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I have been involved with sex work for just over twelve years and with activism for several of those years. During that time I have never heard any sex worker inquire about who is actually representing us. It is a very important question because sex worker activists are out there at conferences, attending meetings, holding meetings, talking on your behalf to government and the media about you, that is you, ordinary sex workers out there doing your best in an often hostile environment trying to survive.
I suppose that I am one of those activists but you will find few activists as open as myself about who I am and what I do and what I believe. I am certainly not one of the in crowd. In fact I can safely say that given a choice of dinner with Julie Bindel or myself most of the establishment sex worker activists would choose a pint of beer with dear Julie rather than myself.
The problem is that I’m difficult, I ask questions and I don’t share the same politics or snootch in the same social circle as those in what is best referred to as the sex worker establishment.
Protected behind closed lists with security clauses that would impress the mafia and secure that “friends” will always vote in their favour anyone like myself who asks questions is dismissed as arrogant or troublesome or an irritant who does not appreciate the unstinting work they do on our behalf.
I know that being a sex worker is hard work. Its tiring, expensive and you invite the intrusive prying of anti sex work lobbyists. It does however have its perks. Activism inevitably goes with ego. Even though nearly every activist I know has a conviction to change sex work for the better I am also aware that (and I include myself in this) there is and are ulterior motivations.
Sex work activism is made up of three main types of activists. There are the academics. Some academics are also sex workers either past or present. No problem with these people because we need them and the fact they pop up here, there and everywhere around the world is part of their work. The fact that many are also out to sell their blogs and books is therefore sort of forgiveable. Some however also have egos that have to be massaged and a tendency to behave like school children in protecting their research. Fair enough but sometimes (and I have heard some speak publicly) selling themselves as authors and spokespersons is as important as representing us, that is ordinary sex workers and you are left sort of wondering which is more important.
We then have the semi professional politicians and media friendly types. These people love committees and positions of authority and titles they collect like some people collect stamps. Inevitable sharing the same political motivation (as do many of the academics) they exist in a a little hot bed of activism that supports their political aspirations and they certainly are reticent about allowing ordinary, undisciplined and politically uncooperative sex workers to disturb their aspirations for power and influence.
Finally there are those sex workers activists who having been successful in sex work use their activism to promote (usually books) or themselves. No blame attached here. I’m all for free enterprise and if you’ve got something to sell then use what ever means you can to do so. These people however are usually limited to the fringes of activism. Not proper, hard core activists although I often wonder if they are not more important in influencing the general public and other sex workers than all the academics and the members of secret lists and the funny hand shake brigade “Can your recite Karl Marx backward” comrades put together.
Now of course you will find these types within any group of activism for any cause known to man. Its human nature to want power and to only share power and influence with similar types. The issue is that sex work is diverse and complicated and to be honest most sex workers here in the UK and I suspect else where know little about sex worker activism or the people who speak on their behalf . Among this great mass of people there probably are great speakers and representatives who given a chance to be involved and consulted could produce a sex worker movement that is genuinely representative of our diverse industry. While sex work activism however remains controlled by a self supporting net work and remains unwelcoming and inaccessible to often provincial, non academic and non politically motivated sex workers who never the less are caring and intelligent sex workers then we have to ask; will the movement ever grow and ever really be truly representative.
In the mean time it should not be wrong to ask questions and to expect answers from those who do (and some do so very successfully) represent us. We have a right to expect transparency. We have a right to ask why is there such a small pool of sex worker activists at important events and within important representative bodies. We have a right to ask who pays what bills and who sits on what decision making committees. We expect this of politicians and these activists are politicians, some overtly so. So why the secrecy?
There are many sex workers on the out skirts of activism who seem to be ignored by those on “committees” yet to me seem also to do a lot of activism independently which is rarely acknowledged. I have been told that they do not put the hours in or fill in the forms by the same people who suggest that I am arrogant to ask questions. A little over reaction it would seem to me and reason enough to ask the questions in the first place.
So sex workers out there start asking questions and as well as keeping an eye on the anti lobbyists keep an eye on ours as well. Better still start to get involved and demand answers. You could become almost as popular as me.