My Work, My Choice: ‘I Am a Prostitute’

As she prepares to transition out of sex work and into writing full-time, Charlotte Shane reflects on the politics of identity—specifically, her decision to call herself a prostitute:

I’ve called myself a prostitute for about as long as I’ve been one. I can’t remember exactly when I adopted the name but I know it felt like the most accurate term given the service I provide, and I like the solidarity of it, the refusal to kowtow to class-related stigma or what is sometimes called the “whorearchy” inside the sex industry…

Crowding what I do into the larger umbrella of “sex work,” without its own name, makes it seem as if I’m supposed to experience what I do as shameful. That my specific work can’t have a name; and that I’m supposed to accept the stigma that surrounds prostitution more intensely than any other form of sexual labor by using vague language to try to elide that stigma. It feels too much like an implication that there really is something bad and wrong about charging money to engage directly with someone else’s genitals, so I must never describe it as it is. I’m not OK with that. To make it verboten in public discourse puts us in agreement with those who think it’s a shameful life for shameful people.

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