I was gifted this zine by my good friend Sarah while visiting Amsterdam last year after a photo shoot I was on in South France.
Sarah is currently in the midst of a PhD (doctoral) thesis for the university of Utrecht: there she is working on “Back to the Book” a giant research project on zines, amongst other things. Although there is some zine culture in South Africa it does not seem to me to be on the same track as Europe/America were I think it’s more widely known, understood and practised.
The zine Sarah gave me was a copy she got from the author “Candy Tricks” and is made up of seven A4 pages printed, folded and stapled. Each zine copy is finished with a real lipstick kiss and signed in red on the last page.
It is a great and interesting read and so I’m sharing here some of the facts and wisdoms she imparted which surprised and challenged my own notions, about sex workers, while reading it:
Well duh, that’s not my real name. But it IS my real work name. I’ve been working as Candy for over 2 years now. I started off as a stripper in a peep show in Australia, then after a few months started working in a brothel. And I loved both. When I started stripping/fucking for money, I was also doing social work. And sex work provided a welcome relief from my high-pressure, emotionally draining day job. I eventually got burnt out in my social work role, and gave it up to do sex work exclusively. Then I decided to use my ho money to come to Europe and do more sex work. Clearly I just can’t get enough.
Sex work, prostitutes and whores
So the reason I use the term sex work is because it highlights the fact that this is a job just like any other. The term was created to be non-stigmatizng, without the negative meaning society attaches to the terms “whore” or “prostitute”. It also covers both types of work I do: stripping and “full service” (or fucking). You might notice that sometimes I use the word “whore” or “ho”. This is a self-identification thing- some workers like to use this term while others don’t. I like using it in a positive way, reclaiming the word from the stigma attached to it (much like the way I use the words “queer”, “dyke” or “slut”). But that doesn’t mean you get to use it. Especially if it’s in a negative way.
What sex work is to me
Before I started sex work, I worked in retail for over 10 years. And I felt more exploited and disrespected in that role than I ever have as a sex worker. I think the differences are illuminating
- The Customer is always right. The golden rule of retail: The Customer is always right even if they’re wrong (and rude and disrespectful), you respond as if they are being perfectly reasonable, and give them some freebies to quell their rage/indignation. Sex work is completely different. If the customer is wrong, you tell them so. If they persist in being wrong (or rude, or disrespectful), you kick them out. No refunds, no apologies and no exchanges. For me, this is a fucking HUGE difference.
- Autonomy and power. In retail work, I was always told what shifts I was working, and what work I would be doing on those shifts. Of course, you can ask for particular days off or particular jobs, but ultimately it’s up to the manager. You also have to serve every customer that comes in. In sex work, you tell the manager when you’re next working. And aside from the basic service (which varies depending on where you’re working), you get to chose what “extras” (or other services) you do, if any. And most importantly, YOU decide which clients you see, because you have the option to refuse anyone.
- Financial Compensation. Ok, so this is the most obvious difference. But it’s a biggie. In sex work I’ve typically been well compensated for my job. Of course, your earnings fluctuate. But the difference in my financial situation since I started is incredible. I no longer have to worry about whether i can afford to pay rent, or eat, or do things. After worrying about these things for the entirety of my adult life, it’s really liberating to be free of them.
I realise now that before I started working I held a lot of stereotypes about what sex work was like. I assumed that all clients would be sleazy assholes. That the worker had no power. That there was something inherently dirty or soul-destroying about the work. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
The majority of my clients are lovely, respectful and appreciative of the service I provide. The number of asshole clients I’ve had I could count on two hands. Which given the number of clients I’ve seen, that’s a tiny minority (I have NO idea of the number, but it would be over 400).
The other things that’s completely unlike my assumptions is that the worker actually holds all the power. I dictate what happens in an interaction with a client. Whether I overtly communicate that to a client, or subtly steer the interaction in the direction I want it to go.
It’s also a whole fuckload of fun. I love my job. I love sex, I love being seen as desirable, I love being complimented, I love dancing/stripping and I love meeting heaps of new, different people. There is nothing inherently soul-destroying or dirty about my work at all; in fact it would be more accurate to call it heart-warming and clean.
Except that clean is definitely a problematic term, and not right for this context. But what I’m trying to get at here is that firstly, sex isn’t dirty. And secondly, sex workers aren’t dirty. Even though heaps of people think we are (the number of strangers that question my sexual health when they find out how I make my living!). Sex workers are actually experts at safe sex, and have been shown in many studies to have lower rates of STIs than the general population. This is because protecting our sexual health is part of our jobs- because if we get a STI then we may not be able to work. Not to mention that it can also be bad for our sex (and general) life outside of work.
Thereafter Candy describes her favourite clients from each shift during a month in 2011. I found the zine intriguing; not just because her insider “meat of the piece” parts are part of a taboo-associated hidden world but because she seems to have entered the world of sex work with integrity and a clear understanding of what it meant to others as well as to herself.
Although I would debate a few of her comments and ideas, I think she is correct in talking about all the out-dated stigmas attached to the industry, many of which, even the terms themselves, are used as slang in a degrading way towards women working in this industry and to women who are not.
On the back of Candy’s zine was an email address so I dropped her quick mail about this article and asked her if she would be keen to do an interview for The Softer Sex. She happily agreed. Its coming soon.