This is our truth, tell us yours
I’m lucky enough to spend a lot of time talking to Jemima, the other half of this blog, who is a sexworker. One of the joys of social media is that, by following Jem on Twitter, I get to listen to her conversations with other people, many of them also sex workers. In the process, I learn, not just about sex work, but about work in general, and about my career in particular.
The conversation that I was listening into that sparked this blog was about the different styles of sex work that different sex workers adopt. Effectively, the sex workers were testing out the idea that there is a hierarchy of sex workers, that somehow ‘high end’ sex workers are selected for the role by externally validated criteria.
The sex workers I was listening to were talking about the fact that, for many of them, the idea of being a high end sex worker, the kind of worker who can offer their services for a week at a time, say for a foreign holiday with a wealthy punter, is not unattainable because they don’t have the skills or the looks, but because they don’t want to commit that much time to sex work. What if the reason why some of them don’t offer to go on dinner dates with wealthy businessmen is not because they can’t justify the fee, but because they’d rather not have to swallow their opinions while Mr Self Important bigs himself up for four hours? What if their need for some kind of income to cover costs and their needs makes three men a day a better strategy than betting the whole day’s income on one man who may be a no show?
When Jem and myself talked offline we talked about street sex work, and an understanding we’ve developed between us that maybe what sets street sex work apart, or makes it most suitable for some sex workers, is its immediacy; choose the right spot and it’s cash in hand work, immediate, and it’s got, in some red light districts, enough punters for everyone to go home at the end of the night with some cash. Do we have more chance of understanding street sex work, and it’s impact on communities, which can be significant, if we see what street sex workers are doing as a rational choice based on their needs rather than the last chance saloon?
And my career? We were sitting round the office, discussing the fact that Rotherham Council has just advertised for a new Chief Executive, and that according to one of the trade papers, the use of Interim Chief Officers is going up in local government as the sector becomes more and more disrupted by cuts and the endless restructures that follow them. Would any of us, we wondered, want to take a leap into that stream of work, the precarious world of the Chief Officer, or the peripatetic world of the professional interim, living in Travelodges and wondering where the next £700 a day job was going to come from?
I’ve always answered no, that my professional practice is founded in not being mercenary, and in having a rounded lifestyle that balances work, activism and pleasure. Part of my practice is founded in seeing my colleagues not just as people who are only defined by skills or abilities that locate them in the hierarchy. I tend to see positions within the hierarchy as being inversely reflective of the degree to which individuals manage to balance their lifestyles; the more balanced the lifestyle of the individual, the less likely they are to be a candidate for seniority in major organizations.
When I paused writing this blog, then returned to it, I wondered if in fact the claims of the meritocrats who believe that Chief Executives, whether in the public or private sector, deserve disproportionate salaries, amount to the core ideology of a group of men, and a few women, who see themselves as a priestly caste, separate and apart from ourselves.
The idea has grown on me. The key features of a priesthood are their separation from the congregation, by behaviour as much as by training. Celibacy makes most sense, as a feature of the Catholic priesthood, if it is seen as being a behaviour that differentiates the priests from the rest of us, that defines their uniqueness. Chief Executives, similarly, define themselves as unique and special by their willingness to work, to move home, to live thoroughly unbalanced lives in which everything else is set aside in pursuit of the career.
Key too, to any priesthood, is the idea that the priest possesses a power to understand the world, and the Holy Scriptures, that is beyond the rest of us. To challenge the knowledge of a priest is, literally, heresy. Think about how the word of Chief Executives, their opinions, were paraded as arguments against, for instance, Scottish Independence. Think about how, on any topic, the words of the CBI or the Institute of Directors will be used as if they are of especial value.
Yet we know that the priesthood regularly throws up priests who fail. The managers at Tesco for instance, who could only produce the required outcomes by misrepresenting the figures, like Roman priests before Casar misrepresenting rotten entrails as a good sign, a healthy augury.
Listening to other people describe how they worked, how they make choices, helped crystallize my own thinking about the choices I make. The thought that I will never be a Chief Executive because of my choice of a balanced life throws up one last question for all of us. Do we really want the major decisions that affect our lives being made by people who consciously choose an unbalanced lifestyle that makes them priests in their own private religion?