examining proheaux politics & the nouveau thot aesthetic
**I am using sex worker as an umbrella term for a wide variety of professions.
We have entered a new era of womanism. In this Millennial Fourth Wave of feminism, a resurgence of sexual liberation politics--combined with sex worker advocacy, Black Lives Matter, indigenous spirituality, globalization, and trans rights activism--a new hoe aesthetic has emerged. The current pop culture trends are #intersectionalfeminist, “pro hoe,” and #misandry, which is not feminism but is extremely cathartic and, I think, connected to the rise of findom. Findom, or financial domming, is a previously little-known fetish and form of domination sex work where one (the dominatrix) collects subs (submissives), or money slaves who give them money for existing, or sometimes for other specific, related kinks or fetishes. It, and kink and sex worker terminology, are crossing over into the social media liberal lexicon. Sex positive feminists love transgressive sexuality just like anyone else. Sex worker chic is the new wave.
Now when I scroll through my timeline I often see vanilla feminist (non-sex worker) Black women asking for advice on sugaring--being a Sugar Baby--or counseling other women on the peril or shame of “giving it away for free” to thankless cishet men. Even I, a sometimey camgirl, former stripper and full service sex work dabbler, have felt the sting of social humiliation by wannabe-hard cis femmes who will chastise women for giving anything (nude pictures, recordings, etc.) away for free—even if they want to. Vanilla women have chided me: Aren’t you a sex worker? Why would you do that? I always make men pay, they will haughtily proclaim. They say these things to me even as they clamor for advice on how to sell themselves.
Financial domination and sugaring seem to have replaced exotic dancing as the most glamorized sex work professions by virtue of the internet, the rise of the Instagram model/reality TV star and, in the case of findomming, lack of actual physical contact. Many women now think of these professions as fringe acceptable, like BDSM post-50 Shades of Gray. Being or claiming to be a sex worker online now gives one a certain amount of edge. Even saying you “dabbled” will get you some modicum of proheaux (also spelled “pro hoe”) legitimacy. There is an air of dirty glamour afforded to our much-maligned profession. It is illegitimate and dangerous. It is empowering and exciting and discouraging and boring, all at once, particularly if you are Black or “of color.” It is insulting that we are throwaways and that sex work is viewed as skills-light and easy. I have witnessed an uptick in women who want to pick my brain on how to find a Sugar Daddy or how to get into camming. They toss these words around casually and talk about finessing men for meals and bills. Whore hierarchy: If you haven’t finessed a car or a house out of a man, are you even doing it right? Or: Why have sex for things when you could just get cash? When I break everything down (from survival sex work to income inequality), or attempt to inject some realism about the misogynoir and risk involved in a socially stigmatized sales job based on one’s looks and charisma, I am accused of behaving like a gatekeeper. I’m trying to keep them from the fun. I’m ruining the fantasy.
I find this shift very interesting considering Black women have a very different history with our bodies and sexuality than nonblack women. Recently there has been a wave of proheaux politics that I thought would shift the focus on individual sexual politics to a more collective stance and perhaps lead to a focus on those most affected by the criminalization of femme bodies and the effect of these white/male dominated institutions on them. However, I have mostly found the focus to be skewed toward personal sexual liberation and navigating Capitalism— both of which are important. But just as important, if not more, are decriminalization/destigmatization of sex work and trans bodies, HIV+ education, reproductive justice and access to healthcare (birth control, hormones, etc.)—and all of these issues are highly racialized as well as gendered.
And yes, I am aware that there are women who both maintain their own personal sexual freedom and manage to center those who are affected by the aforementioned issues. I am one. But I have a feeling we are in the minority--and that many of us who do address both are marginalized and fit these categories. Although sexual liberation and polyamory have risen in popularity, unsurprisingly queer/trans rights and especially sex worker rights (which intersects with Q/T rights) continue to take a backseat or to not even be a part of these conversations. Both white women and liberal Black feminists/womanists tend to either forget or dismiss sex workers and our concerns entirely.
There is a distinct disconnect within the Black femme/women community. Able-bodied and minded white women don’t really need gender solidarity as much as the rest of us do. They have always been able to align themselves with white men whenever it was convenient or advantageous to them—let’s not forget the age old example of Susan B Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, or even the new example of Trump’s election. Even so, respectability prevents many liberal Black women from even considering sex workers in their brand of proheauxism without talking over us. It has gotten to the point where sex worker associates and I have considered relinquishing the “sex positive” label to vanilla women and claiming prohoe/proheaux as our own. What happens when we push a politics of sexual liberation based in the sexual commodification/objectification of female/femme bodies without addressing or centering sex worker rights, misogynoir, and trans rights, and bodies that defy simple categorization? What happens we subjugate collective movement in favor of dressing ourselves up in this idea of a sexual liberation based in economic domination of men in a system that was never in our Black femme favor?
Demands for gender-based reparations via personal transactions have been centered in this movement toward a personal liberation from freeloading men who want our feminine gifts and emotional labor for free. Mainstream sex positive feminism infused with individualism and combined with Capitalism gifts us with a watered down, prettily packaged form of a self-centered sex positivity. In her essay “Sex Positive: Feminism, Queer Theory, and the Politics of Transgression,” Elisa Glick critiqued this trend of liberatory subversive sexuality and also the lack of self-awareness mainstream sex positive feminists tend to have and their inadequate response when confronted with anti-racist and anti-Capitalist critiques. Said Glick: “By creating a climate in which self-transformation is equated with social transformation, the new identity politics has valorized a politics of lifestyle, a personal politics that is centered upon who we are—how we dress or get off—that fails to engage with institutionalized systems of domination.”
I propose that we push even harder for a QT/sex worker centered theory and practice of proheauxism. This pro hoe stuff in our Twitter bios is cute, but it isn’t going to produce the changes we so desperately need as marginalized peoples. I wrote a theory of proheauxism on my Medium blog last year that expounded upon this idea. There is nothing wrong with individualism or identity politics but we must be careful not to let it eclipse what needs to be done in order for all of us to thrive. Getting a man to pay your bills is not so much liberation as it is assimilation—a way to navigate a sexist society and ease the burden of economic inequality. Sex work and domestic work and other forms of “women’s work” can all be seen as extensions of the systemic exploitation of femme labor and bodies. To dismantle this, we must think in the long term, even while surviving in the short.