I want to tell you about the young man who just committed murder in Atlanta in an act meant to terrorize the Asian community, and in particular Asian Woman.
My name is Lenny and I’m a Black Queer Writer, Theologian, and Lutheran Pastor, but as a teen, I was a sex worker. Like many queer kids in the 90’s, I lived within the deep shadow places of this republic. You know them. You pass them all the time, you know about these secret contracts we make with the republic. Things we pretend we don’t see, so we can still believe that the world is fair. We get to believe that hard work and fairness are still the order of the day.
Massage parlors are a great example of this. We know that there are BIPOC women in incredibly unsafe conditions doing anything to survive and get a piece of the so-called American Dream. We know as we pass the neon and the sparkly curtains with a wink and nudge that there might be human slaves in that building. We pass by on our way to grab a latte as we talk to our friends about the next protest we want to plan.
Not all sex work is grim, and mine wasn’t under duress or the oppression of others. I was young, queer, houseless, and broke. But I know the young man who did this killing. More accurately, I have met hundreds like him. I have seen the almost fiery obsession in their eyes in the moments leading up to sex. The dance of the fevered undressing and the moment you see them relax as they realize they are “safe” to just be free. To be free and lean into pleasure. For 60-120 bucks at a time, they can feel control--control over the heteronormative paradigms that forced them into this situation. They feel in control of the sliding and moving target that is toxic masculinity in this country. I have been on my knees in front of young men like this and they have almost cried.
I have looked in this murderer’s eyes. I have seen the hatred, shame, and utter disgust with themselves enter their eyes seconds after they cum. Their sweet words end abruptly, and suddenly they are telling you to clean the place up next time or assaulting you to avoid payment. Or demanding sexual acts not agreed upon.
You see, it doesn’t surprise me that the evangelical paradigm where this young man found himself set a theological trap for him that made the only “just” solution to sacrifice BIPOC bodies. That’s what America, and particularly the American Church, teaches anyway. It is embedded in our culture so deeply, there are large swaths of white men who can’t see the clear connections between patriarchy, toxic masculinity, and rape culture. The connection is White Supremacy. In all these systems, white men are in charge. They are like fish looking for water.
I know this murderer. I went down on him for 60 bucks in the 90’s. He is the perfect product, the elite cis white male specimen, of the republic. A poor Christian “kid” who is super involved at church and was led into sin. The reality is, the American system turned him into what it always makes young men like him. Just another slave master who didn’t like the way those who are only here to serve him made him feel. That made those 8 people--6 of them women--expendable. The history of Asian oppression in this country is the same as that of all the rest of us: littered with white men who get away with murder.
I’m glad the implicit and inherent white supremacy of this case is being lifted up. What I want you to know is that BIPOC sex workers are real people. Their stories are sacred. Their lives, vocations, and spirits are important part of any community and if anything, we are learning from this that we must increase protections for sex workers federally. It’s time for all sex work to be legal work. Sex workers deserve the same protections as everyone else, including those who migrate here to work in the sex work industry. This simple human measure would have saved 8 lives this week alone.