“To write feels like violence. All of us are mortal, but the text can survive long after its author: who are you, fleshy and contingent thing, who wants to live forever? To write is to stain clean paper, press sticks in smooth clay; in some sense always, to deform the world.”
A debate that I have been having with several of my friends over the last few weeks regarding the responsibility of the artist, and the term ‘art for art’s sake’. (It generally devolves into us yelling obscenities at each other and getting drunk on the cheapest red wine we can find, but I promise there is some actual intellect in there somewhere).
The phrase ‘art for art’s sake’ has always bothered me, for a few reasons: firstly, apart from embodying everything that is pretentious about the art world, it removes the responsibility of the artist as an influence on modern culture. This seems to be a eurocentric privilege in which we can distance ourselves from the consequence of what we create, not shedding light on anything important because there is nothing really of consequence that affects us. The link that is forged between the creator and the creation is cast away, and therefore connection to others is rendered impossible.
What is the purpose of art if not connection?
To fill in spare time and make something aesthetically pleasing but with no message or meaning? To me, that is not art.
“…what does all art do? does it not praise? glorify? select? highlight? By doing all this it strengthens or weakens certain valuations….Art is the great stimulus to life: how could one understand it as purposeless, as aimless, as l’art pour l’art?” – Friedrich Nietzsche
In many African cultures art is considered a highly functional medium in which to express ideas, lament on political climate and events, pass stories through generations, transcribe philosophy and project emotion. In fact most indigenous cultures use art as a functional mode of storytelling. It is rarely pretty for the sake of being pretty.
Think about your favorite artist, of any medium: if they used their influence to spread a message of hate or intolerance, or worse still, apathy – what effect would that have on modern culture? We would suddenly have a mass increase in disengagement and apathy that would spill over into politics, have a real life effect on real people that don’t get a say in it.
In the process of creating something out of nothing we accept a certain amount of responsibility, as anyone with influence must be held accountable. So create by all means, please, create – but be wary that people are watching and listening. Make it count.
Back on tour, again to a city that is beautifully tropical … and about 50 years behind the rest of the world in terms of social change (well maybe not the US at the moment, but that’s another story). Obviously recent world events have brought bubbling to the surface everybody’s fears and opinions, myself included, and I find myself getting into conversations with clients that I usually wouldn’t, usually initiated by them. I have begun to realize how lucky I am to have surrounded myself with wonderful people who are accepting and educated and kind. I have also come to realize that by surrounding myself with people who only share similar interests and opinions to myself, I am ill-equipped to have difficult conversations with people who don’t. I have been rendered speechless so many times this tour by the rampant homophobia, blatant racism and misogyny that I have come across in the clients that I am spending time with. My favorite so far is the wonderful man who hired myself and my friend for a ‘lesbian double’, wanted a strap-on service, and yet was extremely vocal about his hatred and disgust of p**fs.
I just….can’t…wrap my head around that one. I can smell the repressed sexuality from here.
ANYWAY, my point was that the lives of ‘high-class escorts’ aren’t all cash stacks and jet-setting. Here have been some of the highlights.
- Endless loads of washing towels and lingerie.
- Being woken up to housekeeping knocking every morning at 9am, after going to bed at 4am.
- Epic shaving rash and frizzy hair from the humidity.
- Fielding phone calls from some of the stupidest men in existence.
- Getting creative with writing ads 3-4 times a day, knowing that nobody actually reads them.
- Living off coffee and microwave meals.
- Pretending not to want to punch people in the face when they spout racist/sexist/whorephobic views.
- Taking shitty selfies for social media.
- Hand-washing dildos and butt plugs.
- My moods swinging wildly from homesickness to elation and freedom, then back again every 5 minutes.
- Messing up my sleep schedule so monumentally that it’s going to take me a month to get back to normal.
(It’s not all bad though, it has its moments where I feel like an absolute baller; staying in a luxury apartment drinking champagne and dancing around in my underwear with my best friend while we earn thousands of dollars is pretty damn cool.)
I know you.
You have always been with me, I feel you in my chest and in my stomach every day, sending butterflies through my body and making my head spin just to remind me of your presence.
When I was five, you taught me to be scared in situations that were scary. I would feel you pumping my heart and telling me to run when I was in danger.
I know you.
When I was seven, you taught me to make myself invisible as I moved through countless schools and social circles, to try and protect me from the bullies. It worked (most of the time).
When I was twelve you taught me the value of hard work, by making me afraid of failure you instilled in me a drive to succeed and learn, to do better and be better. It worked.
I know you.
When I was fourteen you taught me to shield my heart so it wouldn’t be broken, you saw me cry and promised me that it wouldn’t be so easy for them the next time. And it wasn’t.
When I was sixteen you taught me to be wary of crowds, and I learnt to love peace and solitude.
I know you.
When I was twenty you taught me the value of slowing down, forcing me to take time for myself (you still remind me of this from time to time) and reevaluate what is most important.
You have been the overprotective parent, teaching me values and beliefs that I carry with me to this day, shielding me from what you saw as danger. Because of you I am strong, hardworking, patient and kind, and while I still need the reminder to slow down every once in a while, you can’t protect me forever. I’m no longer the little girl that needs to run. There will always be danger, and vulnerability is growth.
I love you, I accept you, and I know you.
But you have served your purpose, and it is time for me to let you go.
There is a unique side to humanity that very few people are witness to, the true nature of people when they have no fear of repercussion or judgement, when they aren’t in the throes of status anxiety or putting on a mask to preserve an ego.
Sometimes it’s a gentler, sweeter side that they are afraid to show to the rest of the world.
Sometimes it’s a dark side, sharp and sadistic.
Sometimes it’s fearful, self-conscious and unsure.
Or a mix of all of the above.
Over my past few years I have seen the many faces of mortality, people baring their flesh and their soul in the comfort of full discretion, showing the shadows that even their lovers aren’t privy to. It is both deeply honoring and utterly terrifying, and the intensity of this is somewhat addicting.
Maybe this is why I do what I do, to rip open the meat and play with the bones, a morbid curiosity of what makes people tick.
I want to go down that rabbit hole with you, to observe your desire, scrutinize your fears and your ego, squirm between your ribcage and play with your blood.
So tell me, dear reader.
What would you do if you knew you wouldn’t get caught?
You would think that with all of the information and discussion surrounding consent that has been in the forefront of social media for the last year that this wouldn’t even be a subject that I would have to discuss again. However, I will rant and rave and write and scream it from the rooftops if I have to, over and over again until people get it through their thick skulls.
CONSENT IS NOT OPTIONAL.
IT’S NOT A GUIDELINE.
IT’S NOT NEGOTIABLE.
This week at work the unthinkable happened to me. The client I was having sex with decided to rip off the condom, and continue what he was doing. I was distracted and had a lot on my mind that day, so I wasn’t as on guard as I usually am and I didn’t notice until it was too late.
When I did realize however, and confronted him about it, he shrugged it off and didn’t “see what the big deal was”.
I don’t think words exist yet for the kind of fury that I felt as I kicked him out. I had not consented to unprotected sex, yet that didn’t seem to matter.
When I talk about the dehumanization of sex workers, through the media, through our use of language, through our perpetration of stigma – this is what I am talking about when I say that it has real-life consequences. My bodily autonomy and therefore my consent, doesn’t hold as much weight as it should. It becomes “not a big deal” for me to be sexually assaulted or raped. I can’t go to the police because I am not taken seriously, or it is difficult to prove because of the bias and beliefs that sex workers are liars and immoral. I can take my chances going to the emergency room at the local hospital for post-exposure prophylaxis (PeP) however I risk running into bias from medical staff as well.
**It is important to note that this isn’t solely a sex worker problem, rape victims are constantly faced with bias and are dismissed by health professionals and legal channels. Being a sex worker just adds to an already shitty system.
This time around (it is not the first time that this has happened) though, I found myself with a lot more support that I have previously experienced. I am lucky that I have amazing friends, a supportive partner and have finally found a doctor that believes that I should have the same access to health services as anyone else. For sex workers who aren’t ‘out’ or don’t have the support that they need, situations like this can be devastating. Feelings of shame and isolation can prevent people from seeking the information and treatment that they need, and this victim-blaming mindset is encouraged by a society that treats us as perpetual victims anyway.
So how do we work towards solving this?
By working towards reducing the stigma surrounding the industry and showing support for sex workers, we create a space that encourages an open dialogue about these experiences.
By talking about our experiences and sharing our knowledge, we can ensure that those at risk know what their options are if the unthinkable happens.
Calling out dehumanizing and disempowering language when we see it, examining the language we use and how we use it to create our experiences and unconscious biases.
Getting involved and informed with local politics, laws and organisations that support sex workers and women’s rights in general.
Ainsley house – Royal Perth Hospital Sexual Health Clinic (I spoke with a wonderful doctor named Lena here, I highly recommend her as a sex worker friendly professional)
And as the sun streams through the glass
in the morning before you wake
I swear you look as delicate
as pressed flowers
I am not the first person you loved.
you are not the first person I looked at with a mouthful of forevers.we have both known loss like the sharp edges of a knife.we have both lived with lips more scar tissue than skin.our love came unannounced in the middle of the night.
our love came when we’d given up on asking love to come.i think that has to be part of its miracle.this is how we heal.i will kiss you like forgiveness. you will hold me like i’m hope.our arms will bandage and we will press promises between us like flowers in a book.
i will write sonnets to the salt of sweat on your skin.i will write novels to the scar of your nose.i will write a dictionary of all the words i have used trying to describe the way it feels to have finally, finally found you.and i will not be afraid
of your scars.i know sometimes it’s still hard to let me see you in all your cracked perfection,
but please know: whether it’s the days you burn more brilliant than the sun
or the nights you collapse into my lapyour body broken into a thousand questions,
you are the most beautiful thing i’ve ever seen.
i will love you when you are a still day.
i will love you when you are a hurricane
On Monday, the worlds largest classified ads website, was forced to shut down its adult section in the United States, due to the number of escorts that used the platform to advertise their services.
“Websites like Backpage.com facilitate sex trafficking across Minnesota and our country,” Senator Amy Klobuchar said in a statement. “Backpage.com’s announcement that it will be shutting down its adult-services section is long overdue, but another positive step forward in our fight against human trafficking.”
Shuttering Backpage does not stop pimping, but it does make it harder for authorities and for sex workers to detect that kind of dangerous activity, said Maxine Doogan, president of the Erotic Service Provider Legal, Educational and Research Project.
“There’s no research that says removing advertising sites reduces trafficking,” said Doogan, noting that women used the site to carefully screen clients, who could provide references to other Backpage workers. “Everybody is scrambling.”
Now, while most people are running around in circles, flailing and screaming “but trafficking!!!1”, what people fail to see is that by removing a platform that is mainly used by lower end providers, survival sex workers, POC, trans workers and basically marginalized people who are already most at risk of violence, what we are going to get is an influx of people turning to street-based work and more risky ways of earning money. Sure, everyone has seen the movie Taken, and as a result of sensationalized media, society has this narrowed, oversimplified view of what sex trafficking actually is.
When I was working in brothels, I would occasionally come across women who would be considered as being trafficked into the industry, by shitty abusive partners or by shitty circumstances. You wouldn’t know by looking at them or by talking to them, and while their situation was pretty crappy, they had emotional support from their peers and by management, access to health services, a place to conduct their business in a safe environment with no questions asked, and lodging and food whenever they needed it.
You know what DIDN’T help them? TAKING AWAY THEIR MEANS OF INCOME.
What we see happening in the media, and with anti SW agencies is the profiteering of ‘pity porn’, with the Big Bad Pimps being painted as the villains of Captain Save-A-Ho journalists; sensationalism and fear-mongering at its utmost peak. People don’t want to actually help trafficking victims, otherwise they would be coming up with alternatives that these people could engage, or y’know, solving issues such as youth homelessness or poverty or domestic abuse, immigration issues, or the myriad of issues that result in people entering into the sex industry when they don’t want to. I could go on for years about the countless stories of women being ‘saved’ from the sex industry and forced into sweatshops or other forms of menial labor, while church groups and Anti’s pat themselves on the back for being heroes.
So how can we help trafficking victims?
I get asked this all the time, by well meaning people that realize the harm that criminalization is doing, but have no idea what to do about it. The answer isn’t a simple one, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution because there are so many nuances and grey areas within the industry. The way to cut through all of this is basically just asking individual people-not people around them, not law makers, not charity workers or priests or social workers-what support they need in order to get to the lives they want. And then, if you have the ability, helping them in the ways they requested. That’s all you need to do. So if someone says they were exploited and they don’t want to be, ask them what they personally need to get to a space where they aren’t being exploited. If someone can’t make rent on minimum wage and wants to do sex work, ask them what support they need to stay safe.