This is our truth, tell us yours
Since the reformation the history of western philosophy, and much of our cultural life has placed the products of the mind above those of the body. Work which is done with the mind is seen as superior to that which is done with the body. As our class system became embedded in the education system (or perhaps as our education system was designed to reproduce our class system) this hierarchy of values was written across it. Those considered to be successful went to grammar schools, the middle tier to secondary moderns and the rest, the failures, went to technical school. In recent years this has been replicated as successive governments talk of A levels being the “gold standard” and reduce funding to vocational courses such as BTEC. I remember being told I could not take a typing class at high school (I wanted to be a journalist) because I was academic.
One of the most common ways those opposed to sex workers rights attack us is by talking insultingly of the physical side of our work, We are dismissed because we suck dick, a physical act, a dismissal which comes straight from the hierarchies of western capitalism, as well as a patriarchal slut shaming and horror of the impure woman. Of course the physical labour performed by women has always been dismissed and demeaned. Women manual workers have fought, and in some cases still are fighting, for equal pay with their male counterparts. Middle class feminists still insist that women were denied the right to work while poor, migrant, and women of colour had their lives destroyed by the factories and mines of the industrial revolution, or cleaned the floors and watched the children of the very women insisting that women were denied the right to work. Erasing not only manual work as work but in many cases removing lesser women from the class of women, something still done to sex workers, black women and trans women.
Given this narrative, that physical labour is demeaning, and does not exist when it is performed by women (and most certainly should not receive monetary payment, since women’s work is that work which she gives for free) it is not surprising that many who advocate for sex workers rights emphasise the emotional labour involved with the job. It is after all labour with the mind rather than labour with the body. There is nothing wrong with pointing out that for some sex workers the emotional labour is a large part of what they are being paid for. It also links to the fact that jobs which tend to rely on emotional labour, such as nursing, teaching of young children, care work, are usually gendered as female jobs and underpaid and undervalued. However there is, I believe an element of respectability politics creeping in here, and a dismissal that it is usually those of us charging the lower fees for whom the job is the most physical.
I can of course only speak of myself, and my own choices, but I have made a conscious decision to not have to engage more than minimally in the emotional side of sex work. I sell fucking and sucking. Most survival sex workers, street workers, those on the fringes, do. Sometimes its through choice, sometimes it’s because it’s all they know, or all they have access to.
My preference for concentrating on the body, the physical was brought home to me in a very different context recently, and is what sparked this post. I had, foolishly decided to meet carter for the purposes of making smiles, without telling him I had injured my back. Whilst he knew within seconds that something was wrong it took me much longer to accept that I did not need my full physicality to submit or to please. However the levels of trust implied in honestly explaining which position will be less painful in order to be caned (on the tummy or flat on my back as it turned out) is a openeness I am not willing to have with clients. For me the performance of sex work must be a physical performance because whilst I can, willingly give my physical labour, the emotional labour is something I hold back.
In some ways it reminds me of this post by the incredible Charlotte Shane, where she discusses wanting to be monogamous. I have no such desire. However I do understand that desire to only be fully yourself with someone, and that there are some things which can only be given, never bought. A client may have incredible, mind blowing sex with me, but they will never be able to lie along side me as I completely lose myself emotionally and intellectually.
This is of course not unique, as Carter wrote here there are many forms of work, some take a performative role, some are physical, some combine the two. I do think though that sex workers, and their allies must not be afraid to say sex work is physical work, and it should not be dismissed or devalued because of its physical nature.