by Siobhan Knox, co-director of Sex Worker's Opera - a show written, directed and performed by 50% sex workers 50% allies.

Sex Worker's Opera by Julio Etchart

Sex Worker's Opera by Julio Etchart

Being a Sex Worker is just like being Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman!

...or Satine from Moulin Rouge, Violeta from La Traviata! The list goes on. These stereotypes are often very one sided, often unrealistic and mostly written by white men. This is a reason why sex worker-led art is so important to challenge misconceptions which keep stigma alive - and stigma leads to exclusion, dangerous laws and ultimately violence.

There are only two types of sex worker! ‘Tragic and harrowed’ or ‘glamourous and high class’

Sex Workers can be escorts, strippers, webcam models, porn actors, dominatrixes. They can work indoors or outdoors. They are cis women, cis men, trans* and non binary. Sex workers can make very little or make megabucks depending on the work, the area, the time of year.

In the show we are not saying it is good, not saying it is bad. It is complex. Some people like their jobs, some people hate it, many people are doing it to support their children. Some are doing it to pay for alcohol and substances some to have money to pay for uni. Or for their kids to go to uni. Much like most other jobs.

Sex workers need saving!

Maybe everyone in capitalism needs saving. I’m sure quite a lot of us would prefer not to do our jobs… but until that’s an option, all workers need workers’ rights and human rights, including sex workers.

I don’t know any sex workers

This seems to be what a lot of people assume when they come to see the show. They assume the actors on stage are not sex workers, neither are the directors and technical team. They assume that a creative salary is enough to afford rent in London. They assume the people sitting beside them in the audience are not sex workers and that none of the people in their lives could be either. No acquaintances, loved ones, parents, siblings, mother-in-laws, cousins, colleagues.

Because of austerity, jobs and benefits cuts, more and more people are turning to sex work. But if you did it a few times, would you tell your friends, family? Would you feel safe?

Sex workers can’t sing

I didn’t know this was a stereotype until we started Sex Worker’s Opera and saw how aghast and shocked people looked when taking a flyer. “Sex Workers? Actual sex workers? Opera??? SINGING?”. Interesting presumption, given how much women have had to use their sexuality in order to survive in the music industry over the decades.

You can’t be a feminist and a sex worker!

Our cast would disagree as predominantly queer feminists!

There are definitely feminists who silence sex worker rights. These feminists are known as sex work exclusionary radical feminists (SWERFs) - however we would argue that silencing marginalised voices isn’t very “radical.”

Sex workers can’t have relationships

Sex Workers are mothers, daughters, brothers and lovers. Sex Workers are human. Some people have relationships some don’t.

However the stigma that is perpetuated about sex workers - often from art and the media does mean that some people do become isolated from their friends, family and lovers.

Women are not sex work clients

While it is true that the majority of clients are cis men - we have received many stories from sex workers who have had female clients. There are also many women who enjoy going to strip clubs and watching porn - and lots of porn made by women for women! Unfortunately in the UK, feminist and queer porn are currently being targeted with new restrictive porn laws.

Something bad must have happened to you in order to become a sex worker

There are many different reasons that someone may choose to become a sex worker.

There are many bad things that can happen to people in general especially people who are not cis men. 1 in 5 women in the UK have experienced some kind of sexual violence. Sex workers are also less safe because currently UK laws do not keep them safe. For example, it is illegal for 2 sex workers to work together for safety.

Sex workers are voiceless and need others to speak for them

Sex workers have a voice - people just rarely want to listen. The sex work movement has been fighting tirelessly for years to change policy, call for decriminalisation and end stigma. English Collective of Prostitutes were behind the first ever private prosecution for rape in England and Wales where a serial rapist who had targeted sex workers was convicted. We need to listen to sex workers.

Sex Worker’s Opera will run at Mumford Theatre from 4 – 6 November, Theatre Delicatessen from 9 – 11 November, Tropicana in Weston-super-Mare from 16 – 18 November before its run at Ovalhouse from 22 November – 2 December.


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