delve a little deeper....
"Old love, new love, every love but true love".
Cole Porter, 1930
Almost all reviews and previews about Channel 4's Love for Sale documentary seem to contain the word 'controversial'. It seems a shame to me that this and any TV programme about sex work is always controversial.
Of course I understand that there are many views on sex work and very many experiences of it, some unpleasant, but the fact that it remains 'controversial' implies that a sensible grown up discussion can not be had about sex work and that it is something that can be snickered about or has to be 'shocking'.
Half the problem with us Brits is that until sex can be discussed without it being a huge fucking big deal the issue of sex work will never be able to be discussed and debated rationally.
However, Rupert Everett's documentary on the matter looks like it might actually turn out to be a very mixed and balanced view on sex work. The first episode was shown last night and despite not actually wanting to watch it I decided at the last minute to watch it.
It was quite strange actually. I take an interest in what is being said about sex work in the media, but when someone asked me if I'd be watching the programme yesterday I said I wasn't. I said I was sick of hearing and reading about sex work and that there wasn't much I didn't already know, Maybe I felt slightly fed of my own work being held up to the light and commented on, maybe I was sick of the backlash that occurs when programmes like this are on that insults me and that whatever anyone says about sex work, we are all deemed as dirty sluts...
I was also slightly irritated the programmes was being hosted by a man. I have nothing against Rupert Everett, but some deep feminist anger (you should know I rarely get on board with feminism) of why a white, privileged bloody man was fronting this show was prickling me.
As it turns out Everett is probably a great choice. Firstly he has done sex work. back in 1997 he confessed to the American magazine US that he had accepted money for cash.. "I didn't set out to hustle, but this guy offered me such a massive amount of money, well, it was like a year-and-a-half's pocket money," He says that as a struggling actor he "sort of fell into" prostitution after being approached outside a London Tube station.
He doesn't do it now and has been successful in his chosen career, he is gay which means he won't be tarred as a dirty old man or a pimp (the usual term given to those talking about any male who understands and supports sex work) and he genuinely seems to be wanting to understand sex work from all angles. This wasn't a programme filled with young, glamorous beauties bending over in g strings telling us how empowered they feel or a horrorfest of shocking horrific stories of poverty and abuse. It was wonderfully mixed and Everett handled it with frankness, a dab of black humour and genuine interest. You only have to compare it to Jodie sodding Marsh making vomity faces to see this was an adult programme, made for adults who want a rounded view. As Everett said so smoothly of sex workers, "They are seen as immoral slags or powerless victims, but I want to get behind those stereotypes".
Last nights programme started with Charlotte who works as an independent sex worker in Devon, who it would be easy to dismiss as a immoral slag. Well she certainly isn't a powerless victim, but nor is she an immoral slag, She is a business woman, free to make her own choices and demonstrated what a large percentage of UK sex workers are like. Not stunningly beautiful, but certainly attractive, middle class, sensible and educated (she has the same degree as me!).
Her views on clients ("I'm not sexually revolted by anyone") resonated and she also made it clear that being a sex worker isn't about looks, height or size and that everyone has "gifts in different ways". Although she seems to be very lucky in the orgasm department!
i was surprised how out Charlotte was, I want to know what her neighbours will be saying this morning! Then there was Hannah, who runs an agency who was very open in light of her role being illegal. She seemed a lovely person to be running an agency doing this should not be illegal, but that seemed to be skated over.
Whilst I liked a lot of Everett's laid back humour, his line about a client Hannah had listed on her wall as 'rough' as his "sort of client" would only be made by a man who didn't really understand the need to be very careful about who you see and that actually there is a huge difference between good rough and scary as fuck rough.
The programme then focused on a 'high class' escort and a male escort. Both these too showing the freely chosen side of sex work and with much positivity.
Bruno, the gay male escort explained his partners have all done escorting at some point which he preferred because "Nobody understands what you do until they do it.". So true, I think it's very hard for people to get their head around the job and get that it is just a job and it's not the same as sleeping with a partner and that it isn't cheating. I'm not convinced Bruno's tactic of encouraging his boyfriends into sex work would work for many women and their boyfriends though!
However, Bruno talked about the high level of suicide among his peers. He claimed to have lost eight male escort friends in the last 18 months due to suicide. Shocking and something I hadn't thought about or seen written about. Is there generally a high rate of suicide amongst sex workers or is it more to do with male and gay men? I'd quite like to know more about that...
The programme took a different slant, which did make it more balanced and hopefully will head off the inevitable accusations of Channel 4 glamorising the industry. Everett talked about a close friend of his who was killed on the Bois de Boulogne in Paris. Whilst horribly tragic, this section was filled with humour and happy memories. The transsexuals Rupert spoke with seemed happy and whilst he acknowledged that their work on the street was dangerous he commented on the "charming camaraderie". He took a couple of these women to a gallery to show them paintings of prostitutes where they commented sadly that the women looked like victims, forced and weary and that they didn't like that this is how people would see them too.
Rupert then visited The Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem to talk about the centuries old problem of sex work- stigma, which of course originated from religion where every faith condemns prostitution as a sin which led on to a very sad story of a young man called Mahmoud caught in prostitution at a former Tel Aviv bus station. Mahmoud is an illegal immigrant who feels he has no choice but to sell sex on the street, He stated that if suicide was allowed within his religion that is what he would have done.
The next sex worker Everett met was in Liverpool, a 28 year old women with addictions and who had been selling sex on the street since she was 13. She was clearly unhappy and wanted a better life for herself and her daughter. Certainly a more sobering stories than those in the first half of the programme.
Everett asked himself "Are all prostitutes deluding themselves on some level about the choices they have?" and "Is sex work the ultimate expression of the power that men have over women?"
Questions that are often asked and questions that are frustrating on one level but also understandable on another.
The final sex worker was Mariska from Amsterdam, home of the windows. I loved this woman, she was fab. She explained how she 'screens' men as they pass by, deciding if she wants to see them. She explained it is important for window girls and street workers to be able to do this and actually exactly what I do when they phone me.
She said she was not looking at a man in the same way she would in her personal life. It isn't about sex, it's about him being a customer. "Is he clean, is he willing to pay my price, is he not having many too strange fantasies, is he behaving well, kind, respectful whatever. So that's what you are searching on."
It took us right back to Charlotte's attitude at the start of the programme. It's not about how someone looks, it's about how they make us feel.
Mariska was lovely, smart and gave a great image of the sex workers who work in the red light district of Amsterdam, mainly how safe it is for them and that they too have a choice in who they see.
The programme ended with that dreadful Moran woman who is campaigning to criminalise the men who pay for sex. You'll have to watch it to see the bile and hatred she has because I'm not going to discuss it!
Overall a great show, far better than I anticipated!