Men think of sex workers as wealthy goddesses, but we’re actually working class. Like most middle-income Americans, we’re afraid to discuss money, but twice a month, my column “The Working Girl Diaries” will cover porn stars’ wallets. From how class affects porn stars’ financial habits to how much we spend on lube and kitty litter, I’ve got you covered. There is no taboo (economic) topic I won’t touch. You used to think of me as the Weiner girl, but now I’m the Barbara Ehrenreich of sex!
When I sexted a congressman, I learned the hard way that no politician is perfect. Well, presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has forced me to learn that all over again.
I’ve always thought of the Vermont Senator has a working-class hero. In his three decades in Washington DC, Sanders has fought to raise the minimum wage, bolster unions, and tax the rich. His policies would help most middle-class people, but there’s one group of small business owners that Sanders has fucked up the ass again and again: sex workers.
Along with every Senator besides Republican Rand Paul and Democrat Ron Wyden, Sanders voted for the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act and Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, a.k.a. FOSTA/SESTA. On the surface, SESTA sounds great; politicians branded the bills like Instagram influencers promoting the Fyre Festival. But the legislation limited free speech and shut down sites like Backpage, where sex workers posted ads. Although Backpage came with more than its fair share of clients, it gave women a safer way to work. Instead of prowlings dangerous streets for johns, working girls could advertise their services. FOSTA/SESTA has forced girls back into risky neighborhoods, where they face robbery and sometimes murder. Prostitutes can’t even continue to share bad client lists, which once warned sex workers of abusive men, because FOSTA/SESTA banned the practice.
FOSTA/SESTA has harmed the very community it’s supposed to protect, and sex workers expected Sanders to do better. “I called Bernie’s office when I was lobbying against FOSTA/SESTA and the aide didn’t know the bill,” says adult performer, writer and sex workers advocate Janice Griffith. “They couldn’t say whether or not Bernie had even read it or if he had an opinion.” As a sex worker and devout liberal, I wanted to ignore these stories. “Bernie’s just ignorant!” I cried. But politicians, especially progressives like Sanders, should be held to high standards. A guy as smart as Sanders should know that if you’re passing legislation that will impact a group of people, you should talk to that group of people. When analyzing education issues, Sanders has met with teachers unions. But nobody wants to meet with hookers to discuss politics. Senators only engage sex workers behind closed doors when they want sexts or blowjobs.
It’s frustrating to feel like progressives have ignored sex worker’s voices. And it’s even more frustrating that almost every Democratic candidate for the 2020 election has been pretending our marginalized community doesn’t exist. (Everyone’s intersectional until a repressed minority group overlaps with prostitutes!)
On the rare occasion a liberal politician acknowledges sex workers, he or she sides with the religious right and paint us as victims. As Out magazine reported, Senator Kamala Harris said she endorsed FOSTA/SESTA because the bill “makes it possible for victims and state prosecutors to hold online sex traffickers accountable.” As Griffith points out, “A lot of anti-sex work legislation comes out under the guise of protecting people and everyone wants to protect people on paper, but what does that actually mean.” Harris couldn’t fathom a girl choosing sex work. Maybe she should leave upper-class San Francisco for a day and speak to a working girl.
But until johns, and men who don’t buy sex, defend sex workers, politicians will continue to ignore us. “Sex workers shouldn’t be the only people making these calls,” Griffith says. “We need people who have less to lose standing with us and using their voices.” Most sex workers doubt this will ever happen. “Bernie and Bernie bros aren’t able to see sex workers as a legitimate demographic of the labor rights movement,” Feminist Stripper says. “Until that happens, we’re all, for a lack of a better term, fucked.”
Illustration by Amanda Lanzone