SEX WORKERS OF THE WORLD UNITE
an interview with
Clamen is a tireless, sex work activist. Despite a workload
that includes giving interviews, public lectures and drafting
a constitution for what will be the first Canadian Guild for
Erotic Labour, she found time to answer many of my questions
and debunk a few widely held misconceptions on the subject of
sex and sex work.
& OPINION: Who are sex workers?
CLAMEN: Prostitutes, escorts, strippers, telephone sex operators,
erotic masseuses. Some dancers don’t consider themselves
sex workers because sex work, to many, insinuates prostitution,
that is having sex with your clients. Many dancers ‘do
not’ have sex with their clients. The term sex work, for
many, is purposeful: it encourages a certain level of solidarity
amongst people working in the sex industry and it allows sex
workers to talk about work. So dancers, as workers in the sex
industry, are included in this category because in reality,
sex work is not just about prostitution.
& OPINION: If I understand correctly, stripping is legal
and therefore strippers are protected by the laws of the land:
prostitutes/escorts are not?
CLAMEN: It is not against the law to sell sex for money. However
everything related to the act of prostitution, procurement,
soliciting etc, is illegal, which makes prostitution de
facto illegal. And yes, sex workers, in theory, are protected
by the laws of the land, but that does not mean the laws of
the land are applied equally. A sex worker that goes missing
will not get the same response as a dentist who goes missing,
just as society, in expressing its values, will be more concerned
about the missing dentist than the missing sex worker.
& OPINION: So you would like to see the laws of the land
CLAMEN: That and much more. Sex work is work. We want sex work
to be regarded as work. Decriminalizing sex work would free
sex workers from a criminalized status and remove the stigma
attached to their occupation. We want them to be regarded as
workers, which means being treated like all other workers, with
full rights to negotiate their working spaces and the manner
in which they provide their services.
& OPINION: Such as the rights sex workers have in Nevada,
where prostitution is legal?
CLAMEN: Sex work may be legal in Nevada, but it is very restricted.
For example, where sex work has been legalized, like in Amsterdam
or Nevada, sex workers are sometimes subjected to mandatory
STI and HIV tests, while their clients are not. This is not
an issue of equality, but of effectiveness because sex workers
are only as STI and HIV-free as their next client. It is also
hard to negotiate your working conditions when the state has
control over your work.
& OPINION: Why are there so many legal and societal obstacles
to the practicing of sex work? Why are most sex workers and
their clients ashamed to admit to who they are? Is there perhaps
something inherently shameful in what they do? Could it be that
when all is said and done, it’s simply not natural for
two complete strangers who don’t know each other to fuck,
that a biological imperative has been violated?
CLAMEN: Your question(s), and there are many of them, are full
of all, the legal and societal obstacles to sex work are protectionist
mechanisms which prohibit sex workers from working safely. This
means that the laws created to protect sex workers in fact end
up putting them in danger. For example, the ‘pimping law’
that forbids the sex worker from working with a third party.
Most people think this law prevents women from being coerced
into the sex trade, but it only prevents them from working in
a safer environment that may include the woman and someone other
than just the client: it could be someone she has confidence
in, someone she trusts, such as a friend, or boss etc.
raise an interesting bias that most people have about sex work,
which is that the work is inherently shameful and that no willing
person would work in the sex industry. I don’t think that
sex workers and clients are inherently ashamed of what they
do. I think society has failed to cultivate a healthy perspective
on sexuality and hence imposes a shame on those whose sexual
activities deviate from that imposed norm. If and when sex workers
do feel shame, I would argue that it is a result of internalized
discrimination and the stigma that constantly casts an accusing
shadow over the immorality of sex workers’ lives and work.
People hold sex up to unrealizable standards where the love
component legitimizes sexual relations -- even though we know
that a lot of people have sex outside of that limited context.
approve of sex when it’s an expression of love, or if
it passes religious muster, but outside of that, we’ve
been taught to be ashamed of sex for sex’s or pleasure’s
sake. All that being said, people continue to spend billions
of dollars for the kind of sex society frowns upon. This is
an unacceptable hypocrisy our sex workers rights movement is
trying to bring down, and we feel the first step is to change
the laws that criminalize the people who practice what is commonly
regarded as ‘deviant’ – that being sex work.
can look to other changes in the law that will help to change
society’s attitude toward sex related issues. Gay marriage
is now legal. That doesn’t mean that overnight society
is going to approve of gay marriage, but there will come a day
-- it will probably take at least a generation -- when the kids
born today, for example, will grow up in a society where gay
marriage is acceptable so as adults they won’t think twice
about it when it occurs. If we as a society are to change our
attitudes about the kind of sex that we want to indulge in --
that sex that is not necessarily a component of love, or of
a relationship -- the laws must change, because it is the laws
that set the tone and inform our values. In 2003, New Zealand
decriminalized prostitution. This is the first country to take
a step in the right direction.
& OPINION: If sex work is code for casual sex, what kind
of message are we sending out if we legalize sex work? Is casual
sex a good thing?
CLAMEN: First of all, you are making an assumption about why
people frequent sex workers. I would not say that sex work is
a euphemism for casual sex, or vice versa, nor would I claim
that sex, as an act, is any different in a casual sex relationship
between two strangers than it is between a client with a sex
worker. The point is, first and foremost, that people who work
in the sex industry should not be regarded as criminals. If
sex work were decriminalized, that is legitimized, the message
sent out would be that people who work in the sex industry are
not bad people, and like other workers and all citizens, deserve
the same respect and working rights. It’s not that complicated.
& OPINION: Do you mean if our marriages and intimate relationships
were more honest, the sex worker might disappear?
CLAMEN: No, that’s not what I’m saying. I don’t
think it’s only dishonest people who frequent sex workers.
There will always be a place for sex workers because it’s
impossible for one person to satisfy another person’s
sexual needs and fantasies.
& OPINION: Isn’t there something fundamentally degrading
when a man, who because of his looks, or quirks, or whatever,
cannot attract a woman, and has to pay her to have sex with
CLAMEN: One of the biggest myths about clients of sex workers
is that they are ugly, pathetic and desperate. A lot of people
who frequent sex workers are either married or in relationships.
There are many reasons why people seek out sex workers. It could
be the kind of sex they want. As far as I’m concerned,
better to seek the services of a sex worker than have a partner
in a relationship take on a lover in secret. Again, if there
is a sense of degradation in sex work I would suggest that this
results from a value system that has been imposed on us that
makes people feel guilty doing what they want to do. Guilt about
indulging in sex is inauthentic guilt.
& OPINION: Is that what mystifies most of us about sex work,
we just can’t get past the idea that sex is what you make
of it, that it is not subject to any prior laws or disposition?
CLAMEN: Sex work is mystifying only if you work under the assumption
that sex necessarily leads to bonding. Sexual relations facilitate
bonding and help sustain a bond, but in and of themselves they
don’t constitute the bond that designates a couple. Many
sex workers have boyfriends, even husbands. They will tell you
that their work is work, and that they haven’t necessarily
developed any personal bond with their clients. Again, this
depends on the type of service they offer and how often they
see the same client because there are a lot of sex workers who
will say they bond with their clients. The biggest mistake that
people can make is using, as a matter of convenience, a single
portrait to define sex workers and/or their clients. This kind
of stereotyping usually doesn’t help to further people’s
understanding of human nature.
& OPINION: Can you foresee in the near future when there
will be a sex workers’ pride or parade day and/or a sex
clients’ pride or parade day? Why hasn't this movement
been born yet? And is this an indication of what huge battles
lie ahead in getting everyday citizens to respect the profession
of sex work and its soldiers?
CLAMEN: How little you know (wink). Sex workers’ pride
has been around since the 1970s, when the sex worker rights
movement, as a force, was born. It was, however, only recently
that March 3rd was named international day for sex workers.
sex worker rights movement is big and strong, with over 60,000
sex workers in Calcutta alone! A lot of the clients, in fact,
take part in the activities and celebrations of sex workers
in India. The sex worker rights movement has brought forward
in a single voice the just cause of sex work and sex workers
rights, and has helped to educate the world at large in demystifying
the life and work of the sex worker.
& OPINION: Thank you, Jenn.
Sex Work: Gender-Based Income Redistribution with Honour and