Everyday Activism

At the panel a few weeks ago the same question came up in several different forms. One person asked

“What would you say to my intelligent, feminist, female friend when she says all prostitution should be outlawed due to the harms of trafficking and underage workers?”

Another asked

“How do I respond when someone posts and anti-sex work text or link on Facebook without dragging myself into a huge discussion?”

And at the private provider’s social one person asked

“What can I do if I can’t come out as a sex worker to destroy the stereotypes?”

The base of the questions is “What can I do every single day (sometimes as a well-intentioned, middle class person) that doesn’t jeopardize my social, financial, and physical safety?”

Here is what I do.

I am out to my closest friends and some semi-close friends who I knew wouldn’t react too poorly. I am not out at all to my family. To everyone in between, I am out as a sex workers rights activist. I support the Sex Worker’s rights movement, I work as a sex positive massage therapist to sex workers, and I do my small daily part to educate people when it comes up. I do that by admitting that I’m an ally and through my ally-ship I have met actual, real, honest-to-God sex workers and found them to be at the least normal, more often interesting and powerful women. I can talk about SASS and what I learned, the literature out there, the effects of decriminalization in other places, and I’m doing it not from a place of ‘you’re wrong, stranger’ but from a place of ‘dude check this out! I had no idea but sex workers actually care about themselves!’ I find that, as long as it’s not someone with strong moral beliefs, a different perspective from a trusted source (you, their friend) can begin to change the conversation.

So what can you do when someone posts a link on Facebook? First: recognize that they are not your audience. They’ve already made up their mind and while it’s possible you can change it, it’s unlikely. Your audience is not the poster, it is their friends and yours. Engage with the poster, knowing they are providing you a platform on which you can show others alternatives to the narrative. If you’re really serious about it, keep a note on your phone with links to interesting news articles like Liz Nolan Brown’s long form TRB essay or Maggie’s number crunching post. That way you can just copy/paste with a comment.

What can you do in real life? Next time someone makes a ‘hooker joke’ don’t laugh. Next time someone says something you know to be untrue, ask them why they said that (don’t correct them, facts don’t change hearts). If you’re brave, bring up the article you just saw about how young women are turning to camming and ‘sugaring’ to pay for college and how you had no idea it was so normal/widespread. Talk about the panel you just went to and how you met some interesting sex workers fighting for their rights. Send them one of my blog posts with the naughty stories and maybe they’ll stumble on something else interesting (you can play dumb and say you found it linked somewhere and didn’t read the rest of the blog).

The opportunities don’t come up often for me but when they do for you, don’t be ashamed to be an ally. Don’t be afraid to tell people you know real sex workers in real life and they’re actually surprisingly cool. And don’t fight so hard you lose the love and trust of your true friends. First it won’t work and second you’ll lose something important. I want decriminalization (Toni mac’s TED talk is a great link to explain that) but not as much as I want everyone to move forward, together.