The pact between trans rights advocates and the sex trade lobby

In Julie Bindel’s new book, “The Pimping of Prostitution: Abolishing the Sex Work Myth,” she explores the connection between the “sex work” lobby and trans rights activism.

The following is an excerpt from author Julie Bindel’s “The Pimping of Prostitution: Abolishing the Sex Work Myth,” which was recently published by Palgrave Macmillan. Reproduced with permission of the publisher. ­

The rise of transgender identity politics has brought with it a strident attempt to merge the identities of prostitution and so-called “genderqueer.” There are several arguments used to claim that the experience of being transgender and being prostituted are very similar, if not the same thing. One is that many trans women cannot find regular employment, or need fast cash in order to pay for surgery, and therefore turn to the sex trade. Another is the queer argument that we are all part of one big happy rainbow alliance and “sex workers’ rights,” trans rights, and queer rights are one thing. What this argument loses is an analysis of men’s power in relation to women. In fact, aside from trans women, women are excluded from the equation altogether.

The recently constructed acronyms even lend to my theory that the transgender and “sex workers’ rights” issues have become amalgamated to the point where you literally cannot support one without supporting the other. SWERF (Sex Worker Exclusionary Radical Feminists) and TERF (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists) handily rhyme. Both groups seem to realize how important merging their interests is. Pro-prostitution lobbyists regularly tap into support from the transgender lobby and vice versa. I came to realize just how handy this was for both groups during the campaign in Britain to introduce a law to criminalize those who pay for sex. It was 2009 and the proposed bill I mentioned earlier was being debated in Parliament, which would criminalize the purchase of sex from a person who was trafficked or otherwise coerced. It was still considered important to get this bill through, even though many were skeptical about it because it separated the women who could show that they had been pimped or forced in some way from those who were being otherwise abused and exploited in the sex trade, and it would be practically impossible to police.

The academic Belinda Brooks-Gordon coined the rather amusing phrase “Carry on Criminology” to describe what she considers to be poor research into the sex trade. For example, Brooks-Gordon was a signatory to the complaint published in the Guardian newspaper about the “Big Brothel” research that I co-authored.

In the build-up to the debate in Parliament and the House of Lords about the new bill, Brooks-Gordon was heavily involved in rallying the troops to argue against it. She posted messages on punter websites such as those on which sex buyers “review” the prostituted women they buy. Steve Elrond is a prolific sex buyer, lobbyist for blanket decriminalization, and owner of websites that advertise women to other sex buyers. He posted a message from Brooks-Gordon on his then personal website, which is no longer live but still accessible on archive websites.

“Dr Belinda Brooks Gordon [sic] who is brilliant at lobbying for our rights has asked that the following be circulated,” wrote Elrond. Brooks-Gordon’s message outlined the reasons why both prostituted women (or “sex workers” as she put it) and sex buyers (“clients”) should lobby MPs of all parties in order to get them to vote against introducing a law criminalizing demand for trafficked persons. She went on to explain how important it was to form alliances across different issues, before explaining her next move:

“On Thursday night I am speaking to a transgender group to explain why they should oppose the Bill (some are shakey [sic] on this) — it was one thing for them doing the anti-Bindel nomination demo at the Stonewall awards, but sex work is another issue for them so am working on this. There were good links built up over the demo so will keep you posted as to where they are on this. If anyone wants to come along they are welcome.”

The previous year, I had been nominated and shortlisted in the category of “Journalist of the Year” at the annual Stonewall Awards. As soon as my nomination was announced, the transgender community and much of the gay press went into overdrive. I am regularly accused of “transphobia” on the strength of an article I wrote in the Guardian Weekend Magazine in 2004. I had not asked to be nominated for the award, but as soon as the protest started I knew that I had to turn up to the event or it could have looked as if I had been intimidated out of doing so.

On arrival, I saw that there were well over 100 protesters arguing that my nomination should have been withdrawn and that I peddled “hate speech.” Alongside the trans activists were a number of pro-prostitution lobbyists and a smattering of academics. The demonstration was the largest in the history of transgender activism in the UK and there was much publicity relating to it.

One of the main organizers of the demonstration was Sarah Brown, who was a colleague of Brooks-Gordon during the time they were both Liberal Democrat councillors. Following the Stonewall saga, Brooks-Gordon saw an opportunity to get members of the transgender lobby on board in opposing the law to criminalize the demand, and to fight for blanket decriminalization of the sex trade.

What is interesting, at least according to Brooks-Gordon, is that at that time in 2009, some of the transgender lobbyists were “shaky” about coming out in support of the pro-prostitution line. Today they are anything but, and it is hard to find a transgender lobbyist who is anti-prostitution.

Currently in the UK, several local branches and two main political parties give responsibility on drafting and implementing policy on prostitution in the sex trade to their LGBT caucuses. The Liberal Democrats, for example, regularly have trans women speaking at conference, attempting to pass motions to support the blanket decriminalization of the sex trade. This is the same with the Green Party (except they describe themselves as LGBTIQA+) and some local branches of the Labour Party.

For example, a key member of the LGBT caucus in the Islington branch of the Labour Party is Catherine Stephens. Stephens is a founder of the International Union of Sex Workers (IUSW), the fake union populated by pro-prostitution academics, punters, pimps, brothel owners and other lobbyists for decriminalization of the sex trade. For the past 10 years I have seen Stephens at conferences and other public meetings, and have never heard her declare herself lesbian or bisexual. However, she now identifies as bisexual, which means that she has been granted legitimacy within the LGBT group.

Trans Influence on “Sex Work”

Sarah Noble is a Liberal Democrat activist and pro-prostitution trans woman. In 2014, Noble made a speech to conference calling for decriminalization. Brown, also a trans woman, additionally made a speech at conference calling for decriminalization.

Janet Mock is a male-to-female transgender activist who catapulted into the public arena with the publication of her memoir about growing up transgender, Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More in 2014. In the video accompanying the book, Mock appears to celebrate children’s involvement in the sex trade:

“I was 15 the first time I visited Merchant Street, what some would call ‘the stroll’ for trans women involved in street-based sex work. At the time, I had just begun medically transitioning and it was where younger girls, like my friends and myself, would go to hang out, flirt and fool around with guys, and socialize with older trans women, the legends of our community.”

Mock goes on to explain how she “idolized” the prostituted trans women in the area, including those who were used in pornography and in strip clubs. “These women were the first trans women I met and I quickly correlated trans womanhood and sex work,” says Mock, explaining that she came to understand the role of the sex trade as a “rite of passage” for trans girls.

Mock is disparaging about the role of the media betraying prostitution as “shameful and degrading.” Like many pro-prostitution lobbyists, Mock considers the stigma attached to prostitution as extremely harmful, placing it above the harm done to prostituted people by sex buyers, pimps, and brothel owners. In fact, Mock strongly suggests that any condemnation of the sex trade will lead to violence against those selling sex, claiming that anyone with a negative view of the sex trade “dehumanizes” prostituted people.

Mock states:

“Sex workers are often dismissed, causing even the most liberal folk to dehumanize, devalue and demean women who are engaged in the sex trades. This pervasive dehumanization of women in the sex trade leads many to ignore the silencing, brutality, policing, criminalization, and violence sex workers face, even blaming them for being utterly damaged, promiscuous, and unworthy.”

As Mock had earlier said, she had learned to link prostitution with being transgender and argues that, because she had learned that prostitution was viewed as shameful, she began to view being transgender as shameful: “I couldn’t separate it from my own body image issues, my sense of self, my internalized shame about being trans, brown, poor, young, woman.”

This is a bizarre and dangerous argument. Mock is effectively saying that unless we completely normalize and destigmatize the sex trade, trans women such as herself will never be able to feel proud of their “womanhood.” Think about the implications here: first of all, the total conflation of prostitution with being transgender, coupled with the somewhat manipulative argument that if we don’t accept prostitution as “empowering” then trans women will experienced self-hatred.

Mock writes:

“These women taught me that nothing was wrong with me or my body, and that if I wanted, they would show me the way. And it was this underground railroad of resources created by low-income, marginalized women, that enabled me when I was 16 to jump in a car with my first regular and choose a pathway to my survival and liberation.”

There we have it: prostitution is about liberation and any condemnation of it means that marginalized women and girls will not be able to survive.

Julie Bindel is a journalist, a feminist campaigner against male violence, and the author of The Pimping of Prostitution: Abolishing the Sex Work Myth.

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  • oneclickboedicea

    The main people that stigmatise prostitutes are pimps and johns. Inconvenient truth number 1.

  • Maeve

    “because she had learned that prostitution was viewed as shameful, she began to view being transgender as shameful: ‘“I couldn’t separate it from my own body image issues, my sense of self, my internalized shame about being trans, brown, poor, young, woman.’” So because this person doesn’t want to do the very liberating, powerful work of separating her trans identity from prostitution, girls should continue to be trafficked and we should protect domination and patriarchal capitalism? She could become woke enough to UNlearn the idea that prostitution is shameful and know that the sad motherfuckers who pay for sex and take a giant portion of her money earned are what’s shameful. But go on with your bad, liberated self and speak for all those girls who don’t feel liberated and are too terrorized to have a voice.

  • FierceMild

    It makes sense that transactivists and ‘sex worker’ rights activists would have an affinity for one another. Transactivists and pimps both blame women for men’s violence. Pimps say men wouldn’t enslave, rape, and brutalize prostituted women if feminists stopped criticizing them for it. Transactivists say that men would stop raping, brutalizing, and killing transwomen if feminists would stop criticizing them for it.

    I’m 100% certain that decriminalizing pimps and brothel owners won’t stop Punters from raping and brutalizing prostituted women and children. Likewise I am 100% sure that feminists calling transwomen women wouldn stop men from killing them.

  • Hekate Jayne

    From the article:
    “…..Mock strongly suggests that any condemnation of the sex trade will lead to violence against those selling sex, claiming that anyone with a negative view of the sex trade “dehumanizes” prostituted people.”

    Here is trans entire philosophy in a single idea, which is “when women criticize or say no or question male demands and authority, then women cause males to be violent and must be punched/raped/die in a fire because they are obviously nazis”.

    Male logicks. From males that claim to be women.

  • Lucia Lola

    Love reading anything from Bindel. Intelligent and thought provoking, as always. Thank you.

  • pyrite00

    Another reason for some trans activists to keep prostitution is that some of the more deranged men who want to be women seem to think that medical science is almost ready to take organs out of real women and put those organs into male bodies. Guess there will be pimps and slavers ready with trafficked women to kill or abuse for parts.

    • Blazing Fire

      I wish your last sentence was far-fetched, but sadly no, it’s almost already happening:
      Skinning prostitutes alive to extract skin grafts:
      https://www.youthkiawaaz.com/2017/03/how-women-from-nepal-are-trafficked-to-india-and-disfigured-to-make-rich-men-and-women-beautiful/

      • susannunes

        Won’t happen with reproductive organs–EVER. The reproductive systems of both sexes are so complex, they are impossible to transplant and make functional to the opposite sex.

        • Sally Hansen

          transhumanists are already trying make fake wombs and have successfully grown sheep in them. its disgusting. there are no depths of depravity men won’t go to in order to get what they want, woman’s power.

      • Wren

        ugh what a horrible story. I posted it to my facebook. Thanks.

    • Kathleen Lowrey

      That is really interesting. Years ago there was a trainwreck thread at Feministe about “sex work” in which I compared the arguments being made to arguments in favour of legalizing organ sales: poor people have the right to make choices about their bodies, they want to sell their kidneys and corneas to improve their lives (sadly, they really do), who are rich do-gooders to limit the choicey choices of poor people whose lives they don’t share or understand. I was of course berated for even suggesting the parallel and the way both arguments (legalizing sex work, legalizing organ sales) rely on a totally neoliberal framework of context free transactional “choice”. Interesting to learn that these agendas are converging: poor women can look forward to selling their bodies whole by the hour or part by part permanently to men in future. So liberating you can see why liberals support it, all of the beautiful freedomy freedom.

      • Hekate Jayne

        A while back, I read an article about how there are whole villages in India where the women have only one kidney, because their husbands sold the other one.

        Freedomy freedom, indeed.

        *I don’t remember where I saw the article, although I think that a commenter here mentioned it, so I went to find it. I didn’t fact check it. I didn’t want to, really. But I never forgot it.

      • Wren

        The comparison is totally valid.

      • Sine FourEx

        Here’s a discussion of some studies you might be interested in.

        In short, if you compare any market to prostitution, approval of that market is reduced, approval of prostitution remains static.

  • Omzig Online

    I look forward to reading this book. I suspect that Julie Bindel connects a lot of dots. This is one male-centered industry supporting and validating the existence of another male-centered industry. It is circular reasoning, plain and simple. It’s a perfectly symbiotic relationship between two groups of disturbed, narcissistic men. Makes perfect sense.

  • Karen Eisen

    From the documentaries that I’ve seen, the surgeries are painful. Sometimes transpeople get addicted to drugs to relieve the pain – and then the cycle of drugs and prostitution start. Not blaming the victims, just pointing out one of the reasons why transpeople are often victims of prostitution.

    • FierceMild

      Trans people are certainly victims. Victims of unscrupulous surgeons, of predatory or misguided counselors, and chiefly of a degrading and disgusting cultural practice called Patriarchy. Transwomen, however, are also the primary beneficiaries of that same system. There is no way around that fact. We know Patriarchy hurts men too.

  • Hekate Jayne

    I have read discussions between trannies that go on and on about how their surgical broholes are “tighter”, that their bodies stay firmer with age, that they are just all around more preferable to males because they are better than human women.

    The ideal tranny future (for some of them) would be them replacing women entirely, while keeping a few human women alive, just for breeding purposes.

  • Wren

    It shows just how uneducated they are. Most transplants organs don’t last even a decade before another transplant is needed, or the patient dies:
    https://www.everydayhealth.com/news/things-your-doctor-wont-tell-you-about-transplant/

    And they think that a transplanted uterus could support a fetus??? The hormones, the immunosuppressant drugs…how would it be healthy? It’s scary the shit people believe.

    • Hekate Jayne

      Not to mention that the act of actually giving birth would likely break their hips.

      God. Males are idiots.

  • Wren

    I agree, but do you think there’s a possibility that some doctor is going to try??? I mean, they will fail and kill their patient in the process, but still the world is so topsy turvy that I believe some fucking idiot is gonna give it his best shot.

  • Hekate Jayne

    You do understand tranny males love to be objectified?

    I am not presuming to speak for will, but I understand her reasoning. Trannies claim to love every aspect of objectification. It is a logical assumption that they wouldn’t psychologically suffer. At least not to the same degree that those of us that despise being objectified do.

  • Hekate Jayne

    Male doctors seem to enjoy hacking people up, just to be doing it.

    Have you ever read about medical discovery/research? Some of the shit that male doctors did is just disturbing, and for very little gain.

    And now, we have profit in it. So if a dime can be made, some doctor somewhere will want the money.

  • FierceMild

    What double standard? Transwomen are men. They are not socialized to be submissive sex objects they are choosing to be submissive sex object because it gives them erections (literally). This has nothing to do with women.

  • FierceMild

    Transwomen are men making a choice to objectify themselves. No one is saying it’s good or healthy, but it is optional. For women the culture does the objectifying and then we have to deal with it as best we may. You’re making a false equivalency.

    Transwomen can wash off the lipstick, take off the size 13 stilettos, slip into some dockers and go from object to subject as an act of will.

  • Rachael

    Beautiful little comment, thank you. It’s true, men define feminist so of course they understand it. Whereas us women scratch our heads and wonder why exactly liking high heels would make one a woman.

  • ✧ʕ̢̣̣̣̣̩̩̩̩·͡˔·ོɁ̡̣̣̣̣̩̩̩̩✧

    we KNOW men do not care about violence against women. to wit, RAPE: THE PRACTICE, AND DISBELIEF OF VICTIMS.

  • will

    Yup.

  • will

    Nan, you do not seem to have grasped the basic fact of sex-class oppression. Do you also believe in “reverse racism”?

  • Sally Hansen

    I think Will is using a rhetorical device here. they are saying that if men love being objectified so much, then they can be the ones exploited and women should be left alone. But you won’t see them making this argument, will you? Nope. Because what men really want is to destroy women. That’s the only reason the industry continues. There simply wouldn’t be enough transwomen to meet the demands of men, and transactivists KNOW this, which is why they need to sit around convincing handmaidens its a good idea. will is asking “if its so great, why don’t more men do it?” because it’s not great. and men know this.

  • Sally Hansen

    except that that’s a lie. women don’t love being objectified and used. they are socialized to think they do. men do enjoy it because it’s a fetish for them. they trivialize women’s suffering so much that they view it as a fun game, hence the creation of BDSM. why feel sorry for these males? they had viable alternatives in life and they chose to ignore them for their autogynephilia. and a good deal of this is a result of porn culture. stop feeling sorry for men. i can see feeling sorry for the boys who get trafficked because they are actually victims, but for men who choose to opt into oppression for fun, why waste your emotional energy? men made their beds. they can lie in it.

  • Alienigena

    Men commit acts of sexual violence against children in many cultures, not just Afghanistan. I remember reading an ethnography about Papua New Guinea in which young men would require boys engaged in initiation rites (once they had moved to into all male huts) to perform sex acts like fellatio. They subjected the boys to the very thing they had been subject to earlier in their lives. Protecting children is important. Men can look out for themselves. The amount of attention that sexual abuse of male children and adolescents receives (look at amount of coverage and support that professional or semi-professional hockey players get when they recount abuse by coaches) is overwhelming compared to that received by women and girls who are often not even believed. So if you are trying to claim that men and boys get no sympathy or support in North American culture I’d say that is untrue. Sexual abuse of women and girls isn’t even seen as wrong, often because the male involved claims he thought the girl or teen was older than her chronological age. The abuse of women and girls is often trivialised or dismissed. Feminism by definition is concerned with the well being of girls and women not men.

    https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/jan/13/its-not-groping-or-fondling-it-is-sexual-assault

  • Kiwipally

    As someone who has had an joint replacement and then had it removed soon after because of suboptimal outcomes, can we please not throw people who have had transplants or joint replacements under the fucking bus here? You have no clue as to how much pain I was in or the fact that I had completely lost the ability to use one hand ahead of the surgery. People aren’t getting heart or lung or kidney or liver or cornea transplants for fun, nor are surgeons doing them in order to show off. Same with joint replacements.

    When you can’t shower or dress yourself, and have other problems with personal care, getting the problem bone removed (in my case) was a necessity, sadly the joint replacement didn’t work so I’m going through the second lot of rehabilitation now and I’m months behind functionally where I should be.

    • Alienigena

      Until people are injured or become ill they seem very judgemental about those of us who have a chronic illnesses (we brought it on ourselves) or injuries. Though my chronic illness was caused by parents who smoked in the home and car and everywhere and I was diagnosed with it as a child, I still am the one being judged by doctors and others. I have never smoked but that is always their go to assumption.

      “…they’ll do ANYTHING to have what they want or to “survive.””

      Yeah, it is called the survival instinct. If you have ever had an injury that just won’t heal you would have some kind of understanding or a modicum of compassion. I injured my knee a few year’s ago (in addition to normal wear and tear) and it did not require surgery but walking was always painful and uncomfortable. Proceeding as per normal pre-injury simply did not work for me. I am just now starting to feel normal again after a few years of intermittent physio, some inactivity, experimenting with various alternative exercises that didn’t subject the knee to the full force of gravity (rowing, swimming, stationary cycling), and using the services of a competent personal trainer (certified, not some ill-informed jock who doesn’t know how to deal with people who have injuries or disabilities) to make sure that I am doing things in a way that will not make the situation worse.

      • Kiwipally

        *hugs*

  • Anon

    I found out recently that a friend/aquaintance of mine from highschool became trans. Out of curiosity i went onto his facebook and looked through his “likes”, most of them being queer/SJW related stuff but also pro-decrim page. I dont get it. Since trans people are harmed by the sex industry why dont they support taking it down?