Empowered Sex Workers Want to Redefine Prostitution in the Bay Area


The East Bay Express’s Ellen Cushing’s fascinating piece on the more “privileged” sex workers who are fighting to defeat Proposition 35 and redefine sex work in the Bay Area is worth a read in full, but here are some highlights:

Meet Jolene:

Jolene Parton is a ho. She’s also a Berkeley native, a comic-book fanatic, a Dolly Parton aficionado (hence the name, which is fake), an NPR listener, and a big fan of Vietnamese food.

She loves her job:

“It’s been great, honestly,” she told me a couple weeks ago at an Oakland Chinatown lunch spot, steam rising from the vermicelli bowl in front of her and fogging her lenses. She genuinely likes her clients, or at least as much as anyone can be expected to like the people they work with, and she appreciates the freedom of being able to set her own hours: “I don’t have an alarm clock,” she said. “I make breakfast every morning, I get to hang out with my friends whenever I want. This job affords me a lifestyle most people don’t get.”
All told, with a rate in the several hundreds of dollars an hour, she can work between five and ten hours a week and still make far more than the vast majority of other 24-year-olds out there. Parton has met many of her friends through sex work, and it’s via her involvement with the Bay Area chapter of the Sex Workers Outreach Project – a national advocacy group and decriminalization effort founded by and for sex workers in 2003 that’s better known by its acronym, SWOP – that she’s found her footing as an activist. “Honestly,” she said, “my job is one of the most stable and rewarding things in my life.”

Jolene, along with Bottoms (“the kind of person who’ll casually slip a historical anecdote about renaissance-era work arrangements into a conversation about the modern-day sex industry. Like many of her contemporaries and colleagues, she’s a prodigious user of social media; on Twitter, she’s equally prone to thoughts like ‘I’ve got a session in 5 minutes and can’t stop the pickle burps #sexworkerproblems’ as she is to tweeting about her torts homework or the presidential debates.”), is an example of what Cushing calls an “emerging breed” of sex workers:

…educated, empowered, tech-savvy, and activism-oriented, honest about who they are and proud of what they do. They have iPhones and nose piercings and college degrees; they chronicle their experiences on Tumblr and are out to their families. They’re primarily what are known in the industry as ‘indoor’ sex workers – meaning they find clients mostly via the web, at online marketplaces like Eros and Redbook, rather than working on the street, and they tend to charge rates in the hundreds of dollars an hour.

Of course, not every Bay Area sex worker is so well-adjusted. But the ones who are fear that Prop 35, which would expand the definition of and increase penalties for human trafficking, will hurt their careers and victimize all sex workers, not just those who went to Oberlin.

“Prop 35 implicates a lot of adult consensual behavior,” said former prostitute/sexologist/couples counselor Veronica Monet. “In my opinion, it’s an erosion of sexual rights.”

Read on to learn more about the women fighting to change the sex worker narrative.

[East Bay Express]

Image via litvinchuk/Shutterstock.

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