Tag Archives: the word whore

“just like any other business”? (morality and sex work part two)

From time to time, Wallace makes it onto another one of those “cool small towns in America” lists, here, #38. Although this latest list celebrates the “rich history and culture” you find in small towns, it fails to plug the Oasis Bordello Museum, which was mentioned in Travel + Leisure’s 2012 list and Budget Travel’s 2009 list (which also features my current town, strangely). If the article’s authors had actually spoken with the people living in Wallace, amid the “large pine-topped mountain peaks and breathtaking sunsets downtown” long enough to talk about the brothel-based sex work aspect of the town’s history they would have heard something like this:

“The houses prevented rapes.”

“They gave back a lot to the community.”

“It’s just like any other business.”

Whenever I talk about Wallace’s brothel-based sex work history and culture to a group of outsiders, I inevitably get asked these questions:

“How do you feel about it?”

“Do you think it’s immoral?”

“Should we legalize prostitution?”

Recently, at the Lexington Rotary Club talk I gave, I was asked these very questions, and they led to some of the more lively moments of the discussion. But they were also the moments when I felt least committed to what I was saying, because in some ways I don’t have a “position.” And I come from a place—am trying to translate the cultural values of this place—that continues to justify sex work as a positive thing. Or at least as a not-bad thing. Like, overwhelmingly so. So much so that I sometimes forget that a lot of people think that sex work cannot be anything other than inherently exploitive, immoral, and/or degrading for women.

I’m going to go ahead and do something I’m hesitant about and get a little personal…

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