This is the post I typed up to try to get posted on various feminist blogs (namely Feministing), but for various reasons, I’ve decided not to. Feel free to link widely as a Whorephobia 101 guide. Thanks for your help, Amber Rhea!
Hello, my name is Jane. And I’m a whore. I’d like to talk to you today about whorephobia. As much as this seems like a cheesy after school special introduction, I am extremely concerned about the level of whorephobia that goes unchecked.
You may be asking, But Jane, what’s whorephobia? Any time you make an assumption that someone is involved in the sex industry because of a history of mental illness or abuse, that’s whorephobia. Any time you think that people in the sex industry are damaged, deficient, cheapening sex, morally lesser, or without common decency, that’s whorephobia. Whorephobia is the policing of the women in the sex industry through a variety of controlling images that reduce an extremely complex situation into a trope.
I find it baffling how often comments or topicsare derailed by what could easily be solved by educating yourself on Sex Work 101. I won’t go into hashing out the details on these myths, but here are some examples that could be solved by educating yourself. At what age do most people enter sex work? Are they all sexually abused? Do they have a lot of sexually-transmitted diseases? Will they have sex with anyone? And so on and so forth.
Sex work is such an incredibly diverse form of work. (And yes, it is work, but that’s an “introduction to sex work” kind of question.) It is not in and of itself a system of domination, though sex workers are marginalized, but the experiences of sex workers are influenced by their gender, race/ethnicity, class, education, ability, and other systems of domination. It’s hardly a novel thing to point out that a ciswoman of color in the street economy has a vastly different experience than a white ciswoman working for the wealthy. And yet what is so, so frequently completely left out of the conversation in the whole range in between.
Sex work is not a simple set of dichotomies. There are not pimp-battered victims and happy hookers purely. It is neither exploitation nor empowerment purely. I have become so weary of the dialogue about sex work falling into these dichotomies. Feminists are so busy arguing about whose side in the sex wars to take to talk about the flesh and blood real lives of actual sex workers.
I happen to be one of them. I’m a whore, a label I take with pride in order to undermine its history of dehumanizing women. I don’t make thousands of dollars whisking around the world seeing politicians, nor did I enter at the age of thirteen with a drug problem and a pimp. My entrance into sex work wasn’t purely about a sexist society, nor was it entirely something I did as my own free choice. The murky middle between constraint and choice is much, much wider than that. I did make a choice, perhaps at times I’ve made several bad ones, but ultimately, I did make this choice. But my choice was shaped because I live in a society that devalues women and was stacked against me for other reasons.
I am privileged in many ways. I know this. I am white and I have some education. I’m also (income-wise) middle-class, a status that is somewhat new to me and due to the fact that I’m a sex worker. I’ve also been living with mental illness for a long time, a limitation that affected my education.
I write this blog about the messy intersections of my mental illness and my decision to become a sex worker. I’m not going to lie and say the two are mutually exclusive. What I want to challenge is the whorephobic notion that because I’m mentally ill, sex work is bad. It’s no worse and no better than any other job I’ve ever held.
I’m using my personal experiences to link this to the point I’m trying to make. The conversation about sex work that happens on blogs, in feminist circles, and in society in general is so focused on tropes and stereotypes and misconceptions that any real social change we can make to help actual sex workers just gets lost. If you want to know how to help sex workers, you should just ask them.
For once, I’d love to have a conversation about what it means to be a mentally ill sex worker. I’d love to talk about how those of us with more “choice” can help those with less of it. I want to talk about why it’s so difficult to get out of sex work. I want to have a discussion about the nuances of consent within a sex work encounter. But I can’t do that if all we talk about is whether or not all sex work is rape. I can’t do that if we just talk about how exciting and empowering sex work is.
If you are a feminist who believes to your core that sex work is a patriarchal system of domination, I can respect that. But I don’t want the conversation to stop there. I’d rather talk about how sex work was the first time I was able to be comfortable as a sexual object. (After years and years of catcalls, lurid stares, and physical come-ons, sex work was the first time I was able to give and retract consent.) I’d rather talk about how we create other options and opportunities for those exploited within sex work without denying their agency and resilience.
Basically, what I want is a more sensitive, nuanced conversation without all the pitfalls of dichotomies and stereotypes. I want to be able to talk about sex work without all the whorephobia and questions or assumptions which can be addressed by educating yourself. We don’t have to pick one type of sex worker to listen to. The more experiences we put together, the better we’ll understand this marginalized, often dangerous, highly stigmatized form of work. I know I’m not representative of all sex workers. I’m just one individual sex worker. The more people like me that we listen to, the better. If you want to know about sex work, ask a sex worker, and actually listen to the answer.
And if you’re thinking about making a whorephobic comment or derailing the conversation with an easily answered question, visit these links first:
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Tags: abolition, feminism, sex work, whorephobia