Since we moved into the Yonge-Bloor area of Toronto a few weeks ago, my kids have been asking a lot of questions about the sex-related stores they now pass daily. The following is (more or less) a transcript from one such conversation:
Girl (aged 9.5): (big eyes) Mama, look at those clothes!
Me: Yep. Those are clothes.
Boy (aged 11): Yeah, but they’re not “clothes.” [Girl], you know what a stripper is, don’t you?
Girl: … no. No, wait! In the movie Hairspray, there was this guy, and it was during the song “Good Morning Baltimore,” and he went up to people and opened his coat, and I think there was nothing under it.
Boy: That’s a flasher, not a stripper!
Me: That’s right. And do you know what the difference is between the two?
Me: If you’re seeing a dancer perform, you’ve paid for the opportunity to do so, and you’re in a space in which you have an expectation that there will be nudity. Flashers expose themselves to people without their consent.
Boy: You mean you PAY to see strippers?
Me: … yes. What do you call something you do that you get paid for?
Both: (blank look)
Me: You call it work. Dancers are doing sex work.
Boy: Oh, well I knew that.
Me: And calling them sex workers is more respectful to them than calling them strippers.
Boy: But I didn’t know that!
Me: Now you do, and when you know better, you do better. Got it?
Boy: Got it. I’ve never met a sex worker before.
Me: Don’t be so sure of that.
Boy: (sputtering) MOM! What are you trying to tell me? Are you…?
Me: Sweetie, you’ve seen me dance.
Both: (laughter and agreement)
Boy: Well, then, who do I know that’s a strip- sex worker?
Me: It’s not my place to tell you the specifics of the money-making of everyone you know. My point is that you have no idea who works as a sex worker and who doesn’t unless they tell you.
Boy: Well, I know I’ve met a lawyer.
Me: (boggle eye) Uh, yes. But just like you have no idea if you’ve ever met a police officer, or a doctor, or a university professor, you have no idea if you’ve met a sex worker.
Boy: … Okay, I see what you’re saying. You’re right, I have no idea unless people tell me. By the way, have I mentioned today how much I hate how often you’re right?