Q&A with Natalie West – editor of We Too: Essays on Sex Work and Survival

Published in International Women’s Month, indie non-profit Feminist Press brings an important new essay collection to the bookshelves in the form of We Too: Essays on Sex Work and Survival. Edited by Natalie West & Tina Horn, We Too brings together sex workers from across the industry to tell their own stories.

In conversation with Feminist Press, LA-based writer and educator Natalie West explains how the book came about, and what she hopes will come from it.

How did this anthology come together?

Over the past few years, sex workers in the US have been involved in, and harmed by, a number of policy debates and decisions, including but not limited to FOSTA-SESTA, a law that was designed to address trafficking by allowing authorities to hold websites responsible for illegal content posted to their platforms. As a result of that law, consensual sex workers lost access to advertising and screening mechanisms meant to keep themselves safe. There is no evidence that FOSTA-SESTA has curbed trafficking, but rather has rendered more people vulnerable to exploitative forms of labor. Further, restrictions on sex worker speech online have compromised our means of political organization. In the midst of these legal shifts, the movement to decriminalize sex work in the US has gained traction.

This anthology found a platform amid these movements toward policy change, but it actually came together in recognition that even full decriminalization won’t protect our most vulnerable, and conversations about policy aren’t the only conversations in which we need to take part. Decriminalizing sex work will not decriminalize Black bodies. It will not protect trans people from rape and murder. It won’t end sexual violence. Sex workers have inherited long traditions of community care and mutual aid to do the work that the state cannot, and this collection participates in those traditions by providing a space to tell our stories of trauma and healing, in service of supporting our survival.

What is the significance behind the title?

This anthology was initially conceived of in response to the Me Too movement, which was started by Tarana Burke in 2006 and went mainstream with #MeToo in 2017. The “We Too” of the title is a nod to this conception, and many of the writers in this collection tell stories of violence and harassment as a way for others with similar experiences to organize against sexual violence, and to feel less alone. When #MeToo went mainstream, it was not suited to respond to violence against sex workers, as the violence that sex workers face has often been ignored, or perpetrated, by the mainstream feminist movement into which #MeToo folded. This collection moves beyond the hashtag in order to place sex workers at the center of their own survival narratives.

What do you want readers to take away from the book?

The audience for this book is, first and foremost, sex workers. I want us to take away from this book whatever we need from it. I want us simply to open it up and read an essay whenever we need to hear the voice of someone who understands.

I want civilians (i.e., non–sex workers) to witness us taking care of ourselves. I want those readers to understand that we are capable of doing that work; and I want those readers who are policy makers to start asking us how they can help us do what we have already been doing. I want mainstream feminists to see that some of us are workers just like you, but some of us are not, and either way, we deserve bodily autonomy. I want readers to understand that survival is criminalized for too many people, and they need to fight against that criminalization

We Too: Essays on Sex Work and Survival edited by Natalie West & Tina Horn is out now from Feminist Press (9781558612853, p/b, £20.99)

Order from your local bookshop.

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