It is at once a preposterous and necessary act, to demand an end to violence against sex workers. I cannot help but be reminded, at this moment in the midst of the extended decrepitude of American moral authority and prerogative, of another, equally preposterous and necessary ask, on behalf of Black lives, and wonder how many ways there are to request the same, basic dignities: freedom from violence, empowerment to self-determination, enablement to survive. Of the many sex workers with whom I have been privileged to break bread, commiserate, or whose stories I have directly or indirectly been able to convey to college classrooms or other more or less casual company, “violent” would not be high among the modifiers I would use to characterize them. “Strong,” obviously, in the sense of both conviction regarding their right to exist, and equally willing to discuss, when asked respectfully and at the appropriate interval, moments when that conviction has been most tested. “Intelligent,” yes, but neither restricted to formal education nor the instrumental knowledge necessary to perform stigmatized and often criminalized labor. No, the intelligence of the sex workers I know and know of extends both to emotional expediency and care (it is generally a talking crime, after all, as MGG reminds us) and to a highly acute sense of what they do, why they do it, and the extent to which it does or does not define them. “Generous” is also apt; the workers I know are magnanimous even at their most desperate, because they tend to be willing to do for themselves and theirs whatever is necessary to resist the many vestiges of this world that does not want them to, either through neglect or aggression, from the pulpit or the precinct, chambers of government and chambers of cold, withered SWE®Fs with no purpose but to rescue those who do not need rescuing, or ignorance of how to help those who need it most. Sex workers tend to know who fits into those categories, too, and I rely on them to remind me.
So I am sickened at the necessary commemoration of harms and losses that is endemic to the struggle for sex worker destigmatization, decriminalization, and decarceration. I am disgusted at having to choose between sadness and rage, rather than celebrating future success and solidarity. Because there is nothing inspiring about today, at least for me. I hope that these people with whom I feel such strong kinship, my sisters (and especially LeLe), brothers, and others, find some comfort in the bitter cold of D17, are able to take a great breath and exhale before another day of avoiding ending up on a list read in a quavering voice, a voice of sadness and rage, and helping ensure others do not end up on that list, either. It is a day of cessation, a demand for respite from violence, and a day of remembrance for struggles past and lives stolen. For me, it is a day considering what it would mean for it not to need to exist, and scheming how best to keep moving towards it. This I wish for sex workers and their chosen families.