I have no respect for the passion for equality, which seems to me merely idealizing envy. – Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr
Among the few facts about sex work that everyone agrees upon is that there is a “whorearchy”, a sort of class system among sex workers. Now, nobody agrees on anything about that system, only that it exists. Many strippers, dominatrices, porn actresses, etc insist not only that they aren’t whores, but that they’re better than we are; those whose professions have separated enough from ours that they aren’t even considered sex workers any more (such as actresses and especially masseuses) can be very pompous about it. Prostitutes, on the other hand, sometimes see themselves as better, smarter, more discreet, etc than strippers or porn starlets; sugar babies and other halfway whores deny that they’re sex workers at all; and some unusually self-deluded escorts will even try to draw imaginary lines separating themselves from other hookers. “Authorities” in criminalization and legalization regimes devote great effort to erecting arbitrary barriers between “tolerable” and “intolerable” varieties of harlotry, and sometimes to cementing the strata in place; cops and prosecutors delight in tricking “legal” sex workers into breaking their ridiculous rules (or falsely claiming that they did) in order to have an excuse for victimizing them; and sex worker advocates expend considerable efforts in hand-wringing and lamentation over “classism”.
To a degree, these activists are right; a whore is a whore is a whore, and legal, moral or procedural lines serve only to break people into smaller groups which are more easily dominated by the power-hungry. If you accept money from someone that he gives due to sexual interest in you, then you are a whore and everything else is just semantics. When politicians, pundits or rulers use some arbitrary determinant like penetration, duration, location or motivation to bless some harlots while damning others, what they’re actually doing is reducing the size of the group who might oppose them and winning supporters from among those granted legitimacy. This is why I’m harshly unsympathetic to those who vehemently maintain that their species of sex work or sensual therapy is absolutely not prostitution: all they’re doing is throwing other women under the bus, and if we had all stuck together from the beginning of second-wave feminism half a century ago, prostitution would’ve been decriminalized long ago and many women who are now dead or damaged might still be alive and healthy.
At the same time, it’s madness to pretend that at the present level of human evolution there can ever be such a thing as a classless society. Human beings, like other social animals, naturally form cliques, packs and tribes, and such groups inevitably develop hierarchies. Some people are natural leaders and others natural followers, even outside of a formal structure; the Founding Fathers intended the US to be classless, but look what’s happened to it. Nor are Marxists and Occupiers correct in their insistence that it’s always the rich who control everything; at our present stage of history money is indeed the single most powerful force, but it hasn’t always been that way and won’t always be in the future. And those who rail about “the 1%” forget that there are lots of ways to get into that fraction: birth, popularity, talent, intelligence, ambition, luck, sex appeal, and even plain animal cunning are all paths to riches and power, so pretending that there is still some elite caste inevitably born to the purple is disingenuous in the extreme. Even those who are uninterested in influence over others sometimes find themselves in a position of leadership or control; some people have superior organizational skills, determination or intelligence which allows them to build infrastructures in which others freely choose to participate in exchange for money or whatever other return the organizer needs. Such a person suddenly finds himself a manager or director of a company, co-op or club whom others turn to for guidance, even though his only motivation at the start was to make things easier, better or more comfortable for himself and his immediate dependents.
This is why I tend to tune out when sex worker activists start blathering about “privilege” as though it were some specific quality like height, skin color, IQ or income. There is no single quality in the modern world which confers “privilege” as birth once could, not even money or education. I’m not denying that some people are underprivileged and others start out with greater advantages, but this is inevitable in a world where everyone is different; even in a hypothetical post-scarcity economy of the future where teaching machines gave everyone a university degree at the age of five, there would still be a plethora of areas in which some had advantages over others. Furthermore, early advantages no more ensure success than early disadvantages guarantee failure, and in fact a growing number of psychologists point out that too much privilege often makes a child (and the adult he becomes) fragile, maladjusted and less likely to succeed than one who has to struggle to achieve his goals. It is as pointless to feel guilty about one’s natural advantages as it is to resent those with other advantages one lacks.
What it all boils down to is this: people are drawn to different kinds of work and have different aptitudes and comfort levels. Some women like one kind of sex work, some another; some prefer doing lots of low-dollar calls and others a few high-dollar ones. Some fall into management roles without trying, while others avoid such roles at all costs. Many if not most sex workers drift or migrate from one kind of work to another, in and out of sex work or from one kind of sex work to another, as their circumstances and needs change; a woman who was safely “legal” yesterday may be “illegal” tomorrow. This is why it is absolutely imperative that we not allow outsiders to divide us by drawing lines in the sand and turning those on one side of the line against those on the other. We need to stop obsessing about the whorearchy and pretending it can or should be eradicated, but we also need to oppose those who wish to calcify it in order to employ it as a tool of control.
One Year Ago Today
“Clueless Wonders” introduces my readers to the vice cops of Syracuse, New York, who are so aggressively ignorant and unselfconsciously stupid that they actually boast about it.