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There were a few months there when I was a graduate student that I scrabbled through 2, 3, 4, 5 really part-time jobs. I'd just moved from Toronto to Halifax, and was horrified by the minimum wage in Nova Scotia - my hourly wage was cut nearly in half just by moving a few provinces over.
So I got pretty much every job I could. And as soon as you have more than 2 jobs in addition to full time school, scheduling becomes a job itself. A couple of the jobs were great (as one might guess, since I'm still with Venus Envy a decade later) but most were humdrum, and one was frankly humiliating. But dropping jobs meant I needed to get paid better.
What would pay well, I wondered. What did I like to do? What did I want to spend my time doing?
I love talking about sex, I love learning about people's sex lives. They're fascinating. I like learning how people's bodies work. I'd say I'm generally pretty good at happy casual sex.
Sex work, I knew, would have its ups and downs. But so did being a Research Assistant for a bitchy professor. And I figured the pay for sex had to be a hell of a lot better than $7/hr. So I dug around a bit about stripping and escorting and phone sex. Dancing and escorting felt a bit too overwhelming for me - dancing especially. 10 years ago, I was far less comfortable with my body than I am now, and the thought of being naked on a stage wasn't terribly appealing. I looked at the websites for escort agencies more closely, and I just didn't look like those girls. Phone sex seemed the most likely, but then I called one agency and I can't even remember the details, but the whole process of working from home just seemed overwhelming to someone who was already overwhelmed. I gave up.
I gave up easy, and the big part of the reason I did so is because of stigma. What was I going to tell my parents? If I were an escort, what would I tell lovers? And I'm sure there are lots of people who would disagree, but in my experience, it is nowhere near as easy to become a dancer or escort or phone sex worker as it is to become a library circulation desk clerk or a cashier in a grocery store.
I don't think it should be harder to get into sex work. Why aren't there job fairs for escort agencies? Why isn't it as normal to work in a strip club as at a Tim Horton's? As a phone sex line worker as at an insurance call centre?
Obviously, for a million and one reasons. But at heart, it's fucked up that talking about and doing stuff that makes us feel good carries a stigma that forking over just-in-case-I-die money to a faceless corporation does not.
There are people trying to change that shit though, right here in Ottawa, even. I had the utmost pleasure of helping out at at POWER fundraiser last night.
POWER stands for Prostitutes of Ottawa/Gatineau Work, Educate, Resist, and that is what they are doing.
The first week of December was a fucking big week for them. They released a report called Challenges: Ottawa Area Sex Workers Speak Out, which details exactly how sex workers from a variety of trades are treated, and in their own words. The day before, POWER demanded that the Ontario Human Rights Commission investigate cops and their systemic abuse of sex workers.
Some people want to be sex workers, some don't. And that's cool if you don't - you shouldn't have to.* But for a whole bunch of reasons, some of us want to. And we should be able to, without harassment and abuse, the way I can work behind a library circulation desk without the same.
Those of you in Ottawa, come resist with POWER: their rally for the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers is at the Human Rights Monument between 5:30 and 6 on Friday night. Come because the monument is pretty in the snow. Come because "Sex work is real work" is one of the best chants ever. Come to remember those who've been hurt or killed. Come to honour those who work hard.
*And this post is, of course, glossing over a lot of that "shouldn't have to."