Other Weapons

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What have you given up to technology in the name of safety?

What have you given up to technology in the name of safety? How has this affected you?

We are asking these questions to our friends who sell sex as a gesture to provoke further inquiry into how life maneuvers within and around technological apparatuses.

Sex workers are on the forefront of harnessing technology as a popular tool to interrupt surveillance and evade the violence facilitated by technology. Of course, we want to be safe, but we do not look to any external designation of safety. Despite all our tricks, masks, and hacks, we are profoundly affected by the state’s deployment of data aggregation, regulation, and threats. It is hard to think about what we are building in resistance when there is so much being done to us.

How often are we asked to cooperate now so that later we can be free? Work is never safe. The money we gain offers a chance at stability, and the prospect of sharing what we might then build with others - this is why we have found ourselves here at all. But what have we given up for that money?

Are we so resigned to surveillance in our other crimes? Where is the call to be boundless? Where have we stagnated in an attempt to master the algorithm? There is no action but the action we will.

Other Weapons

After hooking for a decade or more, any semblance of romanticism I take in my work has faded away. I do not like work. And I certainly do not like sex work. But it is the best of worse options for me. I have a criminal record. I blur my face in all my online advertising. In the beginning, sex work allowed me to survive, and eventually thrive with essentially zero trace to my actual identity, and in spite of how employers would not hire me because of my record or lack of higher education.

But over the last decade, Slixa and Eros among other online advertising sites I use, all began requiring some kind of identity verification in order to advertise services. I sometimes catch myself short of breath knowing my driver’s license is just a hack or a court order away from being associated with everything I have ever linked with my hooker name on the internet.

I signed up for OnlyFans at the beginning of the pandemic. I am now back to working in person but continue to receive about $100/week from OF. So, when they started requiring a new verification process for all content creators in 2021, I was relieved. I thought I finally had an excuse to get off this wretched site; I hated the thought of exchanging a biometric scan of my face for the ability to sell content. But when OF refused to allow payouts to my bank account until I verified with the third-party service Ondato, I watched my unclaimed balance grow, then I caved.I find a little comfort in knowing I wouldn’t be alone in facing the fallout of, for example, a mass hack of Eros or OnlyFans. But it all pales in comparison to the potential nightmare of facing my neighbors, my landlord, and others if my identity were to be released. It feels like I am participating in my own doxxing. Whatever social legitimacy I initially exchanged for anonymity in sex work a decade ago is now ten-fold in its potential cost to my livelihood.

— Harla City (Southeast U.S.)

The most popular escort directory (Adultwork) here in the UK requires its users to submit selfies with their ID in order to maintain a profile. This was already the case but we all received an email recently reaffirming this policy in light of the same Mastercard policy change that wrecked havoc with OnlyFans. Being able to use this directory gives me the safety and benefits of working indoors and independently, where I can get in contact with and screen my own clients. The financial security that I’ve gained from sex work over the last few years has been one of the most transformative things in the last few years and this definitely makes me feel ‘safe.' At the same time, sharing my passport details with these platforms makes me feel incredibly vulnerable. They have readily available access to my identity and as good as proof as any that I’m a full-service sex worker.

Selling sex indoors and independently (i.e. not in a brothel, managed premises or venue shared with others) is legal in the UK. However, I feel scared knowing that if the laws around sex work changed in the UK, Adultwork could be targeted and a situation like the raid of Eros and Backpage in the US could occur. Even if the law doesn’t change, there’s a ‘chilling effect’ of criminalisation internationally.

I worry I may not be able to enter the US and visit family because of the extensive digital footprint that implicates me as a sex worker. The US Department of Homeland Security has been known to deny entry to and ban suspected to be sex workers on the basis of their internet presence and online advertising.

— Simone (London, UK)

Technology, or more specifically the internet and how media spreads on it, has at times ravaged a sense of my own safety. Various forms of my personal information have been circulated beyond my control, leaving me in a state of over-exposure, all while twisted constructions of who I am or what I do as a sex worker swarm from the minds and keyboards of online bigots. The internet can act as a tool to over-sensationalize, and the internet does not consider real life reactions outside of its machine. Backlash to this skewed information about me has at times been aggressive, obsessive, and violent, all affecting my mental well being, as this information carries on in the form of real-life labour to protect myself from the tired and regressive narratives that orbit sex workers at all times.

— Mistress Rebecca (London, UK)

The further social media progresses, the more it requires of sex workers. And the temptation to have a presence grows. I’ve sacrificed many social relationships and potential work relationships by being coerced into publicizing my work as a stripper, only to be reminded that it’s actually not safer or more lucrative.

I created social media and OnlyFans accounts under alternative aliases as a method to prevent sharing my cell phone number or personal information with clients. I’ve also used alternative phone applications to create fake phone numbers to route through my phone. Doing this provided the perfect opportunity for a client to stalk and threaten me both virtually and in person through basic internet sleuthing. Both my Instagram and OnlyFans, which I thought would give me the safety of anonymity, were hacked in their own time.

Additionally, the attempts to preserve this anonymity from my clients actually required me to upload explicit content that is now owned by Facebook, Instagram, and Google, which will be used for their own algorithms, sold for marketing, and can be sourced by the state. The programs will also be using my information to create even stronger surveillance techniques, which will, in the long run, kick me off of these applications, and fully prevent sex workers from using them in the first place, putting us at risk for being targeted by the state.

It’s like companies are using sex workers as guinea pigs for innovative applications functioning under the guise of safety, but eventually, they are sold to surveillance companies that turn around and throw us in jail.

— Zoe (Chicago)

The censorious algorithm, adversarial ‘machine learning,’ and privacy-and-identity surveillance, are three recent technological modes especially equipped, already devoted to, hurting whores. These are built on logical threads that continue to de-weave and re-tangle themselves, rendering and refining their own capacities through endless iterations. It makes sense why they would become a whore's obsession.

The screen seduces us, threatens our focus out in the world. The promise of safety: technology protecting us from preventable suffering. But Technology and Sacrifice are inextricable. To acquire one form of innovation or knowledge, we end up, inevitably, rescinding others. Sacrifice implies both forfeiture (what I give up) and resignation (what I give up on). Our work consists of real time speed trials - stakes driven by what we know and what we can’t.

I forfeit my energy to the time, and mind sink, of the internet. I expend many living hours researching technology, imagining I can know just enough to protect myself and my friends. Obsession here is as addictive as any chemical cascade; through the labor of trying not to panic, I’m developing a tolerance. I derive comfort in technology’s many failings, a horror-comedy of smart houses turning against their owners, grotesque-surrealist digitally rendered genitals, AI chat bots getting caught cheating, the fem-bot painting herself.  

We fear that doing this work will make us lose our lives. Like logic, fear aggregates and compounds, so much that we risk losing our minds, and the technology fulfills its intents. I resign myself. It’s a fact - if someone is determined enough to hurt me, they will. Presence is our only real protection. I return to my senses.

— Lyn (New Orleans)

I started working after I connected with a random little cluster of hustlers. I learned from them, and mirrored their practices from advertising to screening to cultivating a protective intuition. What this meant in practice was that we used the most basic and accessible advertising platforms, making bare-bones posts, sometimes with just a few sentences and a photo of someone who represented our race and general appearance. On some level I had already drawn a line that I didn't ever want to fully connect my image to this work. Those mediating data points, my IP - used to place ads, or phone records, or a 4th, and 5th email account that are connected to the 2nd and 3rd, also connect my identity to my activity, albeit a little more indirectly.

Is my identity linked to this work? Yes, but perhaps not through biometric proof. Does that make me safer? I don't know - safer from what? Sw’ers are stuck between mortal danger of bodily harm, legal danger of prosecution and its aftermath, long-term psychological harm from adverse or transgressive experiences, and the list goes on. The constant weighing of the scales is itself a burden to bear. The decision to separate the image of my body from my advertising is partially informed by the fact that I feel like my body itself is more easily identifiable than others. What that exchange has meant for me in practice is that I also have to bear the psychological burden that comes when, in preserving some meager, but ultimately false, sense of safety, I have to deal with an occasional client who interprets unoriginal photos as a manipulation against them instead of a protective measure that I claim, despite them. That's no fun - clients feeling entitled to be critical of your body, your dress, the competency of your presentation. The stoicism or nihilism or void I've gained from these kinds of singular experiences through sex work alone is interesting to me. Anyway, the other tradeoff is that using these basic advertising platforms that permit a degree of anonymity sometimes means encountering more unpredictability with clientele. The impression of an added layer of safety from the biometric memory of the state has at times left me square in the middle of differently unsafe circumstances, probably the worst case being huddled in silence with a handful of other women, separated from a duo of aggro robbers, or potentially violators, by nothing more than a shitty metal lock.

— nana (U.S.)

I have given up my face, my government issued ID, my name, and some sanity, all to work online and have my profile verified by the companies who require me to do so. This is accepted as a sex worker’s wager for safety — supposedly anything is better than working on the streets, or at least anything where you can be given the illusion of having autonomy.

Sometimes I still think of where all of the hundreds of hours of footage from camming are now, having been recirculated in 3rd party markets, and wonder if there will be a day when they will resurface in a context I won’t be able to ignore.

Or times when I used part of my face in ads because I knew it was another kind of necessary currency, and I needed it to sell an image I was trying to portray. Plus, I needed money fast. In the end, I knew it wasn’t worth it — intensive political repression was amping up in my city, coinciding with an increase in prostitution stings, and I didn’t want to find myself in the crosshairs.

Later, I exchanged my legal name with certain long-term clients to escape the techno-surveillance of ad platforms, camming or sugaring sites, etc. Then they could buy me plane tickets or put money straight into my bank account, all while crafting a plausible paper trail that could be used either for my benefit or against me. This is potentially the greatest threat to my safety, but also one of my greatest rewards -- to escape the hustle of marketing, visibility, social media, a website, and ads. These are the things I have always hated the most.

Even though this more intimate work of sugaring can feel like punching an emotionally-saturated clock, I recognize a difference in these spaces between work and not-working. When maintaining a crafted hooker persona, on the other hand, I never experience the feeling of being "off-the-clock", since I am basically my own small business. The measures I needed to take were for that wager between safety and sanity, knowing what both could hold, either for, or against me.

— Ana (U.S.)

As a dancer who has worked primarily in strip clubs for the past decade in person, surveillance technology introduced in the name of safety has negatively affected my sense of autonomy and security. Despite popular narratives around working conditions and contracts in clubs giving workers more job security, the safest I’ve personally ever felt is working under a fake ID in a club with no cameras. This club didn’t take my fingerprints, SS #, inquire into my address, or track the money I was making in an internal system. At most clubs now, I am required to provide all these things in order to get a contract, which can then be terminated at random, while my biometric data and personal information remains in the club’s system. Typically, there are security cameras surveilling the dancers in the dressing room but not in the VIP booths, suggesting our coworkers are more of a threat to our safety than customers behind closed doors. Clubs that increasingly track my dances and stage time in centralized systems have a better ability to charge exorbitant shift fees. The increasing surveillance in the clubs in the name of worker safety has always felt like a sham, leaving me with less autonomy and more ability for the club to control and exploit me further.

— Aiden (U.S.)

I cycle through about ten aliases. When I was doxxed for political activity seven years ago, I lost the use of my name after death threats and repression. My name is entombed on the internet, I leave it there. Anyone is a google search away from knowing it all, this has been proven to me many times. One thing leads to another.

I have uploaded my state ID, passport, full body photos, my face next to the daily newspaper, fingerprints, to various technologies in order to sell sex. Though whenever I go to see a client, I leave anything with my name at home. When I am home I try to keep my devices separate, try to understand all the invisible linkages, try to not hate myself when I inevitably fail. Or when I am recognized in the gym, the classroom, the street.

Criminal activity aimed at making money requires arbitration and enforcement of illicit agreements to advance. So, you trade the supposed danger of isolation and the uncertainty of free-styling for these platforms, which transform what you once dealt with into new forms of capture. You must make a deal with someone, pimps, the IRS, often both.

Living often requires criminal activity, with life being so crushed by power. Whoring came to me when I needed money but failed background checks. It’s something I know how to move through, make gains, shape to my own choices. But it also pervades all aspects of my life, often fills me with dread or the ugliness of all I do in the pursuit of money. So it is hard to know if it ever positions me to engage in more joyous and revolutionary clandestine activity, or puts these efforts at further risk. My life has lead me away from citizenship, away from identifying myself, away from sacrificing my body toward mediated desire. If I am oriented against the state, how do I reckon with the concessions I have made to accumulate money, other than putting that money to our use?

— Star (New York City)

Following these responses, we came up with some further questions for our readers, sex workers or otherwise, to consider —

1. What have you given up to technology in the name of safety? How has this affected you?

2. Where does sharing our (SWer) experience, in writing, in poetry, in collaboration or panels, leave us more free? Where does it lead us to a dead end? In whose company? Apply this to your own life if you are not a worker, or, ask a worker you know.

3. Imagine a world where people don't die for being whores, aren't tracked, aren't prosecuted. How do you fit in? What can you do to create or preserve this world?

4. As workers, we secure our marketability via the realm of the explicit. What we orbit around, though, are the subtle possibilties held within unnameable, sensual, living desire. What do you see the state making us desire? What desire, what pleasure, will never be regulated by the state?

5. What role does the state have in your fantasies?

Other Weapons is a site for amassing and proliferating knowledge, stories, and positions by sex workers. It has no set place, but circulates in the form of printed zines, online pdfs, emails, stickers and wheat-pasting, and occasional public appearances. Our aim is to experiment with sex workers and our accomplices toward material strategies for our autonomy and liberation. We are for finding life outside of any given parameters, for finding ways to live, interdependently, beyond survival. Through print material, discussions, letters, film, music, and visual work, we attempt to distribute intelligence often hidden or unpublished.

Cite as: Other Weapons. 2022. "What have you given up to technology in the name of safety? How has this affected you?". In Infrastructural Interactions: Survival, Resistance and Radical Care, edited by Helen V Pritchard, and Femke Snelting. Brussels: The Institute for Technology In the Public Interest. http://titipi.org/pub/Infrastructural_Interactions.pdf