As important as it is for activists to establish sex work as work, it is equally important we acknowledge that not everybody who sells sex calls themselves a sex worker. As the current feminist debates about the Slutwalk march make all too clear, there is power and privilege in reclaiming a word and—like slut—to call oneself a "hooker" or even a sex worker is not everyone's preference, nor is it a privilege everyone can afford.
I did it for the money but it was also true that I enjoyed it. Like no job I'd had before, stripping took skills. Yes, it was physically strenuous, but it was not only physical. Interacting with customers required intelligence and personality. I was free to be myself—or, at least, a part of myself. Indeed, of all the jobs available to me at the time, there was no question: stripping was, by far and in many ways, the best. It had the best uniform. I could make my own hours. I liked to dance. I felt genuinely good at it. And then there was the money.
"Working as a dominatrix was empowering. I dressed exotically, did creative roleplay, and was worshipped—physically and psychologically—on a regular basis. It helped me cope with my other part-time job: receptionist."
"I started dancing seven years ago. On the topic of prostitution, I generally say, you know, I have sex for many different reasons in many different contexts. I guess that's a buffer, a way of easing discomfort. I suppose I like that people are interested in my work, so long as it comes from an empathetic and genuine place. But there are so many other aspects of my identity. And so often people's curiosity does not come from a good place."
This weekend Sex, Power and Speaking the Truth: Anita Hill 20 Years Later convened to discuss women's ability speak up against gender inequality and abuses of power, with a focus on the intersectionality of race, class and gender in defining a woman's experience, as well as a look at women's continuing "credibility problem." The speakers were a parade of some of the most high power professional women of this lifetime: Catharine MacKinnon, Gloria Steinem, and yes, Anita Hill. As an attendee, I was inspired and energized. I felt a part of something big. I also felt something important was being left out.
"It all started with Stephen Elliot. I read his book My Girlfriend Comes to the City and Beats Me Up while in grad school and I started following him. I discovered the Rumpus and submitted an essay. I got rejected until I wrote something they liked."
"I'm a whore, a proud whore. What does this word mean? A whore is a prostitute, sex worker, hustler, degenerate, scum in a female body. I call myself a whore revolutionary. I consider myself a survivor."
"When I was a teenager, like 14, I took off from an abusive foster care situation (one of many) and I had to 'make it' on my own. I had no ID, and no money. I danced at Billy's Topless and a place called The Baby Doll Lounge, until I was legal age to be on my own and to get a proper job. I never got drunk at work, I never did drugs, or slept with or dated clients. The older women looked out for me, big time."