It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice! - Samuel T. Coleridge, “Kubla Khan”
My oldest surviving male friend, whom I’ll call “Charlie”, once said to me, “You’re extremely rational, for a woman.” He meant it as a teasing compliment, a way to say something nice while still having a bit of fun with me, and I appreciated it in that spirit. People (mostly men) have been complimenting my rationality for almost 20 years now; regular reader PWS wasn’t the first person to remark that I might be part Vulcan. But other people (for about 30 years now) have expressed the same general idea from a less sympathetic frame of reference; I’ve been called “cold-hearted”, “cruel” and even (in extreme cases, again mostly by men) “inhuman”. That’s very strange to me, because others describe me as “sweet”, “warm”, “kind”, “sympathetic”, “generous”, etc. It’s almost as though they’re describing two different people, but they’re not: water and ice are the same thing, after all, only in different states.
To those I care about, those who approach me as friends, those who seek out my help, and even those who smile at me in the aisles of shops, I am full of the milk of human kindness. But those who harm or insult me or mine, those who approach me with hostility and those who demand my obedience or attempt to control me via threats, find that milk frozen harder than antarctic ice. That’s when my “Vulcan” side comes out, and I treat the threat, human or otherwise, as I would treat any troublesome situation: as a problem to be solved. Allowing oneself to feel sorry for a venomous serpent about to strike is a good way to get killed, and allowing quarter to an implacable enemy is like nursing such a serpent at one’s bosom. I’m all for fairness and rules of engagement, and as I said in Monday’s column I have no desire to harm potentially-innocent bystanders. But only a fool desists from smiting an actively aggressive enemy; any foe who expects mercy from me must first break off combat and retreat.
One would think this would be an elementary concept, yet in the escalating conflict between those who want all individuals free to make their own sexual decisions and the busybodies who want to make those decisions for everyone, advocates like myself are now being asked to feel sympathy for people who would like nothing better than to see our entire profession eradicated, our members enslaved in sweatshops or committed to reprogramming, and our clients imprisoned, humiliated and ruined. On a number of occasions in just the past few weeks I’ve been asked to spare the feelings of people who would as soon put a bullet in my brain as look at me, and who have used every available opportunity to libel, defame and insult sex worker rights activists. To anyone who wants me to empathize with “survivors” who allow themselves to be used as weapons by prohibitionists, I say this: If I were in a country troubled by violent fanatics and I saw a six-year-old girl running toward me with enough high explosives to send me to my ancestors six times over, I would indeed feel sorry for her; I might even cry later and say a prayer for her soul. But I also wouldn’t hesitate to pull the trigger before she could get close enough to take me with her. And if you think it’s better to let her blow up everyone in the general vicinity just so you can go to Hades with a clear conscience, you’ll have to forgive me for calling you a silly ass.
One final point: most of the people who criticize my apparent lack of compassion for soi-disant “survivors” make the completely unsupported assumption that these women’s statements can be taken at face value, which they cannot; real sex work experiences, like real human experiences in any area, are complex and nuanced, and vary with the individuals who experience them. This is not so with weaponized “survivor” narratives, which are simple, one-dimensional and sensationalistic, and vary very little from the prescribed model invented by Melissa Farley, Donna Hughes, Sheila Jeffreys, et al. Real sex work experiences can often be verified by empirical evidence, such as corroborating accounts and methodologically-sound studies; “survivor” narratives must be accepted on faith, without any valid evidence whatsoever…according to some, even in the face of evidence that proves their falsity. As I explained in “Imagination Pinned Down”, “trafficking” and “survivor” narratives not only strongly resemble each other, but also the tales told by those who claim to have been Satanically abused or abducted by aliens. If these women were as harmless as UFO cultists we could afford the luxury of empathy, but that is not the case; as long as fanatics and governments use them as tools to restrict the rights of millions, we have no choice but to turn a cold, scientific eye to their stories. If someone’s claims that vaccines cause autism were being used as the excuse to ban them, wouldn’t you want those claims proven? How sympathetic would you feel toward self-proclaimed “victims of vaccination” whose efforts might result in the deaths of thousands of children from diseases conquered decades ago? Not very, I’ll wager. I’m sympathetic to women who have truly suffered, or even believe they have suffered, as long as they do not use their trauma as an excuse to interfere with the lives of others. But once they align themselves with dangerous, aggressive enemies, I can’t afford that empathy any longer.