We see them as women of the night, dressed in fishnet stockings and leather corsets. They lurk in the shadows as their livelihood is still forbidden, even though it’s one of the oldest professions in existence. So, you can understand my surprise when I became face to face with a sex worker at university!
Rather than hiding behind a false identity, the blue haired woman openly disclosed her profession – in fact she embraced it. Let’s call her Avatar. Avatar wished to rectify the misinterpretations about the job, and address the fact that for most, sex work was a choice. She threw around terms like ‘whorephobia’, and drilled into the core of this long lived stigma.
This class was a nice little focus group – we had second wave feminists who deplored it, the misogynists, the hippie-anarchist, and my personal favourite – the Catholics. All of them seemed to have a very black and white take on the situation. Diatribes about the value of sex, the institution of marriage, the sacred relationship between a woman and her body ran wild. I wish I had a bucket of popcorn to be honest.
But what about the people who live in the grey on this issue? Honestly until then I had a steadfast view that people can have sex with whoever, whenever, and however. But then Avatar asked something profound that made me question my acceptance of it.
“How would you feel if you had a child who was a sex worker?”
That’s when I knew I’d fallen prey the systemic, commercial presentation of sex workers. Deep down I always believed that they were victims, bound to the profession as a last resort. If I had a child who worked in this industry I would probably wonder what I did wrong – did I corrupt them in some irreparable way? I felt my inner second wave feminist beginning to rant, and I do my best keep her gagged in a deep compartment of my subconscious.
So in order to silence her – I needed to answer the question, were sex workers victims? After briefly chatting to Avatar, I was left underwhelmed. All she said was that she enjoyed her job. So, I trawled the internet for personal accounts, interviews and journals about sex work. One woman said “I love sex, I love money”, others simply described it as “fun” and “social”. I guess I wanted a profound, philosophical answer. But that’s when I realised – it’s just a job, and that the only victim here was Avatar who had to suffer through my interrogation.
Currently, my best friend is grappling with the question: “Why do you want to study medicine?” Why it has become a pre-requisite for us to justify our choices, whether it be to an admissions board, or general society, is beyond me. Sex work is just another job. As long as your day job is “fun”, “social” and pays the bills – you shouldn’t need to justify it to anyone.