Feminism For Everyone! (Except Sex Workers and Trans Women)

Apparently this is my new blog theme: re-posting my letters to that fucking feminist listserv and making all kinds of GAH ARGH UGH noises while I do it. (Also, I really doubt this one will pass the moderators to make it on the listserv itself. To their credit, they posted it after a short delay, so far without comment.)

Every time I see a sex worker become a vocal antifeminist, I feel sad. “Sure, feminism has problems,” I think to myself. “But don’t hop in bed with the enemy over it!” And then feminism does shit like this.

For anyone who is not following (which is everyone except about 1600 feminists in Canada who subscribe to the Policy Action Research Listserv), there is a feminist listserv in Canada which hosts regular, unpleasant “debates” about whether or not to “abolish” prostitution and whether or not trans women are real women. There are also posts of events, interesting articles and other announcements to the list, but sex work and trans women do get the bulk of the discussion and debate.

It is always awful. The debates are beyond pointless, and do little besides blow my mind, over and over, that holy shit. I am actually having to argue to a feminist law professor that a sex worker’s domestic violence and child custody issues belong inside a feminist analysis. That’s a conversation I never thought I’d have. But I’ve also seen a back-and-forth between two non-sex working men about sex work, in which one announced that nothing the other was saying mattered because the other was only a medical doctor who researches sex work and besides, he appears to have liked boobies on his Facebook. (The “like” in question was in relation to Facebook’s ban on breastfeeding images, which a feminist doctor would legitimately be interested in, even if he is only a medical doctor.) So, you know, feminism happens.

But in July, there was an exchange about Radfem Rise Up’s exclusion of trans women and an exchange about the murder of a Swedish sex worker amidst a particularly bad convergence of aboltionist laws. Typically debates on Par-L are undertaken by interested, but unaffected, parties. In these two cases, however, a trans person and a sex worker actually took part in the discussion.

Par-L responded by banning all discussion of sex work or trans women until after Labour Day.

So that’s the background, and here is where it stands:

I said I would wait and see how this ban on discussion of sex workers’ and trans women’s lives played out. What I have seen is that, while those responsible for the decision did not address how it would affect sex workers and trans women on the list, the conversation continued with others on Twitter. So setting aside the transparency problem with that situation, I asked on Twitter: are the mods working on the exclusion issue? Do they plan to address the questions I raised in my email? Katherine says the list is open to discussion of the ban itself.

What I noticed about the most recent debates wasn’t that they were particularly nasty (but of course I don’t know what messages were rejected by moderators). What I noticed is that there was a trans person participating in the conversation about trans women and a sex worker participating in the conversation about sex work. On ParL, that really is unusual — this isn’t, after all, the first or only issue of exclusion feminism has faced. And now it’s too much. Now it’s disruptive. When these discussions actually involve trans people and sex workers fighting back, well, now these are lives that feminist discourse just can’t contain.

When you want to ban nasty behaviours, you ban nasty behaviours. If a few people are regularly engaging in them, you make a “three strikes” rule and ban those people. This ban makes sex workers and trans women’s lives the source of the problem, the thing that feminism can’t handle. And I can only understand the repeated refusal to address how the decision makes sex workers and trans women unwelcome as a silent sign that that is, in fact, its intent.

Feminism doesn’t have to attack or openly degrade sex workers or trans women. You can just quietly accept that we are the exception to feminist analysis, quietly erase us from discourse as if our lives are optional, until we all drop out in hurt, anger or disgust. That way, no one has to be accountable for the decision to remove us. This is feminism mimicking tactics from the state — it’s not the first or the last time a group with power over sex workers or trans women has decided the usual protections and inclusions just don’t apply to us.

I am no longer reserving judgment. As far as I can see it, this ban is an effort to remove sex workers and trans women from the list, without having to take responsbility for doing so. I’m certainly hurt and angry, but in all honestly I don’t want to kick myself out of feminism to spare anyone else the responsibility. I want an explanation of why sex workers’ and trans women’s lives were targeted instead of nasty behaviours, of whether the moderators considered issues of exclusion before making this decision, and of how Par-L plans to become open to sex workers’ and trans women’s participation in the fall, immediately after announcing that you could do without us

— Sarah

Threw some Agamben in there for ya, feminists (via Lisa Sanchez, who has written on the state’s tactic of exception in “The Global Erotic Subject, the Ban and the Prostitute-Free Zone”). And people say my degree is useless.

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One comment

  1. writingthebody

    Goodness, this terrain is tricky….your humane thoughtfulness is not a bad place to start though….remembering that we are talking about people, their feelings, and their vulnerabilities….thanks.

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