This is our truth, tell us yours
One of the favourite words of swerfs is invisible, from the exceptionally whorephobic and dehumanising invisible punter “project” to the Melbourne Literary festival which decided to have a panel without sex workers, entitled invisible women. You can read more about that piece of cognitive dissonance here.
The idea of sex workers as invisible is a very odd one, even odder the more you think about it. Laws against us are enforced via our visibility, and a visual determination of us as a member of that group designated “whore”. According to your personal intersections the very sight of you, the visual recognition of you, is enough to be determined a whore according to those in positions of power. So we end up with the conditions of “walking while trans” and/or “walking while black” where the sight of a black/trans body is deemed enough to be a crime, and so often that crime is existence as a sex worker.
Some bodies are hypervisible, no matter how hard you might wish to be anonymous.
As sex workers we are aware of the hypervisibility, and how it intersects with our oppressions of privileges. I remember once showing my “hotel” dress to a friend, a sex worker of colour. She commented that nice as it was she could never risk wearing it. In a society which watches her every move, hypervisible and marked as criminal, as other, as needing to be observed for transgressions, she would only visit hotels in the smartest, and dourest of business suits.
I can be visible, and not seen as a sex worker, she is always visible and so must hide her sex working self. Once either of us is seen, identified, visible as a sex worker we can never become invisible again, that identity is painted upon our foreheads, as our only identity. Look at all of the porn workers who have lost their jobs when a sex working past is revealed, look at all the mothers who have lost their children.
Once we are seen we cannot be un-seen, we cannot become an invisible member of the group, we are marked, permanently, hypervisible.
When we are active, acting in our own lives, we have to strive to be less visible, invisibility is never an option, even if it is a goal we aspire to, a cloak we wear to keep the forces who would control and condemn us at bay.
When people act against us, when we are harmed, we are not invisible, we are erased. I struggled for so long to square this circle, to reconcile our need to avoid being seen and our hypervisibility. We are outed, the process of saying “look a sex worker, point and stare” as a process of violent visibility, and yet, when crimes are committed against us, we cease to be worth of noticing. I could never quite reach a point of understanding then I read this by Sara Ahmed.
She is heard as complaining. When she is heard as complaining she is not heard
Her post is about silence and the culture of harassment, how confidentiality clauses ensure the erasure of complaints, how the victims are invisible and silence is complicity. It might seem a world away from a world which sees sex workers up to the moment of their murders, but that line keeps reverberating through my brain.
We are seen when others want to use our existence, swerfs see us a proof of patriarchy, the religious right as fallen women to be saved, mras as proof of womens basic lack of morals, we are seen, visible in any number of ways, all applied onto us without our consent. At the moment a crime is committed against us it is as if we are demanding to be treated just like every other person, even when dead, we are buried, almost as if we are no longer whores, no more bishops geese and unconsecrated ground. To prevent the complaints of the dead being heard, we are silenced, to ensure we are never heard, never seen as other than whores.
So, to prevent this rejoining, this reacceptance into society, our deaths must be erased, ignored. Not the choice of invisibility, which so often protects us, but a deliberate act of refusing to see the violence enacted against us, for to see it, to hear it, would be to see us, hear us, as people, as not just whores.