Throwback time — pulling from my archives.

zolaandjess

There’s a lot not being said in the coverage of the Zola epic. Nuance being eschewed in favour of hand-wringing and this unmistakable saviour complex. The redundancy of repeating “this is terrible and exploitative of the trauma experienced by sex workers”. Actually it is not only redundant it’s insulting. Especially when you take in that this story is written by a black and former sex worker. People call Zola’s narration flippant or casual. It was. But they refuse to delve into why it would be.

What’s not being said is that if Jess weren’t an adorable petite white girl, we wouldn’t have the think piece brigade beating each other over the head with their 1200 word essays on the tragedy of the sex industry. I organized a fundraiser a year ago for two murdered black sex workers named TJ & Angelia. For all intents and purposes what happened to them could have been perpetrated by someone like the elusive Z our villain in Zola’s story. Their deaths went unnoticed until myself and another black woman along with the help of several allies and a few celebrity RT’s managed to get their deaths mentioned. When we reached out to places like HuffPo or Jezebel, we were told their deaths weren’t news. Why? Look at how Complex framed the Zola story, as ratchet entertainment. It was entertaining, but it’s also a reality for hundreds if not thousands of sex workers of various trades across the globe.

As a black woman and sex worker activists, I can say first hand that I have known many young women like the now legendary Jess and Zola. I have ended up in situations that were less than favourable. What I saw in Zola was a willingness to survive, make the best of what you have, and get home alive and intact. For the many commenting, this is not a reality they will ever face. But this is something that happens every day, in strip clubs, and adult clubs across the country. Girls go on tours to work, and there’s always in every industry someone who is unprofessional and a liar.

There is a gallows sense of humour that develops when you are in a position where you have to constantly consider the odds of your assault and survival with every client. Working at Target you won’t see that, writing think pieces from behind your laptop won’t have that crashing around in the back of your head. If Zola is to be believed, this was a reality she had to face, and while she tells it with an air of it being just another day in Florida. It’s not for the holier than thou feminist sects to shake their fingers and condemn the many of us that laughed at the absurd situation Jess weaved around Zola with lies and manipulation. If we’re being frank here, Jess lied to Zola. Jess manipulated Zola into a terrible situation where she did not reveal what all was going on, and essentially is guilty of the trafficking so lamented about by many on the blogs.

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It makes sense that this is how the story and its narrative have been construed. If you take a minute to do any reading or research about trafficking, the images put forth are that of young white girls taken by black or racially ambiguous men. If they are black or brown they are written off as “victims of their environment”, and sweeping generalizations are made.

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The recent craze of Financial Domination has swept across Vice and almost all of it’s incarnations to show a glossy and easy version of sex work; sterile even. Zola’s story isn’t a rarity in how it has been repeated and regurgitated by authors around the country and a narrative constructed for her. Few present the material without an angle.

What’s most interesting in the frame up being used around this story. Be it fiction or real it’s drawn a line in the sand and painted three truths. 1 – It’s not true. 2 – This unites “us all”. 3 – Things like this are not the norm. These things are interrelated because for it to be true it would mean that there is a dividing line within sex work and the world at large. It would mean things like this do happen and because of how our government and social strata are formed, many slip between the cracks and go unnoticed. It would mean that we are in fact not all united but still struggling to understand and discuss the nuance that seem to divide us. It would mean the only verifiable fiction being peddled at the moment is the caring about the actual physical and mental violence experienced by sex workers of all races and earnings.

Originally posted on groupthink.

Originally posted 11/04/15.

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