I often compare the sex worker rights movement with the Civil Rights movement and gay movement. Most often, I see it closer to the Civil Rights movement.
I’e become used to conversations with people or business interactions with them — all behind the scenes. But I understand that in public they might not wish to be associated with me. It’s not a condescending remark. Not everyone is ready to stand up to prejudice or make logical arguments to refute knee-jerk morality. I understand. So if we meet in public I pretend not to know and do not burden them with social embarrassment.
Take the constant checking I have to do with publishing-related businesses. I can’t assume they’re going to want to do business with me, so before we get too far down the road I have to give background info, detailed explanations, legal disclaimers (and prove that others have worked with me before) — and this is just the introductory e-mail. In essence, I apologize for what I’m doing and for imposing on them.
My hat must be in my hand, my eyes down and I should respectfully step out of the way so they can pass. In case I make them uncomfortable, I should cross the street so they don’t have to.
Usually I get praised for checking their tolerance level before daring to engage in a business conversation with them. Before I dare to believe I’m a regular publisher like anyone else making a book about cats (or cooking or yoga or whatever has been done to death). Before I dare to act as though I have a right to choose my business partners, instead of letting them choose me and being grateful for it.
I grew up in a very racist part of the country (though I did not share those prejudices). Common wisdom seemed to be that black is contagious. Sex is contagious as well (and let’s not even get into the disease aspect!). Black stinks and black people are on another level — pathetic creatures no one is convinced are human. Sex workers have this same ability to interact with humans yet not be a part of the human race.
I have no doubt that I’m going to get (verbally) hit for assuming to know the black experience. All I’ve seen is from the outside and I’ve seen even more through the eyes of the deeply prejudiced people I grew up around. And what I’ve seen of the treatment of sexual women, especially sex workers, is very much the same.
There have been numerous posts on here chronicling my first year in small publishing. But it’s taken me time to really digest what has happened. I’ve been as emotionally battered as when I was a stripper, probably more so. Certainly I’ve lost more illusions than with stripping (I didn’t go into stripping with many illusions).
Take fulfillment houses. They don’t want my book showing up in their online catalog because –well, I was never actually given any good reasons for it. I assume it’s because they worry about public perception of who they’re willing to do business with. It drags them down to where they assume my level is. Or maybe they worry a floodgate will open and suddenly sex work books will pop out of the woodwork (where they should stay, damnit!) and demand to do business.
Or my own fulfillment company, who has successfully beaten me down to the point where I’m afraid to contact them for anything. I would like to move my books out of their warehouse but until I find another fulfillment house to my liking relatively near them, it will cost too much to ship all my books to California. Cheaper to leave them where they are. And so I pay a monthly storage fee; paying for the privilege of being abused (in a business sense) because I deserve no better for what I dare to put into print.
And so I put my hat in my hand, lower my eyes…
I would like to sit in a seat on a bus and change the world. But I can’t even get on the bus.
What about all the famous sex workers memoirs out there? Some are starting change in the mainstream mind. Most others are simply entertaining. Dance, sex worker, dance!
And what is the current housewife obsession in pretending to be a stripper if not a blackface minstrel show?
A person can like you until they discover you’re a sex worker (past or present). It’s a common experience. I think it’s mostly because sex work is on the inside and not something that shows on the skin. It if could show on the skin, my! wouldn’t that make life easier for everyone? If it could show on the skin, we’d have a whole new ethnic bias spring up overnight. Although I think the sheer number of the tribe might take the country by surprise.
The most perfect, shining example I can think of right now is the book industry (yeah, I’ve got plenty to bash them with). A whole industry that gives lip service to freedom of speech — just so long as it’s what they approve of.
Just like the people I remember who liked certain blacks because they were “good” blacks, blacks that were approved of. They could trot out the names of these black people to prove they weren’t really prejudiced, after all, here were some black people who made them think “Hey! Not all blacks are bad. I like these!”
I’ve stated that I would like to be someone the public can look to and think “Hey! Not all sex workers are a plague on society. I like Amanda Brooks!” It would break down barriers. But that it’s even a position to aspire to…is a sad sad thing.
PS: I’m deliberately taking a negative view right now to express some thoughts that have been boiling around for a long time. This doesn’t mean this is my sole viewpoint.