Have you heard the one about the dead hooker? | Probably, says this sex worker, who is sick of them

Have you heard the one about the dead hooker?

Probably, says this sex worker, who is sick of them

We need to talk about dead hooker jokes.

I see a lot of comedy. I’m a comedy fan, a comedy reviewer and a comedy blogger. 

I’m also a sex worker. 

I’ve come to the conclusion that comedians, along with the general public, don’t expect sex workers to be present. We are invisible. If we’re considered at all, it’s like the shots you see in the press: a faceless woman on a dark street corner leaning into a car, one leg flicked coquettishly upwards; an anonymous entity.

In terms how the general populace views whores (incidentally, at this point in time, the word ‘whore’ is like the ‘N’ word, in that I’m allowed to use it but you’re not); we’re still in the dark ages. Imagine back to the time that Oscar Wilde was obliged to hide his sexuality in plain sight whilst being persecuted by the law and you’re getting close. I’ll save you looking up the year – that was back in 1895. 

122 years later, prostitutes, hookers, ladies of the night, courtesans, escorts and Call Girls (the term generally accepted these days is sex workers) are all still in a similar position socially. Why should comics be concerned with using us as a punchline; they wouldn’t think for a single minute that there was one of ‘them’ in the audience. No one is wearing fishnet tights and a leopardskin coat with twenties bursting out of her bra, for God’s sake. I keep mine stashed in my knickers. 

So, I go to gigs. I laugh for the most part, and occasionally I cringe. Until you’ve been the repeated butt of the joke, you probably don’t notice that you’re being picked on, but comedy frequently has a target, and people tend to kick down. In the case of sex workers, we are two steps below human beings, one step below women and one step above rats. If you need confirmation of how mainstream this view has become, have a look at JK Rowling’s ostensibly feminist tweets about how it’s filthily misogynistic to call Theresa May a whore because surely there can be no worse insult. 

Sometimes, whorephobia (for that is the name of this phenomena, oh yes, we have a technical term for everything these days) emanates from ignorance. And you know what, ignorance is ok, everyone’s learning. We can’t all walk around being permanently aware of everyone’s finer feelings, especially in comedy where quick thinking is key to the job.

I was at a show a few months back when one of my favourites comics improvised a gag where he alluded to a ‘whore’ being a bitch or a slag. I cringed, as usual, but I enjoyed the rest of the show. The following day I tweeted the comic and explained my offence, he was contrite, apologised, and admitted that it was an off the cuff remark which, given more time, he likely wouldn’t have repeated. Fair enough. The problem is, most of the time, sex workers don’t speak up and identify themselves, for pretty obvious reasons. Stigma ensures that we remain invisible and thus allows us to still be the butt of the jokes. 

Sometimes people are not as keen to be called out. Last Valentine’s day, The London Dungeon tweeted a series of memes. One of the most appalling – which I assume was their desired intention – read: ‘What’s the difference between your job and a dead prostitute? Your job still sucks’. 

When they were taken to task about the nature of the campaign, they took the classic ‘I’m sorry if you’re offended’ line, which translates to ‘fuck off, we’re entirely unapologetic’.

Normally these instances cause a day of annoyance on twitter, and then we all move on. But recently, things got pretty damn serious. Firstly, an indoor sex worker was murdered in her flat a couple of miles from my house. Suddenly. this wasn’t such a funny punchline. Then today, I read a post by Janey Godley, a comic I greatly admire. She’s a no-holds-barred, straight down the line, smack-a-mens-rights-activist-in-the-face kinda gal, and I love her because she makes me feel not quite so alone in a scary world.

Janey was angry, and rightly so, at the horrifically misogynistic shit that gets hurled at female comics; particularly by stag parties. Sadly, Janey’s way of expressing her anger was to suggest that misogyny, violence and anger not be aimed at ‘women’, but instead be saved for that special breed of sub-woman, the hooker:

‘I wish someone would open a huge stag strip bar in Glasgow so that the giant groups of angry men can go there and scream their hate at women and not come to comedy clubs…you are asking female comics to accept abuse because you can profit off a group of men whose mentality [was] so skewed they should’ve chipped in their money to hire a hooker and then killed her by taking turns kicking her up a dark alley…’

Even typing this turns my stomach. Janey is an ally, a good feminist. Sex workers are so peripheral on the vision of civil society that she thought it was OK to draw a parallel with nasty men being dicks to female comics at gigs (and I don’t doubt for one minute that they are horrendous, and it’s something no woman should have to suffer at work) with them instead expending their pent up woman-hatred by killing a prostitute.

I wrote to Janey and said as much, and although she didn’t reply, she did go on to amend her post to include the point that violence towards sex workers is not OK.

It’s a small concession, but I have an unpleasant feeling in the pit of my stomach that it’s a battle that’s far from being won.

I’m still not laughing.

 • This article first appeared on HowlSancuary and was written  in remembrance of Romina Kalachi, 32, who was murdered at her home in Kilburn, London on May 29 this year. Police stated that she was targeted because of her profession as a sex worker. You can make a donation to Ugly Mugs, a national charity which works to protect sex workers, here.

Published: 16 Jun 2017

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