The recent media coverage of Only Fan's attempt to ban sexually explicit content has been a small win for sex workers who have been raising awareness of the harms caused by abolitionist groups. While many journalists missed the mark, we hope they and the public will now turn to sex worker organisations such as APAG union and series such as this to better understand sex workers and the extremely restrictive way they have been forced to live. Today, we chat with San Diego escort Xuan Rayne about how queerness relates to their work, the need for decriminalisation and the function of anti trafficking organisation in global capitalism.
Tell us your story, how did you get into the industry and what has your journey looked like thus far?
At 18 years old I posted my first ad on craigslist, in the “casual encounters” section where people went for “no strings attached” hookups. My parents were abusive and controlling in raising me. Our relationship was explosive and unstable. I was prohibited from working as a teenager or having access to any money. I felt scared of being abandoned, completely moneyless with zero job experience. I entered this industry in order to have a safety net. I wanted to do something that would get me money, fast.
Shortly after entering college I was disowned and briefly became homeless. I dropped out, got several food service jobs while continuing to escort so I could afford to move in with friends. Sex work supported me through the long path of completing my undergrad and somewhat mending my family relationships. Whenever a food or customer service job started wearing on me (creepy manager, exhausting hours and break policies, pain from repetitive motions, verbal abuse or harassment from customers, etc) having sex work as my back up plan allowed me to leave without worrying about not being able to have housing and food.
As I get older, it becomes harder and harder to work under bosses or managers no matter what type of work it is. I thought that I might want to find work in my field of study but frankly I find those work environments stifling for creativity and autonomy. A traditional work schedule and structure does not allow me to take care of my health, which I’m starting to realize is impacted by undiagnosed and untreated disability as well as traumas stemming from that. I have shifted to escorting more or less entirely. I have never been “high end” so this work is still very much about meeting basic needs. I am looking for more stability.
Until the closure of CL and Backpage adult sections along with the passing of FOSTA SESTA, I was able to work without publicly posting my face. I liked the anonymity and privacy of posting an ad without even a name attached, just a text description of myself and/or what specific activities I was willing to do on that particular day. On the downside I had almost zero interaction with others in the industry due to fear of drawing attention from law enforcement. FOSTA SESTA changed the landscape of sex work in the United States, taking away free and cheap places for posting ads and making it harder to find clients. I had to reassess the risks I was willing to take in order to make money. For the first time ever I started paying for ads and I showed my face. I also signed up for social media to do “organic” marketing (switter was important during that first year!). Since I was already taking the risk of showing my face, I decided to connect with my peers through social media as well. It’s harder work than it used to be. I miss the days when I didn’t have to cultivate an online presence to make money, when I could work more anonymously.
What are some of your hobbies and interests outside of work?
Bike riding has been a consistent love for many years. I ride my bike for transportation with destinations like work (pre covid), grocery stores, doctor’s office, shows (also pre covid...), a friend’s house, or to a spot I’ve never been before. I ride to feel good and in touch with my body. Biking puts me in a focused yet relaxed state. I notice and observe my surroundings more intently, I move through space differently than with a car. While biking I can experience more vulnerability and unique stress, but also more joy and awareness.
This past year I’ve committed to practicing yoga more and hiking. It’s nice to have a break away from the constant vigilance of sharing space with drivers in cars. On trails I’m pretty slow because I like taking pictures and spotting animals. I enjoy gardening. That mostly consists of pulling weeds and putting down some native California plants which take care of themselves once established. I’m not so good at growing other plants. I tend to plant things that smell good like sages, lavender, lemongrass.
I cook a lot. Once in a rare while I write poetry or short stories. I love reading but I’m rather sporadic; I’m either stuck on the same chapter for a week or staying up all night to finish the whole book. I’m a fan of magical realism, science fiction and fantasy of the feminist-y kind, and diasporic literature. I shop at thrift stores for most of my clothes, which lets me experiment with new looks without spending too much. Also, I get to browse for odd knick knacks that I have to talk myself out of getting. I was into photography for a bit and I’d like to pick that up again.
As sex workers, we face several challenges in our line of work. What issues do you care about, and how do you think your clients can help sex workers?
People trading sex are constantly dealing with laws that make surviving harder. The main source of hardship are laws and practices enacted under the guise of combating trafficking or protecting minors, women, victims. Their proponents are ultimately aiming to criminalize sex in all forms aside from sex between cisheteromonogamous couples in the privacy of nuclear families for purposes of procreation, a structure that benefits men above all. Sex outside of this-- for pleasure, queer sex, for money-- is under attack. This is why one will find a significant overlap between people who are anti-sex work and those who support transphobic and homophobic legislation.
Laws such as FOSTA SESTA increase surveillance not only for sex workers but for anyone using the internet, limiting the range of permitted expression and censoring crucial information about sexuality especially if it is queer and encourages bodily autonomy outside of traditional cishetero relations. When law enforcement make it harder for sex workers to advertise, communicate with each other, share safety resources, and work together they create conditions for bad clients and exploitative third party managers. Criminalizaing any aspect of sex work (buying or selling) emboldens police to assault and steal from sex workers under the guise of “cracking down”-- they are the biggest source of violence that they’re supposedly “saving” us from! Anti-trafficking / anti-porn / anti-sex work legislation expands punishment while shrinking options for people trying to support themselves.
I don’t necessarily rely on clients to “help” us combat these laws just like most people who eat out at restaurants or buy coffee aren’t in solidarity with the workers who serve them. A few of my kinder clients do take it upon themselves to learn about the issues and they also tend to be the ones who send me money or gifts, which is a direct way to support sex workers. In general I think clients can do their part by treat sex workers as they would other service industry workers-- research providers before trying to book, pay the price listed without negotiation, follow all screening requirements, treat us with courtesy, tip well. Acknowledge that what sex workers do is labor and that the sexual nature of it does not mean that anything goes...be continually learning consent. Clients and honestly everyone could do to challenge the internalized shame and stigma around sexuality that feeds into moral panics which have helped expand the prison system, to the detriment of all our safety. It would help if clients would expand who they consider booking or buying content from because of course racism and transphobia run within sex work as any other industry.
If they really wish to learn more, I would suggest that clients read work (there are books, blog entries, news think pieces!) and social media posts from current sex workers as well as peer led advocacy organizations. There are diverse views but it’s better than getting their information about us from non-sex workers, celebrity activists, or people who have exited and no longer have “skin in the game” so to speak. Learn from and amplify the demands of sex worker movements and organizing from the past till present, connecting them to wider movements for workers, migrants, queers, black and brown people, disabled people-- because there are sex workers from all those groups, fighting on all those issues. Give money directly to struggling sex workers, to local bail funds or prisoner support groups, to projects that seek to redistribute wealth while respecting people’s agency and dignity. Interrupt your friends and family when you hear whorephobic remarks and point them towards sex worker organizing and advocacy.
Is there a book, tv show, or movie that had a significant impact on your life? What was it, and what did it teach you?
Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. I haven’t read all of it, and might never do so. This book was introduced by a high school history teacher who laid the foundation for my political radicalization. I had never ever been taught U.S. history from a critical perspective with attention paid to the marginalized rather than the dominant characters. It was the first time I questioned the goodness of America. My family’s migration had been spun (as so many stories are) to encourage patriotism and assimilation, decontextualized from a structural understanding of colonialism and imperialism. This book and that incredible educator started me on a path to seeking knowledge I might not have otherwise. It started the challenging and reorganizing of how I understand this world, and what kind of world is worth striving for.
How does your queerness interact with your work?
WHEW. I have a lot of feelings around this. For as long as I can remember I’ve felt at odds with being a girl and in my early twenties started identifying as non-binary and queer (which describes both my gender and sexuality). Yet I knew that my ability to book clients has relied on looking like a cis woman, straight or otherwise. I’ve always felt that in addition to class drag, I’m engaging in gender drag. I feel like class and gender are deeply intertwined along with my race and ethnicity. I look and feel “other” in multiple ways.
In the earlier years of working it was hard to market myself. I rarely saw anyone who looked like me advertising and could not fit into a niche. Before I had a website or social media presence, it was common for potential clients to ask “Are you trans?” I knew they wanted to know what genitalia I possessed and just answered that question instead, sometimes a little flippantly because in my experience transphobes are more likely to be timewasters. In my earlier years I was experimenting with my presentation frequently, losing clients along the way. Clients who saw me in one iteration would stop booking after I made a major change to my appearance. Learning to do makeup and dress myself in “feminine” ways has been personally fun because I had limited access to these forms of expression growing up; however it sometimes feels “required” for work and I’m always pushing back against that obligation.
One of the best things about getting on social media as an out sex worker was seeing other queer, gender nonconforming, trans, gay as heck people in this industry. It’s beautiful and the support we try to give each other is wonderful. As I’ve become more comfortable with myself as queer I am attracting clients who are into that, even if they don’t say it. I wish that folks both inside and outside of the industry would recognize that not all sex workers are cis women. Even though queer folks are a minority, we are more likely to engage in trading sex compared to the general population. Rather than seeing us as separate or at odds however, it’s more useful to understand how queerness is irremovable from feminist struggles.
Why do you think it is important for sex work to be decriminalized and how do you think it would change the way you work?
Some say the source of violence against sex workers is clients who are “bad men”. However the worst of men are empowered to mistreat and abuse sex workers through policies like end demand / the Nordic Model. The riskiness of my work is compounded by criminalization. Yes there are violent men-- criminalization reduces the power of sex workers to screen, share resources (work space, clients, bad date lists, condoms, rides, etc), and practice self defense in the case of “bad men”. The criminal justice system does not protect nor fight for all survivors of gendered violence and especially not those who have been deemed criminal for selling sex to provide for themselves. Yes there are violent men-- and an overwhelming number of them are cops. The times that I’ve been assaulted or harmed by clients, I knew I had no recourse through law enforcement and that in fact they might add on to the trauma by arresting me.
Decriminalization would allow me to work more safely. It would allow me to connect with peers without fear of punishment for doing so and to develop a wider social network that protects me when I know that law enforcement will never do that for me. Criminalizing sex for pay penalizes a form of labor that people perform to meet their needs under societies that do not share resources and care for all. Criminalization is a tool to punish people who are marginalized through the multiple hierarchies upholding capitalism. People who trade sex are disproportionately women, trans, gender nonconforming, disabled, migrant, non-white, poor (none of these descriptors being mutually exclusive). Decriminalizing sex work is one way to make the lives of marginalized people better. It doesn’t solve all issues inherent to work under capitalism, and it should not be expected to.
What are your views on the anti trafficking industrial complex and their war on sex?
The anti-trafficking industrial complex exists to legitimize the functioning of capitalism. By positing that the sex trades are uniquely exploitative, their narratives obscure the abuse and exploitation that undergird all work. By “saving” trafficking victims through policing they leave the structures of power and abuse intact and in fact strengthen them. Work under capitalism is rife with sexism, homophobia, anti-black and racism, transphobia, ableism. These dynamics cut across all sectors because our societies are structured around hierarchies of power. At their core anti-trafficking groups reify the ability of the law enforcement to bring justice for vulnerable groups (such as women and children) through cracking down on activities labelled crimes. The role of these groups is to define which activities constitute a crime. Ultimately these groups are reformist and invested in the deepening of capitalist exploitation. They simply wish to add a progressive veneer of “caring”.
My views are informed by prison and police abolitionist thought, which is critical of the entire framework of crime and punishment. I don’t believe that the state can ever guarantee well being and peace for all life that it seeks to dominate, because the dynamic of nonconsensual domination is inherently violent and death-dealing. Those deemed “criminal” will always be in the cross hairs. I find it laughable that anti-trafficking NGOs can speak about exploitation or patriarchal violence yet distance it from the apparatuses of policing and prison, as though these institutions are not formed and formative of white supremacist colonial patriarchy. Worse, they claim that the prison industrial complex can prevent violence, painting it as a flawed but ultimately benevolent system. At the end of the day, which narratives and actions work to deepen policing, borders, and inequality? Which ones work to dismantle those structures and build collective power with space for personal autonomy?
What kind of music are you currently listening to?
Post punk, synth wave, electronic dream pop. Some 90s R&B which I missed out on as a kid. I miss going dancing and live music at small venues. I always return to folk punk when I’m sad.
What would your dream date look like?
Something active such as a hike, a bike ride, or a yoga class. Or maybe a visit to an art exhibit, an interesting movie, or a stroll around town. A delicious meal either out or cooked together, good conversation and laughter. Afterward maybe we kiss and make out. Or puppy role play that might include me f*cking them. Getting paid an absurd amount because they enjoyed it and want to treat me well.
What are your top three pieces of advice for workers just starting out?
I wish that I’d found other sex workers sooner. As a newbie I was afraid of law enforcement so badly that it kept me from seeking sex worker spaces whether online or in person. I worked in isolation, made a lot of mistakes, and felt really lonely. So my first piece of advice would be to join a forum, a social media platform, read a blog, search up if there’s an organization in your locale providing services or doing advocacy. Find people who are doing what you’re doing. You don’t have to show your face or connect your work persona if you don’t want to.
Second, figure out your boundaries and stick to them as much as possible. It’ll protect you in the long run and keep you from getting burned out. Get used to saying “no” in different ways and in different situations. Despite all the precautions you take, sometimes you’ll have a bad experience and you have to accept that those things are out of your control. Forgive yourself for mistakes, we all make them.
Third, learn about security practices to avoid getting doxxed / outed.
My favorite scent is: rose.
My favorite restaurant is: this is too hard...I’ll say any place that serves rice noodles, soupy or not.
If you were to buy me a drink at a bar, you should buy me: I’m not much of an alcohol drinker, let’s go to a coffee bar? I’ll have a single shot cubano cortado with oat milk or a matcha latte.
My favorite thing to be gifted is: books, plants, bike tools, dark chocolate, and of course money.