December 17th is the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. As a community, we encourage critically reflecting on the foundations of pole dancing and its origins in erotic dance and stripping. Today, it is especially important for us to be allies in de-stigmatizing pole dancing and advocate for better working conditions, legal protections and personal safety for our pole peers in the sex work industry.
First, let’s identify conflicting beliefs we may hold around sex work. If you’re a pole dancer, what is the narrative in your head about strippers and sex workers? How do you think about their relationship to the pole community you love? What’s your understanding of how racism impacts the sex worker community and how those that hold multiple marginalized identities face greater risks in the industry? If you tell someone you pole dance and they respond with a comment about strippers or sex work, how do you react?
No one in the pole community is a stranger to these topics. We might avoid them because we’re not sure how to react or because our first impulses - distancing, minimizing - feel more comfortable, or because we lack real understanding about the lived experiences of those in the sex work industry. So, the first step is to really reflect on your thoughts and feelings. Identify areas where you don’t have enough knowledge to hold an informed opinion or a holistic view of the issue. Where do you need to engage with your blind spots to be a better advocate?
Once we come to terms with these biases, we can begin to move to greater understanding of pole dancing as a movement style vs erotic dancing as a profession. We can start by listening to the stories of sex workers, hear about what’s important to them and where they need support. Some of our favorite people to follow are @cat.hollis, founder of Haymarket Pole Collective and a sex worker and labor rights advocate and organizer, @bammrose, a black sex worker activist who was recently invited to hold a lecture at Cornell University on the topic “The Gentrification of Sex Work”, and @onyxblackhappy, an industry veteran and advocate for strippers rights, founder and director of Artists Revolt - Artists for the Revolution - a collective fighting, amongst other things, the California’s Law AB5 concerning strippers rights.
Don’t just follow them on IG - engage with what they’re saying. Really listen to how changes to social media terms of service or anti-trafficking laws impact them. Most importantly, tip them! Many folks put their venmo or cashapp handle in their bio, and the information they share is from years of lived experience. Show them how much you value their expertise with financial support. If you are able to do so, you can also financially support groups organizing sex workers, pushing for labor rights, developing mutual aid networks, and providing therapy and other services to those in the industry. Some of our favorites are @stilettosinc, @artistsrevolt and @pdxstripperstrike.
Last, begin familiarizing yourself with issues that impact those working in the industry. Some current topics include harmful legislation like SESTA/FOSTA, Instagram shadowbans (link is a pdf download) and how they impact the livelihood of sex workers, the constant threat of deplatforming - which occurs when dancers are kicked off platforms where they have access to safe and reliable work (onlyFans and the removal of Backpage are some recent examples), and the fact that violence against sex workers is underreported and underinvestigated.
We recognize that we have the privilege of experiencing pole as a means of self expression, as a form of fitness, a movement style, as a community - and that at the end of a class, we can take our heels (metaphorical or literal) off and go home. We get so many of the empowering benefits of this movement style developed by erotic dancers and often are able to avoid the stigma, threat of violence, and systematic discrimination that our erotic dancer siblings face.
We hope these ideas will help you engage with your thoughts, feelings, and reactions on pole dancing and sex work and we encourage you to continue the conversation with us. Tell us what you learn, your evolving views, or if you have ideas on how the Fly Together Fitness community can better support our friends in the industry. Remember, that all these are just starting places on our journey of learning how we can best uplift the voices of our sex worker sisters, brothers, and siblings. There will always be more learning to do and we are grateful to be on that journey with you.