Give Us This Day

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They chose to work in jobs that affords them chance to get out of the poverty mill undeterred by social stigma and moral shaming. They refuse to work their bodies to a hilt for a pittance so others could live well out of their sweats. The consider their work as emancipating as it is a job they have control of. But sadly, as it is with people who defy mores and traditions, women, transgenders and men in the sex trade are made to pay for their defiance. Their human rights are trampled and their work is made a crime. It is a situation they must fight back and change. It is no crime to escape from the clutches of poverty in ways that does not hurt anyone. It is not a crime to seek the power for self-determination. Poverty and powerlessness, not sex work is immoral.

Help us support the Philippine sex workers fight to defend their human rights. Human rights are not for the powerful to dispense. It is integral to everyones existence. It is what makes human beings human beings.

Huwomanity Fund partners and gives women living in the fringe support in their struggle for justice and freedom, sex workers among them. All funds raised through this call for support will go to the Philippine Sex Workers Collective.  https://www.crowdrise.com/fundraiser/edit/philippinesexworkerscollective/sexworkers

No Longer Taking Sexual Stigma in Silence

We are CRASS. The Coalition of Radicals Against Sexual Stigma.

This is our fun and serious name. Because we are a fun and serious group.

Seriously, we have come together. Those of us who have experienced abortion, who are sex workers, who are HIV positive, who are lesbian or bisexual or gay or transgender. We laughed and cried about our experiences. And we realized how similar and different we are.

We are similar in that the only real “sin” we committed is that people think we had sex. We looked and we looked and the only possible reason we could see for the discrimination against us is that people think we had sex. What else did we have in common other than that?

Certainly we are not saints. But neither are those who condemn us. And we are not denying that some of us had sex when we say “people think we had sex”. But many lesbian, gay, bisexual transgender people and many people living with HIV
are virgins or asexual. But they too are discriminated against. It would seem that the sexual obsession of our society is such that any implication that we MAY have had sex is enough.

We also noted that there was a hierarchy of stigmatization based on whether, well, whether we REALLY had sex. So the HIV positive among us who got it from blood transfusions are less stigmatized than the ones who got it from sex. We also realized that people who look down us also try determine whether we enjoyed the sex or not. So the people who sought abortion from rape are less stigmatized than the teenager fooled by her boyfriend.

This sexual stigmatization forces us into certain identities related only to sexual activity. So, sex workers and LGBT persons are only sexual creatures. Not the mothers, wives, sisters, brothers, husbands, and friends that we also happen to be. It is this politics of identity that keeps us from reaching out to others who we think are not like us even if they too are suffering from alienation, oppression, exploitation, discrimination and stigma. This politics of identity hides the fact that among us, we can have HIV positive, transgender sex workers. Or HIV positive, sex workers who have had an abortion.

Whatever our multiple identities however, we are social activists. We are concerned about the effects of the stigmatization not only on ourselves as individuals but also to others. We condemn the violence, the lack of access to jobs, social protections and benefits that often cause people like us to live lives of isolation and poverty.

We know why people are so obsessed with sex. Because it is the ultimate game of control for all those who want to smother the creative and democratic spirit that is a threat to all systems of oppression. That is why we find that institutions and people who benefit from the status quo keep trying to impose some sort of rules on us. Fascist systems don’t like happy and creative people who are less likely to obey and who can’t follow the rules.

It is funny though how the sex workers among us notice that the ones who are most likely to seek nurturing and solace from us are the moralists. As individuals they have so much to lose in denying themselves pleasures. Poor, poor, fascists.

So the fun part of us insists on sex, and fun, and friendship and solidarity and joy in struggle.

We insist that all social relationships, not just sexual ones, should be satisfying, safe and consensual.

At first we thought what fun it would be to call for a party and invite all our friends. Or maybe call a press conference. But then we realized that the moralists would just make it about us again. We would become our individualized, sexualized, identities again.

When in truth we aren’t individuals as much as we are just like everyone else. It is people’s capacity to pretend that we are somehow different that allows the stigmatization and alienation. In truth we are you and you are us. What we need is a politics of solidarity and not of identity.

So we shall not come out as individuals. But we will be there for all those who suffer from oppression, exploitation, alienation and stigmatization. We promise to bring pleasures and joy to our comrades.

How? We will be there at the next rally or press conference or…Maybe just online. We don’t know yet. Like pleasure we will be multiple and fluid and..well..fun!

And if some people find us to be CRASS..well..thanks!!!!

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Note: The Philippine Sex Workers Collective is a founding member of CRASS. The foregoing article is an introductory note about CRASS. Join us in the struggle. Be CRASS

Our Missing Letter To Rhoda Grant

Dear Rhoda Grant

We are writing to register our objection to your proposal to criminalize the purchase of sex in Scotland. What you propose to do not only harms sister sex workers in Scotland but all other sex workers around the globe. We have people like you in the Philippines who are just waiting to cite what you propose to do as an example to validate their own similar agenda. The Swedish Model was ineffective. It has not achieved what it aimed for. On the opposite it has made life more difficult for sex workers. The best people who could speak on the impact of the law are the Swedish sex workers themselves. You only have to listen to their voices on this video – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7D7nOh57-I8 and on this article – http://www.thelocal.se/blogs/theotherswedishmodel/2010/07/05/behind-the-happy-face-of-the-swedish-anti-prostitution-law/ to understand how violative the law is of the sex workers’ human rights. We hope you listen to the voices of our sister sex workers in Scotland in the same way that we hope we would not be hearing legislators in the Philippine Congress proposing to do the same thing you want done citing Scotland as another model to follow in dealing with the issue of prostitution.  

Thank you

The Phillippine Sex Workers Collective

We Are Here To Win

Sex workers have always been treated with great disdain in Philippine society. To call a woman a prostitute (puta) or the daughter or son of a prostitute (anak ng puta) would perhaps be the gravest insult you can throw on any Filipino. Credit this to the Catholic Church and Christian fundamentalists (the Catholics make up 88 % of the country’s population while the Christian groups account for 8%. The rest are Muslims.) They have ingrained in the minds of the people that sex outside of marriage is dirty and immoral. To most Filipinos therefore, prostitution is a moral issue and those involved in it must be condemned. This has led us, sex workers, to be treated with stigma and discrimination.

As sex workers, we are forced to hide who we are and what we do for fear that if we are outed, we and our families would be subjected to public ridicule. Filipinos put great value on their reputation (karangalan) which could only be validated by community approval.  To suffer shame (hiya) and losing people’s respect could do damage to one’s  self-worth (amor propio). A ruined reputation could mean a ruined life.

Being poor in the Philippines, most sex workers come from poor families, means all your life you are going to be acculturated into the culture of silence until it becomes a way of life. You learn to keep your own views of the world around you to yourself. No matter how much you believe things to be wrong you must believe it to be right when the rich, your master (amo), to whom you depend on for your livelihood say so. The poor lose their voices in the process. The master who has control of their lives speak for them. The acculturation goes on until they come to believe their voices do not matter and that only the voices of the powerful would count.

Most of us, sex workers, have gone through this process of acculturation in our lives. We have learned to accept that speaking up and being listened to is a privilege that the poor and the powerless are not entitled to. It does not help that we are forced to hide who we are since the society in which we live has ostracized us. That should make it easy for anyone to understand why it was not difficult for the feminist (abolitionists) to appropriate our voices and to start speaking for us. Society has made us invisible so to have women of power speak for us was a blessing or so we thought. It was not a blessing. It was exploitation. They were not speaking for us, they were speaking for themselves in our name. They have assumed the role of the “amos” and  again we whimpered in silence as they robbed us of our voices. Most Filipinos, the poor and the powerless, when faced by a desperate situation there is nothing they could do about would most often take the fatalistic way out. They would say “leave it to fate” (bahala na). And “bahala na”, it was for us.

For years, we could only stand , mouths gagged, as we watched our new “amos” build their careers speaking for other underprivileged and “mindless” women in their list who they claim do not have the ability to speak for themselves. We are on top of that list. We could hardly figure them out. Maybe because we have not seen the corridors of the university like they all did that they baffle us. They speak so fiercely about fighting for women’s right to self-determination but clearly that does not include us. Perhaps by women, they only meant themselves. We also do not understand the arrogance by which they have anointed themselves our saviors like it was their manifest destiny even when clearly we do not want them saving us because there is no reason to. What we want is save ourselves from them instead.

They do not only confuse us. They intimidate us. They speak in jargons we do not understand. We guess it was their way of telling us they know better and so we should just leave it to them to run our lives. But we really do not care about  “patriarchy”, “commodification” and other words they spew. Those matters don’t bring food on our table nor pay for our rent. All we are interested in is work undisturbed.

We grew up with succession of  “amos” taking command of our lives which in reality were never truly our own. It is time we claim our lives back. It is time we find our voices because only in finding our voices back can we say our lives are our own. It would not be easy but it is possible. It can take years to get ourselves back to what we really should be  but we are undaunted.

We must serve notice to our self-appointed saviours/masters that their time is up. They can’t take our jobs away from us in the same way we can’t take them away from their careers even if they have built them under our expense. Under the bus is no place for any human. And yes, whatever the society or anyone thinks of us, we are human beings deserving of every right accorded everybody else. Those rights are not for anyone to dispense. It is for us to claim and we are going to claim them.

Our survival as sex workers has always come under threat. We knew the time would come when we have to defend ourselves. We prepared for such eventuality. Enough is enough. Our different organizations, WHORE (Women Hookers Organizing for their Rights and Empowerment), Daughters Deviant, and some male sex workers organizations, joined forces. We know we only have our collective strength to rely on and so we organized ourselves into an alliance, the Philippine Sex Workers Collective (PSWC).

The Collective would serve as our advocacy arm.  It is its mandate to secure and defend our rights as sex workers. Its first major challenge is the Anti-Prostitution Bill patterned after the Swedish Model now sitting in the Philippine Congress for deliberation. We want this bill dead. To campaign against this bill’s damnation, the Philippine Sex Workers Collective, planned our own counter action, the Red Hat Campaign (“Red” which symbolizes the struggle for sex workers rights and “cap”  which would stand for the right of every sex worker to be protected from discrimination, stigma and violence.).  It is time to tell the world that only sex workers could speak for sex workers. It is going to be an uphill battle against the well-oiled and well experienced machinery of the abolitionists (the feminists, the church and the government). But it is our lives, the sex workers, not theirs that they are legislating. We would not allow it. We would oppose it to the end. We are here to stay and we are here to win.