Last month a new exhibition – X-Rated; the sex industry in the ACT – opened at the Canberra Museum and Gallery (CMAG).
The exhibition is funded by the ACT [Australian Capital Territory] Government and the Interchange General Practice.
It is of particular interest to me as I spent some years exploited as a prostitute in Canberra in the 1990’s. I wanted to see how an industry that I have firsthand knowledge and experience of would be depicted within an art gallery.
I wondered if it would it be an honest and realistic insight into what actually happens.
I left the exhibition after 20 minutes, feeling sick and numb.
I went home and cried.
I cried because of the ignorance of those putting this exhibition together.
I cried because the exhibition was one sided – it clearly had an agenda to glamorise the sex industry.
I cried because there was no story of a survivor of the sex industry.
And I cried because some of the images caused disturbing memories to come flooding back – memories that I have spent 20 years healing from. In 20 minutes I went back to that horrible time in my life.
Anyone who has experienced Post Traumatic Stress Disorder will understand my experience that day.
The exhibition includes photos of several brothels from across Canberra. I had done time in just about all the brothels on show.
Working in a brothel is not like any other job. It’s unbelievably stressful . You don’t generally have any other options for earning money, so poverty is a main driver. It’s hard on your body, hard on your mind and hard on your overall wellbeing.
You tend to not be able to stay more than a few months in one place.
I was 17 when I first started work in a Canberra brothel. The owner knew I was underage and was fine with it. He knew the younger I looked, the more desirable I would be to punters and the more money I would make for him. There was no duty of care toward me.
Seeing pictures of these brothels brought back to me the many violations that were done to me. The pressure to do anal sex, the extra money offered to go condom free, the drugs offered in lieu of money, group sex with a football team who treated me like a piece of meat, the call-outs to hotels where I had no idea who I would encounter and the guys who wanted to dominate me –happy to rough me up to get what they want.
There was also a very large photo of a peep show booth – which is the small black room where men sit alone. They insert coins to make a flap open for them to view a live strip show. The man is unseen by the woman – he leers at her while masturbating into a tissue and calling out vulgar instructions.
It is a pretty degrading experience. I know because I experienced it.
The exhibition shows a range of photos showing stills from porn movies. Many show women receiving oral sex from an attentive man, with the woman depicted with her back arched and her head thrown back in pleasure.
This is nothing more than glamorising the sex industry, where the man paying for the service has the power.
A woman is normally the one with a dick shoved in her mouth, while a john holds her head still, ‘encouraging’ her to deep throat.
The reality is that in prostitution your vagina is rubbed raw from all the johns you have serviced; often so painful after a particularly aggressive john that you have to use numbing gel to keep working. And all the while expected to like a porn star as though the overweight public servant on top of you is the greatest fuck you’ve ever had.
I was not surprised that the Interchange General Practice would fund this exhibition as it was always the place to get a script for drugs if you weren’t coping or to get an STD check signed off on the spot. But for the ACT Government to be funding the exhibition – with the people’s taxes – is appalling.
Is our government in the business of keeping vulnerable women supressed and making a buck from their hardship, happy to make money on the registration and taxation of these businesses? Do our elected representatives really have no problem supporting something that so degrading to women?
It seems that it has bought into the ridiculous lie that the selling of time share on you vagina is a really good thing for everyone.
The exhibition blatantly glamorises the sex industry.
There was nothing from survivors, nothing showing the sordid, abusive and damaging elements of this industry, it was just presented as an interesting look at the history of the industry.
In writing this piece, painful though it is, I want to give voice to all the survivors who were ignored and disappeared by this exhibition. Maybe next time there could be an exhibition for survivors like me.