Ok, so I’m really finding it hard to keep the rage in right now. The source of my rage? That age-old sexist stereotypes just keep burning on in the fire of debates about the sex industry. Every time we think there might be a chance – just a chance – we can snuff some of them out … Nope! Someone’s just put some gasoline on it! And so it goes on, and on, and on.
Here’s a thought, Hollywood dudes and Guardian commentators: if you assume that all/most sex workers are women … and I’ll add straight-identifying and cisgendered on to that … and that all/most clients are men … and let’s sprinkle in some more cisnormativity and heterosexism into that mix … then how do you think you’re imagining the whole ‘gender’ and ‘sexuality’ thing? Is there a chance – just a chance – that in fact you’re – oops! – totally reproducing the very discourses that we so desperately need to challenge? The ones that depict women as sexual objects, and men as sexual subjects? Or is it just that the sex industry is some weird bubble where there is no L, no G, no B, no T, and not even a Q? Is the sex industry some strange straight-o-verse where everyone is just really, really, really heterosexual? Or might it be a little more complex than that?
Blast. I had forgotten that it’s a Total Fact that the ‘vast majority’ of sex workers are women, and that the ‘vast majority’ of clients are men. I know it’s a fact because you’re saying it very, very loudly. And also tons of people have said it really loudly before, too, so it’s most definitely a Total Fact. Except, it isn’t; it isn’t actually a ‘fact’ at all. For example, did you know that the Student Sex Work Research Project found that more male students sell sex than do female ones? This is important because – if we take away the ‘vast majority’ thing – then what are we left with? Are we left with complexity and diversity, where supposedly ‘simple solutions’ begin to make, well, no sense? And so doesn’t that in turn suggest that we should start to take notice of different voices, and most especially those of sex workers themselves?
I am frustrated because what Amnesty has done – and you are lambasting them for it – is to listen to, and respond to, what sex workers have been campaigning for for decades. And I am frustrated because the stories we tell ourselves about sex work cannot be removed from – but help to reproduce – the very same discourses about gender and sexuality that we should be challenging. Let’s oppose heterosexism and cisnormativity, not reinforce them; and let’s support sex workers, not denigrate and criminalise them. Let’s not rage against the wrong machine.
PS Oh dear, I’ve gone all shouty myself, and that is totally unhelpful in the context of debates where there’s already way too much shouting.