Class, class, and more class.

14Dec09

I saw a post about this new book on Feministe. At first, I thought, oh, how cool. I identified with the book because of my economic background and the dream I have about my education.

But then I thought about it more, and I don’t. The primary breadwinner in my family was self-employed (the secondary held a good old-fashioned blue collar kind of job). I am self-employed. And as I’ve been rethinking class, I realize I’m in the same class as I was growing up. Only I have more economic freedom and disposable income. (This primary breadwinner was essentially unemployed for long stretches at a time. While I was in high school, this person’s “company” made zero dollars. Whenever I eat cabbage now, I think about the fear of my parents’ house being repossessed. We ate a lot of cabbage then.)

Whenever people (and by people, I probably mean bloggers) talk about class, they very rarely define what they mean by class. Is it the amount of money you earn? Your education? I’m kind of (okay, really) Marxist about this. And this piece I read (fuck, I wish I could remember the name!) talked all about how class should be defined as the relationship to the means of production. This broke class down into seven major classes. The self-employed being the most tenuous of them all. On one hand, you can have people like the breadwinner growing up, who was independently employed, but went through periods of relative unemployment (without the benefit of being able to receive unemployment), to people like me, who are comfortable enough, to people like the so-called “high class callgirls” who supposedly make thousands of dollars a call.

Which I think then is grounds for better talking about how class functions in sex work. People like me are often ripped apart by abolitionists because we’re “privileged”. Now, I think if anything, moving to become independent was for me, a class move. For the first (god, how long have I been a whore?) four years of my tenure in sex work, I worked for someone else. Either an agency, a strip club, or “freelanced” with various entertainment groups. While I had say over my working conditions, I didn’t have nearly as much as I do now. No one else was making a profit off of me.

So, I think there should be a more sensitive definition of what we’re talking about when we’re talking about class and sex work. I mean, I’ve heard some people say that your body is your means of production, but I kind of feel that’s what Marx would say about any worker. But anyone who has been a sex worker or knows one can tell you that you don’t just need a body to be a sex worker. You need a space to do your work in (the in-call, the dungeon, the out-call, the strip club), you need a system of screening clients, you need the actual supplies (do you need platform heels, condoms, or whips and restraints?), and of course, client management skills. All but the last one you can either own or have provided to you by your employer. Yeah, company-owned heels are generally unheard of, and most workers have to supply their own condoms. But the first two really make a difference in how your experience of sex work shapes up.

When I worked for a strip club and an agency, I owned neither the space or the system of screening clients. Someone else owned (and profited off of both). So while I was guaranteed a somewhat steady stream of clients, or at least a time and a place to show up and make money, I lost a substantial portion of my income to the owner. That’s why I became independent: I want to control my space and my clients. And I’m lucky enough to have the privilege to do that.

But that’s kind of the issue with dialogues about sex work: everyone is so fucking hung up on the sex part and they forget the work part.

This is a class-based debate, I believe, about workers’ rights. And I think it’s just, if not more, important to talk about than the kind of money you make. Because seriously, the vast majority of us aren’t high-rollers. I wish I could be that kind of worker, but I can’t. (Honestly, being a former self-injurer with a lot of visible scars in places most people don’t look at has a lot to do with that. So yeah, I’m not as privileged as you’d think.)

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2 Responses to “Class, class, and more class.”

  1. 1 Amber Rhea

    Whenever people (and by people, I probably mean bloggers) talk about class, they very rarely define what they mean by class.

    Exactly! This is a huge problem I have w/ discussions of class on blogs. How can we really have a discussion about it if we don’t define what exactly we’re talking about? And some people’s definitions just reveal where their own prejudices and misconceptions lie, more than anything else.

  2. It’s definitely about class, way more than they say it is, way more than outside observers think it is too. They use class as a reason, a weapon, an excuse – all that stuff in one.

    —-

    “people’s definitions just reveal where their own prejudices and misconceptions lie”

    too true


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