This panel begins from the question: Why “sex work?” rather than some other framing in fighting for the liberation of people in the sex trades? Why is trading sex called work and not, for example, anti-work? This panel will take a disability-centered approach and will feature members of the Disabled Sex Workers’ Coalition. Speakers include Maitresse Madeline, femi babylon, Kitty Milford, and Jaylanee; moderated by Lorelei Lee.
femi babylon— formerly known as suprihmbé— is a genderfluid byke, hoodoo-american, and erotic labor theorist who coined “proheaux womanist” and “proheauxism.” In 2018 she won a grant from the Party Noire Collective and went on to publish libra season. Known as thotscholar on Twitter, she catapulted into the realm of notorious on social media by tweeting about poverty, erotic labor, race, reproductive justice, and bisexuality. A born and bred midwestern genius, her words have been published in VICE, Wear Your Voice, Autostraddle, Afropunk, and Yale University’s LPE Blog. She is also a member of the SWOP-USA Board of Directors. Her work is available at thotscholar.com.
Madeline Marlowe has been a sex work activist since 2013; and a professional dominatrix for nearly two decades. She has been producing porn since 2005, and is currently based in Las Vegas.
Kitty Milford is a sex worker and disability justice activist. She’s working on a book about abolition and disability justice which includes a chapter on disability and sex work. She is also a founding member of the Upstate New York Sex Worker Coaltition. She’s based in central NY state.
Sex Work as Work and Sex Work as Anti-Work
Lorelei Lee: Today’s panel is called Sex Work as Work and Sex Work as Anti work, and will be a conversation centering disabled sex workers. Our event today will feature about 45 minutes of conversation with our speakers, and then we’ll open up the floor to Q and A so in the audience, you are welcome to use the Q and A and chat features to ask questions and we’ll answer as many as we can get to at the end.
So to introduce our amazing speakers today. femi babylon, formerly known as suprihmbe, is a gender fluid byke, hoodoo American, and erotic labor theorist who coined proheaux womanist and proheauxism. In 2018, she won a grant from the Party Noir Collective and went on to publish ‘libra season,’ which is a beautiful book. I highly recommend you all get it. You can get it on Amazon. Known as thotscholar on twitter, she catapulted into the realm of notorious on social media by tweeting about poverty, erotic labor, race, reproductive justice, and bisexuality. A born and bred Midwestern genius, absolutely I can attest to that. Her words have been published in Vice, Wear Your Voice, Autostraddle, Afropunk, and Yale University’s LPE blog, that’s the law and political economy blog. She’s also a member of SWOPUSA’s board of directors, and her work is available at thotscholar.com.
Madeleine Marlowe has been a sex workers activist since 2013 and a professional dominatric for nearly two decades, and she’s currently based in Las Vegas.
And Kitty Milford is a sex workers and disability justice activist. She is working on a book about abolition and disability justice, which includes a chapter on disability and sex work. She’s also a founding member of the Upstate New York Sex Workers’ Coalition, and she’s based in central New York state.
I am really sad to share with you that Jaylanee Maple will not be able to join us today. She had a death in her family this week, and for those of you who don’t know Jaylanee’s work; she is a brilliant speaker, thinking, and organizer. She’s with Whose Corner Is It Anyway, Decrim Massachusetts, and I highly recommend following those organizations to learn more about Jaylanee’s work, and I also want to especially thank Jaylanee for her help in developing the questions in this panel.
So to start, just want to share a little bit about where I come to this panel from. I wanted to hold this panel because as a disabled sex worker I personally have had a somewhat conflicted relationship with the most prevalent slogan in our movement “sex work is work,” so that slogan is often used to just assert that sex work is labor, which you know I absolutely align with that, but it’s also sometimes used to suggest that we deserve rights or legitimacy specifically because we are workers rather than because we are people, for example. This is a conversation that femi and I have had many times, and I had many times, and I wanted us to just dig a little deeper into that tension today.
Sex worker Carol Leigh coined the term sex work in 1979 or 1980, she can’t remember which year it was, when she was at a feminist conference where they were having a workshop on what they called the “sex use industry.” Carol describes this in ‘Whores and Other Feminists’ which is a sex work classic. She says, “how could I sit amid other women as a political equal when I was being objectified like that described only as something used, obscuring my role as an actor and an agent in that transaction.” So here we are 40 years later and the term “sex work” is so prevalent, and so my first question for the panelists is what does that term mean to you now? Has it been useful to you? And also could you answer the question what does sex work as work mean to you and I guess I’m going to just call on you guys for ease of flow and so I think this is alphabetical. We’ll go with femi first.
femi babylon: Why do I always have to go first?
Lorelei Lee: I don’t know. It’s alphabetical.
femi babylon: Can you repeat the question?
Lorelei Lee: So the question is you know here we are 40 years after the invention of the term “sex work,” and my question is has that term been useful to you, what does it mean to you now, and also how could you answer what does sex work as work the slogan mean to you?
femi babylon: Sorry, you guys know I have ADHD, so I was staring and spaced out for a second.
I’ve actually been crowing a lot about this on Twitter for like years, and I ruffled a lot of feathersWhen I first started talking about this because — oh stop it. Hi PJ! I think we have the same birthday we’re so special — But sorry so yeah I’ve been talking about sex work mostly because I noticed okay so like I grew up in Milwaukee, and I live in Chicago now so I’m very Midwestern working class and everything like that, and my mom was a teacher, and like I never heard the term “sex work” before I got online I never heard it from other strippers — I never heard it from other hoes — I never heard that shit — I never heard that but the first time I heard the term or saw the term was in academic papers and in this book that I read.
I just saw this the other day, and I can’t remember the title now it has a white cover and has a black leg on it and has yellow and pink letters and it’s about like a lusty lady or something like that or whatever I don’t know what’s in my Amazon history I’ll find it.
Anyway, I read that book and I really liked the book I really liked the story and everything like that, but I noticed when I was looking for more and more things that I really couldn’t find any Black sex workers you know so speak erotic laborers you know prostitutes whatever you want whatever you want to call it I couldn’t find them and so outside of that I usually found maybe like a few Asian women and then a lot of queer men it’s a little bit easier in a certain regard for certain you know queer men to be out particularly queer white men you know queer light skin men and whatever and so I don’t know I spent a lot of time looking through that stuff but that’s what I associated the term “sex work” with and when I saw that Carol was cited I went looking for her work a little after that, and I found her book.
I’m not gonna pull it out of my stack over here, but ‘Unrepentant Whore’ is the book that I have. I have ‘Whores and Other Feminists’ like right underneath it, but you know ‘The Collected Works of Scarlet Harlot,’ and I loved it partially because it has a pretty cover and like glossy pages, and I’m a bibliophile, but also because it told me, it gave me some extra information about the term that she coined. For instance, there’s a lot of people who have this kind of thing about the word “prostitute,” and I totally understand it, right, but I mean come on. We’re calling ourselves “whores” and “hoes” and “sluts” and “bitches” and stuff. We do that so to have this whole thing around the word “prostitute” it’s just that word; it’s so strange to me, so strange. And especially considering that that work has mostly been thrown at specific types of women, women who look like me or women who are working class or poor because you know they think poor people are dirty regardless of you know race of ethnic background. They just think you’re poor and you’re dirty, and the darker you are the dirtier, you know. So that’s you know so strange to me because it was like everybody wanted to be whore, a slut, you know all of these sparkly new reclaimed works but they had such a problem with “prostitute,” and they were juxtaposing “sex work” with “prostitute.” I was like I never heard this term before I got online into these spaces or whatever. And then when I read about it I expected to find that viewpoint because that’s what I kept seeing all around regardless of their background. I kept seeing people say you know I prefer sex worker over prostitute because this is not — and come to find out when I read ‘Unrepentant Whore’ that it was never meant to like that. It was a substitute for sex use, and then people of took it and that’s what happens when you coin terminology. People kind of take that and they just run with it. It happened with intersectionality. Probably going to happen to proheauxism. It happens all the time like it happened with Martin Luther King; he’s not a term but you know that happens.
They come to symbolize these things according to whoever decided what the narrative was and then pushed that and had the power to do that and because you know at the time the movement was dominated by cisgender white women whether you know regardless of class because they were dominating that movement and more visible for a lot of different reasons not just because white supremacy and different things like that but also because women of color have a totally different history with our sexuality and how it has been viewed and all of these things besides colonization, hypersexuality, you know with Asian women there’s a lot of fetishization. It’s kind of — they have a different flavor of fetishization that’s a little bit oh it reminds me of like lighter skinned Black women or biracial Black women you know they have this kind of fetishization that comes from all sides. It’s very strange and Black women have like a hyperfetishization and hyperinvisibility, but it’s like there’s a lot more negativity in a certain kind of way. It’s a little bit more dangerous in a certain kind of way, but both of them are dangerous, so you know whatever, but you guys know what I mean.
My points is that I never saw that term, and so I never heard the term sex work is work until I got on Facebook and got into some different groups, and I was like okay you know like it for me was you know when people give me information I take things in stride. I’m a natural skeptic, so I throw away whatever doesn’t fit for me, and I do what I want to do, so I used that term, the terms “sex work” for awhile as an umbrella term because people were like “that’s how you use it, this is what it means, don’t use prostitute,” and I was like but I always call myself a hoe. I always call myself a prostitute. Is that a bad word? This was when I was in my early 20s you know and I was still kind of new, but not new. I was younger than a lot of these people in these groups. It was Black women you know Black feminists telling me don’t use this use this, and I was learning, and I kept reading because I’m a reader. That’s what I do, and when I found out the background around the word I was like okay I can see that the term sex work has like a lot of utility you know becaus eit was groundbreaking for the time and still kind of is because you know the way that it gets people, it gets people to out of their pre-consumptions when it comes to certain terms because there are a lot of terms that are still thrown around as pejoratives. Now I have has people call me a sex workers as a pejorative, and that was funny. But the thing that I noticed and that change that got me you know the wheels turning was that I put sex worker in my bio on twitter, my account started to get really popular, I started getting cyber-harassed and cyberbullied. Every year I would have these moments most of the time it was from people outside of my circle, but last time it was super fun because it was from people inside of my circles so to speak — other queer people, other people who kind of had a problem either with my talking about biphobia or like my visibility or certain things like that or the amount of followers because they kind of felt like you know it’s like when you get called on too much in the class, and other people have their hands up, but like you know what I’m saying that’s kind of how they felt, and there’s nothing I can do about that, but I started thinking you know every time I got cyber-harassed except for that last time people would assume I was a prostitute and they would conflate the two, and the reason they do that is because of the history of the word and the way it was used. It was called the prostitutes’ rights movement okay it was about prostitutes, and there was a lot of people later on and still today that I’ve had conversations with because I’ve said you know well sex work is an umbrella term — this was a few years ago — and this other sex worker was like no it’s not, it’s not, and she explained what she meant and went and explained about how prostitutes are supposed to be the center of the movement because of you know vulnerability and things like that, and they have, she feels, like you know the have the least visibility in the movement. I’m going to switch back and forth between day and week because I don’t like to just disclose stuff directly you’re not going to catch me slipping but because I have these kids but yeah you know we had this whole back-and-forth and she was like super mad and then I read in Spread magazine anthology that like there was once like the old prostitutes they got a banner and they stormed the movement and they were like prostitutes first you know and like when what happened is that you know what always happens in society where there’s structural oppression and things like that and there’s a dominant class or classes what ends up happening is that you know the word sex worker and the word sex work people decided you know it was an umbrella term and then when it became an umbrella term the people who are already the most visible were taking up space and that’s one of the reasons why I decided to scale my use back to sex worker equals prostitute you know in my space you know everybody else is going to do what they want to do because people are going to argue me down to like the bone marrow about this but I know the history of the word and that’s how I feel.
Then after that you know along with that thought process I started talking about sex work is work, which is also I never heard until I got on social media I didn’t have internet until my early twenties I lived by myself I didn’t have internet I like a lot of peopleThat’s why I was so late to camming and I was so late I never green clients and people were like what I was like I don’t know mostly pulled the client out of the strip club or off the street I don’t know because I didn’t have internet so sex work is what became this thing that I kept hearing and I was like okay then you know I start interrogating and people got mad again because they were like well you know we’re trying to say this and that and I was like you know what you’re trying to say I’m not stupid but you know sorry what I said back then though my bad y’all so you know I was like what you’re trying to say I don’t need you to Super explain to me because I can read what you’re saying but I’m saying is that I don’t like to work and like people call me lazy they call me all of these things and I would ask about gigs and people would be like why isn’t your kid in school and I’ll be like because he doesn’t like school he’s disabled he doesn’t want to go to school he doesn’t want to tie his shoes so he has velcro because I don’t want to make him tie his shoes he doesn’t have to tie his shoes slip-ons exist now and like I didn’t want to work and they were like you’re lazy and I was like wow oh I’m a little lazy but geez you know like I had you know I was dealing with uncontrolled ADHD at the time so I quit school like 3 or 4 times and other stuff when I got into sex work you know stripping, erotic labor, all of that stuff when I got into stuff I was looking for a way to not work or not to have to work every day I was like I’ve never worked you know a nine-to-five and I don’t want to because it’s too much I cannot show up on time I will get fired I can’t keep up with my schedule I didn’t check my email regularly and I just you know like even on medication it was really really hard I have all these kids well 2 kids but it seems like a lot but it’s like a lot of you guys like you know my kid he’s bouncing up and down he’s up in the middle of the night so sex work is work is just not it wasn’t the phrase I got but it wasn’t appealing to me because it was like it made me feel like now I have to like really need to be putting in this time with camming and really like a lot of people they were like well you work from home and I was like okay work 30 hours a week on camera and I had to buy equipment to do this and I’m not making any freaking money like I’m I’m working for hours and hours and you must have like sour pussy of something is wrong with you because you’re not making money. Couldn’t possibly be because I’m Black or because the market is oversaturated or because I’m on the wrong side of you know couldn’t possibly be all of these different things — beauty politics, desirability — because it’s just because I have dank pussy or something like that that’s what it was that’s what I kept hearing and no matter what I did that was the consensus that you know she has to crowdfund then definitely she’s a bad hoe. And camming — people think that it doesn’t take any work you know camming takes a lot of work and if I could go back to in-person work you know pandemic aside I would but I am a mom now and you know I have these kids and I am estranged from my family because my mom’s abusive so if something happens to me I don’t know what would happen to my son I’m the only one on his birth certificate. So I don’t know what would happen if you know I don’t want my mom to have custody of him so I have to kind of toe a certain line. Maybe OkCupid I don’t like Seeking Arrangements and I need childcare and I need all of these extra things so when I take breaks from erotic labor people like she doesn’t work or they say things whatever in 2019 like she’s not even a full time full service sex worker and I was like what the hell is that what is a what is full time nobody knows that’s not a real thing you know. I’m sorry I’m a talker that’s my answer.
Lorelei Lee: Well that’s why we invited you. Work sucks you guys, so Kitty do you want to go next?
Kitty Milford: Sure. That was great. I definitely agree about work sucking and not working. The idea with sex work is work, I think that it’s an argument and in sex work both are arguments essentially you’re saying that these kind of jobs have this thing in common and therefore for at least some purposes we’re grouping them together, and sex work is work is saying it can be saying different things, it can be saying this is actually hard work because it is sometimes depending on you know I mean maybe for some people it’s not — for me it is. You know I wished it wasn’t, but it is for me. You know it can be if you’re trying to unionize your strip club I could see how something like sex work and sex work is work are both really helpful when we’re talking about like femi was saying really well like when you make something that is supposed to be complex and when you narrow it down like that and flatten it you end up not focusing on the most marginalized people which here are full service sex workers.
I think that there is a use for it, but I think that use is pretty pretty discreet, and I think we use it a lot more when we don’t really think about what we’re using it for and why we’re using it. Same with the term sex work, which I use because I like the vagueness even though — well I’m just not gonna — I like the part of it — I like it because it does encompass legal things in it. In a lot of ways that once again you know it does a lot of times sex work the people take up the most space are the people that should not be in this umbrella, so kind of in terms of work in general I agree that we shouldn’t. That’s my problem with communism generally and socialism generally is seeing people as workers first before people, and so I think generally everywhere, you know, workers like we should all whether we’re workers or not, and I understand that workers is a political class not necessarily a person who goes to work, but even still it’s alienating for disabled people, and it’s still um you’re still internalizing the ableism and white supremacy — it’s value of productivity that we have even on the left so much that we’re really that we still embody a lot of us in the left still, that we still put, you know, this rise and grind mentality and all this kind of bullshit that we see even in sex work and even in places, and so I think conversations like this are really helpful to talk about and think about like yeah in what ways do we want this to not be like work and what ways, what can we do about it and to think about possibilities like so does it mean maybe that we use this slogan for this reason and just being really intentional about it. So yeah I guess I would like — to those questions kind of around sex work phrasing and sex work is work both generally — I think that they’re both often misused and both used when we should have more nuanced conversations, but I think that sometimes they can be helpful in certain organizing campaigns that farewell thought out, and they’re not used appropriately and thoughtfully.
Lorelei Lee: Yeah, that absolutely makes sense, and I think your point too about the way that “sex work” can be useful as a euphemism, um that can, that encompasses legalized work or semi-legalized work as well — is a very very good point that I hadn’t thought of before.
Yeah so okay Madeline, do you…
Madeline Marlowe: Unmute! Great points everybody. This year marks, I’ve been a full-time sex worker for 20 years now — whether that’s a clap or not.
Lorelei Lee: Haha we can clap for that! I love that you clapped for yourself.
Madeline Marlowe: Hell yes! That’s one thing as a sex worker nobody’s ever gonna, you know, pat you on the back. You’re not gonna have a boss or anyone ever pat yourself on the back, so everybody let’s do this. Pat yourself on the back; you’re doing a good job.
I also like femi grew up in the Midwest, working class. My entire life, you know, when I was a child it was all about the first thing you need to do when you turn 13 years old is go get a part time job, and yeah you need to work until you die, so when I was 13 years old I went out and got a job, but I couldn’t get a job because I was 13, you know, but I still actually managed to get something under the table, you know. Then, you know, my family was all about, you know, I grew up on the eastside of Detroit, so as soon as you, you know, left high school it’s like the best thing you could do is like go get on a job on the assembly line, you know what I mean. Go work at one of the big three. You know all these things that’s what my family did, that’s what everybody did. You got that job you were like wow I’m set for life. In the back of my head, I’m thinking — this seems — how nobody — I was a black sheep of the… Everyone! Everyone was like — I’m like how? You want to be there nine to five for 40 years? What? That just seems odd to me, but I had no idea why I felt that, you know what I mean? I didn’t understand it, and everybody around me was telling me that “you’re lazy, that’s crazy, in order to be anything you have to get that nine to five, go put those 40 hours in, you know don’t worry about the rest of your life work work work work work,” so I was like okay I’m gonna stumble around this sort of trying to figure out what I wanted to do, and I was going to be a dental hygienist, actually. That’s what I was studying, but I didn’t have money to pay for school, so I answered this ad in the back of a newspaper.
It was like “make a thousand dollars, be naked,” and I was like a thousand dollars!? I would be rich like this is awesome, you know? I walk into my first sex work job — this was 2001. The internet was nothing, and it was a webcam job that you go into like this industrial park, and we would work out of this space, and I worked through the night. My shift was midnight till three in the morning, you know, and so from there until now I have identified with “sex work as work” because yeah I think that my labor and what I’m doing is work, and I do use it as a broad term, but my ideas about it have shifted and changed so much over the years, and it’s still shifting and changing right now as I’m learning more about sex work and what it is and how it’s changing. I’m very much into and looking forward to getting into the discussion with like sex work as anti-work. I think that’s really important to talk about, but my last thing that I wanted to say — so at the cam studio what ended up happening, and I thought like telling a story would help people relate. I started working there and there was you know like three different shifts and there’s people coming in at all hours, and we had rooms that we camped in, but you would cam in somebody else’s room, after it was your job to clean up their mess after. They didn’t have people to like do that or anything, so all of us got together, and we weren’t a union or anything, but we were just like — and they wanted us to bring in the supplies, the cleaning supplies, and I’m like you know you’re making a large sum of money off of us you can — you know — some lysol or something, you know what I mean? Anything. And they wouldn’t do it, and they wouldn’t do it, and then there is a big outbreak of genital warts including me, and I said this is why we need this in here, you know, like we need these, so finally like a week later we come, and there’s like you know this whole like protocol set up and everything, but it took blood, sweat, and tears for them to agree to give us some lysol to clean the you know whatever so that we weren’t spreading, you know, STIs or anything like that.
To me that just seems like you’re saying if we’re workers we are our value, right? Therefore we deserve rights in the workplace, so yes we should have the lysol, but if we’re sex workers is that work not as valuable anymore, so then therefore we don’t get the lysol or are we just human like we all said, and you know what we deserve the fucking lysol in my workspace. I mean it’s so simple, yeah. So yes, I mean I at sex work as work, but I think the problem is that other people don’t look at sex work as work, you know what I mean? We just get dehumanized, and that’s the problem like give me the lysol.
Lorelei Lee: Yeah, absolutely.
Madeline Marlowe: Does that help at all?
Lorelei Lee: Yeah, yeah. I am so thrilled with this conversation. You guys are all so brilliant, and so much of what everyone is saying just completely resonates with me.
I mean in terms of my own experiences, and something that I was just thinking about too is how femi brought up the idea of the lazy whore, and how that is like I think that disability stigma and sex work stigma are deeply intertwined, and that this idea of being lazy as a pjerorative when you know as disabled people and also even abled people I think abled people too often want to work as little as possible.
Like this point, Madeline, that you are coming back to, and I think this is something that Jaylanee was also going to bring up, is how for so many of us sex work is a strategy so that we don’t have to work. Yeah, it’s a survival strategy, right?
I also wanted to bring up something else that Jaylanee was going to talk about, which it just didn’t get mentioned yet, but think a lot of people feel this, which is just like the alternative to what femi was talking about, which is the idea that prostitute is the language of criminalization, and for her I know that was one of her feelings was just being labeled as a prostitute by the police and literally having that prevent you from getting other jobs, in fact so a couple of you guys already sort of brought this up, but anti-sex work feminists often argue that sex work is not work because to paraphrase sex work is gender-based violence that’s what they wil say, but my question for you guys is are work and violence mutually exclusive? Does work imply consent? If the choice we have is between working and not surviving, is that even a meaningful choice?
And femi, I’m gonna call on you first. Let me know if you want me to say the question again.
femi babylon: Sorry, I was like in the chat because somebody said some shit, and it like triggered some like stripper hate, and I had to like calm down and be nice and say some stuff because like how dare you but not really though not like super mad. It’s just like it made me think of like when I was a stripper, and people would say things like that, and I’ll be like what do you mean, what do you even mean by that? What does that mean?
Sorry, go ahead.
Lorelei Lee: No, it’s okay I can see that there’s so much going on in the chat and honestly I can’t even look at it because, so I’m watching everyone it’s like too much for me.
femi babylon: I wish we could get a transcript of the freaking chat.
Lorelei Lee: Oh yeah, I think we can actually at the end. We’ll figure that out.
So my question — to say my question again. Anti-sex work feminists, as you know, often argue that sex work isn’t work because they say sex work is violence, so my question is are work and violence mutually exclusive? Does work imply consent, actually and if work does imply consent or even choice — I mean if the choice we have is between surviving or doing work is that even a meaningful choice?
femi babylon: Okay, so I’m gonna begin this with talking about my therapist who told me that I don’t know how to relax. Now everybody else told me I was lazy, so this was very interesting to me, but people in my personal life always tell me that I don’t know how to relax and — what is happening in this chat there’s a whole essay right here.
Lorelei Lee: Yeah I know, I think we might have to — will save it for you, and answer everyone’s questions.
femi babylon: Yeah, so like I was talking to my therapist, and she was like you don’t know how to relax, and I was like I do know how to relax. Okay my circumstances do not allow me to relax much at the time, at this time, but I know how to relax. Unfortunately, I guess like everybody’s definition of relaxation does not match. Okay, when I relax I like to knit, and if I don’t knit I like to read. I like to read academic papers, I like to read essays, I like to read anthologies, I like to read nonfiction, I like to read fantasy, I like to do puzzles. I’m an old lady at heart. I like to do logic puzzles, I like to do fill-ins, I like to do sudoku, I like to do mazes. When I was a kid, I liked to do hidden pictures like I’ve always been like this, you know, if I’m really like trying to relax I do what I did last night — and I start covering my books. Yeah, librarian style because I ordered a bunch of stuff from Dimco, and I was like I gotta do this stuff, so I covered all my books, and I listened to them crinkle and stuff, and I like to smell the paper. I’m just like a big bibliophile — so I’m gonna — I’m like a weirdo with books, but like, you know, so I like smell the paper. It’s probably formaldehyde on it or something but like, you know, like I… that’s the kind of stuff that helps me relax.
Now notice that when I relax I’m constantly laboring because that’s what I like to do, but at the same time if we’re talking about work outside of you know what I personally do and think with this stuff and whatever work under, you know, the type of, you know, government we have where if you don’t work you don’t have health insurance or you have medicaid like me or your health insurance costs like a grip, you know? Like, you know, like these ideas of what work is as defined by a capitalist government — descended — most of whom are descended from people who started a war over capitalism, yeah not slaves, but capitalism. They started a war not to end slavery but to stop the south and get rid of these damn inefficient plantations and industrialize that shit that’s what they wanted they wanted money and they were democrats they were called republicans back then, but they wanted money that’s why they started that war. And that’s that on that. So we live in a capitalist country, and I think a lot of people forget and this is you know this is kind of like a historical thing of how they kind of sow discord and everything like that, and they did that deliberately. They did it deliberately to the white working class and white poor people. They were like you know what just like they do with people now and like immigrants and the new immigrants. They were like, you know, who’s stopping you guys from getting these jobs, you know, who’s stopping you from having good things — former slaves that’s who, and some people were like no no that doesn’t sound right and some people were like yeah that’s who it is, and so like because of that they stoked hatred and everything, and they redirected hatred toward Black people and immigrants and all of these things. You know they were like man these Irish people stealing our jobs, you know, like they were just like really mad at everybody like they were like we don’t need to give Black people and Irish people the vote like what do we need to do that for like lucky charms my ass — that’s what they did like, and then they were like — oh don’t be fussy what’re you fussing for you’re right here I didn’t go anywhere. We’re right here. Are you hot? Some milk for you? (femi speaking to their baby) — Okay so like all that stuff was going on and they like — I’m sorry if you guys see my boob I’m trying not to…
Lorelei Lee: Don’t worry.
femi babylon: Okay there we go. Let me move my camera up a little bit. There we go.
So basically all this stuff is going on, they redirected hate from the capitalists, and the, you know, the elites and everything like that. They like just moved it on over to people who, you know, were more vulnerable and they do that still to this day. It’s like you know like it’s really silly because like we could be, you know, like what they wanted to do was exactly, you know, what they accomplished though with, you know, killing unions and everything. They just step by step decided that they were not going to deal with class struggle like they just weren’t gonna do that, and I think like a lot of people forget about class, and I noticed this in Black feminist circles, you know, because that’s where I hang out, and like they like people deliberately don’t mention class because they want to be like, you know, I’m a businessman not a business man, you know what I’m saying like they want to be Jay-Z, so they’re like, you know, class is not even… You know, we’re still Black, and I’m like you know the bourgeoisie middle class Blacks they really felt like they were leading us poor Black people by the nose because — we don’t — they had some paternalistic things going on. They need us to lead them — that’s how they talked about poor Black people. Middle class Black people in the 1800s and 1900s, they talked about us like we were children, and that we needed them, and we were just like little bumpkins who needed their help, and that so like class struggle is like really important when it comes to this conversation.
So when you talk about work in this system then yes it’s definitely exploitative or coercive for most people. Yeah I don’t know if a lot of people realize this, but I’m sure that you do because you work, but you’re working more hours now than you used to yeah for less, for less money. They’re taking your time. You have cell phones now, so you get emails all the time. All the time no one ever stops emailing you. I’m a gig worker and that’s my life, so I know that if you’re working nine to five it’s like bad because you’re not actually working nine to five. You’re working all the time, all the time, and they’re telling you that work is good because work gets you money, but they’re giving you less money for the work that you’re doing. You’re working more hours the poorer you are. The more hours you’re working for less the darker you are. The more hours you’re working for much less and regardless of the degrees that you Black women are getting and all of this other stuff like they’re not making that much money, and Black men are making maybe a cent above them. As much as people want to pretend that, you know, Black, poor Black men specifically have so much male privilege that they’re just doing so much better when in reality — if you — a quick Google will tell you that that is not the case. In fact, their income is actually precipitously like drop. You know, the only reason that poor and working class Black men are benefitting from their, you know, male privilege is because of the types of jobs that they take are masculinized and working class and poor white men work those jobs too, so they’re not going to get paid that much less, but they’re still going to get paid less because they’re working class, and so you know like I think that, you know, there’s a lot that gets erased in these conversations when you talk about work because people think of work, and then they kind of like, you know, I don’t know what it is, but like people sometimes have a hard time holding like more than one thing in their head at a time, so they hear, you know like well you know, like I take issue with sex work is work, and then they start saying well we know, but it’s used because of this and you know yadda yadda yadda and whatever whatever. Like they’re the only ones that read Marx or you know I don’t like Marx, but, you know, like Paul Lafargue.
Lorelei Lee: Oh god.
femi babylon: I have the Paul Lafargue, you know what I’m saying, like I don’t really read Marx. What?
Lorelei Lee: Oh yeah I don’t even know how to pronounce his name. I’ve been pronouncing it in my head for…
femi babylon: I’m really bad at French like I can do Italian. I can do Spanish because I grew up speaking Spanish, but I’m really bad at French. I don’t know like I’m just terrible. My Haitian friend used to make fun of me all the time, but my point is that like you’re not going to make me read Marx.
There are people their like fine line especially like Black academics I don’t know what it is that they like they go to the academy, and they’re like well if you don’t understand socialism, if you haven’t read Marx. I’m like I can add two plus two like they like, you know, I can, I can, I can do arithmetic. I might not be able to do squiggly “i” pre-calculus math, but I can do arithmetic okay, and I know what socialism is without reading Marx. Okay everybody is not — if I want to write a play or I want to write something super funny, you know, I’m not going to go all the way back and read the Old English version of the Canterbury Tales. I’m gonna read like the new version because it’s still funny. The Canterbury Tales is really funny. It’s an old dusty text, but if you get it in like, you know, if you get like a translation it’s super funny. The Middle English one is funny too, but anyway… I was an English nerd, and my point is that like people say work — you say you don’t like this phrase “sex work is work” everybody comes up in arms like well “I love it,” because of this, you know, like Jehovah’s Witnesses in this chat. We love that you love it, and we understand it.
We not, you know, I know that like whores are supposed to be stupid, but we totally — like sorry I keep slipping up, but like — I know that whores are supposed to be like, you know, lessers, you know, we’re less intelligent. We’re lazy. You know, all of these things, but we read. Whores read.
I understand what “sex work is work” means. I understand what the utility of the word “sex work” does. I understand what it does politically. For me, sex worker, and I said this in the chat, it equals politicized whore, as in prostitute specifically. And then I use erotic labor as an umbrella term, and you’re not gonna make me do anything different. I have very strong opinions. I just — you know don’t beat my ass about it.
My point is that work, when you say work is bad, and you don’t, you know, we say we take issue with it, we’re not just trying to doo-doo all over everybody’s hard work and everything like that. You know, this is a new generation and sometimes when you have kids they think differently than you, and it’s okay. It’s okay your kids are their own people, but we appreciate you, and we love you, but we’re gonna do our own thing because we’re the kids. My kids do their own thing everyday. My son tells me what he’s not gonna do for me like he does so much for me yeah, and I just let him go a lot of the time because like he’s like me. He doesn’t like authority. He doesn’t want to do what I tell him to do, and he’s not going to do what I said without me explaining why five times maybe more than that, so, you know, like just, you know, get to just, you know, rub your feathers gently. It’s okay. It’s okay.
Work also is not always a bad thing, and like a lot of people forget that. They think about, you know, work, and they think okay so anti-work — we don’t like work. Work is bad. These are things that we say because they are, you know, like, you know, well for me I say because, you know, I’m dramatic, you know, I love drama, and these are dramatic things. It’s like, it’s like a headline. It’s like when you see a headline, and they put a picture that you know doesn’t go with the article like they do with my Afropunk article. They put like a picture of two gay men like it had nothing to do with the article. I didn’t choose it, you know. It’s just inflammatory for no reason except for we have our reasons, you know, we say that we take issue because we take issue.
Yeah, and you know, and you know like with work but work also isn’t inherently bad work. Under the conditions that we are living right now is bad. You know, working for more, and you know, getting less. Having to like — why is dental separate from like the rest of our insurance that doesn’t make — are your teeth not in your body. That doesn’t make any sense. If I go to the ER, and I have a tooth problem, which I have chronic dental problems, they tell me I can’t do anything for you. Here’s some Tylenol with codeine or whatever drug and some antibiotics, go to the dentist. For what? You can have a dentist office right here. A dentist can come to me in the ER like this is madness, and yet I will have to go somewhere else entirely. It doesn’t make any sense, and that’s the problem with work in America, in a lot of places, is you know, a lot of places because we’re getting globalization, you know, are becoming Americanized, and they’re like oh we can fuck our citizens like this. Let’s do it, you know, and in countries that have more money and are more homogeneous and more white; they are socializing medicine and they’re socializing all of these things and whatever and, you know, because and schools are getting better like I don’t know if you guys read about like news in Finland and stuff, but Finland schools just be terrible, and now they’re awesome because they can do that. They have a very small immigrant population, so it doesn’t feel like a threat for them to do things for their citizens. It doesn’t feel like a threat for them to give paternity, maternity leave. In countries that are mostly one type of, you know, ethnicity or race or whatever. You know what I’m saying, but here in America because of the history that this country has, you know, just constantly stealing stuff like a bad little brother, you know, we, you know, like there’s they don’t want to share, no share, you know like they just want to take everything. They find oils, and they found soil somewhere else on this globe, and they were just like we’re over there, we’re taking it, mine, you know, like children, and the thing is that like, you know, at the same time I like to work, I just don’t like to work the way people want me to work, but I, you know, like I said at the beginning when I relax I like to stuff — I, you know — I have ADHD. I like to, I like to think about stuff. I like to tweet. I like to work. I like to write. I like to journal. I like to read, and I’m not just going to sit like she was — my therapist wanted me to sit around and like with my thoughts, and I was like what does that even mean like am I just going to sit in silence and just stare. I have kids. I can’t have time to do that, you know, what about when you’re in the bathroom, and you’re, you know, this and that or take a bath. I don’t want to sit down and take a bath like I don’t want to do that. It’s boring like and like, like it’s super boring. I don’t like, you know, and I don’t mind boredom, but when I’m bored I find stuff to do or I go to sleep yeah because that’s how I am, you know, it’s relaxing to do stuff, so I don’t want us to mistake work is bad or work sucks with just like everything like we don’t want to do anything, and I think that’s what people hear when they hear us say we’re anti-work.
They’re like you don’t want to work, you don’t want to do anything. You’re lazy. When in fact like I said in this chat, cats are lazy, and they’re super awesome, okay like they sit on a cable box all damn day, people brush them and all this, and you think that this cat is not doing anything, but do you have ants? Do you have mice? No, you do not, okay. The cat knows what it’s doing, and it does it very well without you just imposing on it.
Lorelei Lee: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, I think these are all really good points, and I want to make sure that um I’m not gonna talk so that you guys all have more time to talk.
Kitty will you please share with us your thoughts.
Kitty Milford: Yeah, um I have a lot of thoughts about laziness actually that primarily come from fat liberation, and so um without like getting into the whole thing here, and um, but I recommend like I think fatness and laziness um and also being a fat sex worker and um and that like part of laziness too like, so whenever lazy like oh I can’t, I always think of that because there’s for obvious reasons and all the stigma, but I just kind of wanted to throw that out there without diving too deep into that um, but the connection between like laziness and fatness and fatness and sex work, and I mean I could talk forever and there needs to be a lot more discussion about that, but um, so in terms of like disability, and I think I like what femi was saying about like work that part about work being good because at times like certain kinds and, and meaningful work because for disabled people — a lot — like we don’t get to work.
Like I’m a lawyer — I was a lawyer, I got pushed out I like, I was too sad to work as a lawyer, and too crazy um to work as a lawyer, and so I got pushed out of the profession. It didn’t last very long, but and that’s how I ended up in sex wor. I also have ADHD, if you can’t tell um, and so I think that, and I’m not saying that I don’t like to, I don’t a lot of times say that because it gives like — I don’t — people react weird, and I feel like they make that like makes me more legitimate in some way or not, but um just that I wish I could be using my educ — like some of my education to do some work that I can’t do um because of avenues that are closed to me because of ableism like there’s work I want to be doing. There’s jobs that I want to get that will be, of course, exploitative. It’s capitalism. There’s jobs that I’d love to do, but because of ableism like I can’t get them or I can’t do them. They won’t make the accommodations or because I am, you know, the ableism like all of the parts of it; including being crazy in the way that, that affects jobs and all this stuff. Even sex work, so even part of talking about laziness in sex work and going back to class like we’re talking about.
So I also come from like a very working class background and live in a working class area, and most of my clients are working class like I’m very rooted in that kind of area, and the way that class plays into laziness and almost work in anti-work too because anti-work to me — as — because I don’t know if it comes from my being working class and just like you can’t let up for a second. You always have to be pushing. You can’t like any second the bottom can fall out. Just kind of always being precarious and feeling precarious where like, so a lot of these kinds of other kinds of work would be more, you know, would feel more of a privilege, would feel maybe even less like work. I mean some of these fancy office jobs are less like work than even, even some of the best clients that make things really easy for you. You know when you get a lot of power — you get — and people don’t talk to you like you’re a piece of shit as much even though they still will, but there’s just it’s different, so it’s complicated I think um with work and not work and all these different things. I think too that we like along with this in terms of all our opportunities in our like not everyone’s gonna be in the same position, and I think even within, even when you’re just talking about like whores like people that just like not even the more umbrella term but even when we’re talking about just like prostitutes um it’s a different, it’s a whole different — if you’re charging fourteen hundred dollars an hour, and you’re sitting at a two-hour long wait, five star restaurant for two hours as in for part you what I mean that’s a lot different than if you’re like spending an hour where the guy is going to make sure he gets every dollar’s worth, every minute, seconds worth, and, you know, that hour if you’re — which is different if you’re doing something else, so I think that um that’s something with all this too. And I don’t want to say I think it’s like I don’t think it’s necessarily privileged people that are saying that and making the anti-work arguments. I’m saying that I think that when we think about work in the material conditions we need to and not working we need to think about the material conditions, which are heavily influenced by um class and disability and race and gender and everything.
Lorelei Lee: Yes, yes, oh my god I mean yeah, I think everything you’re saying is so important. So Madeline I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Madeline Marlowe: I’ll keep it short because I like the next questions.
But I was going through my notes, and I’m gonna — I’ll say my little last bit about this, and you know bounce off of everyone because I don’t think we really actually addressed this part of the question.
So I feel like I can still consent to my gig that day and not necessarily love the gig that day.
Lorelei Lee: Yes.
Madeline Marlowe: You know? And that’s totally okay, right? Doesn’t that seem reasonable to everybody out there in the world. You’re going to work and this kind of sucks, but I consent to it. I’m doing that. The fact that I feel the need to consent to it — Let’s ask us like, you know, that’s the question. Why do I have to continue to put myself through that? Well I mean that’s because of the way that this, you know, the society works.
Yeah and um, you know, when talking about like rape and gender-based violence yeah um like in workplace situations and sex working out within sex work um I think obviously that type of violence you’re gonna find it, and we are talking about this, I see people talking about this all on the internet, and you know, I always feel like I’m coming into a battle when I have these conversations about sex work. When I was getting ready for this panel I was like I usually put my lashes on and my strap-on on, and I’m like I’m gonna come in here because I’m going to war. I have to teach and tell these people these things and fight and fight and fight, and I, you know, I’m going to show up in my pajamas, chill because I’m tired, you know what I mean.
Lorelei Lee: Yes.
Madeline Marlowe: But what I’m trying to say is like, you know, violence like this is everywhere, right? And so the question that I think that we have to ask is why is that violence there and where does it come from and why does it exist? And does everybody know what the answer to that question is?
Lorelei Lee: I think that’s such an important point, and I um that is sort of where I was going when I wrote this question. It’s just thinking about how um work and violence are often happening at the same time. I personally have felt like um, you know even, so part of my experience is of being trafficked, but uh, which by the way — and I’ve always been very uncomfortable with that term, but I — and I only really learned that — my — some situations that I’ve been in really like met that definition after I went to law school and learned how the law defines it, and I was like oh yeah okay that was just actually what I thought was a shitty working situation. Like…
Madeline Marlowe: Yeah, haha. It’s crazy when these things unfold and you learn more.
Lorelei Lee: Yeah, exactly, and how so, so I think about how for me I feel like okay I was trafficked into sex work like that you can be experiencing violence while working, and those things don’t happen separately necessarily, you know, and you’re — and I think your point about consenting to something that you don’t necessarily want to do like that consent is really different when we’re talking about work than when we’re talking about private sexual experiences, and I think this is part of the problem is that people have tried to apply the definition of consent from private sexual experiences, where it’s like the ideal version is like enthusiastic desire to work sex work only, no other forms of work.
Madeline Marlowe: Yeah, I know!
Lorelei Lee: So I don’t know if I cut you off though.
Madeline Marlowe: No, you didn’t cut me off. I was keeping it short, and I love what you said though. I mean that’s — I agree 100%, you know?
Lorelei Lee: Yeah, yeah okay, so I want to ask the next question because you like it, but I also think this is definitely going to be our last question, so I’m going to just say both of the questions, and you guys should feel free to answer however you want. So the third question was, regardless of whether work implies consent, work is — and I think you guys have already talked about this — work is central to public understandings of social membership in the United States, so much so, and this is something femi was talking about — that the legitimacy of a person’s claim to a job is often used as a proxy for a legitimate claim to residency.
So like when people say immigrants are stealing American jobs, the idea is that, you know, by living here you deserve to work. Work is, you know, part of living here. Work is part of being a member of the community.
Um so uh sorry I lost my place. So my question was where does this idea leave those of us who are disabled, who aren’t or can’t be part of what’s traditionally understood as the workforce. Like do we have to be workers in order to be part of the American social body, and so femi I’m gonna call on you next.
Do you want me to call on someone else first or no?
femi babylon: I was like having trouble with my mute button, and I was like… Okay I’m trying to um… Are we on question three right?
Lorelei Lee: I was gonna say questions three and four because this is the end, we only have a few minutes left.
femi babylon: Okay, I’m gonna try to keep it short then.
Lorelei Lee: Okay so four was both disabled people and sex workers are often stigmatized as unable to speak for ourselves or to understand what’s best for us, and I was wondering if we could envision a call for liberation and recognition that doesn’t rely on thinking of ourselves primarily as workers and that being the way that we deserve agency, so but you feel free to answer. I think those questions are linked.
femi babylon: Okay, sorry I’m looking at this, and so we’re looking at sex workers, gender-based violence, and that argument or the last one four
Lorelei Lee: No.
femi babylon: Just four?
Lorelei Lee: Three. Three.
femi babylon: That’s what it says for three.
Lorelei Lee: Oh. Regardless of whether work implies consent, work is central to the public understandings of social membership…
femi babylon: Ok.
Lorelei Lee: Oh you got it?
femi babylon: Yeah, no I don’t see it but I’m going to just try to — it doesn’t say the same thing.
Lorelei Lee: I’m sorry.
femi babylon: But basically um okay so, you know, we’re talking about, we’re talking about relating to the labor and how um, and how like we were talking about this in the chat a little bit, so like I’m gonna try to piece that together, but we were talking about labor and um Carol Leigh was talking about how that was one of the ends. I know like Heather Berg writes a lot about labor, I write a lot about labor as far as like anti-work and decrim, and I just want to like say I guess in relation to the labor argument and do we have to relate to it as workers. I think that sometimes people maybe forget or I don’t know some don’t care, but I think sometimes people maybe forget or I don’t know some don’t care, but I think sometimes it’s just really forgetting because we all kind of center ourselves in our own narratives, and I think it’s important to talk about labor and to connect with other laborers under this regime. Yeah, that being said all of us do not want this regime to continue yeah, and I think that that needs to be considered. I remember I see — I saw, you know, just in the chat just a minute ago I’m not gonna, you know, I don’t remember the person’s name, but they had said, you know, I don’t like the word eradicating. I don’t like these words because they’re like patriarchal and they’re violence, they’re this and they’re that, and one thing that I’ve been writing about recently a lot is the bioessentialism and gender essentialism that happens in a lot of these feminist arguments now I personally believe that, that’s like a stain or a residual from like way in the past when white middle class feminists who didn’t care about working-class women even if they were white like they were like they were like having these are these similar arguments about terminology and tone and work and all of the — and all these things, but they weren’t really like they didn’t really like care about work like that because like they weren’t really — they weren’t working like that, you know, like working class women were working so these are the questions that we’ve been asking. Both immigrant women, who, you know, some of whom became white, and, you know, Black women over time, you know, like over 50% of Black women were working in comparison to like a lot of other groups, and then like a lot of immigrant women were not counted as white back then, so like they were working in factories and dying and stuff and so it is important to remember that we are fighting a labor fight.
The thing that ends up happening is this movement a lot of the time and that stops us and you know impedes us is that we the movement doesn’t have a lot of money like we don’t have a lot of financial support, and Ronald Weiser, I don’t know I don’t really know a lot of his work, but he did write a paper about this and about like the kind of the failures of the movement similar to some of the failures of the feminist movement, and part of the reason that the feminist movement in a certain kind of way did fail is because of, you know, it being represented by middle class women, you know, first white middle class women and other middle class women like, you know, like I put my work on twitter all the time, and I used to like cite Black women and whatever until I realized that they were never going to highlight my work because they were academics and middle class a lot of them, and it’s a different social class. You know, they don’t care about whores. They don’t care about — they don’t want to be seen as whores, especially as Black women. You know, so there’s like a lot of layers for a lot of us, but I wanted to like get to I wanted to like you say something about like the language and like the whole like, you know, patriarchy, patriarchy, patriarchy because like the thing is that like sometimes these conversations lead to a lot of gender essentialism like these words like men are not inherently violent. I know that’s like a narrative that’s kind of happening on twitter right now and on social media that, you know, like, you know, like fuck these cishet men and fuck this and all of this and that and whatever and most of it is focused on men of color, and most of it is focused on like men who are more visible like it’s not like they don’t talk about poverty, they don’t talk about class, they don’t talk about poor men at all, but when you bring it up for, you know, when you talk about child support, when you talk about all these things they’re like patriarchy, sexism, and that’s exactly what happened in the 1800s, in the 1900s, that’s exactly what they did. They decided that sexism was the most important thing. They said fuck these immigrant women, fuck those Black women, are they even women like they didn’t even count Black women as women.
Lorelei Lee: Yeah.
femi babylon: Why should these people, why should immigrants, why should Irish people, why should Jewish people, why should Black people get the vote before us. We are white middle class women. That’s what they said. They said patriarchy oh my god it’s the worst thing ever. That’s what Susan B. Anthony said, and they align with racists to make their point. Okay.
Lorelei Lee: I know.
femi babylon: So we want to be real real careful real real careful to not do that, you know, like particularly when, you know, I guess particularly when you’re in a mixed space, you’re in mixed company. I’m Black okay there’s a lot of different stuff intersecting in here some of us are disabled, you know, you know, we’re neurodivergent like, you know, you got to stop that there’s more than patriarchy, there’s more than sexism, there’s racism, there’s ableism, there’s all of these things, and all of these things are happening at the same time. You don’t have to do the math, you know what I’m saying, you don’t have to mess it up. Do it because the thing is that, you know, when we’re talking about labor we’re talking about all these intersections, you know? Children used to be laborers. They removed children from the labor force not just because they were concerned and they cared about kids, but because kids cared about kids and other people who did care about kids were like let’s just make these laws and because they’re paternalistic they removed children from the workforce first and then the removed teenagers for the workforce. Again like after that, you know, they raised the ages for a lot of things and now everybody’s arguing over like if a 17 or 16 year old is a kid or not. At 16 or 17, 18 you’re sexually mature, you are a minor, young adult. They took the jobs away from them, some of them were poor kids, some of them needed to support their families, and now they have to work for pennies. And they used child labor laws to maginalize that group. They use them to marginalize youth out of concern. They’re not concerned about children. If they were concerned about children, they would be doing things for children. If they didn’t want children in sex work, they would have children in poverty, so when we talk about labor and we talk about sex work all of those things matter when we talk about labor. We’re talking about children, we’re talking about use, we’re talking about child labor, we’re talking about Black people — we’re not just talking about patriarchy and sexism. We’re talking about intersections, all of these systems that go together. Okay, all of them.
I take three medications a day. One of them I’ve been taking since I was 16 years old, I need it to live everyday I take that since I was 16. I have an autoimmune disease. I take ADHD medication in the morning, and I take antidepressants at night because my life is hard, and that stuff helps me thing and gets me through the day, but it took a lot for me to get this medication because I’m Black and something about Illinois. That was not happening to me in Wisconsin. I have really good doctors regardless of race in Wisconsin for some reason. Illinois is a really raggedy state, and they’re really racist here, and they think — and they’re also really classist too. Like, like I can’t like I can’t pick and choose that, you know? I think oh it’s a Black doctor I’m going to be… Oh no that’s not what happens here, it’s just terrible all around. They think that we’re all drug seekers, poor people are drug seekers. You have medicaid — you’re a drug seeker like it’s just like a bunch of stuff there’s not a lot of resources, but my point, you know, without rambling too much is that, you know, when we’re talking about labor we have to identify these problems in the movement because the thing is the movement is not just about labor for a lot of us we have other stuff going on, so yes labor is very important. It’s very important.
Was a very important issue back then, and it’s a very important issue now, but all of us don’t want this system to continue and for things to just be okay, and that’s what I was talking about on Twitter when I was talking about decriminalization, and I made a lot of white people mad because they were like you’re erasing all of this work that we, that we did and there’s Black and brown women who feel the same way we do. Okay well some of these motherfuckers are invested in the class system. Okay some Black people want to be rich okay. This is not news like this is not news. Some people don’t care, some Black people don’t care about poor people even if they’re poor. It’s just madness. Okay people work against their own interests all the time. Okay people who are affected by racism perpetuate racism. People who are affected by biphobia perpetuate biphobia. It’s madness. Okay, you know, people are not logical all the time.
Lorelei Lee: Absolutely.
femi babylon: So when we talk about I guess when we talk about labor it is important, but you gotta, you all gotta remember too that labor is not the only fight. We’re fighting and that decriminalization is harm reduction. Now I know people are adding all these little adjectives in front of decrim, and they’re saying full decrim, and this and that and whatever. Listen here there’s no such thing as partial decriminalization. That’s not a real thing. That’s a thing that they made up. It’s made up. It’s make believe like a monster under your bed. It’s not real. What they did was they perverted the meaning of decriminalization, which meant to eradicate and get rid of all of these laws that affect whores and sex workers and erotic laborers and all of that. Decrim was literally coined with whores in mind, and they cannot take that away from us. There’s no such thing as full decrim because decriminalization is full decrim. They made it wrong, they did it wrong, the Nordic model is wrong. It is partial criminalization. It is asymmetrical criminalization, but what it is not is decrim. That’s what it is.
Lorelei Lee: Absolutely. I mean yes just yes to everything, so I want to just say we’re going to go a few minutes over. I hope everybody’s okay with that. We won’t go very long. I just — no, no it’s okay — I just want to make sure that everyone gets to say what they want to say, and if folks have to hop off. This is being recorded, so um you’ll be able to see the end of the panel, if you aren’t able to stay for a few minutes.
So Kitty let’s have you go next.
Kitty Milford: Um all right, so yeah kind of what I would like to jump off what femi was saying about like decrim, and I like fully agree that decrim is decrim, and about the idea I’ve been talking, so talking to people about decrim lately with journalists, and I’ve had journalists ask me like well can you consent like they think that because people are marginalized they can’t consent. I’m like well then do you think, you know, unless you’re like, you know, like one of the anti-sex feminists, who thinks like every whatever, you know, then every heterosexual sex is no one can consent because power differences whatever, but they — I mean there’s people that are like writing this stuff that really think that like we can’t consent to, you know, the basic things that we don’t deserve the right to be able to save, to be able to do the work that we wan to do, and for this I’m about people like want to do sex work not as much as people that are doing it because there’s not other options. It’s hard because you got to like talk about like two worlds like one is like this world and one is kind of the world we’re creating, and so like in this world um I think that it doesn’t really like, you know, when it comes down to like what’s work? Is it work? Is it not? I mean I don’t think it matters that much or I think in terms of like at the end of the day like is it, you know what I mean, like wat do we need like what’s happening — I’m just like a very — I am — I tend to like not be super theoretical. I tend to be like okay well what’s going on like how is this helpful like it’s to an extreme point, but where I’m like very just like figuring out materially like okay what do we need for that like how do we, how do we get there and in terms of a part of what you’re talking about with these questions is part of to get there in the world that we’re building isn’t just a world with decrim. It’s a world without capitalism, it’s a world without prisons, it’s a world without — and like from your side about it’s intersectionality, and that’s one of the things I love about disability justice is that they talk like intersectionality is one of the tenets. So is interdependence, which is one of the things, you know, that Lorelei you brought up before was being interdependent with each other, and that’s a big value is disability and is a very anti-capitalist value. You know, another disability justice thing that Patty Berne, Sins Invalid articulated is um, you know, is anti-capitalism is all these different things are so part of that so kind of to quickly sum all that up. In terms of and kind of to go off what some people were asking in terms of like socialism and different things like that so I there’s a couple two things that I look to, to ground me um politically in this — that to me like make a lot of sense and that are easy to grab onto and that’s disability justice and it’s also like abolition so like prison and police abolition so like um, you know, Mariame Kaba, especially Dorothy Roberts, especially in disability justice you have Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, who’s a friend of mine. You have Lydia Brown, another friend of mine. Like a million people I just — so I’ll stick to two each because I could go on forever, but just kind of to me I think that we don’t necessarily need to stick to labor movement, and we don’t — you just stick to like looking to these white dudes like Marx. Like looking to these people like we don’t need to stick to them we can if we want to, but we don’t need to, we don’t need to stick to them. They’re not going to know stuff about our lives, they’re not going to know stuff about how things are right now, they’re not going to know what the best strategy is in our communities, in our neighborhoods, and are — and how to keep each other safe, so…
Lorelei Lee: Absolutely. Oh god I love you guys so much. Mads I’m excited to have you.
Madeline Marlowe: Hi, can you read the question one more time. I just want to make sure.
Lorelei Lee: Yeah so, we’re answering both of the last questions, and you should feel free to say whatever you want.
Madeline Marlowe: Yeah, yeah, yeah I just want to remember what it was.
Lorelei Lee: The question is regardless of whether work implies consent, work is central to public understandings of social membership in the United States, so much so that the legitimacy of one’s claim to a job is often used as a proxy for legitimate claim to residency as in when people say immigrants are stealing American jobs, so where does this leave people like many of us who are disabled, who aren’t or can’t be part of what’s traditionally under the workforce. Do we have to be workers to be part of the American social body, and then the last question was like can we imagine a different way of calling for our liberation.
Madeline Marlowe: It’s crazy because when I read that question,you know, the first thing that comes to my mind as a disabled sex worker is, you know, yes I can be productive, and I hate that word. Can we find a different word for productivity please, but can I be productive as a disabled person in this society? Yes I can, if I have accommodations. Can you give me accommodation, so I can, you know, be productive? Sure I can as long as I have accommodations — most of the time I don’t, and I’m like I’m actually learning how to incorporate that into my daily life with no blueprints. No help. You know what I’m saying, I always have to be my own advocate. I have to build it from the ground up, the infrastructure from the ground up, everything. So yeah when I think about that I think about those words and what those mean to me as a disabled person and able-bodied people, especially since the pandemic. What we have shown — there’s a lot of able-bodied people want to slow down too, and they’re starting to see oh this is so weird like we can work from home. I’m seeing this whole new like vision, and you know, you’re seeing people talking about like we’re not going back to work. We want to work from home, so all of this is going on separate from us already, you know what I mean, and so as disabled sex workers have already been doing this for a long time — finding accommodations, talking about productivity or anti-productivity, and how that would actually benefit people as a whole, and so just like anything sex workers are and disabled sex workers could lead the way in changing the entire society into visualizing a new way to quote unquote work.
Lorelei Lee: Yes, oh my god. I love that I think that is a really perfect way…
Madeline Marlowe: Because we’ve been doing it, so we can just recreate the way the world sees work and how they work, and then they’ll be like wow sex workers saved us. We should have listened to them all along. What was wrong with us?
Lorelei Lee: It’s so good. Thank you so much for that, and thank you so much to everyone. This has truly been an amazing panel.