RH Reality Check: How Sex Workers’ Rights Made the Mainstream

Rentboy was a website where men sought sex with men, and as such, media and advocacy groups who don’t typically bring a political analysis to sex work responded to the raid primarily as an anti-gay attack, while also calling for an end to the policing of sex workers. Some American LGBTQ organizations in particular have rallied around the political nature of the raid—in a way women’s rights groups in the United States, when women sex workers are targeted in similar raids, have not.

In fact, it might be the relative silence of women’s rights groups on the Rentboy raid that has provided space for sex workers’ rights to become the main focus of the story.

How Sex Workers’ Rights Made the Mainstream, by Melissa Gira Grant for RH Reality Check

VICE: How the Feds Took Down Rentboy.com

Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) agents were there with the Rentboy defendants Tuesday afternoon at federal court in Brooklyn. The agents sat shoulder to shoulder, filling two front benches. They outnumbered the attorneys. They wore T-shirts and jeans, badges on their hips, looking relaxed and confident against the murmur of suits and ties. One agent stood and turned to us, the press and families and advocates in the back benches, and we could read the slogan on his shirt: “Vindicated—Justice Will Be Done.”

“You sure you brought enough guys?” one of the defense attorneys spoke into the air.

How the Feds Took Down Rentboy.com, by Melissa Gira Grant for VICE

The Nation:  Amnesty International Is Finally on the Right Side of the Sex Work Struggle

Amnesty’s announcement refers to sex workers as “one of the most marginalized groups in the world,” but today it is especially worth underscoring the resistance of sex workers. Sex workers have organized against police violence, HIV/AIDS, and punitive laws for decades—and did so while facing exclusion from feminist and human rights organizations.

Amnesty International Is Finally on the Right Side of the Sex Work Struggle,” by Melissa Gira Grant for The Nation

The Nation: Amnesty International’s Long-Due Support for Sex Workers Rights

This pressing on and clamoring for laws that put sex workers at risk might seem unique, but it recalls anti-abortion groups who express their opposition to abortion by deliberately chipping away at abortion access. Though these campaigns say they are concerned with rights and safety, the end game looks the same: create so much danger around something that you condemn in the hopes it will just go away.

Amnesty International’s Long-Due Support for Sex Workers Rights,” by Melissa Gira Grant for The Nation

VICE: Young, Black, Trans, Arrested: How Women Like Meagan Taylor Are Made Invisible

Meagan Taylor has bright red hair. She takes cute selfies. She went to Iowa two weeks ago, a trip from her home in Illinois cut short with an arrest. Her name became a hashtag. She is black and transgender and young, and in a month that has seen at least five black women die in American jails, last Wednesday, Meagan Taylor left her cell alive.

Young, Black, Trans, Arrested: How Women Like Meagan Taylor Are Made Invisible,” by Melissa Gira Grant for VICE

VICE: This Tech Startup Is Helping the Cops Track Sex Workers Online

…there’s a good chance that if you’ve placed an ad online in the last two years for escorting, massage, BDSM, stripping, private modeling, nude housekeeping, selling your underwear, or any other permutation of the various sexual services people can put on offer, Rescue Forensics has a copy. And because Rescue Forensics has a copy, so do their users in law enforcement.

This Tech Startup Is Helping the Cops Track Sex Workers Online,” by Melissa Gira Grant for VICE

VICE: Why There’s No Uber for Sex Work

Prostitution 3.0 is just another male fantasy. It hardly engages with current global debates around prostitution policy, or the realities of criminalization, or the notion that sex workers may also have demands. But that’s not why it’s a hot topic: That’s because someone at Forbes tacked the word “Uber” onto the story.

Why There’s No Uber for Sex Work,” by Melissa Gira Grant for VICE

VICE: The All-American Fantasy of Saving Sex Workers from Themselves

Maybe there’s no longer stocks set up for sex workers in the town square—if there even is such a thing as a modern town square—but there are hundreds of channels and clips through which the public can skip the shaming in the town square bit entirely. At night, or on demand, we can peer at bodies in bedrooms and pass our own judgments.

The All-American Fantasy of Saving Sex Workers from Themselves,” by Melissa Gira Grant for VICE


My book was published.

Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work

And was translated in German (and forthcoming in Japanese, Dutch, Spanish, and Korean).

And a chapbook (with Sarah Jaffe) was published.

For Love or Money

And I wrote.

My <3’s: 

on the kink factory that tech built (Dissent)
interviewing Evangelical anti-abortion activists now targeting sex workers (Salon)
profiling the fight of trans activist Monica Jones (RH Reality Check)
on what the “sex work debate” isn’t (melissagiragrant.com)
about spying, sex, and online finance (Salon)
on American cities and invisible vice (The Atlantic’s CityLab)
demolishing sex slave fantasies (The New York Times)
how sex workers are winning (The Atlantic’s CityLab)
on sluts and value (Al Jazeera America)
breaking down the cost of my book (Scratch)
tl;dr feminism (melissagiragrant.com)
no justice in “trafficking court” (New York Daily News)
on how every camera can be a police camera (VICE)

I spoke to (many) other journalists.

A notable assortment of interviews:

Tits and Sass (part one, part two)
Citizen Radio
Radio Dispatch
Melissa Harris-Perry
The Awl
The Billfold
The Toast

A few notable for their trouble:

The Observer (who never fact-checked my sex work history before printing it anyway)
Channel 4 (this presenter seemed to forget there was another guest there for me to debate, so consumed with debating me herself)
The Telegraph (who also concocted a sex work history for me & called me “scary” in a first version, now scrubbed from their website)

Playing the Whore got reviews.

“Underneath Grant’s strategically inclusive argument lurks a harder political critique of the transformation of politics and economics since the 1970s.” London Review of Books

“Grant is one of the most interesting policy thinkers in the country when it comes to sex work.” Washington Post’s Wonkblog

“…Grant, I think rightly so, is less interested in eliciting from her reader a position on sex work than a position on police violence against sex workers.” The Rumpus

“sharp, persuasive and comes at a time when it is sorely needed” Rabble

and one of Autostraddle’s Top Ten Queer and Feminist books of 2014

and one of Baltimore City Paper’s top ten non-fiction books of 2014: “Think of this tightly written and impressively argued treatise as both a state of the sex work activism now and a complete redefining of the discussion. An absolutely vital read.”

and was named one the Village Voice’s favorite books of 2014: “Keeping the focus on ideas instead of autobiography has an impressively unsettling effect, as we’re forced to acknowledge the writer’s boundaries, and our own voyeurism.”

I talked 

imagining the end of the American red light district (Berkman Center, Harvard University)
about online abuser dynamics (Eyebeam)
on digital labor and sex work (twice: The New School; Theorizing the Web)
and about Playing the Whore, in book shops, bars, theatres, and festivals

I traveled

Washington. San Francisco. Los Angeles.
London. Brighton. Bristol. Edinburgh. Glasgow.
Zurich. Berlin. Hamburg. Cologne. Bonn.

I wanted

For myself – not very much at all, aside from a few days on a beach warmer than Coney Island is right now, health insurance, more time for more celebration on more friend’s floors, and some deep quiet for the sake of the next thing.