With Friends Like These…
It’s a bright and sunny afternoon. I am sipping herbal tea at my favourite café with some friends. Unbeknownst to me, the day is about to turn dark and foreboding.
Everyone has friends like these – cheerful young things who love to talk politics and social justice. They care about the environment. They are well-read on women’s rights. Nor are they stupid –they are thoughtful and university educated. They always start out seeming so harmless.
Then it happens: “Did you read that article in the Telegraph about the ex-prostitute? It was so awful.” Solemn nods all round.
It’s funny to see how the topic of sex can render even the most cheerful female friend unstable. The empathy they show for a range social injustices (underpaid shift workers, imprisonment of mining protesters) is nothing compared to the distressing thought that PEOPLE MIGHT DO SEX STUFF WITH STRANGERS. (I mean, why? How could that be fun?)
In vain to I try to lighten the tone of the gathering. “Not true”, I say. “I know plenty of people who enjoy sex work.”
“Well, they must be the privileged educated ones," they promptly reply. "Everyone knows that most of those women are uneducated and come from dysfunctional families.”
Once the ‘prostitution’ button has been pushed, the train has left the station and everyone involved in our conversation is in for a bumpy ride. It’s a slow descent into madness, with words such as ‘coercion’, ‘economic exploitation’ and ‘sex trafficking’ being passed around like sour candy at a birthday party.
I always get the urge to strenuously defend my profession. But I feel that I’d be spoiling the mood of scandalised self-congratulation. Nobody wants a happy hooker around when sex trafficking is being discussed – because making a distinction between CONSENTING sex and FORCED sex is just a little bit too challenging when you’re on a social crusade.
So I sit there sipping herbal tea, resisting the urge to gouge my eyes out with my teaspoon.
“I know someone who knows someone who met a lot of prostitutes while they were on drugs, and she helped them get clean.” Confides one friend, whom I know for a fact uses MDMA and used to smoke at least a gram of weed a week. (Personally, I’m sober and straight most of the time - even more than one drink per week would undo my work in the gym).
“The problem is with women being forced into it, it’s really bad.” adds another, whose only experience with trafficking is the store where she buys her sweatshop-made Converse sneakers.
“I’m sure it’s ok if you’re one of those high-class hookers, but it changes you eventually.” A third friend contributes. She is too young to really know what change is – she still thinks her hipster affectations are ‘her style’ and not just a passing trend.
We are a black-and-white society. We don’t like to make ambiguous statements about sex. You need to have an opinion, and own it – and I guarantee that “prostitution is abuse” sounds a whole lot more dramatic than “I think women should be able to choose to put random stuff in their hoo-hahs”.
When evidence from a direct source (me) is dismissed as ‘the exception to the rule’, I wonder what would get the message across. Perhaps I could throw a parade, with all of us ladies (and guys) waving flags and cheering about how much we love our jobs? How many people do I need to assemble to convince my friends that there are enough ‘happy hookers’ in the world? Will a few do? Or does it need to be ten, fifty, one thousand people? Do we need a small army?
I think of flipping open my address book but it’s woefully bare - if I spent less time working and more time networking, I’d have access to a happy-hooker army to unleash upon the world. But anyway, it would be hard to get us all in the same place at the same time. We’re much too busy paying the rent, looking after our families, spending time with our friends and sticking interesting things in our hoo-hahs.