Letter From a Colombian Sex Worker to Abolitionists

Originally published 04/06/2020 on VICE Media A few days ago, Colombian actress Margarita Rosa de Francisco published a text explaining why she no longer defends prostitution as a job. Yoko Ruiz, Executive Director of the Red Comunataria Trans (Trans Community Network), in Bogotá, responded to her statements:

My life, like everyone else's, is one of many ways of existing and I sincerely find it quite tedious to defend the legitimacy of my profession against people who, as eternal parents (Father as prohibitionist State and Mother as abolitionist feminism), tell us that this is not the way to live with dignity, that we are "victims" and that they will do us the favor of enlightening the path to get us out of this pit of patriarchal slavery. Despite the tedium this causes me, I sit down to write because the column "Puta y putero", recently published by the Colombian actress Margarita Rosa de Francisco in the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo, has brought out the most paternalistic (curious, isn't it?) and frivolous aspects of orthodox feminism.

I am Yoko Ruiz, I am 40 years old and I have been a sex worker for 20 years. I am fully aware of what I do, of my profession, and that is why I am an activist for the rights of sex workers and trans women from the Trans Community Network in Bogotá. It is my responsibility to raise my voice -yes, we do have an agency, Margarita-, and to shout that we have had enough with the infantilization of us, that abolitionist positions only increase the stigma and persecution towards sex work.

In the column (a little too short), Margarita replies to the unfortunate ideas of the lawyer Helena Hernandez, champion of good sexual habits and progenitor of the romantic-gratinian twitter movement, who sees sex work as a deplorable practice, as the most entrenched form of gender violence in our society, as the foundational institution of patriarchy. However, the most serious issue is that, following Helena, she rudely confuses sex work with human trafficking. According to Margarita, in prostitution the woman "sells her right to her physical and mental integrity" and "the man pays for raping her". How brutal. Facing this banquet of messes, we shall go through it by piece-by-piece.

First, let's start with the issue of human trafficking. Trafficking and sexual exploitation are abominable crimes that must be prosecuted and judged; the transnational mafias that are dedicated to this must be dismantled. In this we completely agree: zero tolerance for human trafficking and sexual slavery.

Through the Trans Community Network we have reported criminals and we have also supported victims who are currently going through a very delicate process of restitution of their rights. However, these cases do not represent the entirety of sex work and not even a fair percentage of it. Therefore, remove the label of slaves, because the unfortunate and painful situation of some is not enough to criminalize and/or victimize all of us. Most of us prostitutes dedicate ourselves to this work because we want to, because we like to enjoy our sexuality without any taboos and because the right to autonomy implies that we can decide how to make a living (in the Sentence T-629, the Constitutional Court of Colombia recognized sex work as a dignified job).

A client reaches out to me and says what he wants, I accept or not. I charge between 25,000 and 200,000 Colombian Pesos (between 7 and 55 US dollars) per hour, depending on the details of the service. Many of them ask for curious or eccentric things: from a peaceful listening to cucumbers up the ass. I am always the one who decides whether to accept or not; nobody is forcing me to do something I don't want to do and, of course, there are plenty of things I say no to, as I always try to feel comfortable at work and take care of myself above anything else.

And the clients, or "whoremongers", as Margarita refers to them, are also very diverse. There are not only "rapists", as they point out, but also heterosexual couples, frustrated men, curious women, people with disabilities, young people discovering sex, etc. What is so condemnable about helping people to fulfill their sexual desires? Do people prefer a world in which unsatisfaction is the rule? No fulfilled fantasies? Eternal onanism? Many clients are just seeking to be heard, are they criminals? I certainly cannot deny that there are cases of violence and abuse; in such situations, the State should be involved in penalizing outbreaks of misogyny instead of our work.

To compare the use of sexual services with a violent act such as rape is totally wrong, because the sexual service is more than sex, it is a psycho-affective exchange in which consent is always involved. What would happen then in a service in which I am asked to assume the dominant position and penetrate the client? Would I be the raped-rapist? Or what about the male scorts hired by other men? Where is the gender violence there? As far as I am concerned, I think sexuality is much more abundant and varied than what they want to impose on us and it is in that sexuality where we assume roles and play to enjoy ourselves, always in a voluntary and consensual way. So the argument that men pay to rape is discarded.

Stop telling us how to live our own sexuality! Don't be nosy and don't speak for us because we have no need for underhanded good intentions when we all know what you really think: that we are a socially demeaned community and that our form of life is denigrating. My darlings, we decide about our bodies and for me there are some truly demeaning ways to make a living in this country, like being a corrupt politician.

My way of life is just as valid as anyone else's: I am a woman with plans for the future, with a network of girlfriends, politically organized, with a family and a job. A job like any other, but one that still does not have the guarantees of others despite the necessary service we provide and in contradiction to the statements of the Constitutional Court. We are no less victims of the system than the rest of the working masses: we are pleasure workers and we say it with pride.

The expression " pleasure workers" is borrowed from Lala Switch Alarcón, forerunner of the sex workers' movement in Colombia, a movement that you are unaware of because of your privileged positions, ignoring the fact that from marginality can exist political organization. You do not want to know that from the marginality there is also the building of thoughts and revolution. An example: the Stonewall riots in 1969 and the birth of the LGBT movement in the world occurred thanks to Marsha P. Johnson, a prostitute, trans, racialized and poor woman.

Margarita, replicating the flippancy of Helena Hernandez's analysis, states: "it is clear that prostitution is a direct consequence of the phenomenon of poverty". This is where classism shines the brightest. They pretend to turn a blind eye to the (abundant) prostitution in the wealthy social classes: sexual exchange for favors has always been present, but they only condemn that of the poor in order to subsist. Why does it hurt them so much that we profit from what the patriarchy takes for granted that it belongs to men (women's sex)?

With sex work, I have been able to unlearn many things that were previously taboo for me, I got rid of romantic ideas about sex as a reserved treasure for who knows who. I have experienced feminism at its fullest in my day-to-day life with my colleagues. I live my sexuality as I please and I also get paid for it, this does not make me a criminal.

In a country such as Colombia, abolitionism means forcing thousands of women into clandestinity, exposing them to the violation of their rights by sexual exploitation networks. Prohibitionism increases the prejudices and persecution, giving more power to the institution that violates the rights of sex workers the most: the police. Because we should not lie to ourselves: even if prostitution is banned, it will not end. It is preferable to improve conditions and provide security to women than to criminalize them or persecute their only income source, the clients.

Margarita, the invitation is for you to rethink your change of position and for us to be empathetic in this struggle. I have been a follower of yours for a long time and I recognize and value your talent very much. I would expect the same from you towards our profession. The vast majority of hookers are not victims, we are not helpless or evicted, we are where we are because we have chosen to be here. While it is true that sex work is the last option for many and that they do it only for economic benefit, we should all be able to decide whether we want to continue in sex work or not, voluntarily, without any impositions.

With organized rage,

Yoko Ruiz.

Executive Director of the Trans Community Network of Bogotá.

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