This is the full text of the interview with feminist genderqueer sex worker @MxLaudanum, which was quoted in this article on the rescue industry I wrote for Cliterati (published 1/02/14). The interview itself makes a very powerful post in its own right. Written in just a couple of hours, it’s a stunning critique of contemporary feminism and how all of us on this planet tend to view the world in black and white.
How does the ‘rescue’ mentality harm sex workers?
I can only provide opinion with this question, for the reason that I’ve never actually faced ‘rescue’ as a sex worker. I often find that people who want to ‘rescue’ sex workers, don’t fully understand, or are even interested in understanding why someone would choose sexwork as work. They have a hard time even acknowledging sexwork AS work, and feel that for someone to be a sexworker, that they must have fallen on very hard times. Whilst that might well be the case for some of us, it isn’t for all of us. Even in the former, sexwork grants freedom to many, gives the opportunity to get people out of financial dire straits, and often once they’re established, give them a really healthy finiancial status. It depends very much where you choose to work under the sexwork umbrella. For some people it’s an added bonus to a ‘vanilla’ job, and for some it’s a full time thing for whatever reason. That reason is nobody’s business but a sexworker’s own.
Failure to grasp that someone might be happy and well established in doing sexwork, means that if someone or an organisation comes forward to ‘rescue’ them without even bothering to ask if they WANT or NEED help, means that the foundations of a sexworker’s life could be utterly destroyed. When ‘rescuing’ someone without their consent or desire for it, you’re potentially ruining their life. You’re taking away their money, their network of friends, family and clients, their empowerment, their self esteem, their status as a wage earning person, their ability to pay tax (yes, sexworkers pay tax, I do!), their ability to feed, clothe and support themselves and family, their personal safety, and more that would likely make this list endless. I would personally have no other income, because I am disabled in an invisible sense, and I am also a full time carer for a person who also cannot work. If someone were to ‘rescue’ me, they would take away my entire life’s stability.
People also like to assume that everyone has family to fall back on. This isn’t always the case, and furthermore even if someone DOES have family, who’s to say that they would be open enough to helping a family member once they discover they’re a sexworker? ‘Rescuers’ can literally take everything away from a sexworker. Every single time an anti-sexwork person speaks out, they have the potential to ruin a sexworker’s life. The constant battles that we see online and offline, are neverending and extremely frustrating. ‘Rescuers refuse to listen, we are seen as subhuman and foolish, and are an affront to their particularly offensive brand of radical feminism. ‘Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists’ and ‘Sexwork Exclusionary Radical Feminists’, are amongst the most offensive type of ‘rescuers’ out there. When you are seen as subhuman by an oppressive group of prohibitionists, you aren’t supposed to survive their onslaught. It’s almost as if they want us to die, as if we’re a blight on the face of their lives.
How does actual physical rescue harm sex workers?
I would refer you to the answer to the previous question, with the caveat that I haven’t actually been rescued, so I cannot tell you personally how it affects other sexworkers. I could provide examples learned from other sexworkers, and perhaps point you in their direction, but I would not feel comfortable speaking for another sexworker in that way. I have heard many accounts of physical, sexual and mental abuse at the hands of people who are so called ‘rescuers’ and the organisations that assist in the so called ‘rescues’, but I have not experienced them first hand. When the people you’re supposed to be rescuing are raped, beaten and mentally tortured by the organisations you hired to strongarm them into submission, something is very wrong. Many ‘rescuers’ like to assume that foreign sexworkers MUST have been abused and trafficked, and pay even less attention to them than white western sexworkers. The same can be said within other margins, for example transwomen, disabled people, and the crossovers within each of those margins and more. It is extremely complex.
There is also the assumption that sexworkers are all brainless airheads.
I think I articulate myself rather well for a brainless airhead.
Rescue and anti-prostitution positions are sold as ‘feminist’ ideals. Do you think they are feminist?
Not even REMOTELY. ANYONE who behaves the way anti-sexwork prohibitionists do towards sexworkers, is categorically NOT a feminist. The whole point of being a feminist (amongst MANY things), is to first and foremost defend and support a woman’s right to do what she pleases with her body, mind, and voice. It is to fight against oppressive patriarchy, and any anti-feminist organisation. When a group of anti-sexwork people (especially women) gather together to erase sexwork and sexworkers, they are about as anti-feminist as it gets, without being part of patriarchy. If I want to sell my body for sex, I will do so. If I want to fight for my right to sell my body for sex, I will do. If I want to fight for everyone else’s right to do the same, I will do so. You don’t want to sell your body for sex? Then don’t do it, it’s as simple as that. The moment you tell me I can’t do it, you can bugger right off up into outer space, and freeze to death for all I care. The moment you deny a woman her RIGHT to sell herself for sex in ANY adult industry medium, you are a misogynist. The anti-sexwork movement isn’t just non feminist, it’s MISOGYNISTIC. It degrades us, is oppresses us, it makes us, and treats us as less than subhuman. We aren’t even second class citizens, we are scum, ergo anti-sexwork prohibitionists who sell themselves as feminists, are in fact, misogynists. It doesn’t end there, not only are they misogynists, they are racist, transphobic, ableist, homophobic, sexists, bigots and downright horrible people. For every single sexworker you seek to oppress and ‘rescue’ there are intersectional aspects about them that you seek to erase with your crusade. There is so much more to this, that many other people can probably better convey than I ever could, and I sincerely hope that others come forward and speak up. If someone says they want to, but feel they can’t, well that alone speaks volumes.
How can non-sex workers support sex workers in a way that would actually benefit sex working women, men, genderfluid, intersex and trans people?
Erase the stereotypes in your head. I can’t personally speak for all people within the margins of sexwork, or what would make things easier and be helpful to them, but I CAN say the following:
Listen to us, take us seriously, understand that we’re human beings, recognise that we are sexworkers for many reasons, but ultimately those reasons are OUR business, and not used to lessen our eligability for respect. ASK us what we want, value our opinions, don’t take us for granted, recognise that we MATTER. Don’t just SAY you’re an ally, BE an ally. If you’re not sure how to be one, ASK us for help. There are lots of resources online for people to learn from. Start here: http://www.nswp.org/ – leave your morals at the door, if you genuinely want to HELP. Be silent for a while until you’ve listened. Learn what NOT to say, you can learn what you CAN say later. If you’re not sure, BE QUIET, READ AND LISTEN UNTIL YOU’RE SURE.
Do you face any intersectional stigmas or issues as a genderfluid sex worker (understand if this is too personal)
To be entirely honest, no. It might be worth asking me this question again in a year. For clarity, I was born female. My sexwork is conducted AS a female, because it was only very recently that I came out as feeling Gender Fluid or Bi Gender. I still really haven’t gotten my head around the labels for these things, mainly because I find things a bit confusing and feel better off saying, I’m just ME. Isn’t that enough? I don’t know. Is it enough? See I’m still confused ;)
Is it hard being a sex working feminist when other women are endangering you in the name of feminism?
It’s hard from the point of view that it’s a giant pain in my arse. It pisses me off no end. OK so here’s an example. You’ll get a lot of anti-sexwork people who are claiming to be feminists under the VERY thin veil of bigotry and misogyny. So they say “DOWN WITH WHORES, DOWN WITH SLAGS, DOWN WITH PROZZIES!” and you can usually TELL they’re misogynists because they’re using negative slang and hatespeech. They say they’re all about looking after women, and furthering the feminist agenda, but that same help doesn’t extend to those who don’t conform to their vision of feminism, and that they really don’t give a shit about us any further than the fact that they’re using us to further their anti-sexwork agenda. Their brand of ‘feminism’ isn’t really feminism. It’s misogynist hatespeech.
Do you think rescuing sex workers is similar to any other kinds of elitism or oppression, whether contemporary or historical?
Well look at it this way. Google the term ‘fallen women’, and what does it throw out? The ‘rescue’ of sexworkers has existed for as long as sexwork has existed as work. However, the feminist movement hasn’t always existed (stating the obvious here), and so life as a woman selling sex just to afford a very basic meal, in comparison to selling sex NOW in order to keep paying the bills on a flat, however plain or elaborate, is vastly different. At one point perhaps the ‘rescue’ movement might have actually been well meaning and a welcome. Now it’s simply a joke, and that’s largely because sexworkers (mostly) have the ability to stand up and say NO, to people who seek to oppress us, unless they happen to be in a marginalised area, in which case the oppression still very much exists, and will continue to exist, as long as people have their heads stuck up their rear ends.
It is heartbreaking to learn that one of the biggest issues sexworkers face, is white middle class feminism. Anyone who isn’t working the perfect feminist career with a perfect boyfriend (yes boyfriend, because heaven forfend if you’re anything other than a straight, white cis female), must be oppressed in some way, and must need rescuing. If a woman is working as a sexworker, she can’t POSSIBLY enjoy it, and must need someone to come and rescue her from it, armed with a bottle of Waitrose’ bestest Rioja and a punnet of giant olives. If you then couple that sexwork with a woman of colour, or a disabled sexworker, or a transwoman sexworker, the middle class white feminist begins to foam at the mouth so FURIOUSLY, that they could easily be mistaken for a rabid dog. That’s unfair to rabid dogs, but the fact of the matter is that when the world listens to white middle class feminism the most, of whom routinely ignore ALL NON sexworker feminist margins, just exactly where do you think that leaves sexworker feminist margins?
Tagged: discrimination, exploitation, feminism critique, feminist debates, feminist theory, prostitution, rescue industry, sex work, sex worker feminist margins, sex worker rights, sex worker voices, stigma