Yesterday I’d intended to write a Labor Day post. It was going to be about the importance of workers organizing across all types of work, recognizing that we are all workers, and it was going to be the beginning of a conversation I want to have about why established unions need to support the organizing efforts of sex workers.
And then I read about Deborah Jeane Palfrey’s death and all that went out the window for a while.
This morning I went back and looked for last year’s May 1 post. I couldn’t remember what I’d written about. My breath caught in my throat when I found that I’d written this, also about Deborah Jeane and about my speculation that perhaps the exposing of high profile clients would help in the effort to reduce the stigma attached to sex work.
Obviously I’d been overly optimistic last year. While there continues to be the occasional exposing of a high-end john, we also continue to see sex work trivialized in the press and sex workers treated as criminals and victims and rarely as people making choices, sometimes difficult and sometimes obvious, but always from a range of options that is circumscribed by economic and social circumstances.
I no longer think that the exposing of clients is going to be the source of any great reduction in the stigma attached to sex work. Why? Because they always apologize.
They apologize by admitting their “sins” a la David Vitter or they apologize and resign their posts, a la Eliot Spitzer, but they always apologize, and by doing so they reinforce the impression that consciously and explicitly exchanging sex for money is wrong, and they reinforce the stigma. In fact they often refer to that stigma when they include in their apologies their regret for bringing shame on their families.
Note that they do not apologize for any mistreatment of the workers. They apologize for being clients in the first place.
So my new call on Labor Day is a call to the clients and not a call to the workers. Clients of the sex workers of the world: stand up for the people whose work you are paying for. Treat those workers respectfully and protect their safety and don’t apologize for paying for their services.
Yes, you may have much to apologize for:
Apologize if you have actively worked to keep the services you pay for criminalized.
Apologize if you have said insulting, demeaning or paternalistic things about sex workers.
Apologize if you have contributed to the shaming of sex workers.
Apologize if you have jeopardized the health of a sex worker.
Apologize if you have committed violence against a sex worker.
And by all means apologize if you have lied to your partner about sex you are having with other people.
But for being a client of a sex worker?
Please, no more apologies. We can’t afford them.
Links to sex worker organizing efforts:
- International Union of Sex Workers
- Sex Workers Outreach Project – USA
- Network of Sex Work Projects
- Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee
- New Zealand Prostitutes’ Collective
- English Collective of Prostitutes
- International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe
- Desiree Alliance
Please add others in the comments on this thread and on Sex In The Public Square dot Org.