Saturday, November 13, 2010

Transgendered Women & Sex Work

Below is a transcript of the above video:

If you've been paying attention to the sex industry debates going on within the feminist and sex workers’ rights communities, you've probably heard the argument,
“women go into the sex industry due to lack of choices”
made in defense of each side’s position.

Those who oppose prostitution use this talking point to prove that prostitution is rarely a choice and should be abolished. Even those who claim not to seek abolition speak in support of the Swedish model, conveniently ignoring the fact that the Swedish government itself has admitted the model is about a ban on prostitution.

A: We don’t work with harm reduction in Sweden.

Q: Why not?

A: Because that’s not the way Sweden looks upon this. We look upon it, that this
is a ban on prostitution: that there should be no prostitution. And what we work
with is to try and make people who do this not do it any more. [emphasis mine]
Anna Skarhed, Swedish Chancellor of Justice, Press Conference, July 2, 2010

Then there are those who seek decriminalization, because only under
a system where sex work is treated as a legitimate form of work can
harm reduction measures -proven effective- be implemented to their
fullest possible effectiveness.

So what does it mean to me to say,
“women go into the sex industry due to lack of
This means many things, really. It means that we live in a highly unbalanced global economy where countries that have, have enough to waste and countries that don't are home to thousands – tens of thousands, and more – who do what they can, because the ideologies and ambitions of those who claim to know what is best for them will not feed them. Many of these people turn to sex work rather than starvation, while abolitionists who believe that sex work contributes to the oppression of women as a collective look down their noses at them and offer them little practical support.

This video is about ONE subgroup of those people. A subgroup
that is one of the most stigmatized, feared, hated, and
misunderstood in just about every society in the world. The
people who walk on both sides of the gender binary that is the
accepted standard in most societies.

If I had to choose which group of people I thought was the most
consistently discriminated against globally, I would have to say it
wouldbe transgendered people. There are some countries where
they are making progress like New Zealand, where the first transgendered member of any Parliament ever was elected in 2005.
But this is unquestionably an exception to the rule and trans
people still have a long way to go to find equality
in the world.

Trans people are called deranged and dangerous. If they appear in movies or in media at all it's usually to mock them or create an extra-disturbing villain in a movie about serial killers. They are portrayed as over the top, extra dramatic, and of lesser intelligence then any “normal” human being who has the good sense to at least know what gender they are.

Is it any wonder that so many transgendered citizens turn to sex work to make a living while still being true to who they really are? How feasible is it that you might walk into a bank one day and find a transgendered teller taking your money or that the nurse checking your blood pressure might tell you that “his” name is Lisa? Often any “normal” job a transgendered sister would find would be low paying, or hire them only under the condition that they come to work dressed in a way that in and of itself feels highly oppressive to them, as if they are going through life half way. Sometimes they turn to sex work just to earn extra money to save up for a gender reassignment surgery that almost no insurance company will pay for, just so they can be who they are, just like you and me.

LGBT rights organizations sometimes acknowledge the “T” at the end only as a footnote, and many of the prominent radical abolitionist feminist leaders do their best to keep them out, sometimes not even attempting to hide their disdain.

In “Transgender Activism: A Lesbian Feminist Perspective”, Sheila Jeffreys argues that, “transgenderism might more reasonably be seen as a violation of human rights and should certainly not be uncritically accepted as a socially transformative force equivalent to gay liberation.” She said that, “Transsexualism opposes feminism by maintaining and reinforcing false and constructed notions of correct femininity and masculinity.” And like many other radical abolitionist feminists she calls sexual reassignment surgery “self-mutilation”, not unlike piercings, tattoos, branding, and many of the other practices of sadomasochism.

In “The Transsexual Empire: The Making of the She-Male”, Janice Raymond put it plainly when she said:
“All transsexuals rape women’s bodies by reducing the real female form to an artifact, and appropriating this body for themselves. [...] Transsexuals merely cut off the most obvious means of invading women, so that they seem non-invasive. The transsexually constructed lesbian-feminist feeds off woman’s true energy source, i.e., her woman-identified self. It is he who recognizes that if female spirit, mind, creativity and sexuality exist anywhere in a powerful way it is here, among lesbian-feminists. I contend that the problem with transsexualism would best be served by morally mandating it out of existence.”

And Radical feminist philosopher, academic, and theologian Mary Daly made
this comparison:
“Today the Frankenstein phenomenon is omnipresent not only in religious myth, but in its offspring, phallocratic technology. The insane desire for power, the madness of boundary violation, is the mark of necrophiliacs who sense the lack of soul/spirit/life-loving principle with themselves and therefore try to invade and kill off all spirit, substituting conglomerates of corpses. This necrophiliac invasion/elimination takes a variety of forms. Transsexualism is an example of male surgical siring which invades the female world with substitutes.”
– from: Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism

This transphobic streak still persists today in the radical faction of feminism and shows itself in some women’s festivals, in heated comments, and the absolute REFUSAL to recognize and embrace our transgendered sisters and their issues as part of the women's movement.

So, with few employment choices and even fewer organizations that will speak strongly on behalf of their issues, many transgendered women turn to sex work. There they find company in their fellow outcasts – the whores of the world. And in return they give back just as much as they receive. They not only play leading roles in the advocacy for the rights of sex workers, but help keep them safe while on the job as well. A cisgendered, female, former street sex worker told me once that she would always work the areas where the transgendered women worked. She said that pimps were less likely to try and harass her there because the trans women were less likely to take their ill treatment and had a tendency to protect their cisgendered associates.

This is just one example of how the radical faction of the women's movement has left some women behind. They can easily pass judgment on some for not recognizing the significance of the collective, but when that collective does not recognize you, what are you to do? Herein lies the nature of the conflict between feminists with the power to influence policy and those who fight to be heard. Sex work is a hub of intersectionality that radical feminists would sooner silence then risk the unique issues facing the women within it distracting the focus of that collective. A collective guided by a small group of the most privileged among us.

In Audre Lorde's “An Open Letter to Mary Daly”, she summed it up nicely when she said this:
“This dismissal stands as a real block to communication between us. This block makes it far easier to turn away from you completely then to attempt to understand the thinking behind your choices. Should the next step be war between us, or separation?”

Extra info on Trans-misogyny

For anyone curious about how female to male transgendered citizens are viewed by abolitionists, see Sheila Jeffreys, “FTM Transsexualism and Grief”

Also, I want to thank Iamcuriousblue for helping me find some cool links and proof reading my writing.

Don't be shy people. I love feedback. COMMENT


  1. You might be interested in my writing on swedish ideas and other topics. In the cloud to the right on my blog click sweden. I also have been studying and writing about migration and the sex industry for 15 years now.

    Best wishes,
    Laura Agustin

  2. @Laura Agustin

    I'll check that out. I'm looking at delving into the immigration thing soon. I'm a little worried about it because I'm Mexican and I know I will get a lot of shit for it. Thank you for commenting on my blog. I'm honored to have you.

  3. Fantastic video- sums up so many of the issues so succinctly.
    I think we will use it at our next APNSW training workshop.

    Andrew Hunter

  4. @Andrew I would be honored if you did that. Thank you.

  5. a every thoughtful rebuttal of all of these points have been made. it's worth a read.

  6. @Anonymous

    Oh yea. I saw that...AWESOME!

  7. Re: Anonymous

    I can think of a few adjectives to describe Julian Real's writing, and unfortunately "thoughtful" is not one of them.

  8. did you actually read it? i'd love to see an actual, articulate response on his blog rather than assaults on his writing through a comment section. i'm sure he'd love to hear your disputes with the brilliantly thought out points he made. just sayinnn'

  9. I read the points he made between long bouts of logorrhea. And I have no intention of going over to his blog and debating him. If I had anything to say, I'd post it on my own blog. However, I don't – its not like I consider anything he has to say to be worth responding to, at least at this point. I consider Julian Real to be more of a "point and laugh" spectacle rather than somebody with intellectual merit or political influence that needs to be addressed.

  10. "Calgary, Canada arrived 2 hours, 4 minutes ago."

    Oh – Hi, Antiquelens.

  11. @Anonymous

    "i'd love to see an actual, articulate response on his blog rather than assaults on his writing through a comment section." An assault? That's a bit dramatic wouldn't you say. I don't remember saying much about him at all either way.

    As for responding to him I don't cater to male entitlement. If I feel like saying something to a man, I do. If I don't, I don't.

  12. Actually I do have one thing to respond to in Julian's overwrought post. What part of "@23:07" doesn't he understand WRT the Anna Skarhed video? No need to dig up his own personal Swedish translator. What was quoted was in English and transcribed word for word.

  13. In my opinion, Julian Real is a pinhead that is high on his own self righteousness. He buries any reasonable point that he could make under a mountain of exaggerated hyperbole and vindictive language. I can't count the number of times that he said "fuck you" to other people in the feminist community for simply disagreeing with him, and then he brings personal anecdotes about what he has done, the magnanimous person that he is, to justify that he has more feminism points than other people. (and why, therefore, he can treat other people like shit) There are other outrage factories out there, but his blog is by far the worst. /end rant.

  14. That wasn't him who said "fuck you" that was a guest blogger. If you read the whole post, you would know that.

  15. @Anonymous 1- You know, the only comments you've made on my page have been about someone ELSE'S blog post. It's almost as if you purposely come here to start D.R.A.M.A. Hm, I'm thinking you're a radial feminist. Do YOU have an original thought about THIS blog post or not? I'm going to allow anyone to comment for another day or so. Either get on topic HERE about what I'VE said or YOU fuck off!