Saturday, April 11, 2015

What is a SWERF?

Editorial by Annie Temple

SWERF stands for Sex Worker Exclusionary Radical Feminist. 

You know her. She calls herself a feminist and her life work revolves around eliminating sex work jobs. 

She thinks men should all be ashamed for being men (naturally visual beings). 

The name explains itself, but it is interesting to note that the SWERF mentality IS slowly dying like causes steeped in hatred usually do. 

How To Identify If You Are a SWERF

Perhaps you are wondering if YOU are a SWERF. Perhaps you hang around with people in the rescue industry, or you have a good friend who has been saying a lot of things about "prostituted women" lately. 

Perhaps you have been CALLED a SWERF and you're wondering if it is true, and you really are a SWERF. Well, I'm here to tell you how to identify if you are, indeed, a SWERF.  

You are a SWERF if you call yourself a "feminist" AND you:
  • Say that all sex workers are victims.
  • Insist on calling sex workers “prostituted women” even though sex workers have asked you not to
  • Refuse to call sex workers "sex workers."
  • Ignore the fact that men and transgender people are sex workers too.
  • Consider men to be oppressing women when they pay for adult consensual sex.
  • Blame female sex workers who serve male clients for “perpetuating rape.” In other words, “slut shaming.” In other words, misrepresenting consensual sex between heterosexual adults as rape.
  • Hate women who show their bodies to men (especially for money).
  • Hate women who were born with male genitalia (You are also known as TERF – Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist).
  • Think that women who work in sex work have no agency, cannot think for themselves, nor speak for themselves.
  • Think that women who work in sex work are weak and oppressed despite that many sex workers cite feeling empowered and having control in their work as top reasons for choosing sex work.
  • Have a job in which your income depends upon fundraising dollars and grant applications based on fudged figures and junk science that you use to paint sex workers as trafficking victims in need of rescue. (You work in the *Rescue Industry.*)
  • Oppress (silence / ignore / demean / deny agency to) women in the name of feminism.
  • Think that you do not do any of the things above, but you still consider sex work to be paid rape and you champion the cause to eliminate sex work, even if it means sex workers are eliminated in the process. (My apologies to non-SWERFs for being so blunt, but I get a bit angry on this subject.)

After reading the above list, if you realize that you are indeed a SWERF, here is what I suggest.

Go to a mirror. Look at yourself. Take a good, long look. Point into the mirror so that you are pointing straight at yourself and sing (to this tune): "STOP in the name of love. Before you stay a SWERF. Think it o-o-over. Think it o-o-over." (Full lyrics at the bottom of this post.)

The above exercise will: a) bring joy and love into your life; b) help you to lighten up a little (you don't have to be a militant man-destroyer all the time); and c) allow you to use that brilliant mind of yours to recognize that there is a very good reason for the phrase "Nothing about us without us." You are ethically obliged to let sex workers determine what they need and get it for themselves.

Once you realize this, you will begin your transformation from SWERF to ally. Send me an email and ask me how you can be an ally of sex workers. I will tell you straight up, concrete ways that respect the agency and dignity of sex workers how you can help increase health and safety in the sex industry. 

It's not rocket science. We have the knowledge and the science to back it. We can teach you what you need to know. But first you gotta resign from the SWERF camp.

Your SWERF friends might suddenly reject you and everything you stand for. If that happens, you will know from experience how their hate oppresses people. Fortunately, your conscience will be clear because you will no longer be one of the oppressors.

"Stop! In The Name Of Love"
(Before you stay a SWERF)

Lady, Lady
I'm aware of where you go
Holding protest signs outside my door
I watch you walk down the street
Chanting that I am a piece of meat
But this time before you plug your ears
Leaving me silenced and hurt
(Think it over) Haven't you now learned the truth?
(Think it over) I don't need to speak through you.

Stop! In the name of love
Before you stay a SWERF
Stop! In the name of love
Before you stay a SWERF
Think it over
Think it over

You say you stand
For human rights
So why do you
Ignore my voice?
I'm not trying to steal your boyfriend
I just want to pay my mortgage
But this time before you spout the lies
And use your governmental ties
(Think it over) I know what is best for me.
(Think it over) Why don't you go save the bees?

Stop! In the name of love
Before you stay a SWERF
Stop! In the name of love
Before you stay a SWERF
Think it over
Think it over

I've tried so hard, hard to be patient
Hoping you'd stop this exploitation
Religious right and you are together
Don't be an oppressive fool forever

Stop! In the name of love
Before you stay a SWERF
Stop! In the name of love
Before you stay a SWERF
Stop! In the name of love
Before you stay a SWERF

Lady, think it over
Think it over, lady
Ooh, think it over lady...

What do you think? Did I cover all things SWERF? What am I missing? Please share your comments below. 

About the Author

Annie Temple has 17 years experience as a striptease artist and over 15 years as a sex worker rights activist, but she's been a rebel all her life. In 2000, she founded to support other entertainers by reducing isolation, educating about health and safety, sharing information about gigs, challenging stereotypes, teaching etiquette to customers, and organizing in-person events for charity and to promote ethical businesses in the industry. Some of the groups and functions that Annie is associated with are Exotic Dancers for Cancer, The Naked Truth Adult Entertainment Awards, Trade Secrets Guide, BC Coalition of Experiential Communities, Canadian Union of Naked Trades, as well as several community sex worker supportive organizations.


  1. Great, article, great song, and very, very good point: “Your SWERF friends might suddenly reject you and everything you stand for. If that happens, you will know from experience how their hate oppresses people.”

  2. Thanks for the feedback! I had fun writing this. - Annie

  3. I appreciate your perspective but I don't fully agree with everything you have written. I'm an ex sex worker, ten years in the business doing everything from stripping to making porn (in front of and behind the camera), to sensual massage, BDSM, phone sex, and the occasional escort gig. I had a great time doing all of it, felt empowered, and made life-long friends. I now work for a non-profit that supports women involved in sex work, sexually exploitative relationships and survival sex. We support decriminalization, are peer-led, secular, and do not define our clients as anything other than sex workers.We provide harm reduction services, peer counseling, and act as advocates when asked to do so, if we can be of benefit to the client. We are in no way a "rescue" agency--I could not work for an organization that infantilizes people and does not recognize agency, and I think the idea of "rescue" is idiotic and ineffective, among other things. Further, we struggle for funding because we will not identify our clients as victims--no shock that most funders want to play the savior. We do work predominantly with cisgendered women, but we are working with other agencies to learn how we can best serve the needs of ALL sex workers. I would rather learn from other sex workers than pretend I have a deep understanding of what a trans person of color experiences day to day simply because we have sex work in common.
    I wish all sex workers--all workers in general, actually, but that's another post--enjoyed their work as much as I did, but we have few clients who tell us they enjoy their work or feel good about it at the end of the day, and many of them are seeking a way out. There are no services for them in our area, which is rife with resources for minors or those seeking faith-based services that focus only on abstinence or "rescue", or require church attendance in exchange for food and housing, or are not welcoming to people in the LGBTQ community. Where do these people find support? I feel that sometimes agencies like mine are painted with the same brush as the harmful anti-trafficking groups, and it hurts me deeply. I am in no way a SWERF, and neither are my coworkers, but I do believe that we have to acknowledge the needs of those who feel trapped in the business for any reason. I had a great deal of privilege when I was active in sex work. Most of our clients have a lot stacked against them and if they want help I feel obligated to do whatever I can, even if I can only lend an empathetic ear.

  4. I think we actually agree on everything from the sounds of it. A lot of people think that sex worker activists ignore the fact that some sex workers do not want to be in the industry, but I disagree. We advocate, like you, for systems and supports that make sex work safer, but also easier to transition out of. Not having a criminal record helps when someone leaves the industry. Having access to jobs in sex worker support organizations, training that supports the cultural transition, filling the service gaps - these are all things that sex workers activists aim for. SWERFs aim for the prohibition of sex work at any cost. Most sex workers, even if they hate their work, choose it because they have little other options available. You can reason then, that despite their hate for the work, it is good that they have that option in light of the fact that the supports you identify as missing from the equation to help sex workers who want out are not available to them. The one thing that SWERFs and sex worker activists can agree on is that programs need to be in place to help people out of poverty. These systems are not in place. As long as they are not in place, some will feel obliged to choose sex work to support their financial needs despite that they do not enjoy the work. No one should have to do a job/situation they hate, but many do because they feel they have no choice. And it's true, if the choice is between starving your children and doing sex work (or cleaning toilets, or working in a sweatshop, or staying married to a tyrant), among other circumstances. The problem with SWERFs is that, knowing that the programs and supports to help people out of poverty ARE NOT IN PLACE, they still attempt to take away sex work jobs and their efforts result in a more dangerous, criminalized industry which harms all sex workers whether they love or hate their work.

  5. Thank you for replying to my insomnia-fueled ramblings! My apologies
    for coming off so defensive--a couple of pro-sex work advocates accused me of SWERFdom a couple of days before I discovered your blog, and I'm
    still a little prickly about it. To be clear, I'm not anti-sex work at
    all. Sex work completely changed my life for the better, and many ex- or
    current sex workers I know (on a personal level) feel the same way. Sex
    work is real work, and as you say, it's better to have an option that
    may be less than ideal than no option at all. I also believe that bodily autonomy is a human right.
    I'm happy to know we're working toward similar goals.

  6. I have no idea why someone called you a SWERF because from what you say, you don't seem like one to me! Thanks for commenting. In solidarity. xoxo