WARNING>>>>THIS VIDEO IS JUST A TAD TONGUE IN CHEEK
The recent article by Amanda Brookes on how she believes sex work activists discriminate against the majority of sex workers.
and Elronds response here on Harlots has prompted me to write of my opinions formed through my involvement in activism here in the UK.
Firstly you have to understand a little of the history of sex worker activism. Sex worker activism evolved along side other civil liberty struggles in the late sixties and early seventies. The movement was initially not only part of the mainstream feminist movement but also associated with the various workers movements and the socialist, Marxist, revolutionary politics of that time. It was an extraordinary time of renaissance for radical politics of the left on many levels.
The groups that now represent sex workers today emerged from this left wing/Marxist mix of radical intellectuals. The leaders of those groups are therefore not surprisingly influenced by the radial, leftist thinking of that period.
With this history it is not surprising that there is a reluctance to include mainstream sex workers who have little interest in the great political struggle against capitalism which the established luminaries within the sex worker rights movement perceive sex work to be a part of. Instead these groups, understandably, prefer to remain exclusive advocacy groups and to concentrate on promoting sex worker groups (migrant and street workers) that they can patronise with little fear of that group challenging them. Similarly anti sex work groups and governments also prefer to concentrate their attention on those same migrant sex workers and street sex workers. The majority of sex workers therefore feel they are excluded from the debate. They feel ignored. Recently Cath Stephens from the IUSW to her credit has challenged this perception and has spoken very eloquently of the issues facing all sex workers but her voice is still a minority voice in a media obsessed with trafficking and street workers and many activists who scream privilege at any sex worker who does not fit the classic stereotype of survivalist sex worker.
The established sex worker rights groups may publicly wish to offer leadership to mainstream sex workers but only on terms limited by their often narrow political ideology which is often at odds with the reality of main stream sex workers experiences and desires.
It has taken me some time to realise the entrenched opposition that exists to sex workers like myself and others who demand to be heard with a voice that often challenges the established orthodoxy. I was to put it bluntly bullied when I first became an activist for the IUSW. I would not wish anyone to ever have to endure the hatred from some within the movement that I had to face. It was only my stubbornness and bloody mindedness that made me stay within (in my case the IUSW) sex worker activism and fight for my right to be heard. I am very aware however that I am still not accepted by some and that I still remain for a few a hate figure.
I had to fight for my right to be heard and to offer an alternative view based on my twelve years experiences within the sex industry. Most sex workers wanting to get involved in mainstream activism within the established groups would not have my tenacity.
Thankfully independent sex worker voices are now being heard and slowly things are beginning to change as the influence of the old guard becomes less relevant. I know for example that the IUSW is trying to change and that there are those within the IUSW who valiantly are trying to push for new faces and new voices to be heard. There remains however a fear of allowing the unknown into the inner circle. The IUSW activism list for example is now a closed list to which you have to be invited to join.
One of the reasons I left the activism list was because the IUSW refused to open itself to membership. This example explains I think some of the fear activism groups have.
Like all sex worker activism groups the IUSW is perpetually short of funding as well as being low on members. I offered the solution of encouraging sex workers to become members of the IUSW with voting rights for a small monthly fee (minimum £3.50).
The elected leadership strongly argued against this on the grounds that it would exclude minority sex workers such as street workers and migrant workers.
I replied that Street workers and Migrant workers are probably the last group of sex workers to become involved in any organisation for numerous but obvious reasons. To use this excuse, I argued, to stop your organisation becoming a populist organisation with paying members who will put money in the bank that will allow you to mount campaigns that will help all sex workers, including those minority groups, is bewildering. The reaction and arguments used to abort my enthusiasm to turn the IUSW into a populist movement explains so much about the mentality of those groups and why they exclude the majority of sex workers.
To become a populist organisation, I realised, would be to allow voices to be heard and potentially new leaders to emerge who would not adhere to the established orthodoxy. In short I realised that it is fear that prevents established activist groups from going out there and welcoming sex workers.
The other uncomfortable reality that some within the IUSW and other activist groups hate is that the sex workers who would be the most interested in supporting activism financially are the very sex workers they would want to exclude for political reasons. Independent and successful sex workers, agency/ brothel owners and successful agency/brothel workers. In short those who have succeeded as business people in the sex industry are also the very people some in activism rant against as being privileged and not representative.
So I now jokingly refer to the established activist groups and their leaders as the ” in crowd” (there are a few exceptions thankfully who are not). If you doubt this look at those with positions of authority within activism and I doubt you will find many who do not share a common political ideology or who do not share the same language and adherence to political correctness (not that political correctness is always wrong). I was once told there that there is no sex worker clique by someone who I now realise is a member of that very clique.
Now as a much happier outsider I view it all with a certain amusement. It does still annoy me when figures such the elected president of my own IUSW/GMB branch attacks me personally in public (“READ HERE”. )) but I try mostly to ignore them and him. I am sure that things will change. I have a strong suspicion (which I hope will come true) that a populist sex worker movement will soon emerge which will allow different sex worker voices to be heard and who will force the established sex worker groups to share their knowledge and their contacts within the media and government nationally and world wide. The future for sex worker activism is good. We are a wonderfully diverse group of individuals who have so much to offer. We all have different politics, come from different backgrounds and have different experiences. It is really a huge loss to the established groups that they choose to ignore us and exclude us which is why I believe that the future of sex worker activism will be ours not theirs.
I would add that the ECP and the IUSW are (despite my criticism) good advocacy groups and deserve our support. This is simply my explanation based upon my experience of why they discourage so many mainstream sex workers from becoming involved, often with out realising that they do so. And why some sex workers are actually scared to become involved when they read some of the viscous stuff written by some who hold positions of authority.