“As if sex work is only work if it’s ‘good’ work, if we love to do it”
Melissa Gira Grant’s written a wonderful long piece at the Nation about how much is elided when sex work is seen as an arena of morality rather than labor:
These are four of the most visible forms of sex work—porn, stripping, domination and escorting—and each offers a distinct environment, [but] it’s not uncommon for workers to draw their incomes from more than one of them. It’s about more than maximizing their earning potential; it’s also a way to negotiate the varying degrees of exposure and surveillance that come with each venue. For every escort who would never give up her privacy by working in a strip club, there’s a stripper who would never give up her privacy by working in porn or having her image posted online, and there’s a porn performer who would never have sex for money outside the context of a porn shoot.
[…]However, as distinct as the work and their environments may be and whatever the dangers of lumping them together, there is a political usefulness in calling all of this “sex work”… To do so is to insist that those who do sex work, in all of their workplaces and in varied conditions, deserve the rights and respect accorded to workers in any other industry. The portrait of street-level prostitution as it’s on display in media accounts—a woman, most often a woman of color, standing in a short skirt and leaning into a car or pacing toward one—is a powerful yet lazily constructed composite. As the lead character of the prostitute imaginary, she becomes a stand-in for all sex workers, a reduction of their work and lives to one fantasy of a body and its particular and limited performance for public consumption. Sex workers’ bodies are rarely presented or understood as much more than interchangeable symbols—for urban decay, for misogyny, for exploitation—even when invoked by those who claim some sympathy, who want to question stereotypes, who want to “help.”
She covers “rescue” organizations and “advocates” whose income comes from taking away sex workers’ income stream, and I found this statistic particularly interesting: “One-third of brothel workers had never done any other kind of sex work before, but rather came to it directly from ‘non-sexual service work.'” It’s a great read down to the last sentence, on the conflation of integrity and the willingness to fake thrilling affection for your everyday job:
To insist that sex workers only deserve rights at work if they have fun, if they love it, if they feel empowered by it is exactly backward. It’s a demand that ensures they never will.