The Lady Garden

Tea and Strumpets

Guest Post: Dear Rosemary

Many people linked us this week, to this delightful piece of commentary from Rosemary McLeod about sex work.

My own response was, oh, shut up. Oh, and Don’t Read The Comments. But I thought someone with more knowledge and experience than me might have a somewhat more eloquent response. So I asked the wonderful Dorothy Dentata if she would consider guest posting for us. She’s amazing, and here it is.


Hi Rosemary! I got told yesterday that you have some words in your recent article dedicated to little ol’ me, so I thought I’d sit down and type you this reply.

Now, as articles are prone to do, Michelle Cooke in her recent article on sex work conditions combined aspects of two seperate stories into the information about me. You mention in your diatribe against us dirty-footed dupes that you wondered how my mother reacted. Let me tell you!

When I told my mother I was a sex worker, she told me she thought I was about to tell her something bad. She then hugged me and told me how she loved me, how she trusted me to make my own decisions about my employment, that I owed her nothing in terms of divulging this and that she felt honoured beyond belief that I would be vulnerable and share such information with her.

When I told my dad the same information, weeks before my 21st, his response was to tell me he loved me and that he had never paid for sex but didn’t see an ethical problem with anyone doing so now that it was decriminalised. He also said he was happy I was working somewhere safe and supportive, and then he hugged me. That sort of emotional openness from my father about how he personally saw paying for sexual services was really meaningful to me. I thought it was amazing that my dad would even discuss the possibility of being a punter with me.

Of course, you probably don’t think so. You probably think that my parents are ignorant of the fact that “nothing could be quite as soul-destroying as performing fellatio for a living” and you probably include my dad in your stereotype of men as weird, lazy, and driven by their dick.

Well. Let’s talk about my side of the story, huh?

I started sex work at 19 years of age. I have worked in several different brothels and agencies, both here and in Melbourne. I have worked privately. I have had experiences with clients I didn’t enjoy, I have had mostly experiences with respectful and generally considerate clients. I have made some of the greatest friendships in my life with both punters and other working girls. I’ve had a year off. I’ve had a mixture of clients, both in terms of background, age, and genders. Whilst the majority of clients have been male, white, and wealthy, there has also been more diversity in my experiences than I think you could fathom.

The clients who come to see me, including the men, sometimes ask me questions about my opinions, they listen to my stories, they often share with me their innermost vulnerabilities (whether they mean to or not). Sometimes these vulnerabilities are unsettling or confusing or unattractive to me. Sometimes those thoughts are sweet and endearing and make me feel great about my job for weeks at a time.

Sometimes the clients who come to see me truly don’t care that much about knowing what’s going on in my brain. And you know what? That’s okay! Because with boundaries negotiated and a safe premises, I am totally happy to fuck and be fucked for a booking without any pretense of conversation or deeper connection. Sometimes, Rosemary, people just want sex without fuss. Sometimes people want sex that is good, easy, and completely without a relationship. That’s pretty normal.

Yes, as you snidely added ‘brains are a selling point’. Journalists aren’t often in the habit of interviewing inarticulate workers to quote about a specific industry. Brains are a selling point in more ways, though, for example my ad. The fact that ads highlighting a workers intelligence, personality, and strengths work much better than ads simply highlighting physical assets might disprove your little theory that clients don’t care about what’s going on behind my eyes.

So that’s how I see my job. Sometimes I love it, sometimes I’m frustrated or aggravated or anxious about it, and sometimes it’s just a job. As a colleague of mine said in response to your article “I fully stand behind my right to hate my job and do it anyway” and I feel that cuts to the point I actually want to make today.

Sex work is WORK. Your title, declaring “prostitution not just selling your body” is misleading in itself. For me, you see, prostitution ISN’T selling my body. The same learned colleague of mine states “when you pay someone to give you physiotherapy for an hour, you do not buy the physiotherapist. When you pay someone to cut your hair for an hour, you do not buy the person who cuts you hair”. The same rings true here. When you decide to come to Funhouse and fuck me senseless (or brush my hair or wrestle me or eat my pussy) you do not buy me. You negotiate such services and I either agree or decline, based on my own boundaries and personal preferences. At any stage, any stage of the booking, I have the right to declare a certain activity is not on offer anymore. It may mean a partial refund, but more usually it means we just do something else. You know, like I talk to my sexual partners who aren’t paying me.

Moreover, capitalism is an economic system that requires people to work in order to make money. Many people have jobs that require using their bodies in ways they wouldn’t normally, extra labour or occassional unpleasant aspects or things that sometimes just suck. People are generally required to work due to economic need. The same is generally true of sex workers (who, by the way, are not just ‘women’). As through all of society, you see negative aspects of sex work. As with doctors and lawyers, there are sex workers who are addicted to drugs. As with nannies and couriers and plumbers, there are sex workers with mental health problems. As with pilots and retail assistants and journalists, there are sex workers who are exposed to sexual abuse. As with politicians and teachers and CEOs there are sex workers who are unhappy in their job.

I was even going to put in a touching and endearing ramble about how clean my feet were, to disprove the evident assumptions that sex workers are dirty and degraded, but I decided not to. You know why? Because people from all walks of life sometimes have dirty feet and split toenails. I don’t need to try and convince you how ‘nice’ and ‘safe’ parts of the sex industry are, because that is true for me but it’s not true for everyone. Being poor, or sad, or drug-addicted, does not make anyone nor their life deserving of vitriolic attacks by ill-informed journalists. Having dirty feet is not a reason to write off somebody’s entire lived experience, Rosemary, coz here’s the thing about lived experience: you cannot know what it’s like until you’ve lived it. You are not allowed to tell hookers what we should be doing with our lives without actually knowing our lives.

When sex workers are finally able to stop having to defend our industry and our work from bigoted hooker-haters like you, maybe we’ll be able to start directing our energies towards discussions on how the industry can be improved. When it’s no longer a matter of ‘positive’ vs ‘negative’ accounts of the sex industry, and we can realise every experience is more nuanced and more conflicting and that what should be happening is work towards improving working conditions for ALL sex workers.

I realise this has been an INCREDIBLY long ramble and I hope I haven’t bored you. I also hope I haven’t antagonised you so much that my invitation to you to come and have coffee (off the record) with me and some sex worker friends and learn a little about our lives will be ignored.

18 responses to “Guest Post: Dear Rosemary

  1. Pingback: A letter to Rosemary « Sexshitandrocknroll's Blog

  2. Annanonymous January 29, 2012 at 3:40 pm

    Rosemary McLeod sometimes hits the mark, and sometimes misses it so, so wildly. And what’s up with the idea that it’s more dignified to put out for a few restaurant meals? Lovely unconsciously middle-class moment there.

  3. Deborah January 29, 2012 at 6:21 pm

    I thought it was classic 1970s feminism. There was some fabulous thinking that came out of the resurgence of feminism in the 1970s, but the demonising of some women is something that we really, really need to stop doing. Also, I like to think that we can hold some complicated positions, like, “Yes trafficking women and men and children into prostitution is bad, but prostitution itself is not bad. The bad of trafficking is to do with kidnapping and slavery, which is an immense evil, and rape, which is also an immense evil. It is not to do with prostitution per se.”

    Great post, Dorothy Dentata.

  4. Sinead January 29, 2012 at 6:34 pm

    Bravo. Very well written <3.

  5. ludditejourno January 29, 2012 at 10:07 pm

    Thanks for this post, it’s a wonderful reminder of why analysing anything social should involve listening to those involved. I struggle with both extremes of feminist thought around the sex industry – those who insist all women working in the sex industry are coerced/duped/forced sexually abused drug addicted victims, and those who insist all sex workers are empowered free spirits exploring their sexuality with control while they earn wonderful dosh.
    I can’t sit with either position, because I know sex workers from both camps. I hate hearing the harms done within the sex industry minimised (forced prostitution, grooming of children into second and third generation sex work by family members, trafficking, sexual violence by pimps or punters) and I hate hearing women’s agency denied by those who insist all prostitution is violence against women.
    For me, the most interesting conversations about the complexity of the sex industry have been with sex workers who have left, and are able to reflect on, as you say, their nuanced experiences.
    Thanks for responding to Rosemary McLeod’s typically arrogant article with dignity, much respect.

    • tallulahspankhead January 30, 2012 at 6:47 am

      It would worry me if there are any sex-positive feminists who believe “sex workers are empowered free spirits exploring their sexuality with control while they earn wonderful dosh.”

      OF COURSE there are problems inherent in the sex industry. Trafficking, coercion, drugs, abuse, and all manner of things. To say nothing of the economic inequalities that force women into prostitution.

      But, as Deborah says, that’s not to do with prostitution, alone. And as Dorothy points out, nor are those things limited to the sex industry. But, again, as she points out, until we get over deciding whether sex work is inherently immoral, we’re never going to start addressing any of these problems. While the Rosemary McLeods of the world stop using sex work to be holier than the rest of us in print, it makes it harder to help the people who are unsafe.

      When I talk about this with people, I often get asked, “well, how would you feel if your daughter was a prostitute?” Which I always think is a strange question to ask a childless woman, but anyway. I flatter myself that I would be completely OK with it, but I’ll admit I would likely worry. Not because I believe sex work to be inherently immoral, but because being a prostitute can carry a risk that being a banker doesn’t. Of course, in the age of Occupy and the Global Financial Crisis, I could be quite wrong about that.

      Anyway, Rosemary, if you are reading this, it’d be really nice if you’d take Dorothy’s advice. Have a cup of tea with her. You will find that she’s perfectly fragrant, witty and articulate. She’s not the lonely loser you posed her as in your column. And seriously, woman has some stories! She can even make ME blush.

      • ludditejourno January 30, 2012 at 7:02 am

        Tallulah, yep, agreed. I find both those feminist extremes worrying, as I said, and erasing of real women’s lived experiences in the sex industry. They also miss out power being present in a variety of other ways, like say the lively sale of sexual services from local men (of colour in the countries I’ve experienced this) to white women in many countries which are travel destinations for relatively rich westerners.
        I guess what I’m saying is that if we’re basing our analysis of “the social” at least partly on what those living “the social” say, we need to incorporate or hold analysis of what ALL those living “the social” say – not those who fit our argument or conceptualisation. That, in a nutshell, is my problem with both stereotypical extremes of feminist analysis of sex work – they both leave out some women’s experiences.

        • tallulahspankhead January 30, 2012 at 7:24 am

          Dorothy actually has a piece about this at her place right now.

          But yes, that’s kind of my point. While McLeod is bleating on about prostitution being inherently smutty, she drowns out the voices of the people we should actually be listening to.

          • ludditejourno January 30, 2012 at 7:27 am

            Yeah, I get the impression Rosemary didn’t stop to chat with the women whose lives she decided on in Kings Cross either, you’re right.

  6. Max Rose January 30, 2012 at 7:41 pm

    Magnificent! I had so many feelings of incoherent rage when I read the McLeod article, but you’ve made rage cohere in a telling way. Most of my anger was about the way that she insulted those friends of mine who work or have worked in the sex industry, but I was also because she’s insulted me, as a man.

    She conflates the experiences of all sex-workers with the most visible, vulnerable and unhappy face of the industry, then says “the men who used them didn’t give a damn about their dead eyes. It gave me a lasting, unpleasant impression of the men who use such women, and how they probably feel about women in general.” This combination of two generalisations is not only insulting, but could actually contribute to the desolate picture she portrays.

    There are of course punters who have dismissive or even vile views of sex workers and other women. There are others who are, as you say, “respectful and generally considerate”, and who are comfortable that they are enjoying the services of professionals who have made free and conscious decisions about their work. In the middle there are a lot of men who feel conflicted, ashamed of their own sexuality, and worried that they may be complicit in the exploitation of the women whose services they employ.

    When she denies sex workers agency, portraying them as empty, exploited shells, she reinforces a stereotype that enables the dehumanising attitudes of the worst men. She also wants the men in the middle to think that wanting some occasional no-strings sex makes them “weird and lazy”, and by insisting that no normal woman could dissociate love and sex enough to do that without destroying her soul, she’s hardly going to help men see sex workers as complete human beings. Her hatred of sex workers and her contempt for men go hand in hand.

  7. Tim January 30, 2012 at 9:26 pm

    ” Men are weird, and also lazy.” – thanks for your intelligent engagement Rosemary…

  8. Patrick Leyland January 31, 2012 at 10:31 pm

    This is a very powerful and coherent response. Thank you Dorothy, you’re the voice of reason that the original, vitriolic article needed.

  9. Tamara February 1, 2012 at 11:16 am

    Her piece for last Sunday’s SST was really bizarre, something to do with women not progressing much because of one woman’s drink driving etc. Will any Lady Gardeners be having a go at that one? Not sure if it’s online yet.

    • tallulahspankhead February 1, 2012 at 11:32 am

      I haven’t seen it, and these days, I avoid the SST like the plague. (Except for the Sunday magazine, which I love.)

      If it comes across our radar, and if one of the ladies fancies it. But realistically, we could spend all our time calling out the bullshit of the NZ Herald and Fairfax’s columnists, to little or no avail. I’m sure I’m not the only one that doesn’t have that kind of time.

      However. Guest post?

      • Tamara February 2, 2012 at 2:14 pm

        Fair enough! I did raise it though cause it seemed like no more than a thinly veiled attack on young women or modern women, or something, rather than just a general crappy opinion piece.

        As for a guest post, I’m not sure I’ve got the writing skills or headspace just now, but thanks for the offer.

        BTW I also love the magazine, most of the time.

  10. Caren February 9, 2012 at 5:43 pm

    Awesome post – what more can I say. Did she get back to you re the coffee invite?

  11. Pingback: We also have ‘opinions’ – a protest against transphobia

  12. glasgow sex worker July 13, 2012 at 10:00 am

    This is fucking ace, thank you for writing it.

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