Content warning: Police violence, gentrification, sexual assault from police. The nature of our work isn’t violent, but the criminalization of sex work can lead to dangerous and violent situations for workers. The end game is decriminalization. Please practice self-care while reading each worker’s story. Bless.
Nessa: how long have you been working as a sex worker?
Zuri: Technically since I was 18, you know, desperate times. It’s been about seven years.
N: Where did you start originally?
Z: Well I’m from LA, born and raised. It started there, it was mostly sugar baby stuff. Occasional car dates, online, texting, and stuff. I didn’t start as a quote-unquote escort, one with insight, as a fancy one. Sorry, I’m seeing all the elitism on Twitter lately, and it’s pissing me off. Anyways…
Z: Yes elitism, which I’ll dive more into, I have a lot to say about that… I started there, and it wasn’t always successful, because I was going to school and doing this work off and on. Community college and working at PetSmart at the same time, none of which was all that good back then in 2014, [but still] less than $15 an hour, which hasn’t even happened yet!
N: You said within your work that you’ve experienced lots of struggles, and you learn the language of how to rebrand. To be “class passing,” I can relate strongly. But to the folks reading, what is class passing in terms of elitism within sex work?
Z: There is a lot, especially if we are using an umbrella term, right now with everything going on, Bella Thorne, with every other celebrity trying to get on OnlyFans, it’s gentrification. A lot of people I see signing up for OnlyFans are white, cis, conventionally attractive by European-centric standards, thinking they can get the bag on the site. Because it’s now a trend. It’s trendy now but sex workers are still seen as bad and are essentially still demonized, even with this trendy thing that’s happening. It’s what celebrities are doing: Oh look you can make so much money, bleh.
N: Yeah, especially with claiming they’re the 1% [of top earners on the platform], that just spells out capitalism. It’s obnoxious.
Z: Oh yes, especially since I know a lot of people, and I mean a lot of people, who say they are the 1%, and they do their best to boost that they are a top percenter. Good for you and all, not everyone is at that level. And it’s turning into a 9 to 5, constantly on, which, ugg.
Listen, I don’t want to do a 9 to 5 under someone, under capitalism. Why would I want to give my hard-earned money to someone who doesn’t give a rat’s ass about me? When to be self-employed, and get it all on my own, and [I don’t have to] deal with someone who’s either going to yell at me or harass me. Physically, mentally, sexually harass me, racism. All of that is within everything, and especially as a Black person.
But if I can choose to work, say at Walmart, or do what I do now, I’m choosing sex work. Because I have already been exploited, harassed, and dealt with shit with big corporations. Especially within the elitism in there, especially within OnlyFans. They are pushing you, you have to keep doing this to get more subscribers — you’re working a 9 to 5! On OnlyFans, what people are doing this to survive not to have fun! Lots of people doing this now are doing this for fun, they are doing this for clout and especially since they have money.
Many other people go into sex work because they have to! If they don’t, they will not survive, not be able to feed their animals, feed their children, feed their elderly parents or guardians, or whatever it may be. If you don’t have a mental illness, which must be nice, it makes things a lot easier, and there are lots of workers who do have mental illness and things are a lot harder. A lot of people who do sex work are disabled, are mentally ill. Marginalized people. The elitism with some full-service sex workers just makes me want to rip out my hair! Especially when it comes to screening, like, oh honey did you screen right? Excuse me, did I screen right?
One, that’s a very privileged thing to say — not everyone has access to be able to screen right. Two, even if you do “screen right,” said client can still beat the shit out of you, turn on you, rape you, and kill you. What if they don’t treat you as they treat other people, which happens. And when it comes to branding, other sex workers who say they are VIP will look down on you, and say “oh you have lower rates than me, therefore you’re subhuman.”
N: So what was your work like before FOSTA-SESTA went into effect, where we’re at now, and currently with SISEA?
Z: Sites being shut down, accounts being banned, ads that are going up on some sites are rising, through the roof. A lot of panic, a lot more violence, not only in America but all over the world. Especially Canada too, they deal with the same level of bullshit — their policy on sex work has changed super recently, which isn’t good. I’ve worked in Canada, I don’t know how the workers there do it, the clients are gross — they will haggle you and lowball you. I’m not saying that American clients aren’t like that, I’m just saying that it’s a lot different. To compare the two is a little weird, but they’re both equally trash in terms of how their government views sex work.
N: What can people do to differentiate between sex trafficking and consensual-based work?
Z: When you’re doing consensual work, using your own free will to do it, you’re not being forced, exploited, and used like how they use sex trafficking victims. You are your own person, you make your own decisions. You don’t have anybody that’s trying to tell you what to do, where to go, what to wear, what not to say — you are your own person. The person you are seeing is consenting to do this. You’re consenting to take the money. It’s a service, it’s a job. And that’s it.
Sex trafficking is taking advantage of someone, kidnapping them, forcing them to have sex with people that they don’t want to have sex with or don’t know.
That is just one, evil. Two, there’s a special place in hell, if there is one, for you. If you are sex trafficking people, whether they be female, male, non-binary, a child, an elderly person, whatever.
The difference between trafficking and consensual-based sex work is you are doing sex work with your own free will. Mind. Body. It’s work. Sex trafficking is not work, it’s a whole other type of evil. I don’t understand how people can conflate the two when there is so much proof, research, evidence out there, available to their disposal, and they still conflated to this day! Are you fucking kidding me?! Do you know how many articles there are? At this point I’m just ready to ask people are they stupid. There is a huge, huge difference between the two, it’s not that hard to understand.
N: Decriminalization efforts are happening all over the country, now here in LA. Why is the movement for decriminalization important?
Z: It’ll be very important because it’ll make the lives and safeties of sex workers so much better. We will not be prosecuted for doing our work, we will not be ridiculed or harassed by the fucking police and raped by the police because it’s a viable job. It would help us have more resources, getting help if something happens to us. So we can report safely and not get prosecuted for it. Because it would be decriminalized, we would be a lot safer. If strippers can unionize, right?
N: Strippers have unionized.
Z: Ok, exactly. It’ll make stripper’s lives easier too, in terms of changing the laws when it comes to the strip clubs.
N: Oh yes, especially some general managers I’ve worked underneath in clubs, thinking what they could get away with — completely demoralizing.
Z: Exactly. One day I want to own a strip club. It would be unionized, handpick the bodyguards to make sure they’re queer-friendly, LGBTQ+ friendly. Do their fucking jobs and not harass the dancers.
Decriminalization means making things safer for our lives — we would be able to have resources for everything that we would need. This means not getting arrested by the fucking police! And not getting raped, which still happens when they take us in, which people seem to conveniently forget about. The police are the enemy, they’ve proven time and time again that they do nothing for us, they just fuck us up and get away with it. Until there is abolition, until there is reform, this type of nonsense will continue to happen. This is why we need decriminalization — sex work is work and Black Trans Lives Matter.