– Ani Di Franco (Face Up and Sing)
I have been thinking a lot about the woman who I want to honour by name, but who’s privacy has already been destroyed in the most horrifying manner. And even after writing that sentence, after all this thinking, I get stuck with just tears. For so many reasons, on so many levels.
Anyway. You know her name.
My eldest son is home sick today. In the car, dropping his little brother off to childcare, he asked me what I would change about the world if I could change just one thing.
It is such a good question, and it had me stumped for a minute. The idea of having that power is so far from my reality that I realised I had never even thought about it in those terms. But after a minute of thinking, I told him I’d replace all the world leaders, and all those with power, with people who were compassionate and kind.
There is a myth that kindness would lead to economic ruin.
It’s not true. Greed is on its way to destroying the planet. That’s economic ruin for you, if ever we saw it.
Plus, intelligence does not preclude kindness. It’s not either/or. I like to think that I – and everyone I care about – have both in generous doses.
But this isn’t about politics. This post, I mean. We can fantasise about a better world, but today we’re stuck in this one. And a young woman is dead, and she shouldn’t be. And on the weekend I wore my ‘Someone I love is a sex worker’ t-shirt under my jacket to a family event, because though all my family know about my job, my husband’s family don’t (his choice), and I felt heart-broken and helpless and a little bit angry, too.
I know I should write something polished and professional, but I don’t even really know what I want to say. Perhaps, in a way, this is a salutation to my colleagues. I float about on social media without the time to put a lot in to it (It’s nice that you listen, It’d be nice if you joined in, Ellie…), but I am so grateful and so in awe of this community. And I am so angry that most people don’t see it and don’t honour it and make hasty judgements about it and those of us in it. Because I read what so many of these workers have to say and I fangirl in much the same way as I do for Annabel Crabb and Leigh Sales and Clementine Ford. It’s a different space, but smart, kind and funny workers are everywhere. I want to shout about them from the rooftops, but I don’t. And that’s for me to sit with and think about, for a while. Because I am in a very privileged position. My family and close friends know about my work, and I’m not going to lose anyone precious over it. But I’m still not very open about it, because I don’t know what the future holds. Maybe I’ll want to work in government. Maybe I don’t want to limit my options.
But I also just don’t get it.
I just can’t quite wrap my head around a world in which hook-ups are so normal and everyday, but sex work is demonised. I am really curious about what is underneath that, for the ordinary person (like my in-laws) and for the people consciously doing the stigmatising both.
Like the…let’s call it conversation, shall we? …about PP. And sometimes I think, there are trolls everywhere. But if you were disappointed with your vacuum cleaner, no-one is going to congregate on a review site egging each other on to vile heights about killing the sales person. Sure, you might say it was crap and give it one star. But the hatred just isn’t the same.
What is that?
And yes – not all men. Blah blah blah. But there’s enough of them. The site exists.
Of course, none of us want to end up spending money on a product that isn’t what it purported to be. But where do you draw that line? Models are photo-shopped to hell. If you buy the clothes and you don’t look as fabulous as the advertising material suggested you would (is promised too strong a word?), is that something to bray for blood over? Or should people be more conscious of what it is they’re buying? Of course advertising shows us the best of the product. Why is sex work any different? Sex workers are not robots. And I know for me, I’m not selling perfection. I’m selling a sexual experience, and from my photos, you can get an idea of whether you’re physically attracted to me or not. But I’m not promising that my body will be exactly the same from visit to visit. Frankly, I like that my body changes. Right now, my boobs are a bit bigger than usual. Who knows why *shrugs*. But I’m going to enjoy them while they last (experience has taught me that I’ll even out to the same basic shape over time, every time). That’s kind of fun, right?
But I’m wandering. Back to stigma.
I really struggle with this. I get it but I don’t get it. I work in a field that is essentially about social justice, so my outlook on the world and my values already make it hard for me to understand discrimination on any front. People are people are people, and anyone who tries to rise higher by pushing others down, usually is not a very happy or well-adjusted person, in my experience. Often there’s a reason, and I can find compassion for them too. But sex is nice. It’s fun, it’s sometimes funny, touch and intimacy make us happy, we’re wired to connect to other people. I don’t feel any shame about my work and I don’t really understand why so many people react so strongly to it (in that same, get it but don’t get it way).
Having said that, I am very privileged in that I have other forms of income and a supportive network. I choose this work freely so can assert firm boundaries and protect myself from the parts of the work that perhaps are the parts that society sees most commonly in popular culture, and from clients who are seeking less of a shared, connected experience. But I can’t just exist in my happy little bubble where I enjoy my clients and I enjoy my work, when other people exist outside that bubble. Mert Ney targeted his victim for a reason. That’s stigma in action. And it makes me furious and so, so sad.
That stigma exists is depressing at best (I want the world to be full of compassionate, self-aware people) and deadly at worst. My heart breaks for that young woman. It breaks for her family and her friends. And it breaks even more that they now also have to deal with the shock of her work, because it’s still taboo and still stigmatised and still discriminated against. And that’s where I’m left sitting this week, which I know I wrote about in an earlier blog post, and clearly haven’t progressed with. About contributing being: being willing to engage with people and help them understand sex work, to normalise it – to take on that emotional labour, even when it comes with personal costs. Because I AM just a normal woman who happens to like sex and getting to know new lovers, and because part of social work too is believing that people are capable of change and growth. Not everyone wants to change and grow, I know. But I can do something, right?
Be kind to sex workers.
Love, Ellie xo