In 2012, a publication asked me for ideas for a “Women of the Year” list they were compiling. I submitted Christeen Rivera and Tracy Dawn Trauth, two women who had come out as sex workers in order to take the Spearmint Rhino to court for employing them as contractors when they should have been categorized as employees, entitled to wages and benefits — an unfortunately common practice. They exposed themselves to scorn and stigma to do what was right, not just for themselves, but for countless others in the industry. And that November, they won.
I knew submitting them for consideration was futile. Sex workers don’t make those lists — at least not unless they have been “rescued” or reformed. But I submitted them just the same because I’m tired. I’m tired of seeing people who take on stigma and ridicule to change for the better those aspects of our world that we often refuse to even acknowledge exist, even while at the same time we gleefully indulge in their labor or the product of their labor.
Not unlike many sex industry consumers, publications don’t think twice about sensationally using sex workers to get eyeballs for their print issues and online properties, all the while denying sex workers any kind of positive acknowledgement.
Sex workers can only be conduits for a message — they can appear in the form of victims or criminals, or else remain inert inside a body bag. The sex worker is never a person, but a symbol. They must always represent something. They must always perfectly enact whatever role we’ve decided to impose on them, for our own purposes and without their consent, or else get out of the way.
I don’t need to tell you that two “exotic dancers” were not deemed an acceptable addition to the aforementioned publication’s list of powerful, successful women. But watching Monica Jones appeal her conviction under Arizona’s grossly discriminatory “manifesting prostitution law” (which overwhelmingly targets trans women of color) yesterday, it finally dawned on me — nominating someone in the background via a quiet little e-mail isn’t disruption. Why wait for permission?
Why don’t we make our own list? Tell me about a person — whatever their gender identity — who did or is doing something invaluable this year. If you know of a list like this, let me know where to find it. In general, bring me your whores, your harlots, your fallen souls fighting to make society just.
Header image depicts a photo by the inimitable Neil Krug.