Representing sex workers

Submitted by Matthew on 15 June, 2011 - 12:29

Dan Rawnsley went the London Sex Worker Film Festival (12 June) at the Rio Cinema, Dalston.

Introducing the day, Dr Heidi Hoeflinger, a sex worker activist and academic, argued that sex workers were “stigmatised as victims or criminals and rarely have their voices heard”. The day aimed to “shed some light on the complexity and diversity of sex work”. From what I saw the organisers were successful in their aim.

The blurb for the event rightly argued that films usually portray sex workers as either “vulnerable, fallen angels, without agency or power”, or “shallow, materialistic, manipulative and without ethics... if we are even alive to begin with — much of the time it doesn’t get past the dead hooker, killed violently by pimps, drug dealers or crazed punters.”

Several of the films I saw, most notably Hands Off by Winstan Whitter, which looks at strip clubs in Hackney, focused heavily on the fight for legalisation. This is an important campaign, but it portrays a struggle where sex workers and their bosses are united, in this case against local councils. Those sex industry bosses who are not interested in legalisation are mentioned in passing, and those who work for them, amongst the most hyper-exploited in the industry, do not get a look in.

Though Thierry Schaffhauser, a sex worker organiser from the GMB, was interviewed the issues that workers faced outside of the fight for legalisation were not touched upon and throughout they were referred to as “the girls” without any effort by the interviewer or director to address the “belittling”.

The Street in Red dealt capably and powerfully with the violence faced by many sex workers which is completely overlooked by the police. Ni Coupables, Ni Victimes dealt with the issues of legalisation by interviewing sex workers and shop owners, but without dealing with the disparity between their aspirations and understandings of their struggle. The event was certainly significant — it was attended by around 400 people, and definitely an engaging and interesting experience.

I felt that there is a risk that the fight for legalisation — which for us is just a step towards organising sex workers to fight for control over their industry — currently dominates discussion in sex worker activism, potentially side-lining very immediate issues of pay and working conditions.


Submitted by guenter on Mon, 20/06/2011 - 13:58

do i guess right, that this above is only about female sex workers?
if it was meant "in general", it is 2 nicely said, cause male prostitutes can be quite violent with their clients, so often are not the victim but the actor.
in germany, many gays got murdered or robbed by male prostitutes; often muslim guys who dont get along with their own homosexuality and project their selfhate onto others.

Submitted by danrawnsley on Mon, 20/06/2011 - 15:01

Hi Rosie,

You could try getting in touch with the organisers to see if it's possible to use any of the films. I was only able to stay for the first few films, but I'm sure that the later ones were equally worth a look at. The organisers' website is here:

You should be able to find contact details there.

Geunter, the films looked at the experiences of male, female and trans sex workers, though some films dealt entirely with female sex workers. I'm not aware of any cases of male sex workers attacking clients, but in an area of work which is largely criminalised I don't doubt that such things could happen, (though I'm pretty sure this isn't the case generally with male sex workers). Could you point me to any information, articles, statistics etc. about the attacks your talking about?

Submitted by guenter on Mon, 20/06/2011 - 20:34

sorry, i talked about things which happened in germany, most reports about it i dont have anymore, what i have is in german and i dont even know how 2 bring documents in my lap and on another site, also dont have a scanner.
but in some big cities, there always have been violent and murderous attacks against gays, and in most cases, young male sexworkers from islamic countries have been the murderer. often this are no poor guys -the leftwing stereotype 4 male prostitutes- but go 4 money that they can lie 2 themselve: "iam hetero, i only do this cause i need the money." sometimes u can find real rich arabic guys among them, who ask 4 a bit money, 2 keep up fooling themselves. a psychological phanomeon, which rather needs psychotherapists than streetworkers.
i would wonder, if similar experiences dont excist in other countries.
so i myself have difficulties 2 defend male sexworkers same as much than female ones. i think, homosexual prostitution is a different story, where making money alone often is not the point 4 the male prostitute, but that one can live his gay wishes without having 2 realise what that does mean and what he is -"i did it only 4 the money, but iam sooooo straight". a psychological problem of all the macho-cultures. i dont consider any of them as "straight" (i prefer the word hetero).

Submitted by danrawnsley on Tue, 21/06/2011 - 12:20

Hi Guenter,

If there's anything you can point me to online I could use an online translator to get the gist of the article, admittedly with some errors.

I think it's important to separate out the homophobic attacks that you describe from the activities of male sex workers in general. Above all there is a lack of information on the issues of male sex work and more specifically male-to-male sex work. Paul Boyce, a UNDP researcher who helped to put together a recent report on male sex work in South Africa ( commented that 'male sex work can be more invisible and blurred within male-to-male sexualities and politics in ways that have not always helped to highlight the specific needs and issues of male sex workers.'

I think it is probable that the criminalisation of sex work allows some men the space to abuse male clients and carry out homophobic attacks. I think, however, that it is dangerous to view this as a reason to split off 'good' female sex work from 'bad' male sex work. And refuse to support male sex workers.

As Marxists we centre our analysis of the sex industry around class and the exploitation of sex workers as workers, not around issues of gender or sexuality (though of course these remain important factors). A part of this is uncovering the material conditions faced by male, female and trans sex workers in their industry and, in the immediate term fighting for legalisation so that conditions are safer and so that the attacks you describe can be prevented.

Submitted by guenter on Tue, 21/06/2011 - 17:16

I think it is probable that the criminalisation of sex work allows some men the space to abuse male clients and carry out homophobic attacks. (dan)

i think, u are completely wrong- espec. cause male prostitution isnt illegal in germany. (is it in UK?). so, its not the criminilasation what leads 2 homophobic are the psychological problems of gays who dont wanna realise what they are, who do lead 2 this attacks. its nothing than self-hate which is projected onto the one, who does openly show what he is. then the unsubconscousness homo does see himself in a mirror and wanna destroy the mirror.
it is as i described above very clearly: most male-to-male sexworkers in germany are from islamic countries, where most men have sex with other men or boys, but dont consider themselves as gay or bisexual. they have various explainations for themselves, why they are hetero, even if having homosex any day. one of them is, that, in islamic culture, a man who screws men, is NOT considered being homosexual (only the other one); and things as masturbating each other (or oral sex) are not seen as homosex either- a friendship service among unmarried men, or if a married man has 2 much potence left over.
its a completely different (and most illogical) thinking, compared 2 other parts of the world, where, of course, both men will be considered as gay.
so, here the usual leftwing approach to the subject wont help. this problem can only be solved with psychotherapy 4 irrational/illogical/projecting individuals, 2 help them realise who they are.
as i myself was stabbed with knife from a male turkish prostitute (no, i never was a client- but on gay meeting places they try 2 bother anyone), dont expect from me a general solidarity with male sexworkers, when many gays in germany got murdered from them.
the story might be different in UK, where probably the majority of male sex workers is not arabic or turkish, as in germany. but the problems created by that shit islam religion, are even bigger, than AWL realised it yet, and they are at least the only among the left groups who see it at all- but not completely yet. the problem of male sexworkers in germany is not one of criminalisation, its an usual prob with islamic behaviour.

P.S.: language says a lot. in arabic, iranian (farsi) and turkish language (i guess, it might be the same in urdu), we dont have words as hetero- bi- homo- transsexual, as they do exist in most languages. in the mentioned languages, there are words for someone, who is a fucker, who does penetrate SOMETHING (can be woman, man, child, animal, a whole in a whole or whatever) and a word for something, THAT (whatever/whoever it is) gets penetrated. and "assfucker" in such languages never means an abuse for gays -as it is in german language- cause an fucker is not seen as gay (he might be able 2 screw a woman also), but all abuse-words 4 gays in these languages, as the turkish "ibne" (pronounce: ebna)means: the ass-giver.
in this countries, many does mix gays with transsexuals. (otherwise most men there had 2 consider themselves as gay or bi.) sometimes here, when an ex-workcolleague of mine told that he was gay, arabic colleagues asked him, when he does his sexchange-operation. in the daylight they abused or attacked him, at night they knocked his door and looked 4 sex- claiming to be hetero, "but wanna do him a favour"! (he never asked for). THATS the problem!

Submitted by guenter on Tue, 28/06/2011 - 13:26

seems, that anytime when i bring something to the point, the discussion stops. cause i argued outside of a given frame.

Submitted by danrawnsley on Tue, 28/06/2011 - 19:13

Hi Guenter, my apologies for taking so long to reply, a combination of things have kept me from sitting down to a keyboard over the past few days.

I should also apologise for not being fully aware of the situation for sex work in Germany. Do you know much about the communities these attackers come from? What's the material basis of these macho cultures? Is it just religion? You say that in most cases the murder was a young muslim man - in what cases was it someone else?

The information I've found on male sex workers in Germany is limited - Wikipedia has an estimate of around 2500 in Berlin, mostly working with male clients, surely the attacks were a small proportion of this number. How frequent are these attacks? Were they happening over a period of time, or do they continue to happen now?

All that said, you seem to suggest, in saying that my original article is too nicely put if describing male sex workers, that you cannot support male sex workers anywhere, at all, ever, because some men, posing as sex workers, attacked their clients. Is this the case? I don't think a position of no support for male sex workers follows logically from what you describe in Germany, in fact I think it is deeply problematic. You divide out male sex workers as being the 'not victims, but actors' - so female sex workers maintain their victim status? I don't think it's good for Marxists to argue that the only sex workers we can support are those who we can regard as victims. Victims of what?

Submitted by guenter on Wed, 29/06/2011 - 14:10

both, women and gays who order male sex workers, are in danger to face male violence, while a man who orders a female prostitute, most of the time is not in danger 2 become the victim. thats why male prostitution, espec. homosexual prostitution, is, in my opinion, a different story than female prostitution for men. cause many young men who are into gay prostitution, wrongly do consider themselves as heterosexuals, but are confused with their idendity or dont wanna realise 2 be gay (or bi at least) and then project their unsubconsciousness selfhate onto others, via violence against open gays. thats a psychological phenomeon, which cant be catched by class-criterias. so, when u ask, whats the material base of these communities: dont think, that only poor and uneducated ones think/act that way. also rich and educated ones do. and as i talk about young muslims who are born in germany and sometimes live there in the 3rd generation, we can not explain this with rests of pre-capitalist (feudalist) structures in some of the muslim countries (not all). we also can not downplay the phenomeon as an "artificial" (i just lack the right word) homosexuality (as in jail) from countries, where men cant be with women before marriage, cause a) iam talking bout muslims in a country of free sex, and b) also in some muslim countries -as marrokko, where most gay- and bi-men come from) its nowadays much easier -at least in cities- 2 find sex with woman before or outside marriage, so its also not this type of "i-have-no-other-choice"-homosexuality, as left socialworkers often downplay the problem.
and although we can find a few men in any "macho"-culture (as latinamerica) who believe to remain hetero, as long as they lay "on top" in their men2men-relations, we nowhere else have this type of thinking so absolute and total as in islamic countries, so somehow the problem must be releated with the religion of islam.
its simply, that this religion does -in my opinion- create even more irrationality and illogical thinking than other religions. and if a language can not differenciate between hetero-bi-homo-transsexual (and so on) and knows only catchwords for "a fucker" and SOMETHING (whatever!) that gets screwed, the type of humans which are produced by such a language and culture, can not be 2 logical and differenciated.

so, where u look 4 statistics(i cant provide u withj that) and economical situation, i think its a psychological problem of many muslim people, of any class-status, which can only be solved when they change 2 more logical thinking, and not perhaps pull out a knife, when u tell those, who always have sex with men, that they are homosexuals.
in some macho-countries, doctors and psychologists are afraid, 2 tell clients what they are, in fear of violent reactions, and have replaced terms as "homosexual" or "bisexual" with the term "MSM" (men who have sex with men), as if these was not homo- but heterosex. so far does the pressure of this religion reach to! so, in germany i will not support solidarity with male sex workers, and pls do also notice, that many muslim men (not only young, but also old ones) who want money 4 sex, do NOT consider themselves as sex workers (they would kill u, if u was 2 label them a male prostitute). they often go with men without saying that they expect money, and tell that AFTERWARDS,(suddenly switching their behaviour as a tv, which was switched 2 another programm) and then they may get violent, if not receiving something. it works like this: as long as they are hot, they are willing to do anything. but immediately after orgasm, they seem 2 remember 2 have done something condemned by allah, and then, in their twisted thinking, they tell themselves, that they only did "a favour" 2 some1 else (against their will???), and now have the right to expect "a gift". and as long as this psychological phenomeon is widespread in germany, there cant be any rational discussion and solution to the complex of gay male prostitution over here. (dont know, if i can take out here male-to-woman prostitution.)
sorry if i interrupted a discussion, which seems 2 be very different in UK.

Submitted by AWL on Wed, 29/06/2011 - 14:16


Tomorrow about 800,000 workers will strike across the UK in the first major fight back against the Coalition government's cuts and attacks on the working class. So we are quite busy. No offence to you, but there'll be more time for debate after tomorrow.


Submitted by guenter on Wed, 29/06/2011 - 22:39

hi sacha,
u wasnt part of the discussion yet, or are u dan ransley?
as i never complaint when i had 2 wait a day or 2 (last time i waited 1 week) that was an unnecessary "excuse-in-advance". i never had minded a little wait. what i mind you, is, that twice u had promised 2 post the article i did send you about a jobless african woman shot 2 death by police in frankfurt jobcenter, and then u didnt. here it is a 150% crying shame 4 AWL, that any article 2 push imperialist wars was more important on this side, than 2 inform the people better about the reality in the capitalTERRORist system.

Submitted by AWL on Thu, 30/06/2011 - 16:05

Hi Guenter,

Do you mean this article, which I did in fact post on 25 May?


Submitted by guenter on Fri, 01/07/2011 - 13:54

Iam sorry, sacha, but i never saw this as news on the frontpage. if it was immediately sitemapped, then how can many people come across it?

Submitted by AWL on Fri, 01/07/2011 - 15:41

Hi Guenter,

I'm pretty sure it was on the front page.


Submitted by guenter on Tue, 12/07/2011 - 14:25

hi dan rawnsley,

as u didnt reply no more, i have no idea if i could change ur mind, about where the problem lays, or if u still think that homophobia and male prostitution are 2 different things, while i say, at least the male prostitutes from the islamic culture (who often DONT see themselves as sex workers, see my last statement above) use the prostitution as a way 2 ignore their problems with their own idendity, that they can have gay sex/a gay life without considering themselves as gay ("did it only 4 the money") and that this probs are not solved by decriminalisation (gay prostitution isnt criminalised in germany and many european countries) but only by psychotherapy 4 each individual.

Submitted by guenter on Tue, 09/08/2011 - 14:39

hi dan,
i think that u know very well, that its no socialist behavioour, to piss off in the middle of an debate, without telling the reasons. pls think about it.

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