“Powerful … constructively controversial.” - Telegraph
“As entertaining as it is erudite.” - Observer
“Ambitious, meticulously researched and passionate.” - Independent
"Impeccably well-researched" - Huffington Post
"I disagree with just about everything she has to say" - Julie Bindel

Sunday, 24 June 2012

The Economics of Hooker Books

One of the more persistent criticisms I get these days is that by being public about my really rather normal experience of sex work, I am "silencing" people who label themselves a victims.

I'm not going to rehash the particular arguments regarding Happy Hookers vs. Abused Victims here, in part because Maggie McNeill has already done it. Suffice it to say that people who have read my writing know my experience of sex work, while useful, positive, and not abusive, was not quite the shopping-and-shoe-buying fantasy critics paint it as. But then most people who think that about me have never encountered my writing firsthand and are instead basing their impressions off a half-remembered advert featuring Billie Piper's tits. I understand. It's easy to get confused.

But it did give me a moment of pause: is my writing crowding out other voices in the market? I decided to examine this further.

Since many people purport to tell the story of sex workers for them, I excluded books that were either not written by or not straight biographies of a particular sex worker. I also excluded all that were fiction (such as my own Playing the Game) or deal with post-sex work life (such as Lily Burana's I Love a Man in Uniform).

Anyway, here are the results:


As you can see, my books are outnumbered by hooker memoirs that predate mine (Tracy Quan and Xaviera Hollander in particular). Outspoken strippers also chalk up plenty of contributions to the genre.

But outnumbering all of us by far are the 'misery memoirs' about prostitution. (Don't get angry at me for the sweeping generalisation. That is what the genre actually is called.) There are, to use the technical term, fucking shedloads of these books. You'll notice more than a few bestsellers in that stack as well. These were just the ones I could fit into the graphic; there are dozens upon dozens more. Many if not most of which were published after my books first came out.

It's probably fair to conclude that not only has my writing not stopped others from contributing their experience to the general debate on sex work, but that you're actually more likely to get noticed if you're unhappy with prostitution than generally satisfied with it.

With the swirling vortex of Kristof/trafficking/concern porn making the rounds, in fact, now might just be the right time to do it. If you were of a mind to write a book like that.

I encourage people with real firsthand views on the topic, whatever they are, to write. In fact moreso if you are not white, or not a cis woman, or not from the US or Western Europe. Women who look and sound approximately like me are already pretty well represented in the hallowed halls of sex worker lit. Let's diversify it all over the damn place until the orientalists and anti-migration-disguised-as-anti-trafficking types have to eat every last one of their words.

Just so long as we all understand that there is no such thing as one story of sex work - they are as diverse as the people in it. My story is my story. Your story is your story. None of us speak for all sex workers. And be honest. As Bob Dylan memorably put it “If you live outside the law you must be honest.” So long as we are all on the level, then getting as many true voices out there as possible is no bad thing.

Now back to the critics...

For pity's sake don't come crying to me if you're not as popular as you like. As the objective evidence shows, it categorically is not down to me whether or not people want to read your writing.

As regards writing as a career, it is dangerous to assume I or anyone else is getting "vastly rich" off of writing (as one bitter soul recently accused). Many people seem to think that writing a book, even a bestselling one, is a ticket to financial freedom and nets far beyond what even your common-or-garden escort can potentially make. I hate to break it to the dreamers, but that is not so.

If it was, do you think I'd still be writing? Hell, no. I'd be kicking back with J.K. Rowling and E.L. James in our secret volcano fortress warming my toes on a fire built by our minions entirely out of £50 notes and cackling madly. As opposed to the reality - sitting in my home office in a very average house in one of the poorest areas of the country. I'm not bankrolled by any grant-grabbing NGOs, my personal appearances usually only cover expenses, and nuisance legal threats from people with a lot of time on their hands cost more than all my living expenses combined. I've done better than most by writing and am still a long way off being a millionaire.

As it turns out, I hear the person who made that accusation supposedly comes from family money herself and spends her time as a dilettante poetess. If that's true, well, good luck with that. Whatever works amirite?

Best of luck, former fellow hos. This is not exactly the road less traveled but is no less bumpy for it.