Why Sex Workers are SO Scary

Some people – women especially – just hate what you do for a living.  Their distaste for  your profession is completely out of sync with any personal impact it could possibly have on their lives. If you have ruled out jealousy, competition and/or fear of the unknown – what is left to explain the almost rabid and allergic reaction to the way you pay your rent or mortgage?

Recently it dawned on me that very much like the gay rights movement, our movement – the sex worker rights movement – suffers its worst insults from closeted whores and johns (If you find those words offensive I invite you ask yourself why. Personally I am all about reclaiming the words used to oppress us). Let’s face it the men who are most adamantly opposed to decriminalization often turn out to be regular clients of sex workers. The most publicized example of this is of course former New York governor Eliot Spitzer who had built his career with a promise of “ethics” and the prosecution of prostitution rings but was later found to be a regular client of prostitutes.

And what about the women?  I have often envisioned them as insecure wives – worried that I and my sex worker colleagues were out to fuck their men – for free if necessary – just to show them up as the incompetent and unalluring losers they worry they are. But I don’t think jealousy is the big motivator we have allowed ourselves to believe it is. Instead I wonder if our most vehement opposition comes from women who have more in common with us than they would like to admit.

When I recall the cruelest and most dismissive reactions to my choice to become a sex worker, it has often been from female “friends” who were former sex workers or extremely promiscuous or at least prone to dating for money. The truly asexual or bashful female friends have usually been more curious than offended by my choice in careers.

Recently I began attending a church well-known for its tolerance of all lifestyles and beliefs including atheism and paganism. I didn’t imagine that my former identity as a working girl would hold much interest for the congregation. After all, I have been semi-retired for over five years and live modestly as an author and couples consultant.  My motivation for attending church was twofold: I hoped to find a venue for my workshops on peace and I wanted to add a little ritual to my life. For instance when my dog got cancer I found the “Blessing of the Animals” to be of great comfort.

So imagine my surprise when the witch in charge of the pagan meetings (no, I am not trying to insult this woman, she really is a witch) launched an effort to expel me from the church. Initially, I thought she was simply offended by my approach to world peace: polyamory as modeled by the bonobos.  Yeah, this is another topic and not really relevant to this blog entry but suffice to say that I believe a lot of violence results from a sex negative culture and I have a lot of research and evidence to back up that claim.

But even after I abandoned any aspirations I had to teach workshops at this church and simply attended the pagan meetings as a student in search of more knowledge of the various forms of paganism, the witch persisted in her campaign to drive me from the congregation. She called one day to suggest I attend pagan workshops at a local bookstore where their approach would be more “adult.” For the umpteenth time she told me how her workshops would be “family friendly.”  I told her this might come as a shock to her but I have a family and I am a mother to four step-children. The silence on the other end of the phone was deafening. What was she thinking? Was she shocked to think former prostitutes might have families?  Or was she offended to think I had ever been allowed to parent children?  Who knows but she certainly choked on the news.

Since I have only been to about five church services and my interactions with this woman have been brief and polite, I am quite certain that her reaction has very little to do with me personally. But I do represent something that appears to terrify her. For one of the pagan rituals she held at the church, she wore a costume which reminded me of the ancient sacred prostitutes. The skirt was constructed of sheer chiffon adorned with beads and coins. I couldn’t help but wonder if she understood what her costume signified in days of old. How could she sport coins on her person without comprehending the significance of money sewn into a garment? True, some will argue that this was “dowry” money but the fact remains that the coins were sewn into the garment as a reminder that the dancer expected to get paid for her performance while she was performing – very much like strippers are paid today.

We could now have the argument of whether belly dancers are sex workers or we could ask ourselves why it is so important to draw this arbitrary and nonsensical line in the sand between the “good girls” and the “bad girls.” And that really is the point to this blog entry. Women are insanely invested in distinguishing themselves from the “bad girl” and the more closely they skirt the “bad girl” lifestyle, the more obsessive this drive to say “I am NOT a whore” becomes.

A similar phenomena is well documented in the gay rights movement. It is now common knowledge that some of the worst hate crimes against gays are often perpetrated by closeted homosexuals who are full of self-hatred and denial. Similarly I believe our sex worker rights movement would do well to understand the self-hatred and denial which fuels hate crimes against sex workers. I think we will find that our most vocal opponents are quite literally in bed with us as clients or metaphorically as self-hating closeted sex workers.

What might we do to win these closeted clients and sex workers over to our struggle for civil rights and the dignity of choice?  I’m not entirely sure. If I find a way to assuage the terror my existence has created for the witch at church I will let you know. I DO know this though. Every effort to decriminalize or legalize prostitution has been blocked by the “good women” of the community in question. Historically both prohibition of alcohol and prostitution have been feminist endeavors as championed by many of the suffragists of the early 1900’s. So although present day feminists might think their stance against prostitution reflective of political evolution, it is instead a fairly old-fashioned and conservative take on the oldest profession.

Many political movements will dissociate from other more controversial causes for fear that their primary objective will be lost. Early feminists were afraid of accepting lesbians and the gay rights movement didn’t want to champion transgender rights. This fear of being associated with others perceived as “less deserving” of civil rights is a noxious but all too human failing. I wonder if it has its roots in basic human survival and perhaps that is the impediment we battle when we seek to assert our civil rights as sex workers. Or perhaps the broader issue here is that neither men nor women possess a sexual bill of rights and rather than fight to assert their rights alongside sex workers (who are working for the rights of all adults to have sex as they see fit) they recoil with the fear of losing what few freedoms they do have.

What do you think? What is is that fuels the disrespect and even hatred we often encounter from second wave feminists, from wives and girlfriends, from concerned parents, from law enforcement, from landlords, from child protection services, from neighbors, from family, from former friends and even from our own clients?