Why aren’t we also saying that criminalization makes it harder to keep your job private? Let’s say you’re on the street, you pick up a celebrity and you both get busted. Your face is all over the media, as we saw with the lady who picked up Hugh Grant in the 90s. If you got busted for running an escort agency in the 80s, your face was on the cover of the New York Post. Now that the internet splashes these things around more widely, and we get spam offering to tell us which of our friends or neighbors has broken the law, with considerable emphasis on sex laws, I think the argument that we hide our work because it’s against the law is beginning to sound like a 20th century trope.
This idea – that our need for privacy is a symptom of illegality – sprang up before the internet was part of our lives. Facebook didn’t exist when 20th century prostitutes were developing their political rhetoric. So now I think it’s more likely that legal reforms could be seen as a way to take back some privacy, because people everywhere – including sex workers and their customers – are feeling freaked out about their privacy.
I know we say that sex work is work, but sex work is also SEX. I don’t know everything about my parents’ sexuality—and they’re open, liberal people. A sex worker might not want her kids to know all her business because parents need to retain some mystery in order to be respected. A sex worker might not want the local dry cleaner or the man who repairs her air conditioner to know she has sex for money—but that might have more to do with erotic boundaries than the law.
These creepy web pages created by police departments. The rise of the commenter which has its most problematic manifestation on escort review sites. The 24-hour news cycle. These things didn’t exist in 1975, when our big sisters occupied the churches in France and put us on the map. But some of our rhetoric, even coming from newer voices, has a 1975 quality. When I hear activists ranting about how we should come out of the closet, I feel like I’m in the presence of the thought police. In 2013, people are more interested in reinventing privacy than they are in some fanatical version of liberation.
Tracy Quan, as interviewed by Caty Simon for Tits and Sass