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A Prostitute I am
“A prostitute I am, compassionate am I”. These words echo their power through the millennia. Powerful and thought provoking they challenge the modern perception of the prostitute as the fallen woman, degraded and abused.
It is a noble image that these words conjure. They were words written on a clay tablet proclaiming the great Goddess who the Christians later identified as the whore of Babylon herself Ishtar. Mother, virgin, and whore. Odd is it not that the three historical defining roles prescribed to women by our patriarchal society should also the three attributes of the archetypal mother Goddess.
Sex was once enjoyed as an act that engaged lovers with the divine. Sex was considered an act of compassion, a benediction and celebration, an act of joy and of procreation. Sex was not perceived as shameful or embarrassing but rather a necessary part of our experience as humans. The prostitute represented the Goddess who through sexual intercourse tamed the God (man) and through the healing nature of lovemaking introduced civilisation to the world. How removed this image is from the prostitute as a figure of degradation and shame that we have today. Shaming the prostitute is controlling the Goddess and therefore literally controlling women. What a paradox then that it is often women who in the name of liberating women who are the most vocal in stigmatising and degrading other women and men; especially those who choose to use their bodies and sex to earn their living.
The idea of the creative Goddess joyfully and with out shame epitomising all of our experiences as humans never mind as women through her equally honouree titles of whore, mother and virgin is odd to many of us today.
The feminine over the centuries has been either ostracised from the divine or corrupted. The Roman Catholic Church for example slowly over the millennia emasculated the feminine into a stereotype of submissive femininity through Mary the perpetually virginal and yet miraculously a mother and eternally submissive female. The decline of the Goddess as a figure of veneration and the rise of the patriarchy reflects not only an imbalance in our human relationship to the divine but also in our human interactions to each other and even in our relationship to the earth itself. This is evident in our societal need for and yet at the same time revulsion for sexual imagery and illicit sexual contact out side imposed societal norms such as marriage. Marriage along side religious injunctions successfully institutionalised patriarchal control by proscribing sex outside of limited boundaries. The result has been that our society confuses sexual liberation with promiscuity and sexual imagery with objectification and the sexual choices of sex workers with institutionalising male abuse .
Our attempts at liberalism have been corrupted by radicalisation which has perverted the original idealism of feminism and sexual freedom. Instead of liberalisation what has evolved is a new interpretation of patriarchy that abuses the power of the state to enforce old societal conformity. This is particularly obvious in the government’s policies towards sex work which deliberately confuses sex work as universally degrading and intrinsically abusive despite evidence to the contrary. The only difference is that previously sex workers were to be saved because they were fallen and corrupted while now they are victims.
Sex workers are degraded not by their work but by the popular perceptions of their work. In a society that is still so uncomfortable about sex and about our all too human need for sex the sex worker has become the easy scapegoat. As a society we too easily turn to the law to censor and criminalise our perceived moral failings instead of accepting that sex and sexual imagery is not dangerous or undesirable just our interpretations.
Our role as sex workers and as activists is to challenge those perceived interpretations and to engage with society to encourage the rediscovery of true sexual liberation which is not an excuse for easy, casual sex but rather the intellectualisation of sex which means the rediscovery of sex as a positive force with in our individual lives and with in society. This means engaging our enemies not on their terms but on ours. It is not only our enemies we have to confront but ourselves and our industry. We cannot just demand rights if we do not know what we would do with those rights.
I have seen little debate about what we as sex workers really want from our industry and what our industry could become and what we can give to society in order to earn the respect we deserve. If we are to return to our former position of respect sex workers themselves must decide if they are worthy to be accepted. This means redefining our roles not just as labour which seems to be the catchall trendy phrase that has particularly captured the imagination of the left but also means reinventing our role with in the fabric of a healthy and open; free society. Challenging our own definition of ourselves as just workers providing a service is vital if our argument for rights is to be successful and our importance as sex workers is to be recognised with in our society. Emphasising just one definition of our potential fails to truly challenge societies definition of us and it also fails to realise our full potential as sex workers and limits our argument to actually rediscover and re define our historical roles as teachers, carers and perhaps as sexual and social revolutionaries.
Our enemies deliberately confuse our choices with their prejudices and their fears because we allow them to.
Engaging the public to confound our enemies is not easy but is necessary. We have to create a medium in which the institutionalisation of abuse created by the criminalisation of our choices is clearly recognisable as just that, abuse; not just to us but to our society in general. We have to show the joy our work brings to the many thousands who are the elderly, the sick, the lonely as well as those just seeking sexual joy for its own sake.
We have to challenge the patriarchal, monotheistic culture that has distorted our relationship with the divine and with each other. The patriarchal social structures for centuries shamed all of us as sexual beings and stopped us from celebrating our sexual creativity and our sexual diversity.
Rediscovering our true potential which was captured so explicitly in those words written so long ago, “A prostitute I am compassionate am I” is vital in our battle for our rights. If as sex worker activists we do not understand the words written on that clay tablet so long ago then we will continue to fail and that would be a pity on so many levels for not only us but for our society.