This year is driving many Canadians up the wall, because they’re missing out on touch and intimacy. For Canadians who make their livings off sex work in particular, the COVID-19 pandemic has made the last several months a particularly challenging time.
In provinces such as Ontario, lockdowns have put strippers out of work, and prior targeted club closures didn’t help either. Jennifer,* a Canada-based stripper and co-founder of advocacy group Work Safe Twerk Safe, told HuffPost Canada that many decided not to work when clubs were open, to keep themselves and vulnerable family members safe.
Similar health-minded decisions have been made by many other sex workers, leading to losses of revenue or transitioning to virtual work, such as on the OnlyFans platform. However, a saturated online market, start-up costs, and censorship laws mean charging for nude content can still be a struggle. And unlike for many other occupations, the stigma of sex work made accessing government relief like the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) difficult, if not impossible, for people in the industry.
All that’s to say, sex workers have had a tough year. So on Feb. 14, a day celebrating both love and sex, why not show them some solidarity?
Opening hearts and wallets can show love
For Canadians with sex workers in their lives, Jennifer recommends giving small luxuries, money, and gift cards for essential businesses. Donations to survival funds and organizations that help sex workers — like Canada’s first shelter for sex workers in Vancouver — can also help. And in hard times, emotional support can be priceless.
“If you are the family member, friend, neighbour, or lover of a stripper, offer us a sympathetic ear,” she said. “If you’re able to, recommend us for or be a reference for a job you might think we’d be great at; we have excellent people skills, and we’re not afraid of hard work!“
Supporting sex workers on the margins, such as those who are Black, Indigenous, street-based, immigrants or any combination of these, is of particular importance: Marginalized communities have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.
HuffPost Canada chatted with several Canada-based sex workers, who ranged from escorts and online content creators to BDSM workers and strippers. They opened up about their Feb. 14 hopes, and the people they’re sharing their love with year-round:
“Leather! I love harnesses with lots of metal, new flogger, Bad Dragon toys, chocolate-covered almonds, and bondage rope?”
Their Valentine this year: “This year I’m my own Valentine. I’m focusing on my self-care. Netflix and chilling with myself and ordering a four-course meal!”
“For this Valentine’s Day, my dream would be for Bill C-36 to be repealed and sex work to be fully decriminalized in Canada to make it safer for us to do our jobs. There is currently a petition people can sign to do exactly that!
“We look at media representations of sex work and are just generally giggly and adorable together. We hope the podcast can educate people on the lived experiences of sex workers, and a lot of the issues that we face day to day, as well as give a window into the fun and sexy stuff too!”
Her Valentine this year: “Have I mentioned Elizabeth Lorde, the sweetest co-host ever, yet?
I’m truly so grateful for all my sex worker friendships this year. I really don’t know how I could have managed during the pandemic without them.”
“To be honest, Valentine’s Day is just another holiday for the greeting card and chocolate companies to make some extra money, so I figure why not take a page out of their book and capitalize on what this holiday represents?
As far as what I want for Valentine’s Day ― being booked and busy is always a great way to spend the holidays, not to mention I love the colour red. So give me a chance to wear my favourite colour and well, let’s paint the town!”
Her Valentine this year: “My six-day-old nephew Benny Bang-Bang. I don’t think I’ve ever really had a Valentine. He is the first and I couldn’t have asked for a better gift.”
“Well, if I could have anything, I would want the complete abolition of all systems of oppression in the world.
All right, that may be a little ambitious.
Nothing would be more romantic to me than seeing people donate to causes that contribute to that in some kind of small way. Maggie’s Toronto Sex Workers Action Project has programs for Black and Indigenous sex workers.”
It would make my day to see more people sending financial support their way and spreading the love this Valentine’s Day.”
Their Valentine this year: “All the clients who have sent me unexpected gifts have really brightened up my lockdown! So many sex workers are struggling during this time, even if we keep projecting an image of wealth and glamour on our social media. You never know how much it will mean to a sex worker if you send them cash or gifts right now.
“So many sex workers are struggling during this time, even if we keep projecting an image of wealth and glamour on our social media. You never know how much it will mean to a sex worker if you send them cash or gifts right now.”
On top of that, social distancing has made me really appreciate the value of deep friendships and how much we rely on each other during difficult times, so I’ll add my friends and chosen family to my long list of Valentines.”
“I would love a massage, glass of wine, and a cozy bath. Treats or tips from lovers and secret admirers. Someone to do my dishes and laundry. Cuddles with my cat and affection from loved ones. Or just a nice, simple day.”
Her Valentine this year: “Sex workers bring an immense amount of love, connection, entertainment, and intimacy into the broader community and it would be very fitting for people to give back on this love-focused day! Canadians can definitely be a sex worker’s Valentine; I urge them to do even one thing for sex workers today.
They could learn about how criminalization harms us, sign a petition, advocate for decriminalization, follow sex workers organizations, amplify our voices by sharing our social media posts, donate to a fund or tip a worker, pay for porn, join someone’s Onlyfans, or surprise a worker with something off their wish list. I guarantee you that by doing this, you’re putting a bit more love out there in the world.”
“Like all workers, strippers deserve to be consulted on their occupational health and safety needs, especially in a pandemic. We want to see a world where sex work is decriminalized, where sex workers are able to easily secure housing, work safely and without fear, and live free from stigma and occupational discrimination. Also, we’ll never say no to good-quality chocolate!”
Her Valentine this year: “I am blessed to have many Valentines!
First, all my fellow strippers: They are beautiful inside-and-out, are all strong and brave ― and funny as hell! I miss our locker room banter, I miss hugging you, and telling you that I love you!
Next, much love to my fellow peers working and volunteering tirelessly on behalf of sex workers all over the world. It’s daunting and hard work: I appreciate and look up to them, and love them for fighting for sex workers rights!
To my lovely and kind clients and admirers: I hope to celebrate with you next year and that you are staying safe, sane and warm!
Lastly, what kind of stripper would I be if I didn’t send love to Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion?
They are talented, give back to their communities, and are unabashedly pro-sex work!”
“Picture a secluded cabin up north, a fireside dinner with cocktails, charcuterie, a bear skin rug & foot massages. All. Night. Long. Also, anything on my wish list.”
Her Valentine this year: “My stunning girlfriend Fae! She has a wild spirit and I am lucky to have met her. She has given me so much that I am grateful for, and I love creating with her!”
“Canadians can support my two OnlyFans accounts and purchase fetish-friendly leather accessories from Lavish Leather, all entirely handmade and designed by me. That way you can grab something saucy for your sweetie or get into an entanglement. My Twitter also has a wishlist for anyone curious for a peek.
As well, for Valentine’s day I’d love to spread love. The COVID-19 pandemic has come with a rise in domestic violence and I would love any donations made to the Barbra Schlifer Clinic.
Their clinic is important to me because I have been provided free legal help in the past.”
Their Valentine this year: “My Valentine this year is Violet Hart, my beautiful sweet and talented girlfriend! I have a bottle of champagne I’d love to share in the bath with her. And I’m still accepting applications for Valentines, boys. You haven’t missed your shot!”
“What I want most for Valentine’s Day is to be seen, acknowledged, and appreciated as a whole human being. A lot of the time sex workers feel pressured to present a ‘happy hooker’ narrative to our customers and to the media because we worry that if we complain about anything that happens at work or talk about any of the abuses that happen in our industry, we will be marginalized even more than we already are.
“What I want most for Valentine’s Day is to be seen, acknowledged, and appreciated as a whole human being.”
The stigma put on sex work is so stifling that many of us feel that we can’t show our full, authentic selves to the world. The media tends to portray us as either sad victims or empowered entrepreneurs, but reality is simply not that one-dimensional. We all have a story, and all our stories matter.
I want people to take the time to get to know us. I’d really love for folks to follow me on Twitter and read my blog. And if anybody wants to show some appreciation in the form of a gift, I do accept tips on my Onlyfans page.
I try really hard to draw attention to the good, the bad, and the mundane aspects of my work. I try to show my whole self, and it would feel so good if my whole self got a lot of love on Valentine’s Day!”
*All names are pseudonyms to protect the source’s privacy.
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