This is our truth, tell us yours
The more I write, the less often I write, it’s partly a feature of having said many of the things I wish to already. It’s also though that nuance, inhabiting the grey area between extremes, listening to the multitude, is harder than a quick polemic. Anger is easy, seeing complexity is not. Given this there is always a moment now when I put pixel to screen of asking myself, is it easier to give the world the simple view, even if that view is inauthentic? All of this is a long winded way of saying this may not be the blog you are looking for if you were attracted by the headline.
Those who are not well briefed, immersed even, in the nuances of the fight for sex workers rights rarely cover themselves in glory. If the road to hell is paved with good intentions the road to sex worker liberation is paved with the bodies of sex workers, the victims of those who just had to have an opinion (Newsflash, its really OK to not have an opinion on sex work, especially if you are not a sex worker).
I have seen two kinds of responses to Councillor Parsons cackhanded intervention in the debate about stigma faced by sex workers. The first is that of course sex work should be discussed by careers advisors, the second that this is a sign of the evils of decrim, children being forced into sex work. Both are as wrong as his ill-informed statement.
Firstly, lets consider what he was hoping to achieve, highlighting the stigma people who are sex workers face. Its a huge issue, and one which has many different approaches. Humanizing sex workers is hard, there are many casualties along the way. If we reveal too much of ourselves we risk being outed. If we are a one note scream against injustice people turn away. It’s easy to not present the problematic side of sex work, to gloss over it, in the hope that in the moment of catching someones eye they will see us, not the shadows in which we must hide. It’s that problem of complexity again, to see me I have to allow myself to be seen, and as I wrote here the relationship between sex work and visibility is a complex one.
So, sex workers face stigma, knowing that, knowing we are associated with deviancy, with danger, with the taboo, asking why children aren’t offered it as a job option is incredibly naive. In fact when I first saw the headlines I assumed the unfortunate counsellor was opposed to sex workers rights. Its a common line of swerfs “if sex work were a real job then why isnt it taught in schools, why arent careers advisors suggesting it” Then they walk away, thinking they have landed a killer punch.If your intervention in a debate leaves the subjects of the debate wondering what side you are on, you really should have stayed silent.
Secondly in what world is it seen as OK for an adult to tell a child to go and have sex?
Sex work is work, that does not mean it is work that can, or should be done by everyone.It is also sex. This is one of those issues of nuance which cause me to close drafts, to think why bother. Councillor Pearson compares sex work to accountancy, again showing how little knowledge he had of the subject. Are accountants in more danger of being raped, of being murdered because of their job? Do accountants face homelessness and losing their children if people discover they are accountants?
You cannot challenge stigma if you do not understand the real world impacts of that stigma.
Furthermore by removing the sex from sex work you erase why we need certain protections. Its a subject little written about, largely because antis leap on anything which is not 100% positive. They silence us, or try to. Since I decided a few years ago to be warts and all about sex work I have noticed however that the “you are not representative” argument is used less and less often. I do not claim sole credit for this, what happened, I think is that a critical mass of people stopped pretending, stopped trying to be something that can never exist, the perpetually happy hooker. Instead they said, yeah, this often stinks, so what, we still deserve labour rights.
Sixteen year olds can and do sell sex. I know incredibly successful sex workers who started at that age, or younger. However I also know people torn apart by their experiences, who have had to spend years rebuilding their lives. Not because of stigma but because 16 year olds often make choices which their future selves will weep over.
Carter told me today that 700 British service men have died in the past 10 years. That’s a far more dangerous job than sex work is for someone like me (white, seemingly middle class, cis, abled) Yet our careers advisors still tell young men on working class estates to sign up to put their lives on the line. How many of them at 20,30,40 will look back and weep at the choice they made. For every lad from Carlisle saying how signing up was the making of him their is a homeless soldier being ignored by the commuters as he begs for the money he needs.
Carers advisors sell a lie, they sell the lie that no 16 year old will regret the choices they make now in 20 years time. In this age of zero hour contracts and austerity they compound the lie with the idea careers exist. To add another lie, that sex work does not face particular risks, would perhaps not be that odd, coming from people who send young men off to die but it does not make it right. I am not saying sex work is equivalent to killing, I am saying that careers advisors are not the touchstone of whether a job should be done, or recommended to a child.
Sex work can be, and is, a career choice. Like all work however it is something done to pay the mortgage, feed the kids, out of fear, desperation or need. If you don’t understand that, you don’t understand work. Sadly it seems that the lib dem councillor understand neither sex work or work. By speaking without understanding they have given ammunition to those who would deny our right, which was the last thing sex workers needed. It forces us back into the false binary of loving our job and never mentioning the down side or being victims in need of rescue. My careers advice to him is simple, next time he wants to help a vulnerable group, ask them what they need before wading in and making things worse for them
If you are interested in how to be a better ally to sex workers, I wrote this post just for you.