Trans Oblivion: Felicity Summer on Feminism and the Perils of Being a Homeless Sex Worker

TrillianTCxxx

Trans Ethics: How long have you been camming?

: I have only cammed a few times, my income from sex work has been primarily escorting. I have also done porn. I began escorting two and a half years, webcamming for about one and a half, and started doing porn in August 2014.

TE: What did you do before getting into sex work?

FS: Oh, everything. I had retail jobs, was a server, and got a pretty thorough minimum wage experience. But I’ve also made a living playing in jazz combos, running market research call centers… Wage work just isn’t for me. I was also an undergrad college student, went to two different universities. The year I started sex work I was going to Portland State and was an teacher’s assistant for Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality studies.

TE: Did you consider going into teaching?

FS: Yes, I did. I still do. I actually taught music theory and double bass performance to middle and high school students when I went to college the first time in Georgia. I suspect I’ll end up teaching or writing academic works again some day. It’s just not in my plan right now. But feminism and critical theory are both dear to me and I feel like it’s important to keep that knowledge living.

TE: How do you respond to feminists who may claim that trans women are somehow invalid?

FS: I don’t. I mean, [some women] are stuck in their obsession with demonizing trans women. I’m not here for it. They definitely need to be dealt with in terms of personal attacks that have put trans women in danger, but to critically engage with the[m] is a waste of time. Their particular brand of feminism is on the way out, I think. Instead of debating with them, I’d rather ignore them and supplant their message.

We have a giant body of evidence supporting the validity of transition. It’s recognized as a physical condition in the newest DSM, and the American Medical Association supports hormones and surgery as the best course of treatment. Every day we have more visibility and voice in the dominant culture, and many recent and significant legislative victories in support of our civil rights. This small faction of 2nd wave feminists is fast losing credibility in academia and among feminist organizing.

So, responding to them is pointless. You can’t argue with someone who is determined to take away your humanity at all cost. You can just make them irrelevant. Feminism is ripping itself apart, and isn’t cohesive anymore. I think I’m ready for post-feminism.

TE: How do you define “post-feminism”?

FS: Feminism isn’t, and never has been, a unified struggle by women (and some men) to end oppression of women. There have always been women left out of feminist organizing, and there still are. I think that the development of the internet in the past 5-10 years –particularly social media– has brought the end of the 3rd wave. Academic feminism has deconstructed itself silly… the works entering many classrooms are less revolutionary and years behind what is going on in pockets of feminism at the street level all over the U.S. –particularly among trans women.

Meanwhile we’ve seen, partially due to the internet, a huge increase in information and informal critical thought into intersectional oppressions. Voices marginalized because they are voices of people of color, transgender folks, or women in the developing world, are seeping through the cracks in the ivory tower. So, the old guard of feminists (largely white cis women) are heading towards not being a huge factor in the feminist movement. I think our movement has outgrown feminism. We have honed our “feminist lens” with our respective identities, informed by queerness, or blackness. So one feminist lens has become even more focused and detailed community of lenses, each looking at different issues and with their unique eyes.

TE: Speaking of unique points of view, I understand that you recently became homeless. Do you mind sharing how that happened to you?

FS: Sure. I was escorting and doing very well. I was earning more than I had ever earned previously, and I was working a lot –building my online presence and marketing (my escort website made over 18,000 views its first month)– playing in a band and doing erotic performance art all over the Pacific North West. Then August came, and the business dried up. I kept holding on to the idea that if I just pushed a little harder I would be okay. Jobs and promise of work came always at the last minute and paid off, so I thought it would continue. But then it got so slow I couldn’t pay rent, and I couldn’t get anything going. I got evicted. I kind of gave up and became really depressed. I stayed with some friends in Portland, where I was living, and made a couple trips to the Bay. So, penniless, without a home, and knowing a bunch of performers (and having promise with a bunch of studios), and a few places to crash, I headed to the Bay.

Complications, like inability to get my ID due to a 5 month delayed birth certificate, some houses not working out, etc., and things got rough really fast.

TE: So you were couch-surfing for a while… are you still crashing with friends?

FS: I’m still couch surfing , and running out of couches. It’s pretty stressful. The Bay Area is a lot harder to find crash space and then Portland is, & I didn’t expect that.

TE: Are you working at least?

FS: I am doing a fundraiser to raise first months rent and deposit, and working with the Trans Economic Empowerment Initiative to make a resume and business plan. I am trying to get a salary position doing graphic and web design. I also have some performances lined up, and State benefits help.

TE: Do you think your history in sex work or you being trans will be detrimental to you finding a position?

FS: I am looking for employers who do not discriminate against sex workers specifically. It’s the number one consideration.

TE: I hope things turn around for you soon. Speaking from experience, couch surfing can be a bit dodgy at times. Have you ran into many problems?

FS: Yes. I have had many nights where I’ve had to scramble to find a place because of something not working out, or having situations that are stable over multiple nights come to an end… I should be getting a housing stipend under General Assistance soon, and so I hope that I can move in somewhere in early March with the fundraiser goal allowing me to do that.

The biggest problem has been finding space to get work done during the day. It’s a waste of money to buy coffee for wifi and batteries run out over the day when your work is through the internet. I’ve been walking about 7-10 miles a day, and often have to wait until late at night to arrive where I am staying next. It’s honestly deteriorating my mental health. There are some solutions that have come up though, and so I’m trying to stay positive and just keep doing the work.

TE: Has being trans inhibited you finding places to stay in the short term?

FS: Perhaps once or twice, but mostly it’s fine. Y’know, the Bay is pretty liberal, and I travel in activist and queer feminist circles so I’ve been pretty safe mostly.

TE: How do you respond to people who claim that sex work is unethical?

FS: Capitalism is unethical. Why is sex work singled out as an unethical form of labor? All the wage labor I have done was unethical. I was treated unethically, or my job was doing something I had moral issues with. But beyond that, we all have to survive in a Capitalist state. We all make concessions and agree to some level of exploitation as wage laborers, or we’re the entrepreneurs. Capitalism requires the exploitation of labor capital in order to be profitable, and I think everyone’s time is worth more than the minimum wage.

So what if it’s sex [work that I do]? Grow the fuck up. People have sex. Why is it ethical to have sex for free, or for security under a marriage, or to make children, but not to get paid? People have sex for all sorts of reasons and in all sorts of ways. Some are unethical. But sex work is work. I am a business owner marketing my brand. Sex is healing and therapeutic. I see my time escorting as closely related to social work.

I am just saying that our society is preoccupied with controlling sex, enforcing dominance of women through sexual subjugation… someone deciding to use their skills and their body to make money isn’t suddenly questionable because of sex. And besides, the negative effects of sex work in our culture today are largely from criminalizing it. Sex trafficking, street work, drug use, sexually transmitted infection rates — these all are decreased in areas where sex work is legal. So, what’s really unethical is to refuse to decriminalize sex work. It’s the most important thing that needs to happen to end our oppression. I’m not “selling my body” –my body has never left my possession. It’s a ridiculous statement.

TE: One last question: The suicides of trans youth has been getting more coverage in the media lately. What advice would you give to a young trans woman living in oppressive and/or abusive situation?

FS: Seek sisterhood. The connections and empowerment I’ve seen between trans women is astounding. We have to keep each other alive at all costs. It’s part of keeping our history too. Also ladies, develop an action plan for the worst case scenario: find someone you can be accountable to and check in with who is not part of the situation. We are incredibly strong women; our lives and our survival are extraordinary. If you can get out of your situation, (when you have a stable plan of where to go that’s safe) then LEAVE!

TE: Excellent! Thank you Trillian.

FS: Yes, thank you.

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