You’re ‘out’ as a sex worker. Why did you decide to come out, and what is it like?
First of all I want to say that I don’t think of my voice as the ‘voice of sex work’ at all – I’m in such a privileged position. I work indoors and I’m a white cisgendered person. But no matter how privileged we are, I and most sex workers live a precarious life. The criminalisation of our work means that it is difficult for us to access the most basic things – renting a room or taking out a mortgage for example – really anything that requires access to your bank account. I hope my being out will show people the normality of sex work, and make society see that sex work is just work. People will see that I’m not strange or sick – I’m absolutely normal, and this was something that I chose. It’s the best thing for me now. That might change, but for now this is exactly what I want to do. I hope it will also encourage others to come out and try to be visible. Even if being out is scary sometimes and brings me pain, I think it’s a way to bring about change.
Tell me about the stigma that surrounds sex work?
People don’t treat us like we are humans. We have so many names: ‘homewrecker’, ‘contagion’, ‘sickness’. We are told that we destroy relationships, that we don’t know what intimacy is, that we don’t have intimacy with our partners and lovers, that we are all drug users, that we come from deep poverty, that we are capitalist pigs who will do anything for money. Because everybody else works for love and passion right? Only sex workers work for money.
The stigma is what creates the violence. People think that we are less human and so it is OK to abuse us. I think a lot of this comes down to the fact that sex work is mainly a woman’s profession. If sex work was a traditionally male profession, I don’t believe that it would have all this stigma and violence attached to it. We’ve been repressing women forever; we are not permitted financial power and independence, we should stay at home and cook for a man and wait for him to come home from work and then do home sex work. We talk about sex work and we never think about the sex work that people who are not sex workers do, to keep a marriage, or to escape a parent’s home.
What do you like about your job?
For me, doing sex work means having control over my own life. The capitalist system is so bad – the last job I had before this I was earning £4.80 an hour. With sex work I’m not getting rich – I earn more or less the same as I did before as a waitress – but what I do have is time. And it’s so wonderful to have time in life. I started escorting last year and it has been the most amazing year of my life. I’ve been able to involve myself in women’s rights and activism for sex workers rights. Changing the world is still a dream for me. I still have the same dream I’ve had since I was a little girl, which is to make a difference.
And the work itself. Are there things you like about that?
I do, I actually do. I like to work with peoples’ desires. You’re making people happy. To me, no fantasy that a client has is weird – although some are boring. I like it when clients ask me for things that I never thought about doing. It’s not my kink and it’s not part of my desire, but I like to play with other people’s desires. I have really good connections with some of my clients. I know that’s not the way that everybody works and I’m not saying that my way of working is how it should be – nothing like that – this is just my personal experience. Even if a sex worker doesn’t enjoy their work, that can be OK too – as long as it is their choice to work. When I was a waitress I didn’t really like it, but I was still choosing to do it. Sex workers rights are human rights and having them granted shouldn’t be dependent on how passionate you are about your work. We should have rights because they are what will make sure we can work safely.
You talk a lot about capitalism. What is the connection in your mind between capitalism and sex work?
Capitalism forces you to behave in a certain way. Ever since I was a kid, I never really understood this world. As soon as you are born you are set on a path: nursery, then school, then uni, then a job. We don’t do anything but work. When I was waitressing I would work 15 hours a day. I had weeks where I would work one hundred hours. When you are working for someone they are not paying you, you are paying them with pieces of your life. Years of your life gone, working to get someone else rich.
If your life moves away from this path, then you are fighting capitalism. I do believe that sex workers fight it. A lot of us are anarchists. We are anti-work, we are absolutely against all this minimum wage shit and we do believe that if you work for a company then you have to have a share in it. As sex workers we are outside fighting the capitalist power structure. That is one of the things that I do love about my job – that’s what makes it really powerful and really radical.
Does pleasure have a political power?
Pleasure is part of our liberation. As human beings we are very sexual and consensual sex between adults is something we can draw a lot of power from. But as a society we need to be more celebratory and open about desire.
I had a webcam client whose kink was to masturbate while watching a woman wearing red lipstick read a newspaper. For someone who’s never had that kind of desire, it can seem a little bit strange, but it’s harmless right? We are taught to keep all our desires inside. We are frightened of being called freaks, but really everyone is a fucking freak. Why can’t we play with each other? Playing with each other brings union – that’s why I think pleasure is so powerful, because we can use it to connect with other people and embrace our inner freaky selves.
Right now we are so isolated, the system keeps us in our nuclear families, separated from everybody. If we came together more to embrace pleasure maybe we wouldn’t care so much about the latest Macbook or car, maybe we wouldn’t be so concerned with all the things that capitalism says that we need.
Are you a feminist? Tell me about the relationship between feminism and your work?
Yes I’m a feminist. When I became a sex worker a lot of people who knew that I identified myself as a feminist asked me, “How can you do this work and call yourself a feminist?” I don’t understand that question. People say I’m objectifying myself. No I’m not. I’m in control of my body, I’m in control of my life, I’m in control of myself. I have the same great connection with my body now that I had before. I probably love it even more now because it’s giving me control over my life. I’m even more proud of what I am, of being a woman and being able to make some money, and not being sat behind a bar 100 hours a week. It’s the people who deny our agency who are not feminists. How can you be a feminist and put another woman in a position of repression again? How can you be a feminist and tell me that my body is not my own? I’m even more of a feminist now that I have had to fight against radical feminists who try to put me in a place where I don’t have agency, when I do, and say that I am brainwashed by patriarchy, which I’m not.
What about human trafficking?
Some people are trafficked for sex work. Our community knows that and we’re not trying to hide it. In fact we want to shine a bright light on it. But why is the concern about human trafficking limited to sex work? The majority of sex workers are not trafficked. If you want to talk about human trafficking, talk about the human trafficking that exists in other industries as well, don’t just come pointing to sex work. 20 per cent of human trafficking happens in sex work. That is a lot. Even if it was just 1 per cent, it would be a lot. But it’s not the whole cake: we should focus on the whole cake, not just on one part of it.
How does the issue of consent come in to sex work?
There is a difference between consent and desire. I don’t desire my clients, but I am giving my very clear, concise consent to us having sex. I don’t have to desire my clients in order to give my consent; the two are separate for me. It’s a really important distinction, because otherwise all sex work is classified as inherently violent – as rape. That is very dangerous, because it stops us being able to report rape when it does happen. People say, “Oh isn’t that part of your work?” No, it’s not! Consent is part of my work; rape is not part of my work – ever! Telling us that we are being raped all the time is so fucked up. I’ve never had violence from a client, but I experience violence from people who say that kind of thing.
How do police officers in the UK treat sex workers?
With violence. They discredit us – in a way it’s slut-shaming. The way you are touched and questioned is so violent. We don’t want to give them our details, because we never know how things are going to turn out: one moment our work is legal, the next it’s illegal. When we have our names on the record, we are doomed forever. This is something society needs to understand – these institutions are there to protect people, but the way things are at the moment, they don’t protect us. I’ve never felt able to go to the police. I had a problem in a hotel once – not with a client but with a member of staff. One of the reception staff came up to my room and threatened me. He said, “I know what you are doing here, and if you don’t give me a blowjob, I will chuck you out.” I wanted to call the police and report him for harassment so badly, but then I realised I couldn’t, because it would open up so many questions about my work. I felt so vulnerable; I ended up sleeping with my money in my boots, and my feet up against the door, absolutely terrified that he would just come in in the middle of the night. There is always this fear that the police will punish us rather than help us.
Why do we need to decriminalise sex work?
We need decriminalisation so we can stop violence against sex workers. We need decriminalisation so we can create unions and work in safety, and so that those who choose to exit the industry can do so safely. We need decriminalisation so we can get rid of the stigma around our work and make people see us as normal people. You can be sat next to a sex worker on the bus and you will never know. We are normal people, walking among you.
Is sex work important? Do you think we need it in our society?
I don’t really know what the answer is to that. It’s important for me! Is it important for society to have sex workers? Sex work exists full stop. Do we need it? It doesn’t matter, it’s here. Our human rights shouldn’t be dependent upon whether or not our professions are valuable.
I mean, I think my work is important because people who can’t access sex, and people who can’t express their kinks and fantasies otherwise find us, and we accept them and take that sexual tension away. For example, there are so many men who want to be fingered and fisted in the ass and they can’t do that with their partners or lovers or one night stands because it’s too ‘weird’. People can relax about these kinds of internalised conflicts with us and that is important.
But my difficulty with answering this question is that the ‘importance’ of what we do should not be what gives us sex workers’ rights. We need rights because people are dying and suffering doing sex work. With decriminalisation, that could all end so easily. You have to support us, you have to help us. By resisting decriminalisation you are permitting people to kill us.
Words Kitty Drake and photography Scarlet Evans