In ten days Trump plans to sign SESTA, a bill that has passed in the senate and the house. Over five million impressions on Twitter have raged against it using the hashtag #LetUsLive, generating a massive conversation since the bill is broad and unclear while it captivates attention with shocking language yet solves zero problems regarding actual sex trafficking. The bill expands liability of 3rd party entities: websites that host ads for a vulnerable, glittering workforce: the sex industry.
When SESTA is signed, it will only harm the safety and livelihood of people who choose to trade sex. It’s not law yet, but providers are already suffering the effects. Websites are being taken down every day and clients are scarce. Academics have united against SESTA: faculty, staff, students signed on to support their senators. Approximately 57 organizations including ACLU and SWOP NY are building alliances ready to spread awareness of this bill and challenge the constitutional validity of it. Other grassroots organizations stand with sex workers prepared to fight to preserve our constitutional right to exist.
Where are the feminists?
I came of age in the 80’s where conservatism and promiscuity clashed and burned into my days in the form of lace, rubber and pop music. I ached for Madonna’s frilly negligees and stole rubber bangles from Woolworths then gyrated to Prince (before he identified as a symbol) for hours after school bouncing with the heat of prayers in my teenage mouth. Madonna’s feline sexiness made me believe I could be a leader and a slut. Stormy Daniels confirms it. Prince made me want to climb a pole and never dismount. Twenty-five years plus, I’m still on the pole.
Also, in the eighties, Christian Evangelicals like Billy Graham influenced politics which led a wave of religious right moral traditionalism -- a knee jerk reaction to the AIDS crisis deeming sexual freedom deviant and scary. Mainstream feminism aligned with Christian Evangelicals while our brothers and friends wasted away in hospice beds by the dozens. Hysteria in the form of the Religious Right attempted to control and condemn women’s bodies, our reproductive rights, queers and the entire adult industry. Other strands of anti-porn feminism erupted also: separatists and second wave feminists who believed that any sex worker was a tool of the patriarchy.
And then, there was me: A feminist sex worker, straight out of Mills College. Using my body as a battlefield had its ups and downs in and out of the lap dancing clubs but one thing has remained the same for decades: sex workers live our lives in the shadows because of stigma.
Isn’t the beating heart of feminism a belief that women get to do what we wish with our bodies? Why fight for choice but condemn women who choose to do sex work? Sex work is the only job in which a woman is criticized for merely doing her job and now Trump is attempting to make our jobs riskier, more dangerous and ultimately criminal.
In ten days, all the websites where trans women advertise sex work will disappear and those folks will be out of a job. Many of them will become homeless because they lack resources, family and opportunities to find work. They are notoriously vulnerable to stigma and violence.
This week about fifty sex workers met secretly to discuss our basic safety and privacy in light of this new legislation. Disappearing from the internet and losing our marketplace only makes our livelihood more difficult and dangerous -- vulnerable to arrest. We will encrypt our emails and erase our websites to attempt to keep ourselves safe for now. We will work together to screen our clients and be untraceable and continue to be among the most alienated and vulnerable workforce in the world. We are unified against this bill that threatens our lives, our partner’s lives, our friend’s lives.
But hiding is not freedom.
As sex workers, we are as diverse as the rainbow flag and just as proud. Help us be more visible to eradicate sexual stigma and blatant discrimination against sex workers. Help us come out of the shadows and #LetUsLive.
This is how our allies can support us:
Donate funds to sex work orgs & our intersecting communities:
- Red Light Legal
- St James Infirmary
- El / La Trans Latinas
- LYRIC LGBTQ Youth Center
- SWOP behind bars
- US Prostitutes Collective
And please, feminists, be vocal and public about supporting sex worker rights and opposing SESTA now.
Writer, Stripper, Professor