Sex(ualized) work and social expectations
Earlier this week I received a friend request on Facebook. When I asked the person how they found me—standard operating procedure for years now—they said: “I found you from a picture on instagram, a friend of mine does a poet for hire busking thing in London. I saw you and thought you looked hot.”
(This was presumably a picture of me doing Sidewalk Smut.)
So I told the person I would accept their friend request, but was putting them on notice for being inappropriate with me, that I had a one-strike-you’re-out policy for out-of-place come-ons. Their response follows below.
My “literal erotica” arouses readers, therefore I must … be available for flirting, when that is not the service I advertise? My job involves writing things that excite people, therefore I personally should be available to anyone who is excited by anything I do or say or am?
I can feel the folks lining up behind me, nodding their heads and casting that dude so much shade. I can feel the Hooters girls and the go-go boys, the porn actors and the phone “actresses”, the burlesque dancers and the sensual performance poets, the escorts and erotica writers who are out about their work, the cam girls and the clerks in the sex toy shop… everyone whose words or movements or behavior on the job are sexual or sexualized.
For women, that happens in most jobs. Male entitlement goes in and stakes a claim wherever the fuck it wants; that’s kinda the definition. So I’ll just focus on the jobs that specifically entail dressing up sexy, talking about sex (whether being sexy or not), moving sexily, having real or simulated sex on camera, or having real sex in person. In short, jobs that involve sex or sexiness.
We may really enjoy those jobs, for different reasons, or maybe we’re doing them just to make money. Usually it’s some combination thereof, but here’s the thing:
They’re just work.
Our doing the work does not constitute consent for anything else that the client or consumer, actual or potential, may want to do outside of my parameters of time and scope of labor. The fact that I have so many sexually charged jobs and gigs, and keep up that attitude on my public profile, does not say anything about my general availability or interest in doing with you, after hours, the things that I may do or talk about while I’m working.
The connection between sexual experience and consent is plenty blurred already, particularly in regards to women. If you do or have done something with someone else, or you regularly do this thing with other people, you therefore must be up for this thing with anyone who wants it from you, and any expression about NOT doing that thing elsewhen or -where is therefore a lie (“she doesn’t mean it”) or malevolent denial (“that bitch!”) You can see this with disturbing regularity during cop interviews and cross-examining of rape survivors, but we don’t even need to go that far: slut-shaming occurs on a spectrum, and the expectations of entitlement are right there in the middle of it.
It’s even worse for those of us who “perform” sex or sexuality, or at least harder to get away from. The more skilled and apparently thrilled we are about doing our work, the more people believe that we mean it, we love it, that we would do it, should be up for doing it, even if we weren’t being paid for it. Like, even accountants and car mechanics get hit up for freebies outside of work; when it comes to sex(ualized) work, I think “civilians” just go to their own experience of sex, that it’s so fun and awesome, why wouldn’t we JUMP at the chance to do more of it. I mean, look how enthusiastic and open-minded we are about sex out in public!
This is called performing. Our job is to make people believe it, when we say, “ooh yes, right there, I love it,” when we take our clothes off and wink at the crowd, when we bend over a little lower to sling the drinks, when we get all sweaty and radiant telling our sex stories to a crowded theatre audience. If we are doing our job right, then of course people will buy into the notion that we want sex all the time and with everyone.
I’ve got lots of projects going on, and most of them are about sex and sexuality. I am very interested in sex, and I happen to believe that we can access a lot of the human condition through discussion about sexuality. I definitely think people need to have more of these authentic conversations about sex, and it is my honor and pleasure to be involved in facilitating some of those conversations.
But it’s still work. It’s still my job. And my agreement to do it, in the moment, my passion, my pursuit, even, of those performative moments, does not constitute consent to ANYTHING else.
This post is going to be expanded into a larger article for a forthcoming anthology. Become a patron of mine on Patreon and get a front-row seat while I work my magic!