On Thursday, the GS Alliance hosted a panel of queer activists (Emma Caterine, a community organizer at Red Umbrella Project; Dominick, author of Dean Johnson’s Reading for Filth; and Ryan Thoreson, a JD candidate at Yale Law School with extensive experience with LGBT NGOs) to discuss the issue of trans sex workers’ rights. Curious Bwogger Heather Akumiah attended the panel and reminisces on the night.
The panel, titled Sex Workers Rights are Queer Rights!, began and ended with a discussion of Belle Knox, the Duke pornstar. Though Belle is not trans, the panelists discussed the fact that the same language used to “save” cis women from sex work is the language used to convict trans women of the same activity. Where white, cis, straight women are considered incapable of willingly “selling” their bodies (panelist Dominick joked that in reality, he was only renting his), trans sex workers, who are seen as being in possession of a dangerous sexuality, are considered perpetrators and ringleaders of sex work. This idea of dangerous sexuality is often the same reason that violence against trans workers is tolerated, excused, and perpetuated. The false dichotomy of the unwilling participant and the perverted perpetrator causes significant harm to a range of people involved in sex work, but the plight of trans sex workers often goes unnoticed.
The panelists agreed that removing the stigma of sex work and decriminalizing the practice would be a significant step in the right direction. However, they noted that trans men and women are often left out of conversations about destigmatizing sex work, and about civil rights as a whole. They cited the increasing prominence of respectability politics in the LGBTQ movement as one of the many reasons that trans voices are silenced. White, male, gay men have become the face of the movement, and what most Americans associate with LGBTQ rights. Their narrative has become the mainstream, where the narrative of trans people has become the margin. The panelists described the preeminence of the discussion of gay marriage as a distinct reflection of respectability politics.