Where it begins…
A few years into my job at an adult entertainment company, the owner, who was in their late 50’s and ready to pass the reins, shared that they planned on selling me the company. It caught me completely off guard. By that time, I’d spent about 13 years in the adult industry, working directly with sex workers to build their websites, brands, and screening and security policies, and then with companies to build “pro-sex work by design” operational policies. I was excited to be presented with such an opportunity, but the possibility it could really happen scared the shit out of me. Although I played it cool, on the inside, all I could think was:
“Will I get it right?’
Of course, I had always dreamed about what I would do if I was at the helm of a platform which served sex workers… but what would that look like?
What it always looked like, for me, was stepping aside and handing over ownership and oversight to the sex workers who paid for the service.
I believe unequivocally that sex workers should be in charge of their resources. Any platform whose existence is derived from the labor of sex work, should be run by sex workers. Companies like Tryst, Rare Bird Calls, and Hygiene Hustle, are leading the way. It’s time for the rest of the adult industry to follow. A multi-billion dollar machine that runs on the backs of sex workers, but rarely do they reap the biggest benefits of its success. That needs to change. So, my first order of business would be to put sex workers in charge.
But why stop there?
Be it the Share economy or the Gig economy, more and more companies are promising the flexibility and freedom of being your own boss, managing your own work schedule, easily renting out your underused resources. That so-called “freedom” includes no labor rights, zero healthcare, strict time quotas, penalties for circumnavigating the client referral system, and, in some cases, significant upfront costs. In exchange for this “freedom,” they take a percentage of your sales.
For sex workers, this is nothing new.
WORKERS IN THE HUSTLE ECONOMY REMAIN WHOLLY DEPENDENT, [RON] EGLASH [A PROFESSOR AT THE UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN] NOTES, ON THE PLATFORMS THAT SUPPOSEDLY EMPOWER THEM. TO FURTHER PARAPHRASE KARL MARX: IS THE PLATFORM A TOOL USED BY THE WORKER — OR IS THE WORKER A TOOL USED BY TECH EXECUTIVES?
FROM “THE GIG ECONOMY IS FAILING. SAY HELLO TO THE HUSTLE ECONOMY,” ONEZERO
Sex workers have always been a part of the hustle economy: Owners controlling your movement, referring clients, and, in exchange, “sharing” a portion of your income. Sound familiar? “Gig” and “Share” are really just more palatable covers for a small few to extract the most benefit from a deregulated workforce.
Could this be mitigated via a co-op model?
“A DOMESTIC CLEANING WORKER IN NEW YORK CITY FACES A CHOICE. SHE MIGHT DECIDE TO REGISTER ON A PLATFORM LIKE HANDY OR TASKRABBIT, WHERE SHE CAN ACCEPT JOBS ON A CASE-BY-CASE BASIS. HAVING THE FLEXIBILITY TO CREATE HER OWN SCHEDULE MIGHT COMPEL HER, BUT SHE MIGHT SOON REALIZE THAT 15% TO 20% OF THE PAY FOR EACH JOB DISAPPEARS FROM HER PAYCHECK TO GO TO THE COMPANY, AND THAT AS AN INDEPENDENT CONTRACTOR, SHE IS NOT ENTITLED TO BENEFITS.ALTERNATIVELY, SHE COULD APPLY TO BECOME A MEMBER-OWNER OF ONE OF THE THREE SMALL, COOPERATIVE CLEANING COMPANIES IN THE CITY THAT OPERATE THROUGH UP & GO, A PLATFORM THAT LAUNCHED LAST YEAR TO HELP THE CO-OPS MANAGE THEIR WORKFLOWS. AS ON HANDY OR TASKRABBIT, SHE COULD ACCEPT JOBS THAT WORK WITH HER SCHEDULE AS THEY APPEAR, BUT BECAUSE SHE WOULD BE A FULL-TIME WORKER AND PARTIAL OWNER OF WHICHEVER CO-OP SHE JOINS, SHE WOULD HAVE A SAY IN SETTING HER OWN PAY RATE FOR THE WORK, AND WOULD GET BENEFITS. ALSO, BECAUSE IT’S THE WORKERS THEMSELVES THAT OWN BOTH THE COMPANY AND THE PLATFORM, THEIR TAKE-HOME PAY WOULD BE 95%, AND THE LEFTOVER 5% WOULD FEED RIGHT BACK INTO HELPING GROW AND SUPPORT THE PLATFORM.”FROM “WORKER-OWNED CO-OPS ARE COMING FOR THE DIGITAL GIG ECONOMY,” EATZY
Any time I daydreamed about taking over, it had always been about giving over… the ownership, the profit, and the governance to the users of the platform. Instead of just putting one or a few sex workers in charge, would it be possible to put them all in charge and create a sort of escort directory coop?
Could it be set up so that all the sex workers who used the platform had a say in how it was run, and benefited from the profits of the platform? What was the baseline for participation & ownership? How could I shepherd a transition to cooperative ownership in a way that would ensure financial health and effortless governance? How could I make that happen? This. This is what I daydreamed about.
And over the next few years, I would continue to daydream and jot down ideas for an escort directory co-op.
It took FOSTA-SESTA, followed by COVID, for me to really see just how problematic it was for someone who was not a sex worker to have power over so many. Faced with a precarious legal climate, and then again with an uncertain financial future, a platform claiming to be “for the community” proved it was always a commodity solely for the benefit of the owner. And, when presented with the opportunity to prioritize purpose over profit, the owner chose profit at any cost.
So, armed with a little “harumph” and a whole lotta “fierce,” the next reasonable course of action to realize my dreams of a cooperatively-owned sex worker platform was to partner with a group of extremely talented close friends and colleagues from within the sex worker community and start our own. And thus began the journey to start the first sex worker owned and operated platform cooperative.
What does “sex worker-owned and operated platform cooperative” mean to YOU?