Our Voices Matter

"On Whose Back?" by Valerie

Writing about my experience as a prostitute is a tricky thing for me. While the stories of women in the richest, whitest part of the global sex industrial complex are valid and need to be understood, I should say that they already garner far too much attention. From Jenna Jameson to Annie Sprinkle, men worldwide love to focus on the doings of the occasional “well-off” sexploitation worker.

Apologists for rape, matching their overt sexism with a slightly more subtle racism and classism, are fascinated by the talk of these articulate educated white women and would listen to a million white American pornstars with masters degrees before they spent a single second researching the conditions under which poor people of color typically enter the industry.

What happened to me is important for people to hear. I want everybody to know that the expensive higher-end sexploitation worker who claims to enjoy her job is almost always a traumatized individual with a history of abuse and few options. Jenna herself has publicly admitted to having undergone traumatic incest before she ever made a movie. I want men to be aware that paying someone three hundred dollars and fucking them in a nice hotel room does not make one less of a rapist than paying someone twenty dollars and fucking them in an alley. Either way, you are paying them to negate any issue of consent.

I had the freedom to leave when it got to be too much for me, to make my own schedule, to go back home to my own apartment, to have friends, to go on vacation. I want people to know that these benefits, for which many of the “sex workers' unions” fight, did not make me feel any less raped.

The question of whose backs my relatively safe dabbling took place on is an important one. While I was prostituting, I was determined to define myself into a different category from the strippers, the street-walkers. Those people did lots of drugs, gave their money to men, were attacked and stalked and humiliated. I was determined to prove that I was not like them, that I had chosen. If you had compared me to the sex slaves who are smuggled into this country en masse, I would have been insulted. On some level, I felt sorry for this anonymous group of people browner and more dejected than myself, but I mostly was upset with them for casting their anguished shadows on me and making me look victimized.

If you had asked me, I might have gone so far as to claim that I was diverting the attention of men who would rape these kids in a healthier direction, toward someone who would demand “fair compensation” and safe sex. This claim didn't quite jibe with the fact that I routinely turned away clients who made any sort of reference to “the block,” Baltimore's stripclub and street-walker haven at the time. I simply knew that these men were particularly monsters and didn't want to be the one to deal with them. If you had asked me, I would have said that all men need an outlet, but I certainly wasn't prepared to provide an outlet to anybody with less than three hundred dollars. Men with twenty bucks could go to hell, or maybe take my words about their entitlement to sex and use them to justify buying a homeless black heroin addict for twenty bucks. The truth of the matter is that these anonymous darker and poorer people to whom I never spoke, these junkies and slaves, were acting as a human shield for me. They were absorbing the brunt of the abuse. They were taking on the real assholes, and I hated them for their pain because it looked like a distilled version of my own pain which I had been trying to hide.

If you had asked me, I would have said that the difference between street-walkers and escorts is that escorts choose and are protected. But I didn't get to choose and I was not protected. I was told five minutes before he showed up about an appointment with a client that I had asked never to see again. I was told five minutes before he showed up about the client who had bought my first experience with anal sex. I was told who I was having sex with for free because he had built our company's website. I was told to show up for work by my pimp after I heard that she was arrested, in what I can only assume was a cooperative attempt with the police to bring me in as well. I yelled sometimes in the rooms, and I'm sure people heard me in the foyer, but there was no protection.

Now I think the only difference is the relative degree of privilege, the benefits in the form of freedom of movement and vacation time, the money. Even for women working for themselves, as I eventually was, the flexibility to decide when and how often you will get raped for how much money seems like the only way to tell you haven't become one of them, the damaged and sickening whose sob stories reflect so poorly on the oldest profession.

If you had asked me, I would have said there was a difference, but there isn't. Every sexploitation worker in every level of the industry is a human being who is getting paid to put aside the ability to say no. If you had asked me, I would have said that the sad women on the streets were not the same as me, but I eventually discovered that many of the women who worked at the various agencies where I did had once been those same sad ones. They had figured, correctly I guess, that they might as well get as much buck for their bang as possible, but they'd never once chosen what they were doing.

If you had asked me, I might have let you in on the rape industry's dirty secrets in the most minimizing way possible. I might have told you about the website for the local high-security agency which featured only pictures of very thin-looking Asian women. I might have admitted to you that so-and-so was a lesbian with a girlfriend back home, that she had told me that she could never enjoy sex with men and that anybody who thought she enjoyed her job was fucking crazy. I might let on that a prominent “sex worker activist” in San Fransisco and I had once dated the same man, that I'd gotten to know her fairly well, that she was an emotionally unstable addict who I'm almost certain had been molested as a girl. I might have told you that the woman I sometimes worked doubles with was a former street-walker with a boyfriend in prison and an old pimp in DC. I might even have admitted that the men were always asking me not to use condoms.

I might even have told you that nobody anywhere was willing to touch a Black girl. Most reputable agencies wouldn't hire Black or Latina women. Nearly no man would buy time with one. I might have admitted that although I felt that a life of expensive gifts from men who wanted to ask me about my interests before raping me was a choice, it was a choice that almost no person of color could ever make. It was a choice not open to the trans women who walked back and forth all night passing my apartment long after I had gone to sleep. They could only choose to be relegated to more arduous and personally damaging “work.” But I would never have admitted to you that this only bothered me a little, that I was at a place in my life where, like any liberal, I could spout the rhetoric of “equal opportunity” without feeling that poor people and trans people and people of color were as human as I was. Like the vast majority of “sex positive sex workers” out there, I was unable to confront my own racism because it would have imploded my claims that the sexploitation industry (the rape industry, the global sex industrial complex) was anything but an unmitigated evil, a promoter of ideologies of dominance and oppression which creates a fertile breeding-ground for racism and classism.

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