Thursday, November 16, 2006

I'm in the mood to rant.

So there was a whole thread about strippers and the Seattle 4-foot law over on The Stranger Slog earlier this week. Actually it began over on Seattlest, bounced over a blog called “I Blame The Patriarchy”, (I’m not linking to that one, click through The Slog if you want to read it) and then wound up on The Slog.

You can go read all the various opinions if you want to, but I can sum up a big chunk of it for you right here: Strippers – and sex workers in general – are helpless victims who need to be saved from themselves, because they are too damaged by society to make the right choices. Sex work is, forever and always, a form of socially-tolerated rape and no woman really consents to doing it, she just thinks she does. Or she’s lying. Because all clients treat sex workers like shit and they really just want to degrade and humiliate them, since that’s just how men are.

You can just imagine what I think about this kind of attitude. I mean, hey, I didn’t much like being a stripper here in Seattle, either. So I quit. That's how that works, in my mind. But some of those people have got a major victim-glorification thing going on. Sex workers apparently bear no personal responsibility for what we do, we’re just slaves, and men are filthy ravenous beasts who assault us.

What a flock of crap. But okay, fine - let’s put aside my very lengthy sex work experience and the experience of lots of other women I have known personally that says the direct opposite of all that, because while I like my job and have fabulous clients, I have indeed known women who disliked being sex workers. Most women, in fact, are not cut out for it, and they should not be doing it. I have a lot of sympathy for sex workers who decided, say, four months ago, that they hated the job. I’d like to help women like that quit and get other jobs.

But if you decided, like, five years ago that you hated the sex industry, and that it was fucking with your head, and ruining your relationships, and making you frigid, and just generally chewing your soul into tiny little pieces on a nightly basis, and you’re still here, then my sympathy for you is pretty limited.

Let’s get real: the sex industry is not going to change. It is what it is, and you can moan and bitch about how the world should be, and you can get all Marxist and talk about the oppression of the working class, and yeah, that’s terribly high-minded, but it doesn’t pay your rent, okay? So the day you decide that you hate the sex industry, that's the day you need to start making a plan to get out.

I hear that you can’t quit today because of your financial obligations. Golden handcuffs are a thing, it’s true. But a vast number of women in the world seem to be making a living without working in the sex industry, so we know this is do-able. It’s probably going to take a little time, but you have the luxury of keeping your highly-paid, flexible-hours job while you ramp up to whatever is next. Most people don’t get that. And I find that tough situations often get more tolerable if you’re actually taking steps to remedy the problem.

If you have a degree and a career in mind, then okay, what the hell are you waiting for? You have no college degree, you say you’re not qualified for anything that pays a living wage? That’s not uncommon. Get your ass over to the community college and get registered for a two-year technical degree in something. Oh, you don’t want to be a dental hygienist? Well, you don’t want to be a sex worker, either, and dental hygienists keep their clothes on and get healthcare benefits. You don’t have to stay in this career for the rest of your life, you’re just picking a job that you’ll like better than the one you’ve got now. Or save up and buy a carpet-cleaning franchise, or study to become a real estate broker, or whatever. But pick something and move towards it.

(There’s a gray area here, and that is women who are artists/musicians/actresses/writers. Sex work can be a great way to support a low-paying but highly fulfilling career in the arts. But at a certain point, one has to be brutally honest with oneself and decide, “What evidence do I have that I will ever be able to totally support myself doing this?” And “Well, other people do!” is not evidence. Look at it this way: you need your soul to be an artist of any kind. If sex work destroys your soul, then your art will suck ass. You may have to back-burner the muse until you get a day job you can live with.)

Next, start downsizing. Whatever you’re spending your money on – big apartment, fancy car, designer clothes, whatever – stop that. Move to a smaller apartment, get a roommate, live with your family, move further out from the city, whatever you have to do. Get a cheaper car. Stick your credit cards in the freezer. Start living like you make much less money than you do and save as much as you can.

None of this is rocket science, but oddly, most of the women I have known who said they hated the sex industry weren’t doing these things. But just hanging around in the dressing room, smoking and endlessly whining about much you hate this job, is stupid. It’s like standing on the deck of the sinking Titantic, talking about how much you hate the ocean. The water is only going to get higher, baby, so get into a lifeboat already! Yeah, it might be a rough ride for a while, but a careful examination of the alternative should indicate that it’s the best option.

I have lately had the pleasure of seeing a good exit plan put into action. My dear friend Miss K, after eight years as an escort, decided she was done with it. Like the smart girl that she is, she’d cleared all her student loans and credit card debt and had saved up a large sum of money in that eight years. Now she’s going to graduate school and living, quite frugally, on her savings and some money she inherited from a relative. She plans on getting a part-time job in her field of interest while she's in school. She wishes her old clients well, but it was time for her to go do something else.

So go is the operative word here. Hate the job? Go. Go towards something that makes you happier. I’ll give you a boost, if I can. I’ll at least cheer for you. You will not change the nature of the sex industry. But you can change whether you’re in it or not.

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