The war on sex work is not a crusade of morality against sin.
The war on sex work is not the fight for women’s rights.
The war on sex work is not the liberation from evil.
The war on sex work is class war.
And yes, exactly in Marxist terms – even if he’s definitely turning in his grave as I speak.
But really Karl Heinrich Marx, Lumpenproletariat my ass – catch up with the times.
SEX WORK IS REAL WORK – and in all of its forms.
Camming is draining. Stripping is exhausting. Sugaring is for martyrs. Selling underwear requires a First from Business school. Custom videos require film festival creativity. Escorting is complicated. Domination is for the anointed. Sexting is for poets. Role play, dick-rating, everything else: it’s all skills. I know that I should probably add something like yeah, skills that they don’t teach you at home/school/church but actually, they are exactly the same skills: empathy, patience, enthusiasm, critical thinking, the ability to remember and improvise, independence, team-work, quickly responses to ever-changing situations, creativity, resilience.
But, the truth is unless you’ve been a sex worker, your understanding of sex work probably needs to be reassessed. Especially if it’s the product of mediated representations that come from either pop culture or patriarchal-religious constructs, rather than from the direct experiences of sex workers.
The movies will tell you stories about pretty women with no talents who feel love for nothing apart from the money. The songs will make you dance to hymns to fast cash and ass-shaking. And the feminists, just like the politicians, will make you cry with the stories of trafficked girls who had no other choice and of women who’re victims regardless. The only difference is that, unlike the politicians, feminists will actually have the audacity to walk into a strip club, film the dancers, release the videos (without their consent), AND argue that they did it for the advancement of the womens’ movement. Can you believe that?
So you have to forget all of this, at least when it comes to consensual, adult work. And once again, I am using the word work, because unlike the built-up fantasies and expectations around sex work - sex workers don’t actually wake up wet thinking about their clients or with a smile on their faces because they are going to get money AND the best dick of their lives.
Sex work can be just as awful as struggling for air while standing squashed in an overcrowded Monday morning rush hour train. Just as awkward as a work Christmas party where you don’t even like anyone. ust as stressful as having to work overtime because your colleagues are dicks. So if you’ve ever complained about your job, you know it already, and you can relate.
Not all sex work is empowering and not all sex workers are glam cover girls that you should idealise or applaud because they’re brave, don’t care about society’s expectations, and are overall boss babes. In fact, they’re not.
Some of them never got their GCSEs, some are artists, some have PhDs in biochemistry. Some do it for survival, some do it for passion, some do it because why not everyone needs a sabbatical anyway. And it doesn’t matter, because for all of them, this is just a job, not the definition of who they are as people. In fact, what we have in common is not that we are a sisterhood of empowered women - like the media present us. What we share is mostly fear. We know that regardless of our gender, race and background, we all feel unsafe at work.
Current laws don’t grant us any financial stability or personal security.
Current society keeps us trapped within the barbed-wire borders of stigma.
Currently, life sucks.
More than everything, stigma is unavoidable. You may be lucky and never struggle financially and may never be hit or killed but ALWAYS will there be stigma around you. From a crying mother who cannot understand why her sacred baby gets filthy on camera, to a boyfriend who can’t accept your past and yes will continue to fuck you because there’s something special between you guys, but no he can’t look at you the same. From friends who constantly want to save you and help you to find a way out, to employers that make it impossible to exit because they won’t hire an ex sex worker. And ok, your mom loves you and she’s religious so she’s got a point, and your boyfriend loves you but maybe it’s just toxic masculinity he’s absorbed, and your friends love you and they’re genuinely worried... But, how do you tell your employers that they should have no right to discriminate against you because your body does not actually belong to them?
Unfortunately, you can’t. Because the law is not on your side. Not even the police are on your side. Because even if they rape you at work, they will ask you if you liked it. If they rob you at work, they will laugh, not only because you’re a whore but you’re a very stupid whore. The irony, in this case, is that it seems like the only people who recognise that your body only belongs to you are clients; they pay for it because they know they don’t own it.
So, to say that you’ve got no issues with sex workers or that you like sex workers or that you have sex worker friends - doesn’t really do anything. It’s just one of those liberal stunts where you put yourself at the centre of the narrative to perform some sort of enlightened progressiveness, something along the lines of “ohhhh but I don’t see colour – ohhh but I accept that you are a sex worker and that’s so cool cause now I’m just like Jesus with my token prostitute friend”. However, sorry. The fact that you accept us does not alone reform legislation. Even more, the fact that you accept us kind of implies that you’re doing us a favour. And you shouldn’t - instead, you should recognise us as workers, workers who are being deprived of their rights, just like the protesting farmers in India or the outraged NHS staff with their pathetic 1% pay increase.
And, just like you have learnt how to see colour within the world you live in. Focus on seeing colour also in our world, especially because now that you know how intersectionality works. You must know that just like in any other workplace, the ones who struggle the most are black and brown sex workers. They deserve better than relying on community crowdfunds because keeping them alive in a time of crisis should not be a pay-as-you-can charity work, but the government’s responsibility.
This will only be possible through the full decriminalisation of the sex industry. So yes, while you don’t have the power to single-handedly change the law or pressure the government into accepting that sex workers’ rights are human rights, you do have the power to fight stigma, whether in yourself or others. If you’re reading this then you’re on the right track. Now just continue to listen. Erase everything you’ve learnt before and listen to the voices of sex workers and sex worker-led organisations. Not to the romantic and progressive fairy tales that are trending in the media or the woke influencers’ Sailor Moon calls for justice and equality. Listen to us because we are real, because we have voices and our voices are beautiful. Especially when they yell that SEX WORK IS REAL WORK.
By Soviet Juliet
We're currently crowdfunding for a devised theatre project created by sex workers. We want to use theatre and tell our stories to fight against societal stigma and increase the representation of our community. This can only be possible with your help, view our Crowdfunder campaign here.