Apr 13


I had heard of Taslima Nasrin only in passing before she came to Freethought Blogs. I always get a little excited when I get to read someone new, especially a freethinker, especially an independent woman freethinker. I was altogether unprepared for what Taslima brought to the picnic to say the least. I don’t want to be unfair. Taslima may be a brilliant and exceptional person. It may be that I have peeked into her writing career at an inopportune and uncharacteristically lackluster moment. Maybe she is highly rational and compelling when it comes to any and all other subjects and she chose, for whatever reason, to burst onto the ftb scene with some of her least persuasive and most strongly irrational opinions in tow. I am even willing to believe that this is all some sort of experiment, the rationale of which will become humorously apparent to me very soon. We can all have a good laugh together, maybe even sigh at how ingenious it all was as we ponder the profound questions the experience forced into our collective freethinking consciousness. You’ll understand if I don’t hold my breath.

While giving her the benefit of the doubt, I cannot, in good conscience, let stand unanswered the insults she has levelled against people I know and care about. Many people have answered her in the comments on her own blog and elsewhere and some have done a much better job of it than I intend to do here.

In her stand against prostitution Taslima paints with a very broad brush, so broad, in fact, that it seems impossible to engage her in any meaningful way. Prostitution is a word that can encompass a huge spectrum of activity. She takes this huge spectrum and equates it with a subset contained within it. She says all birds are vultures, the really nasty kind. If you try to tell her about hummingbirds she wonders how you can possibly like such nasty vultures. I have trouble believing that someone so respected for being a rational person could be so incredibly dense as to make such a false equivocation. Maybe she truly is hopelessly ignorant about how varied the lives and experiences of people who fit within the label of prostitute can be. Even rational people can be wrong. Even intelligent people can be ignorant about certain things. What I have trouble believing is that a reasonable person can cling so tenaciously to an opinion when so much evidence is given to the contrary. Some of the very people she says don’t exist are right there in her face telling her “Hey, we’re here. We’re real and we do what we do because we choose to and we enjoy it.”

I get how prevalent and widespread sexual slavery is in the world. I know that it happens in my own country. It is disgusting and appalling and every effort should be made to wipe it off the face of the earth. Sexual slavery has about as much to do with consensual prostitution as rape has to do with consensual sex. Sexual slavery is perpetual and institutionalized rape. That is the extreme negative end of the spectrum. It is so extreme in fact that I’d venture a guess that many would be uncomfortable even calling it by the blanket term prostitution. I’ve never used the term to refer to sexual slavery nor would I ever. To do so seems a hollow attempt to lessen the severity of an atrocity. At the same time I’m not going to criticize someone else for using the term prostitution as a category in which to pigeonhole sex slavery. So long as they acknowledge it for the extreme that it is I’m fine with it.

The other end of the spectrum is a woman I lived with for about six months several years ago. Maggy was a call girl who had originally worked for an escort service to help pay for college. Nearly a decade later and five years into her chosen profession she reconnected with a former client and decided the idea of getting paid for sex again appealed to her. By the time I met her, a couple of years later, she had chosen to abandon her other job and give sex work her full attention. She worked out of her apartment. All her clients were regulars. All new clients were carefully vetted. She loved her job. She loved making lots of money. She loved the leisure time that such a life afforded. She loved sex. She even cared quite deeply about many of her clients. To put what Maggy does and what sexual slaves are forced to do into the same category, under the same blanket term “prostitution”…well that is just fucking stupid.

If I had to guess I would say that most prostitution falls somewhere between these two extremes. I would never suggest that Maggy is the exemplar for the life of the average prostitute. I know better. I have known several in my life, men and women. I have been a client on more than one occasion. Some of them are affected by the social stigma associated with the job. Some are above it. Every one of them spoke passionately about the desire to see the profession legalized. Now I’m not going to insist that my exposure is a typical one. These people are all educated. They travel in the same social circles. From a middle class standpoint they all make a good living. Most importantly though, they are real people, without any serious mental defect, who chose prostitution as a viable career and who enjoy what they do. This is why I am pissed off. Taslima has insulted my friends. These are people as in control of their own destinies as any one of us.

Taslima Nasrin would have me believe, would insist that I believe that my friends are slaves. She insists that they suffer from serious psychological problems. She says that they are being oppressed because actual sex slaves around the world are being oppressed and she calls them all prostitutes so they must all be the same. Bullshit Taslima. Prostitution is a complicated word that represents a complicated set of circumstances and behavior the world over. You do not own the term. You cannot do whatever the fuck you want with it and expect the rest of us to fall in line. You are not free to manipulate language, to obfuscate pertinent details, to utilize only the most biased and most poorly researched sources to support your opinions and then play victim when you get called out for your tactics.

If only she had stopped with prostitution and hadn’t carried over into the realm of pornography then maybe I could have held my tongue. I doubt it but maybe. After doubling down and ignoring every contradictory bit of evidence on display of just how incredibly wrong she was about prostitution, she churns out a ridiculously fabricated straw man of pornography and then proceeds to hack away at it. At this point I am livid. At this point I can’t even stomach the idea of giving her the benefit of the doubt any more. I cannot in good faith believe that anyone worthy of an ounce of intellectual respect could engage in this kind of semantic distortion unintentionally. I am forced to conclude, tentatively of course, that she is unworthy of the respect I was prepared to give her. I cannot respect a liar. It pains me deeply to say it but that is where the evidence leads me. I hope that changes as I learn more about the woman and what she has done. I long to be proven wrong but, as first impressions go, I’m not impressed.


  1. 1

    After considering Richard Carrier’s very well reasoned take on the subject in question I am going to apologize for one statement I made above. I called Taslima a liar. I am in no position to make that assessment yet. I am also prepared to extend the benefit of the doubt a little bit further but only a bit. The cultural context that Carrier points out will only carry her so far with me. Were I in her shoes I would be seriously reconsidering whether my position was justified and I would feel obligated to learn what was necessary to bridge that gap. I want to be wrong about her.

  2. 2

    I find this a really frustrating debate and I very much appreciate your take on this. I was extremely demoralized reading the post by Taslima.

    I have and curently am considering sex work. It is a complicated subject for me.

    Firstly, I have to deal with personal baggage. I have been raped, repeatedly as a child and then another time as an adult. This makes it hard for me to deal with sex as an adult on any terms but sex work to me does NOT seem to be rape. I have a choice. It can be argued its a bad choice but it is a choice. I didn’t with the rapes and it makes me extremely angry to have the two equated. It’s like accusing me of being party to my own rape and that is both triggering and victim blaming.

    Secondly, I need money. I am trying to go to school and transition. Both are pricey. I could try for a fast food job but honestly this pays better, has more fexible hours, its easier for me to get a job and yes, it is no less demeaning for me than wearing a paper hat and having a 20 year old scream at me for putting too much meat in a taco. It would honestly be for me in every way a better job except for people like Talima who accuse me of being part of an evil industry, making me a vitcim when I dont feel like one, and making the whole industry shameful.

    Thirdly and most importantly, I want to do my job safely if I choose this. Safety is my one real concern and the main reason why I haven’t started. It could be a much safer job. Unfortunately it is illegal and stigmatized. If I get threatened or attacked I can’t go to the police. I can’t explain what I do to a health care professional. I can’t explain what I do to most of my family or friends and get emotional support. Open support groups carry legal risks. This is the climate created by anti=prostitution activists.

    I know a lot of trans woman here do sex work. It’s a valid choice in the context of capitalist society. I would love to see a world where economically i dont have to do that. Perhaps changing that might have more value then attacking protitution. For now, if I can make enough money to pay the bills while I become a nurse which is what I WANT to do I will be happy. I just want to be respected, happy and most of all safe while I try to achieve my goals.

    1. 2.1

      I have to agree that her repeated insistence that women have no sense of agency in sex work despite the multitude of women who have said that they have agency is highly insulting. I am with Nissa in saying that I give her some benefit (I know the effects of culture too well) to her stance. I am less inclined to give benefit to her methods though. I will have to pay close attention to them.

      As for choosing sex work, I as that if you do try and be super careful. You already are at one of the highest risks for assault. Compounding that with the risks involved with prostitution makes me worry for your safety. It seems as though you are aware of the risks and if they are not mitigated enough for you (by how you choose to conduct business) then you will say the cost benefit analysis does not make prostitution worth your time. I can’t help but worry though. If you are looking for extra money and don’t want to just jump into possibly unsafe sex work, I can recommend that you try being PSO (phone sex operator). It can pay pretty well based on the time you invest and it can completely work around your schedule.

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