Denial of Authenticity and the Ongoing Struggle to Impose Silence

Just two days ago I penned a piece concerning the enforced silence of prostitution survivors and now, true to form, I have been given a most accurate example of what I had written about.  The spurious claim has been circulated that I am inauthentic, that I am not legitimate; in other words that my experiences never happened.  I am trying to imagine which would have been the easier road, which would have been better for me: if I’d lived exactly as I’d lived or if I were sick enough to fantasise that sort of existence into being.  I’d certainly have had an easier time of it in many senses if I were that sort of nutcase, but I am a realist, which was probably part of what made prostitution so painful for me.  I was never very adept at lying to myself.

In the summer of 1992, in June I think, the now long-defunct Evening Press ran a front page story concerning prostitutions impact on my life.  ‘Sixteen Year Old Taken from Brothel’ screamed the headline.  Any woman who worked in prostitution in the early nineties will remember this.  It was a major talking point and considered quite a scandal at the time.

It was only a scandal because I was arrested.  There were many girls my age and younger who were never arrested, who never made those headlines, and who, consequently, were never were held up to the scrutiny of the public view.  That does not mean they were not there.  They were there, and I know they were there because I was among them.

Sometimes we worked the streets (as I did, from 1991 to 1993) and sometimes we were prey to the rackets of pimps who moved under-aged girls around in the early nineties.  Sometimes we had both experiences simultaneously, as I did.  When we were pimped-out indoors it happened far from the sight of the street-walking adult women, some of whom now have the nerve and the audacity and the ignorance to deny our experiences, just because they weren’t there to see it.

I remember having coffee once in the Health Centre on Baggot Street where they handed out coffee and condoms.  I was seventeen at the time.  The sixteen-year-old-girl who’d been arrested from a brothel the year before came up in conversation and I was bemused by this, and stated casually “That was me”.  “That was you?!” one woman shot back, eyes agog.  I had been sitting in these women’s company since I’d made the switch from the northside red-light district (Benburb Street) to the part of the southside red-light district where I’d been working (Burlington and Waterloo Road’s) two years before, but you’d think to listen to this woman that I was a creature who’d just landed there from some other planet.  She didn’t know what age I was, and she obviously assumed I was at least a few years older than I was.  She hadn’t any idea I could be that girl, and it had obviously never occurred to her.

The southside red-light district of Dublin is not one defined place.  It is a scattering of streets, squares and canal-sides that covers probably almost a square mile, and what I am discovering in my post-prostitution life is that some former prostitutes are actually ignorant enough to think that what was happening on their own street was the sum-total of prostitution in Dublin at that time.  This is strange to me, because I worked in so many areas of prostitution during my time – and by areas I mean not only geographical locations, but the full length of prostitutions social spectrum – so I do not relate to the idea of prostitution as being confined to any one of the streets I worked on, or the brothels I worked in, or the God-knows-how-many homes and hotels I visited.  They were all just pit-stops on the journey of my prostitution life, and it takes a deliberate attempt at understanding on my part to grasp why any woman would think that if she didn’t see it, it didn’t happen.

I suppose the world of prostitution was just very narrowed down for some women, and I certainly hold nothing against them for that.  What I do hold resentment and animosity about is that because someone wasn’t there to see it, they are ready to assert it never happened; to erase the authenticity of my experience – of all the experiences of the under-aged prostitutes in Dublin at that time.  And there are women out there ready to assert that, because there are women out there who claim, bizarrely, that we did not exist at all!

The truth of my experience was plastered all over the front page of one of our national newspapers at that time.  To these women I would say: oh we existed, we existed alright, though there were many times we wished we did not.

As for my legitimacy and authenticity; these claims need to be seen for what they are: just another mode of silencing women – just another tactic in the ongoing struggle to impose silence on us survivors.  These tactics will never, ever, work on me.

FreeIrishWoman

Peru

I logged in here earlier today and was surprised, happy, and a little bit bemused to see the amount of countries my blog has been read in since the last time I’d logged in.  Places as far away as Albania, Latvia and Peru!  It is strange to think that I can be here, writing in North Dublin, and within moments people can be reading in lands I’ve never visited but often thought about.  Places as beautiful and exotic as Peru.

I have an image of Peru in my mind.  I may have seen it on a poster or a postcard; it is of blue mist swirling around an impossibly high and rugged mountain range.  Something in that image is so freeing.  That is one of the places I would will my mind to take me when I got home from the streets, or, later in my prostitution ‘career’, from brothels or hotels.

There was something in the way I always wanted to be somewhere that was spiritually purifying that reminds me of how I so desperately wanted to get away from a reality that was spiritually polluting.  That was just a little memory that was jogged by seeing ‘Peru’ pop up on the list of ‘Views by Country’ in my WordPress blog, and it is symptomatic of the way prostitution never really leaves you, and how you don’t have the option to leave it either, not all the way.

I will post this now and then post the follow up (originally written two days later) to ‘The Evil of an Enforced Silence’, which I posted earlier today.  I should warn any new readers that they might find the timeline of these postings confusing unless they know what’s going on, and they’ll be able to figure that out by reading ‘An Open Letter and an Apology’, which explains matters.

Thank you for reading.

FreeIrishWoman

An Open Letter and an Apology

I first set up this blog in early February of this year and within days it had been visited over three hundred times.  That would probably gratify some people, but it frightened the hell out of me.  I felt hugely exposed, very public, very vulnerable, and I did something in response to those feelings that I think now I ought not to have done: I put it on private so it couldn’t be accessed.  I went on to blog elsewhere on the web, on survivorsconnect.wordpress.com – an online leaderless network of prostitution and trafficking survivors, which publishes contributions from women all over the world.

I will always contribute to survivorsconnect; it is one of the most worthwhile endeavours I have ever come across on the internet, and it is evidence that the internet can be and is used for worthy reasons.  I would encourage everyone reading this to visit that group-blog.  However, in the ten or more weeks since I put this blog on private, I have come to realise that I did so purely out of fear – fear of exposure, fear of bullying, fear of having no control over who would contact me and what they would say when they did.  That, in short, is cowardice, and I am more than a bit ashamed of caving in to it.  Fleeing in fear never serves anyone, unless you’re outnumbered in a violent altercation where it is the only commonsense thing to do!

I have resolved that the right thing to do here is to put this blog on public again, write from my thoughts and from my heart, and let the cards fall where they may.

I would like also to explain some of the reasoning behind my fearful reaction: I have been writing a book about my experience of prostitution and everything I witnessed and observed during that time.  That book took me over ten years to write and I finished it in January of this year.  When I finally finished the book I felt like a woman standing on the top of Mount Everest, just looking around.  It was a wonderfully uplifting feeling, but it didn’t last more than a couple of days.  In no time at all I began to feel bereft, directionless, and at a loss as to what to be doing with myself or how to express my thoughts and feelings, hence the decision to begin the blog.

I think that I was not ready for the interactive nature of an independent web-log.  I had never considered myself a blogger; I had never thought about the immediacy of the internet or about how the gap between writer and reader is closed so much more tightly in this context.  After ten years of my writing just being between me and my computer, now all of a sudden it was between me, my computer, and whoever else happened along!  It felt something like walking down O’Connell Street buck-naked – it was a frightening level of exposure and I shied away from it.

That was the wrong thing to do by the cause to which I am committed, which is to tell the truth about the injurious nature of prostitution.  You cannot shed light on the abusive nature of prostitution from a position of fear.

Fear is a natural human emotion, but I don’t think we should allow it to exert its restrictive power in negative ways, so I won’t be doing that again; and so this blog is back for good, regardless of its outcome or what feelings it might provoke in me.

If any of the original readers from back in early-Feb are reading this I hope they will accept my apology and explanation for what was most likely experienced as my rudeness.  I resolve never to give in to fear in that way again, and I will upload the articles I’ve written since in the coming days.  My book is currently being considered by a number of publishers and I will update on that as soon as I have any news.

Thank you so much for reading; some feedback would be nice.

FreeIrishWoman

‘Prostitution’s fine – but not for me!’

I have been thinking this morning about how ardently some women argue that prostitution is an acceptable way to earn a living… for other women.

The attitude that prostitution is alright and okay and tolerable and acceptable – and every other form of adequate you can think of – is passionately and enthusiastically expressed by some non-prostituted women.  It is an attitude which contrasts wildly with their own life choices, which convey, very revealingly, that prostitution may well be all these things for other women, but certainly not for themselves.

Of course this begs the question, why is that?  Why would any woman argue the acceptability of prostitution for other women while clearly regarding it unacceptable for herself?

One woman I know of, who spends an extraordinary amount of time online arguing the acceptability of prostitution for other women, is herself unemployed.  She types relentlessly about her perceived notions of prostitutions acceptability for other women, while quite possibly entertaining fears about how long her internet connection and electricity supply are going to hold out.

Why would any woman put so much energy into arguing the acceptability of something that, obviously, she does not consider acceptable for herself?  I cannot answer that, though I would be very interested in knowing the answer.  If a woman’s attitude is that prostitution is empowering and liberating and as acceptable as it gets, well then why on earth would she be unprepared to use this self-espoused wonderfully affirmative mechanism to keep the wolf from her own door?

Prostitution apologists do not gel well with such bald common sense.  In fact, it enrages them.  Time and again I have witnessed questions like these provoke furious anger and seething resentment, and I have come to understand that these reactions are both defensive and offensive, and are composed so because of a powerful rejection of anything that exposes the nonsensical nucleus of their position.

The thing, I think, that most dishonours the position of these women is their treatment of formerly prostituted women who have made the painful decision to speak out about the shape of prostitution as they have lived it.  Women who express these negative interpretations of prostitution based on their own real life experience are shouted down in a particularly devious and derogatory manner by those who just don’t want to hear it.  They are told, in language that is designed to be alienating, that their experiences are irrelevant.  That they are told this by women who have no experiences of their own to draw on is only one bizarre aspect of the situation.  What is perhaps more telling is that these non-prostituted pro-prostitution women are clearly determined to refute, by any means possible, the evidence of prostitution presented by the women who’ve lived it.

It is important to see that and to know that, and so instead of becoming enraged ourselves, as would be so easy to do, we may as well take stock here and as calmly as possible take a look at the revealing nature of these non-prostituted women’s positions.  Since they are willing to affirm any opinion that does not challenge their own, and to reject any position that does, then they are clearly invested in believing the version of prostitution they would prefer to believe.  Their investment is most clearly evidenced by their dogged determination to silence prostituted women, regardless the inevitable cruelty that is inescapably involved in doing that.

This enthusiastic willingness to resort to a psychologically abusive form of silencing speaks of a need to refute that runs very deep, and we women who have been abused in systems of prostitution would do better to dissect and deconstruct and really examine the reasons behind this inhumane way that we are treated.

Of course, this is difficult to do.  It is difficult, when you are wounded sexually, spiritually, emotionally and mentally, to maintain your composure while you are further wounded by the attitudes of others who say this wounding is not relevant, or, at best, is just specific to you, when you know damn well you saw it everywhere you looked.  And it is galling, by God is it galling, that those who espouse this theory are not only women, but women who’ve never spent a moment being abused in the system they maintain you need not have experienced as abusive!  And so the reality of our abuse is dismissed and ignored and rejected, and by this system of determined ignorance, we are abused all over again.

So – what to do with our sense of appal?  I would advise that we pour the cooling waters of common sense on it, because just as much as common sense is offensively inconvenient for those who refute the reality of our lived experiences, it is a sincerely calming comfort for ourselves.  Common sense tells us here, for example, that if a woman sincerely believes prostitution to be an unobjectionable way of earning a living, the same woman, when faced with impoverishment, should not find taking a position in a brothel objectionable herself.

A woman who says that prostitution is fine, yet accepts unemployment over prostitution in her own life, may say what she likes – what she has demonstrated is that it is not fine.

Let us remember that actions speak louder than words, and that the insincerity of such women is clearly expressed when they shape their lives so as to communicate ‘prostitution is fine… but not for me’.

FreeIrishWoman

The Evil of an Enforced Silence

Rebecca Mott, in her recent article ‘Your Kindness is Killing Us’, spoke out about the illogic that permeates the reasoning behind placing prostitution indoors for safety reasons.  I can affirm every word of her article, having worked outdoors and indoors, and at all the places on prostitutions spectrum, be they dark street corners, no-frills knocking-shops, massage parlours, or high-end escort agencies.  I’ve worked them all, and I’ve been subjected to the same thing in them all: that thing was the most extreme form of degradation – the experience of being treated, as Rebecca says, as “sub-human”.  That was distinct to nowhere: it was universal.

There is no safety to be acquired by placing the prostituted indoors; quite the opposite.  As a street-walking prostitute at least I had the opportunity to size the punters up.  At least I had the chance to look in their eyes before I got into that car, and to lean in the window to check if they had alcohol on their breath.  I had no such opportunities indoors.  Indoors I was trying to protect myself with one of my senses, or maybe two, instead of all five.  I paid a price for that, as did every other prostitute I knew who got run indoors in the wake of the notorious Irish legislative change of 1993, which made it illegal to loiter publicly for the purposes of prostitution.

What struck me most though, on having read Rebecca’s article, was the vicious vitriol it elicited; the wrath and the anger and the fury it drew forth.  The posts that made up that attack have since been removed, but the responses to them are there, and they  make clear that Rebecca was absolutely vilified for having an opinion; an opinion that was and is rooted in the most profoundly painful personal experience.

Her treatment constitutes the evil of an enforced silence.  This is very important – it is very important to see this for what it is, to see why it is done, and to see what is to be achieved by those who are trying to do it.  Anywhere in history where we’ve seen oppression we’ve seen efforts to oppress the voices that speak out against it.  This enforced silence is just another facet of the original oppression.  The existence of any oppression depends upon this silence, and so it will be enforced rigidly, relentlessly, and with great ruthlessness.

The deliberate enforcement of silence has accompanied every oppressive regime since humans began recording their own history, and the present-day silencing of prostitution survivors is just our most recent historical example of this.

The tactics employed to silence formerly prostituted women are aggressive, intimidating and extremely hostile.  This attempt at enforcing silence is delivered with a dearth of compassion that is sickening to observe and deeply painful to be on the receiving end of, just as it is designed to be.

The intention behind it is to frighten us into submission.  The intention is nasty, cruel and utterly futile – and it is futile precisely because it is directed at women who have already overcome the worst form of oppression the world has to offer women, and they have not submitted to that.

To the pro-prostitution oppressors who continue to try to silence us I will say this: we are not fools who do not know what you are doing.  We know exactly what you are doing; we know why you are doing it, and we also know that you are wasting your time.  We have lived the demeaning, degrading violence that is prostitution – the same violence you tell the world is just ‘harmless consenting-adult fun’.  You know that you can get away with telling much of the world that, because much of the world has not lived prostitution – but we have, and you know that we are engaged in accurately interpreting it and putting the truth of this oppression before the public, and that is exactly why you are so frightened of our voices.  Every time you attack us you only put your own fear on display, and your enforced silence will never work on us; our days of being intimidated, coerced and compelled are over.

So here is my message to those who attacked one of my survivor sisters last weekend: you are not going to get away with that.  I am not – and we are not – going to stand idly by while any one of us is viciously verbally assaulted for expressing an opinion that she has damn-well earned the right to express.  So you can take your enforced silence and shove it exactly where so many punters would like to shove their dicks if you yourself were prostituted – that is to say, you can take your enforced silence and shove it straight up your arse.

FreeIrishWoman