In the last week, the words 'stigma' and 'shaming' (and many writings about those words) have positively exploded on the internet. Are you wondering who or what the catalysts for this explosion may have been? In short, Jasmine Petite, Dora Oezer, and the countless other cis- and transgender sex workers who have been the victims of violence and murder. Stigma kills, there's no doubt about it. But exactly how does it kill, why should we be concerned about stigma and shame, and what can we do for ourselves and each other in terms of comfort, love, and protection?
One of the ways it hurts, harms, and kills sex workers, escorts, and other entertainers, other than the obvious, is through discrimination.
From Good Therapy: "People who are discriminated against can suffer significant negative consequences. General well-being, self-esteem, self-worth, and social relations can be severely impacted as a result of discrimination. But recognizing exactly how perceived discrimination affects an individual is much less understood. Previous research has suggested that perceived discrimination can lead to mental health problems such as increased stress, depression, and anxiety."
The entire article from Good Therapy is really important, but I'd like to focus on the words "Perceived Discrimination." We know it's been proven many times over that abusive partners and clients, stress, and anxiety can literally kill us, but what we talk about less, is how, many times, in situations where we feel we've been discriminated against (racist and sexist "jokes", workplace discrimination, rumors of racist and sexist slurs and more), we'll tell friends or family how we felt and what happened to us, and quite often, they'll tell us we're simply imagining it. Perceived discrimination is really tricky because it's your perception and no one else's. We all see things differently and what may upset me could be something you can easily ignore and shake off without a second thought. But does that make it any less discriminatory? Because it's under the radar and not explicit, does it make it any less stressful or hurtful? Absolutely not! It's still discrimination - you still feel slighted, hurt, angry, stressed, anxious, panicked, and more. You are still left to deal with and process that interaction; Even if no one else can see how or why it hurt you.
Discrimination, stigma, shame (whether direct or indirect), and their effects can last a lifetime. From Science Daily: "...However, the impact of discrimination was the same in all the participants regardless of age, ethnicity or type of discrimination reported. Women reporting greater levels of discrimination were more prone to depressive symptoms, and ultimately went on to have babies with lower birth weights than those reporting lower levels of discrimination."
Even commiserating with others in the industry doesn't always leave a good taste in your mouth or end on a happy note. From Sex Worker Problems: "Society refuses to protect us. People will throw around the word “whore” and catcall street workers, they constantly dehumanize me and mine, but they refuse to admit that their actions contribute to rape, murder, and single moms who have to risk being arrested in order to make their late rent payments. Sometimes it all fucking gets to be too much, and I need to check out of the internet and disengage from my activist friends. It hurts so much to be aware of reality."
In times where it feels like you can't do anything to make it better (or even to calm yourself sometimes), there are some things you CAN do. Breathe deep, have a cool glass of water, meditate, even find communities tailored to your experience. Dealing with the aftermath of violence in our communities; like what's happened to Jasmine, Dora, and others, the sometimes scary interactions we have in our lives; and even stigma and shame from our families and friends isn't something we can take lightly. We've got to be proactive in our self care regimens and acknowledging, if only to each other, the reality of the difficulties we face is absolutely necessary in making sure we are as healthy and happy as we can be on any given day.
Regardless of the title of this article, there is no "getting over it." There's no way to walk into the lion's den, filled with millions of starving predators, and walking away unscathed, without a scratch. But there are ways of combating it. There are ways of caring for yourself, protecting yourself, and getting a re-up on your strength and resolve to keep going another day.