This is a story about cultural violence.
Eden Alexander is a camgirl and porn performer working in the Bay Area. In the early spring of 2014, Alexander went to the doctor after a bad reaction to some routine prescribed medication. Because she is a sex worker, the doctors allegedly dismissed her initial symptoms as evidence of drug use.
In fact, Alexander had a skin infection which, left untreated, ran rampant through her body, triggering an existing thyroid condition and sending her into a coma.
By the time this was discovered, it was almost too late- Alexander’s organs were beginning to fail, and the infection had spread to her heart and lungs. She survived, but her slow recovery has left her in a great deal of pain, unable to work, facing rent arrears and medical debt. For now, let’s not get into the intricate inhumanity of a national healthcare system which denies basic care to low-waged and freelance workers, where a routine medical problem can land you with lifelong debt. Let’s just say that Eden Alexander nearly died, and has had her life ransacked, because she is a sex worker.
When the medical system and the state failed Eden Alexander, her friends rallied around to save her. It wasn’t just the money- it was the outpouring of love and support, the public expression that hers is a life that matters, that she is valued and cared for. This is so often the way with marginalised communities: people who face discrimination in wider society hold each other up.
Together they set up a fund to raise money to cover the cost of Alexander’s ongoing treatment and ensure that she does not lose her home whilst she is unable to work. Unfortunately, the crowdfunding company that was used relies on WePay, and because of her associations with the adult industry, WePay cancelled the campaign and told Alexander it was going to send the money back to donors. This wasn’t money that was going to be used to make porn. It was money that was going to be used to keep one woman and her two small dogs alive.
WePay joins a roll-call of financial companies which have recently clamped down on their dealings with sex workers. This spring, banks across America have closed down accounts belonging to people working in the adult entertainment industry, or people suspected of doing such work: anything to do with porn. PayPal, Chase Bank and other such companies have all shut down accounts or withdrawn services to sex workers in recent months, leaving them unable to access their money, or collect payments and donations. Inevitably, this hurts independent companies and vulnerable individuals hardest of all.
Because she is a sex worker, Alexander, like many others, has been used to being a scapegoat, to being shunned, even by those who claim to stand up for women. Kitty Stryker, a writer and friend of Alexander’s, has also had her crowdfunding income cut, this time by PayPal, because of her history of working in the adult industry. “People now can only find my page directly through me, which limits my ability to fund my writing and make a survivable living outside of the adult industry,” Stryker, who is also a friend of mine, told me tonight. “It’s literally killing us, this cultural abandonment of past and current sex workers. We’re blamed for being sex workers, and stamped for life if we try to leave.”
Because she is a sex worker, Alexander is no doubt also used to being told to find another job, a more respectable job. But when they try to make money outside the adult industry, that same stigma works against sex workers, preventing them from accessing any other form of support, even lifesaving medical treatment. That sex work taints you for life has nothing to do with the nature of the work and everything to do with the nature of prejudice.
Porn and prostitution are often discussed as academic issues, as if the people involved in their production were not real workers, struggling to survive. But to those living this reality, to the people for whom the adult industry is not the monster under the bed but the roof over their head, the community they work in, these matters are fundamental. It is a question of agency, of who is permitted to be human, to own their sexuality, to use it without shame – and sometimes is it a question of life or death.
One of the key demands of early feminist agitation around pornography and prostitution was that culture remember that real bodies and real lives were involves in the production of adult content. Today’s activists and allies would do well to remember that in a different way. There are real lives and real bodies at stake when companies and governments scapegoat the sex industry for moral posturing, when sex workers and their friends and family are dismissed and debased and refused vital services.
After receiving the notice from WePay, Eden Alexander tweeted, “I’ve nothing left, no where to go, Every time I plead for help I just get hurt more. I can’t live like this. I’m so sorry.”. An hour later, she was taken to hospital in an ambulance. Her tweets were worrying enough that Maggie Mayhem, another member of the Bay Area adult community had already gone to be with her, arriving just in time to see the ambulance pull away. It is not currently known whether Alexander’s existing condition has worsened or whether she has been hospitalised for another reason.
Ms Mayhem is currently looking after Alexander’s two dachsund dogs, who she was able to rescue before they were taken to the pound (standard procedure in the Bay Area). The dogs are called Dallas and Sally Brown.
A statement just released by WePay reads:
“Upon reviewing payments starting May 15, 2014 WePay discovered tweets from others retweeted by Eden Alexander offering adult material in exchange for donations. This is in direct violation of our terms of service as our back-end processor does not permit it….We are truly sorry that the rules around payment processing are limiting and force us to make tough decisions.
After an online outcry, WePay expressed sympathy with Ms Alexander, and offered to support her in starting a new campaign – to make an exception for her, because people complained. Unfortunately, by the time the company reached out, Alexander had already been hospitalised. She is believed to be in a stable condition, but more details are not known.
This is the sort of story that often ends badly. Well, not today. Not if Eden Alexander’s friends and supporters around the world have anything to do with it. Here is the reinstated donations page. It would be great if you could donate whatever you can spare to Alexander’s new campaign. If the internet can match or exceed the $3k donations Alexander’s friends initially sought, it’ll send an important message. Community matters. Solidarity matters. Cultural violence can be resisted – maybe not every day, but there are days when resistance is possible. It would be fantastic if today could be one of those days.