This is our truth, tell us yours
Content note for mention, without details, of rape and child abuse.
One of the things people claim about both sex work and BDSM is that they find them empowering. It is something I personally understand. I think the process of realizing I was the mover in my own life with regard to my sexuality began the first time I visited a swinging club. To realise that others found me attractive struck at the core of my view of myself. To be able to say yes, I want, I like sex, touched very deep beliefs. For years I struggled with my identity as a woman, and a mother, since for me wanting sex was so tied up with being abused.
As I explored swinging, which led to BDSM and also to sex work each step was a move towards reclaiming what was taken from me, the power over my own body and sexuality. When I bend for the cane it might be in a different frame of mind to when I give a client a blow job but both have taught me that I have the right to say no, and that it is my choice what happens to my body.
So far so empowering…except…I struggle with the idea my personal narrative has any relevance to any wider discussion of either BDSM or sex work. It is particularly when it comes to sex work that I find the personal empowerment narrative problematic, and it is because of the second part of the term, work.
Sex can be many things, what matters is that it is consensual, if it is empowering then that is usually beneficial to the people involved. When I was a child, or later in life, when I was abused I had no power. I was taught that my needs, wants, desires were meaningless. Those lessons run deep, and take a lot of unlearning. It is part of the reason I hold a particular hatred for the “sex work is rape” lobby. The Ditums, Bindels and Glosswitches who just like any rapist believe they can define consent, ignore consent, silence consent, place their hands across the mouth of sex workers and say, thou shall not speak.
[Image description A white woman is in the center of the picture, staring straight out at the viewer, a white mans hand is across her mouth.]
This is the kind of picture beloved of those opposed to sex workers rights, although they prefer to show a Man of Colour silencing a white woman, so deep-rooted in racism are the trafficking myths. However it is far more often other women who silence sex workers, who threaten us with outing, who call us pimps, who claim we enjoyed being raped. The hand across the mouths of sex workers does not belong to the mythical pimp, but to those swerfs (sex worker exclusionary radical feminists) who are ideologically opposed to us existing. We blog, we tweet, we run organisations on a shoe string whilst trying to work, pay bills and generally survive as so many others are doing.
So telling my story has some importance. By saying yes, I came from a place of darkness into one of light and sex work was part of that process. When I talk openly about being a survivor of childhood sexual abuse I pry away one finger. When I talk about being raped I loosen another. When I mention my disabilities, invisible as they are, I snap at another with my teeth. When I say yes, sex work has empowered me I wrench the hand away from my face.
The thing is none of this matters.
Oh it matters to me, personally, it matters to those who care about me, those close to me. For one thing the saner I am the easier I am to live with. However in the wider world my experiences matter not one bit, because none of us are representative.
It’s because of the second word, work.
There is a very strange suggestion by those opposed to sex workers rights that we do not deserve those rights because of how they perceive work to be. Apparently work must be enjoyable, chosen for reasons other than economic necessity, 100% safe (whatever that means) and empowering to be acceptable. Despite the fact no work, except of course that done by swerfs, meets these criteria, it is sex work they chose to focus on.
It is vital the classism of this is recognized. The idea that work somehow transfers moral respectability is one that has been pushed by the middle classes in a variety of ways. From the respectable poor of the Victorians to the hard-working families of the ConDems the ruling classes have tried to convince the working classes that their construct of work is the one we must aspire too. We are defined by our work so they can dehumanize us. Categorised as having value according to the respectability of our work, and how we spend the products of it.
Whilst the working class have always seen work for what it is, the thing you have to do to pay the bills, to eat, to keep a roof over your head, to feed the kids and if you are lucky have two weeks away when you behave in a manner your betters disapprove of in every way. You do not live to work, you work to live. By simply living workers offend the idea we exist only to be workers, we offend our lords and masters who define us by our work.
Sex workers are workers.
Read that again.
Sex workers are workers.
Workers do not need to enjoy their jobs, they do not need to be empowered, they do not need to be in a career, or climbing the corporate ladder. They do not have to behave respectably, they do not need to spend their wages on organic quinoa and rice cakes.
Workers need rights.
All workers need rights
Sex workers need rights
All sex workers need rights.