(Photo by Flickr user elasticsoul)
When I was just a teeny tiny bottle of airplane-ready champagne, I was called a whore by a boy in my middle school science class for having the audacity to own breasts and opinions at the same time,while only being willing to share the latter. Once I got to college, men started to call me a whore in the streets when I refused their advances and they called me one even more loudly when I taught myself not to allow their presence to register on my face. I was called a whore by clients more often when I would refuse certain services, but not when I would provide them willingly. But since you could put a pair of eyeglasses on a calcified ostrich turd and its opinion would have as much gravity as those of boys, strange men, and clients, these words never especially bothered me.
I’ve always been peripherally aware of the importance of reappropriating the language of sex work but never felt I really had skin in the game until I felt how badly “whore” burns from certain tongues and with certain intentions. Since “whore” was thrown around my whole life as shorthand for “woman who does things I don’t like,” I never felt especially connected to it as it related to sex work, even when doing sex work that reflected the most literal understanding of the word. I’ve even been known to say things like, “Um, sex workers are dying out there. Does it really matter what we call ourselves?” I’m aware now that starting a sentence with “um” reflects fluency in Sanctimonious Cunt more than it reflects nuanced understanding of the issues sex workers face. Forgive me, I was an unsophisticated bottle of André at the time, a mere shadow of the Dom Perignon White Gold Jeroboam I am today. But back to being a whore.
In late July, a man who claimed to love me and who had never taken issue with my profession before called me a “whore” to my face. He told others I was a “whore” when he needed to discredit me as quickly and mercilessly as possible. Prior to our falling out, my work in the adult industry had been something that concerned him only when I reported pushed boundaries or feelings of regret and insecurity. He was supportive and sometimes downright titillated, insisting on christening my new work outfits by getting lap dances in them before anyone else did. I happily obliged because I loved him and got to choose my own soundtrack. When things quickly deteriorated and I feared for his new girlfriend, I warned her about malicious and dishonest behaviors of his which I thought she should be aware of.
His first line of defense to her was my work and it was his first line of offense against me. Obviously, he had been driven to threaten me with violence because I was a deranged stripper that thought he loved me; he just had to set me straight. The very idea was ludicrous, loving a sex worker. When he used whore stigma against me, it was to explain why he never wanted monogamy with me and how I had always been just a source of fucked up sex and that all his stated affections had been part of a game designed to entertain himself.
(via Wikimedia Commons)
Though most don’t consider the word “prostitute” pejorative, it’s more damaging to sex workers than any other slur. There’s no true neutrality to be found in a word whose verb form Merriam-Webster defines as “to devote to corrupt or unworthy purposes.” But precisely because it is used in polite language, because of its patina of legitimacy, its harmful connotations can be used against us with impunity in the media every time a street sex worker is murdered and every time a sex worker in the public eye is outed. Every time this medico-legal term, used to justify our pathologization and criminalization for centuries, is utilized to label us, we are discredited subtly but effectively just that much more.
In a surprisingly insightful take for a non-sex worker, Lizzie Smith, Research Officer at The Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health, and Society at Le Trobe University, wrote in the academic news commentary site The Conversation last year:
Referring to female sex workers as “prostitutes” in the media is not new, but it is a sobering reminder of how pervasive negative understandings of sex work and sex workers are. These understandings originate from various “expert” fields of knowledge including psychology, medicine, sexology, religious doctrine and various feminist perspectives, through which sex workers are positioned as dirty, diseased, sinful, deviant and victims. The term “prostitute” does not simply mean a person who sells her or his sexual labour (although rarely used to describe men in sex work), but brings with it layers of “knowledge” about her worth, drug status, childhood, integrity, personal hygiene and sexual health. When the media refers to a woman as a prostitute, or when such a story remains on the news cycle for only a day, it is not done in isolation, but in the context of this complex history.
When the Chicago Tribune described Indiana serial killer Darren Vann’s victim, Teira Batey, as a “prostitute,” it made it clear it was using this “complex history” against her as it detailed her past with police encounters and her family’s reports that she was a drug user. When the Irish Examiner called Kate Mcgrew, TV star of the reality show Connected, a “prostitute” after she came out as an escort, you can bet they also mentioned her “tight jeans and towering heels,” her “flamboyant” style of dress, even going so far as to say she looked “cartoon-like.” They may as well have called her a silly slut and been done with it.
Viktoria, a new film about migrant sex workers in Switzerland, is out now in that country. Switzerland attracts sex workers from Hungary, although prejudices against the Roma—a group many of the migrants belong to—color their reception.
Jordan Flaherty, interviewed on this site about his reporting on Project ROSE, has a new story out about how Alaska’s sex trafficking laws are used against those they ostensibly protect: “Some of them appear to be charged with trafficking themselves.” The accompanying television segment is here.
The Canadian take on the End Demand/Swedish model, C-36, passed in the Senate on Tuesday despite testimony from Canadian sex workers that it would only endanger them further. It is now one step away from becoming law.
In the UK, the amendment to the Modern Slavery Bill which would have implemented the End Demand model was defeated, bringing UK sex workers closer to decriminalization.
Kate McGrew, the sex worker contestant on Irish reality show Connected, says she is not a prostitute, she’s a sex worker, and pointed out the stigma attached to the word “prostitute” as well as the negative repercussions of the Turn Off the Red Light campaign, which seeks to implement the Swedish model in Northern Ireland.
After hearing horror stories from disabled clients, Trish St. John began Sensual Solutions, a Vancouver escort agency that works with disabled people.
Here’s yet another lawsuit over the employee rights’ of strippers has hit, this time involving the Queens, New York club Scandals. [READ MORE]
Portland-based stripper and Tits and Sass contributor Elle Stanger has compiled an anthology of personal stories from strippers from across the U.S. Strange Times: Tales from American Strippers includes pieces by Tits and Sass co-founder Kat, contributors Lily Fury and Red, and other notable dancer literati like Lux ATL. Stanger has this to say about her compilation: “There are so many stripper tell-alls, and each important in their own right, but I really wanted a collection of voices that focused more on the ability to witness humanity from varied perspectives, that wasn’t solely about the protagonist herself… When I began speaking with current and former strippers around the country, each woman was unique, and yet there was a commonality among them. A shared kind of insight.” We’ve posted a selection by Clementine below.
Most hours I’m just passing—waiting for that one opportune moment—the mythical lapse in which something finally gives and I find my mind, my body, my heart—all in agreement with the preponderance that now is the moment when the most viable option is simply to let go. In most narratives, this might be when the writer would let the audience in on their little secret—saying Oh, but it wasn’t always this way. Let me tell you how it happened… But the truth is it has always been this way. [READ MORE]