My latest essay, “If You’re Against Sex Work, You’re A Bigot” is up at The Stranger as part of their queer issue. It’s the first (and hopefully only) fuck-you piece I’ve ever written. The essay compares the tactics of anti-sex work activists (I refer to them more accurately as “anti-sex bigots” in the essay) with the tactics of racists, homophobes, Islamophobes, and misogynists. It’s a pretty one-to-one comparison, and that they are in fact basically bigots was a sentiment that concretized over the writing of the essay.
I don’t generally like writing from a place of anger, but the overwhelming weight of discrimination and stigma, not to mention misguided legislation and confused conversations, that sex workers face every day inspires a lot of, well, rage in me. I wanted to give sex workers and allies a toolbox to dismantle the anti-sex activists’ work. Too often, we find ourselves enmeshed in debate with them, defending ourselves against phony facts, fabricated statistics, shallow ideologies, and more. Really what we should see is they have nothing to their arguments but hatred. So rather than respond, the essay urges readers to dismiss, protest, shun, and shutdown. They don’t deserve debate anymore than the KKK, skinheads, or the Westboro Baptist Church.
Here are some excerpts, and you can read the whole essay by clicking here.
I should start an essay like this by telling you about how great sex workers are, how important sex workers’ rights are. I should “create sympathy in the reader” for anyone who takes their clothes off and performs sexuality. I should show you porn stars saving cats stuck in trees, sex workers volunteering at soup kitchens, strippers just trying to make it work for their families.
I should tell you about how it feels to deal with anti-sex-work stigma every day.
But this essay isn’t about us.
It’s about the demand to prove we’re worth sympathy. It’s about how if that sympathy shows up, it’s wrapped up in deliberate misunderstandings. It’s about the people who make the demand. It’s about how “Show us your humanity!” is more belittling and damaging than “Show us your tits!”
It’s about the people we should no longer respond to with anything other than protest or dismissal.
In other words, it’s about bigotry. It’s about bigots.
I’ll refer to anti-sex-work and anti-porn campaigners here for clarity and honesty as “anti-sex bigots.” When that word gets tiring, I’ll call them “anti-sex activists.”
Why? Because sex is what makes sex work so special for them. Sex makes this line of work a singular profession, mystically distinguished from other jobs. But their analyses and understandings of sex lack depth. There is no substance to their arguments. Their tactics are strung together not with understanding or data, but with hate. Their bigotry is visceral, and their goals are clear:
1. Distort and destroy consent.
2. Create a framework of good vs. evil.
3. Cherry-pick voices.
4. Play the victim while holding the power.
5. Create apocalyptic urgency.
This list might sound like an exaggeration to outsiders. To sex workers, it’s exhaustingly and overwhelmingly familiar.
Wait a second, wait a second, I can hear the fumbling voices of protest. Stop talking about bigotry. I mean, after all, we’re not talking about race, right? We’re not talking about something people can’t change. That’s what makes speech against those groups hate speech. Sex workers, well, they…
What? Were you finally going to say we choose our careers?
Does this rant from an anti-sex activist sound familiar?
“The insistence that there’s nothing unusual in ‘work’ that involves male strangers penetrating your body and ejaculating inside of you goes right along with the ‘sex positivity’ popular with young Leftists. Women are likely to sustain injury (vaginal tearing) during heterosexual intercourse if we are not genuinely aroused (rather than performing for an audience); we are more likely to contract infections and diseases than our male partners; we are more likely to be harmed by male sexual partners (who are almost always larger and stronger than we are); and we are 100% more likely than our male partners to face unwanted pregnancy.” —Anti-sex bigot (5)
Compare that to this, from a video called “Medical Dangers of Anal Sex” posted by Christofer L, an antigay Christian You-Tuber:
“Let’s look at some simple biological truths… The rectum… [is designed] strictly for the removal of waste, moving it outward away from the body. This is why the blood vessels in the rectum break when a phallic object goes against the natural flow of movement by its muscles. Believe it or not, this causes rectal/anal damage. Many sexual experts and medical personnel discourage anal sex because of the danger… Safe sex? Mechanical damage to the rectum will happen regardless of the safe-sex measures.”
Same gesture, same hate, same simplifications.
We need a varied, active, and dynamic picture of sex workers, not a muffled, stunted one. I started porn after going to grad school for writing and biology and being a college English instructor. I know plenty of porn performers with other jobs: meteorology, fashion design, dairy farming, law, freelance writing, directing, nursing, nonprofit organizing. Those are just off the top of my head. Yes, there are porn performers who—like many writers, actors, etc.—have no other job and are struggling. And there are other sex workers working out of various causes of necessity. The point isn’t that doing sex work out of need doesn’t exist. Nor is the point that we have to absolutely love sex work to do it. Not everyone loves their job, and sex workers should not be singled out and forced to simply because of the “sex” in their work. The point is, your picture of who sex workers are must be multifaceted. It’s a picture that’s ineluctably complex, yet anti-sex activists want us to hear one voice and will symbolically kill the rest of us to achieve the effect.
“Pornography Is What the End of the World Looks Like,” reads the title of one anti-porn rant.
Whose world is ending?
What world are they talking about?
Like almost everyone who wants to save the world, anti-sex bigots have to fabricate a fake world that’s being destroyed first. KKK members fabricate the idea of a pure white race that’s being destroyed, fundamentalist Christians fabricate pure heterosexuality corrupted by gays, US warmongers fabricate pure democracy threatened by Muslims, and so on.
The end is near! Anti-sex activists create a world in danger from sex work, though our world without sex work never existed. To make sure the end is always near, they shift the goalposts. It’s not the porn, goes one argument, it’s the distribution!
The 1965 anticommunist, antigay, anti-porn video Perversion for Profit states:
“Pornography and sex deviation have always been with mankind. This is true. But now consider another fact… High-speed presses, rapid transportation, mass distribution all have combined to put the vilest obscenities in the reach of every man, woman, and child in the country.”
In 2015, an anti-sex activist proclaimed with the certainty she was saying something new when she said that “porn 15 years ago is basically Playboy andPenthouse, which as sexist as it was… those are the good old days. Today pornography has shifted rapidly, and it’s shifted because of the internet… [the internet has made porn] affordable, accessible, and anonymous…” (9)
We must act urgently! To save our neuropathways from online porn! To save young men’s desires! To save women! To save anyone we want to control!
All—yes, all—of the adverse conditions sex workers face are created or exacerbated by anti-sex bigots who directly harm sex workers or indirectly harm them by silencing them, spreading misinformation, blocking paths to sexual health education, and cultivating stigma.
“We’re here to save you!” sounds promising, until the statement is completed honestly: “We’re here to save you… from the damaging conditions we’ve created and continue to perpetuate.”