When i read ashley botting's story Striptease in NOW two weeks ago, I really felt it reflected my own feelings about the sex trade before I spent almost 10 years in it. But for close to 20 years now, I've been exploring and debunking the same attitudes Botting conveys in her piece.
I know what it is to have mixed feelings about sex work and sex workers, even from the inside, even now. As a stripper, I remember the lines in the sand being drawn ferociously between those of us who were non-contact and those of us who weren't. There was little room for sex-work-positive feminist ideology in those times. Ugly things were said. I wrote ugly things about lap dancers.
I was angry at the women who were changing the workplace, because they seemed to have little regard for how it affected women who had fought hard to establish regulations under nebulous management, extorting doormen, without unions and community support.
Botting comes at this anger from an entirely different place. I know that brand of rage as well.
As a dancer, I entertained women sitting with male friends. I have felt the contempt in their verbal air quotes: "So, does your family know about your ‘job'?"
No, they don't. After a long and painful history, I don't speak to my mother, and my father is a monk, so talking to him about anything related to sex is a little awkward.
But thanks for humiliating me for my familial shortcomings while I'm working. Thank you for trying to mine my heartbreak in search of reasons for my vileness. And, in fact, yes, I did have the shit kicked out of me when I was little, but so did my sister, and she's a high school teacher.
If knowing these things humanizes me, well then, so many of us are human. And if all strippers are working out their daddy issues, why the snideness? Daddy issues are often really complicated. They involve neglect, distance and physical and sexual abuse, among other things.
I know very few women, strippers or not, who haven't been physically or sexually abused. This is not a joke. It is endemic. When I worked, I met women who were cooking heroin for their mothers at seven, women who had given birth when they were babies themselves, women who had spent time in refugee camps after wars had ravaged their countries, women who had been raped and abused in unspeakable ways.
I also met women whose lives were virtually untouched by calamities or violence.
Yes, we are all someone's daughter. And as grown women, our fathers don't have agency over our choices, and sometimes we are escaping the agency they once had.