Sex workers and their supporters, perhaps a hundred of them, marched along a Toronto street last Saturday, chanting "no bad whores ... only bad laws."
They want an end to the laws which are supposed to prevent whores from earning a living but, in fact, only make their lives a lot more difficult and dangerous.
It was a "day of action" organized by Maggie's Toronto Sex Workers Action Project, a registered charity run by and for local sex workers for the past 26 years to help each other "... live and work with safety and dignity." It's a workers' movement with the same purpose as any other workers' movement:
"We are founded on the belief that in order to improve our circumstances, sex workers must control our own lives and destinies."
Substitute the words "civil servants" or "auto workers" for "sex workers" and Saturday's demonstration was just one more routine labour rally.
Except for one problem. It's impossible for these demonstrators to earn a living in their chosen profession without breaking the law.
The act of prostitution itself -- the work that enables them to pay the rent and buy the groceries -- is absolutely legal. Nothing at all unlawful about renting your body out for consensual sexual acts as long as it's done reasonably privately.
But it's illegal for these demonstrators to "communicate for the purposes of prostitution," "operate a bawdy house," or something mysteriously called "live off the avails of prostitution."
It's like telling lawyers they can practice law just as long as they don't tell anyone they're doing it, keep an office or hire support staff.
Every so often we're reminded that, as Charles Dickens wrote, the law is an ass.
A few years back I had an affair with a friend who'd been one of Toronto's most exclusive and expensive whores.
Call her Samantha.
Except for a couple of semesters as a journalism student, she'd been in the business all her adult life. First as prostitute, then as call girl, finally as madam.
Samantha had been writing short stories about her life and work for years -- mostly for the titillation and delight of clients. But she had a higher purpose too. She thought people were just plain ignorant about her chosen profession and should be enlightened.
To her, prostitution was a job pretty much like any other, and undoubtedly the best use of her particular talents. So now she wanted to put her stories together in a book and needed an editor.
The easiest way to persuade me to become her editor was to promote me from friend to lover.
So she did.
What I found most interesting in Samantha's writing wasn't her invented persona as a TV news anchor and her frequently exaggerated adventures.
It was her philosophy about the job she'd chosen.
For instance, she wrote this following a distinctly steamy description of a professional encounter:
Whoring isn't real life.
It isn't even real sex.
There's something out-of-body, distant, uninvolved, about it. Men pay me good money to make them feel great. It's a simple business transaction on each side.
Supply and demand.
Keeps the economy moving.
Probably good for the skin too.
And it turns out that whoring is something I'm very good at. Up to now, I'm just a world-class amateur, now I'm becoming a world-class professional.
One of the best things about whoring is that there's no emotion involved, nothing that tangles my belly and cuts into my heart. Nothing that makes me yearn for that commitment, that kiss, that one phone call which soars me to seventh heaven and occasionally way beyond.
No emotion so, voilà, no meaning.
But it's not where I live.
Like any other whore I've ever known, I have two lives. One life earns all this money for being available for men and women who want -- and can afford to pay -- for the pleasure of my company.
It's the other life, my personal life, that's my real life. The life where I win and lose, behave well or badly, am happy or sad. The part of my life where there's real meaning.
The part where I have lovers and boyfriends and, once, a husband.
Like any good-looking woman (particularly big-boobed like me) I have my pick of men and can have sex, meaningful or otherwise, with as many men as I want, any time I want.
So when I feel like it, and I'm not involved with a lover or boyfriend or husband, of course I do.
Like any other woman.
Sometimes, when I'm just being generous after a great evening out, or there's nothing much else to do, the sex is emotionally empty but usually fun anyway.
Other times, when I'm in lust with some horny stud, the lust itself is emotional and therefore an entirely justifiable reason for the sex.
Then there's the occasional times when I think I might be in love, at least a little bit, when sex is not only entirely meaningful, it's absolutely inevitable.
The occasional thinking I might be in love part, of course, is where the commitment that isn't made, the kiss that isn't tried and the phone call that's never made reminds me that I'm a woman like any other.
I'm a laughing, crying, happy, sad, lonely, loving, fragile, needy, tough woman. Daughter, sister, aunt -- with or without lover, boyfriend, husband, depending on circumstances -- like any other woman.
My real life has got nothing to do with my profession.
In fact, when I'm working there's nothing womanly involved. Just business.
Men confuse money and power. They think because they can rent my body that they have power over me.
In fact, when I'm with a man professionally, I have all the power. And then when he finishes, by wonderful coincidence, I have both the power and the money.
Maybe there is a god, after all.
This Thursday, the Supreme Court of Canada hears an appeal against an Ontario Superior Court ruling that brothels are legal.
You know, just as well as I do, that whether the court rules for or against the appeal, brothels will always be with us.
So doesn't it make sense for the law to stop being such an ass and recognize that sex workers are citizens like the rest of us and therefore are entitled to the full protection of the law just like the rest of us.
No bad whores, only bad laws.
We published Samantha's book, My Life In The Great Sexual Window, and waited for the world to buy it, learn from it, and, of course, be titillated.
That didn't happen. An agent told her that if she really wanted to sell the book she'd would have to drop her anonymity and do public interviews. She lost interest, gave me the rights as final payment on my editor's fee, married again, and disappeared into suburbia.
Prostitution is legal in Germany, and brothels are registered businesses that do not require a separate license. In the state of Bavaria, it is mandatory to use condoms. A German prostitute's self-portrait in a brothel, 1999.
In the Netherlands, prostitution is legal, as are brothels. Because of the size of the industry, the government has attempted to scale it back in recent years, and a law has been proposed to ban women under the age of 21 from the business. Red Light Bar in Amsterdam (Photo courtesy of Flickr/Ben Sutherland)
Thanks to the Prostitution Reform Act 2003, prostitution, owning a brothel and street solicitation are legal in New Zealand, though coercion remains illegal. The law still causes controversy today, with certain parties attempting to overturn it. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/PhillipC)
Nevada is the only place in the United States where prostitution is legal, in the form of brothels (though prostitution outside these businesses is illegal). The brothels are located in isolated rural areas, and employees work as independent contractors, therefore not receiving any health or insurance benefits. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/Bludgeoner86)
In Argentina, prostitution is legal, but operating a business like a brothel based on the industry is illegal. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/quimpg)
Like Argentina, prostitution is legal in France, but associated industries are not. In addition, paying for sex with someone under the age of 18 is illegal. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/idreamofdaylight)
In Singapore, prostitution is legal, but activities like brothels and organized prostitution is not. Workers in brothels carry health cards and receive regular check-ups. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/Arian Zwegers)
In Japan, prostitution is technically illegal, but many have found legal loopholes that allow for certain acts -- specifically, anything outside of coitus. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/loiclemeur)
Prostitution is legal in Greece, and workers have personal licenses, as well as health cards that are checked often. Brothels, however, are not legal, and have caused many demonstrations within the country. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/DoctorWho)
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