Author: Suprihmbe

 

It’s Black History Month and one of the things I have been thinking about is the hidden role of a particular brand of Black woman: women who sell sex or other erotic services to pay their bills and, in some cases, to care for others. Black Lives Matter, an organization which is (arguably) creating history right before our eyes, proclaims in their guiding principles that their vision of freedom includes LGBTQ+ people. In their “A Vision for Black Lives: Policy Demands for Black Power, Freedom, & Justice” manifesto they state:

The retroactive decriminalization, immediate release and record expungement of all drug related offenses and prostitution, and reparations for the devastating impact of the “war on drugs” and criminalization of prostitution, including a reinvestment of the resulting savings and revenue into restorative services, mental health services, job programs and other programs supporting those impacted by the sex and drug trade.

Not only that, the BLM document covers Black mass incarceration, reproductive justice, and a host of other issues which affect Black people. They specifically focus on Black women’s issues, trans issues, homelessness–their philosophies are not as phallocentric as many past movements have been, and women and queer folks are leading. They did not come to play.

I am Black. I am a queer bisexual womanist. I am a sex worker, though I am not currently offering full-service. The term “sex worker” is an umbrella term which covers erotic services such as stripping, webcam modeling, phone sex operation, domming, escorting/prostitution, and porn. Full-service sex work is just what it sounds like–it includes sex.

Many sex workers are also other things. Some work regular, “vanilla” jobs.

Some are students. Some are mothers. I am an artist and writer, and sometimes student. Sex work is part of my personal journey toward liberation. There’s a lot of folks who would disagree with me. Many people can’t see beyond their prejudices, and either think of all sex workers as victims, or else as unworthy of respect. Either prospect tends to deny the agency of sex workers, and the former tends to conflate sex work and sex trafficking, thereby obscuring the very real exploitation and coercion of children, homeless individuals, immigrant women and other marginalized peoples.

When I say that sex work is part of my personal journey toward liberation I am not denying the very real inequalities that play into my decision. However, I dislike the choice/coercion dichotomy. I am not gonna wax on about how empowering sex work is without highlighting the very real problem of criminalization of Black cis and trans women within the trade, the economic inequalities that push us to enter into sex work in the first place, and the racial inequalities that force us to adjust our rates as sex workers in order to accommodate the racist and colorist tastes of our mostly white male clients.

“Choice” is very political. In a capitalist society, choice is relative to one’s position. As Americans we like to pride ourselves on our lack of formal castes, but the reality is, we have an informal caste system. Most Black Americans are victims of cyclical poverty and institutionalized racism. Many poor Americans never make it to the coveted middle class position. Debt weighs many of us down as we shoulder college degrees trying to find a legitimate way out. Some of us do, but most of us don’t.

Sex work, in a lot of cases, is a direct result of the lack of care that is extended to Black women, to single mothers, to Black people in general. Lack of job flexibility, a minimum wage that doesn’t lend to a living wage, former incarceration and lack of affordable housing are all reasons why a woman might go into sex work.

For me, being an artist and choosing sex work and sole-proprietorship over
minimum-wage hourly work, is liberating. But it’s demeaning, you’ll say. You’re selling your body. Where is your self-respect, you’ll say. My self respect is right where it needs to be, I assure you. Most low-wage work is demeaning. In capitalism, working class people exist to perform the work that wealthy people do not want to engage in. But most low-wage employment doesn’t provide me with a livable wage in enough time where I can also achieve my goals with my art. I make comics and, at the moment, I work by myself as both writer and artist. That takes time. I also have a four year-old. That also takes time. Time is currency, and I refuse to spend forty hours a week at a job I hate, to come home and parent and wearily sink into the sofa. In this way, I respect myself, and I recognize that time is a finite resource.

At the same time, I refuse to preach sex positive empowerment gospel to you. The racism I experience while working can be very mentally taxing. However, it is the same racism I would experience elsewhere. Sex work is a part of my Black liberation within a capitalist society which does not love me. If I cannot get my art business off the ground within the next year or so, sex work will be the thing that allows me the flexibility to homeschool my son. Sex work allows me the time to work on and perfect my craft. It allows me to work less than thirty hours a week and to have leisure time. Leisure time. Leisure is a luxury, y’all. Poor people aren’t supposed to have leisure! I plan to use my leisure time to educate others, volunteer, and build a life for myself and my son.

I appreciate BLM making room for women like me within the movement–so often we are erased or obscured by men or more “respectable” women. This is pro-blackness I can get behind. This is true Black liberation. This is history in the making.


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