A personal refutation of the concept of ‘choice’

Many people think of choice as I might have done, had I never worked as a prostitute.  For many, choice is something perceived akin to standing in front of a deli-counter.  Choose this, choose that, pick out your preferred option.  The men who choose which woman they’d like to fuck as they stare at those lined up for their consumption understand choice in just this way.  Their concept of choice is rooted in the privilege of a genuine alternative.  Their concept of choice itself is limited.

Choice does not always present as balanced; it does not always offer a different-but-equal alternative.  When I think of my choices there were simply these: have men on and inside you, or continue to suffer homelessness and hunger.  Take your pick.  Make your ‘choice’.

People will never understand the concept of choice as it operates in prostitution until they understand the concept of constraint so active within it.  As long as the constrained nature of this choice is ignored it will be impossible to understand the pitiful role of ‘choice’ for women within prostitution.

I’m going to reveal something very personal now, and I’m going to do that simply to illustrate how warped the concept of choice was in my circumstances.  I had a conversation recently with my sixty-something aunt who is currently spending a few months visiting Ireland, after having lived forty years in America.  She reiterated something I’d heard many years ago in our family.  It was a conversation my paternal grandmother had with the psychiatrist treating my parents in the local mental hospital.  My grandmother (and this was before I was ever born) had made an appointment with the doctor, very upset as she was that my manic-depressive father and his schizophrenic girlfriend had just announced their intention to marry.

She wanted to know what could be done.  How could this marriage be stopped?  How could these two very unwell people be allowed to go ahead and marry?  The doctor told her that mental illness could not be used as a reason to curtail a persons civil liberties and that was his view of the matter.  But what, my grandmother wanted to know, would happen to any children born into that union?

I wish I could go back in time and give my grandmother a hug for having the compassion and the foresight to think of where that situation would leave us.  She was right to worry.  It left us in state care, one after the other.  And as a young teenager it left me homeless, hungry, and prostituted, in that order.

The constraints of my own choices began even before I did.  And if we were to shift this situation into the deli-counter analogy, there is no young girl standing there deliberating on what choice to make.  There is only a young girl standing waiting for what’s already been selected and pre-wrapped for her, and she can take it or leave it.  Those are her options.  That is her ‘choice’.


The mindless cruelty of toxic ignorance

One of my fellow exited women has raised an interesting point on her blog (secretdiaryofadubincallgirl) when she mentioned the ‘cruelty and callousness’ of non-prostituted women who advocate prostitution as suitable and agreeable ‘work’ for other women.

This view is expressed with great vigour by some women who are not prostituted, never were prostituted, and never will be.  To hear commercialised sexual abuse sanctioned as acceptable is a painful, insulting slap in the face to prostitution survivors, but to hear it sanctioned by women who know NOTHING of prostitution from personal experience is worse than painful and insulting – it is the deepest stab in the back a non-prostituted woman can give to a woman with a history like mine.  There is no question that the position these women have taken is rooted in their own ignorance.

Ignorance is just a natural consequence of never having experienced a situation, but it is not ignorance alone here that causes emotional and practical suffering.  It is, in this case, ignorance paired with baseless convictions.  This is what I call ‘toxic ignorance’.

But why do people convince themselves that they understand the shape of an experience better than the vast majority who’ve ever lived it?  Where does it come from, this great arrogance?

I believe it is fanned into flame, in part, because of that unsavoury human proclivity to be a know-it-all.  There are non-prostituted pro-prostitution women who I have come across online who readily state they have zero experience of prostitution – yet we survivors of prostitution are expected to listen as they tell us that a world without prostitution is an unattainable, unachievable, even undesirable thing!  The kindest thing I can say about these women is that, by way of their ignorance, the arrogance of their position is beyond their comprehension also.

Why does any woman assume, because she has followed her comfortable and privileged middle-class trajectory into college (as was her lucky non-prostituted birthright) that her education somehow equips her to decode and deconstruct the prostitution experience better than the women who earned their understanding with their legs open on a brothels bed?

They feel they are better equipped to explain to us the nature of what happened to us because of a depth of arrogance so staggering as to be beyond reason.  To these women, I have this to say:

“YOU HAVE NO RIGHT to speak for us, or to formulate the shape of our experience, or to attempt to educate the world about something you know nothing about.  When you warp and distort the reality of our lived experiences you abuse us as thoroughly as the punters ever did.  Yours is the purest expression of the mindless cruelty of ignorance – belligerent, arrogant, and potent in its toxicity.  I am ashamed your brand of ‘feminism’ even exists, and I am ashamed of that part of my heart that wants to see you eat your words in a brothels bedroom, because I would not wish that hell on any woman – not even you.”


Moving on? I’d rather be moving in.

This evening I have been thinking about moving forward, about what that has meant in my life.  What it has meant to me and what it has meant to others, and what was meant by some of the actions and reactions involved in the way my moving on has been received.  I am thinking now of things that have been unspoken, but nonetheless said, and how painful some of that has been.

There is the conviction, from both within and without, that you can never BE anything but a whore.  This is another aspect of this whole mess that belies the notion of prostitution as ordinary work – there is no other form of occupation in my awareness where a person is expected, like a visitor to the Hotel California, to check in but never leave.  How odd would it seem to tell a teacher, at the end of their first days work, that no other occupational reality was open to them?  How nutsy a suggestion would that be?

But I did push past expectations, both of society and my own, and I did manage to leave – but have I moved on?  At what point can we be said to have ‘moved on’ when all of our lives are spent in the moving?

Since this is a road without end I think it best to view it from a different perspective.  Maybe from an aerial view, or perhaps it’s better to stop viewing it as a road at all.  This life is not a liner thing; this is a multidimensional reality, and I am happy on most of its levels.

But that moving on, if I think of it as a road, is best depicted as rubble-strewn and dotted with obstacles – and those obstacles stood like monoliths and were best expressed by the attitudes of others.  Anybody who ever called me a whore, with a nod to my past history, rolled one of those rocks into the road.  Their obstructions said one thing clearly: they said  ‘you cannot move on’.

So that was the attitude, and I have often run up against it.  ‘Get back there now you, into your shiny little whore box, and how dare you even imagine you have a right to any other place to be?’

When you run into an old client while doing your shopping, when a sexually abused friend tells you that, by comparison, your experience was ‘not really abuse’, when the man you’re in love with opens his mouth in drink and lets your past plop down into his family’s lap and some of them turn on you like vipers – when all of these and thousand other things happen you are again reminded that you have no right to move on, because the likes of you should stay in your place.

Thankfully there is a way to move on that has nothing to do with going forward, but rather going inwards, and the distance between yourself and prostitution will never feel wider than it will once you have mastered that knack – because going inwards creates the awareness that you were unlucky, you were exploited, but these are foreign impositions, not part of who we actually ARE - and when we understand that we’ll understand that we were never whores in the first place.

Nothing in the fabric of any woman marks her out as a prostitute.  Only outside impositions have left their print upon her.  The impediments others strew before us do not register so much for the woman who is looking inwards for her answers.  She sees those impediments, she senses them, but they are not so offensive when her innermost-self tells her so clearly what nonsense they constitute.  And so I am happy to report that my ‘moving on’ days are over, because it is so much more productive and more pleasurable to keep on moving in.

Much love to all my fellow survivors (((hugs)))