People make a lot of fascinating assumptions when I disclose having done sex work as a trans teenager. A lot of people assume that I had a violent home and ran away. Some people assume that I was sexually abused as very young child. Occasionally, people assume that I was being pimped by someone, or otherwise coerced into doing sex work. They give me sympathy (pity) and, I think, hope that I will trust them enough to disclose the salacious details of my life that they are sure will rival those of JT LeRoy.
When I challenge any of these assumptions, or discuss how empowering sex work was for me as a young trans person struggling to find any kind of validation in my life, they become less sympathetic. Feminists sometimes discount my experiences as not being like “real sex work,” whatever that is, because my life does not fit neatly into their ideas about sex trafficking.
Occasionally, people get angry at me for not being repentant, for not opposing sex work. Usually, I laugh in their faces and then verbally tear them to pieces.
Sometimes, sex work-friendly activists who’ve never done sex work themselves get really excited about how I felt positive validation through sex work. But they make a lot of assumptions, too. They often assume that I was older when I did sex work. That I made a great deal of money. That I didn’t have negative experiences. When I challenge these assumptions, they looks upset and I worry that they might change their opinions and join the hordes of “anti-trafficking” people. It’s a tricky line to walk between being honest and not losing “allies” who are much needed in the continued struggle for sex workers’ rights.
It would be really nice if people who haven’t done sex work could understand that the vast majority of sex work is deeply neutral, even when youth are doing it or people without status or with precarious status. Most people who do sex work have ambiguous relationships with the work. Sometimes it can be fun and rewarding, sometimes it can be frustrating or even dangerous, but largely it’s somewhere in the middle. And all of those experiences are equally valid. None of them stop being “real sex work” simply because they do not conform to the one end of the spectrum we’ve decided to set up moral camp at.