Tuesday, 14 May 2013
Today saw the announcement that the Highland Council has granted a licence for a strip club to open in the capital of the highlands, Inverness. As the local MSP, Rhoda Grant was not best impressed by the news and was quoted as saying - “Introducing a lap dancing venue to the city is a step in the wrong direction and a blow to equality and woman’s rights." The Women's Support project weren't exactly hanging out the bunting either, saying - "Lap Dancing is recognised as a form of violence against women, as highlighted in the Scottish Government national approach to– “Safer Lives Changed Lives.”
As a former pole/lap dancer and a survivor of real violence, I strongly oppose the views expressed above.
When I lived in London (and that was a long time ago) I worked for a spell as a lap dancer. I wouldn't say I was particularly good, my talents came into play after the voyeuristic gentleman who had just paid for a private dance would ask me to join him in his booth for a glass of champagne. This was a sure sign that at some point we would negotiate a deal and I would go back to his hotel for a couple of hours. In reality, the club didn't care provided we ensured the men kept buying over priced and horrendous bubbly. Some of the girls who worked at the club however, operated a different strategy entirely.
Touching any of the dancers was strictly prohibited, and any 'gent' who attempted it was ejected, rules were rules. Some dancers used that rule to it's maximum effect and simply danced all night, doing very well on tips and private dances and at the end of the night, they simply packed up and went home. Whether you simply danced the night away or went back to the gent's hotel room, both activities fell under the umbrella of the sex industry. So, is dancing around a pole or going back to a hotel to indulge in paid consensual sex 'violence against women' ?
A long time ago whilst still in Dublin I had a partner, let's call him P. He told me that he imported and exported furniture, which would of course explain his beautiful car and wads of cash. I was later to find out that what he imported could best be described as 'recreational substances', but by then it was too late and I couldn't leave him, quite simply because I was too afraid.
It started with a push, late one night after I had been out with friends for a few drinks and hadn't called him to say I was on my way home. When I eventually did get home, he pushed me with both hands such that I flew backwards and hit the hob of the cooker, bruising and injuring my back. All the colour drained from his face and he burst into tears - 'I'm so sorry, I don't know what came over me and I'll never do it again'. We went to bed in silence, and I vowed then to begin the process of breaking up with him, but it would need to be slowly, and it would need to look like it was the best thing for him in the long run, because as a controller, he never liked to lose.
Fast forward some six weeks and P and I were out for a meal, it was getting late. The waiter was overly friendly as they tend to be when they're looking for a huge tip and made a fawning ceremony over giving me an Irish coffee, saying that phone numbers were part of the required price. I could see the fury building up in P's face and I knew there was going to be trouble. I tried to appease him before we left the restaurant and whilst we were still in public but to no avail, he was cutting me off with one word answers and flatly refused to look me in the eye. We settled the bill and headed out to the car, in public P liked to be seen as a gentleman and so when he leaned in behind me towards the passenger door, I thought he was going to open it in an exaggerated gesture of chivalry. Not quite.
He grabbed my hair at the back of my head and smashed my face down on to the roof of the car with such force that I really thought I was going to lose consciousness. My nose exploded and the blood just seemed surreal to me, like I was looking at the aftermath of someone else's injury. Bundling me into the car, he drove like a lunatic through the streets of Dublin until we reached his flat and he took me out of the car in what looked like a protective gesture, with my head bowed so that none of the neighbours could see what was really happening.
After that began the beatings, and they came regularly - often with no reason that I could determine at all. Full force punches to the face, and as he was right handed, it was my left eye which took the worst of it, yep - the one which hangs a little lower and twitches. Leaving me in such a state was a double plus for a brutal psychopath like P, because not only could he take out all of his angers and frustrations on someone who was terrified of him, he also knew that when I was badly marked I wouldn't leave the apartment, and so he had control, because with abusers, it is ALWAYS about control.
One Friday afternoon, having spent three days in hiding, I ventured out of the apartment to go the bank and pay some bills, head bowed and in large sunglasses. I (quite literally) ran into a local Rathmines Garda, who was only too familiar with P and his notoriety and I suppose, our relationship. "If you don't leave him, he is going to kill you, it's just a matter of time. You do know that, right ?" I knew he was right and so I planned my escape with all the precision of a bank raid. I waited until I knew he was going to be out for at least six hours and caught a cab to Dublin airport, all I knew was I was going to London and after that, I would work it out. It was the longest hour of my life waiting for that flight to be called and I waited for the call, or the hand on my shoulder.
I landed in London Heathrow with 160 Irish punts in my purse and found a cheap hotel near Soho. As green as I was, I thought if you wanted a job in the sex industry in London, then Soho is where you went to, and I found a job that first night in a clip joint, which I didn't know was all about ripping the client off. I didn't want to stay there and hated it, and it can't have gone unnoticed because an older lady, Rosa, came to my rescue. She was Spanish and very kind, in a matronly manner.
"Why you here ? Why you no dance, huh ?"
I tried to explain that I didn't have a clue what I was doing, much less where I was going but she reassured me that she had a room to rent in Willesden Green because her son was in Spain for the summer with his father.
"You come with me".
Well, my options were rather limited and I was about to run out of money, so I did as instructed and the next night, Rosa took me to the first of many 'gentleman's clubs' I was to work in. To this day I remain firmly of the belief that sometimes, people are put in your path for a reason, either to get you out of a tight spot or to teach you something about yourself. Rosa and I are still in touch to this day and I can never thank her enough for what she did.
In that club, I found solidarity and I found camaraderie with the other women. I also found independence and a freedom from fear. I was safe, at last.
In summary, do you still think lap dancing is 'violence against women' ? In my case, it probably saved my life.
Monday, 29 April 2013
Let me make this clear from the outset - I hate vomiting, it's the most disgusting sight, smell and sensation, EVER.
Sometimes though, I guess it's a necessary evil, the body's way of getting rid of that which doesn't belong or will cause harm, such as the bug which provided me with a very rude awakening at 4am this morning. I looked skywards as I often do and loudly remonstrated with anyone else who happened to be awake - "YOU ARE HAVING A GIRAFFE, RIGHT ?" This was the morning I was to jet off to London for three days to fulfill an exciting schedule and meet up with some old friends too. Alas, it was not to be and I have spent the majority of today in the bathroom, so much so that if I am ever called upon to go on Mastermind, my chosen area of expertise will no longer be the sex industry. No, it will be the ingredients of every shampoo and toilet cleaner ever invented.
Come the afternoon, I had reached the conclusion that there couldn't rationally be ANYTHING else left to come up, so I took several ginger sips of water and headed out to do some messages and praying to God that I wouldn't run into a client looking like something Boy Cat had coughed up. My first port of call was a place which was all too familiar to me, bored looking employees trying to look vaguely interested in a pep talk being given to them by their line manager, who was playing to the crowd more than anything else - David Brent is alive and well and working in financial services in Ayrshire. I thought back to my time on the corporate hamster wheel and gave thanks to the Goddess for Fallen Women that I am now a very happily self employed hooker. No more pep talks for me, no sirree.
I was once sent on a course on the effective management of waste paper, which lasted three days - I kid you not. I amused myself by playing hangman with a lad from Inverness, who insisted 'Dallas' only had one 'l' to the point where the supervisor asked if we had something we would like to share with the rest of the group. Actually, we had - but it was most certainly not up for discussion with the course attendees and that very morning over breakfast we had vowed to never speak of it again. (Well, what do you expect ? Put some young delegates in a Glasgow hotel for three nights and give them twenty pounds dinner allowance, one pound will be spent on a bowl of chips and the rest on alcohol. QED.) Those course 'facilitators' had a knack of making us feel like we had the intellectual abilities of a turnip, I still recall with horror the opening line every morning - "Let's start with a fun game, a wee ice breaker". The only fun to be had with that was going in my mind from ice breaker to ice pick and entertaining a horrific imaginary scene of corporate violence.
Having 'enjoyed' all of those memories whilst standing in the queue, I realized it was almost my turn to reach the counter. I also realized that my stomach was starting to churn. Then came the sweating and the dry throat, that awful sensation when you just know what's coming. As I saw it I had two choices - run out onto the street and try and find a bin or upchuck right there and then. The street was out because it was lunchtime and literally heaving with sandwich laden suits. With seconds to spare I just made it to the waste paper basket beside David Brent before decorating it in style with the accompanying sound effects. There was a sharp intake of horror and a laden silence. This one would have to be brazened out.
"I hope you've all brushed up on your disposal techniques, yes ? Have a lovely afternoon".
With a flick of my hair and a flash of my broadest smile, I strode out the door and into the sunshine. Perhaps vomiting isn't so bad after all.
Wednesday, 17 April 2013
With the final arrival of Spring comes the promise of new life and hope, unless of course, you're an Edinburgh panda.
Many years ago I was dating a lovely chap who was very much of the 'open your mouth and think later' school of thought. We were watching television in my parents' lounge which is what you did when you were romantically linked and aged fourteen. Much to my delight, one of my favourite advertisements of all time came on, that Kit Kat ad with the dancing pandas, tormenting a photographer. The future father to my children watched agog, before asking in amazement - "Jaysus, how did they train the pandas to do that ?"
The Mother sucked air in through her teeth and my dad muttered 'Jesus Christ' under his breath before exiting stage left, to let the dogs out for a toilet break and I imagine, kick various inanimate objects around the back garden. At that moment, the future father to my children became my future nothing at all, but my love of pandas had just begun.
As a sex worker, I know that the male of the species can have severe anxiety around their performance at the best of times. Scores of people filing past the enclosure every day staring at you is bad enough, but when you have people in white coats with clipboards doing all but roar -"GO ON MY SON", then I think we need to take a step back and just let nature do it's thing.
To add to their angst, the pandas are socially aware too. Don't believe me ? They're on Twitter (@TheJockPandas) and recently tweeted this - "I guess unless we knock out a baby Panda soon we're going to get clobbered for the Bedroom Tax?" Well, it would seem that the worry is going to be taken out of the whole transaction as it now emerges that Yang Guang is a 'different animal' to last year (for which read so horny he's about to explode) and Tian Tian is to be artificially inseminated.
Personally I deem it a great shame that they can't be allowed to just get on with it, although I do love this quote from STV - 'The panda cams have been switched off in preparation for the love tunnel being opened'. Whoever penned that can't have had a straight face.
Friday, 29 March 2013
If there's one thing which maddens me beyond all reason, it's the portrayal of clients/punters/call them what you will in the media. With the proposed introduction of the Swedish model, never before has it been more evident that those in 'power' really don't have a clue about the realities of our client base. Truly, I am sick to death of hearing my clients described as little more than lust filled animals with all the sensibilities of a zombie.
Just as sex workers are individual human beings, so too are our clients. Speaking for myself, I have an extremely diverse client base, it's really impossible to bracket them into one group, because they come from all walks of life, backgrounds, beliefs, ethnicities. I don't ask a lot of my guys, just that they treat me with respect and that they meet my standards of discretion and hygiene. After that, they can worship the Flying Spaghetti Monster for all I care, once they don't think they're going to convert me to Pastafarianism.
Over and over again, I hear in debates that we need to stop those men, those who 'feed the industry' with their demands, using coercion and force to get what they want. We really need to step back from the stereotype of a dirty old man in a mac looking around him furtively as he negotiates a price with a girl on a street corner.
Here are some client profiles -
1. He got married at 20, he's now 50. He adores his wife, who's given him three beautiful children and would do anything for her. They haven't had sex for five years now, because she's developed MS. For those five years, he has battled with his conscience. He can't have an affair because well, that involves feelings and people will get hurt, but he can't deny the physical needs he has.
2. As a young man, he left a job in the city to care for his father full time. He gets four hours reprieve a week when a carer paid for by the state comes in, and he uses this time to visit a local escort, where they open a bottle of wine and share a bubble bath together. It is this time which he treasures.
3. He got married young and it quickly became apparent that the marriage was wrong. There is violence in the marital home, she regularly assaults him, but because he has now become a public figure he can never report that, much less leave her. Provided he keeps her credit card topped up, she turns a blind eye when he books into a hotel one night a month and hires an escort.
4. As a teenager he was reckless and fell in with the wrong crowd. He began 'joy riding' which culminated in a horrific smash. Since then, he has been confined to a wheelchair and has no sensation from the waist down. He feels his injuries are God's way of punishing him for his behaviour and he frequently sinks into long bouts of black depression, even contemplating ending his life. What keeps him going is the periodic visits he gets from a sex worker, when he enjoys a sensual massage.
5. As a young boy, he was repeatedly and savagely raped by a close family member. He has serious issues with body dysmorphia and self esteem as a result. He wants to learn to enjoy sex as an act of love and tenderness, so that he can disassociate it from violence and terror.
The above examples are real clients, my clients. Are these the men we need to criminalise ? No. The men we need to (further) criminalise are the traffickers, those who trade in misery and suffering. Leave the men who are already dealing with their own misery and suffering alone.
Sunday, 10 March 2013
Ironic, isn't it, that my first bout of 'sex education' came from a Catholic nun, Sr. Noreen, or Boreen Noreen as she was affectionately known. Noreen was a kind soul and deeply uncomfortable with the subject matter. Mortified, she explained that sanitary towels were always to be worn with the sticky side down, because to fail in that could lead to abject discomfort.
I say ironic because on International Women's Day, I was listening to the Sisters of Mercy try to defend the indefensible with regard to the Magdalene Laundries. I very nearly pitied them. Until I remembered that the same order of nuns responsible for the atrocities committed in the laundries are now the chief anti sex work protagonists in Ireland. Now known as Ruhama, the same nuns that bullied and victimised those 'fallen women' for generations are still at it, although if the interview I just heard is anything to go by, it's nothing to do with funding, it's from the goodness of their hearts, obviously. You'd have to wonder then, exactly what they've done with over fourteen million euros since 2006.
Asked about whether the work the women endured in the laundries was 'slavery', the nuns replied, with regard to prostitution - " The women who work in our towns and villages today, that's slavery. Doing stuff you don't want to do under coercion". That was a pretty impressive deflection attempt, but nowhere near successful. The fact remains, the Magdalene women were forced to work long hours, and (allegedly) had to endure physical, mental and sexual abuse. They were separated from their babies, their families and their friends and in some cases became so institutionalised that the only solution was for them to remain in the laundries until they died. If that's not slavery then I don't know what is.
To refer to sex workers who choose to travel around Ireland having consensual sex as slaves is erroneous and quite frankly, offensive. I say offensive because it paints a picture of poor vulnerable women who can't or won't choose their own destinies and are at the mercy of abusers. Not true. The vast majority of women in prostitution in Ireland are there by choice and are more than capable of controlling their own lives, I know because I am one of them and have met many others, over many years.
The nuns who were being interviewed were then asked about their decision to remain anonymous and their reply was very interesting to say the least. They said that they are being 'cast out into the desert to get rid of the stigma' and that should their identities become known, they would be 'stoned'. What about the women who were cast out of society for the 'sin' of bearing a child ? Those women had to endure stigma as do the many sex workers in Ireland today. It also begs the question, if the nuns are so resolute in their claims of innocence, what have they got to hide ? Why the secrecy ?
One question I was very interested in the reply to centred around funding, and they were asked what became of the money that was earned in the laundries. They replied that it was used to pay for the keep of the women and that actually, the nuns led very frugal lives. How odd then, that I can easily source a report from The Irish Examiner which estimates the wealth of The Sisters of Mercy at €1.6bn. Having regard to that figure, can anyone really claim that an award of compensation of €200,000 per victim is excessive ? How can one begin to quantify the pain and suffering those women endured, losing their precious babies and years of their lives ?
Further on in the interview, the nuns went on to explain that as a society, we are "looking with today eyes at a totally different era". Therein lies the ultimate irony, because I believe that unless Ruhama and their co-abolitionists are stopped from State sponsored bullying of sex workers, then another apology from Enda Kenny's successor will not be enough. As an enlightened and modern society, the oppression of Irish and migrant sex workers can no longer be justified.
Wednesday, 27 February 2013
No-one has ever yet written "The Guide to Perfect Parenting", in principal because the perfect parent doesn't exist. Babies don't come with a Haynes manual which tells you what to do in the event of an unplanned exhaust leak which escapes the utilised protection and slowly makes it's way down the legs of your trolley and onto the floor of Asda. Or what to do when they work themselves up into such a state of temper that they bang their heads in tune to the over priced soothing baby lullaby CD you just purchased. There's no trouble shooting flow chart or help desk. Instinctively, you just know, and with that knowledge comes a solution, tailor made to every diazepam inducing incident.
But while we can all meet once a week and bitch (sorry, empathise) over coffee about our little darlings and their latest attempts to have us sectioned, in my experience it's the same subjects which arise for discussion over and over, 'Is my child showing the first signs of psychosis ?', or 'Why do they behave for every other fecker but me ?' One subject very worthy of discussion has yet to come up in our group, and it is simply this - how to instil a sense of social justice in your child. Of course, they will form their own core values and belief system, but children can very quickly become a product of their environment.
A long time ago and in an Irish kitchen far away, my Dad was preparing a carcass, when I swept in the door from school.
"Hi Dad, what's for dinner ?"
"Oh, this is just an auld mutt I found on the road, hit by a car, so I thought - waste not, want not".
I was speechless with anger, after all, our house had become known as the de facto shelter for every waif and stray. Flaring my nostrils as I do when I'm very cross indeed, I loudly declared -
"RIGHT. THAT'S IT. I AM NOT EATING ANY MORE MEAT IN THIS HOUSE UNTIL SUCH TIME AS THE ATTITUDE OF THIS FAMILY HAS CHANGED TOWARDS THE WELFARE OF ERM ... DEAD ANIMALS."
To this day I don't know how my father kept a straight face, in any event, my 'protest' lasted until the following Saturday morning when our traditional fry up was filling those flared nostrils of mine with aromas so beautiful I could stand it no longer. I slouched into the kitchen and announced - "Sure the pig won't mind anyway, he's in heaven".
Fast forward some twenty years and suddenly it befalls me to combat those highly enjoyable convivial jousts as they arise. It started one balmy evening as LP and I were watching television and some horrifying footage of starving children in Africa was being shown. Studying her little face, the wheels of cognition could almost be observed, spinning furiously.
"Yes sweetpea ?"
"Sure that baby doesn't have any food ?"
"No love, none."
"No juice either ?"
"No, no juice either."
"No blankies ?"
"No sweetie, nothing."
She thought about this state of affairs, long and hard before her face lit up with all the excitement of a ground breaking solution to world hunger.
"Well then her mammy should have gone to Tesco's, shouldn't she ?"
Clearly, there was a lot of work to be done. In mitigation, she was very young then and has since grown to grasp the basics, such as - the oppression of minority groups is never acceptable. She even gets the concept that one person's moral code should never dictate the sexual freedoms of a society, whether those freedoms are exercised in a commercial sense or in the privacy of one's bedroom. Quite impressive for a twelve year old really.
Less impressive was this evening's display of pre-teen plumage. I had not long returned from a long day at a photo shoot and I was tired and cranky. On entering the kitchen, there stood a triumphant boy cat, licking his chops having just enjoyed the last remaining scraps of ice cream, as offered to him in a cereal bowl.
"For Christ's sake, can we not share the crockery with the animals ? Especially when he spends the vast majority of his day with his tongue between his thighs ?"
"SHAME ON YOU. CATS HAVE RIGHTS TOO."
Yep, it's going to be a long week.
Monday, 11 February 2013
Unless you've had your head in a microwave for the past ten days or so, you may have noticed that I 'came out', by the back door and rather quietly. I knew it was going to happen at some point and in many ways I was ready, but there were some final preparations to be done. Last Christmas I told my family that I was going to go public, and the response was very mixed. Although I have the full support of most, there has been a major rift, one which I'm not sure will ever heal. That hurts.
Upon my return to work, the media were back in force - a piece in The Sun and an appearance on The Stephen Nolan show in Belfast. Coming up I have an interview with a women's magazine and a German television company are looking to film a documentary. And I now have an agent. Yes, really.
The whole thing has felt so surreal for me, I still struggle with the notion that these people want to speak to me. I have been doing what I do for years and suddenly boom. What's that all about ?
The one aspect of media work which I'm finding very rewarding although hugely challenging is my opposition to the imposition of the Swedish model in Ireland, both North and South, and this is why I had to 'come out' to my family. When you film a live studio debate on BBC1 Northern Ireland, since that's the native channel in my home town, I had to prepare my folks. I thought I was prepared, though I'm aware that the anti's in Ireland fight dirtier than I've ever come across before, I'm talking below the realms of acceptability. Lies, false statistics, wheeling out actresses as 'survivors' of the sex trade to speak for them, all of which is of course to protect precious NGO salaries. What I wasn't prepared for, was The Haters.
Some of you who read my blog will no doubt keep an eye on my Twitter feed too, but for those of you who don't, I'm going to copy some of the tweets which followed my appearance on The Nolan Show and which I retweeted on the night. Let me be quite clear on this, I did that not to gain sympathy or support, but because I think it's very important that the general public are made aware of the level of sheer vitriol and hatred there is out there towards sex workers, it's horrid. And I warn you now, the language contained within these tweets isn't pleasant either. Here they are -
paying for sex should be illegal if that stinkin awwl cunt is a prostitute! #BBCNolan
She's a hooker? Eeee she's minging.. #bbcNolan
#BBCNolan why is this whore on Ur show?????????? Disgusting!!!!!!!!!
Get a proper job like everyone else you dirty slag #BBCNolan
If you pay for sex with thon article in the studio, the show should be about mental health. #BBCNolan
#bbcnolan that woman presenting prostitution as a viable career choice is such a hideous role model for young women.
Only a desperate man would pay money to buck that thing #bbcnolan
#BBCNolan that dragon is woeful looking. Wouldn't ride her into battle
The argument of prostitution would be better swayed with a fit bird. I wouldnt give thon a tesco coupon. #BBCNolan
Shocked ? I was too. Yes, I have some weight to lose, not that it's ever held me back with bookings. Yes, I'm tired, I've been pushing myself to the absolute limit for the past twelve months, balancing escorting, student life, activism and being a mother. There hasn't been very much time for me to just relax in that, at all. Yes, my make up was dire, lesson learned.
To those haters who pointed out that I was shaking like a leaf and musing about whether that was down to Class A drug use, have a word with yourselves. To go on national television, in my home country and without obscuring my identity was singularly the most terrifying thing I have ever done, and when the first question was - "You're a prostitute, aren't you ?" I knew there was no turning back. I'm out now, and out for good. So, if I was shaking it was because I was so nervous I thought I was going to faint, or throw up, I just wasn't sure which.
To those haters who pointed out that one of my eyebrows is a little higher then the other and referred to me as a 'spa', my left eye has permanent nerve damage thanks to my violent ex-partner and so tends to droop a little, especially when I'm stressed or tired.
You see, my job in going into the studio that evening was not to win over Lord Morrow, that's never going to happen. Neither was it to win over the presenter, he was there to do a job, and he did it very well. No, my job that evening was to get the audience on my side, and I believe I achieved that, with the exception of the young guy who called me 'disgusting', although that didn't come over in the audio.
I don't want you to lose faith though, ever. For every hater there are three people who sent me messages of support, including some journalists who follow me on Twitter, one of whom wrote - "no human being deserves to be spoken to like that".
I also don't want you to think that I've been dissuaded from fighting for the rights of sex workers, not at all.
In the aftermath of the show I met up with Mark Pollock, a truly inspirational man and an example to us all. We chatted about representing minority groups, facing the media and overcoming personal obstacles. In fact we were still chatting at 2.30am, he is a fascinating person and I was just star struck by his sheer positivity.
Positivity is indeed the way forward, Haters - and in the words of Christina Aguilera, "Thanks for making me a fighter".