“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’.”
Sex Work and Disability
First I’m going to answer why as a disabled person sex work is perfect for me?
- Pick my own hours.
- Work when I feel up to it.
- I can work from bed.
- I can earn residual income from things like clips whilst in hospital.
- I can stop at any point.
- I can set my own boundaries.
- I can earn money – it’s actually really difficult for me – long work hours, etc.
- Finally, being disabled is expensive. Scope recently found disabled people have over £500 of disability-related expenses a month. Food, heating, aids and appliances, taxi.
And I’m not the only disabled sex worker that thinks similarly. I follow a number of ladies on a private Twitter group that have mental, and physical health issues and they all think the same. One even rightly pointed out that sex work can be a way to get out of poverty.
I’m not saying that sex work is the be all end all, it doesn’t suit some people, and yes there are bad points to it, but the way people demonise it through ‘sex trafficking’ hysteria in regards to legitimate sex work harms more than it helps.
1) People don’t like to look at sex work or disability – when you look at both it compounds the issue further.
When I’m out in my wheelchair one of two things happens, people either stare or they avoid my eyes. It’s really quite something. Oh, there is a third – kids. I welcome the staring when it’s from kids because I want them to grow up not demonising disabled people, and people in wheelchairs. When they ask I tell them my body doesn’t work so well, but my chair helps me to have the freedom and get out of the house.
People stare because they’re curious, or they think I shouldn’t be in a chair. I am far more likely to get kindness from young adults than the elderly – even though we share mobility devices. The few times I’ve had interactions from the elderly they usually question me like I need to ‘earn’ my wheelchair through added years of life.
People look away because they don’t know how to react to a 24-year-old in a wheelchair. It stirs up connotations and pre-convinced judgments of disabled people. Now, of course, this is a massive generalisation but these are things I’ve experienced, and after a while, you get a knack for sussing it out. There are people that look because they love my cane, or look away because I’m having a bad moment.
Just like with all of the points I’m going to make, I want to tell you about the extreme not the nuanced, so you can pick up the nuanced and be more aware.
When I tell people about my job they either mumble to get on to another topic, ask how much money I make, types of things I do, my most unusual request, etc, but they also usually ask ‘what are you going to do after?’ as if this can’t be my whole career.
Now, when I tell people I’m a disabled sex worker some look shocked. Some understand, but not all want to really know my reasons. They don’t want to know that I do my job because the government has failed me, they don’t want to know that whilst I love my job my university essentially forced me out, they don’t want to listen when I try to explain that yes the NHS is wonderful, but if you don’t fit into one of their boxes they’re sometimes useless.
People don’t like to challenge beliefs they’ve held for years, and I understand that, but it shouldn’t be the way when it’s something as essential as how I live.
2) In media, they are both sensationalised, mocked, and used to make money. Films about killing prostitutes, and ‘overcoming’ disability, etc.
Breath, Theory of Everything, The Shape of Water, Me Before You, Third Star, Skyscraper, and most recently, The Greatest Showman,
What do all of these films have in common?
Abled bodied actors and directors, portraying disability as a burden or something to overcome, and making us a spectacle.
A quote from Variety really drives this home:
“a USC study noted of the top 900 films between 2007 and 2016, just 2.7% of characters were portrayed as having a disability. What’s more, in most cases these characters are played by an actor without a disability, further limiting industry opportunities for the talented actors with a disability.” Source: http://variety.com/2018/film/news/disability-movies-tv-inclusion-1202713778/
Sophie’s Choice & Baby Driver are the only two films I can think of, off the top of my head that includes a person with a disability. That shouldn’t be the case. Sure, nowadays ‘inclusion rider’ is a hot topic, but that’s because an able-bodied white woman said it.
A more recent example – Stephen Hawking passed away recently, and people are showing [THIS IMAGE] to denote that he’s finally ‘free’. When people are challenged, they argue that they ‘wouldn’t want to be in a wheelchair’. Some even say we could gain their respect by contributing to society more. Gal Gadot said ‘Now you’re free of any physical constraints.’ A wheelchair is not a physical restraint – it’s freedom.
Rough Night, Mighty Aphrodite, Pretty Woman, Irina Palm, She’s Funny That Way, and the always problems Hot Girls Wanted
What do all of these films have in common?
They depict a sex worker being killed, used – quite literally as a plot device or saved.
Whilst there are films and TV shows that at least attempt to portray disability and sex work well. There are very few films and TV shows that actually depict what our lives are like … to a point (hello Secret Diary of a Call Girl and Mad Max Fury Road). They don’t want to show the reality – whether it’s the mundane life of being a sex worker sitting on a laptop after doing laundry, or the little goals we have on a bad day as a disabled person, like giving ourselves a wash with a baby wipe. The ones that are more true to life are also the ones that don’t get as much attention. After all, disability is a hot topic in Hollywood as it makes money telling stories that aren’t theirs to tell.
Sure, there are films where they got it right – or were getting close to, but for every one of those examples, there are ten where they get it atrociously wrong.