I've come out as so many things over the years. Bisexual, queer, trans, kinky, poly -- not to mention the odd identity shifts through a dozen different related identities. Sometimes I'm left feeling as if there's nothing left to come out as. But the reality is there is one more thing. Something that I've been quietly discussing in certain places, but too afraid to discuss openly, in a google-able forum such as this. But today that changes.
Today, I'm going to talk about sex work.
Yes, I have done sex work. I even got pulled into the sex worker contingent of the SF dyke march when I still wasn't sure if I counted as a "real" sex worker. But don't bother asking, I'm going to remain tight-lipped about what kinds of sex work, as that's a level of detail that will have to wait for another coming out day. There are still a few people who I'd really rather not have access to that information (such as my boss or my parents).
Somewhere along the line, I picked up several friends and a few lovers who worked in the sex industry. In retrospect, it feels almost inevitable while I was traversing communities of young trans women who often deal with chronic unemployment due to discrimination. Through those in my life, I learned the tricks of the trade: safety protocol, communication, resources, and contacts.
I'm not going to talk about the when, why, and how I got into doing it myself. Suffice it to say that money was one of the issues. What I do want to talk about is how I felt a desperate need to be silent about my experiences afterward. The obvious issue of police harassment aside, I felt like anything that I could say might have harmful consequences.
If I talked about the parts of my work that were painful, I feared I would be perpetuating the myth that sex workers are only victims without any agency. If I talked about the parts I enjoyed, I feared I would be silencing those who don't enjoy their work. If I talked about being a trans sex worker, I feared I'd perpetuate the stereotype that all trans women are sex workers. And if I talked about the role sex work plays in my activism and activist priorities, I was afraid that all the non-profit and political organizations I worked with would shrink away from me in fear of being associated such a politically unsavory population.
That last one was one of the biggest motivators to break that pattern and actually start talking about this issue. When I take stock of the LGBT issues that are impacting my community, I see police harassment, prisoner rights, decriminalization, health care access, and punitive laws that unduly pile punishment after punishment onto "unsavory" survival crimes such as sex work, at the top of my agenda. Yet the LGBT rights organizations around me are barely even aware of those as LGBT issues.
It feels like I'm always asking for more. My local org gets domestic partnerships, and I want them to be for all people regardless of gender. We get marriage for same-sex couples in a couple of states, and I want marriage for all people- regardless of gender or number of partners. And now, on the tail of just finally achieving some major victories, after finally getting some recognition as a legitimate and respectable minority, I want us to take fight for sex worker rights.
I guess I'm just following in the footsteps of great activists who voiciferously spoke out against injustice and oppression in all aspects of their lives, but I'm not staying in this closet any longer.
And when I come to the table- when I plan actions, legislative strategies, or phone bank- I'll be coming as a package deal.