“Whore” Is A Good Place To Start

by Lane Champagne on November 13, 2014 · 4 comments

in Politics, Prostitution, This Time, It's Personal

(Photo by Flickr user elasticsoul)

(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.

Once informed of my work, the woman I was warning with screenshots of violent threats and other disturbing behavior went from profuse gratitude for looking out for her to expressing hope that I could leave the couple alone as they moved forward, expressing her hope that she wouldn’t have to “look over her shoulder” for me. You know me, the unbalanced whore who was deadset on destroying the happiness of others. My being a sex worker had been so effectively weaponized against me that even I second-guessed the validity of my own claims that he was dangerous, as I stood there holding a phone full of messages recounting the ways he hoped to see me die.

(Screenshot of texts Lane received from the man referenced in this piece, courtesy of Lane Champagne)

(Screenshot of texts Lane received from the man referenced in this piece, courtesy of Lane Champagne)

And though I was disoriented in the haze of that episode, the word “whore” and how it was being used became suddenly more important to me. He was trying to find me so he asked, “Where are you? I bet you’re out running covered in vomit, like a whore,” which was a charming dig at both my battle with bulimia and my work. I replied, “Yes, out on a nice whore jog,” mostly because I liked the visual of going running in a sequined thong, possibly covered in jizz and money. Though the word had crushed me internally, I was outwardly more defiant of his bullshit than ever. He called me a whore in dozens of messages and conversations that followed, often modified by “jealous” and “unbalanced” and my favorite, “just a.” It was an attempt to reduce me to something, but instead it made me want to embody every dangerous thing he meant for it to. I let it make me seem cunning and ruthless and ready to take what I needed.

Taking ownership of the word “whore” and the load it came with in that particular experience allowed me to leave with some dignity intact. I have never identified sex work with empowerment of any kind but the financial variety but being able to respond as if the mere mention of the word was as relevant as calling someone JUST A MARKETING MANAGER or A FUCKING ETSY ENTREPRENEUR made me feel powerful. He flailed frantically as I burned down his last refuge with my cool defiance and condescending laughter at the very idea that my work made my word unreliable. And though I cried often in the hours between his venom-spewing calls, once on the phone with him, his attempts to make me cry, a task that had once been so easy for him, were like trying to wring sweat from a bone.

And though “woman who does things I don’t like” applies to untold numbers of women outside of the sex industry, there are few greater threats to systems of gender, labor, and power than unapologetic sex workers. It is in the sex industry that “whore” is used with its most literal meaning, meant to be used with the most lethal force. And so it is in the sex industry that it must be most effectively neutralized. It is in the sex industry where we must beat this sword into a plowshare, this spear into a pruning hook, and let it bring us no more violence. (Yes, that was a biblical reference but where better to neutralize a weaponized book than a website for sex workers?)

But to paraphrase The King of Pop, I’m starting with the whore in the mirror. Which is to say, I am now happy to adopt the moniker myself as a way to preemptively nullify its violence against any woman that might act in ways that defy gender expectations, and especially against women doing sex work, where it is applied most contemptuously. But I can also recall how badly the word stung when it came out of his mouth over and over again. I could just as easily have retreated from it and all its attendant power. I realize that though his whorephobic threats of violence were real, they never materialized in physical violence, which would have colored my experience of the word differently. And so I take on the word without any expectations for fellow workers to do the same.

The sanctimonious side of me wants to spend a long time wagging a finger at myself for having the privilege to devote 1300 words to the power of a word. The whore side of me wants to say, “Shut the fuck up Lane. Just be happy to own this shit and not let it hurt you!” The sanctimonious whore in the middle says that this tension is a very good place to start.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

karina kane November 13, 2014 at 12:18 pm

Great Article!! My ex boyfriend did the exact same thing to me this past summer. He went as far to move into the hotel of my incall location with his new girlfriend for 3 weeks. Then upon his checkout he preceded to tell the front desk clrk that there is a whore living in rm 319. They obviously didn’t believe him as they think I AM a traveling nurse. Hahaha but aren’t we just that Nurses!

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Carol Leigh November 13, 2014 at 1:13 pm

Thank you for this deep, emotional contribution to literature about this term! Wow!

If anyone hasn’t seen “The Whore Stigma with Margo St. James and Gail Pheterson” (2 min)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PlXV370ipEI

Plus Cosi Fabian has written much extraordinary poetry about the Sacred Whore. I found this one online:
http://heartsarentmadeofglass.blogspot.com/2011/11/quadesha-sacred-whore.html

Quadesha (Sacred Whore)
My lips are sweet. Life is in my mouth.
Beneath my robes – I am Glorious.

When I dance, the sun sails safely through the night.
When I dance, the future is formed by my feet.
When I dance, the stars move through the heavens.
When I dance, women perfume their thighs, drape gold upon their breasts.
When I dance, the maiden laughs and tosses her hair.
When I dance, the youth writes poetry, waits under the moon.
When I dance, the matron teases her husband – the husband becomes generous.

When I dance, Venus shimmers the desert.
When I dance, dust becomes silver, stones are made of gold.

– Cosi Fabian

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Catherine November 14, 2014 at 12:36 pm

Beautiful!

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Electra November 16, 2014 at 2:34 am

My god, what a flashback. Ghosts of Douchebags Past came slithering out of the walls with this one. Thank you for sharing this with us.

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