In recent years I’ve become fascinated by the phenomenon of people from very different political backgrounds agreeing very strongly on one particular topic: sex work. The recent signing of the SESTA-FOSTA bill in the U.S. is a classic example. What other subject could possibly unify Meryl Streep, Amy Schumer, and Elizabeth Warren with Marco Rubio, Christian Evangelicals, and the Republican Party!? Or would be an area that Rand Paul and Ocasio-Cortez might agree! I couldn’t help but be intrigued.
So first off, this is not obviously a unique occurrence. Radical feminists teamed up with super conservatives to argue against trans rights Pink News. In 2008 when California was pushing for Prop 8 on gay marriage, Mormons, Evangelical Christians, Jewish, and Black people were all united against it CNN. That’s an impressive grouping of people with very unpleasant histories. If there had been a significant Muslim population I’m sure they would joined them creating an amazing alliance of disparate foes! And in Brexit now we have Reese Mogg and Jeremy Corbyn on the same page as well: 2 people that couldn’t have more opposite world views. But both hell bent on creating their own “Utopias”!
So what’s going on, and is sex work different here, or just another example? And also, what’s the mechanism that creates such a situation!?
The Unique Power of Sex Work
In my view it is different, as all the others generally in any polls taken follow left wing/right lines. Trans rights certainly have their detractors in the left, but not a significant majority. You wouldn’t find such a high profile alliance of lefties that you found with SESTA combining against Trans. And sexual orientation is again split quite clearly left and right. And the Brexit alliance, well there both sides have very different end goals, unlike all with sex work, where both sides have the same vision: eradication. So it is unique, but why? That’s what keeps bugging me. How can it turn everything on its head?
What’s going on?
I think the central theme here is that we all have a relationship with sex. And it’s this simple fact that blows it all up. To understand where I’m going here, I’ll use the bible as an example! Yep, the bible is like sex: Millions have a very intimate knowledge of it, love it a lot, but can’t agree for 5 seconds on what any of it means! The problem with sex is that because everybody has some kind of personal relationship with it, everybody has a very personal opinion on it. And this, I’m suggesting, creates the strange splits in left and right support. What seems to happen is, because everyone has this very intimate individual relationship with sex, they become more less likely to follow the “party line”, of left or right.
How this Happens
So a classic left wing person believes in less rules around sex, is more open to diversity, and more open to challenging traditional values. The right, is more traditional, more afraid of change, or of new things and new ideas. These are the rules. And they work well…when there is little experience of the subject. Sexuality, race, gender, immigration, taxation, are all classic examples of left/right splits. And in all these areas, not everyone has a similar direct experience. You might say we all pay tax, but I think it’s clear these days that that’s far from true! But with sex, we all have very direct experience.
Liz and Mark Get it On!
We all, every one of us, have a very similar relationship with it. When anyone has sex,
it’s very much alike. Elizabeth Warren and Marco Rubio in their respective acts of shagging are not dissimilar. Both grunting and huffing and puffing away, to I hope both having some form of orgasmic release. It’s the same for anyone whether in the third world, or a billionaire. Jeff Bezos orgasms in the same way as any other man. And it’s this intimacy with the subject that creates such a diverse diaspora of views on management. Just like the Bible! (Check out the AIS article on shame which talks all about the desire to manage sex in society).
So because if this intimate relationship, when the group says one thing, the person then checks with their own personal views and direct experiences to see if they match. When they don’t, a conflict is created and chaos reigns! And this is where the problems start to arise. Because obviously, to equate your personal experience of sex, with sex work, is not going to work. Hence the frustration time and time again of sex workers saying “listen to us, listen to what we are saying”! Not what is randomly in your head.
The problem it seems then, is what psychologists call “cognitive dissonance”. This is where you hear something that doesn’t fit with what you already think you know, and so discard that new information. Here it’s different, unlike with other social campaigns where the information in the person’s head before you arrive is more open. One suggestion might be then, to change people’s minds: start the conversation at their own views of sex first, before discussing sex work, in order to open them up a little!
And it plays out in the left and right in different ways..
The Left Wing
So why aren’t the natural defenders of the downtrodden supporting the sex work cause enmasse? But end up trying to save those that are not interested in being saved? It’s because when they think of their personal ideas around sex: How they attach to the others strongly, or how sex to them is difficult, they imagine this experience in the sex worker and draw conclusions without listening. What they don’t understand is they are taking a thought that is not really relevant, and applying it. And this interrupts the usual process of listening to the person that needs help. As was done with sexualtiy and race, and the feminist movement, and worker rights, etc. There, they listened to those that needed help, and tried to apply. Instead of trying to tell those people exactly how they needed to be helped! It’s like if a man approaching the Suffragettes, and instead of listening to what they were requesting, tried to take over, and started to tell them what was best for them! Or a totally straight person trying to take over and run the LQBTQI movement!
The Right Wing
In some ways this split is even more surprising. It’s clear why many from this camp would be against sex work, but for? It counters the more traditional views on sexuality, and monogamy, and therefore triggers the feelings of not liking what is new, different and non-traditional. There is also a far greater religious following. But…there is a split here too. Ask any sex worker whether escort, porn actor, or dancer, and they will tell you that they’re clientele are 50/50 right and left. Customers in this industry are not predominantly of one side or the other. And neither are those who actually work in the industry.
Hoff was a recent Nevada republican, and brothel owner (CNBC). Trump himself while he did sign SESTA, I wonder how anti sex work he really is as he also seems like a regular customer. Also, recently the high profile arrest of Kraft, a another very big Trump fan. But most glaringly was Rand Paul, one of only two U.S. Senators to vote against SESTA-FOSTA (curiously emphasizing this left/right split, the other was a very left wing Democrat: Ron Wyden!) So why this acceptance of sex work on the right? The answer obviously is that again they have a direct experience of sex, and so that interrupts the party line. They’re own views on the subject don’t fit.
What also seems to happen here is that the classic right-wing fear of the unknown also gets removed. Homosexuality or gender fluidity, or race, etc are all different and strange in classic white right wing circles and so feared. For the right wing difference is bad. Traditions are good. But not with sex work. Many of them will have many direct experiences with it throughout their lives. And so they are not against it.
Shame Within Your Own Group
What seems to happen though curiously on both sides of the aisle is they are stopped from speaking out for the same reason: the shaming that comes from those within their own group! People can handle shame from the opposition, but much more difficult from their own. So someone on the left campaigning for gay rights doesn’t care about the shame that is thrown from Evangelicals. But, the shame from within their own camp, that is stronger. And so the right wing pro sex work human will be shamed by their religious, puritanical members. The left wing will be shamed by the radical feminist human rights rescuers: and the slightly creepy gaze of Meryl!
This unique situation that sex work creates: where everyone thinks they’re an expert because they’ve happened to have had sex with someone at some point in their life, and thus have drawn a conclusion about what sex work means and is. It’s like someone who has acted in a high school musical, and thinks they understand Broadway, or someone who had a holiday to Cambodia and now thinks they can solve all of the 3rd world’s problems.
However, if everyone has an opinion, maybe they can be engaged on that level? Maybe alliances can be formed with those that are unpleasant to us? I’m just brainstorming here, throwing out some thoughts. Maybe you have some thoughts too?
If you want to change a system, you have to understand it.