Relevancy of Client Status

One thing I’ve noticed again and again is that when men make online comments in any way supporting sex workers (like on news articles or major blogs), they always hasten to add that they have never seen a sex worker and have no need of it. Obviously, they believe client-stereotypes (e.g. all clients are ugly losers) and feel a strange need to pretend they’re not clients.

I wonder why they even think the disclaimer is relevant — can’t they, as arguably intelligent people — support sex workers with or without vested interest? Why the need for qualifying their statements? And isn’t it a backhanded insult to the sex workers they’re supporting with their words?

It’s rare but refreshing to see an online supporter who openly claims to see sex workers (aside from the huge and obvious discussion/review boards). I’d like it even more if anonymous online male supporters simply made their arguments and left it at that. To me, whether or not they’re clients is irrelevant. On the other hand, someone who makes a fuss about how they’re too good to visit a sex worker does taint his comment for me — in the negative direction.

Curious about others’ reactions when they read these type of comments.

31 Responses

  1. I hadn’t thought about this in the public sphere too much, but speaking personally, I would find it hard to relate to a man who’d never paid for it. I find for the most part that they have a more realistic view of my work.

    You’ve nailed it, though — the stereotypes are just so deeply internalized that they feel the need to distance themselves. I’d be shocked if its relevance ever entered their heads. It’s about even with throwing out bonafides along the lines of “oh, my friend in college was a stripper” or “I knew a girl who was an escort.”

  2. Well, there does remain a stigma attached to it, which is the flipside of the sex-worker stigma. “You are not a real man because you cannot attract The Ladies with your innate sexual virility/status/wealth etc” to go along with the “you are a bad lady because you do not believe chastity is the cardinal female virtue.” It’s a stealthy form of gender policing. Except it’s not really very stealthy.

    Personally, whenever someone comments on anything while taking great pains to tell us why they are totally uneducated on the subject, I tend to start wondering why they chose to write the article in the first place. I mean, “I know nothing about this: here is my opinion on it.” Why would I read that?

  3. It has to do with the fact that onliine discussions of sex work typically take place in the context of the “feminist blogosphere”, and admitting one is a “john” opens you to all manner of attack, and not just from the self-described radfems. (Although if you’re male (and not writing as a male sex worker) and defend sex work, inevitably somebody will inevitably play that gambit anyway, regardless of what you’ve disclosed about your client status or lack thereof). Its a much greater stigma than admitting to viewing porn or even visiting strip clubs. Also, the line of counter-argument that follows goes along the lines of “you’re just defending your self-interest/privilege”, “you’re just deluding yourself into thinking prostitutes like what they do”, “you’re a fucking rapist”, etc, etc.

    Without downplaying the stigmatization and criminalization of sex workers, there’s also a hell of a lot of stigma around being a client. I’ll go out on a limb and say, in some circles at least, the stigma is worse: the most obnoxious dismissals of sex workers generally are along the lines of “you’re a victim, even if you don’t know it”. For clients, its along the lines of “you’re a perpetrator and you damn well better know it (and you really should be punished)”.

    So its totally understandable in this context why a lot of men who write about sex work might by guarded about client status, or if they’ve never been with a prostitute, be quick to emphasize that.

  4. CBC, The Current, ‘Meeting John’

    This is the link for the podcast itself.

    [audio src="http://podcast.cbc.ca/mp3/current_20100111_25612.mp3" /]

    Any problems accessing that, here is the link for the parent page

    http://www.cbc.ca/thecurrent/podcast.html

  5. It has nothing to do with a client stereotype.

    Most people intuitively feel that being a john or an escort is an unhealthy lifestyle. An admission that one is a john is an admission that one lives an unhealthy lifestyle.

    Mike Seneca

  6. First off, i would say about half those men are lying. It’s like when i ask a client for a reference and he says “I’ve never done this before.” Yeah right.

    I also think it has to do with the fact that many (not all) sex workers look down on their clients and have issues associating with them in any way other than for an exchange of money. I realize a lot of clients can be jerks but I really try to advocated against this, especially in activist circles. I also agree there’s a stigma attached to being a client as well, but I think it has more to do with the fact that many workers have the negative opinion of clients, as opposed to guys “who’ve never done that before.”

  7. Bubbles,

    Yes, I hate the “some of my best friends are sex workers!” thing some people do. Like they deserve a gold star for being so open-minded.

    McDuff,

    You’re right — non-clients are speaking from a position of ignorance. Excellent point.

    CuriousBlue,

    Not all discussions online are feminist-based, like news stories, but I agree with you about the radfem positions on most sex worker-related articles. They make most of us not want to join in the discussion.

    But saying that client-stigma is worse than Whore Stigma? Online or in real life, no, I don’t think so. All a man has to worry about is a little social humiliation. Female sex workers can lose their lives over it. So if it’s totally understandable that men are afraid of outing themselves as anonymous clients online, then really, these men are rather ballless, spineless and have a nice big yellow streak up their torso.

    I’m not disagreeing with your observation, only stating my opinion of the type of person who follows that line of thinking.

    Mike,

    Suddenly these men are worried about what others think of their healthiness? I have unhealthy clients: smokers, bad eating habits, perpetual jet lag. (The “unhealthy” thing IS a stereotype, that all clients are somehow less than normal humans.)

    Serpent,

    Yeah, most men are lying. Like the guy who would come into the strip club every week and tell me it was his first time in one (just because he never remembered me didn’t mean I forgot who he was).

    I never thought about it but you’re right, some sex workers really hate their clients. This is a whole other topic, though! However, I doubt when making their comments that these guys are worried about how sex workers think of them. I think their worry is more about being judged by non sex workers, you know, the important people.

    Great thoughts everyone!

    XX

  8. I always felt they do it to make their argument more effective by avoiding the accusations of self-interest or conflict of interests.

    Some people say to any sex worker who claims to like her job that her words are simply marketing. I thought it’s the same with men: if you profess to be a client, some people would discount any support you give as self-serving.

  9. I don’t mean to imply that clients have it worse than sex workers in general. When it comes to prostitution, other than countries with “Nordic model” laws, sex workers pay a hell of lot higher of a price legally if they have a run-in with law enforcement. And generally, clients have a much easier time keeping their client status hidden from rest of the world, so “client stigma” often isn’t in even a major life issue.

    What I am referring to is online communities, and those conversations (other than those that take place in specifically sex-worker friendly spaces) are often dominated by either radfems or conservative “abolitionist” types. Their view is that sex workers are “victims” and clients are basically sex offenders. Obviously, both views are obnoxious, but in such an environment, obviously there’s going to be greater hatred for the supposed “perpetrators” than for the “victims”.

    In general, I don’t disagree with you – more men in such conversations probably should be open about their background with sex workers, particularly in situations where the legal/career/personal relationship costs are practically nil. At the same time, its often something that’s going to make pro-sex work sentiments by these men have to say seem *less* credible in the eyes of many in such online conversations, because of the perception that their arguments are ultimately self-serving.

  10. I did post an entry on this, and did mention Mike’s comment. Even I have the energy, I would like to make the argument that actually it’s not any more “unhealthy” to hire a sex worker for a few hours than it is to pick up someone at a bar. And in fact in many ways, it’s MORE healthy because there’s less emotional entanglements involved. I’ve done before (never hired, but been hired, and have done plenty of the bar scene).

  11. Sexwork is still very much a tabu-thing and people are still not accustomed to talk about it in a natural way. It’s exciting, but myths replace very often knowledge.

    I see this uncertainty in real life conversations and think, that people, especially men who are sexwork-positive, just show this uncertainty in their online postings.

    Another reason might be, that they feel guilty about buying sex and try to deny it for themselves.
    Or are not quite sure about when they want to identify themselves as clients. Are they a client when they have seen a sexworker once twenty years ago, or see one twice a year, or on a regular basis a few times a month?

    Anyway, why would a man engage positively in an online-discussion about sexwork? Probably because he’s either a sexworker himself or a client. A man who supports sexworkers online and has never tried to buy sex is a very unlikely phenomenon.

    I’m just trying to understand… still think they are jerks.
    It’s a bit like saying “I never had sex with that woman.”

  12. JayR,

    In all fairness, I do think there are men who are capable of supporting sex workers’ fight for rights simply because they’re humanists and are intolerant of injustice without ever being a client. Though…I’m also not sure that type will bother much with making a fuss over their non-client status.

    Thais and CuriousBlue,

    Both of you are saying similiar things, that men want to avoid accusations of self-interest in supporting sex workers. Yes, people make those arugments against them and sex workers too. I’ve just noticed that sex workers tend to be a bit more feisty about not taking the arugment lying down. More people need to call out these radfems arguments for what they are: the promotion of the radfem agenda at the expense of anyone else’s voice.

    XX

  13. I do the “some of my best friends are sex workers” thing on other websites in part because I’m commenting there under screen names attached to my non-working identity, and in part because it’s true. I’m not the only whore I know, and every interaction I’ve had with another escort has been very positive and pleasant.

  14. I agreeand I see sex workers as often as possible.

  15. Thanks for starting this discussion Amanda.

    Whatever their reasons are for denying that they are clients (even in anonymous forums)- I have the most respect for clients who are quietly supporting the SW’s rights movement with money and resources.

    I sympathize with their need to protect their family’s privacy and I feel like that’s the bottom line for most who choose to see professionals. On the other hand, plenty of them re happy to write deeply personal reviews ABOUT US using anonymous screen names on sites where they use their real credit cards. You’d think if they feel safe doing that then they could at least post a few anonymous comments from the perspective of a real client…

    I do think they’re going to have to “humanize” themselves just as we’ve been doing for ourselves. Making people see us as real, human, ordinary people has been one of the more successful strategies of garnering support from important allies, including some feminists. The problem is- we can’t so that for them. I can write all day and night about how amazing and supportive my clients are, but talking ABOUT them doesn’t do much to humanize them. They’ll come to it in their own time, especially if End Demand continues to grow in popularity. Somebody will get busted and be activated. That’s how most SW organizing has started historically.

    xo,
    Kimberlee

  16. @Maxine thanks for the link to the podcast. I love how Susan describes her clients as ‘vulnerable and beautiful’

  17. When I posted a few days ago, I hadn’t seen this, but I certainly would have offered it up this article from Jezebel (particularly the comments section) as a *prime* example of feminist blogosphere as hateful, unproductive shitstorm:

    http://to.ly/VIo

    I don’t mean this as a disagreement with Amanda’s general point. But I offer it up as typical of online conversations I’ve seen about clients. Of course, one certainly could anonymously identify as a client in such a conversation with almost zero risk to one’s real-life self. But would engaging with the commentariat in such a space actually change anybody’s mind, or would it simply be a frustrating exercise in being on the receiving end of verbal abuse?

  18. I’ve thought about this before… I can put myself into the mindset of all of those guys, the ones who are ashamed, or who don’t want to get hassled, or who don’t wan’t to have their arguments weakened by a self-professed client status. Those are all valid considerations, … for whatever that’s worth.

    But, the thing is, if this was an issue of homosexuality, and the tsk-tsk-ers were conservative anti-gay christians – we would all just laugh at their ignorance and brush them off with a flippant jeer of “you actually believe that crap?”

    That’s what irritates me – the way sex workers/advocates/pro-sex sorts are still stuck trailing behind the antis asking them to agree with us, pretty please with sugar on top. Friggin social construction, dontcha know.

    We are right. They are wrong. More offense. Less defense.

    sigh… I’m sounding angry,… well…. wait… I think I might actually be angry. Shocker. :P

    Wasn’t it a few months ago that some actor/singer dude was celebrated for not answering whether he was gay or not, and he said, because it shouldn’t matter?

    That’s what we need from the people who say they support sex workers rights, no more of the “i know a sex worker but she’s not a junkie/victim/idiot…”, or the “I’ve never visited one, but…” no more qualifying and clarifying. More of “you are a fool if you think sex workers need rescue more than rights,”

    There should be no need to tell that you’re a client, because the argument stands on its own.

  19. [...] posted the first part of this as a response to this post at Bound, not Gagged: One thing I’ve noticed again and again is that when men make online comments in any way [...]

  20. Loved what you said FW

    Did you all read Jody Paterson: Good news: Johns are just normal guys

    http://www.timescolonist.com/news/Jody+Paterson+Good+news+Johns+just+normal+guys/2471932/story.html

    and my response

    http://thisoldwhorehouse.com/?p=62

    How do we get an announcement posted on this site these days?

  21. Well I know that I had to use that line a lot when I discussed the issue. When people outside the business defend sex work, they’re often suspected of having a conflict of interest.

    For me, being able to truthfully say that I wasn’t in any way connected to the sex industry in Rhode Island (besides knowing a lot of dancers, escorts, and spa workers as friends or neighbors) was crucial in making the point that the belief that the activity should be decriminalized is in the mainstream, and that it jives with normal peoples’ values.

    It’s certainly not meant as a slight, or to distance myself, but it lends credibility to the idea that even those of us who do not buy or sell sex don’t have a problem with it.

  22. Marc Doughty said: ‘credibility to the idea that even those of us who do not buy or sell sex don’t have a problem with it.’

    This is the best position for those not directly involved in the sex industry.
    Articulating this position is what the allies of marriage equality found most effective. Talking about how oppressive laws against one group of people effects everyone negatively is what helped the civil rights movement of the 1960′s.

    Maybe we ought to have a talk show specifically on that topic.

  23. Fair is fair, I guess. Now that Markus is at the Shady Lady, it seems women who support his employment hasten to add that they’ll never pay for it either. Below is one example but I’m sure there are more.

    http://bust.com/blog/2010/02/08/qmarkusq-puts-the-bro-in-brothel.html

    Sigh.

    XX

  24. Gah. I so agree, Amanda! When a guy in my life (who is not a client type) says something about sex work, he feels no need to add “And-I’m-not-a-client.”

    So if a client type wants to be undetected, he should just be enigmatic. Of course, it’s nice that some will come out loud and proud. And it’s also nice that some are discreet! And it’s also fine if some men aren’t into having commercial sex. Diversity.

  25. Hey Amanda I was responding to your initial post. Then I saw your new comment about Markus. Why do women feel compelled to say they won’t pay for it? How do they know what the future holds?

  26. Tracy,

    Diversity yes — there just isn’t much of it online in these non-industry places except for the “I’m not a client” type (of client).

    “Why do women feel compelled to say they won’t pay for it? How do they know what the future holds?”

    Yes indeed. I will be a client soon (unfortunately my choice pick is in the US). I’m hoping for fun and a learning experience that I can’t get for free :)

    XX

  27. it’s a good point that men are embarrassed to admit it, but aren’t people also embarrassed to admit seeing a psychologist? steryotype that there may be aside, it’s admitting you have a need that you don’t have anyone to meet without having to pay them to.

  28. I’ve been totally absent from BnG for too long. Stepping into this thread was an awesome reminder of how much I love it here! Thank you for starting it Amanda!

    xoxo

  29. Glad you’re back Jessica!

    XX

  30. Sorry to be so late to this thread; just found my way to it following a trail of breadcrumbs from Maggie’s blog, which I’ve taken up reading.

    This topic hits close to home, becuase it’s people like me–a plain vanilla boring married middle age guy in the burbs who in fact has no personal ties to commercial sex (not a customer, and if some of my best friends are sex workers they’re too UTR for me to know!) who are the center of gravity in the political battle here. When a lot of people like me become persuaded of the justice of the cause, it’s on the brink of victory.

    But it is a little harder for guys like me to speak up, even quietly, if we’re not only going to take it on the chin from the rad fem side, but also from the sex worker side. Just in this thread I’ve learned that I shouldn’t note that I’m not a client (OK, got it), that I probably am a client anyway (really, I happen not to be, that’s just how the cookie crumbled), that I really shouldn’t have opinions if I know nothing of the life (but isn’t the point to persuade all the civilians like me to have an active opinion, to wit, pro sex work and pro decriminalization?).

    Its looking like a very delicate thing for your male civilian friends of goodwill to support the cause without pissing off the side, eh? To be honest, not many civilian folks will speak up if they are as likely to be beaten up by friends as enemies.

  31. Bandobue — Speak up, just don’t speak FOR. That’s all. There is no need to identify yourself as male/client/non-client. Supporting human and civil rights should cross all barriers.

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