Connection in Community
Coming off the first National Assembly for Sex Workers put on by ANSWERS, I am left looking around at how long I went without feeling what I felt there.
This assembly was the in person event that was one part of an 18+ month long collection of events. There were town hall meetings to see what the community was looking for. This led to online networking events and workshops that covered a variety of topics from adulting, to marketing, to finances, to history of sex work. These online events allowed people to sign up and tune in from anywhere since they were virtual. There were some incredible presentations and conversations, so much valuable information shared within the community. Other great points about the event was that the entire conference was available for people to join in person, or online and all parts were accessible in both French and English.
We had four days of activities, learning, networking, and simply existing. It was so special to meet these people I had interacted with online, as well as many new people to meet. To see them with faces, and 3 dimensionally, feel their energy, feel who they are when they aren’t in ‘advertising to clients’ mode. It was really something special.
Meeting in person with almost 200 people from across Canada at a public hotel was an unbelievable experience. The fact that there was funding available for those that needed it was incredible. In our day to day existence, many sex workers live under the heavy burden of being stigmatized and judged. We often fear responses when we are truthful about what we do and who we are. The world has this image of what sex work is and how it affects both those who do it, and those who live in relative closeness to it.
I was interviewed for an article while at the event as part of my role of media liaison. Not everyone involved in sex work is ‘face out’ to the world. Due to the judgment we live with, many sex workers do not put their face in their advertisements, or content, or would be comfortable in the media. Since I have been face out for a number of years in my work, and am known to be relatively well spoken, I was asked to be one of the people available for media interactions. Here is a link to an article from one of the interviews I did:
Since I am from outside of where the conference took place I spent Tuesday afternoon driving to it with a good friend. Was great to chat and visit and be excited together, as well as save some expenses for the group paying for our travel. We got checked into the hotel with no problem, got unpacked and checked into the event. Since I am someone who is early for everything, this gave us a chance to have a cocktail and greet others as they arrived.
Felt a bit like what I imagine summer camp felt like. Excited to see your friends, share adventures and activities and be fully emerged for a few days away from work and the rest of life.
We partook in the opening welcome and a kicked off with a wonderful presentation from Sadie about what the professionalization of sex work could look like. Different ideas were presented that really resonated with me from a career sex worker and advocate standpoint. We had some food, and mocktails with an opportunity to mix and mingle with others we may or may not know. There till they kicked us out and back to the room for a chance to check out the bathtub I had heard multiple great reviews of. Happy to say the tub lived up to expectations and fell into a soft, king sized bed to prepare for the next day.
I never sleep well in a new space so no surprise when I was up with the sun, which is early this time of year. I had planned for this and brought some equipment to be able to take some photos. This is common in the mindset of someone who releases daily content as part of her business. New backgrounds and set ups are always desired!! I took advantage of the wall of gorgeous red curtains and a variety of lamps in the room to take several hundred photos to later be edited and released over months.
Got down to breakfast, which was included in our stay and enjoyed some time with friends both old and new before our day began. We had a choice between 3 different workshops: Erotic costume/movement, Impacts of criminalization on mental health, and CEO-Boss Bitch. I chose the criminalization/mental health one as I loved the opportunity for shared experiences and boosting my advocacy heart. After some mild tech difficulties, as it was a virtual presentation, and bringing in additional chairs as it was a very popular topic we got going with a wonderful person speaking to the various systems we have to interact with and how they are not usually in our favour. I was pleasantly surprised how easily people stood and took turns at the podium to share their less than stellar experiences with different government agencies. Some of these stories were heartbreaking, many infuriating, and all will be kept in that room to preserve confidentiality and vulnerability. One thing I will share was this incredible comment ‘I wasn’t exploited until I was forced out of sex work and into the world’.
I left feeling grateful for my own limited negative experiences and full of compassion for how hard our industry pushes just to exist. We had lunch together and led into an afternoon of workshops that covered a great variety of topics. We learned about the importance of creating connections with the public, and learning about a sex worker museum that is being created. Heard from a passionate man who outlined how to be a better ally through the parallels that the Queer/trans and sex worker communities face. We learned about the difference between being a royal and a performative ally even though both have their place and are valued.
I had to step out to complete the interview for the above linked article and prepare myself for presenting next about when family and work collide. I did a short presentation with slides about If, when, who to, and how to come out to family. I had previously spoken on this at one of the virtual workshops and was happy to share it again with a larger group of people. This topic is such an important one for our community and industry as it is one that everyone has to at least think about, if not do at some point. We then had a panel discussion with others who had different experiences with coming out, led primarily with questions from the audience.
The day wrapped up with Mona sharing some of her experiences of doing sex work advocacy for decades. She shared some great experiences of making relationships with different groups, and past events she had been at. Enjoyed a cocktail with a few friends and headed back to my room to type up notes and have some dinner.
Ended up getting to do an energy reading on an incredible human I met last year at another sex worker event. Was amazing to be able to connect and catch up. I had been feeling like I was on auto pilot and a bit numb to life lately, then after time with her I felt so energized and rejuvenated. A lovely reawakening of passion for life that is carrying forward.
Thankfully my tired brain crashed out hard and let me stay in bed past sunrise before heading down to breakfast. This morning we got to choose again between 3 workshops: The past and future of sex work, healing trauma with kink and defending yourself. I chose the past and future and it was wonderful. A walk through of the court records of prostitution in Edmonton from 1900-1930 taught me about how Edmonton had 1 of 2 womens courts in Canada at the time. I was so excited to hear Susan speak to her many years of working and advocating for our community. So many wonderful ideas of things thought of in the past and what we can do to make them happen now! Her passion is infectious and left me ready to make a change.
Lunch followed by the glorious Judith Stein telling stories of her 50 years in the industry. From being the sole dancer at a club, to providing your own security (right hook and a shoe to the head), to living through a typhoon in Guam and being presented with an award from the US military! Had a great chance to talk to her later and hear her excitement to see how much community has been developed in the years and how different the world is now with sex workers.
There were talks on combating stigma and the constitutional challenge that I missed as I was needed for support for a friend and setting up for the vendor fair. It was so nice to have a space where groups from the community-like STI testing, safer sex supplies, etc. and members of the assembly could sell their goods. Was a lovely collection of art, crafts, clothing, etc. I was pleased with how much I sold and so hungry by the time we were done.
My friend and I went to have dinner at the Old spaghetti factory, where thankfully they had a delicious gluten free menu. My first evening out in far too long to see live performances.
There was a huge variety of entertainment that had been organized by the assembly to perform at a local bar. There were several types of dancing, magician, spoken word, drag performances, and space for us to dance. I forgot how much fun it could be to see live performances and scream so much my voice was almost gone. Back to the hotel to crash hard from a long day of heartfelt goodness.
I got up a bit early on Friday, far too early for how late I went to sleep and got packed up and completed an energy reading for someone. We got the car packed up and went in for breakfast, yay for bacon and eggs after a night out!
We were broken out into groups to do debrief and feedback for the event. In theory this was a great idea and opportunity for people to connect with others they may not have been involved with the other days. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case for my group, we had one person who wanted to run everything (not the person in charge) and speak for others. Had to do goodbyes with new and old friends, sad to know it will be awhile till I will see some of them again. Leaving on that negative note was really disappointing but we hit the road and headed for home!
The entire event, even the negative end, was just such an overwhelmingly wonderful experience. To feel the energy of all these like minded people, no matter what part of sex work they do. To be in a public space, where people knew we were sex workers and accepted us was a big deal. People at generic conventions can’t really imagine what that feels like.
Knowing how many people want to make this an annual event, but also knowing it was funded by a grant, so no guarantee that can happen again is a tough space. I hope people take what they learned home and use it to boost their own communities, fighting that isolation and stigma to feel accepted and loved.
On a side note at the event there were also recordings being done for documentaries and podcasts. There was a wonderful traveling peepshow set up in the parking lot with fun shows to be seen. There was a counseling room set up for quiet time and speaking to professionals if needed.