Waging War On Sex Workers


Zoe Schlanger interviews journalist and former sex worker Melissa Gira Grant “on what feminists get wrong about prostitution,” in Guernica:

Grant joined me at her neighborhood coffee shop on a February afternoon, and as we sat down, she pointed to a cafe table behind us. “I outlined my book over there,” Grant said, and pointed to another. “And that’s where we discussed the proposal.” This summer, Grant’s first book,Playing the Whore, will be published by Verso Books in collaboration with Jacobin magazine, where she is a contributing editor.

She recently published a piece at Jacobin titled “Happy Hookers,” a critique of how those who have not worked in the sex industry tend to think about those who have, and how those feelings, whether grounded in the reality of the industry or not, shape policy that affects workers–almost always in a way that harms.

In a recent piece in Reason magazine, Grant asks, “How have we arrived at this point, that in the name of ‘protecting’ women, or even ensuring their ‘rights,’ feminists are eager to take away their jobs and health care?” She points her finger at what Elizabeth Bern­stein calls “carceral feminism,” wherein success is measured in arrest numbers, and conservative donors are mollified by the portrayal of all sex workers as victims. “The result is—or should be—an international scandal,” Grant writes.

Grant and I talked over tea about sex worker organizing, transmisogyny, and what it means to be real on the Internet.

Zoe Schlanger for Guernica…

Melissa Gira Grant: …I’ve moved away from writing about and describing actual experiences of sex work, whether mine or anybody else’s, because the culture is obsessed with the behavior of sex workers. They want to figure out why they do what they do and who they are. Women’s sites like xo Jane, Crushable, and even Jezebel have been publishing a lot of first-person writing by sex workers. I’ve noticed an uptick in the last year. A lot of it is really great and breaks stereotypes, and that’s in addition to the blogs that sex workers themselves have.

What I’m trying to do is to shift the focus onto the producers of the anti-sex work discourse: the cops, the feminists, the anti-prostitution people. They don’t like being talked about. So my response was, “Look, this wasn’t a piece about how you or I feel about sex work. It’s about the actions of groups of people, and so if you can show me something different about the impact of these actions, I’d like to see it.” Those are the people whose behavior needs to change.