Image description: A close-up of a cat baring their teeth.
This is a guest post by X.
X is a full service sex worker living in Montreal and dreams of one day writing fiction with realistic portrayals of sex work in it.
This post is part of the Feminism from the Margins series.
I logged into Facebook on March 21st and felt my insides turn cold and heavy.
“The fuckers sold us out,” I hissed at my computer screen. Everything I and my community had tried to raise awareness about, attempted to fight against, had come to fruition. SESTA-FOSTA (Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act and Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act), legislation intended to hold website publishers responsible for content such as sex work advertisements posted by third parties, had passed.
We braced ourselves as we entered into a new era of prohibition.
Almost immediately, various platforms began self-censoring in preparation for the bill to be signed into law. Craiglist removed their personal section wholesale rather than deal with sorting through listings that might be ads. Reddit removed any subreddits having to do with escorting or sugaring. Google began deactivating the email accounts of sex workers and removing anything deemed pornographic from Google drives. Websites used for blacklisting bad clients also disappeared rather than face legal consequence. While the concept of a free and open internet dissipated, sex worker communities went into panic mode. With the addition of the disappearance of Backpage, a major advertising platform internationally, livelihoods and lives are in danger.
I am a Canadian full service sex worker and am in my fourth year of working in the industry professionally, though I have engaged in other kinds of sex work throughout my life. I am in a privileged place, white, able-bodied, and living in the grey area of Canada’s Nordic model approach to prostitution. The immediate aftermath of SESTA-FOSTA left me feeling anxious and stressed – I would have to find a new server for my website, register a .ca domain name, and with the loss of Backpage I would have to fall back on other, less dependable avenues of advertising. But as multitudes of regional advertising platforms in the USA began disappearing, many of my colleagues have been pushed to the streets. Acquaintances and friends are facing homelessness, and accounts of the missing and the dead circulate regularly. Smelling weakness, pimps and blacklisted clients have started moving in to pick off the vulnerable. Legislation such as this, while frustrating for me, is deadly for the more marginalized of our community. So why is it being touted as protection?
How did this happen?
When speaking to friends outside of the industry about the current legal climate, they expressed sympathy and cursed Trump. However, this was a bipartisan effort, voted in with a majority of 97-2. Kamala Harris, a democrat, was instrumental in bringing down Backpage. I watch the likes of Amy Schumer and other celebrities, campaign “for” us, “for” our safety.
The sentiments are clear: Who could do such a job? Who would willingly lower themselves to participate in such a disgusting and denigrated occupation. Surely sex work must be synonymous with exploitation!?
And no wonder the general public must think these things about us, when dead hooker jokes are a mainstay of comedy, when we are perennial victims and easy targets to be gruesomely abused and killed in every kind of fiction. SWERF (sex work exclusionary radical feminist) organizations use misogynistic and dehumanizing rhetoric to push through agendas that diminish our dignity and limit our ability to work safely, all in the name of advocacy and liberation. No wonder the greater public is ignorant of and confused about our situations and realities.
Despite all the effort that’s been expended to paint us as helpless and without agency, unable to consent or make choices for ourselves, the sex work community is large, international, and very connected.
Like any other diverse community, we are far from perfect, but we share information on bad clients, exchange knowledge, and do our best to look out for each other. We run our own organizations and community outreach programs, we hold conferences, network, raise funds for those in need.
What we want is pretty simple: safe and clean places to work, an environment amenable to screening clients, legal recourse should we be assaulted or otherwise harmed.
And these demands aren’t by any means secret or hard to find – we are on Twitter (in numbers so large, we literally call it Switter), we have blogs, we do interviews. How interesting that this legislation will serve to drive us off of public platforms, sever our lines of communication and silence our experiences. Had anyone thought to consult us, listen to us, we could tell you that structural oppression is what creates the conditions for exploitation; Racism, sexism, cissexism, heterosexism, ableism, systems of power embedded into the fabric our society. But radical resistance and confrontation of systemic oppression is not on the agenda here. This is just digital NIMBY-ism: They just don’t want to see us, think about us, they need to keep us as the Other.
So tell me again how we’re being saved?
Learn more! Read Tits and Sass, full of writing by and for sex workers. (You could start here, with Sex Workers Are Not Collateral Damage: Kate D’Adamo on FOSTA and SESTA.)
This post is part of the year-long Feminism from the Margins series that Dulcinea Lapis and Tiffany Sostar will be curating, in challenge to and dissatisfaction with International Women’s Day. To quote Dulcinea, “Fuck this grim caterwauling celebration of mediocre white femininity.” Every month, on the 8th, we’ll post something. If you are trans, Black or Indigenous, a person of colour, disabled, fat, poor, a sex worker, or any of the other host of identities excluded from International Women’s Day, and you would like to contribute to this project, get in touch!
Also check out the other posts in the series:
- All The Places You’ll Never Go, by Dulcinea Lapis
- An Open Love Letter to My Friends, by Michelle Dang
- Prioritizing, by Mel Vee
- Never Ever Follow Those White Kids Around – a brief personal history of race and mental health, by Mel Vee
- Living in the Age of White Male Terror, by Mel Vee
- I Will Not Be Thrown Away, by Mel Vee