How Do Disability And
Sex Work Intersect In The
Do disabled people require access to sex work or to sex workers? Many sex workers are disabled – what about their clients? Is sex work an easy way out of the benefits system? This panel will look at how disability and sex work intertwine in the UK, and which changes would allow justice for disabled people and for sex workers.
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Trixie Roberts, Rosa Thomas (Decrim Now), Lydia Caradonna (Decrim Now), Emily Rose Yates (Enhance)
disability, sex work, violence against women, racism, health
Trixie Roberts (TR);
Rosa Thomas (RT) – Decrim Now;
Lydia Caradonna (LC) - Decrim Now;
Emily Rose Yates (ERY) – Enhance the UK.
00:00:00 CH To start this I’m going to ask each of our panellists to give a very quick two or three minute intro to who they are, and a big picture answer to the titular question of, How do disability and sex work relate in the UK today? Okay.
00:00:17 RT Hi, my name is Rosa. I’m a coordinator for the Decrim Now Campaign and I’m a member of SWARM, and I’m going to be talking about my experiences as a disabled sex worker who, about a year ago, I had a period of time where I predominantly saw disabled clients. I think they were about ninety percent of my clients at the time. And also, talking about this sort of liberal argument that gets brought up a lot in the sex worker rights movement that, like, we can legitimise sex work because we can provide sexual experiences for disabled people and therefore that makes it work worth… worth protecting. Whereas it’s work because it’s work; we don’t need to sanitise it by saying it’s “care work,” and we deserve labour rights. It’s kind of a middle class idea that work has do good in society. I used to work in a KFC, and that was not doing good for anyone! I was paid really badly, but I still deserved worker’s rights. And, you know, we don’t have jobs to further social change. The role of work in capitalism is to propel capitalism forward, and I think we can get really caught up with… bringing up disabled clients as a reason to have sex worker’s rights, and a lot of my experiences with disabled clients have been really shitty because of the structure that we have, currently. But yeah, I’m going to pass on the microphone now.
00:02:19 LC Hi, I’m Lydia Caradonna. I am also an organiser with Decrim Now, and a member of SWARM. And I have Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, which means I’m really fucking tired, and I have chronic pain, which is the reason that I am in the sex industry. I am currently a brothel worker, but I have worked variously in the past as a sugar baby, an independent escort, and as a street worker. And I feel like disability and sex work are two things that, like, you can’t really separate. I know the NUS Student Sex Work Survey found that fifty percent of the student sex workers surveyed were disabled, and I think that such a huge number of us in the sex worker community are here because we’re disabled. We can leave because we’re disabled. And because like, wider work in general is so inaccessible. It’s so impossible to find alternative employment that fits in with disability, that earns enough for us to work shorter hours or have flexible working hours if we need it. So really, the whole culture of work is something that’s really, really difficult for us, but at the same time, even though I’m here as a sex worker because I’m disabled, being a disabled sex worker is extra fucking hard, because like, ah, try riding a dick when you’re in this much pain, guys?! [laughs] It’s so difficult! And like, there are so many services and things that it’s just really, really difficult for me to do. It’s really hard to get through any single shift. And also because I’m immuno-compromised, I have to blot out a week after every brothel shift to just wish I was dead, because I’m so ill, because there’s no real way to protect myself at work. So I think, when we talk about disability rights movements and sex worker rights movements, quite often we’re talking about the same movement. It’s the same issues with accessing the benefit system and stuff that really screws us all over. And I really, really think sex workers are often left behind in these discussions, especially by the rescue industry, where they talk about getting us jobs in shops or doing sewing machinery and stuff like that. It really ignores the fact that work in general is so inaccessible for most people.
00:05:02 TR Hi, I’m Trixie. I’m an independent full-service sex worker. I’m not an organiser with Decrim Now [laughs].
00:05:12 LC Join us!
00:05:12 TR [laughs] I shall. I am neurodiverse, I’m autistic with severe depression and anxiety. And talking about how disability interacts with sex work now. I mean, you’ve touched on a lot of it so I don’t want to—
00:05:33 LC [whispers] Sorry!
00:05:33 TR —no, I just don’t want to repeat too much. But obviously it gives you flexibility. It gives you more autonomy over your working hours. But when you are disabled, it also means that you have no support system. You don’t really have a company policy for mental health wellbeing, or a mental health first aider who is there to help you go through all the stuff that you go through, especially when, essentially, you’re just advertising yourself and just putting yourself out there. I also struggle with disordered eating, so that’s always fun. And I think we’re going to touch upon it more as we get into the actual panel talk, but there’s obviously loads of benefits and loads of disadvantages that come with sex work when you’re a disabled worker, but I’ll keep those for when we expand I think.
00:06:35 ERY Hi, my name is Emily Rose Yates. I am here as somebody who works with a user-led disability awareness charity called Enhance the UK. We’re primarily a training provider. We train on disability awareness and communication, but we also run a campaign called the ‘Undressing Disability’ campaign, that focuses on the sexual rights and responsibilities of disabled people. And I co-run something called the Love Lounge, which is an online forum where disabled people, their loved ones, their parents, their partners, whatever it may be, can write in, anonymously if they wish, with questions to do with sex, relationships, love and dating. And quite often we get a lot of questions from disabled people who, very rightly so, want to express themselves sexually, have sexual needs, of course, but don’t quite know how to do that or where to turn. And, as I’m sure most of you are aware, quite a lot of solutions that people provide are, “Oh, go and see a sex worker.” That’s the solution, and that will solve all of your problems. And I guess my kind of point of view here today is very much from that disabled client’s point of view. I’m very much here to learn from all of you guys, but I think one of the things, just to answer that title question, is for me to just say that sex work should absolutely be an option for disabled people to be involved in, and as a client of, but it shouldn’t be the only option that society is providing for disabled people.
00:08:12 CH Okay, great. Alright, so something that I really wanted to discuss is whether or not in your opinion, sex work benefits disabled people in the UK today? Does it benefit disabled people who, as a way to express their sexuality? And does it benefit disabled people as a potential income or source of work. And I’m hoping to facilitate that discussion. So, Rosa, you’re a disabled person who has worked with a lot of disabled clients. Do you feel that sex work has benefited you as a disabled person, or access to sex work has benefitted your disabled clients at all?
00:08:53 RT So, yeah, I started sex work because I was homeless and I was getting sicker. I found out that I had a disability that was going to get worse. So yeah, it stopped me starving; it helped me find somewhere to live. So it has benefitted me, I guess, in that way? I don’t love my job. I… but it’s, it works for me in terms of how much energy I have. I have another job that is, that requires a lot more energy and… yeah, this one is working well for me right now. In terms of disabled clients, I think the question is like, does sex work help clients have sex? And the answer is, yes, it does. [Audience laughs] They can pay money for sex and it helps them have sex. But you know, I actually don’t think anybody has a right to sex. I don’t think anyone has a right to my body. I’d rather not have sex for money. And… I think it’s kind of a, it’s kind of dodgy territory to wander into, and it kind of reminds me of that court ruling that there was last month of the judge that said that it’s man’s greatest right to have sex with his wife, and said that it wasn’t rape for him to have sex with his wife, who was disabled—the wife was disabled. And I kind of resent the idea that, you know, I am the solution for society’s dehumanisation of disabled people. I’m all here for changing people’s views on disabled bodies, and as a disabled person myself, and as someone that has had partners are disabled in a way that limits their access to exploring sexually, but yeah. I don’t think sex work, prostitution, is the answer to that. And… yeah [chuckles]. Could you remind me what the question was? I have ADHD and autism, so….
00:11:33 CH Does sex work benefit disabled people?
00:11:37 RT Right. Yeah, so in terms of paying my rent, it benefits me, and in terms of disabled clients getting laid, I think it does too, in that respect. And all clients.
00:11:54 ERY [off mic] No, feel free to go if you want.
00:11:56 LC So yeah, much the same as Rosa. As a disabled person, sex work has enabled me to pay my rent and not starve to death, which I perceive as a big benefit, but I think it’s not something I should have to do in order to have a good quality of life. I’m very open about the fact that I don’t enjoy my job. I was kind of forced into the industry underage, and I have a lot of trauma around my work. It’s not like I go into work every day and I’m like, “I can’t wait to make a difference! Can’t wait to help someone get their dick wet!” Like, no [laughs]. [Audience chuckles] Sorry, was that a bit crass? [Audience laughs] Yeah, I go in to make money so I don’t die, and this might be me being a, like, a ‘bitter whore’, but I have real resentment for my clients and the fact that they have this economic power over me, and they have control over whether or not I’m going to be able to pay my rent. And I—not to sound like an abolitionist—but I don’t believe it’s a healthy situation for me to be in. And I think it’s shitty to centre clients in discussion around sex work, and what benefit it can have for the clients when we’re the oppressed group. Lots of us don’t have the decision about being here. And I absolutely, a hundred percent believe that all clients have the ability to make a decision about whether or not they’re going to pay us for sex. So yeah, I’m really, really not a fan. And as a disabled person who has used a wheelchair before and had someone comment about how they never thought they’d be attracted to someone in a wheelchair, ‘til I showed up, I think a lot of work to be done around disabled people and our access to sex is about people not being shitty about us being disabled, and acknowledging that we’re fucking hot and can have sex? And I totally get that the transactional element of sex work makes sex easier to access for lots of disabled people who find it difficult to even start the discussion when it’s not in such a formalised transaction, and I guess to that I say that when we topple capitalism, all of the people who are in the sex industry because they love their jobs and they love providing this service and so on, like I… hopefully they’ll still be happy to be doing it if they’re really doing it because they don’t want money but because they find value in helping other people explore sexually, then I don’t think that would change. But right now, from where I am, as someone who is financially coerced into sex a lot, I don’t have time for assuaging people’s guilt about paying me for sex.
00:15:21 ERY I think what you said there was really interesting, and I think there is a huge big picture here, isn’t there, that actually, society’s issue with disabled people is that they are seen—we are seen, we—are seen as undesirable, not attractive, not deserving of certain things in life. And I think that is a big, big part of this question, actually. And I guess my answer to the question is two-fold. I think there’s a ‘yes’ and a ‘no.’ Exactly what you were saying earlier. Yes, does it allow disabled people to have sex? Yeah, it does. And let’s kind of go back a few steps and really get down to the nitty gritty. A lot of disabled people who live in care homes, live in supported living institutions, the only kind of touch or… physical feeling that they ever receive is by somebody putting on a rubber glove and washing them. That is the reality for a lot of disabled people out there. So does sex work help with that? Abso-flipping-lutely it does! A lot of disabled people from that then feel very insecure about their bodies and actually what their capabilities and limitations are. Does sex work help with that? Yeah. But what sex work, I personally believe, doesn’t necessarily help with, and society’s problem—this is for society to sort out, not for sex workers to sort out—is this idea that actually disabled people want sex and they don’t necessarily want relationships. And the problem then is that you have a lot of disabled people who think all their problems will be solved by visiting a sex worker. They expect that from that transactional situation that a relationship will appear; that they will find love, that they will find that kind of interest, putting on an unnecessary and unfair pressure to the sex worker and to the disabled client. So I guess my answer would be that this is a problem that society needs to solve. It shouldn’t be the pressure on the sex worker, and it shouldn’t be down to the disabled person to then actually back away and say, “You know what, I’m going to step out of this because I don’t feel it’s right.” No, society needs to find a solution for both parties.
00:17:43 TR I think it’s really difficult to talk about how sex work and disability interact with each other without, obviously, addressing the fact that society is fucked. [Audience laughs]
00:17:56 ERY [laughs] Yeah, sorry, that’s all I said wasn’t it really?!
00:17:57 TR No, I think, because that’s what all three of you have done, because it is, and that’s the reason that it exists. The only reason that sex works exists is because generally speaking, men have a thought process that means that they think they are allowed to have any sort of access that they want to a woman’s body, and they can either have that for free, or they can buy it. Yay for them. And the only reason that that thought exists is because society has let that exist, and gone, [puts on an American commercial accent] “Yes, men! You can do whatever you want! You want that woman? You can have her? Can’t afford her? Get a free one!” And it’s… positive in a way because I can make money off of it when I need it, but negative in a much bigger way because you have to acknowledge that, one, that exists, and also it would be great if the need to make money wasn’t so much that you have to ignore all of the icky feelings that come up with the fact that obviously that is how you’re making the money. But again, it all comes down to society. Before I entered sex work I worked sixty-hour weeks, didn’t sleep, paid no attention to my mental health, went into really terrible spirals all the time, barely made rent; shitty situation. Started sex work, made a lot more money in a shorter amount of time, still had shitty mental health spirals; shitty situation. But it means that, you know, I can do a week’s worth of intense sex work and then be like, “Cool, I don’t have to see anybody for a week while I just focus on rebuilding myself.” Whereas in my civ job, I’m like, “Ah, this was horrible! See you tomorrow!” So in a way it’s beneficial. Yeah. Because it allows you to get a little bit of distance when you need it, and when you can. But generally, society’s shit. I guess is my [chuckles] tagline. [Audience laughs].
00:20:17 RT I think it’s really interesting, Trixie, that you just brought up about male entitlement to women’s bodies, because I feel like, particularly, the clients that I see are people that are, for whatever reason, not able to access sex for free because—whether they’re disabled or not. And I’ve come across a lot of sort of incel kind of mentality, and I have found it so much more with disabled clients. I think it’s also worth mentioning that all of the disabled clients I see are men. None of them have been women. And I do offer services for women. So it is a patriarchal thing that’s happening. And a lot of them feel like they’ve been robbed of some kind of masculinity and they deserve it, and they deserve your time and your intimacy. And it’s… very entitled and very selfish. And I—you also mentioned that they are expecting a relationship, and I have encountered that quite a lot. That I’ve never been asked to do more free labour or have my—I feel like my boundaries have been overstepped so many times with disabled clients because I’m an empathetic person and I can see someone that isn’t getting the same lot in life as everyone else and I—you know, I have a very negative opinion of clients in general. [Someone shouts something from the audience] Huh?
00:22:06 ?? [inaudible]
00:22:08 RT [laughs] If you hadn’t picked up on that. But the disabled clients challenge me because I’m an empathetic person and I have disabled friends and I am a disabled person myself, and that’s when I let my boundary slip [chuckling]. And I end up doing stuff that I wouldn’t do with another client and I’m so drained and I’m so exhausted and I’ve done a bunch of stuff for free and I feel like a mug.
00:22:36 ERY Yeah. And I think, if I can just follow on from what you’ve said, I think a big part of that, the problem that then exists because of everything you’ve just said, is that concept of vulnerability. Vulnerability for the disabled client—you don’t quite know if they’re being entitled or they’re vulnerable, and they just don’t understand that the transactional relationship is simply that, and not a ‘Girlfriend Experience’ or whatever you want to call it. But also vulnerability for you then because, as you’ve just said, your boundaries are then let down. You understand your experience as a disabled person; you want to help; but equally, it’s a job. Where do those boundaries lie? And because of this big picture societal problem those boundaries aren’t set up, so it leaves you to make your own, which is really, really tough. And I think if we were able to create some kind of boundaries, it would not only help the disabled client, but it would help you as well. But vulnerability… big, big issue.
00:23:39 CH Okay, do we have anything more to say on this before we move? Trixie? Lydia? No? Okay, so the other main thing that I wanted to discuss today was, are there things that can change in society, in the law, in the benefits system, that would make sex work better for disabled people, or perhaps make it—yeah, what things could change to make sex work better for disabled people?
00:24:08 TR? Overthrow capitalism and eat the rich. [Panel laughs, audience whoops and cheers].
00:24:16 CH It’s definitely a lofty goal! Are there any intermediate strategies that we could focus on? [Audience laughs]
00:24:25 TR? Baby steps!
00:24:28 RT? Decriminalisation?
00:24:32 LC Yes, as representative of the Decrim Now—check our website out! I think the overarching rule of how to improve working conditions for everyone is about choice and options. So if our benefit system wasn’t so draconian, if I didn’t have to go in front of a panel of people who aren’t doctors who aren’t aware of my medical conditions and beg for money and be like, “I am disabled enough, I swear!” then you know, if disability benefits were easier to access, if we didn’t have such horrendous housing prices. If all of this stuff—if regular work was higher paid, and stuff. If we had options so that we could walk away from things that we aren’t happy with, then everything would change. It’s exactly the same for retail. If, when I was a retail worker, if I wasn’t happy with something at work, I just had to suck it up because if you complain or try and change things, you can get fired and you can lose your job and then that’s it, right? No income, so then you can’t challenge conditions. But if you were in a position where you could walk away from it at any time, you can assert those boundaries and be like, “No I’m not doing that,” because you have the option to leave. But so many of us don’t have the option to leave, and we therefore have to put up with all of this shit because we can’t afford not to be in this job. So we have to put up with bad clients; we have to put with clients overstepping, and stuff. So yeah, just options in general: financially, medically, everything. We just need more options and it would improve everything because we would be able to make positive changes and assert more boundaries.
00:26:28 CH So, Lydia and Rosa, you both mentioned decriminalisation. How would decriminalisation make sex work better for you as disabled people. And Trixie and Emily, if you have thoughts on this I would definitely like to hear from you as well.
00:26:43 LC So I don’t know if anyone has had the similar experience of trying to apply for disability benefits as a prostitute? It’s like, really difficult, because it’s hard to—well it’s nearly impossible—to want to be on record with a government agency as a hooker, and it’s really demeaning to have to go in front of like, a room of people and say, “This is how I make my money.” Especially because, I remember, I’ve been asked a really gross question. You know how the DWP will just try and trip you up and be like, “Oh, so you walked to this appointment, huh?” I have said that I’m engaged in sex work, and they go, they went like, really in depth into the mechanics of sex and how… how I managed it, and all of this stuff. Just to try and trip you up. And I… I could not—I wouldn’t recommend declaring your sex work to any kind of government agency. And it’s this whole thing about with it being such a precarious criminality, we can’t talk about our jobs. We can’t get reasonable adjustments in the benefits system because we’re, we can’t talk about it. We can’t go to the police because of—oh, one thing I found, actually, as a disabled person, is my disability is kind of the reason I have to work more illegally, because I could not handle independent escorting. I couldn’t keep going with the advertising, and having your phone on and just being available all the time. I couldn’t do it. So now I have a pimp. And like, it’s really, really illegal. We had this scary situation at work where some people were trying to break in, after everyone had gone home, and it was just me and the other workers locked inside, and we couldn’t call the police because we were in an illegal brothel. And all of this stuff—like, I’m in this situation because I’m disabled. I don’t have the option to work independently or do all of these things that only the most privileged sex workers get to do to stay on the right side of the law. So decriminalisation would actually make brothels and premises and third party help accessible for people in the sex industry. Like, I need third party help as a disabled person, and I can’t have it because they count as my pimp.
00:29:13 TR It’s also weird to think about, like, everything—even though the actual act of sex work is legal—the fact that everything else surrounding it isn’t. So even if you’re not in an illegal brothel, if you have another worker with you, then you’re doing something illegal. Like, if you get an Uber to a booking and the government somehow finds out that the Uber driver took you to that booking, that Uber driver can then be done for human trafficking even though they had no idea where they were taking you and you consented to being at the booking. It’s just… it’s so aggravating to be doing a job that in itself is legal but then anything that you do to make it more comfortable for yourself or make it safer for yourself, all of a sudden is illegal. And it’s like, how do I keep myself self? Thank you! I guess I’ll just die. That’s fine. That’s fine. No one—it’s fine. [chuckles] That was really, like, flippant, I’m sorry.
00:30:17 CH So, Emily, as a non sex worker, how do you think you would change things in the world to make sex work better and more useful for disabled people?
00:30:27 ERY I absolutely agree with everything that’s been said on decriminalisation. Some really good points that I will definitely be learning from and taking back there, so thank you. I wanted to bring up the concept of fetishization of disabled people, and also disabled sex workers. I think there really, really needs to be an additional education and awareness surrounding this. Some of you may know, some of you might not, that there are a group of people out there called Devotees who are sexually aroused by disabled people because of their disability. Not saying that this is a good or a bad thing; some people find it very liberating; some people find it very not-liberating; but I think the education needs to be there so that disabled people, clients, and disabled sex workers can both make their minds up around that situation and to what they choose to engage in. Because it can be celebrated but it can also be very dangerous.
00:31:38 TR I think fetishization within sex work is interesting. As a black disabled sex worker, I find myself advertising myself in ways that, if anyone ever said that to me in the street, I would punch them. And it’s really conflicting, because you’re like, this is so gross, but also you know that there are clients out there who are going to pay you out the arse for it. And it’s really, it’s really difficult to reconcile those sort of feelings, especially as an intersectional feminist, to be writing like, “I’m a chocolate beauty, blah blah blah blah,” [chuckles] and knowing that you’re only doing it because it’s going to make you money is, it’s really difficult. But I guess that brings me back to my tagline of: society’s shit. [laughs] I’ve completely detracted from the question, I’m so sorry. What was the question? [laughing]
00:32:40 CH Rosa, you haven’t said very much on this yet. What things do you think that could change to make sex work better for disabled people?
00:32:52 RT Yeah, I think decriminalisation is the first thing that needs to happen. I think it’s difficult to think about things that could be useful without getting to decriminalisation first. It’s like any sort of workers—like, we can’t get any worker’s rights until it’s decriminalised. We have terrible access to justice, and support services, whatever. Welfare. Yeah. Decriminalisation is my answer.
00:33:37 CH Yeah, I do think decriminalisation is really key especially with what Lydia was saying about how disabled sex workers can’t get the support that they need under current criminalised conditions. Alright, thank you all so much for your input. I want to ask the people here what questions you have to put to our panel? Okay, great. Can we, you put your hand up first, I think?
00:34:09 Q1 Thank you so much, the panel has been excellent, and I’ve really enjoyed hearing from you all, and yeah, it was really, really great because I, you know, I’ve recently retired from the sex industry after about ten years in and out, and in very different, precarious, or less precarious situations. And to be honest the reason for leaving is because I have chronic PTSD that is tied up with sex worker, it’s tied up with child abuse and all sorts of other things, and by the end it was too retraumatising for me to be in a situation with clients. And I feel like… that’s one of the areas where often we don’t talk about how our disabilities can be sort of… like, produced and also, you know, improved by sex work, in our everyday lives. You know, and I found that particularly when I was dealing—I was working with a disabled client for about two years, one of my most regular clients. He was a virgin when he came to see me, and his experiences—he was quite, quite disabled in the sense of his whole life was quite isolated because he didn’t have very good social skills, soft skills at dealing with interacting with new people, etc. And so for me it became, our relationship was deeply unsexual and actually was all of these sort of Girlfriend Experience parts, and it became really difficult for me because I’m already bad at boundaries, really bad at not giving emotional labour where I shouldn’t. And the progression of the relationship started quite good and then became harder and harder and harder as things went on. And so I’m just wondering whether, for sex workers in the room, whether you have any strategies or tips for people who are dealing with their own, you know, how their disability impacts their work and thinking about strategies for dealing with clients that might be useful for people just on a day to day level? Obviously no one has got perfect solutions. As you said, it’s society that needs to change. We need decrim, we need all these things. But for immediate circumstances it would be great to have some tips and tricks because I know that I really respect the people on the panel and their perspectives.
00:36:29 CH Okay, so Trixie, do you have any on help setting boundaries?
00:36:35 TR So I tend to be really good at giving advice but not good at taking it? [laughs] I’ve always been really weird about boundaries myself, and also really bad about acknowledging my conditions. So I went through the sort of majority of my life ignoring them and being like, “Hah, they’re not there!” And then I couldn’t’ do that anymore, so… [laughs]. In terms of coping, well, coping mechanisms or strategies to deal with that, personally I’m really big on, if you’re in a position to do so, at some point, getting some time by yourself in a neutral surrounding. So getting out of your own house or your place of work. Finding somewhere that makes you feel really calm and having an hour, half an hour, ten minutes, five minutes, or just really quiet introspection, whether that is completely in silence or with music or whatever. I find it really difficult to think in silence, so I tend to be accompanied by music. And I write things down. I write how I’m feeling; I write things that I think that I need, without any sort of semblance of needing to know what I’m writing down. I just kind of write, leave it for a couple of hours, and come back and read it. And then you get a really good look into yourself at your most honest, and then from that I like to try and see what it is that I can take from that. So it’s like, if I’m feeling overworked or stressed or blah blah blah, after reading that it’s like, okay, so what do I need to combat that? Do I need to take a day off? Can I take a day off? Do I need to get away from London and just completely get out of here? Do I need to sleep more? Do I need a bubble bath? And just kind of see, within my capabilities at the time, what is most going to address my needs. If that makes sense? Just trying to be super, super honest with yourself, because it’s really difficult to do that. I think it’s really easy to downplay your needs and downplay your struggles, and I think it’s beneficial for everyone, even if you’re not a sex worker, to just get into the habit of being really honest with yourself and remembering that you deserve to feel good, and you deserve to not be overly affected by your trauma. You deserve to give yourself that care, and being open with yourself, and allowing yourself to do that.
[Some off mic chatter]
00:39:27 LC So I have a couple of things. I mean, firstly, the way I kind of deal with trauma in bookings is not really advisable, because I dissociate! Which is really bad for boundaries. But what I’ve found has been really good with kind of keeping these barriers up between clients and like, avoiding giving them this emotional labour that they’re not entitled to is, I’m just a massive liar. Like, even if it’s really mundane. They’ll be like, “Oh, what did you have for lunch today?” I’ll just lie. Just lie about it! And then I don’t ever ask—I work in a brothel, so it’s totally different if it’s independent—but I try and avoid asking their names. Because firstly I don’t care [laughs][audience laughs] but like, I’ve been in a situation before where I’ve had regulars who kind of think that we’ve become friends and stuff, but if I don’t even know their names, I feel like I don’t even owe them anything if they’ve come back for the fifth or the sixth time, or whatever. So I just keep lying! [laughs] And it helps with separation. And then, when you get the—I think this happens to be me quite a lot because the brothel that I work in, I’m the youngest by about ten years, and also I’m a really short white girl, so I feel like they kind of want to Pretty Woman me a lot—and so I will have clients who’ll be like, “I’m in love with you!” or whatever. And at that point, I don’t feel anything, because they have no idea who the fuck I am! [laughs] It’s been really useful for me to go a bit further than having this divide and this new name and persona, and to actually just take real fun in like, them just not knowing who I am and kind of pulling the wool over their eyes, which is real fun for me [laughs]. And also one of the things I lie about is my disability. So I have like, a made up work disability that I have a bad hip, that people ask me about a lot now, and it’s just so I don’t have to ride them. I’m like, “Sorry I’ve got a bad hip, I can’t do it.” And actually it’s because I have severe chronic pain and I’m in total agony no matter what they do, but that extra energy, I’m just not about expending it. So I have my fake hip injury that keeps them away from me [chuckles].
00:41:54 RT I think… I’m autistic and I can be quite blunt and quite frank and I’m quite good at boundaries. With most clients I’m just like, “No.” I don’t care [chuckles]. No I’m not going to do it. That’s not how we do it. Those aren’t the rules. But I really struggle with disabled clients because I can’t always tell when people are not being genuine and I am trusting them to tell me their boundaries, and I’m—it’s just so much more for me to think about, and I think a way that I’ve got through that is through having such a great community, through Facebook support groups, and just having such an amazing community of sex workers in London who, some of which are neurotypical [laughs] and can explain… can help—I can check in and be like, “Is that legit? Is that a social cue? What…?” And I have done that a couple times, been like, “Oh God, this thing happened, I handled it like this, was that legit?” And then people have helped me out and been like, “No, no, no, that was cool, that was fine.” Or, or not [laughs darkly]. [Audience laughs]
00:43:24 ERY I think that one of the things I’ve learned outside of the kind of sex worker arena, if you like, is that vulnerability and entitlement can absolutely coexist. And we forget this, I think, quite often. And when I deliver disability awareness and communication training to businesses, one of the biggest things that we do actually teach is the ability of saying no. And that’s sometimes, even in a corporate environment, you know, speaking to businesses, that’s something that they find particularly hard because they’re so worried about the backlash that might come from that, or how they might have misread something. And I think trying to help people and be an ally or however you want to term it, yes that’s absolutely important and that’s something that we should be forging forward for but being able to say no is just as important, and I think we forget that sometimes.
00:44:25 CH Okay, we are beginning to run over time, so I’d like to one or two quick questions and quick answers. Let’s do a quick fire. Okay, so Max you had your hand up before, didn’t you? Raf, can we get out mic around over there please.
00:44:49 Q2 This has been a very good panel, thanks for all your contributions. I’m a full service sex worker with disabilities. I really believe that there is a fundamental flaw with buying sex and selling sex. I think people buy sex because they want to because they want to and they can, and people sell sex because they have to. My question is actually to Tansy and Emily because of how the questions of the panel were structured, and because you’re a representative of disabled people, and it is: after everything you’ve heard today from sex workers, do you think clients that are disabled are entitled to sex?
00:45:25 CH Hang on, I just want to say that I’ve been just informed that the panel runs until half past, so we have more time than I thought I did so that’s great! So we have a little bit more time to expand.
00:45:38 ERY This is a really difficult question for me to answer. I think… everybody has sexual desires and needs and everybody is entitled sensuality surrounding that. For a lot of disabled people, they’re unable to have penetrative sex and that cannot exist for them, but the ability to be sensual and sexual I think does and should exist for absolutely everybody. Does it exist in this current political and societal dynamic? No, not in the way that I think it should, but should that right exist? I think for me, personally, I think yes.
00:46:22 CH So I personally, I think that, are people entitled to seek pleasure? I would say yes. I think that pleasure is something that people need for their wellbeing. And are people entitled to seek intimacy? Again, I would say yes because I think that is something that almost everyone, again, needs for their wellbeing, and that when we’re deciding what people are and aren’t entitled to it should be based around what they need in order to be happy and healthy human beings. And so I think that people are entitled to seek pleasure and intimacy for those reasons. Are they entitled to seek those things by paying for sex? I don’t know. I broadly lean towards no, people are not entitled to pay for sex, but I also don’t think there’s anything special about sex. Like, I don’t think sex is unique in any way. So I think that if people are allowed to seek pleasure and intimacy via paying for other services like therapy or massage or anything like that, then I think that they should also be entitled to pay for sex. So I think that the question should not really be, are people entitled to pay for sex? I think it should be more like, are people entitled to pay for things that bring them pleasure and intimacy? And I actually think that though, in our current society, the answer should probably be yes, I would like to see us working towards a society in which people do not need to pay for pleasure or intimacy. So my answer is very complex, I guess. Trixie, Lydia, Rosa, do you have anything to say about this?
00:48:10 TR? I think you put that really well.
00:48:11 CH Okay cool.
00:48:12 ERY That was kind of what I wanted to say but I couldn’t! [laughs]
00:48:16 CH Okay. So, other questions? Yes.
00:48:21 Q3 Thanks for a fantastic panel. This question kind of follows on from the last one, which is I wanted to bring in the kind of question of constructions of desirability and undesirability, because it seems to me that part of the issue around why disabled people are often denied sex and pleasure is because of social norms of who is desirable and not. On the one hand you have, you know, this fetishization or you have not desirable at all, and I sort of wonder—I’m thinking of the work of people like Mia Mingus, who do a lot of work on trying to get people to challenge the kind of, desires as natural. So queers get our desires questioned all the time, but normative desire is deemed natural. And even sometimes gay people are like, “I can’t help who I desire.” You know, it’s a natural thing. And I wonder, your thinking about how we kind of challenge the normative desires, not in a way that anyone is trying to say you should be forced to desire someone you don’t, but to get people to question what is deemed a kind of, you know, what is a normative desire and what is a non-normative desire, and whether that fits in with the broader work that you were saying, you know, we can’t ask sex workers to do all the work. We need to have a broader societal discussion about desire and pleasure and desirability.
00:49:37 TR Yeah of course.
00:49:38 ERY Am I alright to start, is that okay? I think in society in general we have created a bit of an opinion binary of disabled people, and I think that this very much came from the Paralympics. However brilliant and positive as I think the Paralympics were, I think it did create this binary that disabled people are either inspirational, brave, superhumans, or they’re benefit scroungers who don’t deserve our look in. Okay? And I think that that has very much kind of brought itself into that sexual arena as well. Either you’re, you get dressed up for a night out and somebody says, “Oh aren’t you brilliant for getting dressed up and coming out tonight,” and, “Get on that dancefloor!” and “Isn’t that brilliant? How inspirational you are.” Or, the first thing that a guy will say when he comes up to you is, “Hi, can you have sex.” And that’s kind of the binary that we face. Either can you give me what I’m asking for, and if not, I’m not going to bother, or aren’t you brilliant but I absolutely do not see you in that sexual way. Which is problematic in every single way whatsoever, and I do totally agree that we have to come up with some kind of normative desirability boundaries, way forwards. I don’t quite know what the answer is but it’s a problem.
00:51:06 CH While we’re here, in creating this panel and thinking about how visibly—so all of the sex workers on this panel, including me, have invisible disabilities, and while I was putting this panel together, I tried to find sex workers who had disabilities that were visible to their clients so that they could give that perspective on how disabled people are desired. I found it impossible to find a disabled sex worker with disabilities visible to their clients to appear on this panel today. I found that sex workers who have disabilities—which is a a lot of sex workers—almost always hide their disabilities from their clients, and I think that really plays into how disabled people are often seen as deeply undesirable. The rare exceptions were sex workers who I found whose main selling point was their disability, and who were making their money from people who fetishized their disability. Unfortunately I was unable to reach out to those people. I wish I could have had someone who could provide that perspective on this panel, and I’m really glad that we’re discussing it and how visible disability is viewed by people in general.
00:52:21 RT I was just thinking I can think of one sex worker in the US that I’m aware of who… fits the description of the kind of sex worker you were looking for for this panel, but they have the benefit of being white and very thin and [inaudible comment from elsewhere 00:52:42] was already very successful before they came out as disabled, and they started doing photo shoots with mobility aids and it wasn’t their main selling point but they could then be like, “By the way, I’ve been disabled this whole time!” But they already had a big enough fan base, I guess, from being normatively desirable. Just wanted to tag that onto your point, Tansy.
00:53:12 TR I think going back to the question, desirability is weird, I think, especially normative desirability, because it all comes from, like the things you would happily brag about your friends—brag to your friends about—and be like, “Hey, I had sex with this tall blonde girl with big boobs and blah blah blah.” And it all comes from the stuff that obviously we’re told is what you’re meant to, you know, aim towards. I think… being—I find it really difficult to separate my identities [laughs]—being a plus-size, black disabled provider can be very difficult because I find that clients are willing to let one thing go, as long as you have all the other things. So like, with the example that you brought, Rosie, it’s fine for her to be disabled because she’s also slim and white and pretty and all that stuff. Or it’s fine if you’re black, because you’re also slim with big boobs and able-bodied and all that kind of stuff. It’s really difficult, I think especially when clients get into their mind, “Well I’m paying for it, and there’s so many people out there, it’s a shop, I can basically build my own sex worker!” It’s like, “I want this and this and this and this.” And if you go on a lot of the websites that independent escorts use, like the listings are like, “You need to be no bigger than a size eight, and you need to be white, and you need to have these kind of heels, and you need to wear this kind of stocking.” And it’s like, you don’t seem to realise that you—this is a whole ‘nother thing [chuckles]—I think that desirability especially as a sex worker is a lot of people are trying to get you to fit their ideal woman because they’re paying you for it. I think they dehumanize you, and it’s kind of like a ‘build a sex worker workshop’ where you just choose everything that you want. And because there are so, there’s such a plethora of workers out there, who have to be out there, the likelihood is that person is going to find exactly who they want because they do exist. But the fact that you can then find who you want makes you more picky and picky and picky and you have this whole weird skew of very, very privileged sex workers who, you know, get these super high paying bookings and jet all over the place and you know, they like to take to Twitter and be like, “Hey look at what my fan sent me,” and they’re holding these £800 bags and £15,000 shoes and stuff, all the way to the other end of people who don’t necessarily fit into that desirability binary just trying to survive. So yeah, it’s weird. It’s difficult. It’s hard.
00:56:29 LC My God. What was the question?
00:56:33 CH What was the question? It was thinking about desirability and disability and sex work can all link together especially in the context of people whose desires are often questioned, like queer people, for example. I think that was—
00:56:49 Q3 [off mic] Yeah. It was partly more to do with why don’t the mainstream, [on mic] why aren’t the mainstream notions of desirability, why isn’t that more of a target for how we challenge the way in which desire is understood as a way of trying to challenge that so that it doesn’t make it harder. Because how many people actually fit those notions of desirability? But there’s this kind of forcing in to fit that even, rather than challenging that notion to make people’s lives better.
00:57:21 CH So just thinking about challenging—
00:57:22 Q3 Sorry, it was a convoluted question.
00:57:22 CH —mainstream standards of desirability? Yeah.
00:57:28 LC I don’t know if I have any solutions because if I did I’d probably run like, a body positive Instagram account or something [laughs]. But I was, I’m actually going to say something positive which you’ll all be shocked to hear from me, which is that sex work has really helped my eating disorder. At first, my eating disorder was the hugest barrier to my job. I used to put my ads up and take them down ten minutes later because I was having a panic attack because everyone was seeing my body. And when I started in sex work I was sixty pounds heavier and really, really struggling. I think it really helped my confidence, I guess, to be like, “Well I fucking hate myself, but people will pay me money!” So other people don’t find me awful. And this is not me saying, like, join the sex industry if you have an eating disorder, because don’t.
00:58:27 TR Definitely do not do that.
00:58:29 LC Please don’t! Because at the same time I’ve had clients make these offhand comments. Like I had, the other month—you saw this on my Instagram story, you messaged me about it—I had a client say that I had great boobs, but it doesn’t count because I’m fat. And this is me at my skinniest. At the same time it can be an absolutely bloody minefield, but like, the sex industry has taught me that… this is going to sound really neoliberal, there’s a market for everyone! But like, there is such a diversity of desire already and lots of people who come and see sex workers still fuck them, but they come because they haven’t found a way to communicate that desire before. Or like, you know lads? Lad culture is like, “Oh why are you dating someone who is not traditionally beautiful, or why are you…?” Like, all the Tory boys saying, “Oh why are you dating someone who is working class,” or whatever. And the shame that comes from other people around who you’re dating and who you’re having intimacy with, and because sex work is such a small industry, I feel people are able to—not a small industry, like a private industry—people are more able to communicate about that. But yes, it helped my eating disorder ever so slightly, but still fuck the sex industry [laughs].
01:00:01 CH I have two kind of quick things to say in that I fundamentally believe that it’s not and should not be sex workers job to challenge mainstream standards of desirability because our livelihood and our ability to pay rent depends on fitting into some standard of desirability, and it’s impossible to challenge it when you also need to also fit into it. So I don’t think that work is for sex workers; I think it’s for other people. And this occurred to me when we were talking about visible disabilities, I think there is a lot of attention for a lot of disabled sex workers because often we are doing sex work because we are disabled, and other forms of employment are not open to us. We also can’t be too visibly disabled because then we’ll lose desirability and we can no longer have clients. So for disabled sex workers it can be a really difficult balancing act, and I think that’s, and that… yeah I don’t really have a follow-up to that. I just think it’s difficult to be a disabled sex worker.
01:01:03 TR I will just give a bit of positivity there. There’s a really great digital sex worker who is deaf and she signs in her videos. And, yeah, I just, it’s really great, because you know, she gets to set her own hours, doesn’t have to actually come in contact with anybody, and she’s using her signing knowledge to help other deaf people and they get to consume digital content.
01:01:26 CH That is great, and I do love her. I do think it’s worth noting that she is also slim and white, and it plays into—
01:01:31 TR She is also slim and white.
01:01:33 CH It plays into what you were saying about how if you don’t have one standard that’s fine, but having many can be very difficult.
01:01:41 TR Yeah, like—now a negative thing [laughs][audience laughs]—I also have an eating disorder and being in the sex industry has absolutely not helped me at all. Again, because of the intersections of my identities, being black kind of, you know, means that I can’t be overweight. I have an—I know a black sex worker and she got left positive feedback because she had a “Caucasian waist and a Caucasian butt” which made her the top type of Ebony female. So that’s like… that’s the kind of shit that you’re out there dealing with. People, they love you for your skin, but only if you look like something else. You can be black, as long as you’re a black Barbie, kind of. It’s difficult.
01:02:42 CH Before we move on from the desirability discussion, do we have anything else to say from the panel? Okay, are there any more questions? I would love to hear what you have to say, if not I have a secret bonus question that I can bring out. Okay, yes.
01:03:01 Q4 First of all thank you for this amazing panel. Then all of, as far as I understand, all of the sex workers with disability in this panel have invisible disability, and I was just thinking, I work in a primary school and almost every child with a diagnosis for an invisible disability is a boy or is perceived to be a boy. And I wondered if had an experience of how, I don’t know, if you feel like you have experienced, in your life, like… sort of like a gender discrimination in the way in which you were able to learn about your disability, understand it and if that you feel has shaped the way in which you have been able to access the shitty job market that we horridly all have to access, and how that also impacts the way in which you are able to engage in your work?
01:04:08 RT Yeah, no I only got diagnosed with autism a few months ago, and it wasn’t picked up in childhood and I think that that is a patriarchal thing, that women are—there’s more pressure on women to adapt socially and accommodate people’s emotional needs and learn the language quick for survival. And also it’s the patriarchy that has put me in a position where I rely on men paying me for my sexuality to survive. And it’s kind of like, “Oh, thank God I’m—I don’t look—thank God the patriarchy really helped me out there with my career in prostitution by making my autism so undetectable!” [chuckles] Yeah I think… I don’t have an answer, but I think that’s interesting, that like, how it intertwines like that.
01:05:15 LC I have two things to say. I’ll try and keep them small. So the first, it took me six years to, since I first went to the doctor, to be diagnosed with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, which like, even today they’re still… they’re still diagnosing people with my disability with something called Conversion Disorder, which is the modern term for hysteria! Right? And I did not believe I had chronic pain because when I expressed pain when I was younger, people would tell me I was “being girly,” so I was like, “Everyone feels like this all the time and I’m over-dramatic!” And there’s definitely this thing where like, as people who present as women, we’re taught to just shut up about our struggles, and kind of discredited and disbelieved about things. So definitely that. But also where it intersects with sex work is quite interesting with me. There’s this thing in trans activism called trans broken arm syndrome, where you go to the doctor with a broken arm, and they try and they try and pin it to being trans. So they go, “Oh, your hormones that you’re taking have weakened your bones,” or something. So there’s a similar thing with sex work. And the reason I can’t be honest with health professionals about my job is because you go in, and if they know you’re a sex worker, they’ll be like, “Oh you’ve had a sore throat for this many weeks? Gonorrhoea!” And like, immediately without doing any tests, and they’ll just kind of try and pin everything back to your job, because obviously, that must be what’s wrong with you. So there is definitely this difficulty when you’re disabled and you’re a sex worker where healthcare practitioners just don’t trust you to define your own experiences, and also they pathologize us and they just think we’re dirty whores.
01:07:12 TR Yeah, my autism is also a self-diagnosis, because again, it wasn’t picked up as a kid, and on track to get an adult diagnosis is going to take five years. Mine was. I’m not sure how quick, how long yours took.
01:07:28 RT I actually have a different experience to everyone I’ve ever spoken to about this, where I asked my GP for a referral, and it was all sorted in a month.
01:07:38 TR Wow.
01:07:39 RT But I think that’s because I am quite well spoken and I can argue my point quite well, I’m quite good with boundaries, and I was well-researched—like, I don’t know, I was just very like, I said all the right things at the right time, and….
01:07:58 TR I went to my GP and said the word ‘neurodiverse’ and he went, “What?” And I was like, “Neurodiverse,” and he was like, “I don’t know what that means.” I was like, “Okay, cool, this bodes well for the rest of the conversation.”
01:08:10 RT Yeah, I was just super lucky. I know that’s not the experience of most women trying to get an autism diagnosis.
01:08:15 TR So I’m not really sure how long it’s going to take for me to get the official diagnosis, so I’m self-diagnosed until such a point in which I can get an actual diagnosis. Which, again, I’m not sure how much that relates to me not being a boy, if it would have been picked up when I was a boy and I was younger. But here we are. [Chuckles] Self-diagnosed. And feeding back to what you were saying, as well, I was a lot more overweight when I was a kid, and they do the same thing where it’s like, “Oh, if you lose some weight, you’ll be better. If you lose some weight you’ll focus better. If you lose some weight, everything will be better.” And it’s like, “Okay, but that’s not what I’m asking you about. That isn’t… that’s fine.” So yeah. I think it definitely feeds into that. Women, from when you’re a child, you’re expected to be a very specific way, and I think society is very prone towards making you fit that certain way before they do anything else. So you’ve got to be exactly what they want from you as a, a girl, before they go, “Hey, maybe, maybe you have a disability.”
01:09:22 CH Regarding how sex work is pathologized, I’ve had two relevant experiences, one being when I had a weird white lump on my tongue, I went to the walk in clinic and they said, “We think this is a wart.” It’s very, very rare to get tongue warts, but of course I believed them because of course they’re the medical professionals. Several doctors appointment later and a referral to a specialist, they said, “Oh, it’s just from”—the specialist said, “Oh, it’s just from your tongue rubbing on your teeth. It’s friction. Don’t worry about it.” I remain convinced that this complete waste of everyone’s time and energy would not have happened if I hadn’t said, “I’m a sex worker.” Additionally, when I was most recently admitted to a psychiatric unit, which was a little bit more than a year ago now, when they were asking me in the initial intake about my life and I said, “I’m a sex worker,” the first thing—they said, “Alright, let’s print off some information to give you.” And I was like, “Well I didn’t ask for any information. I don’t feel like I need information. I have a great peer to peer support network. Why are you giving me this?” And they were like, “Well, we think you might need it because you’re a sex worker.” And I was like okay, well, I feel like your energy could be better spent helping people who actually need it, but alright then, if you want to give me this information I guess I can’t stop you. It was very much not responsive to my needs at all. What I needed was somebody saying, more like, “Okay great, how can we support you in your job?” rather than giving me information designed to make me leave my job. Emily, do you have input on this?
01:11:09 ERY I’ve nothing else to say. [Audience laughs]
01:11:14 CH Okay, I think we’re almost out of time. We probably have time for one—are we almost out of time? [inaudible speaker off mic 01:11:21] Okay, we probably have time for one more pretty quick question, if we have any from the audience? No? No? Alright, okay. Here’s something that I want to discuss very, very quickly. This is my secret bonus question that I’ve been really waiting for an opportunity to get out. But I would for very quick responses because we are basically out of time. So I’ve read a few articles in the press and a few sex workers said to me that they have encountered this attitude that sex work is an easy way out of the benefit system, and that people start sex work after encounters with the benefit system as an ‘easy’ escape. Thoughts?
01:12:02 RT I’ve heard someone say before that sex work isn’t easy money, it’s quick money, and I think that’s quite a good way of putting it.
01:12:13 LC My thoughts are: fuck that. Yeah, like, nothing is easy about my job. It was just picking between two impossibly difficult things.
01:12:25 TR Yeah. It’s not really easy, it’s just an alternative. I think people always think it’s easy. You see posts on Facebook like, “Hey, if someone offered you £2000 for a good photo of your foot would you do it?” And it’s like, no one is out here paying £2000 for a foot photo, hun.
01:12:39 CH “Oh my God, fuck school I’m going to be a stripper!”
01:12:43 TR Yeah, it’s not an easy alternative to anything. It is an alternative that is there. You can make quite a bit of money. It’s not easy. You put in just as much effort to make the money. It’s just over —you might get murdered. It’s just over a shorter period of time, with a higher risk of death. Sex work! [Audience laughs and applauds]
01:13:10 CH Emily, can we have some, a quick answer to this one?
01:13:12 ERY I think that kind of very nicely sums up [chuckles] the whole thing doesn’t it? It should be an option. It shouldn’t be the only option. It shouldn’t be seen as an easy option. It shouldn’t be seen as any of those things. It should be seen as an option for people, an option for disabled clients, but the problem that we have is at the moment it’s kind of seen as much more than that. Or not given the support that it should be.
01:13:38 LC My final thought is that our other option should be that we get to eat the rich and take all of their money. [Audience applauds and cheers].
01:13:49 CH I definitely think that for me sex work is difficult, but it is easier than barely being able to pay my rent on the benefit system. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy—that doesn’t mean it’s easy; it’s just slightly less difficult. Okay, we are out of time, so can I just ask for very quick closing remarks from panellists. If we start at Emily and work this way.
01:14:12 ERY Sorry, that previous remark was my closing remark!
01:14:17 CH My apologies.
01:14:19 TR Yeah, I think I did mine too.
01:14:22 LC I reiterate: eat the rich. [Audience laughs]
01:14:27 CH So, our takeaways are, decriminalisation is vital. Sex work can help disabled people, but it shouldn’t have to. There should be other options. And eat the rich! Alright! Thank you everyone for coming! [Audience applauds and cheers]
[End of recording]