How Sex Workers Are Fighting Back Against Trump - Rolling Stone
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How Sex Workers Are Fighting Back Against Trump

For an overwhelmingly at-risk community, bolstering opposition to the president elect isn’t just politics – it’s survival

If you’re like most liberal and progressive-leaning Americans, you may not be sleeping much. Daily updates about Trump’s still-forming cabinet are probably keeping you up at night, even as you scramble to attend protests, donate money to the ACLU and book your tickets to march on Washington.

The nation’s sex workers are no different. While some likely voted for Trump, many sex workers – in jobs from nude modeling to prostitution and everything in between – fall into categories that leave them especially at risk under the Trump administration. They are overwhelmingly women, many are queer and transgender, many undocumented immigrants. Nearly all work as independent contractors or even illegally, relying on low-cost health insurance through the Affordable Care Act or clinics that serve the uninsured on a sliding scale, like Planned Parenthood.

That’s why, all over the country, a sort of Robin Hood movement is taking place throughout small communities of sex workers. Among a certain class of these women who are financially comfortable and boast disposable income, everyone seems to have had the same idea at once: setting aside a portion of the money they make from America’s horny men and diverting it into progressive causes in an effort to bolster them against Trump’s administration. Whether their clients are Republicans or Democrats, they all spend the same money.

Ari, a New York-based social worker who moonlights as an escort, says that Republican clients kept the city’s sex workers busy during the week after the election.

“During election week I had sex with a lot of Republicans,” Ari, who asked to use only her first name, tells Rolling Stone. “Everyone in the [online] sex worker forums was making jokes about it, because it was banging last week.”

“One of the coolest things about being a sex worker is that I have more time to focus on radical activism,” says one porn model.

Thanks to sex workers, that Republican money is going to causes like Planned Parenthood and the Standing Rock protest. Many are also advertising special fundraising shifts at strip clubs and organizing through private Facebook groups and other online forums where sex workers share vital information about clients and police stings as well as posting photos of gently-used platform heels for sale.

Some were organizing against Trump before the election: The group Tramps Against Trump offered to swap nude photos with anyone who pledged not to vote for the Republican candidate. That group wasn’t just comprised of sex workers, but the Tramps Against Trump members who did happen to be sex workers, like Allyee Whaley, were essentially offering to give their wares away for free.

Why would any woman doing such demanding work just give their money away? For Whaley and others like her, making a lot of money in a short amount of time – and never having to work a 40-hour week – is a privilege she’s highly aware of.

“One of the coolest things about being a sex worker is that I have more time than everyone else to focus on radical activism,” says Whaley, who models for a subscription-based porn site. “I can take an arrest – that’s not going to impede my employability. I have money to fund my activism, and I have the flexibility to go where I’m needed.”

Portland stripper and single mom Elle Stanger pointed out the contrast between her profession and an hourly, minimum-wage gig. A former grocery clerk herself, she’s acutely aware of how little time and money many working-class people have – and she’s grateful for the extra cash she can afford to give away.

“A lot of people who are trapped in low-level jobs owned by big corporations, they’re the people who need to keep every penny,” says Stanger.

That’s why Stanger decided to turn Black Friday into her own personal charity shift at the strip club, in an unironic nod to the working class holiday of desperate consumption. Stanger calls her fundraising effort #Thanksstripping, and she’s been promoting it on Instagram, Tumblr and Facebook. On that night, 100 percent of Stanger’s stage tips will go to Planned Parenthood. Most of her clients share her political views, she says, and find it “horrifying” that Trump and Pence have hinted at defunding Planned Parenthood. Even though #Thanksstripping is a week away, she says, it’s already catching on.

“I already had one person hand me $100 on my shift last week – he said he’ll be out of town but said he wanted to contribute,” Stanger says. “Other women around the country asked if they can use the hashtag and do the same thing.”

Lynsie Lee is also a single mom and stripper in Portland. Lee became famous in 2013 for her flirtatious Twitter correspondence with Sen. Cory Booker, then the mayor of Newark, New Jersey and now a rising star in the Democratic Party.

“I’m concerned with [Trump’s] tax plan and how it will affect us,” says Lee, reiterating that strippers are classified as independent contractors. “He’s already [proposed] alleviating the head-of-household deduction [which benefits single parents,]. Who knows what he will do to small business or those of us who are self-employed and don’t cater to big business.”

Two New York–based sex workers – an escort and a model for a private porn site – told Rolling Stone that they too were donating profits to progressive causes in an attempt to bolster the resistance against the incoming administration.

“A lot of people are willing to donate money right now,” says Whaley, who is planning to fly from New York to the Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota to take part in the Sacred Stone Camp’s protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline. The trip, she says, is being entirely paid for by a “sugar daddy.”

“I donated some of my money to Planned Parenthood in Mike Pence’s name,” says one escort.

Whaley is also concerned about Planned Parenthood and other services being taken away, but she feels that the pipeline protest is the most immediate concern as a cold winter settles over the reservation – she plans to help provide winter coats and other supplies to the camp. But she’s also adding new organizations to her donation list: the 24-hour counseling hotline Trans Lifeline and an assortment of grassroots abortion funds that help women pay for travel, housing and other costs embedded in the process of accessing abortion care in states with few services available.

“I’m very lucky to have clientele who are more aligned with my politics,” says Whaley, noting that other sex workers were “talking on social media about having to deal with Trump supporters in their day-to-day.”

Ari, the New York escort who reported the Republican influx during election week, says most of her clients fall on the liberal end of the political spectrum – and she notes the extra emotional labor required after the election to comfort “white liberal rich clients who didn’t realize that America was racist.”

Being a social worker by day gives Ari a unique perspective on Trump’s America: Much of her caseload brings her face-to-face with the low-income black and Muslim communities that depend on government funding of social services like Medicaid and Planned Parenthood.

“I donated some of my money to Planned Parenthood in Mike Pence’s name,” says Ari. “I found that doubly funny, because it’s money that I literally made by prostituting myself.”

In the week after the election, Ari also sent money to New York’s Ali Forney Center and Audre Lorde Project, two organizations that she says “specifically work with trans youth of color, and a huge portion of those youth do survival sex work.”

Twenty-five-year-old stripper Tamra Horner, who also dances in Portland, called election week “devastating” and recalled being disturbed by news reports of harassment and violence against women, Muslims, LGBT couples and people of color. She quickly decided to carve out a portion of that week’s total profits

“That’s why I chose to donate to the NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People] and RAINN [Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network],” Horner tells Rolling Stone. “I donated a third of my [weekly] earnings – totaling $533 – which I split evenly among the two organizations.”

Horner says she hopes to do another donation week in the near future, this time giving a third of the week’s tips from pole tricks and lap dances to groups like the ACLU and organizations for LGBT rights.

For Portland strippers like Horner and Stanger, the clientele mirrors the city’s leanings – progressive, liberal, a little bit crunchy. But sex workers in the rest of the country carry the extra burden of providing intimate services to men whose professions and political leanings may clash severely with their own values.

Working at a legal brothel called the Love Ranch in Nevada, escort Kitti Minx comes into contact with a random assortment of people from all walks of life. Her clients have only one thing in common: They’ve traveled to Nevada to take advantage of the only U.S. state where prostitution is legal and safely regulated by the health department.

Minx tells Rolling Stone she also decided to make charitable donations a part of her business after Trump’s election. Her main concern? The environment – specifically, animal sanctuaries for oceanic life.

“These are programs that rely on government grants,” says Minx, “And while the Obama Administration has been pretty good about funding environmental programs so far, the signs are pointing to the opposite for the Trump Administration.”

Minx has cause for concern in regards to the president elect: Trump has installed a noted climate-change skeptic to head the agency during the transition, and has said he plans to reduce the Environmental Protection Agency to a mostly advisory role and open federal lands to oil and gas drilling as well as coal mining.

Many sex workers provide intimate services to men whose political leanings may clash with their own values.

Minx is used to breaking stereotypes at work. She describes herself as one of few openly LGBT legal sex workers who serves LGBT clients, is part of the geeky cosplay community, and says she’s “trying to steer the business to be more embracing…. The Boys Club method that’s being utilized has made traffic really slow.”

While the sex workers themselves have scrambled to divert funds since the election, some are also using their position to encourage political engagement among their clientele. Just a couple of hours before Ari spoke on the phone with Rolling Stone, she met one of her regular clients for a date.

“I was in bed with him, literally naked, straddling him and he started talking about the stupid safety pin movement,” Ari says. “I told him that’s not activism – that’s white liberals trying to feel better about themselves.”

Her client asked her what she thought was a more productive alternative to the safety pin. What happened next, as she tells it, was like something out of Lysistrata.

“I asked if he’s called his state representative yet and he looked at me like I was an alien,” says Ari. So she dismounted, pulled up a call script that she had seen passed around on Facebook and made her client pick up the phone – saying she “wouldn’t fuck him until he did it.”

The client, she said, read the script into the phone right then and there: “Hi, my name is _______ and I’m a constituent of Representative _______. I’m calling because I’m concerned about Donald Trump naming Steve Bannon as his chief White House strategist.”

Republicans may have taken control of the White House, but sex workers are taking control of their constituents. Or, at least, of their constituents’ dollars.

In This Article: Donald Trump, Election 2016, Sexuality


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