Well fuck it, might as well make a post out of it it’s gotten long enough now.
There has been many phrases used here that are identified as being oppressive and offensive to sex workers. But don't worry I'm sure you all have your reasons.
The term "empowerment" as it relates to sex work do folks outside of the industry very frequently misunderstand one?
Empowerment is telling our stories, not letting others do it for us.
Empowerment is having autonomy, safety, security, and a voice.
Empowerment is a global goal of sex worker orgs.
Empowerment for folks outside of the sex industry is mistaken for 'pussy power' or some other such shit. It’s simplified, misunderstood and turned into an attack against us, a mockery.
However we tell our stories we're damned if we do, damned if we don't.
If we say, "this doesn't exist, this researcher is bullshitting, it isn't like that at all" when we oppose to someone who looks in on us with anthologizing eyes we are accused of glorifying. If we say, "these are the issues and dangers we face" its like see! Told you sex work was baaad!
We are as old as history yet never has the opportunity to tell our stories; people prefer to listen to others ideas of who we are.
Every so often I come across a paper by Sheila Jeffries, an anti sex work 'feminist' from Melbourne who writes journal articles, presents papers, attends conferences and has even written books about the nefarious things that happen in sex work in Melbourne. She is an Associate Professor at Melbourne Uni. Pity its all bullshit that she spouts, but with the stigma so high, who (of us) is going to put us in jeopardy by outing ourselves as workers? The risks are too great, even with the privileges of living in a town where it is legal. Oh she’s also well known for saying that lesbians who use dildos or engage in S&M are male identified, fucked up. Very anti-trans too. I hate her. You will find her quoted a fair bit by other feminists in sob story accounts of sex work.
Apparently there are all theses brothels unwilling S&M submissive sex workers who get severely injured (she details branding and flaying in a manner reminiscent of bad sci-fi porn)... Hmm aside from the fact that pro-subs are the rarest of all sex workers and it is a field generally specialized by enthusiasts. And show me one person whose earned money from what she has portrayed as an everyday occurrence in this town.
And apparently 80% of sex workers have been raped.
People like Mackinnon, Jeffries (et al) can write what they want, make a career out of their weird fantasies and are held unaccountable.
They state time and time again that sex work harms our minds and is a result of being abused, "having no dignity or self worth". They peddle false stats.
Get quoted and requited and thrown back in our faces.
If we dare to disagree with the experts we are seen as in denial.
Jeffries stated (at a conference, no less) that 40% of sex work no condoms were used, in Melbourne. Condom use is 100% amongst every worker I have ever met, (anything less is pure danger) which is why there were no STI notifications at all in the last reportable period in female sex workers in my state. Not one case. Every six months or so I will encounter a client who will request oral without a condom, something common amongst heterosexually active non sex working women however all oral sex is with barrier methods within sex work. So of course those clients are refused their request. Personally I couldn't imagine anything more disgusting than having a bare penis in my mouth. Yet Jeffries can state what she wants but who will listen to us, reality being more mundane than tabloid style fright fests? Why does no one want to listen to our history, our stories?
The stigma denies us our voice.
This is one reason why I speak up, and yes it is the reason I referred to the experiences of other workers I have known. Just as I am happy for others to quote me elsewhere in regards to my experiences of sex work. Because our voices are so denied, drowned out by huge myths and misogyny, anything we can do to tell our hidden history helps.
Another nugget was something along the lines of sex worker being washed up and 'unemployable' by their early 30s. The average age of sex workers in my city is well over 30! In fact many workers start in their 30s and 40s. The highest earner at my work is 42. I know many women who have had long careers, 20, 30 + years in the industry. Also unemployable? Factually incorrect as well. Sex workers in Melbourne are all subcontractors not employees. You aren't 'hired', you simply join up on shift, the brothel gets their cut, the 'room hire fee' and you get yours for whatever you do in the rooms.
(A complete side issue but I wish the hetero women out there who worry about their bodies could see what I do working in a brothel, that successful sex workers do come in all sizes, shapes, ages).
And yes I'm speaking of my experiences here in depth ware that I only first hand have experienced sex work illegally & legally in one western country as I'm only an expert on myself. But just like there is a huge divide between what Jeffries, the highly paid academic of a university says about work here and the reality of sex work in this town I've spent 6yrs hookering in there is also that same mofo huge gap between what SEA sex workers experiences are and what the 'savior orgs' say it is. And while SEAsian sex workers are speaking out against being portrayed as fantasy-victims through the lens of racism, which cannot accept the image of organized, autonomous third world sex workers if I do not quote their words, I'm doing them (and all other hidden from history sex workers) a disservice. When I hear again and again women express anger at being patronized, this is there reality - I will not deny it. They haven't access to a public voice in the way that some missionary savior org would.
Workers talk and share history, usually because we are the only ones who will listen to other workers.
But ignore me, and seek out their voices.
Or at least do us a fucking favor and read what the women from Empower Chiang Mai say about the anti trafficking groups and the shit they put workers through that I linked, hear it from there side instead of from the folks that want to eradicate them.
No one outside listens to our stories because if we say anything positive about being sex workers it is seen as a result of how fucked up we are to not notice.
How do you have an open and honest dialogue with some who describes your work as "multiple rape" and describes yourself as being a victim shaped by male brutality?
I'm sick to death of people immediately going sex work- exploitation- pimps- violence -STI/aids.
Want to know how it is in my head? Didn't think so but I'll bore you anyway... sex work- mostly boring. I think of the joking around in the girl’s room, yakking about your kids, girlfriends, boyfriends, study, politics or fluff. The TV going, cups of coffee. I think of the routine schpiel that i say at intros, how so many guys say nearly the exact same things whether I'm doing the STI check, putting them in the shower, or when they are cumming. Watching guys on the security screen deciding whether or not to intro. I think of being exhausted at the end of shift and changing into a tracksuit, packing away laundry. More time is spent having dull conversations with clients than sex and the sex itself is a rather unspectacular and mundane and tends to be brief. Condoms taste gross, which moron came up with berry-flavored rubber?
What is the knee jerk reaction from non-workers a result of? Where are you (non workers) getting these ideas? Watching crime TV shows, which are riddled with murdered sex workers, shock-horror sensationalist articles, anti sex work feminists who write from their imagination.
Yet they think they actually know what sex work is like...
STI's? In most countries where there is ready access to condoms and it where it has been ethically researched sex workers have lower rates of STI's than the general population. Sadly due to USAID funding cuts condom shortages are hitting more than a few countries and there may be a reverse of this trend.
The problem is not the sex work; it’s the lack of services for sex workers.
Even in desperate situations, such as the aforementioned sex workers in Sub Saharan Africa who wash and re-use condoms, the attempt is at trying to ensure safety. Sadly its ineffective but these folks aren't being helped by hand wringing and being labeled and patronized. They need free condoms immediately.
Pimps? Never met one. But it’s an image that gets perpetuated because folks can't get the idea of the female sex worker as an autonomous woman. The closest thing to the myth of the pimp is the abusive male partner who forces his wife to engage in sex work, which is a domestic violence situation and to me is more a reflection of the dangers of heterosexual relationships than a feature of sex work!
People love spewing that one around. Get over it, really.
I know of workers and org reps who've been interviewed by magazines for features on sex work and have very little of what they've said end up in print, words taken out of context and down right misquotes.
Why is slavery linked with sex work in popular discourse in a way that agricultural or construction work is not, or being a maid/butler? Or being a restaurant worker?
Why is it that if a sex worker is the victim of a violent act it is seen as the result of her job instead of a result of having the horrible misfortune of encountering a rapist?
Why do some people hold the belief that all non-Western sex workers are brutalized victims?
Perhaps some of the kickarse, strong women I've met shame their non-working sisters with their activism? Is it threatening that it has to be denied its existence?
Why do we only get one script that others write for us of misery and abuse and if we tell our stories that deviate from that we aren't being realistic?
I've never met anyone who did sex work for anything other than the money.
I have met in the decade in the industry very few women who were not from a poverty/working class background.
Its the first question the privileged researchers ask, loaded with the stigma they already held "why did you become a sex worker?" as if the attractive option of high pay for little work compared to offer available options doesn't occur.
Try to draw a line from trauma to sex work. The only reason is money.
Which is where the "women need to do sex work out of poverty" line gets problematic, and is an issue for us because of what is behind that statement. Working class/poverty line folks "need to work for money" whether they work in a factory, a shop or choose the more lucrative option of sex work. The undercurrent is that somehow it is more devastating/tragic to be a sex worker as a result of poverty than it is to be saying a waitress. That assumption pisses us off.
No one talks of the women who choose make more money in sex work in SEA than say working for the factories that make your I-pods. That isn't seen as the same devastating exploitive result of poverty. Its like those orgs who want to 'save women from prostitution' only for them to end up in sweat shops instead.
The issues faced by folks working in sex work where it touches on exploitation, danger and powerlessness are parallel to conditions in all other industries where poor folks work, the issue is the class (and very often race) we are from not the job we do.
When I followed my pathway away from mainstream feminism (which for the most alienates and stigmatizes sex workers and very often doesn't look in at issues of racism and class) towards sex work activism specifically I was refreshed, renewed. Instead of conversations concerning largely US-centric, middle class white experiences/concerns and issues from the 'other' barely getting a look in, I encounter class and race aware discussion, I can read about the sex worker movements globally. In feminist sites or mainstream media I never read about the Sex worker unions in African and Asian countries with thousands of members and the work they do, the fights they win, the struggles they face. Or the mass protests (by hundreds or even thousands of) sex workers such as those in Ghana, Bangladesh, South Korea or Mexico. I can read about the sex worker groups in SEA that got together and donated all their earnings from one day of sex work to their fellow workers whose livelihood was destroyed by the Tsunami (especially as many workers where migratory and lacked access to other services when the disaster hit). Did anyone else even think about what happened to all the sex workers who worked those beachfront bars? Or help? Workers orgs did, while mainstream feminists write articles about 'prostituted women' and the TV shows peddled the horror porn of victim, powerlessness, and abuse.
It’s a global movement with a unity I wish feminist orgs would learn from.
When it is brought up (as it has sadly too many times) comparisons with sex work or related discussion like "we are supposed to be broadminded about sex work here but not XYZ" it doesn't feel like acceptance to me. It feels like tolerance of sex workers is a stretch, a favour, not a right.
Like recently when a post came up discussing ridiculous laws aimed at infringing on sex worker mobility the overwhelming response was "OMG! Just because you do this doesn't make you a prostitute" not that the laws were unfair to sex workers, and as if being compared to a sex worker was a horrific experience.
We are hidden from history every time you listen to the stories about us from anyone other than a sex worker. Every time you have that knee jerk reaction based on TV show plots.
Next time you happen to be around a large amount of elderly women chances are there may be ex sex worker amongst them. Hell maybe even a current one!
Any given moment in all countries men and women are providing for themselves, their families or their communities through the exchange of sex for money. Its mundane, its common and old as time itself. Where are the stories of women worldwide that've found away out of desperation by being sex workers?
I cannot compare my first world experiences of poverty with ones from societies without social security but in my case sex work provided me away out of homelessness, the opportunity to study, it provided for my children, my mother and my siblings to buffer them from the effects of living under the poverty line in this country.
It shouldn't have to be said that we aren't fairytale characters, demeaned victims, and subhuman. That we are everywhere. But with what I keep reading here and else where obviously it hasn't been said enough.
Maybe we'll all feel better talking about the good and the bad when we are treated as human beings, but for while any negative experience we have is used as ammunition against us by those who see us as a succession of clichés we're better off talking amongst ourselves.