When I was 15, a stunning article in Allure magazine introduced me to luminaries Veronica Monet, Tracy Quan and the irrepressible Norma Jean Almodovar. All three women talked about sex worker rights and changing the law. That article was the only bright spot in the next eight years of reading about sex workers.
By the time I began stripping, I knew what a sex worker activist was: a lesbian vegan living in San Francisco who didn’t shave (let alone wax) and was often very overweight. She had a useless degree in philosophy or women’s studies from Berkeley (unlike my highly-useful photography degree!). Sex worker activists were overly-represented in my readings about sex work and they never, ever described me or any other strippers that I knew. I remember emailing Jill Nagle and complaining that Whores and Other Feminists was not representative of all sex workers, I wanted stories from sex workers who looked and sounded like me and my co-workers, workers who walked in our shoes too. I never heard back from her.
Maybe because I and the sex workers I knew looked mainstream. Veronica Monet and Tracy Quan were the only two public sex workers who looked normal to me (I did not find other interviews with Norma Jean, sadly). I was so happy to discover the books of Dolores French, Lily Burana and Heidi Mattson because I could identify with them, though Lily and Heidi weren’t “activists.”
Everything I read told me activists discounted you if you looked mainstream sexy, as though they believed a sex worker with implants or blonde hair has nothing of value to add (just like everyone else in society).
There is a deep prejudice permeating the sex worker rights movement in the US. Just because some of us have a mainstream appearance doesn’t mean we don’t deal with the same stigma that every other sex worker does, that we somehow work under a different set of laws. Just because we look much like the â€œprettyâ€ depictions of sex workers in mainstream media doesn’t mean we’re not “real,” it means we’re making money (most sex workers are in sex work to make money). Does the movement think that because mainstream media depicts a certain look that it’s somehow representing or speaking for those who have that look?
Just because we’re hetero doesn’t mean our sexuality should be ignored or dismissed — it’s as meaningful to us as it is to LGBTs. Whore Stigma is based on fear and hatred of female sexuality in any form. Just because we’re female doesn’t mean our “female-centric” views should be automatically discounted. Women have made up the vast majority of sex workers ever since women were invented. The majority of the issues sex workers face are parallel with women’s issues, and sometimes parallel with issues confronting those who identify as women.
“Inclusiveness” and “diversity” are such huge preoccupations in the movement that they often derail energy and focus on the real-world issues staring all of us in the face. In the stampede to be inclusive and make sure that all ethnic/gender/occupation/whatever boxes are ticked and that a token representative is present, a huge majority go unnoticed and unwelcome. Many in the movement seem to think that because a certain type of sex worker are a majority, that somehow their concerns are being met or they don’t face serious, often universal, issues. Because they are a natural majority, they are punished by being given no voice.