As a queer, feminist who also works in the sex industry, I find myself constantly having to apologise to society. Now, I am also white and educated so I understand that there are women, men, Trans*, gender queer sex workers, immigrant and POCs in the industry who have a much harder time than me. However, in society’s eyes, any form of sex work immediately makes you queer. You are removed from what is deemed ‘acceptable’ society and placed in a separate dimension that almost runs parallel to surface dimension but is pushed underground. Our place in society is shrouded in contentious conversation whether that’s around gender, sexuality, objectification, feminism, morality, safety, legality and human rights.
Due to this stigma, this shrouding of the sex industry, many sex workers will not speak openly about their experiences for fear of losing friends, family, jobs and university places. It has happened more than once where someone has come out in defense of themselves only to find that their parents or their children disowned them as a result. This is not to say that a personal account is always more accurate as Downing talks about in her review, “This idea presupposes subjects capable of transparently reproducing absolute truth in discourse.” which again, due to high levels of stigma it is likely that the truth from us is going to be a little toned down if not blurred. That said, the lack of discourse from sex workers themselves leaves room, and in this room there are assumptions (Victoria Holt, ‘Being paid to be in pain’).
I suppose one of these is that “sex work” can be used as an overarching term, when in actual fact sex work is a myriad of incredibly diverse individuals and diverse practices. From phone chats to glamour modelling to escorting to BDSM and fetish to strip clubs to queer sex work to selling pants and writing erotica, the list is endless. So, while I write about my personal experiences of myself and of consenting accounts from friends of mine, our patch is a tiny section of a much larger inter-sectional tapestry so I implore you to accept the limits of my writing.
However, I would like to write a largely unabashed account of what our lives are like as a group that is primarily spoken about as the butt of jokes, from a place of misunderstood concern, publicly shamed, as public safety hazards or whispered about in corners of the dark web. Although, we are never more talked about than when it is being questioned as to whether we deserve rights and if we should be criminalised or not.
The people making these decisions rarely, if ever, consult us – the actual sex workers – those of us who actually might be able to inform on these crucial decisions and debates. If we want to be heard, we are forced to come out and speak openly in forums that we may not be comfortable speaking in. For example, having worked in strip clubs for five years I would know exactly what to say if someone asked me what I want to see in terms of safety and good working conditions except no one ever has.
Part of me writing this, is to force my views into the open whether society wants to hear them or not. Another is that, I do feel like I owe someone an explanation. I feel like I should feel guilty for choosing to work in an industry that can objectify women, that can encourage violence towards others, that can be shallow, that can be cruel and judgmental but rather than be placed in those brackets when the industry is also so diverse and so full of other amazing people and amazing activists like Jacq the Stripper, Erika Lust, Cassandra Avenatti, Zahra Stardust, Kemalita Ördek – I’d like my story to come from me and be by me as opposed to others writing it for me with assumptions and fill-in-the-gap madlib style ghost writing. I feel like the correct explanation about my life will not be satisfied until I get a say in it, at least. Then you can decide what you will.