Looking Up at The Whorearchy From The Bottom

Infographic by Monique Duggan

The whorearchy is used to describe the hierarchical difference between the vast number of sex workers based on the stigma they face, how intimate they are with the client and the likelihood of them having interactions with the police. This is theoretical but in reality, it is shown in more hurtful ways. Despite being impacted by the same laws, using our bodies in a sexual way for money, there are many sex workers who look down on other types of sex workers. I don’t understand this because we are all fighting the same laws, confronted with the same prejudices, and if the Nordic Model was introduced, we’d all be faced with being evicted by our landlords due to our jobs.

As a street sex worker, I am accused of devaluing local house prices and that I am hurting children. However, a dominatrix is subject to the same stigma by society. They are higher up the hierarchy than me, and I would argue even higher than a sugar baby. Mistress Evilyne, a London based dominatrix faced backlash from her local community and nationally after an article about her was in the Daily Mail. Accusations included that having her in the neighbourhood was driving down local house prices and concerns that children ‘will be exposed’ to things they shouldn’t see. These accusations are not far from what I’ve been accused of either as a street sex worker. Evilyne was also reported to the police due to the noises coming from her dungeon. Of course, she is not a threat to any child, neither am I!

A dominatrix I called out for the whorerachy

This was a tweet I saw one morning from a dominatrix. I stared whilst drinking my tea in shock. For me, this was the first time I had seen blatant shaming amongst sex workers. It is absolutely fine to have boundaries in sex work of what you do and don’t offer. In fact, it’s something I encourage, but there is no need to shame others along the way. I think it was the ‘Eurgh’ at the end that got me, as it was some sort of disgusting thing to do. I can only imagine the sentence at the end was ‘I suggest you don’t use that word for me’ as if being an escort is something to be shamed for. I thought this was perhaps a one off, but I quickly realised the issue was more prominent than what I first envisaged.

I couldn’t help but think this tweet showed a divide even among the dommes. I have seen this a few times, arguing about what is a professional dominatrix and what isn’t. Who cares? If one has penetrative sex and a mix of BDSM, dom/sub work etc. then why is there judgement? I am not a domme so I don’t know but from the outside looking in, it seems very odd. After all, we encourage each other to do what’s good for us, what we are comfortable with and run our own shit, until someone runs it differently than us.

This is absurd for me looking in on these conversations. Working as an escort in an agency or with my friends, independent or street. There is no ‘professional outdoor sex worker’, and I certainly don’t compare myself when working alongside another sex worker. We do what we do, we earn what we need in the confines of our boundaries and that’s it. Whether that’s simply a blowjob or full blown anal fisting. You do what’s good for you. I find it upsetting at times that we judge each other over what we do or don’t do with our bodies. I saw an recent article from an escort that caught my attention, describing lower-end ‘housewife’ sex workers as amateurs. I imagine she therefore sees herself as a professional. Personally, I find the idea of a professional sex worker to be problematic. We are not professional sports players, and what are the qualifications to become a professional sex worker? What must I do or not do? Someone may not have the same safety advice or resources, but they’re no less of a sex worker.

Of course, these examples give dommes a bad name. Although this is sometimes considered a problem amongst them, they have the largest platforms to express these views so it attracts the biggest attention. That is not to say they are all like this, because that’s simply not true at all. I have met some lovely and incredible dommes who have helped me, been very welcoming, encouraged me, and haven’t thought twice about the hierarchy. You will also find some of them have gone up and down the whorearchy but almost too scared to be open and honest about it, in fear of being discredited as a domme.

The whorearchy at play

Of course, this is prevalent amongst other types of sex workers. For example, this tweet was in reference to a question asking why sex workers don’t have an OnlyFans account yet. There are so many things that are frustrating with this post. Almost nobody can wait until covid19 is over due to financial reasons. Not everyone had savings to prepare for a never-ending, world stopping pandemic like you. Hun, you are a sex worker who is talking about having strong values and morals by not showing your body, the same thing that makes you money. You can have strong values, that’s fine, but it’s usually this argument that is used against you by others, don’t perpetuate it yourself. After all, the rest of must be cheap whores with no morals it seems.

Selling nudes or making content does not remove your morals and values.

This is the what I describe as the ‘othering’ amongst sex workers. I am not like those sex workers who choose to put photos of their bodies online, goodness no! There is no need to be like this. I don’t have an OnlyFans and I am a sex worker. I will happily admit this is because I am actually not brave enough to post nudes and videos, nor am I dedicated to the immense work that goes on behind the scenes for online sex workers. It’s okay to admit there are strengths in the work of other sex workers, and weaknesses of your own. Those who look down on this are the types of sex workers who I describe as ‘M&S personal sexual therapists’, and probably say only their lip touches their penis or their index finger. Sorry, but you’re probably riding dick as hard as me some days. In the eyes of society, we are both a sex worker.

If you use your body for the sexual pleasure of a client in exchange for money, you are a sex worker. Before you say that by not touching the client, you aren’t one, then consider that you will still be impacted the Nordic Model, and other anti-sex worker laws. You can also be evicted from your home by a landlord under anti-prostitution laws. You may not be penetrated by the client but you may penetrate them with a strap-on; if that’s not sexual then I am unsure how you would describe your job. We both make Dave, Richard and Michael cum, we just do it in different ways. It is frustrating when you are already in a community that is marginalised and those within it continue to create division between us. Even worse are those who enforce the hierarchy whilst those at the bottom don’t even have time to consider this bullshit because we face the brunt of stigma and anti-sex worker laws, such as fines for solicitation. It distracts from the debate and focus of what we should all be striving towards: decriminalisation.

This is not to suggest that all sex workers are the same. Of course, there are various dangers to each type of sex work that need to be appreciated in their own right. Street workers are more likely to be killed whereas online sex workers are more likely to be doxxed, and have their content sent to their employers, friends and family. However, what unites us all is the stigma and shame we face by society and how laws can punish us. We are a marginalised group but despite that, we are incredibly varied. Where there is difference among people, there is difference among sex workers because we walk amongst you in every walk of life. However, despite the commonality between us, I, and many other street workers have been at the brunt of the whorearchy, I think a lot of sex workers have at some point and I can only ask, what purpose does it serve? I just don’t understand the reason for it.

I realise I am blocked by sex workers I have never even engaged with. Of course, you can’t please everyone, and that’s fine, but I am unsure what is so different between us. One lady quite honestly told me that she thought I was ruining the community because I said I disliked sex work, that I hated street work, and would support exiting the industry. What do you want me to say? I am not going to lie to please the agenda you portray of your experience in sex work. I am told that I am simply fuelling the abolos. The reality is, sex workers don’t have to walk around with a happy face when they face serious violence because you are scared Bindel & co. will jump on it. I will continue to argue that street sex work is crap, and it’s true that we are more likely to be arrested, stigmatised and assaulted. These should be reasons to highlight for decrim, not lie about so we can all play happy families. I sometimes wonder whether we are at the bottom of the whorearchy because of how much we dislike our job too.

When I am working with other street sex workers, I don’t mention that I have also done indoor work because for some, it makes them feel like I am judging them. They assume I live a lipstick lifestyle that is full of glamour and money but it’s not their fault, I sometimes feel this way too about sex workers higher up the hierarchy than me. Of course, on reflection I know it’s perhaps due to marketing, and I never truly know the life of someone else, nor is it any of my business. These sentiments are so strong that even when working beside them, it can put them off me. I am not angry at them, I’m upset at the reasons why they feel this way in the first place. For me, sex work is the same regardless of the environment you do it – whether that’s in the back of the car or in the rich man’s bed at an outcall. The only difference is that not everyone is afforded the same opportunities such as access to a phone with internet or the ability to run a small business, nor does everyone have a place to work from.

The problem with the whorearchy is that is distracts attention from those who need support the most, and enforces the attitudes that prevent them from accessing support. Many at the bottom of the pyramid don’t engage with the sex worker community because they’re too stigmatised even amongst sex workers. As a result, they rarely get to defend themselves. We isolate further into our own small knit communities, or avoid other types of sex workers in fear of further judgement. When I worked only indoor, it was saddening to attend drop-in and see a street worker recoil when I said I was indoor. It’s not the time nor place to break down the whorearchy and deconstruct it, assuring them I’m on the same side. However, they instantly ask how much money I charge, how much I earn and spend my money on. The thing is, I’ve worked both indoor and outdoor, both have their pros and cons, yet nobody wants to recognise the benefits of outdoor such as quicker turnaround times, less emotional labour and fewer expectations.

The whorearchy is the worst thing about the sex work community. I hate it so much because it is one the very reasons it silences street sex workers and makes us feel ashamed. It is why when I write an article about drug use in sex work that people inbox me instead of openly supporting it because they fear judgement by their own community. For some people, they may have no friends or family after being rejected by them due to being a sex worker, and they rely on other sex workers for support. Sex workers isolate further and further into their own community to protect themselves from stigma and shame in general. To then have the very same people judge you or criticise how you sex work is hurtful.

You have to remember, it is historically street sex workers who have relentlessly campaigned throughout history for sex worker laws, faced the biggest brunt of the police, morality campaigns, and are usually the victims of mass killings such as Yorkshire Ripper & Stephen Wright. We were the ones forced into quarantines to prevent spreads of venereal diseases, and were outright abused by doctors as we were forced to undergo testing, then imprisoned. Even now, we are arrested for sex working on the street. Street sex workers are not dirty, worthless, junkies or whatever you think we are. We are sex workers just like you, and love the same way as you too.

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

www.patreon.com/graceyswer

Working With Sex Workers in Support Services

I recently wrote a short thread on Twitter about how to better respond and work with sex workers. This is particularly aimed at support services such as housing, mental health, social care, medical health and other services a sex worker may need. I hope by doing this thread, it can help people understand sex workers better and encourage their engagement in service. It is well documented the stigma and shame we can face and it is instilled when we disclose something personal about ourselves, which takes courage to do, and then face discrimination and be pushed further way from the service, preventing them from accessing the help they deserve

  1. Don’t panic!

Please, don’t panic! I know this may be the first time you may have had a client disclose they are a sex worker and that’s okay. Don’t go into overdrive and think you must solve every issue related to sex work, you don’t need to. There are many reasons why people become a sex worker and it isn’t a bad thing either. They are likely to be reluctant in telling you more due to the stigma attached more than anything else.

Yes, you may feel out of you comfort zone and that’s okay. Ring the local sex work project if you are unsure on advice or give the sex worker the resources to access the service. One common thing heard among support workers is ‘I don’t understand sex work’ and they therefore feel they don’t know what to do. It’s fine, you don’t need to understand sex work. It is exceptionally broad and vast, the industry and reasons for entry are innumerable. It would be unrealistic to apply generalisations to individuals. You just need to understand it, you only need to know it in the context of the client’s life.

2. Don’t go into rescue mode

This is one of the reasons sex workers push away from service. We feel we are unable to discuss difficult things related to the job in fear of being told we need to be fixed, or that we need saving from ourselves. We don’t need saving, we are perfectly capable of making adult decisions about our own body in the confines of our socio-economic resources and capabilities.

I know it can be challenging to perhaps listen to a sex worker describe being raped during sex work and the instant reaction is to want to take them away from working to prevent it, but this doesn’t help. We are more likely to be killed or raped at home, by our loved ones, but would you suggest moving away from our family and running away to a new undisclosed location? Let the sex worker talk about their experiences without sex work being the dominant thing in the conversation.

Remember, we can have bad experiences and still enjoy and prefer sex work. People are sexually assaulted at work but we have the right to challenge it and continue working, not flee each time it happens. Hold the abuser to account, not the sex worker. Also, telling a sex worker to just leave isn’t helpful and can have accidental serious financial implications, resulting in further detriment and desperation. They also may already be trying to leave sex work and they don’t need you telling them they’re not trying hard enough.

3. Don’t ask intrusive question

You would hope this is common sense but as a sex worker, you would not believe how many personally sexual questions I am asked. Perhaps this is the first time you’ve met an open sex worker and wish to take this opportunity to ask some burning questions that you’ve always wanted to know. Don’t do it, we are not an opportunity. We are not subjects of interest that you can extract trauma or knowledge from so you can scratch an itch of a question. These things fuel the stigma we already face and having to defend ourselves just adds to the shame.

An example: I went to open an ISA at my bank, I told the lady I was a sex worker. The entire appointment I was asked about my income, told she was be mortified if her partner slept with a prostitute in fear of getting sexual diseases, asked how much tax I pay, how often I have sex, what do I think about men, how do I feel having sex with people’s partners etc… This is all highly inappropriate.

Don’t ask questions you would not be prepared to answer yourself. Asking intrusive questions makes us not want to return, freezing us out of accessing help and support and ruins any therapeutic relationship you wish to gain. We should be getting help, not having to defend ourselves.

4. Don’t be a dickhead

I would hope this one is self-explanatory. I always tell people, when working with a sex worker, leave your stereotypes and whatever you think at the door and just listen to them and work from there. This isn’t always the case and never have I experienced such critiques from support workers from any other job. I consistently have people pass comments, tell me what they think about it, ask me how I feel about ‘being exploited’.

Worst of all, is telling a sex worker they are better than that, and they have the ability to do something better. Not only are you devaluing the transferable skills and incredible strength it takes to be a sex worker, but you’re just adding to the stigma and degrading them even further. Unless you’re willing to give me a job, pay my bills or my rent, don’t tell me what to do because I can’t afford to take your opinion.

5. Don’t make assumptions

If I present to a mental health service and disclose I’m a sex worker, don’t think i’m there because of sex work. Don’t assume we are all abused, we do it without choice or agency, we hate being a sex worker or any other stereotypes that come with it. Sex work is unfortunately, a hot topic that is poorly portrayed, and due to the stigma, it is hard for sex workers to come forward and directly challenge this. However, that doesn’t mean you have to fuel it either. It is insufferable to tell a counsellor sex work helps your mental health, only for them to say ‘gosh, it must be awful to be a sex worker and what you experience’. Gah!

Avoid stereotypes in general, we all know how harmful and unhelpful they can be. You should be approaching your client holistically, and more importantly, individually.

A common and exceptionally useless assumption is that we do drugs because of sex work, assuming it contains unspeakable trauma and that we are therefore using drugs to cope with it. This is usually the other way around. Drug using sex workers tend to be drug users first then became sex workers for financial needs. By assuming their mental health problems derives from sex work, you are ignoring the root causes and scapegoating for an easy answer.

6. Be guided by the sex worker

Being a sex worker doesn’t automatically make you ‘complex needs’ and it is unhelpful to associate sex work with being unmanageable, difficult and something that needs to be fixed. Again, it adds to the stigma that we can’t be handled well, don’t engage well or we have intricate needs. Sometimes, we just need condoms and sexual health screening and that’s it, we are fine otherwise. You would not call someone entering any STI clinic complex. Of course, there are sex workers who have multiple experiences such as domestic violence, homeless, under age 25, have been raped or are drug users and this is complex needs. However, to assume we are instantly vulnerable and complex just by being a sex worker doesn’t help.

Many sex workers are happy and won’t ever need to engage with a service because their needs are met by themselves. Unless they present with a specific issue, there is no need to guide them in a certain direction such as exiting if they don’t want to. Just because you are a sex worker, that doesn’t mean something needs to be fixed or an army of support is needed. React to the presenting needs of the sex worker. After all, we aren’t stupid and know what is best for us and what we need help with, to assume we don’t know and then push us towards exit is insulting.

7. Listen to how they feel about sex work

As mentioned earlier, it is easy to come to an appointment with a client with your own stereotypes, presumptions and prejudices, we all do. Regardless of how you think and feel or may have experienced with regards to sex work, they do not trump that of the client before you who is currently in that situation. In fact, my own support worker was a sex worker who had very different experiences to me, and we have listened to each other about our experiences and disagreed at times about different elements. Nevertheless, she always acts on how I feel or what I need rather than her own experience or what was best for her. This is good practice and shows that she is able to separate the two, which could be easily not do do considering the overlap.

No two sex workers are the same and how they feel about sex work isn’t either. We are often lumped into one big group but actually, we are also varied. Where there is variety in people, there is variety amongst sex workers because we walk amongst you. We all have different experiences. I don’t like sex work, I actively wish to leave and make no issue with this. However, many of my sex working friends are happy and enjoy the freedom it brings them, and that’s okay too. How you approach us both should be different and led by us. Just because one finds it crappy, doesn’t mean we all do.

There is nothing more disheartening than being told what is best for you by someone else and really is a huge factor that pushes away sex workers, particularly counselling.

8. Ignore the sex work identity

Don’t refer to them as the ‘sex worker client’ or remember them as that either. It is stigmatising and shows that you can not see more to us than simply being a sex worker, and that reflects more on you than what it does on us. Being a sex worker is part of being me, but it isn’t everything there is about me. I don’t need to talk about sex work each time you see me, it might not be relevant at all. I mean, of course, ask me how’s work or life but don’t need to ask me personal questions about it every time.

Sex work shouldn’t be the dominant thing in our conversations, our relationship, our work or my needs. Unless I say to you I want to leave, or it’s the most challenging thing in my life then there is no need to address it. It should be something that is simply accepted and a fact about me. As I walk through the door, don’t automatically think ‘sex worker’ think ‘it’s Grace.’ If you think all I am is just a sex worker then I don’t want to to keep you as my support much longer.

9. Remember, we are humans too

It can be difficult to deal with the stereotypes when you are a sex worker, especially a street sex worker. People think we are hostile, violent, products of abuse, nasty, dirty, disease ridden and if you’re a street worker, you’re simply a stupid junkie. However, no one is there when I’m crying over Marley & Me or beaming with pride and cuddling my niece and nephews.

We then have to access a service where we know people instantly think these things about us and more often than not, because we are sex workers, people feel we are free bait to say as they please about us, to us. When we get upset and react, we’re just deemed as difficult to work with and challenging then often written off. Yes, it may be upsetting when you are being challenged but remember the holistic approach, and you have no idea what has happened to us before we walked into that appointment.

Underneath our sometimes chaotic lives, remember we are people too. We love our family, cry at the same movies and adverts as you, get nostalgic at Christmas, love our pets and love a bit of gossip as much as anyone else. You will usually find we are defensive due to the treatment we’ve had by services and society, not because we are naturally born assholes. Once you have shown yourself to be non-judgemental and an ally, you will know we are humans too and have a cracking sense of humour! It might take months or even years, but it’s worth it.

10. Have a laugh with us!

Trust me, we are some of the funniest people you will meet. Sex can be a funny topic and we do lots of it! Sex work isn’t all doom and gloom, we are full of stories that we laugh about with other sex workers – about clients, awkward sex, things clients say, accidental faux pas and all sorts! We joke about ourselves all the time, it’s what makes the sex work community so brilliant at times.

In fact, whenever I used to meet my drug worker, we spent more time laughing about sex work at times than the drug plan we were supposed to be doing! But, I don’t regret it and it helped our relationship a lot because it allowed me to open up to her more, and know that she was on the same page as me. She didn’t feel like sex work was awful that needed serious attention all the time. As a result, we had a good relationship together and that’s essential in any service/client dynamic.

Of course, this doesn’t cover everything, nor am I the representative of all sex workers. These are just some of the experiences of myself and other sex workers I have spoken to. I hope it makes some impact coming from the other side.

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 x

The Decision to Become a Sex Worker

This is by far the most common theme I talk about with regards to sex work. I am sure, as any sex worker will know, they have been asked and prepared the answer for the question ‘how did you get into it?’ as if we somehow, tripped, fell, landed on a dick and they conveniently had money for us. Sex work is vast and the reasons for becoming a sex worker are varied and at times, complex. I am not sure people sit down with a pen and paper and go right, that’s it, i’m becoming a sex worker! It is usually driven by a set of circumstances that pushed people to think outside the box and adapt to their solutions in order to keep the roof over their head. I know in my experience with street sex work, it is something you are usually introduced to via a friend as opposed to a decision you make one day and decide to hunt out the local zone for sex work.

Radical feminists argue that if this decision is made from a place of poverty or drug addiction, then it is simply not a choice, and therefore, sex work is rape. This is insulting as it assumes that sex workers are unable to make choices, know what is best for them or have control over their body. Of course we can, we make this decision in the confines of our socio-economic circumstances. I agree that sex work is not the best option in general, but at the time, it is the best option for many. Joanna Phoenix, a sex work researcher, argues that sex work ‘makes sense’ within the limited economic, social and material conditions. Put yourself in the shoes of a survival sex worker with a child for example. You have no money, family are also too poor to help, your child is going without and you are too. Your income isn’t stretching enough to pay for childcare and necessities so you begin thinking of options. Sex work is money that can be earned quickly, with no barrier to entry.

When you apply for a job, you weigh up whether the salary will support you. When you have a child, you start looking for a better paid job to support your new family or perhaps if you want a mortgage. These are all rational decisions and choosing sex work is driven by the same needs as you. Not everyone has the education or experience to apply for a better paid job or they may have childcare concerns which limit them. Isolation is difficult too as there are times when you rely on family/friends for financial support but this isn’t the case for everyone. Ultimately, we all have to keep a roof over our head, put food on the table, clothe ourselves and pay the bills. All labour, including sex work, is driven by this. Simply put, you are also driven to work in a job by the same material needs as me, except I have don’t have as much access to resources or opportunities as you. Although you may have never sought the same solution as me, it doesn’t invalidate mine.

If you ask 1000 sex workers the reasons why they became a sex worker, you would get a different reasons for each person. Although money is the ultimate driver, the circumstances are not the same. For survival sex workers, the biggest driver is basic living and it is usually Universal Credit that put them in this position. For me, I get £251 a month and by the time I top up my pre-paid meter cards each week, there is just over £130 for the month and that doesn’t include paying the council tax top-up, food, transport or anything else that arises. You also get a 5 week waiting period between when you first apply and your first payment. You can take out an advanced loan but you have to pay it back, and money is taken each month out of your payment. It is usually in this period you see the survival sex worker for the first time and once they have become dependent upon the money, they will carry on working because UC isn’t enough.

For the most part, the vanilla job market is not accustomed to a variety of people. Those with chronic physical and mental health conditions find it difficult to find an understanding employer; they are considered unreliable and difficult. Finding a flexible job that allows you to look after yourself isn’t easy and for some, they have reached breaking point trying to work hard to satisfy their employer but neglected self-care. Sex work is the opposite of this, you can work when you need to, at a time that suits you and you have control over what services you do and don’t do. Of course, this doesn’t mean you are now exempt from abuse, or that you have total freedom as finances still overrule but it isn’t as rigid as a 9-5. When people ask me the best way to prevent sex work, I explain the first place to look is the job market that freezes out people, forcing people to find alternatives or awful zero-hour contracts. If you are marginalised, you will push even harder for self-reliance in fear of being pushed off the financial edge.

On street, I watched sex workers ‘fall’ into it. Some were drug users who knew sex workers, and when the time came where they were rattling hard due to withdrawal but they had no money, they asked their friends what it was like. This was always disheartening to watch but I can understand why they ask. Although I first started street work on my own, I felt familiar with it already because I heard people speaking about it so I knew a lot already; it didn’t feel like this scary, unknown thing to me. When I was in the hostel, I started street work again and going with another girl for safety reasons. I wasn’t doing drugs and suddenly, I wasn’t numb to the danger I was in anymore and it felt more frightening than ever. It still does, and if I constantly thought about the statistics and deaths of street sex workers, I wouldn’t have the courage to get into the car of a stranger.

Equally, I’ve had messages from women I know with young children who messaged me because I was the only sex worker they knew and they wanted to know how do ‘get into it’. I can’t tell someone what to do, I don’t tell them how to do it either because they have to do what they’re happy and comfortable with. Even in difficult situations, you’re allowed to set your boundaries, and what is good for me might not be for them. These people did not plan sex work, it landed on their lap. Unfortunately, once you begin sex work, you realise you can do it and therefore, become dependent on the income. This is why exiting sex work is so difficult – unless something else is there to supplement the income loss. I can’t begin to tell you the amount of people I know who said they would do it temporarily until things sorted themselves out but it became permanent, and then they quit their vanilla job instead and say sex work helped them.

There are many different forms of sex work – online, dominatrix, street, agency, independent, phone operators etc… the reason it is vast is because each person has a different set of circumstances which matches the type of sex work they choose. Do not tell them they can do something else because they can earn more money, it’s suggesting the person doesn’t know what’s best for them. The decision is made with consideration in the context of their life. Street sex work may seem like the worst option but for me, the emotional labour is significantly less and I sometimes can’t handle it. I also have nowhere to work from and already familiar with losing money working from hotels. I do not have the strength nor talent to be a stripper and working in a brothel means I have to work certain hours and pay a cut of my wages. I don’t have the equipment nor the bravery to be an online sex worker either.

Another reason that people rarely consider is that some people just want to be a sex worker. People are perplexed by this idea and say things like ‘how could anyone want to do that?’ as if it’s something abhorrent and vile. I personally can’t imagine someone wanted to be knee deep in shit in the sewers breaking down fatbergs, blockages and baby wipes but, they exist and wanted to do that too – after all, they did apply for the job, and stayed. Admittedly, because I never liked sex work, I didn’t imagine someone would want to do it. However, I realised I was blighted by my own experiences and that is not a reason to apply that to other people. When I met escorts who said this is what they always wanted to do, who am I to tell them otherwise? If that’s what they wanted and they’re safe doing it, go for it!

There is no application form to be a sex worker. You can wake up skint, have no money, be staring at debt repossession letters at 8am and by 10am, you can be doing an outcall to a client’s house, and by 11am, you’re walking away with more money than you’d have earned in your vanilla job that day. I won’t lie, the money is addictive – I used to get a buzz when I got a job but that soon wore off. I became a sex work to feed myself then to fuel a drug habit. However, I continued to do it even after I quit drugs because it afforded me a way out of poverty. I don’t regret it at all, the reasons why I continue to be a sex worker change and have varied throughout the years. Every reason for every sex worker does not need to be justified but the reasons need to be appreciated in the wider context of their life. If you’re don’t feel you need to justify why you have a job, don’t ask sex workers either, unless you’re willing to help.

I will never rule it out sex work in the future either. I don’t intend to be a sex worker forever because there are a lot of drawbacks, and the time has come for me where they outweigh the positives, yet, that is not to say this will be this way forever. Once you have been a sex worker, if you stop, it always remains an option in your resources toolkit. I can’t guarantee there will be a time in my life where I have Christmas coming, no money, and my children are expecting Santa but he hasn’t managed to find the money this year. Would I sex work to make sure that isn’t the case? Yes, of course I would. If I ever find myself back on Universal Credit, I will sex work again because it isn’t enough for basic survival. The reasons to be a sex worker then are different because I am driven by other things.

For anyone who says ‘I will never be a sex worker for X, Y and Z’ don’t be a dickhead first of all, but also don’t rule it out because you never know where life will take you and the decisions you will make. I never imagined I would be one either but here I am. I don’t suspect many sex workers expected it either, particularly survival sex workers – although I could be wrong. To those who wish to ‘rescue’ sex workers, consider the reasons why people feel they need to turn to sex work to begin. Work backwards instead of trying to implement policy to ‘cure’ it going forward. Unless you tackle the root cause, you won’t ever reach a long-lasting solution.

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 x

The Happy Hooker Myth

The Happy Hooker is the idea that you have to be a sex worker who loves their job and doesn’t criticise it. This is usually done in fear that by openly criticising your job, you are fuelling people who argue that sex work is degrading and not empowering. However, this is sometimes done for marketing and advertising reasons, particularly on Twitter. Bashing sex work and clients doesn’t bode well for your income and can be a turn off for clients – this is understandable as money is king and your platform is up to you. However, this isn’t a reason to slam unhappy hookers to keep up your image. I make no apologies for disliking sex work and I am sometimes denounced for this by sex workers. I hope you are a happy hooker, we all deserve to have a job we enjoy but if you’re not, that’s fine too and should be respected.

By being blunt and honest about how I feel about my job, I am told that I am simply adding to the stigma of sex work. We can’t deny it has it’s crap moments, or times when it can be emotionally gruelling, exhausting, and at times, degrading. These things are all okay to admit, sex work is vast and not everyone experiences are the same but we all each have the right to vent about what we hate about our job. Sex work is exactly that, a job. I don’t have to like it but I do need to make ends meet so I will continue to do it because survival is more important than job (and sexual) satisfaction. I didn’t like changing period stained bedsheets or cleaning shit stained toilets when I worked in hospitality but I wasn’t expected to pretend that I enjoyed it. It is important to note that it is the way I am treated that makes me hate my job more than anything, rather than the job itself.

After I announced I was initially going to leave sex work after an assault, I had people messaging me saying my post would harm how people viewed us. One person asked if it would be best for the community if I took the post down because it would fuel the ideology of the antis. I’ve seen other workers say they’re fed up with people over exaggerating rape and violence in sex work for sympathy. All I have to say to these people is piss off. Sex work can be dangerous, it can be violent and it can be horrible, especially when you’re a survival sex worker or when you’re withdrawing from drugs and someone touching your skin makes you wanna scream. You may not have experienced violence and i’m glad you haven’t, but don’t suppress the experiences of others because it’s not the pretty picture you want it to be. After all, female sex workers are 12x more likely to be killed than other women their age.

It would disingenuous of me when confronted with an anti-sex work feminist to tell them that I feel empowered or love my job to satisfy their argument. Sex work isn’t about empowerment, it’s about income, like all jobs. When have you ever been asked how empowered you feel in other jobs? It is certainly something nobody ever asked me when I worked in McDonalds or the Department of Work & Pensions but I wish they did, because I would have had a lot to say about it then. Reading over policy which would go on to sanction benefits was awful. Regardless, empowerment means naff all and it is something that antis hold on to despite sex workers demonstrating that it is irrelevant. Perhaps you should flip the question and ask them if they feel empowered speaking over sex workers, fuelling stigma and pushing for regulation that causes violence against women.

Despite all this, there is nothing wrong with loving sex work or if you do feel empowered, I encourage that! I don’t hate sex work in it’s entirety, I have benefitted significantly from the flexible working times, the incredible people i’ve met along the way and the money i’ve earned, preventing me from financial destitution. I didn’t have sex for 5 years before sex work because I had no confidence and felt awful about myself but after working, I realised the things I hated so much weren’t as bad as what I initially thought, and I had more self-confidence. Sex work isn’t for everyone and I am included in that but I had to make sex work for me otherwise I would have been worse off. Sex work doesn’t bring out the best in me and is something that is too emotionally taxing. I don’t regret being a sex worker and not ashamed to be either, but it doesn’t mean it’s the best thing for me.

There are a lot of associations and stereotypes in sex work and some of them are true. Some us are raped, do hard drugs, are robbed. We can not expect these sex workers who have gone through these things to then paint the picture that they are happy in their job. I can’t imagine ignoring the adversity I have gone through just so I can be taken seriously. Some women have faced sexual violence and trauma but sex work for survival reasons. Sex work for them can be incredibly challenging but they deserve to speak about this without feeling guilty for ‘letting down the team’ for sex workers. I remember feeling this way and was very close to becoming a Nordic Model supporter because I was angry at clients and felt that I had to say it was all fine. This felt like it was just making the experience worse. However, I went to a sex work project and ranted about how much I hated clients and nobody told me off and in fact, other sex workers joined in.

Sex workers’ rights should not be dependent on whether we are happy in our jobs our not. I listen to my brother complain about his job all the time, how the intense labor has knackered his body or how his boss doesn’t care about him. I agree, and he has every right to be angry, but he shouldn’t have to lie about how great things are so people can decide whether he deserves to join a union, have rights at work, be able to hold his boss to account or argue about whether or not he or his clients should be arrested. There are incredible benefits to sex work but equally, the lows outweigh the highs sometimes, especially as a street sex worker as we are more likely to face violence.

Next time Bindel tells you sex work isn’t empowerment, tell her so what? I implore her to realise that the right to be safe and how I feel have no correlation. I tell you what though, being so poor and having the choice to sex work taken from me, making me poorer, isn’t empowering either. You don’t have to like your job to be worthy of respect.

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 x

Working in the Managed Zone

This article has been rewritten several times and is one I have thought about a lot. The Managed Zone in Leeds is something of a controversial issue, mostly those on the outside looking in, rather than for those working there . The Managed Approach was the feature of the BBC Documentary ‘Sex, Drugs & Murder’. I watched that programme and I couldn’t recognise or relate to much of it. I shared common themes with the women that were featured, such as addiction, street working, chaotic lifestyle, etc. But, I felt that the documentary deliberately misrepresented street sex work for clickbait. I could easily write a whole article on the damage that documentary caused to the women involved, but I will save that for another post. As I watched I recognised this programme would further entrench the shame and stigma of sex work, and silencing us further.

The Leeds Managed Approach was introduced in 2014 as a pilot scheme after years of complaints from residents about street sex work in and around the Holbeck area. It was hoped this new scheme would solve the ‘problem’ of on street prostitution. Leeds also had one of the worst rates of sex workers reporting violence against them in the entire country. The managed approach was designed to improve this. The scheme was renewed in 2015 and is currently under review again, with the consultation of residents, local businesses, charities, sex workers and other invested parties. It is not permanent and academic researchers are now assessing if it is both beneficial, safer and has positive outcomes.

There are still rules in place sex workers must abide by; if we solicit outside the hours of 8pm-6am we can be arrested, similarly if work outside the zone or near residence houses, causing complaints by the residents, we can be arrested. I could easily talk about the history of sex work in Leeds and how many other attempts to suppress sex work in the street by targeting clients, such as fining kerb crawlers, hadn’t worked, but if you wish to learn more, here is a brilliant timeline of sex work in Leeds compiled by Dr Kate Lister:

https://www.tiki-toki.com/timeline/entry/1051767/The-History-of-Sex-Work-in-Leeds/

The Reality of the Zone

After doing a Twitter thread in which I attempted to bust the myths of the Managed Zone, someone told me they thought it was like the ‘wild wild west’ due to what people had told them about it. I found this hilarious because it is the furthest thing from a wild west. It is actually quite cold, boring, and at times, lonely. You get there, you stand around, a client pulls over, you get in and go somewhere, have sex and get dropped off at the same spot. I am not sure what is so interesting about this. The only time there is really any drama is when people drive round the area and hurl abuse at us, I wouldn’t exactly call this nice drama either. After you have earned what you need, you make your way home and that’s it. How boring is that? I am unsure what else people think occurs there – there are times where drug dealers approach you but that also happens outside the zone and is common in society in general.

The most interesting part of my job, and the part that I love the most is talking to the other women or sitting in the outreach van. The van is a place where we can get a hot drink, a sandwich, have a chat with the sex work project workers without judgement. We can moan about whatever we like, cry if we have to, look through the donations of clothes, and, most importantly, get some condoms. When you are bored or it is a quiet night, you get talking to the other women – just like you would chat to your colleagues in the office. There are many stereotypes around street sex work; that we are ruthless, that we hate each other and fight over clients and what not, but this really isn’t true. Of course, it can be competitive, but there are unwritten rules – such as not stealing a client or standing right next to each other. Not only is this respectful but it makes sense. If the client wants a different girl then standing next to each other confuses the client and intimidates them too. Neither make good business sense.

Respect and understanding goes a long way in sex work, just like in any working environment. However, this is perhaps more significant when working street because your safety is increased by making friends with the other women. This can include working in pairs , jotting down number plates, or making the other girls aware of your locations. We wave at each other before getting into a car so the client knows, and sharing phone numbers in case something goes wrong and you need to text them. Generally speaking, we pay attention when someone has been gone too long – not that we time on our watches but you take a mental note.

Making us safe

There are many reasons why having a specific zone is beneficial. Some sex work activists are against zones because it is considered state pimping. However, this ignores the practicality of it. If there wasn’t a zone, and solicitation was spread over several areas around a city, it would be near impossible for outreach workers to find us. They would not be able to give us the time we need to chat as they would be too busy hunting us all down to provide the most important thing, sexual health. This is not helpful and does little to identify new or vulnerable sex workers who deserve a bit more time spent with them. After all, it might be the first time they’ve accessed a support service which is a brave thing to do, and merits more time getting to know them. Street sex work has always caused problems with residents. This is true around the country. Even if sex work was decriminalised, street sex workers and residents would still clash. An area to work in, away from residential areas, does help with this.

Having a specific area where we are concentrated has many benefits. On outreach there are volunteers with a range of specialisms; from sex workers themselves, housing officers, drug harm reduction, sexual health nurses and any other services we could possibly need. Street sex workers can, at times, find it difficult to access these services because we face a lot of stigma. Other women find these services are not suited to our working hours, and having a space that is safe, free of judgement and in your comfort zone is essential to being able to access the appropriate help. The volunteers work alongside the sex work project workers, so we feel more comfortable. Not feeling as though we have to constantly defend ourselves against judgement to access a service reduces the stigma we face.

Having a zone allows for relationship building and consistency, something sex workers need the most due to the crap we get from services in general. Sex workers have turned up to the zone, not when they are working but when they need help, because they know that outreach is there, at that specific time. This is handy if you’re in crisis or need support outside of office hours. When you are seeking help for issues such as homelessness, domestic abuse etc., its important that someone is there, ready to help should you need it. You don’t need to arrive and ask for a pack of condoms to get help. Relationship building is key, and it is a place for services to get to know sex workers who don’t regularly access support via drop-in, while still being able to offer support in other ways – an example of working with hard to reach and vulnerable groups.

I wrote in a previous blog called Prostitution Facilitators that third parties who support sex workers are often considered to be enabling and promoting sex work. This isn’t true at all and safety is at the heart of all these workers, and the reason why the zone came about in the first place – because sex workers were not reporting to the police, thus fuelling the cycle of violence. Can you blame us? We face a lot of stigma, victim blaming, being told murder is an occupational hazard and then above all, worrying we could be slapped or fined for solicitation. Giving out condoms and safety advice, offering a place to talk and a direct line to report is not facilitation – it is harm reduction. Exiting sex work doesn’t happen overnight, it is constantly going on in the background, but at that moment, on outreach, it is not the time nor place to be preaching about it; it would be disrespectful and borderline degrading thing to do.

As time has gone on, clients are more aware that outreach is there to support us and this is a powerful deterrent to do anything. In addition, when they see the police there, not arresting us, but there to protect us – they worry about themselves being arrested. This is a great measure of safety. It isn’t bullet-proof, people still assault sex workers, but a guy once told me ‘don’t worry, I won’t hurt you, because the moment you get out the car I’d be arrested in 20 minutes anyway’. It was a creepy thing to say and wondered if he was playing mind-games and would actually hurt me, but on reflection, he was right. After I was assaulted in January, the first thing I did was find outreach and report it there and then with the details and number plate fresh in my mind. The outreach van in general makes me feel safer and I work close it, most of us do. It is like having a support structure and a strong ally in your workplace.

The Police

The relationship between the police and sex work is a very heated and contentious debate. Of course, sex workers have been abused, exploited and discriminated at the hands of the police. Some sex workers refuse any co-operation with the police. When I went to the Sex/Work Strike and the police accompanied us in London, sex workers were chanting and sneering at them and it made me feel uneasy if I’m honest. I don’t like the police either, I have been in trouble with them, spat at them and have had many run-ins with the law. However, the Managed Zone simply wouldn’t exist without them and having the police there brings a sense of safety. I’m not saying us street workers suddenly love the police, of course not, but there has been a significant effort by sex work projects, sex workers and the police to build better relationships, to train the police and help us report crime to them.

Leeds has the only Sex Worker Liaison Officer in the country. She is not simply a police officer who is trained to work with sex workers, she only works with sex workers. The role is relatively new, and it took a substantial amount of time for her to gain our trust, prove herself to be an ally and to show she had our best interests at heart – and she does. I have reported three incidents to her which I wouldn’t have done to the regular police, and she always made sure the process was driven by me. When we meet, she is not wearing police clothing and she is approachable, and above all, doesn’t victim blame us or add to the stigma of sex work. I can’t overstate the importance of this role; sex workers and the police have historically been at odds with one another. Co-operation benefits us both, and by working together there have successful convictions of violence against sex workers. We deserve the right to report violence and see justice as much as anyone else.

The evidence speaks for itself however, in 2013 only 1 in 10 women made a full report to the police AND included their personal details, this rose to 5 in 10 women in 2016. This isn’t just a statistic, some women are exceptionally reluctant to report anything to the police due to bad experiences in the past, fear of judgement and various other reasons. Including their personal details means they are telling the police they are a sex worker. This is an exceptional achievement on a very personal level. By 2017, reports to the police rose from 7% before the introduction of the Zone to 50% and this continues to grow. The police visit places we are comfortable with to make a report, we are not dragged down to the station, but instead, we are visited at sex work projects where we feel safe, can access immediate support and it is a neutral zone.

The police patrol the Managed Zone in a specific sex work team who have been trained for this role; they’re not just regular police sent to work down there. Although it can be frustrating when they are in view because it scares clients away, it is a payoff to the fear they can bring, abuse and arrest I could be subjected to. If we go on the outreach van to report anything, whether that be rape, an abusive customer, being robbed or passers by throwing things at us, this specific team can be called directly and immediately. This means they can act quickly, arresting the person and reducing the need for finding evidence or the person after the fact. Isn’t this what we all want?

Recently when I was working down there, a girl had been gone for a while and the police noticed this on the cameras – they drove up to me and asked me exactly what she was wearing, if I knew description of the car and what direction they drove. They were concerned about her safety and wanted to check she was okay. I gave them all the information I knew. This co-operation is incredible because we are sex workers, of course we are the best people to contact for advice and information. Thankfully, she was absolutely fine. This is safety and harm reduction, which is much better for the sex worker and it also means he was not coming up and arresting me for solicitation. I helped him and in turn, he helped another sex worker.

A few weeks ago, I went down to work on my own and saw outreach wasn’t there or any other girls. It felt a bit exposing but as there is nowhere to sit, I jumped over the wall to the nearby beck. A member of the public saw me, alerting the police on patrol. Admittedly, I was crawled up in the corner with my knees to my chest in the cold, it must have looked concerning. The police came over, asked if I was okay and whether I was going to end my life. I wasn’t, but he did a mental health check on me to see if I was okay. He asked me if I had anywhere to sleep tonight as the zone was closed due to coronavirus, I told him where I lived, and they offered me a lift home. Even making the point that despite putting me in the back of a van, he wasn’t going to arrest me! Afterwards, he asked if I wanted him to contact the local sex work project who were still contactable via phone and the whole ride home I spoke to a support worker.

This is why we need decriminalisation of sex work, because I would have been on my way to a police station otherwise and slapped with a criminal record. I wouldn’t have said I was a sex worker, but as I was carrying condoms and was smack bang in the middle of the zone – it wouldn’t have been hard to prove. Seeing the police didn’t bring fear, but perhaps I would have jumped into the beck if I saw them approaching to arrest me after all.

Dispelling the accusations

Of course, as any sex worker will know, we face a lot of opposition but particularly as street workers, who are burdened with more stereotypes and stigma than other kinds of sex work. One of the biggest things we are accused of in the Leeds Managed Area is throwing heroin needles on the street. As a ex-heroin user myself, this is not only umtrue but illogical. If I am working to buy drugs, I wouldn’t have them on me to begin with. Once I have the money, I will visit a dealer or go home as I don’t carry foil, a lighter, a spoon, citric acid, a needle bin and needles on me – why would I do that? Also, you need warmth to get your veins to show and occasionally a tourniquet, again I don’t carry this with me, and the street is not the place for warmth. Above all, why would I want to inject on the street? There are no benefits of doing this. Sadly, heroin needles are found all over the UK and Holbeck is no exception, but you can’t blame it all on sex workers.

The Managed Zone is managed by the police and council. They are then accused of allowing the ‘buying of women’. When a client pulls over and I get in his car, he is buying a blowjob, he isn’t buying me. It is a transaction exchange and I leave the car. If he bought me, I wouldn’t be writing this today. They are accused of being pimps and traffickers. This is quite offensive to those who have experienced a pimp or been trafficked, conflating the two dismisses exploitation and draws attention away from tackling this, as you are now focusing on consensual sex workers. The reality is, had the council or police not acted and implemented the Managed Zone, low reporting rates and violence against us would have continued, and deaths would be on the hands of those who didn’t act to keep us safe to begin with. I assure you, I do not think the local council are pimps. If anything, I am glad they took the controversial decision which keeps me safe.

Secondly, we are told the Zone is just a place to be abused and exploited but worst of all, they say that we, as sex workers, don’t know this about ourselves. Just because we are sex workers, it doesn’t mean we are unable to recognise abuse or when we are in danger. I have been sexually exploited and I have been a sex worker at the same time, the two are not mutually exclusive, also, I was aware it was happening. It is patronising to women who are then unable to express when they know they are being abused, because it is dismissed and assumed they’re referring to sex work. This can lead to dangerous consequences, because sex workers could then be ignored if they express concerns of genuine abuse or exploitation. We do not walk around with our heads in the air, unaware of abuse, we know first hand that we are most likely to be subjected to it so we are cautious to look out for it.

We also get accused of throwing used condoms away. This is a problem and something sex workers don’t want either. Think of when you have sex, who takes the condom off? Is it you, or is the man? It is the man for the most part who then slings it away. I don’t like this either, but do you really expect me to get on my hands in the dark, searching for a used condom so I can put it in my pocket and take it back home? Not only is this unhygienic but an incredible ask. I do think there should be more bins in appropriate places to tackle this problem. This problem is over-exaggerated by opposition groups however, because you’ll be surprised how many clients come prepared. I’ve had many clients put them in dog poo bags, bring baby wipes and bag it all up and put it in the bin.

Another issue we are accused of is attacking children. This is a horrible accusation that just to stir up anger against us. I have never seen a child anywhere near the zone. Not because children are scared but because the Zone is in an industrial area, close to Dunelm, an old pub and a roundabout. It is not in a residential area. In addition, the hours of the zone are 8pm- 6am, so if your child is running around industrial areas late at night into the morning, perhaps it is you who should be reported, not us. You have to remember, we are women who have had children, are still capable of being maternal and just because we sex work, it doesn’t remove our humanity. Of course we would help any young person and we certainly wouldn’t approach them, we’d more likely tell them to bugger off home. There is absolutely no truth at all in this and is simply a nasty slur.

Finally, and the most frustrating, we get called slaves and told we are all being pimped and trafficked. This is a subject that is worthy of an article by itself. I am not either of these things and I am certainly not a slave. It is disgusting to call us any of those things. Anyone who actually spoke to us, got to know us and spent time in the Zone would know this isn’t true. It is largely a misrepresentation and something that even the BBC documentary didn’t depict either because it simply isn’t true, and that says a lot considering the many stereotypes the BBC portrayed. I’m not denying it does happen, but it is not the majority and is very much a stereotype. Does anywhere in any of my posts give imagery of me being trafficked or pimped? No, because I am not.

Overall

The Zone is boring and for me because it is simply a workplace. I do what I do and go home like everyone else after a day at work. The fact that it is boring says a lot about how much safer it is compared to other areas of the UK. This post could have easily been full of drama and adventure instead of safeguarding. Safety is paramount and without the Zone, I would still sex work anyway, I would just probably not bother with the hour long commute by foot and do it closer to me, thus probably closer to your house. Then you would be angry. For the public, we are largely out of sight and out of mind in the Zone, and unless you drive past us, you likely won’t even know we exist.

Nothing is perfect and neither is the Managed Zone, I always welcome improvements, recommendations by residents and the opportunity for them to voice their concerns. I welcome local businesses to express their concerns too, and work in a way to keep everyone happy. However, we can’t work in a way that makes us unsafe to appease someone’s ideology or moral standpoint. I don’t like being a sex worker just as much as you don’t like seeing me sex working, but that doesn’t solve anything. Despite sex work activists themselves disliking zones, I encourage them to consider the practicalities of it and the benefit it has for street workers who very much appreciate it.

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 x

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.

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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