Once upon a time the internet didn’t exist. Students had to go to libraries to educate themselves; there was no Tinder to find casual hook-ups; parents couldn’t track their children’s movement; police had to rely on good old fashion phone tapping and; cats were regarded, well, as just cats. And sex workers, my predecessors, were unseen and unheard, a minority advertising in newspapers, by word of mouth, in brothels and on streets.
Times have changed and sex workers, with the help of the internet, have a platform to communicate to anyone who bothers to listen. Communities have developed online, ones where sex workers share trade tricks, share ugly mug information, support each other and talk directly to clients without meeting them. But there’s a downside and to me, it’s quite concerning.
Flashback to 9/11 when I was a 10-year-old girl who wore a religious head scarf. Though I was a child, harmless and feeble, there was a shift in attitude in how people treated me after this event. I may have been too young to understand what disdain was but I wasn’t so young that I couldn’t detect it. I meandered my way to school, the milk-bar, the streets of my suburbs and they, the normal-looking ones, glared at me with pure hatred. Armed with nothing but my school books and bashfulness, I struggled to understand why people treated me differently until one day a friend told me: it was because I was Muslim and Muslims were terrorists. This information alarmed me but the solution was obvious – I had to prove that I wasn’t a potential terrorist and that I was in fact a good person, which wasn’t a problem because I was a good person. I think a lot of Muslim’s clued in to the same realisation. We tip-toed in public spaces trying our best not to do anything wrong and give our religion a bad name. We were extra nice and bit our tongues to any abuse or harassment, no matter how unfair or vilified we were. It’s like the public was trying to bait us – waiting for us to bite back just so they could finally exclaim ‘your kind is vicious, we knew it all along!’ We had to be on our best behaviour to combat this assumption that spread through the community like wildfire.
This was a time in my past-life but elements of this event have resurfaced to the present time. Just as I had identified as Muslim back then, I identify as a sex worker now and by doing so, my character and personality is already measured to fit – whether I fit into it or not. Twitter and other social media outlets are great because we finally have a voice to combat these assumptions, stereotypes and generalisations. Simultaneously, I have found it can do the exact opposite and reinforce these out-dated beliefs about sex workers. People need only one bit of ‘evidence’, one line, one comment in a mountain of good work before it is spun and used against you and they say: ‘HA! You are (insert some derogatory term) after all!’
I have failed myself and my industry many times by letting my own petty emotions come before the bigger picture. There were times where I had to be right, I had to put people in their place, I was angry, I bit back, I fought, I thought that by letting go of my pride I was letting go of my self-respect – only to later sit back, reflect and realise that everyone else on the internet was laughing at me and my trifling arguments. I felt smug and self-satisfied ‘winning’ my fights but also foolish because I did it in such a childish manner, like I was some sort of gladiator entering the Colosseum for everyone’s entertainment – everyone but my own. I’ve begun pulling myself up on this behaviour and I have tried to detect and correct it before it surfaces. Every time I post something online now I ask myself ‘is this relevant to my work and what message am I sending to the public, not just about myself, but about my industry?’ I do this because I feel responsible for what people think about my work through what I’ve said – because these people are listening to me and maybe only me. And I’m not the only one who is making these mistakes.
Sex workers are the cattiest bunch. No, not because we’re sex workers, but because we’re affronted by the treatment we receive by clients, feminists, the general public and other workers. We have not only normal people stress but sex work related stress which is A LOT of goddamn stress if you think about it. We have a lot to complain about, a lot to vent about, a lot to be upset about and when agitation peaks to indignation, we launch into full-attack mode. There’s no use denying it, we all know it, we all just need one little shove in the right direction before we explode. And then everyone else leans back on their chair and watches the meltdown with popcorn in hand. Even I’m guilty of watching a fight turns ugly with a grin, watching merely for my own entertainment. It’s one thing to argue with someone outside of our industry – what they hell do they know about us and what we go through. It’s also another to argue with some of the self-entitled bullshit clients say – that’s one tug of war about pricing/service structure that’ll never end.
But what looks really bad for us as a whole, and I mean really bad, is when we fight against each other online. And we do this so we can get support from our ‘allies’ and ‘friends’ – our hooker girlfriend, our fan-boy clients and any other person who wants to egg on the cat-fight. They’re not your friends and they’re not supporting you. It’s really embarrassing for those involved regardless of the outcome. It’s ridiculous and ladies; it’s time to install some filters when it comes to speaking in our sex worker voice. I’m not trying to dismiss or censor anyone, I just think a bit more tactful thinking in our professional persona is in order – because we are, after all professionals, right? I know it can be really hard sometimes to write and think: ‘am I saying this as me or am I saying this as Estelle?’ because most of the time it’s a bit of both. But at the very least, we have to try thinking a bit more about our identities as sex workers and what our online presence is doing in our micro-community and how that relates to the macro-community.
I’m not saying sex workers should second question everything they post or compromise their personality. All I’m suggesting is that by being a part of an industry, you must in some manner hold yourself responsible for representing our industry and maybe try to be a little more prudential. If you have something to say that’s irrelevant to the industry – put it in your personal social media maybe? And maybe try to filter out anything that could be used against you – because there are thousands of people reading our discourse and making notes. It’s the worst when we as sex worker broil amongst each other – it illustrates a lack of professionalism, organisation, maturity, but mostly, it makes us all look like bitches. So if there is an issue, maybe move it from the online space to the private space and forget about having the support of the internet (because it’s not support, it’s the mass antagonising us at best). I was recently in a situation where I felt like my professional integrity was being threatened on a public space and so logically, I felt like I had to defend my business and respond on the public space.
I did the wrong thing. It’s embarrassing on me mostly. I’m sorry.
And ladies, it’s embarrassing for all of us when you have cat fight online. Let go of your pride, move it to a private space and don’t give the masses material to use against us. Let’s show them we know our business. Let’s show them we can make agreements and solve issues. Let’s not create an online ‘Days of Lives’ hooker version.
Keep it real girls and boy.