I firmly believe that one cannot utter the words Black Lives Matter and exclude Black sex workers.
I am a semi-out sex worker. By semi-out I mean I’m internet out: I haven’t announced anything to most of my family and the “in-real-life” people who need to know, know. I have dabbled in a bit of everything, from stripping to prostitution to sugaring to camming. I am also an artist, freelancer and homeschooling mother, so there is a lot of nuance in what I desire out of life for my son and I. My only other avenue would be minimum or below-poverty level wages.
When I write, I focus on sex workers of color. Most of the time I narrow it even further to Black sex workers and Black trans sex workers who face the most ire, discrimination and violence from both the police and within the Black community.
I wrote a series of Twitter threads on sex work that discussed sex worker rights and briefly mentioned our place in Black Lives Matter. Here is one of them.
I believe that Black Lives Matter is also sex worker inclusive even though I can find nothing specifically mentioning sex workers. Their website states this:
“It goes beyond the narrow nationalism that can be prevalent within Black communities, which merely call on Black people to love Black, live Black and buy Black, keeping straight cis Black men in the front of the movement while our sisters, queer and trans and disabled folk take up roles in the background or not at all.
Black Lives Matter affirms the lives of Black queer and trans folks, disabled folks, black-undocumented folks, folks with records, women and all Black lives along the gender spectrum. It centers those that have been marginalized within Black liberation movements.”
I would definitely prefer if Black Lives Matter mentioned sex worker rights specifically, because all of these things intersect. Sex worker rights intersects with queer and trans rights.
I know there are many people, particularly cishet Black men, who feel like police violence should be the central issue. This is because our community discussions about police violence have always centered cishet Black men. Black women and LGBTQ folks – who also face high rates of incarceration and abuse by police and the justice system – have often been erased or pushed aside.
There is an idea that the movement should have a “singular focus” but what Black men, and some women really mean when they say this is that they prefer the patriarchal model: Black men as leaders and central figures, women in the background as support. Many cishet Black men do not want to tackle issues that are deemed less important or “poisoning the well” as one white man so kindly put it in this article.
Within the Black community there lies this dichotomy between the idea of sex workers as victims or as disgraceful hoes with no morals. The roots of these attitudes tie in with misogynoir, religion, traditional monogamy, sexism and class. I don’t think that creating or maintaining a binary between empowerment and choice and coercion and survival is helpful. For so many Black women in poverty there is little choice, but we also are not all being forced into this profession by pimps, though we acknowledge that this is a definite occurrence, especially regarding homeless girls and LGBTQ teens and adults.
We must be careful not to conflate sex work (which is an exchange between two or more consenting adults) and sex trafficking or sexual coercion. When I think of a sex worker, I am thinking of an independent worker, call-girl or escort who works through a service, though they can also be exploitative.
That women’s issues, queer and trans issues, and sex worker rights are seen as tangential to the Black Lives Matter movement is troubling to me. Black Lives Matter was started by queer Black women and so I was very happy and unsurprised to see queer and trans inclusion listed on their official website. But there are many who disagree, especially where sex workers are concerned.
Sex workers are a marginalized group, especially when you consider how often trans Black women are profiled and abused by police as well as cishet Black men within the community. There is direct connection between police violence and sex work. Add that to the fact that one cannot discuss sex work without discussing trans rights – this is not a tangent, but an endless feedback loop and a necessary conversation.
I firmly believe that one cannot utter the words Black Lives Matter and exclude Black sex workers. This is not just about police brutality anymore, it is about our lives, our liberation, and the eradication of all forms of oppression. Thinking outside of cis, able-bodied Black men, should not be considered a burden or an inconvenience. No oppressed person’s rights should be an inconvenience.
Featured Image: Johnny Silvercloud, Creative Commons.