The Happy Hooker

I have a dream of setting up a sex worker library, or even setting up a sex worker section in an existing library. My first consideration for this library is that the majority of it should be books written by sex workers themselves.

There are so many books I want to share with you!

I’ve been interested to watch young activists talk about their reading lists, and a lot of the books they recommend are by writers who’ve published in the past 5-10 years. I think they’re right that these should come first — it’s relevant to the urgency of the need for decriminalization to make the work safer.

I’m going to write about those books too, but since they have so many of them covered, I’m going to spend some time here talking about the books that formed me as a worker and an activist. The first one I remember reading — and I wasn’t supposed to be reading it — was The Happy Hooker, by Xaviera Hollander, who I met decades later at a conference when she was on a panel of famous sex worker writers that also included Sydney Biddle Barrows.

I’ll have to revisit it some time — I’m sure it’s shockingly problematic. My main impression of it at the time was that it was indeed unusual to suggest that this job that was generally cast as a fate worse than death might actually be a job in which someone could be happy. I didn’t feel at all that it suggested it was a good job that we should all try; it seemed more to me that it simply said it was a job in which a person might experience some pleasure and advantages.

Above all, however, I was interested in how shameless she was. I had already picked up on a lot of sexual shame in the world around me, in the form of sniggering sexist jokes and homophobic humor. I already knew I was queer, though I wouldn’t have thought to use that word at the time, and I wasn’t ashamed of it; and I thought that being shameless was something I’d like to pursue in my lifetime.

This is the cover of the paperback I read. I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear that I’ve repeatedly bought a similar hat.

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