“…happy hookers, says Kristof, don’t despair, this isn’t about women like you – we don’t really mean to put you out of work. Never mind that shutting down the businesses people in the sex trade depend on for safety and survival only exposes all of them to danger and poverty, no matter how much choice they have. Kristof and the Evangelicals outside the Village Voice succeed only in taking choices away from people who are unlikely to turn up outside the New York Times, demanding that Kristof’s column be taken away from him.
Even if they did, with the platform he’s built for himself as the true expert on sex workers’ lives, men like Kristof can’t be run out of town so easily. There’s always another TED conference, another women’s rights organization eager to hire his expertise. Kristof and those like him, who have made saving women from themselves their pet issue and vocation, are so fixated on the notion that almost no one would ever choose to sell sex that they miss the dull and daily choices that all working people face in the course of making a living. Kristof himself makes good money at this, but to consider sex workers’ equally important economic survival is inconvenient for him.”
That’s from Happy Hookers, my critique, in part, of feminism’s departure into special-white-lady-ism, and a critique made possible by one fundamental text.
Thanks to Bhaskar and Peter over at the Jacobin for working with me on this. And thanks to Sarah Jaffe and Mike Konczal, also, for the late Thursday night thinking-and-drinking that inspired it in the first place.
While I do not make secret of my history in the sex trade, I use discretion as to when and where I refer to myself as a sex worker for my safety–not just safety from violence, but from prejudice, discrimination, and police surveillance.
It’s a distinction that might not make sense to people who haven’t done sex work. It’s one that I’ve fought with, as well: when writing about Backpage and Ashton Kutcher for the Guardian (UK) last year, I didn’t explicitly come out as a sex worker in my piece, which angered some people in response to it, who felt I should have (as if that alone explained away my criticism?).
Posting Emi’s response here gave me pause for a minute, too. I don’t necessarily want to amplify the original posting that Emi is calling out. But I do think it’s important to amplify Emi’s concerns and to ask activists, even those who aim to support sex workers, to understand the risks that can come with being known as a sex worker.
This is the first I’ve heard of an anti-trafficking conference getting the Occupy treatment. And I do wonder what the cops think: do they really want to take on yet more “vice” work they’re so poorly qualified to do? Local news doesn’t see fit to ask them, but are very pleased to provide some anarchist eye candy.
It’s true that many of my clients are incredibly bright, highly skilled at their jobs, and have labored for years on a minimum of sleep. It’s not that they’ve made no sacrifices or put forth no effort, nor are they unkind or unpleasant people. But its fruitless to debate whether they have “worked hard” enough to justify income disparity. Such personality and work-ethic arguments are red herrings; it’s clear that one can work very hard and not make much money, and that we each have different ideas as to what constitutes “hard” work.
* “anti-trafficking” is in quotes because the aim of this conference is to give the police more money and more power to arrest anyone in the sex trade, which would not only do nothing to reduce violence or coercion in the sex trade, it would also do little to “abolish”—their words!—anything re: forced labor, let alone commercial sex.
POSTWHOREAMERICA is a blog about sex, money, politics, and what's left of America.
I'm a contributor to TheNation.com, Wired.com, the Guardian, Reason, Glamour, Slate, Jezebel, Rhizome, AlterNet, and $pread, among others. I'm a contributing editor at Jacobin, and my essays have been selected for inclusion in the annual anthology Best Sex Writing.