As the Bedford case moves through the Supreme Court of Canada, sex work has gained a higher-profile position in the Canadian narrative. An issue that for many people still seems shadowy and undefined has moved beyond whispers, with advocacy groups at the forefront of a debate that is both as old as time and incredibly timely. But the most important voices in this discussion are the ones that are least often heard: those of sex-workers themselves.
On Wed, July 24, Octopus Books will host a screening of Yapping Out Loud: Contagious Thoughts From an Unrepentant Whore, a film by Mirha-Soleil Ross, transsexual Métis sex-worker, animal rights activist, and performance artist. The screening is being presented by POWER (Prostitutes of Ottawa/Gatineau: Work, Educate and Resist) and FSIS (Families of Sisters in Spirit). Filmmaker Ross will also be in attendance. The screening will be followed by a Q&A session.
POWER and FSIS are volunteer-based organizations, receiving no public funding. This allows them to function as a conduit for voices from the sex-worker community. They work closely together, with FSIS focusing specifically on the indigenous community. “Whenever possible we try and link up with the by-and-for sex-workers folks and especially indigenous folks in the sex trade who are speaking for themselves,” says Kristen Gilchrist of FSIS.
Yapping Out Loud takes the form of seven monologues, presented in both French and English, dealing with prostitution and anti-prostitution. “She’s been speaking out publicly about missing and murdered Indigenous women, and trans Indigenous women, and sex-working trans folks,” Gilchrist says of Ross. “She represents a very powerful intersection of multiple communities that are very much marginalized, especially in the sex trade,” adds Van Meyl. “It’s a very powerful film.”
The monologues deal with many aspects of sex work. “There’s some rather upsetting monologues, but monologues that should be heard nonetheless because they represent what people are actually living through in this current criminal context, and then there are parts that are also kind of funny and cute and fun as well in the film, but powerful because they demonstrate the humanity of sex workers and their clients as well,” says Van Meyl.
The film is also important for its portrayal of Indigenous people in sex work. “There can’t be a discussion without indigenous women,” says Gilchrist. “The loudest and the most privileged voices are those that believe that all sex work is violence against women,” adds Van Meyl, “and that is precisely what we’re trying to combat from a harm-reduction standpoint.”
Both Gilchrist and Van Meyl are hopeful that Wednesday’s event will be an opportunity for the public to learn more about the realities of sex-work and sex-workers’ lives, and that the Q&A session will represent a respectful discussion space. “Sex-workers are members of your community,” says Van Meyl. “Come and support a community that you’re a part of.”