Black and Brown Sex Workers Keep Getting Pushed to the Margins
Black, Brown, poor, and trans sex workers absorb most of the stress and violence and are erased constantly.
Incel is such a strange word to me. It’s not a term I use often. Like, “cock” and “cuck,” the word incel conjures up a “lone wolf” white boy who sits on 4chan counting his colored and gendered enemies, plotting mass destruction.
I returned to Twitter after a light weekend break to see a new hashtag making its rounds—a man who calls himself David Wu started a campaign against camgirls and other cyberthots on Facebook and it made its way over to Twitter. Cisgender, presumably heterosexual incels were reporting “thots” to the IRS because, apparently, “hoes don’t pay taxes.” The main folks being targeted were women who use and advertise SnapChat Premium accounts. Although the word “thot” connotes a Black woman and has been specifically weaponized against Black women and girls’ sexuality, it was cisgender white women who apparently felt the most attacked and were the loudest voices “fighting back” against the incels.
During this social media moment of mass harassment and hysteria, I saw the phrase “this is a war on women” from white and Black women alike, and many were not sex workers or directly related to the community at all. I wondered what each of them meant. Often the category of “women” excludes trans women and nonwhite or Black women. Deviant women, often not considered women at all. But then there are other classes of women within those classes, like women who are sex workers. Sex workers are comprised mostly of cis and trans women but there are men in this profession as well. However, this campaign solely targeted women, and used a racialized word to further drive home their point: to target working class and poor women, mostly women of color.
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Although this hashtag mainly concerned a certain class of women, they were overshadowed by whiter, wealthier, and sometimes more respectable women in responses to this racialized, misogynistic campaign. Much of the hysteria was mainly just that—most sex workers do report their income and pay taxes, plus you need a certain amount of information before you can report someone to the IRS, including a street address, full legal name, date of birth, and taxpayer identification number, according to the IRS’s page, and even then it’s unlikely they will call for an audit. But white sex workers and civilian women took this opportunity to verbally spar, create related monikers, and promote themselves or their platforms with the hashtag attached.
Poor sex workers of color have our own voices but we hardly get heard in the mainstream once these conversations are at the forefront. Yet we are usually the ones targeted or affected by these fear mongering, anti-whore crusades. I say whore, rather than sex worker, because although sex workers should be centered in these discussions, these crusades also widely target those who are considered to be deviant women, from lay hoes and social sluts to strippers and escorts. This is part of a historical campaign to control both women and men’s sexuality. While women are the main ones targeted for behavior and blamed for men’s deviancy and (stereotyped) hypersexual urges, men’s behavior is also controlled in this narrative. Men who deviate from social norms, as well as women, and all queer and trans people, threaten the sanctity of marriage, monogamy, and Western gender and sexual norms. This makes it easy to direct harm and social anxiety toward sex workers, and the harm that happens accumulates in the “low-end” heavily brown section of the sex worker community. Black, Brown, poor, and trans sex workers absorb most of the stress and violence and are erased constantly, even while being overshadowed by middle-class women.
At the same time, there were Snapchat Premium cyberthots claiming that somehow they were different than “those” sex workers. But a whore is a whore in most people’s eyes. The line between Snapchat Premium “girls,” cammodels, and porn stars and actors is a financial one and a social one. “Regular” women are using Snapchat Premium to store and profit from thirst traps they would probably have taken anyway (because we are a visual species and sexy is always in)—yet simultaneously these women work hard to distance themselves from the whores they think less of. There are so many divides and intersections in this. Despite these divides, anytime sex workers are targeted, whores are too, because whore is a social construct designed to insult and suss out the good women (people) from the bad.
Along my journey through the hashtag, I came across a meme which compared the word “incel” to the n-word. If I wasn’t who I am, I’d be stunned. Comparing a catchy modern-day term for basement boys and middle class Nazis who feel entitled to women to a centuries-old racial slur hurled at enslaved Black people as they were beaten, captured, and dehumanized is a reach if I ever heard one. In the midst of all of this, white men and men of color alike were dragging sex workers and “thots,” making fun of how “st*pid” they think we are. These thots don’t know taxes. These females (a not-so-witty euphemism for bitches) are ignorant. Men of color eagerly joined up with neo-Nazi white men to attack women. Misogyny unites them, just as racism unites white men and women. White women happily jumped on the term “thot” and suddenly I saw nudes and “thot leader” in their tweets and bios. Even our pejoratives are co-opted and whitened.
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On the heels of this IRS campaign furor dying down, there came some well-timed white woman savior tweets from the actress Ashley Judd, and a series of texts from my sperm donor ex telling me “Go fuck for some cash and stop playing the victim. You’re the reason your broke. You love sex work.” I think about how Black women, and Black sex workers in particular, are targeted for promoting society’s ills, when all we are doing is trying to survive systemic oppression and capitalism, same as everyone else. Feminists always wanna talk about empowerment and having control over your time when it comes to sex work because they picture the flexible schedules and free time they wish they had in their chosen professions. But the truth is, those sex workers have money, security, and prestige that most of us lack.
We are missing in this discussion—yet again—our discourse and slang hijacked and purified by the image of cisgender white women. Anti-whore sentiments will not be fully addressed or dismantled until we are able to center Black and Brown Q/T sex workers. There are too many cisgender, presumed – heterosexual Black men claiming that race has nothing to do with this, but in actuality race is omnipresent in every conversation on this subject. Erasing race allows whiteness, cis-ness, and (compulsory) monogamous heterosexuality to be continually pushed as the norm while pushing those who are already the most marginalized further into the margins.
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