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Today, once again, as happens on average once per month, I was asked by a friend something resembling the following: "Hey! A good friend of mine wants to write a play/book/movie script, and they want to include a sex worker as a character, but they don't know any sex workers, so I was wondering if you could talk to them? They can't pay you, cause they're an artist/grad student/activist, though."
A few years back, when I first started doing sex work, I was flattered that people wanted to hear what I had to say, even though at the time I had very little experience. (I even did an interview with a popular online US magazine, and not only did the reporter never follow-up, I don't think they even ever wrote an article. I suspect it was because I didn't find sex work "exploitative", a question she asked repeatedly. If one was written, I never found it, and was certainly never told about it.) I was just happy to give my opinion.
I've learned a lot since then. I've learned that most "art" made about sex work, without sex workers, is, in my opinion, stereotypical, exploitative, ridiculous bullshit (at least what I've seen in the past - I tend to avoid mainstream depictions now). Even if the "artist" has consulted with "sex workers", one or two people are not representative of an entire industry that spans the globe. And I've noticed that folks outside of sex work almost always want to show the so-called "other" side of sex work - which is the side the sex work abolitionists stand on, where trafficking and sex work are conflated, which is seriously harmful to sex workers and actually has nothing to do with keeping us safe. I've also noticed a serious trend in the past two years of EVERYONE wanting to talk/write about sex work. The thing is, at least with escorting, which is the type of sex work I do, I feel like you can't really understand the nuanced layers unless you do it, or are deeply involved in a sex work community (and even then, I'm highly doubtful). And even after I started doing sex work, I still retained all sorts of negative stereotypes of other sex workers. It wasn't until I met a community of awesome pros that I discovered we're not all sad, damaged drug addicts who hate doing this work (of course, I've also since learned there is nothing wrong with being sad, damaged, or an addict and I know some incredibly rad people who would identify as such).
And it always seems so suspect to me, folks wanting to write about something they know nothing or little about, and I have some rhetorical questions for you, folks who want to use my (and others') experiences for their own gain without offering anything in return:
1. Why do you, who has no experience in sex work, who doesn't even know ONE sex worker, want to use this as your subject?
2. What stereotypes of sex work are you harbouring (we all have them, don't even)? How will these affect your representations?
3. What, if anything, have you ever done to help sex workers? Be it in an individual capacity (like letting a friend use your apartment for an incall), or in a broader sense like handing out leaflets at a sex worker rights rally. What have YOU done to make my (and my SW cousins) work less stigmatized, safer, and better understood?
4. Why should a sex worker help you?
5. What does sex work mean to you?
6. Have you done your research? Have you checked out sex worker blogs? Videos? Zines? Sex worker voices abound on the internet, you just have to look for them. (I will post some links below)
7. How will you be profiting off of this? Do you feel that profiting off of someone's experience, without compensating them, is exploitative?
8. Will you be accountable to the voices you used in your research? What will this accountability look like?
9. Why aren't you propping up the voices of sex workers, instead of becoming yet another person speaking for us, without us?
10. How does your privilege (racial, class, educational, gender, sexuality, ability, etc.) influence your opinion of sex work, and which "types" of sex workers you reach out to?
11. Have you reached out to a diverse group of sex workers? (Of colour, poor, Indigenous, street-working, indoor-working, fat, trans, survival, etc.). If not, why not?
I'd suggest that ANYONE who wants to solicit unpaid help from sex workers (or any stigmatized or oppressed group) should ask themselves these or similar questions first.
If you're a researcher/artist/writer, etc., who would like to speak with me about my experiences or thoughts on sex work, and who is NOT a sex worker, you can hire me as a consultant. My rates are very reasonable. Email me.
If you would like to educate yourself about sex work, sex worker issues, sex worker rights movements (and I highly suggest you do, because this is a very historic moment for sex work, and this stuff matters to A LOT OF US), please start with some of the links below (or see the sidebar of this blog). If you don't care to educate yourself about the group whose experiences you want to use for your benefit, perhaps this isn't the subject matter for you.
• Maggies - (If you're planning to approach them in search of sex workers, you might want to read this note to researchers first!)
• Born Whore
• Tits and Sass!
• Nikki Thomas
• Olive Seraphim
• Native Youth Sexual Health Network
• Scarlet Alliance
• Sex Worker Fest
• Every Ho I know Says So (video)
That should get you started. I'd also suggest seeking out the voices of workers of colour in particular. Race, class, ability, body size, etc., all affect our individual experiences of sex work. There is no one voice. Sex workers are varied and diverse, and so are our stories. OUR STORIES. You aren't automatically entitled to hear and/or manipulate them, and/or make them your own. Thanks for reading.