Thursday, April 08, 2004

I read one of those "human interest" news stories yesterday about prostitution. Purportedly an interview with a woman who'd been in the business, it was the usual bird-in-a-gilded-cage nonsense about the plight of the high-class (their phrase) call girl. Oh, poor girl – she was trapped by all that money and independence. Gah. I don't really want to link to it, because it's a stupid piece and it pissed me off. But I suppose if I'm going to rant about it, you should be able to read it. "Pity Me! I'm a Victim Of Myself!"

Look, I don't object to having this one woman's individual experience portrayed in the media, if they really think it's newsworthy. But the newspaper and the interviewee are not representing it as one individual's experience. They are saying: "this is the definitive experience of sex work." Fuck that, it’s not my experience! They never run the opposite side - a woman who says "yes, I did sex work and it was fine. No big drama, I made some money and now I'm doing something else..." That's not news, apparently. (Except that it would be to some people.)

The woman said things like,
"The reason I'm single and childless is because of the business…It also kept me from forming real relationships. Ladies who are in the business make a conscious decision to avoid intimacy."
No, the reason you're single and childless is because you chose to be that way. Lots of women in the sex industry have children – even in the middle of a sex work career. I myself don't want little rug-rats, but I do have a wonderful lover who adores me, and I certainly haven't made "a conscious decision to avoid intimacy" - quite the contrary.

It’s her insistence on assigning her experience and her choices to every other woman in the sex industry that bothers me. Would she feel okay about making such sweeping generalizations if she were in any other line of work? Or has she just bought into societal preconceptions about who she is?

She also trots out that "all women in the sex industry have been sexually assaulted" line. (The implication being that they became sex workers as a direct result of being assaulted.) Guess again, honey – I haven't been. And I know of several other sex workers who haven't been, either. But the fact is, approximately 683,000 adult American women are raped annually, and so, yes, statistically, some of those women will go on to become sex workers. And some of them will go on to work at Wal-Mart. But I don't think anyone's going to posit that being raped inevitably leads to working as an underpaid drudge at a soul-destroying corporate monolith. It's false logic.

Here's what I, personally, have observed about the sex industry: If, before she ever enters the sex industry, a woman is an emotionally troubled person with poor self-esteem and a history of bad decisions, she'll continue making bad decisions and suffering the negative consequences while she's in the business. But now, some of them will be sex-work-related decisions and consequences, so it's easy for people to say, "Well, obviously it's because she's a sex worker. See what an unhappy, damaging life it is?" And she'll probably agree with them, because it's easy for a troubled, low-self-esteem person to buy into the victim mentality. That way, she can then avoid taking any responsibility for her choices. So she's tucked neatly into the victim pigeon-hole, and everyone thanks goodness they don't have to examine any potentially unsettling ideas any further. Their pre-existing beliefs have been confirmed and they feel righteous.

Now, she could fuck up her life just as badly if she were a waitress at Denny's. But that's not as sexy, so no one writes newspaper articles about that.

You see, the work itself doesn't fuck you up - it just magnifies what's already there. If you love yourself, and believe that you deserve to be loved by others, when you choose to become a sex worker, then you'll probably be just fine. But if you don't, then you'll probably run into trouble.

Exhibit A: This woman details a conversation with her father in which he sounds pretty harsh. I'm thinking there's some bad history there that dates back to before her sex work career began. Clearly she learned some of her core beliefs about how she should expect men to treat her from an unloving man. That's a emotional time bomb waiting to go off.

Bottom line: If you don't already have a basic belief that you deserve safety, and respect from other people, in your working environment, you'll bring that mindset to your sex work job and you'll accept being treated badly. If you don't already have a basic belief that you deserve love and respect and safety in your intimate relationships, you'll attract people who want to treat their lovers badly, and you'll let them tell you that you don't deserve better because you're a whore.

To be a happy, healthy and successful sex worker, you have to be inwardly defined. If you accept external definitions, you will become filled with self-hatred. It's the same with most marginalized subcultures, like being queer, or kinky, or transgender. You have to be strong enough to throw off the shit that people would like to heap onto you.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of not-so-emotionally-healthy people in the world, and some of them become sex workers. So all of us get tarred with their brush, because society finds it convenient. And I personally get really tired of constantly picking the sticky black shit out from between my toes.