Saturday, 2 June 2018

"Faggots and Hoes" or why gay men need to stand up for sex workers

People sometimes ask me why I care so much about sex workers' rights. One of the reasons is because gay men and sex workers have way too similar experiences with stigma, discrimination and harassment, and our struggles for rights and acceptance have a lot in common. For me, the question is, rather, why don't more gay men stand up for sex workers? [This post will focus mostly on gay men since I'm not very familiar with the experiences of lesbians, trans* people and other non-hetero, non-binary or non-cis people]

In the conservative small town in a communist and post-communist country where I grew up, the phrase "faggots and hoes" ("hoes" being sometimes "whores" and sometimes "prostitutes") would just naturally roll out of people's mouths. I would often hear, from my family, neighbours or random people on the street, how faggots and hoes were sick, dirty, immoral and diseased, and had to be locked up, reformed, killed, or at least invisible. No particular arguments were necessary for these qualifications - they were supposedly self-evident and no one questioned them. I only questioned them in my head because it was pretty clear that this hatred of faggots and hoes was not based on any rational reasons or bad personal experience, but on moral objections against the wrong kind of sex (anal, oral and A LOT of it). 

But of course faggots and hoes have a lot more in common than the disapproval of small-minded rednecks in Eastern Europe.

Today, 2 June, is International Sex Workers Day. It commemorates the day in 1975 when 100 French sex workers occupied the St Nizier church in Lyon to demand an end to the constant fines, arrests, prison sentences, harassment and extortion by the police and the mafia. Their bold action quickly became the centre of local and national media attention and was followed by similar actions in other French cities. The occupation lasted for eight days until the police forcibly evicted the women. Although sex workers had organised to demand recognition and resist oppression throughout the ages and throughout the world, this event is often regarded as the beginning of the organised sex worker rights movement. 

A black and white photograph showing the backs of three uniformed police officers and a man with short-cropped hair in a suit pushing back a crowd of young men with longer hair dressed in jeans and contemporary clothing for the late 1960s, arguing and defying the police; other people in the background on a stoop are watching
By Source, Fair useLink
Also in June, six years earlier, some of the most marginalised members of the LGBT community - homeless youth, sex workers, trans women, effeminate gays and butch lesbians - rioted in the Stonewall Inn in New York City in response to the frequent raids, arrests and harassment of the community by the police and the mafia. Word of their defiance quickly spread around and soon hundreds of other LGBT people joined them, leading to four days of riots. This event, too, is often regarded as the beginning of the organised LGBT rights movement in the US and internationally. 

Almost five decades later, both the sex worker rights and the LGBT movement have grown in numbers, visibility and influence, and have won important victories. Nevertheless, homosexuality, or aspects of it, remains criminalised in many countries, and in some, is punishable by death. Sex work, or aspects of it, are criminalised in almost all countries. 

Stigma and shame 
Even in countries where homosexuality and sex work are not criminalised, faggots and hoes are highly stigmatised and can be subjected to violence and harassment by the police and society in general, and denied access to social and healthcare services. 

Gay men who became sexually active before the advent of the internet had very similar experiences to sex workers. We [usual disclaimers apply - I don't speak for everyone, blah blah] had to cruise for sex in parks, public toilets, parking lots, backstreet alleys and bathhouses where we risked being robbed, raped or beaten, either by the police or by homophobes pretending to be gay. If we were robbed, raped or beaten, we wouldn't report it to the police out of shame and mistrust in the authorities. If we did report, we risked being beaten or raped, ridiculed, dismissed or exposed. We had to hide who we are from family, friends and colleagues who too could threaten us with outing or ostracise us. We learnt to rely for support on ourselves, our gay friends and perhaps the few NGOs that care about us. When we fought for our rights, our rights were framed as Western propaganda by the powerful gay lobby paid for by George Soros. 

Like us, sex workers, whether working in brothels, on the streets, or as escorts, risk being robbed, raped or beaten in the course of their work but avoid reporting these crimes to the police because of shame, stigma and mistrust in the authorities. If they do report them, they risk being beaten or raped, ridiculed, dismissed and exposed, or "rescued" and "rehabilitated". They hide their occupation from family and friends who can threaten them with outing and ostracise them. Like us, sex workers have learnt to rely on themselves and their colleagues and perhaps the few NGOs that care about them. When they fight for their rights, their rights are framed as propaganda by the powerful pimp lobby paid for by George Soros...

Faggots and hoes are among those most affected by HIV worldwide, which can be attributed to a large extent to stigma and criminalisation. During raids on gay bars and brothels alike the police confiscate condoms and use them as evidence of "promotion of homosexuality/prostitution". As a result, such establishments may refuse to keep condoms on their premises and faggots and hoes may avoid carrying condoms. In the 1980s thousands of gay men had died before the Reagan administration took the issue seriously. PEPFAR (US President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief), a programme that provides testing and anti-retroviral therapy to HIV-positive people, including sex workers, requires organisations to sign a pledge that they oppose prostitution, effectively de-funding sex worker rights organisations and undermining HIV prevention efforts

Academics, activists, UN agencies and health organisations have long called for the decriminalisation of both homosexuality and sex work as the only way to drastically reduce the number of new HIV infections globally. 

Faggots and hoes
In general, sex work is not particularly stigmatised by the gay community. Many faggots sell or buy sexual services either regularly or occasionally. We are friends with women who are, or are perceived to be, hoes. 

The overall individual support and the sporadic institutional support, though, is not enough. There is a sense among many in the hoes movement that Western faggots nowadays are so obsessed with conformity and their right to white picket fences and wedding cakes, that they've forgotten about all those in our community who can't - or won't - conform to the "right kind of sex". 

We are family...

The aim of this short and somewhat shallow post was just to give some food for thought to my fellow faggots who don't think about hoes' rights. 

The thing is, as a social group that is oppressed and stigmatised for the wrong kind of sex it has, faggots need to be more sensitive to the needs of hoes who are oppressed and stigmatised for pretty much the same reason. 

If you're outraged about the treatment of our gay brothers in Chechnya, Indonesia, Egypt, or Uganda, then you should also be outraged by the treatment of our sex working sisters in Russia, South Africa, Brazil, India, the UK and so on.

Bobby at a protest of sex workers in Amsterdam, 10 April 2015
(the guy with the bald head in front of the tree)
So how can you support hoes? Perhaps the best you can do is inform yourself, read relevant reputable literature or reports by international organisations (for example, Amnesty International) and contact a local sex worker organisation and ask them how you can support them. If that's not your priority, there are other ways that won't require a lot of time or effort. You can at least like the Facebook page of your local sex worker organisation, or of global ones, like the Global Network of Sex Work Projects or Red Umbrella Fund, like and share their posts, etc. - these things matter to small organisations. You can take part in a protest of sex workers in your city, if you hear about one. Protests are sometimes organised on 3 March (Intl Sex Worker Rights Day), 1 May (Workers Day), 2 June (Sex Workers Day) or 17 December (Day to end violence against sex workers). 

Don't buy into the "fake news" that most sex workers are trafficked or that legalised sex work leads to an increase of trafficking - there is no evidence to support such claims. But also, think of the persistent ways in which homosexuality and paedophilia are being clubbed together to deny rights and recognition to faggots. Like, decriminalisation of homosexuality, or the holding of a pride parade, or the recognition of same-sex marriage, will lead to an increase in paedophilia or bestiality...

Don't buy into the bullshit that sex workers who openly speak up about their experiences, and sex worker rights organisations are "a few privileged white western women" who are part of the "pimp lobby" funded by George Soros. There are literally hundreds of thousands of sex workers campaigning for their rights and recognition in countries like India, Thailand, South Africa, Brazil or Argentina. But also, just think of the myth of the "gay mafia/gay lobby/LGBT lobby" and how it's funded by the same man

Most of all though, if you happen to interact with sex workers, treat them with kindness and respect - not disgust and pity! Think of how you want to be treated by people who know you're a faggot. 


* I did a fair amount of reading or grey and not so grey literature but I know that not all claims made here are supported by proper references. If necessary, we can discuss these in the comments section. 

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