Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Paid For: thoughts about sex work

I'm reading Paid For: My Journey Through Prostitution by Rachel Moran and I'm inclined to believe most of what this insightful and intelligent woman puts forth about sex work in this memoir.

First, how sex work SHOULD work: A sex worker outlines his/her services provided and fees for such services. A sex worker needs to be completely in control of the boundaries and services provided. Terms/fees/services included all set beforehand. Person paying for services rendered respects boundaries/terms set by sex worker. Because of the intimate nature of such work, person providing services can stop at any time. It is still sex and it still requires consent at all times and for each service provided. END OF STORY.

How Moran tells her story is completely NOT like this. Until we live in a non-sexist/feminist society, it can rarely be like this. Until respect is given to all humans as a matter of basic humanity, the story of the majority of sex workers is COMPLETELY different than the paragraph above.

Moran describes sex work the way she and her peers experienced it as Pay-Per-Rape, and I can understand why. Men who pay for sex think they have paid for a person, but they have not. They have paid for a service a person is choosing to provide. Men, because they are the ones in power both in our society as a rule and in the sex-worker/punter relationship (though this should be the other way around), are routinely abusive to women they've paid to provide them with sexual relief. Sex workers are literally raped, beaten, and abused in many other ways routinely. I'm sure it's easy to understand how this dynamic plays out without ever having been on either end of this exchange. It is horrifying, heartbreaking, and a downright awful way for a person to be treated.

Moran was from a family of dysfunction. She ran away at 13 (or thereabouts). She found herself homeless. After sleeping on the streets for a time, and one can imagine how awful being without a home truly is, it was suggested to her by a boyfriend that she could start giving hand relief and blow-jobs for pay. The prospect of having a roof over her head was so enticing that she began sex work at the age of 15.

It's easy to see how this choice (not that the choice itself is wrong, but the abuse she endured for making this choice) made sense for her. She didn't have a home. She had no basis of love and respect from her childhood. There aren't many other jobs available for a girl in her early-to-mid-teens. I could see how maybe this seems like an option for a young girl. To choose sex work as a profession, one would need to be old enough to make this choice for herself, and 15 is too young. I can also imagine how a girl of this age would make this decision. At 15, you don't know how ugly sex can get. You don't know how awful men can be. And then you're in and you're maybe getting beaten and abused and disrespected and seeing your peers on the street getting treated the same way. That's just the men who employ you; there's also the matter of society at large treating you as if you're nothing.

Imagine being 15 and feeling like you had to do something you didn't want to do for money, which is not the case for all sex workers to be sure, but is the case for too many. Imagine every family member and friend you'd go to if you needed a place to stay not being there, or not caring if they are there. Then imagine being treated like a non-person by the people you provide your services to AND society at large. You would feel worthless and everyone around you would be confirming it. This book is truly breaking my heart.

Perhaps in a world where sex workers could set their own terms and received respect of their personal boundaries and their worth as humans within their profession and by society as a whole, things would be very different. I don't know. But I can say with complete certainty that sex workers need our respect and far too many of them may also need our protection.

I don't have personal experience as a sex worker, and I acknowledge that Moran's experience is not every sex worker's experience. Should a person want to do this work, she should be respected and have complete autonomy. This isn't the case for many many women, but I hope that it is the case for many others.

The book has really dispelled a lot of my naive assumptions about sex work, though I am sure to have many more. I am so so sorry to anyone who has been the recipient of sexual abuse, no matter what your profession. My heart breaks for people that have endured this sort of treatment. It is not. fucking. fair.

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