What it means to me to be a trafficking victim may not be what you think. I do not consider myself a victim. Was I victimized??? Yes. Most absolutely. But I do not choose to wear that as my identity.
In 2004 I was 18 and just moved to the upper west side of New York City. All through high school I participated in the running start program which meant I got to take college classes instead of high school. This meant I got to get a job- an under the table probably not very legal job- as a secretary working 40-50 hours per week. I saved up enough to be able to move to New York sight unseen- no family, friends, nothing- right after high school.
Not even a month after I was there in New York, I met a guy. He told me he was going to be my boyfriend and we would live together but he just needed to get more money first. Then he would show up with a group of drug dealers in a black escalade -like a movie- and we would ride up to industrial nowheres land up in the Bronx (back then there wasn’t much gentrification in the BX or the Heights .) I would be locked in a room and drug dealers- big fat drug dealers, old drug dealers- who obviously got whatever the fuck they wanted. No one told me what would happen whenever I got in that black SUV and every time my so called “boyfriend” would promise “that’s the last time I swear.” Even after I saw the men slipping money in his hand, even after my “boyfriend” offered me up to a homeless wino in the park for $5, I never thought I was being abused or victimized. Even after the multiple rapes and gang rapes, many under weapons other in public, completely humiliating me, the only way I knew to cope was to return to drugs and alcohol and to distance myself from my body.
It doesn’t help when the Sex Workers’ rights community and the anti-trafficking community (very often at odds with each other,) has discussions about “what” a “trafficking victim” is without including us in that discussion. Let me tell you- I AM A SEX WORKER. I have had sex by force and I have participated in the industry by choice. Even those who would say they have never been trafficked may have experienced some degree of force, abuse or coercion – even if it’s just the force and coercion of having no money that puts that person into the sexual economy. So don’t fucking tell me who I am please- sex workers’ rights activists or any “activist” for that matter. We need to have a way more complex, inclusive and dynamic conversation about what sex work really looks like because it isn’t just one thing OR the other. Sex work is like sexuality- a complex trajectory of being. And I know I am not the only sex worker who has both chosen the industry and then been abused by that same industry. Because I am a Sex Worker. By force at times and by choice others. Period.
I really need to get something off my chest. And the timing is quite apropos given that International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers is only a few days away. Violence. ugh. sigh. I’ve always found this topic a contentious one within sex workering circles- forget the anti-trafficking, right wing-Falwell-y-religious kooks. We have issues within the sex working community. Let’s be real. And we’re very defensive about our issues in an attempt to distance ourselves from the religious anti-prostitution/anti-traffickers, which isn’t helping those Sex Workers who are/have endured violence inside the industry. I am not just a retired Sex Worker, but a researcher and Sex Worker rights activist as well. As a researcher and rights activist who has mostly worked on issues related to violence in the industry, one of the biggest and at first most surprising push backs I have experienced is that of Sex Workers and Sex Worker activists. We don’t want to admit that sex work- consensual adult sex work- may at times get violent (nonconsensual) or have a risk for violence. My experience has been that nonprofits working with Sex Workers don’t prioritize making counseling and/or case management available for Sex Workers so they may process (at very least) the unique work stress that comes with being a Sex Worker. Because we Sex Workers feel like everyone around us (i.e. society) is judging this work, we feel like we don’t want to expose the real, raw, nasty bits that come along with sex work and further fan the nay-sayers’ flames of hatred. Yes, we want the non-sex working, average joe shmoes out there to not have an antiquated, primitive notions of sex work. Of course. Yes, we want our culture and our laws to shift to reflect a more diverse and complex understanding of economics, race, gender and human sexuality.But we should not be silencing those voices whom we do not think are fitting into our mold of what a “liberated Sex Worker” looks or sounds like. People are diverse. Their experiences with sex work are diverse and thusly their relationship to sex work is going to be diverse as well. I think there is so much for us to discuss when we think about violence in sex work. But for me, as a Sex Worker, a researcher and an activist it must start firstly at our front door.
I want to die. Don’t worry- I don’t have a plan. There’s no bottle of aspirin on my nightstand calling my name. But I still want to die. I don’t think anyone will ever love me. A psychic told me to close my eyes once and feel the love from all of those who had ever loved you. She said, if no one has ever really loved you take both arms and wrap them around yourself. But the love I feel the least is my own. I fuck just to feel. I smoke just to feel. I snort just to feel. I have only felt two things: death and ecstasy. I’ll never be the young pretty skinny mom with the cute perfect little kids and the perfect engineer husband who goes to church on Sunday and wears Dockers to work. I’m his whore. The girl he picks up on pac highway cause wifey won’t suck his dick anymore. He tells me my boobs are incredible, my pussy is heaven. How did I get into THIS work?, he says. You could have been a model. Or something. I nod. Internally vomiting. I grieve. Because I feel like this will be all I’ll have. Where’s my dockers guy? Do I even want a dockers guy? Would a dockers guy even love a whore like me? What “kind” of guy would? Where is my place? My head hurts. My neck hurts. I want to die.
Invisible. Dry scorched earth. Anger instantly rises up in me. I try to stomp it out. Like a sack of dog shit on my own front porch. Guys look through me, not at me. Hot choking embers. I lay down and wrap both arms around myself.
It goes without saying- we as women do what society tells us, and we get power. Doors open. We don’t, and monkeys throw feces in our faces. Pussy hair. What does yours look like? Is it smooth like a baby? Do you have a “full bush?” Or a “landing strip?”
Why the fuck does our pubic hair-and when I say “our” I’m speaking to female identified people out there- why does it matter so much? For my life, there has always been high demand and extreme pressure to have my pubic hair a certain way (completely bald.) One of my college professors at Seattle Central brought up the issue of pubic hair in society at one point. He said that as society’s gender equality regresses, the physical disparities between males and females increases. This makes sense considering, as Marxism teaches us, capitalism is the reason for gender inequality. So as our modern American society becomes even more hyper-capitalistic or “developed” – haha- women have to be relegated to no body hair below the neck.
But is shaving or waxing ones pubic hair as simple as relegating oneself to the patriarchy? Well. I think it’s complicated. Let’s be real- acceptance by the ruler is power. One can get the keys to the kingdom. Kind of. Maybe. There is also the illusion that it can be very risky for us to alienate ourselves by not playing by the rulers’ … well… rules. Women are supposed to be “good girls” and not rock the boat. We aren’t encouraged to buck the system or say fuck you or fuck that the way men are. Cause then we’re bitches and cunts. We also have pressure on us to get married and have children, to make a happy family and a happy partner in ways men aren’t. So, hey, if our boyfriend wants shaved pubes or hairy pubes then it’s our responsibility to give him that. Right?
its hard as women to live totally independently of what we’re “supposed” to be. But I think even small steps toward autonomy from the patriarchy are important. Our own vagina’s are a good place to start.
I’m gonna talk about something that makes my blood boil.. Ooooo… Ok breath… Calm down…
Power and privilege in the sex industry. If I have to hear one more San Francisco-trust fund- hipster-cool-to-act-poor motherfucker totin’ around their fancy ivory tower BERKELEY MPH’s I’m just gonna burst into flames. No I’m gonna set fire to those privileged piece of shit douche turds.
I have a college degree. I was also a Sex Worker and at another point in time a victim of forced prostitution. There is no alchemy that says a hooker should have a degree, and there is none in my eyes saying that they should not. Yes yes yes I can hear your inner monologue already… But, it’s a great thing if a marginalized and stigmatized community can gain access to resources! Offfff courseeeee. How-fucking-ever that is also assuming that all Sex Workers are living with an equal and perfectly aligned portion of oppression V. privilege in their lives. No way. It is wonderful if a Sex Worker has the desire to achieve a certain goal and then can manage to get ahold of the appropriate resources to make that happen, but let us not pretend that every Sex Worker is so fortunate.
So while any and all Sex Workers should have the right to gain education and a degree(s) what they do NOT have the right to do is wield that privilege of a college education like a weapon against others in the industry. You are not fucking better, smarter, more enlightened, more qualified to speak on our community etc because you had privilege. fuck you assholes who balance privilege with oppression/marginalization (like we all do to varying degrees) and don’t use that privilege- like getting a degree- as an opportunity to let our community speak for itself. We don’t need your gilded voice speaking for those who don’t have your same privilege. What we need is accountability on the part of us in the industry who are lucky enough to have economic privilege and willingness for those of us who have that privilege to give it away.
Allow me to be fucking raw for a second: and fuck what you think about me. Did you get that? F-U-C-K what you think. I want you to feel my rage. My lack of giving a shit. My defcon 5 in your fucking face gonna slit your throat R-A-G-E.
Oh, I’m sorry. Are you uncomfortable yet?
This is your stereotype- a feminist CUNT not saying please and fuck your thank yous. This is the anger you created.
I cried last night. On the way home. Because I’m broken. I try to talk, but I have no way to feel. People ask my thoughts, and I say “I dunno.” Not because I dunno but because the brain ain’t connected to the heartbone and the heartbone ain’t connected to the head bone and the… you get what I mean. People tell me all the time I have a dead affect. When people ask me what I feel I say “I dunno.” It’s like there should be something there but it’s just a dark, dank snakehole.
I grieve for what I’ll never be: normal. I’ll never be able to drink, use drugs, have a healthy relationship to love or sex… or have normal brain chemistry. I’ll always be a “crazy” person. Nutty bipolar who thinks the nazis are after her or the devil is talking to her…maybe another day I’m in manic ecstasy making completely idiotic and life altering decisions. Or I’m walking down Highway 99 at 1am trying to get someone to murder me or I decide my new great goal in life is to be a “crack whore” so I start doing that. How do I keep myself safe when this is my best thinking? I cry because I’m terrified of myself. I can take medication, which I do, but I still have the mania and the depression… it’s just hopefully not as severe.
I feel broken. I am terrified of men. I have been raped more times than I have had consensual sex. I think this was the main draw into sex work for me. All the men I engaged in sex work with were fairly polite, respectful and I never had an instance (thank god) where anyone crossed my boundaries. Every boyfriend I have had has raped me. My ex fiance would grab me by the hair and force oral sex upon me. He also would threaten me that if I did not give him anal sex, he would rape me. So he did. My dad has raped me.I was thrown in a dank crawlspace at 2 years old and locked down there without food, light, water or air on a daily basis. And raped. I was forced into prostitution and porn in Washington Heights in NYC when I was 18 by a very smooth talking gorgeous guy whom I thought was my boyfriend. Sex Work has never violated me. Boyfriends, male authority figures and intimate male relationships have ALWAYS violated me.
This is me, my struggle. I don’t really care whether or not it fits into your definition of sex work or what a sex worker is or what a feminist is for that matter. I can be complex, multi-layered and conflicted. As we all are.
You know what I love about sex work? Well. A lot of things. But if you will allow me to get philosophical for a moment… I always felt like it was the purest of interactions. A transaction. I guess one would characterize it… Mmokay. But I’ll be upfront for a moment when I say I’m intimately retarded. I don’t want to reinforce another stereotype here… This shit could be said of children of incest, childhood violence and abuse, general attachment wounds etc. but I run screaming into the night from feelings. Yours and mine. Don’t want ’em, don’t need ’em, never really served me.
So for me-just me- I felt like sex work was intimacy with the training wheels on. The transaction always gave me that safe out in case I got a yucky vibe or the guy was ugly or sucked at eating my pussy or whatever. Nothing need go any further. But I held the power. If he did eat my pussy right. And there was chemistry. And I was just in that kinda mood.
I don’t know what “normal” intimacy would be. Well. Probably all that feely crap that scares the shit out if me. Gah. Merp.