I started my sex worker activism career as a writer – initially I chronicled my personal experiences here on this blog, and then I moved into using writing (mine and others’) and other forms of media making to shake things up. Writing, storytelling, and speaking up are really important aspects of activism – I’ve built my life and projects around them via $pread magazine, the Red Umbrella Diaries, and Sex Work Awareness respectively.
This year, as my career grows and I wiggle into places where I think I can be most effective as an activist and a media maker, I have found myself struggling to find my voice. In the past, I’ve always assumed that more speaking out was better, always and all the time. I felt like I should comment on the state of affairs as much and often as I had the energy. In the past year, I’ve taken a step back from the communities I’ve been immersed in and talking at/about and have spent a lot more time listening.
What I’ve heard has been a big wake up call for me. Through my work with the Global Network of Sex Work Projects I’m understanding more and more about the international situation of sex workers, and about the chaos and harm Americans bring in that arena. But my main context is still the United States and especially New York. Particularly in the American sex worker rights movement, there are just… a lot of issues and gaps in knowledge and understanding. Among the most prominent of these issues are: class and the related entanglements of sex positive/pleasure focused folks and the sex worker rights movement; an over-emphasis on the experiences of cisgender women in the sex industry, to the serious detriment to transgender women and cis and trans men; lack of cohesive work on issues facing both indoor and outdoor sex workers; ignorance of the experiences of migrant sex workers, perhaps because of anxiety around the anti-trafficking hype but also because of a general disconnect; racial dynamics of not just the sex industry but also the sex worker movement… I really think I could just go on and on. I know I shouldn’t just rattle this list off without writing a major treatise about each item, but that is yet to come. It’s important to me to take this step here on Waking Vixen. I’ve been talking to lots of different people about these issues in lots of different places, but haven’t been synthesizing my thoughts in writing. Which is what this blogging thing is about (or so I hear).
To be sure – I am not just pointing fingers about these issues. I have been complicit in maintaining the status quo of a lot of these injustices – it’s not too harsh to call them that. When working with and inside communities to make change and make things better, it’s not the intentions that count -I have always wanted to do good by and for my community- but actions. And a lot of actions come with collateral damage, especially actions that are meant to make change. Some of the struggle to rediscover my voice and place has been about feeling stuck, because as I’ve become more sharply aware of the ways my privilege intersects with my ignorance I’ve constantly thought, “how can I do or say anything that won’t be fucked up? is it worth talking if I know it might be harmful?”
I don’t think my work is all bad or useless. But I do know that I’ve perpetuated the harms that privilege brings. And now I have to work to understand what this is and does, and just do better.
I have been working (and failing a lot, but trying still) to figure out ways I can shift these dynamics in my own work, trying to figure out not just how to make the space but how to create stronger alliances and relationships to flesh this stuff out. It’s slow going because these injustices are entrenched, as much as I want it to be fixed now. I don’t have a magic, uplifting discovery about how to fix everything. But I do know that gaining a deeper understanding of the things that are broken has given me greater conviction that I am indeed in this for the long haul.