Edinburgh's sex workers' voices need to be heard too - Liam Rudden

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Sex sells. It's a well known fact. Just look at the number of films, dramas​, ​novels and even pop lyrics that now come with an adult content warning whether it be an 'explicit' label, an '18+' advisory or R18 certification.

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In Edinburgh, it also sells pints, attracting clientele to the Capital's last few remaining and now under threat 'show bars' in the Westport enclave tagged locally as ‘the pubic triangle'.

It's a hot topic​ ​right now as the Council pursues their policy of ​eradicating strip​ ​clubs from the city​,​ a move set to put almost one hundred dancers out of work.The targeting of their members has been condemned the the United Sex Workers Union who fear the move will take away livelihoods and drive women underground putting them at risk of violence.

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United Sex Workers union  protestUnited Sex Workers union  protest
United Sex Workers union protest

Reading the arguments on both sides brought back memories of Leith in the 70s, where sex work and go-go bars were an everyday part of life. From cages to podiums, go-go dancing, stripping or lap-dancing, whatever the billing, had long been an uneasy part of life in the port.

My own first experience of a go-go bar came after an office Christmas lunch in Leith. All 17 or 18 at the time, the lads had heard Nobles had lunchtime go-go sessions. A few drinks later everyone, including the girls, were heading there to see what it was all about. It was crammed and we didn't last long. It was all very rudimentary, a bit sad, really.

A second experience of Edinburgh's strip scene came in the 80s. Drinking with an actress pal in a bar on Leith Walk, an elderly gent and much younger female asked if they could share our table. Any illusion they were father and daughter was quickly dispelled and a short time later he stormed out.

Checking the woman was alright, we started talking. She was a dancer, a fact that made us sit up and listen, my pal was in rehearsals to play a stripper. We were invited to see the dancer in action for research. It wasn't to be. On the night, she hadn't turned up for work.

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Over the years I've interviewed many sex workers for the News, indeed, every so often we used to run a ‘Sex in the City’ series which saw reporters explore different aspects of the city's sex industries, from massage parlours to rent boys, escorts to swingers clubs - circulation always rose that week. See sex sells.

Most were just people making a living. I don't know if there’s still a place for ‘show bars’ in 2022, what I do know is that those who work the scene have a right to have their voices heard as much as anyone else.A properly constructed discussion is needed, we don't live an ideal world and never will, no matter how much we may delude ourselves.

The words of one 37-year-old woman speaking to the News this week deserves proper consideration, she said, “When it suits we are either victims or sluts. We have autonomy. I don’t know any dancers here who are victims or lacking in self esteem. We are nurses, lawyers, property owners, students, fitness instructors. We need to see real acceptance of women’s choice about what we do with our bodies.”

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