people who know me . . . in short, my life is a blessing. i’m grateful. i know for a fact that i could be a lot worse off (that’s all relative to my own life experiences), but i’m not! i’m here. i’m blessed.

i give thanks for so much, so often. anyone who reads this blog or talks to me with any regularity knows that giving thanks is just the norm for me. even in my blind rage or worry, i seem to find at least one thing (big or small) to be thankful for. so, every thanksgiving when people give their lists of what they are thankful for, i have to ask: what is it about all this food & family drama that pushes you to a point where you feel comfortable giving thanks? is there not something to be thankful for every day? or, are you so caught up in the day-to-day bullshit that is your life that a pause is necessary in order for you to examine gratitude?

whatever it is, i want folks to remember that each day we are here we can give thanks, and should give thanks. venerate your ancestors, if you’d like. hug your mom every chance you get. reminisce with siblings, cousins, aunts & uncles. call your best friend & say “you’re an asshole sometimes, but i’m SO glad you’re my friend.” do something. be thankful, don’t just say you are.

the celebration of thanksgiving is actually based on a celebration by early colonizers who celebrated the slaughter of pequot men, women & children in what’s now called new england. all this talk of popcorn and cranberries and fun and love is a crock of bullshit. that doesn’t mean that we can’t be thankful. that means that we need to share truth with one another and inform honestly what the roots of thanksgiving are. we need to move past the lies & bullshit, the misinformation & passing on of untruths. (i strongly recommend that, if you don’t already know, you click the links i just put up.) who wants to live a lie? haven’t you, if you had the santa thing, ever wished that your folks had just told the truth from the beginning? lying to kids because they’re kids isn’t any different than lying to adults. it’s still stupid and a waste of time. yes, it’s a good idea to find a way to express truth in ways that meet someone on their comprehension level. but, be for real: simplifying the truth and flat out lying with glittery distractions are not the same thing.

so, be thankful. say yes to gratitude. appreciate the beauty & purity of the good things bestowed upon you, the things you’ve drawn to yourself. growing toward all of that beauty & wonder does open you up to the polar opposite. no, baby, you cannot escape the potential of hurt, pain, anguish and ugliness. it’s the balance of the universe.

i choose it willingly, thankfully, becoming more grateful with each step.

be bold, be red: october 30.

mil gracias a nezua for posting this on umx, and reminding me to begin with!

Be Bold Be Red Goes Viral Loco Visual

Beloved Survivors, Warriors, Allies, Activists, Organizers, Artists, Healers, Visionaries, Sisters and Friends,

In October 2007 people all over the United States gathered physically and in spirit to speak out against violence against women of color. Some of us wore red all day and explained that we were reclaiming and reframing our bodies as a challenge to the widespread acceptance of violence against women of color. Some of us wrote powerful essays about why we were wearing red and posted them on the internet. Some of us gathered with bold and like-minded folks and took pictures, shared poetry and expressed solidarity.

This year, on the first anniversary of the Be Bold Be Red Campaign, we invite you to make your bold stance against the violence enacted on women and girls of color in our society visible. In D.C., Chicago, Durham, Atlanta and Detroit women of color will be gathering to renew our commitment to creating a world free from racialized and gendered violence, and this time, we’ll be using a new technology called CyberQuilting to connect all of these gatherings in real time. To learn more about CyberQuilting, which is a women of color led project to stitch movements together using new web technologies and old traditions of love and nurturing, visit www.cyberquilt.wordpress.com.

This letter is an invitation for you and yours to participate in a gathering in your city on Thursday, October 30th that will be webcast to similar gatherings in other cities. We are calling on you because we recognize and appreciate the work that you and the organizations you work with are doing everyday to make this a more loving and less violent world for women and girls in oppressed communities. Please join us on October 30th so that other warriors in this struggle can be strengthened and affirmed by the energy of our collective ferocity!

If you are not located in D.C., Chicago, Durham, Atlanta and Detroit for the webcast, you can still participate by wearing Red on October 30, 2008 and send us your pictures to beboldbered@gmail.com

Also we are asking once again that people wear Red on October 30, 2008 and send us your pictures to beboldbered@gmail.com

As we receive them we will upload your pictures under “Red Pictures Today.”

Also, as well as to share your stories of Red on this website under “Why are you wearing Red on October 30, 2008.”

So, are you ready?!

otherness.

i was talking to a friend this evening about otherness, even within groups oft-marginalized people. that is, if you’re black and bisexual (or latino and homosexual, or of caribbean blood and heterosexual, or asian and gender-neutral or whatever), it’s almost a given that you’re going to be exotified as the other other by someone you deal with. it’s wack. cuz you’re being made into the other other, possibly by someone readily identifed as the other. it got deep. it did.

i had a point. i did.

too much wine. not enough time to formulate thoughts.

i’m frustrated, though. it doesn’t even have to be a sexual or romantic interaction. it’s as simple as folks laying their shit at your feet and deciding that you’ve got to fit into that. it’s a long drawn out mess

but yeah
when i sober up… maybe i’ll take another crack at this.

i get so excited

when i have a new commenter.

hi, nezua.
glad you came to visit. i love your blog. deeply. thank you for coming to visit!

for those who aren’t familiar w/ nezua’s blog, go forth and read, especially this entry:

a september remembered

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