We are whores, and what are you?

Text by Morgane Merteuil, general secretary of STRASS.

Translated from French by Luca Darkholme.

 

 

We are whores, and what are you?

Discussions about sex work often are an excuse for a surge of violence from those who have understood that to make part of the population disappear you need to find ways to silence it, to discredit its speech. Indeed, as soon as we, whores, are claiming the right to be so, to practice our work legally, in security, we are accused of being a « minority », as if this fact alone should compromise our demands.

Yes, persons who are fighting for their rights always have been minority groups. More exactly, it is because we belong to a minority, because of our status that “no one would want for their children” that we have to fight against ongoing discriminations, not only unofficial, but also official: not content with stigmatizing us because of how we use our sexuality, the legislative arsenal that you promote deprive us of our most fundamental rights (right of association, right of housing, right of having a private life…).

So we are whores, and as such, minorities. Fine… This should not make our voices illegitimate. In that case, lots of struggles should be regarded as illegitimate: 343 women asking for abortion rights, wasn’t it a minority? Do LGBT represent more than 50% of population? If people of color only represented a tiny part of the French population, would it be reason enough to not recognize racism? We are whores who demand rights, we are minorities, just like any Union is a minority in their sector of activity. And as any self-managed organization, we criticize the concept of “representativeness”, and we’ll never talk in the name of others than ourselves.

We are whores which for you automatically means we are victims of an economic system that merchandises all of us, of an ill-intentioned pimp or even of our own alienation. Nevertheless, we are women (but not only) aware of the abuse that exists in the industry we work in. To fight against that abuse, against infringement against our rights, we organize ourselves. Without you, certainly, dear women saviors, we are self-organized. You immediately accuse us, self-organized whores defending their rights and interests, of only being concerned about our own good, of being an accomplice of patriarchy, of neo-liberalism and of being exploited by these systems. Between “supreme victim of exploitation” and “accomplice of the system who choose easy money”, you refuse the diversity of our situations, and only give us the choice between these two labels: a very clever way to make our situation unsolvable, and to make our struggle a theoretical impossibility.

We are whores, and you, what are you?

 

You claim to be on the left of the political spectrum, and for this (honorable) reason, you participate in the struggle against exploitation of the most oppressed, of the most exploited, confronting a neo- liberal system based on competition, on the contempt of the life of those who make it work for the benefit of those who make profits out of it. With this in mind, you show solidarity with trade-unionist struggles: you are conscious that it is only through the organization of the oppressed that we’ll be able to, if not effectively eliminate this economic system, at least limit our own exploitation.

You claim to be left-wing, and on this ground you know how to show solidarity INSIDE the workers movement, without making distinctions between the exploited who work in a respectable sector (health, education) or in a harmful one (polluting industries, nuclear). You don’t judge them according to the industry they belong to, you don’t require them to change their job to join an industry you value more honorable, you don’t ask for their “reinsertion”, only maybe for their “redeployment”. In other words, you do not pretend to know better than them what is best for them: you support their demands. You try to speak WITH them, and not FOR them.

So you rightly claim to be “left-wing”: nevertheless, when dealing with sex workers, all your good resolutions as activists disappear: the solidarity you show with other workers becomes condescension and pity when it comes to us. Because we are poor girls who don’t know what they’re doing and that your pride filled with humanism would like to save, you despise our self-organization. As if we confused fighting for our rights INSIDE an industry where abuse is indeed present with fighting for this industry to carry on the same way. Willingly recognizing your own exploitation, you reckon that yours however stays preferable to ours. And when we dare say to you that, when independent, we are much less exploited than when employed then you proudly mention how hard you had to fight in this working world, to make us understand that we could, that we SHOULD, have done differently: you blame us for being less exploited than you, for choosing the “easy money”. You see us as a small business on the wrong side of the class-struggle when we have actually chosen to exploit ourselves rather than to exploit somebody else.

And this is what you have a problem with, what explains the discrepancies in your politics I guess: we choose to exploit ourselves, to only use our OWN body to work. Because it is our own body that we exploit, its exploitation is not necessarily worse but more visible than in other industries where a whole decor is there to make us forget that in the end it is always our body that is exploited. From then on you will see the exploitation of the body of all women in our own exploitation of our own body: you will now fight sex work not only in the name of economic exploitation but also in the name of feminism.

You are feminists, and you rightly fight so that we women won’t be reduced to what patriarchy would want us to be: reduced do satisfy men’s desires, sexual desires, desires of a well-kept house and of good meals to give strength to courageous workers, desires of children with a good education that sticks to the patriarchal family image. You fight as women so we can make real our choices of life, so we can be independent, so that our value as human beings is recognized, independently of the value we are granted by men according to the favors we do for them (sexual, domestic, reproductive).

You are feminists, and as such you fight for stigmatization of women to stop, in particular of those who dare to step out of their “social role”, because they choose to not have children, to not get married, to not wear sexy clothes, to love a woman, to have sex with whoever they want, to complain when their “no” has not be taken into account… You fight for women to be able to make use of their own life, their feelings, their bodies…

You speak as feminists, as women who do not need anyone to speak “for” them, who are responsible, who do not need any caretaker, because they now better than anyone what is best for them. Faced with those who pretend that we are lesbians because we haven’t found the right man, that we should feel remorse for aborting, you strongly claim that this is only proof of the machismo of those who speak those words, that those words discriminate us, that we are not accountable to the guardians of patriarchy: “we are fine, thank you”, “do not free us, we are taking care of it”.

So you speak as feminists; nevertheless, when it comes to sex workers who claim that nobody forces them to do their job, that they chose it with full knowledge of the facts, conscious that their choice is evidently guided by economic requirements, by the current situation of the job market that gives them too little opportunities, you refuse to admit that we know better than anyone what is best for us. While we keep saying that “we are fine, thank you” (or that if we are not fine it is not so much because of what we do but because of your discourse), you want to see the symptoms of a trauma in the choices we make, you want to “understand” why we are acting like that, you dissect us, expose our lives, our past; they become the tools you use to make it fit with your ideology. And so, often, our choices become the consequence of a raped childhood, as if the traumas we went through (or not) would justify to turn us today into irresponsible women to save from themselves.

As feminists, you fight for an end to the stigmatization of women because of the way they use their sexuality: nevertheless you want to ban selling sex because supposedly “sexuality has to be about shared desire and pleasure”. You confuse paid intercourse with rape, unaware of the violence you impose on those who, despite their “no”, were obliged to have sex, when you compare them to those who have the possibility to say “if you’re not happy with my conditions, you can fuck off!” You redefine what an “acceptable” sexuality should be, and by not listening to many women, you impose your own views: “sexuality must be about shared desire and pleasure”. According to you, sexuality is easy; for a lot of people sexuality is something complex and its exploration is part of the construction of our identity.” We don’t automatically recognize ourselves in your “shared desires and pleasure”; more exactly lots of our experiences can’t boil down to those two terms; is that to say that our sexualities are pathological? Will you propose to add (if it hasn’t yet been done) “prostitution” as a pathology to the DSM? If we follow your arguments, this would be beautiful feminist progress, wouldn’t it? So in the name of feminism, you are taking a position which stigmatizes many women, an authoritarian and paternalist position.

Your feminism is as incoherent as your left politics: you pretend to save us, and that’s why your main measures are repressive: you use means always used by the privileged class to protect their order each time it feels threatened. You send us the State forces: not the ones of the Welfare-State but the ones of the Pimp-State, the same one that makes money from our work, of the Racist-State which uses your discourse to reinforce its migration politicies, of the Raping-State which, because it considers like you that “being raped is our job”, refuses our complains and grants itself free sex in police stations. This State which always refused to consider us as equal citizens, you only reinforce his legitimacy to exclude us.

You are neither truly for the respect of ALL women nor truly in a process of class struggle. Your feminism is bourgeois: it aims to enable women to access class privileges. Our feminism is revolutionary: it aims to abolish these classes. You are talking to us from your small island of privileges (or so you like to imagine it), convincing yourself that we would be happy to join you there, but the truth is: we have chosen to become whores rather than to become you.

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Statement SERTUC LGBT network

SERTUC LGBT Network

The SERTUC LGBT Network has successfully raised its profile since its relaunch in 2005.

The SERTUC LGBT Network has –

  • Organised five very successful LGBT History Month events bringing people into Congress House and making them aware of the work of both the Network, and SERTUC and trade unions more generally. The most recent of these was specifically to build for the TUC demonstration of 26 March 2011
  • Has organised a vigil through central London and two receptions to mark the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers in December 2010 and 2011
  • Had a regular presence at Palestine Solidarity Campaign pickets
  • Built the TUC November 2011 event
  • Built for 26 March 2011
  • Produced materials in run-up to elections to raise awareness within the LGBTQ communities in London of why it is important that LGBTQ people use their vote
  • Produced and distributed anti-fascist material aimed at the LGBTQ communities
  • Have built links with local communities and events such as the Hackney Pride in 2010.
  • Ensured SERTUC has supported UK Black Pride and Norwich & Norfolk Pride
  • Taken the SERTUC LGBT Network banner on the London May Day Marches
  • Our Secretary spoke at the London May Day rally in 2010
  • Provided speakers at SERTUC seminars / events
  • Run successful fringe meetings at the annual TUC LGBT Conferences
  • Run the TUC stalls at Brighton & Hove Prides
  • Supported other relevant community events

Ran a workshop at the Sex Workers Open University 2011 on migrant workers. Overall this work has significantly raised the profile of trade unions in general, and both the Network and SERTUC as a whole within LGBTQ communities within the SERTUC region. All of this has been done by lay activists involved in the Network and has involved a great deal of work from the individuals involved.

We think that the LGBT network is the most active of SERTUC’s sub-committees and that the level and scope of our activism can in many ways be said to be a “bench mark” for other SERTUC subcommittees.

 

The Network is seen as a vehicle for promoting LGBTQ rights within the trade union movement as well as for promoting trade unionism within the LGBTQ communities and this is reflected in the numbers of people who have come forward to be on the Steering Group. We are all Trade Unionists but we also reflect different aspects of the LGBTQ communities.

Yet at the 2012 AGM of the Network there was a view that the efforts of the Network are not wholly supported and appreciated by the SERTUC office.

The focus of discussion between the Network and the SERTUC office has been on the issue of Sex Work and that the Network has been pioneering in its support of workers in the Adult Entertainment Industry – our Sisters and Brothers in the GMB and EQUITY. The Network believes this problem raises and reflects wider issues.

The LGBTQI communities are made up of many strands, and this is more noticeable in larger cities such as London and Brighton. Our communities include workers who are office workers, nurses, sex workers, lawyers, artists, academics, engineers, private sector workers, and public sector workers, those who work in the voluntary sector and those who are unemployed. We include migrants, and members of many different black and minority communities as well as those who are not. We include people who are disabled and those who are not. We include people who identify as queer, as lesbian, as trans, as bisexual, as gay, as feminist – and sometimes as combinations of these. We include people who are monogamous and people who are polyamorous. We include people who practice sadomasochism. Many in our communities are Sex Positive. All very different but all part of our wider LGBTQI community.

The SERTUC LGBT Network believes that it is important that we aim to be inclusive of our many communities; therefore we make no distinction between what is valid and what is not in terms of the consensual sex lives people lead. his includes those from our communities that are involved in Sex Work, which involves a large percentage of workers identifying as LGBT or Queer.

Our communities are varied and the work the Network has been doing is to be inclusive and reflective of the variety and connect with those who may not necessarily automatically see trade unions as being on their side. This year’s LGBT History Month event heard from activists involved in the GLF of the 1960s and 1970s of how the British ‘Left’ treated them and excluded their struggle from the Labour Movement.

Some involved in the Network today were involved in the struggles of the 1980s and 1990s in getting the topic of LGBT rights on the agenda of the trade unions. It is only in recent history that Trade Unions have started to have LGBT structures and committees in their organisations as a result of our struggles  But establishing structures does not in itself obliterate prejudice or end the need for dialogue – we live in a society which is heterosexist and therefore without an ongoing discussion those values will tend to dominate even within the trade unions..

The Network believe that all our many communities are valid and no one person is less a serious advocate for LGBTQ rights or has a lesser role in the trade union movement because they choose to live and express their sexuality in a certain way. Indeed the Network is proud to have a Sex Worker and internationally acclaimed Porn star as its Secretary.

The Network was disappointed to learn that the Regional Secretary referred to part of our work as “bourgeois libertarianism”. We do not believe that it is appropriate for someone outside the Network, and particularly not a senior officer of SERTUC to make a value judgement on what work the Network does in supporting different communities. We are saddened that the Regional Secretary used such language in a meeting with the GMB.

If the Network puts forward a project or view in support of the LGBTQ communities or part of we would expect SERTUC to be guided by that.

We are conscious that there is a distance between the Network and the Regional Secretary and believe the cause of this is a lack of understanding of the issues of our varied communities.

Although we respect the right for other trade unionists to have differing views on matters, we do not believe it is right for prejudicial, judgemental and offensive language to be used. The use of the term “bourgeois libertarianism” was inexcusable.

Even if is being used to describe only part of our work, it actually undermines the Network as a whole. Bourgeois or petit bourgeois are offensive terms which have often been used to attack the LGBTQ movement (and also sometimes the feminist movement) by those who suggest that our concerns are different from those of “real” (for which read usually white, male, able-bodied) workers.  This fact coupled with the distance of relations as mentioned, puts into context what our Secretary said at the SERTUC AGM in April.

We wish to make clear that this is not a complaint or an allegation but an expression of concern.

To move forward we would suggest the following –

  • Although not a complaint we believe in spirit to develop better working relations we ask that the Regional Secretary reflects on her use of the term “bourgeois libertarianism” and recognises and understands why the comment caused offence. We respect that the Regional Secretary has a different view on Sex Work but we do not believe it excuses her choice of words.
  • That the SERTUC LGBT Network hosts an open session for all involved in SERTUC to meet the Network and hear what the issues are for our communities and why the Network does the work it does.
  • That perhaps SERTUC may want to make recognition of the valuable work the activists in the Network have done.

 

Terry Conway (UNISON)

SERTUC LGBT Network Co-Chair

 

Lesley Woodburn (UNITE)

SERTUC LGBT Network Co-Chair

 

Thierry Schaffauser (GMB)

SERTUC LGBT Network Secretary

 

Anton Johnson (UNITE / GLATUC)

SERTUC EC member – LGBT seat

 

 

 

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Why I think I am an Aspie

I am waiting for my GP to call me back and hopefully give me a referral to a psychologist/psychiatrist. Meanwhile I have done a lit of reasons why I think I have got Asperger syndrome. I can’t wait to have a proper diagnosis.

 

-          I have no sleeping patterns (no regular time, length of sleep)

-          I am often late

-          I hate rules and authority especially when not explained nor justified

-          I have very focused centre of interest like sex, sex work, and politics

-          I am obsessed with sex work activism

-          I am not tidy (but I am clean)

-          I was bullied as a child

-          Many people think I am rude and lacking empathy or sensitivity

-          I don’t like going out at parties except to find sex or do drugs

-          I struggle to go shopping and always buy the same things and very few items

-          I feel disorganised and in procrastination

-          I miss my flights or trains

-          I struggle with relationships

-          People can take advantage of me

-          I forgive very easily

-          I know many people but I have few friends and little contact with my family

-          I can’t do small talk

-          I can feel sometimes depressed, especially at winter

-          I hate the noise of police cars

-          I like very stereotypical expressions of gender identities: macho men and feminine women or drag queens and butch dykes

-          I can perform a chav or a drag queen

-          I often wear the same kind of clothes: trackies and sportswear

-          I will do certain things only when I really need to, and won’t prioritise them properly

-          I am very good at remembering dates or historic details

-          I don’t like having to take appointments, queuing and waiting

-          I don’t like talking on the phone which can put off my clients

-          I often walk along the platform when I wait for my train

-          I walk very fast

-          I feel like I am always thinking and can’t stop

-          I struggle to fall asleep if I am not tired and can’t wake up if I am still sleepy and tired

-          I don’t feel shy but I don’t like social situations where I have nothing to do, don’t know people and feel I have to pretend being nice and polite or having to do things which appear pointless

-          I like to be the centre of attention with my friends and don’t necessarily realise when people can feel bothered as a result

-          I am very literal and don’t really appreciate sarcasm or don’t find funny some types of humour

-          I feel that I can’t guess people’s feelings unless they tell me

-          I feel I don’t realise when I cause wrong to someone

-          I feel I can’t project myself in the future

-          I like men who are protective and reassuring

-          I am not good at job interviews, but quite good when I really know my subject and can talk a lot about it

-          I am a bit scared of children

-          I never lie and often take the risk to tell the truth to people who won’t like it

-          I can’t steal things

-          I am clumsy, I can’t cook

-          I don’t like collective sports but can be good at individual ones (climbing, dance)

-          I don’t like going to the gym when it’s too busy

-          I don’t look people in the eyes except maybe my feminist professors who I admire

-          I can take things very seriously even when I watch a film or read a book. I am too scared to watch horror movies and tend to cry with sad stories

-          When I am happy I sing and dance and my friend Vera says I sing very well

-          I am good at having sex with men but I am not good at knowing when they want more than sex

-          I played often on my own as a child

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Kolkata conference: my presentation on the freedom to unionise

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HIV/AIDS: Obama kills sex workers

Yesterday, NSWP president Andrew Hunter made a good speech and explained many of sex workers’ issues in the context of HIV/AIDS.

The US travel restrictions will prevent sex workers to be in Washington, but it is in Washington that will be released a new study and the new very bad figures of HIV infections among African sex workers. We expect that between 40 to 70 % of sub-Saharan sex workers are HIV + according to the country they live in.

This is a clear evidence of the impact of the PEPFAR/USAID anti prostitution pledge on our community. Our exclusion from the Washington conference is therefore a way to stop us to denounce US policies and their impact around the world.

Hunter insisted that the travel restrictions are not a problem only during the conference for the sex worker activists, but all the time, for all sex workers around the world who can’t even transit through the US to travel from one country to another.

He added that the restrictions should not, however, be our main focus, because of the even more serious issue of sex workers lack of access in ARV and treatment. Many health services and clinics continue to discriminate and exclude sex workers around the world who see their access to prevention, treatment and health services denied.

The criminalisation of sex work has a dramatic impact in the access to health.

How the US administration can therefore support only programmes that do not challenge the criminalisation of sex work?

How can HIV money fund anti-prostitution groups that offer rehabilitation and preach abstinence instead of condoms?

How can so many US states use condoms as evidence of sex work to criminalise sex workers?

We know that the best response to HIV is sex worker led health projects working within the communities in a decriminalised environment. We know that the New Zealand approach for example has been very efficient in stopping HIV/AIDS.

For this conference, Asian HIV+ sex workers released a campaign called “we need the best ARV to look fabulous”.

Only the old treatments are accessible in many of the global south countries. However, these treatments have considerable side effects in terms of lipodistrophies, osteopathy, diarrheas that prevent sex workers from working.

HIV+ sex workers are those most often arrested by the police because they can’t run away from them as easily due to neuropathies or being too weak.

The choice of Washington by the HIV movement will have huge consequences in the exclusion of sex workers’ voice and in the continuing of criminal US practices which have a dramatic impact around the world.

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Global sex worker conference starting in Kolkata

Global sex worker conference starting in Kolkata

Due to USA travel, entry and residency’s restrictions on sex workers, our community is excluded from the participation of the global AIDS conference in Washington.

The IAC organisers wanted to thank the US administration for removing travel restrictions on people living with HIV but they probably forgot that not all HIV+ people are white middle class gay men from Western countries.

As a result drug users and sex workers are holding hub conferences outside the USA and hopefully we won’t  be completely ignored in our demands.

Sex workers have always been part of the fight against HIV and we deserve the same equal access to treatment, care, prevention and services.

The US administration is not only guilty of excluding us from its territory but exclude sex worker organisations from HIV funding, preferring often to fund anti-sex worker programmes of  rehabilitation. The USA police also use condoms as evidence of sex work to criminalise sex workers.

It is probably one of the worst places for sex workers in the world in terms of criminalisation, discrimination and exclusion.

If we add the trade agreements to stop the production and distribution of generic drugs which would help people access to treatment, we can easily say that Obama is guilty of killing sex workers and is accomplice of AIDS.

We, sex workers gathered from all over the world in India, will remind everyone of this reality.

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Are male sex workers really better off?

There is an assumption that male sex workers are different from women. When you listen to some discourses, female sex workers are portrayed as victims or very vulnerable while male sex workers are just ignored.

It is not just because of anti-sex work feminists who analyse prostitution as violence against women and therefore tend to make male sex workers invisible. I think even in our movement people think that men are stronger and are not as much concerned with what the movement does.

I think it is true that in western countries male sex workers are much less criminalised. Because sex work is seen as a woman’s job, and that male presence on the streets at night is not considered a public nuisance, the police tend to ignore us. This is no longer true when you consider all the countries which criminalise homosexuality. In these countries female sex workers are more often part of the hetero-normative sexual subculture, they’ve got a “normal” role in society even if they are socially excluded as sex workers, while male sex workers are seen as a danger which corrupt the decent moral values. It doesn’t mean that female sex workers don’t suffer repression. They do. But they may risk less and be left alone.

The idea that men are stronger erases their experiences of violence and abuse.  Men tend to be less likely to talk about the abuse they suffer. They are often less organised than women and there are fewer organisations and projects which provide them with support. They might be welcome in general sex worker organisations, but many of them are still women only, or don’t see men as a priority.

For example, a study published last year has found something which surprised many, but which I didn’t find that surprising. Almost half of the children involved in prostitution in New York City were boys.[1] People forget that about one third of homeless youth are LGBTQ.[2] Many queer kids have to leave their family very young and find a way to earn a living. Many young gay men are likely to do sex work to be economically independent as soon as they can.

The gay community might see them as a sexual fantasy, but in the same time despise them as uneducated, potential thieves, lazy and stupid. Many gay men want to have sex with you but certainly not having a relationship with someone they might be afraid to introduce to their friends and family. Many gay men struggle to be normal and will do what it requires to appear normal. A boyfriend who’s a sex worker doesn’t fit in that category. But to be honest all that is the same for women. I just want to explain that the gay community is not necessarily a welcoming space of solidarity for male sex workers like some would have thought.

A lot of the health projects focus on health and HIV. But interestingly we better know the HIV prevalence for female sex workers than for male sex workers. Of course, women are more numerous so they represent a bigger target group for the governments, especially when they are also a target for rehabilitation programmes since at least the Victorian age. Also, male sex workers are categorised with the MSM = Men having Sex with Men. The problem is that the MSM category means that middle class gay men control the organisations and the funding and don’t necessarily prioritise or even address the issues encountered by male sex workers.

We don’t even know the epidemiology. But everything leads me to think that the HIV prevalence among us is higher than among female sex workers or among gay men in general.

Male sex workers can look hot in their adverts, with muscles and all, but in reality, they are not all these very well off business entrepreneurs. Men have gender privileges in the system, but their class or race or sexual orientation might put them in a position of being dominated, which many male sex workers are. If people think female sex workers with always in mind the image of the most desperate situations, they forget for example that most female escorts charge more and earn more money than male escorts.

I am not saying all that to create a hierarchy of oppressions. I don’t believe in that. I just want to show that some assumptions on male sex workers can be wrong and that we may all have issues which must push us to remain together as a community.

Whatever our gender identity is, we need solidarity.

 

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