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?

Nothing But a Whore

monetnoseart.jpgMy dad use to veto my thoughts and feelings with these words: “I make the money around here and when you start supporting this family you can have a say in how things are run.  Until then, keep your mouth shut and do what you are told.”


As a teenager, I often dreamed about making money so I could have an opinion. 


I got married in my early 30’s and my income rose dramatically from a level which barely kept the lights on to a very healthy six figure income.  It wasn’t my job that changed.  I had been an escort for a couple years before I got married.  But once I said “I do,” I did do my best to be a financial knight in shining armor.  Whatever my husband and stepchildren wanted or needed, I went out of my way to make the money to purchase it.  It felt like a self-sacrificing role but of course it was more of a manipulative maneuver given my training around money and power.


Despite or maybe because of MY overbearing assertions about being the one in charge because of MY income, I eventually grew tired of being the primary breadwinner in my marriage.  The more money I made the lonelier I felt and the more tired I became.  My husband didn’t express much appreciation for my money and yet he became accustomed to all that it could buy.  Making twice the money he earned never meant being respected as a good provider or a hard worker.  And though he rarely said so, he didn’t like what I did to make my money. 


When you are a whore, your family takes your money as penance for your sins – not a gift of your labor.


Shortly after I purchased my first home – my mother went to great lengths to brag about my cousin who had recently purchased a mobile home.  I was a bit flabbergasted.  I had just purchased a home in the suburbs worth nearly a half million dollars (1997 prices mind you) and I had done so completely on my own.  It was my credit rating, my savings, my down payment, my name on the contract and absolutely NO one helped me – not even my husband.  With the exception of a friend who loaned me a few thousand to put in the bank to beef up my savings account for 6 months, no one lifted a finger to help me.  Not that I minded that.  I enjoyed being a self-made woman.  Still the fact that my mother took no notice of my accomplishment hurt like hell.  So I asked her, why she was so impressed with the mobile home my cousin had acquired in part due to her husband’s recent death.  My mother replied “Well, SHE worked HARD for HER money.”


Apparently sucking cock and dodging serial rapists and vice cops isn’t hard work.  Oh well, it seemed like work at the time.


Today I live on a drastically reduced income after retiring from escorting and divorcing my husband four years ago.  Funny, you might think I would have quit prostitution while I was married.  But I didn’t.  I am too stubborn for that.  When I did quit, it wasn’t to please anyone but me.  I had simply gotten fed up with looking over my shoulder and I wanted to be legal for a change.  Towards the end of my escorting career, I had been arrested, audited and robbed or raped – depending upon how you look at it.  I was ready to go live in the woods for awhile and write my first book.


Despite the fact that I no longer “turn tricks” people can still assault me with their expectations and projections about sex workers and money.  It seems some people expect me to have more money than I do. And once they ascertain my scaled down lifestyle, they resort to disparaging stereotypes about money hungry whores who can’t save a penny.  I did save money thank you.  But more to the point, the expectation that we are all terribly rich (or should be) is predictable and boring.  It doesn’t matter what I do for a living now.  I used to be a prostitute. 


Once a whore – always a whore?  In this profession people see you as transformed from a human to something less than human.  Whores don’t do prostitution – they ARE prostitutes.  There is a difference.


As a sex worker I hated losing my status as a human.  But I have never really felt human anyway.  As a woman I have always watched the wicked hand of patriarchy sweep my humanity from view with a few simple incantations: whore, slut, cunt, bitch . . . and with those monosyllabic words I am marked as fair game for all sorts of crimes from rape to murder.


Standing mute before my accusers I despair of ever knowing true acceptance.  I may play the seductress, the mistress, the goddess but if my projection of archetypal attributes evidences a crack leaking some semblance of the mundane truth of my existence, then I am catapulted into the dark realms of the persecuted and ostracized.


Are there no tears for the whore?  Will the world never find it in their collective hearts to mourn our deaths?  Or honor our labor? 


September of 2007, a Bay Area sex worker posted a warning on Craig’s List regarding a man who raped her.  Her blunt account of events sent familiar waves of grief and rage through me:

 “He ended up throwing me down the stairs when he was done, I have a sprained ankle. And he shoved me out the door without my things. I had to flag down a car driving by and they called the police for me, but he was not arrested because I have a record in prostitution so the police saw me as exactly what the rapist saw me as…..Nothing but a Whore…” 

A month later, a Philadelphia judge put the less than human status of sex workers on the law books by ruling that the rape of a prostitute is in fact only “theft of services.”  Sadly, I understand this line of reason.  When I was raped by a man I intended to do business with, I tried to comfort myself with the words “robbery” and “bad debt.”  Maybe if I could just dismiss the whole affair as a “cost of doing business” I wouldn’t have to feel any emotional pain. 

I had conceptualized being arrested for prostitution in a similar fashion and consequently, the night I WAS arrested for prostitution, I smiled for my mug shot and treated the whole incident as something mildly amusing.  Could I treat my own rape as nothing more than a client who failed to pay his bill? Six months after my on-the-job rape, I began behaving like a traumatized rape survivor – not a business savvy entrepreneur.  So much for my psychobabble.  Turns out that I am human after all – and rape is rape – no matter what you do for a living.  If I have to learn such a hard lesson about my own victimization, how hard will it be to change the world’s (and the voting public’s) perceptions?   

Yes, I can be victimized, but I will NEVER be a victim.  I am a survivor.  I survived incest and date rape before I ever started working in the sex industry.  When I grew up and confronted my dad for molesting me, he shrugged his shoulders and said, “So what if I did, you’re a prostitute now, so it doesn’t really matter, does it?”  Yeah, I’d like to hurt him for saying that too.


Most sex workers are survivors.  If you don’t learn how to take care of yourself in this profession, you don’t last long.  In fact, we are wonderful caretakers.  We take care of ourselves, our clients, our families and our loved ones.  It’s what we do.


But the world wants to either vilify us or “rescue” us.  San Francisco’s mayor Gavin Newsom has climbed on board the “anti-trafficking” bandwagon along with every other political player and many non-profits vying for federal funding.  This last year, San Francisco pissed away over $11 million putting poor women of color through the prostitution merry-go-round of arrests and fines. 


Having sat in a San Francisco jail cell with street prostitutes for over nine hours the night I was arrested for prostitution, I know the utter absurdity of prostitution laws first-hand.  Most of the street prostitutes are on a first name basis with the cops and there is a ton of flirting on both sides.  It makes the whole arrest-fine-release-arrest cycle a very expensive joke on taxpayers.  But what isn’t funny is the horribly negative impact it has on the day to day lives of those sex workers who are being put through the system on a regular basis. For them, vice functions as yet another pimp they have to pay off one way or another.


The real reason the world wants to punish whores is because we violate their prized beliefs about sex, love and money.  In particular, female sex workers flaunt assumptions about women’s sex drive, dependence upon men and preference for marriage.  We are a thorn in society’s side because we refuse to be “good girls” and we don’t even have the decency to feel remorse for our ways. We can also mess with the public’s “need” to know who the whores are when we blend with “good folk.”


Recently, I taught a workshop about Sacred Prostitution and most of the women who attended were providers.  A male friend who attended too said something completely inane – these women wouldn’t stand a chance at hooking up with men if they weren’t charging for their services.  On some level, I kind of knew what he was trying to say.  Most of these women appeared as less than sexy that particular day.  But tell me this, how is it that anyone would be able to charge for something they couldn’t give away?  That is NOT logical.  Further, he exhibited an all too typical assumption on the part of client types – thinking sex workers look like they do on the job – all the time.


It reminds me of the young lesbian strippers who told me tales of being worshipped and adored while wearing wigs and make-up only to be spat upon on, on their way home from the strip club – unrecognizable to their clients with their short hair, scrubbed faces and piercings. 


It isn’t the first time I have witnessed such a superficial and patriarchal view of sex workers. Still it made me angry.  For me, the fact that some men will pay for sex with women they might not want their friends to see them with has always pointed to the discrepancy between what actually fires the libido and what caters to social prominence.  The two have nothing to do with each other and only fools who have bought into the lies of this dominant culture and completely abandoned themselves would believe otherwise.


Anyway, the whole idea that sex workers are nothing but a collection of body parts and the image they project is insulting.  Maybe people confuse us with models.  But that is a different type of sex worker.  Whores do more than pose.  Whores are talented people who get paid for their sex appeal AND their skills.  Sacred Prostitution in particular is a profession which usually requires training of some sort – either mentored learning or self-study but you certainly don’t learn something that counter-culture by watching television or reading the newspaper.


So in the final analysis, it seems that the phrase “Nothing but a Whore” says it all.  Whether the topic is our money or our bodies or our rights or our safety, we are not to be treated like people.  Every breath we take is suspect and all the normal day to day aspects of our existence which we share with the rest of the human race, are reinterpreted to serve the denigrating stereotypes which fuel our oppression.


I agree with the world.  It doesn’t matter what I do for a living – I am a Whore – and damned proud of it.