Presenters: Gabriella Garcia, Lorelei Lee, Kate D’Adamo
- PSA featuring Seth Meyers, Amy Schumer, Josh Charles, Tony Shalhoub and others
- On the Death of Backpage [Tits & Sass]
- Surviving as Working Class after Backpage [Tits & Sass]
- Erased: On the Impact of FOSTA/SESTA [Hacking//Hustling]
- Twitter threads under #LetUsSurvive
- FOSTA in a Legal Context [K Albert]
FOSTA, Section 230, and Digital Gentrification
May 28, 2021
Kate D’Adamo: Awesome, thank you so much. And thank you to everyone for being here. This is the last panel in our month-long series, “Trains, Texts and Tits: Sex Work, Technology and Movement.” This week we are super excited to bring in Gabriella Garcia and Lorelei Lee to finish us off, to really bring us up to the moment. We started in the 1800s and we’ve come 200 years later, and now we’re gonna end on kind of the current moment of where we are now, and hopefully talk a little bit about where we’re going.
So this is put on by Hacking//Hustling, which is a collective of sex workers, survivors, and accomplices working at the intersection of technology and social justice to interrupt state surveillance and violence facilitated by technology. And, Gabriella, do you want to… Gabriella, I’m sorry, do you wanna talk a little bit about this event?
Gabriella Garcia: Yeah, sure. So Decoding Stigma is gonna be hosting a sort of companion event this evening, kind of a decompression activity for anybody who wants to come. And it’s basically just creating a little bit of a shared board of our own memories in the digital space as sex workers and accomplices, because there’s an attempt to erase this history and by erasing the history, it reinforces this kind of false narrative that it’s only “great man entrepreneurship” that drives technology forward. And I think that anybody who’s either a sex worker or an accomplice is actually part of this current history in technology, whether or not you even are using digital mediation in order to perform or be active around it, because it’s also the removal or the inability to access technology that is equally important if not more important in the circumstance.
So, this is just gonna be a chill day where we kind of make a little time capsule of the event and meet each other on less seminar level. And it will be temporally bound, so anything that you do add to the time capsule will be deleted afterwards. We could discuss at the event whether we wanna share it with each other as event participants, but otherwise, I think that it’s really important to be temporally bound not only for our own safety and privacy, but because it does honor the sort of like interstitial, which is, I think, what I’d say is like where the sex worker feels most at home, which is the in-between or like the fantasy or this other space that is created for a short amount of time that doesn’t exist on the other, outside of the boundaries. So, yeah, I hope I get to see some of you there.
Kate D’Adamo: And can you say what you mean by temporarily bound?
Gabriella Garcia: Temporarily as in just, there won’t be any recording and we won’t be saving or putting out any of the results from this hangout, but it’s just gotta be within the construct of the event this evening.
Kate D’Adamo: Awesome, thank you so much. That sounds fantastic and like a great way to close this off. So, today our agenda is gonna be, we’re gonna do quick introductions and go through community agreements again. What are we talking about this month? And some context setting. And then we’re gonna shift into questions for our panelists who are brilliant and super excited to have in discussion with each other. So our community agreements, as they have been the last couple of weeks, bring in your histories and speak from your own experience. We recognize that everyone has a unique experience to bring, and each of us know something and together we know so much. Be committed to each other’s collective learning and growing and we give grace and we give space to people to do that learning. Be open to learning yourself, and recognize that our experiences are unique and diverse, and they are also our experiences.
We try not to share pirated work, including books, pornography, or other art forms without consent of the creator. Though I’ll be honest, I did not ask Tom for this background, but I’m sure he’s fine with it. We respect the diversity of our identities, which for the purposes of this conversation means we are not assuming identities of our organizers, of our activists, and we are showing up in the way that feels most comfortable and most safe to have this conversation in. And that means that we might not show up as sex workers, we might show up as organizers, we might show up as academics, we might show up as just curious folks, and we don’t make assumptions about how folks show up. We also, no deadnaming and no doxxing, so don’t share personal information about another person without their consent. We prioritize care for ourselves and each other. It’s two hours that we’re sitting here. If your eyes hurt, if you wanna get up, if you wanna use a bathroom, no one’s gonna be bothered by that. So please care for your body, care for your spirit, and care for your heart.
We practice not using ableist language and we are all on a journey towards liberation. And we request that everyone prioritize taking care of yourself and taking care of each other as we share this space together. And so today we have two amazing presenters, we have Gabriella Garcia, who uses she/her pronouns, and you can find on Instagram and Twitter, @Stabriella. And we have Lorelei Lee who use they/them pronouns, and you can find Lorelei @MissLoreleiLee on Twitter. And so the context of this conversation is, and we’ve been discussing this for the last couple of weeks, sex workers are early adopters who create space, who look for something new, who are pushed out of other spaces, and who find these new spaces and make them comfortable and make them desirable. And then when those spaces are comfortable and desirable and marketable and there’s an ability to capitalize on what sex workers have built, shaping that space means that sex workers are then regulated and criminalized and policed out of those spaces.
This has been true, whether we, when we started talking about frontier towns in the 1800s, or when we’re talking about OnlyFans today. And so we started in trains, we started in newspapers, and we started with how sex workers really made the birth of an American nation possible. And it also birthed the American sex trade as we know it today. The sex trade has evolved over time and space throughout history. Commercial sex, the exchange of sexual services for resources is as old as time and what we’re talking about is really the modern American sex trade and where it came from. Next, we went into mid-century conversations about Backpages, about magazines, about yellow tabloids, and about how gentrification in the development of cities and the policing in the development of cities made, created red light districts and created the way that we understand policing now.
Last week we really, I was just saying we really, last week feels like part one of this week. Last week we talked about the early internet and how sex workers built it, how sex workers were at the forefront of these conversations of what digital space could possibly be, and then what monetizing digital space could possibly be. And then began to start talking about the criminalization and the policing that so many of us are very deeply intimately familiar with that have happened over the last 10 years. And so that’s what we’re doing today. And so, just to kind of set the stage, so last week we talked a lot about the early internet, we started at DARPA and I moved into what, at the beginning of the 2000s that look like. And so we’re gonna start at about that point and move up through today.
So a couple of contexts that just are important for this conversation is, first the context of visibility. Second, something we really didn’t get into in this series but still is really important, because as much as we’re talking about digital space, sex workers are still physical beings and the regulation of the physical body remains a conversation. So we’re gonna talk a little bit about medical technology super quickly. We’re gonna talk about the context of technology and digital life, so what changed over the last 15, 20 years. And then of course, digital regulation and trafficking expansion and the understanding of what trafficking was and the criminalization of trafficking really fueling this expansion. So, sex worker visibility over the last, especially, when we talked last time, we were seeing, we were discussing kind of some of the nascent organizations beginning really in the ’70s and moving up through the ’90s and the early 2000s. But a lot of the organizations that we know today and that we participate in and have been organizers in, really were forming at this time, and we were developing the political framework that a lot of us have now.
St. James Infirmary was founded in 1999, I saw we had someone from St. James here. SWOP, the National SWOP, the first chapter of SWOP USA and December 17th, happened in conjunction to each other in 2003. The First Desiree Alliance Conference, the Desiree Alliance was founded in 2005 by Stacey Swimme, and the first conference happened in 2006. And then the Global Network of Sex Worker Projects, which connected a lot of these global movements in different places in the world came to gather in 2008, and they actually have a really beautiful history of the global sex worker movement on their website. And so of course, organizing means activism. And in a lot of ways, that means expanding direct services. And a lot of times when we talk about the outreach that so many of us do about hanging out and connecting with other folks, we don’t think about it as direct service, but it still is that mutual aid that we do, that peer support was forming in these spaces.
St. James Infirmary is a cooperatively led medical service organization. SWOP is, can be a political organization and an outreach organization, depending on the chapter. The Desiree Alliance Conference was about coming together through the lens of organizing and activism, and of course that leads to sex workers demanding political change. And so Prop K goes on the ballot in San Francisco in 2008. A couple of years later, a proposition very similar went through in Berkeley. It wasn’t to necessarily decriminalize because that happens on a state level, but on a city level you can do things like defunding police efforts and defunding policing efforts around prostitution. And both of them actually come incredibly close to passing and build on each other. A couple of years later, Women With A Vision spearheads a lawsuit that was about disparate impact. So there were two different prostitution charges in the state of Louisiana. And the one with higher penalties was disproportionately targeting street-based workers and Black workers, whereas the one lower penalties were more likely to be used towards white workers. And so in 2011, they win their lawsuit and end sex offender registration in Louisiana for people convicted of prostitution.
And women, and so, and also both of these, when we’re talking about what’s going on today, both of these are spearheaded by organizations and by activists who are still working. Women With A Vision just introduced the first Decriminalization Bill in a southern state, and just two weeks ago, had a hearing on the bill. Prop K and the proposition in Berkeley are both, people on this call were working on those campaigns. And so this is a very important history, it’s also a very recent history and that means it’s still a really present history. And of course, visibility also means visibility as workers. Even though often it feels like we have to lead these dual lives of organizers versus workers, visibility compliments both. And so as the internet became more accessible to people as people moved onto the internet, things like Craigslist and Backpage, which treats sex work as a normal gig economy in a lot of ways. Both of them had adult services just listed along with other jobs. And that meant that people were looking for other jobs, I had to all of a sudden look at the sex industry too. And that normalization, that incorporation into a mainstream life meant that it put the sex industry in a very visible place. So more sites are advertising sex work.
And of course, nothing on the internet is regulated at this point. And honestly, still like the regulations are internal and they’re constantly changing. And so regulations on posts, what could be said and what couldn’t be said, was all still forming at the time. You’re talking about websites that don’t necessarily know the language of what means what, and so they’re not gonna necessarily have regulations of like, “Oh, I know that that means something we don’t want on our site.” And so, every single website either has no regulation or it’s spotty, and it’s not super clear how they do it, and it’s kind of half-assed how they implement it because it is incredibly difficult. Every website is exploring also how to monetize. And so sex workers are often leading this and finding these new avenues. But, the way that websites function is all of a sudden exploring something a little bit different than just selling a product on their site.
At the same time, sex workers are also developing online presences in digital space that look a little different than how we typically understand them. And so, I’m gonna go into that in a second later, but it means that sex workers are operating in spaces that do have those dual purposes. Sometimes it’s sex workers on them, so and now all of a sudden people are flooding into those spaces. And so what that means as far as advertising and personas also shifts and adapts. So, we’ve been talking a lot about social technology, technology in terms of the internet, in terms of movement. One of the things we haven’t necessarily talked about is how sex work has been also at the forefront of medical technology and medical exploration during this entire period. So, since we didn’t talk about that, it could be a whole four week workshop as well. So super quickly. Of course, sex workers are viewed, when we’re talking about the early 1900s, sex workers are victims, sex workers are in need of saving. This is the development of the trafficking narrative where turning sex workers into people who require you to go in and pull them out is really important.
At the same time as in the early 1900s and in the late 1800s, and we focused a lot on, this was also the time where different types of industries and different interventions were being developed. So temperance and purity movements, we’re seeing this, we’re seeing poverty shifting movement. Urbanization means that poverty is not only present in a lot of, in the face of a lot of people who have means, it also shows up in a really different way. It’s really different to have rural poverty in Iowa and the Rockefellers in New York. But all of a sudden, if you moved to Five Points, the Rockefellers have to see poverty. And so that proximity and shifting of class really catalyzes a lot of these purity and temperance movements to also consider poverty itself as a confrontation to their idea of temperance and purity. And so they incorporate a lot of these savior narratives into the work that they do. Not only are they advocating on a legislative level for increased policing of both alcohol and prostitution, they’re also developing ways that they can directly go in and save people. And so because a lot of this is being done by the developing middle-class and by women who are regulated out of jobs, don’t necessarily want jobs anyway. All of a sudden what happens is, the very initial seeds of what becomes eventually the social work profession begins. And so you have women from upper-class backgrounds who are all of a sudden seeing migrants, who are seeing internal migrants, who are seeing poverty, who want to do something but have an understanding of the world, that poverty is also a moral issue. And so the idea of going in, of saving people, eventually turns into a profession, to what we now call social work.
Second, we’re seeing a lot of medical advancements at this time and an investment in what is called public health. And so a lot of these temperance and purity movements are very interconnected to these public health movements. And, we know that the conditions that people are living in and that people are working in are having negative consequences on their health. When you have 10 people in a really crowded one-bedroom apartment, that is compromising people’s health. But once again, those things are inextricable from each other when they’re looked at through this lens of poverty, purity, and temperance, all coming together and all with the resources to develop things like vigilance associations. And so the early part of this history is about the moralization of poverty, it’s about the development of social work, and at the same time, it’s really about the development of industries that see sex workers as objects to be acted upon.
So this, after about the 1920s, what you see is this idea of sex workers not as victims but increasingly as vectors of disease. As criminalization increases, as policing increases, they’re starting to realize people aren’t victims, that sex workers are going to continue to make ends meet, especially because the answer to these things is not better jobs, the answer is saviorism. And so, because they’re not offering structural inequity, they’re not offering solutions that address structural inequity, sex workers lose that kind of victimhood. And so at the same time, what’s happening is an incredible investment in the American military. You’re seeing at the end of the 1920s, World War I, and a little bit later, World War II. And so there’s a huge investment from what is now the Department of Defense into infrastructure and into this idea of how do we create better soldiers. It’s very much still focused on a eugenicist movement, early public health was a eugenicist movement.
And so, wrapped up in this is this sense of war, is this sense of global war that’s happening. The first, it’s considered the first World War. And it’s at the same time that this American narrative of saviorism is becoming our American story. And so sex workers are increasingly seen as vectors of disease. And so what happens is through the Department Defense budget and actually through a public health association funded by the Rockefellers, there’s an incredible investment in policing specific to bases that are located throughout the country. And what happens is the DOD says, “All right, we have all these medical advancements, especially around STIs.” And so, what happens is the DOD says, “All right, if we wanna create a super soldier, if we wanna create the perfect American soldier, we need to protect them. And we know that these men are going out and they’re seeing escorts and they’re going to brothels because brothels are popping up around these forts and around these military bases.” And so what the DOD does is start increasing policing and criminalization of what they consider lewd women around bases. And it was specifically to take these women, forcibly incarcerate them, sometimes without even being charged and holding them while they test out these brand new STI medications, vaccines, all sorts of things really focused on sexual health because they think, if we remove these women or if we at least treat them for STIs under these brand new medications that we have, it’s gonna be better for our soldiers if they do go see sex workers.
And so that actually, from about the 1920s to the 1970s, the DOD is one of the biggest investors in policing of sex workers, and enforceable incarceration and forcible medical practices of sex workers in the United States, and that goes up through the ’70s. And so what we see is through this history, this idea that sex workers are vectors of disease, alongside the development of public health, the creation of these vaccines, of these treatments, is happening at the same time that they’re testing a lot of these things on what they consider lewd women because that’s what the public health approach is to things like gonorrhea and syphilis, forcible testing upon arrest and enforceable medication during long periods of incarceration. And so how we see this manifest, especially later on is, and especially after the HIV crisis and what public health is kind of turning into is, and I’m gonna toss over to Lorelei to kind of talk through this, is an increase in this idea of sex workers as vectors of disease. And even though we’re talking about digital space, we’re still looking at, especially through a public health lens that is married to a carceral approach, the use of condoms becoming weaponized. And so I’m actually gonna ask Lorelei, tell us a little bit about that specific to porn.
Lorelei Lee: Yeah. So, Kate, thank you so much for this comprehensive history. It’s so so good, and I love how you’re tying all of these pieces together into one narrative, which is really hard to do. So I’m just thinking like, “Oh, can I connect this super deeply to what you’ve just described already?” And I’m not sure that I can. But one thing, and I know you were going to ask us about additional points, and I was thinking about the purity campaigns that you’re describing. And something I think is really interesting is how in the early 1900s, feminist purity campaigns were also really tied to prohibition and how it was a response to the narrative that sex workers were, that femininity, feminine sexuality was itself sinful, evil, tempting, and that women were the ones who were responsible for men’s sort of like downfall. So the feminist response was, “Oh no, actually they’re the victims of male lust.” And so that’s how it was tied to alcoholism. It was like transforming the narrative to actually men are the ones who are being weak, who are drinking too much, and that was tied to domestic abuse which was also sort of becoming an issue at the time, right. And how that continues into the military interventions as well, where they tie sex work and alcohol together.
So this period, now jumping ahead 100 years (laughs) is just… So the condom battles in California was sort of one of my origin points of organizing. Although I was certainly politically active before then, I hadn’t really organized my own sort of, I had showed up for things but I hadn’t necessarily done the organizing myself, and that’s what happened for me after Measure B passed. So in 2012, Los Angeles County passed Measure B, which was a requirement that on any set in Los Angeles County that was filming adult films, you had to use condoms, and the enforcement was tied to film permits. So when you got your film permit, you registered where you were going to shoot and that would be how they would enforce. They would show up randomly on set in order to see whether condoms were being used there or not.
In 2013, due to a lawsuit, they found that this visiting of sets was a fourth amendment violation. Because as many of you probably know, I know there’s a lot of folks in the audience with a lot of deep knowledge about this, adult film is often shot in people’s homes, I mean like 90% of the time. In fact, I think that’s even more so now. But so, they said you can’t, the enforcement mechanism is taken out. However, after Measure B passed there were still significant impacts. One was that there was something like a 95%, I used to know the exact statistic, reduction in applications for adult film permits. And another was that, and more impactful for performers was that we were told when shooting in LA that we couldn’t tweet, we couldn’t post about what we were shooting, when we were shooting, we couldn’t tell who you were working for online, they didn’t want us to do any documenting of our work.
And I think something that’s important to recognize is that people think of pornography as being a legal adult industry, and I think it’s important to recognize that what it is is a legalized industry, when we talk about the four models of regulating sex work. I won’t go into detail about that, but decriminalization being what we’re often talking about and pushing for, and legalization being a form in which some kinds of doing the work are legal. However, there are so many regulations that, there is a shadow industry that is still criminalized. And so that’s what happened after Measure B, that sort of shadow industry got bigger and sort of encompassed most of adult film. And, so we knew that that was the impact of Measure B after Measure B passed. So then, in 2014, AB 1576 is actually the number, was introduced in California. I don’t know, House or Senate, anyway in the California state legislature. And that bill was going to be a statewide condom regulation as well as a testing requirement. And so it was going to require that adult performers both use condoms on set and be tested for HIV only. I’m telling you all of this from memory, so it’s been seven years, so I apologize, I didn’t look it up, but from my memory, it was HIV only.
And this part I’m sure about ’cause it was a really important part of the campaign, it was only going to require ELISA tests. So those of you who are familiar with HIV testing, the ELISA test has a three-month window between HIV transmission and showing a positive test result. The test that we were already using in the industry was a PCR-DNA test or RNA test which I know folks are now familiar with because of COVID, but tests for the presence of the virus in your blood. And so it has a two, at that time it was a 10 day window, it got shorter, seven days at the outset. And so we were upset both about the fact that this was going to decrease, in our minds, the level of protection that we would have on set, of health productions that we would have on set, it was going to decrease our ability to choose among where we might work. I mean, this idea of choice is complicated, but it had nothing in there about us being able to choose how we would protect our own health. And then the third thing was that it was going to require the state to hold our medical information. So it was in essence going to require a registry of adult film performers. And so that’s terrifying for folks who work in a really stigmatized industry and it would have had our legal names there as well.
And so then we did defeat that by showing up at hearing after hearing, by going to legislators’ offices and talking to them. And in fact, many of the legislators I talked to, and I think this ties back to what Kate is talking about, the things that they were concerned about were so telling. I had one legislator say to me, “Oh, well, you seem smart but they’re not all like you.” So that really deeply goes back to this 1900s sort of impression. And also, I mean, I think it’s also an assessment of my whiteness, very, very much like in, coming from the 1900s, sex workers, particularly of Asian descent, were viewed as inherently victims, and that is still true today in the enforcement of trafficking laws. So another legislator told me that if there wasn’t a law requiring condoms in porn, what was he going to say to his teenage son about safer sex? So huge, so many problems there. But just the idea that you can control the social body by regulating sex workers, I think is deeply tied into this history. Yeah, exactly, Kate. (laughs) So we did defeat that, and then there was an OSHA regulation that had been in process for 10 years by the time it reached the hearing stage in 2016, they were about to pass it. That regulation included a condom requirement as well as PPE requirements. Now everybody knows what PPE is because of COVID, but Personal Protective Equipment.
And so it wasn’t clear from regulation what kind of personal protective equipment would be required except that it said it would be required anytime there was the possible transmission of bodily fluids. So, we weren’t sure if that meant covering our faces, wearing gloves, which gloves are hot sometimes, latex gloves, but I don’t want to wear them all the time! And I don’t want the state telling me when I have to wear them, more to the point. And then it also, the OSHA regulation also would have had that testing requirement and that state-held information. So that was defeated at a hearing where hundreds of us showed up. Folks drove for five hours from LA to Oakland in order to be there, folks flew from other states where they were living, folks who were working in adult film in California but living in other states. And we gave testimony for eight hours and they were prepared to pass it. And at the end of that day they didn’t because of our argument that workers should be involved in writing this regulation, it seems so obvious. But that was truly an incredible moment and we all cried a lot. But then there was a ballot measure.
The ballot measure, again, was a condom requirement and also included something that we’ve been seeing more and more in regulation over the last 20 years, which is a civil enforcement provision allowing citizens if they “see something, say something,” to bring a lawsuit. And so the, what it said was that if California citizens had watched an adult film in which their condoms were not visible, they could bring a lawsuit in order to enforce the law. It also would have allowed if the attorney general didn’t enforce the law, the attorney general of California, to whatever certain degree, it allowed the head of the Aids Healthcare Foundation, who was actually the one behind all of these different, Measure B, all of these different pieces, allowed him to step in as a sort of surrogate AG in order to enforce the law, and he wouldn’t have been able to be removed from that position, except for by a 2/3 vote of the legislature, which is like bananas. So that gratefully, we did, we had, we did a lot of canvassing and et cetera and that one also did not pass in the 2016 election. However we didn’t get to celebrate because Donald Trump was elected president. So that’s that story.
Kate D’Adamo: Thank you. And, I think one of the other things that has come up over and over again but in slightly quieter ways is this pairing of criminal enforcement and allowing civil procedures. So criminal enforcement can only happen by an agent of the government. Civil procedures can be brought by anyone, so citizens, et cetera. And actually, this is a very common thing that we see in the history of sex work regulation, whether we’re starting in the 1920s where they would pass criminalized, they would criminalize brothels and then get mad at the police for not enforcing them. They pass then what was called red light abatement laws where citizens could sue brothels to say, “You’re bringing down my property value.” And that’s what they actually use to begin zoning brothels out. As we’re seeing here inclusion, of a civil piece where everyone gets deputized to attack the sex industry. And then eventually we’re gonna get into FOSTA-SESTA, where initially they brought a criminal piece around this, and we’ll talk about that in a minute. And when that did not work out because the department of justice was like, “We actually don’t have a huge interest in taking down Backpage.” They passed SESTA which is a civil procedure that anyone can bring charges, or anyone can bring civil enforcement against these companies.
And so one of the other ways that condom shows up, and what makes public health really complicated is that it has this “yes, and,” it’s a both kind of situation where it can be weaponized and it can be really helpful. So the other way that we’re seeing at the exact same time condoms popping up, is in condoms being used in policing. So condoms as evidence is something a lot of us know where it’s trying to ban the practice of condoms being used as evidence of prostitution. And it’s catalyzed a lot of organizing across the country. In about 2010, the New York Condoms as Evidence Coalition is formed in 2012, San Francisco based on advocacy happening, especially at St. James Infirmary bans the use of condoms and policing. In 2013, DC police start handing out cards to say it is legal to carry condoms specifically to workers to confront the myth that, sort of myth that they’ll arrest you for condoms. And really that campaign is just as much about MPD as it is to sex workers. And at the same time, global health is finally standing up for the rights of sex workers and against criminalization.
A UNAIDS Guidance note comes out in 2009, which says that decriminalization is important for sex workers’ health and safety. In 2015, the Lancet series is published and remains one of the most important public health documents, which says that decriminalization of the sex industry could reduce the transmission of HIV aids globally, 33 to 41% over 10 years. So at the same time, we’re going back now to the technology that we all kind of think of. At the same time we’re also looking at digital saturation. We’ve invented the internet and around 2002, 2004, it begins becoming ubiquitous in the way that we understand it now. Expansion of 3G in 2002, and then 4G in 2010, and the saturation of smartphones being used and being owned has a lot of impacts on the sex industry. It’s easier for clients who all of a sudden have their own personal computer, who their wives and their children do not also have access to. And they can download faster, they can visit websites faster, websites can have different types of content on there. For workers, it’s easier to post ads, it’s easier to post content. And then of course, all of a sudden we have selfies. So we’re not relying on managers and we’re not relying on photographers to construct and then post our ads. It gives an entirely different level of independence for what working can be.
And at the same time, the other technology. So we have the internet, but social media is its own thing. Social media is a very different form of the internet that we’ve had before. So, and this is also happening at the very beginning of the 2000s. So Facebook goes live in 2004 and expands, or Facebook goes live and beyond the Ivy League schools in 2004. It opens to a certain number of colleges, you have, and then a year after that, it opens up to everyone with an edu address. And around that time only 5% of American adults use social media. And now it’s up to over 72%, and that was pre-pandemic, so this number is significantly higher now. In 2006, MySpace is the most visited website on the internet. And we think about MySpace a lot as the place where social media really began, we’re connecting, I mean, granted, I’m sure there’s a swath of us who were on Friendster as well, but MySpace is really about creating your own profile, connecting to other people and really developing the social network. Reddit comes up in 2005, Twitter launches in 2006, and Instagram launches in 2010.
And so of course immediately, now we have people on the internet who have a reason to be on the internet that is different than they did before. All of a sudden social media gives a new avenue and a new audience and a new reason to exist in digital space, and in a significantly different way, a very personal way. So of course then we’re gonna start talking about digital regulation. As different folks get on the internet, we have to think, people began noticing the internet in a different way, and definitely noticing who is on the internet in a different way. So last time we talked about the Communications and Decency Act, which came up in 2000, sorry, in 1996, and created Section 230, which says that internet platforms are not legally responsible, or it gets posted on their site. And this is important and would not have, without this, there would be no social media because people would be legally responsible for the shit that gets said on their site.
Under Bush 1 there was a lot of attempt to enforce obscenity, and when it moves into Clinton in 1992, that kind of shifts. So the DOJ was really trying to use obscenity law at the time to look at the internet and apply the same standards. But of course, obscenity laws determined in a very geographic way, according to the Supreme Court at that time. And so no one really knows how to tackle it. And so it begins where they’re talking about obscenity, talking about obscene things and pornography. And under Clinton, this really shifts. And then there was a decision made to no longer really go after just like straight up porn, but to really focus on pornography that involves minors with the idea that if you’re a minor involved in pornography, there’s harm being done. And so the DOJ really makes a significant decision under Janet Reno to shift. One of the people who leaves there is, we talked about him last time, and he’s one of the lawyers there, he works under William Barr and eventually goes on to run what we now know as NCOSE, but what back then was known as Morality in Media, which targeted all pornography and anything gay.
And players become a little bit different. We were talking about the DOJ before, but it’s actually state’s attorneys generals who are going after online ads. And I think some of these names you might recognize. So in 2010, the Connecticut attorney general, who is now Senator Blumenthal, sends a letter to Craigslist over having sex work ads, and really starts threatening those websites directly. In 2013, many attorneys generals, this is spearheaded by AG. Blumenthal, but includes California’s attorney general, Kamala Harris, they send a letter to Congress specifically about Backpage and 230. At this point, Craigslist had closed their adult services section and Backpage had taken a lot of that traffic. And so in 2013, they started targeting that website. In 2016, at that time, AG Harris, has the Backpage CEO arrested, not just once for promotional of prostitution after those charges are dismissed, she decides to charge him again with slightly different facts, and both of those end up being dismissed. And as you know, Kamala Harris goes on to being the Senator from California and eventually being our current vice president.
And this is also the same time that we’re seeing a ramp up in the targeting specifically of websites, not just of brothels, not just of madams, how we’d seen before, but specifically websites. And the first one is in 2014 when MyRedbook.com was seized and its owners were arrested for facilitation of prostitution and money laundering. It’s also the first time you’re seeing trafficking really come up as the reason behind this. And this was federal, it was the federal department of justice that came in to seize this website. Only a year and a half later, we see Rentboy.com get seized by, not this time, DOJ, but Department of Homeland Security. Once again, you’re seeing claims of violence and exploitation, and ultimately the owner and seven employees, the charges were dropped against the employees, but the owner is charged with facilitation of prostitution and money laundering.
Lastly, in 2018, as many of us remember, Backpage is then seized. And once again, its owners and its CEO are charged with facilitation and of prostitution and money laundering. Missing from every single one of these charges is anything actually to do with trafficking. And we’re also seeing legislation happen in this exact same period. A lot of folks don’t realize in 2015, they actually started trying to put this in federal trafficking legislation to criminalize websites directly. What happens is this bill passes that ads, both advertising and actually at this, and it also adds patronizing and soliciting to the federal definition of trafficking, specifically for the sex industry. And so it adds advertising and that gets pinged over to the department of justice who says, “You know what? We actually don’t think we can make a trafficking case against Backpage, sorry. So we are going to interpret this to say this definition is specific to, if you post an ad for someone that you know is a minor or you know is a trafficking victim, that’s what we define this as.” And Congress is pissed, and everyone who backed it was off as well. And once again, they’re saying you’re not doing enough to enforce these criminal laws, therefore we have to take a different tactic.
So in response, SESTA is proposed and drafted and introduced by now Senator Blumenthal. And what it does is create civil liability for advertisers with a threat that anyone and everyone is going to file a charge. In the course of that, one of the things that the tech companies do is decide they don’t want civil liability for websites, that is super broad, and so it’s actually the tech companies that come in and say, “How about this as an exchange? Let’s just expand the White Slave Traffic Act to say that everyone who uses the internet is now facilitating prostitution, crossing state lines, and it’s prostitution, it’s not trafficking.” What happens in the end is the unholy marriage of both of these bills were won and passed through the Senate, won and passed through the House. And in the end, they are joined to create what we now know as FOSTA-SESTA. And so with that, we’re gonna shift over to talk to our panelists. And first and foremost, and we didn’t talk about orders, whoever wants to answer first. what context would you add to this? What, this wasn’t a lot of context, and what’s missing here? And what framings are you guys bringing to this conversation that you think it’s really important to share?
Gabriella Garcia: I’ll add one bit of context. And I think that is sort of the inter, the collision of the ubiquity of cell phones, and the creation of terms of service and definitions of harm. And so, the iPhone is one of those things that really exacerbates access to the internet and also kind of puts the sort of like media making object into everyone’s pocket. But part of that is that Apple had created a very, very strict idea of what inappropriate content means and what that includes. And it was defined by this, it was defined at the moment of internet ubiquity. So by, so in their terms of service to be able to access and put anything into the app store, they prohibited explicit content from third-party app developers, and basically decided that from the very beginning of internet ubiquity, that sexuality was equal to objectionable or harmful content. Which they defined as something that threatened the safety of their products’ users. So there’s this conflation of sexuality and safety. And of course, it doesn’t really actually stop people from finding ways to communicate to potential victims, or it doesn’t curb the use of violent sexual rhetoric, ’cause really it’s like people that want to do harm don’t really care about terms and conditions.
So basically I think one of the things that really contextualizes this conversation is like, as more people are accessing the internet, they’re accessing it through mobile app development and app platforms like the Facebook app. So just as a business model from the very beginning, in order to be in the marketplace as an internet or digital business, your biggest audience at the beginning was through the app store. So just from that point on, it means that all platforms were starting to try to adhere to a definition of objectable, objectifiable, excuse me, objectionable content. And I think that’s just a seed that’s just overlooked a lot, in planting, like what it really meant to start participating in internet ubiquity, that didn’t necessarily exist so universally. So that’s just one thing that I wanted to add to the conversation.
Lorelei Lee: That’s such a good point. And I am thinking about how what something else that we’re talking about is this sort of transformation of the public conversation over the last 40 years from being about being harmed by viewing something versus the internet as a place where direct violence is happening. So, you have the porn wars in the ’80s and ’90s in which sometimes it’s called the sex wars or the feminist sex wars, in which you have these different factions of feminist movements. And we developed the idea of sort of sex positivity in response to the other more, perhaps more dominant feminist ideology that says that sexuality, I mean, it’s sort of like complicated to sort of describe what it says. There’s a reductionist reading of Catharine MacKinnon that says that all heterosexual sex is rape, right? But that’s not exactly what she was saying, what she says is that it is whenever we give consent within heteropatriarchy to heterosexual sex if we are women, I don’t know, assigned female at birth, she doesn’t make those discernations, that we are doing so within a power structure where we have less power, and so that constricts our ability to consent.
I actually think that’s true, and I think that it was a really remarkable insight. I think where she took it, and sort of the application was where it all goes wrong, but so then there’s this fight about that among feminists. And then I think in the legal systems you can see this playing out. And I mean, there’s other, someone put Lisa Duggan’s book in the chat. There’s also “Pleasure and Danger”, which Carole Vance edited, which is papers from the Barnard Sex Conference that has a lot about this topic. And then you get into the ’90s and you have more feminists moving into government and into legal positions. And then you get what is now being called governance feminism, where folks who sort of identify as subjugated gain a lot of power, and so they’re still operating from a place of self identification as subjugated while in positions of power, and so using tools of power like criminal law, and tools of governance and social control as though they’re still operating from a subjugated position, as though those tools can be wielded on behalf of subjugated people rather than being simply tools of subjugation and tools of oppression.
And so in the ’90s, you have this sort of, all of, and some in the ’80s, I mean, there’s like the Minneapolis ordinance that tries to make pornography, provide a civil claim claiming that pornography is a human rights violation. And then in the ’90s you have what Kate was describing in terms of the origins of section 230. Now the name is just like gone out of my head, the CDA, (laughs) thank you. And this idea that pornography is like the biggest threat on the internet. And that transforms around the time that we are starting today’s timeline around 2008, Obama’s election, which is actually a really significant transition because under Bush 2 you still had a federal FBI task force on obscenity. And in fact, three films that I performed in were the subject of an indictment under that obscenity task force. So an FBI agent ordered my films from Washington, D.C. I mean, and I think this is also sort of very deeply what we were talking about how enforcement happens has changed so much. It had to be a physical object that was sent across state lines, and that’s what made it a federal crime.
And then his watching it, watching all three of these films in D.C., then allowed them to bring the prosecution in D.C. And it did go to trial, that was U.S. versus Stagliano, if anyone wants to look at it. And I was called as a witness in that case, but the prosecutor fucked up so tremendously. In fact, the prosecutor couldn’t operate the DVD in the courtroom after having two years of preparation, this was in 2010, that the judge got so angry that he threw out the case after the prosecution had presented. So the defense never presented so I was not, I didn’t have to take the witness stand, thankfully, because there was some dispute about whether I would have to reveal my legal name. But that judge who made that decision is actually the same judge who heard the FOSTA challenge over the last couple of years. So, and I can’t remember when he made that decision, 2019 I think maybe, the first FOSTA decision. So anyway, that’s just a bit of trivia. And I think that progression is part of what we’re talking about. That the move was from pornography to trafficking as being the primary harm of sex on the internet. And “Save the Children from Pornography” stopped having the moral sway that it had in the ’80s and ’90s. And I think you can just see how this moves. It’s like homosexuality in the ’70s and ’80s is the threat to children. In the ’80s and ’90s, it’s pornography. From the late ’90s moving into the 2000s, and especially now, trafficking becomes the source, the fault for everything that harms children on the internet.
Gabriella Garcia: I just want to piggyback a little bit off of that, and thinking about the physical, like how it had to be a physical object that needed to be moved as part of creating a legislation around that. That I think it’s like really no surprise that FOSTA has become an extension of the Mann Act. And so it extended the Mann Act to, let’s see, what does it say? “A federal crime prohibiting the owning, operating, or managing of an interactive computer service such as a website with the intent to promote or facilitate prostitution.” So in this way, you see how legislation turns the digital into a physical space. It materializes something that had historically been seen as a part. Like, “Oh, digital is going to kill the book industry ’cause everyone’s going to be reading, they’re going to give up on the physical idea.”
And I think that by changing some of the prosecuted movement of bodies through space, it like it kind of the legislation bent to materialize interactive computer services as vehicles capable of transport. And that’s just something I think that reflects something that sex workers and accomplices have always known, that what occurs on the internet does not actually stay on the internet, and that there is really no digital/physical binary. And something I’ll talk about a little bit later is the fact that the deconstruction of binary occurs like really at a tight through discussions of sex work and participation in sex work, I think.
Kate D’Adamo: So many of those names are so relevant and so important to kind of pull on it. That binary of like digital/physical not necessarily being relevant or being real and how much sex workers know the manifestations of digital things in people’s real lives and understanding that. And talking about FOSTA and how, yeah, it expanded the Mann Act, which was this very physical space moving from one area to another. And the how in, the expansion of FOSTA was about like, “All right, movement across state lines is now the existence of the internet, and it’s constantly crossing state lines. There is no movement necessary because we are always in movement when we are in digital space.
And actually, so the original draft of FOSTA when it came down, or when FOSTA was proposed, sorry, from these tech companies, actually included users as well. And it was anyone who also used the internet. And so they had, because it was written by tech companies who didn’t really understand, it was written to also, so anyone who advertised themselves would have been caught up by FOSTA if it had initially passed. And the thing was, it was edited by people who still didn’t understand how sex work happens. And they were very very proud, I actually got a phone call from one of them that was like, “We pulled the users out so it’s just website owners.” And I was like, “I’m an organizer who runs a listserv where people share information. Do you realize what you just did?” And they, and literally no one had considered the fact that sex workers advertise together, that they organize in digital space, and so had thought that they had made this great thing without realizing that what they had done was turning every single organizer into a federal felon.
And so that kind of goes into my next question, which is that with something we had talked about was, yes, this is about sex workers as workers, sex workers as advocates. And one of the things that, I think it was Lorelei you were talking about, folks connecting to current sex workers who are future sex workers who could use these spaces. How does the internet, how does the development of social media impact those inner community conversations and how does policing change what those conversations could possibly look like?
Lorelei Lee: Yeah, well, there were big big answers to all of these questions. So just know that if you see my face go pale it’s cause I’m like, “Ah, it’s a book, it’s a book.” (laughs) No, there’s a couple of things. So first, before I answer that question I wanted to also mention how FOSTA, one thing about FOSTA that I found really terrifying is when we were doing the research for FOSTA in a legal context which is the legal explainer that we wrote, Kendra Albert and I, and a bunch of other folks for Hacking//Hustling is that in the Mann, in the White Slave Traffic Act, Mann Act cases, you go back and it gets expanded and expanded and expanded. And one of the expansions is a prosecution of a woman for transporting herself across state lines in order to work in a brothel. And the court says that even though the law is written in such a way that it would seem to exclude transportation of oneself, that you would have to include that so as to…what does he say? Something like, oh, shit, see I always do this lead up, it’s a great line and now I’ve forgotten the line. But it’s something about to avoid missing the evil that was intended to be targeted by the law, the extent of evil or something.
So, when I read that and I was thinking about how the initial FOSTA case dismisses the challenge to it saying that organizers won’t be targeted because the DOJ says they won’t target organizers, sex workers won’t be targeted because the DOJ says they won’t be targeted. Not because it says that in the law, not because the law is written narrowly, but because the current DOJ says they won’t do it, as though that can’t change in 20 years. So that is terrifying. But to answer, I’m sorry, to go back and answer your question. So I, sort of just to give context to this, I started doing sex work in 2000. I feel like people have heard me say this a million times. The turn of the century, the dawn of the internet. (laughs) If you saw, I saw that I was cited by Tina Horn when we talked about who has VHS tapes of their pornography, hi. (laughs) And, oh boy. And in that time, I was not online, I was very much not online. Gratefully, I moved to San Francisco in 2001.
And so in those very early years some of the activist work that Kate was talking about was really happening in San Francisco, but the only way that I knew about it was bookstores and like flyers, flyers at St. James Infirmary, flyers on the wall of the queer club, flyers at the queer bookstore, which doesn’t exist anymore, of course. And so I would go to these meetings, you know there was a sex worker university in 2005 in San Francisco. It was the best, I mean, it was the best. Or even for me a big piece of what really radicalized me, and thank you so much to the person who’s here from St. James is being at St. James Infirmary, where they had, I had no health insurance and they had drop-in days on Wednesday night and you could just go there and even if you didn’t want to see a doctor, you would go and you would check in and you would hang out in the community room where there was a clothing exchange and there was a hot meal and there was students from the acupuncture school doing ear acupuncture.
And it was so amazing, and like, just being in that room, like I remember I was so scared to talk to anybody. I felt really, really alone in those early years of doing sex work. I mean, I just started answering ads on the internet because I was injured from a minimum wage job and also was just not making enough money to survive, and I just one day quit my, and during the day that I quit, I went into the back room and started circling ads in the physical back pages of the newspaper. And I’m making this story too long, of course. But the point is is that I think, not unlike many others, felt very isolated and had to have in-person interactions in order to understand that sex work as an identity, that sex work stigma was a thing, that it, my shame, my feelings of shame, my feelings of being alone and deserving to be alone, deserving to be punished, of impending punishment, like this, I was gonna get HIV ’cause that’s what happens to whores. I was going to get killed by a client ’cause that’s what happens to whores. That these were not realities, that these were constructions. In order to learn that, I had to be somewhere like San Francisco that had a very unique space like St. James Infirmary, where you could show up and get your life saved.
And the thing is after 2008, that radically changed. So in 2014, this is an example, when the condom bills started going through California and the series of condom battles started happening, and I heard about it, and the way I heard about it was that I actually heard someone say, “Oh we need performers to go talk to legislators, and I just can’t get any.” The person who said this was not a performer, they were, I don’t remember who they were, somebody who worked for a porn company or something. And I was like, “Oh, well, I know performers. And I’m really pissed off about this law, why don’t I just DM some people on Twitter?” I don’t even have to have people’s phone numbers, these are just people who I’ve had sex with for money on camera. And that’s like actually the only relationship I had with a lot of them, and yet, and we’ve never talked about politics, and yet we could go on Twitter and we could organize a fucking movement and stop the bill from passing. So I wanted like not, there’s so much more that I could say, and actually, I should add one more piece to this which is that that was the difference that I was thinking about when Kate and I first started really working together in Survivors against SESTA.
When the SESTA-FOSTA started passing, started moving rather, and I was just thinking about how hard it is to find community, to find any kind of positive messaging, to like have resilience against isolation. In 2017, six porn performers committed suicide, and right after that, FOSTA started moving. And I was just thinking about how hard it is as a sex worker to find any kind of community support and how much harder it would be after FOSTA. And so that is, I feel like that is the big change now that we have this crackdown on internet interactions and that’s a change to organizing that we’ve all had to work around.
Gabriela Garcia: I’m going to just do this real quick. (snaps fingers) (panelists laughing) Because, I mean, as comments are saying, it’s like, wow that is, it is such a true and necessary account. And like, I come a few years after you, I come in the cusp of coming from gig work in general. I initially, I came to Craigslist because I was an actor and I was a model, and then these things started popping up and I was just like, oh. But there were two things I want to say in that like, when I first started participating in trade, it was basically for personal collections, personal picture, pic collectors basically. And for me, that wasn’t really something that I thought about as sex work. And that’s something that I think is consistently important in the discussion around sex work, is that how much of it, is not necessarily identifying as a sex worker, but being involved in trades around sex occurred because of the adjacency to information. And both being able to really have this liminal space of being in college and definitely not making enough money to participate in what college was supposed to be in New York City. And being able to say, “Oh, I’m just going for this casting. I’m just going for a test shoot.” And then coming back without a job was such a regular conversation. That it was fine for me to not have results of my work, and that was something that was very very special about being able to participate that way. But what brought me really forth was this access to other people’s experiences usually through the blogosphere.
So 2007 is really the height of when things like “Confessions of a College Call Girl” are coming out. And suddenly I really see myself in these narratives that are being not only just present for me to read but promoted. And one of the things that really brought me toward feeling safe in participating was these very personal accounts of complicated situations. And I think there’s something that really gets reduced in the conversation, that it is complicated, that like there are complicated problems that only within the realm of sex work have complicated solutions, at least at that point of me beginning to participate which is 2007. And there was something about the comradery from afar that was really, really necessary for me to see that this was a private space that intersected with a public reality that I wanted to explore as like a very, very broke person and an artist trying to go to a very, very good college in New York City pretending like I was rich.
But I think that accelerates really with the expansion of things like Tumblr and Instagram, where suddenly there are these visual representations of that community and people sharing from this sort of like quasi-public, quasi-private space. And that is what really actually kind of pushed me into organizing was, I think, and this also has to do with ubiquity of access or lowering access to joining the sex work community and not necessarily being identified as a sex worker. Suddenly there was a bunch of people that I could speak to in an anonymous way about my experiences and have affirmation and just having that kind of, and this is something that I wasn’t really able to access until visual culture came into the reality of sex work, especially with Tumblr as we were talking a little bit about earlier. And having that space to be able to express my experience and converse about it with others without necessarily having to really take over the persona was the thing that really elevated me toward wanting to be more vocal about it.
So it’s really this kind of double-edged sword where there is so much room for new people to become involved. But because of that kind of influx, there’s also this new, all right, like going back to when regulation occurs, there’s suddenly a resistance and a self-governance that occurs within sex work. So thinking about the response to condom regulation and porn and the response being like, “Well, we have self-governance, we have all of these motions in place to keep ourselves safe that you don’t understand ’cause you’re not part of the industry.” Even that explodes. So with a lower barrier of entry to sex work or to any sort of trade of sex work. Suddenly people were more exposed to regulation, and when regulation dropped, the movement work exploded. And that’s the weird dichotomy or the dualism of this exposure participation and reaction resistance that I think is like really just, makes me feel at home.
Kate D’Adamo: That’s such a beautiful framing, kind of drawing on that. And one of the things that I feel like we share is that experience of trading sex, doing it without a name, doing it without understanding that it’s, that you’re not gonna get HIV, like that’s not what’s going to happen to you, that you don’t have to anticipate violence, and that violence isn’t part of the job. And already doing that and then finding sex work community and figuring out what safety means, figuring out harm reduction, and being politicized around this identity, and then of course everyone accidentally becoming an organizer is like, that feels like a shared trajectory. And so, thinking about especially what you were just saying about media and personas is something that definitely came up. That under, with social media, with the advancement of technology, the development of a persona and having to “brand” all of a sudden really became a thing.
And so I would love for you guys to talk about. And as you were just saying, like all of a sudden there’s more representation, and there’s more representation among these media narratives that look a thousand different ways and they influence so many people. And one of the things that was really unique about Backpage was that it did incorporate sex work into this very normalized world, and then that brought regulation. And so I’m curious if you guys can talk a little bit about what is this double-edged sword of higher visibility bringing in regulation and what that does. And especially when the higher visibility is often something that is navigated. Sometimes it’s for other community members, sometimes it’s anonymous Tumblrs, but the vast majority of what is seen and what becomes hyper visible are personas that are geared towards clients.
And so there are these stories where, or there are so many representations of people pretending to live lives that they actually don’t, and pretending to not experience violence or complication because the personas they get most proliferated are the ones that have to be put out as much as possible to as many clients as possible. And the quieter ones, the secret ones, the more painful ones, are the honest representations. And so as we do get these higher representations of media narratives that are filtered through these very different experiences, I would love to hear you guys talk a little bit about kind of what that double-edged sword is, especially as the barriers are really low and these new folks are coming in having quite possibly only seen the personas that are put out really for clients.
Lorelei Lee: I think, I mean, again this is such a huge and complicated conversation. Something just like immediately, I think a piece of reading that everyone should do is Tina Horn’s essay about the sort of unpaid work of Twitter persona when you are a sex worker. I can’t remember what it’s called, but it is in the, what’s it called? “The Establishment” magazine, RIP. Thank you, Blunt. And yes, “The Class Drag of Sex Work.” This is something that I have thought about so much which is how, I mean, the class drag of sex work predates the internet, for sure. Like, I used to always pretend to the clients that I was in college and they would be like, “Oh, you’re going home to visit your family for the, whatever holiday, and I’m giving you money towards your tuition.” I think I probably, even in one of my early ads, put “student,” I always put “student,” people love “student,” whatever. It’s like such a, I don’t know. It is such a virginal rich icon or whatever.
And the thing that I’ve thought about a lot is how you’re supposed to pretend, and Blunt’s making me laugh. You’re supposed to pretend that you are the kind of person, in order to make the most money selling sex, you’re supposed to pretend that you’re the kind of person who would never sell sex. And that has both moral implications and class implications. And the online persona piece of it is just even more complicated. So there’s so many ways that, directions I want to go, but I’ll just tell you a little bit. One is that just of the narrative is that when I first was working in Los Angeles, this was around 2005, 2006, 2007, my agent used to make me post on the internet because that was the way that you get fans to, BB fans, and you had to be a person in addition to being a performer, like “a person” in the… So I was, so he made me post once a week in the chat on adultdvdtalk.com. And I don’t even know what I posted, some bullshit. And I was so scared, I was like, “I don’t want something to be recorded forever on, about me.”
And that just so dramatically changed within the next couple of years where it actually became really just so advantageous. Like before that, so my agent would, and I think this is important too when we’re talking about organizing and connecting with community and also working conditions, which is that this double-edged sword is also about working conditions. So one of the reasons I had an agent was that you couldn’t work in LA at that time without having some dude who would take you to sets and introduce you to directors who would then hire you, and that was sort of how you got hired. We called them go-sees. And then in, after 2008 when everybody had Twitter profiles, I remember somebody, I’ve told this story before, but somebody was doing an article about “Twitter is the LinkedIn of sex work,” and they interviewed me and they asked me what I thought of this comparison and I said, “What is LinkedIn?” (laughs) Because Twitter was where we got work. I don’t even, why would I have some other profile? So, that really changed.
And what that, one of the things that that changed was our ability to work independently, to work without a manager. Another thing that that changed, because we could reach out directly to clients and also because we could do doubles with some other worker who we were meeting online, for example. But then another thing that that changed was the ability, especially in pornography, was how prior to this there was sort of, I think, a denial of the fact that there’s an audience for every single person being naked. Like yes, white supremacy exists in pornography and it exists in media and it exists in consumption, absolutely, and I am not saying that that’s not true. And sizeism exists and all of these forms of stigma exist in our consumption habits. However, there is a much bigger audience than directors formerly in the studio system were willing to admit, there’s a much bigger variety of what people find sexy than directors, who didn’t have data, they just had “tradition.” And not that data not steeped in white supremacist algorithms anyway.
But, so there would, that’s also part of what I’m talking about with the double-edged sword, because you had then also the increased visibility where before you might have your manager only who knows who you are and knows, and is taking you around and so you have a limited group of people who know that you’re doing sex work. And you can really have compartmentalization, not perfect compartmentalization ever ’cause no matter what kind of sex work you’re doing, there’s always the overlap where somebody comes in to the house that you’re working out of as your client and you’re like, “Oh shit, this is the TA from my class at San Francisco State.” True story. (laughs) Or, et cetera, et cetera, I won’t go into all the true stories. But now that you’re online, that’s much, much more likely that you’re going to be recognized, your sex worker persona is going to be found. And so, we have these sort of protective measures of not showing your face, but still that risk is higher. And I forgot what the question was. It’s about visibility, the double-edged sword of visibility.
So, I mean, another part of it that I also wanted to mention is that for myself as someone who is an activist, organizer, and sex worker, combining those personas over the years became necessary for me using my online platforms because I tried, at first, I had a sex work Twitter and a regular Twitter, “regular.” So wild how you can just get this language in your head. But I had a sex work Twitter and a non-sex work Twitter, because some family members started following me on my sex work Twitter. So then I was like, “This is no longer a sex work Twitter, now I have another sex work Twitter.” (laughs) And I stopped posting sex work, pictures and like et cetera. But it didn’t really work out because then my sex work Twitter would always be the one that had the most followers. And so then when I wanted to reach a lot of people in order to do organizing, and I know I’m not alone in this, I’ve talked to other sex workers where this happens, you need, you’re like, “My friends are dying, I need to reach as many people as possible, so I’m gonna post to everywhere.”
And that not only increases the number of people who know where you’re vulnerable. Like if you start talking about violence at work online, clients who want to be violent know how to do it because you told that story. If you start talking about screening and safety measures, there’s a lot of debate about whether we should make Blacklist public, for example. Because then the person who’s blacklisted knows the name they’re blacklisted under, the number they’re blacklisted under, they know how to change all of that information. But then if you don’t make them public then sex workers who are isolated don’t have access to that information. So it is a constant, just treacherous walk of this line between the violence of visibility and the violence of invisibility. And I haven’t found a way around that. All we do is we keep strategizing and we keep doing what we can. I mean, we make, and I think for a lot of us, the risk assessment changes day to day depending on what we need that day. So I’ll stop there.
Gariella Garcia: Totally. I’m facing, I feel like I’m facing that like right now. And I think that really, the part of really having to use the “civilian” side to reach more people is so incredibly important. Having a side of the self that is tailored toward the community and clientele also is just preaching to the audience, right? And so like we’re kind of in the space of “someone I love is a sex worker” Instagram posts of being like, well, what is that medium? And how much do I have to expose myself in order to make people care because they’ve already for instance, quote, loved me for other reasons. And it’s just really, it’s just something I think that this double-edged sword is something that is, that’s almost the good, the positive side of the double-edged sword of the lower barrier to entry in sex work. That because there’s been this kind of conflation of sort of like, just not even, just going forth and then like a neo-liberal liberation motif of why I entered sex work, because I’m a woman, because I want to be able to make money outside of the constructs of normativity. That is just the most privileged discussion around sex work, but that has weirdly in the positive sense, opened up this kind of understanding that yeah, your next door neighbor might be a sex worker, your local academic might be a sex worker.
And I really do think that it kind of, there is this moment that occurs where with iPhones and with the corporatization of the internet, this walled garden entry, walled gardens being a closed ecosystem in which all experience is basically controlled by an entity. So Facebook, Google, Apple, those are all walled gardens. And then at the same time, there is the financial crisis of 2008. And there’s nothing like a crisis of globalization to make sex work incredibly visible. So, the financial crisis plus walled gardens and platforming create Seeking Arrangement. And suddenly you have this whole student narrative of like, “Oh my God, I’m about to graduate and I have like $80,000 in student debt. And like wink, wink, nod, this is not sex work,” has immediately convoluted the sort of hard barrier of it not being, like that happens “elsewhere.” And that just increases as time goes on really to kind of include these other voices that really bulk, come, like I said, from this weird neo-liberal, “I don’t have to participate in capitalism the correct way, but still capitalism is my way to freedom.” But because of that really opened the expansion of the conversation and it’s just something that’s really frustrating in all feminist liberation work, where it takes the mainstreaming of a marginalized community in order to really come forward and talk about new ideas of society.
So the other side of that is like, we are getting to use this as an abolitionist mindset. We are being able to have a space to recognize that the beginnings of sex work organizing do come from Black and Brown experiences. And these are things that were very unfortunately ignored in a lot of I’ll say “intermediate organizing” where it was just like, “Well, I’m smart and I get to do sex work, and I’m a student.” Has now actually opened backwards in a weird way to recognize the true history, the deleted history of just not only surviving capitalism but also moving forward into future ideas of what autonomy can look like.
Kate D’Adamo: That’s such beautiful framing. And so what we’re gonna do right now is I’m gonna really quickly go through the resources, because we’re at that final half hour point where we’re gonna stop recording and open it up for a conversation for folks to connect. But I’m gonna ask a question right now before I go to resources, because I’m gonna put it to our two panelists in the non-recorded section first. But, and so I’ll give you a moment to think about it, ’cause I just thought about it now, especially after these last beautiful comments, is alright so we’re here, and we’re facing a moment where regulation is coming down, there’s so many things being debated in Congress and some of them look exactly like FOSTA-SESTA, some of them look very different, some of the are administrative and gonna move faster. And we’re also in this moment where I think a lot of folks are not necessarily like 230 purists. We recognize that the way that Facebook has been navigating has created and fueled and fostered QAnon and racial hatred and genocides in different countries. And we recognize that there does need to be something different and don’t at the same time want to be the sacrificial lamb. That keeps happening where you kick out the sex workers and so you’ve dealt with the problem, and that’s really the way for the problem to perpetuate.
So my question, and before we go to resources to give you guys a minute to think about it, is Gabriella and Lorelei, I would love for you guys to start us off on a conversation of, okay, we’re here, how do we move forward? Is good regulation possible in this moment? And maybe yes, maybe no, but how do we take this next step to maintain our community, maintain our dialogue, maintain our safety? And at the same time, recognizing that we are on the precipice of what could be a very different moment in this form of digital regulation and digital gentrification that we’ve been experiencing for the last 15, 20 years. So I’ll give you guys a minute to think on that one. So if you could solve all our problems, that would be cool. And our resources, and we’ll be sending these out, also, if you guys did not see this image, it’s one of my favorites on the internet. I don’t know if anyone saw the initial “Real men don’t buy girls” PSAs that were put out, but I think this is the initial, “Don’t hold up a sign and not expect the internet to fuck with you.” And so this has been one of my favorite things in the history of anti-trafficking movements is this picture.
But the resources that we’re gonna be sending out is, one is a link to the PSA that Seth Meyers, Amy Schumer, and a number of different celebrities put out with clearly no understanding of what SESTA was or did or any of the underlying issues, but it was really part of a very celebrity fueled movement to pass this legislation. After that, we have two pieces from and Tits & Sass, which if you aren’t familiar with Tits & Sass, it is a wealth of brilliance and beauty and community, and some of the most thoughtful writing on sex work that you’re going to find on the internet. So first “On the Death of Backpage,” and then talking about being working class after Backpage, which we have not talked a lot about the digital stratification that fuels class inequity, and this piece really kind of dives into it.
Next is “Erased: The Impact of FOSTA-SESTA,” which is a report put out by Hacking//Hustling has some fabulous information. We were gonna link to some Twitter threads, but actually the #LetUsSurvive or #SurvivorsAgainstSESTA, was one of the really important tools of organizing in 2018 and actually is still used as an organizing tool today. And so we encourage folks to just dig into some of those hashtags which were created in a moment of confusion and panic and trying to figure out how to do organizing on the internet in a really, in terms of federal legislation. And then “FOSTA in a Legal Context,” Lorelei mentioned, is a really phenomenal piece about the passage of FOSTA-SESTA, looking at it through that lens. And so we are going to stop recording, and we encourage folks to…