I am a strong Sanders supporter, and I am more than willing to concede that Bernie needs to do better regarding certain issues. Sex work is definitely one of them.
We in the pro-Sanders camp need to acknowledge that his votes in favor of FOFSTA and SESTA hurt sexworkers and we must acknowledge that Bernie needs to be pushed more on the issue of sex work.
Not only did Bernie vote for both of these harmful bills but when talking about media coverage of Stormy Daniels, Bernie has maintained a tone that writes off sexwork in a way that is damaging to his progressive image.
While at SXSW last year, he remarked that while the Stormy Daniels story is “legitimate news… the media is too obsessed with it,” which is actually a valid point. However, his reasoning was grossly flawed.
“In this country, we have a lot of people who are in pain — single mothers, people who can’t afford college — they want to see something that reflects their reality.” And obviously, a president suing an adult film star isn’t that.”
This reasoning ignores some very important realities, one being that porn performers and sex workers often are single mothers or parents. It also forsakes the reality that many turn to sex work because of the economic oppressions that he mentioned. In other words, it reflects the idea that porn stars and the issues effecting them are not to be taken seriously because porn stars themselves are not to be taken seriously as people.
This has been a difficult dance for me. I strongly support sex workers and want our culture to abandon the negative cultural constructs that we have attached to sex and sexuality. I also need the strong social welfare and environmental programs that Bernie Sanders is running on to come to fruition, we all do, or we are all going to die. So, as a Sanders supporter I think it is our job to hold him to scrutiny when he falls short.
Here is what I make of the whole Bernie Fofsta/Sesta/Sexwork situation: Bernie does not hate sexworkers, however because he is a product of his time and place he has preconceived notions about sex and sexuality that are the by products of our sex negative cultural constructs. Bernie and his sexwork policies are a good reflection of how even if you lean hard to the left, you will still have ingrained notions and prejudices if you are raised in an oppressive society, and inevitably some of that will lead to a perpetuation of the same oppressions we as leftists desire to overthrow.
All is not lost though, the key to overcoming ingrained prejudices and cultural constructs is to recognize them, and then take active steps to correct them. If Bernie has proven one thing about himself it is that when the public cries fowl on him, he listens and takes the steps to do better. The good news is that Bernie has already expressed a willingness to decriminalize sex work! However, more still needs to be done. We, his supporters, need to raise our voices and elevate sexworkers who are organizing. If enough of us do this, then Bernie, as well as all of the politicians in power, will have to take notice.
So, how do we get Bernie to be better about sexwork?
1. Elevate Sex Worker’s Voices, Support Sex Worker Unions
First and foremost, to stand in true solidarity with sexworkers we must avoid the savior complex.
As long as strippers, escorts, and porn performers are generating wealth with their labor then we must acknowledge that sex work is work.
We also must recognize that there are already those in the sex industry that are working to organize their own, such as Antonia Crane, Siousixie Q, Sex Worker Outreach Project, and the “soldiers of pole” stripper union. We don’t need to invade the spaces where sex workers are trying to organize, what we must do is elevate those who are already organizing and fighting and stand behind them in solidarity when they step up to lead. Sex workers do not need saving, they need solidarity.
It should also be remembered that these workers do not need our’s nor Bernie’s validation, they do not need to beg for Bernie’s approval or his audience, what they need from him and all of us is our solidarity. The more that we support the efforts of people like strippers to unionize, the more Bernie’s hand will be forced to recognize that sexwork is indeed a form of labor. For better or worse, Bernie listens when unions are involved.
2. Fight Our Sex Negative Cultural Constructs
It is okay to talk about sex. You would think that we’d have accepted that as a culture because sex is shoved into our faces in almost every form of advertisement or entertainment. Yet the fact that we are only now having this conversation about sexwork, the fact that our government’s response to the human trafficking problem has been to go after the sex work industry as a whole, and the fact that people still have not grasped the nuances of trans rights or gender fluidity, all demonstrate how far we have to go when it comes to sex as a culture. We can’t accept the idea that sex work is work if we can’t accept our own ideas about sex. If we want to make Bernie better about the issue of sex work, then we ourselves need make ourselves better and more enlightened on the topic of sexuality.
3. Make It Clear That Sex Workers Benefit From Social Welfare Programs
The benefits that sexworkers would receive from Bernie’s social welfare programs needs to be made more explicit and central to the left’s platform. We should make it clear that Medicare for all covers sexual wellness such as fertility and STD testing.
Not only that but both Medicare for all and college for all reduce the need for people to resort to sex work out of desperation. While many resort to sexwork willingly (even enthusiastically) some in the industry get into it because they cannot find other work. Also, more often than not you will find that several sex workers are trapped under crippling student loan debt or medical debt like the rest of us.
Bernie’s programs would also benefit those who engage in sexwork willingly because if we free our minds from sex negative thinking while we also free ourselves from these financial restraints, then those who have been sexually repressed will be free to explore the aspects of their sexuality like never before. They will be free perform and indulge without judgement, as they should have the freedom to do.
4. Decriminalize all sexwork
This is probably the most important thing to push for. Those who do sex work consensually should have the freedom to do so without fear. Because we live in a punitive system, the laws that police claim will protect trafficked sex workers usually leads to them being prosecuted more than rescued. Prostitutes are also statistically more likely to get arrested than pimps or traffickers. All socialists and leftists must explicitly support the decriminalization of sex work, period.
Now that Bernie has expressed a willingness to decriminalize sex work, it is on us as his supporters to assure that sex work decriminalization becomes a part of his platform.
If enough of a movement is started, especially among his core base of supporters, then Bernie will have to take notice of how he has misstepped on the issue of sex work in the past. While it is fantastic news that he has said he is willing to decriminalize sex work, we cannot ignore where he has fallen short on this issue. His FOFSTA and SESTA votes are a glaring black mark on his progressive resume. I assure you, I say this as someone who loves Bernie Sanders, I want to see him win.
Bernie needs to be better about sexwork, and it looks like he is on the right track. But we, the public, need to be attentive and see to it that sex workers receive the attention and solidarity they need.