It’s called sex work, not prostitution

At Chennai’s ninth pride parade red umbrellas (a symbol of sex work) opened up in the sky along with multi-coloured ones (representing the LGBTQIA community) in a gesture to extend solidarity to sex workers and their rights. A day before the pride march, sex workers from different states related their experiences at a sex workers solidarity event. While we are celebrating gender diversity and sexuality spectra, here are some sex work thoughts to chew on.

What we know but refuse to acknowledge: As one of the world’s oldest professions, sex work it continues to exist, even thrive. We may see them in road corners, decked up in finery, waiting for a vehicle to slow down and enquire. Sometimes we don’t see them; sometimes we wish we didn’t, and we almost never talk about ‘it’ or ‘them’.

What we should know/think about:
 1. There are different types of sex work. The kind we see in private is pornography and the kind we un-see in public is street based sex work. There are more types than these.

2. All sex work is not trafficking. Voluntary sex work exists too. Some people may choose to be sex workers, just like anyone wanting to be anything.

3. Money from sex works supports families, just like wages earned from other professions. The difference is that sex work is criminal, and it is a crime to live on money earned through sex work. We’ve got some serious law updating to do haven’t we?

4. All sex workers are not women. And all trans people are not sex workers.

5. That means, male sex work also exists. If we were able to understand that there are people out there who want to have sex with men (women, men and all others), this fact wouldn’t be very hard to comprehend.

6. By keeping our eyes and mouths tightly shut, and not acknowledging the elephant in the room — the room being our minds, and the elephant, sex work, we are complacent in the stigmatization and discrimination meted out against sex workers.

7. There wouldn’t be a need to ‘rehabilitate’ sex workers if we legalised it. It would also mean formalised wages, health and workplace safety and legal protection for sex workers, as are the demands with every other job.

8. Sex workers are not ‘selling their bodies’ — they are offering a service. And oh, the service is in demand. So one can take it or leave it, and there is no need for pity, sympathy or abuse. On a philosophical note, aren’t we all selling our bodies and souls to live on this planet?

9. ‘Sex work’ has replaced ‘prostitution’ in usage because sex work is work. And sex workers’ rights like all others’ rights are human rights.

10. If we were more comfortable talking about sex and sexuality as a society, we will be able to see why points 1–9 are important to think about.

(The writer is a city-based activist, in-your-face feminist and a media glutton)

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