Selling Sex Sort of Ruined My Life—All The More Reason I Support Sex Worker Rights

by Melissa Petro on February 23, 2012 · 88 comments

in Activism, This Time, It's Personal

Do I have a target on my head?

When I first came out in print as a sex worker, it was pretty much decided by everyone that I was an idiot. That, or an opportunist and/or an attention whore—a fact one feminist blog called “disgusting.” In the comments sections of articles I have written, it is widely accepted that no one would pay to have sex with me and that I ought to shut the fuck up. I am frequently accused of making it all up. I’ve been insulted and undermined in every way and yet, amidst the hate mail, the most damaging criticism I’ve ever received came not from a New York Post reader or even a radical feminist (although I got hate mail from them, too) but from another advocate, a sex worker, someone I knew.

“Hi Melissa:

I hope you’re well. I read your Salon.com article. I appreciate that you’re sharing your story and advocating for sex workers’ rights. And I sympathize with your struggles.

I want to share a concern with you. In this article you make a statement about sex work, particularly prostitution being work that relies on dishonesty. In [an article published on Huffington Post] you similarly made a statement that the industry is “soul bankrupting.”

I can see how this may have been true for you, but it’s certainly not the case for all of us. For someone who is out of the business I can see how these statements would seem harmless. But for those of us still working, these are exactly the concepts that we’re trying hard to dismantle—the idea that we are somehow emotionally or intellectually compromised because we do this work.

I would never ask you not to speak your own truth. But I do think it would be helpful if these statements were framed in such a way that it’s clear this was only your experience, and not broad-sweeping truths about the business. Many of us come to this work honestly and operate from a place of truth and compassion. We deserve respect for this work. It’s problematic for an “expert” to portray us as liars with bankrupted souls. It’s especially hurtful when a colleague who presents herself as a dedicated advocate takes this stance.

Respectfully,

[redacted]

I didn’t write back. I’ve never written about this issue, or this letter, although I’ve thought about it. A lot. Two years later, I still think about it. Every time I share my story, particularly the bad stuff, I think about it, and I feel a little afraid. These days, when I write, I still feel a little afraid, not that I might find another unflattering photo of myself on the cover of yet another newspaper under an even more insulting headline, but that, ironically, my writing might be construed as my doing a disservice to the very cause I’ve traded so much for. For that reason, I’m addressing this issue now.

The letter references an article I wrote on The Huffington Post in criticism of the censoring of Craigslist’s Adult Services section and in defense of the rights and dignity of sex workers. In that article I described my experience of selling sex online as “physically demanding, emotionally taxing and spiritually bankrupting” and went on to say that “I hope to never again make the choice to trade sex for cash even as I risk my current job and social standing to speak out for an individual’s right to do so.” The letter also references a line in a piece I wrote for Salon from a section where I discuss having to keep my job a secret and the pain that this caused.

As a result of publishing that piece on The Huffington Post, I was removed from the classroom and ultimately forced to resign from my position as an elementary school teacher, a job that I loved and that I had been working at for over three years, ever since retiring from sex work. The message was clear: if you have a history such as mine, and an opinion on sex work that differs from the common view, keep it to yourself,  or else. Since losing my career I have dedicated myself to promoting the opposite of that message: that everyone, particularly people who’ve been historically rendered invisible, have the human right to be seen as well as heard, and that true social change comes about by listening without judgement or condescension to the communities we purportedly seek to help. It is my firm belief that the sex workers’ rights movement depends on sex workers sharing their first-person experiences, whether they’re good, bad and ambivalent. Creating a climate of honesty and tolerance begins with us.

I know the letter I have reprinted here is not particularly stinging criticism. Still, it stung. I know the tone of this post has turned incredibly defensive. That is because I have spent over a decade of my life—ever since I first stepped off stage—defending myself and the right to share my experience as it was and not how others would prefer me to present it.

James Baldwin writes that “of traditional attitudes, there are only two—For, or Against.” He goes on: “I, personally, find it difficult to say which attitude caused me the most pain.” Baldwin was speaking in 1955 as a “negro” of the “negro experience,” but as a former sex worker, I can relate. Since first stripping off my clothes for money, I have struggled to make sense of myself and my experience within the confines of society’s limited sexual imagination. Speaking for myself meant straining to somehow fit my experiences and my opinions of my own experience—at times, it felt, of my very self—into one of two dichotomous positions. Early on in my activist career, I became “pro-sex industry,” even when being so meant denying aspects of myself, my relationship to myself, and aspects of my experience that were undeniably consequential, even more so precisely because they were refused accurate assessment.

It was only after publishing that now infamous article on The Huffington Post that I realize you can be “anti-industry” and still pro-sex worker. I’m not anti-industry per se, but given where it took me, I am certainly anti-sex industry for me, and I wish the pain of my experience on no one. Only by admitting the pain of that experience was I able to acknowledge that I had made a choice—something abolitionist feminists tell us constantly we are incapable of doing—and to make a different choice, a choice that was right for me, and leave sex work for good.

Of course, mine is not every sex worker’s experience. I qualify it plenty. You can only pepper a 1200 word essay with “in my experience” and “for me” so many times before your editor begins to cut that out.

Today, I write for Salon, Daily Beast, The Huffington Post, The Frisky, The Gloss, xoJane, and elsewhere. Though not exclusively, I write about sex work a lot. When I tell my story, I speak on behalf of myself. When I speak of the existence of stories like mine, I speak on behalf of our community. When I admit that some sex workers have negative experiences like mine, I’m not being a “bad ally” (as I have also been called). I’m not being an “ally” at all. Given that I sold sex in one way or another, on and off, for nearly a decade, I qualify as a member of the sex worker community, even though I don’t sell sex today. I will stop being a member of your community and become an ally when it stops being true that “once a prostitute, always a whore.”

It is my hope that the more people share their personal experiences, the more society will be able to recognize such experiences as individual, and sex workers as individuals, not as some sort of monolithic group that is either empowered or oppressed. The fact is I was emotionally compromised, if not by the work that I did, than by the way that work is looked upon in our society. If this wasn’t your experience, don’t call me a liar; consider yourself lucky.

Melissa Petro is a freelance writer and former sex worker living in New York City. She writes for Salon, Daily Beast, Huffington Post, xoJane and elsewhere. Though not exclusively, she writes about sex work a lot. She holds an MFA from The New School, a Masters in Education from Fordham University and a BA from Antioch College. If you ask the NY Post, she is an Idiot Prosti-Teacher who looks like a dog and ought to shut the fuck up.

{ 82 comments… read them below or add one }

Anjasa February 23, 2012 at 12:51 pm

I had heard of your firing a while ago and was outraged at it. I’m glad you’re still speaking about these issues.

It is difficult coming from any place of oppression and pointing out there are problems with the oppressed as well. It’s been talked about again and again how some discentors are asked to self censor in order not to ‘confirm’ stereotypes.

But unfortunately, sometimes those stereotypes are true. That doesn’t excuse people from oppressing a group, and it shouldn’t give them a reason to continue doing so. It shouldn’t slow the movement to admit there are problems with it. I know gay individuals have been asked to self censor – especially gay males who are in an open relationship – so as not to confirm stereotypes, but does that help in the long run?

I believe in going in with our eyes open when we try to lift oppression – and do it, regardless of the potential issues that we’ll have to deal with along the way.

Thank you for taking the risk and sharing your story. Thank you for sacrificing a career you loved to speak about something you’re passionate about. You’re an inspiration.

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Sex Mahoney February 23, 2012 at 3:38 pm

On the third day of my first full time teaching job, a high school student asked me if everyone was a little bit gay. I said that sexuality isn’t as simple as black or white and that, depending on the people you meet your life, everyone has the capacity to love another person, emotionally or physically. Two weeks later, at parent/teacher night, there were folks waiting in line to yell at me for poisoning their children with hippie gibberish. I was fired in less than a month. The education industry is no place for free thinking.

Self-employment is the least whorish thing a person can do, unlike working for an employer that sets strict guidelines on behavior and appearance.

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Jenny DeMilo February 23, 2012 at 4:38 pm

Just tell your story, you don’t need to constantly qualify it as yours, its pretty clear being as it comes from you. All our experiences are specific to us and not all the same. I’ve had plenty of soul crushing moments, often felt bankrupt and I’ve written about sex work not being all roses and sunshine plenty but there’s no way id let one contemporary who gets a spur under her saddle because my experience wasn’t hers get under my skin to the point id second guess myself when writing. You have a larger platform then most of us who write about sex work and yes that means you have to be careful with how you phrase things and i think you do that, don’t let it hinder you from speaking your truth. Its your truth and i think people (sex workers and non sex workers) would benefit from hearing it.

Keep on keeping on you have many supporters out there in the ether, me being one of them.

Jenny

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Maggie McNeill February 23, 2012 at 7:40 pm

Thank you for this, Melissa; for the first time, I think I understand where you’re coming from. When the whole controversy first started two years ago, I must admit I was among those who figured you for an opportunist; I was wrong, and I apologize. But I don’t think YOU need to apologize to anyone for saying what you feel; there’s a tendency among activists to indulge in groupthink and to attack anyone who doesn’t use the “right” words and say the “right” things, and as one who doesn’t do either I have been on the receiving end of attacks from this sort of person myself, many times. But IMHO one authentic voice does a lot more for the movement than ten voices repeating the party line, because when someone hears an an activist speak an independent viewpoint in obviously individual voice, it comes across as a sincere human statement rather than as a canned, rehearsed one that could have been read by anybody.

Keep telling the truth as you see it, even if educators, feminists and other sex worker activists don’t like it; lockstep conformity is fake, and perceptive members of the public will see it as such. But they can recognize honesty as well, and will respect you for it, and when they do they actually listen rather than letting your words go in one ear and out the other.

Good luck!

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Thaddeus Gregory Blanchette February 24, 2012 at 5:10 pm

Hell, I found out a couple years ago that people would even pay to have sex with my scraggly, out-of-shape, 44-year-old male ass! If folks seriously think people wouldn’t pay to have sex with you, Melissa, then they don’t know a single fucking thing about the hows, whys and wherefores of sex work. Laugh at their stupidity, waggle a finger, and fuggedaboudit!

I was impressed with your bravery and honesty when your Huffington piece came out and outraged with the price bigots made you pay for it. And I entirely understand what you mean by being “pro sex worker / anti sex industry”. I myself am pro-teachers, anti-schools, at least as they are currently understood in the U.S.

Keep on telling the truth as you see it!

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Sexworker Marc February 24, 2012 at 5:19 pm

Interesting dissent or possibly only a misunderstanding
between Melissa and the writer of the letter to her. But I think they are just saying the same?! The only difference to my understanding is
– in the letter to Melissa citing her “prostitution being work that relies on dishonesty” is understood as sex work by itself (inner sub system) and then this quote is being rejected
– in Melissa’s article and her conclusion “I was emotionally compromised, if not by the work that I did, than by the way that work is looked upon in our society” prostitution is understood in the tension between the work and the society (outer whole system).

So both positions are right if not identical in my point of view. And the dispute is only related to the complexity of sex work within society because our world which is made up from Holons i.e. hierarchical sub and meta systems [Ken Wilber 1995, Sex, Ecology, Spirituality]. So depending on your economic or physical situation your perception is framed. Dialectical materialism reconfirmed.

That type of framing is a big problem between us sex workers and society (uninformed, ignorants or abolitionists) and between sex workers and ex-sex workers (some later identify as victims in order to heal themselves). Especially when most ex-sex workers are even more invisible after sex work in order not to interfere with the stigma (“once a prostitute, always a whore”). Therefore the flow of whore wisdom back to our community is brutally blocked and interrupted after one’s exiting or sex worker outplacement. That is a permanent knowledge drain whereat the process of becoming an ex-sex worker and creating this new identity is a tough complex process which needs loving companionship or healthy rituals.

All the best, and thank you Melissa, that you took the power to break the vicious circle, that you broke the silence,
Marc

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Sabrina Morgan February 25, 2012 at 1:34 am

This might be a strange question, but did I write you that email? Because it does look familiar, and I think it might have been me. I remember mentally weighing one very much like it at any rate.

If it was (and if it wasn’t, then this may all be irrelevant, but…) then I am deeply sorry – for the sting, for the doubt, and most especially for the conversation we never had. It sounds like it would have been a good one for us both.

Sex worker ethics and perceived industry ethics are admittedly a hot button for me. I’m the same way about the perception that this work breaks people in ways other forms of work don’t. It can do damage, but I don’t think sex work has a monopoly there. For me it was real estate. (Not flippancy, either; it really was and it really did damage me.) I know I’ve been fortunate in that my sex work experiences have been much less screwed up than my mainstream experiences. I’m sorry that for you it was the opposite but glad you found better fits.

It sounds like in my initial reaction to those aspects, I wasn’t clear in expressing that every single experience is valued, valuable and important to share – especially in a marginalized, stigmatized and silenced profession. While I may have thought so at the time, I feel I didn’t prioritize it enough over my personal hot buttons, and coincidentally or not the past two years have led to me seeing just how very important it is for current and former sex workers to hear the full range of their experiences represented.

That was a mistake, and I’m cringing realizing that not emphasizing that importance has led to so much questioning and discomfort for you. My intention with that email was simply to start a dialog (though reading now with distance I see where it could be silencing)… it’s awful that something I could have clarified in one reply lingered for so long. I am so, so sorry.

I want you to know that I have never doubted your honesty or dedication to being a strong voice in the sex worker community. I also want you to know that I am both glad and grateful for you continuing to speak with a voice that is uniquely yours. We are lucky to have you in this world writing and sharing what you’ve experienced. Thank you.

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Melissa Petro Melissa Petro February 25, 2012 at 4:56 pm

Hi Sabrina (and everyone else!)

Breathe a sigh of relief- the initial email wasn’t from you! But I do appreciate your thoughtful and sincere response, and your honesty in stepping forward, as I am sure that you and the actual email writer were not the only people who felt this way. As you’ve suggested, I don’t think it was this person’s intention to “silence” me– not at all. I DO think this person wanted dialogue– only coming at a moment when I had just forfeited my career, and was fighting with DOE for unemployment benefits just to survive (not public information at that time)– not to mention the fact that I was still being ridiculed all over the news– I simply wasn’t capable of having that conversation then. Then, when I WAS capable of having this conversation, it felt the time had passed. Hopefully it hasn’t, and we can have it now– as a community, rather than privately– initiated by this article.

While I do appreciate all the support, I think there are probably still people out there who disagree with my position, and they are welcome to speak up, too.

Regarding whether or not sex work “breaks people” in ways that other occupations don’t– I would argue that, for some, it does– not because of the work, per se, but because of the stigma associated with the work. Sure, I’ve had plenty of degrading jobs in my working-class life — and many poor people’s jobs are stigmatized– but, really, no job title comes home with you like “prostitute.” I think that it’s particularly important to keep in mind that not every sex worker is “sex positive” — I know I wasn’t. I became a sex worker because I needed money, plain and simple. The fact that I enjoyed the work, was curious before trying it and wanted to keep doing it long after I “needed” to only confused the hell out of me and made me feel ashamed. For me, it was the stigma that was particularly damaging– not the work itself. And the stigma exacerbated the rigors of the work in ways that doesn’t happen to other, non-stigmatized workers (such as realtors). Not having anyone I could talk to about my experiences– not having awesome resources like Tits and Sass, where I could hear other women’s experiences and know that I wasn’t alone– I was very isolated by my experience in a way that other workers simply aren’t.

Yes, sex work is very similar to other occupations, in good ways and bad. But until an elementary school teacher could lose her job for having been a realtor– or anything, really, other than a sex worker– prior to teaching, comparisons between sex work and other occupations will always fall short.

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Stella Marr February 25, 2012 at 7:35 pm

For me the work itself was extremely damaging — because of the violence of my pimps and Johns. I think this is true of many women in prostitution.

But it absolutely breaks my heart what stigma did to your life — the way you lost your job and your career because you spoke out about something you believed in. I’m so sad you had to live in such a publicly brutal way what stigma can do to sex workers.

It’s very brave of you to wirte about that. I’m very grateful and wish you joy and inspiration. XO

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Stella Marr February 25, 2012 at 3:00 am

RE:
I realize you can be “anti-industry” and still pro-sex worker

I couldn’t agree with you more. In fact, it’s exceedingly rare to meet a prostitution survivor who doesn’t care deeply about the women still in prostitution, as well as fellow survivors. In other words, almost all of us survivors are “pro-sex worker.”

Someone commenting on Jillian Lauren’s interview in Salon this week took her to task because she revealed she’d been sexually abused – apparently this might tarnish heavily marketed fantasy of the happy hooker. Here’s what was said:
http://www.salon.com/2012/02/22/out_of_the_harem_into_the_fire/singleton/#comment-3383081

I agree with what you said about how important it is for us to share our stories.
There’s a poem by Laura Hershey, a disabled rights activist, poet and journalist that reads:

Those who with power can afford
to tell their story
or not.

Those without power risk everything
to tell their story
and must.

Someone, somewhere,
will here your story and decide to fight
to live and refuse compromise.
Someone else will tell her own story,
risking everything.

My friend the wonderful poet Sheila Black shared this poem last summer, I quoted it in Feminist last December
http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2011/12/04/what-is-a-representative-sex-worker/#comment-416112

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Charlotte Shane Charlotte Shane February 25, 2012 at 10:15 am

Stella, it’s not accurate to say the commenter “took her to task” because she’s not a “happy hooker,” especially when the comment ends with an acknowledgement of “poverty-stricken, survival sex workers.” Ms. Lauren explicitly says that many strippers have relationships with older men when they are very young, and that extrapolation isn’t necessary in order for her to talk about her relationship with an older man. The commenter said that it’s not fair for Jillian to presume to speak for other women, which is a reasonable response—she didn’t say Ms. Lauren doesn’t have a right to her own story or her own experiences, only that it’s irresponsible to posit that hers is the dominant experience. Nowhere did the commenter say she shouldn’t talk about her own life or should pretend to be “happy.” We’ve talked before on this site about why it sucks when people actively perpetuate the idea of the damaged woman who comes to sex work because of her damage: http://titsandsass.com/youve-got-problems-sex-worker-childhoods/

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Stella Marr February 25, 2012 at 6:01 pm

Actually Charlotte, they were taking Ms. Lauren to task. As are you. Jillian has never said she speaks for every single stripper. Yet there you go , implying she did. incorrectly. I found the comment especially disturbing because it seemed to be denigrating Jillian for having survived sexual abuse. She’s a beautiful writer and human being, and doesn’t deserve that sh-t.

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Charlotte Shane Charlotte Shane February 25, 2012 at 6:06 pm

What a completely ridiculous, dishonest thing to say. No one has denigrated Jillian. You either have shockingly poor reading comprehension or you’re being willfully disingenuous. Given the political agenda you’re promoting, I’m going to guess it’s the later. No more self-promotional comments and no more insults, please. Our comment policy is clearly outlined under “site policies.” Accusing me of denigrating an abuse victim because I have an issue with your misrepresentation of what someone else said, violates it.

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Stella Marr February 25, 2012 at 8:05 pm

Charlotte, you misunderstood me. I was not saying that you were denigrating Jillian — far from it (I just said you were taking her to task — because you wrote:
“Ms. Lauren explicitly says that many strippers have relationships with older men when they are very young, and that extrapolation isn’t necessary in order for her to talk about her relationship with an older man.”)
But what you wrote is far from denigration — and I in no way meant to imply it was.

I’m sorry I wasn’t clearer. I was saying that the comment I linked to seemed to be denigrating her for surviving sexual abuse. Why should it be so threatening for a sex worker to talk about sexual abuse?

Melissa Petro Melissa Petro February 25, 2012 at 5:23 pm

This, then, begs the question: what does it mean to be pro-sex worker?

To me, pro sex worker means trusting people to be the expert of their own experience, whether or not their experience matches with mine. It means honoring the dignity within other people’s experiences, whether or not that experience is (in my mind) dignifying. Many sex workers describe themselves as empowered by their work. I wasn’t- but I believe them when they say they are. For that reason, I would never work to abolish the sex industry. I would never work to abolish the sex industry because I believe that most sex workers engage in sex work by choice, and that sex work is the best choice for most sex workers given the choices they perceive as available to them. Studies such as the Lost Boys study (conducted by John Jay College) are proving that this is true even for the most disenfranchised among us. Whether or not this choice is an “empowered” one is for the individual, not me, to decide. Calling sex workers women who are “prostituted upon,” for example, is a strange way of denying the existence of choice. I don’t consider activists who do this to be “pro sex worker.” Being pro-sex worker– to me– means meeting people where they’re at, giving them resources to make choices that are right for them– being a “pro sex worker activist” means helping to identify sex workers’ true concerns so that they/we as a community can intervene in ways that truly matter. It also means believing those among the community who say they don’t need help at all.

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Stella Marr February 25, 2012 at 8:25 pm

I think what’s really important is that we join forces, and don’t let ourselves be polarized by people who aren’t survivors. We are the ones who should be leading any discussion or action regarding our human rights.

I’ve never liked the term sex worker, we never called ourselves that. We called ourselves hookers, working girls, prostitutes, whores …. not sex workers. But I respect anyone who likes to be called sex work. I don’t think it’s disrespectful to sex workers to use the word prostituted. I use it sometimes because I used to use the word pimped, and then I’d get lots of nasty comments for using that word. That I was stupid and that’s why I had a pimp, and worse.

I think if we start arguing about language we’ll never get anywhere. It’s really very privileged to be having semantic arguments — most women in the sex industry don’t have that luxury — and we should keep that in mind.

Prostitution is and/or was not a choice for many of us, and that also needs to be respected.

These words of Melissa’s bear repeating:

Being pro-sex worker– to me– means meeting people where they’re at, giving them resources to make choices that are right for them– being a “pro sex worker activist” means helping to identify sex workers’ true concerns so that they/we as a community can intervene in ways that truly matter.

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Ingrid Nevin February 26, 2012 at 9:48 am

*don’t let ourselves be polarized by people who aren’t survivors*
I am wondering, what do you mean by people who aren’t survivors? People who don’t have direct experience? Does it mean that we should ignore perspectives of social researchers or social workers? What about people who sold sex but don’t identify as survivors, like many who are labelled “pro sex lobby” or “privileged”?

I also wanted to address this point: *most women in the sex industry don’t have that luxury — and we should keep that in mind.*
I think I can see why we have such trouble relating to each other. Each of us has not only her or his own story – but a wide network of personal and online connections, that may be local, national or international, together with research we have read. I can see why you see the experiences you know of as majority.

But I think, you should also understand why so many of us, who were in sex work for many years and have rather wide networks, also cannot see ourselves as minority. Because we know, or know of, way too many people – if they only represent “10% or less”, a common argument on representativeness, then the remaining “90%” would comprise an unrealistic proportion of population just to balance it off.

I also agree that most people in the sex industry do not participate in these arguments – but in what I have seen over 6 years, this is because they are busy juggling work and multiple other commitments, including families, studies, day jobs, medical or school debts, etc. It’s economic necessity that drives so many of them in the circles I’ve seen, not the will of some other human. And while it’s a constrained choice to make a living, it still represents one extra option to those available otherwise.

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Melissa Petro Melissa Petro February 26, 2012 at 10:57 am

I hear your point as to why “prostituted upon” may be appropriate in some cases– certainly, if that is how an individual is choosing to self-identify– and that some sex workers would not describe sex work, for them, as a “choice” or even identify as “sex workers.” When I interviewed prostitutes in Europe, they all refused the label “sex worker” (I wrote about this for Bitch Magazine: http://bitchmagazine.org/post/the-h-word-who-you-calling-a-hooker). One of the women I interviewed could be best described as “trafficked.” No one denies that these stories exist, but people DO deny the existence of consensual sex work– which is, I think, why consensual sex workers feel the need to overstate our point that we’ve made a choice. My concern is when we overstate this point at the expense of admitting how, for some of us, that choice is/was (ultimately) very crappy.

I suppose now I am finding myself in agreement, as I sometimes do, with the letter-writer this article is criticizing (probably a reason why the letter has stuck with me for years). It IS important that we not impose our language onto others. For example, when you say “we” here, I am wondering who is this “we” that you speak of. I’m not described by that “we” even though I’m willing, in some contexts, to call myself a “survivor.” I think you are being very specific– your network of friends and colleagues who describe themselves in this way– but certainly, that could be misconstrued.

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Stella Marr February 26, 2012 at 12:46 pm

Ingrid, I was a hooker in NYC for ten years. I have wide networks too.

I’ve got a lot of work for the next two days, but I’ll respond to your question after that. Much love to you all.

Stella Marr February 26, 2012 at 12:57 pm

Look forward to reading your article in Bitch Magazine Melissa — great points raised

Kendra Holliday February 25, 2012 at 9:47 am

As a sex worker single mom who has been fired and sued for her sexuality, I want to thank you for standing up for sexual civil rights.

I’m proud to spread the good word about motherhood, sexuality, sex worker rights, and sex-positivity. I look forward to the day when a person’s sexuality no longer comes into play when judging character, value or status in society.

I lead by example.

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Jenny DeMilo February 25, 2012 at 3:00 pm

“Prostitution survivor”? It’s not cancer, its a job for Christ sake. I guess i’m an advertising executive survivor.

Ugh

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Melissa Petro Melissa Petro February 25, 2012 at 5:33 pm

sur·vive (sr-vv)
1. To remain alive or in existence.
2. To carry on despite hardships or trauma; persevere: i.e. families that were surviving in tents after the flood.
3. To remain functional or usable: i.e. I dropped the radio, but it survived.
v.tr.
1. To live longer than; outlive: i.e. She survived her husband by five years.
2. To live, persist, or remain usable through: i.e. plants that can survive frosts; a clock that survived a fall.
3. To cope with (a trauma or setback); persevere after: survived child abuse.

I have no problem calling myself a survivor or considering other sex workers “survivors,” if that’s how they think of themselves.

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Stella Marr February 25, 2012 at 7:39 pm

Thank you Melissa.

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formersexworker February 28, 2012 at 11:49 pm

I consider myself a survivor, but of specific things that happened, including in sex work (and brief coerced prostitution), not as a survivor OF prostitution. But I have nothing against people who want to identify that way.

I feel very strongly we should all be working together on common goals, regardless of whether our experiences were good, neutral, or bad.

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Stella Marr February 25, 2012 at 5:57 pm

If you’ve looked around at all at the women in the sex industry who are less privileged than you, you’d notice many have been through terrible things as the result of their prostitution. It’s always hard for me to understand privileged women who want to deny less privileged womens’ experiences of violence in prostitution.

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Stella Marr February 25, 2012 at 7:41 pm

The above was a response to Jenny De Milo’s post, not Melissa’s

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Jenny DeMilo April 2, 2012 at 10:54 am

Yeah, you look pretty privileged to me as well Stella. Its cool though if you wanna self identify as survivor of prostitution if that makes you feel better, knock yourself out. You can be whoever you want. But you have a really strong need to LABEL others as survivors of prostitution because you feel like a survivor and that I take issue with. For many (i would argue most) sex work is a j.o.b. hence the word “work” in sex work. Being forced to have sex with someone against your will … there’s another word for that and it isn’t “work”

Yeah, I’m late to respond and after reading all the responses i probably should just let Miss Stella get in the last word but when the abolitionists show up in fancy hats and start spewing you’re a victim, you’re a victim, you’re a victim, it gets my dander up

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Rosie June 10, 2012 at 8:16 am

Couldn’t have said it better.

When I eventually do leave sex work, I won’t call myself a survivor of it. It plays into the ‘prostitutes are inevitably damaged by their work’ idea.

Maxine doogan February 25, 2012 at 4:25 pm

The question is what are we doing to improve it. I’ve got a long list.

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Emily February 25, 2012 at 6:17 pm

Thank you very much for this piece, Melissa. It resonated very deeply with me.

I am a former stripper. I quit dancing in 2008 because my alcoholism had hit rock bottom. No, the industry certainly wasn’t to blame for my drinking problem, but I found I could not maintain sobriety in that environment. It took me about 6 months after quitting dancing before I finally got the drinking under control.

I’ve recently become interested in sex worker’s rights after I was exposed to some sex worker advocacy groups at SlutWalk Denver in June, so I’ve been trying to get on board with a couple of them.

Except, I keep running into this problem: Sex Work Pollyannas. Are we seriously all supposed to pretend that sex work is all sunshine and rainbows? What job DOESN’T have really shitty aspects that kind of ruin your life? How ridiculous is it to pretend sex work is an exception? Of course there are negative aspects of sex work. To deny that is to disempower a huge portion of our community and silence our voices. What good can come of that?

It became immediately clear that my stories of childhood molestation and rape as a young sex worker were not welcome because they were “stereotypes.” But they weren’t stereotypes to me, they were real, they were and are MY EXPERIENCE. Why is my experience less valid because it conflicts with the party line?

Sex workers are a diverse group of people. It is just so ludicrous to presume that we all hold the same opinions and all come from the same experience.

In many ways, sex work kind of ruined my life too, Melissa. But it also made me the woman I am. It made me one strong, fierce bitch with a very clear notion of what is and is not acceptable to me. It gave me good boundaries. And I am grateful for that.

If we ever want sex work to lose the stigma; if we truly wish to make the world a safer place for sex workers, then we MUST include all experiences in the dialogue, both positive and negative. That is the only way we can get a clear picture of the challenges. That is the only way we will create change.

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Melissa Petro Melissa Petro February 25, 2012 at 9:44 pm

“In many ways, sex work kind of ruined my life too, Melissa. But it also made me the woman I am.”

Agreed. Sex work has definitely made me who I am. Even the whole “hooker teacher” thing– I don’t regret a thing. Sex work afforded me a higher education of my design. In particular, it allowed me to participate in the unpaid internships that are taken for granted as part of the “undergraduate experience.” It made it so that I could travel, live and work all over the world. Thanks to sex work I experienced a form of financially security and financial freedom I don’t believe I ever would have ever tasted had I continued slaving away for minimum wage. My experiences on Craigslist gave me insights into my self and society I don’t think I ever could have understood had I not “gone there.”

Another point: It’s not exactly a secret that I am also in a program of recovery for alcoholism. Addiction is definitely an issue that the sex work community needs to address honestly, even if this means we risk confirming people’s stereotypes– drug and alcohol use/ abuse/ addiction, but also addictions /compulsions more insidious to the work itself (sex, money, attention, etc.)

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formersexworker February 28, 2012 at 11:51 pm

I would recommend contacting SWOP Denver again. They are definitely not sex work polyannas. I’d avoid SWOP Colorado.

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Ingrid Nevin February 25, 2012 at 6:41 pm

I have 3 deadlines by the end of the month so I really should not be here. But this kind of conversation is something I have been pondering for a long time, and desperately wanted to participate in.

There is so much that is going on here, in the dynamics of interaction between people who care what happens to sex workers, even though they come from many different angles. So much emotion that leads to miscommunication and misinterpretation. And so much desire to combat stereotypes and decrease stigma, which leads to overemphasizing positive aspects of sex work, and being afraid to be equally open about the negative aspects. From what I have seen, anyway.

I hope it will not be too late to re-join the discussion in 4 days time… I want to know more about what we can do to change this.

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Stella Marr February 25, 2012 at 7:40 pm

YES:
And so much desire to combat stereotypes and decrease stigma, which leads to overemphasizing positive aspects of sex work, and being afraid to be equally open about the negative aspects. From what I have seen, anyway.

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Maggie McNeill February 26, 2012 at 11:24 am

Stella, I agree with you this time; we need to be totally honest about ALL aspects of sex work, positive and negative; that’s why I share stories (mine and others’) about rape, bad customers, police harassment, etc. Unfortunately, due to “trafficking” fetishism the voices of those who want to paint sex work as all bad are MUCH louder than the “happy hooker” crowd, so the latter aren’t in a position to do nearly the damage of the former. Once governments start giving the same level of attention and funding to “sunshine and rainbows” liars as they do to “pimps, rape and degradation” liars, I’ll be more concerned…especially because the “degradation” folks are the ones pushing to increase criminalization of hookers, clients or both, and criminalization of consensual behaviors never solves anything (as the Drug War should have taught everyone by now).

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Maxine Doogan February 26, 2012 at 2:07 am

Here’s my list,
Decrimina across the board, anti discrimination legislation in housing, employment, education, child custody…and most importantly, unionization. Unionization will assure that all changes come from us, the direct stakeholders, not former workers who get to speak out loud their opinions while the rest of us still have to be so careful, turning down those extra calls for fear that we’ll be arrested and our lives and the livelihood of our children gone.

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Melissa Petro Melissa Petro February 26, 2012 at 10:02 am

It’s interesting that you say that former sex workers get to speak out loud their opinions while current sex workers still have to be quiet and careful– as a former sex worker, I’ve had, at times, felt the opposite sort of resentment! I think it’s reasonable to say that when a person speaks up about having been a sex worker, that person risks losing all social capital. My situation is the perfect example: my degrees, teaching license, certification, etc.– everything I had worked so hard to earn all became virtually worthless. For at least a year, no one was willing to hire the “hooker teacher.” I even lost my part time gig working at my gym! When I was a sex worker, I didn’t need any social capital to survive (economically speaking). I often thought how, ironically, these past two years would’ve been a lot smoother for me if only I still made a living selling sex. Then, I could speak freely and not worry about how I was going to eat or pay my rent. I’ve had countless former sex workers contact me with their stories — teachers, mothers, etc– who wouldn’t DREAM of coming forward.

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Maxine Doogan February 26, 2012 at 6:00 pm

Right, and did u speak out about how much u disliked the industry when u were working?
Because of our criminalizes status, we are situated in the public domaine, property of the public literally, with no rights to private protected speech or access to equal protection under the law.
So when former workers talk about how bad the industry was to them, it’s perceived by the public as a good thing. Remember the discussions of passing the first abatement laws acknowledge that some consequences would be blackmail and the public was okay with us and our supporters suffering that.
We know this to still be true today because the green river serial killer said as much in his statements to police. He’s quoted in the charging documents. He said he knew he could get away with it because no body cared about us. I bring this up because when I read former workers talking about how bad it is, they never connect the dots it seems. They only are concerned with their voice and getting our first amendment space is really important. I’ve been round a while and speaking out hasn’t resulted in motivating the public to change our status or in for workers demanding that.
It only seems to reinforce all the negative stereo types, the ones the serial killers use to justify killing us, the same ones used solicit us for sex in exchange for housing, auto repair, legal services. The same stereo types the police use in the prostitution sting operations when the they receive sexual services and arrest us, or charge us with felonies when we work together. The same stereo types the poverty pimps use to justify profiting off the criminalization of our occupation.
So yeah ome parts sucks, what r u going to do about it?
After we get decorum and the anti discrimination laws in place, we need a truth and reconsiliation space so everybody can come forward and tell the truth.

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Melissa Petro Melissa Petro February 27, 2012 at 9:18 am

“did u speak out about how much u disliked the industry when u were working?”

I’ve spoken openly (in certain circles) about my having been a sex worker since I became one, but so long as I was still working, I would definitely say that I de-emphasized/ totally denied the negative aspects of the work. I didn’t want people who loved me to worry. More than that, I didn’t want to feel judged. I didn’t want non-sex workers to tell me I was “asking for it” or other sex workers to tell me I was “being a bad activist” i.e. re-enforcing negative stereotypes and giving serial killers further justifications for our murders and not “connecting the dots.” Denying the negative aspects of the industry kept me working in it a lot longer than I might have had I allowed myself to be honest about my experience. As a movement, it keeps us from addressing the aspects of the work that could be improved. Today, I do advocacy beyond telling my story but I never sacrifice any nuance of my story so as to make clear my political point. I realize that my sharing negative aspects of the work could be misinterpreted, etc. I don’t take responsibility for misinterpretation.

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Melissa Petro Melissa Petro February 27, 2012 at 9:26 am

If I could, I would edit that to say “I would never sacrifice any nuance of my story to make clear A political point” (instead of MY political point.) My work is always making clear some political point, but I do not think anyone can make clear ALL political points at ALL times. Sometimes my political point is simply to humanize sex workers. I think we do this whenever we tell stories of our experience- whatever that experience (good, bad or ambivalent).

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formersexworker February 27, 2012 at 6:19 pm

Right on.

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Stella Marr February 27, 2012 at 9:45 pm

The humanization is the most thing we can do.

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maxine doogan February 27, 2012 at 2:58 pm

Labor organizing is all about the workers identifying the worst aspects of our job or industry and then deciding what to do about its. This business of former workers telling whats wrong with the industry and then advocating for changes upon which they won’t be effected by themselves, is an unfair business practice and I’m not saying you do this specifically.
The issues today seem to be workers providing unprotected service for less.
I think we can all agree ( but maybe not) that not being able to report violence is a real problem-that blackmail thing. These barriers have to be removed and explicit protections have to in place and enforced.

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formersexworker February 27, 2012 at 6:01 pm

Hi Melissa,
I had a terrible experience with sex work for a very different reason than you – initially I was a victim of coercion, as a homeless/unstably housed young woman, and when I went back into the industry later on, it just wasn’t good for me, and I still encountered some violence. I have had a little trouble (not a lot, most of the sex workers I know are supportive) with people who insist that I always qualify my experience as being just my experience – but I do this! I completely recognize that sex work is wonderful for some people, some people have great experiences – and sometimes I wish these people would live up to what they ask of others, and qualify that those experiences are only their own! In any case, I think it’s not our most important fight, and I really identify with the phrase “all the more reason I support sex workers rights.” Because when sex workers are criminalized, stigmatized and shamed and hated upon, to the point where some people think “you can’t rape a sex worker,” when we have even condoms being used as evidence, prostitution free zones, huge human rights violations…with all this to fight, why are we fighting among each other about good and bad experiences? Priorities, you know?

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formersexworker February 27, 2012 at 6:12 pm

RE: current vs. former workers

I fully believe that in some cases the voices of current workers should be prioritized, and I understand the frustration with dabblers who make sex work their identity, but in many ways this identity is foisted upon us, current and former sex workers alike. And former sex workers have plenty of valuable things to say about our experiences in sex work.

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Stella Marr February 27, 2012 at 9:52 pm

OK — we need to address the elephant sin the living room here.

Women in prostitution have a very short working life — so the input from survivors is important and should not be disregarded. It is an extremely ageist business.

This is not personal — it’s a simple concept. Those who have made money by taking a cut of what’s earned by other women ‘s work as prostitutes have a huge conflict of interest. At least three, if not more, of the people posting in these comments fit into that category.

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formersexworker February 28, 2012 at 5:00 pm

I agree that managers have a conflict of interest (and often look down on and denigrate the sex workers who work for them) and should not be considered sex workers unless they also do sex work. If they are former sex workers they might speak in that capacity, just drawing on their experiences from the past, as regards *sex workers* issues. That said I think the existence of non-abusive managers should be legal. Some people do prefer to work that way; in different circumstances I might have been one of them.

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Charlotte Shane Charlotte Shane February 28, 2012 at 8:11 pm

I find it frustrating and flat out wrong to see committed activists dismissed as “pimps” because they were charged with pandering or operated as an agent at some point in their career. Virtually every escort I know has helped one or more of her friends get into the business, making her technically a “pimp.” Furthermore, speaking of ageism, as women age out of the industry they often naturally gravitate to a madam role because of the huge blank spot in their straight resume that makes them otherwise unemployable (not to mention any arrests on record.) You’re right that a crucial distinction must be made between women who become managers after doing the work themselves and men who control women’s labor in abusive and unfair ways. Or, truly, anyone who is abusive in their position. And that last part is very important, as I also know women who’ve had their husbands act as assistants (or in the law’s eyes “managers”) but in healthy and supportive ways.

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formersexworker February 28, 2012 at 9:29 pm

I don’t think we’re disagreeing at all.

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Charlotte Shane Charlotte Shane February 28, 2012 at 10:01 pm

Oh I agree—sorry, I should have been more clear. I was just sort of generally sharing my thoughts on that particular topic, not criticizing your take on it.

formersexworker February 28, 2012 at 9:37 pm

In fact I feel the same way about certain people, Robyn Few being one of them. I have every reason to believe she was never abusive, and she’s a wonderful and amazing activist in so many ways. I love and respect her immensely. Other managers, not so much usually, and on the other end of the scale, pimps who use force, fraud, and coercion, or other crimes against sex workers, should obviously never play a part, but I haven’t seen them doing that. In fact one SWOP chapter I was involved with screened out a skeezy manager, who’d been accused of rape and such, and wouldn’t let him join. Which is as it should be.

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Stella Marr February 29, 2012 at 8:17 am

I don’t know the party in question. But I do know that many women in prostitution and prostitution survivors have been terribly abused by pimps and madams and as a result would not trust a group that included any of them. Activism regarding the human rights of women in prostitution should not revolve around madams and/or pimps or we will exclude many women from the movement. This is not a statement about the character of Robyn or anyone else.

Maggie McNeill March 4, 2012 at 1:47 pm

Tarring all escort service owners with the “pimp” brush is EXACTLY THE SAME as prohibitionists tarring all sex workers with the same brush. There is NO difference. All people are individuals, and need to be judged on their own behavior. Stella has repeatedly dismissed me with “you’re a pimp” and even libeled me on websites because she has a chip on her shoulder about management.

In New Orleans in 2000, virtually the WHOLE escort biz was via phone book; there were a few internet girls, but even they worked with agencies because 90%+ of business was out-of-town gents in hotels. In other words, the only way to make a good living was by having an ad in the phone book, which meant either A) putting one in yourself (at great expense) as I did, or B) working with someone who had (an agency). To insist that someone who has spent thousands of dollars for an ad, secretary and legal retainers should simply let other girls get free advertising, free secretary to monitor their time and check them in and out, and a free lawyer to bail them out if they got popped, is pie-in-the-sky Marxist bullshit; you might as well argue that whores should give ourselves for free to needy men. And to REFUSE to allow other girls to use one’s established infrastructure on the grounds that you won’t take money from them on principle is “killing them with kindness”.

I was the best agency owner in New Orleans, but there were two other good, fair owners as well (both gay men) whom I worked with myself as an escort. If a girl didn’t like one service owner, she was free to go to another one; that’s hardly “taking money” except to a mind hopelessly befuddled with Marxism. I insisted girls keep their own records so we could double-check each other, and I even made advances to dependable girls to buy cars, pay rent deposits, etc. I even wrote an employment letter for one once. If anyone wants to call that “exploitation”, she shows herself to be nothing but an ideologue and therefore in the same ethical boat as Farley, Hughes et al.

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Melissa Petro Melissa Petro March 5, 2012 at 11:43 am

I agree that the issue of management/market facilitation is highly oversimplified. This is definitely a topic I would love for Tits and Sass to cover (if you haven’t already). I’ve never worked for an agency or hired someone for protection or had a boyfriend who profited from my work or any other type of relationship that could possibly be interpreted as a pimp, but I’ve spoken to other workers who have, and I’ve read enough on the topic to know that it is more complicated than “innocent/victimized” sex worker and “bad/exploitative” pimp trope. At the risk of violating the comments policy by self-promoting, I have written on this issue as well: http://bitchmagazine.org/post/the-h-word-relationship-violence-and-the-racist-implications-of-the-mythical-pimp. I include the link rather than to repeat my conclusions here.

Maybe it’s useful, as Stella suggests, that market facilitators qualify their experiences as such– but I agree with Maggie that their voices shouldn’t be excluded from the conversation, particularly when they also qualify as sex workers/former sex workers (and some research, which I’ve cited in that link, finds that many do).

Charlotte Shane Charlotte Shane March 5, 2012 at 11:30 pm

Demanding that a sex worker disclose convictions for pandering or otherwise is incredibly misguided, not least of all because it would be indicative of the blind faith in law enforcement and our justice system that sex workers themselves so often criticize. (I would have put justice in quotation marks if I didn’t think scare quotes were so obnoxious.) It would further perpetuate a lot of wrong-headed ideas —like that someone without a conviction didn’t commit the act—and seems particularly invasive for when applied to a population that already has nothing to gain and everything to lose from speaking about their labor under any circumstances. It would be unavoidably racist and classist since poor people of color are disproportionately targeted and prosecuted. And do we also require the disclosure of convictions for weapon possession (which could be kept for protection,) drug possession, intent to sell, child endangerment, etc? Ideas and contributions can stand on their own without us requiring those positing the ideas to pass a personal history litmus test. Who even enforces this requirement?

If someone is advocating an exploitative, abusive, unbalanced arrangement, they do not deserve to be entertained, regardless of whether they’ve been convicted or not.

Stella Marr February 28, 2012 at 9:02 pm

If current/former madams and pimps, managers, brothel owners, etc. want to speak in the capacity of being former sex workers, I think they must acknowledge that they have also been in a position where they took an (often significant) cut of what other women are earning in prostitution. And if they have convictions for pandering and/or pimping they should acknowledge this as well. This is only fair.

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formersexworker February 29, 2012 at 6:16 pm

You know, I actually agree with this.

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Stella Marr February 27, 2012 at 9:55 pm

The above is not a statement on who you all are as people — far from it.

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Stella Marr February 27, 2012 at 9:58 pm

We survivors know more about prostitution than anyone else. We know much more about the aftereffects of prostitution than women currently in the business, and as such are voices are essential to the conversation.

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JR February 28, 2012 at 10:58 pm

Their voices are not ony essential, but they are better and better represent the true state of prostitution. That’s what you are saying. You just said that YOU know more about prostitution than anyone else. Or did I misunderstand you?

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JR February 29, 2012 at 12:47 am

Ok, I just clicked on your name which brought me to your website. So now I know that you are anti-prostitution and anti-sex-industry and you agree with all the “trafficking” hysteria and that you think you know better than anyone else.

Things like this on your site:

“Prostitution is not sex, nothing like what sex is to everyone else. No one has sex with 4, 7, 10 or 12 people a day.”

“Looking for Unicorns: The Search for the “Happy Hooker” & the “Good Punter/John””

“The Opposition: The Sex Industry’s Supporters Uncovered”

http://survivorsconnect.wordpress.com/

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JR February 29, 2012 at 12:50 am

You are also the one Dr. Laura Augustín was quite certain Melissa Farley sent to rant on her site:
http://deepthroated.wordpress.com/2011/12/08/melissa-farley-sends-someone-to-the-naked-anthropologist-to-rant/#comment-12234

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Stella Marr February 29, 2012 at 8:23 am

JR, I wasn’t using a singular pronoun.

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Stella Marr February 27, 2012 at 10:06 pm

Re:
I have had a little trouble (not a lot, most of the sex workers I know are supportive) with people who insist that I always qualify my experience as being just my experience – but I do this!

There’s absolutely no need to qualify like this. All of us survivors have spent so much time having to figure out what other people want from us, it’s about time we owned our stories. Stop qualifying, stop apologizing, stop being afraid of being judged, stop feeling apologetic about being in prostitution, stop feeling afraid someone doesn’t want your truth in the world, We are sisters and survivors, and nothing will break the bonds between us. I know that the women who are my sisters would want me to say who I am to them. That includes the truth about my experiences.

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maxine doogan February 28, 2012 at 12:34 pm

In regards to the role former workers play in the movement, I can say that there’s a lot of work to be done beyond making general personal statements about individual experience, no matter if its perceived as positive or negative.
Decrim is a huge effort, getting anti discrimination legislation passed and enforced on a state by state basis is going to be a huge effort. Getting the police to take seriously reports of rape, robbery, theft, coercion, extortion, sexual harassment, battery is going to be a struggle. We struggle for justice in the face of these violences now as women. It will take a massive effort to re-training law enforcement away from arresting us, sexually harassing us, raping us, steeling from us, denying us justice as they’ve been profiting off the blackmail oppertunity created by the criminalization of prostitution for a century.
There are many places where former workers can jump in and play important roles. Everything from being there for us as member of rape relief efforts, to fundraising for critical needs like getting descent research, education packages and legal help.
Its good to have our voices out in the community but I can tell you, directing those voices towards holding police and other parts of the community accountable takes commitment and training. Its a little different than the glamourous life of writing on the internet. ;)

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formersexworker February 28, 2012 at 2:30 pm

Maxine, I agree with you completely and I do organize for these things in real life.

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formersexworker February 28, 2012 at 2:33 pm

In fact I kind of resent the implication that I don’t do these things in real life, just because I have a blog I just started, or what? I work very hard to get exactly these things accomplished, or at least try to lay the groundwork for them.

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Melissa Petro Melissa Petro February 28, 2012 at 2:39 pm

Maxine: I absolutely agree. It’s time that we (activists) talk substance about the forces that harm people in the sex trade and how we (current and former sex workers, as well as our allies) can fight back.

I will say, however, that I do happen to be a writer– a memoirist, to be specific– so my biggest contribution to the movement is and may always be my writing. Not a “glamorous” job, but it does pay my bills.

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Stella Marr February 28, 2012 at 2:36 pm

There’s nothing glamorous about speaking out as a survivor. You are under constant attack when you do this.

Survivors need to play a leadership role, and finding our voices is an important part of that. We understand the sex industry better than anyone else except women currently in prostitution. We understand its after effects in a way no one else can.

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formersexworker February 29, 2012 at 12:02 am

Yes. Sex workers need to lead (and are doing this) the sex workers rights movement, and we need to be allies to each other and each others experiences in the process (good, bad, neutral, experiences of violence, etc.). Similary, the anti-trafficking movement needs to be lead by trafficking survivors (and is NOT doing this by and large), and need to be allies to the experiences of others as well, and acknowledge that not all our opinions are the same. I love that you started SurvivorsConnect, Stella. Connecting with other survivors is so important, but also, it’s so so so so much more important for survivors to speak out than grant-money-grubber, careerist folks who have never, ever been there themselves.

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maxine doogan February 28, 2012 at 6:06 pm

My comment was tough in cheek as they say. No disrespect to online just a point as you, Melissa picked up on which was, as formersexworker said; organize in real life which would go a long way to stopping the constant misunderstandings and hey whatever folks do for a living is of no issue for me.

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jenna February 29, 2012 at 2:23 am

i could describe my eight years working as an administrative assistant, with conviction, as “emotionally taxing and spiritually bankrupting.” there was a bridge i walked over every day after one of those jobs, and every time i walked over that bridge, i imagined throwing myself off of it. i would have thoughts on sunday to the lines of “if i killed myself today, i wouldn’t have to work next week.”

any work can ruin your life if it’s the wrong work.

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Kat Kat February 29, 2012 at 4:06 pm

We’ve allowed comments that are arguably in violation of our comment policy to be approved in this space because we’ve wanted to let everyone be heard. It’s great that this piece has sparked such a dialogue, but please remember to stay relatively on topic and that there might be more appropriate avenues for some of these tangents.

http://titsandsass.com/site-policies/

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Companion February 29, 2012 at 7:50 pm

I agree with Jenna that any kind of work can be soul crushing if it’s the wrong work for you. Clearly sex work was not healthy for the Melissa Petro, but I wonder how much responsibility she takes for all her supposed emotional and spiritual damage. I’ve read some of her articles and it don’t see much personal accountability, yet instead much of the blame projected onto the work itself (or societal stigma, blah blah blah…) Seems to me if she had a better attitude toward the work (or sex in general) perhaps that big bad nasty stigma would’ve been inconsequential. I’ve been a sex worker off and on for over 25 years and the only emotional damage I incurred happened ages ago and was due solely to my own immature perspective on sexuality as well as a little misguided attachment to the same social stigma. I grew up and got over it, and when I write about it now I use a pen name. It’s a safe and effective way to voice one’s opinions and share one’s experience (though perhaps a slight hindrance to scoring a book deal…just saying).

Currently, my little corner of the “sex industry” is a thoroughly positive experience. And while I know I’m privileged (thin, white, pretty) and see a low volume of similarly privileged, affluent men, they are of the exact same segment of society from which I found all my real estate clients in a decade long career as a Realtor. Now that is a soul-crushing job if there ever was one, since about half (or more) of every agent’s exhausting, 60+ hour work week goes unpaid and unappreciated. The same men who worship me and pay me so well now are the same men (figuratively) who worked me to death, wasted my time and exploited me daily as a buyer’s agent/Realtor.

I’m sorry the author had such horrible experiences, but the tone she constantly takes in writing about them makes it clear she blames the work, and not her own inability to rise above the stigma (societal or personal). I’m also sorry she lost her job, but that right there is what “bankrupted” her, not sex work. The work gave her security and freedom, she says so herself!

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Sina March 2, 2012 at 4:39 am

Most persons need approval from others. Don’t underestimate the effect that discrimination has on one’s well-being, especially if it comes from people one cares about. You’re either very lucky with having an accepting social surrounding, or are unusually independent from what others think. The stigmatisation is of course not inherent in the job, but neither is anything that a person “should take accountability for”. Also, it’s not just about getting approval- as Melissa’s Story shows, stigmatisation sets very real limits on what one can do in one’s life.

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formersexworker March 4, 2012 at 1:15 am

You should take responsibility for hating your real estate job equally as much as she should take responsibility for hating sex work. You’re talking to someone who lost her job and credentials over sex work, don’t forget.

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Companion March 23, 2012 at 11:43 pm

Realtors are paid for only a small fraction of their work. Sex workers are paid by every client they see. Her issues was with the stigma, not the work itself, which means her frustrations were in her power to overcome (unlike Realtors who can’t change the (unfair) way they’re paid (or not paid)). Apples and oranges.

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FW March 2, 2012 at 11:45 am

Great post, great thread.
And I’m just gonna leave this here → http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NO4N81t59fQ

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maxine doogan March 7, 2012 at 6:38 pm
Jon Mccane March 22, 2012 at 11:59 am

I appreciate your writings and how complicated an issue sex work is. I became initaited in it about four years ago when visiting Las Vegas with my girlfriend and our daughters and granddaughters. A friend called the second oldest daughters (22) and told her that the escorts service that she worked as an escort for had been raided and she had a warrant out for her arrest. I didnt even know this daughter worked as an escort, didnt have a clue. I had never been to an escort in my life, never paid for sex in my life. THe next year of working to help her stay out of prison (six charges, 4 of them felony) was instructive. I learned a lot about this level of sex work, and met a lot of this group of sexworkers. Most of them have left the field as inevitably most do, I mean how many old sex workers have you ever seen? Most of them have gone back into straight work which is hard to do with a felony on their record which is what most of them plea bargained down to. Some of them got married,or got boy friends, or continued being married, and continued to raise their kids. From what I saw, especially now with the recession, was that a lot of it was economic. A lot of the young women were single mothers of one or two kids and didnt have enough education or job skills to support their kids, although some were college grads, which might say something about the economic value of a college diploma. Most of them had little success in getting child support and could not raise their kids on minimum wage regardless of what all these anti-sex moralists of all political stripes think. So basically I met a array of Americans that if I didnt know what they did for work and had to guess, I never would have guessed, sexwork. I also realized that sexwork can be an addiction for many of the women. They may not always like the sex, or the clients, but they were addicted to it. Many of them if talked to would tell you that they felt like they were performing a needed service. Some were postive about it, some were negative about it, some were ambivalent about their chosen profession. I met only one of two who felt guilty about their sex work. So I came out of all of this with a much more balanced view for myself of sexwork and sexworkers. I find that when people are met they are hard to demonize. Especially at this level of sexwork, escorts. I didnt find many drug addicts or alcoholicx. I found few young escorts and many of them had lied about their age in the other direction, they were older than the 18 or 19 years old they claimed to be. So I now stand up for sex workers and improving their standing in society by dropping criminal sanctions of sex workers and only having health sanctions. I truly believe that the average escort has far fewer STD’s than the average college male or female student but they need an avenue of protection that health regulations can give them. With how sexually screwed up our culture is I dont expect positive change like this to happen any time soon. No we just continue to get psychosexually ill politicians like Rick Santorum wanting to represent us and bring the 17th century treatment of sex and women back.

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mm May 20, 2012 at 10:08 pm

You are very brave.

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