Internalized Whorephobia

I have very understanding friends. Ra and his partner have spent a lot of time with me over the last few months (Ra’s time with me goes much farther back, because Anton is a relatively recent addition to the group), and they have listened to my outpourings of angst over my feelings for Josh and my feelings of fear and crippling insecurity.

Ra pointed something out last week that I found very interesting. I was telling him how insecure I feel about Josh, how when I imagine myself telling him how much I love him, this little voice in the back of my head stops me. “Why would someone as wonderful as Josh, why would ANYONE want to be with a hooker?” I struggle with this voice. I imagine myself being seen by others as dirty, diseased, sleazy, lacking self-respect and morality. When I was done going through this list with Ra, he said: “It sounds like you have internalized whorephobia. I understand, I had internalized homophobia for years.”

That stopped me in my tracks. Could I, such a strong woman with healthy self-esteem, one who defends sex worker’s rights and comes out swinging in defense of my fellow whores at the agency when they tell me that their romantic partners don’t treat them with respect because of their profession, have internalized these damaging messages about women in my profession? Even with knowing the good I have done for others since becoming a whore, not to mention how I have grown spiritually since entering the trade, I am at times incapacitated by shame around my choices and innate nature.

In Women of the Light, a book of essays edited by Kenneth Ray Stubbs, Carol Queen writes a brilliant essay about her time as a call girl and how sex work is directly connected to worship of the goddess and a celebration of life. She says that we whores are doing the Goddess’s work in a culture that would brand it the devil’s work. This can take a toll on us.

Somehow, I can claim the right to respect and happiness for any other whore, but I can’t quite claim that for myself. I think of Josh and his life up until his marriage ended. He had a conventional, ‘respectable’ marriage and raised children with a very traditional, conservative woman. A part of me wishes that I could offer him that same respectability, but that is the one thing I do not have to give. I am a sexual outlaw, a deviant, a whore. This causes me both pride and happiness and intense shame and fear. It is hard to go about your life when so many people seem to hate you.

I can imagine taking on stigma and being an outlaw next to someone I love. I have done this in my relationships with my trans lovers, walking next to them and offering support, standing up to transphobic bigots on the street, taking the rage some cis men threw at me for choosing a trans woman as a lover instead of a man… but I cannot seem to imagine anyone being willing to be by my side fighting the whore stigma with/for me. It makes me wonder why.

Ra went on to tell me how much my friendship means to him. “When you met me,” he said “I was at one of the lowest points in my life. I was in an abusive relationship and I was suffering from PTSD and getting off meth. And you were always absolutely wonderful to me. If anyone deserves to be happy, it’s you.”

I started to make an inventory of the things I do have to offer. Love, devotion, financial security, generous spirit, sex skills, listening skills, emotional support, backrubs and foot rubs, interesting conversation, great food, companionship, honesty and loyalty. What is off the table for me: sexual exclusivity, conventionality, ‘respectability’.

When I visit Josh and we watch movies together, which we do sometimes, I am struck by the degree of whorephobia in the media. I feel afraid and I don’t talk too much about my work. I’ve told him what I do, and we’ve talked a bit, but he still talks about ‘hookers’ like they are other people and not the woman he holds in his arms at night. I am afraid that if he saw me as a ‘hooker’ rather than whatever version of sex therapist/worker that he currently sees, he will stop touching me so tenderly and holding me and caring for me. It’s fucked up. It shows how deeply I have absorbed those attitudes that women who are sexual with a wide variety of people are ‘used up’ and ‘not worth caring about’. It’s such a basic attack on a woman’s being. Sexuality is such a basic part of who we are, and, to me, such a powerful part that it cannot be suppressed without severe damage to the psyche. So the choice remains: damage yourself by suppressing that which is natural and innate, be a good girl according to patriarchy and shut up, or be an outlaw and be vilified and subject anyone you are in a relationship with to potential stigma and discrimination. It’s a complicated mess. I long for a time when people like me are held in high esteem as teachers and shamans rather than vilified as dirty, worthless whores.


Paternalistic Attitudes Towards Sex Workers and Why I Am Pissed Off About It

A few months ago, I saw a client from the USA during his trip to Vancouver. It was an awkward session, over all. He was uncomfortable with me, the booking girl had sent me when he had requested a girl who was unavailable, and he thought that I wasn’t as pretty as the girl he’d originally requested. Still, we managed to have some fun. After doing his little role-play scenario, he seemed to be more interested in talking than in fucking (there was no fucking during the role-play).

He asked me questions about my work, and about the legal status of my work in Canada. I told him that exchanging sex for money was legal in Canada, but most everything related to it is not, which makes it awkward for those in my profession to get by at times. Then he asked me if the agency ‘makes us get tested.’ I told him that, no, no one makes us do anything, but that I choose to get tested every two months. I did not tell him how offensive the idea of forced testing truly is.

The first recorded history of sex work began in temples. In the ancient world, prostitute and priestess (or, often, priest) meant the same thing. Ancient cultures that appreciated the amazing, life-affirming power of sexuality in a way that our culture does not held the sacred whores in high esteem. I often think about how wonderful it would be to be able to work out of a temple, to have my knowledge of sexuality and my sensitivity in exploring sexual territory truly respected and honoured.

Of course, the status of the whore fell as patriarchal religions became more widespread. In the 1800’s in Europe, the dominant culture took steps to distance prostitutes from the general community. Measures such as making it mandatory that prostitutes wear clothing that differentiated them from other community members, was but one of the tactics used.

By the 1900’s, a syphilis epidemic swept across Western Europe. To help curb the spread of the disease, so they claimed, the powers-that-be ordered mandatory testing for STIs for women involved in or suspected of prostitution. While this may sound like a good idea on the surface, it was simply another way to bully and abuse sex workers, or any other woman who did not conform and behave according to patriarchal culture. Many women protested these tests, as they were degrading and violated the bodily integrity of women. Also, any woman who was forced to undergo these tests was added to a list of ‘known prostitutes.’ This list could be used to harass women, whether they were in fact prostitutes or not.

Another question one must ask while looking at this aspect of the history of sex workers is: why force the women to submit to a test, while imposing no similar measures on the men who procure the services of sex workers? I believe that the powers that be at the time were much more concerned with maintaining the status quo, and making procuring sex for money safer and easier for men, without regard for the women providing the service. It was also, I believe, a way to punish ‘fallen women’ under the misguided lens of the misogynistic religion of Christianity. As thousands of women with knowledge of midwifery were burned during the witch hunts on the grounds that it was sinful to ease a woman’s pain during childbirth, because of Eve’s supposed sin, these forced tests were simply another way of keeping women fearful, ashamed and disempowered.

The bottom line about ‘forced testing’ is that no one should be forced to do anything. We are all responsible for our own health. Most sex workers are responsible and considerate and would not put their health or someone else’s health at risk through unsafe sex practices and infrequent testing.