1. Wow, working at a brothel sounds sexy. Is it sexy?
The short answer, is no. The long answer is nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo well maybe a teeny bit sometimes. I can't speak for the sex workers, but admin at a brothel is only sexier than normal admin on tiny, rare occasions. The vast majority of my time was spent answering the same questions over and over, putting laundry in the washing machine, taking washing out of the machine, and juggling three phones while trying to keep track of ten workers at once. Even the teeny, fleeting moments that were sexy were actually more awkward than sexy as such. I would be lying if I said I didn't enjoy flirting with the clients, knowing that I was totally off limits for them. That was pretty fun, and nicely straight forward. I jiggled, they looked appreciatively, everyone came away feeling nice. However, when a client I found attractive walked in, it quickly became quite awkward and not sexy at all. See, the flipside of the clients never being allowed to touch me is that I was also not allowed to touch THEM. Dating clients is a) a stupid idea and b) totally taboo for both sex workers and support staff - PARTICULARLY support staff, because if we saw clients for free we were essentially stealing from our co-workers. So if a client I thought was a bit hot came in, and it did happen, it was much more of a high school crush, sigh from afar situation than anything anyone would write into Playboy about. I remember one guy who had a Muse tattoo who used to come into the last place I worked - he was sweet, and friendly, and never haggled, and always picked the bigger girls so he might have been into someone my size, and he had big brown puppy dog eyes and he was also totally out of my reach. It wasn't sexy - it was actually a tiny bit depressing after a while.
|LoveSick by Yukiba on DeviantArt|
|Not an accurate depiction of a brothel.|
2. But brothels are illegal, right?
This one very much depends on where you are. In New South Wales, where I worked, all forms of sex work are legal apart from street work. Legally, provided you have the appropriate licensing and council approval, you can run a brothel, you can work from your house, you can work for an agency - you just can't work from the street because that's viewed as soliciting. I never cared for this caveat, because it's quite classist and exclusionary when you get right down to it. There are some people who prefer working on the streets, and some who don't have the option of working from an apartment or a brothel available to them, and I think it's complete bullshit they're not offered the same protections as indoor workers. But, it could be much worse. As for the rest of the country, I honestly don't know all the details of legality in other states, apart from a few tidbits. I know in Queensland it's illegal to offer services without a condom, and I know in Victoria you are supposed to have a license to work in the sex industry, a registration system of sorts. But in New South Wales, it's all relatively straightforward from a legal point of view. If you stay off the streets, everything else is technically fine.
Because sex work is largely legalised here, there is much less of the industry controlled by organised crime than places where it is all totally illegal. I wouldn’t be so naive as to say it doesn’t still happen – but it’s a much less valuable investment when a business has to have a paper trail. Legality requires paperwork, and paperwork requires your business practices meet at least an absolute minimum standard of legitimacy. I’m sure the accountants for the places I worked were still up to some dodgy stuff in terms of taxation, and I did always get paid in cash. But I worked for non sex industry small businesses with similar practices – some of them were much dodgier than that even. Legalisation means the owners of brothels technically have to adhere to certain standards in terms of how they treat their employees too.
Of course, legal protection is one thing, and the way that protection is (or isn't) enforced is another thing. Just because owners of brothels are legally required to give their workers certain rights, doesn’t mean they always do. And just because it was legal for my co-workers to be doing what they were doing didn't mean they were free to do so without persecution. I remember one worker who had to get all the receptionists to field calls from her ex-husband, because he was trying to "prove" she was working for us in order to take custody of her children. If I ran into co-workers in the street or at a club, there was always a little game of trying to figure out on the fly a cover story for how we knew each other. I would usually let them take the lead, and then just go with whatever they introduced me as, or keep walking if they made it clear they didn't want to acknowledge me outside of work. Some of the sex workers I met were out to everyone in their social circle, but the majority weren't, simply because the social stigma was too great. I hope that by emphasising to everyone that asked me that sex work is indeed legal in this state, I managed to do a tiny little bit to normalise the industry. It's ridiculous that a section of the economy that is actually legal is still so stigmatised - I actually can't think of any other equivalent industries, where the workers have legal rights but are unable to exercise them so frequently because of societal perception. It’s unfortunate that while there are many parts of Australia where sex work is legally protected, it’s actually only in the ACT that they are specifically legally protected from discrimination. Legalisation is only half the battle in terms of allowing sex workers to go about their lives and careers without interference, but I’m glad that for all our backwards thinking on other subjects, at least NSW has gotten the process this far. It’s not everything, by a long shot – but it’s something
3. I bet the girls are all junkies/diseased/stupid/desperate
Oh man, this question used to drive me NUTS. This was the question that would get me from zero to frothing at the mouth in under ten seconds because it's just so, SO not true, and even if it was, SO WHAT!? Yes, I did meet sex workers who used all sorts of different drugs. Yes, I met injecting drug users, some of whom were addicts. And you know when it bothered me? When they couldn't do their job, or they put other people in danger. That's it. Other than that, I couldn't give a shit what they chose to spend their money on. It was none of my damn business, unless their drug usage got in the way of their work. An interesting statistic to consider before we dismiss all sex workers as “junkies” is that according to the US Department of Health, 77% of ALL illegal drug users either hold full or part time jobs. Since this is a statistic from the US where sex work is largely illegal, I think it's pretty safe to say the jobs they are including here are all mainstream jobs. This would suggest to me that there are an awful lot of drug users out there in the mainstream workforce - but it's sex workers that get painted as all being junkies? Interesting. And by interesting, I mean utterly infuriating.
|Not an accurate depiction of drug use|
And on that cheerful note, I'm going to leave it there. Join me tomorrow for part two!