This is our truth, tell us yours
Those opposed to sex workers rights have their own language, a hanky code by which one bigot can recognise another. They speak of “johns” and “prostituted women” and of ” in the life” as in “the women in the life dont know their own minds.” Its a strange construction, but one which speaks to their abhorrence of everything that we touch.
The idea that sex work is a life, not just a life style, which may be true for some, or a form of labour, true for all, is based on the idea that once you perform that transaction, of exchanging sex for money, you are cast out from society. The framing of selling sex as “the life” is meant to carry with it all the whorephobic baggage they put around sex workers, the pimps, the drug use, the inability to be a good parent, mental illness, chaos and whichever social evil is popular this week. If course some sex workers may be mentally ill, use drugs, exploited, bad parents, since we a people and people are complex. However the phrase is used to say if you are a sex worker, you are all these things and more.
Furthermore the suggestion that we are in a life separate from the rest of society carries with it the idea that society must be protected from us. This is often used when street workers are said to be a threat to “the community”. The world is split into those with rights, who are allowed into society, and those without, those “in the life”, those who have chosen their own exclusion.
The line used against sex workers who speak out is often “you are not representative” a meaningless phrase which basically means you are not the stereotype we have created in our heads, how dare you be a real person. The representative sex worker is one who is “in the life” one so excluded from society that they would not dare speak out. This paradox pleases antis because then only their well groomed puppets are allowed a voice, and that voice is one where every word, thought and feeling is pre approved by those who only accept fallen women who repent to patriarchy of their sins.
This affects more than academic debates. Many of you will know what happened to me this week. It would probably be of some benefit to me to access rape counselling. However Rape Crisis in the UK takes a radfem stance on sex work, refusing to accept that sex workers can consent (and thus denying that we can be raped). It is that equation of sex work being all that we are, and the exclusion of us from society, summed up by the phrase “in the life”. Work should never define anyone, work should not exclude someone from the support services they need, work should not be seen as all that we are. Sex work is not a life, an ending to whorephobia means accepting that it is not the defining feature of someone any more than working in tesco is. Until antis can leave their whorephobia and misogyny behind though we are trapped “in the life” not because sex work defines us, but because of how others define sex workers.