Archive for February 20th, 2018

Last week, a long-time client of Laura’s asked if I’d publish this tribute to her today, the day of her funeral.  And how could I not?  This text was approved by her daughter Cat prior to publication.

Today is the funeral of Laura Lee, “Ant” (Antoinette) to her friends, but I can’t be there celebrating her full but short life and grieving at her unexpected death.  Yes, I am one of those, a client, who has another life which made it impossible for me to attend.  I have no one to share my grief with, other than other sex workers, clients, allies and academics who knew Laura; they have been an immense help.  It has been a hard few days for me and I am sure I am not alone.  I have known Laura for twelve years, and online even longer than that.  She was a moderator on the forum call Punternet…yes, that so-called “patriarchal” review site so beloved by the antis had real life sex workers as moderators.  The first time I met Laura was in Edinburgh, and after our appointment she asked me back to accompany her on a midnight Edinburgh ghost walk tour.  I did, and that was the start of a long relationship.  Little did I know she was fascinated in ghosts, and only days before she left us she was staying in a haunted coach house.

During the next few years I would meet Laura wherever our paths crossed, often in Edinburgh or London, and once a coincidental meeting in Carlisle where we both happened to be working at the same time.  One year I took the plunge and invited her to come to Glastonbury music festival with me; I already had a ticket, but her ticket was a late booking on the Glastonbury ticket resale, and the only tickets available included coach transfer.  So, I drove there on Wednesday and set up camp; she arrived by coach the next day.  I met her on Thursday afternoon and we spent the rest of the day looking around and eventually making our way back to the small tent, soaking wet from the rain which had started.  We didn’t mind; we were together for the weekend.  There were no showers, and the loos at Glastonbury are diabolical stinking holes in a tank; wet wipes and cider become the currency of the festival.  The privacy in a small tent sited within a foot of other tents is virtually non-existent; three middle aged men nearby were discussing the moans of ecstasy they had heard during the night.  We would lie together listening to the requests for Ketamine and the inflation of balloons throughout the night.

She loved the Green Fields area and the Healing Fields, the Hippy area Laura called it, where there are various massages available, Yoga and Tarot card readings.  Having a wicked sense of humour, she went up to one young police officer and asked him about the laws on opening a massage tent and would it be alright if she supplied extra services.  The poor man flushed and stammered with embarrassment, eventually saying he would have to ask a superior.  Laura was supportive of all harm reduction initiatives and spent time talking with the helpers at a drug help tent.  Here they would advise people on safe drug use and they would spend the night and early hours touring the stone circle area handing out water and helping anyone in distress.  She was impressed by the care they gave.  The Green Fields area and especially the Peace Garden were a quiet safe space where one could sit and contemplate; it’s where we lay in the sun and I told her I loved her.  I felt so embarrassed after saying this, but no she said it was sweet and a lovely thing to have said.

Laura’s determination to come with me to Glastonbury was revealed next year, after she broke her ankle and damaged her knee in a fall in the bath tub a few weeks before the festival.  Her whole leg was placed in plaster all the way up to her crotch.  I was sure she would not come, but she did; luckily, we had upgraded to glamping and were sleeping in a bed, with showers and flush loos.  I was over the moon when she told me she hadn’t even contemplated not coming.  The only downside of the location of our yurt was the hill up to the campsite; pushing Laura up the wet grass in the wheel chair was punishing and very challenging work at the end of a long night.  But it was an amazing festival, and people were always ready whenever we needed help in the mud, or faced a steep hill.  We had hospitality tickets that year, so we celebrity spotted in the area between the Pyramid and Other stage; Laura was in her element being photographed with Paolo Nutini.

We managed five Glastonburys, two T in the parks, TRNSMT in Glasgow and even did the small Pilton party together last year.  From there Laura has a selfie of herself with Michael Eavis.  The great highlights of Glastonbury for her were Dolly Parton and Adele; she also valued her meeting with the Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell (a vocal supporter of sex workers rights who knew of Laura) at the Left Field stage.  Taking an out-sex worker with a public profile and those unmistakable long black curls to such a public event has its risks; she had appeared on many chat shows and on TV shows such as Sex on Wheels which featured disabled people’s sexual needs and had been aired several times.  Generally, the reaction to her was positive, with women coming up to be photographed with her.  One time after Glastonbury at Bristol airport she was hugged and thanked for all she was doing.  During that last festival she was spotted by another sex worker and ended up giving advice and help.  Of course there were downsides too, such as the Irish doctor at our glamping site who recognised Laura and started making loud audible snide comments.  Last year we spotted a woman who just kept glaring angrily at Laura without saying anything.  Thankfully the glamping area had grown large, so we didn’t have to see either of them again.  Laura would outwardly laugh these slights off, but I knew it hurt her and put a damper on the late evenings sitting around the brazier in Love Fields.

The Greenfields area of Glastonbury had a debating and lecture area, and this is where she met Ruby Wax giving a talk on mental health, which was a personal issue for Laura, though when I was with her I very rarely saw it.  She was so pleased to have the opportunity to speak with Ruby and get her autograph.  She worked hard promoting sex worker rights, even while we were enjoying ourselves at festivals; there were always emails or phone calls for help or for an interview, and she tried to fit these in when she could.  She took every opportunity to promote sex worker rights, to the extent of questioning those working on the Glasgow Sexual Health stand at the TRNSMT festival about their attitudes toward sex workers.

Outside of her work Laura tried to fit in speaking engagements, TV debates and protest marches where ever she could, along with actively working with different campaign groups and building relationships with the Belfast Reclaim the Night, feminist organisations and Repeal the 8th.  This often cost her money for hotels and travel, and importantly her time when she could have been working.  Campaigning is not cheap, with the costs increasing, and her earnings reduced, her stress levels increased with bills needing payment.  This spiral was having on effect on her health and made me very aware that allies must step up and help by donating money unconditionally to activists.  Not just money for a specific court case or cause, but money for the travel, accommodation and the loss of income from not being able to work on those days.

I loved Laura and I believe she had affections for me, often sharing with me aspects of her life, and sometimes having petty arguments like married couples.  I loved her forthrightness and the way she picked me up on my occasional tactlessness.  I greatly miss her; her death has left a hole in my heart and life.  I bitterly regret not attending the Beyond the Gaze event in Manchester where Laura received a standing ovation for her speech.

May Laura continue to haunt the lives of those who fight against total decriminalisation of sex work.

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