This Saturday, January 16, we’re celebrating the December 2020 graduates of our Work-Study Program with a Graduation Showcase performance (on Zoom, of course). There will be pole, aerial and variety acts by our recent grads alongside some guest alumni performers. All proceeds will benefit the Black Sex Workers Collective, an organization near and dear to members of this Work-Study group. Butchie Gamble, a member of our December 2020 Work-Study Program, and Dey Phoenix, Body & Pole Trainer and community advocate, share a bit more about the collective, and why, as members of the pole and aerial community, it is our duty to support them, especially now.
How did you discover the Black Sex Worker’s Collective? What inspired you to support it?
Butchie: We initially learned of the Black Sex Worker’s Collective (BSWC) through Let Them Eat Cake, in which some of us from Body & Pole performed to fundraise for the organization. When it came time to select a charity to support for our Work-Study Graduation Showcase, we chose this organization because it supports the most marginalized members of society, all of whom have been disproportionately impacted this year by the pandemic: Black sex workers. As demonstrated with BLM and national protests, Black people have endured systemic racism and police brutality with a lack of justice. Sex workers are particularly vulnerable members of society as they use sex work as a means of financial survival, but then face criminalization and stigma from society as a result. Recently, sex work has become increasingly unsafe with the removal of online platforms to screen clients and engage in cyber sex work. The Black Sex Workers Collective (BSWC) supports this intersectional group: those who are both Black and participate in sex work are victims of compounded societal marginalization and discrimination. The organization is also trans-inclusive – Black trans femme sex workers are THE most marginalized members of society, impacted heavily by violence and lack of resources. Accordingly, BSWC and Body & Pole want to provide support and resources to those who need it the most.
What does the organization do?
Butchie: The BSWC provides resources to increase sex workers’ access to education, affordable housing, legal assistance, mental health services and healthcare. They are also fighting to decriminalize and remove the stigma from sex work. Since vulnerable populations engage in sex work due to lack of resources, it’s important to provide them instead of resorting to police and punishment. One of BSWC’s strategies for achieving their goals is by engaging with audience though radical performance dance and political resistance through the arts, which directly coincides with our goals as pole and aerial artists. We want to utilize our talents and art to impact the world in positive ways.
How are Black sex workers affected by recent legislation?
Dey: Across the board, members of the Black community are disproportionately affected by a multitude of disparities in reference to health and finances. This also holds true in terms of our community not having stable housing, access to health insurance, and a slew of other things. Tying in the most recent legislation for sex workers specifically, this takes away a huge chunk of visibility for Black sex workers who are already struggling due to this pandemic. For those who solely rely on sex work to survive, this decreases income needed to pay rent, have food to eat, and other needs for survival.
How has sex work gotten more dangerous?
Dey: It goes without saying that the pandemic surely presents even more safety issues for sex workers. For those who engage in physical sexual activities, it presents a dilemma and risk given our need to social distance. We’re still losing thousands of people to COVID, and that creates a barrier for sex work. There’s also the overarching issue of transphobia, and the violence towards our trans siblings who engage in sex work. Many have been murdered in the line of work, and it’s unfortunate that not all can be identified.
How do you think it impacts the pole & aerial community?
Butchie: Pole dance originates from strippers and sex workers. Pole dancers benefit from sex worker culture without experiencing the harsh realities their communities have faced. Given this, and the fact that sex workers are often shunned by the rest of society, we share a responsibility to amplify their voices and support them. You cannot benefit from another community’s culture and then disregard them when they’re being targeted unfairly by legislation, denied equal access to resources and enduring punishment for survival work.
Why is it important for the pole & aerial community to support Black sex workers?
Dey: Not only is it important, it’s imperative. Pole specifically would not be mainstream had it not been for the labor and aesthetic of strippers. What has historically been a means of survival has become gentrified and packaged “nicely,” which has furthermore started to cause erasure for the very strippers some pole dancers emulate and bash in the same breath. We’ve seen the horrible #NotAStripper hashtag, Pleasers claiming their shoes as a “pole fitness shoe,” and a slew of other micro-aggressions when it comes to stripper culture. While everyone doesn’t have to be a stripper, there should be nothing but the utmost respect for strippers and sex workers who are facing real life struggles while select folk within the pole community reap the benefits of our labor. At best, the pole and aerial community can speak up in support, and show up in solidarity.
What are some other ways people can help support?
Dey: At this point, we all need to do our research on bills and laws such as SEISA (Stop Internet Exploitation Act), and SESTA/FOSTA, what they truly mean in reference to silencing sex work, and provide action by contacting our local government officials to combat these laws. Share and sign petitions that sex workers provide. Listen to sex workers as a means to understand, rather than a means to react and feel attacked when we call something out. Support virtual strip clubs hosted by strippers, and support other sex worker spaces that are provided by active sex workers. This includes OnlyFans subscriptions, paying for your porn/other services offered, etc.
- Be an ally. That means staying informed of politics and the impact on marginalized communities. Recent legislation is forcing sex workers off internet platforms and into more in-person client interactions, which leads to more violence. We need to focus on protecting sex workers and decriminalizing sex work. Additionally, discovering new ways to provide resources to communities who are ignored or denied access by the rest of society.
- Sign petitions. There are petitions circulating from sex work advocates that protest the SISEA and FOSTA-SESTA, which encourage the erasure of sex workers from mainstream social media and websites by banning NSFW content downloads and creating legal penalties.
- Not everyone will be in the forefront to actively advocate for legislative reform, but everyone can contribute in ways that make a difference.
The Work-Study Graduation Showcase will be this Saturday, January 16 at 9pm ET. Get your tickets here.
For more about the Black Sex Workers Collective, visit here.