Tag Archives: sex work

Post the Seventh 2 or On Social Capital and the Queer Community

Last Monday I helped organize a town hall about race, class and transmisogyny in queer performance in Austin. The weeks leading up to it were stressful and frustrating. We, as the organizers, were getting a lot of push back and critiques on how we were organizing the event. And often times, we were down right harassed and called names. It was hard for me to continually get updates from the Facebook event page with mostly negative responses.

But we pulled together and really carried each other through each moment. It was a very intense bonding experience and I have grown to appreciate these people in ways that are profound. I know I would not have been able to get through it if it were not for them.

Something that really struck me through this entire process was the amount of social capital involved in creating this event and in calling out the folks who were being fucked up. Social capital is loosely defined as the relationships and networks that people have that allow them to do certain things. Conversely, it talks about the way that the social networks that we have allow us to avoid doing certain things, like survival sex work etc. It also defines the ways in which certain folks have access to social capital and social support and what that access looks like. And in a lot of ways it talks about who gets a pass on certain kinds of behavior and who doesn’t.

Of course, we as organizers had access to social capital in order to organize this event and get people to show up. We definitely reached out to our friends and networks in order to mobilize folks to come and to speak. The fact that we were the organizers gave us a measure of power over how the event looked like and what was gonna go down.

However, on the Facebook page for the event, there were constant demands for transparency in the organizing team. Those folks with greater social capital in the community came for us about our accessibility, what our intentions for organizing this event were, and who we were. There were even calls to postpone our event so that full community accountability and participation could be achieved.

Don’t get me wrong; I think community accountability  transparency and participation is hella important. And in many ways, we as organizers strove to be all of those things. My issue, however, is that other organizations and events, and even the person who was posing most of these questions, are not being held to such a rigorous standard. Nobody was asking the organizers of Poo Poo Platter or Queerbomb to be fully transparent about their intentions, who their organizing team is, to ensure complete safety and community participation.

The other thing that was occurring was that the folks that we were calling out, the folks who had racist or otherwise fucked up elements in their performances, were being commended for their bravery. They were commended for the fact that they were present. And while I definitely recognize that it takes courage to show up to something you know is going to be uncomfortable and challenging, I can’t help but wonder how much of this adulation is actually deserved. When I step on someone’s toe, I don’t get a special award for apologizing or being present for someone else’s pain. This is just what decent human being do when they have harmed another. So why are they praised so highly for doing something that should just be expected?

The answer to this, I think, is their access to social capital. As prominent and well liked performers, they are going to have access to much more social capital then we have. As folks with more community power, they are going to be able to get away with much more than we would. Moreover, as mostly white or light-skinned folks, they are going to be seen in a more sympathetic light than we were.

The other thing too was that we were painted as divisive. We were the ones who were causing the trouble. While at the same time, it was the fucked up performances that started these conversations and isn’t that so great? The feats of intellectual acrobatics to hold both of those things is rather boggling. We are at the same time held as the source of the problem and the ones reacting to the problem.

I was also amazed that through this whole process I was, arguably, the most fiercely attacked of all of the organizers. Detractors were calling me out by name, saying how much of a liar I am, how I had an agenda against the folks we were calling out and how I should be removed from the organizing of this event because I am not a credible source of information. I was the only trans woman of color on the organizing committee and I got the most shit.

Over and over again, in the town hall, I heard white queers say, “If we don’t come together to have these conversations than nothing will change. If we stay segregated, nothing will change.” And it frustrated me because that again elides the fact that we are not on a level playing field. White and light skinned folks have greater access to all kinds of capital than people of color and dark skinned folks. Those in power will have more leeway and be able to dictate the terms of the conversation. We cannot come together to talk about these things without acknowledged the differences of access and power.

The biggest lesson that I learned through this whole process is that I cannot commit my energies to talking to white folks. I cannot focus on trying to change them because I can’t. And because it just creates more trauma for myself, for my partner and my community.

What I need to focus on is creating community with other queer people of color. Because in pouring my energy into that, I can begin to heal and start to form those networks that contribute to my survival and my flourishing.

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Post the Thirty-Sixth or On Why Anti-Porn Activism is so 80’s

Once upon a time, a many, many years ago, there was a struggle of titanic proportions. It was a bitter civil war between middle class white ladies, partnered with their sensitive new age boyfriends, and the unwashed, uneducated sots who worked in the industry of carnal knowledge. This conflict was called the Sex Wars. The white ladies hurled insults at the sex workers, calling them brainwashed. They said that those poor women, because queers and transfolk didn’t count, were not respecting themselves and were participating in the ongoing war against women. They said that those women were participating in their own rape. They said that women could not truly consent to participating in those acts because, not only were they immoral, but also because they didn’t know any better. They couldn’t possibly know the damage that they were doing to themselves! Because if they did, then they wouldn’t do it. Besides, who would choose a life of such wretchedness? They believed that if porn was not abolished, if sex was not restricted to very precise forms of expression, then these middle class white ladies will continue to suffer and be enslaved in their middle class white lady lives.

But the sex workers set them straight, no pun intended. They told the white ladies that its much more complicated then what their limited experience showed them. They told them that, in fact, they have every mental faculty available to them that the white ladies have access too. And they came to the conclusion that sex work was right from them; although we now know that most of those cases involved middle class white ladies, right? The sex workers told them that their profession was not inherently oppressive, for look at the queer and straight men who were sex workers. How could you say that women cannot consent to it and yet in the same breath say that men can? The admitted that, certainly, there were many problems with the sex work industry, like lack of safer sex resources and police harassment. They said, however, that the solution was not to abolish it or censor it because that would lead to the whole industry to go underground which would result in poorer working conditions for them. Rather, the solution was to create supports and resources so that they could break into the business safely and also get out it if they wanted to. The solution was to promote their autonomy, not restrict them in any one place. And besides, sex and the body were amazing things, they said, and it should be enjoyed!

The middle class white ladies were so moved by the sex worker’s argument that they joined forces and created the most ethically run industry in the history of capitalism. And they all fucked their way to a blissful utopia.

Right?

It may come as a surprise to many of you but that was not the case. Obviously there were deep flaws in both arguments, mostly due to the lack of critical analysis of how race and racial exploitation factors into sex work and how the root of all exploitation come from capitalism. What is so shocking to me, however, is the amount of anti-porn sentiments still exist in many of our radical activist circles and in the wider anti-oppression discourse. I thought we left all this shit in the 80s. It’s 20-fucking-11, don’t folks know that anything involved in our capitalist system is going to be exploitive? Don’t folks know that because of the lack of resources and the amazing amount of poverty that effects communities of color that for many women of color sex work is their only option? Does it not occur to folks that instead of attack their only means of income we should be attacking the structures that make it so that it’s their only means of support? The same is true of transwomen, especially transwomen of color, who can’t find work because they don’t conform to the binary. When one is in that postion of sex work or starve, there is only one option. And don’t even get me started on anti-porn activists view of gender varient people.

The other thing that frustrates me about this discourse, specifically on the side of the white sex workers, is the lack of analysis around the experience of sex workers of color and how racism works in their lives. Women of color are part of the racialized “Other” in our white supremacist society. Because of that, their bodies are seen as exotic and by extension are seen as being always sexually available. Their brown bodies are perceived to still be the property of white folk. It is more difficult, therefore, to talk about how to support those women. How do we challenge racism and the objectification of the brown body while at the same time support those brown sex workers who want, and sometimes need, to do sex work? The first step is recognition and validation. The second step is attacking those racist institutions that force folks to rely on sex work if they don’t want to. If it is their calling, then we should be giving them the resources to do is safely and successfully.

I would argue that the most effective way to support any sex worker is the listen to them. Listen to their experience, understand that their experience does not speak for other people’s experience. Listen, and hear that they have to say. If we are going to make this world into a more equitable place, we need to start hearing each other and instead of saying, “This is what I think you should do,” we should ask, “What do you need?”