Three years ago, I published my first post on my blog about my sex working experiences. There is nothing particularly special about it except for the fact that I may have been the first one (openly) writing about sex work from an Indigenous woman’s perspective. I don’t recall any other Indigenous woman writing about her experiences before that first post. But I do recall the feelings I felt when I first published it and the feelings that led up to why I decided to publish it. Earlier that year, I attended my first sex-worker only event. From what I can recall, it was a two-day event. It was also an opportunity for sex workers (former or current) to come together in a safe space (a truly safe space without fear of judgment) and talk about opportunities for public education. We learned about Goffman’s theory of stigma. Coincidentally, for my sociology of deviance class, I was also reading Goffmans’s work on stigma and I was also writing a paper on how stigma affected me personally. The amazingness felt at this sex-worker only event though? I cannot describe how being in this space made me feel. It was the first time I ever felt welcomed without judgment and without stigma. It was the first time I knew that I belonged.
When I first moved to London, ON, as my readers know, I moved in the context of sex work. I overcame homelessness and I was able to push myself to apply to school. I applied to three programs: broadcasting and journalism, early childhood education and law clerking. I heard back from the law clerking program first. I was so scared that I wouldn’t be accepted into any of the other programs that I accepted the initial offer to enter into the law clerkly program right away. I ended up being accepted into all three programs. Looking back now, I am happy that I chosen the law clerk path.
While in college, I still worked in the trade. I was probably most involved and connected to the trade at that point in time. I met many girls and made many friendships. Some of those friendships still remain today. That is not to say, however, I am not connected still. Since becoming active in the sex work movement, I have met many more sex workers, who are all beautiful and resilient human beings. The funny thing though, I remember the first time I was arrested in London and I had to tell my civil procedure professor that I had to miss class one day. I had to miss class because of one of my many court dates. She asked for proof. So I showed her my “papers.” She seen all the charges listed and she just said, “okay.” I kind of laughed afterwards. But what the hell?!? Who the hell would lie about going to court to miss class?!? I wrote about those experiences here.
Today, two years later, I am now in law school.
After going through college and undergrad hiding my sex working identity, I now have to go through law school hiding the same identity—despite the fact that I’ve already testified at parliament and spoke on national news outlets as someone with sex working experience. This is a different kind of isolation though. It’s like everyone talks about sex work or prostitution as if it is some far away concept and that these issues affect nobody in their real lives.
Yet, I have friends who still come to me for help… I can’t offer any help because of fear of criminalization. That’s how far the effects of criminalization extends: you can’t offer safety and support to your friends who need it because under current laws, safety and support is still criminalized.
I feel helpless and hopeless.
I can’t turn to anyone for help or support here; I feel alienated and isolated. It’s probably the worst kind of feeling in the world. Everyone is talking about sex work/prostitution as if it is in the abstract. Everyone around you is worried about the vulnerable and the victims. Meanwhile, your friends are the ones being victimized and being made to feel vulnerable. And you? You dare not say a word about your experiences! That is not the law.
I struggle with this identity that I have come accept and assume. This identity, my sex working identity, informs my position and place within the law school: I dare not say the term “sex work” in some spaces because of fear of further isolation and alienation. I have withdrawn myself from campus and from specific social spaces and places because of this identity. Some people want to be my friend but I have to be careful about who I let in. Can I trust them? Are they an ally? Can I just be “normal” around them?
So two years ago, I felt safe enough to publish my experiences for others to read. But what has it been like for me since then? I’ve grown. I’ve learned many lessons. But I have been attacked, stalked and harassed. I have been blamed for supporting the traffickers and the pimps. I also have been blamed for causing Indigenous women and girls to go missing and murdered. I guess that is what happens when you survive and speak out against the criminalization of your own life. But I just want the police and state violence to stop! Is that so much to ask? Can we just at least get on the same page on that one topic? The police are not there to help. Is that so hard to understand? I don’t even know anymore. How does one deal with all this hate toward you on multiple levels: anti-indigenous AND anti-sex work.