I work as a writer and a pro-domme. For me, the first stems from the second; the financial independence I earned from my pro-domming gave me the confidence and clarity to think and write. In my writing, I am out as a sex worker. My byline is a name, Margaret Corvid, that I consciously link to the name I use for sex work. As a dominatrix, I am Mistress Magpie; the real magpie, a whimsical, intelligent, and slightly evil bird, is in the corvid genus, along with jays, crows and ravens. This little play on words honors my sex work and my kink, the foundations for my work as a writer. I also link the two because my politics dictate my being out. As a white, able-bodied cis woman from a middle class background, my privilege affords me a modicum of protection, so I write as a sex worker even when I am writing on an issue entirely unrelated to sex work. Hopefully, this choice helps in its own small way to move us forward towards a time when sex workers can participate fully in the public sphere.
The privilege of my origin shows through in my writing, which is the product of my education. I inherited my skill at writing through the educational opportunities my middle class background afforded me; I learned it, but I did not earn it. Because of that skill I have been able to write for top-level publications in the UK, writing some explicitly pro-sex work and pro-kink pieces for them. Unfortunately, I have made some mistakes in my writing. The first piece I wrote for the Guardian referred to some sex workers as “miserable slaves”, because in my advocacy for the understanding that sex work is work, I was trying to inoculate my argument against people’s likely criticisms. In doing so, I bought right into the trafficking myth. Months later, I came across some criticism of the piece. I engaged with it, apologizing and putting myself through a crash course on the rescue industry; this study resulted in the first piece I wrote about sex work which I feel is truly worthy. Through my embarrassment, I realized that I needed to completely reeducate myself. The reputation of the “social justice warriors” on the internet is fearsome, but I have tried to approach feedback with a sense of humility, and a few of the most vocal activists have graciously offered me their support.
With my unearned platform, I have an opportunity to carry the message of sex worker rights to policymakers. I am duty-bound to do my best to get up to speed with the voices of the most marginalized among us, while not using my privilege to insist that others educate me. As I prepare to write a big article about the sex worker rights movement, aimed at those who have heard little of it, I’m frightened of making a mistake, of making things worse for us. When I’m speaking to an audience of non-sex workers, my choice of message and the way I deliver it must avoid reinforcing the assumptions and stereotypes that marginalize us, and my politics must not pander to the social forces that criminalize us. If I can’t do that reliably, I might as well say nothing.
My severe, disabling and lifelong anxiety— which has long stopped me from being able to function in the corporate world and impairs my focus and my comprehension of complex texts—makes it so that intense criticism – even the most kind and productive critique – triggers me. The fact that I was harangued and shamed by my mother for any failure, and am thus triggered when I err, isn’t my fault, but it is my responsibility. I’m scrambling to sort my shit out, but that anxiety trips me up even as I educate myself. It makes it hard for me to get to grips with the gaps in my knowledge and the reservoirs of unexamined privilege in my thinking.
Wonderful friends taught me the skills of my trade as a dominatrix, all except for one skill: the ability to practice intersectional feminism. I’m teaching myself that one, so I can learn to contribute effectively and ethically to the sex worker rights movement. Based in a small and remote city, I am far from Glasgow and London, where groups like the Sex Worker Open University and the English Collective of Prostitutes do their amazing work. As a non-student, I lack a university-based activist group to learn with me, nor do I have a local group of political comrades to study alongside me. I’m fortunate in that social justice communities on Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter offer me specialized windows into powerful, incisive and vibrant movements supporting everything from trans rights to the liberation of people of color to the decriminalization of sex work. Online, I have learned about the campaign for Monica Jones and the takeover of conferences ostensibly about sex work that, nonetheless, neglect to invite sex workers to speak. But I’m still learning to use these internet tools, to whittle them down into precise, accurate and intelligent streams of information about the movements and theories I care about. In doing so, I am likely to make more mistakes, and, I hope, to learn from them.
I’ve had some useful feedback on my writing that challenges me to improve my solidarity with those sex workers who are less privileged than I am. Practical and effective solidarity means that with my privilege, I can often do more good by creating spaces for others to speak than by speaking myself. That’s something else I’m teaching myself how to do, and I would love practical feedback on the best ways of doing this from the readers of this blog. Tips, tricks and strategies for learning the theories and skills of our movement would also be very welcome. And if you see a mistake in my work, drop me a line and let me know. I will be listening.