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Lurking and Peering and the Culture of Complaint

The day I visited my friend and fellow sex worker, Clio, at her house*, I was wearing my (non-sex worker-like) day clothes of jeans and a plain, dark woollen top and carrying a large, black art portfolio, as I was visiting to show Clio some sketches from a creative project I started at university. As I walked down her driveway towards her premises, (in a straight line as the driveway has a direct route towards Clio’s front door,) which is clearly marked by a large number visible from the street footpath, a lady who was entering a next door property in the same block of townhouses, hesitated before opening her front door to take a lingering look at me, while two other residents of the same townhouse, watched me from different windows on different floors. As I walked past their house, I glimpsed another woman watching me through some foliage from an attached balcony.

Below is a guest post by Clio the Whore.

For a brief but happy time I ran a brothel. I ran a good clean place with co workers I liked, and because I lived there I was able to be hospitable and flexible.

Then I received an email from the property manager, saying that he believed I was engaging in illegal activity ie: running a brothel and thereby using the house for purposes other than residential. He gave me two weeks to shut it down or I would be evicted. I was shocked. I rang him and he said there had been ‘multiple’ complaints (whatever that means) and that the neighbours found the demeanour of my clients threatening as they knocked on wrong doors and lurked and peered in windows.

I believed the complaints were largely spurious, and told him so. Clients do not lurk and peer. They may knock on wrong doors but they do not lurk and peer. It is not in the interests of men who visit sex workers to lurk and peer. In fact, as I found out from my clients recently, the neighbours were at times intimidating, making snide comments and watching my clients in a pointed fashion. Now, I can well understand why people would not want a brothel in their neighbourhood. They would associate sex work with gangs and drugs, and they would not want their children overhearing sexual activities. None of these issues were present at my place. As for the issue of using the house for non-residential purposes, how would it be if I fixed cars or did Tarot readings? Would he kick me out then? He huffed a bit and said it would depend on whether or not anyone complained. This led me to contemplate, in a rather personalised way I must admit, about the culture of complaint we have. Of which more below.

In fact they got me on two counts – the non-residential purposes thing and also that it is against the bylaw to have a brothel in a multi dwelling building. I could have argued, but I did not. I had several reasons for this. One was that I thought they had the right of it. Another was that even if I won the fight the neighbours would probably keep complaining until I was evicted. Another reason was that we sex workers live a bit off the grid anyway and a bad tenancy record would go against me. And – well, I felt that the privacy of my clients had been compromised rather horribly and I needed to take responsibility for that. I like my clients, and it was upsetting to hear from them later on that they had been subjected to something amounting to abuse from my neighbours.

We do have, I think, a culture of complaint, and on the face of it this appears to be a nicely liberal part of the modernity project. You can do anything you like, provided no one complains. Fair enough. Except what happens when someone complains? Those in authority have to Do Something About It. My property manager said he had investigated the case; in fact he had done no such thing. He merely took the complaints, did not explore their credibility and did not talk to me. He Did Something About It. He said he had to, you see, because someone had complained and he was then bound to act. The fact that he did so reflexively was by no means a bad thing from his point of view. He had shown himself to be Doing Something, and pleased his bosses and the complainants. Everybody wins. Except me.

Since then I have watched interviews with politicians in a new light. What happens is this. The reporter says, this is terrible and it must not continue and Someone Must Do Something About It. The politician then says yes, it is terrible and We Are Doing Something About It. In fact we are so Doing Something that we are all over its sorry ass. No stone unturned, no child left behind, no family must ever suffer the tragedy that has befallen these poor victims, and This Must Never Happen Again. Watch them. My hunch is that in fact they do very little about the issue, whatever it is, but it does make us all feel a little safer and happier for the thirty seconds or so where we actually believe them because they sound so earnest and active.

I doubt that my neighbours care that they have made my life more expensive and difficult, and that in fact they had nothing to fear from me, my co workers, or my clients. I am sorry that they were afraid of me and what I stand for. I hope they are happy on the moral high ground. I wish them no ill, even though I am slightly sick of them leaning on their balcony and staring at me. And you know, I quite like my life. I get to trade in valuable things – pleasure and laughter and sweetness and care. It would be nice to think that somewhere in their lives they have those things too.

* Please note – the feature image bears no resemblance to Clio’s brothel or any other brothel I have been to.  It is from New Orleans Storyville district and was taken around 1912 by E J Bellocq.  The Storyville photographs not only serve as a record of the prostitutes, but also the interiors of the businesses that housed them.  Keith Carradine’s character in Pretty Baby was loosely based on E J Bellocq, and their publicity still which I used to illustrate my blogpost Sex Workers from the Same Family was photographed in the E J Bellocq style.

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