Sex workers have been pivotal in building the internet: as early adopters of new technologies, as drivers of demand, and as innovators building new spaces to work and communicate. Yet official histories overwrite the feminized, criminalized labor and communal innovations that made the internet desirable, accessible, and profitable.
Such conspicuous erasure prompts pointed questions: Why is this undeniable history overlooked? Who does a sanitized narrative of technological development and adoption serve? As we grapple with profound shifts in the ways we live, work, and communicate, why would we ignore the people and communities who have navigated the internet’s potentials and perils from the start?
Sex Workers Built the Internet asks what we can learn about the internet’s past — and its possible futures — when we listen to sex workers. An internet history that centers sex workers is necessarily multivocal, complex, and contradictory. It is a history in which revolutionary possibilities for solidarity and self-determination are inseparable from new forms of censorship, surveillance, and exploitation. It is a history that honors sex workers’ essential roles in developing and popularizing new technologies, while acknowledging the necessity that drove many to early adoption.
Most importantly, it is a history of the communal creativity, connection, and care that sustain the essential fight for a safer, freer, and more inclusive internet. Sex Workers Built the Internet is an invitation to listen to, learn from, and take action to support those who are most intimately familiar with the internet’s contradictions, and who are doing transformational work to make it a more just and equitable space for everyone.
The project launched with a roundtable discussion featuring experts Gabriella Garcia, Tina Horn, and Sinnamon Love responding to the gathered archival image research.
The site was coded with creativity and care by Andrew Lux, my partner in life and work. Harrison Pollock wrote its little background bop. It grew from the urgent scholarship of Trains, Texts and Tits: Sex Work, Technology and Movement, a series of classes organized by Hacking//Hustling, who generously shared their knowledge and intellectual labor. And it would not exist without the thinking, writing, and research of my fellow Decoding Stigma co-founder Gabriella Garcia, whose powerful ideas are central to our collaboration.