Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Being the "Sex Worker" Specimen

Sometimes, not often, but sometimes I wish I didn't feel like I had to talk about sex work all the time. Don't get me wrong I LOVE talking sex work how-to's, my experiences, the politics and activism around decriminalization of prostitution and my other weird utopian dreams. Hell, I feel like I'm even getting better at it, gaining a broader vocabulary and stronger voice with each panel discussion, podcast, and public Q and A. What's been tiring for me the last few weeks is not combative or aggressive anti-sex work people at these public forums, but well-meaning, unconscious people I meet in my day-to-day social interactions.

When meeting someone for the first time, whether it be an okcupid date, in a munch setting or through a mutual friend, "what do you do for a living?" seems to be the standard question one asks directly following "what is your name?" Without hesitation I offer the truth, as part of my sex work activism is destigmatization, I hope the more times this person hears the word 'sex worker' the more 'normal' it feels. What ends up happening more often than not is I then become THE sex work ambassador, the gatekeeper for all sex industry knowledge and the person responsible for answering multiple, long, emotionally intense games of 20 Questions. 

If I were to answer that I worked in retail, computers, public health, serving or pretty much any other industry the next question would not be "how does your job effect your sex life?" or "what is your relationship with your parents like?" or "how do you have sex with someone you're not attracted to?" or "what happens if you get married or have babies?" or any number of deep, personal, often invasive and loaded questions. Instead of being part of the social group with the ability to shmooze and to do and say what I please I become a specimen, the strange creature that needs to prove to them that I am a happy, functioning human being. Though I speak for myself these last few paragraphs I know many sex workers who share the exhausting experience of becoming the poster-child for sex work against their will. 

While it is difficult for me to not take the incessant questions as opportunities for education, for my own sanity I am creating some new boundaries for myself. Halting the questions by politely stating my preference to not talk about sex work at that particular time and channeling them into appropriate directions like Feelmore 510's 'Ask a Ho' Night, SWOP - Chicago's "How to be an Ally to Sex Workers," my own Ask Me Anything forum on tumblr, and prepared chats over coffee in the future, will help me not lose myself to other's curiosity at the risk of resenting the questions and questioners.

1 comment:

  1. I hear ya, the stereotypes for sex workers are through and through. I still want to ask those questions so I am not better then the rest. :) But the more workers are free to be out and discuss then perhaps it will dismiss. Someday in the millennia where it's legal in the U.S.