Wonda Women talks to Bear: a lecture on queer sex work

On the 5th May, as the first instalment of our online education events, Wonda Woman had an online Q & A with Bear on the intersect of sex work and queerness. As intersectional feminists, we seek to centre the most marginalised voices to represent the diversity and inclusion that the feminist movement should represent. This means that our movement needs the voices of sex workers; we all need to work to amplify the voices of those in the profession and fighting to make the profession safer.

Bear, who joined us from the Prostitute Information Centre (check them out!), spoke to us on their three decades experience in different forms of sex work, how the industry is changing, and how queerness characterises their experience.

Bear began sex work in the California in the early 90’s as a sex phone operator, moving to the Netherlands in 1999 where they have remained since, starting as a queer porn performer in 2016. Their conversation highlighted to us the heterogeneity of experiences within the sex industry, and that greater awareness of this is necessary to address stigmatisation, and to ensure appropriate policy in sex work. We would like to highlight some of the key learning points for us from the conversation:

  • Public perception of sex work, particularly in the Netherlands, is centred around the windows in the Red-Light District. This results in the false, heteronormative assumption that sex workers are only cishet women, and clients are always cishet men.

  • The results of this assumption is that the protected of an already vulnerable group are those most privileged, while the many male, trans and queer sex workers are left out of the discussion. Since public perception fuels policy, this has real impacts in terms of policy, which do not appropriately protect such groups.

  • For queer sex workers, there is a high level of stigmatisation, and even more so for clients. This was attributed to different factors, namely the sex positive nature of the queer scene in general leads people to falsely assume that those who can’t ‘get’ sex, go to sex workers. Additionally, a lot of queer people have less disposable income that cishet men.

  • Collective Action is difficult within sex work, because there is a large amount of fragmentation, and it’s harder to get a clear picture. Bear suggests that lack of communication is not the challenge, it is miscommunication that causes barriers to collective action. That being said, within the queer porn community, there is activism and connections transcending nation borders, predominantly within Europe and North America. However, there is activist movements all over the world.

  • Queer sex work is more visible in porn, and often a more queer-friendly space within the industry. That being said, Bear highlighted that there is a huge difference between queer porn sets and more mainstream porn sets. More notably, there is a strong emphasis of consent, which can be predominantly attributed to the strong culture of consent within the queer community as a whole. However, Bear is quick to point out the lack of funding in such productions and says, ‘you do queer porn for the love of it, there’s no money in it’.

  • The current pandemic and its effect on the industry was discussed, which is having a detrimental effect on all sex workers. The Red-Light District is closed, with no indication from the government about when they will be allowed to reopen. Moreover, very little financial assistance is available for sex workers, which increased their vulnerability during this time. The Dutch Emergency Fund for Sex Workers (link below) is an independent fund, but it is not nearly comprehensive enough to be relied on. Thus, many sex workers are forced into precarious and potential unsafe labour conditions at this time, made even more difficult by the fact that sex workers are not allowed to work from their own homes. However, due to social distancing measures, online sex work is thriving.

  • So the question remains, how can we all be responsible porn consumer?

  • Bear emphasises the importance of knowing what you are looking for. They refer us to productions and collectives such as: meow.-wtf; Aorta Coop; Oink & White; Trouble films and Crash pad. Thus, research is key for consuming ethical pornography.

We had an interesting and informative Q & A session and want to thank everyone who joined us for the new online format. While it can feel strange during these times to continue with activist work, in actuality more than ever we need to come together, listen to each other’s experiences, and work towards fighting oppressions that increase vulnerabilities.

Visit the Prostitute Information Center here: https://pic-amsterdam.com

And donate to the Dutch Emergency Fund for sex workers here: https://www.dutchemergencyfund.nl

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