Before Margaret Cho was a comedian, she was a sex worker. And she's not ashamed.
'I was a sex worker when I was young. It was hard but well paid. There's no shame in it.'
There's been a lot of talk about sex work recently — what it is, who's doing it, and how society and the government should treat people who make money from sex work.
It's a sensitive debate, and advocates on both sides of the issue have strongly held beliefs. But one group that too often gets left out of the conversation? Actual sex workers.
Sometimes that's because sex workers choose to keep their identities hidden because of safety and legal concerns. But often, the stigma against sex work also silences their voices.
Comedian Margaret Cho had a few things to say on Twitter about that shame and stigma.
You probably know Cho because of her amazing standup comedy (this one is a must-watch). Or maybe you'd seen her in the ABC sitcom "All-American Girl" back in 1994 when Asian-American representation on TV was pretty dismal. She's also a fierce activist for LGBTQ rights and racial equality.
But before all of that, she was also a sex worker.
"I support sex workers because I was one and I know that it's a job that's needlessly shunned by society when frankly we should be worshipped," she tweeted in late October.
She then published a series of tweets about her sex work, sparking a dramatic conversation on Twitter.
Sex work is simply work. For me it was honest work. I was a sex worker when I was young. It was hard but well paid. There's no shame in it.
— Margaret Cho (@margaretcho) October 29, 2015
I chose to do it. I'm not ashamed of it and I don't expect praise for my choices. Just know that your biases hurt. X https://t.co/IgepsJUoBw
— Margaret Cho (@margaretcho) October 30, 2015
Sex work is not degrading - it didn't degrade me. Rape was degrading. Not sex work. Sex work is honest work. https://t.co/JzaRe9nql8
— Margaret Cho (@margaretcho) November 1, 2015
I left because I became a successful comic. I didn't have time. Your tone is ugly as is your attempt to shame me. https://t.co/KEyn8zTw7h
— Margaret Cho (@margaretcho) October 31, 2015
Cho also tweeted that she believes that sex workers shouldn't be shamed; instead, they should be protected by the law and allowed to unionize.
This isn't the first time Cho has opened up publicly about her history with sex work.
Earlier this year, she talked with Anna Sale from the Death, Sex & Money podcast about how working on phone-sex job allowed her to be financially independent as a young person.
"I did phone sex for quite a time, but this was so long ago, it was phone sex that was recorded. And there was a class system because the whiter you sounded, the more apt you were to do the recordings then talk to people on the phone. So if you didn't sound white, I guess as I do, you were relegated to another room where actually had to talk to people who called you. But because I sounded white I was able to get the good job."
The question of sex work's legal status is a huge one, and it has only become more pressing during the past year.
In April, journalist Melissa Gira Grant investigated a startup that helps police officers track sex workers. This summer, Amnesty International decided to advocate for decriminalizing sex work, a move that celebrities like Lena Dunham and Meryl Streep criticized. Then in September, Rentboy, a site for LGBTQ sex workers, was raided and forced to close by the Department of Homeland Security.
All of this has thrown some new light on what it really means to sell sex. And it's an important conversation to have because even though sex work is a reality in the U.S. and across the world, it's not a topic that gets much airtime at all.
Why? I'd venture to guess that the shame surrounding the idea of sex work prevents us from talking about the real issues that sex workers face. This is what Cho believes, too.
And that's why Cho wrote that series of tweets — to lift up her voice as another advocate.
She acknowledges that sex workers don't deserve to be shamed and that they need to be better protected by the law.
No matter what you think about sex work, Cho's decision was a brave and necessary one.
When it comes to issues like sex work, it's important to hear from the people who will be directly affected by the laws in place — in this case, sex workers themselves. So thank you, Margaret Cho, for sharing your experiences and sparking such an important conversation.