Moving on from the “happy hooker”: why I love my job as a sex worker

I am lucky, but luck changes. This is why I believe in fighting for our rights.

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I have written more than once about how much I love my job. That was a mistake, because it plays into one of the main canards of sex work abolitionists – that we supporters of sex worker rights are so called “happy hookers”, and that our experiences do not represent those of the majority of sex workers. About me, they are partially right. I’m not a full service sex worker, I do kink. I work from home, not in the street. My work is legal, and my entry into sex work – although it was indeed a survival decision in the end, when I suddenly lost my flat, moved to Plymouth, and needed a job – was something I had been considering as a long time, after years of personal involvement in kink.

So, yes, my experience does not represent that of the majority of sex workers in many regards. But my experience does represent a universal: each of us makes a decision to do sex work for all the reasons anyone would choose a job; for pay, for flexibility, for aptitude, for interest. And for many thousands of people in this country, one becomes a sex worker because of austerity, unemployment and cuts in services. So I am changing tack. I’m going to follow in the footsteps of Melissa Gira Grant, and talk a lot less about the details of my job from now on, because sex worker rights are about all of us – all sex workers, and, indeed, all workers.

I made the right choice in doing sex work – it has turned out great for me, as a job. I would probably be as happy running a number of small businesses, writing poetry, or cooking in a café, but only sex work pays the bills and gives me time to study and write. I happen to like my work, most days, but I should not be obliged to be happy in my work in order to have a voice, rather than being used as an argument for the abolition of sex work. Everyone, from cooks to caretakers, from fishermen to soldiers to whores, takes up their work for a mix of reasons, and a noble calling is often not one of them. We all work to survive, and that is why sex worker rights are identical to worker rights; I believe only the lenses of prejudice distort them into difference.

Those who would abolish sex work by conflating it with trafficking hurt the most marginalised sex workers most of all with their myths. They are the ones who fear arrest, deportation or sexual abuse if they go to police or seek support. Criminalisation affects me, but its weight is a whisper compared to its awful burden to street based or brothel based workers, undocumented migrants, and those who could lose their children; I am an immigrant, but documented, educated and white, and with a platform. People are titillated by the details of my work, but they don’t need to hear it. They need to hear the unsettling argument that austerity and criminalisation are what fuel coercion in sex work.

We’ve moved on from media narratives of the happy hooker; in the sex worker rights movement, we’re writing about neutral and adverse experiences of sex work, and lifting up the voices of those who feel they have survived sex work, but still support decriminalisation. If we listen to the voices of those who suffered horribly in coerced sex work, and would have all sex work abolished, our compassion, and our ears, should also hear their opponents from similar backgrounds.

On the sex worker blog Tits and Sass, an anonymous sex worker wrote in her piece On Surviving Sex Work:

In the end, I am a survival sex worker in the sense that it’s the only work I can do, and I need to survive under capitalism. And that is the crux of my problem with these dichotomies between choice and coercion and choice and survival; most of us are working to support ourselves because we need the money to survive. This is what life under capitalism is. Saying otherwise ignores the fundamental meaning of the work in sex work. We are workers, we are laborers. Consent to sex work is no different to consent to other kinds of labor – we can’t emphasize that point while pretending we’re all here by choice alone. Instead of pretending that sex work is only “real sex work” if it’s defined by choice and privilege, why can’t we admit that it’s incredibly problematic, and that the problems we suffer are often a direct result of whorephobia and other axes of oppression? My negative and abusive experiences in the industry – being assaulted by clients, primarily – are a direct result of misogyny, rape culture and whorephobia. They are not inherent to the sex industry itself.”

We say: to fight coercion in sex work, fight cuts in services and benefits that force single mothers to work. Fight immigration restrictions and xenophobia and give undocumented migrants a path to legal status. House the destitute and treat those addicted to drugs. And, yes, decriminalise sex work. Give us the rights and protection of any worker and we will organise ourselves, and ask for help when we need it from authorities. But as I wrote in Marxism for Whores, all these solutions are about austerity and capitalism, not about sex work; and real solutions are often outside the scope of our political system. And these rights have nothing to do with how much I, or how much any other advocate, loves or hates their job.

I am lucky, but luck changes. My husband is thirty years older than me, and though he is strong and able I don’t trust that our social safety network will support me in caring for him one day. When I am balancing the needs of his care with sex work, especially if criminalisation tightens up, I might not like my job as much, and it might not be as much of a “choice”, from a simplistic point of view, as I would like it to be. But I will still need my rights, and my voice. Like Joseph’s pharaoh, I see the lean kine. That is why I am fighting for decriminalisation as if my life depended on it – because one day soon, it might.

Margaret Corvid will be taking part in “London Thinks – Buying and Selling Sex: the Big Debateat Conway Hall in London on 13 May. More information and tickets available here.

Margaret Corvid is a writer, activist and professional dominatrix living in the south west.