Photo by My Tran
Puffing on a vape pen, third-year sociology student Phoebe Sajor has the smoothest vibes. With her bleached bronze hair, her warm brown eyes, and her dimpled megawatt grin, one could almost swear she’d glow if she weren’t obscured by clouds of smoke. Beneath this blue-sky exterior, however, is an ocean mind. Don’t let her quiet radiance fool you — Sajor is a woman on a mission, and a woman on a mission is a perfect raging storm.
Sajor first discovered her mission — feminist activism — when she was dress-coded back in high school. Blindsided by her favorite chemistry teacher, Sajor was singled out in class for wearing a knee-length dress with spaghetti straps, and had reluctantly agreed to wear a shirt over it.
“The next day, I wore a turtleneck to school… then, I wore a parka… then I wore a snow suit with skiing goggles,” Sajor grins. News of the protest spread like wildfire. Everyone at school couldn’t stop talking about the girl in the snowsuit, sweating through all her classes, all to protest a dress code that shamed girls for their bodies.
“A[nother] girl eventually came up to me and was like, ‘you need to start a feminism club!’” Sajor widens her eyes. “[The club] is still active today, and they still use my story as a pep talk!” Sajor not only ended up receiving an eventual apology and regaining the respect of her teacher — she crafted a legacy for younger girls to follow in her footsteps.
Since dedicating herself to fighting for these issues, Sajor sees that feminism operates at an intersection. Engaging with so many different kinds of women, Sajor is a huge advocate for female solidarity across identity coordinates. “[Feminism is] based on so many things, it isn’t just about womanhood, but all the pieces that make you who you are,” she states emphatically.
As a bisexual Asian-American woman of color who’s done sex work, Sajor has her own fair share of experiences with multilayered discrimination and difficult sexual politics. She understands other people undergo complications and struggles in relation to their identities. “I just don’t want to speak over people. It’s my place to be an ally, but not to speak for them.” The worst thing Sajor can imagine is speaking up, but silencing someone else in the act.
What Sajor can — and does — avidly advocate for are sex worker rights, sex positivity, and sex health and education. “Having been a sex worker, I know how dangerous it is.” Sajor gets real — sex workers have a 75 percent likelihood of being raped in comparison to 25 percent for the average woman. Because it’s a criminalized industry, there are little to no systemic protections for workers.
“People don’t care,” she pauses. For the first time, Sajor reveals a chip in her armor. “There’s such a whorephobia in the world. If you’re a prostitute, people don’t care what happens to you. Who’s going to cry for you?” she asks, plaintively. “It’s work, it’s real work.”
Sex work takes organization, time, and physical — as well as emotional labor. The effort is often dismissed to portray sex workers as deviant and desperate, forcing them to work in deplorable conditions. She continues, “And if a person decides to use their body to make money, it’s their body … People need to start caring [about sex worker rights]. Places where sex work is legalized have four times fewer reported rates of sexual assault than in the United States, but people don’t talk about it enough because it’s so taboo.”
“More people need to start caring, more feminists need to start speaking out about it — fixing up our system of sex work is so important,” she puts her vape down. “People don’t often realize that what they’re doing is sex work as well,” she says, trying to emphasize how high the stakes are for all kinds of sex workers. “Certain types of sex work are so popularized — like sugar babying, and people don’t realize that part of that is often sex work. So many people talk about wanting to be a sugar baby — that’s sex work!”
Sajor is passionate for people who find themselves in vulnerable positions, especially when it comes to sex, so they are aware of their rights and do everything safely. That’s why she’s starting an online safe sex education show called “The Hoe Show” to debut next spring. “Half the states don’t have mandatory safe-sex education, but people are going to have sex — and safe, pleasurable sex is a human right,” Sajor explains. She goes on to describe the show as a compilation of academic articles and expert opinions, all researched and scripted into videos you can watch from the privacy of your bedroom.
“I feel like a lot of people are ashamed to ask for help when it comes to sex … [it’s] really important to have a place online to get real facts and know you’re getting the best possible information from multiple sources,” Sajor said, mentioning all the different things she’s learned since starting this project. Things like: how most sex toys are bad for your body, they can transfer STD’s even though you’ve washed them, lube is bad for your body … (some of all the things you can hear about when “The Hoe Show” comes out!).
“But I just want people to do research and understand how dangerous it could be,” Sajor stresses most of all, “not just physically but emotionally — whether it’s porn, cam, sugar babying, prostitution,” — or just a regular sexual encounter — “there’s nothing wrong with that, but don’t just push your boundaries. [As things stand,] the system [of taboos and criminalization still] puts us in danger.”
At the core, Phoebe Sajor is a woman on a mission: to make the world a safer place for all kinds of women — and it’s a mission more people ought to learn about and take up.