I’ve decided to write a letter to you. You may only recognise yourself in some of what I’m about to say. You may not recognise yourself at all, in which case, thank you friend. I’ve been hugely inspired by Panti Bliss and her wonderful film “Queen of Ireland” on her fight for equal marriage for the LGBT community and I want to acknowledge that.
Today, coming out as a sex worker is akin to coming out as a homosexual in the 1970’s, most notably in Ireland. I experience everything from an unease around me to fear, obvious hatred and overt violence. Whorephobia, and the stigma that goes with that can kill.
You’ve decided I’m the “dirty girl”, the one who ought to be ashamed. You pour scorn on me when I don’t feel that shame. You move away from me at parties, you hold your partner close, in a protective embrace. After all, as a tainted woman I must live, eat and breathe sex, no-one is safe. I’m not a part of your life, I work quietly, behind closed doors. That’s not enough for you.
You tell me I must have been abused as a child, that can be the only explanation. You tell me I’m irrational, I have PTSD or I simply don’t care about myself. You tell me I can’t possibly parent, I can’t look after myself, let alone my daughter.
You undermine my advocacy with jibes about my weight, you celebrate when I get a statistic wrong, be that in an interview or a written piece. You tell me I don’t care about those who suffer in the trade, that I do what I do solely for my own benefit, or that of the mythical Pimp Lobby. You deny my past, the women I stood beside on the street who asked me to help them, you try to silence me with “privileged”.
You tell me that if I like what I do so much, I should work for free, in a capitalist society when women are suffering the most through austerity and welfare cuts. Hell, you even tell me I target vulnerable disabled men, without one thought for their ability to make their own choices. You lie, you do it all the time. You tell the public that the country is awash with victims of trafficking when you know that simply isn’t true. You put your own funding and career above my life.
You ignore violence against sex workers, on social media, in the press. You assume that because you don’t care, no-one else does either. You ask me how many men I’ve slept with, how much I earn, if I’ve ever had a STI and if I’m in a relationship or married. You make the assumption that because I sell sex, my whole life is available for your consideration and condescending smirk. You out sex workers in the press and ignore the many sex workers who’ve either taken or attempted to take their own lives rather than face their newly informed families.
You indulge in every conspiracy theory going, that I’m a front for a pimp consortium or even an international trafficking ring. You steadfastly refuse to acknowledge that I am an independent sex worker fighting for labour rights for sex workers and for the right to work in safety. I guess that doesn’t sell papers.
You devise entire strategies around harm reduction, and completely ignore sex workers, the very group which would benefit hugely from decriminalisation. Evidence is reserved for old episodes of Rumpole of The Bailey. You’re the first to shout loudly about drug decriminalisation, and the marginalisation of the LBGT community. You protest, you march, you decry the unfairness of it all. Yet when it comes to sex workers, you fall strangely silent.
I don’t hate you that you know no better. I too, grew up in that ignorance. But you have no excuse for refusing to listen, to learn. You have no excuse for lying. You have no excuse for leaving us vulnerable to violence.
But you will hear our voices, because they are becoming louder and louder and you can’t drown us out any longer. We’re not asking for your approval, we find that within ourselves, and our own community. This isn’t about you. We’re asking for the same rights you enjoy every day. The right to be safe at work, the right to organise and form collectives. You take them for granted, just as our deaths are taken as an inevitable consequence. Our time has come.