Photo Credit: Yannah Alfering
Last year in Berlin, the sex worker-lead association BesD hosted the “World of Whorecraft”, the world’s first sex work fair full of workshops, film screenings, lectures, performances and plenty of opportunities for provocative conversation. This day-long event opened our eyes and created more questions around resources for sex work, in the US and internationally.
From the Sexarbeit demonstration in Berlin, October 1, 2015. Photo credit: Hexe
The hosts, BesD (short for Berufsverband erotische und sexuelle Dienstleistungen / Professional Association for Erotic and Sexual Service Providers) is a collective of around 300 active and former sex workers: some members are German, while others come from foreign countries. Members are sometimes full-time sex workers, while others work in other professions as well. In their official statement, BesD explains,
“We decided to form to fight for the rights of all those who do sex work. We give current and former sex workers the chance to act for the improvement of working conditions in the sex industry or simply to connect with other sex workers. As an association of sex workers, we can feel part of a strong and confident community in which we can freely talk about our experiences. We work together on different projects to actively improve the conditions in our industry. We also take part in political discussions, are regularly invited to various events as speakers, and participate in initiatives by international sex worker rights groups that we network with.”
Lilli Erdbeermund is the core organizer of BesD and explained that the event aimed to enable “people to inform themselves about sex workers – by talking to them, not just about them.”
Photo credit: Fionnuala Kavanagh
The educational and networking opportunities BesD gave to the community of sex workers and allies in the hopeful and empowering atmosphere of the former East German grocery store were incredible. “World of Whorecraft” occupied the space with the sole purpose of escalating the dialogue we can have around sex work.
There was a lineup of performances following the glittery entrance into the main area, featuring bondage and thought-provoking political lectures from active and former professionals. Rows of tables lined the back wall, with friendly representatives standing close to answer questions about where they came from and why they were here. Red umbrellas, the worldwide symbol of the sex workers’ rights movement, filled the space within the temporary movie theatre where documentaries on the topic of sex work screened throughout the entire day. An exhibition, Objects of Desire, took over the far end of the space, where relics from sex workers’ daily activities sat on display cases next to explanations of their relevance. One professional outlined an emotional anecdote behind a tube of lipstick; making it difficult to look at these inanimate objects that are present in so many other contexts without coming back to these vulnerable stories. This ongoing collaborative project by sex workers and artists aims to shift the focus of specific “objects of desire” through the process of archiving and empowers through this presentation of said objects as a work of art.
Prostitution and other professions in the sex industry is legal in Germany, but the politics behind the country’s ongoing relationship to making things safer for professionals is complicated. With organizations like BesD, Bufas (an alliance of counseling centers specifically for Germany-based sex workers), Ragazza (a team of medical, psychological and legal professionals based in Hamburg), and Hydra (a German self-help and advocacy group for prostitutes), professionals have found power in organizing amongst themselves to improve conditions on their own terms.
Having the opportunity to attend the “World of Whorecraft” as an ally - specifically interested in wanting to find out ways to do better and hear professionals share their honest take on current events felt incredibly important and still does. This is still just the beginning. As 2020 kicks off, we look to continue to make space for these conversations and are excited to see what "World of Whorecraft" brings us in the new decade!
FURTHER READING on how to be an ally for sex workers