in support of sex work

program introduction notes


Challenging Assumptions - Image Festivals' in support of sex work by Katherine Connell

Le Labo au festival Images - in support of sex work

Hi everyone,

Thank you for attending today's screening of "in support of sex work". 

My name is Almond, my pronouns are she/her. I'm an artist, a student, a sex worker - and at Images, I'm the student programmer. Today's program is centering sex work. I do this from my position in various parts of the industries. Before we start the films, I want to share some information on the current climates of sex work, a land acknowledgement, and some notes on the program.

Although it is customary to begin with a land acknowledgment, I'm going to start with some education on sex work to ensure that we all have a foundation for the terms I'll be using in the acknowledgment.

A few content notes include descriptions of types of sex work, explanation of sexual trafficking and the word 'rape'.

It's important for me to speak of the differences between sex work and sex trafficking, as well as the hierarchy in the sex industry. Far too often, the differences between types of sex work & trafficking are overlooked in media, in legislation & amongst folx who are not involved in sex work industries.

Sex work is an umbrella term for adult consensual work that involves the exchange of money or goods for sexual services. This may include full service sex work (in-person sex with their clients), professional domination (dominating clients through BDSM, which rarely includes intercourse), sexocological bodywork (a hands-on somatic sexual healing modality), sugaring (an exchange of sexual presence for regular allowances in a daddy-like structure), camming (performing sexually on camera on the internet), stripping (which is sexual dancing), porn performing (in which folx have sex for video). The possibilities are endless. What's most important to understand is that within the vastness of sex work, we're talking about consensual adult work.

Sexual trafficking, on the other hand, is not consensual. It is human trafficking for sexual exploitation. It involves a number of consent violations that are highly violent, dehumanizing and traumatic.

Conflating sex work with sex trafficking leads to legislation that is harmful for both groups of people. I thank a fellow sex worker for the analogy I have for this: sex work is like sex, whereas sex trafficking is like rape. Victims of sex trafficking are not sex workers, and both groups deserve legislation & rights that are specific to each of their circumstances. When we fail to acknowledge these experiences as fundamentally different, we minimize the rights of consensual adult workers, deny them protections against client and state violence, as well as trivialize the experiences of victims of trafficking.

I also need to mention the whorearchy – which is the hierarchy of privilege within the industries of sex work. It's why and how certain sex workers are viewed as 'dirtier' and less deserving of protections than others.  At the bottom of the whorearchy are full-service street-based workers & workers doing survival sex wrok. They have the least privilege and the least social, economic and political power. Full-service street-based refers to service that includes in-person touch, internationction and intercourse based on the street. Survial sex works means that workers are working for their economic survival. This is similar to many of our economic realities within capitalism, but includes different risk within sex work.

Going up the whoerarchy, there are online sex workers, strippers, cammers, porn performers, phone-operators, sugar babies. At the top of the whorearchy are porn performers in independent 'ethical' 'feminist' productions and artists working with sexuality. 

Racialized, migrant, trans, queer, fat & workers deemed traditionally unattractive are most often the workers exposed to the most violence from clients and the state, as well as social and institutional stigma. 

I hope this introduction to sex work has been informative and grounding. I'll share ressources to more of this information on our Images Instagram page. Let's now move forward with a land acknowledgment. 

The Images Festival is being live-streamed from our offices located on the traditional territories of the Anishinaabe, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee, the Wendat, and the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation. These are stolen territories. The colonized name for this land is Toronto, Canada. 

This land acknowledgment is not housekeeping. Rather, it's about learning. 

While composing this text, I learned about the intersections of sex work and Indigenous women, trans & queer folx. The Truth & Reconcilliation Final Report Summary highlights the following information: In Canada, Indigenous women & 2SLGBTQQIA are more likely to be involved in street-based & survival sex work rather than more privileged types of sex work. When working consensually, Indigenous sex workers are at increased risk of violence from clients. They are also trafficked at higher rates. The report explains that institutionalized racism, a lack of resources, infrastructure, services are cause for heightened violence. Many Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls have experiences of either sex work or being sexually trafficked – which the RCMP routinely use as an excuse to not investigate their cases. 

Sex work is extremely vast – with different risks and dangers depending on the type, location, price & law surrounding the work. It is clear that Indigenous women, girls & queer folx experience empowered and safe experiences of sex work - and that they are also at higher risk of workplace danger in the sex industry, and at higher risk of being sexually exploited through trafficking than less marginalized communities.

As this is being broadcasted internationally, and we are all on different territories, I invite you to take a moment to make some kind of commitment to learning about the lands you reside on and to learn about the original Keepers of the land, whether it be ceded or unceded. 

Thank you for listening.

I chose this theme for the program in the wake of increased internet censorship that is caused by policy designed to hurt sex workers – and that is impacting sex working artists and artists working with sexuality. When I speak of internet censorship, I refer to the routine deplatforming of sex workers off Instagram & facebook; to the increased banning of images and words referring to sexuality and nudity on social media platforms; to pay platforms & online banks suspending payments for services they link to sexuality,  to the removal of the 'personals' on Craigslist, to the suspension of adult content from Patreon, to the removal of sexual images from Tumblr.   

This growing censorship is due to the 2018 American bill named SESTA/FOSTA. It was the result of conflating consensual sex work and sex trafficking with online nudity/sexuality. Although it's stated intentions were to reduce internet platforms where sexual trafficking is being advertised, it has actually pushed all types of trafficking and sex work into deeper, less visible corners of the internet – making work more dangerous, and lives more at risk.

This bill has affected the whoerarchy in a number of different ways.

For full service workers & internet workers, this censorship has meant decreased ability to keep community members safe, an increased violence by clients and the state & death. Although I won’t go into further detail about this, it’s incredibly important that anyone who is affected by internet censorship post-SESTA FOSTA educate themselves on which communities are most harmed as we speak.

At the top of the whorerarchy are independent porn makers and artists working in sexuality who might not even identify as sex workers because of their privilege and often because of lateral stigma.

For them, this increase in censorship has meant a drastic decrease in the platforms that can be used to share work and support their careers. Vimeo, Instagram, Facebook, Youtube, and many website building platforms have increased their censorship of sex-related images and words. There have been reports of google drive removing sexual images and video from their databases without notice. This all has affected illustration artists differently than performance artists, differently than video artists. 

What the art community often does not realize is that many of us identifying as artists are also sex workers. 

I chose to highlight these communities in my program because many of us feel the repercussions of online censorship as well as sustained stigma around explicit sexuality in art institutions.

The lines between pornography and art are still today messy. The artificial line of acceptable vs. too-explicit leads to sex worker artists, porn makers & artists working in sexuality being pushed out of art communities – or screened in 'porn' or niche 'sex work positive' programs, under the guise that explicit sexuality does not belong within art institutions after a certain explicitness.

I want to thank Sarah-Tai Black for being the first person to encourage me to make programming decisions based on my explicit lived experience. 

I set out to program student works that touched on sexuality. What I rapidly noticed was that many submissions to include topics of sex work, queerness and nudity.I was touched by the vulnerability of these artists making sex-based video work from their unique positions as students. 

I chose to begin the program with Annie Sprinkle's performance documentation – to contextualize the student works within the history of sex work and art. Annie Sprinkle was pivoal in the sex positive movements of the 1980s, in activism for sex worker rights and in feminist performance art. Her work taught me to embrace whores as heroes, and was instrumental to my own art practice being accepted by many art professors.

The student shorts open conversation about pornography, consent, gender, queerness, genitals & transactional sex. I encourage you to further explore these works by taking a look at the program notes on the Images website. They are each truly talented & I’m grateful to be sharing them today. Thank you to the Images Festival for offering us this platform. 

With that I'd like to thank our public funders, the Canada Council for the Arts, Ontario Art Council, Toronto Art Council, Telefilm Canada & the Department of Heritage Canada. 

I would also like to thank the co-presenters for this program: Near North Media Lab (a Northern Ontario platform that supports media artists) , the TQFF(a nonprofit arts collective & festival for queer independent and experiemental film and video art) , Good for Her(a feminist sex store & resource center in Toronto) & the Angry Asian Feminist Gang (a group for self-identifying Asian Feminists with an interest in art and cultural production.) 

Finally, I hope to see you after the program for a Q&A with the artists. I thank you for being here. Let's start the films. 

Believe in the possibility of everything and nothing.
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