Sex Work and Disability
“The aim of the talk was to give an inside view of what it’s like working within the adult industry whilst at the same time having a physical disability. Also to draw parallels between disability stigma, and sex work stigma – speaking personally as someone with a finger in each pie, sex work and disability are very similar in how they’re viewed – as something sensational yet marginalised and ‘not normal’.”
I want you to think of your run of the mill path. Got it in your mind? Good. Now, I want you to walk down it. For abled bodied people it’s relatively easy to walk down a path – sure you might have to avoid a pothole or two, but as a disabled person that uses both a walking stick and a wheelchair I notice every bump, ramp, and twig.
Now, a little about me – for context. I am a number of labels – diagnostically I’m a label factory. I am a queer, writer, blogger, sex educator, sex worker, director, editor, chronic illness lass with multiple disabilities. A few of my disabilities are visible, but the vast majority are invisible. (For example, you can see the wheelchair I need to get around, but you can’t see the pain that comes from sitting in it.)
I have been disabled or had chronic illnesses since 12. I have fibromyalgia, sciatica, costochondritis, asthma, complex regional pain syndrome, and many many other illnesses/disabilities. I’ve got so many allergies/intolerances that my red NHS allergy band from my hospital stay this year just said ‘see patient notes’.
I’ve been a sex worker or been involved with sex work since 2013. Though, I’ve had an interest in sex is as far back as I can remember – thanks to good old fan fiction. I know a lot about sex work. I know that it’s an ever-changing profession that’s as old as time. I know that the experiences I have within sex work are similar to others – and that’s what this speech contains, but conversely, I know that everyone has a different take on it. So, this speech was collated from shared experiences from sex workers and disabled people as when you start talking to us you realise there’s a number of main problems or concerns we all have.
I find it somewhat amusing that society likes labels, and it likes putting you into a box, unfortunately, it’s really difficult to do that when you come across someone like me.
I never thought about giving a talk before, mostly because I felt I was lacking experience. But last year I attended a talk about pitching, and the phrase “no one does what you do quite like you” stuck. Then after a lot of deliberation, and drunken ‘I won’t really’, I submitted my talk proposal: Sex work and Disability – looking at the similarities critically, and why it matters to your writing.
Naturally, I was convinced no one would come. My partner spent a long time calming me down because this isn’t a run of the mill topic. But once you start to think critically about these topics – just like gender, you start to realise just how wrong society has it. How the messages that reach us don’t align with the experiences of the people living that life.
One way society has a ‘great’ example of this, is through EbThen’s Twitter account – looking at decreasing ableism through language. Another mental exercise, I want you to take a minute to think of the language you think might be ableist or whorophobic. Think about what you might have said today, think about what you’ve heard today.
Language is in our culture and permeates everything. Offensive language is a go-to – it’s so stuck in our lexicon that attempting to get rid of it is incredibly difficult. The language people use degrades, dehumanises and puts us in a box. ‘Slut’ has connotations as does ‘bound to a wheelchair’ or ‘wheelchair-bound’. They conjure up a very specific image. When in actual fact most disabled people are having quite a bit of fun – yes we have our illnesses but we’re living, and the aids we might use help us massively. And calling someone on the street ‘slut’ when they’re just going out having fun just isn’t on – it’s harassment. Ultimately through language, we become a derogatory adjective before a person. It’s a way for people to label us without our consent, and that is a powerful word that will most likely crop up again.
In some ways, my talk was somewhat controversial – after all, if you look at America and England sex work and disability are topics regularly sensationalised, but that’s what inspired the talk. Granted, it’s not as controversial at Eroticon – people there are generally open-minded.
I’m not here to trying to convince you to change your mind. I’m just going to give you some information and to point out a few things you may not have thought about. It’s hard thinking from a different perspective if you don’t know where to start.
I’m combining sex work and disability for a number of reasons. Originally I planned to go through each of them separately, and then I realised I didn’t need to.
Breakdown of Talk
I realised that if you took out sex, disability or any connotations it would make the same talk. I’ve broken it down into five key points – some I’ll wax on about more than others.
1) People don’t like to look at sex work or disability – when you look at both combined it compounds the issue further.
2) In media, they are both sensationalised, mocked, and used to make money. Films about killing prostitutes and ‘overcoming’ disability etc.
3) You very rarely hear the voice of the sex worker or person with a disability talking. Other people talk over us and for us.
4) People don’t understand us – but they also don’t make the effort to.
5) We are people too. Sex work is work – all the extra activities outside of the “seen” work.