Sex work can be an incredibly isolating profession. In a world where our work is at least frowned upon and often directly criminalized, it’s extremely difficult to find support. Even relatively understanding civilian friends tend to be unable to truly relate to the difficulties of life as a sex worker. Too often, the solution to a complaint about work is, “Well if you hate it so much, why don’t you quit?”
I don’t fault civilians for this, it isn’t really their fault. From birth, the standard narrative of sex work is that it’s a last resort, that no-one in their right mind would EVER choose to be a sex worker, and that every sex worker in the world just wants a way out. Despite the fact that these civilians know we are happy hookers, on some level that standard narrative is still engrained in their heads and the fact that the happy hooker narrative has gotten entirely out of hand doesn’t help. While it’s great that more people are recognizing the possibility of being both a sex worker AND happy, it is not-so-great that those same people expect happy sex workers to be happy all the time and never have bad days or bad clients, or just not really want to go to work some days.
The biggest thing that makes sex work so isolating, though, is the fact that most people simply do not understand what we do. Either they emphasize the physical labor, telling us our jobs must be so easy and fun, or they emphasize the emotional labor and tell us our jobs must be SO difficult, they could never do that, omg. It’s rare to find someone who understands that our jobs just are. Sometimes they’re easy, sometimes they’re hard, mostly they’re a mix of both.
Criminalization breeds stigma, and stigma bring misunderstanding, even by those who want to understand. On the simplest level, we sex workers need each other so we can complain about clients and have someone understand exactly how we cringe when clients decide they want to stop paying just because “we have a real connection,” or how we roll our eyes as a client who’s hung like a peanut fucks us from behind, insisting we “love that cock, right baby?”
That’s not all we need each other for, though. Sex worker support networks aren’t just for bitching and moaning, they’re also for celebrating how much we love our work, sharing our work outfits, laughing about pictures we send to clients, sharing screencaps of hopeful clients who didn’t pass screening for whatever reason, and joining forces in defending our choices to those who think we are exploited, bad women, or traitors to the sisterhood.
One of the big benefits of having a support network of fellow sex workers is that there are things about work we can’t discuss with out partners. Even those of us who are entirely honest and up front about what services we provide often can’t, for example, squeal about how we had a client who was super cute and a lot of fun. Too often, when we complain to civilian partners about a bad experience at work, they get angry in a proprietary sort of way, “how dare this person hurt what is mine?!” It isn’t the kind of anger that helps anything. Instead, their anger makes the experience worse, because they aren’t angry on our behalf, they’re angry the way a child gets angry at someone who has taken one of their toys.
Besides that, whether by agreement or simple deception, a lot of us aren’t totally up front with our partners about what exact services we provide. Having sex worker friends gives us the support we need when we can’t get it from our partners, and in the context of dishonesty, it gives us help to carry the weight of our lies.
Of course, the Internet is also very important. Last week, I wrote extensively about arguing with SWERFs on Twitter, and briefly mentioned the community of sex workers on there. Strange as it may seem, Twitter is a huge part of the sex worker community.
Most people see the microblogging site as a frivolity, a way for people to indulge their narcissism or participate in silly hashtag trends that have absolutely no importance in real life. For many sex workers, myself included, though, Twitter is an incredibly important networking tool. There are very few other places on the internet so saturated with sex workers from all over the world and as full of different points of view. We band together over hashtags that pertain to our daily lives, make jokes about our work, and organize events. When Petite Jasmine and Dora Özer were murdered in July of last year, the ladies and gentlemen of sex worker Twitter were instrumental in quickly organizing memorials and vigils. It was thanks to the community of sex workers that little crowds of red umbrellas blossomed in front of Swedish embassies all over the world.
Unfortunately sex workers are an oppressed group in most places, and community is one of the things that works against oppression in the most effective ways. When we all band together, insisting that we need rights, not rescue (or the imprisonment and abuse that too often passes for rescue) people are more likely to listen. Besides that, it’s rough out there, knowing that such a large part of the world’s population sees you as less than human. Banding together with other people with the same problems helps to remind us and everyone else that we aren’t broken and damaged, we’re just people who, like everyone else in the world, are trying to make the best of our lives.