A Sex Worker By Any Other Name…


By Phoenix Calida

…would be one hell of an entrepreneur. Under capitalism we have a system that continually promotes and praises people for terrible behavior. We have CEOs of major corporations who engage in morally ambiguous, ethically irresponsible and borderline sociopathic behaviors. Instead of shunning them or demanding accountability, we have put them on the covers of business magazines. We even tell our children to dream of growing up to be multi-billionaires no matter the cost- and let’s be clear- there is a cost. The real time cost of unfettered greed is the loss of human lives, environmental damage, and creating a permanent underclass of people that are unable to move ahead socially or economically.

Yet this same exact society that is quick to praise capitalistic rule breaking mavericks will not hesitate to call a poor black or brown single mother who sells sexual services an ‘immoral criminal’ who needs jail time and Jesus. We have applauded the CEO for creating a system in which workers cannot afford the basic costs of living, while simultaneously criminalizing the woman who has found a way to survive in a society that refuses to pay workers enough to cover the basic costs of living. That’s right, we have deiced that it’s more logical and principled to punish the person who has found a way around the system designed to hurt them.

But the question is- Why are we punishing the woman who has learned to survive? Why are we shaming the woman who has learned how to avoid starving and being homeless? Why do we hate street based sex workers so much? Sure, that sex worker could work a straight job. Sex workers could all go work at Walmart or a similar retail store, and make $8.50 an hour. Of course, here in Chicago, average rent for a 2 bedroom apartment even in a low income neighborhood is still $800-$900 a month. So I suppose the people in question could work 30-35 hours a week (don’t forget retail places don’t hire full time workers because they don’t want to provide benefits) and if is lucky these workers will have about $100 left after paying rent. $100 for a month’s worth of groceries, electric bills, phone bills, car insurance, child care, medical expenses and anything else life decides to throw at them. I think we all know a person cannot survive like that. A person living that way would be end up homeless, or starving, or unable to afford basic medication. So, instead, street based sex workers have found a way around it. A way to survive.

It seems I’m in the minority, but personally, I applaud the sex workers (street based or otherwise) who have learned how to avoid homelessness. I respect the sex worker who is in poverty, but has still found a way to feed their children. I am awed by the sex worker who has learned how to survive in a system that has been designed to ensure failure. But society, instead of recognizing the combination of determination, desperation, and hustle sex workers put forth, has decided jail and permanent criminal records are more effective. Instead of appreciating how hard sex workers struggle, society has decided punishment is the best route.

How is it we have a world that congratulates companies for making life impossible for the poorest among us, but hates people for overcoming the struggles of poverty? Instead of hating sex workers, especially street-based workers, we need to respect their hustle. These are the people on the forefront of the battle for human dignity and human rights. These sex workers are the ones who risk violence, rape, police brutality, and murder. These sex workers feel so determined to survive, they have figured out a way to live under the most hostile of conditions.

Before you make that joke about street workers, realize you are making fun of the person who is on the frontlines of the war against the poor. When you read a paper and feel some smug satisfaction about a police bust in an illegal brothel, take a moment realize the sex worker you are judging is living proof of a war on sex workers. Sex workers are the front line in world that tries to shame those who dare to defy the system. You are mocking the person who is fighting the battle by merely daring to exist in a world where they are unwanted. It’s difficult to be braver than that. Respect the hustle. Respect sex workers.

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