(I’ve been writing this off and on for two weeks and just finished it in a drunken fervour so I dunno if it makes any sense)
In a brothel, there’s rarely a lot of conversation going on. Fact is, our jobs are about performing and so the girl’s room is where we chill out and decompress. Girls tend to keep to themselves, move into our corners and do our thing - watch TV, read, play on computers, that sort of thing. It’s not uncivil - but brothels are also high pressure environments and people really need their own space. You get the girls who come in and are uncomfortable with silence and chatter constantly, driving everyone else mad, but generally speaking everyone understands the way it is.
Occasionally there will be bursts of conversation, when people’s moods are in the right place. Those times are fun. There is generally a sense of camaraderie between the girls even if we don’t form lasting friendships (though sometimes we do… and sometimes the friendships are brief as it’s so easy to lose contact with each other… I’ve had friends from parlours I’ve socialised with but whose real names I’ve never known and vice versa… potential consequences of socialising outside of a brothel with other working girls can make it unappealing for girls who have to keep it a big secret too… so sometimes friendships only take place under the brothel roof)…
… okay so the thing is? Me? I’m a politicised whore. Because I happened to meet a bunch of sex worker activists and become friends with them and worked at a sex worker rights organisation for a little while. Almost all of my hooker friends are very strongly politicised and involved in activism on some level. It’s through them I’ve learnt all the lingo, all the buzz words, how to articulate the concepts and ideas of labour rights and the erasure of discrimination against us. I first learned the concept of internalised stigma - as well as the term - through my sex worker activist friends. I’ve got this whole political framework that I approach sex work from.
98% of the women I find myself working with DON’T. By and large they are women who, for any number of reasons, cannot, or do not want to, or do not know they even CAN, interact in an activist or political sense with sex work. Like, I sort of want to emphasise this cos I’m writing this post in response to this bullshit attitude non-sex working anti-sex work “feminists” and others pass around amongst themselves around how sex workers rights as an idea is constructed and brainwashed into sex workers by sex worker activists – who they furthermore all claim to be nothing more than pimps.
These women don’t necessarily even know there IS such a thing as a sex worker rights movement. They don’t know the fancy lingo that gets passed around online and in academic circles. They don’t necessarily have a knowledge of the framework that operates around sex workers rights and labour rights in general. Like I said, the only reason I even do is because I happened to meet people like that who taught me and that’s generally how it happens. These women are working hos. They are doing this business cos they have to, because their circumstances in life led them to it and it seemed it was the best available choice to them. Given the options, they’d rather be doing something else.
They are not idiots. They are not victims. They are not passive blank slates who are helpless to circumstances.
Over and over again I have had conversations with sex workers who have never entered so much as their pinkie toe into the sex workers rights movement who nonetheless say the exact same shit. They say politically electric things, insightful, brilliant, amazing, powerful things full of conviction even if they have never read a damned manifesto or attended a bloody protest in their whole lives.
I mean, it happened this weekend when we were talking about the receptionists (rships between workers and receptionists is often fraught) and I made the observation one in particular had never done this work so she didn’t get it and the floodgates opened and we were all talking about how we could tell she looked down on us, that she pitied us or was contemptuous towards us and our solidarity in identifying that as a group…
… which lead quickly into some incredibly passionate, fierce statements about the work itself.
I heard from these women, to a ONE who don’t know the sex workers right movement exists, haven’t heard of Scarlet Alliance, don’t know the first thing about Annie Sprinkle or anything else to do with the official, organised movement, the following remarks:
“Our work is real work”
“This work deserves respect”
“This work means you have to be tough”
“I have learned more about human nature doing this work than anywhere else”
“Before this work I would let people walk all over me now I stand up for myself”
“Now I look at all the people going off to their day jobs and think ‘suckers!’”
“I have met more real people in this work than anywhere else”
“No one has the right to look down on us”
“Now I know the value of my time and my body, now I will never give it away”
“This is honest work”
And so on and so forth. Spontaneous exclaimations, no one there to school them, women actually getting this stuff off their chests because, as I said, most of the time there is little conversation and these are NOT women who have hooker friends, conversations in brothels is literally the ONLY time these women have to be open about what they do and so the only time they can open up about their frustrations and concerns.
And you know, these are single mums with no education, immigrant women of colour with English as a second language, older women, women who have declared bankruptcy, been in abusive relationships, lost their straight jobs
Just because sex workers may not be aware there is such a thing as a ‘sex workers rights MOVEMENT’
sex workers RIGHTS
that they don’t feel rightfully ENTITLED to those rights
they may not be “politicised” in the same sense that I and many of the hookers who interact on the internet are…
… but that doesn’t mean they are fucking stupid.
And basically if you take the position that they are – that the idea of sex workers rights is something that would NEVER occur to them until an organisation fronted by pimps brainwashes it into them – you are a complete and utter fucking misogynist for a start off (women are just too stooooopid to think about our rights unless they’re introduced to us amirite??) but you’re also just absolutely divorced from reality and from the way rights movements even evolve to begin with: CLUE: it’s when ORDINARY average people get pissed off about the way they are treated and formulate ideas amongst each other
Exactly the way this group of working hos did a couple of Saturdays ago. I was the only one who had a frame of reference for an organised movement and bluntly, I don’t spend my shift hours shoving that down other workers’ throats because I know other workers are generally in the same state of mind I am – anxious over money – and not in the mood for political talk. Anyway, I don’t have to introduce that shit, it’s PRE-EXISTING, it may not be put in phrases as neatly turned as they become once they hit the organised movement, but it’s there. That’s what fuelled the movement to begin with. All the organised movement does is create strength in numbers and solidarity and a greater pool of resources to draw from. Average work a day sex workers are just as smart and fierce and powerful and brilliant as individuals, but our work is so hidden and so stigmatised that YOU DON’T SEE IT. In fact oftentimes we are deliberately concealing what we do and our deepest perspectives on it because of how ashamed you make us feel.
But just because you don’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t happening and very very very real.