Greta Christina of the freethoughtblogs has graciously invited sex workers to tell their stories in her latest post Sex Workers – An Invitation to Tell Your Stories.
As regular readers of this blog know, my fellow blogger in the Freethought Blogs, Taslima Nasreen, wrote a post a few weeks ago positing that all prostitution is always patriarchal oppression, always sexual exploitation, always sexual violence, that women are always forced into it, that it is never a vocation choice, that it is always human rights abuse, that all of it harms women.. I wrote a post in response, saying that I understood that there were often terrible abuses in the sex industry and that many prostitutes are forced into the work, and that of course I fervently opposed this — but also saying that there are many sex workers who freely choose the work, and like it, and do not find it abusive or exploitative.
Nasreen and I had a private email conversation about this. I’m not at liberty to disclose her side of that conversation. But I will tell you that I asked her, repeatedly, to put up a post on her blog asking sex workers what their actual experience was working in the sex industry — so she could hear for herself the tremendous variety of experiences that prostitutes and other sex workers have, and so she could take those experiences into account when she considers the questions of how abuses in the industry should be handled.
As of this writing, she has yet to do this.
So I’m going to do it myself.
And I can’t tell you how grateful I am that you are. So many who not only oppose sex work of all kinds and in all cases (antis) seem to have come to the conclusion that all sex workers were/are brutally abused and exploited and if a sex worker dares to state that this was not their experience they dismiss them as suffering from some form of Stockholm syndrome. What drives me insane about this is that they can’t see how this is dehumanizing and oppressive in and of itself. They perpetuate a stigma that the words of sex workers cannot be trusted but refuse to see that this is no different from the police officer that dismisses a sex worker when she reports that she has been raped. Well, this is my little contribution to the conversation. I hope what I say will help free up some thought concerning sex work.
Q: Why did you get into the sex industry?
I got into the sex industry out of curiosity and as an act of rebellion. I was raised by very controlling, Catholic parents with a strong constant message of “SEX BAD!” I had very little relationship with them outside of the constant expectations they had that I never seemed able to live up to…oh yea, and “SEX BAD!” I think this lead to a need to be seen but in a very specific way; as a sexual being, a powerful, and powerfully sexual, unashamed sexual being. One of my best friends at the time seemed to have this really cool secret that seemed to give her an air of confidence and the independence that came with having and managing her own money. When I asked her what it was she told me she had been stripping and invited me to go with her. I did. I danced off and on for the next ten years.
Q: Did you freely choose this work? Were you in any way forced or coerced into it? Were you pressured into it by economic or other pressure?
I chose it freely. I was not forced. I was not coerced and the only pressure I felt was the pressure brewing inside of my developing body. I wanted sex and sexual contact but at the same time I feared it~again “SEX BAD!”
Q: Why did you go into the particular line(s) of sex work that you did?
Stripping gave me a way to explore my sexual self in a way I had total control of. I also knew I could only go so far sexually in stripping (lap dancing). For me it was almost like a kid who wants to swim but is afraid of the water so they cling to the side and go around and around the pool. I did that too btw :P
Q: What, if anything, did/do you like about the work?
I loved so many things about stripping. I almost can’t even begin to tell you. I loved feeling beautiful dancing in front of my mostly very nice customers and seeing how memorized they were with me. I loved that I could do this and fully expect not to be touched by them. This wasn’t only because I felt safe but there was also a bit of a dominatrix in me that enjoyed this teasing game. I loved that I could pick up and go to almost any city I wanted to explore on a whim and get a job dancing in a club making good money at the drop of a hat. I loved the control over my scheduled I had. I loved the money. I loved to dance on stage and perform. I loved how raw and funny the girls could be. I loved the lights, the music, the clothes etc….hated the shoes though. If I could have I would have danced the whole time barefooted.
Q: What, if anything, did/do you not like about the work?
Of course there was the occasional jerk or a dancer that had too much to drink and wanted to fight but it is what it is. There were some managers that let managing a strip bar go to their heads. I usually kept mine down though and tried not to cause problems. The thing I absolutely hated and still do is the Scarlet Letter of sex worker shame some of us never seem to shake. Turns out I wasn’t the only one raised with the message “SEX BAD!”
Q: On the whole, did/do you like the work, dislike it, or feel neutral about it?
I mostly liked it. I had a go round with addiction about 2 years after I started dancing but I got sober and danced for some years after that. 4/23/12 was my 17 year sobriety birthday. WOOT!
Q: What are your feelings about your customers?
My feelings about my customers are the same as my feelings about people in general because at the end of the day that’s all they are really; people. Some people are great. Some people are jerks. Most people don’t leave a lasting impression. They share space with you and fade away. At the end of the night all that remains of their presence is the twenty in your pocket…hmmm, time for IHOP! (strippers tend to be great tippers in those after hours grubbing places.)
Q: Have your feelings about the work changed with time? If you no longer work in the sex industry, did your feelings about the work change after you left it?
I still work in a strip bar in a supervisory capacity. My views on sex work have changed a bit but this is mostly due to finding and getting involved in the sex workers rights movement.
Q: If you still work in the sex industry, do you feel free to leave it? If you no longer work in the sex industry, did you feel free to leave it? If not, what restraints did/do you have?
I feel absolutely free to leave. The only problem is that ol’ stigma again. People tend not to take you seriously when you put former stripper as an occupation on a job application ijs.
Q: Is there anything else you want people to know about your experience of sex work?
YES! Sex work was mostly good, a small dose of bad and a bunch of ok in between; but I have NEVER been treated so consistently badly by a group of people like I have been by antis. Gail Dines goes on and on about how men who seek the services of sex workers treat them like “cumdumpsters.” The only people who have ever called me a “cumdumpster” have been anti-porn feminists.
They even made a sock account impersonating me on youtube called cumdumpsterdiv (My youtube screen name is Divinity33372). I have been persistently harassed, slut shamed, trolled and even had an anti drop some of my docs on youtube. I document all this in this blog post and here where I document their racism (I am Mexican American). Anyone who claims to care about you and your oppression that exacts this kind of abuse on you is full of shit and THAT is what I want people to know.
Thank you Greta for doing your part to humanize us in this conversation where we are painted as either “untrustworthy whores” or “helpless victims.” Yes, there are victims out there it’s true and there are only so many resources to go around. Finding a victim of exploitation can be like finding a needle in a haystack. All the conflations of consent and non-consent serves to do is put more hay on top of the stack making the needle harder to find.
I WANT THAT NEEDLE TO BE FOUND!
…and Greta, I know you do too.