„Sex Work, Looking Back On 10 years“ published in excerpts via Schwulissimo, HIM Magazin as well as Buzz.Feed.News with comments by sex worker Kristina Marlen and queer activist Margot Schlönzke
(Queer) Sex Work – Classification and political assessment after almost 10 years
Fundamentally, the queer community is much more open to sex work than the straight world. This is certainly due to the fact that we have had to think about our sexuality more often and differently than heterosexual cis people because of our own (different) history of identity development.
However, we have not completely replaced the values of mom and dad, because I can clearly see that, for example, I face more rejection when choosing a partner because of my profession than I used to when I worked in marketing. Now that we have the General Equal Treatment Act, I can point to the fact that, for example, if I didn’t get a job because I’m gay, I can go to the boss and complain, but if the boss says, „I don’t want hookers here,“ then I haven’t been discriminated against. So, if any of you are involved in changing this law this year, I ask that you put sex work in an appropriate place.
Impact of Corona and increase of male-male sex work.
The situation for all sex workers was particularly difficult during the Corona years – our work, which is our livelihood for many of us, was simply banned. After the first waves, and after all other professions were allowed to work again, sex work remained banned for a disproportionately long time. Contrary to rumors, sex workers don’t have a strong enough lobby – you can get away with it. Of course, sex work continued during the pandemic because neither of these needs can be banned – and certainly not everyone had the financial reserves to survive a months-long ban.
With the exception of trans* women, queer sex workers have always been more likely to be found in hotels and private residences than in brothels, and thus may have been somewhat more attuned to the illegal phase, since a brothel can be legally closed, but a door to a private residence cannot. It is striking that cis and trans* female sex work with male clients, which also had to move to private apartments and hotels during the pandemic, has largely remained there to this day. Of course, this also worsens the general accessibility of sex workers in terms of counseling, protection and education.
In addition, there is a picture that we can see in many places in our society: On the one hand, professionalization with a website and a delicious OnlyFans profile with revenues in five figures, and on the other hand, a worsening of the mostly already precarious working conditions as well as a drop in prices at the street stalls.
According to an evaluation at HUNQZ, commissioned by the BesD e.V, the Association of Sex Workers in Germany, there has been a 20% increase in male-to-male sex work since Covid. In 2022, the numbers are still growing disproportionately compared to previous years, which leads to the conclusion that sex work is still particularly important in times of crisis.
In general, the online boom and gentrification in Berlin are pushing back street sex work. The male-on-male street sex work, for example around Bahnhof Zoo made famous by Christiane F., no longer exists. Also the other places, mostly porn cinemas in Berlin, have disappeared. Only the Fuggerkiez and some of Berlin’s cruising areas still see a few, mostly young men, who sometimes approach you directly.
This business is now essentially based on migrant prostitution and is organized on a family basis. As some of you may know, I live very close to this area and have made contacts there myself. So I know that the uncle, who has been doing sex work for a long time, comes here in the summer with his nephews from Romania and Bulgaria to earn money.
Interestingly, the men are mostly heterosexual. Unfortunately, there are also minors among them. The difficulty here is that the young people often lack awareness of their own victimization because of their family ties. About 20 cases are discovered every year, and it’s difficult to help them, also because of their family ties. That’s why I think it is important to support targeted prevention measures in precarious sex work, such as the project of Hilfe-für-Jungs, whose staff also take care of vulnerable minors in sex work.
Why queer sex work is special
But let’s take a closer look at queer sex work, especially in relation to the „heteronormative sex work“ we’re so familiar with.
The numerically strongest group in the world of queer sex work are trans* women. But the focus is not only on trans women, but also on simply female or non-binary people who are read as men in everyday life. Androgyny or playing with gender roles and stereotypes is being discovered by more and more clients. There are sites on the web that specialize in these searches, but most sites use very trans-hostile language. Furthermore, when sex work is discussed in politics, trans sex workers are rarely included. Despite this discrimination, there are an above-average number of trans people in sex work, because one feel-good factor is that people explicitly search for the characteristic „trans“ here.
Looking at male-male sex work is very exciting because it’s the only manifestation of German sex work that can actually be measured in numbers. Apart from non-German or English-speaking streetwalking, all male-male sex work is generated via the portal HUNQZ, a sub-site of Romeo. Grindr, Tinder and the like delete sex work profiles immediately, and all other portals such as Rent.men and gayroyal are only minimally worthwhile in Germany. All other sexual orientations or identities don’t have such a concentration on one platform and therefore cannot even be measured in numbers.
Male-male sex work is in its form more „direct“ or „clearer“ – to be a sex worker in the gay world is actually „a cool thing“, apart from the mentioned bride search, because you are so hot that people pay for you.
That’s why there are a lot of guys and men on HUNQZ who consider sex work more of a hobby. This can be seen in their profiles, which are usually only a few months old, have few to no references, and simply have a very low standard of presentation. The motivation to „fake“ sex work as a status symbol is definitely there, but the fulfillment of one’s own sexual desires to curiosity are all motivations that play into this. However, the boundaries between this and professional sex work among men, which for example provides a complete and long-term livelihood, are fluid, as one can also earn some „pocket money“ every two or three months.
However, if we only look at the profiles that actually have a higher claim to their presentation and support it for example with their own created website, as well as promote it with the HUNQZ-Plus advertising, then of the 20,000 escort profiles in Germany, only just under 1000 remain. This means that only 5% of all German escort profile owners who present themselves in this way at PlanetRomeo consider sex work as a „source of income to be promoted“ and take it seriously.
Also, paradoxically, lesbian women can often be found in heterosexual sex work. However, women who work exclusively with women as clients make up the smallest portion of queer sex work in terms of numbers. Sex worker Kristina Marlen, one of the few very successful in the field, explains it this way:
„Lesbian women or queer people who are read as female are hard to attract as clients – there’s no broad infrastructure for that yet. In order to attract women as clients, I had to work hard to make the offer credible and to bring it ‚to the woman‘. Women (rightly) don’t feel targeted as customers for sexual services –a sign of how patriarchal the industry is largely structured. However, women are enthusiastic customers once they relate to the offer. This can be seen in Tantra, but also in BDSM and mutual touching, which is what I offer. The demand is amazingly high and women take advantage of it. When female clients use sexual services, it shows what really applies to all sex, paid or unpaid: if it’s consensual, it’s wonderful! When women are clients, the perpetrator-victim narrative that we project onto sex work no longer applies. This irritates a lot of people, so they find it unthinkable. The absurdity of our assumption that clients of sexual services are per se prone to violence is evident in this moment.“
And then, in recent years, I have come across people who want to ban the purchase of sex in order to fight crime. This is pure populist thinking – trying to find the simplest solutions to complex problems. The approach of enforcing demand by changing the moral understanding of sex work and banning clients and thus reducing crime could come directly from the AfD (a German right-wing party).
Even if they aren’t punished „directly“, sex workers are driven into illegality and, beyond that, grow increasingly removed to counseling and support services. Everyone can imagine what their own work would be like if clients were punished for taking an offer.
The risks of the sex work ban
We see the result of the ban on buying sex in other countries: sex workers are thrown out of taxis, meetings with clients have to be arranged in dark woods because the client is afraid of punishment. Every job becomes illegal for us. We’re often left with clients who are willing to commit crimes. Does that really help anyone?
According to advocates, laws criminalizing the purchase of sexual services are intended to do one thing: protect vulnerable people and prevent sexual exploitation. However, studies by human rights, LGBTI+, and anti-trafficking organizations have reported for years that the opposite is true in practice.
Marginalized people in particular – such as migrant women, by far the largest group in sex work – see their rights massively weakened by a ban on buying sex. Their risk of being exposed to violence and exploitation increases massively.
The only thing these bans may successfully combat is the visibility of sex work. But that may be enough to help the people who demand it to realize their prudish worldview.
But the Internet age has beaten you to it. Actually, the initiation, whether it has paid or unpaid sex as its goal, hardly takes place in public, but online on Tinder and the like. In terms of sex work, it’s interesting that I was recently interviewed by a very young radio station and they only asked me about my online work.
The next generation sees sex work as an „online activity“, essentially. Well, if we consider that sex is a mental activity at its core, then one could even assume that my work, of which I currently do 90% directly with my clients, will soon not be as trendy as it used to be. I’m very curious about the evolution of our sexuality and sex work, and no: I’m not worried about my business, because I am adaptable.
„Feminists“ who call for a ban on buying sex always draw the stereotypical picture of a certain victim: the young, innocent, foreign woman who is deceived and forced into prostitution in Germany. She’s beaten and constantly watched, and her only hope is to be rescued by the police. Through these narrow representations of „ideal victims“ – preferably young migrant women – racist narratives are embedded in the discourse of „modern slavery“ and trafficked persons are denied any decision-making power. Sex work is conflated with human trafficking without questioning the structural and causal factors of inequality.
Of course, when it comes to the question of voluntariness, we have to fundamentally question what „voluntary“ means in our capitalist society. Anyone who drives to work in the morning knows that the motivation is monetary. Sure, there are people like me who would continue to work even if I won the lottery, but I don’t see myself as representative in this regard.
Speaking of representative, the classic notion of sex work as a „criminal milieu“ is just as wrong as the assumption that you have to love your work to do it voluntarily. To get a realistic assessment of the number of cases of sexual exploitation in Germany, anyone can read the BKA’s latest report on human trafficking and exploitation online. The obscurity rate is certainly larger, but this also applies to abuse in other low-threshold professions, such as harvest workers, or other care professions, such as geriatric nurses.
In visible sex work, i.e. on the streets, vulnerable people often work in very bad conditions. This is hyped up by the media, but it’s only a small part of sex work in Germany – the majority of sex work takes place in brothels and private apartments outside the media’s field of vision.
Drag queen Margot Schlönzke, queer activist from Berlin, shares the following experience and opinion:
„I grew up close to street prostitution, right in Berlin on Kurfürstenstraße. My sister and I had more than enough contact with sex work in our early childhood. Sex work doesn’t create or aggravate problems. If, for instance, someone needs to raise money for a drug habit, sex work is often the only option and definitely not a desirable lifestyle. However, if sex work were outlawed, drug addiction would remain.
For many migrant (trans) women, despite the low prices on the streets, it’s still a good income here – compared to the opportunities in their home country – even if we have always found it unpleasant to look at. Of course, the low income level is something that can bother us all, but this is also the case in other areas, especially when the work is just low-threshold. But that doesn’t automatically mean that sex work is fundamentally objectionable – at least that’s my opinion.“
I can’t say that people haven’t talked to me in the last ten years. As a hooker, people quickly put a microphone under your nose, but I had to be damn careful who I talked to about what, because reporters were often looking for easy sound bites to use as an interlude in a campaign against sex work and to paint me as a lobbyist.
Calling me „unconscionable“ was also popular, because if you don’t want to ban anything, then I’m automatically partly responsible for the crime that happens in sex work. At the very least, I was portrayed as „the less trustworthy exception“ with a privileged and elitist nature. Even though I have worked the streets myself in the past – whatever.
But I will continue working and happily fuck for money and remain close to politics and press for more rights instead of less rights in sex work, and connect with competent supporters like Amnesty International, Deutsche Aidshilfe and the LSVD.
Sex work is work.