​This One's for the Whores: Talking Sex Work & International Whores’ Day with Kim Fuentes and Rogelio Ruckus

THIS ENTRY WAS POSTED ON June 4, 2024 BY Kim Fuentes and Rogelio Ruckus.

June 2nd is here. Happy International Whores’ Day! A day if you will, for all those embraced under the warm glow of that big red umbrella: cammers, escorts, strippers, brothel workers, professional Dom(mes), switches, and submissives, phone-sex professionals, and of course, street-based sex workers (to name a few). This list can – and does – go on and on.

From the occupation of Lyon (that’s in France y’all) to the future of our beloved interwebs, what could perhaps be more fitting than two whores talking about all things Hurentag!

International Whores’ Day?

The History of International Whore's Day

We’re no whore-storians, but like most things, it feels fitting to start at “the beginning.” The most popular narrative you’ll find of International Whores’ Day typically starts with the uprising of Lyon. In 1975, an estimated one hundred sex workers took to the street – and into the church (yes, you read that right) – to demand government accountability for the systemic police surveillance, fines, reprisals, and violence that consistently eliminated the few safer spaces and opportunities sex workers had at the time. Less known, months earlier sex workers broadcasted these concerns and demands on the boob-tube. By the end of a whopping eight-day occupation of Saint-Nizier Church, sex workers had occupied churches all over France (Paris and Montepillair to name a couple), making international news yet again! Importantly, the occupation of Lyon marks one of the many organizing efforts emerging across international sex work communities throughout the 1970s and beyond.

Like International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers (Dec. 17), International Sex Workers’ Rights Day (March 3), and Sex Worker Pride (Sept 14), International Whores’ Day has since become a day to organize, gather, create, raise awareness, and celebrate sex workers across the globe.

“But!” We hear you whispering, “What does Lyon have to do with sex work today?” Our sex-positive-whore-celebrating-friend, we are glad you asked!

Today, economic, sexual, parental, and labor rights, reproductive autonomy, and systematic violence against sex workers (disproportionately against Black trans-femme people), echo calls from the distant streets of Lyon and remain among some of the central concerns of sex work whore-ganizers here in the United States.

International Whores’ Day gives us the perfect excuse to reflect on how badass sex workers are (we’ve got historical receipts!) and reminds us how the sustained issues and organizing efforts of sex-workers-past help frame the fight ahead towards D-E-C-R-I-M. To say, the past is present y’all.

What concerns and policies affect sex workers throughout the United States today?

International Whore's Day; present-day

Sex workers are no strangers to finding creative ways to work, survive, and resist. That said, policies haven't made it any easier over the years. We still face financial exclusion, police harassment, and regulations that continue to decrease the spaces we can work in peace. It seems that from NIMBY (“not in my backyard”) logic in the streets to shadow-banning in the digital sheets, at every turn, sex workers constantly face erasure and criminalization. It could take years to index every policy affecting us today; it’s safe to say if it impacts your life, it impacts ours. But, let’s outline a few!

Anti-trafficking regulations. Each has significantly impacted our ability to safely work. We could not be clearer, no one wants to end trafficking quicker than a sex worker. Yet, efforts by politicians and police alike to “eradicate human trafficking”, have often been a ruse to introduce and enforce anti-sex-work-morality agendas and surveillance strategies that criminalize sex workers and the spaces we choose to work, instead of ending trafficking.

Here in Los Angeles, “clean up” initiatives throughout the Figueroa Corridor have become a hotbed for police to arrest sex workers. Worse, the receipts show how costly operations like these fail to actually protect or prevent sex trafficking victims, fail to prosecute sex traffickers, and instead victimize and disproportionately arrest queer, undocumented, and Black street-based sex workers.

Can you say “SESTA/FOSTA” three times fast? We know, we know, it sounds like a bad introduction to the game where you repeat a word and a monster pops out of your mirror. Trust us, SESTA/FOSTA could not be scarier and haunts sex workers beyond the streets!

Though SESTA/FOSTA was “designed” to target websites that promote sex trafficking, sex workers have suffered from the fallout of these flawed policies. Since it passed, all over the internet, sex workers have been shadow-banned or deleted without explanation (ask us how many backup accounts we have). It’s important to understand that when this happens, we don’t just lose pictures, we lose our livelihood: networks of support built over years, client databases, and painstakingly crafted content.

If that’s not bad enough, integrated payment platforms on many of your favorite websites (cough, cough) mean our wallets are targets too! The most popular payment platforms simply aren’t safe for us anymore. Locked out of accounts we’ve had for years, dropped from crowdfunding sites, and “debanked” it's much harder to survive at all, let alone engage in sex work. You see where we’re going with this. Though shadow-bans, deletions, and site bans seem unexceptional, in the wake of SESTA/FOSTA, these daily experiences compound and limit our ability to work and provide for our families.

Stigma. Embedded in trafficking policy narratives, stigma has created a misconception that no one could ever consent to trade sex for money. So, when or if we choose to disclose our work, sex workers often must assume that people believe we have no agency to choose our work. 

This creates pressure to overcompensate by opting into “happy hooker” themes to narrate our experiences of sex work: healing, empowering, easy, and fun!

(cue: Mae Martin’s classic skit intro [right])

We lose the agency to be honest about our experiences (the good, the bad, and more often than not, the boring).

This does everyone a disservice. One-dimensional depictions that correlate sex work to trafficking among the general public and the pressure it creates to provide another narrative of sex work often leave little space for nuance and expose us to violence.

Among sex workers, this may leave new sex workers underprepared for the realities of the work and may cause pressure to recirculate these depictions among sex workers (Do you love your job all the time?). We lose yet another venue where we can exist sans-persona.

Of course, that’s not to say that sex work doesn’t have its moments! [Insert your own fun story here].

But in the same way, I wouldn’t insist my barista finds their sexual liberation in grinding espresso to assess whether I should demand an end to coffee shops, sex work doesn’t have to be empowering to be valid. It should, however, be protected so we can all work safely, at minimum. So what’s the solution?

We said decriminalization, not legalization. Even in places where sex work is legalized, sex workers still face increased surveillance and health checks that limit their mobility and access to a life free of discriminatory practice. Most importantly, legalization protects the few and creates a separate sub-class for others. When we advocate for sex workers’ rights, we must mean all sex workers. Undocumented, disabled, Indigenous, Black, and trans workers are often the first to be left out in these fights for workers’ rights for the sake of protection for some.

This is why organizers are fighting for full decriminalization of sex work, as seen in parts of Australia and New Zealand. Decriminalization entails the removal of all criminal penalties on the sale and purchase of sexual acts. This would stop punishing people for doing what they can to survive and allow for more worker protections to be put in place!

I’m not a sex worker. Why should I care?