Think for a minute about what you do for a living. Does it currently satisfy you? Are you good at it? When you experience a bad day at work, who do you talk to about it and what kind of support do you get?
Imagine your current situation as it is now and think about what it would be like if your friends and family disapproved of how you make your living, judged you for it, even pathologized you for it. Imagine how it would feel to have people try to rescue you from your job, save you from its perils and yourself because they knew that you were a paralyzed victim who couldn’t help themselves, who had probably been abused so, of course, it makes perfect sense that this is what your job is… Think about what it might feel like to have a bad day at your job and talk to someone about it only to hear, “Well, of course you had a bad day. Look what you do for a living. What did you expect?”
What if you couldn’t tell anyone about your bad (or good) days at work because your support network had made it clear that they didn’t want to hear about it? With whom would you share your experience and what would it feel like to experience such a lack of support?
One way to find out what this might be like is to listen to the stories of many sex workers. They’ll be able to give you insight into what it’s like to experience the shaming, stigma, blaming, isolation, and ultimate devaluing that comes with their jobs.
Almost immediately, when people hear the words “sex work” or “sex worker” they often imagine a woman or girl who is being forcibly managed and mistreated by a man or a group of people, abused and victimized. Sometimes they imagine that this girl has probably had an abusive childhood, and that is what has driven her to sex work. There’s a cultural (mis)understanding that women don’t like sex and they certainly don’t like it enough to turn it into a career, at least not one that they enjoy and in which they take pride.
It’s pretty hard for people to generate a clear picture of an empowered sex worker who does this work because she loves it, who isn’t being coerced, who is authentically connected to her power, enjoying the work she does. There are a lot of reasons for this. It’s a tough conflict for many people to imagine a woman really enjoying sex in the first place and so, selling sex of her volition blows peoples’ minds; they resolve it however they can (ie: she was abused, and she’s just repeating unhealthy cycles! she’s being forced into it!), because it’s just that unfathomable.
We’re still operating under the assumptions that a) women don’t *really* like sex b) if you’re a woman, and you do like sex, the more sex you have and enjoy, the more it is indicated that your character must be terrible and c) if you sell sexual services you must either be sick, and people should feel sorry for you and rescue you, or you must be dangerous, and people should avoid you. These assumptions have incredibly dangerous indications not only for sex workers but all of us. (More to come on this!)
“But sex work is dangerous!!” Yes, it can be dangerous. It is not inherently dangerous, however, just because it is sex work. Sex work can be dangerous because of what I just described. Sex work can be potentially dangerous because of the shame we infuse into sex, into women who are sexual, into ourselves for wanting sex and the kinds of sex we want (or don’t want). Sex workers are harmed and killed, not because of the job they’re in, but because of the stigma we’ve attached to it and because we offer these providers no protection against and no recourse for sustained abuse. Shame and stigma are a breeding ground for violence.
We’ve just navigated our way backwards through what some people consider to be controversial content. You did great!
Love and Be Loved,