I Don’t Care if You Call Me a Whore

What I care about is what you think it means.  The saying goes that a whore is a woman who sleeps with everyone, and that a bitch is a...

What I care about is what you think it means. 

The saying goes that a whore is a woman who sleeps with everyone, and that a bitch is a woman who sleeps with everyone but you.

I’ve been called a whore more times than I can count. I was called one half an hour before I started writing this article, actually, by someone who made an account solely to throw that particular aspersion at me. I was called a whore yesterday by someone who told me I was shaming my husband by posting so many “trashy” selfies online. It’s like filler, really – that thing men call you when they’ve run out of other words.

I’m not okay with it – but probably not for the reasons you think.

*

I have a lot of friends who are sex workers. Some work in brothels, some as individual contractors, and some as strippers, cam girls, adult film actors or glamour models. Most of them either enjoy their work or view it as they would any other job – a service they provide in exchange for money. Most of them are very, very good at what they do and are paid accordingly. I don’t have a problem with this because I don’t have a problem with people doing whatever they want with their bodies, as long as nobody’s getting hurt and everyone involved is able to give meaningful consent.

Unfortunately, many people do not see sex work this way.

An elderly lady with whom I once volunteered for an LGBT youth group told me a fantastic story about her time working with RESPECT, an Australian sex worker advocacy group. She was attending a conference (about sexual health, I think) and ran into a stridently anti-sex work healthcare worker. She decided this was an excellent opportunity to do a little myth-busting, so she asked the healthcare worker, “What exactly do you think a sex worker looks like?”

She got the answer you’d expect – fishnet stockings, high-heeled boots, half-burned-out cigarette, leather corset. Something out of an adaptation of Rocky Horror, more or less. So she asked another question:

“What exactly do you think a male sex worker looks like?”

The healthcare worker thought long and hard. She hemmed and hawed and sputtered a little. And she finally had to admit that she had no clue. “Like anyone else, I guess,” she reluctantly answered.

Huh. Almost like sex workers are just people doing jobs for money, just like plenty of other adults do.

People love to talk about sex work as “selling your body”, but I am yet to meet a sex worker who, upon completing a job, is suddenly rendered incorporeal. Sex workers do not sell their bodies – they sell a service. Do we tell surgeons they’re selling their hands every time they perform an operation, or teachers that they sell their brains every time they impart knowledge their students didn’t have before? Of course not, because that would be absurd. So why is sex work different?

It’s immoral to sell sex for money, some say. It degrades and disempowers women, they add. But I know at least one sex worker who’s paying for her Master’s degree with the money she makes from her job, and several others who don’t have student loan debts because they spend a few hours a night as cam girls, phone sex operators or dominatrices. None of them feel degraded by their work, though the steady stream of abuse and slurs thrown at them by the ignorant are another matter.

Sex is sacred, others claim. It has meaning! Sure – to some people. But the thing about meaning is that it’s generally subjective. Your experience and someone else’s don’t have to be the same. If you don’t want to have sex with anyone but your significant other(s), then good for you. But do you really have the right to tell people when, where and with whom they’re allowed to have sex?

Sex work is dangerous, cry the concern trolls. We need to save women!

And they’re right. Sex work is dangerous – in countries where it’s illegal, that is. In New Zealand, where sex work is completely decriminalised, sex workers enjoy workers’ rights, legal protections, and recourse against dangerous or abusive clients. In countries where sex work is illegal, or where sex work is legal but hiring a sex worker is not – the infamous “Nordic Model” comes to mind – sex workers often have no recourse when clients turn violent, nor do they have any legal rights or protections as workers. Everyone from the WHO (which suggests “interventions that empower sex workers”) to various sex worker advocacy groups have pointed this out, only for their recommendations and expertise to fall on deaf ears.

But what about human trafficking?

What about it?

There’s a difference between sex trafficking and consensual sex work. In fact, in countries where sex work is decriminalised, human trafficking is much less prevalent, because the market for underground sex work is virtually non-existent and consensual sex workers tend to report illegal activity to the police. In countries like the United States, on the other hand, traffickers do plenty of business, because if a sex worker can’t go to the cops without being put in jail herself, is she really going to report on a trafficking ring?

Right now, around the world, laws are being enacted that echo the Nordic Model, despite the fact that it has literally resulted in the violent murder of at least one sex worker. Pleas from advocacy groups and the World Health Organisation have been repeatedly ignored. In the global conversation about sex work, the people whose opinions should matter the most are heard least.

*

So what does this have to do with being called a whore, anyway?

The reflexive response, when one is called a whore, is denial. No woman wants to be associated with the term because it associates them with sex workers and sex work by proxy. And they’re not like those women, right? I mean, sure. They have sex. They’re liberated and progressive and sex-positive. But they’re not whores. Not like that, at least.

And that’s what my problem is.

When people call me a whore, they want to imply that I’m a sex worker because they think sex work is something negative. But I have no issue with sex workers or sex work, provided all participants are consenting adults being compensated fairly for their services. I have sex worker friends both online and in meatspace. The best tour of Sydney I ever had was from a sex worker friend of mine who offered to show my mother and me around during a vacation. (One of the most surreal experiences of my life: listening to my conservative Muslim mother and my friend discussing clients over lunch in a Turkish takeaway restaurant. It was awesome.) So when you call me a whore, I take offence not at the aspersion, but at what you want it to mean.

Sex work isn’t going away any time soon – not just because there will always be a demand for it, but because plenty of the people who do it very much enjoy it. So instead of trying to drive the industry underground, putting countless lives in danger in the process, we need to change the way we view sex work. It isn’t “selling your body”; it isn’t “degrading yourself”; it doesn’t have to be dangerous. It’s just work. It’s selling a service in exchange for money, and it’s every bit as legitimate as any other service industry. And the people who choose to enter the industry deserve neither scorn nor misplaced pity – they deserve to be respected as working adults in a skilled profession, just like every other skilled worker proffering a specialised service for a fee.

I don’t care if you call me a whore, to be honest. I mean, come on. Is that really the best you’ve got? But I do care about the rights, freedoms and dignity of sex workers. Sex work is work. Sex worker rights are human rights. It really is that simple.

  jaythenerdkid – Contributing Columnist

jaythenerdkid is the nom de net of Aaminah Khan, a queer Muslim writer, activist, tutor, former medical student and terroriser-of-bigots for hire. When she’s not tweeting, tumblr-ing, blogging, arguing with conservatives on Facebook or being blocked by Richard Dawkins, Aaminah reads fantasy novels, plays video games, argues with her husband about Game of Thrones and gets angry that there aren’t more characters like Abed Nadir on television.
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jaythenerdkid

jaythenerdkid is the nom de net of Aaminah Khan, a queer Muslim writer, activist, tutor, former medical student and terroriser-of-bigots for hire. When she’s not tweeting, tumblr-ing, blogging, arguing with conservatives on Facebook or being blocked by Richard Dawkins, Aaminah reads fantasy novels, plays video games, argues with her husband about Game of Thrones and gets angry that there aren’t more characters like Abed Nadir on television.

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