Friday, February 27, 2009

Check Yourself-How to Practice Being a Sex Worker Ally

Ok, I fucked up. I outed someone I know as a sex worker in a situation where they were not present and I have no idea whether they would feel comfortable with me sharing this information. It was in a context in which I knew the people present held sex work-positive perspectives, and yet, it was not my place to reveal personal details about this person's form of employment no matter how rad I think they are.

In a social/political context where sex workers are still the last ones to be asked their opinions on their own profession, and where the notion of "the public woman" still prevails to the point where the lives and bodies of sex workers are considered fair game by city planners, government officials and media outlets, alike, it's great to see this discourse being flipped on it's head over at Bound, Not Gagged.

A blog dedicated to providing a space for sex workers to express themselves, respond to the media and talk about their profession on their own terms, Bound, Not Gagged aims to bear witness to the diverse lived experiences of sex workers; something rarely discussed during every latest and greatest sex worker scandal.

Especially relevant to my recent transgression is this list on "How to Be an Ally to Sex Workers" compiled by Sex Workers Outreach Project- Chicago (SWOP).

"1) Don’t Assume. Don’t assume you know why a person is in the sex industry. We’re not all trafficked or victims of abuse. Some people make a choice to enter this industry because they enjoy it, others may be struggling for money and have less of a choice.

2) Be Discreet and respect personal boundaries. If you know a sex worker, it’s OK to engage in conversation in dialogue with them in private, but respect their privacy surrounding their work in public settings. Don’t ask personal questions such as “does your family know what you do?” If a sex worker is not “out” to their friends, family, or co-workers, it’s not your place to tell everyone what they do.

3) Don’t Judge. Know your own prejudices and realize that not everyone shares the same opinions as you. Whether you think sex work is a dangerous and exploitative profession or not is irrelevant compared to the actual experiences of the person who works in the industry. It’s not your place to pass judgment on how another person earns the money they need to survive.

4) Watch You Language. Cracking jokes or using derogatory terms such as “hooker”, “whore”, “slut”, or “ho” is not acceptable. While some sex workers have “taken back” these words and use them among themselves, they are usually used to demean sex workers when spoken by outsiders.

5) Address Your Bias Against Sex Workers. If you have a underlying fear that all sex workers are bad people and full of diseases, then perhaps these are issues within yourself that you need to address. In fact, the majority of sex workers practice safer sex than their peers and get tested regularly.

6) Don’t Play Rescuer. Not all sex workers are trying to get out of the industry or in need of help. Ask them what they need, but not everyone is looking for “Captain Save-A-Ho” or the “Pretty Woman” ending.

7) If you are a client or patron of sex workers, be respectful of boundaries. You’re buying a service, not a person. Don’t ask for real names, call at all hours of the day/night, or think that your favorite sex worker is going to enter into a relationship with you off the clock.

8) Do Your Own Research. Most mainstream media is biased against sex workers and the statistics you read in the news about the sex industry are usually inaccurate. Be critical of what you read or hear and educate yourself on who exactly is transmitting diseases or being trafficked.

9) Respect that Sex Work is Real Work. There’s a set of professional skills involved and it’s not necessarily an industry that everyone can enter into. Don’t tell someone to get a “real job” when they already have one that suits them just fine.

10) Just because someone is a sex worker doesn’t mean they will have sex with you. No matter what are of the sex industry that someone works in, don’t assume that they are horny and willing to have sex with anyone at any time.

11) Be Supportive and Share Resources. If you know of someone who is new to the industry or in an abusive situation with an employer, by all means offer advice and support without being condescending. Some people do enter into the sex industry without educating themselves about what they are getting into and may need help. Despite the situation, calling the police is usually never a good option. Try to find other organizations that are sensitive to the needs of sex workers by contacting the organizations listed below.

12) As you learn the above things, stand up for sex workers when conversations happen. Share your personal stories if you so choose. Don’t let the stigma, bigotry and shame around sex work continue. Remember it’s important that sex workers be allowed to speak for themselves and for allies to not speak for sex workers but to speak with sex workers.

Realize that sex work transcends ‘visible’ notions of race, gender, class, sexuality, education, and identities; sex workers are your sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, lovers, and friends. Respect them!"

Local resources for Sex Workers:

Montreal- Chez Stella

Toronto- Maggies

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great tips! Thanks for sharing.