A few weeks ago I Tweeted: Afternoon w/Zi Teng. The power and ability to say “no” defines privilege รขโ‚ฌโ€œ it has nothing and everything to do w/money. (Zi Teng is a sex worker rights group in Hong Kong. I will be writing more about them and you can see some photos of their office in my album.)

I’ve been thinking a lot about that enlightening day with Zi Teng (I’m still in contact with them but obviously am not physically close). Power and agency are two very big words sex workers and the antis in the US like to toss around. I can’t define how anyone else uses/abuses these words. I like to define power and agency as a self thing. Power over one’s life and one’s body; agency over one’s life and how one chooses to work. It’s a very loose and open definition. Sometimes I feel like I have a lot of both, other times not so much. That’s all part of it.

Meeting with the HK sex workers and learning about their main style of working led me to think about the word no. There’s so much power in it. It’s taken mostly for granted in the US. It’s not for these sex workers.

In this case, the myths are correct: what we sex workers learn in childhood echoes into our sex work. The power and agency learned in childhood by applying the word no leads us, as adults, to believe (or not) we have the right and ability to say no in any other situation. I have no studies to back this up but I’m guessing that children learn far more from being able to apply the word no to their own lives than saying yes.

Even the ultra-paranoid child-safety programs believe this. They teach children to say no to inappropriate touches, to say no to strangers, to say no as a way of protecting their physically-vulnerable selves. Female adults are taught that yelling NO! is a way to prevent rape or assault.

No is a powerful thing.

The HK sex workers, by and large, have their power of no taken away by how their sex work is structured by society and by their clients. I don’t know much about how HK society raises its girl-children but I’m going to guess most of them are not given the power of no.

If you can’t say no, you can’t set boundaries with clients. You can’t demand payment up front. You can’t demand condom-compliance. You can’t say no to doing something that disgusts or physically hurts you. You can’t demand your rights because you cannot say no to societal practices and laws that cause you harm.

The lack of no does not render these women helpless victims. The sex workers I met were spirited, fully-aware adults. They were not different from the sex workers I know in the US except they spoke a different language (and had a different work situation). Their lack of no erodes their rights, their strength, and causes them harm.

Nor do I believe that society must give one the right to say no before it can be said. Obviously not. A society which values the word no does make it easier to say. A society which believes that at least some people are allowed to say no makes it easier to say. It’s not that one be must graciously allowed to say no before it’s said, it’s only worth being said if it’s heard. I think part of Zi Teng’s mission (and the mission of sex worker orgs around the world) is to get no to be heard and acknowledged.

Having your no trampled on is deeply painful.

Some might think the word no is completely negative. It’s not. It’s far more powerful and positive than yes. Ask any sex worker which of those two words she wants her clients to hear when she says it.

disclaimer

I’m just musing on this one word and its meaning for sex workers. I’ll get into detail about HK later on. I don’t want anyone reading this to think I’m talking of victimization or exploitation. I’m talking about inequality. That does not always and automatically equal victimization or exploitation. I think suggesting such things to the women I met would get their “Are you an idiot?” response. It would be offensive to them that I assume they are victims just because their work situation is different from mine. All I’m commenting on is what I noticed. (I’ll get into the money/class/status thing later on too.)

The big chasm I noticed between their work and mine is that I can say no almost with impunity. They cannot.

26 thoughts on “no

  1. Hi Amanda, an interesting post. Can you expand on this statement please: “The HK sex workers, by and large, have their power of no taken away by how their sex work is structured…” It was a kind of “understanding gap” for me with the post.
    Regards
    CA

  2. Hi Amanda,

    Thank you for this interesting and worthwhile post. I must say however, that I find it to be a bit of a contradiction when you say “The lack of no does not render these women helpless victims… Their lack of no does erode their rights, their strength and causes them harm.” I think that having one’s rights eroded and being caused harm is by definition a form of victimization; and that to lessen someone’s strength could ultimately render them helpless. I do see that you meant to impress that they do not see themselves as victims despite the disadvantages they face.

  3. It seems to me that women will always haver to fight inequality, because of the dominant male gene to be in charge at all times. If we don’t fight it, then we may as well give in.
    I’m lucky in that I am rarely put into the position of having to say no to a client, but I do say it by email, a lot.

    One little word and it stops them from getting through the door..

  4. Oh my goodness. It’s almost like I was sitting in church and the preacher was talking directly to me. Saying “No” is very difficult for me and these words couldn’t have come at a better time!

    Often, escorts can get so worn down from having to fight for that right to say no with your type of impunity. It’s a tough balance for most, I would guess.

    Thanks for writing what you did!

    Sincerely,
    Elisabeth

  5. Critical Alpha,

    The common work situation of the ladies I talked to in HK is a whole other post that I haven’t written yet. You can get something of an idea if you re-read paragraph 8. My intention in this post wasn’t to detail their working conditions, but set a framework for understanding the nuts and bolts I’ll blog about later on. This was a concept-piece, not a documentary.

    Stephanie,

    Despite the erosion of their rights, they are not utterly helpless — that what Zi Teng is for. They may indeed be victimized by the system and abusive clients but “victimized” is a bit of a dirty word for me, I use it sparingly. ESPECIALLY when talking about Asian sex workers to an American audience. Nor it is a word I heard anyone use there in referring to working conditions or situations.

    Sarah,

    Inequality has nothing to do with “dominant” male genes. It often has a LOT to do with men being assholes. If men want to claim the asshole gene — fine. Inequality is often reinforced by women as well — witness how the antis in the US manage to mangle the issues around prostitution.

    I bet you say “no” to clients a lot more than you realize. “No” refers to a lot of things, not just sex, and it doesn’t always have to be those exact words. That you have boundaries (of some kind or another) means you say “no” by default and expect your clients to respect those boundaries.

    Elisabeth,

    I’m glad you enjoyed this and consider it motivation! Thank you!

    XX

  6. Looks like I’m the first male to comment, but I agree completely.

    People have boundaries, and feelings, and sex workers are no different from anyone else in this regard. They’re providing a service (not different from providers of any type or service) and are the ones to choose what they will provide. I certainly would not want a woman to be uncomfortable with me.

    BTW great blog. I’ve just recently discovered it

  7. Jay,

    Thank you! And you GET IT! I’m pretty sure that helps your relations with all women — sex worker or no.

    But you may’ve offended Critical Alpha who is male. ๐Ÿ™‚

    XX

  8. Amanda,

    When reading this post I had to think back to my experience with Asian men in the business world, I’ve found that the word no Isn’t in their vocabulary, but is in their actions. I’m sure that there are cultural things that I’m missing that would make this make sense to me but in the end I’m very happy that I don’t have to be service worker of any kind in that culture.

    I personally find that the word no should be used by more people in general. It’s not a bad word, it’s a way to let people know how you feel and can save relationships. I’d rather someone tell me no and let me in on what was bothering them than to have them stop taking my calls or be uncomfortable.

    The escort I see has become a treasured friend but on one of the first visits I made an innocent ‘new client’ mistake. Now she could have put up with it but I believe her annoyance would have come out as we tried to have fun. Worse would have been the fact that she might have never taken my call again but instead she told me what was bugging her and I fixed it. Now I have the benefit of being a regular and she has the benefit of having a client that she trusts.

    While I know you are not a fan of reviews, one of the advantages of reviews/explicit sites(with those ridiculous acronyms) is that it offers the escort a chance to say no, without ever meeting the client. It’s not perfect but I think that it probably does keep some guys from being surprised after they get to the hotel room.

    As always a very interesting post.
    Tom

  9. Tom,

    Asian MEN have it quite different from Asian WOMEN, especially in this context. As you noted, you would not want to be in the service industry dealing with Asian men.

    You’re right — “no” is a very healthy word to use. I’ve rarely found it to be used unnecessarily in my life, usually it needs to be use and isn’t (as you’ve found). Very glad you found a lady who suits you and vice versa!

    I do NOT believe reviews a way for an escort to say “no” because reviews are written by someone else, not the escort herself (not to mention the whole issues of fake and/or revenge reviews). Escorts are human beings and what is “no” for one person might be “yes” for another — yet something else reviewers constantly get wrong. (No one ever thinks YMMV applies to him or his attitude.)

    The power of “no” is only good if the person involved gets to say it.

    XX

  10. Amanda,

    You’re right about the reviews. The site I use in my area appears to be lucky in that there are not that many fake/revenge reviews. The women I’ve seen are always encouraging me to writing reviews after the encounters. I really hadn’t seen the downside to them as they really helped me when I was trying to find someone to see.

    However I’m about to go on a trip so I went looking in one of the cities I’m passing through, most of the woman’s profiles that I looked at had at one or more fake/phony or just plain ridiculous reviews. The guy ranting about a miss-communication that caused a missed connection, would be funny except for the rotten ratings he gave her that will affect her lively hood.

    Tom

  11. Tom,

    Men often don’t see much of a downside to reviews. Trust me, it’s there and it can be a huge issue for the girl (including seeping into her real life, like being used as evidence against her in court). I’m glad you’re following the wishes of the ladies you see in regards to reviews. That’s always wise.

    I’m curious what city you’re traveling to, but I realize you can’t really say that in public! If you can spot the drama miles away — doesn’t bode well for that city. On the other hand, I bet the ladies will appreciate a nice client who isn’t going to give them grief. ๐Ÿ™‚

    XX

  12. Amanda,

    The city is one of the cities that are at the northern edge of the south. I wouldn’t want to mention it because it might not be a fair take on the whole city. It could just be a few bad apple clients on one of the review websites that expect everything to work perfectly and want a Southern “Stepford” escort.

    Truth be told I’m not completely comfortable with writing reviews for the escorts that ask for it. I have no problem talking about how easy the encounter setup was, if the pictures are up to date, was she on time, was it what I expected and if I had fun.
    But when it comes to the more specific details(which are probably the ones that can brought up in court), it just feels wrong and if the site requires it to be explicit, then that review never gets posted.

    Tom

  13. Tom,

    No worries.

    The explicit parts is what I don’t get. If it was meaningful, why the hell share it online with god knows who? I would really like a review system that just allowed clients to legitimize the lady, w/o going further. Too bad these review sites seem to want to support guys who miss Penthouse Letters.

    Besides, at the heart of it all, everyone creates their own chemistry and it’s not something that should be expected to be transferred to anyone else. At least, that’s my experience. None of my clients are alike and the more I do this, the more disparate the experiences become (not saying this is a bad thing but it’s certainly not review-friendly).

    XX

  14. Amanda,

    The Penthouse letters is a good analogy I had three versions of a review refused before I gave up, but if I’d written it as Dear Penthouse it probably would have passed. Problem is that I developed feelings for the lady and couldn’t bring myself to write that explicitly about it.

    Chemistry is also something that builds, reviews based on first encounters are nothing like what will happen on subsequent encounters.

    Tom

  15. Tom,

    Requirements for explicit reviews certainly discount the very real feelings a provider and client can have for each other. One of the other reasons I dislike them so much. The pursuit of too much information for prurient purposes really deducts from what can and should be a great experience. I’m glad you see this.

    XX

  16. Reviews are a useful tool. It’s also a tool with severe limitations, just like most sources of information. One of the many problems is that, yes, it is manipulated by all parties (sites, reviewers AND providers).

    But besides the reservations I have toward them as sort of a gentleman hobbyist (if you grant me that there can be such animal)who doesn’t pay and tell, it’s the potential incrimination factor that makes them unacceptable, on top of distasteful, to me.
    Still, they’re out there and they can assist the research process.

    It is very much a male approach to categorize, rate, and otherwise view the world in terms of code (statistics, scores, ratings, etc.). We make sense of things by breaking them down and quantifying them. We seek hints of order in apparent chaos. The more data you collect, the more subjectivity and guess work take a back seat, and the closer to the truth you can hope to get. This is how people end up on the moon – dreaming about it doesn’t cut it. We live in a man’s world because this approach conquered nature.

    But when we’re talking about such esoterical subjects as human interaction, the process fails miserably, of course. You wouldn’t take a measuring tape to a Picasso either.

    Not all clients are interested in looking beyond menus and stats, however. So I hate talking to other hobbyists because, like children, they tend to fixate on details and miss the big picture. It may be a self-defense mechanism to try and view a session in “objective” terms. A way to keep emotions at bay. And it is definitely for titillation that review sites push for gory details.

    I’d rather go on instinct and trust my imagination and ability to make the best of most situations, but people like Tom and I are a minority, I’m sure of it.
    Nobody, and no sex worker, fits in a neat little box, and it’s unfair to claim that they can.

    A very well known and controversial study just came to my mind. It’s in the much contested and murky field of wound ballistics. Twenty some years ago, a couple of cops collected data from police shootings and published results attempting to predict the effect of various calibers and bullet profiles.
    They have been both discredited and praised for their work, in a field where unpredictability has always been the rule (kinda like the hobby).
    And my take here is the same: although I’m not buying it all, and the scientific validity is questionable… it IS data, and since someone did all this work, I do take it into account as a baseline of sorts. (I hope this wasn’t too off-topic)

  17. Hobbyist,

    I’m glad you’re not a huge fan of explicit reviews. I think that a simple review is valuable: yes, she’s legit. That’s all that really needs to be said (I think).

    Yes agreed on men and their obsession with stats (the idea of whether nature needed to be “conquered” is for a later discussion). And where stats, science and numbers fail. That’s why we have two halves in our brains. ๐Ÿ™‚

    I wish you and Tom weren’t a minority. I think it takes a particular level of intelligence, a particular desire to be introspective and a particular amount of life experiences to break free of the molds we’re put in — both men and women. It’s just very stark in the pay-for-play world.

    Data is data. I think it ends being “data” when the personal effect comes into play; that’s where chaos theory reigns.

    XX

  18. We’re in agreement. When I state that men have in effect caused their species to dominate their environment, I’m not so sure it was the right way to go about it – it just worked out that way. But like you, I look at other species and wonder whether there’s not a lesson there. And a “Matrix” speech where a computer program (Agent Smith) compares humans to viruses wasn’t lost on me either. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Furthermore, although I have a scientific background, I quickly saw the limits of the narrow approach that most scientists have. It’s very much the male, rational brain at work, and you’re right that half of the equation is missing or suppressed.

    Given that training, I am comfortable with data, though, and understand that the more you collect, the more patterns emerge, and the closer to actionable truth you can get (note that I didn’t say “The Truth” as I don’t think it’s accessible to us, especially when it comes to the subject at hand!).

    A lot of men are really lost little boys, deep down, however, and I can see where their obsession with numbers can be frustrating. It is to me as a man.
    I don’t review, BTW, and my appeals for site owners to prevent incriminating details from being posted have of course fallen into deaf ears. They know what “sells” and don’t care if their little kiss & tell party helps law enforcement or is unfair to some providers.

    The chaos theory certainly applies! It’s human (and a little vain and futile, I know) to try and make sense of the world with the help of our puny little brains and a few equations. Look at what happens when we try to predict the weather, doppler radar, satellites, supercomputers be damned.
    But we all still do, though.

    On the other end of the spectrum, I was just talking to an escort who doesn’t “screen”, the other day. She told me that she would rather trust her gut rather than call up other providers who usually have no patience for her or give out bad intel, for example. So she’s obviously making a leap of faith, listening to her right brain, and denying herself all available data (clients’ online profiles, black lists, local escorts’ feedback, etc.). She works on vibes.

    Frankly, I think there’s got to be a middle ground.
    I see more and more escorts game the system and use reviews to generate business, and I think they’re just as pragmatic as I am. It’s a “if you can’t beat them, join them” kinda thing, I think.

  19. Hobbyist,

    So much fun and juice in this one! Where to start???

    Agreed about humans being a virus. One doesn’t have to be in Asia long to feel that (or to have a vision of humans as less-workoholic ants).

    I am finding patterns and universal truths. Though in being universal it means these things are broad, of course. Data is collected in all sorts of ways. The sum data of experiences leads to new conclusions, new truths. It just takes a LOT to get there. I’ve only started.

    Escorts who don’t screen in the US scare me. They also usually end up arrested. Of the arrests I know of, none of the girls ever admitted to proper screening.

    Nor do I know of any girls who post their own reviews. They’ll have favored clients post reviews or something similar, but I’ve never known a girl to fake her own review. Not saying it doesn’t happen, just not thinking it’s as common as you think.

    They have every right to game that stupid system, though. IMO. ๐Ÿ™‚

    XX

  20. Oh, I’m sorry Amanda; I had missed that answer of yours.

    I honestly don’t have any kind of numbers when it comes to providers posting their own reviews. Just from perusing review sites, it looks like suspicions arise regularly that some posts are either fabricated by escorts, or agencies, or as you said, loyal clients.

    Also like you, I don’t have a problem with that happening – par for the course in that world, where much is made-up and subjective. But while doing my own research, I have to be cognizant of all data manipulation.

    What I was mostly referring to, though, is the links to reviews that I see more and more on escort sites and in their ads. It’s like the ladies are saying (just as I do), “Well, since this stuff is out there anyway, I might as well make it work for me!”

  21. Hobbyist — In speaking with people who have worked with agencies, it seems agencies regularly fake their own reviews. I’d say it’s a lot less prevalent with indies. Casual observations only. I don’t have numbers on this either.

    A lot of escorts link to reviews, yes. I used to, till I realized just how incriminating that was. Many escorts are starting to see that light as well. Which brings me back around to my deep wish for a review site that really just checked the box of “is she legit?”.

    Our conversations are scattered all over right now! ๐Ÿ™‚

    XX

  22. I know, it’s getting hard to keep up!

    The incrimination factor, never mind all other issues, is my main point of contention with reviews. It goes both ways, but we all know that the escorts are the ones most at risk and that’s why hobbyists keep up their little kiss & tell parties.

    I’ve even seen massage parlors advertise their physical location and link to explicit reviews – I can’t wrap my mind around this. Might as well invite vice over themselves. ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

  23. Hobbyist,

    “Iรขโ‚ฌโ„ขve even seen massage parlors advertise their physical location and link to explicit reviews”

    Oh dear god. If I were a man worried about risk, I would NEVER patronize such a place. If I worked there, I would find somewhere else to work that didn’t paint a big red target on my back.

    XX

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