Are you a whore?

82HNobody ever used to ask me if I was a whore until I started writing about whores, and it’s put me in a bit of an awkward position. Now it’s not that I find the question offensive, not even a little bit. I think sex work is a completely respectable job or career and I find the suggestion that I would choose that type of work perfectly acceptable. The reason I feel uncomfortable when I am asked if I am a whore is because I do not know if I want to answer. You see, I think the question itself is unacceptable, and I don’t want to encourage that behaviour by cooperating.

You should never ask someone if they are a sex worker. Never.

The reason you should never ask someone if they are a sex worker is because it is not a safe question to answer. If they are a sex worker you are forcing them to either lie about it, or come out as a sex worker which will put them in a lot of danger. Sex workers are harassed, prosecuted, discriminated, stigmatised and bullied, so being open about your work means taking incredible risks. By asking someone if they are a sex worker you are assuming you have the right to that information, that you have the right to force someone to either lie or endanger themselves. That is not okay.

I think it’s a bit like asking someone if they are pregnant. Even if they are, it’s not your place to ask. Maybe they don’t want to share that information with you yet, maybe not everyone in their life knows, maybe it’s none of your business. Unless there is a baby popping out of her vagina you can assume that if she wants you to know she’s pregnant, she’ll tell you. The information is hers to disclose. And while asking someone if they are pregnant will result in a bruised ego at worst (“no.. I’m just fat.. “), kicking people out of the sex work closet might actually cost them their life, their future, their family and friends, their physical safety.

Accepting the question “are you a whore?” means creating a less safe space for sex workers, because it forces them to lie or be honest. And I don’t want to regularly place myself firmly in the “us” category of non-sex workers so “we” can talk about “them”, the others, the sex workers. Sex workers’ rights are my rights, this concerns me personally and it concerns us all, whatever job we do. Unless we have succeeded in creating a safe world for sex workers, until we have made it a safe question to answer, it’s none of your business if anyone is a whore.

So no, I am not a sex worker. But I don’t think it’s okay for you to ask me if I am.

20 thoughts on “Are you a whore?

  1. Elysia Brenner

    Don’t you object to the word “whore” itself? I would say it’s as intentionally offensive a word to use as the N-word…do the Dutch see this differently?

    Been following your blog for a couple of months now, btw – you’re a great writer!

  2. Marijke Vonk Post author

    Thank you!

    I’m conflicted over the use of the words whore and prostitute. I think only using sex worker can get a bit repetitive when you’re reading a text about sex work, but when I’m in a more official setting I am very careful about my choice of words. The Dutch are certainly less politically correct than Americans, we’d never say ‘n-word’ or weird stuff like that. We all know we mean ‘nigger’ when we say ‘n-word’, so what’s the point. I know plenty of people who say ‘neger’ (nigger) when referring to black people, although I suspect it doesn’t carry the same (historical) meaning here as it does in the USA.

    But anyway, I use the word whore sometimes. I try to avoid prostitute, when I think about it. I think whore is better than prostitute actually! Ha!

  3. Elysia Brenner

    My two cents as an American is that prostitute is an OK word – I think it’s clinical enough, and used more to describe an actual situation than offend someone. (Though I guess the meaning has been stretched, which I suppose could make it more touchy now.) Whore, though…no one uses that unless they are trying to be offensive. However, I guess you use ‘hoer’ much more easily in Dutch?

    And, yep, definitely a big diff between the Dutch N-word and English N-word! I guess “neger” would be more like “negro” – which should be OK in English, as on its own it’s a neutral enough word, but because racist people keep using it (it’s their “nice” word…but the same hateful message is still there), it’s not. Sensitive cultural histories indeed. 😛

    (I live in Amsterdam btw, en spreek ook Nederlands. 😉 )

  4. Marijke Vonk Post author

    Hoer seems to be more of a ‘light’ word here, not necessarily an insult. But it’s complex, I think. On the one hand I think words matter and we should be conscious what labels we use for others, especially when those ‘others’ are marginalised. On the other hand the whole word-game can get so tiring and irrelevant, with too much emphasis placed on correct language instead of actually talking about what needs to be talked about. So I mix it up a little bit and stick to sex worker when I’m in an official setting.

  5. Richard

    Last week I came across the word sexprofessional. I rather liked it, because it includes all types of sexwork, describes it as a profession (work) and implies a skilled level non-sexworkers usually don’t have. It gives sexwork the respectability that it should have. It’s also useable in other languages. What are your thoughts on this?

    BTW, I especially liked your essay on The Golden Bridge Out.
    And congratulations on founding Sekswerk Nederland!

  6. Ryan

    This article gave me a degree of empathy I had not previously had for sex workers–and I have been fairly connected to people in this world for some time.

    Thank you for the excellent work!

  7. Marijke Vonk Post author

    I think it’s for sex workers to decide what term they prefer. Personally I like ‘work’ because sometimes it’s just work, nothing more, and that’s fine.

  8. HenkDeV

    I accidently stumbled upon your blog via TPO.nl and i was stupified by this article. You don’t strike me as a particulary dumb person, however you do seem very misguided. To save another soul, and to encourage logical thinking i’m going to debunk your article. If you disagree (Which you do of course) please answer with whole arguments and don’t use logical fallacies. I also ask you to be open to change and other opinions since yours is simply wrong.

    Nobody ever used to ask me if I was a whore until I started writing about whores, and it’s put me in a bit of an awkward position. Now it’s not that I find the question offensive, not even a little bit. I think sex work is a completely respectable job or career and I find the suggestion that I would choose that type of work perfectly acceptable. The reason I feel uncomfortable when I am asked if I am a whore is because I do not know if I want to answer. You see, I think the question itself is unacceptable, and I don’t want to encourage that behaviour by cooperating.

    First of all sex work is not a respectable job or career. You do not master any respectful art or skill and do not develop a sense of pride in your work as you produce nothing. Basically a sex worker is nothing but a release for the short term needs of sexually deprived individuals. The notion of a career is equally laughable. The idea of a whore climbing the whore ladder from apprentice to master and getting a higher paycheck is hilarious. The moment your value starts going down everyone else’s careers are taking off. I only missed a short note on how the glass ceiling is holding back whores here and the patriarchy is keeping them down. While of course without a patriarchy there wouldn’t even be whores.
    The reason I feel uncomfortable when I am asked if I am a whore is because I do not know if I want to answer. You see, I think the question itself is unacceptable, and I don’t want to encourage that behaviour by cooperating You should never ask someone if they are a sex worker. Never.

    It’s simple to understand that the reason you do not want to answer can not be doubt over answering. Doubt is the consequence of the reason you do not want to answer. Why do you avoid the question then ? Probably because of stigma, because it’s true or because you feel shame.

    The reason you should never ask someone if they are a sex worker is because it is not a safe question to answer. If they are a sex worker you are forcing them to either lie about it, or come out as a sex worker which will put them in a lot of danger. Sex workers are harassed, prosecuted, discriminated, stigmatised and bullied, so being open about your work means taking incredible risks. By asking someone if they are a sex worker you are assuming you have the right to that information, that you have the right to force someone to either lie or endanger themselves. That is not okay.

    This is an enormous presumption. A question can never be inherently unsafe to answer. Only if those who ask the question have the intent to do harm one this applies. Even if the risk of unintentional harm is a risk the answer can easily be given on the condition of anonimity. Also nobody is forced to answer a question. And if they choose to answer they can indeed lie. Which is not in any way a horrible thing to do. If you are in a position as a whore that you end up in a life threatening situation because you answer a simple question you shouldn’t put the blame at he who asks the question. Evidently your safety/dignity/future are being influenced in such a negative way by your profession that someone can’t even ask what your job is. Besides how do you want someone to know you are a whore without them asking ? Should you dress like one all the time ? Write it on your forehead ? The very job of whoring mandates that people know you are one otherwise they can’t solicit you.

    I think it’s a bit like asking someone if they are pregnant. Even if they are, it’s not your place to ask. Maybe they don’t want to share that information with you yet, maybe not everyone in their life knows, maybe it’s none of your business. Unless there is a baby popping out of her vagina you can assume that if she wants you to know she’s pregnant, she’ll tell you. The information is hers to disclose. And while asking someone if they are pregnant will result in a bruised ego at worst (“no.. I’m just fat.. “), kicking people out of the sex work closet might actually cost them their life, their future, their family and friends, their physical safety.

    First of all this is a massively weird comparison. It is completely normal to ask someone is pregnant. If they don’t want to share that information they have every right to do not, same way everyone has the right to answer that question. As you already pointed out, it is hers to disclose. Also asking if someone is a whore does not kick them out of the sex business.
    Again the only way the question could do harm is if he who gets the answer tells it to those who disapprove. Apart from that a whore should never have children, your statement also shows another immense logical shortcoming. If a whore loses her family or friends due to being known as a whore that evidently shows they disapprove her profession. This again is a problem between her and her family, loading this entire problem into one little question shows a complete lack of accountability.

    Accepting the question “are you a whore?” means creating a less safe space for sex workers, because it forces them to lie or be honest. And I don’t want to regularly place myself firmly in the “us” category of non-sex workers so “we” can talk about “them”, the others, the sex workers. Sex workers’ rights are my rights, this concerns me personally and it concerns us all, whatever job we do. Unless we have succeeded in creating a safe world for sex workers, until we have made it a safe question to answer, it’s none of your business if anyone is a whore.

    So no, I am not a sex worker. But I don’t think it’s okay for you to ask me if I am.

    Again there is nothing to accept for anyone except reality for sex workers. You still dont differentiate correctly or even mention the option of not aswering. Also by claiming sex worker rights are your right you do say that you are one. That is pretty straightforward.

    Your poorly written piece shows a lot of glaring holes in your logic. Even in the end you fail to rationalise the root of the problem. The root of the problem is not an innocent question, it is the very nature of the job. A dehumanizing aspect that you choose to overlook in favor of loose arguments that have no base.
    And it is easy to recognize this. The same shame some feel from working at McD or as a garbage man applies here except a dozen times more intense. And this comes from the universal knowledge that we all share. The knowledge that selling yourself and not your quality is a direct counterpart to developing yourself and selling your skills. Being a whore is evidence that you have given up on self development and self worth for at least a short time and most likely for ever.

    Thank you for your time, and please be educated.

  9. Marijke Vonk Post author

    I’m having a hard time following the arguments too. Is your point that sex work is inherently dehumanising?

  10. Bella Robinson

    The original definition of the word “whore” is “beloved one”, however we all are very aware that the word “whore” is used to fuel hatred. Even the word “Sex Worker” can be stigmatizing, so we have re coined a new word “Erotic Service Providers” and this could be a escort, a street worker, a stripper a dom, a cam girl, anyone who makes their living off erotic labor. We have a union at http://www.espu-ca.org

    Recently DOJ put pressure on banks into closing the accounts of legal porn performers and in Seattle where they require strippers to register, well they just had a man file a “freedom of information act” to get access to the personal information of over 30 dancers, because he wants to pray for them by name. Even the Nevada brothel workers are required to register and the women do not understand the possible future ramifications of registering. They can lose custody of their children, they can be discriminated for housing, banking institutions and future or present employment. Lets remember that criminalization of prostitution was created to punish women that would not conform to what the radical feminist say is best for us.

    Also see our US constitutional challenge that will be filed in CA soon at http://www.esplerp.org

  11. Norma Jean Almodovar

    The word “whore” is not a pejorative word- in fact, it originally meant simply “beloved one” and I, as a whore, am proud to be one. Here is the “Whore” poem I wrote because the academics at Cal State University Northridge would not allow us to use that word in connection with our art exhibit during the 1997 ICOP (International Conference On Prostitution): http://www.policeprostitutionandpolitics.com/pdfs_all/posters_all/the_whore_word_2014.pdf

  12. Norma Jean Almodovar

    “The Scarlet Women…were known in Greek as the hierodulai (sacred women), a word later transformed
    (via French into English) to ‘harlot.’ In the early Germanic tongue, they were known as ‘hores’ (later Anglicised to ‘whores’)- a word which meant quite simply ‘beloved ones.’”
    Laurence Gardner, Genesis of the Grail Kings

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  14. kim

    “First of all sex work is not a respectable job or career. You do not master any respectful art or skill and do not develop a sense of pride in your work as you produce nothing. Basically a sex worker is nothing but a release for the short term needs of sexually deprived individuals. The notion of a career is equally laughable. The idea of a whore climbing the whore ladder from apprentice to master and getting a higher paycheck is hilarious. ”

    How can you say there are no skills required to be a professional whore. When you start as a whore you have less skills in both sex and service, but if you are eager to learn, you will do better in time. And guess what: you will even get paid more. No paycheck, because you don’t work for anybody, but you get higher profits. You say there’s no pride in doing this Job, you’ re

  15. kim

    Crazy. I don’t Know any sexworker who doesnt feel proud of what she does. We make people happy and relaxt and we get paid doing that. I think you are dispicable saying whores shouldnt have children, like we’ve got a genetic desease or something.

    “Being a whore is evidence that you have given up on self development and self worth for at least a short time and most likely for ever.”

    This just makes me wonder how a person can be so closedminded. It makes my blood boil. People like you are just plain stupid. And that is my personal opinion.

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