My Erotic Award as Campaigner: win for a reasonable point of view

In the evening’s opening act a woman emerges from a plastic Chinese bag – those big plaid ones, but still, not easy to fold oneself into. With her head only showing she expels a ping-pong ball from her mouth, a sex-tourism joke that gets a huge laugh. Fully emerged, she holds up a series of signs indicating she is Lilly from Thailand, looking for a husband, wanting a British passport. The audience love it.

What a pleasure, that these jokes could be the cheery opening to the night’s events, unaccompanied by politically correct disclaimers like Remember there is a lot of misery and oppression in this horrible patriarchal world of capitalism. Just hijinks from Lilly, who keeps grinning and bowing. Instead, the audience is assumed capable of appreciating ironies. The event was the Erotic Awards taking place at the Night of the Senses, the 26th year of a kinky charity ball held to benefit Outsiders, which raises awareness about sex and disability.

I have never once thought of myself as a campaigner: mostly I just talk and write about ideas that are considered shocking by a lot of people who are campaigning for something: tighter migration controls, the abolition of prostitution, criminal penalties for people who engage in sex-money transactions. Campaigns have a clearly stated goal, like the slogans in this photo, whereas my work can be described as encouraging critical thinking about sex, money and migration and public policies affecting them. I require people to think for themselves rather than swallow a neatly digestible slogan. Campaigns are assumed to be energetic, focussed and goal-oriented, whereas I’m more meditative and reflexive.

Nonetheless, as I watch Lilly onstage I do feel I’ve contributed to the possibility that her act could be appreciated in this place at this time. I understand my win of the 2013 Erotic Award for Campaigner as the win of a point of view: that anti-trafficking rhetoric and policymaking have strayed too far from what most ordinary people know about their own friends, neighbours and communities, wherever they live in the world. Marriages of convenience, sex shows with ping-pong balls, exchanging sex for benefits, ‘help’ needed to get visas and passports are now widely understood to be part of ordinary and undemonic everyday life – not narratives of horror or slavery.

If you don’t know why I might have won as Campaigner, here are a few links:
My book Sex at the Margins: Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry
Other publications of mine
Videos of some of my talks

Award to Laura Agustín, Photo by Charlotte Cooper

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

6 thoughts on “My Erotic Award as Campaigner: win for a reasonable point of view

  1. elena jeffreys

    congratulations laura, you deserve the award.

    the irony of speaking out about the detail of trafficking-sex-panic and the impact on peoples lives is that you can’t speak out it WITHOUT being seen as a campaigner!!!

    so campaign on we do

    xx Elena Jeffreys, Australia

    1. Laura Agustín

      thanks and you must be right – daring to say anything that contradicts the mainstream-controlled narrative is seen as a hyper-active even violent act!

  2. William Thirteen

    Congrats Laura!

    sadly the mainstream narrative doesn’t succumb to reason as easily as it should.

    “A new documentary exposes how making prostitution legal in Germany has turned the country into “Europe’s biggest brothel,” with booming profits being made at the expense of women working in the sex trade.”

    of course neither the actual documentary nor the soundbites from the worker’s themselves back up the sensationalist headline…


    onward and upward!

    1. laura agustin Post author

      Oh I didn’t mean such an award would change the mainstream narrative! Just that it’s notable any group _not_ specifically oriented to sex worker rights would recognise the value of another narrative.

  3. Glenn

    Do you think activism is becoming harder and harder? I used to think you could understand
    anti-prostitution rhetoric through the prism of logic and deductive reasoning, but it’s becoming clear that might not be the case.

    I’ve begun to think that their tautological tantrums of annoying slogans, discredited statistics and claptrap are better analyzed as such: A purely affectively engendered form of
    social solidarity, an irrational and contagious and vulgar form of macro-communal mimesis.

    What matters is not whether it’s true; what matters is that it feels good. Why read boring, obscure articles in academic journals when you can turn your TV to MSNBC and tune into a
    24/7 marathon on sex trafficking, all while doing your laundry? Why engage rational, reasoned discourse when you can coddle yourself in a cradle of ambient noise?

    The talk around sex trafficking may be redundant, grotesquely reticulated and circular, but meaningless it is not. It is, in fact, productive: In the absence of old-fashioned forms of communal belonging and bonding, ones destroyed by the global neoliberal market-state,
    people form coalitions heavily invested in new forms of abstract, impossible to disprove beliefs (i.e., sex is somehow different than any other form of interpersonal interaction).

    And you can’t stop the drumbeat of the metaphysical.

    1. Laura Agustín

      I think I’ve been saying something similar for quite a while. The social movements that rise up around ‘bad sex’ clearly represent an opportunity for large numbers of people to agree about an issue that isn’t, in their minds, the usual ‘political’ stuff. Feeling good together is a goal one can understand, and one that the other side enjoys as well, don’t forget.

      Evidence in the sociological sense, real statistics, do not matter to anti- campaigners. ‘If we save only one child, it will have been worth it’ is the classic phrase.


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