Sex Work as Artistic Practice: A Discussion on Creativity, Digital Freedom and Mutual Aid in the Age of COVID
1:53AM Jul 27, 2020
Welcome back to hope, 2022, all of our. All of our attendees and all the people watching from around the world. Welcome back. A quick content warning about the next talk. The next talk does involve discussions of sexuality and has depictions of artistic nudity. If these are not appropriate for you. Please join us again in one hour for our final talk of the evening. In the meantime, those of you who are going to stay on. Welcome. I'm going to introduce our next speaker, Lena Chen is an artist organizer and sex worker whose research examines labor intimacy and trauma, major crises like COVID-19 revealed the cracks in neoliberal capitalism, and who gets behind through the lens of an artistic practice that combines sex work and performance. Lena will discuss the impact of COVID-19 on sex worker communities, best practices for mutual aid, organizing, and threats to digital freedom, which concerns sex workers activists, and the public at large. Ladies and gentlemen, and all other folks out there, please welcome Lena Chen.
Thanks, Jen. And thank you to Greg to everyone else who's working behind the scenes to make this conference happen. I'm really happy to have been encouraged to submit a talk by Mitch and Bernie so thanks to them as well
as Jen mentioned my name is Lena Chen, and I'm a Chinese American artists, writer and sex worker. This talk is going to cover both my artistic practice as well as my engagement with sex work, and it's going to talk a little bit about COVID-19 impact on sex worker communities, particularly with the Amplified attention to mutual aid. So this is going to kind of be a mix between a more traditional artists talk. And I would say more politically relevant for the times, kind of talk, and I'd really encourage everyone to ask whatever questions you might have. No matter how silly, or irrelevant. Actually that you might think they are. Because I think a lot of the topics, I'm going to go through, or not just relevant to sex workers in particular, but to activist communities in general to journalists to anyone who is concerned about intersectional social justice issues. And the movement for racial justice and prison abolition. So I wanted to get started with some basic definitions of sex work for those who are not in the know sex work is an actually really large ranging category that can encompass everything from people who perform in pornography to webcam models strippers phone sex operators erotic massage parlor workers escorts dominatrixes fetish service providers. People who are engaging in street prostitution, or in sugar baby relationships, even having a only fans account where you're posting sexy nudes people who are doing sex work come from all backgrounds and all identities and most sex work comes with some degree of stigma, but not all sex work is criminalized. However, in the latter case when sex work is criminalized generally sex workers face different risks, based on their identity. So those who are black and brown who are queer who are undocumented, young drug users or working on the street, those are generally the types of sex workers who are most at risk of being profiled by police who are most at risk of incarceration, and who are also the ones who've been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. These are also some of the sex worker groups who have been most vocal and dedicated to the movement for decriminalization of sex work, because these are the ones who understand firsthand that the rights for sex workers are intertwined with the fight against systemic racism against police brutality against forced deportation and against mass incarceration, all issues that are currently at the forefront of our public discourse. So my practice as an artist has examined, a variety of sexual enterprises and subcultures which I've participated in, and some of these subcultures include webcaming nude modeling BDSM and kink, and by being part of these mostly unregulated industries. It's really heightened to me the precarious labor conditions under which many marginalized people, and many artists, labor, as members of the gig economy. I do want to preface this talk with the recognition that I'm in privileged enough a position to be able to call sex work, a form of art, because I have the access to social and cultural capital in order to do so, I'm fairly well educated articulate, I'm conventionally attractive. I'm a cisgender woman, and you know, for the most part I have the power to frame my life experiences and my labor experiences as worthy of artistic and political merit. And I can speak openly about engaging in sex work without worrying too much about actually being prosecuted or suffering, some of the consequences that my fellow sex, sex workers might be concerned about. And I'm really interested. These days and where the boundaries between sex and art, Blur and how technology specifically how sex workers and artists are confronting censorship shadow banning and account deletion. Because, in the course of doing work that deals with sexuality and highly controversial topics and in the course of making performances that are very intimate, then Bob bodily contact you know I've realized that a lot of the hurdles I face as an artist, trying to get my work out there trying to publicize my pieces trying to even like post an image to Instagram. Those are the exact same hurdles that are faced when I'm trying to do sex work, and the same fears I have about being kicked off of a profile, I've spent you know years accumulating followers are on all of these fears parallel one another. So I'm quite interested in the impact of legislation that has targeted sex workers on the, the state of censorship against artists today.
So I want to give a little bit of an introduction to myself. I've more or less been fascinated by sex work since I was a child, and I was eight when I remember first looking up the word hooker in the dictionary. I also remember that when I was playing house with my sister and occupying a variety of professions in our make believe game. One of the jobs I held alongside being like a doctor or teacher or firefighter, was that of being a stripper, which is actually my most recent job today It only took me like three decades to fulfill that childhood dream. But I was really not in an environment that encouraged open discussion of sex. My parents were immigrants to America, and came to this country in the mid 80s from southern China, and for the most part, my mother was trying to prevent me from knowing much about sex and she was really disturbed I think by my sexual development. So growing up in this like fairly conservative household you know I wasn't able to go to my parents for much information about my curiosities, I had to go and figure those things out on my own. And I started experimenting with sex from a pretty young age, and as soon as I was old enough to leave for college, I began exploring kink. And in 2006. I was a undergraduate at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. When I started writing about sex in a blog that went viral during a time when this concept of viral didn't even really exist. I was quite young at the time I didn't really know what I was getting myself into. And I think there was a lot of interest in the work because I was a young woman of color. I was you know student at this elite institution, people didn't expect someone who looked like me who had my life to be so openly talking about risque topics, and for the most part, compared to I know today I don't think much of what I did back then was was rather risque. But that was kind of my first experience of understanding what it meant to be very sexually open in a very public manner. And when I was in my third year of university, I unfortunately became a victim of revenge porn. When naked photos of me were posted to gossip blog by an ex partner who had been trying to contact me to no avail after a breakup and got very frustrated and sent intimate photos, he taken of me to this gossip blog. These images were then disseminated by my classmates, and by other internet users. And after really years of being stocked on the internet, of being harassed on the internet, having my contact information published my friends and family being harassed, as well. I was starting to experience a very extreme form of complex post traumatic stress, where I was not leaving the house I was losing weight. I was very anxious all the time, and I basically was unable to function in a healthy way anymore. So, in 2013, I decided to move to Berlin. And at that point, I had the intention to write a book. I created an alter ego named l peril. Who is based on the protagonist of my novel. And, oh peril was my way of administering self therapy, a way of addressing the trauma of having my images, non consensually distributed. And after being subjected to the gaze of so many strangers. Without my permission. My experience of undressing and posing for artists for mostly male artists, it was a way to reclaim agency over my body and image. It's also interesting but it wasn't until I began modeling in my mid 20s that I realized I was attractive because my mother had spent so much of my childhood controlling the clothes I wore or the kind of haircut I had, I really was cut off from understanding like my body and how I look to the outside world.
I sense. Nowadays, when I'm not I'm older I sensed that she thought of me maturing as something that would draw unwanted attention from men, so she was trying to protect me, you know she wanted to deny my sexual coming of age because she worried it would expose me to danger, but I was vulnerable anyway you know as so many people realize, regardless of whether or not you know you're an object of desire like, I mean, women every day are subject to harassment, and to violence, and to unwanted attention. So I spent years processing this phobia of men, that was instilled by both my mother and my own experience of being publicly, you know shamed and humiliated. And by the time I finally realized my desirability, I realized I was not this powerless victim, as I had believed there was in fact also a great power that came with my eroticism, and I became really determined to profit from my sexual desirability this thing that had been a source of shame for me. So living
in Berlin and modeling as peril. I became acquainted with many different artists with photographers and painters musicians and dancers circus performers all kinds of people who became my friends and became my artistic collaborators and a couple years into this adventure. I had a nervous breakdown, because I was living my life as l peril and not Lena Chen, and really you know cut off from my past that I had literally moved to continent to escape. And I decided, you know after this breakdown, I was going to abandon the novel project. I stopped writing that book, and instead I remade myself as a performance artist. It was like another identity shift. I began performing poetry and creating participatory rituals. I would conduct these projects at friends art spaces and galleries, I wasn't trained in the arts and mostly I was learning by observing other artists and trying things out. Eventually I gave up my Berlin apartment, because I realized I want to you know save as much money as possible to accommodate a nomadic lifestyle where I would travel and perform. With the exception of a period when, when I had that breakdown and was just mentally unable to do so. I was working endlessly. I was always applying for grants I was, you know, balancing my art projects with community organizing, I was taking or giving workshops. I started a trauma informed expressive Arts Initiative, called heal her that was working with artists and therapists and survivors of sexual violence in seven countries. And for these efforts, I was richly compensated in amazing friendships and relationships. I was very poorly compensated monetarily, and at any given time I'd really only have enough money to last me like the next three to four months, but then somehow at the end of that period I would find some grant or freelance work to support myself for just long enough, and then the whole cycle was start over again, and I was like rotating cities every few weeks so I would go to London or Dublin or Paris or Barcelona, and I would stay in friends guest rooms and couches and artists studios and dark rooms and basements and it was sometimes it was like very lucky because I would have some friends with stable jobs and sometimes it was like you know artists friends in a warehouse somewhere, which was also great in different ways, but like basically I was relying heavily on the generosity of my friends and I did this for two years. I'm traveling and performing throughout Europe. Until I decided to apply for graduate school and at any given time there were many uncertainties in my life, I was not ultimately in a very precarious position. Because although I wasn't employed in a stable capacity, and most of my paid creative work was highly unpredictable. The reason I was able to get by the reason I was able to pursue my artistic and political passions, was because I was receiving money from men. And some of these men were partners partners who might pay for like my meals or pay for a plane ticket. But who usually stopped short of giving me cash outright. And some of these men were artists who would hire me to model for them. Even though part of the time it kind of felt like they're hiring me for the company or for the hope of something more. And some of these men I met off of Craigslist or social networking sites, who had a specific fetish or fantasy that they wanted to fulfill some of these men commissioned performances and programmed, my work at their institutions. And even if I did suspect that they might have had an ulterior motive, who was I to say no to some money, and to a good line on my CV. So to be completely transparent, for most of my 20s, I was financially supported by men who were sexually attracted to me. Men I loved, and men for whom I worked men I considered partners and friends and collaborators And then we also considered to be clients. So after I got into graduate school at the Carnegie Mellon School of Art in Pittsburgh, which is where I'm now based. I got a job as a stripper. Because that was actually the most flexible and lucrative lucrative job, I could find that would still allow me to go to class and meet my academic obligations. The fact that stripping was legal also took off a lot of pressure because a lot of the ways in which I was engaging in sex work before was not entirely legal or the way I was advertising for your clients was not entirely legal,
and in the six months, the first six months, that I was stripping,
and I was not you know a great stripper. I'll admit I was pretty mediocre shop. I still made more money in that period than I did in the preceding three years as an artist. So funnily enough, I actually feel that I've been far better far more fairly compensated for sex work than I ever have been for my artistic labor. Because of my personal experiences, my art has reflected my fascination with the state of being. With the. The fractured state of being a woman, which is, to me, the state of being simultaneously revered and vilified being desired and rejected being empowered and objectified. And most of my practice today is performance space, exploring themes such as gender and intimacy, labor, and power. So for this next part of the presentation I'm going to share some images from my performance works, many of which are intimate one to one experiences with the audience. This first piece, I'd like to share is called nurture and it was part of a larger series I did on maternal labor, and my experiences with various maternal figures in my life. I was thinking about the ways in which I'd been socialized by my mother to be a caretaker for others. Something that I definitely think is a very gendered phenomenon. So, in a time like COVID, in particular, you see the inequities in, who is performing care work. And the research shows that predominantly childcare duties, domestic work care for the elderly care for family members who may be living with disabilities. Much of that, caring responsibility falls on the shoulders of women. And in this piece I spoke to members of the public about my experience with my mother who is very nurturing almost over a nurturing figure in my life, and I asked them about their experiences with their mothers or other maternal figures. I asked about how they experienced their role, receiving or giving care, and it was a really incredible piece, because there was a physical intimacy of me allowing audience and audience members to suckle from my breast, and this is in a private setting in a room where I'm playing lullabies by mothers in different languages. There's suckling from my breast. And that's obviously a very intimate gesture right. But I think what was even more intimate is just the act of like holding someone and hearing their story. And I remember there is this one, one guy who said, you know, this performance was the most physical intimacy he'd received from anyone. Since his grandmother had passed away. And I think that's because there's there are many men who you know in in lieu of having a partner are not encouraged to express, you know intimacy in physical ways to other people. So that was something that made a huge impression on me. And there's also a mother who told me that she was always the one giving care to others. She was so rarely the recipient of care, and that sometimes she had you know regrets about having children or having, you know, having devoted her life to being, you know, in that caretaking role. The next piece that I want to show you is also kind of related because it's about another maternal figure in my life, although I did not know her. in life. And that's my great great grandmother. So my great great grandmother was the last woman in my family. In my maternal lineage, to have her feet bound in China. And when I found out about her story I was so curious because I saw many parallels between the two of us
there. It was a practice of minding girls feet. At the age of, like, four, in order to improve marriage prospects, and they would do this by, you know, literally, binding the toes of the feet to the heel and it would immobilize someone and permanently cripple them, essentially, but it was considered to be aesthetically more desirable, and it was considered also to be like a very like erotic practice. There were all kinds of like rumors about how the way would affect your movement would mean that your vaginal muscles would be tighter and all kinds of like folklore about why this practice should happen when in fact you know is, it was a form of abuse and violence toward women, and my great great grandmother was a controversial figure because on one hand she was a victim but on the other hand, she was also someone who was in possession of a lot of property, and a definitely behave abusively towards certain family members and towards the other villagers, where she lived. And my way of connecting to the story of attempting to heal this trauma in my family history was to explore my own feet through being a foot fetish model, having encounters with men that I would meet online and engaging in foot worship sessions with them where they would talk to me about whatever they want to talk to me about, they would also massage my feet lick my feet. Kiss my feet, and I created a installation that was essentially a shrine to my great grandmother. And in this installation I had a circle of rice. And in the middle I sat with members of the public, and I invited them to tell me stories about their own family traumas, about pain that family members had inflicted upon each other as we share these stories we also massage to each other's feet. And this final piece I want to show you was a collaboration with three other artists, Ellie Clark Stephanie Valentine and espin Hulk. This was during my time in Berlin. This is a performance installation called we play for you now. And there was the physical space and also the web space that we set up where strangers could pay us to perform very menial administrative tasks as well as more erotic and intimate tasks, and also some creative tasks like creating a portfolio for someone or writing someone a poem. And the point of this piece. In many ways it mirrors the conditions that webcam models are working in. It was a durational piece where we took on, you know, six to seven hour long shifts for several days. And it was drawing attention also to the labor conditions that a lot of artists and a lot of members of the gig economy are subject to this so several of the participants in this piece, have their own experiences of sex work and this was our way of bringing that into artistic practice and directly addressing some of the ways in which, you know, art, it's the art industry itself has also been quite exploitative to us.
So in both sex work, and in my artistic practice, there has generally been a high degree of interactivity. So that, that means direct engagement with the public. There is intimacy that arises from, you know, sharing something extremely personal having experience of sexual arousal if I'm with a client. And then there's often the use of the digital, you know, whether that's how I make contact with someone, or whether that is how I broadcast a performance. So again, there are many ways in which for me sex work and art has directly overlapped. And whether I'm engaging in sex work or art making oftentimes My goal is to create opportunities for healing for intimacy for trust and therefore for tense construction as well. So I didn't see sex work ever as inherently separate from my art. Sometimes it was directly embedded in the piece of art. Like when I'm having, you know foot fetish appointments with people that is literally in the piece. And I exhibited those photos, sometimes sex work is what buttons my ability to produce a piece of art, and yet the funny thing is, although I've been doing this for some time now. I've always felt this profound imposter syndrome as both an artist and a sex worker, there's this feeling of fakeness that comes from the insidious belief that sex work is not real work, and just just as sometimes I feel like artistic labor is not, you know, real labor, and I think this is because the former has stigma and the latter often comes with a lack of compensation. Yet, regardless of social perception sex work is in fact a real job. And in the case of stripping in particular. That's a job that I'm expected to show up for at a particular time with a particular wardrobe. So that feels very real to me, that's the first time I think that sex work feels like the most real to me with contracts and everything involved, but whether I'm an artist or a sex worker, I think I'm definitely engaged in exactly the kind of labor that has been categorized as precarious by theorists such as Julia Brian Wilson. And, you know, precarity is defined as you know without health care benefits or other safety nets underpaid part time on protected short term unsustainable and risky labor, and that goes for art and that goes for sex work. And that goes for stripping as well you know all of that became very apparent with COVID, because major crises like a pandemic are exactly what shows who gets left behind in neoliberal capitalism. So in my own case, I stopped going into work at the club that I was employed at. In March, Once non essential businesses in Pennsylvania were ordered to close. And when the club reopened in June. I did return for two shifts, before I realized that there was just no way to give a socially distance lap dance. And I decided that the risk to my health wasn't worth it. So luckily I was in a position where I was able to seek other work. And I've spent the past few months, building a client base for webcaming services and instead. I've also been spending a lot of time organizing support groups for sex worker friends, attending support groups for sex workers, giving, giving and seeking advice from those who've been engaged in online sex work and know the ropes. I've also contributed to and benefited from various forms of mutual aid, which is a term that has become pretty trendy in the pandemic age. So in this next part I'm going to talk more about mutual aid, which can encompass you know in a large variety of things, geographer Peter kropotkin Pro Potkin describes mutual aid as, quote, the surest means forgiving each other and to all the greatest safety, the best guarantee of existence. So without relying on major donors, or institutions, informal mutual aid networks have been filling in the structural gaps in support for marginalized communities communities such as black and indigenous people queer and trans folks, people living with disabilities communities that have long relied on social bonds, as a matter of survival, because they're used to existing in a constant state of crisis and scarcity pandemic or not. And during COVID-19 various communities have launched fundraising and organizing efforts to support their members, sex workers in particular have been facing loss of income because of social distancing measures. And they face continued discrimination, such as being excluded from certain federally funded pandemic relief programs, at least in the US. So mutual aid efforts are necessary alternative for sex workers who are unable to rely on a system that criminalizes and stigmatizes them. And in order to provide for very basic needs, such as food and shelter sex workers has spearheaded grassroots relief efforts to collect and distribute financial support to those in need. So what is mutual aid because it is all the things in this slide, but it's also, you know, things that are basic and everyday, and nonetheless crucial for survival. So in sex work in particular, mutual aid can be, you know, meeting in a private group to talk about work that you can't talk about with your friends or your family for fear of stigma. It can be letting someone borrow wardrobe, or props teaching each other, how to negotiate rates with clients and talking about, you know, this is the fair price to charge for this service. It can be about distributing harm reduction materials condoms. it can be driving someone to an apartment, or to an apartment to an appointment. I'm checking up on them, you know by calling each other before after you meet a client. It can be referring friends to good clients and telling each other, who the bad clients are sharing blacklist blacklist of people who might be, you know, cheap or unreliable or even dangerous, so that other sex workers don't wind up ripped off, or worse. And in these moments of deep uncertainty during conditions of a pandemic. We've seen marginalized communities, including sex workers and in particular black and trans sex workers of color, rising to the occasion to again support those in their community who have been far too long forgotten dismissed or persecuted by the state. So mutual aid is an act of resistance in a way, but it's also an act of creativity and I see creativity because it's a form of problem solving for people who've been deemed by those in charge to be the problem.
I want to say that I'm not someone who is in a particularly precarious, you know, position, but the performances that I've done as part of my artistic practice are real. They involve real people, they're enacted in real time and there are real consequences to them. So I have no illusions that if I were for whatever reason to be arrested on the basis of, you know, an ad I put up seeking clients, you know, I wouldn't be able to use art as a defense, by also simultaneously realized that thanks to my background. You know what I look like. And all my privileges. I'm very unlikely to ever be targeted by law enforcement. As long as I take the basic precautions that doesn't diminish from the fact that I've felt very real fear of being arrested, that I've been paranoid about being doxxed or outed, and that this paranoia isn't even, you know necessarily irrational because I have received messages from people who managed to figure out where I work. You know in my real name despite me using a stage name at work. All of these are very real, fears, and you know privilege can protect you to certain extent, but because of the nature of sex work being stigmatized, and in some cases criminalize sex workers are vulnerable to a type of abuse that you know other labor's are less susceptible to. So I've had this fortune of living a very contradictory existence. I've been a new model I've been a survivor of revenge porn. I've been, you know, not able to post my work without risk of censorship, or account deletion. And I've also be in a position where I can't take down sexual content of myself that was posted without permission. And maybe you know because of all that I recognize that the debate about sex work, it's not as simple as empowerment versus victimhood or choice versus coercion. I think true consent is more or less impossible under a market economy, under in which, you know, everyone has to work labor is compulsory unless you're a billionaire. And I feel privileged that I have power to choose, you know who I want to take on as a patron as a client that I can, you know, more or less, choose, you know when and how much I work, but there are tons of sex workers who don't have that privilege and who have to take far greater risks in their line of work, and the sex work doesn't have to be inherently violent but criminalization makes it so. So criminalization is basically what makes it possible for police to target profile arrest assault to rape sex workers with impunity. It means that sex workers are unable to report crimes against, law enforcement, for fear of prosecution. It means that the platforms that we use to build community are taken down, and we live more isolated existences as workers, and that isolation exposes us to greater risk. It forces some sex workers onto the streets to find clients because they can't do so online. It's preventing us from doing due diligence, or screening clients before accepting bookings. It means that sex workers feel pressured to accept more dangerous working conditions, because maybe having something like a cell phone or a condom is considered possessing an instrument of crime, you know, in certain places that is the case, It means that you know if you are prosecuted. You might be forced to register.
And the next section of this talk is going to talk about the impact of Foster, and sesta, and the potential impact of earn it, which is a new piece of legislation that threatens end to end encryption and section, 230 protections. So the stop enabling sex traffickers act and allow states and victims to fight online sex trafficking act, known as sesta Fausta were bills that became law in April 2018, and this legislation, along with various technologies such as facial recognition software conflate sex work with sex trafficking relies on law enforcement and criminalization and more or less leaves sex workers vulnerable to abuse without actually going forth to accomplish their stated intent. In the aftermath of foster acesta, you had Craigslist removing their personal sections you had read it removing multiple sex worker community pages Tumblr was pulling blogs that contain any kind of adult content. And all of these consequences were predicted ahead of time by sex workers by civil liberty advocates. And yet, nonetheless, nonetheless legislators went ahead with that. And currently, we have a new piece of legislation that's being considered called ernit, which would further or undermine section 230 protections for those who are not aware section, 230 protects websites and platforms, from liability for what users post and earn it actually gives power to state legislative leechers to determine how these platforms could be held liable for civil lawsuits, or criminal prosecutions if their users post content that could be seen as endangering children. Again, this legislation is being pushed forward under this guise of protecting a certain vulnerable group, without any regard for the fact that there are communities of survivors as well as sex workers who are stating that this will actually enable a more dangerous working environment for them, and it will remove resources for them to seek support from their community. The image that is on my slide at the moment is an image that was posted by a sex worker artist collective called veil machine in anticipation of an event. Later this August. And this image was actually censored by Instagram, and all likelihood, because of the text that says live nude hotties, there's no actual nudity, in this image. But the thing about the algorithm is that it doesn't discriminate between what is abusive content, and what is artistic content. What is sex work. They don't care. And what happened after fosse acesta, you know, we've seen the internet platforms will act indiscriminately and how they censor content. In the
words of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who's actually called the earnings act unconstitutional. They say, it will limit free speech across the internet platforms will shut down forums and comment sections and cave to bogus claims that particular users are violating the rules, without doing a proper investigation, which is exactly what happened to to veil machine, when they tried to post this image. So just as foster acesta was pushed forward under this guise of ending sex trafficking, earn it. The same thing is happening with it. And the reality is that massive censorship and chilling effects will occur. So there's a reason why Human Rights Watch ACLU Electronic Frontier Foundation. All of these organizations are against are in it. And, basically, arena is just going to lead to less free internet without actually achieving its stated intent of protecting children. And the reason that I think it's important to talk about this with a general audience, not just with sex workers, is because we're living in a time of increased policing and threats to our freedom to the press. So, the amount of surveillance that this could potentially allow doesn't just impact sex workers. It also affects artists activists, journalists, your Instagram influencer, like on a grassroots level it's a sex workers who are leading the charge it's the sex workers who have been the most vocal about an issue, but this actually affects everyone's lives. So, if you want to learn more about this and I'm not an expert by any means. Go to a group like hacking hustling, which is a sex worker collective of technologists, people are hosting workshops and teachings sex workers who are impacted the hardest are the ones who are the loudest right now because they are directly endangered and they understand that taking care of their community is taking care of themselves. I also invite all of you to go to this performance that Valle machine is hosting later in August that directly addresses earn it and the many other forms of censorship and surveillance that sex workers are dealing with online. And this is a piece that will only be up for 24 hours but there will be different rooms with performers and sex workers
who will be broadcasting
live for this period before the portal, self destructs.
lastly, I just want to say that mutual aid is community in the face of criminalization its solidarity in the face of surveillance mutual aid is a form of collective care that rejects competition in recognition of the fact that our survival is interdependent mutual aid is living out alternatives to capitalism and the police state mutual aid is politics in action. And while mutual aid is particularly important at this moment for maintaining our mental, physical and financial security. It's not a temporary Band Aid solution to be applied to a pandemic. It's actually a way of life that long preceded the corona virus and have worked to survive this virus or any of the other moral viruses of systemic injustice, the mutual aid is going to be as critical as any vaccine. I have a list of organizations here that I would encourage anyone able to to support on their doing intersectional work around sex worker rights, around the rights of migrants around. Police. Police abolition harm reduction. Digital civil liberties. Yeah, racial justice, a number of things, these are all organizations that I'm familiar with, on some level, personally, and would really, you know, love your support for any of them.
Thank you very much, that was great presentation. And we do have some questions and comments from the livestream chat as a reminder for everyone watching. The only way you can ask your questions, is to have a ticket to the conference. So, one person, I mean the first off up, there was a comment sex workers are both performance artists and healthcare workers they do not deserve to be stigmatized. Is that a
question or. That was a comment
that was in the chat, and
that was just one that was an interesting comment that I thought was worth sharing,
especially from my friends who can that they feel there's this this that performance is a huge element of it, and especially the friends who you know don't have a performance art practice outside of, you know, sex work actually they're like, Oh, I do perform for the camera and if that's something I'm comfortable with.
Now, there was some of the made a comment, but was trying to distinguish between this a sex worker such as you're defining and a person who is desperate, or otherwise pushed into sex work. So, I mean, for street work as, as I believe the term is in the industry. So, any comments about like, if how you view any difference between an individual that's resorting to street work as opposed to someone that's operating in a manner closer to what you're doing.
Well, I would, I would be careful to distinguish between, you know what is consensual and, you know, what is the workplace, because I you know you, whether you're working at a strip club like me or on the street like there are varying, you know, circumstances that people come from. And, you know, I think the major variable is the fact that, you know, if someone feels like they can't have any other option, you know, what are their, what are their resources at their disposal. Right. And when sex work is criminalized. It doesn't matter. You know what extent you know you have choice because you know you can't go to law enforcement and being out as a sex worker means that you know you're going to endanger your chances to access resources. So, I, it's hard for me to distinguish between what is choice and what is you know coercion, because I respect people's like autonomy to choose how they want to perform the work. What's important to me is to create conditions where if someone is, you know, working in dangerous conditions if they're subject to violence or abuse. If they're doing something that's not consensual, they feel like they can go somewhere for help and not be thrown in jail, and not be, you know, subject to further abuse. If that's the case,
and that's, that's about
all I can say on the on the topic but there's a lot of resources out there that directly address this issue of like you know, why is it that decriminalization is the solution. No matter, you know where you are on that spectrum of vulnerability and financial harm. Okay,
now you did mention that you are a quote unquote mediocre stripper. Now we were at a conference where people are sharing their skills and experiences there's something analogous amongst sex workers places or events where they share knowledge help train one another.
Absolutely. I mean, I like if I wanted to become better stripper I could. But my like my stage skills are not are not great. I think I'm much better with the one to one client interactions. You know there are Facebook groups there I mean if you're talking about stripping, then yes you can take like a poll class or something like that. Well I find most useful in terms of, you know, making more money and knowing how to navigate the industry is you know Facebook groups and private spaces with other sex workers, where I can discuss the most, you know like, detailed thing of I got this text message from this person asking for this service How much do I charge, how do I negotiate that, too. Do you guys think this is a cute piece of wardrobe or do I look stupid in it. You know, like i think i think it's like a very, at the end of the day it's a job, you know there's some very basic things that you, you want to be able to talk to peers about. And those are the spaces are important to preserve online and those those spaces are being threatened today. I know we don't have a ton of time I just want to add one more slide. I'm collecting donations for a member of sex workers outreach project Pittsburgh, who was just arrested today. Dina Stanley, who is a black trans leader in Pittsburgh and has done a lot of important organizing work and if people feel compelled to donate this is my personal donation information and all funds that I receive. Tonight will go towards supporting Dina, so just want to say that.
That brings me up to a next question. Which do you worry about more. Do you worry more about state actor censorship and surveillance, or private actor censorship and surveillance I
would actually say
that most private actors are going to preempt any possibility of getting in trouble with the state that they're going to preemptively censor themselves and censor a lot of artists and sex workers and other communities. Just because that's what we've seen play out in the past, and the ramifications. You know were immediately felt by sex workers but then everyone else, start to realize how that would that was affecting their user experience as well, pretty quickly. I'm surprised that there's not more attention paid to earn it right now, given what happened in 2018. So anyone who is like more educated on this issue than I am and willing to do that, you know, education, work for their community I really urge you to do that.
Okay, thank you for joining us today at hope 2020. And this was an illuminating talk into the world of sex work and where you've where you've come from and what you're doing. We truly appreciate it. And hopefully, when we get a chance to meet up again in person. We'll see you there too.
Thank you. Thank you so much.