Stella is an organization that offers services and rights’ defence by and for sex workers in Montreal. It was established in 1995 and regroups masseuses, escorts, street sex workers, dominatrix, web girls, porn actresses and even erotic phone line workers. The sex workers community are women, transvestites, and transsexuals who work in the sex industry or who have done so in the past. We, sex workers, never disappear. We move, we hide, we get replaced and we adapt. To us sex work can be job that we love or that we hate. It is often a really bad job, but it is our livelihood and we don’t like seeing it threatened.
Stella is an activist group that works on rights’ defence as much on the structural level, for example in our demands for decriminalization, as in our concrete daily work such as accompaniment to police stations, to court, to the hospital, etc.
Our clients: there are those we like, many we forget, and others we we’ll never see a second time. But we need our clients and we don’t like seeing them being threatened by law enforcement because of a blowjob, a trip, or just for having bought a little human closeness. Another thing that bothers us is the fact that anyone who approaches us risks facing justice whether it be our boyfriends, our roommates, our landlords, our colleague sex workers who help us be in business, our bosses, our drivers, our receptionists, and even our bodyguards. We sex workers have lost the right to buy help. We can’t even dream of a sex industry being controlled by women. The law against procurers stop us from being the big boss and having our own business, because then we become procurers, bloody pimps!
Let us be clear. Stella is against the violence of predators who pretend to be clients in order to rob us, rape us and beat us. As soon as someone passes that line he isn’t a client anymore, he becomes an aggressor, end of discussion. Stella is against all those out to take advantage of us by extorting money from us. Stella is against the bad cops who take advantage of the power they have over us because of our criminalization.
On the other hand, sex workers need to have access to real justice. Stella has worked very hard to develop a good relationship with certain law enforcement officers in order to make them more aware of our realities and so they finally treat us like fully fledged citizens.
Stella is against the abolitionists’ psychological violence. They insult us by treating us as powerless victims, they infantilize us, and they try to speak in our place while denying our reality because of their dogmatism. If we have correctly understood their message, they wish the complete extinction of our community, of our work and of our means of subsistence. We, protesting whores, live our encounters with the abolitionists as violence.
If you went and took an etymological dictionary and looked for the meaning of the words “prostitution” and “prostitutes” you would see that it speaks of a degrading act and of a person of lesser value because she has committed an act judged to be degrading. To pronounce these words is to offend sex workers, and we hope that someday, as it is now the case for fagot and nigger, it be no longer acceptable to burden us with such a heavy tag by calling us prostitutes.
We will keep fighting to improve the living and working conditions of sex workers, who are, let us never forget, women before they are anything else.
Pascale Robitaille holds a Masters in sexology. She worked for several years with incarcerated women and has recently taken up the position of clinical coordinator at Stella.
Émilie Laliberté has worked at Stella for over six years. As an outreach worker she met sex workers in their workplaces before taking the position of financial coordinator, and since January, took the General Coordinator position at Stella. Émilie worked for ten years in the sex industry.
This article appeared in the November/December 2010 issue of Canadian Dimension (The New Feminism).