Saturday, 22 March 2014

Shit they say to sexworkers

So the 'shit' meme surely died an over-saturated death about two years ago but I only recently came across this one and it is pretty funny and spot on. The questions 'But what do you really do?', 'What do you do? I mean apart from this?' and -as in the vid- 'This isn't a job, it's just something you do to make money' come up again and again in some form or other posed by therapists, friends and other random people I've told about my work. Some people try to come up with better career options for me without asking whether that's what I want. They ask me what is it I really want to do because they assume I couldn't possibly be happy being a sex worker. These questions have been asked of me an amazing number of times since I started doing sex work.

I watched a predictably annoying documentary about sex work the other night (though by no means the worst - it at least interviewed workers and critiqued the bizarre UK laws around brothel-keeping) where some uncharismatic hipster who used to work for vice went round asking various sex workers (though all cis women) about their work. Though the uncharismatic hipster got a range of answers she still drew her own conclusions and spouted off something earnest about the risks of sex work being high at the end. I won't pretend there are never any risks and of course this depends very much on a worker's particular situation (and laws that criminalise and stigmatise workers or clients, along with police harassment, definitely make working riskier) but to just round off with such an oversimplified single line which actually didn't reflect the experiences of all the workers she spoke to was pretty meaningless and not very useful or informative. In any case risk does not mean that we should have our agency denied us or that we're just victims to be pitied and rescued as some people seem to think (who if they actually cared about sex workers would listen to what we needed or support sex worker initiatives around safety and organising rather than trying to criminalise us and our clients).

One of the most infuriating attitudes is that if a sex worker doesn't enjoy the sex all the time then this is proof of victimhood. Though many of us do enjoy our work it's important to remember that in any profession NO ONE enjoys their work all the time and few people enjoy it most of the time.  Generally speaking having sex with someone you're not attracted to and not particularly enjoying the sex isn't the end of the world for a lot of people and does not feel worse to everyone than doing any other job you feel so-so about, particularly if the hours are better. It seems to boil down to some weird out-dated moralistic idea that sex without love will kill your soul. But whilst most people can cope with the idea of one night stands/fucking someone you barely know it's harder for  many to get their heads round someone being paid for it. Sex work is the best option for some people, it certainly was for me, but it seems like the hardest for so many others to respect. There are no exit programs for nine to five office jobs and surely this is where some of the greatest human misery accumulates. Of course sex work is not for everyone and if a person felt violated and traumatised every time they see a client then that is a very specific scenario but even so if a person who felt that way still chose to be a sex worker their choice should still be respected and rather than pathologising that person those with a saviour complex would do well to look at the impact of cuts, austerity measures and capitalism instead of assuming the worker has a false consciousness.

As a sex worker you can't talk publically about having a bad day at work without someone trying to exit you, where else does that happen? Rape/abuse are not the same as prostitution and conflating the two things together as many moralists (some who think they're feminist) do just adds to the whorephobic and often sexist myth that if these things happen to a hooker they are asking for it and they deserve it, therefore legitimising the behaviour of perpetrators when they commit these acts against a sex worker or someone they perceive to be a worker.

As I'm a trans guy who doesn't pass a lot as male I get the additional back-handed rhetoric where people feel the need to ask 'how's that going because you're quite niche aren't you?' or when I was telling someone things were quiet they responded by letting me know they had a friend who was a sex worker who made loads of money 'but she was really conventionally good looking'. Of course society's conventional ideals about looks/gender presentation are favored by a lot of clients and you can't exactly go work in a parlour if you look like me but comments like that are still pretty annoying, though sometimes I say them myself about myself so I don't even know exactly where I stand on people saying stuff like that. But I think it's still annoying. After I told someone I knew about a bad experience with a client they told me that when I have surgery and start taking hormones I'll get different types of clients and I can start to charge more and I avoid situations like that in future. That may be true seeing as the world is transphobic and sexist but it's still fucked up and to me it felt like she was saying, 'in your current circumstances you can't expect to be treated any better than that'. I think it's great for people to care about you if something shit happens and support is awesome but she didn't think to ask how I might strategise to deal with that stuff in the future it all came down to whether I would pass better as male. What if I didn't want to take hormones and have surgery?

Anyways if I ever get it together to make trashy queer hooker comedy youtube sketch show I will begin by having an earnest white middle class woman's voice overdubbing a scene in an office, reeling off some made-up statistics and talking about the terrible conditions in which these poor people have to work, how many of them came from abroad to the UK dreaming of starring in West End theater productions yet now they are temping eight hours a day for less than the living wage at a well-meaning if dubious and soul-sucking not-for-profit.

If I'm honest though I'm actually a bit bummed no one's ever asked me what the weirdest thing I've ever done was.