I have been struggling for a few weeks to finish writing a post about some of my reflections about sex worker politics, community and struggles after attending the Desiree Alliance conference this past summer. (I forget that writing is a process of learning, and that I don’t have to know everything I want to say when I set my fingers to the keyboard. But that’s another post!)
Of course, my powerhouse friend Jessica Yee seems to always go straight to the punch, and in this recent note, she has articulated some of what I have been feeling lately, and much more. I am reposting her letter here, hopefully mine will come soon too.
My open letter to the sex work movement – and our relationship that’s become unhealthy
I wrote this emceeing for the Granny Boots Sex Work Cabaret in Toronto (on September 29) – and on the heels of a victory against the state to give more power to sex workers so police stop arresting and jailing us. I feel like it’s an important time to be honest about where we are at in the movement if we really want to move ahead strongly and actualize true decriminalization across Canada. (which is a very good thing people!) And yes there are lots of expletives but I’m speaking the English language of the colonizer – so I don’t fucking care.
Dear sex work movement/activists/or people who just don’t fucking get it.
I want to talk to you and I want you to try and get what I’m saying here. For real this time.
It seems like our relationship – like many others – has had its ups and downs. You’ve been there for me – I’ve been there for you. And even though I’m no expert on what a healthy relationship even is – I feel like this has become an unhealthy one. And before you interrupt me again to say “hey wait – it’s not ME because I (insert typical derailment/white guilt/detracting excuse)” let me fucking finish this time and listen up.
I’m going to be honest and say right now that I’m EXHAUSTED. You exhaust me a lot and I really wish it were from a great fuck. In this case I actually feel fucked -and not in a good way.
I thought you already knew that I’m not the stoic, polite little mixed-race girl who will let you make sweeping generalizations about the many peoples and communities I belong to that you really have no idea about – even though yes, you know another racialized person. I was almost SURE that it was made clear I do speak the fuck up, pretty much always, and will most definitely act on things like white supremacy and cultural appropriation – that I probably need to remind you again – are in the actual sex work movement we are in – not just in the larger abstract systems. True decriminalization and autonomy of sex work cannot be achieved while stepping on other people’s backs to get there and ignoring the realities of workers who aren’t white/high class/able-bodied/cis-gendered. I mean, have we learned nothing from the mainstream feminist movement who continue to do this???
But apparently I DO need to tell you one more time – we’ve got problems. And for once in your life I need you to take ownership of this. Please don’t try and hush me up or walk away because I’m airing our dirty laundry in front of all these people, and OMG we might not appear “unified” to them!!! Cut the crap and let’s be real. I need to say this because I actually am interested in building a stronger movement – no wait – A WAY OF LIFE – for the future generations I’m concerned about.
So here I go defying the anti-oppression 101 law of me not having to be the educator and I’m going to share some learnings from the school of real life about what isn’t working in your attempts to fix our relationship:
-When you try to “include” Indigenous, racialized, and pretty much anyone that isn’t white, able-bodied, high class, or cis-gendered after the fact of whatever you are trying to do – it doesn’t work. It also doesn’t work when you say things like “it’s only about classism – not racism”. Oh and FYI being gay doesn’t magically make you NOT transphobic.
-Telling me you respect me, that you are an ally and want to be in solidarity with me without knowing how much of a huge responsibility that is or without even asking if I want your allyship in the first place – doesn’t work
-When you declare “whore power” without recognizing how many sex workers can’t relate to that for their own reasons – it doesn’t work
-Giving me advice on what “I” ought to do if “you” were in my place instead of using your own power and privilege to do it your own damn self and fixing shit in your own community that continues to oppress my community – doesn’t work
-Refusing to come to terms with the fact that young people ARE sex working and deserve just as much support and rights as anyone “over 18” even though you are all kinds of uncomfortable with this – doesn’t work
-Saying that you know about the history of colonialism and oh aren’t you so skilled in knowing that it still exists – and then not understanding how a lot of what you are doing in sex work organizing is re-colonizing over and over again in itself – doesn’t work. I wish I had the time and privilege to go through all your good intentions – but I don’t. So stop telling me what to do.
And this is just what I have time to say right now. Take my words seriously and sit with them. I don’t have to keep swallowing the pill of “understanding” why things so prolifically remain this way. I have to be interested in protecting myself against these types of bad things you have inflicted on me because I don’t want to leave you. And even though you say things like you “appreciate” how loud I am – it isn’t helping our situation at all. I’m telling you I’M EXHAUSTED OF ALWAYS HAVING TO BE THIS WAY. I still don’t feel represented and I don’t need your hierarchical pat on the back of “don’t worry, we’re getting there”.
How about we just call things for what they are? I’ve been telling you for a while now that these White, western notions of polite discourse aren’t the norm for all of us. Being honest with the truth about our relationship helps keep my fire alive to change it, and it also might help us to not forget where we’ve really come from and where we’re really going.
Edited: October 1st, 2010