the work-positive theory

Another piece by Audacia Ray in which she recants former beliefs and apologizes for being a white female of conventional appearance (she should apologize for believing that New York/San Francisco sex work activists represent the entire rest of the country). But I read this piece and wondered if I was one of these sex-positive activists. No, I’m not sex-positive and don’t believe I’ve ever identified that way. Sex workers who endlessly blog about their personal/professional sex lives makes me squirm and I’ve never, ever stated that sex work satisfies my sexual self. (I usually go the other way and tell sex workers that this work is not a substitute for a sex life.)

Sex work is work to me, not sex. I am work-positive. I firmly believe in every sex worker’s right to work in the safest possible manner, maximizing their income as much as they can. As much as I can give sex workers the tools to do that, I will. Granted, my focus is on what I know best: Internet escort work. That still encompasses a pretty broad swath of people. I insist on sex workers working ethically as well — that’s my belief in how the world functions best. Not that I can somehow force anyone to do any of this. That’s a laugh!

For some reason, work is a four-letter word among Internet escorts. There is nothing dirty, ignoble or dispassionate about work. Job is also not a bad word, yet is also treated as such. Maybe my origins do affect my sex work. I was raised with a very strong work ethic and having a job was what one did. Since my family did not provide me with a trust fund to last the rest of my life, having a job and working was an integral part of my future no matter how I looked at it.

That my sex work is work isn’t a negative to me. I take pride in my work, I pour a lot of my personal energy into my work. My work revolves around connecting with individual humans on a personal level and making them happy. It’s not easy work and it’s not a job for everyone but it is a job that many are drawn to. I certainly don’t resent having to make a living. It’s an expected part of my life. Sure, there are annoyances but there are plenty of other jobs that would have killed my soul long before.

Audacia discusses the issue of money and yes, it’s a valid reason for why many choose this work. Nothing wrong with taking the highest-paying work one can get. But I have found that those who find fulfillment only through the money end up with emotional problems regarding the work. The answer for these people isn’t decrim, it’s helping them get similar-paying work they can personally handle. The reality is that not everyone is cut out for sex work. Just like not everyone is cut out to do all sorts of other highly-specialized work. Still, those who hate sex work but need to pay the bills deserve work-positive activism just as much as those who feel naturally drawn to sex work. (I’m deliberately leaving out the experiences of those who were coerced into sex work because, obviously, they made no choice to be involved.)

In a perfect world, everyone would only do the work they wished to do and it would magically pay their living expenses. We’re not there yet. Changing the laws and providing harm reduction is the best that can be done. I don’t feel there is inherent conflict in telling the world “Most sex workers choose sex work. Many like it. Many do not. None of them wishes to work in unsafe conditions and be subject to arrest or become ready-made victims of crime.”

Sex work is a gigantic spectrum of experiences. One thing I’ve noticed is that those who have negative experiences rarely acknowledge that not everyone shares their experiences, yet any sex worker who has positive experiences is seemingly required to acknowledge they aren’t shared by everyone. Positive experiences aren’t a by-product of “luck” or any socially-endowed “privilege” (a laughable concept under a criminalized system) — they’re a product of hard work by the individual sex worker who approaches their work as a business to be learned, managed and maximized. Does this mean every sex worker who has negative experiences aren’t taking the right business approach? Sometimes — yes. Sometimes just a little application of common sense and personal responsibility would do wonders for the sex worker. Other times the answer is clearly no, an awful lot beyond the control of the individual needs to happen to change that person’s fortune.

I’ve really said all I wanted to say today. I’m work-positive and will continue to be so. Audacia helped clarify this for me and I thank her for that — regardless of what I think of her thoughts, she made me think and that’s always appreciated (and I like her on a personal level). I’ve been trying to clarify a lot of things in my life lately and this is just one more piece in place (a small one, but one I wanted to share).

21 thoughts on “the work-positive theory

  1. Aspasia

    One thing I’ve noticed is that those who have negative experiences rarely acknowledge that not everyone shares their experiences, yet any sex worker who has positive experiences is seemingly required to acknowledge they aren’t shared by everyone. Positive experiences aren’t a by-product of “luck” or any socially-endowed “privilege” (a laughable concept under a criminalized system) — they’re a product of hard work by the individual sex worker who approaches their work as a business to be learned, managed and maximized. Does this mean every sex worker who has negative experiences aren’t taking the right business approach? Sometimes — yes. Sometimes just a little application of common sense and personal responsibility would do wonders for the sex worker. Other times the answer is clearly no, an awful lot beyond the control of the individual needs to happen to change that person’s fortune.

    Thank you!

  2. Amanda Brooks Post author

    Aspasia — You’re welcome! It’s been something I’ve wanted to articulate for years, it just took a while to finally come to the surface.

    Lionel — Um…read this blog. Go to the Archives page, scroll down to the bottom and start reading up.

    You may also enjoy my book’s website/blog too. Same topic, different stories, different “voice.”

  3. The Aussie Ex Flatmate

    For those that don’t know you let me fill this in a little here. Having had the pleasure of being flatmates I think I can speak from a little bit of an enlightened point of view.

    Amanda Works her arse off in many aspects and it is pretty much all day. She spends a LOT of time looking after her body and ALWAYS is cautious of what she eats. She would work behind her computer an easy 8 hour day almost everyday and then on top of that would be the money making end the actually meeting Clients. I worked a senior management position and worked LONG days and nights. She was there with me. I would suggest between all of the things she does she would put in a 60hour week or more and that is not counting the physical activity and eating etc that is a whole of life thing. As a senior manager for a Major international company I was constantly being schooled in business and the way Amanda works. I took many lessons and learnings and implemented them in my daily life as a manager.

    This job is work hands down no question. It is one that goes long beyond the task at hand and has an impact on every aspect of the life of the person doing it (making the huge assumption others are as professional) There are no office hours per say, Amanda is pretty much always reflecting on work in conscious or unconsious ways.

    My belief is this would be a learned work ethic. I wish I could have an entire company of her. We WOULD be able to take over the world!

    So yeah to you Amanda. thanks for being a great Teacher, mentor and Entrepreneur as well as source of amazing ideas and innovative thinking.

  4. Amanda Brooks Post author

    Aussie Ex-Flatmate — Thank you! I don’t even know what to say. I generally find that I don’t do enough or I run out of hours in the day. Your view is very much appreciated.

  5. massuse

    I lived a very chaotic and unfortunate life due to my father being a stellar employee but a monster at home. He beat my mother and did not want to be a father. For 18 yrs. all I knew was a drug addicted, depressed mother and abandoned/rejected by dad at age 11. As a result, I am like a PTSD surviver and found myself fired from any job after spending 8 yrs. in the military. I was fired for the last time 2 yrs. ago. I began seeing clients out of my home as a sensual massuse. It has been the only way I can support myself and my successful teenage son. I managed to raise an honor student by myself and I know damn well no employer will ever appreciate me like my clients do. It kills me that if I ever got into trouble, my picture would be all over the news like I was some kind of harlot when all I want to do is keep a roof over our heads and earn a modest living like anyone else. My son doesn’t even drive yet and he holds down a job. We are decent people who have done alot of good for the world around us. I will never see my name under “employee of the month” but I managed to raise one. I would have given anything to have a father who wanted to be a dad and not a stellar employee. He is long dead and nobody misses him at work.

  6. Amanda Brooks Post author

    Massuse — Thank you for sharing. You’ve done well for yourself. You’re independent and have raised a son who seems to be starting off right. Your life hasn’t been easy but you can be proud of standing on your own two feet no matter what.

  7. David

    I’m in no way surprised by your flatmate’s description about the amount and intensity of work you do. You have always impressed me as conscientious, ethical, caring, and dedicated. Your willingness to share your expertise with others always impresses me! Thanks!

  8. AC

    About sex-positivity and work-positivity:

    The way we talk about our work online (in our stage names) is so different than the private conversations escorts have offline, in my experience. I am reluctant to use the word “work” in any place where clients might see it, because honestly and unfortunately, a lot of guys are delusional about the relationship we have, and acknowledging it as my job is a turnoff to them. These guys tend to be my biggest spenders. My best client, on our third date or so, made a comment, “I trust that you don’t experience our time together to be work.” Though our relationship is client/provider in every sense possible, he would describe it as two people who just love each other, and him sharing with me because he cares about me. I play the game.

    For me, so much of the image that my clients want is at odds with my own feeling toward the profession. Since I’m ultimately in this for money above everything else, I will say what makes me money. It’s difficult to have honest conversations about this on the internet when it’s the same forum you use to attract and maintain clients.

  9. Amanda Brooks Post author

    AC — Yes, indeed. Agreed with everything you say. Once again, “work” is a four-letter word when it needn’t be.

    Though a large part of this piece was spawned by what Audacia said in regards to activists discussing sex work from a sex-positive standpoint and I argue they should discuss it from a work-positive standpoint. Most of these activists aren’t even current sex workers, so they have nothing to lose by discussing it as work.

  10. Amanda Brooks Post author

    Afterthought — We’re all focusing on the wrong part of escort work. Once again, sex takes over! :)

    In reality, most escorts spend the vast majority of their “escort time” NOT seeing clients but instead doing all the tedious admin work that comes with being an independent escort. I don’t know about any ladies reading this, but I personally don’t find anything remotely fulfilling or orgasmic about posting ads, doing screening, protecting my content from plagiarists or weeding through spam (among any other number of admin tasks I could mention). While I enjoy my clients, these things take up the majority of my escort-time and are indeed WORK.

    And, for most escorts, one of the big reasons we like regular clients is that they are less work (generally-speaking).

  11. Lee

    Amanda – First of all, a standing ovation for your defense of / ode to work! I agree completely. I was raised that way as well.

    Ms. Ray seems to address those whose economic circumstances (dire being a very relative term) lead them to sex work from the same starting point of patronizing sympathy as do the anti-prostitution prude set, although she directs herself down a different and better road. But of true empathy there seems to be little, nor an acknowledgement that there are many advantages and disadvantages in life, not all of which match our society’s current fetish for bureaucratizing these. There seems to be an chain implication that those who don’t match her categorization of privilege – because they are “underprivileged” – must have had negative experiences in sex work – therefore are not joining her part of the movement. Maybe, just maybe, the majority of those who don’t look like or talk like her have the same “Invisible Majority” outlook as so many who do look like or are educated like her but still don’t join up. Maybe they are more interested in learning and mutual support for avoiding Johnny Law and keeping up with their bills than debating the intricacies of sexual feminist theory. (I can’t blame them myself.)

    Isn’t it a major part of the argument for decriminalization to point out and praise those who were able to pull themselves out of their economic circumstances to good money and independence through sex work? In other words, that sex work for the majority of sex workers is a road of opportunity, not of ruin, and that it would be so for a greater percentage of sex workers if de-criminalization were achieved, so that sex workers had access to the same outlets for succor from harm that the rest of society does, rather than those outlets presenting to sex workers an even greater threat?

    The best possible connotation I can think of putting to Ms. Ray’s remarks would be that maybe she thinks that for those sex workers whose discomfort with being sex workers stems from the negative treatment they receive from the general society, talking about the toll this has taken on them – despite the benefits they may have gained from sex work – might help to promote the cause of changing the laws. But I don’t get much of that impression, and even if I did, I would not agree. Harping on these things would bring questions along the lines you pointed out, that a substantial percentage of those negative experiences could have been avoided by applying work ethic and common sense (oh mercy how many times have I seen exactly the lack of these, plus impatience, get people arrested, etc!), and will not give the uninvolved much reason to think the occupation should be better accepted.

    For those who have suffered from violence or persecution, from my small experience the existing sex worker organizations do much better at support for victims of these things and promoting awareness of their suffering than they do other things like political advocacy. If these are the kind of negative consequences she means, I think she is flat wrong.

    I had heard Ms. Ray’s name before, but have never met her and hadn’t read her work before (I did read a little more of her blog after reading this article, which seemed to be in the same vein – there is no such thing as choice, it is a false middle class concept, etc.).

    On something like the other side of the coin, I just finished Harriette Wilson’s memoirs. She is honest, proud, completely without shame or apology, very perceptive, and had a very good understanding of human nature and behavior. She never so much as approaches explicitness, but I have rarely read or heard a better description of the sources of attraction and love. For me, her impressions of her relationships, and what makes for good and bad relationships between courtesan and client, bear more resemblance to reality than a lot of modern, psychological-term-filled descriptions. She helped crystallize my own well-considered but slightly opaque thoughts. Although to our era’s eyes she is quite a snob, she is large-hearted and benevolent. It is always interesting to see how the same, fundamental things are played out in different times and cultures (like verification, when the visitor would not give his name to the servant at her door: “If any gentleman is ashamed of me, or of himself, I will not see him.”) She says that her memoirs are “most amusing and very interesting”, and I agree.

  12. Michael

    I just started reading your blog, and your entries are entertaining and thoughtful. You write extremely well. I am a regular client of an escort, and your insights help me to understand her better as well as remind me of where my boundaries should be. From a client’s perspective, the biochemistry that goes on during such am intimate encounter does make you forget it is a job for the escort. Keep up the excellent writing!

  13. Amanda Brooks Post author

    Michael — Thank you! You’re welcome.

    Just remember, “job” is not a dirty word. She could be a great actress; she could find complete happiness in how she makes her living; she could truly enjoy you within the bounds of the relationship you have. J-O-B doesn’t have to degrade either of you.

  14. Amanda Brooks Post author

    Lee — Thank you!

    The ultra-PC ideas of privilege do indeed miss the fact that individuals who have the same circumstances may see themselves as lucky, horribly oppressed or not even notice what’s going on because they’re just living their lives. Sex workers the world over choose sex work over other forms of work because it’s the best option they have. Why is that wrong? This does a great disservice to their own choices and ability to lead their lives.

    You do well in pointing out that just because someone comes from an “underprivileged” class in sex work doesn’t mean they only have blanket negative experiences. I can think of one escort with a Master’s degree who SHOULD be “privileged” but due to her inability to keep it together, constantly has trouble with a job she apparently can’t wrap her head around. (I think she should find other work.) At the same time, I know of high-school dropouts who are adults, behave like adults and have turned escort work into a major opportunity for themselves.

    There is hesitance in making sex work seem like opportunity and I’m not sure where it stems from. I don’t call it a panacea for all that ails women, but if someone thinks they can make a go of it, then it can be a massive opportunity if done right. Decrim would go a long way to leveling the playing field for all sex workers, removing a lot of perceived privilege (especially between indoor/outdoor workers). I think there is some good old American squeamishness about promoting a career where female sexuality gives its practitioners a leg up in life. It’s totally sleeping one’s way to the top!

    It’s important to stress that the bad effects of sex work in the US almost always stem from criminalization. If I’m reading you right, you feel that this message is getting lost in worrying about the origins and motivations of these sex workers, especially when that message gets tangled in feminist theory. Yes?

    No, our current US sex worker orgs aren’t real great at political action yet. Unfortunately.

    I need to read Harriette Wilson’s book. It’s sitting in storage. Sigh.

  15. Lee

    Amanda –

    Sex workers the world over choose sex work over other forms of work because it’s the best option they have. Why is that wrong? This does a great disservice to their own choices and ability to lead their lives. Yes, Yes – exactly.

    Your point about opportunity is spot on. Freedom to succeed can also mean freedom to fail, but people should have the freedom to experiment and attempt and learn from mistakes and successes on their own terms.

    I agree about the squeamishness. I think that many people’s opinions on sex work and prostitution stem from this squeamishness, insecurity and intolerance, and then they try (often desperately) to find facts to justify their opinions, rather than trying to discern the facts, then forming an opinion.

    On the bad effects of criminalization, yes that is definitely what I meant. Sort of a case-in-point from the general principle of your Invisible Majority post. There might not be anything wrong with sharing negative experiences per se, but I don’t think that it is why more women are not supporting/joining movements, I don’t think it is why there isn’t more progress in changing the laws, and I don’t think that encouraging more of it is the solution to either of these goals.

    If and when you do get to Harriette, I’d certainly be interested to hear your take.

  16. Amanda Brooks Post author

    Lee — I’m glad you appreciate this. Most people don’t because most don’t realize it.

    You’re dead on with how non-sex workers approach the work: trying to find ways to rationlize their opinions rather than look at the facts and reason from there. It’s a huge issue, especially among feminists (read the comments here: http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2012/04/20/why-the-sex-positive-movement-is-bad-for-sex-workers/)

    I do think the overwhelming attention to negative experiences and almost complete dismissal of neutral/positive ones only adds to Whore Stigma and hurts sex workers. Sex workers get painted as desperate, unthinking, victims or outright deluded liars. I want to encourage all sex workers to share their stories, unfortunately I can’t control how those stories are heard, which is the problem. I am indeed sick of the neutral/positive stories having to come with disclaimers. Personal experience is personal experience, period.

    Harriette will be a while. :)

  17. Lee

    Amanda – You’re welcome! I love my liberty and independence, so it never seems very difficult for me to understand why others would want the same for themselves.

    I read the comments you put the link up to, and you are definitely right about the search for justifications. It also never ceases to astonish me how strongly people feel that their personal experiences and conclusions apply to others, that they can therefore speaks for others, and that others should live by their views. This kind of presumption seems even worse when sex is involved, although by its (mostly) private nature it seems to me to be one of the most individual of things. But I guess it speaks to the lack of facts, seeing too much of the sex and not enough of the work, and other points we’ve been making.

  18. Amanda Brooks Post author

    Lee — Independence and freedom is one of the main themes that come up for sex workers the world over. Something everyone once again misses.

    The comments were amazing. I learned long ago (due to this business) that just because I feel one way about sex doesn’t mean EVERYONE does but that some likely do. Not to mention they forget about the “work” aspect of sex work altogether. Of course they would: they’ve never done it!

    Overall, the comments themselves are degrading and infantalizing.

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