The Ones Buying It
by Caty Simon
"I didn’t have an ego until I became a whore. I felt disgusting before. I was delighted when someone finally offered me money after years of being raped by my husband."
-Drew, a San Francisco street sex worker, as quoted by Elizabeth Bernstein in Temporarily Yours: Intimacy, Authenticity, and the Commerce of Sex
At first glance, Notice by Heather Lewis seems like every sex industry abolitionist feminist’s wet dream. The plot concerns a street sex worker, Nina, who relives her childhood abuse through her work. Therapy and lesbian love in the form of the same person seem like they might save her. In the end, though, the protagonist’s only succor comes through the use of her self-determination—whether she uses that agency in the service of reenacting her trauma or not. The cogs of the mental health industry are laid bare, shown to be working in direct opposition to that freedom of choice. Beth, her lover/therapist, is revealed to be nothing more than a softer, honey trapped version of the psychiatric incarceration Nina experiences earlier in the narrative, and her betrayal of Nina turns out to be the worst of all the many betrayals she suffers throughout this slim book, if only because Nina has not quite prepared herself to expect it.
I’ve worked as an escort for the last decade, and I’m also the co-editor of Tits and Sass, a blog by and for sex workers. When Emily asked me to write something about Notice, I e-mailed saying that I was excited because I could never be quite so honest about a book like that in a sex workers’ rights movement venue. It’s not that we in the movement are a bunch of censor-happy Stalinists, I clarified, but it’s just that Notice presents this thorny question: “What would the anti-trafficking movement and the whorephobes think if we confirmed some of their assumptions, even if in so doing we added much more nuance to such an analysis than they ever do?” From the very beginning, Notice butts up against these considerations.