Note: we had some technical issues this week, so the audio isn’t perfect, we’re sorry!
CW: whorephobia, transphobia, drug use, police entrapment, domestic violence, t-word, p-word
Chantell Martin is a transgender community service worker and activist at SWOP NSW, and former street-based sex worker. She moved from New Zealand to Sydney in the 80s and at that time began her gender transition, entered the sex industry, and began using drugs. She worked through the height of the AIDS epidemic in the 80s, before and after decrim in the 90s, and is now doing outreach helping the community through the COVID-19 pandemic with SWOP NSW
Scarlet Alliance Emergency Relief Fund: https://chuffed.org/project/sex-worker-support
2:39 - Main Segment: Street-based sex work before and after decrim
49:35 - Questions of the week: most rewarding part, doubting yourself, difficulties, advice for clients
SWOP NSW’s website: https://swop.org.au/
SWOP NSW on Facebook: www.facebook.com/SexWorkersOutreachProject/
SWOP NSW on Twitter: www.twitter.com/SWOPnsw
Patreon (from $3AUD/month): http://www.patreon.com/somebodyyoupod
Somebody You Love is sponsored by Assembly Four, empowering sex workers through technology: https://assemblyfour.com/
For more info on sex work in Australia, please check out the following organisations:
ACT (SWOP ACT): https://meridianact.org.au/swop/
NSW (SWOP NSW): https://swop.org.au/
NT (SWOP NT): https://www.ntahc.org.au/swopnt
Qld (Respect Inc): https://respectqld.org.au/
SA (SIN): http://www.sin.org.au/sindex.html
Tas (Scarlet Alliance): https://scarletalliance.org.au/links/
Vic (Vixen Collective): https://www.vixencollective.org/vc
WA (Magenta): http://magenta.org.au
Support the show: https://www.patreon.com/somebodyyoupod
Jenna Love 0:01
Do you miss the free and affordable ads and social networks without all of the anti sex rhetoric?
Holly Harte 0:06
Assembly Four is a team of sex workers and technologists from Melbourne, Australia, aiming to bring back free and fair advertising and social spaces to the sex working community,
Jenna Love 0:15
Stepping away from the clunky design of traditional platforms, their two products tryst.link and switter.at are refreshing and well needed changes in both presentation and mission.
Holly Harte 0:26
And both are free to join and open to all.
Jenna Love 0:29
You can find both of our profiles on Tryst and I love how it is so clearly designed by sex workers.
Holly Harte 0:36
Yep. And I love how straightforward and easy it is to use and how much they clearly support the sex working community.
Jenna Love 0:41
And also how responsive they are when it comes to feedback and customer service.
Holly Harte 0:46
Check out their website assemblyfour.com (four the word, not the number) for more info.
Jenna Love 0:57
Welcome to Somebody You Love or The Sale of Two Titties. I'm Jenna Love.
Holly Harte 1:04
And I'm Holly Harte.
Jenna Love 1:06
And we're experts in disappointing our parents, breaching community guidelines, and banging the people who vote against our rights. We'd like to begin today by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we are recording. I am Jenna and I am on Darug and Gundungurra land, Holly is on the land of the Ngunawal people and we have Chantell calling in from the land of the Wangal clan of the Eora nation. We pay our respects to their elders past and present. And we extend that respect to any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who may be listening. Always was, always will be Aboriginal land.
Holly Harte 1:44
On this show, we tell stories from our own experiences as sex workers. Every sex worker will have their own unique experience. Some will be bad, some will be good and most, just like ours, will be a blend of both. As with any job. Mainstream media often only shows the very good or the very bad. It's our goal with this podcast to humanise sex workers and show all the stuff in between that the media ignores. But we do acknowledge that we cannot capture the full range of experiences that exist in our whole community.
Jenna Love 2:14
Now there are a lot of content warnings to go with this episode. We are discussing street based sex work, homophobia and transphobia, drug use, police entrapment and some violence. There is also use of the T-word in relation to transgender individuals and the P-word in relation to sex workers.
Holly Harte 2:39
Chantell is a transgender community service worker and activist at SWOP New South Wales and former street based sex worker. She moved from New Zealand to Sydney in the 80s and at that time, began her gender transition, entered the sex industry, and began using drugs. She worked through the height of the AIDS epidemic in the 80s, before and after decrim in the 90s and is now doing outreach helping the community through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jenna Love 3:05
Hello, Chantell. How are you?
Chantell Martin 3:09
Hi, how are you? I'm well thank you.
Jenna Love 3:11
Fabulous, thank you so much for being on the show.
Chantell Martin 3:15
You're welcome. Thank you for inviting me.
Jenna Love 3:17
So you moved to Australia from New Zealand, I think in the 80s. And when you moved here, you became a sex worker and you started your transition. So was that your plan when you were coming here? Or did that just sort of happen?
Chantell Martin 3:32
It's sort of like just happened. I mean, my big plan was to travel the world and I had around the world ticket at the time and Australia was my first stop. So I got here to Australia in the 80s and I discovered the nightlife because in New Zealand at the time all the nightlife shut at 11pm, okay?
Jenna Love 3:55
Of course. Well, much like Sydney now. We've swapped!
Chantell Martin 3:58
Yeah. Exactly right. So, so everything shut really early unless you lived in the big cities like Auckland, Wellington or Christchurch. Okay. I didn't come from any of those cities. I came from a smaller city. So everything closed at 11. So, of course, when I hit the shores of Australia, and you know, hit The Cross, I hit everything else. And it was amazing!
Holly Harte 4:22
Chantell Martin 4:20
I had the best time. It was kinda like 24 hour shops and clubs and partying. So that's what I got caught up in - was the nightlife. And then of course I ran out of money and I needed money. I didn't have a job. Back then it was really hard in the 80s for Kiwis to get jobs over here because previously a handful of naughty Kiwis had come over, got on the dole, worked for about six months, got on the dole and spent the rest of their bloody life on the beach. Okay, so the government here went "right, we're going to put an end to that", right. And so it became really, really hard to get a job over here for me. When I fell on hard times and needed the money, I met a couple of trans workers from Auckland. And I told them about my predicament. And I said to them, "Look, I'm gonna about to get kicked out of my unit". And they said, "well, you're going to have to come down the street and sell your hole", and I went, "what do you mean?" and they said you know, you're just gonna have to come down and do what we do. So I thought, "I couldn't do that. I just possibly couldn't do that". But a couple of my friends, of course, it was at the very beginning of my transition as well, I hadn't transitioned yet. So they threw me in a frock. And then they said, "Come on, get down the street". And it was like a nightmare. Look, number one: couldn't walk in heels. Never worn a bloody dress before. Never put makeup on. Oh my god, it was like tragic. It was like tragedy on heels. And, and, you know, that was my entrance into the sex industry. I mean, of course, it didn't take me long to pick it up. And, you know, get into the swing of it and get used to the clients pulling up on cars. The whole scene was really, really different. If I thought the nightlife here was something - being in the sex industry and transitioning, it's not something that I would recommend for anyone who's just starting out to transition is to go into street-based sex work, because you've just got to be focused on so many things, you know, sex work itself back then in the 80s. You're constantly jumping in and out of cars, and you don't know whose car you're jumping into. So you're, you know, you're just jumping in there doing the job and in and getting out and then jumping in the next car. You're copping a lot of flack from the public, you know, they're throwing bottles at you, they're calling you names. As a trans worker, you know, we were always called boys or you know, "you're a man", and "show us your balls" and all of that sort of stuff. So there was a whole lot of stuff going on in my life. And many of the other sisters lives who had transitioned at that time, in the sex industry, we had to deal with that on a personal level. But then we also too had to deal with, you know, the stigma and discrimination in the sex industry on the street as a trans sex worker. So it was, look, I wouldn't say it was fun. It didn't become fun until I got used to working the street and knowing the rules, because there's rules and different ways of keeping yourself safe. And you know, the other thing about it, which I know we're going to be talking about later, is that sex work was criminalised. So it was a criminal to be a sex worker back then, you know, so we had to worry about not only the public, but we had to worry about the police. And we also too had to worry about clients that would pull little numbers on us - nothing compared to what's happening now. But some are still doing the same thing. But it was twice as worse back then. You know.
Jenna Love 4:23
How did you find - so you obviously had this - it sounds like you had a group of good friends who were sex working and who were trans or transitioning as well. It sounds to me like that was crucial to you being able to survive in that world. Did you interact much with cis workers? Did you find that you were treated differently or?
Chantell Martin 8:50
Yeah, we'd--look there were back then also too, the street was split up into different sections. Okay, so a lot of the trans workers would work in a lane way now called Premier Lane. And that's where a lot of us were put. It's a dark dingy lane in the back. Back in the day, it was called Tranny Lane. I don't mean to be offensive to any of my sisters out there who don't prefer that name, but it used to be called Tranny Lane because we were all working there. But it was dangerous in that lane way. What happened was a lot of new property developments were going up in that area. So then the council realised, "oh my god, we've got to move these prostitutes away from that area". So they put us down onto the street. So it kind of like we were only allowed to work between this set of lights and that set of lights. So we're boxed into a little tight area. It was illegal to work on any other side streets that ran off William Street. And so we only had each other and yeah we formed a really really strong sisterhood and I mean that in the best way possible because we did everything together, we had ways of protecting ourselves. You know, like if I jumped in a car with a client and drove past one of the girls would notice the colour of the car, the next girl would notice the number plate, the next girl would notice, maybe the client with a moustache. So there are three ways of identifying where I went and who I went with. And this, mind you, this is all before mobile phones. So we had to come up with other ideas of keeping ourselves safe. And that was the way we would do it. So if I never got back within a certain time, because we all knew how long it took to do a car job, you know, from an hour for sex in a car, or if it's just a quick heady, it would be, you know, half an hour to 15 minutes. So we all knew the timing. So if I wasn't back within an hour, then they'd all start asking questions like, "Hey, where did Chantell go?" You know, "she's not back yet". And, or somebody--or if I have come back and have gone to score. And so the girls was, "Oh, yeah, no, no, no, she's back. You know, she's just, she's gone up the road, you know, to get you know, what she usually gets", you know, so we all kept an eye on each other. And that sisterhood was tight, really, really, really tight. And, but we did everything together. Like I said, we worked together, we fought together. Oh my god, did we ever! It was just like family, you know, it was just horrible. The things we did to each other, we would steal off each other, we would tell lies to each other, but we would also too - we cried together, we protected each other, you know, no matter, you know, I could have a fight with one of the girls the night before. And then the next day, it's done. You know, we're over it. And it's kind of like we'd remind each other what was done. And that's it and move on. Because you didn't really have the time to hold a grudge against each other because you only had a small space to work in, you know, but the good thing about
Jenna Love 12:09
And you had to have each other's backs
Chantell Martin 12:10
Yes, and we had to and no matter what we do to each other, that's the main thing that we did was we always made sure that we were safe. And of course, the street based work back then is very different to how it is now. There were like hundreds of people going up that street into The Cross. Because it's the street that goes into Kings Cross, you see and Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights were bumper to bumper with cars, the cars would go all the way back down William Street into the city. And it would take a car from the city, so maybe Elizabeth Street coming along William Street going into Kings Cross, it would take a car between a half an hour to 45 minutes, just to get to the spot where we were. And that's how it was - it was just a row of lights going all the way back into the city. Buses would come down with you know, what do you call them guys that are about to get married?
Jenna Love 13:12
Chantell Martin 13:12
Buck's nights.Yeah them. Yeah, yeah. So bus loads of bucks would come down, right, just to see the trans, workers and you know, maybe tie one of the bucks up to the power pole where we worked. And then slap a sign on them saying "toot if you think I'm gorgeous" Oh my god, it was hilarious. So we had -- there were moments of fun. And but there were also too moments of, you know, where it wasn't so much fun.
Holly Harte 13:18
Can I just ask when you say that the new development or the builders of new developments moved you on? Does that mean that, you know, they were calling law enforcement? Or you know, how did they get you to be from one street to the next? How does that work?
Holly Harte 14:00
Well, a lot of it was from residents, you know, reporting that we were in the area okay, because Premier Lane is actually off of a few of the streets down there that were illegal. Okay, so there was a residence there in that area. So when the property developments - it was the council that actually moved us on because when you have a new property development of course, it's going to go up there and of course that you know the people that live in that new property are going to say right okay, "there's prostitutes down there and that's so disgusting. You know, you guys need to do something about it". And so that's how they were able to move us on because prior to Premier Lane they used to work in, they used to have us in Darley street which is further up, well before my time.
Holly Harte 14:44
Forgive my total ignorance here, but so it technically street based work was illegal, but they would turn a blind eye to those streets. Is that correct? Or the streets were actually legal to work on
Chantell Martin 14:55
Yeah, no. William Street was the only legal part of that street and the red light district was only that little strip, okay? The side streets were totally illegal. So, and it made it really, really hard because clients don't want to pick you up on a busy street, right? Because there's too many lights, okay? They don't want to get spotted by a family member or their wife heavens forbid, or, you know, a friend that's driving up through, you know, The Cross, so they don't want want to--
Holly Harte 15:23
There's no privacy.
Chantell Martin 15:24
No. So what they used to do is swing down the side streets, of course, then we'd run over, just get to jump in the car, and then bang, the cops would be there, and then it will be undercover as well, you know, so, and they'd have an undercover sitting down at the end of the side streets, just waiting. You know, waiting. Waiting to catch you.
Jenna Love 15:48
Great use of tax payer's dollars
Holly Harte 15:49
Oh, isn't it? Yeah, wonderful.
Chantell Martin 15:51
Absolutely. And the entrapment was just, you know, appalling. But that's the way it was.
Jenna Love 15:56
And they would pose as clients.
Chantell Martin 15:58
Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. And you never know, you jump in the car. And then as soon as you hear the central locking go off, you knew right away that you were done. You know, that's what happened to me. I got picked up in the side street. You know, I jumped in the car. And as soon as I heard the central locking lock, I thought, "damn", you know, and I couldn't say to him, "Well, you know, you didn't tell me you're an officer", they didn't really care. You know, you're done. Yeah, there also used to be a quota for the police to arrest back in those days. Okay, so maybe every fortnight between 12 and 15 workers, whether they'd be trans or cisgendered workers, or male workers, but they had to have their quota every fortnight. Different times also too because if you were caught down on on the street working, you were given one warning. And if you were back down there the following-- they gave you a week's warning, so say they warned me on a Thursday. If I was back down there the following Thursday, I was gone. They would pick me up and take me away, you know,
Jenna Love 17:09
So that affects your ability. If you know that, then you can't work on that day, and then you can't earn an income or you do and you take that risk
Chantell Martin 17:16
Very different times. And also too it's good to know, and I didn't find this out until I started working for SWOP, but there was a partial decriminalisation of the sex industry, street-based sex industry only, back in 1979. So but for whatever reason that was made for it never helped us, you know, so I don't know what good that was to partially decriminalise the street based sex workers because what happened was, the police were still arresting us, you know, there was still coming down and taking our money, you know and driving us out to Penrith or Parramatta, and dropping us off and getting us to find our way back into the city. So I kind of like, you know, when I found out that there was partial decriminalisation of the street based sex working area, I thought to myself, "well, we never felt any of that, we totally felt the opposite". You know, so I don't know.
Jenna Love 18:14
I've never heard of that. That's fascinating.
Chantell Martin 18:16
Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Well, I never heard of it. And we never heard of it either. until I started working.
Jenna Love 18:21
And you were directly affected by it!
Chantell Martin 18:23
I'm thinking, "Okay, well, you could've fooled me".
Holly Harte 18:27
So, as you said, it was such a different time, obviously, can you shed a little bit of what it was like to be a transgender, drug using, street based sex work at the height of the AIDS epidemic?
Chantell Martin 18:40
So I guess, as a trans worker, things were as good as they were ever gonna get for a lot of us. At least we had each other. Okay. Yeah, it was hard. But, you know, we make do. As a, you know, a drug user, a lot of us, majority of us had to be on something, you know, to be down there, to deal with all of the drama that came with it, you know, it wasn't because we wanted to be on drugs. It's just that it's, you know, when you're hurled accusations day in and day out and had bottles and bricks and stuff thrown at you, day in and day out. Okay, you kind of like, need something to take the edge off, right? And so drugs is it for us, or alcohol. The unfortunate thing about it is the longer you use those substances, the more addicted you become to them, you know, and that's something I wasn't aware of back then. I mean, I just, you know, we just, it's something that we just did. And then of course, you know, when you've been down there for many years, like I was down there for over 20 years, and so, got to see an experience a lot. You know, and this is nothing against drugs. Full stop. I mean, hey, it started off fantastic. Loved it, you know, it was pleasurable. But you know, when you're, when you have to take drugs to sort of like, block things out, especially in that scene, and at that time, it will take its toll. So it did eventually bring me to my knees. Absolutely. And I saw it ruin a lot of other workers as well, you know, but also, that's just our story who used drugs and alcohol, I worked with sisters who never used drugs, and they were able to come down there and work quite, you know, it was just not our thing.
Jenna Love 20:37
And we all have different coping mechanisms as well, don't we, I mean, I've never had alcohol in my life. But I can tell you, I've got some less than healthy coping mechanisms, you know
Holly Harte 20:47
and I definitely used drugs to cope with a lot of my life in my youth. So I get that
Chantell Martin 20:52
Yeah, and I think, um, as a trans sex worker, I think there was the stuff that I had to deal with, with work, but then there was also to the other emotional stuff and what I was going through as a trans woman, you know, and transitioning, and everything that went with that, you know, like, family stuff, and, you know, coping with society and society coping with me, you know, and being accepted, lots of you know, and all of that stuff. So, that's why I say to, you know, a lot of people I tell my story to, you know, just choose one thing first, you know, work on one thing, first, don't do the whole three, because I did the whole three, I did the sex work, the transition, and the drugs, and, you know, kind of like, I guess, you could say, in a way, the drugs kind of like, you know, helped me cope with the other two, a lot better, you know, so for me, they had they served a purpose. And even though they did bring me to my knees in the end, I mean, I'm grateful for that experience. I don't have no regrets about using drugs or doing but I did. And, yes, using drugs and too many drugs, I guess, when working as a sex worker. Yeah. There were moments where I, you know, I had taken risks, you know, and that just comes part and parcel with when you overdo things. Yeah. You know,
Jenna Love 22:17
I mean we all take risks in our life and in our sex work, and it's there different levels of risk, and we navigate them. That's what you do as a human being - we take risks every single day.
Chantell Martin 22:29
Exactly. And I mean, like, I'm here today to tell my story and to share it. So I mean, yeah. But yeah, again, it's something to just be aware of
Jenna Love 22:39
Of course. And so you've touched on that we apparently had some sort of decrim from 1979. But did you notice a difference? Are you able to compare your experiences as a sex worker working before and after the proper decrim that was bought in in 1995?
Chantell Martin 23:00
Absolutely, absolutely. I guess because I had worked prior to that from the 80s, right up to 1995. I saw a huge change. And a lot of workers, street based sex workers from that time saw a lot of change, amazing change, where we were now able to report a crime if it happened to us, which we couldn't do when it was criminalised. If a client did something to us, we could have that seen to by seeking legal advice, which comes with decrim. We've got better health. Whereas before if you identified or if the health care worker found out you were a sex worker back when it was criminalised, they could report you. And so a lot of us wouldn't go and get tested because of that fact, because we didn't want to run the fact of getting booked. So those are just some of the changes that I saw, but definitely the worst perpetrators to us when it was criminalised was the police. And that's where I and many of my sisters noticed a very big change in - a very big difference and some of my sisters were not convinced that these police were doing the right thing, because they just had experienced so much drama before in the past that they just were not going to trust the police at all.
Jenna Love 24:25
Of course, there's such a deep trauma there that you can't expect someone to just switch off.
Chantell Martin 24:29
Yeah and I look and some of that stuff is still around today. You know, 25 years on it's still around today. I mean, like you can still I mean, I don't think you - there aren't too many workers that will walk straight into a police station and say, right, you know, I want to report a sexual assault or I want to report this client did this to me, you know, not many of them will do that because of the fact of that stigma is still around. You know, how am I guaranteed that if I walk into the police station and tell you what happened to me? What's the guarantee of it getting seen to?
Jenna Love 25:06
I've done that. And I'm a cis white woman who's middle class, I walked in with my straight husband. I'm, you know, very acceptable in traditional society. And I was packing it, it was incredibly nerve wracking and thankfully my experience was a positive one. But yeah, I don't blame any sex worker for not wanting to go near a police station.
Chantell Martin 25:30
Yes, yeah. Whereas some of us, especially the cheeky ones, like myself, who used to always stand up to the police and sort of like call them names, because they had, they really loved calling us names, and they really would aim it at our gender. So they would always call us boys. And we'd always yell back and say, "we're fine, girls!", you know, we'd had that little banter, but because we got so used to doing that with each other, it became normal. But once decrim came in, that all changed, you know, they had to address us as who we were in the proper manner. They weren't allowed to come down and yell, you know, accusations and hurl, you know, bad things at us any more. You know, funnily enough it when they stopped, we stopped. You know, but it in some cases, for me anyway, for a lot of the other girls, that wasn't the same story, but I guess because I stood up to the police a lot before and when it was criminalised. I mean, the changeover made it a lot easier for me because they, you know, at first I was surprised that they were even pulling up and saying, you know, "Good evening, ladies" and "how was your night?" And it's kind of like, oh very suspicious here... And I'd say to them, you know, "what's going on?" And you know, "what are you guys up to?" And they go, "No, no, this is the new thing. This is what we're trying out" And I said, "Well, I don't know how to take that", you know, it took a while, took a while for them to keep coming down and doing that before it was accepted. You know, of course, there were still other workers that would never ever go near them even no matter how good they pretended to be.
Jenna Love 27:10
Hmm, yeah, fair enough.
Chantell Martin 27:12
So those are just some of the things that that changed. You know, of course, it goes a lot bigger as well, when you're talking about brothels and stuff like that, because when decrim came in, the criminalization of sex workers was taken off the police. And given to other services, like the council, for instance, they were the guys who had to sort it out, and they'd never ever experienced that before, apart from maybe the occasional DA for a brothel that went across the desk, but you know, "oh, my God, now, we've been given the whole of the sex industry to deal with and we don't have any template, we don't have anything set up". So that changed a lot.
Holly Harte 28:01
We've had decrim in New South Wales for a quarter of a century, do you think that we still have a long way to go with the sex worker rights movement?
Chantell Martin 28:09
Yes, we do. We do. Just branching on that a little. When we got decrim, back in 1995, there were certain things that should have been added to that decrim. You know, like, for instance, how councils today are not on the same page. They're just not. And I say that because you can go into, you know, City of Sydney and work and two of us can work in a unit, whereas if you cross over and go to another Council, it's not allowed, and then if you go out further and go up to maybe Gosford, they won't allow you to work at all. And this is something I learned from an activist, an advocate way back in the day, where she was a part of that movement on getting decrim together, because it was sex workers who pulled that together, sex workers got together, and then put all of that together, teamed up with doctors and politicians, and they went for it, and they got us decrim, you know, and when we got decrim, the politician that was helping out, cos the workers, of course said "Okay, now that we've got decrim, let's hurry up and put things in place", right. One of those things, was to get the councils on the same page. The politician at the time, said, "hey, look, you know what, you've got decrim, be satisfied with that for now. Okay. We'll work on the council stuff later down the track". Well, you know, 25 years later, we're still working on it. And it's not even been bought up. It's not even been done. Nothing has been done about it. And so now you have councils making up all these different rules for themselves, you know, where there is nothing is congruent. And also they have hideous laws where if you're going to set up a brothel, it's got to be in an industrial area, and all of that stuff and that then puts workers' safety at risk, because they're way out away from everywhere, the same rule with having workers work on their own. You know we work together in pairs, because of safety, you know, and, like... work it out, you know?
Jenna Love 30:30
Seems pretty straightforward for us!
Chantell Martin 30:32
Exactly. So you've got all of these different discrepancies. But even though we have decrim now, there's still a lot to do, tonnes to do that was never picked up earlier, you know. Also to decrim: it's not a silver bullet, it's not going to be the be all or the A all to everything. And as we've seen, if you go back the 25 years that we've had it, you can just about pretty much tick where it hasn't been okay. Anti-discrimination, you know, that needed to be bought in and it's only just being addressed now. And so there's still a long way to go. The answer to your question is there's still a lot of things that need to change within decriminalisation for sex workers here. And I mean, look, we are very fortunate to be in this country, to have decrim and to be in New South Wales, because if you're talking globally in the sex industry, oh my God, you know, some of us are still being murdered, you know, for the colour of our skin, because of being trans, because of being a sex worker, full stop. There are countries that are totally against what we're doing, and they're murdering us.
Jenna Love 31:44
We do have to remember that, don't we, but at the same time, we have to keep pushing the fight and we can't settle for leaving anyone behind. So this moves well into talking about SWOP. So you work with the sex workers outreach project, the New South Wales branch, can you tell us a bit about what that is?
Chantell Martin 32:03
Yeah, sure. Okay. So SWOP was born out of decrim. Okay. But prior to SWOP, the Ministry of Health set up an organisation called the Australian Prostitutes Collective, back in the 80s, I think they started, it was only a pilot project. So it started up for the whole purpose, so that the Ministry of Health could find out why, and how they could reach sex workers, because back then, in the 80s, as you all know, that was the start of the AIDS epidemic. So for a lot of communities, there were a few that were marginalised in the way of spreading HIV and vectors of disease and all of those.
Jenna Love 32:48
Yeah, well, the the media and the politicians didn't exactly help with that. marginalisation, did they?
Chantell Martin 32:52
They did not, they did not at all. And so what happened with that, because, you know, you've got the gay community that were marginalised, the injecting drug users, and sex workers. So the Ministry of Health needs to find a way of trying to address those - getting stuff out there, like PPE for sex workers, and clean and safe injecting equipment for injecting drug users, and condoms and everything for both sex workers, for the whole three, you know. And so they were only able to do that by forming these organisations and those three are still around today. So, we have swapped out the Australian Prostitutes Collective that ran out for, I think, a period of a year to two years maybe. And all of that information and all that data and research that was collected through the Australian Prostitutes Collective, was fed back to the Ministry of Health back then. And of course, they looked at all of that information, and they saw so many positives, and having peers deliver health promotion to our own community. You know, we were, we were more susceptible to taking condoms or safe, clean injecting equipment from a peer rather than from somebody who's real clinical and is going to throw the book at us first before they actually give us the condoms or whatever. So, with all that information, they took that away and then out of that, not long after we had decrim and that's where SWOP was born. We're funded by the Ministry of Health. We're not funded enough though I feel we're better off than a lot of other six work organisations throughout Australia. You know, some of them are running on the smell of a bloody oily rag, and just doing the best that they can and literally in states that it's still criminalised, you know, and they don't have decriminalisation. So I take my hat off to our sister organisations in other states, you know, they don't have what SWOP does. But from that, we're funded by the Ministry of Health to do what we do, I mean, without decriminalisation, we wouldn't be able to reach half of the people that we've got, or have nearly enough allies that we have today. It's only because SWOPs been able to operate in a decrim system, where we're able to go there, we're able to sit on panels, were able to have a sex worker voice, here, everywhere, where there's need, where it needs to be, especially with the police, you know, so we do that. We do outreach, we outreach to all the brothels, and, you know, massage parlours and private sex workers and you know, street based workers, we do all of that. We run, you know, workshops where our community, of course, it's all been virtual, but I mean, hey, where else would you find, you know, private worker 101, which helps a lot of workers in this day and age, especially with the pandemic, who were brothel workers only help them transition over into the private sector.
Jenna Love 33:20
As a New South Wales worker who doesn't live in the city, I've actually found the online workshops to be more accessible for me. So that's kind of been a positive I think, for some of us that are, you know, more regional and stuff.
Chantell Martin 36:08
Yep. Exactly. Exactly. So there's all of that stuff there. That happens. That SWOP's doing. We're at events, we, we support our local, you know, community in events, like we attend Pride, you know, and just love it. And then we go into, you know, we work with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community as well, you know, in that area, of course, that's a different community altogether, when it comes to sex work. And don't identify as sex workers, it's sex favours or it's opportunistic, you know, and so we've had to change the language there. So we're doing quite a few things. But our website and our Facebook page, just follow us and you will get all the information there.
Holly Harte 36:53
So that will be all linked in the show notes as usual, as Jenna is very organised. So Chantell, what is your role at SWOP? And can you tell us a little bit more about what your role specifically involves?
Chantell Martin 37:05
Okay, so when I originally first started with SWOP, I have been with SWOP now for 12 years. And when I first came here--Look, can I just say this first, before we go any further about my starting with SWOP is that I never, ever planned or never, ever thought that I would be here working as an outreach worker, honestly, because when I, as I mentioned before, in my spiel that drugs brought me to my knees, I took myself off and went into rehab, and then came out, got my shit together. And then kind of like, the only thing I wanted to do was, I just wanted to be as far away from people as possible, because I blamed--there was a massive blame game going on for me when I got clean off alcohol and drugs. And it was kind of like I blamed people for my downfall. I blamed the certain jobs that I did for my downfall. And so when I came out of rehab, I just wanted to go as far away from people as possible. And I wanted to be a National Parks and Wildlife officer. And I wanted to have a cabin in the bush where I only had communication with plants and animals who didn't talk back to me or anything like that. Right. So clearly, that didn't happen. You know, I started doing a course that was going to lead me into conservation land management, as one of the modules for National Parks and Wildlife, but a girlfriend called me up and she knew I had gone to a rehab and got out and I was, you know, she hadn't spoken to me for a while. So she sent me a text message saying, you know, "hey, Chantell. Did you know that SWOP was looking for an outreach worker?", and I text her back and I said, "Oh, god, what the hell's that?" And she said, "Do you remember when you were on the street working? And these two people would come around with their backpacks on their back with all the condoms?" and I went "oh of course, I used to grab all my bits from them and all my condoms and lube". She goes, "Well, that's what they are asking for. But they're actually asking for a transgender outreach worker", and I just went, "Oh, no", you know, because I just finished working on the street about a year ago and kind of like, had all this fear about if I go back near the street that I would go back to using and in my life would just go backwards. So I said, "Okay", so I thought, "right, okay, well, I need a bloody job, you know, and it's not the job that I chose, right? But I need a job". So I went for the job interview. And before the before the job interview, I asked another sister to come with me down to William Street, and she goes, "Oh, my God, you've done so well with yourself. You put yourself in rehab and everything. Sister, you're going to go back down on to the street!" And I said, "It's not what you think, sis, I just need your support just to be down there. I've applied for a job, which will take me back down there to the street. And I'm not quite sure whether I'll be able to do it or not", because, you know, that was my life down there. And so was my drug life as well, you know, and a lot of the sisters that I used to use with were down there. So there's all this fear about, "Oh, my God, I need to find out whether I can do this. Because if I can't go back down onto the street and stand there for one hour, okay, it's not the job for me". And I'll just ring them up the next day and just tell SWOP "No, I can't do it". But my girlfriend and I went down there. And we stood there. And the 10 workers I didn't want to see were the very 10 workers that turned up. And you know what, it was good. It was good. And the other thing was, as well was because I had support as well all around me, you know, like, I had my friend there that used to be a worker as well. She knew the score with me and with everything my drug use and the working down there. And it was, it was great. It was great to see everyone. And that's what told me that I could do this job. So you know, I went for the job, I got the job. I still wasn't convinced that this was the job for me, because I'd never done that side of sex work. You know, being in the sex industry. I've never have only been a sex worker. I you know, suck cock and lick arse. So that's it, you know? And I'm thinking to myself, "What am I doing in this job?", you know, like, "Oh, my God". I mean, I loved the fact that I was going down there and helping the girls, but I just wasn't convinced that you know, that this was for me, and took it would've been about two years into the job. So pretty much that's the long version of how I got there. But my role is kind of like, so I do trans outreach to any of the sisters or brothers that are out there who you know, are looking to come into the industry, or guide them in what they need to know. Maybe throw into the mix a little bit about my personal experience, you know, do the street outreach, of course, and brothel outreach to a lot of the brothels, I don't like to pin myself in, see. When I first started with SWOP, there was the transgender project, there was a male project and there was a female project and there was the Aboriginal project. I'm thinking to myself, you know something. Our outreach workers are unbelievable. We are so diverse and versatile, that we can just shift over. My community come into the office, they don't necessarily come to see me. No, yeah, they'll come in and they'll see anyone who will help them. Occasionally I'll get a close friend that will come in which we love to catch up and talk about old times. But you know, there's that part of the job. I also to do a few inter-agencies. So I'm not the only outreach worker that does, inter-agencies but I do a majority of them. And that means sitting on at meetings, monthly meetings where there are other service providers that are at those meetings. And it's really good to have a sex worker voice there. Because a lot of those, because our community will cross over and overlap a lot of those services like drug and alcohol there, there's mental health services there, there's the police, there's everything, you know, so we get to have a bird's eye view on what's going on. And if there's anything that comes up at that table that is sex worker related, it's my time to, you know, to chime in and say, "Okay, well, kind of like, could the community members saying that they're seeing 50 workers on the street? Well, I can tell you on the outreach worker, I'm telling you there's only five, so I don't know where she's getting her 50 workers from" that kind of like squashes that whole, you know, that's stigmatising, and that, you know, all of that stuff quashes that. There is a prison programme that we've started up as well, we will pop in and see workers who are incarcerated, and most, especially for trans workers who go into male prisons, they still go into male prisons. So that's, you know, something that's been going for about three, four years now. And the in-services that I do, I do a lot of in-services for SWOP where I'll go and do some training, with organisations, especially health organisations, on you know how to deal with workers and don't ask stupid questions when they've just turned up for an STI check, you know, don't ask them about you know, if you're happy, because the thing is, you know, like, it's a privilege to know who we are and what we do. Okay, so if a worker is going to disclose that to you, okay. You know, respect that, you know, respect that - don't bloody ask stupid questions. "Oh so you're a sex worker oh so how--you'd see a lot of clients a night?", or other questions like "How much would you make" you know, or God, you know, or worse still by saying "oh, well you know that this is why you've got an STI is because you're a sex worker". So all of those sort of stupid questions I will go into on behalf of SWOP and speak to health workers like doctors and nurses. And it's good insight as well, I let them know about everything about the history of SWOP and what we do and how we do it, and how we work closely together to get the best benefit for our workers and for our community. And because I'm trans, I just throw in the mix and just tweak the old transgender talk
Jenna Love 45:53
The first time I went to the sexual health clinic that's near me. They had no idea. The doctor I was dealing with anyway, I don't think they'd heard of SWOP, I don't think they'd heard of Scarlet Alliance. And I was like, "you've got the red book here. You've got like, you've got publications from them in your office". And they were so clueless. And they were like, "Oh, can you get us in contact?" And I was like, "Okay, I don't see how this is, something's fallen through the cracks here". But there's a lot of work to be done there, for sure.
Chantell Martin 46:25
There is, and I guess that's a big part of why SWOP is out there and doing all of this because you know, it's, I love, I love doing it. As you can tell, I love the sound of my own voice. So I loved going and talking to those
Jenna Love 46:38
You have such a beautiful voice
Chantell Martin 46:39
Thank you. And I just say like just telling them and just letting them know what it is and that we do. And doing some sensitivity training, that's really important as well, you know, because you've got people that work in the health system, and at health services that haven't a clue about the sex industry and they've made up their own mind about who we are and what we are. And a lot of it is bad. You know, a lot of it is bad. And sort of like that brushes off, when we go to get our tests and brings on those stupid comments. And you know,
Holly Harte 47:15
Yeah you certainly wouldn't go back regularly to get tested, if you felt like you were going to be judged. I know that here in Canberra, the sexual health clinic that I go to is extremely compassionate, and treats me with so much dignity, and they never make me feel anything but respected when I go there. And I would guarantee that they've had meetings with SWOP, or I believe they're Meridian here in Canberra now, which is wonderful, you know, but I can definitely say that if you weren't going into get your testing done, and people were making you feel, you know, less than, that would disincentivize it massively. So knowing that, you know, somebody is out there advocating in those spaces is really helpful.
Chantell Martin 47:53
Yeah, and you're right, because I mean, like, it's through organisations like SWOP, and all of the other sister sex work organisations around Australia, we go out there, and we just we're in the community, we're in there, we target, I guess, or anyway SWOP does anyway, we target the first the most priority people that we need to so the police, then, of course, the health services, you know, they're our main go-tos, because it's constantly changing as well, with those services, like you can go in one month, do that training, and then the next month, they're gone, and they've moved on somewhere else. But the hope is that they've taken that information and carried it over to wherever they've gone to. However, where they've left from, you've got a new worker that's taken their place who has no bloody clue. So it's kind of like an ongoing thing that we have to do. And the good thing about SWOP is that we have such a great rapport with all of these services that they will call us and say, "Hey, you know, we've got some new workers that have come in, is it possible for SWOP to come and do some training with them?" And and all of that stuff And hell yeah, we would love to do that training.
Jenna Love 49:05
So they're actually being proactive, it's not you having to chase them down.
Chantell Martin 49:08
Absolutely. No, no. And that's the good thing about here and being in New South Wales and I guess, having decrim that they're free to give us a call. Whereas before, they would never have thought of that, you know, never, because they would not want to instigate themselves and put themselves and line themselves up with a sex work organisation full stop. But today is very, very different.
Jenna Love 49:32
So that's all of the questions that Holly and I had, but we always do reach out to our patrons when we're having a guest on and we like to include their questions. So we've got a couple more for you. I know we've held you for a little while today.
Chantell Martin 49:43
Jenna Love 49:44
You're too interesting. It's your fault. So first up, I would not know how to answer this one. So good luck. What would you say has been the most rewarding part of your journey in the sex industry, I reckon you can include time as a sex worker and with SWOP, whichever one
Chantell Martin 50:03
Oh gosh, okay, as a sex worker, I think for me the most rewarding thing as a sex worker is finding myself and discovering who I am in the sex industry, because that's helped immensely, I came into the industry not knowing anything about sex, you know, at all. And then the journey I've been on and being in the industry for so long, oh my god, there's so many ways to have sex. So many ways, and it's been so rewarding for me, some of it I've gotten into and other things "yeah no I might pass on that one". But each to their own, it's given me a very open mind to what turns people on. And that's been really, really rewarding for me in the sex industry, of course, finding myself and really appreciating that independence as a sex worker, and not working for the man, you know, I'm working for myself, I don't answer to no one else, but me. I choose who I want to see, when I want to see them. That's been really, really rewarding. With SWOP for me the most, or there's many, but I'll pluck out one rewarding moment. And that's the opportunity to be able to kind of support my community in a way where I can go out there and spread the news about the industry and hopefully, that they get it, you know, these people that I speak to, you know, the other thing I do is I will attend conferences and go around, well, I've been to Durban, you know, and stood up at a presentation and done a presentation, and that's been really, really rewarding, you know, to be able to Who would have ever bloomen thought that this street-based sex worker from the 80s was going to be one day standing up in front of 1000s of people talking about sucking cock licking arse, and having a bloody good time, you know, I would not have thought that, you know, it was certainly not something that I chose, but hey, I'm here.
Jenna Love 52:15
And how bloody good is that?
Chantell Martin 52:16
Absolutely. And to be able to get and to be able to pass on all of that, the knowledge that I've learned from SWOP, because it's not just my voice, it's the whole of SWOP's voice, everyone that works at SWOP has a story, you know, and I'm so grateful to be here at SWOP to learn those stories and be able to use those stories in a way that benefit our community, you know, and make it better and easier for them to maybe come forward and speak out, you know, or to have a place where they can call and speak to a peer. You know, that's been really, really rewarding, especially during the pandemic, you know, we've got this pandemic that's happening, and our community is struggling, some of us are struggling in that community. I'm very grateful that I have a job. Half of our community don't have jobs anymore. You know, because of the pandemic. brothels are closed, massage parlours are closed, you know, street based work, you know, everything's just closed, it's shut down.
Jenna Love 53:18
The streets are empty. I mean...
Chantell Martin 53:20
Absolutely, absolutely. So, you know, I'm grateful to have a job and be here today. But I think, I'm a storyteller, as you can tell, I love telling these stories, you know, in the aide that it's going to benefit our community, everyone in our community, you know, doesn't matter what gender you are, who you are, what colour you, you're in the sex industry, I just, I just love doing what I do. I love being who I am and being able to go out there. You know,
Holly Harte 53:52
The next question from our patrons is, did you ever doubt yourself as a sex worker and or activist? And how did you overcome those fears?
Chantell Martin 54:01
I did doubt myself as a sex worker at a couple of times, there were times when I stood down on that street, and the cold winter nights and just thought, "fuck, you know, there has to be something better than this", you know, having to come down here, freeze your arse off just to just to get a couple of $100 you know, so there were quite a few moments where I had doubts about being a sex worker. And then especially on the street and how I overcame that was I decided--and it was a client, actually, who I saw who was really lovely. One of the very few clients that we have, so if you guys are out there listening, there are some really good one's out there. He said to me, "you're in the wrong place and you're in the wrong business. You should be doing something else" and I went, "well, thank you very much for your opinion. All I want is your money". Okay, so I can get out of your car but--
Jenna Love 55:00
We can't pay our rent with opinions.
Chantell Martin 55:01
No, but they stuck with me what he said. And I thought to myself, "wow, okay, so maybe, you know, I'll try and get a job". And as I mentioned before, it was really, really hard before I transitioned to get a job, well it was even harder to get a job once I transitioned. So I forced myself to go out and get a so called normal job. And what happened was, once I got that job, I worked my way up to getting the job that I wanted, and that was to work in sales. What else? You know, what do hookers do? What we're good at? We're good at selling. And so yeah, went into sales and kind of like, what I would do is, I'd do sales for a couple of years, I'd get over that, and then jump back into the sex industry. And so I would jump between the two jobs and throughout my whole, over 25 years, that's what I did, you know, and so that address that whole how did I get over that, you know, not wanting to be in the sex industry, it's not for everyone, and it doesn't work for everyone, but it worked for me.
Jenna Love 56:05
What would you say is the number one difficulty faced by those that you meet through your outreach work
Chantell Martin 56:10
For now, in this pandemic, is connecting with our community, because not all of us are huggers, but a majority of us love to have a hug, you know, now and then, and also too, we love to be able to talk with each other. So it's been really, really difficult because SWOP also too delivers food boxes, okay. And through the pandemic, we did it all through last year. And we're doing it again this year. But that's been really, really hard. And the two deliveries have been different as well. Last year, we were able to stand and talk for five or 10 minutes, however long, we could stand there, drop a food box off and actually take time out to connect and engage with our community member, talk to other workers, and that's what we miss the most. This year, we're not able to do that. It's a no contact drop off now. And that's really, really difficult, you know, you've got somebody who wants to talk and reach out and so we're having to guide them to the phone and get them to give us a call. And it's really, really difficult. I hate it. I hate it. Because I'm so used to being there and being able to talk with, you know, workers and be able to hear them out. Because I mean, it's so isolating and we get it, we get it. But that's been really difficult. The other difficulty in the sex industry is not being I guess, having workers come forward with some of these horrible things that are happening to them that were happening to us way back in the day, they're still happening. And that's really difficult to sometimes hear, you know, the sexual assaults, the bashings, and not only from the clients, but also too from their partners. So the whole domestic violence thing is kind of really difficult.
Jenna Love 57:55
Yeah, it's got to be tough to hear that.
Chantell Martin 57:57
Yeah. Yeah, it is. And kind of like, we we're so lucky, we have a lovely counsellor who's been with us for over 20 years. And she is definitely the person that we will refer the worker to, if they're comfortable. Sometimes workers are just happy to talk to the outreach workers like us, that's where they want - they don't want to go any further, but just having somebody to hear them out. That's that's enough for them. And they go, "thank you, Chantell It's been really lovely speaking to you". That really great.
Jenna Love 58:25
And someone who gets it
Chantell Martin 58:25
Yes. Yeah, exactly. Exactly.
Jenna Love 58:28
That importance of peerness?
Chantell Martin 58:30
Yeah, that's right. Yeah.
Holly Harte 58:32
Do you have any advice for clients of street based sex workers on how they can be a better client?
Chantell Martin 58:38
Oh, gosh. Yeah.
Jenna Love 58:41
It may have changed a lot since you last were working
Chantell Martin 58:44
It has. Yeah, definitely. Definitely. It has. So the street based work--
Holly Harte 58:49
But some things never change
Chantell Martin 58:50
Yeah. Look, and there are, in New South Wales, anyway, there are still some street based areas that we, you know, that we visit. And I guess, one of the things that I'd like to let the guys know, the clients know, is that you just to think about what they're doing when they pick a worker up on the street, you know, because, I mean, it's, the workers put a lot of effort into getting ready and getting themselves together and getting down there, full stop. Some of the workers have been standing around for ages and ages. So when you pick up a worker, you know, it's all about respect, you know, just be respectful, and then pay the money. You know, just pay the bloody money, don't blooming start haggling. You know? I know it's part and parcel of the job. And it shouldn't happen. Like when you say this is the price for this, should pay it but you know, guys are not gonna do that. They're gonna haggle, just pay it, you know, and also to the, I guess, at the end of the day, just respecting the workers and treating us with respect. Because I mean, hey, that's what we're all about, you know, we're going to give you a service Yeah, exactly. And it's a two way thing as well, you know, so
Jenna Love 1:00:04
Yeah, absolutely. It's funny that some people don't seem to understand that, that if you treat, it comes back at you, it's the same with any service professional. If you're nice to them, they're probably going to give you a good service. I mean, it's pretty basic.
Chantell Martin 1:00:17
That's right. Exactly.
Holly Harte 1:00:18
You really want to be nice to the person who's putting your cock in their mouth. Like that's probably the person you want to be nicest to
Jenna Love 1:00:24
Especially if they have teeth.
Chantell Martin 1:00:25
Jenna Love 1:00:31
You think so, but there's all this stuff gets into isn't it - all the stigma and what society's told them and all of that just gets in the way, doesn't it?
Chantell Martin 1:00:37
Exactly, I think also to porn. Clients who watch porn, stop watching porn coming down. And this is for all sex workers as well. When you pick up a sex worker, please don't think that they're from a porn fuckin show that you've seen because I mean, it... yeah, it doesn't work like that. You know, it does not work like that, porn is porn. They have breaks, you know, that you don't see, so don't pick us up and then expect to blooming be pounding us for ages and ages and ages. It ain't bloody worth it. You know? Please get over it. We're not in the porn show. This is reality - you're sticking it in. You're getting your rocks off and you're pulling it out. That's it and go. Oh my gosh. It's just a nightmare when they do that, and they go, "Oh, I was watching this porn". And I mean... "I'm not gonna do that. I'm so sorry. That is not inclusive of this job. I'm so sorry. You need somebody to get into backflips and, you know, tip them upside down?"
Jenna Love 1:00:55
Yeah I physically can't
Chantell Martin 1:01:27
No. Absolutely. You know, and yeah, and accepting that no is no, you know, that's it.
Holly Harte 1:01:47
Thanks so much for joining us today, Chantell. It's been an absolute pleasure.
Chantell Martin 1:01:51
Thank you so much for having me. It was an absolute pleasure.
Holly Harte 1:02:02
As always, we'd love to thank our wonderful patrons this week for supporting us. Our new Giving Somebodies are Ms. Rainbow and Liz. Our new Very Generous Somebodies are Sai Jaden Lilith, Evelyn Hunt, Josie, and Crispy Cola. Our Even More Generous Domebodies are Timmy, Andrew, Adam Smith, Leo, Lachlan, Cass, Sub London, Miss Billy, Diane Needs, and Nora Knightley,
Jenna Love 1:02:35
and our Extremely Generous Somebodies are Aaron, Samuel, Andrew, Pete and Theodore Betts the First Esquire.
Holly Harte 1:02:44
Thanks so much for joining us this week, guys. We hope you've had fun and learned some interesting things. Look forward to seeing you next time.
Jenna Love 1:02:52
Please look out for us on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Patreon. Our name everywhere is somebodyyoupod as in podcast. Our Patreon starts at just $3 a month, and you can get all of our episodes ad-free and a day early, plus bonus episodes, behind-the-scenes action, bloopers and more. Thank you for taking the time to listen to the voices of sex workers. And remember, Somebody You Love might just be a sex worker.