Home Activism Still Learning: On Writing As A Privileged Sex Worker

Still Learning: On Writing As A Privileged Sex Worker

(Photo by Quinn Dombrowski, via Flickr and the Creative Commons.)
(Photo by Quinn Dombrowski, via Flickr and the Creative Commons.)

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.

Gotta do what we can for the movement. (Photo by Steve Rhodes of International Day To End Violence Against Sex Workers 2010, via Flickr and the Creative Commons.)
Gotta do what we can for the movement. (Photo by Steve Rhodes of International Day To End Violence Against Sex Workers 2010, via Flickr and the Creative Commons.)

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.

Margaret Corvid, also known as Mistress Magpie, is a writer, lifestyle kinkster, and professional dominatrix living in the South West of England. She writes on the politics of kink and sex work from a feminist, socialist perspective. She blogs for the New Statesman and tweets at @mistress_magpie.


  1. I wanted to give you a supportive shout back for mentioning Monica Jones and for going on the road of reflection that you express. And… shhhh… here is a secret. We are all on the path of finding ourselves as both advocates from our oppressed experience, to learn to be allies and acknowledge our privilege and most of us are people who struggle with anxiety, self-doubt and fears. So, to mix up my metaphor, almost everyone is traveling along in the boat with you, you are not alone. Best of luck and sail on…

  2. “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.”

    Thank you. May I have permission to use your line: “I learned it, but I did not earn it?” It exlains so much about life to me.

    I apologize for this intrusion into the conversation. I fully understand this space is not for me.

  3. Don’t be so hard on yourself Ms. Corvid (easy for me to say, I know). If you learned it, you did EARN it (this is from someone who has spent his life teaching uni). Lots of people born to some typee of privilege never LEARN anything……

    • BAM!!! I totally agree with ‘Harold’. If you learned it- you did earn it!

      I have earned, fought for, striven, worked my ass off for everything I have. I have even had a bunch of nasty bitches try to take what I have earned away from me. AIN’T GONNA HAPPEN BITCHES.

      I crawled on my belly until I was able to stand on my own feet.

      The talk of privileged as opposed to not privileged reminds me of ‘white guilt’.

      Sorry, but being empathetic and sensitive shouldn’t require people to be self denigrating because of what social standing or color of skin they come out of! Wealthy or poor! Caucasian or whatever!

      Because I am white I am not amongst the most marginalized? I have been told this by sex worker activists. REALLY??? HHmmm. Let me process that with my memories of the police brutality I have personally experienced (the color of my skin and any perceived social standing sure as hell didn’t seem to matter to them), the times I was homeless, or had to hustle for a place to be safe that night. The times I was marginalized into ‘treatment’ programs I should not have been involved in to begin with (but they need those cases to survive now don’t they?! They do NOT discriminate! You become a mere case number). I have worked the streets, crack houses, I was standing on the very edge of life with no support anywhere- one more tiny tiny move and I would have fallen into the black abyss not to return. Thank goodness somehow I was able to pull myself down from the edge to safety. Thank goodness I found the strength to fight for my life! No one was coming to save me, I had to save myself.

      But sex worker or not…..in case people haven’t noticed,

      WE ARE ALL SLAVES. I guess we could get into a pissing match over who is more enslaved but I really do not see a point.

      MUCH LOVE to those whose eyes are open wide.

  4. Thanks for this post Margaret, I never expected such a public climb-down from the ‘slaves’ comment and i’m pleased, not least because I can see you’re going to be getting quite a big platform in the UK press from now on. Whilst it’s unsurprising that the first among us to be thrust into the spotlight and remain relatively unscathed are the most privileged, i’d still rather it was you than a non sex worker writing on such issues. That said, every member of this movement with such power and platform should temper the volume of their voice with a keen understanding of and solidarity with the experiences of the most marginalised, and where possible, signpost to their words, campaigns, ideas (as you did here with Monica Jones) If you find yourself becoming a mouthpiece for a movement that contains thousands of people whose lives are nothing like your own, it’s your duty to make sure you amplify their voices, and use your platform to raise awareness of struggles that perhaps don’t affect you directly, but are life-threatening to others.

    While it’s tempting to foreground your own experiences in your writing (as i’ve seen you do) there are going to be some things that don’t affect you as much. This article you wrote (http://www.newstatesman.com/culture/2014/06/how-nordic-model-will-close-door-professional-dominatrix) did kind of get up my nose – the fact is, compared to those working on the streets, dommes and even some indoor escorts will barely notice the Swedish Model. In this case it would have been really more appropriate to centre the fact that some other people will *die* under the Swedish Model – in France, we can already see that demand-side prohibition is forcing people to work in dark forests, where rapists and robbers know they’re without any help or protection – kind of puts the threat to ‘classically british’ domination traditions into perspective, doesn’t it?

    I say this as someone who remembers clearly the first time I fucked up and offended a comrade with an oppressive comment at a SWOU meeting, and I still cringe at the memory, but you just have to keep plugging on and learning, and try to surround yourself with the voices of diverse groups, rather than an echo-chamber of similarly privileged people.

    Fornicatrix xxxx

  5. Thanks for your useful comment Fornicatrix. I wrote early on about my own experiences because I didn’t have the confidence to write more broadly – I’m working on a broad and comparative piece at the moment that leaves my own issues out entirely and will likely be the longest thing I’ve written for publication. It will be centering the worst problems of prohibition.

  6. Margaret,

    Love this piece. Kudos to you. Mistakes are only here for you to learn from. Anxiety is a wasted emotion and state of mind. Don’t worry about what others think about you. Who cares?

    Keep up the great work and keep fighting the good fight, to help end the stigma associated with sex work.

  7. I’ll be honest, your privilege does come through in your writing. When you declare yourself an oppressed minority, in a country ravaged by austerity, because you like spanking people. It’s not even a minority sport, most people are into something, but you ahve been privileged enough that you suddenly think this identity you have adopted for yourself out of boredom with your life, gives you the right to appropriate arguments from real civil rights movements at a time when people are actually suffering. You declare trafficking a myth because it’s offensive to you to have peopel discuss the systematic rape and traffick of girls even in this country, it’s offensive to an identity you adopted out of boredom with an already privileged life. Your wittering about sex work, for women in poverty it’s very important that sex work is defined differentlya dn involving our sexual autonomy, before it’s normalised as labour, because once something is labour the jobcentre can force you. You witter on about your rights, you don’t speak for sex workers and sex workers rights are really important for all women, but you can only see your bored upper middle class identity and solipsism. Read this utter bullshit and tell me that there is no problem with your privilege coming through in your writing- http://www.newstatesman.com/culture/2014/09/it-possible-live-modern-contemplative-life I’ll assume this post is beacuse some of the criticism you have faced, that you don’t acknowledge, has somehow affected your self image. Quite frankly, you are just an example of the rottenness of media culture. That your inane witterings are treated as important in a magazine who whitewash the perpetuation of real harmful inequality for political reasons.*New Statesman btw Seriously, we get it, you got bored, you decided your very mundane and dull and normal sexual preference was an interesting identity to adopt. Maybe instead of believing that your role was to bear witness, you had done something useful you woudlnt’t be left turning our offensive and oppressive tripe like this. You might develop the ability to actually reflect, isntead of inflicting your dangerous, illinformed and pampered navel gazing on people.

  8. Re; the trafficking ‘myth’. You get to declare it a myth when you are helpless to deal with a girl who is 14, who the local authorities wont protect, and you can’t even explain to her that the 20 blokes who just paid her ;’boyfriend’ at the party she was trafficked to in another city, raped her….It is a myth for you. The sex industry is defined as where money changes hands, not just the nice bits you work in. And when poverty is not the reason many of us have to look to the sex industry, you can start declaring its always choice. Deliberately created deficits in ongoing attacks on womens incomes mean it is not a choice, and we would like sex work defined as work which involves having sex and our sexual autonomy not to be treated as a commodity in the wider labour market. That doesn’t take anything away from you, it may protect women who dont want to have sex or have the right to say they dont want to removed. You choose because you have always had a life that allows choices. You attack on the basis of people who dont share your choices, discussing the limits to their and the harm that does.

    • Have you noticed that we have posts up here by people who self-define as fitting the legal definition of trafficked workers? As well as survival sex workers? And people who started in the sex trades underage? Did you notice reading this piece that it was *marginalized sex workers* who corrected Margaret about the trafficking myth? We don’t need you to speak for exploited people in the sex trades–they are already part of our community and they represent themselves.

  9. Lauren, thank you for your comments. My anxiety is my own shit to deal with and it’s an uphill battle but engaging with this fantastic movement and figuring out how to contribute ethically and with awareness of my privilege has helped. Of course my dealing with my anxiety is entirely secondary to the essential work of sex worker rights that needs to be done.

  10. Coming to a place of understanding how to redistribute the benefits of our unearned privileges and create space for folks who are constantly being marginalized is for the betterment of all, and helps create stronger movements that can more effectively shift power.

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