This is our truth, tell us yours
content note for rape.
Yesterday Carter wrote with his usual brilliance of the masks that can be worn when we are looking for sexual partners. The simplistic narrative promoted by the religious right, and unaccountably supported by the anti sex work side of feminism is that the only sex which is acceptable is that which promotes pair bonding in a monogamous relationship and/or for the production of children. Back in the real world we know sex can be had for many reasons from boredom to a desire to feel desirable in those looking glass eyes Carter quoted.
One of the more pernicious impacts of the swerf war on sex workers is that we are denied this nuance. Painted into a corner marked “victim” we cannot have the multitude of motivations allowed others for having sex. As a brief aside this is one of my objections to more simplistic sex positive arguments, the well-meaning, but ill-informed who think terms like enthusiastic consent rest on how wet someone is, or how much noise they make in the bedroom. Enthusiasm is a commodity that can be bought like any other, just ask your waiter who greets you with a smile during a 12 hour shift where every toilet break is monitored
But back to my main point. Reading Carter;s piece I was struck by how similar his discussion of being what the other desired him to be is to my experience as a sex worker. All service work is to some extent performative, sex work is simply a sub category of those jobs where you must have a professional, customer facing face. Anti sex work feminists seem to struggle with this, presumably believing the barista at Starbucks really wants them to have a nice day. Not only is it seen as wrong, or somehow to prove that sex work is wrong, if we admit to the performative nature of sex work (as a service sector job) but it is used to somehow provide evidence that we are victims of some abstract form of abuse.
Non sex workers can, as already mentioned, have sex for a myriad of reasons, including ones which those looking in might deem negative without wishing to criminalize them. If I have low self-esteem and go out down the town on a friday night hoping to pull so that I may have my desirability reflected in the eyes of another I may not be behaving in a manner the nuns approve of, but no one tries to pass a law criminalizing anyone who fucks me. However people demand that sex workers have high self-esteem, are empowered, have genuine orgasms, find fulfillment in their work not expected of anyone else, simply so people who do not do our jobs can feel OK about us doing our jobs.
This insistence on the denial of multiple narratives causes us direct harm, as well as silencing us. As many of you know I was raped by a client last month. Within the narrative of all clients are abusive his behaviour cannot be delineated from the clients before and after him. My experience of the rape becomes irrelevant, rather that #IbelieveHer ,when it comes to sex work antis say #WebelieveOurselves. The importance of allowing individual voices to be heard, of not imposing the narrative you wish to on sex workers is vital if you believe in centering on victims. You see I know that my rapist does not know he is a rapist, he is blissfully unaware of what he did, or the impact it has had on me. The only evidence, if that is not a loaded term, that a rape occured is my experience of what happened as rape. If I am not allowed to say this client was not abusive, I am also denied the ability to say this client was. Another nuance denying, victim silencing narrative is that all rape is about power. It’s not, sometimes its about a horny man who doesn’t even realise that what just happened was rape, who leaves a glowing review talking about my beauty and genuineness.
The harm comes from insisting that the mask I wear when working is any different to the masks others wear when working, From insisting that the mask I wear having sex is any different from those millions of masks others wear having sex. The harm comes when you force me to wear a mask of your choosing, marked victim, in order to access any help or support. The harm comes when you present what happened to me as an inevitable part of my job, because you prefer the mask you marked rescuer.