Can You Not, Empowered White Sex Workers?
A LOT OF WHITE, MIDDLE-CLASS SEX WORKERS ARE ONLY CONCERNED WITH THE POLITICS OF THE INDUSTRY BECAUSE IT FEEDS THEIR QUIRKY, SEX POSI[TIVE], FEMINIST, EMPOWERMENT SHTICK AND I’M TIRED.
Note: I want to preface this by saying that I absolutely will not walk back or apologise for addressing this to white women. As I’m writing this, white women are defending that godawful abortion ban all over the internet and I’m reminded that 53% of white women voted for Donald Trump. White women have always, and will always, pick their whiteness over everything else — even to the detriment of their “sisters” — if it means preserving their proximity to white supremacy. White women are not incentivised to risk their association with white supremacist, patriarchal structures because it benefits them. Alyssa Milano is demanding that women stop having sex in protest of this most recent attack on bodily autonomy as though she didn’t just get done defending a man whose wandering hands are second in infamy only to his bumbling tenure as Vice President. Lena Dunham has been singing the praises of Netflix’s truly horrid representation of professional BDSM practitioners and enjoying mediocrity, having never faced retribution for detailing her molestation and outing of her sister. Amy Schumer is being hailed in one expose after another as a feminist hero for marrying an autistic man despite being an admitted rapist.
If this isn’t relevant to you, stay the fuck out of my mentions, DMs, and email inbox. Save your righteous indignation for the white women that wrote, signed, and advocated for the most egregious subversion of reproductive rights we’ve seen in generations. Save it for your white friends that turn their tears on at the first sign of criticism. Or turn it inwards and ask yourself why your feelings are so hurt by having to address the ways you benefit from the same systems that exist to subjugate me.
I wouldn’t really call myself an “angry” person. I’m unrepentantly assertive, strong-willed, outspoken, and mostly assured of my right-ness because of my neurotic need to research everything before I form an opinion, but I don’t think of myself as angry. I’m a firm Type-A personality with a great love for four-letter words and declarative statements, but I rarely get above a four (4) on the scale of actual anger, especially on the internet. I know that a lot of what I say would likely be better received if I were to temper my approach with more…understanding, or something, but considering I’m usually arguing about things like recognising basic humanity, actual science, and the welfare of children, I don’t feel obligated to be nice to the assholes I’m “yelling” at. I say all of this to say, I know that I’m a lot to take so I completely understand why I get into the occasional internet argument.
One argument in particular has stuck in my mind for longer than I’d like though. About two months ago I had the dubious pleasure of seeing a man on my twitter timeline (TL). A sex worker that I had some small measure of respect for had retweeted (RTd) some words of his about the sex offender registry and how it’s weaponised to target people that don’t engage with sex and sexuality “normally.” This is a thought that I’ve had many times before so I made the mistake of clicking through and reading the rest of the thread. Nothing that he said was objectionable or terrible so I kept scrolling and reading through the replies. Towards the end of the thread a woman I didn’t know offered her awful take on the situation.
AS BADLY AS SEX WORKERS ARE TREATED, IT ISN’T NEARLY AS BAD AS THE TORTURE INFLICTED ON PEOPLE DAMNED TO THE “SEX OFFENDER” REGISTRY.
I absolutely could have handled this egregious breach of good sense with more tact, but I didn’t and I regret nothing. I quote-tweeted (QTd) the asinine statement and asked “what kind of bullshit false equivalency is this?” I followed up by stating that sex workers are railroaded onto registries (and they frequently are). This awful person doubled down on their nonsense by stating I would understand their bullshit if I “knew anything at all about legal precedent, dehumanization, ‘othering’, and the need for politicians to create bogeyman [sic] to justify a turgid police state.” She followed up by muting me — not quite as harsh as a block, but still effectively letting me know that my words are beneath her. I’m a poor, black, queer immigrant and a sex worker so none of these things are foreign concepts. Actually, I’m quite familiar with things like judicial misconduct and law-enforcement overreach and the historical subjugation and othering of minoritised bodies. Now, I could have left well enough alone and left this person to their stupidity but I am nothing if not tenacious. I started hate-tweeting — not so much about this person — but about what their statements represented. The person behind these garbage statements is a middle-aged, middle-class white woman and an escort — otherwise, so untouchable to my poor, black, hooker ass as to be on another planet entirely. It’s honestly not her fault that she’s so terrible. She’s been conditioned to be that way — encouraged at every turn to be entirely objectionable and repulsive because her vile attitude is just how we defeat the patriarchy, right? Incorrect.
Her behaviour is actually indicative of the unfortunate tendency of smaller societies to mimic the oppressive structures of society at large to gain proximity to dominant groups. Black men using misogyny to oppress black women (misogynoir), cis women using transphobia to oppress trans women, white women using racism to oppress…everyone else, black women using colourism to oppress themselves, trans people using gendered essentialism and presentation to oppress each other — these are all misguided attempts to gain access to the perceived benefits of being part of the in-group I’m sure there’s a proper sociological term to describe the phenomenon but I can’t be arsed to go look for it. Y’all know what I’m getting at. This particular woman that I came to keyboard blows with is both a woman and a sex worker, but she’s also white, middle-class, educated, and privileged enough to be able to speak openly and unashamedly about her career. I won’t be so ignorant as to claim that her privilege outweighs the oppressive structures that affect her, because that’s just not a real thing. But this woman has leveraged her privilege in a violent way. Not only is she unabashedly throwing around baseless accusations that erase my own experiences, but she’s also shamelessly racist. In the midst of my rage tweeting, a member of my admittedly small circle of sex worker friends let me know that this woman had a long history of being aggressively terrible to black people.
The stories began to pour in after that — she derailed conversations about child victims of sex trafficking by insisting that her experience as a minor trumped that of other victims, she frequently came to the defence of paedophiles at the expense of other sex workers, she used her platform and tens of thousands of twitter followers to harass and shout down poor (usually non-white) sex workers who called her on her bullshit. All of this would be bad enough on its own, but then…I was sent a link to an old blog post of hers. “Black men.” That’s it. That’s the title. Deceptively simple and intentionally innocuous, it leaves the content open to interpretation — until you read the very first line of the post. A quote from Shakespeare’s Othello.
EVEN NOW, NOW, VERY NOW, AN OLD BLACK RAM IS TUPPING YOUR WHITE EWE.
If you’re unfamiliar with Othello, this line is even more insulting with context. Iago (the white antagonist) uses this animalistic characterisation of the black, male protagonist (Othello) to tell the father of Desdemona (the white, female protagonist) that his daughter has eloped with *gasp* a Moor. The line plays on longstanding (even in Shakespeare’s) beliefs about the sexual virility and violence of black men by likening them to animals, beasts without higher reasoning or the humanity necessary to treat white women like the delicate, flowering, virginal icons of femininity they are. In case there was any ambiguity about the content of her blog post, the author follows this line with,
I COULDN’T CONTINUE TO CALL MYSELF HONEST IF I AVOIDED A SUBJECT MERELY BECAUSE IT ISN’T POLITICALLY CORRECT, AND SINCE I RAISED THE SUBJECT IN YESTERDAY’S COLUMN IT’S TIME TO TALK ABOUT IT IN FULL. THOUGH I CANNOT SPEAK FOR ESCORTS IN OTHER CITIES, IT IS A FACT THAT MOST OF THEM IN NEW ORLEANS DISLIKE SEEING BLACK MEN.
I don’t have details on her research design or methodology, I don’t know anything about her sample size, and I don’t know what variables she controlled for — but I’m willing to bet my meagre 401K that this woman is wrong. I don’t for one second believe that at least 51% of the escorts in New Orleans flat out refuse to see black men as clients. I do, however, believe that the women in her circle — white, educated, and middle-class — refuse to see black men. I absolutely believe that these women have internalised the same hideous, dehumanising, racist stereotypes about black men that have protected them and their sexual expression (and that of every other white woman since the beginning of time) and they’ve made short work of projecting their racism onto clients who may or may not fit the image already present in their minds. The rest of blog post is a rapid slide into the ugliest, basest racism justified by the secondhand recounting of the anecdotal experiences of a likely fictional, black escort named “Tina.” It’s a clever evolution of the “I have a black friend,” retort that’s trotted out whenever someone is accused of racism — but not clever enough. Whether or not Tina is real (and she’s not) is irrelevant. Tina only exists as a convenient black foil to the inevitable accusations of racism and stereotyping. In the interest of my sanity, I won’t do a deep dive into the full post, not again. Once was more than enough, and I have a brief twitter thread of my first impressions.
I’ve written before about how visible sexuality is weaponised against black people. Black women and girls are fast, loose, asking for it. Look at the comments on any article about the three decades of R.Kelly’s predatory behaviour. Take a short trip through history and read the accounts of slave owners describing their female slaves. Black men — even now — have always been prime breeding material. Well-endowed, blessed with endless energy, lacking the genteel restraint of their civilised white counterparts. Even the smallest display of sexual agency or interest from a black person, real or imagined, is immediately twisted into a vile, perverse display of animalistic lust. It’s evidence of our complete lack of humanity, no matter how well-bred we are. This particular trope has been covered at length by other writers, long before me, like Intelexual Media, Takeallah Rivera, Tiffany Walden, Wesley Morris, and Martenzie Johnson. The ridiculousness of using words like mandingo — a perversion of the Mandinka tradition of taking multiple wives — to describe black men in the same sentence she lambasts the lack of truth in the stereotypes about black male sexuality is apparently lost on her though.
Revisiting this day in mind, I’m exhausted all over again. Not physically exhausted, but mentally and emotionally. Weary, really. Tired. I can’t really articulate how much energy is expended defending your humanity to someone that claims to be your ally. This particular woman is not someone that I was aware of before this incident, but she’s not new to me. Ask any black woman or femme, particularly a black sex worker, if they’ve had a negative experience with another white sex worker that involved racism or microaggressive behaviour. Ask them if they’ve ever had a white sex worker, particularly one with money or a partner with money, tell them that their low pricing is having a detrimental effect on the whole “community.” Ask me about the white sex workers that blew up my mentions and DMs after I wrote an article titled Leave Cardi Alone. I’m not certain that any of them actually read the article beyond the title since they all accused me of defending Cardi B, but that’s par for the course. Ask a white sex worker if they ever advocated for decriminalisation before the passage of FOSTA/SESTA legislation affected their ability to screen clients or cost them their bank account.
These are people (largely women) that have never had to address the reality that so many of us live every day. For white women, sex work is fun. It’s quirky. It’s empowering. For white, middle-class, educated women sex work is a story they can tell. It’s something they can add to their dissertation to punch it up and make it “real.” It’s so much more raw and hard-hitting to tell people that you spent six (6) months as a stripper or an escort than it is to acknowledge how you are positioned to succeed in almost everything that you do by virtue of being white. How many op-eds and long form essays about a white woman’s journey to sexual fulfilment via her stint as an escort or cam model will we be subjected to before black people are given a break? How many times will black men — especially black clients — be told that they’re not like “the other black men” or that they’re “one of the good ones” before these white women finally get it? You’re not woke. You’re not an ally. You’re not a friend. You’re not a sister. Finding your empowerment and your voice at the expense of our humanity, our lives, our stories is violent as fuck. We’re not props or stepping stools for your political and and sociological awakening. Making space for unrepentant paedophiles by pushing us out of your sex worker movements and organisations because we won’t play along and blindly support whatever you deem relevant and necessary is wild. Even this new push by white women to use the phrase “sex worker” with no consideration for what it is to be a black, queer, trans, and/or poor worker in a capitalist system is regressive, ugly, and all-around boring.
I’m over it. I’m over white women using me and tossing me aside like so much rubbish when I’m too vocal, too critical, too demanding. I’m tired of reading mischaracterisations of my work and my life viewed through the lens of white women with wealth, status, and privilege. And I’m sick of being cast aside because my narrative isn’t the best seller list friendly ideal of empowerment and feminist growth that’s been sold to justify the choices we make to survive.