When I tell people I’m a sex worker, I know exactly what is running through their minds. Red lipstick, heels, fishnets, short clothing, long nails, and every other stereotypical thing that makes up the sex worker “ideal.” That is my life to them, even if I’m standing in front of them wearing sweats and a sweatshirt, hair a mess, nails chewed, and donning a pair of flip-flops. There seems to be a huge disconnect between “sex work Espi” and the Espi that is standing right in front of them. What most people don’t realize is that “sex work Espi” and the Espi they know are the same person. Sex workers are detached – another realm of humanity that the average person can’t grab hold of or put a face on. We are long-haired, long-legged, high heel-wearing silhouettes. When the average person comes to the realization that they actually know one of us, we become the test subject, and every ounce of our lives becomes theirs to put a magnifying glass over. So where is this disconnect? What makes us these shadows in the night, foreign to the average person? The answer is simple: nothing.
When I tell people I’m a sex worker and that I make porn, it’s seemingly impossible for them to realize that my life is more than just shoving stuff into myself for a camera. It’s like people don’t want to see me as a person as “normal” as they are. They don’t want to hear about the cats I have to feed, the snake I have to water, or the family I’m visiting. They don’t want to know that I spend most of my time binge watching television shows, just like they do. To them, I am another silhouette figure, lying on my mattress covered in dildos with mascara streaming down my face and a camera recording my constantly sexual life at all times. With the release of the documentary, Hot Girls Wanted, I’ve thought a lot about what it is that makes society only want to see the parts of us that are our jobs. It’s rare I’ll watch a documentary about porn and see the people in the documentary expressing anything other than pornographic thoughts, and this new (and problematic, though that could be a whole new article) documentary is no exception. To some extent, I can understand why: it would be boring if people knew the truth about sex workers. If they knew that we do normal things and are normal people. However, this trend still reflects a greater, more troubling issue, and that’s the issue of the Silhouette Girl.
The Silhouette Girl has no agency. In Hot Girls Wanted, she is presented through the lens of the people around her and what they think about her choices. The full service sex worker is typically presented through the lens of abolitionists and anti-sex workers. When an article was written about me, I was utterly silenced by those in the comments who used my story as a platform to explain why sex work was wrong. It does not matter how loudly we scream, we are always the Silhouette Girl. Looking at this trend and how it is reflected in the media, especially when it comes to documentaries, that is where we see why people aren’t interested in knowing who we are as people. If the average person is able to completely himself/herself from me and see me only as a walking sex toy, completely devoid of my humanity, their whorephobia and the crimes against me go unnoticed.
The same can be said when people use the phrase “sell your body.” No one in sex work is selling their bodies. Only people in the underground organ market do that. What we sell is an experience – an allotted amount of time paid for by the customer where they have access to my sexual content. By using the phrase “sell your body,” it makes it okay when sex workers are sexually assaulted and killed. If we have been bought, we become property. If we are property, then our “owners” are able to do with us whatever they please. The Silhouette Girl is once again devoid of any sense of agency and any sense of rights.
So how do we go from being viewed as the Silhouette Girl to being viewed as Your Average Person? Unfortunately for sex workers, that lies in the hands of the non-sex workers. It’s up to the non-sex workers to start viewing us as human beings and not like shadows on a lipstick-stained backdrop. It’s up to the non-sex workers to start making documentaries that expose our everyday lives instead of just the dramatized side of our lives that is our jobs (though in an ideal world, I would prefer those making documentaries to actually be made by sex workers). It’s up to the non-sex workers to ask us questions like “what’s your favorite flavor of ice cream?” instead of “do your parents know you do porn?” By limiting us to our sex work side, we are limited, too, in our ability to speak up and be noticed as individuals.
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