Sex work, exploitation, and slavery.

So with this BloggyWriMo thing, I’ve been putting of writing a lot of posts until the 1st. I decided that jotting down notes, bullet points and all sorts of underlines didn’t count, so over the next few days you’ll be getting a lot of posts that have been hanging about on notebooks just begging to be fleshed out for days. It’s amazing how it’s the moment you decide you’re not allowed to write for days that you get all the ideas that had been hiding away.

Anyway. Here, we’re talking about sex work and trafficking. We’ll be needing a trigger warning.


The other day, I was sitting in Tara St station waiting for a Dart to take me to Bray. I was just off the bus from Cork, and there was that special kind of chill in the air that meant winter had definitely arrived. There was a poster from Anna Was 14 (part of the turnofftheredlight campaign) several stories high on a building across the river. Got me thinking.

So here goes.

I am troubled by the conflation that campaigns like this- and the people who espouse them- make between abuse of children, trafficking and slavery, and work that people make reasonably free-ish decisions to do. I feel like it misses several major points, and suffers from incredibly ill-thought out perspectives on sex and autonomy. I think, in essence, that people take on our social taboos around and disgust relating to commercial sex. And that that this means that they fail to see several incredibly important points.

If Anna was 14, then what was done to her was child abuse, plain and simple. I’m not sure whether abuse for money or for personal gratification is more abhorrent. Probably for money, when you consider how that can be systematised and the disturbing implications of that. Then again, is systematic abuse for money worse than systematic abuse simply to hold on to power? Or systematic abuse covered up for that reason by so-called moral guardians? At least there’s an horrific honesty to money.

But either way, if Anna was 14, then what was done to her was systematic abuse. Even if it wasn’t systematic, it was abuse, and that cannot be condoned. In other words, coercing- or even allowing- a 14 year old to sell sex services is seriously fucked up.

If we’re talking instead about trafficking and sex slavery, the case is the same. A 14 year old can’t consent by definition. An adult has the right to give or withold consent as they damn well please. Kidnapping a person and forcing them to do work against their will is called slavery, and is something worthy only of our disgust and condemnation.

However- and if I ever had a catchphrase it’s this- here’s the thing. Abuse of children is abuse whether it’s physical, emotional, sexual, or a combination of the three. Slavery is slavery, no matter what you’re forcing a person to do against their will. Rape is rape, no matter what language you wrap it up in. Each of these things is messed-up because it violates consent, bodily integrity, and the sovereignty of a person over their life.

A moment to discuss terminology

A person who engages in sex work does not sell their body. My body is mine. Yours is yours. They cannot be bought or sold. That’s called slavery, and it’s rightly as illegal as it is immoral. What we all do, instead, is make agreements to provide certain services to others using these bodies and minds of ours. Agreements which, by the way, we tend to have every right to back out of. I may be being paid to use my body and mind to be, say, a shop assistant or a builder or an accountant. While it may be inadvisable for my finances and reputation to do so, I have the absolute right to walk out of those jobs any time I please. So a person who engages in sex work sells sexual services. Which are different to building or accountancy services. Building and sexual services, by the way, are also very different to accountancy services. And so on.

So, sex work then.

One of the things that you hear against sex work is that it’s somehow different to all other kinds of work. Because sex is special. In our society, it can seem like sex has to be either sacred and intimate, or else something dirty and tawdry or downright abusive. As a culture we don’t have many spaces to talk about sex in a neutral fashion, or in a positive way that doesn’t involve close relationships and preferably monogamy. In short, we have hella hangups about sex. I’m not saying, by the way, that the alternative to hangups is some kind of free-for-all where we all cheerfully buy and sell sex and sleep with anyone on the street who takes our fancy. I’m saying that things are probably a lot more complicated, and a lot more diverse, than we give them credit for. I’m saying that how I perceive sexuality is probably different to how you do and how the person across the street does.

And that’s important.

I may imagine that engaging in sex work would be a horrible thing that I would only consent to under duress. I wouldn’t know- I’ve never done it. But I can’t see it being something I’d be too happy to do. On the other hand, I’ve got friends who’ve been sex workers who’ve had all sorts of experiences with it- a similar range of experiences that I’ve heard of in other fields, really. Maybe more polarised.

Let’s talk a little bit as well about consent and free will, and how we apply these concepts to work. Almost all of us need to work. We may like our jobs or despise them, but no matter how much we love them we generally show up because we have to. We may do work that we love. We may do work that we figure is okay. We may have jobs that we go to solely to clock in our 9-5. And we may have jobs that we do just ’cause they give us the cash to get on with all the other things that we do with the rest of our lives.

But sex work is different.. isn’t it?

People say that sex work is a special case, because sex work is special. And that sex work is a unique kind of ‘selling your body’. But I’ve been in jobs- a lot of jobs- where I’ve had to produce a certain kind of emotion on demand. I’ve been in jobs that were physically demanding. I’ve been in jobs that were both physically and emotionally demanding. I’ll bet that you have too. And for each of us, there are jobs that demand a lot of us that suit us down to the ground, and jobs that we can’t stand. I’m pretty damn good at customer service, but by god do I hate it. On the other hand, I jump at the chance to get up in front of a roomful of people for an hour- something that many people view with more than a little trepidation. I’ll bet there are things that are not in the least related to sex work that you would never ever do for money unless you had no other choice. I’ll bet there’s also a few things that you’re surprisingly fine with.

People say that sex work is a special case. Sex workers who feel anything other than absolute love for what they do aren’t given the benefit of the doubt that they might think of their job the same way most other people think of theirs. You know, good sometimes, alright other times, would sometimes rather be at home, but shure it pays the bills.

Let’s go back to the start.

Trafficking, child abuse, slavery and rape are unconscionable. In all cases. There is no circumstance where it is anything but goddamn fucked up and profoundly inhuman to do any of those things. But those are entirely different to an adult who, of their own free (or as free as we can be in this society) will decides to engage in sex work.

This is important.

This is important because, as long as we conflate choosing to do a particular kind of work with slavery, we’re going to be missing the point when we look into dealing with them. Laws around sex work will criminalise sex workers and drive their work underground so that it’s easier for rapists and abusers to do their abusive, rapey things.

If Anna was 14 when she was trafficked into sex slavery, then we need to be serious about dealing with child abuse, human trafficking for all kinds of work, and actually preventing and prosecuting rapists.

If we’re worried about people who feel like they have no choice but to do sex work, then we need to get serious about providing more options for all people to get into work that they don’t hate. We need to start thinking of decent working conditions and honouring the choice to not do a particular job if it’s bad for your mental/physical health. We need to take that seriously. We absolutely need to make sure that jobs that can mess with your head aren’t jobs that people have no choice but to do.

And finally, if after all that we’re still worried about sex work, then we should start by working against stigmatising sex workers. We should listen to the reasons why people do this kind of work. We should believe them equally when they say that it’s destroyed their life, when they say it’s just a job that pays the bills, and when they say it’s fantastic. We should provide the services they say they’re looking for, and acknowledge that that will mean more than one thing. Y’know, the way we do with everything else.

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Sex work, exploitation, and slavery.

Anxiety dreams and being a Real Grown-Up (TM)

Español: Ejemplo de encuadre vertical

I just woke up from this dream. It was that kind of painfully-familiar thing where you wake up and wish your anxieties would be a little less boring and predictable when they emerge from your subconscious. Even though I can’t remember ever having had this one before, I have a feeling that it’s going to become a staple.

This one? Oh, this one. I was at some sort of event that was half Rocky Horror show and half actually fending off an alien invasion, but that was just background. As I strapped on my roller skates to go kick some alien ass, my mother appeared. Not, by the way, a person who bears any resemblance to my actual mother. My actual mother is lovely, and I’m not just saying that ’cause she reads this blog. No, this was a Your Mother archetype from my subconscious. The kind that tells you precisely what you’ve been doing wrong, what a disappointment you are, and why.

It’s all about Yer Ma

So as I’m lacing up my boots, MyMa shows up and tells me that I’ve been Doing Adulthood Wrong. Seriously wrong. Everything that I’ve been doing since I became an adult. Wrong. I’ve been refusing to act or dress like an adult and, damnit, I need to start doing that now. Right now. Time to take off the boots, start dressing like a proper grown-up and go get a job in something respectable. Oh, and start a pension fund and get a mortgage and probably have a couple of kids. Then there were a few bits where I opened up my email to find oodles of job rejection letters. That bit, of course, is somewhat more realistic than my brain’s depiction of my mother. Unfortunately, dreams don’t come with sensible voices talking about the current economic climate and how getting a decent job is bloody hard these days. Which is a pity because, well, you probably know how the rest of the dream feels. You know when you’re having an anxiety dream and you’re desperately trying to get someone to listen to you? You’re screaming and crying at everyone you can, trying to explain things and they’re just standing there stony-faced. Yuck.

Of course, I know exactly why I dreamed that, even though I have no idea why my subconscious decided to pick my mother as the person to tell me I need to grow the hell up. My real-life mother has never been one for arbitrary ideas of being a grown-up. She’s pretty damn awesome.

But of course I know why I dreamed that. I’ve only a few weeks until I hit 30! I’m unemployed, living in my friend’s spare room, and I haven’t a bloody clue when I’ll get out of it. This is not what I thought I’d be doing at this age. The fact that I’m more content than I’ve been in years is irrelevant to my feverishly anxious subconscious. What matters to it is that I’m absolutely nothing like its image of a 30-year-old, and that gives it ample material to mess with me while I’m sleepily vulnerable.

suits [uniform and uniformity]

The quarter third-life crisis.

But guess what? I think this is brilliant. I haven’t had an anxiety dream about being sent back to school and made to re-do exams that I haven’t studied for in ages! This has been added to my impressive portfolio of things to worry about along with all my teeth falling out, suddenly finding out I’m extremely pregnant, and the all-time classic of watching people I love die horribly and having no way to help them. I figure that worrying about being good at being an adult means that I’m thinking about what that means to me. And there’s nothing that says nearly-30 quite like having a bit of a crisis about what on earth responsibility and happiness are for me, and how to dispense with childishness while holding on to every delicate bit of childlikeness that I can. Sorting through received ideas of what it means to be responsible, deciding which to keep and which to throw away, and working out how to be okay with that in a world that has one path it wants us all to follow to the letter. Although I’d like to have a way of doing that that didn’t involve unhappy dreams, I’m cool with that. I think that it’s a damn good way to spend my time.

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Anxiety dreams and being a Real Grown-Up (TM)

What’s with the ‘Na’ in NaNoWriMo (and NaBloPoMo)? Why I’m still calling it BloggyWriMo.

NaBloPoMo Participant Icon
NaBloPoMo Participant Icon (Photo credit: Tojosan)

Yesterday evening, after a long day’s writing and posting, I noticed something down the bottom of my Dashboard. It was WordPress telling me that NaBloPoMo is here, and offering all sorts of inspirations. It turns out that, entirely unsurprisingly, I’m not the only blogger to jump on the WriMo bandwagon. Huzzah! Nothing like a great big source of moral support and procrastination to make my day.

By the way also- if you fancy doing a blog WriMo and my ideas about 50k and whatnot seem intimidating, there are totally loads of people who’re taking the month as a time when they’ll write a post a day. There’s no need to worry about word counts if you’re not as mentally masochistic as the likes of me. And yeah yeah, it’s the 2nd today, but shure just throw a couple of posts up today and I promise I won’t kick you off the bandwagon. As bandwagons go it’s lovely and comfy, and there’s plenty tea and coffee ’round the back. While I’m happy to hop on the NaBloPoMo wagon, though, I’m still going to call what I’m doing BloggyWriMo.

Your friendly blogger is just a teensy, weensy bit miffed.

So here we are on the internet. It’s a lovely place, mostly. I mean, there’s a fair bit of it that’s dodgy, there’s definitely areas where you’ll need a bit of eye bleach, and yes, some of the denizens are pretty damn unpleasant. But nobody’s making you go to the Land Of Things That Cannot Be Unseen and I do my best to make this little corner as pleasant as I can.

I’m here on the internet on my sofa in a quiet Dublin suburb. Next week I’ll be WriMo-ing from Glasgow, where I’ll be visiting my ridiculously fantastic girlfriend. Week after I’ll be off in Cork giving a few workshops for Pink Training. I’m not sure where you are, of course, but according to my stats page I get readers from all over.

And here’s where I get smooshy.

NaBloPoMo (Photo credit: marymuses)

That’s one of my favourite things about the internet. I know it’s tacky. But I think that having intercontinental conversations on a daily basis is one of those fantastic things that reminds me that I’m really-really living in a future full of mars robots, cats on roombas and a vaguely decipherable Google Translate. The internet is why I get to sit down in front of my free videophone with a cup of tea and a pile of knitting and catch up with a friend a couple of time zones away.

So why on earth are we describing our worldwide Internet-culture phenomena as national? I hate to have to remind people of this, but the internet doesn’t just stretch from one end of the US to the other. Even this little English-speaking corner is made up of an absolute shedload of different countries and cultures all over the planet. Just because USians are a lot less likely than the rest of us to travel overseas is no excuse for forgetting that the rest of us are here. Right here. Gettin’ all up in your WriMo.

NaNoWriMo (and NaBloPoMo) are no more national than the rest of the internet. A quick scan through the NaNo page shows chapters in places as far apart as Brazil, Brisbane, Russia, Quebec, Iceland, Kenya and, yes, several right here in Ireland. This is one hell of a global phenomenon, and I wonder why we’re specifically not celebrating that in the name.

As for me, I’m gonna celebrate the hell out of being one of hundreds of thousands of people devoting a month to creating for the sheer hell of it. I think- and yes, I’m going to get a little mushy here- that the fact that people all over the world do this is a testimony to how this fantastic internet of ours isn’t just for trolls and dodgy porn. It’s also this amazing tool that we use to communicate some of the most universally wonderful things that we do. Like imagination, creativity and communication.

And that’s why, despite it being a far less sensible-sounding name than NaBloPoMo, I’m still going to call this thing I’m doing BloggyWriMo. It’s a month when I’m writing the hell out of this blog, and in turn reading the hell out of as many others as I find. This mushy idealist has no time for verbal borders. To hell with ‘national’.

What do you think? Am I being way too quibbly for my own good? Or are you with me?

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What’s with the ‘Na’ in NaNoWriMo (and NaBloPoMo)? Why I’m still calling it BloggyWriMo.

Introversion, social awkwardness and activism

Time for BloggyWriMo

Oh god. Is this thing on? It is, isn’t it? After spending yesterday absolutely itching to get writing, when I woke up this morning my inspiration, shall we say, declined to get out of bed with me. Fecker is still lazing about halfway through the afternoon. So I figured that, after a morning doing all sorts of errands I’ve been not getting around to, I might as well just start without it. I figure that 90% of this lack of inspiration is the GIANT NERVES that I have around this massive project that I’ve set for myself, so if I keep on writing things it’ll be shamed into showing up. And then we can really get this show on the road.

Let’s start with something seriously introspective. I want to talk about introversion, social anxiety, how they’re not the same thing, and ask a few questions about ways in which those of us of an introverted(ish) persuasion can and do engage. Yes, I’m starting off BloggyWriMo with a post about things that make people feel anxious and awkward. This feels appropriate, since the idea of writing 50,000 words over the next 30 days makes me feel anxious and awkward and I just can’t help sharing with you lot. You can thank me later.

Here goes!

Introversion, Social Anxiety and Social Awkwardness, and Activism

Anathem (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Anathem: Heaven or Hell?

Sitting the other day in a cafe with a rather extroverted friend of mine, I tried to explain why, despite knowing it to be a messed-up way to make a society, the idea of living in an Anathem-style math is one that I daydream about more than I care to admit. For those of you who haven’t read Anathem, and without spoiling too much, it is set in a world where, if you’re going to be a nerdy academic type, you have to live in a cloister locked away from the rest of society for up to a millennium at a time. You get out for ten days every decade, century, or millenium depending on where you live and how advanced your research is. The rest of the time you live cloistered away in communities of other academic types. You own nothing but the clothes on your back, you grow your own food, you study the things you want to study.

To me it sounds heavenly. To live in a nice small community of people who I know really well? Where I get to study what I like and be around people who are full of ideas and smart as hell themselves? Where I can spend as much time as I like alone learning things? And, yes, grow my own food and not worry about possessions? And to be able to pop into town every decade or so and catch a movie with the family? It sounds amazing. Yes, yes, so it’s messed up for a society to be so scared of knowledge that they’ll lock up all the academics, nerds and smart people. Whatever. Somebody get me a freakin’ TARDIS and send me to this place. I am signing up.

ExtrovertFriend did not agree. She made the (rather good) point that this sounded a lot like an extreme ivory-tower fantasy from the most feverish of middle-class intellectual brains. While I would love to be able to disagree with this, I, well, can’t. I have that special kind of middle class-ness that means that people are nice to me at the dole office. I exude Arts grad from every pore, and the things I like and want are absolutely tied up with that privilege. ExtrovertFriend also said that she felt that the idea that I thought of of heavenly sounded entirely hellish to her. To only spend time with the same few hundred people for years on end? To hear from the outside world every decade at best? She said, in far less polite terms than I’m using, that it would drive her completely bananas. Possibly barmy.

In the conversation that followed, myself and ExtrovertFriend went on to talk about what our experiences are with introversion and extroversion, how one often gets confused with social awkwardness and anxiety, and wonder about ways in which people of a more introverted persuasion can avoid the temptation to live in an ivory tower-esque bubble while still being true to our more solitary selves.

No Guilt from "The Happy Introvert"

Introversion vs awkwardness

I’m reasonably introverted. If introversion and extroversion were a spectrum, I’d be swimming around the grey area a bit closer to the solitary side. Don’t get me wrong- I love people. I have an incredible partner, fantastic chosen/birth family and friends who I love to pieces, and wonderful circles of acquaintances that I’m delighted and inspired by.

And I need time alone. A lot of time alone. Today, for example, I’m spending most of the day on my own. I have a to-do list, a house to potter about in, and errands to run. I’m writing this on the sofa in gorgeous, blessed silence broken only by the noise of trams passing every few minutes. Well, that and &^^&%& telemarketers phoning the landline constantly. As long as I have things to do, I’ll happily spend days on end with only my own company. A lot of social interaction, on the other hand- especially with people outside of my closest circles- leaves me exhausted and craving quiet. I like small groups of people or one-on-one interactions. Large social interactions- great big parties and the like- I can take in very, very small doses. ExtrovertFriend, on the other hand, loves being in a room packed with people.

But I love people! I really enjoy being around people. I couldn’t live in a hermitage. And as introverted as I am, there are people who I can almost seamlessly integrate into my peace and quiet. Like with many introverts, one of the most meaningful ways I show people I love them is by hanging out in a room with them for hours on end and ignoring them completely. It means that someone is close enough to me that their being around doesn’t disturb the sense of comfort, peace and productivity I get from being alone.

In our conversation the other day, ExtrovertFriend talked a little about her own experiences with what she described as introversion, and of how she overcame her own social awkwardnesses over the course of her life. And then I asked her a question. I asked her if she thought of me as socially awkward.

You see, I’m not tremendously socially awkward. Oh, I’m a bit, definitely. There are social situations- generally the kind that I don’t like and don’t do much of anyway- that give me massive nerves. I can’t understand why people like clubbing, for example. It’s one of those weird, geese-juggling phenomena that most of the people around me really like and that have me cringing in horror. And the idea of the kind of social events where you’re expected to mingle and small-talk with people baffles me. Buggered if I know what to say to utter strangers who’ll be off talking to someone else in a few minutes anyway. And isn’t it rude to just go up to a stranger and start talking to them? I never got the hang of it.

I think, though, that when naturally extroverted people talk about overcoming their introversion, what they really mean is that they overcame their social awkwardness or anxiety. As an introvert, I can be happy as a clam while out being social. But I’ll still want a lot of time alone.



What on earth, you may ask, has all of this got to do with activism? As intersectional feminists, both myself and ExtrovertFriend are committed to the idea that activism- any activism- has to involve getting out of yourself and your own situation and taking into account what’s going on for others. If you don’t do that, you might as well stay at home. This is, of course, a lot more difficult when you’re someone who tends towards solitude and small groups of people. If you’re simply less likely to want to be around other people all the time, and if the time you do spend around others is likely to be focused more on smaller groups of closer friends, then- we figure- you’re simply less inclined to get out there and get to know a lot of people from different backgrounds and situations to yourself. And while introverts are perhaps more likely to read books by people from all over the map, it’s not really the same, is it?

Of course, as an intersectionalist I also feel it’s important to mention that we do live in a world that’s geared toward extroverts. You don’t get to walk into an interview and say “Other people and teamwork are okay, but really, I’d far prefer to be just left alone to get on with it”. There’s a glamour to being a social butterfly that you simply don’t get if your idea of fun includes, say, sitting on your own typing away while your latest experiment in dessert bakes away in the kitchen. And you wouldn’t believe the looks you get when you tell people that yes, you are off hiking for a month on your own.

But when it comes to activism, how to make use of introverted qualities is a question worth asking. Once we stop looking at introversion as something like social awkwardness or anxiety that is somehow a problem, we can start looking into what to do with it. How do we compensate for our tendency to have smaller circles? Is that even a problem to begin with? What are the valuable things that introverts can bring to the activism table? And is this idea of activism itself something that suffers from being geared, as so many things are, towards the extroverts among us?

And similarly, as we talk about valuing what’s awesome about introversion, what about asking questions about what’s the matter with extroversion? Are there ways in which the social butterflies among us tend to take over, and should they be taking responsibility for compensating for that?

What do you think?

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Introversion, social awkwardness and activism