Written by Lia Claire Scholl and published by Chalise Press, I Heart Sex Workers is positioned as “a Christian response to people in the sex trade.” As such, I, a Christian sex worker, posted about it on my blog IN CAPITAL LETTERS TO SHOW MY EXCITEMENT SAYING “I NEED THIS IN MY LIFE I HAVE THE MIGHTEST OF NEEDS!” It’s a saying you’ll often see on the blogosphere, though for me it’s not just a meme; the degree of social isolation I feel from my Church and my cognitive dissonance between these two aspects of myself mean that I do sorely need someone somewhere to reach out their hand and welcome me as a Christian and a sex worker into Christian life.
This book is not that hand. Rather than being a direct response to people in the sex industry, this book is more of a 101 for people outside of the industry on what it is we (whores, strippers, camgirls, dommes, etc) do and why we do it. The book begins with the story of Tamar from the Old Testament, who pretended to be a hooker to force her family to honor their obligations, in an aptly titled chapter called “Playing the Harlot.” Each of the book’s four sections opens with a similar biblical story, telling it from a first-person perspective and illustrating how each example would be viewed today as a form of sex work. Personally, these are my favorite parts, so much so that I want “Tzadkah mimeni”—the Hebrew phrase “more righteous than I” that Tamar’s father says when he finds out what she’s done—tattooed somewhere. Reading these retellings, I can’t help but think Scholl is trying to prompt Christians to see sex work in a new light, perhaps even as people making a legitimate choice in their lives. Unfortunately, Scholl stops short of actually saying these words. She does offer some choice ones though, such as the exhortation that “we need to grow up about sex,”something I wish people in general, not just Christians, would hear.
I actually found reading this book painful—I could feel the tension in Scholl’s writing; she’s treading the impossible line of not condoning sex work, lest she alienate her audience, and not condemning it either or painting us as helpless victims as this, as she writes herself, is one of the major failings of non peer-based organizations, the savior complex. Still, the overarching feeling I get is that she is trying to justify sex work to people whose value systems find us reproachable. Discussions of agency, of privilege, of “the cycle of sex work” (as opposed to the cycle of retail or factory work?) all seem . . . well, patronizing. This book is not for me, and while I appreciate the incredibly delicate position Scholl is in and think this book is a huge step in the right direction, it’s not a direct challenge to religious arguments against sex work, which is what we really need. It’s also not an invitation for sex workers to shed the internalized shame we’ve grown up in and reach out to organized religion.