For all of not necessarily being against sex work in principle, I still see it as something “other.” Is that privilege? I’m not sure. Perhaps. I don’t know. Yes. I’ll go for yes. Given that sex trafficking is the biggest slave trade to date, then being able to see sex work as something “other” is definitely a privilege. But then I find myself falling over my feelings again because my unexpected introduction to a sex worker didn’t involve trafficking. Perhaps, for now, it’s simplest to see sex work as involving degrees of separation. My introduction was to perhaps the least frightening degree to which someone can be selling their body.
On another level, it was an utterly terrifying introduction. The person on the other end of the couch, bundled up in blankets with me, was a childhood friend. We’ve known each other since we were twelve. How could things in her life have colluded to bring her to selling herself? In short, I can see how they could. It wouldn’t be overly surprising to some, to see that involvement with drugs were part of the problem.
But then there’s always more to the story. In our case, we both come from good backgrounds. A middle class type area. Our parents all university educated. A doctorate for one of her parents. One of mine, a highly qualified professional. Neither of us without a decent footing in life. We took different routes after secondary school and remained close friends. A few years between leaving our hometown and ending up on my sofa that evening, there had been marriage and a child on my part. Two degrees on hers. And on the sofa, just hours between chatting about her PhD then her being a sex worker.
How? How could she have ended up selling sex? The sex work. The drugs. It wasn’t meant to be part of our world. Sure, we had both grown up knowing about this “otherness.” But that was the whole point, there was something separating us from it. And in a way, I’m beginning to think there still is. My friend has been able to leave sex work and drugs behind. She wasn’t pressured into selling sex by someone else. She researched being a sex worker. I laughed at that point — my darling friend, the scientist — of course she would have researched it. Money, she said. That was the primary, if not entire, reason. She was able to make more selling sex than she ever could waitressing when she wasn’t at the university.
Even having left sex work behind, she still had been a sex worker and I was still having to do an unexpected reassessment of how I perceived sex workers. I guess a lot hinges on the separation of “them” and “us”, in that when there was no personal connection, no sex worker snuggled up on my couch, I could think of sex workers as “different” people. And, well, they’re not. And more so than that, I am, even now thinking differently of sex work as a whole. Sex work isn’t just one debate, it is many.
And so, talk of sex work passed as we caught up on other things. And perhaps the most surreal moment of this all was late into the evening, the lights dimmed, my little one and husband fast asleep, that we started talking about other school friends and where they are now. That after talking about her foray into sex work, we could say about the comparatively tame activities of friends, “Can you believe they did that?”