Harlots Parlour

The Sex Industry Blog – For Media Enquiries please call us on 020 7175 0180 or email dearharlot@gmail.com


I am going to be a little controversial (just for a change) and talk about the taboo subject of hierarchy and class. This is an accusation aimed at those of us who speak out for sex worker rights. It is also a claim made by some sex workers in order to dismiss other sex workers whom they consider elitist or politically wrong….ERM No. Hierarchy and class is part of life and it is up to us as individuals to make the institutions that try and control us work for us. It is also important to remember that sex workers are true social revolutionaries.

It is fashionable among some sex worker activism to dismiss talk of class among sex workers as elitist because they claim that it is divisive and unhelpful in the battle for rights. This refusal to publicly acknowledge social diversity with in our industry makes the question of hierarchies a controversial issue for discussion. This reluctance is partly because the opponents of prostitution deliberately confuse the negative experiences of some street workers and trafficked and migrant workers as the experiences of all sex workers. This is a disingenuous but effective trap that we as activists can fall into because we fear that any emphasis on categories with in our work will be understood as divisions and thus negative to certain sectors of sex worker’s experiences that are less able to communicate.
There is a danger that sex worker activists can become complicit in maintaining the idea of the sex worker as a victim reacting to circumstance rather than presenting sex work as a reflection of the society in which it operates. Thus activists feel obliged to emphasise similarities with in our shared experiences of sex work which is a laudable attitude to take but If we are to engage the industry, the public and the media in understanding the complex nature of our industry then I would argue that we have to publicly acknowledge hierarchy and explain the role it plays in our relationship to each other as sex workers and how hierarchy affects the way the media and public relate to us. In simplistic terms we have to be honest about our differences and not be afraid to communicate the complexities of individual choices and experiences. Social and geographic mobility is one of many important aspects of sex work that is ignored and reporting on the positive and negative aspects of hierarchy with in indigenous cultures is especially important in fighting the stereotype of victim.

It is often easier when engaging the media and government to identify as victims escaping poverty rather than to enter a discussion that suggests that sex work is only one of many choices available to a very diverse group all of whom have very different experiences and reasons for becoming sex workers. Ignoring the diversity of those experiences is as limiting and as damaging as supporting by silence the anti sex work rhetoric that the experience of the victim is true of all sex workers. We live in a media age where the extremes with in any profession will get the heads lines and so will dominate any discussion on that profession. It is important that as activists we emphasise that such simplification of complex issues in relation to sex work are an abstraction of our work rather than a reflection.
Those sex work activists who dismiss talk of hierarchy with in sex work because of political allegiance must be aware that negative perceptions exist that their social and literary skills may be taken to suggest privilege and inverted snobbery which may be in the long run more damaging than actually discussing and presenting our industry warts and all as it is. All of us who support and speak on sex workers rights have to be careful not to allow our enemies to negate the excellent work we do by being ultra defensive in our reactions to accusations of elitism with in sex work.
Sex work reflects the society in which is operates. It is not separate from society. Sex workers are often the most mobile members with in society not least because the nature of the work and the financial rewards can facilitate a social and geographic mobility that few others careers can. Some sex workers are therefore able to climb the social ladder if they choose from street worker to high class escort and of course it can go the opposite way. We all find our working comfort level and then develop the skills required to work in that chosen environment. Acknowledging this fact of life is not being elitists but recognising the diverse nature of our work and of the society in which we operate. Every society has different rules and structures often historical that determine differently how sex work exists with in that society and the rules with in which it operates. This makes a mockery of some abolitionists who arrive with a preconceived notion of sex work based on western prejudices and colonial, imperialist attitudes; especially in the developing world, that they have arrived to save the ignorant natives from themselves. Hierarchies and social class distinctions exist in myriad forms even with in distinct sectors of sex worker communities including escorting, street work and the indoor market. Recognising this fact is not a betrayal of our common identity but rather a realisation of our shared experiences, we should not be ashamed to celebrate our diversity and our social legacy.

Sex workers are perhaps one of the most socially diverse groups of workers that you will ever meet which makes us unique. Historically we have a heritage that includes high class courtesans who led fashionable society from glamorous salons that attracted the leading minds of society to penny whores who stalked the London stews.
Many of the most aristocratic families owe their positions and wealth to the bed room skills of some distant relative who caught the attention of a king or Queen and like wise many a poor family survived because one entrepreneurial member chose to use their body to live. Today the international nature of the labour market is recognised in the sex industry although often it is conveniently confused with trafficking by moralists and anti sex work campaigners. The truth is that sex sells and always will what ever the moral or political climate.

The one thing we all have in common is that sex, whither on a street corner or between Yves Delorme sheets, does not change. A fuck is a fuck and a blow job is a blow job. That is the common denominator that links us all in this work and we should not forget that regardless of where we work or the nuances of the culture in which we work or the hierarchical structures in which we operate our job is universally similar in its basics. Accusations of elitism and snobbery directed at us by predominantly middle class moralists who objectify all whores as victims are the worst snobs because they endanger the lives and liberty of every sex worker and that again unites us all against the common enemy, prejudice and ignorance about our work.

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This entry was posted on 26 October, 2009 by in Uncategorized.
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