Being a dyke I’ve been intimately involved with sex workers both as lovers, friends, and colleagues. I think straight people get surprised by the link between sex workers and the lesbian community. The fact is, a high percentage of female sex workers are queer. I not only know sex workers, I was one for a very very very brief time. It was phone sex, it was terribly boring and silly. I pretended to have an orgasm while watching t.v., and then I quit when a foot fetishist kept asking for me, just because he talked and talked for a REALLY long time. I did, however, come really close several times to doing street based sex work. In that case, it wasn’t because I actively chose that kind of work, it would have been survival sex work. I lived in grinding poverty for several years in Vancouver, I often had no food, I skipped on my rent several times, I ran up bills I couldn’t pay, I had a very difficult time being hired for work, mainly for being a butch woman. Sometimes I had no phone. I wasn’t going to do sex work for drugs, I just want to go eat at least one meal in a day. And through all that I still self funded a video art practice.
God, let me say again, I have only ever gotten one grant in my entire career. I honestly don’t know where this idea that I’m getting tons of money for being an Indian comes from.
So yeah, sex work. My family helped me out some, but they did the guilt trip thing, and I never told them about wandering along the strolls wondering about getting into the next car that stopped for me.
I had a girlfriend who started doing sex work again while we dated. Friends were really fucked up about the whole thing. They thought she was some kind of low life (she was going to university), they felt bad for me dating her (no way, she was cute and sweet!), and one friend even asked me if I was jealous for her doing sex work. I had to laugh at that one. I didn’t really care that she was having sex for money, my only concern about her was the very real possibility of being assaulted on the job.
Some people say that the dangers sex workers face is exactly why it should be eliminated and more aggressively prosecuted. I think this is problematic, because it pushes sex work even farther on the margins. People who do Shame The Johns campaigns and push sex workers out of neighborhoods put these women into even more unsafe places, like industrial areas where there’s more isolation. The more prostitution is criminalized, the easier it is for predators to prey on women. Even filing a rape report if you’re in the biz becomes a humiliating venture where cops refuse to believe a sex worker can be raped.
If people are serious about keeping vulnerable women from doing sex work out of survival, they need to look at the bigger picture. The minimum wage should be raised, women’s labour should be more respected and improved, and for sure butch women and other marginalized people need to have more job opportunities. Consider how many transwomen end up in the sex work biz.
And there are sex workers who like their jobs, as much as people hate to consider. Some women I know have certain clients who are their favorites, there’s a certain level of intimacy that happens that while it is not romantic, falls under a category of therapy. While there are assholes out there, there are also a lot of johns who are genuinely just looking for some closeness and release which they may not get for certain reasons like age, disability, the recent death of a wife, etc.
I remember one time I went to visit my girlfriend when she switched from the streets to a massage parlour. We were hanging around talking with her coworker when a client came in. The coworker started laughing and said “Oh my god, what if a client came in and picked Thirza!”
Basically, I think that feminists pathologizing sex workers are misogynist and classist, and that the battle for sex worker rights should not be allowed to be dampened by women who infantilize the people doing these jobs.
Another thing, when people say sex work shouldn’t exist because it is demeaning, they should consider other jobs poor people often do which are equally demeaning. Outbound call centre work, McDonalds, Production Assistants, all of those are demeaning jobs which have a demoralizing effect on their workforce.