The type of “client” that refuses to pay a sex worker

When you read the title above, you might think this is about a particular (stereotypically cisgender male)  client who tricks and cheats sex workers; surely they exists, but this isn’t about them. This article is about the other type of “client” that seek to gain access to our bodies and stories and services, but refuse to pay: activists, artists, journalists, researchers…

Possibly, some will get offended by this comparison, but to me – after all these years – it is the one that makes the most sense. We tend to see activists, artists, journalists, and researchers as a group of people that are there to “help” sex workers, “give” voice to them, provide them with “visibility”; the the truth is that a simple question needs to be asked: whose careers are being built? whose byline will appear by these journalistic pieces? who will earn the fees when photography is eventually sold? who will be listed as “authors”? who will be the experts for have CONSUMED the bodies and lives of sex workers? Unless the activist, artist, journalist, or researcher is a sex worker themselves – or it is a project done by a sex worker led organisation – the answer is plain and simple: it is a client who seeks access to someone else’s body, service, story… for their own fulfillment.

During the years I worked with a sex worker group, and we were approached by many researchers (especially a specific type of feminist academic) and journalists in particular. In essence I have nothing inherently against them showing interest in our communities, but the dialogue that I had with them too often went as follows:

artist/journalist/researcher: I am doing a project on [insert whatever project for which they need sex workers] and wanted to get in touch with sex workers who might be willing to participate

me: Oh that is interesting. Sex worker’s aren’t that hard to reach, if you approach it well. You can approach people working, or online. You just then must make sure you pay them for their time, as they are busy working and need to be compensated.

artist/journalist/researcher: Why must I pay them? I mean this is for their own good? I’m like a client?!

As a disclaimer I’ll say that not all of them reacted that way; especially some younger gender studies students ended up getting together money and following this advice. Those of them that I ended up speaking with afterwards reported they had amazing and honest and engaging conversations that were really helpful.

But too many feel that, unlike a client who asks for a service, and interaction, and for time; they are entitled, for whatever reason, to get it for free. Some researchers would point out the inherent ethical problems with paying “research subjects”; my stance is that there is an inherent ethical problem with not paying so-called “research subjects” for their time and effort. You are asked, and often this is a far more intimate request that a regular client makes, to lay yourself bare, to answer deeply persons about your life and health… yet somehow as a “research subject” this must be done for what? The good of society? Why do we hammer on the need for researchers, artists, academics, etc to be paid for their labour? If you seek to interview a sex worker, at the very least pay the going rate, if not more because of what you are actually asking for. Acknowledge your position of power and privilege, and your own personal investment in why you seek to access someone else’s body, someone else’s story.

In the end, like any other who seeks an hour or so for some sexual service, the researcher/artists/journalist is asking for the same, they are asking for a sexual service; if it wasn’t sexual, they wouldn’t interviewing their aunt, or any random person. They have an invested interest in the sexual labour we do, they seek to CONSUME equally as any other client our sexual labour. Just because you end up keeping your clothes on, doesn’t mean you should be always to get it given to you for free.



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Dr. Strange and the turning back of the MCU to whiter times…

With some apprehension I went to see Marvel’s Dr. Strange… With a lot of apprehension really. All the whitewashing has really turned me off against it… The tl:dr version of my opinion is simple: Dr. Strange is a visually stunning LSD trip that falls into problematic tropes, appropriating and exotifying Asianness. I had a lot of hope for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but I’m starting to think that I held onto this hope in a childish hope that my nerdy past would manifest in my adulthood in a non-problematic way. Marvel comics, like many comics really, always have been problematic when it came to racial issues; perhaps my vain hope was that the MCU would be a chance for Marvel to doing it differently.

As a child I read Dr. Strange, and always loved the mystical aspect of it; it used to be one of my favourite comics really. But one can’t deny that it always has been problematic: the Exotification of Asian culture and mysticism, and the appropriation thereof by the white male character who travels to Asia to learn the mystics arts – mystic arts that are really portraying very much non-Asian while being explicitly learned and located in Asia. Then there is the servant… the Asian man who stereotypically plays second fiddle and cleans up after the white man. With the move to the big screen, and the small screen(s), I had hoped that they would move this to the present days, a time where – I mistakenly believed – such things would be revised; I was horribly wrong really.

But I think I can be forgiven to think the MCU would be better, while perhaps on the big screen Asian characters didn’t really exist (I am still quite upset at even the horrific white washing of the Mandarin: here was a chance to do something interesting, beyond the racist portrayal of the past; but Marvel’s solution was to simply white wash the character, an very lazy way out… oh while still vilifying the Middle East in a flat approach devoid of nuance, just because.) But when Marvel Agent’s of S.H.I.E.L.D. came around, it gave me a few strong Asian characters, and I got some hope. And really, when I saw the portrayal of Elodie Yung as Elektra, a previously white character that had the same problematic background in the comics, I was ecstatic. The MCU really gives an opportunity to essentially “reboot”character’s stories without the messy retconning that otherwise needed to happen. Marvel showed that it didn’t shy away from changing storylines and characters for the MCU from the comics.

But with the arrival of Iron Fist and Dr Strange, we have fallen back… We are moving back to a place where the best Asians, are white people, where the stereotypical journey to the East to raise up the white man (à la The Last Samurai) is taken to new highs. Where a White director seems to think that diversity equals white washing, because the white person is a cis woman. Of course, the comments section of this post might get filled with all sorts of white tears, and white people telling me “to get over it”, but really that only shows even more how entitled Hollywood feels when it comes to Asian cultures, Asian characters, Asian stories… I had hope for the MCU… but really, that is now in the past…



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Selling out: The gays and governmentality

I think these are important reflections… we sometimes automatically assume that, just because an organisation is a human rights organisations or an LGBTI organisation, it is only doing good…

a paper bird

gayflagviwojimaOn October 13, Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej died. 88 years old and the longest-seated of the world’s shrinking stock of monarchs, he was almost uniformly revered by a grieving public. Certainly he embodied unity in a country riven by fractious politics and class struggle. It can’t have hurt his popularity, though, that Thai law punishes lèse-majestéwith three to fifteen years in prison. Any criticism of the King, previous kings, the royal dynasty, members of the royal family, the monarchy in general, or the monarch’s fantastic wealth — he had more than US $30 billion in the bank — can land you in jail. Easy to get people to love you if the alternative’s a prison term.

Odd, then, when Outright International, the LGBT rights organization, whose Twitter feed is generally confined to issues of sexuality, suddenly retweeted a series of encomia to the late King. After all, no one’s threatening them with prison.



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Bruce Lee Movie Stars a White Guy Because Of Course it Does

Because of course… I was already heart broken when they decided to have a becky feature as Major Motoko Kusanagi in Ghost in the Shell… which is fiction. Now to have the story of Bruce Lee told à la The Last Samurai??? God have mercy on my soul…


This morning, Deadline unveiled the first trailer for Birth of the Dragon, which recently made its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival. Ostensibly, the film depicts the legendary fight between Bruce Lee (played by Philip Ng) and Wong Jack Man (Yu Xia). But because this is Hollywood, the movie is going to be told from the perspective of a white dude.

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Where I Stand 24/05/2016

If you ever want to read a white South African’s arguments – using white authors – to derail and undermine Fanon, here is a read. His entire post is basically a justification for his statement that: “We white South Africans are, for better or worse, no longer settlers, we are natives”, an attempt at claiming to belong by virtue of how they feel, rather than historic and current contexts. It is an insight into the mind of someone who seeks to dismiss without engaging the history of his own white privilege.

A critique of Fanon of course can be valid, but from entrenched whiteness it becomes merely a derailment.

Matthew Blackman

With all of the Frantz Fanon worship going around I thought that I would finally read The Wretched of the Earth cover-to-cover – rather than just dealing with the chapters one is dished out at universities.  Having just got through that incendiary horse manure that Sartre placed at the front of it, the experience is going well, although I do not agree with his Hegelian inspired dialectical approach.  One issue that is interesting from where I stand is Fanon’s take on ‘the settler’.  As he says: ‘from the moment that the colonial context disappears, [the settler] has no longer any interest in remaining and coexisting.’  He goes on to argue that the settlers only frame their lives through their metropolitan centre and that the pied-noir Algerian ‘liberals’ wanted a twofold citizenship. Furthermore that the settlers claim that ‘the land was created by us’ and that ‘if we leave, all is…

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Once upon a time… Marvel created “The white nation of Azania”

Azania_001.jpgTo those in South Africa, especially those who have been involved in the recent fallist movements as well as those who know South African history, this might seem a bit of a contradiction: “The white nation of Azania“. Yes, once upon a time, Marvel created the fictional “white African nation of Azania” in its multiverse. It was a nation of white supremacists that bordered the fictional Kingdom of Wakanda, the homeland of the Black Panther, aka T’Challa. It even had its own team of superhumans, called “The Supremacists”. And yes, the creators based it on, then, apartheid South Africa. As the Black Panther has been formally introduced in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and because he has always been one of my favourite superheroes – in times long before superheroes were “cool”, it would be interesting to look back at this forgotten part of Marvel history. It is so forgotten that it doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page… (contrast Wakanda, which has a page too long to deal with).

Black_Panther_Vol_2_2This white supremacist version of Azania first featured in Vol 2 Issue 1 of the Black Panther, in 1988. Obviously as some sort of political statement by Marvel regarding the South African apartheid regime. The names of the team members of the “Supremacists” are just clear in every way: led by the White Avenger, it even had a member called Voortrekker, a white Zimbabwean who chose to fight for the white supremacist Azania. It is an absolute hilarity really that Marvel created this fictional country, and even replicated the struggle against apartheid through the conflict between “Azania” and Wakanda… Wakanda supposedly imposing sanctions on Azania and this leading to conflict between the two nations. The “great spirit of the Black Panther” even inspired the “poor masses” to revolt against the apartheid government of “Azania”, masses that were then accused of being supported by communists by the right wing “Azanian” government…


In its 4 issue arc, the Black Panther eventually defeated the Supremacists and they were imprisoned in Wakanda. I’m not sure what happened to “Azania” in the official canon of Earth 616 of the Marvel universe, I think it kinda became a forgotten part that was never revisited. There are some more interesting tidbits actually. For example, the “Great spirit of the Black Panther” disagreed with the approach T’Challa took of sanctions, divorced him and possessed a Black man in “Azania” who then went on a rampage murdering white real estate agents, clergy, and the governor. Eventually T’Challa had to battle the man possessed by the spirit (who then had turned into a sort of were-creature) in order to reclaim the Black Panther spirit for himself. Overall the analogy is clear in the fight between the “spiritual nation of Wakanda” against the “white supremacist Azania”, but also in the way the Black Panther had to fight against the were-creature that was killing the white elite of this “Azania”… Somewhere, APLA soldiers must be turning in their graves at how the name of Azania has been used, and the subtext at how they were portrayed. The political commentary was anti-apartheid but filled with T’Challa as the mystical Mandela-like figure that not only tried to curb the apartheid governement but also stop the “evil” APLA-like force that waged an all out war against white supremacy.

Perhaps it gives some food of thought for the upcoming Black Panther movie? While I have, since childhood, enjoyed Marvel comics, looking back I am more and more seeing problematic issues that I previously didn’t pick up on. Furthermore, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is unfortunately not free of this…



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Taking a pass on “passing”

I don’t pass. That is a simple fact of my life. As a trans woman, I simply don’t pass, and really, I’ve stopped both trying to and caring about it. Overall, I get “read” – on initial encounter – about 50/50; meaning, 50 percent of the time I get a rude “are you a man?” while for the remainder I get a rude “are you a woman?” If such question isn’t stated out loud, it is usually visible in the way people’s brain visible starts to short circuit when they say Sir/Miss when addressing me.

When I started my “transition” it was still in a very medicalised system (or cis-stem) where I was diagnosed with “gender identity disorder” and was subjected to psychological tests as well as a “real-life test”. Essentially the entire process was focused on making as “real” a woman as possible… For years I tried to conform to that, convinced that the psychologists and doctors were right, that there was something wrong with me that could only be fixed by trying to conform to i.e. cisgender womanhood as closely as possible. It is only logical that this has affected me in many ways; however, one thing I have come to terms with is this: I don’t pass, I don’t need to, and I don’t want to. The problem is, society doesn’t see eye to eye on this at all.

One example, and one of the most irritating things, is how I am complimented. Now, I know this sounds strange, but hear me out. In general terms, I like compliments as much as anyone else, but the specificity of how and when those compliments come irks me often. Somehow, when it comes to compliments about how I look, they are always made in relation to femininity specifically. “Hey, you’re looking nice in that dress today” or “wow, you’re wearing make up! You look great!”… Well, especially when you consider that I don’t really wear dresses that often, and – these days – almost never make up, just kinda is the point. I never hear “oh, those baggy jeans make you look great”, the only compliment about jeans I hear is when it’s skinny, feminine cut jeans… Somehow, there is an assumption that anything “masculine” is inherently something I don’t like, that the very fact that I am a trans woman means that I am looking to be the beautiful-carboard-cutout-disney-princess (I really don’t)… Well, maybe the crossdressing-sword-wielding-Mulan if she said “fuck you, you patriarch” to Captain Li Shang. The point is, just because I am a trans woman doesn’t mean I seek to conform to gender roles and norms, just because I am a trans woman doesn’t mean I can’t be gender non-conforming* in various ways, and flourish in that non-conformity. And just because i don’t conform to typical gender roles and norms doesn’t mean you can disregard that I am in fact a woman; sure, a trans woman, but still: a w-o-m-a-n.

When it comes to trans women, even the most progressive of feminists tend to have narrow standards of “womanhood”… Somehow, people often expect us to prove our transness or womanness by conforming to some sort of checklist from the 70s, while the butchest of lesbians would not be questions as such by those same progressives. The double standard is what is suffocating, and it is perpetuated by a constant narrative around transgender people regarding “transition” and such that are really rooted in oppressive understandings of gender.

Recently, with all the rhetoric on “bathroom bills” in the USA, I’ve seen a lot of problematic language. There is a lot of “do you want to have me in your bathroom” with pictures of trans people who “pass” (meaning, conform to a cisgender understanding of what the gender they identify with is suppose to look like) to counter these bills. I keep thinking that either way, whether I enter the women’s OR men’s bathroom, it doesn’t make a damn difference… because “passing” ain’t remotely something I approach, it is always a 50/50 depending on what I ended up wearing that day, and trying to avoid speaking or waiting in lines when bathrooms are crowded cause too much scrutiny and you’d think they were filming “Scream 5.voetsek” in said bathroom… And this is the thing, I don’t want my rights to depend on whether I can pass or not, whether I conform or not… And this is where rethoric is leading to when it comes to transgender issues… And this is not just about trans people, but anyone who is gender non-conforming.

What the irony is truly, is that I’ve had such issues from other trans women as well… And this is sometimes truly mindboggling… I have had the “you’re not trans enough” or “why are you dressed like that” from other trans women when I show up looking more like Jet-Li-with-long-hair than anything else, and still insist in calling myself a trans woman. And in this I question how we talk about trans issues… an issue that is even further amplified for those non-binary trans people. We need to critically engage with both gender in wider society, as well as the history of transgender issues in general. We need to understand how a lot of the narrative around trans people was created to enforce gender roles and norms, rather than challenge them.

P.S: this is not an opening for TERFs to start trans-bashing… really it is the opposite…


* I know that the definition of gender non-conforming is diverse, and some people have argued that it i.e. is a separate identity that is separate from trans woman or trans man. Then others say it simply refers to gender non-conformity which is broader, and make distinctions between that and non-binary trans people’s specific identity. I am not seeking to impose a definition, but I do want to clarify how I am using the term here. Wandile Dlamini, a non-binary trans activist and friend of mine, always emphasises the latter definition of gender non-conforming, and I tend to agree with them.

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