This is our truth, tell us yours
There cannot be many people who follow this blog who have not read the excellent piece in Tits and Sass by Lime Jello. In it they discuss their experiences of sex work. It is a fact that sex workers voices on the dangers, the bad days, the bad years, are silenced, silenced by our own fear that if we talk about these things those who want to criminalize and endanger us will use our own narratives against us.
I have attempted in my own small way to break this silence, open as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, and the impact that has had on my mental health. The problem is the only horror stories swerfs want to hear are those from their tame pets, the few former sex workers and fantasists who tell stories of torture and rape at event after event. My anger at the re-abusive nature of this, and at how victims are forced to refrain from healing and closure to get support, burns stronger than my anger at those who simply want to ban sex work because it offends their religious values.
In Canada and Ireland they listened to the horror stories not because they wanted to hear about sex work but because they wanted to hear stories that confirmed their prejudices and whorephobia. So there is always a risk in presenting a more complex narrative. There is also a more personal risk which I am all too well aware of. When I was stalked, harassed and eventually outed there were three main motivating factors. The first was that I was very vocal in making the link between sex workers rights and trans rights. I was not the first but once the terfs pinned me as a traitor to cis womanhood punishment was inevitable. The second reason was that there is a pattern of going after small fish like me, to isolate the big fish, so it can be claimed they are not representative, and to scare of other sex workers who might want to speak out. Some of you may remember what happened to @BeaAttitide in this respect. (Many thanks to Brooke Magnanti who pointed out instances of this happening to others) Lastly though was the fact I said, yeah, I am mad and was raped as a child, why does that mean I shouldn’t have rights as an adult? Answering that question is impossible, so the questioner must be silenced.
So talking about the negatives not only carries a risk to sex workers, but a personal risk. Perhaps this is why a quote in the lime jello piece stuck me so forcibly.
It makes sense to me to think of “choice” as a spectrum of constraints and conditions that make some people more or less likely to be faced with the decision to do, or not do, sex work. Different people are at different places on the spectrum, and some people, like my sister, are at different places at different times in their lives.
Currently I am exiting sex work, which always makes me think of airplanes, 2 exits at the back 2 over the wings, and 2 at the front. Please remove all high heels and leave your baggage behind. Part of me feels disloyal even discussing this. When Feminist Current and New Statesman swerfs follow your work and pop up randomly to hector you on twitter its easy to imagine them seeing this as some sort of victory. Which is when I read that quote again, when someone writes better than you can can how you feel it is an amazing experience.
Without sex work I would not have reached the point of recovery from my abuse that I have. It is not the only factor, but it is an imprortant one. I am all too aware that my intertwineing of sex and external validation are most likely rooted in my previous experiences. However I would have been able to reach internal validation without the external.
In choosing to leave sex work I should not have to say it was all fabulous, or all awful for my voice to be heard. Nor should I have to defend my choices. For a while sex work was the best choice for me, now I have found something I am good at and enjoy that carries none of the risk and stigma of sex work, without the income from sex work this change in jobs would not be possible. One of the most patronising things about the rescue industry is their refusal to acknowledge that sewing classes just dont provide the income sex work can. To be acceptable it seems we must give up on ambitions, on not living in poverty, to any idea of changing our lives and circumstances.
Change without retribution is something the swerfs refuse to accept can even happen. Or perhaps fear that without the punishment more people might chose to sell sexual services. Its why I am all too aware that no matter what else I achieve in my life if there is ever a wikki page about me, or obituary, it will be headed “former sex worker”. The stain of whorephobia never washes off.
An odd aspect of trying to change though is I am finding sex work harder than ever before, logging into my site takes a deliberate girding of the loins, smiling, chatting, opening my legs all take far more of a mental effort than ever before. At this moment when I need the income from sex work in order to have other choices I wish I never had to see another client as long as I live. (Again I can see certain people rubbing their hands in glee at that admission). However it’s that issue of choice not being a one time deal, or sex work being all happy hooking or wretched victims, it’s about choice, about knowing that each blow job moves me closer to my goal. We can be in different places in the same job, it is irrelevant to wanting rights and an end to stigma.
Doing a job you don’t particularly want to isn’t unique to sex work, and I am exceptionally privileged in that I like sex. In one of those areas of silence however we are told not liking our job is unique, that sex you are not enthusiastic about is sex that is forced. Our ability to consent, to chose, is denied by people who want to hear tales of rape and abuse, but only if they can control the speaker and what is said. If we change jobs then we are assumed to have lied about either liking sex work, or tales of rape or abuse are demanded from us. It cannot be, that simply the same person can have different choices at different times.