It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.

I don’t come particularly well out of this anecdote. But I’m going to tell it anyway, not because it is in itself so important, but because it is a wee data point in building up a picture of the way the ‘debate’ around sex work is conducted by our elected representatives in the Scottish Parliament.

To be brief, an MSP shouted at me – and made me cry. That third clause is obviously the bit where I come off not-so-well; while I would never judge anyone else for crying in a conversation about politics, I judge myself more harshly, and I am worried that people might think I was “turning on the waterworks” in order to gain sympathy. As anyone who has ever cried in an argument can tell you, no one would actually use this tactic (even if it were possible, which its not, for me. I’m not a very good actor!) – crying has a tendency to make people take you less seriously, make you you go pink and blotchy, and not-able to speak, and render you vulnerable to accusations of waterworks-turn-on. If I was making a checklist of “things I’d want to be the case while talking to MSPs”, ‘not looking serious’, ‘unable to speak’ and ‘being blotchy’ would be really, really low on the list.

A couple of days ago, four of us from ScotPEP went into Holyrood to meet some Scottish Labour MSPs. I’ll get quickly to the crying incident (to get it over with), and then unpack some of the other stuff going on in the room, so. We were in the process of disagreeing over the meaning of the figure “nine out of ten ‘prostitutes’ want to quit the industry” – my ScotPEP colleague George had just asked Drew Smith, who’d offered this factoid, whether he thought people who work in call centres, or Primark, might also want to quit their jobs. Someone said, “that’s not a fair comparison”, and I piped up (having hitherto been silent) with the observation that, y’know, I’m a current sex worker, and actually I do think that’s a fair comparison. The implication being that I might know, at least a bit, what with being an actual sex worker (and having worked in the service industries prior to selling sex). I was certainly the person in the room with the most recent experience of both selling sex, and of crappy service-industry sector work.

At that point, Siobhan McMahon yelled at me. Okay, okay, semantics. She might dispute “yelled”. All I can say is, I literally can’t remember the last time someone spoke to me with such aggression. Maybe that’s how they roll in the Scottish Parliament, but in normal adult life, grown-ups don’t speak to each other in such unmoderated tones. I can’t recall exactly what she yelled, because I was so shocked at being shouted at I kind of neglected to pay attention to the details, but it concluded with the observation that “the way that democracy works” is that we can have differing opinions. Um, thanks? For explaining to me how democracy works? I wonder if she so kindly explains the basics of “democracy” to everyone, or only to stupid whores. So then I cried, through a mixture of shock, fury, and, well, sadness I guess. I kind of hoped the conversation would be slightly more elevated. Silly me.

Frustrating! Imagine my surprise, upon getting home and checking Wikipedia, to discover that Ms McMahon became an MSP at the age of twenty-seven after “controversially” being employed by her father, MSP Michael McMahon as his parliamentary researcher. I’m absolutely sure she got the fast-track-to-MSP-job with Mr McMahon as a result of being objectively the best candidate who applied, and it’s merely an unfortunate coincidence that he’s her dad, but just for the sake of appearances, I wonder if she could take a slightly more circumspect tone when telling other people what’s-what with regards to the nuances of their employment options. Just a thought.

The other thing to note is that, unlike Rhoda, who at least had what in retrospect seems like the courtesy to let me finish my sentence before using the “you’re not representative” line to discredit me, Ms McMahon knew literally nothing about me when she felt totally comfortable with shouting at me. All she knew was that a) I was a sex worker and b) I disagreed with her. Cue aggression on her part, and (cringe) tears on mine. This is from the side of argument that want to “help” sex workers, remember. Unless they politely disagree with you! At which point, the definition of ‘help’ becomes ‘shout at until cries’.

Final point! Mr. Smith’s ‘9/10 prostitutes’ (sigh) fact was only offered to us verbally, and I do think it’s more understandable to be a bit sloppy with referencing when in conversation.  However, just in case you were wondering, the most probable location for this claim is Melissa Farley’s “89%” study, which has been widely and substantively discredited. Having started my silent-ish weeping out of shock, though, I kind of continued through frustration and despair as the MSPs pick-picked at our fully referenced briefing paper of evidence (well, hmm. The best they really offered was “Helena Kennedy?! Always best to take her pronouncements with a pinch of salt”, which, well – why did the fucking Scottish government appoint her to lead the report on Human Trafficking, then? We didn’t appoint her. You did), while declining to offer any evidence for their own opinions.

It will be very interesting to see what evidence Rhoda Grant produces for her consultation. If are able to discuss this on the evidence, sex workers will win, regardless of how much they shout at us to shut us up.


16 thoughts on “It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.

  1. I’m sorry she made you cry. What an awful woman. I so admire the work you do. I don’t know if it’ll help, but I’ve friended the lovely Ms Grant on facebook in case there’s even just the remotest possibility of appealing to her as a person – maybe even woman to woman sort of thing – about her ridiculous and potentially damaging proposal. I sent her the link to the Petra Ostergren study that slates (to put it mildly) the Swedish attempt to do whatever it was the government thought they were doing about the sex industry by making the purchase of sex illegal. Never know – she might take her head out of a black pudding long enough to read it.

  2. I am so sorry this happened to you. On the one hand it is useful because it is indicative of how some people who claim to want to “help” sex workers actually think of them: good for everyone else to know how they roll. I’ll file it away in case I ever have the pleasure of meeting her. But what a terrible, dispiriting episode that must have been for you.

    Thank you for writing about it and keep fighting the good fight.

    • Thank you for the reply & sympathy! Dispiriting is a good word. Definitely keep an eye out for Siobhan – I’m sure she’ll turn up all over the place as Rhoda’s Bill cranks up. One interesting moment was when a ScotPEP colleague asked Drew Smith if there was any evidence that could change his (prohibitionist) mind. Mr Smith had the good grace to look momentary uncomfortable and assert that it could be possible to change his mind through evidence. Only one part of me (the naive part) believes that’s in the least bit true, but it’s an interesting spot to put them in – and then attempt to hold them to …

  3. Just so you know…personally, I have always tended to burst into those EXACT SAME kind of mortifiying tears in circumstances where my subconscious mind is aware that if I go with my first impulse, and punch somebody’s lights out, I will MOST DEFINATELY wind up under arrest. The tears serve as a release valve, very sensible arrangement.

    I wish I had been there.

    • Thank you! I’m so glad I’m not alone in this ;-). Release valve is so true – like, “I AM HAVING TOO MANY FEELINGS” regardless of whether those feelings are frustration or fury or whatever, they emerge as tears.

  4. It happens over here in the States all the time too. Someone proclaiming facts that no one wants to be a sex worker and that were all trafficked or on drugs. They offer it up as fact when its just something that’s made up out of thin air with no citation, no basis in fact and Melissa Farley doesn’t count that discredited hack has an agenda longer then Pinocchio’s nose in midst lie and people just eat it up. Offer up your personal experience and that of your peers and you discounted as the exception not the rule, told you don’t exist and then often treated like a dumb whore in the process. Ugh i feel for you, i really do, it sucks and it makes you feel like crap. Do not feel bad about crying, that’s just an anger response, with time you will get more control over your reaction to being treated badly in situations like that. It comes with practice. Stay strong keep up the good fight, its not easy i know but know you are doing good things for others in your community.

    • And it takes so long to pause the conversation, go “those ‘stats’/’facts’/whatever aren’t true” that sometimes it just feels like they’ll always win because they’ll keep trotting out these things that are LIES and you’ll never have time to press pause on the conversation and explain! It takes *so little time* to say “SCIENCE proves all sex workers are sad victims, or at least 97% of them are”, and so much time (relatively) to calmly explain why Farley stats (etc) are crap! They can be rhetorically quicker because a) lies and b) punchy lack of nuance.

      Thank you for the sympathy, though. The tone of despair in my reply might partly be borne out of currently being sat in a very hot, very noisy communal kitchen in an unfamiliar city /sigh. Overall, my colleagues at ScotPEP are SO good, and, y’know, rightness is so on our side, that mostly I think we’ll prevail. Plus, I’m slightly heartened to see how many people have landed on this blog over the last fe days by searching a variation of “Siobhan McMahon + sex worker”. Loads! Ha, Siobhan. The internet lets us bite back.

      Incidentally, I fucking LOVE Fairy Whore Mother! Such good advice on there, always.

  5. You *do* come out of this well! I thought you were going to launch yourself over the table and pull her hair or punching her or something. That would be “not coming out of this well”. Getting upset when someone totally violates the rules of reasonable discourse by shouting at you in a professional situation is not “not coming out of this well.”

    I’m sorry it was such a totally vile experience. Really disgusting behaviour from the Siobhan McMahon.

    • Aw, thank you so much for the sympathy! I kind of wish I had reached over and pulled her hair really hard, now you say that. I *did* get the minor satisfaction of knowing that both her and her dad read this, and were dreadfully offended, so – hee! – that soothed the vexation a little. Even minnows can bite back via social media these days, MSPs …

  6. It’s important to understand that the side that “wants to help sex workers” doesn’t really want to help sex workers. Seriously, let’s say I had a box with a button in it marked, “Make all sex workers vanish.” Well, I wouldn’t give it to these people because, let me tell you, their furious button pushing would probably give them carpal tunnel syndrome.

    • Referencing this quote:

      “This is from the side of argument that want to ‘help’ sex workers, remember. Unless they politely disagree with you! At which point, the definition of ‘help’ becomes ‘shout at until cries’.”

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