Sex work is a serious issue

No: honestly. Not a punny title. Not a veiled joke. Nothing. Its a serious issue and one that far too often gets covered up in public debate either with embarrassment or – see above – the inevitable sniggering humour that so often characterises UK debate on anything to do with sex.

Unless, of course, we are talking about “sexualisation” of our “yoof”, in which case its merely bad and evil and to be condemned…mostly without any debate at all.

So, briefly, i dropped in to the Sex Workers Open University on saturday (the penultimate day of a four day event): and no, it wasn’t about “doing it”. Nor was i “dressed to fit in” – i think a reference by her indoors to the fact i was wearing a large gold belt and leatherised black jeggings, both in honour of a social i was heading on to later in the evening.

I said hi to the always interesting Laura Agustin, chatted at length with one of the organisers, unfortunately failing to meet up with one or two of the others i’d hoped to see, because they were occupying the city or camping outside St Pauls for the night (or possibly both).

And i totally failed to meet up with the seriously impressive Anna Span, aka Anna Arrowsmith, feminist porn producer, lib dem parlimentary candidate, academic and activist. This puts the icing on several weeks of failure to meet with Anna in respect of a seriously interesting project she is working on because first i was in hospital and confined to bed…then she was ditto…and we keep turning up at meetings either just before or just after one another.

It is possible that there is nothing else for it: we shall have to pick up the phone and slot a time, date and place in our respective diaries, like everyone else. How passé!

But back to the seriousness and the conversation. I know just how sensational continued advocacy in this area sounds. But its absolutely needed.

Next to no-one in the various campaign groups is promoting sex work as career choice – though many would probably reject the easy cliché that its a cushy number for an elite few and next to no choice at all for everyone else. Sex work is frequently born out of poverty and limited economic choices.

It provides agency and control in many instances for individuals who would otherwise have neither. Yet in many jurisdictions, government response is purely punitive (even when it is claimed not to be): the state neither helps those who want out of sex work to escape; nor protects those who choose to do it from abuse and violence.

Debate is characterised by paternalistic interventions from the religious, as one would expect: but equally, there seems to be a strong streak of paternalism in the way some feminist analyses deal with the issue. Silencing, appropriating , prescriptive. Very little willingness to deal with those involved as individuals capable of self-awareness: far too quick to condemn them as, pretty much, selling out the feminist cause.

So that, in a nutshell is why it needs continued focus. The debate over sex work needs to be, deserves to be, lifted out of the gutter, where far too many politicians and journalists would consign it.

Elevating debate says nothing about views on the matter in question: everything about respect for those grappling with the issues, which is really the least they deserve.

Sex work IS a serious matter.



10 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    No, quite simply no. Please leave this subject alone. It is a profession someone like you can never really understand and after seeing and hearing the dis/misinformation you readily hand out regarding the available treatment for transsexualism, a subject you at least have some experience of. As a sex worker myself I would prefer you left this well alone. Discussing and debating my industry is so far from your sphere of experience you can never understand the motivations, nuances and the way it actually feels to work as I and my friends do. Thus I cannot see how you can help us. The opening banter of this post,’and no, it wasn’t about “doing it’ and ‘dressed to fit in’ clearly show up your intense ignorance and lack of empathy.
    In my admittedly limited contact with you, you have strenuously avoided discussing any subject you seemingly disagree with and are only willing to take on board the views and opinions of people who fit in with your own views. Next week I am meeting up with a researcher from Loughborough University who, after chatting on the phone, comes over as someone genuinely trying to help with her open minded approach. By your own admission you have no experience in most of the fields of sexuality in which you put yourself forward as an advocate. For example BDSM and extreme pornography. What experience do you have. Sex work and the BDSM scene are things, along with the mainly ghastly trans gender scene are things which I have a great deal of experience in. The issues are just too complex for an outsider to understand and differentiate between information and disinformation and the propaganda you readily support.
    I have to admit I haven’t been following your blog lately. After asking my circle of friends, some of whom are women with transsexual histories, the general consensus is that you fetishise the transitional female body and have little or no empathy with the experience of most born or transsexual women. All of the friends I asked to read your blog found the comments regarding your own Pollyanna attitude and the comparison with the ‘po faced’ attitude of the majority of us deeply offensive as it denies the very difficult and unhappy lives many of us live before transition. Personally I have experienced rape, sexual assault, domestic violence and heroin addiction. And you have the gall to call my peers and myself ‘po faced’. Maybe what you meant was that we should have been privileged enough to be educated at Oxford and gone on to build a career while appearing to be a cisgendered man. This simply wasn’t an option for many of us who suffer from clearly far more severe gender issues than yourself.
    As for your partner’s quite frankly phobic comments to my partner including her stooping to ridiculing my partners appearance (something we would no lower ourselves to) as well as repugnant comments regarding GRS, this alone brings your smug credentials as an advocate into serious question when you live with a transphobic person!
    You have already aligned yourself with the far left (ECP) who for their own deluded reasons are trying to assimilate sex workers. This alone is ridiculous and unacceptable with regard to the way we work. I have no idea why you insist on indulging in meddling in areas you do not and can never understand. Perhaps we give you material to chatter about at dinner parties or you think associating yourself with us gives you kudos of some kind, many of us, the silent majority living our lives in stealth do not need the help of the chattering classes. I felt forced to come out of stealth to speak at Birmingham Slutwalk after reading that you had spoken for us in London. I was not happy to do this but felt that someone with real life experience NEEDED to speak. I felt angry that someone with almost no experience felt qualified to speak effectively for me and others like me. Unlike you I made a point of remaining anonymous as Slutwalk isn’t about me and getting a mention in the Independent, it’s about real women’s experience. I made the point that I did not speak as a trans woman but as a woman and a sex worker, these are the groups I identify with and have experience of living as.
    I will await and ignore the inevitable slew of sycophantic late transitioners and professional gender variant people pushing their own careers/agendas. As you can tell I am not happy about your interference. I have put up and shut up about the larger part of your unpleasant output but when you start meddling in my livelihood, that is one step too far, I did not want to write such a long comment but I don’t mess about interfering with whatever it is that you do for a living and I don’t want you doing the same with regard to how I earn mine.

    • 2

      janefae said,

      Sorry, Sophie, that you feel this way – and i guess you won’t be surprised if i say that i don’t exactly agree with large chunks of what you write.

      That’s a shame because, looking back over what you have written to me over the months, we seemed mostly to be singing from the same hymn sheet right up until what felt to me like a misunderstanding shortly before my grs. I would like to meet up some time, because if we are going to disagree so wholeheartedly, so be it: but at least let us disagree from a point ofr understanding.

      I’m not going to point by point thru your post. A fair bit of what you say is reasonable, in the sense that you are seeing the same things about me as i might say myself: but you are then casting them into a different light. Which of us is “right”? Who the hell knows. Yes, i’m “pollyanna”-ish: for some that’s one of my best features, for others, that’s an absolute pain. Do i believe in stealth? At tjis moment in time, no: loads of reasons why i think its wrong for me, but equally i can feel the emotional pull towards. Its complicated.

      Do i have direct experience of sex work? No. At least not as I suspect you would define it. Though – courtesy of SWOU – it might not be quite as narrow a thing as you would see it as…but then: what experience do you have of the law, of courts, of arguing a case to experts? Maybe a lot: maybe not. And there’s a difference. Because a great many of my interventions are in the legal sphere, where i reckon the current system is shit and where i do have expertise.

      You reckon i don’t take on board conflicting views. There’s a value call if ever i heard one. I suspect i listen a lot more widely than the average journalist: but i am also someone with views of her own; and in what i write, you’ll see me putting those views. But – and if you read what’s written more widely – i am pretty careful to distinguish between what i write as me and what i report. There’s a whole can of worms there about journalists reporting other people’s experience, and i share concerns you may have on that topic.

      Do i fetishise the transitional female body? Oh, heavens: i’d say not; but again you see it differently. I am fascinated by CHANGE…and have written at length about the experience of change…whilst very conscious now that much of that is behind me. I also LIKE myself and my body now in a way that was never the case before. So i’m sure that comes thru.

      Otherwise, there are a few things in your post that are simply wrong – again, stuff i’d be happy to talk about face to face.

      As for my partner: there are aspects to her attitude thaty i would agree with as being outwardly transphobic…she wouldn’t win any popularity contest at a trans event …but i am not responsible for her attitudes, with which i do often disagree…and i think maybe safets if i leave her to make her own case.

      And that’s about it.

      All the best,


    • 3

      eclectic chicken said,

      I’d love to go through your post point by point but on the whole
      ‘someone like you’ just amuses me and theres no point putting the effort in and I’ve got better things to do.

      I can’t even remember insulting your partner…. but maybe we’ll call it quits as you’ve done nothing but insult mine in your post.

      NB please note the emphasis on ‘someone like you’. They are the same words you used about Jane…. just as she can’t ever REALLY understand your particular experience… you can’t REALLY understand hers. So just quit the victim one upmanship its so so passé.

      ps. maybe you could look into having that fucking enormous chip removed from your shoulder it must make walking in hooker heels a real challenge.

  2. 4

    Shirley Anne said,

    If you were to ask me about the subject I would have to declare that I have a limited knowledge. However I will still speak my mind if I am allowed. I think the whole sex industry is a disgusting affair because I say that from a Christian point of view. Sex is for reproduction not for anything else. That’s it. No more to be said. If you disagree, you disagree.

    Shirley Anne xxx

  3. 5

    At EC, clearly you are not lucid or rational enough to hold any sort of discourse with. Rant on dear.

    @Shirley Anne, Of course you have every right to ‘speak your mind’ even if those opinions as you say come from a position of ‘limited knowledge’. I have to say that you simply reinforced me contempt for the twisted, vicious and cruel morality pushed by religious delusion, in particular the alien desert cults. So you have stated that you hold the view that women like myself, lesbians, gay men and bisexual people are disgusting and wrong if they choose to opt to fulfil their sexual needs. Congratulations, you are transphobic and homophobic in the style of the American far right. Oh and if you are still in any doubt I am an atheist. I require empirical proof and do not accept airy fairy written and rewritten rubbish like the bible or qur’ an. In short I genuinely believe that ridding ourselves of the bigotry of religious belief will be the next major step forward for humanity.
    As for your obvious contempt for the sex industry in general, independent escorts such as myself see our job as just that, a job. You know, you use your mind and body to carry out work for which you are paid. Do you moralise in the same way about people who work hard for inadequate wages or the myriad of other professions which might be seen by some to be morally questionable?

  4. 6

    bubbles said,

    I’m a sex worker. I have to say how disappointed I am that More narrow-minded people with ‘limited’ (ie: none) experience of the sex industry are involved in SWOU. I realise that like the early feminists and the gay movement even now, that we need people of ‘limited’ understanding to support us and assist us in achieving our aims.

    However. Unlike the feminists and the gay community, so few of us are actively being listened to or included. I don’t really understand how my needs are going to be met if no one is asking me what I need?

  5. 7

    @ Bubbles, SWOU is just another Londoncentric money making scam. Perhaps of some interest to fluffies and others with nefarious interest in sex workers but all the real practical help is either available much more cheaply and locally. This brings me to the real problem. There are just cartloads of none sex workers trying to make some sort of career out of ‘helping us’. Quite quickly the become ‘establishment’. No one listens to them either as they start trying to represent everyone, of course without asking us either. This is paralleled roughly in the so called TG organisations where if they thing they can assimilate you for their own benefit, rewrite your history and deny your identity. Douglas Fox’s article ‘The Uncomfortable Truth’ In the Harlot’s Parlour hits the nail on the head. I hear where you are coming from though, the issues I would like sorted out are the rubbish travelling illegal immigrant escorts who are deliberately ruining the reputation and business of legitimate escorts and the simple fact that we need to be able to work together for SAFETY. Oh and while they are at it, an easily accessed list of dangerous men and persistent time wasters. Notice how none of the organisations purporting to represent us have managed either of these simple tasks.

  6. 9

    Jessica said,

    hey jane ! thanks for coming to SWOU. About SWOU being a money making london based scam …. damn i wish 🙂 All our events were on donations apart from the erotic skill share, so if we are a money making scam, we really need some entrepreneurial skills cos we really suck at it.
    Bubbles, you seem to have inside knowledge about our collective. So either we know you personally and you have a grudge against one of us or all of us, either you just disinformed. 90% of SWOU collective are current or former sex workers. Simple as that. No managers or brothel keepers though, which is maybe why we are getting some acidic comments …

    Sophie, i love that you say that WE need to work together for safety but at the same time thinks the problem is ” the rubbish travelling illegal immigrant escorts who are deliberately ruining the reputation and business of legitimate escorts “. I guess they dont deserve safety in your opinion. You are obviously entitled to that opinion, but it is def. not mine, nor SWOUs as we are against deportation of migrant sex workers, documented or not.

  7. 10

    @ Jane, my take on the ‘ugly mug’ scheme is quite simple really. It is long overdue. As you may or may not know various escort forums run ‘warnings and waster’ lists. Unfortunately most of them require the blanking out of at least two digits of the ***** (please choose your own expletive) phone number. These lists are also difficult/impossible to search. There are some extremely dangerous characters at large who need highlighting as well as some persistent time wasters. Liverpool I believe have been operating such a scheme for some time but these people are cunning and move around the country. A national scheme is essential for it to be effective. Not rocket science but would need the help of the police.
    Will get an email reply back to you the minute I have a little time to sit down and order my thoughts.

    @ Comrade Jessica, There were at least three pay ‘courses’. This coupled with your film festival and left wing sponsorship all add up to not quite the empowering worker’s paradise the SWOU is made out to be. Most so called sex worker support organisations have not only been utterly ineffective in moving along the general rights of us the people who actually do the job but can’t even understand that there are a lot, a very lot of escorts living and working outside the metropolis. Do you really think that joining the GMB is going to help. You talk about empowerment, I find this patronising. I am empowered thank you. I am proud of what I have achieved as a sex worker thank you. I don’t live in the shadows.
    As for the issue of illegal migrant sex workers, we will have to disagree on that. We are receiving a constant stream of clients who have been ripped off or conned by travelling escorts who come to our area, check the ‘going rate’ and deliberately undercut us. This might not be a significant issue to you but consider that most first timers are very nervous, they fall into the hands of of your migrant friends, they have the usual horrible time and choose never to see a hooker again. It happens, a lot, don’t deny it. Or shall we all dance around the rose tinted may pole and ignore the fact that multicultural means empowering minorities to abuse other minorities and we should all embrace floods of bad escorts travelling around pissing off the people who have spent years developing our business. Power to the sex worker’s popular front, yawn. Oh and before you start with the racism thing I have no problem completing on a level playing field and believe that if you want to work here you go through the proper channels, end of.

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