30-year-old Toronto writer raises $10,000 for sex work community that saved her life
Accomplished writer, former social worker and current sex therapist and educator Kai Cheng Thom had just one wish for her 30th birthday – to support a community that's always been there for her.
And now, with the news of the shootings at an Asian massage parlour in Atlanta, Thom – the Toronto author of the children's book From the Stars in the Sky to the Fish in the Sea – hopes everyone will get in on the act.
Her GoFundMe, created a day before her March 12 birthday, refers to "the healing power and beauty of the sex work community."
She says that by teaching her to advocate for herself, and being there when she felt isolated, the community saved her life, and does the same for others every day.
Within a week, the fundraiser surpassed its $10,000 goal to raise money for Maggie's Toronto Sex Worker Action Project (SWAP), an organization that's been advocating for sex workers for nearly 40 years.
"It's really heartening to see that people do support and care," Thom tells blogTO.
Thom says sex workers really need it.
"My own experiences have informed me on how very stigmatized and discriminated against sex workers are."
They're also often criminalized. Though it is not illegal to sell sexual services in Canada, Bill C-36 does make it illegal to buy them, putting the industry in an absurd legal grey area.
"What those laws do is make it really impossible for sex workers to look for support from government-based agencies," Thom says. "They're not going to get support from the police if they're a criminalized person."
She says police inspections of massage parlours can turn into what feels like harassment, leaving sex workers feeling victimized and outcast.
Changing this and standing up for sex workers' rights have been the main objectives at Maggie's since 1986.
As their website says, "To decriminalize sex work in Canada - and remove all criminal laws that target our communities - would allow sex workers to structure work on their terms, assert their rights as workers and access government aid, community supports and services in stigma-free environments."
Thom first got involved in this type of work as a young trans woman in her hometown of Vancouver.
"I've always been very close to the community of sex workers," she says. "As a teen in Vancouver and also as a young adult in Montreal, many of my friends worked and continue to work in the erotic industries like escorting, porn, massage, that type of thing."
Today, a large part of Thom's work is as a somatic sex educator, which is essentially a body-based sex therapy.
"It includes a hands-on component like using erotic massage and touch as part of an educational or therapeutic process and that is considered sex work by some," she says.
For those interested in helping Asian-specific organizations, Thom suggests contributing to the Toronto-based Butterfly Asian and Migrant Sex Workers.
Kai Cheng Thom
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