We are living in a very tumultuous time due to the incompetence of someone pretending to be President, along with the impacts of a pandemic wreaking havoc on every country in the world. Combine the ineptness of the current administration with the pandemic and we have a degree of chaos beyond any of our wildest imaginations. A Democratic hoax it was. Everything will be fine. It will all magically disappear. Well, we all know these pronouncements from the clown in the White House have proven to be false.
Covid-19 has upended every established norm we have and has changed our lives incredibly, to the point where we are restricted at home, businesses have closed, masks are being worn in public, and everyone is looking at those around them with a suspicious eye, wondering if they have “it.” The chaos and uncertainty will continue for the foreseeable future. There will not be any degree of normalcy returning to our lives until an effective treatment and/or cure is developed. Until then, we are at the whim of this virulent virus. We, as humans, are not in control, no matter how much we think we are.
Most of the world’s governments have shown empathy, understanding, and compassion for those thrown out of work due to massive closures of non-essential businesses. Stimulus payments in varying forms have been given to each respective nation’s citizens, in an attempt to help them through to the conclusion of this pandemic, whatever that conclusion may be. Some governments have been slow to respond, such as the United States, to the needs of its citizens, with delays in stimulus payments to individuals, but money has been expediently given to corporations and others that do not need monetary assistance. Some in our country have been summarily and purposefully denied any financial help due to provincial and religious bigotry, such as the nation’s sex workers.
What is a sex worker? As per Wikipedia, a sex worker is “a person who is employed in the sex industry. The term is used in reference to all those in all areas of the sex industry, including those who provide direct sexual services as well as the staff and management of such industries. Some sex workers are paid to engage in sex acts or sexually explicit behavior which involves varying degrees of physical contact with clients (prostitutes and some but not all professional dominants); pornographic models and actors engage in sexually explicit behavior which is filmed or photographed. Phone sex operators have sexually-oriented conversations with clients and may do verbal sexual roleplay.” Sex workers in America have been effectively shut out from receiving any stimulus benefits, despite their primary means of supporting themselves being wiped out due to fears associated with close and personal contact with clients. They have been left to fend for themselves.
Many sex workers have tried to find temporary employment but due to the health crisis that has shut down any alternative means of making an income to survive, they have been unable to do so. Some are living on borrowed money or whatever meager savings they may have accumulated. However, many others simply have no means of support any longer, due to the pandemic. If they do get clients, they put themselves and their clients at risk. It is inexcusable that folks who rely on the talents given to them, and that have served them well, are being forced to beg, and live on borrowed money due to a government that has ignored them, and shut them out from any monetary assistance due to vile and repulsive religious dogma that has no place in government, and dictating the decisions of that government in terms of helping those who need help the most in our country.
As per an article by CNN, dated April 20, 2020, some countries, such as Japan, have been very progressive in assisting all its people, including that nation’s sex workers. While there are some limitations on who can get help, such as those exclusively engaged in prostitution, others are eligible who are involved in more innocuous forms of sexual income such as escorting services stopping short of intercourse, and those persons who work in establishments that engage in more orally focused sexual activities. While Japan is being somewhat progressive on this front, it still falls short on helping those who need help because of “occupational discrimination” based on subjective perspectives of those who look down upon sex workers and their value in society.
Other countries, such as those in Asia, have begun to look more favorably on helping sex workers, despite their country’s prohibitions on prostitution, and such other illicit forms of sex work. One, in particular, Bangladesh, has legal prostitution and has taken steps to help ease the burden of Covid-19 on its 2000+ sex workers, as per CNN. Rents have been suspended, and workers are given free rice to help them cope with the loss of their income. Other countries have set up subsidized housing for homeless citizens, many of whom are sex workers. The fact that many countries have recognized sex workers as worthy of receiving assistance says much about the compassion and empathy of the leaders in those respective countries. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the current government here in the United States.
While our government may have shut its eyes to the suffering of many of its citizens due to the pandemic inflicting its wrath on the country, some municipalities have taken steps to help those who must still have in-person interaction with clients to make ends meet during this trying time. According to an article in “The Lily,” a resource published by The Washington Post, those who still engage in sex work can take steps to protect themselves somewhat, by doing what medical professionals do, and ask potential clients ahead of time about recent travel and some other risk factors that are asked of those who think they may have been exposed to Covid-19. “The Lily” also references that a consortium of sex worker advocacy groups has published a resource guide for those who still must partake in sex work to survive. The guide can be found at https://drive.google.com/file/d/1ymJ5motdh0zh453-wFs1p4syL3koC2dD/view. The NYC Department of Health has also published guidelines for having sex during the pandemic. The guidelines suggest that sex workers move to more online activities and try to have as few partners as possible. While these actions do not directly help monetarily for sex workers who need help, they do offer suggestions on how to approach their work, and yet remain relatively safe at the same time. Most sex workers, like most Americans, and citizens across the globe, are simply trying to stay afloat, and get through this health crisis with alternative means of sex work such as webcamming, picture sharing, and such other digital/virtual environments that allow sex workers left with no income to bring in some much-needed cash.
Other organizations, such as the Network of Sex Workers of Indonesia (OPSI), as described by an article by UNAIDS, have set up a support network to address mental health issues of sex workers who have lost their incomes. This could certainly be used as a model for other countries to help those in marginalized and unrecognized professions related to the sex industry.
How does all this relate specifically to LGBTQ persons and the impact of the virus and loss of income? Unfortunately, any discussion of sex work and persons of the queer persuasion go hand-in-hand many times. While the majority of LGBTQ persons are contentedly and sexually happy singles, in stable relationships, marriages, have children or may be accepted by society at large in many places, there are those within our community who are not. As per a Huffington Post article entitled, “Why LGBT and Sex Worker Rights Go Hand-in-Hand,” and dated April 14, 2016, “Over one-quarter of homeless youths identify as LGBT, and many more live in poverty or face discrimination from employment, particularly if they are transgender. The lack of options due to the prejudices of society means that LGBT people are more likely to depend on sex work as a form of income, particularly trans people.”
The LGBTQ community is often very good at marginalizing some of its own, while at the same time promoting equality and freedom for others. There seems to be a disconnect, many times, between the stated goals of our movement and what it does. There is discrimination within our community by many of our advocacy groups who wish to shove some aspects of our marginalized community under the rug who are focused on more sexual aspects and not recognize them as an issue of importance. Advocating for freedom and liberty also should be applied to the freedom and liberty to be sex workers. While it may not fit into the pretty picture some of our “leaders” wish to project, the fact remains that sex work and LGBTQ do indeed go hand-in-hand, and the powers that be need to be much more proactive in advocating and protecting those that have resorted to sex work, and in many instances, through no fault of their own. We as a queer community need to stop judging those within our community for the choices being made by individuals that may not fit into the established mantra of the groups that have taken it upon themselves to advocate for us. Exclusion of some because of what they choose to do to bring in needed income is unacceptable, especially now during this pandemic.
Speaking from a more personal perspective, anyone that has read my book, “Unredacted,” knows that I have dabbled in the sex work industry, most specifically escorting. What started as a dare by someone to try it, turned into a more long-term activity where it filled a monetary void in my life easily and quickly. I found not only did it satisfy a temporary need to supplement limited resources, but it also provided a service to marginalized men, both straight and gay, or those who simply were not being fulfilled in existing relationships. What makes this service to the community any less important than someone working a job to feed their families, and which derives them some degree of satisfaction for doing so?
All while doing it, there was an underlying worry that some would find out about what I was doing, and due to society’s looking down upon such activities, it created a sense of guilt at the same time for doing it, as it fostered a sense that I was less worthy of a human being for doing something as old as time itself, and that is recognized as a legitimate profession in many countries. As time went on, those feelings dissipated, as I met very nice men, some of whom have become more than just clients, but friends to confide in. How is that aspect of being a sex worker bad?
While I have other means of income to rely upon during this time of limited personal contact and the threat of this virus, I empathize and sympathize with my compatriots who are suffering from a lack of clients and who have experienced a severe loss of primary income from being a sex worker. I most assuredly advocate on their behalf, and I am appalled that our government has cast them aside as irrelevant components of our economy by not providing the same assistance to them, as it is providing to most Americans through the stimulus program.
They are unable to find work, for the reasons stated earlier in this essay, and are being left to fend for themselves. Also, as we all know, the very same people mocking and disparaging the commission of escorts and other sex workers, are the very same people who utilize their services. It is hypocritical, at best, that the sex workers they partake of are the same persons which they deny exist, and deprive of needed assistance.
This pandemic will surely subside, and our lives will indeed get back to normal. We should take this opportunity to examine how we treat our fellow Americans in professions that are deemed less than worthy by those in power many times. Sex workers are friends, family, and fellow Americans who are deserving of respect and dignity. To do otherwise is an abdication of our duty to care for and express concern for our fellow human beings who are struggling during times of crisis.
It is high time that our nation becomes more progressive and accepting of sex workers and legitimizes and legalizes the activities which they rely upon to earn an income, as other countries have done. To do that we must purge our nation’s governing structure of those mired in religious zealotry and bigotry, and who feel they are supremely guided to judge others for who and what they are, and more importantly for what they do. It is time to treat sex workers and how they make money, as legitimate players in our economic structure, and a profession that produces billions in revenue, so they are not persecuted and left behind once again when the next pandemic strikes.
Sex workers of the world unite and become a force to reckon with! The time has come to demand the rights that we deserve and that have been deprived to us for so long. I am honored and humbled to be at a point in my life where I do not feel a need to hide aspects of my life from view. Because of this, I am proud to be the voice for those who are marginalized by society, who cannot speak and advocate for themselves and are suffering in silence due to the scourge afflicting our world, as well as because of the bigotry and prejudice they face for whatever reasons.