I was recently at a nice local activist house watching a nice British zombie movie with a nice local activist hacker. When the movie was over and we were all more than a little on edge (even me, and I'd seen the movie before) from watching something as masterfully suspenseful and disturbingly violent as 28 Weeks Later, my hacker friend decided to take the edge off with a video game. While the rest of us sat slack-jawed on the couch and tried to reconcile the part of us that enjoyed watching a newly reanimated man poke out his wife's eyes in a fit of zombie rage with the part of us that believes it's wrong to hurt any other living being by wearing their fur, this friend popped in Grand Theft Auto 3.
The funny thing about me and Grand Theft Auto, aside from my having such a strong opinion about it despite the fact that I've only ever played video games a few times in my life, is that I manage to hate it for such different reasons than most people. Sure, there are fundamentalist Christians and pro-censorship jerks out there who think that it should be forbidden for kids to enter into simulated gun wars with cops, but frankly I don't see why it's such a big deal that the main character is shooting at police who are also trying to kill him. That seems like self-defense, or at least a justifiable counter-attack. I'm also not sure what the big deal is about the car theft either, but hey, I don't own a car.
There are two reasons I don't like the game: the glamorized casual violence against innocents that is commonplace in all video games to some degree and the fact that you can pick up female "hookers" and use them to increase your health stats. Number two is definitely my major complaint, and I said as much to the room full of three male and five female activists.
The men didn't have much response, actually, which is predictable. When I called the guy who I guess I'd call "my boyfriend" if I didn't hate that phrase later that night to tell him my story, he didn't seem to know what to say either. I think the opinion of a lot of enlightened and activist men is that they have almost as little right trying to inject themselves into a discussion of the effect that the sex industry has on women as they do to force their opinions on say, abortion, down someone else's throat. Whether or not a woman chooses to engage in sex work is framed as a debate about the choices she makes with her body, not a debate about the societal forces that might have made the decision for her. In my opinion that's a problem.
What was shocking to me was that the women in the room all disagreed with me. One girl snapped at me that street-walking isn't dangerous because "the women take care of each other" and walked out before I could respond. One went to sleep immediately to avoid the argument. One told me that she didn't think it was my right to tell others what was good for them and that I couldn't assume everybody had the same experience of sex work that I did. One spent the next hour volleying back and forth with me and only decided to go to bed when she seemed about to cry but had succeeded in getting me so flustered that I couldn't get out an intelligible response to any of what she was flinging at me.
This woman at one point confessed to me that she is a sex worker, assuming, I guess, that she'd just played her trump card and that I would realize I had no idea what I was talking about and shut up. Unfortunately, I have also been a sex worker. I was, for a while, arguably one of the most popular full-service escorts in my state and the ones surrounding it. My clients were generally very friendly to me or what passes for very friendly. They gave me obscene amounts of money, told me I was beautiful, and liked to snuggle. About ninety percent of them did their best to be better to me than a lover I could pick up in "real life" for the duration of the hour for which they were paying hundreds of dollars. I then moved to New England where I was met with the same treatment, and so it continued up until the very day I quit.
If anybody out there has reasons to feel "positive" about sex work, it's me. The fact that I still don't should tell people something. The fact that while I was a sex worker I constantly, whole-heartedly made the same fallacious arguments that I can so easily tear apart in this book (and the same ones that were made to me that night) should tell people something.
Sex workers often complain of being silenced, but I'd say some of them are doing just fine with their mission to promote a version of feminism that allows men to keep paying to rape women. Honestly, I'm sure our culture finds that a lot more palatable than anything I have to say on the subject, and the fact that books by and about the joys of renting out your physical sovereignty to people who hate you have become so popular and accepted would attest to the fact that prostitutes are being anything but silenced. Prostitutes are being actively promoted, provided they support the violently exploitative system that is capitalistic patriarchy as it currently operates.
When I come down against prostitution, the assumption is that I have never been one, and that's just stupid. The other assumption is that I am some sort of "recovering" prostitute, some born-again Christian or right-winger here to lecture young girls about the evils of all sex everywhere because I equate it with what I was doing for money this time two years ago. That's also stupid. I'm an atheist. I'm a feminist. If you want to know the truth, I'm an anarchist. I believe that women should have total control over their bodies at all times, including the times when they make decisions that I'd disapprove of. I don't believe prostitution should be illegal. (There are very few things I believe should be illegal.)
I don't pity, hate, or blame the women who I know who are prostitutes. I am trying to walk the fine line between telling them that I am concerned for their well-being and telling them what to do. It's a pretty hefty insult to me to say that I'm trying to "tell other women what to do." I think prostitution hurts almost all people almost all of the time, including the people who aren't aware it's hurting them at the time. I should be allowed to say this without it being interpreted as an order to cease and desist. I'm not the boss of you. Hell, you could be some sort of exception and I'd love you to prove to me that you are.
I'm not a prude. I don't hate sex. I just hate exploitation. I'm fond of pointing out that sex work doesn't happen in a vacuum. A world with no patriarchy would be a much different one in which to have an argument about men paying women for sex. It's possible that in this world, I'd have a lot less to complain about. But that world doesn't exist here.
This book is written as a series of questions I have encountered about my beliefs and my past, complete with the answers I either gave or really really wish I had given. The first chapter clarifies my position(s), the second chapter answers some of the basic questions about why I believe even sex work that does not meet our definition of "forced" is still heavily coerced, the third chapter deals with anti-sex work statements I've heard and actually vehemently disagree with, and the fourth chapter discusses ways in which a person can be anti-sex work without being anti-sex-worker.
I want people who disagree with me to read this book. I want men to read this book. (I am making my gentlemanfriend read the rough draft of this book.) I want hate mail from Southern Baptists who get their news from Fox exclusively to frame and put up on my wall next to the hate mail from people who regularly present at the Sex Workers' Art Show. I want men to read this book. I want neo-burlesque artists to read this book. I want my radical friends, my anarchist friends, my Marxist teachers, people who go to Burning Man, my queer and trans-identified friends, and yuppie office workers to read this book. I secretly want my old clients to read this book. I wish my great-grandmother was alive to read this book. I want men to read this book.