Thoughts on Hashtag TheStory

So, Zola kinda broke the internet right? In a simultaneously titillating and horrifying, rapid fire, Homeric Twitter tale, she exposed lots of folks to a supposedly true story that very likely simply confirmed almost every negative stereotype about sex workers they already had in their heads. And “vibing over our hoeism or whatever”? I mean, c’mon – that’s the kinda classic line that makes me jealous I didn’t write it myself. Also, it’s true: many of us do indeed vibe over our hoeism amongst ourselves.

But then Jezebel had to go and cover the story. And they essentially doxed the writer.

Irrespective of our thoughts on the story itself (and they varied – sex workers aren’t some kind of collective) we were pretty universally appalled that a supposedly Feminist site would dox a WOC sex worker, and then double down with snarky replies about the public nature of Twitter (possibly in a good faith effort to remind the dumb “hos” who were too stupid to realize that themselves, but more likely just to be flippant jerks because they got called out. Either way…)

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Of course, there are two sides to every story, and the other side of this one is claiming the events were not quite as salacious – and frankly terrifying – as they were written. Since none of us were there, we’ll obviously never know the real truth, but for purposes of this discussion, let’s work from the assumption that the whole story is true as originally narrated since presumably that was the impression Jia was operating under when she covered it.

Since I very recently wrote a piece about sex work and feminism wherein I came out as a sex worker myself (and which I seriously considered taking down since it’s published on this platform – a platform that clearly has no qualms about doxing sex workers) I was invited by one long time Gawker Media friend to possibly opine on Jezebel’s coverage of the story. He helpfully pointed me to a thread here on Clashtalk where a robust discussion was already underway, and I quickly began crafting a reply to one of the comments. Alas, I’m a wordy bitch and shit got way too unwieldly for a reply. Since I didn’t want to hijack an ongoing and very healthy dialogue with 1,700+ words, I decided to post this separately. So, while I can’t speak for all sex workers – we are as diverse as we are entreprewhoreal – here are my collected ramblings on “the story.” (Also, I’m not particularly politically correct when it comes to discussing my own involvement in sex work, except for when I’m writing seriously about the broader topic in which case I try to be on my best behavior; I just failed miserably in the sentence prior to this parenthetical aside and reserve the right to continue to do so throughout this piece.)

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Why is this sex worker (and many, many others) outraged by Jezebel’s coverage?

Because you simply don’t dox sex workers, irrespective of if they tell a story via a very public medium, irrespective of whether they provide information that makes it easy to identify them, and irrespective of if you don’t see the issue with revealing personally identifiable details. Do you think it’s a coincidence the vast majority of us adopt stage names? It’s not. We do it for a reason, and that reason is the stigma associated with doing sex work. Another reason is that many of us also work straight jobs (or will in the future) and we will typically lose them more quickly than Jarrett can turn on the waterworks if our involvement in sex work is made public. Also, y’know, sex work is kinda illegal, so that’s a thing too. Plus, occasionally someone wants to stalk us, or - in Zola’s case - maybe we’ve had interaction with a violent, murderous pimp who might have some interest in figuring out how to get a hold of us. Don’t fucking dox sex workers. Period. It’s for our safety.

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Side note: It’s also especially Alanis Morissette style ironic that Jez couldn’t manage to find a single fuck to give about doxing a sex worker and what the resultant safety implications for her might be when they themselves were unhappy with the leak of their floor plan because, y’know, safety concerns. I’m not minimizing their concerns mind you, but maybe they should be mindful of others’.

Why do you not want to piss off a sex worker?

We know things. We have a very particular set of skills. Skills we’ve acquired over a very long career. Skills that make us a … oh, wait, never mind - that’s “Taken.” But seriously, a good number of us are pretty damn scrappy. And a few of us also know some interesting tricks from doing BDSM scenes, so……

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What else did Jezebel get wrong about their coverage?

Everything? For starters, they quite literally added nothing of substance to the story, rather they took a disaffected breezy approach (which landed flat) for the lolz. If you bothered to read it (I hope for your sake you didn’t) you were left wondering “why in the hell did they even do this aside from the clicks?” There was no broader message, and candidly, the original tweets were far more engaging than the additional shit Jezebel packaged around the sample they quoted.

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Also, it felt exploitative. I don’t know about you, but website generates clicks (translated: sweet, sweet ad dollars) off of the intersection of female, black, and sex worker all while contributing no worthwhile perspective just feels squick to me. Yes, Zola told the story on Twitter. Yes, it made her followers grow exponentially. But it was her damn story to tell. It’s her reality and she’s in that world (or was – apparently she no longer dances.) Jia is not in that world, ostensibly never has been, and Jezebel’s profiting from the story all while adding nothing to the conversation is rather appropriative. There were several good angles that could have been taken (though it’s sad to say that very few non sex workers can pull off writing about sex work well) but they weren’t, so all we’re left with is a website monetizing someone else’s story while contributing nothing of value in the process. In essence, Jezebel pimped out Zola’s story for ad revenue.

And don’t even get me started on the tag. Shit ain’t cute. Shit ain’t clever. Shit is reductive as fuck. And, although this isn’t a universal, here’s my rule for using the word ho: Until you’ve turned tricks yourself, you don’t get to bandy it about in that context. Keep it to garden tools or amongst your friends at the bar, not actual sex workers, and not former sex workers who also happen to be Pulitzer Prize winning Presidential Medal of Freedom recipients. If you’re not familiar with the Pulitzer Prize, it’s that thing the author will never win by writing garbage like this.

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Why are sex workers not angry with _____________ instead?

Well, for starters, journalists are typically held to higher standards when they write things than are non-journalists, so that ‘Zola tweeted the story dispassionately and I simply mirrored her tone’ shit is a sorry ass excuse for this mess.

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That aside, some sex workers are angry at the way other outlets covered the story. Some didn’t appreciate Zola’s story at all, or the way she presented it. Many (arguably most) were understandably disturbed by the details. Some had the same concerns Jia voiced in her transparent ex post facto attempt to deflect attention away from her own poor judgement with her sorry-not-sorry reply to the meanie mentions she had in her Twitter feed. Sex workers, like most people, have the rather unremarkable ability to be angry with more than one person and/or situation at a time.

It is true that some of us are perhaps a bit more desensitized because we’ve seen this shit firsthand, although, contrary to the popular belief otherwise, many sex workers go their entire career without witnessing – let alone experiencing – on the job violence. Most of us also realize you can’t rescue someone from a shitty situation if s/he doesn’t want to be rescued, likely because we’ve actually tried at some point in time; with that perspective, it’s hard to find much fault with Zola’s actions in the story. Almost all of us also abhor the concept of “rescue” in relation to sex work because there is an entire industry built on rescuing us from ourselves and our own choices. We also know “rescue” typically implies a lack of agency – agency many of us have in the choices we’ve made, but which is constantly denied by others. Further, we know all too well that “rescue” is more often than not simply code for law enforcement intervention that frequently ends in abuse, or a record, or jail time, or fines, or some bullshit mandatory diversion program, or all of the above. Long story short, there’s a reason #rightsnotrescue is a hashtag on sexwork Twitter.

But Zola pimped her out and took a cut

Nah, don’t get it twisted: Zola tried to help her out. She helped her understand the market worth of the services she was providing, and gave her the tools to maximize her income. She clearly – from the palpable incredulity apparent in her tweets – did not expect her newfound friend to turn around and disclose the actual amount she made that evening. Hell, if newfound friend wasn’t sharp enough to keep most of the cash to herself, I’d have taken a cut too when it was thrown my way, especially after having been sucked into this shitshow.

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What else?

Erin’s reply to the charge of being whorephobic was the most obtuse thing I’ve read in several days, and I spend more time on the internet than is healthy for any one human being.

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What else?

We should really stop saying “broke the internet.”

What else?

Brace yourself for the think pieces deconstructing this whole thing. They will be many, they will be strong, and they will be unavoidable.

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And…?

Here are the thoughts of some other sex workers on the Zola story.

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Is that it?

No, a final thought: The Zola story you read is looking more and more like it’s a significantly sensationalized yarn that’s very loosely based on a series of actual events. That said, scenarios like this do happen; they are the more common version of what sex-related trafficking actually looks like in the US, rather than the cartel abducts woman and enslaves her in sex work version sex work prohibitionists like to trot out. For those having a hard time wrapping their minds around why Zola or newfound friend didn’t call law enforcement, well, that’s the reality of criminalized sex work as opposed to decriminalized sex work (we also can’t forget that Zola is a WOC, so her chance of a positive interaction with the police is doubly complicated.) If stories like this disturb you – and they should – then please join sex workers and a host of notable organizations such as Amnesty International in our call for full sex work decriminalization.

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Is that it?

Nope. Just a friendly reminder that I’m only one sex worker, and my views are not necessarily representative of all sex workers on this topic or any other. Well, except for decriminalization – we’re all pretty much on the same page with that one.

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Are you fucking done yet?

I’m usually the one thinking that question (actually, it’s more like are you done fucking yet) but yes, yes I am.

PS. Whoops, one last thing: Want to read a different and quite beautiful take on sex, love, money, and sex work? Please consider a donation to Charlotte Shane’s Prostitute Laundry. But get in fast: It closes in an hour!

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Image courtesy of JackeeHarry

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