Content warning: This post contains mentions of sexual assault and violence against sex workers.
It’s a question I’ve been asked more times than I could possibly count.
“What’s the worst thing that’s happened to you at work?”
“Have you ever been like, assaulted?”
“Have you had anything really terrible happen?”
These questions are usually asked by naïve friends or strangers. Clients tend to ask tamer versions.
“You must have some… interesting clients.”
“You must meet some weird people.”
“I’m sure you’ve had… scary… things happen?”
The ‘scary’ things clients imagine vary wildly. Some seem to think ‘scary’ would be meeting a man who has a misshapen penis or poor personal hygiene. And while body odour isn’t my favourite, I wouldn’t exactly label this as ‘scary’.
I’m never quite sure how to respond when people ask me this question.
With clients, my go-to is a quick light-hearted quip such as, “Oh, do you think you’re not one of the weird ones?” or “What if I think *this* is scary?” paired with a cheeky smile, a sprinkle of laughter and a swift change of topic.
But when I sit back and think, I am puzzled.
Am I expected to recite my traumatic experiences for amusement? Are they hoping to hear a tantalising tale about a scandal-worthy drug lord or a kinky client who went a little bit too far?
Or are they hoping I’ll reassure them that nothing terrible has ever happened to me? Do they what me to tell them that I am, in fact, a Happy Hooker? That I am unscathed and unscarred from the dark side of the industry? Do they want me to soothe their concerns so that they can go feel good about their ~ethical~ consumer habits, just as they do when they buy the carton of eggs marked ‘free-range’ and ‘organic’?
The truth is, I have had horrible things happen.
I could tell them about the time I was raped.
I could tell them about how I burst into tears after being raped – the only time I’ve ever cried in front of a client – and how he wordlessly looked at me and walked into my bathroom and took a shower as though nothing had happened.
I could tell them about the stigma I experienced from the police officers when I reported the rape. How I was told I should have simply told the client “no”.
I could tell them that I was lucky that I even lived in a country in which my job was at least partly legal. That I was fortunate that I had the chance to attempt to report the rape without fear of being charged by the police for my profession.
I could tell them about how months afterwards, I would still check every cupboard and drawer when I arrived at my incall, peering under the furniture, afraid I would find something. What exactly was I afraid of? I’m not sure. During this time, my mind ran wild. I imagined finding dead bodies, bleeding women, clients hiding with knives. It was nonsensical, fantastical, unrealistic. But it felt real, scary, paralysing.
I could tell them about the health professionals I visited after the rape, attempting to seek help to work through the difficult experience. But instead of help, I faced stigma on top of stigma on top of stigma.
I could tell many, many more stories.
And I can package some of my stories, so they don’t sound so bad – so that they sound titillating, fun, exciting. “Oh yes, one time I went to a booking with a friend and TWO guys were there when we showed up, but luckily it turned out fine. We all had fun, AND we made a bit of extra cash that night!” Ha ha ha.
But the real worst booking, the real terrible experiences, the real difficult stories?
These are stories that can’t be told.
Because when these complex stories are told, they are simplified, taken out of context, away from meaning and away from the person telling them. These stories are taken by the media, the white knights, the anti-sex-work trope. “SEE!” they cry, “Sex workers experience TRAUMA!” They retell these stories while pointing their fingers at sex workers (and probably wanking with the other hand), as though no other human has ever had a work-related incident that caused them to cry when they got home.
These stories aren’t fun or exciting.
They can’t be wrapped up into bit-sized anecdotes, ready to shock and titillate.
My experience as a sex worker is rich and complex, and my traumatic experiences are not here for the amusement of others.