I have the right to be not OK.
I have seen some shit. I might want to tell you about these things, I might not. I might just want to crumble and be held for a few hours, or I might want to be distracted. You can ask me what I want. We all have emotional limitations, and if you are not in a place where you can provide me with the support I need, this is completely understandable. But I don’t know this unless you tell me. You don’t need to say why; a simple “I am not equipped to support you on this” would suffice.
If you can support me and I’m not OK, don’t assume this is because my work is inherently harmful and I thus have to leave. For the most part, I quite like my job, but I don’t love the ways I am treated because I am a sex worker. In fact, some of my most painful memories related to sex work did not occur at work, but in instances where I’ve asked for support, and friends and allies let me down. All I need from you in these moments is your respect, patience, and time, which to me feel like pretty basic elements of friendship.
I have the right to agency over my stories.
I am not a funny anecdote you get to tell your friends. I am not your sob story. I am not your intersectional brownie points. I am not your novelty. When I tell you stories about work, unless I explicitly say otherwise, I am only telling you. You don’t get to claim these as your own, nor do you get to fold them into other cultural narratives without my consent. My individual, idiosyncratic stories cannot be dropped into generalisations about what sex work is and is like. This is a disservice to the diversity of experiences of sex work, as well as my own goodwill as a friend. It’s also just a shitty thing to do hey.
I have the right to be believed.
This right is not conditional on my capacity to construct an argument. I am very good at that, but I have the privilege of a tertiary education and access to cultural capital; not all sex workers do. Nor is this right conditional on my provision of supporting material or ‘receipts’. When I tell you that I have experienced discrimination or poor treatment, I should not have to provide extensive ‘evidence’ of this, because even when I do, it’s not taken seriously. As Sara Ahmed argues:
“Indeed racism and sexism [and, I’m suggesting here, whorephobia] work by disregarding evidence or by rendering evidence unreliable or suspicious – often by rendering those who have direct experience… unreliable and suspicious… Simply put: that evidence of something is deemed insufficient is a mechanism for reproducing something.”
When you overtly or covertly request evidence that whorephobia exists beyond my own mind, it suggests to me that my stories – which are often hard for me to share – are not enough. That there’s still a part of you that believes I don’t know my own reality, or that is simply repelled by the idea that I sell sexual labour. Your moral discomfort is your problem, but your distrust of me in response to my vulnerability is profoundly hurtful to me. Suspend your disbelief, use your imagination, and hold yourself to account.
I have the right to solidarity.
Politically, I don’t ask for much from allies. Often, sex workers have already done the hard work – the research, writing, and activism – and all I want from you is for you to use your platform to share it. Notwithstanding my point above about being believed, if you are unsure and want more information before meeting this demand, read materials available on the websites of peer-run sex worker organisations, read the writing of sex workers, read scholarship (preferably with a very critical eye); whatever floats your boat. I have shared work such as this several times – on this blog, on social media, in my published work – as have many other sex workers. Do your own homework.
Another demand that I have made of allies if for them to stand up for me in the face of whorephobia. This is such a hard thing for me to do, primarily because I don’t understand why I should have to. If you have been privy to my explanations of the ways in which whorephobia plays out in public debate, laws, my everyday life – and many of my friends have – why do I consistently have to make a direct appeal for your defence when it is reinscribed? Where are you when I need you? Again, you might find this discussion intimidating or uncomfortable; I have to live with the stigma your silence imposes on me.
I have the right to your honesty.
If you cannot be trusted with my stories, if you cannot there for me, if you will not believe me, and if you will not stand up for me – fine. But don’t lead me on. I tell you sensitive information under the presumption that you will treat it with respect and care. If this is not the case, do not accept it. I need to be able to talk (and joke) about this with friends to survive, but I struggle to survive the betrayal of feeling like a novelty when I extend my trust. Spare me this pain, please.
You have a responsibility to be forthcoming about your politics. If you have conveyed to me that you are on side with sex workers’ political demands, then I will likely speak without suspicion that I might be talking to someone who – when you scratch beneath the surface – doesn’t see me as a worker, a feminist, or a three-dimensional human being. If this suspicion rings true, you are not entitled to this information. If you’re still on the fence, I must admit that I’m running out of patience, but that is still no reason not to be honest with me about where you stand.
I am truly grateful for the support I have received, and there are many friends to whom I owe an incredible debt (they know who they are). But I cannot cope with any more disappointment. Please meet me halfway.