Grace Bellavue, daughter, friend, sex worker and advocate, passed away this week.
Smart, funny, compassionate and fierce, Grace Bellavue (Pippa was her private name) was a sex worker who spoke her truth and the truth of a community. She was active in a number of communties (including the sex work and hip-hop communities) and her loss will leave a unique, Grace-shaped hole in many lives.
Grace wrote a number of posts for Mamamia, dispelling many of the myths that so many people cling to about her sex work. She never condemned people for their misunderstandings – she encouraged, informed and shared.
In this post, which is perhaps her most poignant, she talks about how she told her parents about her sex work. Using the story as a lesson for people who have had limited exposure to sex work, she encourages people to think about the language they use: “Next time sex work comes up in discussion, use myself, use us all as an example of what does exist, what truly should be battled. Take a check of your language, if you object to the objectification and don’t know what this work entails, curtail your viewpoint.”
It is a powerful lesson: Language can break hearts. It can also heal them. Thank you, Grace, for your strength, your wisdom and your kindess. You will be missed.
Grace Bellavue writes…
At the end of the day, language becomes our identity.
I remember the first time the language surrounding this broke my heart.
“Where is all this money coming from Grace? You’re only seventeen, you can’t be earning this from the bakery. What are you doing? I don’t believe you’re selling drugs, but it’s the only thing I can think of. You are saying you’re going to parties you aren’t attending, you’re not our daughter anymore, you’ve turned into something else.”
My mother paced the kitchen as I sat at the table playing with the runner, twisting its tassels between my fingers.
“No I’m not selling drugs mum, I’m a prostitute. I f*ck men for a living.”
My mother visibly retched, as my father leant against the back wall for support. I’ve never seen him grow so old in a moment since.
“Oh god, I’m going to vomit,” mum said. She steadied herself on the doorframe, half running to the toilet.
My father began to cry. I’d never seen my father cry before.
A highly successful manager, and alpha male, he always dominated and led his men. He could walk into a pub and have a bar surrounding him in a few minutes, engaging, talking. People were attracted to my father like moths to a flame. There was something strong, good and fiercely independent about him that women flirted with and men followed.
“You’re my daughter Grace. How, f*ck. How can you let them do that do you? What did I do wrong? Oh god. Why? Why the f*ck are you doing this? Oh sh*t, I need to sit down. How can you be a whore? Don’t you know how they see you? How they talk, oh god, I feel sick. Please tell me I’m dreaming, for the love of god please tell me I’m dreaming.”
“I’m sorry daddy,” I responded. I could hear my mother retching in the ensuite up the hallway, her convulsions only broken by her sobs.
“Oh Grace, god, I love you so much, why? Why are you doing this?”
Tears continued to roll down the face of the only man I’d ever loved at that stage. It broke my heart.
“How? How the f*ck are you doing this? How can they let you do this? You’re f*cking seventeen for God’s sake, you’re not a f*cking whore.” I had never heard him swear so much in my company.
“I just rang them up, had an interview. They didn’t ask for ID.”
“Oh god. Is this some sick nightmare? How long have you been working?”
“A few months.”
“You know you’ve broken your mother’s heart? We gave you everything, love, a home, values, a good upbringing, fuck I even worked my ass off to give you a good school. You are so intelligent, what, are you going to throw all these scholarships, all these programs, all this time, all these people who just think you can be everything you can be, and you want to be a f*cking whore?”
“Dad, it’s not like that.”
My mother emerged from the bathroom, bloodshot eyes and as old as my father. For the first time I was no longer their daughter, but a very alien stranger.
Finally my mother spoke.
“Please leave Grace, you need to move out if you are going to keep doing this. This is not what we brought you up to be. We love you, but cannot have you under our roof any longer if this is to continue. “ I looked at my father.
“Please leave, for we do not know what you have become.”
I am a sex worker, whore, prostitute, harlot, hooker, professional slut, fetishist, dominatrix at times, submissive often and just a normal f*cking human being most of the time.
I’m also lucky that since the anecdote I’ve just related, I have eventually been able to live openly and honestly and lovingly with my family. Finally after six years of back and forth, they have finally understood and accepted the industry how I see and feel it. It’s not an easy road, and many sex workers never attempt nor realise it.
The language surrounding sex workers often becomes markers of our self worth in a world in which, well, the rest of the universe associates with a social stigma only attributed to terrorists, pedophiles, illegal immigrants and murderers.
Use the aforementioned language and the world of richness we foster becomes reduced to something cheap. We don’t fight, kill, or provide services to those that impede on our safety, values and mental and psychical boundaries. We give pleasure for a living.
No element of the sex industry deserves that language (although granted I will own, accept and play on it for humour). But where does it originate from?
The greatest discrimination I see which causes the most angst and upset amongst sex worker friends is the fact that we are still socially stigmatised as though we are drug dealers, drug addicts and hopeless human beings without independent thought, activity and independence.
The truth is far from the stereotype – I am none of these, although granted in my short life I may have indulged in a few. Attempting to condemn us all in a narrow minded container is like getting a rainbow and describing it as one colour – you hopelessly become stagnant in a description which cannot encapsulate the beauty of what exists.
I’ll give you my explanation that I use when conversing with people I barely know about the sex industry.
The “sex industry” as it exists in most people’s minds is what I call a “socio-economic” facet of the industry.
What I mean by this is that the sex workers people envision have entered for reasons related to poverty, drugs, force, violence, mental illness and social circumstance.
As such this media perpetuated ideology permeates the policy making, social consciousness and inter-personal relationships that affect all sex workers, whether this is the case or not.
Think about the laws that are enforced and created in the states and countries you live in. They are there to protect – and those forced into sex work in it’s myriad of forms via these channels probably aren’t there because they chose it without extenuating circumstances. They don’t feel the joy I do, nor do they have the pleasure and happiness I receive from my profession.
They are there and waiting to bail. When their financial circumstances improve, their drug addiction is beaten, their mental and physical manipulators are removed, or the pathway out of a never-ending cycle that social class enslaves on them is removed – they are out of this industry faster than superman on a rescue mission.
But does social stigma and legislation aimed at protecting these people, which also restricts, criminalises and isolates those doing it out of choice, independence and love, really help them?
Not really. Mental health funding does. As does community engagement and involvement. Targeted, driven and harm minimisation policies remove more drug users from streets than criminalisation. Domestic shelters, work placement and access to employment, counseling assists more women and men than the laws targeted at protecting them.
The point of my honesty and the countless work of sex workers all over the world fighting this same point are to raise awareness that there are two types of prostitution. Your language falsely pigeonholes both in a box in which both don’t belong.
Firstly, the previously discussed “socioeconomic” sex work, and the work done by the majority which is a conscious, positive choice we make intelligently whilst removing all socioeconomic factors. What people don’t realise is that this is actually the majority of the industry.
There is an amazing depth to what I do, and I will fight tooth and nail, even at the sacrifice of my personal identity to dispel these stereotypes.
In the interim I am still running an uphill battle. Why? Because this social stigma silences a majority of the beautiful voices I hear in regards to the sex industry. I am fortunate that I can maintain a constant personality and “soul voice” between my friends and family, and I am incredibly blessed for it.
Next time sex work comes up in discussion, use myself, use us all as an example of what does exist, what truly should be battled. Take a check of your language, if you object to the objectification and don’t know what this work entails, curtail your viewpoint.
If you are fighting sex trafficking, the apparent drug affected streetwalkers or those driven by mental illness, histories of abuse and needless self-respect then please challenge your state and country’s policies regarding mental health, housing, drugs and community support.
You’ll stop the cause, not the symptom. Then at least I, with the majority of other workers can continue to do our work safely, healthily and professionally by bringing pleasure to the masses without discrimination.
Before her passing, Grace Bellavue was an Australian escort passionate about industry advocacy who used to be a digital monkey chained at a desk. Unchained, she spent too much time indulging in unmentionable sexual acts, scotch & relishing owning her own business. Find her website here (NSFW) and her Twitter here.