Queers and sex workers have a shared history of marginalisation, with both groups existing on the fringes of capitalism. Therefore, it is no surprise that the communities are opting for non-financial exchanges to assist one another during this crisis by throwing a weekend of collaborative online events.
The DJs of the DIY digital event Queer House Party are playing at online strip club Cybertease, run by United Strippers of the World, a sex workers’ union, in exchange for performances during Queer House Party’s weekly event. As groups who are continually shafted by the state, marginalised communities are uniting, as they so often have, to show solidarity and support for those worst affected by COVID-19. This unity is on display with sex work hardship funds posted in countless LGBTQ+ Mutual Aid pages in various cities across the world.
Sex workers were some of the first hit by the coronavirus crisis. With clients cancelling and strip clubs closing, many faced immediate financial uncertainty. As much of sex work is criminalised and not recognised by the state, many sex workers are not eligible for workplaces rights, be that sick pay or the government’s furlough scheme.
Queer people have also faced disproportionate hardship during this pandemic. Queers are overrepresented in the hospitality and entertainment industries, with many losing their jobs before the government announced their furlough plans. Those who were lucky enough to retain their jobs are not being compensated by the state for the loss of their tips, money that so many relied on to support a paycheck that fell drastically below the living wage. Last year LinkedIn published research highlighting an astonishing 16% pay gap between LGBT workers and their non-queer counterparts. It has been apparent since before lockdown began that this crisis would hit queer people harder.
In a society that has failed to recognise our work or support our identities, marginalised communities are exploring different avenues to get through this crisis.
When discussing solidarity between queers and sex workers, it is important not to erase queer sex workers, from those of the 1980s ballroom scene to those working in the present day. Those existing at this intersection are not only subject to state violence – they are more at risk of physical violence. When governments criminalise the livelihoods of sex workers, they receive little protection, with many who experience abuse and violence charged by the police when reporting. On Trans Day of Remembrance, we commemorate the lives of trans people murdered each year who are disproportionately sex workers and women of colour.
With money a central tool in upholding a capitalist system that systematically abuses queers and sex workers, minorities are engaging in non-financial exchanges from the periphery of society. Non-financial exchanges have historically been utilised by sex workers out of choice or to avoid criminalisation from governments, with workers receiving gifts in return for services. Non-financial exchange for queers and sex workers aims to provide support where capitalist structures have failed to and to avoid criminalisation and subjugation by the state. In a society that has failed to recognise our work or support our identities, marginalised communities are exploring different avenues to get through this crisis.