Ableism and sex work


I have been thinking lately about disability and mental illness, part of which is inspired by Amber Rhea. I came into sex work activism from mental health activism. I wanted to fight the stigma of mental illness. Now, it seems to me, couching mental illness in the framework of disability is beneficial. I don’t think it’s exactly parallel, but it’s helpful to me.

I’m writing this to call out some serious ableism that happens within the sex work community. Everywhere I look, activists are countering the Farleyist, abolitionist sentiment that all sex workers are victims by saying that they are happy, healthy sex workers. Given all the stereotypes and nonsense out there about how we sex workers are fucked up and damaged and doing this because we’ve been abused, I understand why this is a common defense. However, I think it’s an ableist and privileged defense, rather than countering the real problem with that stereotype.

On a gut-reaction level, it fucking hurts me. You know what, I am a crazy whore. I have dealt with mental illness. To call other crazy whores like me a small percentage or not common is a slap in the face. If you don’t want to be associated with crazy whores, then cool, I’ll find other people to hang around with.

As an activist, I feel like this comes from a position of privilege. It is easy for these people to dismiss mentally ill sex workers because they have not dealt with mental illness.

My mental illness and my work as a sex worker are intimately entangled. This is my point, though, and take careful notes: my experiences with mental illness do not invalidate my choices regarding sex work. My experiences influence my choices and vice versa, but having struggled with mental illness does not mean I cannot make decisions for myself in sex work.

For some people with mental illness, sex work isn’t good. It’s not a good experience or a good choice. But instead of attacking sex work, it’s time to tease out what’s really going on. I’ve made some bad choices in sex work due to my struggles with mental illness, but through lots and lots of therapy and self-reflection, I know which choices were because of being crazy and how to protect myself now.

So, next time you hear someone criticize sex work because sex workers are all crazy or all abuse survivors or all what the fuck ever, please don’t respond by dismissing crazy whores are the marginal. We’re everywhere. We’re part of your movement. Don’t throw us under the bus.


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