“Violence Against One of Us Impacts All of Us”
An interview with the co-founders of Molly House Project, Shaan Lashun and TT Baum.
What is Molly House Project?
We were just talking about that for our new website, which is about to launch! Molly House Project (MHP) is an organization that was created in response to the loss of any comprehensive mobilizing force for masculine of center workers in the wake of the Rentboy raid in 2015. Most of our work is doing community building through hosting online meetups with topics relevant to sex workers in general and, more specifically, to queer POC workers. We do two meetings a month — one general meeting that’s open to all men and masculine of center providers, and for the other wealternate between a Black sex worker-focused meetup and a trans and non-binary meetup.. Beyond that, we also host and produce events for other organizations to get the word out about masculine of center sex workers’ experience and educate the general population about sex work and what it is and what it is not.
Why was it important to have a space build for masculine of center sex workers?
I think a lot of ways that masculine of center folks interact with sex work is different. Misogyny colors the way that masculine of center folks, in particular men, interact. Our meetups for trans and nonbinary folks are the most attended meeting and tend to be the most active as well. In general, the way that we know that folks talk about what it means to be in community and what it means to identify as sex workers tends to be different than how women and femmes articulate it and move within it. I think that a lot of the ways that sex work gets talked about in general is femme-centric in a way that also tends to demonize masculine folks without leaving room for the fact that masculine folks are also working in this industry and victimized by [the same issues]. We hold a space that femmes are welcome to join, but is focused on the masculine of center experience.
How does LGBTQ stigma impact masc of center sex workers?
I think this is a bigger question than a lot of people understand when they ask this question. When we’re talking about LGBTQ stigma, what is encapsulated in that entire alphabet soup has its roots in racism and misogyny and in the way that the white male lens, through which everything in our culture is viewed and experienced, sees the work that we’re doing, who we are, what our value is, and how seriously we can be taken doing that work. [It affects] what rights we have or don’t have to do things like mobilize, organize, keep ourselves safe, have a voice, and have representation. All of that stuff is really not separate from these other conversations in the broader sex worker community even though the work may look different in its day-to-day practice.
The way that people interact with queerness is rooted in whiteness. You have this constant positioning and erasure and dismissal of Black masc of center folks who are doing sex work. It’s like how Black folks are often not “queer enough” unless they’re performing queerness in a specific way (for men, think: ballroom and vogue, which is all the rage right now in white queer spaces). But outside of that and the BBC fetish, there’s not really space made for masc of center people of color. Even bois, studs, and other non-men.
Also, in thinking about this in health care, how somehow there is still homophobia in HIV and who should be getting prescribed PrEP because of their activities, because of their queerness, because of their transness. The people who need to be getting resources are not and some are ending up in jail. It’s weird shit happening and because folks are still working through this “if you’re promiscuous, or sex working, or gay, you deserve to be punished” mindset.
Of all the issues you’ve talked about — what is the relationship to violence and vulnerability?
I think that the thing that keeps coming up as we’re talking, for me, and even if I haven’t explicitly said it, is that even within the sex worker community, masc of center workers, whether we’re talking about trans men, people presenting as masc, or cisgender, we have always been the facet that has not been taken seriously. We also have not taken the work seriously either — so there’s this vicious cycle of one feeding into the other and it’s not making it any easier.
The way I see that playing out in the community is that the population that we work with and within at MHP is not taking the work as seriously as they could. They’re not practicing smart sex work practices that femme of center organizations have cultivated over the last several decades. [This work] educates people on what you do to be safe, screen clients, and take this work seriously, even if you’re doing it in this particular way. We really want everyone to be safe and the minute that there’s one weak link in that chain, it impacts everybody else. The thing that I continually try to impress upon folks who I’m talking to is how violence towards one of us impacts all of us. The deeper insight of that is because the representation and the whorearchy that Shaan was talking about that was inherent with the work. Particularly talking about queer masculine of center workers, it’s almost like there’s violence that we don’t talk about from the clients, there’s violence that we don’t talk about from law enforcement, but there’s also violence within the community because we’re dismissed because you’re not like us. Part of the reason why the work that we’re doing is so important is because we’re building the work for you and you are welcome here. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel to make things better for everyone but we do have to pay attention to how we fit into this environment.
How does the work of MHP address this?
I think that one of the ways that MHP, and the work that we’re doing responds to all of that is that if there’s no resource that fits your demographic, you’re going to fall into these tropes of toxic masculinity that say “well you’re going to have to do it all by yourself”. That is detrimental to what we’re talking about in community building and mobilization. One of the things that we keep trying to do is to remind people that no one is an island and introducing the idea to people that you’re not doing your work in a vacuum. There are resources available to you as a worker but you also have a responsibility to be paying attention and looking out for other people, too. It’s really about community building tat the end of the day.
To find out more about Molly House Project, look them up on Twitter and IG at @mollyhouseproj — they’ll also be launching a new website soon at www.mollyhouseproject.org! To support Molly House Project, you can Cashapp some holiday cheer to $MollyHouseProj.