Sarah Ratchford talks to the elderly johns and people with disabilities who will be affected by Canada's new sex work law, Bill C-36.
Image via Flickr user swanksalot.
While mainstream media outlets have reported on how detrimental Bill C-36 will be for sex workers, very little has been said about the fact that the bill will also target elderly people and people with disabilities.
These groups are frequent clients of sex workers, because of the myriad of reasons why the elderly or disabled have trouble discovering fulfilling sex lives. That’s where sex workers come in; they provide intimacy and human affection.
Jillian Hollander owns Cupid’s Escorts in Toronto, and she says many of her clients have disabilities. Due to the stigma and assumptions that surround certain disabilities, visiting sex workers is the only time some of them have sex. With the introduction of Bill C-36, Hollander reached out to clients to share how they’ll be affected. One client, who uses a wheelchair, explains how that affected his life when he was a teenager:
“My hormones raged and like anyone, my wants and wishes grew,” he writes. “I soon learned though, that for most, my wheelchair equaled a barrier or, they just assumed no [sexual] function.”
The client didn’t provide his name. Hollander says some clients have already dropped off due to fear caused by the bill, or lack of understanding that the bill is not yet law. This particular client thought that as he aged, and as people learned more about those with disabilities, the intimate partners he desired might come. But he says people told him they were afraid to be with him because they didn’t know what to expect.
“By my mid-20s, I was still not in the role I so badly wanted. I was well liked and accepted but stuck in a platonic, nearly asexual perception by most. Many of my other more disabled friends had already turned to services just to get a little of what it seemed everyone else got. They accepted it. They understood it was only a fraction of what they craved but... it still helped.”
Initially, he thought going to an escort service was “giving in and giving up,” or that others felt going to a service was the only option for someone who uses a chair. He held out for a long time, but still, most people didn’t regard him as “sexually capable.”
Now, he goes to an escort service. He hasn’t given up on being in a relationship with someone outside of sex work, though, but chooses to see his time with sex workers as preparing him for relationships down the line, and learning how to please women in bed.
“It's not all about sex. It's about being beside someone, learning my body, learning theirs, and so much more. I have likely been better prepared for actually being in a relationship because I turned to these services, than I ever would have been had I had no experience while waiting," he said. “Using these services and meeting these women has simply offered me a safe, decent, conduit by which to get a little piece of a much larger want.”
The same, of course, goes for some older people whose partners have lost interest in sex. One man I spoke with recently (we’ll call him “Anthony,” so his wife doesn’t find out), routinely sees a couple of women for sex near where he lives in the Whitby-Oshawa area in Ontario.
The 59-year-old tells me he’s generally happy with his wife. She’s his best friend. But she hasn’t been interested in sex for years, and it was leaving him stressed out and lonely. He recognized that she had the right to refuse sex if she didn’t want it, but felt he needed to seek it out somewhere.
He started finding women on review boards. From there, he was led to Backpage, and he would call or text them from there. He always sees independent escorts, opting not to go through an agency.
“I’ve been married 30 years. I have two kids and a house, a mortgage, and a job. The busier and older you get, the sex drops off at home. For me, I wanted more, but my wife didn’t.”
Anthony’s wife was happy with doin’ it once every couple of weeks to once a month, but Anthony wanted it once or twice a week. After some time, he accepted that they had different libidos. He started visiting massage parlours, and after three or four months, he decided to see an escort. He’s been seeing a couple of women once per week since January.
His wife doesn’t know about his extracurricular sexcapades, and he says he doesn’t plan to tell her. If the government makes him a criminal, though, he says he’ll be hesitant to see any new girls, and he’ll be more nervous about meeting with the women he’s already established pleasurable business relationships with. He says he worries about police stings.
He echoes what many sex workers have said: Bill C-36 does not differentiate between sex trafficking and those who are in sex work by choice.
“I’m not looking for children or people forced into slavery. I’m looking for consenting aduls," Anthony told me. "The girl I’m seeing now is 33, she’s been making a living for years as a stripper and masseuse, and now she’s an independent escort.”
“This is her job, this is how she’s raising her family and paying for her home and lifestyle, and they’re taking that away from her, too. She’s been doing this since she was 18. She doesn’t have a high school diploma. What’s she going to do if this goes through?”
I ask what steps Anthony plans to take to help stop C-36. He says he answered the poll the Department of Justice sent out earlier this year, and made it clear he disagreed with it. Though many Canadians did the same, he says he’s sure that will do “absolutely nothing.”
“It’s just a way for the government to say ‘Yes, we spoke with the people.’ I’m sure so many people against it for religious or moral reasons probably responded.”
“If they think I’m ever going to vote Conservative again, they have another thing coming—if they’re going to do this to me.”
Regardless of what the government tries to push through, though, Anthony is convinced that the bill will be thrown out due to the fact that it’s unconstitutional.
The judgment, he says, needs to end. His visits to escorts are therapeutic, and they leave him feeling a more relaxed, happier man.
“It’s something I enjoy doing. I have total respect for them and what they do. They’re like a bartender; they’ll listen to your concerns. You talk to them. I enjoy it. But if they criminalize me, I’ll have to change the way that I operate.”