… this is a continuation of Mondays post ‘MANORISMS‘…
I am sitting in a sex workers bedroom not wanting to look at the stack of paperwork sitting on their bed. Sex worker’s individual paperwork and medical information is here. My own worker paperwork from Cromwell is here.
In an environment of prevailing whorephobia no-one should ever have this information.
Anyone, sex worker or not, would prefer that their personal and medical information is secured.
The worker whose bedroom I am sitting in, who is also an ex-Cromwell sex worker, found the records in an open cupboard in the Reception area of Cromwell, last Friday night at the ‘Manorisms’ exhibition opening.
I listen as they describe their experience & show me photos that they took of the ‘exhibition’ –
- an art ‘installation’ including a handmade knife, pieces of human skin (molded in latex), reproduction human bones, ‘instruments’ laid out on a table as if ready to dissect – in one of the rooms I used to work in
- a shower unit in one of the rooms, where our names have been painted – having been accessed from records left at Cromwell – my name is there, my best friend’s name is there, the worker who is showing me this points out their name
- one of the beds left ‘untouched’ as if to memorialize Cromwell, essentially fetishising both sex work and sex workers
- a sex worker’s belongings left sitting out, accessible to anyone, on top of the lockers in the locker room
- telephone numbers left taped up behind reception, visible and accessible to anyone in the space
I go outside and smoke a cigarette, my hands are shaking.
We agree that all of the paperwork should be burned.
I call Consumer Affairs Victoria (as I did in June 2012 when Cromwell Manor closed). They advise they will look into it and get back to me.
I spend the day speaking to sex workers. Online. In person. We talk about how angry we are. We talk about our memories of Cromwell. It is decided that a public statement is necessary, so I write a blog post. A pretty restrained blog post given all of the above. I call StrEAT & leave a message.
Then something happens. StrEAT call back.
We have a tense conversation – I find myself stating several times “you must let go of the idea that what you have done is defensible, it is intrinsically whorephobic. Admit that, admit you have made a mistake and we can begin to move on” I say sex workers feel the exhibition must close, it is non negotiable. I explain that any meeting is the first step in a process rather than simply a token gesture to make this go away.
We arrange to have a meeting.
We discuss all of the above issues. We resolve some and make progress on others. The names have been removed from the ‘installation’ listing sex workers names by the artist.
StrEAT has closed the exhibition and it will remain closed.
We agree that we will need to meet again.
At the end of the meeting I thank StrEAT.
Why would an angry sex worker thank the organisation that committed a whorephobic act against their community?
Because they did two things that are necessary for progress when an individual or organisation has committed an act of whorephobia:
- they LISTENED to sex workers
- they acknowledged they had made a MISTAKE
These are not easy things to do.
People should listen to marginalised communities. But they generally don’t. StrEAT did.
It’s not easy to admit when you made a mistake. StrEAT did.
StrEAT spent time working through the concepts with sex workers and spent time listening to our stories.
Am I still angry? Hell yes.
There are still sex workers records that need to be handed back. We have informed StrEAT that these need to be handed to Vixen (Victoria’s peer only sex worker organisation), so that they are under sex worker control. Any sex workers that want to access their records should be able to do so (& do so via a peer organisation) and remaining records should be destroyed – by sex workers.
There is still the issue of the breach of privacy, for which there is now a RMIT ethics complaint in progress.
There is the matter of what will happen with the current site & the ‘artworks’, even though it is not re-opening as an Art Gallery prior to re-development.
There is much yet to discuss, but importantly – sex workers are part of the discussion.
Where sex work is the topic – sex workers should ALWAYS be part of the discussion.
To borrow a phrase from NSW sex worker organisation, NAUWU (who hopefully won’t mind):
NOTHING ABOUT US WITHOUT US!