COVID-19 and The Whole World
With a world feeling like it's changing from minute to minute, it's been hard to find the right words to say or even words that feel like they'll still be true by the time you hit "post." At this point, many states and municipalities [USA Today] have issued "stay at home" or "shelter in place" orders, which ask people to stay indoors except for essential errands like grocery stores or pharmacy trips.
[There's no article which is going to be up to date by the time this is written – I think I'm waiting on our state's shelter at home order right now – so please check your state, and if you're in a large enough city, your local jurisdiction, including tribal lands.]
There have been numerous articles pointing to how sex work, as a form of intimate, non-essential labor [the Slixa Blog], has globally taken a hard hit [COMPLEX] as businesses like strip clubs and porn studios close and and clients and workers enact social distancing [Australian Financial Review]. There has already been one police citing of a sex worker in Spain who left his home to work. It can feel like we are all entering a brave new world in trying to figure out how to make a job, which has always been one of the most flexible and responsive, work again in new circumstances.
What It's Teaching Us
One of the things making it even harder for most folks that trade sex is the growing recognition of the importance of the "gig economy" to many people's economic survival, and the lack of protections or safety for those workers in moments like this. While projections of the unemployment rate are climbing and needs like unemployment insurance and sick leave are being discussed, these conversations are exposing how many of those protections are not helpful for many workers - namely those in informal or "gig" economies. While some workers, such as Lyft drivers, are considered "gig workers", even more are considered informal, or under the table workers. Sex workers are part of both categories.
It's not simply that during times of crisis precariously-positioned workers are even more precariously positioned, but rather that our policies don't really know how to support those workers.
We could say that these folks are making up an increasing part of our workforce, but in reality it can also be said that we're simply defining things like sex work and mutual aid as labor or as commercial endeavors (for example: now we have Lyft, where once you may have asked a neighbor to drive you to the airport).
Unemployment insurance doesn't work for most freelancers, sick leave goes through formal employment for properly classified employees, and even conversations on the possibility of a temporary universal basic income has rightly pointed out that this support only going to those who filed their taxes last year would leave out a lot of people (many of whom would need it most). Last year, dancers in California were instrumental in a law [The Intercept] which expanded protections for gig workers overall, and we can only hope that these current conversations, many of which are including sex workers, will be as robust and impactful as they are important in this moment.
It is also showing us that spaces of incarceration - jails, prisons, and detention facilities - are inherently compromising to public health. While many of us already knew, the pandemic is making some spaces rethink who they arrest and whether or not it's worth it. Last week in Baltimore, District Attorney Mosby announced that her office would not prosecute certain low level crimes, including prostitution [Baltimore Sun], during the crisis, and others are calling for more.
And in the wake of everything from schools to doctors to every meeting-that-could-have-just-been-an-email moving online, there are growing conversations about the implications of many of the recent poorly written tech oversight laws (like FOSTA/SESTA). Coming out of two years of understanding what happens when big tech's fear of liability controls your access, conversations are looking to sex work [Engaget] to understand what it's like, and how to survive it. But that said, while everyone is turning to porn (and reminding clients to pay for their porn right now), the same actors who went after Backpage have learned nothing [Jezebel], and are now shifting their target to Pornhub.
Sex Workers are So Resilient
But even in the wake of fear, and knowing that things are going to be hard for a while, sex workers have shown once again that it is a community driven to survive anything. Dozens of mutual aid groups have sprung up in cities from Detroit to Las Vegas:
And other groups have put together helpful, comprehensive harm reduction guides that they're sharing around:
Moving online is also being seen by some as a new frontier, as this Atlanta strip club is offering $20 virtual lap dances. And in my favorite moment of "I love the sex industry" this week, dancers from one Portland strip club are doing delivery and calling it 'Boober Eats' [Oregon Live].
And some folks are taking it one step further to fight for change. Sex worker advocate and co-founder of the Green Light Project, a Seattle-based outreach organization, Sherae Lascelles is running for a seat in Congress to represent Washington's 43rd district. That's a bumper sticker worth donating for. Another author and advocate, femi babylon, took a moment to write this incredible article on how to be an ally to sex workers that's worth sharing with your more diverse network.
We are all just doing our best
It's a scary moment - financially, globally, personally – and everyone is navigating it the best we can. While everyone's fear and frustration is valid, there are ways to make sure that the anxiety doesn't overtake things. This article has ten recommendations for managing anxiety right now [Self], and another on what was just added to Netflix [Hollywood Reporter], and take a moment to check out the Irresistible Podcast (formerly Healing Justice), which has a new episode focused COVID-19, especially for those with chronic illness/disability.
It's going to be a while, though not forever, and if there is anything that can be said about the folks who trade sex, it is that it's a community of folks who share a commitment to life, connection, pleasure and joy, even in the hardest and scariest moments. What a better moment to remember that we are all coming from a long legacy and a wide community of lovers, healers, artists, creators and survivors?
Back to the couch.