Ellie spends a great deal of her time ‘fighting corners’ for those she sees as discriminated against no matter their gender, sexuality, colour, creed, age, ability or disability. For her the term “equality” mean not treating everyone the same, but as individuals, all with the same rights. She does not consider herself an activist, preferring to take things on based on individual merits. She likes to try and stand in other’s shoes to get an idea of what is going on for them and is vested in educating herself about those situations she has no idea about. She enjoys learning about other people’s experiences, beliefs, lifestyles, jobs, etc., and says her great gift is in never having lost that childlike quality to ask “why?” You can follow her at @countrymuso
“Education is a major key to bringing about a more understanding society and communities. You will not educate a bigot but you will help those in genuine need of wanting to understand.”
Some 18 years ago I was starting out on a journey that would see me finally living as woman for the rest of my life. At the time I had lost my job after being assaulted whilst working on the wards in the NHS and I was really struggling for disposable income that would allow me to help my family and yet proceed with my transition.
At the time, I was living in Leeds and, cutting a long story short, I saw an advert for an escort service who were looking for staff. I thought about it long and hard for a week. Would I be able to manage this in my head? What would be expected? Do I pick up the phone and ask about it? Will I get drawn into a murky world? Would I be able to face myself in a morning? I decided, having been a nurse, that it was no more degrading to be an escort than cleaning up pee, vomit and poo. It was well paid and if I only managed just 5 jobs a week I would be able to just live fine. I got in touch with the agency
It was a man who answered, which initially set me back, but he was lovely and very concerned for my welfare. He asked had I done anything like this before and did I really know what could be asked of me by a client. My answer was both questions was “no”. He proceeded to ‘interview’ me on the phone by giving me scenarios I may be involved in. I failed almost all of them and he apologised! He said it was obvious why I wanted to do this but the reality was that it would either break my heart or my spirit. He was willing to give me a try but suggested I think more about it. He himself had been a sex worker and knew how hard it was. He said “We are not in the business of breaking people and their sanity”, which I thought was quite caring. He told me to get back in touch if I decided to do it but that he wished me all the best for the future and hope I get on well. This brief exchange forced me to look inwards and really assess how I view sex work and sex workers.
The truth is that my heart was not in it. I knew I was turning to sex work out of a sense of financial desperation, and I didn't want to do something I didn't want to do. So decided to try and manage as I was. I have come to learn that this is a major difference between the sex worker who works because she wants to, as legitimate work, and those who in some way have to it because it brings in money. In these I do not include those being coerced, forced or in slavery. There is no consent in such scenarios so it is not sex work it is exploitation.
I learnt a lot about myself and trans sex workers that I didn't know before. The really odd thing was that as (then) a pre-op transwoman I would have earned about £40.00 an hour more than a ciswoman. I came to find out after my surgery that the kind of man who would have hired me would no longer be interested because I no longer had a penis. I’ll make no comment as to what I thought was going on there. It was just another part of a steep learning curve for me. A 2015 study from the National Transgender Discrimination Survey revealed that thirteen percent of transgender community have worked in the sex industry - social discrimination, poverty, unemployment and health issues being cited as the largest motivators. In many ways, sex work offers a financial lifeline denied to the trans community by a society that is still transphobic.
At this juncture I would like to say that these are my own opinions and comments. They are not meant to offend anyone and, although there is ignorance in some of what I say, I am not speaking for anyone else. I have a lot to learn and have the space in my head to learn it.
I did not have a clue about sex work and what it entailed. My education around sex work came from the television and the stereotypical presentation of ‘pimps and prostitutes’ - so I certainly had many wrong assumptions and ideas. I saw sex workers as women who were being coerced and forced into doing what they do by exploiters, pimps and abusers. It was some time before I realised that it is not that simple and is far, far more complicated. However, from that moment on I considered myself a staunch ally of sex workers because I came to understood that sex workers are not 'other'; they are us. Since then I have stood up and taken on people who speak of sex workers like they are some kind of societal disgrace that need to be got rid of. I detest the way sex workers are treated in music (in the main, as there are some positive songs too), in film, by some police, by the courts, the media etc., etc.
The word “whore(s)” is frequently used in music in a misogynistic way (though I am aware there are male sex workers too). I often use it as a chance to mention how misrepresented sex workers are and, if it is me who is to sing too, I usually slip in one of my working girl songs to bring balance. I have only ever had good comments after from doing this and a great many people say things like “I had no idea”, “I never thought about it like that”, “That song of yours really made me think” and such like. This delights me.
In the main, people out there are scared of things they know nothing about. They handle that by either attacking it, trying to make jokes, or just being darned obnoxious. For those types, I find they often have a prurient interest in sex and what they make of trans folk like me, gay or bi folk, or sex workers, is actually going off in their own heads. It is their fantasy that invokes their reaction and for many it scares them.
My experience of most people is that they welcome open commentary, honest conversation and, as such, education about things they are genuinely interested about but are scared to ask. I try to make it easier to be asked so they feel it is ordinary and ‘normal’. Which, really, it is!
My being an ally will remain and I will stand alongside sex workers with pride because there is no shame in having good friends.