Diversity, Privilege, Inclusion, and Related Topics…

Opponents of the sex workers’ justice movement have sometimes used the topic of privilege to discredit our movement, saying that we represent the most prestigious side of sex work and are thus oblivious to the non glamorous sides of the sex trade or industry.  Though they use this issue to try to discredit us,  some of the main leaders in the anti-sex work movement are also privileged in various ways.

Yet, the issue of privilege is not only used against us by opponents, but it is also a very contentious issue within our movement. Because the U.S. sex workers’ rights movement has traditionally consisted of largely White, indoor, non street-based sex workers who are often considered to be on the more elite side of sex work and middle to upper class, some within our movement have expressed concerns about this movement representing mainly a very privileged sector of sex work, with the most marginalized groups of sex workers being underrepresented.

This has led some within our movement who fit into the “privileged” category ( as it has been defined) to express feelings of being shunned or excluded and treated like their contributions and voices are unimportant amidst the attemps to include traditionally underrepresented groups.

Though I’m not trying to invalidate anybody’s feelings of exclusion or inclusion within our movement, I’m concerned that we’re moving too far to the opposite side of the spectrum, in which the terms such a “privilege, diversity, inclusion, ” etc. are treated like taboo topics and people who address valid concerns about these issues are perceived to be mega-PC types who are trying to make people feel bad about their privileges.

At our previous Desiree Alliance conference, there was a diversity workshop which was well attended. However, I feel that the support for this was mixed, in which some people seemed to take it very seriously, but some seemed to have the attitude that this is just another attempt to be ultra PC and that it gets in the way of our organizing and achieving practical goals.

I feel that addressing issues of diversity, privilege, and inclusion aren’t merely attempts to be PC, but essential to our movement. Sex workers are a diversity of people, so I see nothing wrong with active efforts to include various types of sex workers in our movement. Some groups of sex workers are highly represented, while many are underrepresented. Also, sometimes our privileges do shape how we organize, our values, and our experiences in ways we may often be unaware of.

That being said, it’s also essential to be be inclusive not only of underrepesented groups, but also of highly represented groups within our movement. Just because somebody is privileged in various ways (or is perceived to be) doesn’t make them unimportant to the movement nor should the time, energy, and resources they contribute be unappreciated.

People aren’t typically (if ever) totally privileged or totally unprivileged, but rather there are many types of privilege, so we’re often privlieged in some ways and not privilged in other ways, and of course, there are different degrees of privilege.

11 Responses

  1. Thank you for writing this. I think your ending was some of the most interesting pieces of your post.

    I find that whenever you have people start to draw/write down their privileges and oppressions. i.e. Make a list of all your privileges, and make a list of all your oppressions, people start to see that the same things get pushed onto the same list. It depends on what the situation is many times. For instance. I’m a transgendered. This makes many people instantly assume that I’m crazy oppressed, and they are right, I am. Except that in certain circles being a tranny is like being Madonna. You wander into a certain group of people, and suddenly you are the Madonna in the room (especially if you are the only tranny there). But then I walk out of there, and go down the street to get a snack, and someone yells some totally inappropriate crappy thing at me, or worse yells at me and then pushes, shoves, hits or kicks me.

    So sometimes I’m that privileged tranny whore, and sometimes I’m the oppressed tranny whore. Most of the time I’m the oppressed one, especially in ‘public’.

    But being a tranny is one of the least interesting things about me as a person. Just like skin color, or that I was homeless, or that I have a disability or that I’m a sex worker. None of these things are very interesting in their own merit about ME as a person. The interesting things are that I’m committed to loving everyone and everything, that I work very hard at having compassion, that I work very hard at understanding at what moments in time I’m more privileged than someone else, and try to be an ally to those others that are not as privileged at that moment. That when I’m oppressed I try not to let those dorks that aren’t being an ally to me make my life any different. That I try really hard to understand and work on eliminating social oppressions, whether I’m a target group or not. That I have a twin sister , and family that I love and cherish.

    These are the things that are much more interesting. We have to learn to balance our privileges and oppressions and how to be an ally to those that are oppressed.

    I think that pushing so hard for diversity is the wrong solution to the problem. YES we want diversity (in race, ethnicity, culture, type of sex work, personal history, personal identity, etc, etc, etc), but it’s more important that we find people committed to diversity, to anti-racism, to anti-oppression. The more that we as a community work on our privileges, our commitment to diversity and our racist thoughts the more diversity will just naturally happen. Tokenism is not our friend and putting people in power just because they have a specific diverse trait we are looking for, but don’t have leadership skills, a commitment to diversity, etc, etc. the more we are moving in the wrong direction. We have to learn how to handle diversity. Promoting into leadership the one african american person, just because they are african american, or the one street worker, just because they have street work experience is terrible. It shows a lack of respect for them as people, and that we value their identity more than them as people.

    I really want to thank you for your post! I hope it helps inspire people.

  2. Tara. you brought up very thought-provoking points about issues of tokenism and how the same characteristics can make us oppressed in some contexts and privileged in some, so this is a very fluid and complex concept.

    During the diversity workshop at our previous Desiree Alliance conference, we started off with an activity in which we went around the room and said a privilege and oppression that we have. Some people mentioned being a sex worker as a privilege and some mentioned this as an oppression, which isn’t surprising considering that there are different sides to sex work and I realize how it can be both a privilege and an oppression to the same person and to different people.

    For example, there are some people who might find sex work in and of itself to be a privilege because they are able to make a good income, set their own rates and hours, decide which clients to see, find their work fullfilling in various ways, and have the opportunity to engage in fulfilling activities outside of work… but they also find the stigmas, hatred, oppressive laws, and violence against sex workers to be oppressive.

  3. Perhaps a representative from

    1. transgendered
    2. street worker
    3. internet
    4. whatever else

    in each sub-category should be considered.

    The issues are actually quite different between them.

    It’s like cab drivers, long distance truckers, pizza delivery drivers, and city bus drivers are all drivers, and there’s not necessarily a “better” driver or a more privileged driver, it’s just a completely different job.

    Imagine all those different drivers being a part of the same union and how would they ever agree on what needed to be done ?

    I believe it would make progress a challenge.

    We might all be fighting the same war, but the battles we face are as diverse as we are.

  4. Hi Jenna!

    Well I agree with the idea, I’m not sure it’s necessarily as clear cut as that.

    Transgendered work, is different than male work and female work in our profession(usually), but there is also transgendered outdoor (streed-based) work, and transgendered indoor based work. Just as there is Male,Female workers in both of those ideas. So to make a definitive list like you did would probably always be incomplete.

    What about the Male worker who works both outside and advertises on the internet?

    Plus of course race, culture, income level, style of work, etc.

    Perhaps there are (at least) 3 different ways to break this down:

    By work location:
    Indoor
    Outdoor
    Brothel
    Etc.

    By work type:
    BDSM
    Stripping
    Porn
    Modeling,etc
    Massage
    etc.

    By Identity type:
    Race
    Gender
    Culture
    Nationality
    Ability
    etc.

    I’m sure each list could be expanded, and perhaps there are other types of things we should sort by. I do see some value in generating this list, and trying to keep a balanced group within all of these different areas, but I think ultimately our overall goal should just be diversity in every possible aspect, which a list could never possibly account for.

    It does indeed make progress both a challenge and an opportunity!

  5. Can someone expand on the specifics of this?

    “Also, sometimes our privileges do shape how we organize, our values, and our experiences in ways we may often be unaware of.”

  6. The privileges we have and privileges we lack could affect what issues are of importance to us and our priorities. For example, when the dancers at the Lusty Lady unionized, led mainly by White women, the main issue was replacing one way glass with two way glass. However, Siobhan Brooks, an African American dancer, wrote that for her, this wasn’t the biggest issue. Rather, the main issue for her was getting rid of race based scheduling.

    She mentioned that at first, this wasn’t included in the demands, but it was later added in upon her instance. I don’t think the White women were consciously trying to be insensitive to race issues. Instead, because the White women weren’t being denied time in the private pleasures booth where they could earn a better income, they were less likely to perceive this as a main isue until it was brought to their attention.

    Also, in our movement, we sometimes use the phrase “men, women, and transgender” in efforts to be gender inclusive. However, a trans sex worker activist said that though she realizes it’s well intended, she finds such language to be problematic because it treats trans people like a third gender, and she doesn’t identify this way. She identifies as a woman and a trans woman, but not just transgender. I haven’t really thought about it in this way until she brouth it up to me. However, some trans people have expressed that they prefer the term transgender because they don’t identify by the gender binary of being either female or male. This taught me that when being gender inclusive, it’s better to say “all genders” or “all gender identities” instead of “male, female, or transgender”.

    Issues such as race, class, and gender identities affect how we experience sex work, and life. Though sex workers who are more “privileged” in various ways have experienced stigmas, hatred, persection, and violence, the degrees of this and frequency aren’t the same for all sex workers. Certain groups, such as the outdoor workers, low income workers, trans workers, and sex workers of color, tend to be especially affected. Though various cis sex workers have experienced violence and harrasment, transphobia increases the risk for trans workers.

    This is such a complex isssue that I don’t know how I can respond to Maxine’s question in a quick, simple way. We’re best able to notice privileges when we don’t have them. When we have them, we often overlook them and see them as non-issues.

  7. Well I remember interviewing Sobian and this specific issues. I think in that same interview, attorney Greg Walston was litigating around a similar issue an behalf of dancers but I’d have to go back and listen to it again to remember the specifics.

    I think I’ve seen this issue-whorkers of color/trangender/young/older not getting access to the money through out the sex industry.
    Its a real conversation to have for sure and effected whorkers ought to be supported in leading that discussion.

  8. Well, I agree it’s important that people of the oppressed groups get time to speak, organize, etc. It’s wrong to think that it’s on them to organize and fight for their rights. Just like the larger Sex Worker movement would be nowhere near where it is now without allies, we too need to be allies to oppressed groups that are not ourselves. We write about how to be an ally to a sex worker, but we too are allies to everyone else that doesn’t share our privilege, be that White, Trans, etc.

    Me, I’m trans, and am usually the only trans person at the table when it comes to sex worker rights. But I shouldn’t have to yell and scream and push people in the SW Rights movement to get them to listen about being trans inclusive. We should all educate ourselves around trans issues, and how we can be better allies. When we are suddenly more trans inclusive, maybe I won’t be the only one at the table anymore.

    This is of course one example from my personal life, you can pretty much replace trans with PoC, PwD, Outdoor/street based worker, or whatever oppression you want to put there and my point would still be valid I think.

  9. so question for compassiontara,
    Are you having to really ‘But I shouldn’t have to yell and scream and push people in the SW Rights movement to get them to listen about being trans inclusive’?
    I mean have you had a situation where your voice or suggestions about trans inclusion rejected, or ignored or eclipsed?
    I’m just asking because i’ve not seen that. My experience is that actual workers shy away from standing up for themselves no matter what race, gender or sexual identiy.

    Also, Can someone please post my link and text to my petition-I need more signatures.

    http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/demand-the-department-of-justice-do-its-job.html

  10. @Maxine:
    YES, this happens. I’ve had SW rights people ask, why do we bother with supporting TDOR? There is very little movement around trans issues within the SW rights movement.

    Most people understand yes we should be understanding of trans issues, but if asked what trans issues are, nobody knows. Could you identify and talk about trans issues if asked?

    Usually I get the right thing to happen when I bring it up. I would agree, most people (not just workers) are not well versed in self-advocacy, and have problems standing up for themselves. I know I have self-advocacy problems sometimes too.

  11. well my understanding of trans issues for esp is that they have more difficulty negotiating the safety devices, they use streetbased and less indoor for points of contacts, which makes it more dangerous by the numbers, this contributes to more contacts with LE and more contacts with LE are not a good thing generally. This equals more violence due to the prison industrial nation…Trans could mean being in various stages of which customers might not be in appreciation which could lead to more violence. Since financial situations for people in transition or have transitions is notoriously unequal because of discrimination so it leaves those who use the sex industry as their means to pay for surgery and survive till they ‘get a real’ job longer working in not so great conditions.
    Am I close?

    So who do i need to talk to get this link posted?
    http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/demand-the-department-of-justice-do-its-job.html

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