Most people know that arguing on the Internet is a futile battle with very few positive results and a whole lot of all caps, personal-as-possible retorts from grinning trolls. Sex workers are intelligent humans who also understand this concept, though sometimes, we can’t help but defend ourselves to those who don’t think we fit into the very idea of feminism.
One of the things many of us do is tweet. Actually, sex workers tweet A LOT. We have our own little corner of Twitter where we talk about clients, make jokes, create hashtags, and share links. I’m not totally sure who can be credited with starting sex worker twitter, but I know the first sex worker twitter account I became aware of was Susan Shepard‘s, back when she was still @strippertweets. I started following @strippertweets, and that lead to the rest of the Tits and Sass crew, and pretty soon I was following other sex workers from around the world almost exclusively and having pleasant and frequently inspiring chats with some lovely ladies on a fairly regular basis.
I lived in my cozy little sex worker-friendly utopia for quite a while before I realized that all was not just “rights not rescue” hashtags and descriptions of the harm of stigma that spanned several tweets. There was a dark side to sex worker Twitter, and it wasn’t in the small divisions and little tiffs between the anti-capitalists and the libertarians or the misandrists and women who truly, deeply love men. The dark side of sex worker Twitter is caused entirely by the frequent invasion by sex worker exclusionary radical feminists (SWERFs) and trans exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs).
What usually happens is that sex worker twitter will band together around a hashtag, most recently #notyourrescueproject, and it will become fairly popular, even if it doesn’t always end up actually trending. All will be well for a while, but just as the retweets are rolling in and my entire timeline seems to be covered in the latest sex worker hashtag, the SWERFs–who usually also happen to be TERFs–hop in. They inform us either that we are unknowingly enslaved or that it is wrong for us to talk about our happiness with our chosen careers, seeing as there are millions and millions of women and girls (the men and boys don’t matter, you see) who are forced into sexual slavery.
While loudly proclaiming that they are feminists, these women ignore our agency and insist that we are traitors to the sisterhood. When we reclaim pejoratives like “whore,” “hooker,” and “harlot,” they insist that our use of such words shows a disrespect for ourselves and our fellow sex workers. These women champion either forced rescue or the Nordic model, two things that sex workers have loudly and frequently spoken against, often while claiming to respect us–because nothing shows respect for a group of people like ignoring their stated preferences so you can talk over them and tell them what you think they need.
So when the SWEFs and TERFs arrive, a lot of us fight with them. At least among the women I follow, arguing with SWERFs tends go in and out of vogue. For a few days or weeks there will be very little activity besides the occasional spat here and there. Then, all of a sudden a little spat will get out of control: the SWERF responsible will make some egregious statement, the sex worker it was aimed at will retweet it, a few people will jump down the SWERF’s throat, and circular arguments in which sex workers accuse the SWERF of being disrespectful and ignorant and the SWERF will insist that she is neither disrespectful nor ignorant as she repeats that our consent is meaningless and quotes the widely discredited Melissa Farley. By the end, people have been blocked, everyone is frustrated, and the only good things that have happened are that the radfem has shown exactly how little respect she has for women who don’t fit her idea of liberation or victimhood and that maybe a couple of new sex worker bonds have been forged over Twitter.
I try not to argue with radfems too much. I really do, I mean, I know it won’t get me anything but intense frustration and general anger, and yet sometimes I can’t help myself.
My inability to restrain myself when I see these women spewing their senseless garbage at my ho sisters has gotten me called a pimp, a victim of internalized oppression, a user of “Orwellian doublespeak,” a troll, a misogynist, and perhaps most damning of all, a man. Every time I open my mouth to disagree with one of these radical feminists, one of them tells me I need to beef up on my feminist theory.
The thing is, what these women practice is ABSOLUTELY NOT feminism. I know enough about feminism to be able to state with perfect certainty that it has no place for people who discount the opinions of women. Especially if it’s simply because they find those women’s life choices confusing, threatening, or even disgusting. The SWERFs on twitter love to say that “money does not equal consent,” which is true, but transactional consent is still consent. “I’m only having sex with you because you’re paying me” is not that far off from “I’m only having sex with you because you have a big dick.” Even if there is a significant difference, discount the ability of other women to consent, no matter the conditions of that consent, is still a dangerous proposition. Because if “yes” is meaningless, so is “no.”
In radfem Twitter, the only sex worker voices that matter are those of current or former involuntary workers, and even then, those voices only matter when they are calling for the Nordic model, or total abolition. That isn’t feminism, it isn’t egalitarianism, and it’s frankly terrifying because it suggests these women are, by virtue of their civilian status, more respectable than we are and therefore more likely to be listened to as they champion either forced “rescue” or the Nordic model, a system almost perfectly designed to drive sex work further underground by denying men paid sex and controlling an ancient expression of female sexuality, that of transactional sex.
The aims of these women are so dangerous to me and my ho sisters, and their hypocrisy as they claim to respect us is so very galling that I can’t just shut up and watch it happen. And so, even if it makes me a lightning rod for more angry radfems, I’m going to continue to argue for my agency with strangers on the internet until there’s no longer any reason for me to do so.