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A few weeks ago both Dr Brooke Magnanti and Mia Freedman appeared on an all women panel on Q and A. Quite a few topics were discussed, one being sex work. After her Q and A appearence Mia Freedman blogged about it here, in a post that angered and upset many sex workers, myself included. Rather than engage with sex workers who used social media to express our problems with her post she published another piece and it is this that I am responding to here. I am not even going to enter in to the debate on whether someone would or should support their child if they want to be a sex worker, primarly because it is an old, overused tactic used to back sex workers or people who support our rights into a corner. Either you say you would support them and you risk having your parenting undermined and attacked or you say you wouldn’t want them to become a sex worker and you are accused of admitting that it is harmful to women. What I do want to do is respond to part of Mia Freedman’s post. Dr Brooke Magnanti wrote a great response to it here and I agree, I don’t want an apology from Mia Freedman because she is obviously not sorry but what I do want is for her to listen to what sex workers have to say.

Let me lay out my position very clearly.

If you are an adult woman who is not suffering from a mental illness, addiction or sexual, physical or emotional abuse, who has not been trafficked or exploited or co-erced into sexual slavery and who is CHOOSING of her own free will to sell sex?

I respect that. I’m cool with that. I recently listened to a fascinating podcast with a sex worker whose clients have disabilities. We’ll be publishing a story about her soon. I’m certainly not interested in demonising sex workers – I’d never do that.

I can only speak for myself here and so I am only going to write about sex work as someone who has a mental illness and has been abused, there are more than enough sex workers who have worked under the other conditions who can and do speak about their experiences.

As a sex worker who has both mental illness(es) and a history of abuse Mia Freedman’s post perpetuates stereotypes and stigmas that harm me. Should my mental illness prevent me from having any agency? Didn’t we do away with locking the mentally ill up and throwing away the key (although this still does happen) because we (as a society) started to recognise the mentally ill as humans with rights? Or do we only have some rights? Like the right to work in a low paying, menial job or the right to exist (not live because let’s face it, it isn’t a living wage) on the disability support pension and that is if you even qualify for it, if you don’t you can always try and get by on unemployment “benefits” while you are made to apply for jobs you will never get. Surely I still have the right to have sex don’t I? I can’t see Mia Freedman advocating for enforced chastity belts for the mentally ill. So, if I have the right to work and the right to have sex, what is wrong with me having sex as my work? Is it that as someone who has a mental illness and a history of abuse I could (and often am) at a higher risk of exploitation, degradation or further abuse? Because let me tell you something about all that.

I think it is safe to assume that Mia has never had to live off centrelink benefits, perhaps she doesn’t realise how degrading doing so is. If your mental illness limits your working capacity and you aren’t in the (rare) position of being in employment that is flexible around your illness then you are tasked with trying to get by on one form or another of centrelink payments. The disability support pension is a maximum of $733.70 a fortnight if you are over 21 and $522.90 if you are under 21. This isn’t much; it certainly isn’t enough to live comfortably on. It isn’t enough to pay a mortgage on, and if you tried to rent a home (as opposed to share accommodation) on it you would be in for constant struggle and that is if you can compete in a competitive rental market (there isn’t nearly enough subsided housing for people on low incomes, especially in regional areas). The disability support pension basically says to people “We don’t want you to starve to death because that would make us feel bad but we don’t think you are deserving of nice things that we take for granted like holidays and other luxuries.” Should someone’s inability to work or inability to find employment that is flexible enough for them to take on resign them to a life of relative poverty (or being close to it)? Living like this is degrading and dehumanising but people like Mia Freedman seem to think it is a better option for mentally ill sex workers than the option we have chosen for ourselves.

And what of the many mentally ill people who cannot find or hold down employment but do not qualify for the dsp? Then you are tasked with living off $497.00 a fortnight, or $537.80 if you have children over 8, or $407.50 if you are under 21. There are more payments, like if you are studying or have children under 8 etc but by now you should be getting my point which is no matter what form of payment you are on it is not much and is certainly not enough to live above the poverty line on, let alone live comfortably on. Not only this but the entire process of getting centrelink payments or trying to get emergency relief or even food vouchers is often made so complicated that the most mentally healthy of us could be driven to despair at the amount of forms to fill out and hoops to jump through, so think about what it is like if you have a mental illness that makes task like that even more daunting. I honestly would rather blow someone for cash than go through the crap you have to in order to prove you are poor enough to need food vouchers. Not everyone feels this way, nor should they but there is nothing wrong with feeling like this, it is called choice. Most of us do not have absolute choice and those who have more choices or more appealing ones often make the mistake of thinking that their choices are the only real ones and that any choices made in less pleasant circumstances don’t count. If you start discounting people’s choices to do things that you wouldn‘t do based on their socio-economic and health status then why recognise any of their choices? People are not all the same, if my choice to do sex work is not a “real” choice, then what choices of mine are real? Basically what Mia Freedman and others who hold the same view are saying is that the only real choices made by those in marginalised positions are those that fit with their own belief system and their own comfort levels. We make all our choices within the context of our lives, What choices of mine are real considering they were all made by me in the same circumstances in which I chose sex work? Is it because “No one would really choose to do sex work?” because we have already established that yes some people do choose to do sex work and Mia can even accept and respect that choice given the sex worker has lived a charmed life and never experienced mental illness, drug addiction, abuse, living in a country where they don’t speak the main language spoken and so on and so forth. Either accept my and others’ choice to do sex work in circumstances that are not charmed or come out and say that you don’t think marginalised people’s choices count at all because you can’t have it both ways and pick and choice which choices are real.

Likewise for with mental illness does my history of abuse render me incapable of consenting to sex? No. Yeah, I have issues because of it but who is better placed to understand and navigate these issues, me with the support of an understanding network or some stranger who has decided that abuse survivors are permanently victims? Does it render me incapable of working? No. My ptsd does make holding down a straight job more difficult but rather than assume abuse survivors in the sex industry are being victimised or preyed on by the industry why not criticize the many industries that exclude people who need flexibility in order to manage ptsd?

Does having been abused in the past (or even being in an abusive relationship) mean a sex worker will therefore be abused at work? No. Believe it or not but abuse survivors aren’t magic creatures who turn otherwise regular men into violent abusers and assuming otherwise is victim blaming. Abuse doesn’t happen because the abused has unclear boundaries or doesn’t stand up for themselves enough or whatever, it happens because some people are abusive. Does having been abused mean that someone might be triggered by a client who is abusive or might not be able to recognise abuse? Maybe (although this is far from certain) but again, who is better to judge this and deal with it, the abuse survivor and their support network or a stranger?

In an ideal world work would be a fulfilling occupation that was undertaken out of desire not necessity but most of us do not live in this world and for the majority of people any employment they take will be in order to get by and in many cases can cause harm. I know call centre workers who have been driven to depression and became suicidal, I know bouncers who encounter regular verbal and sometimes physical abuse, I know women in hospitality who are routinely harassed by both coworkers and customers. Most, if not all, of these people would not be in this employment if they had more options but work often is a limited choice and is primarily about getting by (it just seems to be when sex is involved that people get up in arms about this) and while this isn’t the most pleasant of realities further limiting people’s choices or refusing to acknowledge the ones they have made only marginalises people even more.

By only respecting the choices made by the most priveleged of us Mia Freedman has thrown many a sex worker under the bus by perpetuating the belief that many women are little more than children who need to be protected from our own choices. It wasn’t so long ago that those in power thought this of all women and it makes me sad to see women who have achieved social influence and power reinforce dangerous beliefs like this rather than challange them.

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I’m Broke and I Hate it.

Lately work has been quiet and I mean really quiet. It isn’t uncommon for workers here to do a shift and go home without having had one job and with zero dollars in hand. I work in a brothel, shifts are 8hrs long but you only get paid when you have a job (60% of the booking fee). When it is busy this works out well and you can make far more in a shift than you would working in another industry where you were paid an hourly rate. But when things are dead like they are now you can spend 8hrs of your day sitting around, unable to do anything that you could be doing if you weren’t at work, only to go home with less than minimum wage (if you divide your earnings by the hours you were at work). Yesterday I made a grand total of $65. As frustrating as it was to make so little, I at least made something, when I went home 2 of the 4 of us that were on still had not had any jobs.

I really need to start travelling for work, the industry is just too dead here, largely down to people just not having much of a disposable income. Currently travelling for work isn’t something I can do easily as I have sole care of my child, which means lately things have been really tight with money. I’ve had to borrow money, I’ve had to decide which bills I can pay and which I can put off, even if it means having no phone or internet (so far my internet has been slowed but not cut off, yet). The country may have avoided being in recession but it makes little difference to those of us who are feeling the financial crunch and struggling.

I hate not having money, I hate it in a way that is hard to understand if you have never experienced not having a home to go to or not having food to eat. It scares me, it makes me feel sick in my stomach when I check my bank account and see nothing but at dollar or two (if that). Because of this I come across as more materialistic and money focussed than many an anarchist but while society is too fractured to offer real community support to those of us in need I will do whatever I can (within reason) to avoid being in need. For this same reason I can never understand why anyone would want to be poor. Some people who have made the choice to turn their backs on large incomes seem to wear their more humble finances as a badge of pride. I feel no pride in not being able to provide the things I wish I could for my child, only anger at the inequality of society and shame (which is me internalising that anger). I also know I have no one to rely on but myself. I have had amazing friends help out but they are rarely in any better financial position than I am. Likewise with my family.

We really do need more grassroots initiatives like food not bombs. Running a kitchen may not be as exciting at shouting through a loudspeaker at a rally but supporting the community is one of the most radical things you can do. We need to build grassroots, non hierarchical connections that will not only challenge the capitalist model but give support and strength to those of us who are hurting under capitalism.

Trying to access state based support or even support from most charities is an exercise in humiliation. Recently, due to a combination of having been sick and not earning much on the days I had been able to work, I attempted to access some sort of financial or charitable support, only to find out I couldn’t jump through all the hoops that stood between me and any form of help. To add to my financial woes I’d filled a form to get rent assistance out wrong and had had that payment cut, it wasn’t much money but it was the difference between having the money to scrape by till I was back at work or not. Unfortunately because I had no money through my own fault (or mistake, as I didn’t intend to fill the form out wrong) I was not eligible for any financial assistance or a referral to a charity that could give me a food voucher. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t my daughter’s fault but that she too would pay the price for my mistake, all that mattered was that I was responsible for my own financial woes and so not deserving of anything but contempt. Fortunately for me I was able to borrow enough money to last me until this week but it shouldn’t be like this. When people are struggling they should not have to prove themselves worthy of receiving help to access basic rights such as food and shelter. Every human is worthy of such things.

This is why we need to offer anarchist alternatives, not only does it prove that anarchist modes of organising do work and do address injustices but without grassroots initiatives people will continue to fall through the gaping gaps in the state based safety net. I am lucky, I didn’t fall through the gaps, because ultimately I still have the support and options to get by but many people don’t even have this.
I have to give a call out to one community who do support and solidarity so well it is almost an art. I have had so much support from other sex workers, from offers of places to stay if I go to a city to work, to help minding my daughter while I am working, lifts to work (because I often hitch now that I’m not earning enough to justify a taxi) and an ear to listen to my problems. All of this means so much, and is something I have never experienced so strongly outside of the sex work community.

international day to end violence against sex workers

I really wanted to write something for the international day to end violence against sex workers (which is today) but was busy all day and didn’t think I would get a chance. So, at 20 minutes to midnight I am posting this which was written hastily (I’ll clean it up and add links in the next couple of days) but at least it is something.

Today is the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. When most people think of violence against sex workers their first thoughts are usually of clients or employers who become violent and while that does happen workers face violence from from many other people and institutions and today I have decided to focus on that.

We face violence from some social justice activists and feminists. If you campaign for laws that make it harder for us to work legally (or campaign to prevent sex work from being decriminalised) you are committing violence against sex workers. You are pushing the work underground, making it harder to access things such as health checks and safety equipment and making us less visible so that violence can go unnoticed.

We need decriminalisation so that we are not policed, the police have shown time and again that they are not to be trusted regulating or policing the sex industry, if you push for anything but decriminalisation you are pushing for us to be at risk of police violence.

If you don’t speak out against whorephobic feminists who attack sex workers and instead pretend it is a valid difference of opinion then you are allowing for feminist spaces to be unsafe for certain women. If you value sex workers as much as you do other women then you wont stand for this, any less is enabling violence against us.

If you buy into the myths that rape, harassment and assault are part and parcel of sex work then you are contributing to the rape culture that harms us. If a sex worker is raped, blame the rapist, don’t blame the industry and by extension the victim for working in the industry. The vast majority of clients do not rape workers, has it ever occurred to you that the few who do, do so knowing that people like you will focus more on how risky you think sex work is, rather than focusing on how rape is never ever okay?

The rescue industry commits violence against sex workers, if you support people like Somaly Mam and Nickolas Kristof then you need to do some research into what they actually do because unless you think locking sex workers up and taking away their rights and freedoms is a good thing then you need to question who they are really helping.

Violence against sex workers comes in many forms, please make sure that you are not contributing to it.

Prescience

Had I known that the heart
breaks slowly, dismantling itself
into unrecognizable plots of misery,

Had I known the heart would leak,
slobbering its sap, with a vulgar
visibility, into the dressed-up
dining rooms of strangers,

Had I known that solitude could
stifle the breath, loosen the joint,
and force the tongue against the
palate,

Had I known that loneliness could
keloid, winding itself around the
body in an ominous and beautiful
cicatrix,

Had I known, yet I would have loved
you, your brash and insolent beauty,
your heavy comedic face
and knowledge of sweet
delights,

But from a distance.
I would have left you whole and wholly
for the delectation of those who
wanted more and cared less.
Maya Angelou

I am finally starting this blog.

I meant to start keeping a blog months ago and for various reasons (namely life getting in the way) I never got around to it but with the new year well underway, uni starting back, an article and a presentation on sexwork and anarchism in the works (well, in the preworks) it dawned on me that if I don’t start my blog now I probably never will.

I don’t even know what my first post should be about. Should I dive right in to writing about my thoughts on anarchism, sex work etc and my experiences or should I start with some background information? I don’t think my background is of all too much importance, and when it is important to something I post I will mention it and I worry that sharing ‘too much’ could lead anyone who actually reads this to possibly stereotype me but I will give a brief overview of myself. I am in my twenties, I have a child of primary school age, I am studying a bachelor of law and social science (majors in sociology and politics) and I work in a brothel. Now on to the more important stuff.

I am very excited and nervous about the chance to give a presentation at Camp Anarchy next month but I am currently stumped as to what to include in the presentation and what direction to take. It is not that I don’t have anything to talk about, in fact the opposite is true, I have too much to talk about and I am struggling as to what to include and what to throw out. It would be easier if I had more of an idea of what the audience’s preconceptions about sex work are but at the moment I don’t even know if I will get an audience and there is sure to be a diversity of opinions anyway. My main dilemma is deciding whether to push the ‘sex work is real work’ angle talking about how the agency of sex workers needs to be respected and that rather than assuming us all to be victims that people should listen to us, or if I should go straight into talking about about my views on  sex worker in relation to anarchism.  I’m sure I’ll work out how to present it, although probably not before the last minute.