I’ve been neglecting writing in this space for a while, and still trying to regain my voice here in some ways. I’ve been reevaluating my relationship to sex work, activism, sex work activism, and pretty much everything else in my life these days. There’s been a lot of trial and error, a lot of ranting, and a lot of rehashing the same conversations over and over with my friends. I’m trying to take my own advice from other forums and just start typing and see what happens – so forgive the roughness and incompleteness of some of these thoughts. Work in progress!
One of those repeated conversations is about the perpetual nature of activist work. It never stops. I don’t just mean in the sense that the world will always need help to be a better place or that conditions can always be improved… I mean that so much of our work needs to be done on a regular and constant basis. Twitters and facebooks need to be maintained and updated. Newsletters need to be sent (errr SWOP-LA has dropped down to quarterly because it’s much more manageable!). Websites need to be updated. Email needs to be answered. And there’s always more. Because the more you produce, the more content you have, the more venues for media you engage with… the more you need to do. Meetings are every month at the least, and you’re never really “done” with a meeting – we just get through as much as we can in 2 hours or less and figure out the rest later on. Projects are never really completed, just left as-is or we try to figure out how to make them grow.
And that can be awesome. And empowering. And incredibly exciting. Because there is always somewhere to jump in. There is always something to add on to. There is always someone new to meet and talk to. It can feel like there is boundless energy to work off of and feed into and be inspired by.
Activism isn’t a straight line with bulleted lists that build up to one very pretty project. It’s circular. With multiple lists and items that get crossed off and rewritten two weeks later. Rarely is there instant, or even timely, gratification. And rarely do we see what all of our work adds up to until we take the occasional step back, blink, and see this big beautiful group of people that’s suddenly staring back at us. And then we dive right back in again. It’s thrilling. And exhausting. And deeply undervalued.
This isn’t meant to be a laundry list of complaints, but rather a rethinking of the nature of work that activists (and those that don’t identify as such but work in similar ways) are engaged in. Our labor doesn’t have set hours or set expectations, let alone set (if any!) compensation. It doesn’t even look like work much of the time. Some of the most productive meetings I’ve sat in on have started out as lunch dates. Some of the most brilliant projects I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of have been hashed out over drinks late at night. And sometimes just reading the news can feel like work because there’s so much to take in, so much to respond to, and so much that is relevant. Sometimes reading a birthday party invitation feels like work because it’s laden with activist language and theory.
Rethinking activism is closely related to rethinking labor – and that’s part of the intellectual draw of sex work activism for me. It’s trying to redefine what counts as legitimate labor, and not just limited to sexuality, but to communication, housework, caretaking, motherhood, and other forms of affective labor in general. Legitimacy is often proven through monetary compensation, yet so much of the work we rely on day-to-day, from our own labor as well as that of others, is unpaid labor. And activist work, much like housework, is done regularly, quietly, and often simply because it needs to be done.
Essentially, what I’m trying to say is that people assume working for social justice or human rights is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually it’s more like a big ball of wibby wobbly… activisty shmactivisty… stuff.