Community Lunch - March 2018
Greetings are exchanged as the arrivals trickle in and put on their name tags. There are mostly familiar faces, with some newcomers who are welcomed warmly by all. We help ourselves to some spearmint, lemon and rose water, and sit around a large table stocked with a wide array of delectable dipping sauces, pita bread, vegetable fritters and fresh greens. The ladies dig in enthusiastically among light-hearted chit chat about how our week has gone and what's the latest film we've seen.
Soon the conversation turns to more serious matters, this is a safe space where anything can be discussed with an absolute lack of judgement. There is curiosity about the differences in each others work, these are women who have previously or currently worked in all kinds of sex work, and though outsiders may be quick to pigeonhole them all into the same box, we know how much variety there is in the different industries, and we are eager to learn more about each other and how we work. A wide range of topics are discussed, from how secure we feel in our working environment, with anecdotes of some scary situations where bouncers have needed to be involved, to how pleasant the work environment can be depending on our coworkers and management.
These are women who can often be dismissed by others as lacking in intelligence and choosing "easy options" in life, but anyone hearing them delve into the topic of equality and the future of sex work in a world where the patriarchy is being questioned more and more intensely would soon revise that opinion. They are intelligent and hard working, they are pillars of support for their children and other family and friends, and this is reflected in the views they express.
The main course is served, delicious tortilla wraps with feta cheese and crunchy vegetables loved by all. The chef, always keen for feedback and suggestions, mindfully crafts each meal, taking care to ensure that everyone's dietary needs are respected. One of us suggests we should try to meet to do some fun activity together like bush-walking. The group reacts eagerly, part of the support offered by Project Respect is quite simply the friendships that can emerge from being in such relatable situations. Everybody needs to be able to share and discuss things with others, but our situation is unique and difficult for people outside the industry to fully comprehend. The topic of relationships is a great example, we can ask each other for advice, speculating whether an issue stems from the nature of our work and how it can change our perception of what is 'normal', having a friendly sounding board for such doubts is essential to one's mental well-being.
Dessert comes in the form of natural dried apricots and juicy fresh figs. We remark once again how gorgeous the food has been and what an enjoyable experience it is to spend an afternoon with a group of such strong, positively influential women. A suggestion box appears where some note down ways in which we can further be helped, while another simply writes "I am happy to be here" summing up our collective feeling in one sentence that says it all.
By a community lunch participant