Part of my degree program entails the accumulation of 40 self-directed learning activities (SDLA hours) split evenly between this current semester and the next. These SDLA hours can be anything that is relevant to Social Work. Yesterday, I went for the movie 'Still' directed by Michael McGowen. Today, I went for PechaKucha Night at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21.
PechaKucha (meaning "chit chat" in Japanese) Night is a global, informal and fun gathering that brings creative people together for an evening of quick-fire “show and tell” presentations. 20 images are shown for 20 seconds each, allowing each presenter just that amount of time to share their thoughts and experiences on the topic of cultural landscapes. One speaker that stood out in particular for me was Renee Ross, who spoke about the invisible culture of sex workers.
What can be defined as "sex work"? And who are sex workers? Personally, I think the best definition I have found so far is this: sex work is exchanging one's own sexual labor or performance for compensation. Considering this definition, below are those people that are sex workers (except for the ones in grey text):
An Erotic Masseuse
A Full Body Sensual Masseuse
An Exotic Dancer
An Adult Film/Porn Performer
Someone Who Shoots, Directs, or Produces Porn
An Erotic Writer
A Phone Sex Operator
A Tantra Provider
An Agency owner
Someone supported by A Sugar Daddy/Mama
Someone who has had sex for food, drugs, or to get the money you needed to survive
A Clerk at a Sex shop
An Owner of a Sexually Oriented Business
A Peep Show Dancer
A Webcam Performer
A Fetish or Nude Model
A Fetish/Erotic Photographer
An Online Domme
An Adult Webmaster/mistress
A Burlesque Dancer
A Sex Advice Columnist
A Sex Toy Reviewer
A Sex Worker Advocate/Activist
A Publisher/Editor of A Sexually Oriented Publication
A Waitress at A Strip Club
A Phone Operator at an Escort Service
A Fantasy Sex Provider
A Curator at A Sex Museum
A Sex Educator
A Sex Surrogate
A Sex Therapist
The reason I have included the crossed-out text professions is to highlight the fact that putting "escort" or "stripper" in the same category as the person who designed a dominatrix directory website dilutes and erases the special and complex challenges faced by sex workers.
Anyway, Renee spoke about how sex workers are either hated or seen as victims that need saving. Such attitudes are what contribute to our culture of excluding sex workers, excluding them from discussions on what would actually be helpful for them, erasing their experiences, their feelings, their right to be part of the solution. Seeing sex workers in one of two ways contributes to their marginalization and stigmatization. In reality, nothing is black and white so why should sex work be classified as either this or that?
Sex work is the oldest profession in the world (the second oldest being Social Work, lol). It's not going to magically disappear if we ban it (just like abortion). Doing so will only end up hurting sex workers, making it more dangerous for them to live in a world that actively despises them. After listening to Debbie's speech, it was confirmed: I'm now an advocate for the legalization of sex work. While some may think it is immoral and degrading, I argue that sex work is essentially just work, and that it is not necessarily harmful.
While I still don't think it's entirely empowering (maybe this viewpoint will change), I do believe that by accepting and regulating it in society, sex workers can be protected and granted the same rights as any other laborer. And why is that so important? Because it keeps them safe. Because it means no longer living in a world that doesn't question what happened to those murdered sex workers, because it means that they will no longer be shunned, or be invisible, and that they are in fact worthy of love, affection and care, which surprisingly is the biggest myth surrounding sex workers out there. If the legalization of sex work means a safer world for sex workers, then I am all for that.
Learn more about Renee Ross's organization here.