Stand-up comedy has been a nice way to combat the lockdown blues lately. The other day I decided to watch some really old acts that I still find funny from people who’ve been around telling jokes for a while, like Chris Rock. I came across an act of his from ten years ago in which he talks about strippers. “Somebody’s gotta take on the monumental responsibility of entertaining the married men of America!” Yes, indeed, Chris Rock! And then at one point he started talking about strippers as daughters and how as a father, he saw it as his duty to “keep his baby off the pole” because “if your baby ends up on the pole, you fucked up.” Hm. I generally laugh at Chris Rock’s stories. I enjoy his biting social critiques and find that he points out some really relevant contradictions in society, but that remark stung somehow, like a finger in an open wound.
There is a common conception that sex workers have conflicted relationships with their parents and especially that female sex workers have “daddy issues.” The father of a sex worker is probably just as pathologized as sex workers themselves. The narrative goes, he must either be an abusive, aggressive alcoholic or consistently neglectful of his child. I noticed this stereotype again during a television talk show hosted by the Swiss moderator Roger Schawinski that took place last year. At the time he interviewed Salomé Balthus, Germany’s “happiest” hooker. During this nationally televised conversation with Salomé, he asked her if she had been sexually abused by her father. As if it were completely acceptable to ask someone this on national television. Had he asked her this if she were a model or a politician on his talk show? Why was there this automatic connection between sex work and family issues in his mind?
I guess people who don’t know or understand sex workers seek explanations for why people would do such a thing and often, the explanations they settle on reproduce stigma against sex workers. Those who oppose sex work like to argue that sex work is problematic, violent, traumatic and done by people who have a history of trauma, violence and abuse, and they assume the parents of sex workers must have played a starring role in this. Whilst it can be the case for many, it is not an inevitable or invariable cause that those who become sex workers have a background of trauma and abuse, and this certainly should not be used as an argument for prohibiting/criminalising sex work. Upholding this stereotype only worsens the stigma against sex work as a destructive occupation and is also harmful to the parents of sex workers, whose treatment of their children may not necessarily have had an influence on their pursuit of sex work.
Chris Rock’s comment was a reflection of how I think unfortunately many people perceive parents of sex workers: as failures, as the types of people who should not be having children. Hearing that comment hurt me because it made me think of my own father and how wonderful he always was towards me as I was growing up. I suddenly felt a defensive urge to protect my father from the stigma that I have faced as a sex worker. This was the last thing he deserved because to me, my father did not fuck up as a father. He was always there for me. He always made sure to spend time with me as a little girl, took me to the zoo, taught me to swim, ride a bike, drive a car and later repair a car. He still writes me e-mails and sends me postcards, in which he just tells me about his day, asks me about my life, wishes me good health and happiness and sends me pictures of his road trips. He has repeatedly told me that no matter what I do in life, he just wants me to be safe and happy. I didn’t believe that’s what he actually wished until much later. As his daughter, I am convinced that he did his best.
A few months ago, I told him I performed with some colleagues in a strippers’ collective. In response, he sent me a photo of a poster that he had taken during one of his lunchtime walks that said, “The future is female.” It made me smile and reassured me that he was aware of what I was up to and ok with it. My father has always been a feminist. He always made me feel confident and proud about what I did, what I wanted to do and never made me feel like my gender should be a limitation in any way. As I grew up and shaped my sexuality, he never made me feel like I needed to hide my body to be taken seriously, or that there was any reason to be ashamed of expressing my sexuality. By not holding me back or instilling any morals about being a “decent” woman, he subtly empowered me. I didn’t realise this until much later.
So maybe in a way, my father did have an influence on my becoming a stripper…by empowering me as a little girl and later as a woman, so that I found the strength to be a sex worker and moreover to be open about being a sex worker.