The Difference A Year Can Make

It’s my 23rd birthday and I remember telling my counsellor I never expected myself to live past 18 so I never planned ahead. It’s still true, I never expected I would be here today and find myself winging it as I go through life. Last year, I spent my birthday morning on my own, I arranged to meet with my mates who were also heroin users. We ended up with no money, hungry and decided to go to the homeless outreach instead. We waited in line for food, sanitary products, essentials and I got an extra sandwich for my birthday. After, we hit the pub and I tried to enjoy myself but I knew this was a bad day. A lot has changed in the past year and i’m grateful for it but it has been exhausting. Never did I expect things to turn around but i’m glad they have.

A week after my 22nd, I started on methadone to come off heroin but the nurse prescriber did not listen to me; he told me to start taking it today even after I told him I had used a lot today, and by taking methadone, I’m scared I will overdose. I gave him a long list of all my medical conditions and medications and said that I didn’t know if methadone counteracted with these meds. He told me tough, pick it up today or you can’t pick up the dose tomorrow because it will be a higher dose. I rushed to the pharmacy, I was late but argued with the pharmacist who eventually allowed the dispensing of it. As I walked home, I knew something was wrong, I felt sick and totally off my head. Within an hour, I was projectile vomiting every 10 minutes, laying my head on the toilet seat and thought I was going to die here, which felt quite nice actually.

Thankfully, I lived on the same roundabout as an A&E and somehow, perhaps the instinct to survive, I dragged myself to my naloxone kit and injected myself in the leg whilst off my head. I immediately went into withdrawal and knew I had about half hour before I would dip back into overdose, so I rushed myself into the emergency room and eventually overdosed in waiting room, but I did survive. I was lucky it was methadone because it slow releases into your system so the overdose was gradual. When I went home, they injected me with cyclizine to stop me being sick but they didn’t tell you it made you feel mashed off your face. I remember laying in bed, feeling like I was laying on a soft cloud and it felt euphoric. This sounds nice, but for me I was panicking, thinking I was overdosing again and the methadone wasn’t out of my system. You shouldn’t get the buzz from methadone, if you do, the dose is too high.

A week later, unsure if it was due to overdose or my medical condition, they tried methadone again despite my reluctance and started on a much lower dose, with the aim to up it if successful. I took the morning dose and again, was profusely sick. I should probably mention both of these instances lead to an adrenal crisis caused by my medical condition. That was it, they told me there were no other options and to simply go back on harm reduction and work with my support worker. I felt so hopeless. I was juggling sex work at the time, slowly transitioning permanently to indoor sex work. Angry at how reckless people had been with my health and not being listened to, I withdrew from drug services and things got out of hand. It didn’t help being told that sex workers in drug services always have a significantly longer turnaround time thus, I feared i’d forever in this cycle.

I should mention I was in my final year at university. I went to uni to get away from home but of course, my problems came with me and I was so angry I came so far but fucked up on the last hurdle. I hadn’t gone to any of my classes all year, my dissertation was due in 3 weeks and my French exams were the following month. The pressure and feeling of failure was overwhelming. I was told I could continue with my studies if I re-engaged with drug services so I did, I was offered extensions but it was recommended to sit my French speaking exams to prevent doing them the following summer. I tried to kill myself 3 days before my exams and sat them anyway, arguing about secularism in France and the ban on the burqa whilst off my face. I passed the exam and done okay all things considered. I remember the 3 hour translation exam, I walked out and thought fuck it. I had actually passed and done reasonably well.

The university held a crisis intervention to decide what would happen to me next, they allowed me to stay on and push my dissertation until summer but I didn’t want to delay it any further. I somehow handed it all in by August, I finished my degree and got a 2.2. I appealed the grade, finally told the University i’ve been a sex worker all year and been sleeping with members of staff, thus that’s the reason I wanted to finish my degree quickly. I won the appeal, and will be graduating with a 2.1! I was now worried because my accommodation was coming to an end and I was scared of becoming homeless. I was no longer a student and my support system was about to fall through.

In September, I was sexually assaulted in sex work and reported it to the police, done a video interview and now the case has been referred to the CPS for charging decision. I became homeless and began sofa surfing, having sex for rent and being generally exploited. I felt I had no other choice because I was already on the housing list, I was trying to get away from drugs and I needed to sex work to keep myself afloat. I stopped using drugs in November, I couldn’t use the traditional methods so I decided to withdraw completely and it was by far the worst thing I have ever experienced. My legs cramped, I would be sick, sweat through the sheets, had diarrhoea, awful cravings and felt so weak yet I couldn’t sleep for almost a week, collapsing due to exhaustion. The scene in trainspotting where he is locked in a bedroom is relatively accurate.

I didn’t tell anyone I decided to do this because my drug worker said she wanted to see my 4x a week if I did this. In the early phase of withdrawal, I attended a trustee’s meeting at the local sex work project, I politely excused myself, puked up everywhere in their toilet but forgot to turn the light on so it went everywhere. I cleaned it up, walked back to the meeting and pretended nothing had happened. I got on the bus home, but got off by the local shops, puked up everywhere and collapsed and some poor git called the ambulance for me. I had yet another adrenal crisis but the symptoms were alleviated and that was it, that is how I got off drugs. I don’t recommend this route, I had no choice – always try methadone and symptom alleviation. I weighed 6st 6lbs when I came out of hospital.

Sadly, getting off drugs is the easy part, staying off drugs is much harder. I went back to a drug den and it was that hardest thing i’ve ever had to resist. Things were getting out of hand and this is when I went to a hostel, presenting as homeless to the council and being put there the following day. I lived with 7 other women, nearly all were sex workers and all were drug users. I started going back to street sex work, coupling up with them for safety and still, resisting the urge to use drugs, despite being surrounded by it. Living in the hostel was the hardest thing; it is emotionally draining. There are constant arguments, little privacy, rumours and shittalking, making friends with people you don’t know quickly, keeping arms length with everyone but also dealing with screaming fits at 2am and knowing it’s useless to go out and shout at them.

Your whereabouts are questioned, you have to leave your room in the night for a piss but you also have to lock your door in fear of someone stealing your stuff. There are cameras in all the communal areas and the environment can turn very hostile depending on who else is there. I made no enemies and actually go on very well with all the girls in the hostel, they are individually very lovely women once you get to know them and will do a lot to help you. When I first moved in, my new neighbour shoplifted me some pyjamas after seeing me wearing an extremely oversized nightie given to my by the hostel. I spent my Christmas in the hostel and again, it was a sad reminder of how crap life was. As much as I had a lovely day, opening a food parcel as a wrapped present was a stark reminder.

Hostels are a breeding ground for introducing women to street sex work and you can see why. Some of us are sex workers, we can’t get a job because the rent for supported housing is £500 a week and we would have to pay for that ourselves if we were employed. We are away from home, support and what we know and surrounded by women we have quickly made friends with who are also surviving. You have no money, you are rattling, you are not with your family, you feel hopeless, worthless and you suddenly start asking questions to the other girls what street sex work is like and take the opportunity to try it yourself. You take advantage of going with someone else for safety for your first time but once you’ve started, it’s hard to stop. For me, I had already done street and had stopped but found myself working street again.

The hostel could see how much living there was difficult for me and deemed I could live independently, so they moved me into what is known as a satellite property. This is a flat that is owned by the charity but you live there yourself, as a way of you getting used to living alone before you transition out of the hostel’s care. You still have access to your support workers and I carried on street sex working, especially as I now found myself having to pay more bills. However, I was badly sexually assaulted one night. A few days later, I had sepsis caused by a UTI, which also caused an adrenal crisis. When I recovered, I discovered I had an STI as he removed the condom which took significantly longer to be treated due to medical condition and then eventually, this led to needing a catheter because I went into urinary retention which was in for 6 weeks almost.

This is where Twitter really helped and people began asking to support me financially because I couldn’t sex work anymore and was scared of the loss of income. I can’t thank these people enough because I would have been forced to sex work, regardless of my health, putting me at greater risk. I returned to street sex work, feeling bad and that I should earn my own money and did this for a while. However, since the coronavirus, the place where I work has been closed and the last time I tried to go down there, I didn’t know this. A member of the public saw me hiding, grabbed the police that patrol the area who came over, checked on my mental health and offered me a lift home. They rung the local sex work project who stayed on the phone to me for hour and half and I haven’t worked since. This is why we need decriminalisation, the police helped me, not arrested and charged me.

What now?

I don’t know, I am enjoying blogging and really love challenging people’s perceptions and stereotypes of sex work, especially street sex work. I hope to continue to do this and if my Patreon grows enough, I will see no reason to re-enter sex work because even if it’s minimal, it will be enough to get by. I hope by doing this, I can continue my work with Exit Doors with my other exited sex workers to help others who want to leave, without pushing the need for abolition nor the Nordic Model. I want to continue my work locally as a Chair of an Expert Advisory Board to safeguard sex workers, keep them safe and hold local institutions to account, challenging the vile groups who try degrade us and want us removed.

Housing is the next thing for me, I used my birthday Amazon wishlist for furniture because I hope once I have my own tenancy, I can work towards creating a home that I am happy, safe and comfortable in. A place I feel content and proud of. I want a dog that I can love too. We all deserve somewhere we can call home, a place where we can collapse at the end of the day and be ourselves and live without insecurity, wondering if we are going to have to move again, become homeless or unsure what will happen next. The biggest thing keeping me in sex work is uncertainty and I am constantly working in fear of instability, so I have to financially prepare myself for what could or couldn’t happen.

I want to take up my volunteering opportunities in the local women’s project, working with the manager to discreetly set up a peer support sex work group. I want a place where women who are thinking of sex working can talk to me about it because they’re too scared to ask their friends. I want to work in prevention of survival sex work, pushing for greater access to services to help women who feel so desperate, they feel that sex work is begrudgingly their only option. But also for greater services to help sex workers who want to exit, and that doesn’t include Universal Credit. Above all, I want to continue pushing for decriminalisation, and breaking down the stigma that leads to violence against sex worker.

All of this has happened in a year, and a lot has changed. I never expected the kindness of strangers on Twitter to have helped me so much – emotionally, financially and in a supportive way. I have a lot of people to thank, especially Kate Lister who encouraged me to blog, gave me the confidence to do so and used her Whores of Yore account to promote it too! Not to mention suggesting an Amazon Wish List which meant I ended up with birthday presents this year, what a brilliant birthday this ended up being! Things can be tough and this time last year, I was at the worst point in my life and didn’t care if I lived or died. Not once did I expect to be where I am. Things can change, so if you’re reading this feeling hopeless yourself, hold out – you never know what is to come.

Don’t be stubborn and refuse the help of others. I did this for years in fear of having it used against me or feeling that I was too weak after years of trying to survive. I reluctantly accepted help and I’m glad I did, just remember to pay it forward when you can because it will make you feel even better. I have met some incredible people along the way who have gone above and beyond to help me, work with my difficult circumstances and remind me that I am worth the effort, even when I felt I wasn’t. Thank you x

I always keep blogs free because advocacy and tackling stigma is my main goal, but if you want to support me, please consider: 
http://patreon.com/graceyswer
thank you 

❤

‘Why Do You Work The Street?’

This is the most common question I am asked by sex workers. I give up answering now because a part of me feels like they’re suggesting it’s a bad thing but also, because I don’t want to keep having to explain my circumstances over and over again. You might also be surprised to know that street sex workers also work indoor too, there is a mix between the two at times. We take clients numbers and then work indoors – we just don’t always have access to the same tools as you such as AdultWork or OnlyFans due to lack of internet access. It’s not as if we just love the street and refuse to do anything else, street sex workers choose indoor too wherever the opportunity arises. It surprises and sometimes threatens indoor workers to hear this, they get scared us outdoor girls are now going to lower their prices (thankfully this is a minority).

There was a point in time where I worked independent, street and agency at the same time. It wasn’t because I was greedy for money but because sex work, as i’m sure all sex workers will know, is unpredictable and not steady income. Another street worker told me she has an AW account but can’t work the busy periods anymore due to looking after her children, so she works the street at night instead. For me, I sometimes got no money working indoor at all so I would work street instead. Since the pandemic, street sex workers have started working indoor and I was exceptionally proud of my friend who bought an iPhone, set up her AW and began earning the money she deserved. Would I encourage anyone to be a sex worker? No, but I will always encourage safer sex working and earning more so she can work less.

I don’t have a place to work from, I currently live in temporary accommodation and would get kicked out in a heartbeat if I worked from here. Not only that, but it’s a single bed! Occasionally, I would work out a hotel but not earn enough to cover the cost of it, so would do street to make sure I wasn’t out of pocket. It also felt a bit crap to give large chunks of money over to a hotel and deal with the risk of being caught, being kicked out and exposed. It was worse if I then didn’t walk away with profit. I was then also caught in the net loss because I would earn cash in hand but pay for hotels by my bank account and this was becoming a out of control spiral, and slightly suspicious bank activity, booking hotels then dumping money in the account. We all know how infamous banks and platforms are at shutting down sex worker accounts.

People see the stereotypes of street sex work and forget the many benefits it has. I can earn money quicker at times because although it is significantly less than indoor, the turn around time is quicker too. However, this is not to encourage outdoor because the risk is greater, and you can equally spend hours out there, in the cold, be abused by passers-by and earn nothing. The turnaround time is one of the reasons I prefer outdoor sex work, it is simply sex and nothing more. There is no pillow talk, there is no disclosures, there is less time for me to put on a therapist’s hat and above all, it’s exactly what sex work is – money, sex and goodbye, in that order. This isn’t always the case but there is less expectation of me so I feel less guilty cutting them off whilst they’re talking about their marital problems. I sometimes find this is the best way for me, particularly if i’m already overwhelmed.

There are different sexual expectations and I can be even firmer than when I work with an agency. For example, my agency would take money off your hour charge if you did oral with a condom whereas outdoor, I always do with a condom and if I choose otherwise, I can charge more. With agency and independent, the girlfriend experience is the most common and I felt pressured to agree to oral sex which I hate receiving. Outdoor, nope. Not only is this physically difficult to do but clients do not come with that expectation either because many of us say no straight away so they don’t ask – I have actually never been asked. They also know if I said yes, I would charge an extortionate price but it is more included in the booking with indoor. Of course, if any sex worker says no, in any working environment, it means no – regardless of GFE or what you paid. I just didn’t like the pressure and the thought that client would contact the agency owners who would tell me off.

Gaye Dalton, a former street worker shares this notion, arguing that street work is less degrading than what people think. The feeling of being degraded is different to each person, what is for me can be empowering to another and both are equally fine. For me and Gaye, dirty talk feels degrading and something I can’t handle – it makes me feel like i’m encouraging something I hate or that i’m giving too much of myself. It’s outside of my comfort zone and makes me wanna squirm and at times, want to burst out laughing. However, I absolutely support phone sex operators. As Gaye argues, this can feel less degrading then simply ‘fast sex’. I once had a guy ask me to bend over so he could stare at my ass, when I told him no he said ‘well i’m paying’ and I wanted to cry. I would have given anything in that moment to have just done fast sex in the dark and gone home.

It is interesting that people think working street instantly means I feel unsafe. When there are no other girls out working and the outreach van isn’t there, this is true. Standing on the street feels exposing and the thought someone might run me over lingers in the back of my mind too. However, you can also work in pairs on street, one writes numberplate down and waits for you, and then you swap. A fellow indoor and outdoor street worker once said to me ‘I feel safer working outdoors, there are girls here, they’re my mates and they know what i’m up to. When I work indoor, it’s me, him, 4 walls, a locked door, a knife in the kitchen and he could do anything to me. At least outdoor, I can run and the other girls can raise the alarm for me.’ This doesn’t take away from the danger of outdoor, you are getting into a car after all and they can take you anywhere, added to society’s view of street sex workers alongside the abuse we get from people driving around.

There are safety risks with all sex work, and working in a brothel or strip club means you’re more likely to be raided, have your money taken, possibly deported and deal with that awful trauma that comes with it and perhaps given a criminal recording depending on law. Indoor sex workers have also been killed, including those who do outcalls. Street sex workers go back to the houses of their clients and can be hurt there also – it isn’t the environment that is the issue, it’s the attitude you have towards street sex workers that’s harms us. This doesn’t remove the added dangers of street sex work of course, but I think stigma and the way society, and sometimes sex worker themselves, treat and think of street workers. Street sex work admittedly makes you feel more vulnerable and exposed because you’re out in the open, everyone can see you, drive past and the constant staring eyes feels uncomfortable.

I know a few street workers who prefer this way because they do not have to hand any money over to agency or brothel owner, they say it feels like a pimp and they deserve all their money. They are absolutely right, they do deserve it and if that is the way they wish to work, that should be respected and kept safe doing so. I used to hate giving a 33% cut to my agency, especially if it had been a bad booking, the money ended up making me feel dirty when it shouldn’t have done. Sex work is hard enough as it is, you wouldn’t then pay your boss a third of your wages then tax on top, you wouldn’t have much left. If you then challenged this, you could be kicked out and jobless. This is sometimes a reason a girl has moved to street after being booted by a brothel for arguing with them.

When I was using drugs, street sex work felt like a bit of a blessing because it was accessible and quick to do. I could work late at night and customers would come to me, I could be in and out of a car in 10 minutes with £40 in my hand to go and score drugs. When you are rattling due to withdrawing from drugs, someone touching your skin makes you rip it off, it is an awful feeling. It’s made me cry before and want to push them off me. I did not want to be doing an hour or so booking, because I couldn’t have coped. I earned what I needed to and left. This meant if I was withdrawing at 3am, I could find money instead of having to chase down a job in the middle of the night, or hoping someone is feeling horny at dawn. Also, if I worked in a hotel, brothel, strip club, or agency I would have to work the hours I said I would, street work is whenever between 8pm-6am.

There are many, and often complex reasons as to why people street work, it is never just one reason or one circumstance preventing them from doing other forms. When I wrote a tweet thread about the reasons why I couldn’t work online, I was inundated with messages from sex workers telling me what I should do, buy, what websites to sign up to, how to make content etc. Of course, these were all well-intentioned so I wasn’t annoyed but I ignored them all. I couldn’t keep justifying myself or my actions, or reasons why my circumstances meant I could or couldn’t do something. Sex work is different to each person, and I would feel shy and embarrassed to post nudes online whilst some online sex workers would never do penetrative sex with clients, let alone street work, and that’s fine too. It felt disheartening to say I’m too insecure to take pics and then have someone message me and say i’m not trying hard enough and should try better camera angles.

You should never forget, you are never too far from working the street yourself, especially if you’re already a sex worker. I started working indoor, never did I once imagine I would be on the street because at the time, I didn’t need to and was earning enough money to keep me going. If it is poverty that drove you to sex work to begin with, it will be that same poverty that will drive you into street sex work too from indoor. Your circumstances do not change, so you have to adapt yourself instead to make money otherwise you will simply sink. Do not judge the street worker, they do the same sex work as anyone else including the emotional labour that comes with it. You will also find we do sometimes do a mixture of indoor and outdoor.

The reasons I have written here are very much my own, street sex workers across the UK work this way for a variety of reasons and ultimately, if that is what is more appropriate for them and their circumstances, don’t force them elsewhere. Make them safer, break down the stigma that causes the violence we face, push for decriminalisation, lobby the government so that solicitation isn’t a crime, help and support when you can but most importantly, don’t judge or abuse them.

Big thank you to Gaye Dalton for her input and talking through experiences with me ❤

I always keep blogs free because advocacy and tackling stigma is my main goal, but if you want to support me, please consider: 
http://patreon.com/graceyswer
thank you ❤

‘Prostitution Facilitators’

After a Sunday evening working the street, I went to the outreach van simply for a warm drink before heading home. This wasn’t the usual outreach but a radical Christian group that tries to sell Christian detox to drug addicts. I wasn’t interested in the dogma, and although I’m not religious, I have appreciation for those who are. However, as I sat down, a photo was thrusted in front of me of a pale, skinny looking woman and another picture showing scars from heavy injecting in the groin. Next, came a lecture about how this lady ‘used to be one of us’ and that ‘I am better than this’, asking how have I stooped so low to be working down here. I’m used to this shit and I fought back at her, but one thing that made me tick was when she called the local sex work project ‘prostitution facilitators’ who promoted it.

Unlike other outreach vans, they did not provide sign-posting if I presented with an issue nor did they give out condoms and safety advice, in fact they had no connections with local services. Instead, I was asked if I was religious and when I said no, was told this isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship with Jesus. It had been a particularly bad night and I wanted someone to talk to, and instead I was having a bible put in my lap and told i’m the lowest of the low. I knew this scenario would have been different with the prostitution facilitators; I could have cried, let it all out, got a hot drink without judgement and gone home with a weight off my mind. I went home with a bible, angry at how degraded I now felt. I was so put off by this experience that I decided not to sex work on a Sunday anymore. I wonder if that was their aim after all.

This always makes me angry because sex work projects deal first hand with the chaotic lives of sex workers, the violence we face and work with those who are often rejected by services. Of course they don’t promote prostitution, they support exit just as much as anyone else but it isn’t that easy. This warped idea of ‘facilitating prostitution’ isn’t allowed under the Nordic Model so handing out condoms, offering safety advice and booking sexual health appointments could be penalised. This would leave us at risk of unsafe sex, risking our safety. Jason Domino, a male sex worker with National Ugly Mugs, and passionate HIV activist demonstrates repeatedly throughout his work that decriminalisation of sex work can reduce new cases of HIV. Safety and harm reduction is better than a rise in unsafe sex and illness.

I remember going to the prostitution facilitator’s van one evening, asking only for two condoms because I didn’t want to tempt myself to do any more jobs after that. They ripped open the pre-made condom packs, giving me two, and asked for me to come back to the van afterwards if that’s what I wanted. I did just that, I earned what I needed, had a sandwich and hot chocolate and was encouraged to go home. This isn’t facilitation or promotion, this is harm reduction. We do not call needle exchange workers drug pushers? They have never told me to work either, they deal with me however I present that day. Local sex work projects respect autonomy but always promote the safest option, appreciating and understanding whichever option decide however.

Another thing I hear anti-sex work orgs say is that sex work projects are pimps because they wouldn’t have a job, thus money, if prostitution didn’t exist. As they say, without a prostitute, there is no one to help, so you’d have no income otherwise. Not only is this an insult to people who are subject to pimps, but I can assure you, sex worker project workers would be able to get a job elsewhere – their hearts, dedication and compassion is in high demand. I am sure they will be the first people to tell you they would happily not have prostitution exist and work elsewhere, particularly workers who deal with survival sex workers and street work. These charities and organisation were born out of demand, rather than the other way around. Nobody decided to set up a charity and started encouraging people to be prostitutes to fill their funding quotas.

This is like saying domestic violence charities love femicide because it pays their bills, or child sexual exploitation support workers thrive off the vile abuse because they need a job. This is absolutely disgusting, completely wrong and perhaps one of the lowest arguments I’ve ever heard. I’m sure many of those in the charity sector would welcome redundancy and moving their skills elsewhere if overnight the issues were resolved for their clients, and we all lived happily ever after. Sadly, this isn’t the world we live in and most organisations started at grassroots level which grew to reach a demand. If you want these people out of a job, tackle the structural problems and social issues what brought the need for the service to begin with, not the workers who are alleviating the problems day in, day out.

The idea that I can be locked out of services who will be deemed to be ‘facilitating prostitution’ is daunting. This of course includes the sex work projects, but also local housing authorities if I sex work from home, leaving me homeless. I could be asked to leave as the council could face a fine, and then I’m barred from accessing them again. I wonder if this would also include the sexual health clinic. I told them i’m a sex worker but does this mean they would not be able to give me condoms and instead would have to refer me to an anti-trafficking organisation, despite not being trafficked, wasting resources? I also wonder if this means I won’t have full sexual health testing which is regularly done if you present as a sex worker, including blood tests. I could end up homeless, with undiagnosed STIs and no way to access appropriate help, instead being told I am being trafficked which isn’t true.

This isn’t just about isolation but implementing these types of restrictions significantly damages the relationship between service and sex worker. I would feel judged, almost ashamed, angry and not come back. Sex work projects would not be able to identify new and vulnerable sex workers anymore, and we would all risk dropping out of service, or perhaps the service seizing to exist entirely, forcing individuals to work from their own pocket and kindness rather than as an organisation. The trust built between your support worker and yourself as a sex worker can take years, starting off as hostile at first due to previous bad experiences and it takes a lot of trust to disclose you’re struggling or previous trauma. I am still struggling with this myself now. It would shatter the lives of many women who rely on these services, who are sometimes their only support. I didn’t even trust my local sex work project for months when I first heard of them!

We also see other sex workers at these project who offer peer support, advice and a free place to talk about all things prostitution and laugh about it. I can’t begin to explain how much this should not be underestimated. Sex work can be incredibly lonely, and you may never tell anyone you’re a sex worker in your civvie life so it is a brilliant outlet, and a funny one too at times. Where else can I blow up condoms, talk about anal sex, the weird shit clients tell you and at the same time, not feel judged for it. It is also a place where you can talk about the difficulties you’ve faced at work that nobody but a sex worker may have experienced. Building relationships with other sex workers is what keeps you sane but also safe, especially working outdoors. You need a friend to text if you’re in trouble or when you’re going to do a job.

If you read the last few paragraphs and saw this as facilitating or promoting prostitution instead of peer support, solidarity, friendship, safety and support then you are too blunted on your own ideology to consider the strengths and impacts these ‘facilitators’ have on us sex workers. There is another Christian based outreach, they are a local charity supporting only street sex workers and are thankfully, nothing like those described in the introduction. They cook us a meal every Thursday which we all eat together like a family, their premises is a converted house which has a homely feel, volunteers cook you food, you can have a nap there, a shower, wash your clothes, and also see the outreach GP and sexual health nurse. I have never seen anything like it and is a true blessing for some of the most vulnerable and complex sex workers.

As I sit in these drop-ins, having volunteers and workers plait my hair as we discuss the news, the weather or the boring mundane things in our lives, the difficulties we’re having or perhaps things we are looking forward to or things we have achieved, sex work doesn’t cross my mind. This may sound silly considering I am with sex workers, in a charity supporting them, and it’s the common theme of us all but if you think we sit around talking about it all the time like hot gossip, you’d be surprised. Do you go home after work and continue talking about work all the time until you’re back at work? I hope you don’t and should seek a better work/life balance. We too, have lives outside of our work that we discuss with our friends and it’s nice for our achievements, no matter how small, to be appreciated in a way that perhaps wouldn’t outside this sex work context.

At no point do I think anyone is facilitating prostitution, quite the opposite; they’re holding me afloat, to stop me falling harder into more desperate situations. They are ringing me, checking that I am okay, whether I need help and what with. I need these so-called facilitators, and their job is very much needed. They are not my pimps, they intervene when I am risk of being pimped, trafficked and know me well enough to know when something isn’t okay. Again, another element which can’t be underestimated. If I am at risk, it is sometimes better for an outside perspective to spot this rather than myself and it took years for various workers to know me well enough to spot when I’m not doing alright. This can’t be said for other agencies such as the police who would only have a snapshot of the scenario I present them with.

Those who supposedly promote prostitution are the ones fighting austerity measures, lobbying the government for better safety, setting up hardship funds for sex workers during the pandemic, supporting these blogs to help me move away from sex work. They are championing research they present to the government, citing the causes of prostitution and the best research demonstrating ways to reduce it. These facilitators are working first-hand with us, organising our benefits, trying to find us emergency accommodation, keeping us safe at work, liaising with the police so we build a better relationship with them, helping us report violence in and outside the home, and advocating for us with other services. They are helping to write our CVs, doing mock interviews with us and most importantly, being there listening to cry, rant or moan about everything and anything.

Next time someone knocks a so-called facilitator or promoter, please be reminded that they are our biggest allies who have done so much to help us. After all, when the pandemic hit and I was skint and scared financially, it was sex workers and allies who helped, not the organisations that accused them of being pro-pimps. Please consider contacting your local sex work project, volunteer, help with their food donations, financial aid. If you can’t, then challenge the stigma we face in society and daily life ❤

I always keep my blog posts free because advocacy is my passion but if you would like to support me, please consider:
patreon: www.patreon.com/graceyswer

Thank you ❤

The Work in Sex Work

Sex work isn’t just about sexual labour, there is so much that comes with it. As a client however, you don’t see this, you turn up, pay your money, enjoy your session, and go home, but what goes on behind the scenes is extensive! Of course, this all depends on the type of sex work you do, the skills required to be a street worker, compared to a online sex worker are quite different, and both equally as valuable. I wrote a Twitter thread explaining that for me as a direct sex worker, I am unable to transition to online sex work during the pandemic. Equally, I know many online sex workers or dommes who would not have penetrative sex with a client, and that’s okay too. Knowing what you’re comfortable with and sticking to that is one of the blessings of sex work.

As a street worker, people forget the most obvious thing for me: the commute. I can’t work until 8pm and it takes me roughly an hour to walk to the Managed Zone, occasionally i’ll get a bus and then walk from there. However, by the time i’m finished, the buses have stopped and it’s another walk back, that’s a two hour commute each day! Usually, clients commute to the sex worker but no so much for me. Between these hours, the hard work really kicks in and I am taking the emotional brunt of clients trying to haggle my prices lower, of thinking they can mistreat me because I work street and above all, have things thrown at me or people hurl abuse as they drive past. I have at times, walked home and cried not long after arriving because of the way these people make me feel.

When i’m with a man in a car, I can’t take my eye off him and I also have to be mindful of my surroundings – where am I, what did we drive past, am I close to residential area, all whilst trying to act like I am into him and of course, the sex itself. Above all, I have to be firm, letting them know I am taking no crap of him, I want the money first and I won’t tolerate him pushing my boundaries. I am an ogre at work, which is an exhausting front to put up all the time, and an uncomfortable one too because i’m not like that usually. A part of me wants to apologise but by doing so, i’m letting on that i’m too soft and there is no time for that considering the risk involved. I want to be in and out the car as quick as possible so I can’t be bothered for chit-chat.

However, this role changed when I worked for an agency and independently. The emotional labour was tiresome. I had to show interest in anything a client was telling me, pretend that I wasn’t physically exhausted from working that day, put my own emotions about my own life aside, all whilst they’re putting their hands down my knickers on the sofa. This is hard at times, especially when you have conflicts with a client but you can’t say anything in fear of retaliation. I had a man tell me people in poor areas should be burned to death because it would be nicer for them, another say migrants deserve to drown because they’re dirty and finally, that street sex workers are tramps. These stir up intense moral rages in me that I want to counteract, but I can’t, and now, I’m going to have sex with him and pretend i’m happy about it too. Like anyone else, I want to tell them to fuck off.

Keeping this facade up is too much. It is similar with cam girls, they are trying to be themselves as much as possible whilst equally trying to be pleasant, appealing and not to controversial because having an argument with a client doesn’t help you financially. For hours, you’re playing actress and also trying to remember things clients told you – they expect you to know it all. You are perhaps the only person they see for this type of relationship but you see many more who expect this off you too. I am human and can be incredibly grumpy all day too or have upsetting and difficult things going on in my life but I can’t crack. Why? Because I have no colleagues to vent to, I work alone and I can’t cry in front of the client. One thing people forget is, sex work can be really lonely – especially if you have not told anyone you are a sex worker or met other workers. This is true for a cam girl too.

When confronted with a pole, I know for certain I can barely hold myself up on it without getting friction burn on my way down. I find strippers or lap dancers to be incredible talented and it’s extremely laborious. There is a push to have pole dancing as an Olympic sport and you can see why because the exceptional amount of strength and training that goes into it is something to be admired. To be able to do this in your lingerie, full face of make-up, be appealing to the client, not fall off and wearing high heels must be appreciated. Being up there on your own can feel exposing and you’re performing in front of a crowd. Strippers also deal with the emotional baggage that comes with handling clients too just as much as any sex worker, especially if they end up with a regular customer.

People say being a sex worker is like a therapist and this can be sadly true. We are not therapists, we are not trained, we do not know the best coping strategies and nor are we prepared to deal with serious disclosures. However, you would not believe the things I have heard during pillow talk – from men telling me about childhood sexual abuse, to extreme relationship difficulties with their wife, awful divorce procedures, men telling me they don’t speak to their children and what should they do? I don’t know, and sessions can become therapy sessions very easily if you don’t cut them off and put them in the shower. This isn’t nice for either of us to do and i’m sorry, but I can’t take on your life, nor am I trained to deal with vicarious trauma. My mind shuts on you as soon as the door does. I wish you well, but I can’t and don’t know how to deal with it so I won’t.

Dommes also deal with emotional labour. Some men turn up with repressed sexuality for years, expressing difficulties about their sexual relationship with their partner to their dom and they’re absorbing and listening to all this. There is also a shift in power dynamic that some men crave and this can take a toll on you as you manage this. Some dommes are submissive and deal with psychological or physical domination. This must be gruelling! I also find in general, although this could be wrong, that men form strong emotional attachments to their dom, some even making Twitter accounts and acting as a submissive outside of the dungeon. My hat goes off to those who are having to manage clients outside of your work environment. I can imagine men offloading years of sexual repression must be exhausting to deal with, listening to marital problems and trying to give advice on how to approach the topics with their wives/partners.

The theme that runs throughout sex work is marketing and advertising. This is an insane amount of work, and one of the reasons I knew online sex work wasn’t for me. You need a large following before you start earning any money, and in a world of lots of beautiful women, you have to stand out – what is it about YOU that makes people buy your content? Once you have this, you need to advertise and market that in ways to appeal to a range of clients. Again, the relationships with clients which can even be harder to form over the internet and keeping up your persona on your advertising platform, such as Twitter. You can’t be too radical, anti-client or express too much because you could damage your income. Not to mention the barrage of unsolicited dick pics you get. Managing your messages is important too, online and offline. I remember the hours of texting clients, answering emails and general admin that isn’t seen, but you shout at me if I don’t reply to you!

Being naked online is difficult and people just see a picture but forget the person behind it – it may have taken them years to gain the confidence to do this. I can’t do it. There is no way I am brave enough to do that and then to be opening myself up to people criticising my body, people messaging me or sending it to their friends. Nuh-uh. There is a whole other element of this form of sex work. Pictures or videos can be used against you for blackmail, can be found online by employers, family and friends etc… so, online sex work is an incredibly brave thing to do! It is also a risk, like with all sex work, because it might not work financially out but the content is still online. Taking these pictures and videos require hours too.

People do not see sex work as a business when they should because like all of them, it takes considerable financial reinvestment. There are costumes, lighting, photoshoots, sex toys, a whole dungeon for a dominatrix, lingerie, make-up, transport for out-calls, and the list goes on. With more tools, you can expand your business by being able to appeal to a wider audience or create new content, generating more income. If this isn’t work, then i’m not sure what we’ve been calling capitalism for all these years. Clients would also complain we are boring and do not update our photos if we don’t put in all this effort – I once got criticised for wearing the same lingerie once! We also offer a service, which requires feedback for the business to grow, so dealing with asshole customers and their assholes is part of it too – both usually by the same person.

Of course, the most obvious one: the sexual labour. Think of when you have sex and how you are afterwards. After burning all those calories, I assume you’re tired and for some, turn over and go to sleep. Sex is tiring, it’s physical activity! However, despite laying in bed, you can’t turn over and have a nap, you have to tidy up, have a shower and prepare yourself for the next client who can’t know you’ve just had sex. Keep doing this a few hours a day and you’re exhausted. My favourite part of the day is grabbing food on the way home and taking off my makeup, i’m sure this sounds familiar to anyone after a day at work. I also have to deal with sexual health when people do bad things like remove condoms, or when they split which is emotionally worrying, but also takes more time going to appointments, taking time out of the day to be earning.

Sex workers are also largely their own bodyguards and being hyper vigilant takes it’s toll too. As an online worker, you are dealing with potential stalkers, people outing you, posting your content to your employer, friends or family. Being a stripper is keeping an eye on what clients are doing so that they’re not too close to you. As a street worker, i’m paying attention to where I am and as an agency or independent worker, I am always watching the client, never fully trusting them. Sadly, we also always need to be ready to defend ourselves should something happen, and we have to deal with whatever response we come across – flight, fright, freeze, flop or whatever your body does.

Despite the interest around it, sex work can be quite boring like any other job. There are only so many times I can repeatedly pretend to enjoy I like oral sex. Giving a blowjob hurts my jaw more than turns me on, and I go home and binge the same boring Netflix shows as you. Breaking the stigma around sex work brings the conversation away from ‘selling your body’ to appreciating the effort that goes in so that I can do my job. For most sex workers, they are the employer, employee, HR Manager, head of customer service, marketing & advertising, fundraising manager, film producer, actor, purchaser and part time therapist all in one.

I always keep blogs free because advocacy and tackling stigma is my main goal, but if you want to support me, please consider:
http://patreon.com/graceyswer
thank you ❤

A Response to Sex Work Abolitionists

This title is to include those who support the Nordic Model, an ‘End Demand’ model which favours criminalising the buyer of sex but not the seller. This is abolition with a middle-class feminist mask on. The feminist can not be seen to disregard the plight of the woman and therefore, she must be seen as the victim instead, because women calling other women dirty prostitutes who fuel violence against other women, isn’t feminist. In fact, I would rather you tell me you don’t like my job and think i’m disgusting instead of making me live in poverty and resort to further desperation for money. At least it would sting less when i’m risking unsafe sexual practices for money due to loss of income whilst you’re busy profiting from talks about wanting this.

I have spent years now talking to those who support abolition and Nordic Model and one theme that is familiar is they do not care about the sex worker. It is largely women who were sex trafficked who lead the movement, which is not consensual sex work. When sex workers try to have discussions with them, we get told that we support pimps, child sexual abuse and trafficking. It is worth noting, you have no idea of the experiences of the person you are speaking to, who may have experienced these things. Being told they support that suggests they agree with their own abuse. There are sex workers who have been pimped, or trafficked or sexually abused as a child, but make a clear distinction between that, and consensual sex.

Abolition is an ideology, it is not a solution. I recently spoke with the Director of Abolition of Exodus Cry. I told her I did not agree with abolition because you want my life to be so miserable, even if that includes death or violence so that I stop working. I received nothing but a love heart reaction. Michelle Kelly, a former NM supporter and survivor of trafficking, turned consensual sex worker wrote a brilliant article called ‘Why I Am No Longer an Abolitionist’ and something that stood out was this:

I was also told that ‘yes, it will sting in the short-term but it’s worth it in the end’ by a prominent abolitionist, referring to the increased violence towards sex workers and continuing poverty propagated by the Nordic Model

Michelle Kelly

This is the justification terrorists use to meet their objectives. Some may die but the triumph of what we believe shall prevail and we will see that it is all worth it. This has been the justification for the deaths of many for wars, genocides and deaths of the marginalised. Well, to those who support the Nordic Model, I am not martyr for your cause, nor is the death of any sex worker.

I wrote in a previous post that I do not like sex work, I too, wish to tackle the reasons why there is a spike in survival sex work. I also support tackling trafficking, it’s disgusting. I also wish to bring abusers to account, imprison pimps and I absolutely do not agree with child sexual exploitation. To be accused of these things simply because I want safety in my job is illogical, in fact, I am the person who is most at risk of being trafficked, of course I want protection from it. I am the person most likely to have a pimp. However, from my experience and evidence based research, abolition or ending demand doesn’t solve this.

The language used by those who support the Nordic Model is vile. I was saddened to see Dr. Jessica Tyler, who wrote a whole PhD on victim blaming, post a tweet that shared supposed statistics saying the average age of prostitution is 13. No child can be a prostitute, that is child sexual exploitation and many victims of CSE spent years being dismissed by the police for being a prostitute, no such thing exists. This is victim blaming the child. An article by Nordic Model Now wrote ‘The johns/buyers fuck prostitutes regardless of whether prostitutes genuinely desire it’ and Save Our Eyes, a group campaigning against the Managed Zone in Holbeck call us slaves. The language you used to describe us reflects well your attitude towards us, you see as putrid women.

Abolitionists argue that sex work is paid rape, which is a true insult to rape victims who did not consent, and the sexual assault was not transactional. You can not redraw the boundaries of what is and isn’t consent because you don’t like the nature of prostitution. I have been raped in sex work and outside of sex work, the two don’t contrast as to which was worse. Money wasn’t the issue, consent and boundaries was. If I agree to have vaginal sex and he has anal sex with me, without consent, that is rape. If I go to the police and they have the view that all prostitution is rape, how on earth am I supposed to be believed? This also fuels the attitude ‘well of course you was raped, you’re a sex worker, what did you expect!?’ which stops me reporting violence. What a horrible paradox of those who support this ideology.

Considering those who support these ideologies think I am the victim who needs to be rescued, they are not interested in talking to me. Despite being a drug using, street sex worker, I was told I was too privileged because I had a phone, was on Twitter and was considered ‘too articulate’. Of course, I am lucky to have certain things, I am in temporary accommodation and no longer homeless. I am also educated. However, trafficking, prostitution, and drug use transcends all classes and does not care about where I got my education. I was also in a position where things were horrific and I didn’t speak up, but it doesn’t erase these moments because I now have a phone and can engage with people. I have been blocked by numerous abolitionists because I am not the ‘proper victim’ that suits their agenda.

I see them organise events too but none of them platform sex workers who will be impacted by the policy they want. Policy should always be made with consideration and inclusion of the group effected, even if there is opposition, there should be room for both sides to be challenged. Freezing us out shows how much you really don’t care about us, our opinions or what happens to us as a result. The reason you don’t like active sex workers in your discussion is because you know none of us support it. Feminism is the inclusion of women, all women, not going over our heads to triumph your ideology above other women. This is why you are called sex worker exclusionary feminists.

Where does this leave a dominatrix in this discussion? Why are they left out of the sex worker debate? I imagine this is because the power dynamics in this arrangement does not suit the ‘rescue’ agenda you push to your funders. I wonder if you do presentations with pictures of a dominatrix head to toe in leather, with her foot on a mans head whilst he is wearing a collar and chain and decrying these sex workers need recusing? Probably not. Of course, I don’t push the idea that sex work has to be empowering to be considered work but I have to say, I would love to give this a try, and can imagine it would make me feel pretty powerful, subverting the gender norms; including penetrating the man with a strap-on. We must remember, a dominatrix is also impacted by abolition.

Where does this leave male sex workers in your sex work argument that sex work is violence against women and girls? What about trans sex workers? Does this mean they need to be saved too or again, does this not suit the idea that prostitution is always women, there is always abuse and it always the man. Male and trans sex workers can also be raped, killed and abused – their gender does not exclude them from violence. In fact, trans sex workers are disproportionally attacked and killed. They too, deserve safety, and inclusion in the abolition debate. I know first hand that men can too be pimped and trafficked. What about them? Sex work is vast, there is no black and white or single answer.

I started Exit Doors with a small collective of exited sex workers. We did this because we felt there was a huge gap for sex workers who wanted to exit. Most orgs that had the funding were pushing for the Nordic Model or were abolitionists but that isn’t what sex workers wanted. Also, if you then re-entered sex work, you would be too scared to tell the org because you’ve been told repeatedly you have been raped, trafficked, abused and fuelled violence against women. Re-entry is nothing to be ashamed of, it’s driven by poverty and circumstances but you could risk being shunned by the ‘rescuing’ organisation. After all, you should be grateful they saved you and now you’re thanking them by going back! I didn’t want Exit Doors to be like this, we wanted to support sex worker rights, their safety, exiting if they wanted to but also their autonomy if they decided not to. This is feminism; respecting the autonomy of women.

I will never understand abolition, making something illegal might be nicer for your eyes and your white picket fences because you won’t see us in the streets or in your neighbourhoods anymore. However, it is hell for the sex worker, because we are now hidden from view, working ‘underground’ due to fear of arrest, desperate to earn income from loss of clients. Ironically, this puts me at greater risk of being trafficked because I am vulnerable, and therefore likely to rely on a third party for income – a pimp. Of course, this then puts me at risk of being trafficked, which is something I thought NM supporters didn’t want, hence the reason for it. Sex workers are also the first ones to spot trafficking because after all, we could be working alongside them. We won’t co-operate with the police anymore because we could be arrested for being a prostitute, harming all three parties.

There is a reason radical feminism is called radical, because it is the triumph of ideology over evidence-based research, triumph of ideology over the harms it causes to others and side-stepping those impacted. There is also a reason why is it known as middle-class feminism. Most of us do not have time to care for what you think is right and wrong, what your morality stance is on sex work or other woes because we are too busy trying to survive, feed our children, pay our rent and make it through the next month. Instead, as a sex worker, i’m lumped with all this responsibility whilst you’re trying to push for policy without consulting my colleagues, making my life difficult because you have decided what is right for me instead.

I used to have some lovely clients. They were GPs, solicitors, security guards, policemen and doctors. People are aghast these men would pay for sex but of course they would, they have sexual needs too! Regardless of profession, most clients were law abiding, respectful and did not push boundaries – the nature was simply transaction and that was it. If NM or abolition was imposed, sex work will still continue but i’d lose these clients, especially those with respected professions where a conviction would have them sacked. What am I left with? Clients who are okay with being caught or breaking the law, demonstrating risky behaviour that could reflect in their treatment of me. This doesn’t solve prostitution, it just makes it more dangerous and is focused on shaming the client, not helping the sex worker.

It is not wrong to challenge your ideas and talk to the opposing party. This is why I particularly admire Michelle Kelly because she very bravely spoke to sex workers, the ones she was told were awful, pro-prostitution and pro-pimp lobby. Michelle took the time to listen to us, even if it was a disagreement & challenged the authority and ideology of organisations which, at the time, she represented, even if this meant she was frozen out almost immediately. Above all, Michelle herself challenged what she was being told and took the time to find out for herself, coming to her own conclusion.

I always keep my blogs free but if you want to support me, please consider:

Patreon: http://www.patreon.com/graceyswer

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


I always keep blogging for free but if you want to support me please consider:
Patreon – https://www.patreon.com/graceyswer

Thank you X

You Don’t Have To Like Sex Work To Support Sex Workers

You can tell me you morally disagree with sex work, that sex work is disgusting, degrading, misogynistic and patriarchal and to a large extent, I agree with you. Yes, there are times it feels degrading, it is innately misogynistic and patriarchal, and I once believed it was morally questionable, not anymore. Yet, these are all beliefs and they do not bring any solutions. After giving me a lecture on how much you think I’m a dirty whore or i’m fuelling violence, this isn’t going to stop me sex working. Why? Because your moral judgement does not pay my bills, does not put food on the table, it does not clothe me or keep me out of debt. I do not have time to think of your feminism or morality whilst I’m giving a blowjob for £20 because my gas has been cut off.

Anti-sex work feminists, usually radical feminists, argue that sex workers who support decriminalisation are pro-prostitution and want it to be called work because we say it is empowering. I do not feel empowered, I hate sex work and I do not encourage prostitution. I would never encourage anyone, but I will always offer safety and advice to those who decide to become a working girl. I see her being here as a failing of society and that structures the support the most vulnerable, those poverty stricken, single mothers, drug users and services that support women, along with toxic ideologies. It is not the sex worker’s fault, but they has every right to be safe while navigating their way through what may be a temporary solution.

Sex work can be a blessing or a curse. Many enter because the vanilla job market has frozen them out due to their mental or chronic health conditions, rigid working hours which don’t accommodate single mothers, zero-hour contract instability or lack of education. Sex work can cure these ailments by working when you want, can be high financial reward so you do not need to work 40 hours a week, and you can take time off to rest and manage mental health. I know MANY sex workers who would never return to a vanilla job because sex work allows them significantly more freedom and more importantly, they’re happier. I support them, I hope they are happy and continue to be and they too, deserve to work safe. However, I don’t support the reasons why they felt frozen out of the workplace, that is not acceptable.

Sex work for basic survival when you feel it’s not something you chose for the right reasons can construct a different narrative. Living in chronic poverty can be significantly more degrading than prostitution, it is a bandaid to an underlying problem that is being structurally ripped off, keeping the sex worker financially stuck. I always say that sex work isn’t for everyone, and that includes myself. However, when i’m poor, my gas company doesn’t care about whether I do or don’t enjoy blowjobs, and therefore, I grit my teeth and get on with it because I hope to work my way out of this and if I stop, i’m going backwards. It’s important to remember I chose to sex work, I could have gone shoplifting or committed burglary instead – not sure you would say that wasn’t a choice due to poverty or drug addiction, that label is only for us prostitutes.

There is this idea that you have to be a happy hooker for sex work to be considered work, to be taken seriously, or have rights. Not at all. I also didn’t like working as a receptionist, and I used to be an unhappy McDonalds worker too but that didn’t mean I deserved to be assaulted at work and have no support or feel shame in reporting, facing stigma by the police and told ‘well what did you expect, you’re a McDonalds worker!?’. I expend emotional, physical and sexual labour in return for payment and at great risk. I deserve the right to unionise, to hold people who take advantage of me to account, to take my brothel or agency worker to court when they fire me unlawfully or make me do things I don’t want to do. I can’t do that right now, it’s not decriminalised.

I don’t like drugs, but I don’t hate drug users. I support harm reduction because they will use drugs anyway. I don’t like sex work, but I don’t hate sex workers. I support keeping the sex worker safe as possible if they work, respecting their choices, and help them exit if thats what they want. If you hate sex work, fine, I won’t argue with that. However, that is no excuse not to support sex workers and keeping them safe. It reminds me of the saying ‘don’t hate the player, hate the game’. Hate the government that doesn’t help us, for stripping the benefits system which led to a sharp rise in survival sex work, capping essential benefits, introducing the bedroom tax, decimating domestic violence resources and other services that support women.

Survival is the most important thing to us all, and for some of us, sex work was the solution to our difficult circumstances. It may not be the solution you found, but don’t judge those who did. If you advocate abolishing sex work or the Nordic Model, what are you going to do for the thousands of women who will suddenly drop off the cliff, who have no savings, who have children? The coronavirus gave us a small taste of this and it is has left sex workers in dire, desperate and worse situations than ever before, at further detriment to their mental and physical health and circumstances. Some can’t even afford basic necessities. We are also now more likely to depend on third parties for income, who may be abusive, running the risk of trafficking. Unless you are willing to financially support us all, don’t advocate for something you can’t resolve, or feel the direct impact of. Abolition or part-criminalisation doesn’t stop something happening, it just makes it illegal, pushing it underground and unsafer.

I am unhappy having sex for money but I deserve to be unhappy and safe having sex for money. Above all, I won’t be thinking about your radical feminist beliefs about sex work while you sit in the comfort of your home. I will be out in the cold, trying to earn £50 before I go home because I have to make it through the next week. What I will feel the impact of is however, is the stigma and shame you bring to sex workers, because that reflects in society and therefore, how people treat me. So, before you go saying sex work is paid rape, remember I can be raped as a sex worker and how am I expected to be believed when the whole thing is supposedly rape? You can not change the definition to suit your ideology.

I am driven to work for the same reasons you are. Not because I love sex, am a dirty woman or any other wild reason people think we do it. I spend my money on the same things as you – clothes, shopping, shoes, rent, council tax, electricity, gas, transport etc… suggesting we are somewhat ‘other’ is dangerous and does little to help us. We face the same struggles as anyone else in hardship, austerity or with children.

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The Price You Pay For Being An Open Sex Worker

I got outed as a sex worker in a way that was malicious and undeserving. At the time, I was mortified, ashamed and hoped the ground would swallow me up. Suddenly everyone knew what I did with my vagina and how I was buying my food. People would say things like ‘No, it’s okay, i’ll buy that so you don’t have to work’. On the surface, this sounds like a nice comment and I don’t think any offence was intended, yet it was clear people wouldn’t say the same if I was doing a regular 9-5 in an office somewhere. This is how I knew my job would be an ‘us and them’ divider. Now, people felt pity for the blowjobs I gave to pay for Nandos. I could have capitalised on the pity but the embarrassment felt overwhelming.

What came next was a slew of nasty comments, people asking personal questions about my sex life and interests, how much I earn and what my family thought of my job. Would you ask anyone else these questions or like them asked about you? I felt like being doxxed wasn’t enough for the person who exposed me, and the onslaught was a second round of punishment. After a week or two, I realised that I was still working, people in the street couldn’t see ‘sex worker’ written on my forehead after all and somehow, I hadn’t killed myself. Despite a consistent stream of vitriolic abuse, I realised that being called whore wasn’t really that effective anymore, and my reply was more along the lines of ‘yeah, and what, mate?’. The punishment didn’t sting as much.

Only a few family members know, I have 4 misogynistic brothers and dad, who used to describe sex workers as cum buckets. I am not sure I am brave enough to tell them just yet but it’s inevitable, and I hope by then, I’ll be brave enough to take the third round of punishment which is much more personal than a random stranger writing ‘you fucking dirty tramp’ on Facebook. I’m not there yet, I haven’t spoken to them in years so as time goes by, their opinion means less. Getting past this stage was the easiest part, people moved on and although at the time, it felt like the words of thousands of strangers would never end, it did. I must add, this took an exceptional toll on my mental health.

I did what I am infamous for (if you know me well) and hit my ‘fuck it’ button and decided to be an ‘out’ sex worker. Similar language we use for the LGBTQ+ community as if it something we should hide away. I knew I had nothing to lose, it would only be me I would be hurting; I didn’t have to worry about what the kids at school would say to my child, I lived away from my hometown so close friends and family wouldn’t run the risk of spotting me online, I had no ‘vanilla’ job I risked losing. Also, at this particular point in time of my life, I really couldn’t have cared whether I lived or died.

In every doctor appointment, service I accessed or counsellor I saw, I told them I was a sex worker. As much as these people are professionals, they have their own personal opinion they unprofessionally let you know about. You’re caught between wanting to start an argument and educate them, or accept the comment they made to access the appropriate treatment. This may include your GP insisting you do a pregnancy test at each appointment, despite telling her repeatedly that you never have sex without condoms. Again, she means well. I even told my bank I was a sex worker and spent the hour appointment dispelling myths and defending my sexual health – not appropriate.

It was around this point I told a close friend who I had lived with for several years. We would talk daily and I would meet her on her lunch breaks at work. I listened to her woes and I shared mine over a coffee. We celebrated birthdays together and she was my best friend. I sent her a message after I finished a job, saying what I earned and she said ‘good for you’. Unsure on the nature and wanting clarity, I asked if my job creeped her out and she said kind of, and would rather not talk about it. Ouch. That really hurt. When she next messaged, it was 4 messages and that was it, she never spoke to me again. Just like that. All those years of love, laughter and friendship gone. It is easy to say ‘well she wasnt my friend then’ but this doesn’t take away from how much it hurt. To this day, I continue to lose friends.

For me, being an ‘out’ online sex worker is perhaps the greatest price to pay. When you work indoor, it is in the best interest of yourself and the client to keep this between yourselves, almost like a mutual understanding. The meeting is shrouded in discretion and secrecy due to the shame and stigma attached to us both. As I leave the apartment, nobody is none the wiser that i’ve just spent 3 hours trying to get Mr.Viagra to cum – I walk to KFC, sit down and watch youtube videos and nobody looks at me. Even as a street sex worker, unless you see me out there, you wouldn’t know and it is not in your best interest to approach me in the street – I’d deny it and act like you was a strange man accusing me of things.

The reality of having your naked body online is not something everyone is comfortable with either and that includes me. I am not confident enough to do that, I am not ready to mentally take the critiques of my body – especially if you’re not paying! I remember a friend finding a nude of a school friend last year, he sent it to me and a group of friends who spent all night describing their sexual fantasies, or how much of a slut she was. As I know this happens, I don’t want to be the subject of interest. I also don’t want someone to become fixated on the photos and want to meet me in person, running the risk of a stalker.

As I slowly began tweeting cautiously about sex work or my experiences, it was a small following that never engaged with what I wrote so it felt safer. However, the following grew quicker than I could fathom and before I knew it, my sex work tweets are being projected to thousands of people in real-time. For the first time, I had an active platform that was suddenly reading that I was a sex worker and formulating their own opinions of a stranger they haven’t met but got to know their story online. Not all of these opinions are kind and they let me know, I have been accused of monstrous things, told to kill myself and that people like me don’t deserve help, and should be raped until we can’t stand the thought of working anymore, or killed, whichever comes first.

The onslaught continues when a popular tweet gets picked up by the Sex Worker Exclusionary Radical Feminists (SWERFs). I get told I am both the victim of male violence who needs rescuing whilst equally being blocked, told I support pimping, trafficking and child sexual exploitation – all things I abhor. You’re caught between whether you should divulge your own experiences to support your arguments, or swallow what they say, listen to their experiences, and that they know more than you because of it. I bit the bait once, publicly. Dr Jessica Taylor told me she was once a sex worker and therefore, she knew what she was talking about – pushing me to tell her that I am a a current sex worker who was directly impacted by policy she wanted, not her. I would have been accused of dismissing her experiences and belittling her otherwise.

As an open sex worker, you are presenting yourself also to the professional world. I will not always be a sex worker even if advocacy remains close to my heart. Yet, the more I become known as such, the more my CV matches up with sex work industry, it becomes harder to hide. In fact, writing this blog is a ticket for any employer to know I was a sex worker. I have to detach myself in interviews and say that my work experience included helping sex workers, not that I started a sex-worker lead project, diminishing my efforts. What if I ever slip up and mention something about sex work, do I openly admit it or try and brush it off as ‘something a sex worker told me’?.

In addition, your love life! Some sex workers are lucky to have partners and sex work. For some, being an outed sex worker immediately means some men would instantly delete your number, or retain it to send you abuse. He might even go to work the next day and tell all his mates he went out with a prostitute last night and pass your insta around the office. Of course, these wouldn’t be the men you would be choosing but it wouldn’t be a position you’d be in if you wasn’t a sex worker. If you do settle down, do you tell their family, their friends you’re a sex worker, and run the risk of their peers and loved ones also ridiculing you or him, your relationship or potentially being frozen out by the now already hostile mother-in-law?

Being an outed sex worker, it is not something I encourage unless you feel the financial or personal reward is greater than the problems it can pose for you. This whole article is underpinned and united by stigma, none of the paragraphs would have been necessary to write if stigma didn’t exist for sex workers. It would simply be accepted and nothing more said. In my work, I spend an awful lot of time breaking down barriers, stereotypes and encouraging others to engage with the voices of sex workers. I enjoy it and do this so that other sex workers don’t need to face the barrage of abuse I faced, or swallow the shame they don’t deserve to carry.

Stigma is something that we both experience by ourselves and by society. I believed all the stereotypes about prostitutes, even if I knew they weren’t true of my own experience. I grew up thinking sex workers were disgusting, dirty, drug users and would rob me blind. I became a street sex worker and in fact, these women have cared for me more than family members at times. It is known in the community that #StigmaKills because it is what prevents us from telling our doctor, from accessing appropriate services, from talking about it in counselling sessions, from talking about bad clients with friends. This stigma also fuels how services react to us – whether that’s seeing rape as ‘occupational hazard’ or professionals thinking we are too vulnerable to argue back.

The most disgusting of all is the heightened risk of sexual assault, and having it brushed off because you are/was a sex worker, and therefore it’s fine. No, it isn’t fine. Sex workers are not ‘easy’, we are not something you can do as you please with. You can’t squeeze our ass and excuse it because I used to have sex for money. The exchange of money doesn’t negate consent, and we must be included in the same #MeToo movement of every woman. I listened to a woman tell me men were groping her at a party and when someone said something, they proclaimed ‘she used to be a prossy anyway, she’s used to it, she fucking loves it’. If you read that without questioning or agreed, you are the problem.

If you were asked to take on a job that required this much sacrifice and abuse from society, you wouldn’t do it. So don’t make it harder for sex workers.

I always keep blogs free because advocacy and tackling stigma is my main goal, but if you want to support me, please consider:
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thank you ❤

The Death of a Sex Worker

17th December marks International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. This December just passed, I was at drop-in at my local sex work project on my own, and was informed there was a memorial to the sex workers killed in the Yorkshire region. I was invited by a support worker to go with her to pay our respects, and I walked in to a room with candles in the formation of a heart and the full names of each woman around the table. I didn’t expect to be so moved.

I didn’t know these women, I had never met them, I have no idea what they look like, sound like, how old they are or what form of sex work they participated in. Yet, here I am, looking at their names on paper trying to imagine the lives they led and the incredible women whose lives got cruelly taken too soon. I could feel myself welling up, my voice croaking and gritting my teeth to try not to cry but I did anyway, I am only human. It was a harrowing reminder that I am just like them, and I could easily be on this piece of paper – it only takes one client, one bad time and place. This hit closer to home than I expected.

These women loved, had children, aspirations, things they wanted to achieve, cried and laughed as much as anyone else, were in relationships and were good friends to others. This is why it is so hurtful when people paint sex workers to be hardened, ruthless, dirty and push our boundaries. We too, are people, and what we do to earn money doesn’t remove our humanity. We say that a sex worker is somebody’s daughter and it is true, we are loved by our family too. Now they are dealing with the loss of their daughter, who they may not have even known was a sex worker. This isn’t uncommon, someone you love may be a sex worker – now imagine they died at the hands of a client, would it change how you felt about their loss? Hopefully not, because murder is still, a murder.

Death or violence is not an occupation hazard of sex work. Prostitution, by it’s very nature, is not violent as it simply consensual sex between two people, with the exchange of money. However, it is considered a dangerous job due to the violence we are subjected to by the hands of others, not because of the job itself. Victim blaming a sex worker only serves to stunt us in reporting incidences to the police, which is ironic considering abolitionists argue they want to ban sex work due to the violence. Nobody can consent to being violently murdered, nobody can consent to being beaten and robbed, and it is certainly not a part of the job description! Sex work isn’t the problem, violence is.

National Ugly Mugs is a charity where sex workers can report violent incidents which alerts other sex workers. They did an incredible Twitter thread naming each sex worker who has been killed, promoting #SayTheirNames to bring the humanity back to the sex workers that the media often strips them of. When a sex worker is killed, the headlines read ’22 year old prostitute killed’ but why has her occupation taken precedence over her name? It’s because people find it interesting, click and probably tell their colleagues that a prostitute has been killed, not a lady called Grace who was murdered.

I wrote a tweet a while back, reflecting on my thoughts about dying in sex work. Of course, it isn’t something I think about often but you are of course, playing with thought when you get into a car of a man and your gut instinct is telling you no, but it’s too late, you’re in the car and you’re desperate. I wouldn’t want my death to fuel the political ideology of those who want to abolish sex work, instead, to use it as an example as to why we must bring those who commit violence to account – especially those who target sex workers.

It is estimated that 184 sex workers have been killed since 1990 in the UK. Of course, this number can never be accurate because this number reflects what murders have been reported in the public domain and by which, the victim has been identified as a sex worker. However, it leaves out people like my aunty who was a sex worker and is no longer with us. There are likely many more who have been victims, but nobody ever knew they were a sex worker, thus it was never known or reported as such. Any murder is an awful event, for the family, community, their friends and their colleagues, being a sex worker shouldn’t reduce the impact of that, we are no more worthy to be subject to death and violence than anyone else. We deserve to live and work in safety too.

I hope you never become a sex worker, it’s not for everyone – including myself. However, we never know what life will throw at us, and we can’t judge someone for their choices because we never know the full circumstances. It is easy to shame a sex working mother but imagine having no support network, friends or family to financially help, you’re at home with your child who is returning to school soon. You have no food, money and the gas has just cut off, you’re hungry because you haven’t eaten and lied to your child that you have to spare them the guilt, instead guzzled gallons of water to put the hunger pain at bay. Your child has grown over the summer and needs new school shoes, you need to pay your rent and you need money quicker and in a greater amount than what you have. What would you do? A quick blowjob for £30 sounds enticing about now, as you begin salivating at the thought of the pasta meal you would make with the money.

Survival sex work is on the rise, child poverty is rising too, the two go hand in hand. Think of the life you lead, the relationships and life you have, the incredible achievements you’ve conquered and the resilience you have shown. All of this would be quickly wiped away by your death if you was a sex worker, simply plastered as ‘death of a prostitute’ in a tabloid somewhere, one that which people scoff at and go ‘well what did they expect?’. I tell you what I expected; greater help from the government when I told them I was violently assaulted by a client but I can’t afford to not go back to work as I won’t be able to eat. I expected the man to respect my boundaries as much as I did his. I expected to be treated as a person.

I pray this post becomes irrelevant and we are not faced with tackling our responses to a murder of a sex worker. However, I know we must continue to strive to end violence all year around. In France, since the implementation of the Nordic Model, sex workers there have faced the most brutal, despicable and vile acts of torture and violence. Support safety, not punishment and next time you read such an article, read it and imagine if that was you, a loved one, a colleague or a family friend because we are all of those things. I am a sex worker but first and foremost, I am a human being.

When we are out working, we take mental notes of how long someone has been gone as a safety precaution, the longer they’ve gone, the more anxious you feel and worry about the worst possible scenario. It shouldn’t be this way. As I sit on the outreach van, eating a sandwich and laughing with other sex workers, I don’t see them as ‘just a sex worker’ but someone whose jokes will make me laugh at inappropriate times as I remember them later on. I look forward to seeing them, hear about what they’re up to. The thought of their deaths being disregarded so quickly is heart wrenching, and so it should be.

@graceyswer

Sex Work and Clothing

A generic getty image used in a Metro newspaper article

What springs to mind when you think of a prostitute? Is it tight skirts, thick makeup, scraped up hair that is overdue a wash, high heels and breasts overspilling a clearly unfitted bra? In fact, your mind properly evokes somewhat of the same image you see above, a stereotypical depiction often accompanied with an article about sex work in the media. Yet, I have to ask, when was the last time you looked in your wardrobe and asked yourself how little amount of clothes you should wear in snow, bitter wind or heavy rain. Probably never. Sex workers don’t either, and we are much more likely to stand outside in the cold for longer than your quick run to the shop.

Perhaps this is appropriate attire if I decide to take up the extreme sport of jogging in high heels. In fact, I can’t even walk in high heels and wearing a size 3 shoe, I find it nearly impossible to find heels that don’t make my foot feel like as though it’s undertaking the historic, and painful ritual of foot binding. What I actually think when I load up my BBC weather app and read it might reach minus celsius is ‘do I even own enough thick clothing to keep me warm?’. I put my leg warmers on and tuck my shirt in, pulling my jeans on top, trying hard not to crease the leg warmers, search for my thickest socks, scarf and gloves. I then flip my room upside down trying to find the hand warmers I neglected to put away from when I last went to work. Completed with a thick but easy to take off coat.

Would we expect to see outdoor tradesmen laying down tarmac or fixing a roof wearing his summer clothes and flip-flops? Absolutely not.

When flicking through the newspaper or the news apps, we don’t always have time to read the article so we rely on visual cues to understand. However, when the visual imagery is wrong, it skews the reality of the story it is trying to depict. When was the last time an article about prostitution appeared in the media and showed a picture of a woman head to toe in winter woolies? Or perhaps the more realistic imagine of an unassuming woman who is dressed like she’s just popping to the shop. The opposite depiction is a woman dressed in lingerie drowning in glamour and money.

These images fuel the idea that sex workers are hyper-sexualised women who just love sex all the time, that we are there as something to stare at and if we show our bodies, that means we are fine with people commenting on them too. I didn’t wear skirts until I was 21, I don’t own or have ever owned a low cut top, a V neck jumper or even feel comfortable wearing short sleeves. What I wear and what I do have no direct link. This applies to women who are not sex workers also. If a woman loves tight, short skirts, platform heels and low cut tops then it doesn’t mean she’s hyper sexual either!

Sex workers walk amongst us all, in the street, at the school gates, in the hairdresser, in your work offices, in your universities and in your circle of friends. I wonder if you ever looked at Karen and wondered if she was a sex worker when she was asking for the manager. Probably not, because you would never know! As I walk home through the city centre, passing drunken men & women being kicked off out the bars, nobody looks at me because I don’t ‘look like a sex worker’. I know I am, and walking home it feels as if everyone around me knows, but they don’t.

Clothing is an odd topic to start a blog with and likely isn’t something that first comes to mind when thinking of prostitution. However, for me, whenever I talk about sex work with others, read an article or see a depiction, it never speaks true and how can you have a discussion when you’re already stunted by the stereotypes? Above all, with these images in mind, it makes me think the person I am speaking is suddenly imagining me out on the street, shaking my ass in barely any clothing. The only time i’d be shaking my ass is because of the shivering!

@graceyswer