There are competing tropes common in the industry, some of which give me cause for pause and reflection. For example, one is the prevalence of, “We all run our business differently, and that’s OK!” on the one hand and, “Don’t say/do that, because you have X impact on the rest of us!” on the other. Sometimes they aren’t explicit, but anyone who questions if they exist need only spend 10 minutes on Twitter to find debates about things like rate structure, using certain terminology in advertising, screening practices, etc. One such recent exchange got my wheels turning…
I’m feeling bothered by a corollary between what I believe to be well-intentioned sex workers, and Eduardo Bonilla-Silva’s Racism Without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in America. “Aside from the obvious (racism in sexwork), what do sex work and racism have to do with each other?!” you ask?
First, a very basic introduction to the concept of colorblind racism:
Racial issues are often uncomfortable to discuss and rife with stress and controversy. Many ideas have been advanced to address this sore spot in the American psyche. Currently, the most pervasive approach is known as colorblindness. Colorblindness is the racial ideology that posits the best way to end discrimination is by treating individuals as equally as possible, without regard to race, culture, or ethnicity. At its face value, colorblindness seems like a good thing — really taking MLK seriously on his call to judge people on the content of their character rather than the color of their skin. It focuses on commonalities between people, such as their shared humanity… (Williams, 2011)
But there are big problems with colorblind racism, not the least of which is that it denies actual differences in people’s lived experiences. Erasing the concept of color from conversation does not magically equate to real life differences being erased.
Now, consider the spectrum of sex workers’ experiences. From the person who was trafficked and forced into prostitution, to the independent courtesan who retains agency and expresses feelings of empowerment… “Whore” is not a monolith. With that in mind, consider the rewrite of the above paragraph:
Sexwork issues are often uncomfortable to discuss and rife with stress and controversy. Many ideas have been advanced to address this sore spot among sex workers. Currently, one approach is known as claimingwhorearchy. Claimingwhorearchy is the sex work ideology that posits the best way to end discrimination and stigma is by treating individuals as equally as possible, without regard to differences among sexworkers. At its face value, claimingwhorearchy seems like a good thing — really taking MLK seriously on his call to judge people on the content of their character rather than their differences. It focuses on commonalities between people, such as their shared humanity…
When someone insists, “A whore is a whore is a whore,” or more benevolently, “We’re all the same! Let’s all just get along!” the sexwork corollary of colorblind racism is initiated.
No matter how much somebody insists otherwise, claiming all sex workers are the same is simply not supported by data nor sex workers’ lived experiences. Even among independent providers, there is a range of varied needs across the spectrum. For example, the resources one person needs to survive or thrive in the business often look very different from what another person needs. Here in Las Vegas, perhaps what a casino girl needs is to feel like she’s not going to be arrested for hanging out in a casino bar, while what a outcall provider needs is to be able to accept deposits without her bank account being frozen. Perhaps a low-volume provider appreciates not having an inbox full of “Are you available tomorrow?” messages, while a high-volume provider appreciates the inquiries and the extra business. These are just two examples, neither of which involves posturing or judgments; difference doesn’t always translate into hierarchies of better than or worse than.
Sexwork’s corollary to colorblind racism, although it seems appealing under the guise of “stop perpetuating whorearchy,” is built on the same foundation: trying to deny, ignore, or erase difference, and it can do more harm than good. Certainly, what we all need (I try to avoid speaking for others, but I feel pretty confident about this one) is decriminalization and a hell of a lot less stigma. But we don’t get there by erasing difference; we get there by respecting each other no matter the differences. In racial ideology, the “resolution” term is multiculturalism. Perhaps sexwork is overdue for some multiculturalism of its own.