We hear all about how clients of sex industry workers are perverts, oppressors, murderers, and rapists from the SWERF camp. Justice Minister Peter MacKay said it this way when he enacted a law with the Canadian Conservative government criminalizing clients:
“It’s my belief that prostitution is inherently dangerous,” he [stated], saying the government regards prostitutes as victims who need to be protected from those dangers.
The funny thing about considering us all victims is that it takes away our voices. Anything we say will be ignored due to our victim status. I.E. We are too degraded and oppressed to know what's best for us.
When we defend our rights, we are either "privileged" sex workers - unlike the majority who are victims - or we are pimps (members of the "pimp lobby"), or...(and this is the primary weapon used against us) ...we are brainwashed by our oppressors, maybe even forced to say that we like our jobs or risk being beaten within an inch of our lives.
It reminds me of the time we approached Starbucks asking them to donate coffee for our volunteers on event day. They agreed to donate the coffee with one stipulation - it had to be given to the exotic dancers and no one else.
Pardon me? I'm not sure what they thought was going on. But I promise, we let the dancers out of their cages and fed them that day. (Thankfully, most of our volunteers setting up that morning were dancers and we were able to cede to their demands.)
Between the pimps, gangsters, and clients, we sure are getting abused! (Please note the use of sarcasm.)
This is the danger of speaking for and on behalf of others. You get it all wrong. You are especially wrong about our customers.
However, media likes to sensationalize, so we often hear about predators who prey on sex industry workers.
|Annie shows some love for the |
"male member" during her stagette weekend (2008).
Before I go on, let's correct some language problems with the whole "client as oppressor" ideology. Despite the common term referring to predators of sex workers as "bad dates," they are not really bad dates. They are predators.
A client or customer is a person who purchases goods or services from another. Sure, they might try to negotiate a little, but they are respectful for the most part and ultimately, they respect a worker's stated services and price.
Can we all please stop calling predators clients? When a person holds up a gas station, do we refer to her as a customer? When a person attacks a realtor, do we refer to him as a home buyer? No, we do not.
Sex workers differentiate between clients and predators. Especially our regulars, who we depend on for a steady income, as well as their adherence to respecting our boundaries. Sex industry work is intimate. No one is arguing that. It is precisely this intimacy that leads to the meaningful, lasting friendships we form with our regulars.
In fact, most retired sex industry professionals will tell you they miss their regulars. Fortunately, I've been able to keep in touch with some of my favourite customers through email, Facebook, and The Naked Truth events.
One customer in particular, who inspired this post, has supported me through some of the most difficult moments of my life. He's been there for me through two separations, struggles with my ADHD / food sensitive child, deadly health challenges, and financial difficulties. He's offered invaluable advice, given me rides, contributed to projects for me, and he continues to send me money after all these years.
When he wanted to purchase services from my escort and Domme friends, he asked me first, in case I was territorial. (I wasn't.) Every new project I've started... Every decision I've contemplated and shared with him... Every opinion I've expressed no matter how much he disagreed... he supported me unconditionally.
I need to tell you that I trust this man implicitly. I have been alone with him. I have provided many no-contact private shows for him, including in the privacy of his home, and he has never crossed my boundaries. He has never touched me, even though we both know he wanted to.
I have shared family photos with him and told him about my children, their successes and challenges. I have gotten his feedback on novels I've written. I've emailed photos of my surgery scars to him.
Does this sound like a predatory, oppressive relationship?
As you can see, I have benefited immensely from my friendship with him.
But what, you might ask, does he get in return for all this?
I have asked myself the same question. I have expressed gratitude to him from the bottom of my heart on numerous occasions. I've asked myself: "What have I done to deserve his generosity?"
I can tell you what I've done.
I've worked hard to make our friendship mutually beneficial, so that it is not like I am using him. He would say, I cannot possibly use him because he wants to do these things for me. But it is important to me that he knows how much I care about him.
This is where the "interesting benefits" part of the equation comes in.
How might a former sex industry worker reciprocate in a friendship with a former client? Is there a sexual component or do we become platonic buddies? I can't speak for everyone, but for me there is still a sexual component.
Long after I stopped dancing, I still danced privately for him. Okay, he paid me, but I didn't do it for anyone else. It was the trust and deep regard I had for him that led to me putting my stilettos back on. The benefit to him was to enjoy the dances in the privacy of his own home, show me photos of his family, share a side with me that he does not get to show to many other sex industry workers he sees.
A sexy photo Annie shared with her
former customer / lifelong friend. (2010)
A sex worker-client relationship is not born in a sexual bubble. What enriches the relationship and inspires it to become "regular" is that certain something outside of the sexual exchange. We are people interacting with each other. We are not robots. Of course, there is something more.
With me, he can be himself. He shares truths with me that he cannot share with others who are close to him.
If there is a lapse in time when we do not connect, there's no bad blood between us. Somehow, the "no strings attached" nature of our worker-client relationship extended to our friendship too. We miss each other, but we don't berate each other for taking too long to respond.
He gets to share his experiences and insights from the client perspective through me when I introduce him to research and harm reduction projects looking for client expertise. In this way, he is making an impact on the health and safety of sex industry workers. His contributions are making the world a better place. So, there are the intrinsic rewards of sharing knowledge for a good cause.
For this article, I asked him "What do I do for you?"
His response was: "You have covered a heck of a lot of the reasons why I like you so much. Add to that, you are a really cool woman, you put up with my faults because I am not the easiest person to get along with, you light up a room whenever you walk in, and you do cool things like this or give me a TNT Award, you don't take the friendship for granted."
I ask you, should this man be criminalized for purchasing the services of sex industry workers?
The answer is no.
Customers are not the problem. Predators are the problem. And there are already laws that deal with predators. Sex workers do not need to be singled out for rescue in our laws. The current laws should apply to us (and if they don't, then there is the REAL problem).
Clients are not exploiting us. The ones exploiting us are the ones who are making laws to limit our ability to work.
Clients are our friends. They care. They are our best allies to expose sex trafficking and child sexual exploitation. We should be making it easy and safe for them to report it when they see it.
I have a few regular customers from my dancing days that I keep in touch with. They tell me I'm beautiful and worship me unconditionally. I flirt back harmlessly. We all know what the boundaries of our respective relationships are. They are regular customers whose friendships I value.
I cannot stand by while my clients are disparaged in the media by the rescue industry and their friends in politics. Hear me now.
Leave our customers alone.
About the Author
Annie Temple is the stage and writing name of Trina Ricketts. Trina has 17 years experience as a striptease artist and 15 years as a sex worker rights activist, but she's been a rebel all her life. In 2000, she founded NakedTruth.ca to support other entertainers by reducing isolation, educating about health and safety, sharing information about gigs, challenging stereotypes, teaching etiquette to customers, and organizing in-person events for charity and to promote ethical businesses in the industry. Some of the groups and functions that Trina is associated with are Exotic Dancers for Cancer (now BoobaPalooza), The Naked Truth Adult Entertainment Awards, Trade Secrets Guide, BC Coalition of Experiential Communities, Canadian Union of Naked Trades, as well as several community sex worker supportive organizations. Trina is a mom of three, a lover of writing and dancing. Currently she continues to run NakedTruth.ca and recently she founded Digital Activist Media - a project to investigate digital activism strategies and share them with other change-makers. Trina's activism efforts have expanded to include many issues, but her main activities involve sex worker and health freedom rights.