Sunday, April 11, 2010

Sex Workers

I went to a wonderful workshop at a feminist conference today. It was led by sex workers, mostly women, a trans man and another man. There was about thirty of us in the small area divided off from another section. Many of the people in the audience were sex workers as well.

That sex workers were included in a feminist conference was a big deal. In the past feminists have been the arch enemy of sex workers. However, sex workers deal with a lot of unfair discrimination, not to mention unpleasantness from the general public (you and I) that is encouraged by inaccurate stereotypes, so it had always puzzled them that the feminists would see them as enemies.

Mind you, they can't really understand why women see them as the enemy at all. But that is because they have one enormous advantage over us women at home - knowledge.

So the first thing to talk about is why I went to this workshop when I had many to choose from.

It all started with an interesting article I read about younger women who are going to male prostitutes (buffed handsome, healthy ones) to lose their virginity. I was shocked and enthralled to learn about this. But after thinking about it for a little while, I thought – what a great idea! (I wish I'd thought of that years ago)

Imagine parents going to a sex worker, and having a conversation with hr about enrolling their son or daughter in safe / consensual / open minded sex? And then offering it to their son or daughter as a gift or opportunity?

Anyway, that article made me think. What if prostitution wasn’t in the hand of sleazy men? What if it belonged to women and healthy good men? What if you could go and “sweat out” those “girl attraction” issues you had with a professional instead of your best friend when you were drunk? What if men could be educated about safe sex and consensual sex from a professional instead of trying to work it out for themselves from a world filled with porn and mates and jealous girlfriends?

It’s a radical idea – I know. And its way out there. But still, it bares thinking about. I mean, unless you think sex and love are the same thing, there is no way something like this can interfere with your love life – I mean your real love life. So where is the threat?

Speaking with these women and men today helped me see that sex workers are NOT our enemy. We are simply told that. It is not a choice between “Madonna and whore” as we have been told either. There is more to the subject than that. These women are friends, students, mothers, transgendered people living difficult lives, gay men, gay women, your neighbor, your friend. They are older, younger, all body types and they are beautiful and ugly and sometimes both at different times.

They’re you and me.

I was very grateful they took the time to talk with me and I was very grateful to be a part of the conversation.

Please feel free to read more about sex workers rights at the
Scarlet Alliance website.

1 comment:

  1. The tragic irony is that it is exactly the criminalization of prostitution that causes many of the issues that then lets the people say "See ? And that's why it needs to be criminalized!"

    As the great George Carlin said:
    "Selling is legal. Fucking is legal. So why isn't selling fucking legal ?"

    Much like every "moral prohibition" issue (alcohol, drugs, abstinence,...), criminalizing things doesn't make them go away, it makes them go into the hands of criminals. Because the needs and desires for those things still remain.
    You can write books on the reasons as to why they're shut out and repressed instead of adressed and regulated.

    Oh and about the specific "feminists vs sexworkers" thing. My take on the issue is this, feminists DO have a point, insofar as there are people in the sex business that are forced to do it, or there are bad working conditions, etc. It's not all of the prostitutes, but lets not pretend it doesn't happen.
    Ok, now then the issue should be, how to help the prostitutes who need help. And voila, here we've come to the major fork in the road; the answer you give exposes your underlying ideology:
    Because I suspect the apparent antagonism you've felt in some feminists comes from the fact that their particular thought process runs something like this: "No selfrespecting woman would ever want to work in the sex business. Look how bad and sleazy it is! To help them means to get them out of this. Crack down hard on prostitution, that'll make it go away"

    I want to point out that it is not only some feminists who may think so, these attitudes are spread across the spectrum (and the historical opposition of prostitution was not because of feminism as such, but because of religious moralizing).
    I find such an attitude rather patronizing. To assume nobody would ever want to work in the sex business (if it were legal and had regulated working conditions) is a value-jugdement that may say more about your own hang-ups than about objective reality. And as I said before, the (rightly) deplorable conditions many sexworkers currently face are because of criminalization that drives the business into lawlessness and leaves them vulnerable to exploitation without legal protection.
    The feminists I stand with are those that hold more realistic views about what women want/need: to be able to work in any profession they choose (and yes, some may choose the sex business, ohmygod) without discrimination or exploitation.

    Lastly, interesting point you've brought up about going to professional sexworkers for a, well, "hands-on" sex-education. I mean, come on, if we want to learn how to drive, we are sent to driving school. For good reasons. But when it comes to sex, we're basically left to learn on our own, fumbling around with equally fumbling partners. Oh, we're allowed to read books, sure, we're even allowed to talk to a professional (therapist, etc.), but as soon as we go to someone for an actual demonstration, it suddenly becomes a bad no-no ? Again, books can be written about that. And I suspect I've already done so enough, so I'll stop here :)