A Team – Ed Sheeran

I was getting ready to go out to work in Holbeck one evening, putting on my make-up, doing my hair and listening to Ed Sheeran’s album +.  I love this album, it always made me feel happy and nostalgic. It broke into the charts whilst I was at school and felt like a soundtrack of a happy time of my life. It’s also quite calming, which is exactly what you need when you’re trying not to think about the risks of working the streets. Breaking the stereotypes, I put on on my gloves, scarf and hat and when searching for my keys, A Team started playing. It piqued my interest after hearing ‘long nights, strange men’. As the song progressed, I sat on my bed, listened to the lyrics and cried my heart out as each line seemed to tragically hit closer and closer to home. 

For context, I didn’t work outdoor street too often then. I predominately worked indoor but was working to fund a drug habit which seemed to be spiralling out of control. When I had no indoor work, I would find myself out on the streets late in the hope nobody would see me, including outreach support, to get my money and go home. At the time, I didn’t trust sex work services, I thought they were there to tell me off or tell me to leave. They didn’t, but as a sex worker, it’s not easy to trust and access a service; especially when you have already faced a lot of stigma or prejudice by other professionals.

Sitting on my bed, I imagined this was what people on the outside looking in must think of me, and sadly, it was all true. This was perhaps the first time I took a back seat and reflected on my life as a whole, instead of juggling each difficult element with my eyes closed. I spent months listening to drug and support workers preach about the holistic approach but it didn’t quite get through to me like Ed Sheeran’s lyrics. I had heard this song 100s of times but never quite in the scenario I was in. Like everyone else, I would have it on in the background, sing along and think nothing more of it. In that moment however, it was all consuming.

I no longer sex work to fund a habit, but to keep myself financially afloat. However, I work alongside those who do and the lyrics of A Team remain close to my heart. In fact, more so, because I am now that person on the outside looking in, and it feels over-relatable. People have throw fireworks and spat at them, and they are my friends. They have saved me from dangerous situations, given me invaluable advice, help, and support during some of the worst times of my life. Some of them are my best friends who I trust, talk to about anything and love. I know they don’t judge me and I hope everyone has that type of relationship with their friends. They do drugs, but it does not remove their ability to care or to love.

In the sex work community, we try bring to light the many reasons why women are sex workers and for the most part, it is poverty, and not drug addiction that is the biggest push and pull factor. Some strive to fight the stigma that prostitution is affiliated with drugs, but for some, this is the reality, and we must not forget them. It is not right to push them aside because we don’t enjoy the associations they bring to sex work because for them, that is their experience with sex work. We must remember street sex workers, especially those who are caught up in addiction – they are dealing with the highest risks and the lowest reward, are the greatest effected by sex work policy, confronted with the most police violence, penalties and criminal records. Above all, our voices are lost in the sex work movement because of the shame that still exists, even amongst sex workers.

As I was fixing up my makeup that night, I couldn’t help but think of the drug users I knew who had overdosed, of the sex workers who had been working for decades, caught up in this cycle, wondering if they had the same thoughts as me. I feared I would become another newspaper headline about a sex worker who was killed, and remembered as nothing else but a prostitute. I thought everyone saw me as this poor, vulnerable sex worker but I saw myself as a thick skinned, hard faced woman whom nobody would be able to love. I wasn’t either of those things, I did not need to be rescued but I wasn’t eloquently coping either. Nor was I this heartless woman, but I can’t expend that emotional labour at work, it is too exhausting.

I was often the youngest working, and the women took to me like a flock of mothers watching over me when I wasn’t capable of doing so myself, inundating me with safety advice. They discouraged me from being there, told me I was too young to be facing prostitution and they are right, but they never judged. There is a mutual respect and understanding as to why we are there. Despite the stereotypes that we are fighting each other over a ‘spot’ or pushing women out the way to give a man a blowjob, it’s not true – we are actually laughing about things the customers tell us over a cup of hot chocolate, just like you and your colleagues in your office.

As a sex worker, I don’t reflect on my own vulnerability, if I did, I don’t think i’d be brave enough to confront it due to the dangers of the job. I have to be strong in my job, I can not let Dave or Richard know that i’m scared or that i’m willing to take his crap. So, when you do, it’s like telling yourself off and also feeling the shame of being told off at once. However, when I heard the lyric ‘the worst things in life come free to us’ I couldn’t help but feel defeated, wondering if I would ever leave this life and realising just how true it was. For some, they hate this song because it is the stereotypical depiction of sex work, but for some of us, it’s too close for comfort. 

People perceive drug using, street working sex workers as fierce, nasty, the lowest in the sex worker pile. Services treat us as hopeless causes, people who are simply too complex to work with. We get bashed between professionals who frantically email each other wondering how to manage us, but remember we are people too beneath our chaotic lifestyles. There is no evidence to suggest that we don’t feel, love and become upset by the same hurtful actions or words as you do. It is worth remembering, how we treat you is a reflection by how you treat us, that includes society in general. If you keep telling me I’m worthless and hopeless, I will feel like I am, and act accordingly.

A Team – Ed Sheeran: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UAWcs5H-qgQ


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3 thoughts on “A Team – Ed Sheeran

  1. When you wrote: “People perceive drug using, street working sex workers as fierce, nasty, the lowest in the sex worker pile. Services treat us as hopeless causes, people who are simply too complex to work with. ” you nailed it. But some chem. addiction counselors (CAC) have come from (and may still be in) #SW (until covid-19 pandemic) and have overcome their addiction(s). Although many CAC empathize with #SW clients, the US gov.& legal system does not favor ppl. who prefer to make a living this way (i.e., it does not offer any addl. services for #SW). Until #SW is decriminalized & ppl. stop stigmatizing it , society (such as the #HT movement & anti-trafficking organizations ) will think of it negatively. We’re limited to servicing the addiction only but we treat our clients fairly & with respect.
    Your posts provide an insight into the lifestyle. I hope readers will develop more empathy & understanding. Maybe some will eventually advocate revamping the draconian #SESTA/#FOSTA laws.

    Liked by 1 person

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