The Revolting Prostitutes Book Launch & Mini Conference

November 11, 2018

Revolting Prostitutes Book Launch & Mini Conference

‘ll admit that I’m no stranger to book launches. When you’re friends with authors, you’re going to get invited to a few. You’ll spend more money on books than you ever intended and meet some amazing people. However, I have never been to a book launch quite like the one for Revolting Prostitutes held at Partisan in Manchester.

As soon as the tour was announced, I knew that I had to be there. Thankfully, my schedule lined up perfectly with the Manchester event. The Manchester event was the book launch with a mini conference, where speakers focused on the topic of sex workers’ contributions to research. It was fascinating, informative, and frank. You can read more about the launch and the book itself below.

The book launch and mini conference

Book launches usually follow a similar format. You’ll be thanked for attending the event, then the author and a nominated speaker will talk about the book in question and then take questions from the audience. It is a great opportunity to not only get to know a little about the book, but it also allows you to talk to the author and understand them better.

However, this event was different. It was a book launch with a mini conference, focusing primarily on sex workers’ contribution to research. Many experts were in one room, making for an incredible and highly educational evening. Describing the energy in the room is difficult, but it truly felt like a welcoming place to be, with passionate people there to offer their expertise.

Lilith Brouwers welcomed us to the event. Brouwers worked alongside the Sex Work Research Hub to organise the amazing event and bring it to us. We were introduced to the space before the forthcoming programme was discussed. It was a clearly well thought out programme with a variety of speakers with experience from all around Europe. Brouwers then introduced each speaker as they came forward and told us more about their work with enthusiasm.

First we heard from Nadine Gloss, who has been part of the organisation of the Whores’ Congress in Germany. One of the main challenges we were told about was finding a venue for the congress, particularly for the sex worker-only part of the event. Integrating allies was difficult, but by having a sex worker-only day, many more sex workers felt welcome to the event. They were surrounded by people who understand.

Another challenge has been the name of the event. Gloss told us that calling it a Sex Workers’ Congress wouldn’t work, as many don’t associate with this title. Dominatrixes and masseuses also found it difficult to connect to the Whores’ Congress because they weren’t whores. However, the event has proven to be a success since it first began.

‘Polly Blake’ then stepped up to talk about doing traumatic research relating to sex work. As a closeted sex working researcher themselves, Blake had amazing insight on this topic. She talked about her work with survivors of the Magdalene institute, and how many people wrongly believe that the survivors were prostitutes.

Blake told us that one of the upsetting moments she encountered was when they all insisted that they were not sex workers. At the time, Blake had to simply take her feelings out of the situation to do her job, but it is one of the many unique situations she found herself in. Hearing about this experience was truly eye opening for me.

Next came Carolyn Henham, one of my favourite speakers of the evening. She discussed how she became a sex worker researcher, with her research taking her all over Europe. In fact, she only returned to the UK from her latest round of research the day before the launch!

Henham has been involved in so many things, working with Beyond The Gaze and the Sex Work Research Hub. A force to be reckoned with, she also shared her proudest achievement with us: “having the microphone taken away from me at a feminist event”. She finished off her presentation by telling us “we (sex workers) are here… we are revolting!”

Unfortunately, circumstances meant that representatives from the English Collective of Prostitutes were unable to attend. However, Brouwers discussed their work with us. We talked about how convictions and cautions can have severe impacts on the lives of sex workers.

Brouwers also told us about another piece of peer research from the ECP, which looks at how work in highly gendered fields of employment compare to sex work. The ECP always has amazing research to read, so I look forward to seeing what comes next from them!

Revolting Prostitutes

The mini conference then came to the final part of the evening, where we would hear from Juno Mac and Molly Smith, the minds behind Revolting Prostitutes: The Fight For Sex Workers’ Rights. They discussed a huge range of topics, delving deep into their own work and research to tell us more.

It was eye opening in so many ways. Mac and Smith highlighted the fact that sex work activism shouldn’t be isolated from other kinds of activism. In fact, they felt that the industry would benefit greatly by working closely with other movements, such as drug, prison, and migrant-related movements.

Many within the sex industry, myself included, feel that decriminalisation is the best way forward. It is a step in the right direction, but Mac pointed out that the problems facing sex work would not end there: “Decriminalisation is very important, but it is not the be all and end all of sex worker rights and activism”.

When it comes to sex work, we tend to focus on one word of it more than the other: sex. This shouldn’t be the case. Mac and Smith want us to see that “the problem with sex work is not the sex, it is work”. They believe that their book helps to show this and educate people on this aspect which we tend to forget about.

I spend a lot of time with the people I know discussing sex work. I have put so much energy into it, and I found myself receiving a verbal slap in the face at one point in the evening. They said that the sex workers’ rights movement needs to put its energy into improving the practical reality of sex work, instead of debating if it is ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

When the nominated speaker questions and discussion was finished, it was time for questions from the audience. There were a huge range of questions asked, including some focusing on the financial difficulties sex workers might face, such as getting mortgages. Mac and Smith answered each question, leaving everyone satisfied with the answers and the evening.

The fight for sex workers’ rights

It would be ridiculous to go to a book launch and walk away empty-handed. The table in the shop was filled with books on sex work, and if my bookshelf wasn’t already stuffed with them, I might have left with more. However, I walked away with my own copy of Revolting Prostitutes: The Fight For Sex Workers’ Rights.

I’d be lying if I said that I hadn’t begun to read it the moment that I got home. In fact, the next day I was running entirely on caffeine as a result of staying up too late to read it. I had no intention of reading it all in one go. I told myself “just a few pages” and then suddenly I had finished it.

With research and political books such as this, I tend to go through and make notes as I read. I’ll highlight parts which stand out to me, which I have learned Lilith Brouwers also does. However, like Brouwers I couldn’t do that with Revolting Prostitutes. If I had, the entire book would have been filled with scribblings and highlighted pages.

It begins by telling us that “sex workers are everywhere”, highlighting the fact that the subject is hard to ignore… and yet people try their damnedest. “Sex workers are the original feminists”, they go on to say, speaking about the problems many sex workers face and have been fighting against since the beginning.

The book covers absolutely everything you could hope to find. Not only do Mac and Smith address the “sex” and “work” parts of sex work separately, but they also take a look at the various laws on sex work around the world. Everything is covered, from full criminalisation, to partial criminalisation, legalisation, and decriminalisation. The references section alone covers a whopping 44 pages, proving that they have done their research.

There are so many hard-hitting lines in the book, but one which has stuck with me comes in the last few pages: “The most potent source of untapped power for sex workers is not sexual liberation, social rebellion, or even money, but solidarity. The sex worker community is expanding rapidly as people wake up to the potential of standing shoulder to shoulder“. Isn’t it about time that we stood together and presented a united front?

If you haven’t already guessed, I think this is a phenomenal book and essential reading for all. I couldn’t put it down and will likely read it again before the end of the week simply to see if there are any big insights I have missed. Mac and Smith’s honest look at the world of sex work challenges our perceptions and makes us think twice.

Decriminalisation isn’t going to fix every problem facing sex workers, but it is most certainly a step in the right direction.

Lara Mills
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