Sitting in my politics lecture, I listened to the lecturer talk about globalisation and how economies ‘race to the bottom’. A term used to describe how international economies compete by reducing costs, which as a result, leads to poorer working conditions, low pay and overall negative outcomes for society. However, for the individuals pursuing this, it has exceptional advantages and high economic reward. This is all good theoretical macroeconomics, so why am I writing about unhappiness?
Do you ever sit in a room and people are competing about who has had the worse life, the most awful circumstances, or perhaps the biggest X Factor sob story? I have been perhaps guilty of it too, and it’s what I grew up around. Every day, me and my Dad would pick my sister up from work. As she got into the car and lit up a fag, she spoke about having a bad day at work and was offloading. Instead of sympathising, my Dad responded with crocodile tears and decried his day was worse and that she has no idea what a bad day was. This is what I describe as the race to the bottom of unhappiness.
My family have had more than their fair share of horrific sob stories – from the house burning down, the death of two siblings, cancer, endless burglaries and a bitter divorce – at one point, it felt as though we had been cursed. All eight of us, in our own way, have been impacted by such events and had to cope with them in the limited resources we had. Then, there are external factors such as friends, schools we went to, our interests, relationships and so on. This adds another layer of events in our lives that have been traumatic, but are no longer a collective experience, but personal.
The collective events no longer bind us as tight, we are individuals, we are adults, and we have surpassed the events. However, our individual experiences are batted around like fodder, and because for that very moment, like the individual pursing the race to the economic bottom, they are receiving a positive outcome. For a small moment in time, in a family that is run by trauma baiting, they have won the race to the bottom. They have made it, nobody can beat their circumstances and therefore, nobody can challenge their traumatic authority. This reminds me of organisations who drag speakers to events to rehash accounts of abuse, rape and domestic violence for gain. It isn’t healthy, but it means they’re unchallenged. To challenge them would be considered dismissive, rude and outright disgusting.
What can be really gained by this? Doing this isn’t listening to others, it does not improve your relationships, and instead just makes the other person feel like dismissed. Having a bad day is fine, you can talk about it. In fact, we can both have bad days and discuss it, but we don’t need to compare and I don’t need to say statements like ‘well at least you didn’t…’ because it’s unnecessary. I can understand why people do it – it’s likely they too are dismissed unless they’re screaming, unless something really bad has happened. It may be the only way they’re taken seriously. Unfortunately, it has negative consequences. Trauma is not a competition and it can feel actually quite exposing to recount these events, especially when you reflect on it later on, and you regret talking about it.
I am fed up of people racing to the bottom, of comparing misery. Why do we aspire for this? Nobody around me ever competed to be the happiest. It was never something to be encouraged. I imagine my family scoffing at me if I ever said that I am happy; it would mean I was above myself, snotty and was not grounded as a person. It would mean that I clearly have my head in the clouds, not receptive to the reality of my life and haven’t had enough bad in my life, and therefore, am not a well-rounded, realistic person.
I am not silly; I am well aware that life is not rainbows, sunshine and fairytales. I too, have had my own fair share of personal events to deal with and have found myself on the edge myself. But why can’t I aim to be happy? It almost feels like I should feel guilty for being content with something. If there is something I’ve realised in the past few months, it’s that you don’t have to swallow the hatred people spew. I deserve to be happy, everyone does, and just because someone else isn’t, or doesn’t want you to be, it doesn’t mean you have to swallow their verbal shit. You don’t need to drag the emotional baggage of other people either, it’s theirs to unpack in a time and environment appropriate for them.
The race to the bottom of unhappiness almost makes you desire more unhappiness because it gives you reason to win, and as a result, you are constantly surrounded by negativity or negative people who partake in the competition. This life consumed me, it happens a lot in addiction too. One of the main reasons people dislike NA/AA, myself included, is because it feels like who has the worse war story to tell. The result? Everyone else in the room feels they have to swallow their own experiences, because it feels it can’t compete or there is no way they can speak after them. Instead, they walk away with the same things they wanted to say, but now, they feel they should shut it down because perhaps it isn’t as bad as what they they thought. They feel as though they’re being silly, stupid for saying anything when others have it worse, they don’t speak up.
How they feel doesn’t change, and instead, it gets shut away and comforted by the bottle, the pipe or the needle – all of whom have total compassion, are the greatest sympathisers, they do not ask you to justify or compete, and above all have no judgement.
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Sitting in a meeting in my local sex work project, I burst out crying. Arguing back and forth with the support workers who I felt hadn’t supported me well enough, or had watched things slide from afar without offering a helping hand, I felt hopeless. Now, despite my many attempts at prevention and intervention, I found myself at a loose end with both my heart and pride shattered. They rang up the hostel who could not take me, instead offering me a safeguarding bed for the night which I refused because I knew I had somewhere to go, so I preferred it to go to someone else who didn’t. The next day, I went to the local council building to find the hostel manager who could do an assessment and she said that I should be placed in a complex needs hostel. After ringing around, she found a room for me, and told me to be there before 6pm so I could have a risk assessment done and move in.
*all names in this blog have been changed to protect their identity*
Walking in and pressing the buzzer, I was preparing myself for the unknown. I was led through to an interview room, sat down and went straight into a risk assessment with a support worker who was the same age as me. It’s not her fault, but it felt like a stark reminder of the difference between us. To your left of the interview room was a pile of magazines from a bygone era, of planting, gardening and your holiday home, and to your right were several small boxes several boxes of lube, sanitary towels, condoms – a more present reminder of the sex workers in the hostel. We then proceeded to plough through what seemed like a never-ending amount of paper work; being asked 101 questions and all whilst feeling like a failure and utter shit. Next, was the tour of the hostel. As I walked up the office-looking staircase central to the building, it smelt lovely – like a nice plug in air freshener, and despite all the windows being open, it felt warm. As we reached the top and through another door, there was an open space with doors all around you with numbers on. To the far right, lodged between two bathrooms, was my room, number 6.
I didn’t know what to expect, I had never lived in a hostel before but my brother did, and I knew they weren’t nice places. My room was basic, but that was to be expected. The carpet floor had huge burn marks in, the fridge also had burns on the top due to previous occupant putting out fags on it. The tiny cupboard to your left had a shoe rack hanging in it, then immediately next to that was a basin. The single bed was prepared on my right with a blue duvet with white stars on it. I was handed the keys, given the house rules and wished good luck unpacking. I put a few things in the drawers next to my bed and sat on the wicker chair next to the drawers. It was quite cramped. Looking out the window to one of the most beautiful gardens I had ever seen, but it was never frequented by the occupants. Days later, the fridge and carpet were replaced, but it didn’t make much difference to the look of the room or how I felt about it either.
Within a few hours, a lady knocked on my door, introduced herself, and asked if I fancied going for a walk to the shop. I said yes, as I wanted to get out of this place. On our ‘walk’ she spoke about her life and what not. This walk seemed to be taking a long time and was in the direction of town, but I felt this wasn’t the right time to ask where we were heading. Before I knew it, she was buying crack from a man on a bike and then we walked back. I felt a bit pissed off, because I think she was using me incase something went wrong, and after all, she didn’t even know me. Yet, she was a lovely lady, and I wasn’t angry at her, I understood. It is too easy to be caught up about one thing but she had spent almost an hour pouring her heart out to me, I wasn’t going to write her off because she bought crack, even if she shouldn’t have taken me with her.
As we got back, I realised I hadn’t brought any of my clothes with me so I asked the staff for pyjamas. They gave me a nightie that came down past my knees and had a V-neck shape that drooped just above my belly button. I was 6st 7lbs and 5ft tall, it was clearly the wrong size. The next day, the same lady who took me for a walk knocked on my door to tell me she had stolen from pjs for me. My heart swelled, what a lovely thing to do! Although it may be perceived as immoral or criminal, I disagree. Her heart was in the right place, and she did the best she could within her means. To this day, it is perhaps one of the kindest and most considerate things someone has ever done for me. The next morning, I sat in the large living room with grand windows and met my new housemates. All but one were crack and/or heroin users but also street sex workers.
I really dislike the term ‘complex needs’ and it is something services use a lot to describe service users, particularly sex workers. A term that assumes that a person is too difficult, has too much going on or is perhaps too much in general. All circumstances are complex, our needs aren’t. All of us wish to be happy, healthy and stable but it is the barriers that prevent that which are complex, not the need itself. It assumes that we are asking too much because we’re under that umbrella. For many services, being a sex worker is enough to be considered complex needs. I also feel it puts the burden of responsibility on the person as opposed to the struggles they’re facing. Wanting to flee domestic abuse isn’t a complex need, wanting to get free from drugs is a difficult process, but isn’t a complex need. It’s a basic and human need. Being described as complex needs makes me feel what I’m asking for in life is too much of a burden, that I’m asking too much of my support workers, that I’m not like everyone else. My needs are as basic and human as everyone else, they’re not complex.
Relationships in the hostel
Hostels are unlike any other environment you will be in. You are thrown into a massive house, with very little privacy. You are on camera in communal areas and you have to lock your door when you go for a piss during the night, in fear of someone robbing your stuff. Everyone is living differently, and there are different people on the safeguarding bed in the living room each night. Nobody has money, and everyone around you is in the same boat but for different reasons. We are all generally at our lowest points of our lives, but we don’t let on and put on a hard front with each other. Despite this, you have little choice but to make friends with each other because you can not escape them, and unlike family, arguing and making up doesn’t quite cut it. To add to the stress, support workers are constantly there downstairs, and the threat of eviction hangs over your head should you fuck up too much.
Relationships become intense, quite quickly. Suddenly, the people around you are your support network; they are the people you see every day and the same people you’re putting a hard face on for. Sitting in the living room one evening, a girl who called herself China would be blind drunk, talking to me about some of the most extensive trauma anyone could imagine experiencing. Walking in the room, people join in the discussions and before you know it, everyone is talking about being raped, beaten, having their hair ripped out, being stabbed or tortured, and this is general conversation. There are no tears, but it is reeled off as a ‘matter of fact’ manner. I know this is a coping mechanism and I am guilty of it too, but equally, I don’t patronise them and try to hug and tell them I’m sorry to hear of their difficult life, or try to explain their feelings to them. It’s not my place. As I walk away from the room, I walk away with some of the deepest secrets of those I now live with. It takes a toll on my own mental health too.
Despite the closeness you have, there are clear and strong boundaries that you have to maintain otherwise things can go wrong. One girl, I will call Emily for the sake of anonymity would knock on my door, smoke fags in my room, offer me stolen goods to make me feel guilty if I said she couldn’t come in. Once in, she would offer me heroin, start drawing up, ask me to go street working with her and hide behind my door when night staff did their patrol. I realised I was being taken advantage of. I helped her originally; giving her a skirt and make-up, thick tights to go working and generally being amicable but I knew I had to put my foot down and make enemies. I did exactly that, and to this day, she dislikes me. I am okay with that though, because I know if it had kept carrying on, she would have asked more and more of me, continued to take advantage and would continue nodding off on my shoulder, asking me to Facebook her now distant family. Despite our differences, my heart understands and I hold no anger, but I had to draw the line.
You are walking a tight rope in hostels, keeping strong boundaries which piss people off but equally, being caring or considerate to those around you. This isn’t always possible however. One evening, China punched her wardrobe for 7 hours throughout the night, without stopping. Nobody knew until the morning but the noise was frustrating and annoying, but it wasn’t the time to bang on her door and scream at her. It was not the time in the morning either. You have to pick your battles, and pick them wisely; picking too many battles makes you enemies, making it hard for you to live there but if you don’t pick them, you can quickly find yourself working to catch up. For example, one evening, I found myself cornered in the living room after being asked for money from Emily who was withdrawing badly. I said no and she cornered me. This may be a perfect time to pick your battle, but I was surrounded. The next day however, when she asked again, I put my foot down and she never asked again. Neither did anyone else.
Being in the hostel felt like being a therapist. I was constantly trying to stop the women talking bad about themselves, trying to remind them that they are more than their circumstances. As I walked down to the Managed Zone one evening with Jessica, I listened to her entire life story, one that was riddled with childhood abuse, suicide attempts, troubles with addiction and her reeling off stories of being stabbed at work and continuing working. Jessica, on the surface, would be written off by society – she was a heroin and crack addict, she was in an extremely abusive relationship, she kept falling out of support services due to chaotic lifestyle and was a street sex worker. However, she was doing well on her methadone script, she was recognising that her relationship was abusive and for the first time, she was talking to me about things she had never disclosed before, and was determined to get her ADHD medication sorted, taking it daily. Not just that, but Jessica is an extremely lovely and loyal person, she just has an extremely hard front but is a soft soul underneath. A soul which has been hardened by others, but not by her.
Jessica perhaps presents as difficult, but once you get past the initial front, you will see someone who works very hard in the best of her capacity to seek help and support. What some people would perceive as small achievements are big achievements for Jessica, and rightfully so. Jessica would explain often how proud she was of me, how much she enjoyed being around me, talking to me, how much she wanted better of her life. I helped her move to indoor sex work, and she did it! Jessica is not complex, although she may seem that way, she needs people to stop giving up with her. Jessica needs help, support, therapy, someone who is a consistent in her life and someone she can find comfort and confide in. Instead, she is bounced around services because she is considered too complex, and nobody knows what to do. It is no wonder I woke up one morning to her screaming down the hostel, arguing with the manager. Once calmer, she explained herself better and had a fair point, but felt nobody was listening to her. Jessica needs someone who is in her corner and actually gives a shit about her as a person, not just as a tick box of issues they have resolved.
Walking home through town one evening, a van pulled over, telling us to get in for a lift. I said no, but she dragged me into the front of the van, and told me to stop being boring. In the van, I told her I wanted to go home, and getting in a car with a stranger isn’t normal. However, who was I to tell her what to do and secondly, we both get into cars with strangers for money!? I didn’t have a leg to stand on. The guy seemed young, friendly and just wanted a joint and a chat. However, my back was up because he said he was from the area, but got lost when driving me back and had no idea where he was. I told Jessica to come in with me, but she refused and said she wanted to smoke a joint. I immediately went in and wrote the number plate down. At 3am, I heard a soft knock on my door and Jessica came in, she had spent 4 hours being raped by him in the back of his van. After 10 minutes crying and giving her a hug, reminding her it’s not her fault, I said I had his number plate should she ever want to report it. She sat up, left my bedroom wiping her tears, and within 30 seconds, she was screaming at the top of her head at China about an argument over crack. That was that, she never spoke about it again.
I spent a few months with Jessica, but she made a huge impact on my life and I think I did on her. One evening, she tried dragging me into a punter’s car and I said no because he said he needed to go to the bank first. I explained that he’s been driving round for ages, there is a reason he hasn’t gone to the bank beforehand, or during the time driving around. She agreed, and promised she would never get into a car if someone said the same. Equally, Jessica taught me a lot about life in general, how to work safely, and she always reminded me how proud she was of me. One evening, someone shouted her name whilst when we were out together, so we quickly rushed home. She handed me a knife just in case we were attacked. Despite this situation, I didn’t feel at scared, but more protected – not by the knife, but by Jessica, because I knew her loyalty had no bounds. There were many qualities I loved and respected about her, ones I hope to harness myself. Jessica always expressed her mind, and that included compliments too. She wears her heart on her sleeve, is self-reflective and had a true love for her sister, whom she fiercely protects and loves.
Jessica is one of many women who find themselves in and out of hostels, services and pass through our lives. She must never be forgotten, written off or left without support. Stop throwing away the lives of others because they feel so far removed from ours. There is no reason why Jessicas don’t deserve as much help, love and support as anyone else.
The dynamics of the hostel
Due to the changing nature of the hostel, the dynamics also change. There is little trust and generally speaking, people side and make friends with the kingpin of the hostel. This sounds really silly to describe them as a ‘kingpin’ but it’s true, a new girl enters and lays the law and the rest follow, including me. This happened all the time, girls moved in and out of the hostel every few weeks and if a new kingpin moved in and disliked the current one, she was quickly knocked off her spot.
This is also shown not just by arguments but by actions. For example, the lady who took me for a walk when I moved in was the kingpin at first. She loved cleanliness and as a result, would scream the house down if people didn’t clean up after themselves and she generally ruled the roost. The behaviours which followed meant that everyone was scared to be untidy, not flush the chain, to drop crumbs on the floor etc. When Jessica moved in, she did what she wanted and said fuck off to her, upsetting her and she now rarely returned. As a result, the hostel became untidy, people no longer gave a shit about tidying up, and if she dared speak up, Jessica would use her speaking up as an excuse to shoot her down. In the end, she rarely bothered to come home. Cleanliness still bothered her, but she tidied without making a sound instead.
I never attempted to become the kingpin, and in the small microcosm of anarchy, I was neutral. I tried to befriend all, not make any enemies and was not keen on baiting. However, everyone around me was addicted to crack or heroin as I moved away from it and siding with the kingpin made sense, because they have the most say. Scoring drugs was a hostel activity. Jessica demanded that everyone share if they scored, and they did. However, it caused the most arguments. Few arguments did not involve drugs, and it was usually around how many or how much was shared. Despite the dynamics, whoever had the most drugs or had scored recently, for a small moment in time, ruled the roost. I sat in the background, listened to people and tried to make my own judgements, but equally, I never put my foot in it or said anything to the contrary of the person ruling the roost. I’ll be honest, I didn’t need the hassle and it was easier to nod and sit back, whether right or wrong, and sometimes, it was too hard to rationalise with people in a frenzy.
Due to the intense nature of the relationships you make in the hostel, these small dynamics are really important. They mean so much to people and you have to remember, everyone is in a low place, leaning on each other for support. These actions have serious consequences and upset people. Small arguments can really hurt, can make you feel betrayed and it’s magnified because you live there all the time, having to deal with it. You can feel quite isolated or hated in your own home. It is a home for some, a lovely lady I met there had been in and out of hostels for 20 years – never having a permanent place of her own. These dynamics were her whole life, one that she had know almost as long as I have been alive. I suppose I am lucky, because I knew I would leave this place eventually so I knew I could swallow the anger or bite my tongue, for others, they were more entrenched in the system. Also, if you’re the enemy of the kingpin and don’t want to come home anymore, it can hurt your own stability.
Hostels are not good for mental health. It is exhausting being a therapist, it is exhausting living with people you feel you’re supporting because you don’t switch off. Whether it’s 3am knocks on your door or dealing with your new neighbour breaking down her wardrobe for 7 hours. Of course, it is not the fault of others but it is undeniable that their mental health can impact your own. Whether directly or indirectly, I never realised how much my health had been impacted by living there, and it was only when moving away did I realise just how uptight I had become or much I was aware of privacy and safety.
Living in a hostel is a life where you live on edge. Whether it’s wondering if your door is locked because someone might steal it, preparing for who is in the hostel before you enter the living room to avoid arguments or having to deal with hostel politics. It chips away at you. The more practical things as well are equally gruelling. For example, people screaming at each other at 3am but you know it’s useless to tell them to shut the fuck up as it would cause more arguments and they’re wired on crack, so you lay there all night awake. You don’t bother mentioning it in the morning because there’s no point. Also, nobody ever cooks and when you do, you’re torn between cooking for yourself or for everyone who is suddenly around you asking for food. Or perhaps generally dealing with the emotional distress of constantly being in a high-stress environment.
In fact, during this period of my life, I was the most stressed out I had ever been. Not just because I was living in this environment but I also had other stuff and life to be dealing with at the same time. Like everyone else, there were circumstances that led us to being here in the first place that we were having to deal with. I was also juggling 101 appointments between services, trying to get out as much as possible and dealing with hostel dynamics at the same time. I was barely eating, I was unhappy and my weight had plunged to its lowest point.
Generally, I was unhappy and unhealthy. As much as my support workers tried to sort things out, they couldn’t cure everything. Each week you sit in-front of them, talking about your circumstances and having to score out of 10 how you are dealing with things with a chart to describe what stage you’re at for each number out of 10. It is really to fill in a check box for the support worker for the sake of admin. Of course, they all enter the job with their heart in the right place, but unfortunately, they too are assigned things to do for the sake of tick boxes. It is degrading and tiring having to keeping hashing your life out and scoring it, especially if you haven’t progressed. Worst of all, every few weeks your support worker keeps changing for reasons not explained to you, so you have to go through the whole story again and get them to the point of getting to know you a bit more than what they read.
I spent Christmas 2019 in the hostel. It was a very difficult time for everyone and a time of emotional turmoil. I was surrounded by women who were long estranged from their children, some had children who have passed away, some women had underlying arguments or hate for each other but were trying to be friendly for Christmas. Some had forgotten to pick up their methadone script before the pharmacists shut so they were rattling and it was incredibly difficult for them. The night before, I had 4 boxes placed in my bedroom from people who had donated stuff to the hostel. The boxes were all the same, they were gloves, socks, sanitary towels, shampoo, conditioner, soap, heating blankets, chocolates, and occasionally, we had mens items in there such as boxers and size 10 socks. My heart was full of people’s kindness but there were was only so many tubes of toothpaste I needed.
No matter how old I get, I still wake up with a special sort of feeling on Christmas day and did then, but it wasn’t quite the same. I even considered staying in bed, taking mirtazpeine and not go out, but realised I had to make peace with the day. I had no presents to open and knew I was walking into an emotional abyss. However, we tried our hardest to make the best out of a bad situation. The girls plaited my hair, nicked the tinsel off the tree and wrapped it in the plait. We took pictures, reminded each other how important we were to each other and awaited Christmas dinner. The support workers left boxes of cigarettes around the hostel as a treat, and at risk of their jobs! They made us Christmas dinner and some volunteers came in to sit with us. However, we had Christmas dinner in a conference room, the same room where most of us had arguments or had our life changed in the meetings held here. We all appreciated the effort that went into making our day special and the support workers who gave their day with their family to us, but there was always a reminder of where you were.
This reminder me hit me hard during a game of bingo. There was a big sack of presents and we played games most of the afternoon and I won a gift. There were slippers, chocolate boxes and what not. When I won, I picked out a present which was square shaped and felt incredibly heavy and I was really excited! As I ripped open the paper, it was a Soap and Glory box, I felt even more excited. However, the contents had been removed and replaced with tins of sardine, baked beans and general food items. I felt crushed. I wondered if Victorian children also awoke to a food parcel. I may sound ungrateful, but I didn’t like any of the food in the parcel, so I gave it away to the other girls. Of course, it’s nice to have a food parcel and I’ve accepted many, but it felt like more a sting on Christmas, and a bit deceptive too inside a Soap and Glory box. It was a stark reminder of where I was, or what I felt like I deserved. I felt very much the bottom of the pile of society.
To anyone who reads this and donates at Christmas, first of all, thank you. These boxes were a lovely surprise to many of us and we enjoyed ravaging through the contents and swapping stuff. However, please donate other things than socks, knickers and toothpaste! I had so many, I ended up donating them myself 6 months later, all unopened. These things are still needed, just not in such quantity!
As Christmas Day turned into evening, we sat and watched films and many of the women got drunk, which soon turned into arguments or emotional turmoil, and I can’t blame them. It was incredibly difficult for many. Some awaited all day for a call from their family which never came, and the lovely lady who had been in and out of hostels for 20 years had given birth to a baby in a carpark on Christmas Eve night just a few years earlier. He was later adopted, and Christmas forever reminded her of this. There is the perception of women who have children taken from them, that they are nasty, bitter and awful women but in reality, they love their children just as much as anyone else. They equally bond with them at birth and have hopes, plans and dreams but unfortunately, they are not always given the same tools or capacity. Instead, they make the incredibly hard decision for their child to have a better life than one they can provide. But, their love and loss still lingers.
Moving into my own supported accommodation
The support workers realised just how much I was struggling being here. The environment didn’t suit me well and they could see I was quickly slipping into bad habits such as street sex work, coming home early hours of the morning and dealing with people using in my bedroom, or being cornered for money. A property came up that they owned that I could move into. It would be my own flat, I would have my own keys but I would keep my support workers. It’s a bit like a half-way house, where you’re out of the system, but not quite on your own into society. You also still live in the same block of flats with other women from the hostel so you quickly get roped into hostel dynamics.
They deemed I was independent to live alone and off I went. However, I had to go silently and not tell anyone. Despite having good news to share, I had no one to share it with, because I wasn’t aloud to say anything. I hadn’t been there as long as some of the other girls and so to say something would be to annoy or upset them, because they also wanted to leave. In addition, a lady there called Ellie had become a bit obsessed with me in a short space of time. She had declared me her new best friend, wanted to be with me every minute of the day, asked me to manage her money and wouldn’t leave me alone. Ellie wasn’t a threat and she meant no harm, but I knew moving would upset her, or having her at my door every day. I packed up all my stuff and moved out by 2 cab drives on the quiet; having to move my stuff through without anyone seeing. Then, once I had gone, I also had to cut everyone off to prevent them finding out where I lived.
Ellie did get upset. She told everyone once I left that I had apparently been messaging her, calling her nasty names, saying I missed the hostel, missed her and thought I was above everyone else. It took everything in me not to bite back and retaliate but I left it, it wasn’t worth the hassle. She ended up moving into the street opposite me just a month later. A month after that, 2 girls had moved in and out of the flat below me and Emily, the girl I had to put boundaries in against moved in. It was fireworks from the start. Things had been calm and quiet for a few months I was living there but sadly, my safety was compromised due to other factors. However, it was made worse by Emily leaving the communal front door open when she went out because she couldn’t be bothered to find her keys, and I confronted her about it. I didn’t argue and I walked away. She spent months after that screaming at me when she saw me, calling me names etc. Even when I moved out, she was shouting at me from her bedroom whilst I was loading stuff into my support worker’s car.
Moving away for good
Now, I live in my own flat and can reflect on these memories, but for some, they are still living there. Many, like Ellie, Jessica and Emily, are still caught up in the system of temporary accommodation and I would be still, had my safety not been so compromised and the council were pressured to get me housed ASAP. Being away from it also means cutting yourself off from it too, and the people who shared the experiences with. Like I said in my last blog post, I can’t have my feet in both worlds anymore. It took a lot of stress, anxiety, sanity and general wellbeing to get to this point and I finally got here. The last thing I need is someone finding out where I live and sliding backwards. In addition, I don’t have the mental capacity to handle that life anymore, it’s too gruelling and exhausting.
I can easily look back and reflect on these times and sometimes laugh, but in the moments, they were very real and personal; they consumed my life. This blog post is a snapshot of the life I lived day in, day out – of the absolute wildness of situations that occurred, but it was considered average and spoken without so much as hesitation. For many, walking into the bathroom and finding a burnt windowpane with vinegar behind the toilet wouldn’t make sense but for me, it meant someone had been cooking up heroin and injecting. Sitting in a room listening to some of the most horrific traumatic situations you could imagine would be too much for some, but in these situations, it wasn’t an uncommon occurrence and occasionally led to competition as to who had been through the worst. You walk away and switch your mind off, otherwise you could mull over these disclosures all day.
I don’t miss living in the hostel at all, and as I handed the keys back, I felt almost like a sense of relief rush over me. I was free from the dreary interview room, still laden with magazines about gardening and the holiday homes from Spain – salt in the wound for the homeless. The hostel was still inhabited by some of the same occupants who I had left and generally, the place felt stagnant. It felt like nobody was moving anywhere, doing anything and the wallpaper would still be the same in 10 years time. Knowing what I know now, I would rather kill myself than have to do it all over again. My hat goes off to the lovely lady who spent 20 years doing this, because I don’t think I could cope or manage that type of stress again.
Don’t forget them
Above all, I think it’s important to remember that the people who live this life are very much human as much as anyone else. They are not the bottom of the pile, they are actually incredibly resilient, resourceful and strong women who, despite the odds, have made it through life, largely by their own strength of character, drive and fortitude. Although they may not have the same material goods or opportunities as others, I would choose them as loyal friends any day, and I admire their characteristics, their unruliness and how open and honest they are, even if it is critical of myself. I know many would not stand a chance given the same circumstances, but these women do it daily, and take it in their stride. Despite their hard fronts, they’re all kindhearted in their own way, and you would do well to get to know them or have them as a friend. Some may not have much to give, but they bring a lot to the relationship and show their appreciation in their own way, but it’s up to you to know them well enough to know how that’s expressed.
As I read back through this post, I feel emotional. I miss these women, I miss them mothering me in their own way. I get angry at how little they are helped by services who find them ‘complex needs’ and struggle to cope, or shun them as they walk through the door. I feel angry on behalf of these women who have been so often let down by society who have washed their hands with them. Despite being called a cunt by all of them at some point, I have and will always have the time for them – even Emily who cursed me all the way into the taxi as I left for the last time. Why? Because they aren’t horrible women, they’re reacting to how people have likely treated them their whole lives. Above all, when they’re calling you a cunt, you have no idea what has been going on in their day and only see a snapshot. It is easy to get angry and explode back, but it just leaves you both feeling like shit. I often see people’s behaviour to be a bigger reflection of how they are treated, as opposed to who they are.
In the sex worker world, we get caught up with SWERFs and the ideological debates behind sex work but the reality is, these debates are not on the minds of chaotic sex workers. That is not to disregard them, these are discussions that need to be had. However, is China, Jessica or Emily wondering what Bindel thinks about her? No. They are all busy surviving, doing what they need to do to get through to the next day, for the next hit, for the next meal, to get to the end of the week without falling off the edge. When we are out in the cold, wondering whether a punter has gone to the bank or wants to kidnap me, do I care that I disgust Dr Jessica Taylor? No, I don’t. She is not the one who is on the street corner with me, watching over me for safety. Always keep room in the sex worker debate for those with the most chaotic lives, the ones who are right on the edge of society, who really are shut out by their own communities, services and society. The sex workers that nobody wants to claim, to care for, to support.
I try very hard to include street sex workers in the community, have their voices heard in services and for people to realise the barriers for us, but I am not the only one, so always be ready to reach out a hand to bring others with you when you can. This is a blog post of just one experience of mine, that is personal to just me and does not represent everyone. However, don’t forget, these scenarios and these women exist up and down the UK, largely out of sight and out of mind of society.
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As I sit here listening to the whirring noises of the fridge, I feel grateful that it is full and these are normal sounds of a home. Around me are the birds chirping and the neighbours dog barking, all familiar and a part of boring life, a life which I have long craved for. Sitting in silence is bliss, with the smell of fresh laundry around me. There is nothing I long for more than a mundane lifestyle, one that is not ever changing or chaotic. A life which is on edge, uncertain and you are reacting rather than responding. Although it is not a mansion and it is no where near where I’d like it to be, I feel grateful I have somewhere I can make these visions a reality without wondering if it is going to be ripped away. It has been an awful few years, and for once, I feel a relative ease.
Like everyone else, I have goals and aspirations – some small, some personal, and some long-term. However, I accept the difficult situation I’m in at the moment and know I have to put some of these on the back burner. I dislike the mantra that is sometimes pushed by right-wing politics that if you work hard, you can get what you want in life. For me, I think this ignores a lot of complex factors and above all, ignores the support system of the individual. Nobody can get to A to B completely alone, it takes a lot of help, support and networking of individuals. I never engaged with any service until last year – it was the first time in my entire life I asked for help. Beforehand, I thought seeking help was for wimps, and we must pull ourselves up and get on with it like good working-class people. I think I am doing well, all things considered.
I have always said that it is instability that keeps me in sex work more than anything else. Such instability doesn’t always mean financial. Housing insecurity for example, scares me beyond belief. The thought of not knowing where you are going to sleep in the long-term, or the worry of packing up your life again and moving every few months riddles me with anxiety. As a result, I always feel like I have to pre-plan and earn money just in case I have to up and move, and start again. It almost feels like being a marionette that is controlled by the hand of systemic poverty. Sadly, the marionette doesn’t always move and occasionally, the owner cuts the strings, forcing me to find a repair with no resources. It isn’t easy. When these strings are cut, I find myself in desperate situations and depending on others – it’s just another hand on the marionette, and sometimes, an abusive one. For now, no one is controlling me from above and the strings are kept stable.
Last week, I signed for a council flat. I am no longer considered homeless. To say I cried as I grasped the keys in my hand would be an understatement, I blubbered like a baby when I had time to myself. I wasn’t sad – it was happy tears, and it was more than just getting a flat. For me, I am working towards feeling safe, feeling secure and putting down roots, forming the primary building blocks in my life. What is the point of going forward when you don’t have a base to relax or retreat to? Feeling safe at home is something people don’t think about, and they shouldn’t do either because it should be a given, but sadly, this is not always the case. I look forward to starting in a place where nobody knows where I live and move away from a life that got me down for so long. I am not ashamed, but I no longer wish to carry the emotional baggage with me. I look forward to having a place where I can walk around naked, and that’s absolutely fine.
It’s too early yet to say what will be because there remains so much to be resolved, but I am feeling more confident about getting things sorted. With regards to sex work, I am still unable to work due to the continued closure of the Managed Zone and I feel it will be a long time until it re-opens. Until then, I am happy to plod along and continue working towards sex worker safety, training of services and generally educating others on the lives of sex workers. I hope to build on this, continue with my ‘train the trainer’ course so I can continue to break down the stigma and the barriers that prevent sex workers from accessing services without judgement. I hope to move away from sex work eventually, I have never hidden the fact that I dislike it and the only reason is financial. However, moving home and unexpected costs has hit me hard, as well as the continued restrictions on sex work due to coronavirus, it feels inevitable to return for now at least. Although, it feels more worth it than before, because now I have a home to invest in and make my own. Buying a sofa is next on the list!
As I look around my flat, 95% of everything in it has been bought by strangers who I have yet to meet and thank. People who have gotten to know me via Twitter and followed my story from afar – from street work, to assaults, to the hostel and now to my own flat and safety. I don’t know how I got so lucky and I feel exceptionally grateful to all those who helped me along the way, I simply wouldn’t have been able to do it without all of your help. It has been the kindness of others who have helped me put together furniture, bought gift cards, PayPal’ed me, helped me move home, offered me DIY advice and continue to support me as I muddle along on my own. I honestly wouldn’t be sitting on this bed frame, on this mattress, looking at my bedroom furniture without the kindness of others. One day, when I am in a better position, I will be sure to pass on to others as others have for me.
I can’t have my feet in both worlds and this is the hardest thing for me. As I move away from the life I lived, I also move away from the people I lived it with. I do this not only for safety reasons, but because I am risking too much by going back or giving into temptation, it simply isn’t worth it. This hurts the hardest because I love these women and they have done me no harm, and I am leaving them for my own selfish reasons. I begrudge doing this and it upsets me to think about, but then I remember how things were and where I want to be, and the two are incompatible. I will always love and support them, but I can’t do it holding their hand anymore – it wouldn’t end well for either of us if I’m not doing it for the right reasons. However, I admit, I enjoy the sounds of the fridge whirring and the birds chirping much more than the screaming, shouting, arguments over crack and heroin, and living in a way that is riddled with anxiety. It cost a high personal and mental price to get to where I am, I don’t want to slide back into something that cost so dearly to leave.
I feel so very grateful and thankful to all the incredible people who have helped me throughout – whether it’s my support worker listening to me rant, dealing with my emotional rollercoasters or the person on the other side of the world supporting my patreon, or sending me a tweet of encouragement. For a change, I look forward what is to come, I look forward to responding instead of reacting to life, I look forward to building a home, feeling safe, walking around naked, cooking and thinking ‘fuck the washing up’ because it’s just me, to watching whatever I want to watch on tele, having a shower after a long day, being woken up by the neighbour’s dog, and watching the seasons change from my window. Above all, I look forward to sharing my home with a dog, which is yet to come x
Thank you everyone for all your help, I don’t know what I did to be so lucky.
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We all have that ‘racist aunt/uncle’ that we joke about and disregard. Most of us go to their houses for family events and do very little about it. I can’t imagine it’s because we agree but because we’re too scared to say anything. I have also been that person, or I may give a defence with my head down in a quiet voice; scared of causing a scene, being difficult or ridiculed or told ‘lighten up, it’s just a joke’. It’s an uncomfortable truth that within our own families, there is racism and perhaps it feels too close to home to call it out. I was like this, but realised over the years their racist remarks got worse and in the end, I stopped talking to them. Maybe it shouldn’t have gotten to this point, I wonder if I had challenged them earlier, they would have changed their viewpoints. I could be wrong, and perhaps they would be simply silencing themselves around me. I have to draw the line eventually, and can’t sit back anymore and watch my own family fuel the thing I post against on Twitter. The issue is closer to home.
When my Mum started dating a Black man, some of her own family judged her for it, made remarks about the size of his penis and therefore, assumed that was the only reason my Mum was dating him. Some family members called her tainted. My brother split up with his partner who then got a new boyfriend, who is Pakistani. Without even meeting him, he was accused of being a child-molester, and he told his ex girlfriend that he would never get back with her after dating him, that she was now somehow ‘dirty’. This same brother called his nephew a paki bastard. My grandad was a taxi driver who refused to pick up Black people, called them the N word and was sympathetic of lynching. It is easy to disregard these examples of extreme but they all started as ideas that were encouraged. There isn’t casual racism in my family, there is open and proud racism. Family gatherings were always met with discomfort because we knew someone would pull out a racist joke.
I am unsure where this comes from because my Mum was never racist growing up, and she is distraught that her children relay such hatred. I also remember my Dad arguing against my grandad about his diabolical views. However, in society, racism is normalised, it was just a thing and I didn’t recognise it, nor was it ever challenged. I didn’t know what racism was because no one pointed out that it was wrong. Of course, there are external factors too such as friends and also, growing up in the time of blackface and Little Britain didn’t help either. Even what I knew was maybe wrong wasn’t supported in the media. However, I am the youngest in my family so we are all adults, we all have the capacity to recognise racism and challenge ourselves and others. There is no justification. I hate this idea that it’s a new time and we can’t compare to what it was like X amount of years ago. No, racism has always been wrong and we knew it then, but we just didn’t nothing about it.
We had to remind my brother that it was an Indian doctor who diagnosed him at birth, a last minute diagnosis that literally saved his life, my parents were told not expect him to make it through the night. The doctor was so proud, he asked to take a photo of himself with my brother for his own personal achievement record because the condition was so rare. It was also a Black doctor who tried to resuscitate my little sister for over an hour, relentlessly. It was our local GP who was also Black who came over to our house after she died to have dinner with us, to sit with our grief and alleviate any feelings of guilt my Mum had. BAME communities do not need to be life savers, doctors or some sort of well regarded profession to be taken seriously or not experience racism, but simply respected as they are regardless of their job, exempt from discrimination. However, at this point, we were clutching at straws and desperate because he couldn’t see past the colour of skin.
During the elections, a brother put BNP posters all over the windows and I remember my Dad marching in and ripping them all down. When confronted, my brothers went on to say that all immigrants were disgusting, not welcome and all Asian men were child abusers. Of course, I did my best to challenge these views and call them out for what they were – bigotry, and outright disgusting. Most of my extended family vote UKIP or BNP and are the typical White working working class racists. Sometimes, I get to the point where I am so angry that they can’t see what is wrong, and the only person who walks away impacted is me. We read these types of views online, in comments sections or on our Twitter feed, and we brandish them as extreme, not that common and block them. The reality is, the people behind these comments is someone behind a computer, and we likely know someone in our own lives with these types of views.
As the years have passed, most of my family feel more emboldened by their racist views than ever before. They no longer share them in private in the family but online, all over their Facebook, because they know there isn’t much repercussion, if any. I am deemed as the annoying when I say something in response or too considered difficult. The truth is, I’ve not spoken out no-where near as much as I could have done because it made me uncomfortable in family situations. When you are swimming against the tide of your own family, it’s like a personal pile-on when you go against the grain. This doesn’t make it okay though and part of being anti-racist is being prepared for these difficult conversations and situations that arise, even in our own personal lives. We can’t be part time allies or pick and choose when racism is and isn’t acceptable – we must hold everyone to the same standard and hold them to account.
I’ve gotten to the point where I no longer speak to much of my family, and partly due to their racist views. I realise that I am screaming at a brick wall because their bigotry is too much a part of their identity. However, that doesn’t mean I have to fuel it. They know my stance, they mute themselves around me. Although someone is a family member, it does not mean you have to tolerate the same shit you would from them as a member of the public. Will I change my grandad’s view? No. I don’t put this down to his age either, that’s just an excuse, he is an adult – but screaming at him until I’m blue in the face isn’t helping either. The best thing to do is to remove yourself and stop fuelling their fire, because you find they enjoy spouting racist crap and see it’s annoying you. In the end, the only person who will listen to them is themselves, because nobody else wants to listen or associate with them.
I see #BlackLivesMatter trending on Twitter and I support it wholeheartedly, there is no place in society for racism. I would be a hypocrite to give my opinion online when I know the problem is closer to home, and I don’t do nothing about it or recognise it. I will not make excuses for the racists in my family because we are related by a family tree. They are adults, they are not stupid and they have the capacity to learn and teach themselves but they choose not to. I can’t blame influencing factors or personal experiences because it’s just intolerance. I grew up with many stereotypes about Black people, I believed them because I was told them by people I trusted. However, I am also an independent person who can form my own conclusions, and so are they. We have the ability to challenge the trusted people who told us these things as children.
There is a theory used by sex work organisations I like to use. You can not change the views of the most extreme or contrary to yourself – they are too headstrong and bigoted, and sometimes, their whole income and platform is based of a certain viewpoint. As a result, you find allies and change the views of the wider society. By doing this, you drown out opposition who find little place in society to spout their views as they are no longer able to find allies, and are more likely to be challenged. By doing this, you silence them and it reminds them that they are a minority. The risk you run is the echo chamber, where they bounce off each other’s own viewpoints but if it’s a general societal view, the risk is reduced and they are exposed for the extremists that they are.
I first heard about white privilege listening to Macklemore – White Privilege (2005). It was a real eye opener for me. Macklemore faced much backlash for this song, and the follow up in 2016, perhaps because it was an uncomfortable truth and was coming from a White rapper whose audience is also largely the same demographic. As I listened, I realised just how true the lyrics were, I didn’t feel defensive but more uncomfortable about the reality of it. I will never be Black, I will never understand what it feels like to be discriminated against because of the colour of my skin. I can’t pretend to know what it’s like to be born into a world in which my skin has already put me behind my peers, impacted my job opportunities, education, determined my income and health outcomes from something I can’t change. It doesn’t mean I can’t listen, learn and challenge, nor do I have to fuel the racist fire. It is true, it is not enough to not be racist, you have to be actively anti-racist.
Support #BlackLivesMatter because there is no reason not to. Silence is compliance.
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I always knew that being known as a sex worker would make me vulnerable to verbal attacks such as being called a whore, slut or seen as a fallen women, but I never realised the deep hatred people have. Not just that, but the casual distaste for sex workers in general. Although I am a sex worker, I try hard to put myself in the shoes of others to see why they think my very existence and my job is so awful. I have been at the receiving end of abuse, threats and being shunned by friends, family and wider society. It hurts at times because I don’t feel I do anything particularly wrong – I may overcharge a client when I feel cheeky, or I might even say I don’t care about him when he’s pissing me off. Overall, I am not a bad person and I don’t hurt anyone else; if anything, I can only hurt myself. However, as I sat on the phone yesterday talking to a friend about why society hates us so much, I couldn’t help but reflect on why my vagina and income is so dammed.
A threat to the nuclear family
Disclosing you’re a sex worker to a married women can give you a mixed response. Telling the lady in the bank during an appointment to open an ISA that I was a sex worker exposed a lot. She told me that she would be mortified if she found out her partner slept with a sex worker, because ‘no offence he might get diseases’. She went on to discuss that she would feel uneasy because it means there is something wrong in her relationship. As a sex worker, emotional labour isn’t uncommon, but never did I anticipate sitting in a room listening to a lady tell me she would feel sexually inferior if her partner slept with me.
Similarly, sex workers challenge the idea of what is expected of a woman. We like to think that society has moved on from archaic views but we still shun the unmarried, childless woman and question what is wrong with her, why did nobody love her or why did she not have children? Of course, sex workers have children, we are mothers and we have relationships. There is also nothing wrong with not being married or having a child. Women have every right not to do these things just as much as they have to do them. Also, it’s the idea that we have sex with more than one partner, and for money, that is considered too far for society to grapple with. Women are to be married, to one man, to have sex with one man, have a child with one man, financially mesh themselves with with one man.
We are perceived as these wild women who go round, sleeping with everyone’s husbands, ruining the family, breaking apart marriages and all whilst laughing our way to the bank. This isn’t true at all, and don’t put the blame on us for a married man seeking out a sex worker. I did not seek them, nor do I ever ask for their martial status – not only do I not want to know, but it is irrelevant. I am a service provider, not an affair and therefore, I do not ask customers about their life in sex work, and I didn’t when working in McDonalds either. I am not interested in your marriage, nor am I a part of it. I am not a threat to the nuclear family, your insecurity is.
Rejecting social normsbut not ashamed
This is closely related to the above. Sex workers are not the ‘typical’ well-behaved woman but worst of all, we don’t always shy away from it. We do not accept that we need to be what people expect of us. We are aware of the stigma we face, the oppressive laws we work under, the systemic and structural reasons which cause these things and actively seek to challenge it. History is laden with unrepentant whores, in fact, without them, society and law wouldn’t have changed and the ‘fallen women’ mantra would be the most dominant discourse.
Internalised misogyny is a term used to describe women who also perpetuate sexist attitudes and behaviours towards other women. Sex workers on the other hand, are sex positive, anti sexist and pro autonomy. Instead of reflecting on what women should and should do, sex workers tend to focus on rather the idea that women can do whatever they like, and break down the barriers which prevent them from doing so. This extents to choices over our own bodies, which has been heavily policed and politicised for years – from prostitution, abortion, fertility, contraception, family planning, the fight for maternity leave, what is ‘acceptable’ for a woman to wear, how she should act, behave, treat her family. Sex workers tend to cut through most of these topics.
Rejecting social normals is also very true for male sex workers. Men are not sexualised in the same way as women and the idea of selling dick pics for profit is not the norm. Think of all the dick pics you have been sent in your life – these men do it for free. I can’t speak on what it is like to face stigma by other men as a sex worker of course, but I can imagine it can lead to uncomfortable conversations and judgement. For gay sex workers, it’s a double stigma too, not only due to their sexuality but also their job. I know someone who said gay sex workers fuels the idea of a hyper-sexualised gay man, and therefore, they didn’t like them. It’s a job, and their sexuality is not issue, it’s your attitudes.
Feminists often say that the personal is political. It’s true, the vagina is political. No other body part has faced such legislation, moral debates and shame. Women buy douches, vajazzles, endure lots of painful waxing, feel shame talking about difficulties post-birth, told they have a ‘loose’ vagina and protesters guilt trip emotionally vulnerable women outside abortion clinics. The debate over the body, and particularly the vagina, is what I call fanny politics. As Victoria Bateman once said, nothing divides feminists more than capitalism with sex work being a close second. A sex worker combines the two. Not only is the moral judgement being applied to me, but I use these ‘loose’ morals to earn money from it – shocking and disgusting!
I am always so confused by feminism, it produces mixed messages. One minute we are fighting against social norms of women, pushing for equality of the sexes and encouraging women to have greater control over their body and choices. Yet, when it comes to sex work, we haven’t quite reached this level yet, but why? Well, for some feminists, largely radical feminists, sex workers ‘sell their bodies’ and therefore, encourage the idea women can be ‘bought’. Why can a man buy a book I produced with my brain; buy my time where I expend emotional labour, or perhaps something I produce after working for 100 hours with my hands, but I can’t sell sex? Nobody bought me. However, it’s again, the vagina. It’s oxymoronic because these feminists perpetuate the idea that women can be bought in the first place, of course we can’t! Nobody is walking away with my vagina.
Another issue as to why we are hated in the fanny politics world is because we are accused of hurting ALL women. This is so entrenched in ideology but completely disregards the reality of sex work. No sex worker sits down with a pen and paper, writes a pros and cons list about how much harm they’re going to do to women. The reality is, it is systemic gender issues that likely led us to sex work to begin with such being a female single parent because it is expected that a woman cares for her a child, but a woman walking away from the family is shamed upon. Do not shame the sex worker for the solution they found, but tackle the reason as to what got them there. To blame the sex worker for the harms of all women, excludes the most vulnerable women in society themselves. It is victim-blaming us for the harms prostitution causes, rather than holding those who harm us to account.
Not all women are the same and we should not be treated as a collective. This is why intersectional feminism exists, because we all face different struggles. To treat us as a whole means we are also all held to the same standard, ignoring the background and baggage we come with. Fight for the equality of all women, but recognise the struggles of the variety of women. Taking measures with the consideration of all women and their bodies causes difficult debates. As Bateman explains in The Sex Factor, if we implement measures for the entire collective, does this mean we should stop women having children because overpopulation is bad for the planet, especially women. Do we tell women who wear short skirts to wear long skirts because some see it as immoral? Where do we draw the line?
I am not a history buff and if you want to know the history of whores, it is best to follow @WhoresOfYore on Twitter to understand the perception of sex workers throughout millennia. Being a sex worker has never been acceptable, the shame has always existed, and sadly, has continued. We can not ignore history when considering the present.
I recently read The Five by Hallie Rubenfold and I couldn’t help but notice that many of the same issues faced by sex workers in the 1870s are still alive and kicking today. One of the biggest things that shook me was the lack of interest of people to investigate deaths because they were ‘just prostitutes’, and perhaps the killer was doing a social good. This was compared to the court case recently of when the judge in the case of the Ipswich murders had to remind the jury to not bring prejudice, and to exclude the occupation of the women when considering their verdict. This shouldn’t be needed and wouldn’t be the case if it was the victim was of a different occupation. Similarly, there was backlash after the police showed little interest to investigate the murders of the Yorkshire Ripper. Who cares about the dead prostitute?
When history has shown a complete lack of respect for a type of person, the attitudes are passed on. When you disrespect someone or something, you have little interest in them, or what they have to say. The idea of being grateful to a murderer for cleansing society of immorality is disgusting, letting them off and deliberately not investigating because you feel are lives are not worth it fuels the idea that we aren’t worth it. I should add, people abuse things they disrespect.
Subverting the system
Sex workers generally disregard capitalism and work in opposition of it. I have yet to meet a sex worker who isn’t critical of capitalism and we break the system by selling sex, instead of our souls to a boss. Although we sadly work for the primary aim of money like everyone else, we don’t do it in a conventional way. We are our own bosses, we work when we want and within the boundaries of what we feel is acceptable and comfortable for us. Capitalists are very set on economics and fixed ideas – get educated, get a job, get money, buy with money, become boss, retire. You can’t become a boss in sex work, you would be arrested for pimping or running a brothel, so we become our own bosses.
It is for these reasons why sex work should be decriminalised because it would be regarded more as just a job in society, which it is. It is not as personal as what people think – once the door is shut, my mind also shuts, I don’t think about the working day anymore. I also don’t remember 99% of clients. In fact, if I do remember you, it’s not a good thing.
Also, sex workers cut through the system, you don’t need an education or well connected contacts to make it in life, and be financially comfortable. In America, some students spend $150,000+ on their education and they get annoyed that a sex worker is earning the equivalent, living an equally comfortable lifestyle or happy in their jobs, and have a good work life balance.
Finally, sex workers are financially independent, this subverts much of the dominant discourse. Some see such freedom as a threat, especially men. It is unsettling. Being in a financially strong position gives the sex worker greater choices over their lifestyle, body, decisions and aspirations. For some men, generally controlling men, they hate this idea but it means women are less likely to depend on them for income, loosing their grip. Generally, having strong females is a threat for most people and subverts the gender norms.
This was something I never anticipated. Whilst you are slagging off the sex worker who does £30 blowjobs, even if they do 5 a day, 5 days a week, that’s £39,000 a year. Alternatively, an indoor escorting job can be £150 an hour, so you only need to work 1 hour a day for 5 days to earn the same amount.
This really unsettles people because sex work is something we can all do but many choose not to, and for good reason. Sex work isn’t for everyone and that’s absolutely fine but I have found it frustrates people. When people are earning well, are happy in their job and working in their comfortable confines, they don’t like it. Despite being on the lower end of the financial sex work spectrum, people still don’t like the prices and try to barter me lower.
I have had both women and men tell me I’m not worth that and sex workers charge too much. The reality is, it’s a high risk job and one that not everyone is willing to do or capable of either.
As a sex worker, I have a lot of flexibility about work and spend more time away from it then actually being a sex worker. I love this, and something I cherish a lot. Without sex work, I wouldn’t have been able to attend all my support sessions, appointments, counselling or whatever it is. I spent a lot more time than ever on myself, reading, cooking and generally trying to work on myself. People are envious of this but also, it challenges their perception that sex work is awful and when we’re not at work, we’re too busy ruminating over the supposed awfulness of it instead.
Ultimately, some people just hate sex workers. Last week someone wrote on my blog they hoped that I got raped so badly that I never returned to working. It was an awful comment but gives a better grasp of who they are rather than me. For some, we are just beyond anything reasonable, we are too immoral, dirty and forever ‘broken’.
I could be wrong about all of these things, but from my experience and talking to people, these are similar themes I see coming up with opposition groups. The irony is, I don’t care how much you hate me because I will still be a sex worker, so your hatred or distaste for me does very little to help me, and in fact, encourages more people to disrespect me. Fanny politicians are driven more by ideology than the reality of sex work – sex work is driven by money and unless you tackle the reason for that drive, you’re never going to get me to take your personal opinions about me seriously.
Generally, sex workers are outside the social, political and economic norms of society, norms that have grown organically for decades. It will take a long time to reverse values and judgement that has been long-standing, but it is not impossible and has been changing.
Why hate a group of people who are already marginalised because you can’t see me as a person past my vagina? That’s a bigger reflection of you, not me.
I’ve been hopping in and out of sex work for a while, and despite recently turning 23, I think it is fair to say I have packed a lot into this short amount of time. Becoming a sex worker, it was a steep learning curve, not just for the industry but in life. Each of our experiences are different but these are just some of the things I have learned.
1 – Sex is not as important as intimacy
As most sex workers will tell you, the sex itself is not the most important part of the booking. As an indoor sex worker, I underestimated the emotional labour. Sometimes, clients would book just to cuddle up, hold my hand and talk. When they came in, I’d make them a drink and get them talking and it could easily become a therapy session if I didn’t hurry them into the shower. After sex, I could lay there and their arm would be round me, stroking my hair and talking about life. It truly was the Girlfriend Experience and thankfully, I was able to shut my mind on the client when I also shut the door. In fact, it was the intimate side of sex work I disliked more than the sex itself – it was a contributing factor that led me to street sex work, and kept me there too.
As you listen to the woes of many clients, I realise perhaps one the reasons they are here is because they have a lack of love in their life or crave the intimacy of their partner. Of course, this isn’t true of all clients and is not to be said as a sweeping statement. Nevertheless, there is definitely a category of client who perhaps wouldn’t even bother having sex and would happily sit on the sofa cuddling up, watching tele and chatting. They miss being paid attention to, being listened to and without judgement too. I make comments, but I try not to give say any conflicting opinion, more because of business and safety reasons!
I have never been in a long-term relationship, or any type of serious one at all. I’m unsure if this puts me at a disadvantage when it comes to these observations. If I ever find myself settling down into a relationship, I now realise just how important having a hug with your partner after a really crap day is, or listening to them talk about how difficult things are at work. Affection isn’t just physical or sex, it’s sometimes just chilling with each other or reminding them that you love them. I have been asked a few times by clients to be their girlfriends. I always says no because it’s not really me, it’s Amy, and they want me to love them, and I don’t. I am just perhaps the only person in their life who is paying attention to them and making them feel loved and special.
Sex is important, but it’s not integral.
2 – People hate me just because I’m a sex worker
If you know I’m a sex worker before you’ve met me, you might decide you dislike me already. Inversely, you could know me for years but once you are aware I am a sex worker, you will never want to know me again, and this extends to family too.
I wrote a blog post about working in the Managed Zone and when I posted it on Twitter, opposition groups found it and started tagging their friends. Within minutes, I was flooded with messages saying how awful the Zone is, how I’m hurting children, throwing condoms and needles everywhere and whatever else. I explained to her that this blog post literally talks about all of these issues that she raised. Yet, despite this, she told me she didn’t, and wouldn’t, read it. Why? Because she had made up her mind about me, about what I did and how I was as a sex worker. Apparently, she lived with this all the time and didn’t need to hear from me. I later found out she wasn’t even in a resident in the local area of where the Zone is. I realised then that no matter what I say, being a sex worker trumps that and therefore, I will never break free from her judgement.
Being a sex worker, you are chained with the stigma forever, even if you have left sex work. This means you are also chained to the stereotypes, connotations and judgement of others that comes with it also – you can’t escape it. Unfortunately, this means that people have made their mind up about me before they have got to know me; what I do with my vagina has suddenly blighted everything else about my life. I see it all the time where people who have been outed as sex workers later in their lives. We are sacked despite being loyal and good employees, or disowned from families despite being the perfect child. It is honestly the worst thing about being a sex worker, and is exceptionally hurtful when it is your loved ones dishing the shame.
This judgement extends to professional services too. The moment you disclose you are a sex worker, the opinion or attitude of your worker can change or how they treat you. There is a reason drug services have specific sex work support workers for example, because allies are not a natural occurrence. The worst is counsellors – I once listened to a story of a sex worker who was refused counselling because they said they could not work with someone who was engaging in it, as it would hinder how she would work with her. Ouch. Imagine building the confidence to access counselling to begin with and then be confronted with that.
3 – I was wrong about feminism
As Dr Victoria Bateman so accurately describes in her book, The Sex Factor, nothing divides feminists more than capitalism, with sex work being a close second.
I had no grasp of the feminist debates before I became a sex worker. Actually, at one point in my life, I was perhaps an anti-feminist without realising. I didn’t really care about it all and thought it was for people above me, who were much more intelligent and that in fact, my role in life was to grow up, get a job, family, have kids and die like every good working-class woman. As I grew up, I got angry at these expectations and appreciated feminism a lot more, but thought it was simply recognising the inequality between genders, and making efforts to reduce the pay gap, the disproportionate victims of domestic violence, and greater education for women. Oh how wrong I was! I always thought feminists were striving towards the same goal, until I became a feminist.
To be honest, I really underestimated that backlash I would face as a sex worker. Of course, I expected the typical things like being called a whore, or perhaps that I’m dirty, a vector of disease or a slut for having sex for money. I actually thought feminists would come to my defence about this and argue that a woman can do as she pleases with her body, and being called these things wasn’t appropriate. In reality, I was called the worse names from other women, not men. As I started getting involved in my local sex work project, I was naive and couldn’t understand why they faced so much criticism. Why would anyone be angry at people who support sex workers, who attend appointments with them, handed them condoms, do their sexual health screening and help us to report to the police? I didn’t understand. Until I got Twitter that is.
As a sex worker, my very being is a division for women, and as Victoria argues, in the two most divisive topics; using my own body for income. For some feminists, using your body is not okay in capitalism, unless of course you’re a coal miner, hard labourer, gas fitter or spent years working with asbestos or mercury. Although I’m not a big believer that sex work has to be empowering or that the female body has to be championed to be taken seriously, it doesn’t mean I can’t use it to my advantage – financially. As Victoria states, if women can make money from their brains, why not their bodies? I believe in this too, and thought other women did because after all, women have spent years being underpaid or not paid at all for hard work throughout history, especially care work which is physically and mentally taxing.
I thought feminism was about putting women on a platform to talk about their experiences and how then working improve whatever difficulties they faced. I still believe in this type of feminism because I realise just how much people don’t listen to me because I don’t suit the agenda that women want from me. In addition, I am not every woman. For example, I will never be a black woman and therefore, I will never have the perspective on issues such as institutional racism because I don’t experience it. However, that doesn’t mean I should shut them out because I don’t understand it or don’t want to listen; it means I should listen to what they have to say and have those difficult conversations, be confronted with this, and work towards change with them.
I felt disheartened by feminism, I didn’t expect it to be so political and nasty, and felt quite hurt by people I respected due their views about me or how I earned my money. It resulted in slamming women and becoming the antithesis of feminist ideology.
4 – I believe in stereotypes
Thankfully, this has significantly changed and as I go through life, I appreciate the need to speak to the group I am stereotyping rather than swallowing what I am told to believe about them. I am guilty of having accepted much of what I was told without challenging it.
Nobody sees anyone as a blank canvas and throughout our lives, we are bombarded with media information that has a belief or agenda behind it, resulting in false ideologies. This means we keep this in mind when people tell us things about them, remembering that being told prostitutes are bad, immoral people for example. As I watched the BBC Documentary: Sex, Drugs & Murder, I too believed what I was watching. It couldn’t be challenged, because of course, this is from the mouths of the sex workers themselves!? Yet, as I became a street worker and met a few of the women in the documentary, I realised how awful they were misrepresented. This was perhaps the first time in my life I had a serious awareness of the beliefs I held and the need to challenge them myself, not accept what people tell me.
Growing up, much of my family had a very poor attitude towards sex workers as well as other marginalised groups, and I believed everything they told me; sex workers were dirty, or beggars are drug users who will hurt you. Why wouldn’t I? I trusted the people who told me these things. Despite becoming a sex worker myself, I still held onto these views, and to an extent, applied them to myself and internalised them. Even when I MET the people from this documentary, I still didn’t believe what they were telling me because I had watched them on camera saying something different. Of course, I do not think these things now and realise just how awful and patronising that type of attitude is. There is no rationalising it, I was being a dickhead.
Now more than ever am I acutely aware of how damaging stereotypes can be and that is likely because I have not been in a marginalised group before. Yes, I grew up exceptionally poor and people thought I was a scumbag, but there was generally more understanding on causes of poverty and less personal blame. Also, you can hide your poverty and move up and down the social ladder. I was also born with an intersex condition and grew up incredibly stigmatised and examined in the medical field, but this was confined to the medical field and I was never open about it. However, I can’t hide being a sex worker because I work forward facing on the street. For the first time, I appreciated the need to listen and not speak for others, or assume.
I am still guilty of having stereotypes about other sex workers who I have little contact with such as male sex workers. However, I recognise this now, and do my best to challenge it and speak to them, rather than assuming. As I have made my way through sex work over the years, I realise just how little I know about it and I am forever learning. I hope I continue, so I can challenge stereotypes someone else holds about me in a way someone challenged mine.
5 – It’s okay to dislike your family
As mentioned previously, my family are not pro sex work at all. In fact, there are few in my family who are accepting of it at all. I can not change the fact I am a sex worker, and that means I will forever be subject to the views of others, including my family. However, that does not mean it is acceptable.
I grew up in a large family of eight, the house was always busy, there was never a dull moment and friends would come and go all the time in the summer. Like most siblings, we fought, shouted at each other, said regrettable things and then made up and acted as if nothing ever happened. I used to wear my sister’s clothes when I knew she hated it but also confided in her at the same time. Although we are all related, it does not mean I have to like the person they are or the views they hold. Indeed, it absolutely does not give anyone the right to disrespect me or treat me poorly either, even if we did come out the same vagina. I do not have to have unconditional acceptance of their actions because they’re related to me.
As much as my family are exactly that, my family, they are people too. They also have their own views, political standpoints, stereotypes and sometimes, nasty streaks. I always imagined being from a big family, we would be a tight knit one – especially because growing up, we all faced such hardship such as our house burning down, living in a hotel for 6 months, and the loss of two of our siblings amongst other things. Although these are experiences that bind us to together for life, they don’t have to be in my life. As I grew up, I realised families can also be political and it is harder to break away from because it feels too personal, even if it is ruining your mental health.
The family unit is considered sacred and when I tell people I haven’t spoken to my Dad in three years, I’m always met with responses like ‘you’ll regret it one day when he dies’ or ‘oh come on, he’s your Dad, you have to speak to him’. Of course I will be distraught when he passes, but that doesn’t mean I have to put up with years of being put down, shamed and bullied because we will all die someday. It is a privilege to be in your child’s life, it is not a right. I will not be shamed for being a sex worker because it is a moral judgement – I have not committed a crime, I have not hurt anyone except myself and I have not involved them in any trouble I have caused, therefore, I will not accept what they have to say about it.
I didn’t really come to terms with this until I became a sex worker and realised that in fact, my dependency on my family no longer existed and perhaps hadn’t for some time. As time has gone on and I realise I am capable on my own, their opinion and judgement matters less to me. I may share the same surname but that doesn’t mean I have to be chained to them, nor do I have to accept the vitriolic opinions that come with being a sex worker. Being a sibling or parent doesn’t give you a free pass to bring down the rest your family without repercussions and expect to make up. We are not under the same roof anymore, I have no reason to accept your abuse. Having boundaries with your own family is important too, otherwise they can easily do more damage than abusive partner or friend, especially if there are many of you.
6 – Money does make you happy
I am not going to sugarcoat it, sex work is driven by money, no matter how much you earn – it is the primary reason why we become sex workers to begin with. However, giving a blowjob for £20 with a hungry stomach really does make you evaluate the concept of money. I would have been happier if I had the money for a full tummy, and not be in this situation to begin with.
Money has the ability to give you choices you wouldn’t have otherwise, to make the decision to say no to a client when your gut instinct is saying don’t get in the car, but your gas company has cut off your supply and you have no hot water. People in general, are happier when they have more options in their life, because it means they have greater control over their circumstances. As a result, they can decide options which suit them better, weighing up options before reaching a conclusion. It also means they have evaluated the risks. When you don’t have money however, that control over your life is taken because your primary aim then becomes survival and the choices money affords you is secondary. Taking risks becomes greater because there are fewer options available to you.
I would be lying out my ass if I said money does not make me happier. I am not saying it is the most important thing in my life, nor do I ever aspire to be rich. Money is not my primary goal in life but feeling as though I am financially secure makes me feel fucking fantastic. Admittedly, it’s not something I feel often and is something I crave. In fact, I would argue that it is financially instability that keeps me in sex work more than any other contributing factor. Do I feel at times annoyed or upset about sex work because this feeling of unease? Absolutely I do. I would not be a sex worker unless I did not have a financial need to do so. Money makes me happier and I have yet to cry when a client hands me money. If they overpay me, I actually get excited and treat myself to a takeaway on the way home.
Of course, there have been times in my life when I was poorer that I was happier, but there have been many more where being poor led to great shame, desperate situations, and feeling frustrated that I had little control over my life and circumstances due to overriding financial limitations. When I was high-class escorting, I fucking loved the money I was making and it felt like a huge weight was lifted off my chest because I wasn’t running away from that awful feeling of ‘where the fuck am I going to find the money for X,Y and Z’. Growing up, I always hated school trips because I knew I couldn’t afford them so I didn’t ask. Isn’t it a nicer feeling when someone asks you if you wanna go somewhere, and you can say yes – even if it is just to Nandos?
We all know having money is strongly correlated with freedom and independence. We are not in the pocket of the bank, the quick cash loan company, the friends and family or the potential abuser in our life. I love being free from this and that feeling like I owe someone because they gave me money. I am not rich at all and as I look towards moving into my own home, I know I have no furniture and will be starting from nothing, but I know I can work and make sure I can make it my own without awful feelings hanging over me – one blowjob at a time!
Life is complicated and I have learned a lot on my short time on this Earth! I hope I always continue to learn, listen to others and challenge myself as much as other people. Being a sex worker, you are privileged to have a personal snapshot into the lives of your clients. You also often work in a marginalised section of society. Of course, my experiences over the years have shaped much of how I think and feel about many aspects in my life such as politics, family, relationships and general understanding of myself.
I have a lot of thanks to sex work, and not just financially either.
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The debate rages as to whether sex workers need rescuing from apparent abuse, or whether they deserve to be safe, or if the criminalisation of soliciting sex should continue. A rescue organisation is, generally, an anti-trafficking organisation which claims to save the victim from an abusive situation. This sounds brilliant, and I support this. Trafficking victims deserve support, providing it is done with full respect and autonomy of the victim themselves. However, most of these organisations target consensual sex workers. You usually find these organisations are anti prostitution entirely, not just anti-trafficking. The one thing I struggle with however, they do not target indoor sex workers as much, particularly those who work in their own homes. They do not rescue the dominatrix either, who has a chain around her client and her foot on his head. They instead, target the most vulnerable of us all, the street sex workers. However, despite being the very people they want to save, I don’t want their help.
I have been at the hands of a rescue organisation. In my post ‘Prostitution Facilitators’, I explained how when working one Sunday evening, I was approached by a Christian outreach group who grabbed my arm whilst working, said a prayer over me and left. Before I went home, I went on the van for a drink but was instead, bombarded with dogma. I was told I was better than this; given photos of the damage of a lady’s groin from injecting; she asked me what had happened in my life for me to have fallen so hard and be out here. If I wasn’t enraged enough, she then handed me a bible and told me to work on my relationship with Jesus. I later found out their aim is to sell Christian detox and therefore, they prey on vulnerable sex workers who are often excluded from communities, and looking for help. I felt so degraded, I vowed to stop sex working on Sundays.
Sex work ‘rescue’ charities
Beyond the Streets are an organisation who work with women in prostitution. However, you wouldn’t guess this by loading up their page. They boldly state they are a charity to support those who face sexual exploitation. Of course, I support their aims of helping women leave sex work, facing domestic violence and drug abuse. However, if I was searching for help online and I came across this website, I’d click off because as a sex worker, that does not mean I’m being sexually exploited so I wouldn’t relate to it, or assume the service is for people like me. I don’t agree with how they act on achieving their aims, or the language they use to describe us. Even more damaging in their website is the following quote:
Prostitution is commonly viewed as a choice that women have made, but many of these ‘choices’ were probably decided upon when they were under 18 .
Beyond the Streets
They are unable to recognise that there is no such thing as a child prostitution, therefore their use of the word choice here is irrelevant, because it is not a choice. Also, this charity is to support those currently engaged in prostitution, which means they are over the age of 18. Therefore, this quote only seeks to peddle stereotypes and stigma of sex work. You have to ask, what are they gaining from including this in their website? It is hard to shake the victimisation you face when you’re a sex worker, meaning people are more likely to act on your behalf, assuming you are unable to make decisions yourself. These types of quotes do not help.
This is another example I found on the website of A Way Out, another charity that works with sex workers. The language is degrading, the image is horrific, and a poor representation of sex workers. It assumes that it is awful, violent, and everything else in between. Using language like ‘sell her body’ is exactly the kind of thing sex workers themselves fight for people not to use, because it is inaccurate and fuels stigma. I would like to think sex worker charities have our best interest at heart, and shouldn’t use language that we don’t use ourselves, or have used against us.
The following story talks about Katie’s life and like most rescue orgs, uses the trauma of sex workers for their fundraising goals. We are not trauma machines where you can churn out our lives so you can tell everyone how awful it is for us. In addition, these are bold and wild statements. For example, being exposed to domestic violence does not mean you will also be exposed to paedophile. The language is bleak: ‘restore hope to the hopeless’ is vile, and along the lines of ‘I am a voice the for voiceless’. Just because we are sex workers, does not mean we have are hopeless, or voiceless. It is these kind of attitudes that society attach to us, we don’t need those who are trying to help say this also. Katie may need a friend, but she also doesn’t need judgemental, degrading comments either.
To make matters worse, they ask for donation and say it will provide access of support for women exploited through prostitution. Crikey.
I could write a whole article about the damage quotes like these cause, particularly from Streetlight UK, a charity that works with sex workers. Again, it is something sex workers fight against. It ignores the lack socio-economic resources we have, or the fact the no little girl dreams of being of a HR manager or admin officer either. There is nothing wrong with these jobs, they’re just jobs that nobody expected to be doing when we were a little girl – I wanted to be a 100m olympic sprinter, I now couldn’t think of anything worse. I then wanted to be a translator, but would prefer to be a sex worker. These are quotes usually said by sex work abolitionists, who shouldn’t be using harmful language against us. Finally, why does it matter if sex work is a career? It is an income. I don’t want to climb the ladder and became a manager – I’d be arrested for being a pimp!
I would describe these charities as ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing’. This is biblical term, which ironically describes a lot Christian led ‘rescue’ charities. Of course, not all are like this, but a fair proportion are. There is a term called ‘co-production’ which involves actively engaging service users and their voices in the service development itself. By doing this, you adapt and change your focus depending on the most pressing needs of the service users. This is a brilliant example of working in cohesion and most importantly, for the service user themselves. Rescue orgs do not do this. The reason why they don’t is because they generally advocate policies which sex workers do not support, such as the Nordic Model. Services and workers should work to support us in the best way they can, but you can’t do this if you do not involve us, or listen to what we need or would find beneficial.
A rescue charity argues that the sex worker needs rescuing because sex workers themselves are unaware of the abuse they are facing, thus, they need saving from themselves. This is white knight, damsel-in-distress type saving that I dislike the most. It assumes that we are dumb, unable to know the difference between consent and abuse, or unable to make our own decisions. You are stripping us of our autonomy, arguing that what we are doing is wrong and should do something you consider better. It is really infantilising to hear that just because I am a sex worker, I can’t make my own decisions because they are considered wrong or immoral, and I need to be told by someone else what they should be. I actually don’t care if you think I’m moral or not, rent is more of a pressing concern for me.
I am not stupid. I am aware of my vulnerabilities. I am more than aware of the danger I am or the risks I can face at work; I deal with it all the time, and it is me who deals with the impact of it. I don’t need a charity to come along and tell me about my own life, my job, how I live my life or dictate what is best for me. I did not become a street worker for no reason, it wasn’t something I woke up one day and decided, took myself to the Zone and started working. Like many other street sex workers, I don’t like working either, but I realise the barriers that prevent me from doing something else. Whatever reasons put me here, it was still my choice to become a sex worker, I could have done something else but likely would have been criminalised for my alternative options.
The reasons for sex work are diverse and sometimes complex, but the motivation is simple: money. A rescue charity is arguing that I am making the wrong decision in how I fund my drug habit or pay for my food and rent. In reality, this is based in judgement rather than support. Other sex work charities who advocate rights not rescue support the sex worker to tackle issues such as homelessness, Universal Credit, drug addiction, or whatever our reasons are. However, the big difference is, they also don’t judge us for sex working, because they recognise that although it may not be the best way, it is OUR best way. They respect my autonomy; my right to work or not to work, to quit or train as something else. Respect is fundamental because I’m not asking you to agree, I am asking for basic understanding.
I know what is best for me in the context of my own life, and my own situation. Although sometimes my choices are not ideal or what I want them to be, it doesn’t mean I’ve chosen the wrong option. Nor does it mean this option should no longer be available either.
Sexual exploitation and survival sex work
This was a tweet from a radical feminist, who did give time to listen to sex workers – to an extent anyway. When discussing that sex workers are not a homogenous group, and in fact, we don’t want safety too, they said this:
I want to be forgiving and say they mean well, but they have not done a lot of work or research into sex work. However, I realised, most people by and large don’t in general, unless it’s a topic that interests them. Can I blame them for having these opinions, if after all, they’re repeating what they’ve been told? Well, yes, I can. I don’t make bold statements on topics I know nothing about or vulnerable groups to which I have little knowledge of. I may have an opinion but I recognise that it is important to listen to those who are the topic you are discussing, not talk for them. They also were evidently interested and, discussed it often but continued to conflate survival sex work with abuse and trafficking. Do not lump us all into one big group, we are individuals with different experiences.
The conversation needs to be turned on its head and instead of assuming survival sex work is abuse, ask by who are they being abused by? You will usually find it is not usually the client, but the systemic and structural failures that led them me to make this decision. This is why I do not advocate rescuing me, but instead, I wish for you to re-direct your efforts into tackling underfunding in drug and alcohol services; the chronic cuts in domestic violence services; the destruction of social security and Universal Credit, or how poorly sex workers are received by services, who pass comments which stop us from engaging further. There is no point telling me my life is awful, that I need to stop having sex for money to buy drugs or to feed myself when you’re not bothering tackling why I’m doing it. Don’t judge me for the solution I found, judge the reasons as to why I thought this was my solution.
Migrant sex workers work the street too, however, they are instantly assumed to have been trafficked. This results in migrant raids that are exceptionally distressful for the sex worker. They can be mishandled and as a result, they lose contact and trust with sex worker organisations who aim to support them. The devastating impacts of this can not be underestimated; migrants sex workers already face risk of being trafficked, but due to raids, they no longer wish to engage with the police. As the raid demonstrated, it did nothing to reduce migrant sex work, but it did make them more hidden and therefore, at greater risk. I work alongside migrant sex workers and they do the same job as I do. Being born in another country does not remove your ability to make decisions about your own autonomy.
Survival sex workers can not be separated into the category of sex workers who are abused. It is insulting. The risks are high working the streets, we already know this. Therefore, when we do report abuse or exploitation, it needs to be taken seriously. If you assume all survival sex work is abuse, how will I ever be believed? In fact, I had a recent example of this and I requested that the police be informed of the situation. By doing this, it allowed them to know me, what was and wasn’t okay for me, and when I needed help and when I didn’t.
Don’t save me
Please don’t insult me and assume that because I am a sex worker, I need a flurry of support workers, need to be taken away from my source of income, or that I need counselling for the abuse it supposedly causes. Listen to me instead and what I want and need.
I got the help I needed; not because I was rescued, but because services worked together holistically to support me, respected my wishes, reasons for working, offered harm reduction and appreciated that I knew what was best for me. After all, all my workers only saw me for a few hours a week, they only have a snapshot of my life. Telling me what is best for me makes me want to tell you to fuck off.
Don’t ignore the benefits of sex work either in your quest to save me, because it is these very benefits that are the reason I continue to work – I don’t do it for fun in my spare time. The money is what I need and removing my ability to make money puts me in a worse position.
Sex workers don’t need judgement, to be told we’re better than this or asked what awful trauma has led us to work. I will soon disengage with you, feel ashamed and it exacerbate existing drug and self-confidence problems. Work backwards by tackling the root causes and structural inequalities that result in street sex work. Rescuing us does little to alleviate these problems and nor solves issues going forward, and does not prevent me from ending back at square one.
Sex workers are some of the most resilient, resourceful and incredible people you will ever meet, don’t belittle me and assume I don’t know what’s best for me, or that I am unable to help myself.
I know many sex workers who hate the association of drugs with sex work, and actively try to downplay it. Many argue that it adds to the stigma of sex work and is unhelpful to how society sees them. All I have to say is, piss off. This attitude only serves to push down the voices of drug using sex workers who are the most marginalised and vulnerable members of our society. They are also the demographic that deal with the most stigma. Harm reduction groups often advise not working under the influence of drugs because it can put you at greater risk, due to having less control over your actions. But what do you do when withdrawing from drugs makes you more impaired than being under the influence of it? What if you’re sex working to pay for your drugs? Many of these sex workers use drugs to give them the confidence to do the job in the first place. It isn’t uncommon.
It is absolutely useless to tell a drug using sex worker to not use drugs before they go to work, especially if their primary aim is to buy drugs, or they’re withdrawing. Rattling is the phase you go through when withdrawing, and the longer is goes on, the worse the rattle is. It first starts with a runny nose, yawning and cravings. Soon, your body starts aching, your muscles cramp and you begin feeling sick. As days pass, the cravings become overwhelming. You can’t sleep, you’re sick with vomiting and diarrhoea, sweating through your sheets. You’re irritable and unbearably tired, but your eyes won’t rest. When you finally drift off, you awake in agony from muscle pain. You would give anything to stop feeling this way, and you know heroin, or your chosen drug, is the answer. It’s like a magic solution. Now, imagine feeling this way and someone telling you to stop doing what you need to do so you can feel better again – you’d tell them to fuck off, and rightfully so.
Sex workers need specialist drug workers who can work at the intersections of these two stigmatising factors. You simply cannot tackle one without the other. Exiting sex work is difficult within itself, but if you’re a drug using sex worker, it’s a chicken and egg scenario. Which one do you tackle first, the drug use or the sex work? Sadly, it is a destructive cycle that often feels unbreakable, but it’s not impossible. Many think that sex work is the easiest issue to tackle first because after receiving treatment, your need for higher income reduces and methadone prescriptions are free. But this is far too simplistic and ignores other factors that drive someone to sex work. Even after I gave up drugs, I continued to sex work. We work not just for drugs, but to pay our bills, for food and other daily essentials. You just can’t simply eliminate sex work and for many, it is a trigger. After all, if you spent years getting paid and ringing your dealer immediately after, you can’t break that habitual behaviour overnight.
Leaving sex work as a drug user feels like a rejection of your loved ones. Goffman’s theory of stigma argued that those who are tackling it face two options; ‘manage it’ by covering yourself up and assimilating into society, disclosing only to certain people, or you delve deeper into the community itself and isolate yourself within a group who are like yourself to reduce the stigma you face. By doing this, he argues that you are accepting your devalued status in society, so you aim to control the damage instead. The latter is so very true of drug using sex workers. Although considered a negative response to stigma, withdrawing into our own community has obvious benefits. We look out for each other when society has given up on us or diminished our social status. This is what makes sex work so hard to leave, because you are not just leaving the drugs but you are leaving a community that has accepted you unconditionality – one that has protected you, never asks you to justify your flaws and who is your biggest allies.
We are told when we give up drugs, we must leave the people we used drugs with, move away and avoid the areas where we used drugs, and to make a new life for ourselves. However, when you are pushed into the margins of society and have spent years in an insular community, you find yourself reluctant to leave. Why wouldn’t you? They are your best friends; they laugh at things people in a 9-5 would find worrying or perhaps too difficult to respond to. They are the people you cried to after being raped because you couldn’t report it to the police for fear of arrest or judgement. They were there when you couldn’t access the appropriate counselling because you were rejected for being a drug user. It feels like betrayal to leave your friends, the ones who loved you at your worst, hugged you when you needed it most and let you talk about being a sex worker without judgement. There is solidarity together. We are the ones defending each other against society, trying to tell each other our worth and value when we’re called names by clients, and society.
This is such a human element that is rarely considered when it comes to exiting sex work. It is not as simple as start a methadone script, get clean, find new friends, get a job and move on. Today, I have moved away from the people I used drugs with who were sex workers, but I very much yearn and pine for their company, especially when I am lonely or want to talk without judgement. I miss laughing about clients, having serious discussions about safety at work or feeling like I made a small difference when I listened to someone crying because they felt they couldn’t do so anywhere else. For me, I avoid them in fear of using again but I feel like a prick for doing so. I loved these women and I miss them so much, but I don’t miss the common themes of our friendship. I can’t talk to Linda in the office about the difficulties I am dealing with, or the intrusive thoughts I have caused by a dodgy client. She would freak out, not know what to say and possibly consider reporting me to safeguarding. I don’t want that; I just want to cry about it.
These feelings are compounded if you are in a relationship and your partner is also a drug user. It is not uncommon for a sex worker to work and provide drugs for both themselves and their partner. There are so many complexities to this dynamic that I simply couldn’t explain it in a few paragraphs. You love this person, you are the breadwinner, and although considered unusual by society, your relationship works. Many people stay in relationships because they fear change and sex workers are no different either, but the bond of drugs is so tight, so you don’t leave. If you try to leave, your partner realises they are losing the breadwinner who is funding their drug habit, and they can potentially turn violent. You are even more vulnerable if you are a street sex worker because you can’t hide at your workplace. Sadly, sometimes domestic violence services try to push the sex worker to stop working, which is unrealistic as it prevents them from accessing specialist services. You are now weighing up losing your income or leaving your partner, or both. If you want to quit drugs, it is hard to stay with a drug using partner who is not co-operating and thus, you don’t quit because you love them and want to stay with them.
For most drug using sex workers, the drugs came first but sex work became their reality when they found themselves needing alternative incomes if their drug use increases. Many become dependent on the income, and it is also our biggest trigger. Every drug user will tell you pay day is a huge trigger, and those in recovery will tell you it was one of the hardest things to overcome. But every day is pay day when you’re a sex worker, and you may have spent years ringing the dealer up three times a night after you got money in your hand. Even if you eliminate drugs, you will still be dependent upon the income sex work brings, but instead, you’re trying to overcome the urge to ring the dealer. I know sex workers who have stopped using drugs but continue to sex work who say this is by far the hardest thing they struggle with as it is almost instinctive.
Those who are in recovery say that using drugs is like a full-time job, and it really is. You think about it all the time, it consumes your life. You spend all day finding ways to make money, chasing down your dealer, preparing the drug, using the drug and then finding more money before you start withdrawing. And so, the cycle continues all day, every day. This within itself is difficult to overcome, but even more so when you have another job as a sex worker. I’m unsure what society think drug using sex workers do, but it is all consuming. In fact, it is more a lifestyle, and part of your whole identity, one that is heavily stigmatised, steeped in shame and morality. It is difficult to also imagine yourself as something different. You are so involved in living this way that the thought of becoming the 9-5 Linda is scary. It is something you don’t know, can’t relate to or even imaged yourself being. Change is scary for everyone, even if the change is considered positive.
One of the saddest things for sex workers in recovery is they can be rejected by other drug users. After taking incredible, arduous, courageous and life-changing steps to break the cycle, you can find yourself at an NA meeting, talking to your sponsor about having to ‘repent’ being a sex worker, as if it something shameful. In fact, in step 6 of the NA/AA programme, it describes being ‘ready to have God/higher power remove all these defects of character’. In this phase, sex work is considered a defect of character. Sex workers have described having to desecrate themselves, ripping apart something that is so core to their identity, and perhaps dominated their life for decades. You have to submit to the higher power, asking them to remove your defects. I can’t do this. I am not ashamed to be a sex worker and nor should anyone else be either. It takes exceptional resilience, resourcefulness and strength to be a sex worker, and I will not subject myself to accepting I have a fundamental defect in character. I enjoy having self-confidence.
You would think that being in a group of individuals who are already stigmatised, they would be more understanding but this isn’t always the case. Being in recovery does not prevent you from having your own moral stances on sex work either, nor does it prevent wider society from degrading us. This can really destroy your self-confidence and self-esteem, pushing you further into your insular community as Goffman’s theorised. Simply put, it prevents the sex worker from ever seeking help. Again, this is why sex workers need specialist workers who reject this mantra, and view the drug user holistically, and who does not see sex work as a fundamental character flaw that needs to be accounted for. It takes a lot of courage to access a service and to admit that you need help, and are ready to accept it too. The last thing you need is anyone telling you that you’re not good enough.
Of course, each drug using sex worker has a unique set of circumstances. There are often complex, multifaceted reasons why being a drug user is particularly challenging when you’re a sex worker who wants to leave. The cycle is hard to break and can feel overwhelming, and unrealistic. The thought of becoming Linda is ridiculous and laughable because you are so accustomed to living this way that you can’t imagine being any different. Society further fuel the stigma we face, ruining our confidence, preventing us from opportunities to improve our prospects such as education and employment due to being a sex worker. How can we ever see ourselves being a Linda when we feel so far removed from her? Don’t be fooled into thinking drug use is only prevalent among street sex workers either, because in my experience, it transcends the whorearchy.
The whorearchy is used to describe the hierarchical difference between the vast number of sex workers based on the stigma they face, how intimate they are with the client and the likelihood of them having interactions with the police. This is theoretical but in reality, it is shown in more hurtful ways. Despite being impacted by the same laws, using our bodies in a sexual way for money, there are many sex workers who look down on other types of sex workers. I don’t understand this because we are all fighting the same laws, confronted with the same prejudices, and if the Nordic Model was introduced, we’d all be faced with being evicted by our landlords due to our jobs.
As a street sex worker, I am accused of devaluing local house prices and that I am hurting children. However, a dominatrix is subject to the same stigma by society. They are higher up the hierarchy than me, and I would argue even higher than a sugar baby. Mistress Evilyne, a London based dominatrix faced backlash from her local community and nationally after an article about her was in the Daily Mail. Accusations included that having her in the neighbourhood was driving down local house prices and concerns that children ‘will be exposed’ to things they shouldn’t see. These accusations are not far from what I’ve been accused of either as a street sex worker. Evilyne was also reported to the police due to the noises coming from her dungeon. Of course, she is not a threat to any child, neither am I!
This was a tweet I saw one morning from a dominatrix. I stared whilst drinking my tea in shock. For me, this was the first time I had seen blatant shaming amongst sex workers. It is absolutely fine to have boundaries in sex work of what you do and don’t offer. In fact, it’s something I encourage, but there is no need to shame others along the way. I think it was the ‘Eurgh’ at the end that got me, as it was some sort of disgusting thing to do. I can only imagine the sentence at the end was ‘I suggest you don’t use that word for me’ as if being an escort is something to be shamed for. I thought this was perhaps a one off, but I quickly realised the issue was more prominent than what I first envisaged.
I couldn’t help but think this tweet showed a divide even among the dommes. I have seen this a few times, arguing about what is a professional dominatrix and what isn’t. Who cares? If one has penetrative sex and a mix of BDSM, dom/sub work etc. then why is there judgement? I am not a domme so I don’t know but from the outside looking in, it seems very odd. After all, we encourage each other to do what’s good for us, what we are comfortable with and run our own shit, until someone runs it differently than us.
This is absurd for me looking in on these conversations. Working as an escort in an agency or with my friends, independent or street. There is no ‘professional outdoor sex worker’, and I certainly don’t compare myself when working alongside another sex worker. We do what we do, we earn what we need in the confines of our boundaries and that’s it. Whether that’s simply a blowjob or full blown anal fisting. You do what’s good for you. I find it upsetting at times that we judge each other over what we do or don’t do with our bodies. I saw an recent article from an escort that caught my attention, describing lower-end ‘housewife’ sex workers as amateurs. I imagine she therefore sees herself as a professional. Personally, I find the idea of a professional sex worker to be problematic. We are not professional sports players, and what are the qualifications to become a professional sex worker? What must I do or not do? Someone may not have the same safety advice or resources, but they’re no less of a sex worker.
Of course, these examples give dommes a bad name. Although this is sometimes considered a problem amongst them, they have the largest platforms to express these views so it attracts the biggest attention. That is not to say they are all like this, because that’s simply not true at all. I have met some lovely and incredible dommes who have helped me, been very welcoming, encouraged me, and haven’t thought twice about the hierarchy. You will also find some of them have gone up and down the whorearchy but almost too scared to be open and honest about it, in fear of being discredited as a domme.
Of course, this is prevalent amongst other types of sex workers. For example, this tweet was in reference to a question asking why sex workers don’t have an OnlyFans account yet. There are so many things that are frustrating with this post. Almost nobody can wait until covid19 is over due to financial reasons. Not everyone had savings to prepare for a never-ending, world stopping pandemic like you. Hun, you are a sex worker who is talking about having strong values and morals by not showing your body, the same thing that makes you money. You can have strong values, that’s fine, but it’s usually this argument that is used against you by others, don’t perpetuate it yourself. After all, the rest of must be cheap whores with no morals it seems.
Selling nudes or making content does not remove your morals and values.
This is the what I describe as the ‘othering’ amongst sex workers. I am not like those sex workers who choose to put photos of their bodies online, goodness no! There is no need to be like this. I don’t have an OnlyFans and I am a sex worker. I will happily admit this is because I am actually not brave enough to post nudes and videos, nor am I dedicated to the immense work that goes on behind the scenes for online sex workers. It’s okay to admit there are strengths in the work of other sex workers, and weaknesses of your own. Those who look down on this are the types of sex workers who I describe as ‘M&S personal sexual therapists’, and probably say only their lip touches their penis or their index finger. Sorry, but you’re probably riding dick as hard as me some days. In the eyes of society, we are both a sex worker.
If you use your body for the sexual pleasure of a client in exchange for money, you are a sex worker. Before you say that by not touching the client, you aren’t one, then consider that you will still be impacted the Nordic Model, and other anti-sex worker laws. You can also be evicted from your home by a landlord under anti-prostitution laws. You may not be penetrated by the client but you may penetrate them with a strap-on; if that’s not sexual then I am unsure how you would describe your job. We both make Dave, Richard and Michael cum, we just do it in different ways. It is frustrating when you are already in a community that is marginalised and those within it continue to create division between us. Even worse are those who enforce the hierarchy whilst those at the bottom don’t even have time to consider this bullshit because we face the brunt of stigma and anti-sex worker laws, such as fines for solicitation. It distracts from the debate and focus of what we should all be striving towards: decriminalisation.
This is not to suggest that all sex workers are the same. Of course, there are various dangers to each type of sex work that need to be appreciated in their own right. Street workers are more likely to be killed whereas online sex workers are more likely to be doxxed, and have their content sent to their employers, friends and family. However, what unites us all is the stigma and shame we face by society and how laws can punish us. We are a marginalised group but despite that, we are incredibly varied. Where there is difference among people, there is difference among sex workers because we walk amongst you in every walk of life. However, despite the commonality between us, I, and many other street workers have been at the brunt of the whorearchy, I think a lot of sex workers have at some point and I can only ask, what purpose does it serve? I just don’t understand the reason for it.
I realise I am blocked by sex workers I have never even engaged with. Of course, you can’t please everyone, and that’s fine, but I am unsure what is so different between us. One lady quite honestly told me that she thought I was ruining the community because I said I disliked sex work, that I hated street work, and would support exiting the industry. What do you want me to say? I am not going to lie to please the agenda you portray of your experience in sex work. I am told that I am simply fuelling the abolos. The reality is, sex workers don’t have to walk around with a happy face when they face serious violence because you are scared Bindel & co. will jump on it. I will continue to argue that street sex work is crap, and it’s true that we are more likely to be arrested, stigmatised and assaulted. These should be reasons to highlight for decrim, not lie about so we can all play happy families. I sometimes wonder whether we are at the bottom of the whorearchy because of how much we dislike our job too.
When I am working with other street sex workers, I don’t mention that I have also done indoor work because for some, it makes them feel like I am judging them. They assume I live a lipstick lifestyle that is full of glamour and money but it’s not their fault, I sometimes feel this way too about sex workers higher up the hierarchy than me. Of course, on reflection I know it’s perhaps due to marketing, and I never truly know the life of someone else, nor is it any of my business. These sentiments are so strong that even when working beside them, it can put them off me. I am not angry at them, I’m upset at the reasons why they feel this way in the first place. For me, sex work is the same regardless of the environment you do it – whether that’s in the back of the car or in the rich man’s bed at an outcall. The only difference is that not everyone is afforded the same opportunities such as access to a phone with internet or the ability to run a small business, nor does everyone have a place to work from.
The problem with the whorearchy is that is distracts attention from those who need support the most, and enforces the attitudes that prevent them from accessing support. Many at the bottom of the pyramid don’t engage with the sex worker community because they’re too stigmatised even amongst sex workers. As a result, they rarely get to defend themselves. We isolate further into our own small knit communities, or avoid other types of sex workers in fear of further judgement. When I worked only indoor, it was saddening to attend drop-in and see a street worker recoil when I said I was indoor. It’s not the time nor place to break down the whorearchy and deconstruct it, assuring them I’m on the same side. However, they instantly ask how much money I charge, how much I earn and spend my money on. The thing is, I’ve worked both indoor and outdoor, both have their pros and cons, yet nobody wants to recognise the benefits of outdoor such as quicker turnaround times, less emotional labour and fewer expectations.
The whorearchy is the worst thing about the sex work community. I hate it so much because it is one the very reasons it silences street sex workers and makes us feel ashamed. It is why when I write an article about drug use in sex work that people inbox me instead of openly supporting it because they fear judgement by their own community. For some people, they may have no friends or family after being rejected by them due to being a sex worker, and they rely on other sex workers for support. Sex workers isolate further and further into their own community to protect themselves from stigma and shame in general. To then have the very same people judge you or criticise how you sex work is hurtful.
You have to remember, it is historically street sex workers who have relentlessly campaigned throughout history for sex worker laws, faced the biggest brunt of the police, morality campaigns, and are usually the victims of mass killings such as Yorkshire Ripper & Stephen Wright. We were the ones forced into quarantines to prevent spreads of venereal diseases, and were outright abused by doctors as we were forced to undergo testing, then imprisoned. Even now, we are arrested for sex working on the street. Street sex workers are not dirty, worthless, junkies or whatever you think we are. We are sex workers just like you, and love the same way as you too.
I always keep my blogs free because advocacy and tackling stigma is my main goal but if you wish to support me, please consider:
I recently wrote a short thread on Twitter about how to better respond and work with sex workers. This is particularly aimed at support services such as housing, mental health, social care, medical health and other services a sex worker may need. I hope by doing this thread, it can help people understand sex workers better and encourage their engagement in service. It is well documented the stigma and shame we can face and it is instilled when we disclose something personal about ourselves, which takes courage to do, and then face discrimination and be pushed further way from the service, preventing them from accessing the help they deserve
Please, don’t panic! I know this may be the first time you may have had a client disclose they are a sex worker and that’s okay. Don’t go into overdrive and think you must solve every issue related to sex work, you don’t need to. There are many reasons why people become a sex worker and it isn’t a bad thing either. They are likely to be reluctant in telling you more due to the stigma attached more than anything else.
Yes, you may feel out of you comfort zone and that’s okay. Ring the local sex work project if you are unsure on advice or give the sex worker the resources to access the service. One common thing heard among support workers is ‘I don’t understand sex work’ and they therefore feel they don’t know what to do. It’s fine, you don’t need to understand sex work. It is exceptionally broad and vast, the industry and reasons for entry are innumerable. It would be unrealistic to apply generalisations to individuals. You just need to understand it, you only need to know it in the context of the client’s life.
2. Don’t go into rescue mode
This is one of the reasons sex workers push away from service. We feel we are unable to discuss difficult things related to the job in fear of being told we need to be fixed, or that we need saving from ourselves. We don’t need saving, we are perfectly capable of making adult decisions about our own body in the confines of our socio-economic resources and capabilities.
I know it can be challenging to perhaps listen to a sex worker describe being raped during sex work and the instant reaction is to want to take them away from working to prevent it, but this doesn’t help. We are more likely to be killed or raped at home, by our loved ones, but would you suggest moving away from our family and running away to a new undisclosed location? Let the sex worker talk about their experiences without sex work being the dominant thing in the conversation.
Remember, we can have bad experiences and still enjoy and prefer sex work. People are sexually assaulted at work but we have the right to challenge it and continue working, not flee each time it happens. Hold the abuser to account, not the sex worker. Also, telling a sex worker to just leave isn’t helpful and can have accidental serious financial implications, resulting in further detriment and desperation. They also may already be trying to leave sex work and they don’t need you telling them they’re not trying hard enough.
3. Don’t ask intrusive question
You would hope this is common sense but as a sex worker, you would not believe how many personally sexual questions I am asked. Perhaps this is the first time you’ve met an open sex worker and wish to take this opportunity to ask some burning questions that you’ve always wanted to know. Don’t do it, we are not an opportunity. We are not subjects of interest that you can extract trauma or knowledge from so you can scratch an itch of a question. These things fuel the stigma we already face and having to defend ourselves just adds to the shame.
An example: I went to open an ISA at my bank, I told the lady I was a sex worker. The entire appointment I was asked about my income, told she was be mortified if her partner slept with a prostitute in fear of getting sexual diseases, asked how much tax I pay, how often I have sex, what do I think about men, how do I feel having sex with people’s partners etc… This is all highly inappropriate.
Don’t ask questions you would not be prepared to answer yourself. Asking intrusive questions makes us not want to return, freezing us out of accessing help and support and ruins any therapeutic relationship you wish to gain. We should be getting help, not having to defend ourselves.
4. Don’t be a dickhead
I would hope this one is self-explanatory. I always tell people, when working with a sex worker, leave your stereotypes and whatever you think at the door and just listen to them and work from there. This isn’t always the case and never have I experienced such critiques from support workers from any other job. I consistently have people pass comments, tell me what they think about it, ask me how I feel about ‘being exploited’.
Worst of all, is telling a sex worker they are better than that, and they have the ability to do something better. Not only are you devaluing the transferable skills and incredible strength it takes to be a sex worker, but you’re just adding to the stigma and degrading them even further. Unless you’re willing to give me a job, pay my bills or my rent, don’t tell me what to do because I can’t afford to take your opinion.
5. Don’t make assumptions
If I present to a mental health service and disclose I’m a sex worker, don’t think i’m there because of sex work. Don’t assume we are all abused, we do it without choice or agency, we hate being a sex worker or any other stereotypes that come with it. Sex work is unfortunately, a hot topic that is poorly portrayed, and due to the stigma, it is hard for sex workers to come forward and directly challenge this. However, that doesn’t mean you have to fuel it either. It is insufferable to tell a counsellor sex work helps your mental health, only for them to say ‘gosh, it must be awful to be a sex worker and what you experience’. Gah!
Avoid stereotypes in general, we all know how harmful and unhelpful they can be. You should be approaching your client holistically, and more importantly, individually.
A common and exceptionally useless assumption is that we do drugs because of sex work, assuming it contains unspeakable trauma and that we are therefore using drugs to cope with it. This is usually the other way around. Drug using sex workers tend to be drug users first then became sex workers for financial needs. By assuming their mental health problems derives from sex work, you are ignoring the root causes and scapegoating for an easy answer.
6. Be guided by the sex worker
Being a sex worker doesn’t automatically make you ‘complex needs’ and it is unhelpful to associate sex work with being unmanageable, difficult and something that needs to be fixed. Again, it adds to the stigma that we can’t be handled well, don’t engage well or we have intricate needs. Sometimes, we just need condoms and sexual health screening and that’s it, we are fine otherwise. You would not call someone entering any STI clinic complex. Of course, there are sex workers who have multiple experiences such as domestic violence, homeless, under age 25, have been raped or are drug users and this is complex needs. However, to assume we are instantly vulnerable and complex just by being a sex worker doesn’t help.
Many sex workers are happy and won’t ever need to engage with a service because their needs are met by themselves. Unless they present with a specific issue, there is no need to guide them in a certain direction such as exiting if they don’t want to. Just because you are a sex worker, that doesn’t mean something needs to be fixed or an army of support is needed. React to the presenting needs of the sex worker. After all, we aren’t stupid and know what is best for us and what we need help with, to assume we don’t know and then push us towards exit is insulting.
7. Listen to how they feel about sex work
As mentioned earlier, it is easy to come to an appointment with a client with your own stereotypes, presumptions and prejudices, we all do. Regardless of how you think and feel or may have experienced with regards to sex work, they do not trump that of the client before you who is currently in that situation. In fact, my own support worker was a sex worker who had very different experiences to me, and we have listened to each other about our experiences and disagreed at times about different elements. Nevertheless, she always acts on how I feel or what I need rather than her own experience or what was best for her. This is good practice and shows that she is able to separate the two, which could be easily not do do considering the overlap.
No two sex workers are the same and how they feel about sex work isn’t either. We are often lumped into one big group but actually, we are also varied. Where there is variety in people, there is variety amongst sex workers because we walk amongst you. We all have different experiences. I don’t like sex work, I actively wish to leave and make no issue with this. However, many of my sex working friends are happy and enjoy the freedom it brings them, and that’s okay too. How you approach us both should be different and led by us. Just because one finds it crappy, doesn’t mean we all do.
There is nothing more disheartening than being told what is best for you by someone else and really is a huge factor that pushes away sex workers, particularly counselling.
8. Ignore the sex work identity
Don’t refer to them as the ‘sex worker client’ or remember them as that either. It is stigmatising and shows that you can not see more to us than simply being a sex worker, and that reflects more on you than what it does on us. Being a sex worker is part of being me, but it isn’t everything there is about me. I don’t need to talk about sex work each time you see me, it might not be relevant at all. I mean, of course, ask me how’s work or life but don’t need to ask me personal questions about it every time.
Sex work shouldn’t be the dominant thing in our conversations, our relationship, our work or my needs. Unless I say to you I want to leave, or it’s the most challenging thing in my life then there is no need to address it. It should be something that is simply accepted and a fact about me. As I walk through the door, don’t automatically think ‘sex worker’ think ‘it’s Grace.’ If you think all I am is just a sex worker then I don’t want to to keep you as my support much longer.
9. Remember, we are humans too
It can be difficult to deal with the stereotypes when you are a sex worker, especially a street sex worker. People think we are hostile, violent, products of abuse, nasty, dirty, disease ridden and if you’re a street worker, you’re simply a stupid junkie. However, no one is there when I’m crying over Marley & Me or beaming with pride and cuddling my niece and nephews.
We then have to access a service where we know people instantly think these things about us and more often than not, because we are sex workers, people feel we are free bait to say as they please about us, to us. When we get upset and react, we’re just deemed as difficult to work with and challenging then often written off. Yes, it may be upsetting when you are being challenged but remember the holistic approach, and you have no idea what has happened to us before we walked into that appointment.
Underneath our sometimes chaotic lives, remember we are people too. We love our family, cry at the same movies and adverts as you, get nostalgic at Christmas, love our pets and love a bit of gossip as much as anyone else. You will usually find we are defensive due to the treatment we’ve had by services and society, not because we are naturally born assholes. Once you have shown yourself to be non-judgemental and an ally, you will know we are humans too and have a cracking sense of humour! It might take months or even years, but it’s worth it.
10. Have a laugh with us!
Trust me, we are some of the funniest people you will meet. Sex can be a funny topic and we do lots of it! Sex work isn’t all doom and gloom, we are full of stories that we laugh about with other sex workers – about clients, awkward sex, things clients say, accidental faux pas and all sorts! We joke about ourselves all the time, it’s what makes the sex work community so brilliant at times.
In fact, whenever I used to meet my drug worker, we spent more time laughing about sex work at times than the drug plan we were supposed to be doing! But, I don’t regret it and it helped our relationship a lot because it allowed me to open up to her more, and know that she was on the same page as me. She didn’t feel like sex work was awful that needed serious attention all the time. As a result, we had a good relationship together and that’s essential in any service/client dynamic.
Of course, this doesn’t cover everything, nor am I the representative of all sex workers. These are just some of the experiences of myself and other sex workers I have spoken to. I hope it makes some impact coming from the other side.
I always keep blogs free because advocacy and tackling stigma is my main goal, but if you want to support me, please consider: http://patreon.com/graceyswer thank you x