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Redefining Sex Work

The East Bay is home to a new — and growing — group of sex workers who are educated, empowered, and open about what they do for a living. But Prop 35 would force them back underground.



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In order to legitimize their cause in the face of widespread distrust and misinformation, people like Parton are, by necessity, forced to play up the sense of agency and empowerment they feel, and to gloss over the less attractive parts of the job and the industry. "We do have to downplay the negative aspects and the annoying aspects and the parts we don't like," said Parton. "We have to prove to people that we're okay."

Lutnick's seen it, too. "What I've witnessed over so many years is there's this enormous pressure to say everything's okay," said Lutnick. "I've heard from so many people saying they feel like there's a performance to it. But to me, if we were able to talk about the nuances, to agree that it's not a homogenous population with homogeneous experiences, we'd be able to get past some of that. And yet I don't feel, culturally and socially, that we're at a place where we can talk about that in an open way.

"Really, there is a lot of agreement here," she continued. "We all want a system where men, women, transgender individuals can live a life free of harm and violence. We all agree on that. But moving on is the hard part."

She's confident that'll happen at some point, as the sex workers' movement continues to mature. And in the meantime, Parton's just hoping her dream job won't land her or her friends in jail.