The Assumptions We Make and the People We Protect

This weekend, Stuff published an article entitled Bodies for Profit.  It might have about models, professional sports players, labourers or any one of the hundreds of other ways people use their bodies to make a profit, but of course it was about the only way that the general public routinely has a case of the vapours about: sex work.  Specifically, it was about rescuing trafficked sex workers in Thailand.  More specifically, it was about one man’s quest to rescue trafficked sex workers in Thailand.

There is a lot written about the problems with the rescue industry, most of it by people who know a hell of a lot more about it than I do.  I’m not going to write about that here.  Besides, this article seems to be far more about this one man who is involved in the rescue industry than it is about either the rescue industry or the sex industry.

What I want to talk about is the photos which accompany this article.  It is a lavish long-form piece, with eye-catching web coding and a lot of accompanying images of sex workers.  How can we tell they’re sex workers?  Well, they’re photos of women accompanying a story about sex work.  They’re photos of Asian women accompanying a story about sex work.  Some of these pictures, fair cop, do clearly illustrate an aspect of the sex industry: a woman in a bikini beneath a sign saying “Sexy Night”; a woman in underwear, labelled with a number for easy reference when booking.  Others – in fact most of the accompanying photos – require many more assumptions to connect them with sex work.  An Asian woman in a short blue dress being looked at by a white man.  A couple photographed from behind walking down the street holding hands: him white, her with long straight dark hair.  Two young Asian women walking down a flight of stairs looking at their cellphones.  We only “know” they’re sex workers because their pictures are alongside a story about sex work.  Our assumptions about Asian women fill in the blanks.  And, conversely, the pictures reinforce our assumptions about Asian women.  And that is highly problematic.

While the article mentions that Caucasian and South American women are also trafficked into the sex industry in Thailand, all the dozens of women shown in the photos are Asian.  Because we don’t automatically read white and Hispanic women as sex workers.  A photo of two young white women walking down a flight of stairs looking their cellphones would be confusing to us in this context.

Due to the nature of the photos, I am highly doubtful that the photographer paused to ask each women if they were indeed sex workers and do they mind if he takes their picture and publishes it on the internet to illustrate a story about Thailand’s sex industry.  Which is problematic for another reason.

The second standout feature of the images took a while to click for me: the white men in these photos uniformly have their faces blurred.  The only white man whose face is revealed is the sex worker rescuer who is the subject of this artible, Our Intrepid Hero Daniel Walker (for a man who takes pains to mention that his name is a pseudonym which he feels is necessary for the protection of himself and his family, he sure seems to like having his photo taken a lot).

Every single other person in the photos has their face visible and recognisable to the world.  All the Asian men (we are supposed to read these men as the traffickers, I guess.  Because Asian men are never clients and white men are never traffickers?)  The dozens of presumed sex workers who Daniel Walker’s organisation claims to be interested in protecting.

You could argue that the white men are more likely to be recognised from an article published in New Zealand than the Asian women are.  But men travel from all parts of the world (including other parts of Asia) to visit Thailand’s sex districts.  There is no presumption or likelihood that the men are New Zealanders.  And this is published on the internet, accessible by the whole world – a white client’s wife in Britain just as easily as an Asian sex worker’s mother in Thailand.

We are terribly concerned about women being sold by sex traffickers, but perfectly happy to publish photos of them in their underwear alongside an article outing them as sex workers without their consent, while protecting the identity of the men who would utilise their services.  We might want to think deeper about that.

Feminist Decision-Making (Or: How I Decided to Change My Name After Marriage)

There is nothing either feminist or unfeminist, but thinking makes it so.

– Shakespeare, basically

Every so often there is a debate, a hubbub or even a furore about whether a woman changing her name after marriage is “unfeminist”.  The only unfeminist action I can think of is declaring “I’m not a feminist and I think all feminists everywhere should stfu” (or words to that effect).  Everything else – nope.  There is no Big Feminist Rule Book stating which things are and are not OK.  There is no feminist hive mind.  Individual women identifying as feminist will hold every opinion under the sun.

The key to making a feminist decision, in my opinion, is thinking, understanding and acknowledging.  So if you’re considering changing your name after marriage, acknowledge that this is an action which has historically indicated that a woman is possessed by a man, understand that there is still a lot of pressure on women to change their names after marriage and plenty of judgement for those who choose not to, and think about what giving up your name will mean for you.  After all that, if changing your name still seems like a good idea, go for it.

This process works for pretty much every other action which is sometimes labelled unfeminist.  You know: getting married, having babies, not having babies, being a stay-at-home mum, undertaking sex work, enjoying casual sex, engaging in BDSM, wearing a bra, allowing men to hold the door open for you (gosh, being a woman is fraught sometimes, isn’t it?)

Here is my story.  I got married at the beginning of last year, and I chose to change my name to that of my husband.  It was a decision made at the end of a conversation that lasted over a year and began with “You know I’m not taking your name, right?” “Yep.”  I had never considered changing my name after marriage.  In fact, I was one of those feminists who was boggled by the fact that so many women still chose to do so, when it seemed to me to be so unnecessary.

My partner and I got engaged and then spent just over a year planning our wedding.  During that time we really started to nail down what being married actually meant to us (possibly we should have nailed it down before we agreed to get married, but engagements are more about romance than logic).  The answer to that is wildly complex, hugely personal and way too much for a simple blog post, but the main thrust of it is: we were choosing each other as family.

That’s not where I made the decision to take his name, though.  Our surnames are often referred to as family names, but I know that a name is not what makes a family.  My mother, my sisters and I all share different surnames, but this sure as hell doesn’t make us any less family.

We all have different names firstly because my mother reverted to her previous name after she and my father split, and secondly because I chose to change my surname by deed poll back at the start of my 20s.  The name I chose wasn’t a surname anyone in our family had held previously, but it had a familial connection nonetheless, plus a wonderful feminist story attached to it and a certain amount of magic and uniqueness, and I loved it.  I’ve also changed my first name in the years since, although not legally (yet), and in the course of working in the sex industry I answered to many, many names.  So names have always felt a little bit nebulous and impermanent to me.

Anyway, once my then-fiance and I identified that one of the reasons we were getting married was because we were choosing each other as family, we started to consider the idea of a family name to reflect that.  I really liked the idea of choosing a whole new name just for us.  However, my husband has a very strong connection to his name for highly understandable reasons which go well beyond the usual “It was my father’s name, and his father’s before him, etc, etc” tosh.  He wanted to hold onto it, so we considered the idea of hyphenating.

I don’t know about hyphenating.  It’s become such a standard compromise both for couples getting married and for couples with different surnames to bestow on their offspring.  I wonder about the next generation, though.  When Jane Smith-Brown marries Kim Davidson-Howard, are they going to take the surname Smith-Brown-Davidson-Howard?  How long are birth certificates going to have to be when it’s time to register little Tabitha Jenson-Steel-Howick-Robinson-Cooper-Osborne-Myers-Jeffries’ birth?  Despite this, we would have likely pursued that option, but for the fact that my former name would, for various reasons, be difficult for my husband to pull off, shall we say.  And as we discussed the possibility, I found myself not wanting him to have ~my~ name.  It was a name that I’d chosen wholly for myself, and it was a name that was chosen as something of an act of independence from my family.  My surname wasn’t my family name; it was more of an anti-family name.  So it made no sense for my husband to take it as a symbol of the fact that we’d chosen each other as family.

And that’s when I got to thinking about how things were back all those years ago when I chose to change my name, and how I’d largely healed the rifts with my family, and how I’d sort of simultaneously felt like I’d spent so long drifting without a family exactly, and how my strange surname reflected that.  THAT’S when I made the decision to change my name.  Because I was no longer drifting, because I was choosing to anchor myself to someone (who was likewise choosing to anchor themselves to me).

I’m not going to claim it was a profoundly feminist decision.  But it was a profoundly personal and thoughtful decision made by a feminist, and thus it was definitely not unfeminist.

Abuse, or the Lack Thereof, in the 50 Shades of Grey Movie

A couple of disclaimers to start with: I have still not read the 50 Shades books, and I’ve read enough critiques of them from enough sources that I trust to not feel compelled to do so (I did my time with Twilight and The Da Vinci Code – I’m through reading crappily written novels).  I am happy to believe that the novels present Christian as an abusive stalker.  As such, this post relates wholly to the movie and makes no commentary on the books.

Second disclaimer:  I’ve seen the movie once, and I was a bit tipsy at the end of a fabulous day of helping a dear friend celebrate her birthday, so I may just have been more open to giving it a favourable reading.

Third disclaimer:  Contains plenty o’ spoilers.


I’ve read several reviews of 50 Shades of Grey describing Christian Grey as an abusive, stalker-y fuckwit, and then seen a couple of comments from people insisting that while the books were awful, the movie didn’t in fact portray abuse.  After a fairly lively discussion with one of these people on Twitter, I was convinced to go see it and form my own opinion.

There were definitely some parts in which Christian came across as super creepy:

  • He turned up at the bar where Anastasia was celebrating the end of her exams with her friends, even though she hadn’t told him which bar she was at.
  • He showed up at her house – in her bedroom, even (presumably let in by her roommate, not breaking and entering, although this was not made explicit).
  • He arrived at the hotel where Anastasia was having drinks with her mother in Georgia, which was just about as far away from Seattle, where Christian was based, as it’s possible to get without leaving mainland USA.

In all of these instances, Christian was uninvited, and, yep, it was pretty creepy.  However, it’s not any more creepy than, say, the Prime Minister knocking on every door in Harris Street looking for Natalie, or Jamie travelling from London to Portugal to propose to a woman he’s never even had a conversation with, both in Love Actually.  The difference is that Anastasia expressed her displeasure and discomfort at these events rather than simpering and saying, “Aww, how sweet, let’s snog now.”  I am not saying that this makes Christian’s behaviour 100% A-OK, but I think the only thing that stops viewers as reading these actions as super-romantic is Anastasia’s reactions to them.  These were not the moments when she found Christian appealing, and, honestly, I’ll take that over the standard rom-com framing of these sorts of behaviours as totally sweet and adorable.

A scene which people have expressed some consternation at is the one in which Christian is unhappy that Anastasia is going to visit her mother in Georgia and that she hasn’t informed him of this.  I’m not going to lie: if my new partner casually mentioned over dinner with my parents that they were going to be flying across the country tomorrow and hadn’t mentioned it to me, I would have been pissed too.  Christian’s response is to make an excuse to get her alone (“I promised Anastasia a tour of the grounds”), and, when she complains that she can’t walk that fast in her heels, he throws her over his shoulder and spanks her ass a couple of times.  Now, they are already in a Dom/sub relationship at this point and Anastasia knows her safe words, so I don’t find this as hugely shocking as someone without any awareness of BDSM might.  However, it’s generally pretty frowned upon to strike someone in anger, even (especially?) if they are your submissive, so this is probably the most problematic part of the movie to me.  On the other hand, Christian’s subsequent tantrum – “You’re mine, all mine!” – came across as petulant and rather stood to underline that Anastasia is not in fact all his but still her own free agent who’ll go visit her mother if she damn well wants to.

Early in the movie, Christian expresses some jealousy over some of the men in Anastasia’s life.  However, Anastasia’s response to this is basically “Chill out, what’s your problem?” and Christian makes no attempt to suggest she should keep away from them.  In fact, I saw no evidence of Christian trying to isolate her from her friends or family at all.  Each time Anastasia asked to go home (which she was not shy about doing), Christian ensured she got home safely (it was necessary for Christian to ensure this when Anastasia was in a different city to the one she lived in and without her own transport).

Most importantly, Anastasia explicitly consented to every sexual act which occurred in the movie, and all but one of the BDSM scenes (the above-described fallout to Anastasia’s announcing she was going to visit her mother).  There is not even the vaguest suggestion of sexual assault in this movie.

Now some words about agreed-upon levels of control and excuses for punishment.  Some of the reviews I have read have expressed dismay about the level of control Christian seeks to exert over Anastasia’s life: she is to dress how he wants her to, see the doctor of his choosing to obtain contraceptives, not drink to excess, etc.  An important aspect of most Dom/sub relationships is, of course, the bondage and the spanking and flogging and blindfolds and all those accoutrements. There are various ways of framing this type of play.  Christian frames it as a punishment: he wishes to punish Anastasia for breaking rules.  This means it is necessary to create rules for Anastasia to break.  The night of Anastasia’s graduation, she rolls her eyes at Christian for some small reason.  Christian says, “If you roll your eyes at me again, you will go over my knee for a spanking.  Do you understand?”  Anastasia indicates that she does, and not five minutes later, she rolls her eyes at Christian again.  Over his knee for a spanking she goes – which is, of course, what Christian wanted to do to her all along (Anastasia is pretty happy about this too).  If Anastasia rigidly kept to all the rules Christian laid out for her, he’d never have an excuse to punish her.

On the flip side, a lot of Dom/sub relationships also include agreed elements of control outside of a BDSM scene – for instance, a Dominant selecting a submissive’s clothing for them.  My relationship has some of these elements, and yet you better believe that I still consider myself strong and independent.  It’s just a pleasing daily reminder of the sort of relationship we have in between full sessions (which are pretty impossible to conduct every day while still getting on with the rest of life).

And ultimately Anastasia has to negotiate and agree to these rules and thus is in control of the whole relationship, as beautifully illustrated by the scene where she discusses the BDSM contract Christian has written up.  He suggests they discuss it over dinner; she insists that the meeting is conducted formally in a meeting room.  She goes through the contract clause by clause, rewording any clauses she dislikes and making it clear which activities she is comfortable with and which ones she will not accept: “Genital clamps: absolutely not!”  So the bits about not drinking to excess and dressing how he wants her to dress?  Anastasia accepts finds these to be acceptable and agrees to them.

Make no mistake: this is not a good movie.  There is much about it which is preposterous, laughable and just plain bad – Christian is a 27-year-old billionaire head of a business empire; a plane, glider and helicopter pilot, and an accomplished pianist, for pity’s sake.  The portrayal of BDSM is not as awful as it could be, but there are some pretty terrible aspects.  Christian insists that he “has” to be a dominant because he is such a damaged fuck-up (“The woman who gave birth to me was a crack addict… and a prostitute,” he intones sombrely to the sleeping Anastasia, and the theatre bursts out laughing).  Also, kids, don’t use cable ties for bondage, be REALLY REALLY careful when using a flogger on the front of someone’s body, and six whacks with a leather belt is only slightly more intense than a kitten jumping on you.

I think the movie will be read completely differently by those with an understanding of BDSM than by those without, and it would have been more responsible of the film-makers to be clearer about the structure of Anastasia and Christian’s relationship – for instance, by clarifying that Anastasia finds the psychological aspects of their relationship as agreeable as the physical.

So, yeah, I’m not going to recommend 50 Shades as an awesome movie that everyone should rush out and see, but I find myself basically in agreement with those who say that it doesn’t portray abuse.

Whore (A Sort of Theatre Review)

So last night I went to the play Whore, put on by the Charlatan Collective.  It was a play that promised to challenge people’s perceptions of sex work and was apparently written after the author conducted interviews with Auckland sex workers, so I was pretty excited about it.

R and I turned up at Lot23 and were immediately given giant stickers to wear reading “DO I LOOK LIKE A WHORE?”  

A large black and white sticker reading "Do I look like a whore?"

A large black and white sticker reading “Do I look like a whore?”

Ultimately I love the word “whore”.  I have a whole other post in me sometime about its connotations and power.  But as an ex-whore in a crowded room full of middle-class theatre-goers, it was a bit confronting to wear.  Being confronted is good sometimes, of course, but it felt all wrong here.  It seemed to be intentionally titillating.  Because most of the people there had lives that were untouched by sex work, their stickers were theoretical, ironic, a bit of a joke, even.  Not so much to me.

Inside was wall-to-wall with the aforementioned middle-class theatre-goers – and two actors, a man and a woman, dressed only in cling film and intricate Shibari ropework.  They had the “Whore?” portion of the stickers that we were all wearing stuck over their mouths and were writhing sexually and getting their photos taken with theatre-goers.

Look, intricate Shibari ropework is hardly some sort of symbol of sex work.  Sex work, certainly as Whore approached it, is about sex.  One of the character mentioned BDSM as an aside but made it clear it wasn’t part of her work.  In real world sex work… prostitutes are not the same as dominatrices.  And on a practical level, when you’re paying by the hour to see a dominatrix, it’s going to be a very specialised kind of client who’s going to want to spend the sort of time it takes to be trussed up in an elaborate full-body harness – especially one that doesn’t actually restrain them, as the actors were wearing.

The effect of the Shibari-clad actors was yet more titillation.  The atmosphere in there was hugely sexually charged – so much so that I was wholly unsurprised when someone grabbed my ass when I was queuing for a drink.  Not an “accidental” brush, but a full-on, buttock cupping, firm, intentional grab.  I (and R, when I relayed the incident) felt better when I realised the grabber was a woman.  Why we felt that and whether we should have is a whole other thing, though.

When it was time for the play to begin, the announcement over the loudspeaker was “Ladies and gentlemen, pimps, hoes and ladyboys, please take your seats.”  That’s when I started to realise that perhaps this wasn’t going to be the sensitive take on sex work I was hoping for. I know, I’m a slow learner sometimes.

Before I actually begin to talk about the play itself, a small but practical consideration: if your venue does not have sloped auditorium-type seating and your stage is not raised very high, why the fuck would you have your actors mainly sitting down, and some flat on the stage?  In my seat about six rows back, I couldn’t see a thing for most of the play.

So, the play itself.  It was a series of six monologues – six different characters telling their tale of sex work: ‘Rent boy’, ‘Refugee’, ‘Illegal migrant’, ‘Married woman’, ‘Underage sex worker’ and ‘Transgender’.  Except it wasn’t exactly six different stories of sex work; it was six almost identical stories of sex work with six different back stories.  Each monologue was basically a pick’n’mix of the following: drug use (universal amongst all the monologues), drug addiction, homelessness, childhood sexual abuse, childhood violence, adulthood violence, unmanaged mental health issues, running away from home as a teen, having no other options available (also universal amongst the monologues).  Most of the characters expressed a visceral hatred of their clients, most mentioned the violence done to them by clients.  The only character who expressed any pleasure in her work was Underage Sex Worker: “Sex work is sick!” she exclaimed gleefully as she skipped off the stage.  But her story (my reading of it, at least) seemed to be presented as the start of a downward spiral: she inhaled glue as she told her tale and her glee seemed like a sign of her teenage naivety. 

Because I couldn’t really see the action on the stage, I spent a bit of time watching a couple sitting in front of me – the couple who laughed loudest when one of the characters mentioned wealthy people with house cleaners who read Metro magazine (“That’s us, darling!”).  And with every tragic layer slathered on to each tragic tale, this couple nodded sagely and sadly.  Their impressions of sex work were not being challenged; they were being utterly reinforced: sex workers are sad victims with terrible pasts and no real choice; sex workers are so far removed from their immaculate world.  Fucking spare me.

The thing is, there are almost as many sex work stories as there are sex workers.  I’m not denying the tragic tales exist – of course they do.  But they’re not representative of why all sex workers decide to enter the industry – not even why most of them do so.  Want to challenge people’s perceptions of the sex industry?  Yes, tell the tale of the desperate junkie, but also tell the tale of the lawyer who does sex work because she loves sex, the 50-year-old housewife who’s amazed to discover she’s still desirable, the woman in her 40s who considers it her career and has never worked in any other job, the married woman in financial strife who starts working with the blessing of her husband, the single mother who likes the flexible hours, the student saving up for her OE, the lesbian who finds the work hilariously easy, the woman who dreamed of being a whore from the moment she knew what one was.  (These are the stories, in a nutshell, of some of the women I worked with.)

Don’t just tell the same story everyone constantly hears about sex work six times over and pretend you’re challenging people’s perceptions of what it is.

Oh yeah, a final discomfort: the transgender character was played as a lip-synching queen by a male actor.  Please, please, please, can we not have this sort of bullshit?

Acceptable Narratives of Prostitution

There’s been a blog post kicking about in my head for the last week or so.  It stems back to when I hadn’t been working for very long and I was talking about my work with one of my friends, who was trying and struggling to understand my career choice.  And she said, “Even if you quit tomorrow, you’ll always be an ex-hooker now.”

That thought really stuck with me over the years.  There’s almost as dense a mythology about ex-prostitutes as there is about prostitutes – whether as a tragic history or a triumph over adversity.  It’s rare for people to be so defined by what they’ve done in the past.  No one thinks of being an ex-nurse or an ex-labourer as a particularly defining characteristic.

I kinda wanted to ruminate on that – on being always an ex-hooker, on the feeling that what is my past could still be considered relevant if someone decided to make it so and that if I was to do anything in the public eye that it would be brought to light.  Because if there’s one thing the media loooooves, it’s a good sex-related scandal.

But then Maya Angelou died, and amongst the many tweeted tributes, this one from Annie Sprinkle stood out:

It put into sharp relief how not talked about Angelou’s experience as a prostitute is, and that kinda turned my ruminations on their head.  Here is a very public woman – poet laureate of the US, best buds with Oprah Winfrey and the Clintons – and the media at large do not talk about her sex work, or if they do, it’s the briefest side-note.

It’s not something she tried to hide at all, not something she was ashamed of – she wrote about it in her autobiographical novel and talked about it in interviews.  It was there, spoken for all the world to hear.  The media could have uniformly referred to her as “Maya Angelou – ex-prostitute and Poet Laureate”, they could have raised it every chance they had, as they do with some other former sex workers.

But it doesn’t fit in with one of the acceptable narratives of prostitution.  Ex-prostitutes are supposed to be ashamed of their past.  It should be hidden away and avoided, or renounced, overcome and put in a box.

There are a limited number of ways prostitution is discussed in our mainstream media.

A wretched end to a tragic life: Boy, does the media like to talk about prostitution when the prostitute in question is a murder victim – Mellory Manning, Jane Furlong, Arawa Bain.  Even when the victim’s sex work didn’t have a thing to do with their murder, somehow it’s still vital that the public know about it (see Carmen Thomas, and then the Herald’s creepy voyeuristic photo gallery).

Adversity overcome: Prostitutes are allowed to make good, as long as their sex work is denounced and configured as an impediment to be overcome – “[Georgina] Beyer knows about doing it tough. She’s been on the streets, been a sex worker…”

Being “forced into it”: literally or figuratively; traffickers or drugs or financial desperation.  Their stories are legion, apparently, but they are largely nameless – “She entered a string of violent relationships and resorted to prostitution”, “‘In Brazil, our greatest concern is linked to the increase in the exploitation of child prostitution,’ said Sister Gabriella Bottani, an Italian nun who is an organizer of the coalition involving 240 religious congregations from 79 countries.”

The high-class call girl – exposed!: Such as Heidi Fleiss and Dr Brooke Magnanti, whose stories are told breathlessly and with such colourful adjectives – “the scintillating memoirs of a prostitute commanding £300-an-hour prices”, “the high-octane glamour of Hollywood’s famous madam Heidi Fleiss…”

(I’m not minimising or negating any of the stories mainstream media tells.  Every story of prostitution is an important one to tell, good or bad. But I do think it should be the workers and ex-workers ourselves telling their own stories, not the mainstream media constructing a story around us. Would Jane Furlong or Mellory Manning want their sex work to be central to their story? They’re not here to answer that – but, while I love talking about sex work, I consider that there’s a hell of a lot more to my story than that and I imagine they would too.)

An unashamed, phenomenal woman like Maya Angelou does not fit into any of these categories – a woman who spoke freely of her own history, a woman whose complex, exquisite history so deeply informed the words she gifted the world.  And so her personal, self-defined story of prostitution is rarely spoken of, because it does not fit into an acceptable narrative of prostitution.

This brings home to me yet again how important it is to tell our own stories, to put our own narratives out there.

The Time Our Neighbour Figured Out We Were Running a Brothel Next Door

A few years ago, one of my friends and I ran a SOOB (small owner-operated brothel) in what I guess would be considered an upmarket Auckland suburb.  It was just her and I working there (hence the term “owner-operated”, eh), but we were pretty busy.

Then one day between clients, our neighbour showed up at the door.  She was holding some letterbox numbers and she said, with arched eyebrow, that she was getting a bit tired of all the men knocking on her door and could we please put the numbers on our gate.  My dear friend and colleague tried to spit out a little white lie, but our neighbour said, “I’m not stupid. I know what’s happening here.  And I don’t care, but I don’t want these men knocking on my door.”

We were, of course, mortified.  We had numbers on our gate – not huge neon numbers, but we couldn’t believe that our clients hadn’t been more careful when coming to a brothel to be sure they were knocking on the right door.

Anyway, we apologised profusely to our neighbour.  We put the numbers she gave us on our gate and were sure to be very specific when giving clients directions from then on.  The next week, we took our neighbour over a pot plant and some chocolates to say thanks and sorry.  She didn’t start inviting us over for Sunday roasts, but she was good natured about it, and she didn’t start a crusade against us or call up the Herald or publish our clients’ licence plates on the internet or circulate flyers with our landlord’s name and phone number.  She got on with her life and we got on with our business.

Because it’s no big deal.  Truly.  If there is a brothel in the house next door to you, it is no big deal.  You know your neighbours are almost certainly having sex mere metres away from you anyway, right?  Does whether it’s for money or not really make any real difference?  Clients generally don’t wish to announce their presence and intentions to the world.  They are not interested in you and they are certainly not interested in your children.  Sex workers are not going to go door-knocking to drum up business if it’s a bit quiet.  Sex work does not create a fog of iniquity which will send your dog mad and sour your milk.  A brothel is just another business in your neighbourhood.

And if for some reason the brothel is having an impact on your life, here’s a novel idea – go have a chat to them.  It might come as a surprise to you, but sex workers are people just like you.

Because of, Not in Spite of

Someone on Twitter today linked to this page – a collection of worded photos of women listing their flaws and then declaring themselves nevertheless awesome. The introductory text reads, “Your ‘flaws’ do not define you,” and its purpose seems to be to make women feel better about themselves.

To me, a bunch of perfectly lovely-looking women listing all their flaws doesn’t make me feel better. It makes me feel sad. And that it is hosted on a page where the header is a series of images showing the transformation of the blog owner from fat to thin on a site which pushes a weight-loss book… This very much does not make me feel better.

I suppose I could tell you I’m fat, I’m short, I’m ageing. I could tell you that I have stretch marks and scars, that my legs are too chunky to wear knee-high boots, that I have the flabby biceps possessed by all the women of my family, that I have child-bearing hips that’ll never bear children and frown lines and crow’s feet and funny-shaped fingernails and grey streaks and split ends and a jiggly belly and a big nose and crooked teeth.  And then I could insist that I’m awesome in spite of all this.

Or I could say that I fucking love my body, even the disobedient bits, even the bits that society deems negative, even the bits which make it difficult for me to find clothing. That, in fact, I love it because of those things. That I cherish my lines and wrinkles as a physical memory; that those wrinkles and my grey streaks were fucking hard-won from a billion stresses and trials that I’d never erase from my life because they make me who I am. That the configuration of breasts and hips I have been blessed with make me feel like a goddess. That I love the line of my big nose. That my hair is gorgeous and lush. That my calves are strong and shapely. That my crooked teeth and funny-shaped fingernails are so uniquely me.

And then I could say that despite THIS, some days I have trouble feeling awesome. It is hard when there are multiple billion-dollar industries to tell you otherwise, and when these industries are so successful that they convince other women to police our bodies for us. The competitive diets I’ve been invited to partake in. The friend who tried to convince me to dye my grey away when I was job-hunting, genuinly believing it would be a hindrance. The friendly suggestions of Botox.

But I make a conscious effort to feel awesome anyway, because that is my right, and it is everyone’s right. Because feeling utterly good in my body is the most powerful weapon I have against the weight-loss, anti-ageing, flaw-hiding, plastic surgery industries.  And because, damn it, I am awesome. As are you – not in spite of your supposed flaws, but because of them. Because they are part of the fabric that makes you you.

My awesome body.

My awesome body. My face is just too radiant to be captured in an image!