The Unrepentant Whore

Jamie Lee Hamilton is one of the first transgender sex workers, advocating for the rights of all sex workers. Virginia Woolf was a prominent feminist writer of her time; Jamie Lee Hamilton is one of the first transgender sex workers, fighting for the rights of all sex workers. Today, we’ll compare these two people, examining their similarities and differences, and deciding whether or not it’s appropriate to remain concerned about their circumstances.
Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) was a well-known female author, publisher, and critic. Her writings influenced many postwar and interwar writers. Her writings were primarily concerned with the exploration of time and wealth, as well as human feelings and consciousness. In 1931’s “Professions for Woman”, Woolf describes her own experiences as both a woman and a writer. She even refers to how feminity was depicted; she explains how she had to kill a phantom, known as the Angel in the House, to become a complete writer. Wolff also described how the mind of a writer works, discussing the writing profession and also analyzed the major obstacles that she overcame, to be able to achieve success. It is known, that during the Victorian period, the female gender faced a lot of inequality, the author thus describes women’s occupations with a lot of irony. Wolff had a solid reason for killing “The Angel in the House”, she had a lot of anger and resentment towards the general description of feminity in those days (19th century). She wanted to flee from the subservience of the female gender to the male gender that plagued the society in those days. Wolff had to overcome that phantom, before she could ever review books. She even wrote: “Killing the Angel in the House was part of the occupation of a woman writer” (Woolf, V., 1930). This just means that women have to fight for equality, socially, economically, and even be able to have access to all professions, without prejudices.

Harris’s “The Unrepentant Whore” is focused on the freedom and the rights of prostitution, here called sex workers. Unlike other operations, prostitution is a kind of occupation, which does not offer a lot of protection for its employees. Sex workers are not well viewed in the society, they are pushed to the corners of society, and they are even viewed as unfit. Laws and decisions have to be taken by the government concerning this occupation, before casualties appear more and more. It is in this piece of writing, The Unrepentant Whore, that Michael Harris describes this dilemma by sharing the accounts given by Jamie Lee Hamilton, the transsexual prostitute turned activist. Hamilton’s past can give us clues to understand the choices that he made throughout his life. Hamilton grew up, having a girlish identity; this background appears to have been the reason that drove him into prostitution. Having a childhood, plagued with a lot of emotional instabilities, he had a very rough childhood, being called “fag” and “freak” (Harris, M., 2010), till he finally dropped out and was lured into sex working, due to the easy money.

“…telling the truth about [her] own experience as a body…”

In her paper called Professions for Women, Virginia made mention of two prominent crises which she had encountered: first off was fighting off the Angel in the House (after Coventry Patmore’s self-sacrificing heroine); and being able to “tell the truth about my own experiences as a body” (Woolf, V., 1930). This second battle refers to her inability to voice out how she felt as a complete individual (with the angel in the house), as a ‘woman’. Wolff believed that she had won the first battle, against the specter of Victorian respectability; she thought however, that no woman had ever won the second battle.

As a person, it is very vital and fundamental, to know who you are. Without knowing who you are, you cannot fight for what you want. It is therefore very vital for writers and sex workers to know who they are, to be truthful with themselves. Wolff had not yet fully won this battle, just as Hamilton, but they both had started, that is why they could fight for what they believed in, against all odds.

The main reason why it is difficult for these groups to be heard is because they somehow go against a general norm. On one hand, the subservience of the female to the male gender has always been, ever since the beginning of time. Virginia like Fanny Burney, Aphra Behn, Harriet Martineau, Jane Austen, George Eliot etc. (Woolf, V., 1930) went against the way things have always been. She even had to go as far as kill a part of herself (the Angel in the House), to be able to overcome that hurdle. Prostitution on another hand is against morals and ethics. Just like the subservience of women, sex working has always been heavily opposed. Hamilton not only fought for sex workers, but he himself is a transgender, which makes his plea much harder to be accepted.

Similarities between Woolf and Hamilton

The two main protagonists of these stories, Virginia Woolf and Hamilton are the very definition of the un-stereotypical person, they both breakout from the general conventions that the society has set. The stereotypical individual will most likely follow the general trend and do things like everyone else does. Woolf and Hamilton on the other hand, do not. Woolf was so resolved for her writing that she decided to kill the ‘Angel in the House’, “It was she who bothered me and wasted my time and so tormented me that at last I killed her” (Woolf, V., 1930). She even mentioned other women who did the exact same thing. Hamilton on his part was so much harassed and insulted by his classmates. “He was called fag, fairy and freak by his schoolmates; phys ed classes…” (Harris, M., 2010). He was considered as a reject. Due to the peer pressure, he started to have sex with other men for money, which ultimately led him to become a transgender.

Both Woolf and Hamilton are mainly focused on people, seeking for employment. Virginia Woolf’s goal on her part was to help women that are seeking for an employment. “…he told me that your Society is concerned with the employment of women and she suggested that I might tell you something about my own professional experiences” (Woolf, V., 1930). She started out saying that writing is one of the easiest jobs for women to do and explained the difficulty in writing. She was motivating women to do like she did, and become more than what they already are. Hamilton on his part is also focused on the job market. Hamilton’s focus on the other hand, is on sex workers. He was advocating the rights of all sex workers (transgender and all the others).

Differences between Woolf and Hamilton

Just like Virginia Woolf and Hamilton are similar, they have several differences as well. First of all, they were both in two completely different times. The society at the time of Woolf was much more closed and reserved, than Hamilton’s. “In those days, the last of Queen Victoria…” (Woolf, V., 1930). What could be accepted during Hamilton’s period could never be accepted during Woolf’s. During Hamilton’s lifetime, women were much more emancipated than during Woolf’s, “One day in the deep end of winter, 1998, it rained on Vancouver‘s City Hall. … It rained on Jamie Lee Hamilton‘s good swing coat as she emerged from the car” (Harris, M., 2010).

Virginia Woolf and Hamilton have different motivations for their fight. On one hand, the reason why Hamilton turned to sexual acts was for financial reasons. It was when he realized how he could make easy money as a sexual worker that he decided to fully get involved in it, “Easiest money I had ever made” (Harris, M., 2010). Woolf on the other hand, already had some money. It was actually because she had some money, that she could fully dedicate herself to what she really liked, writing. “…though the credit rightly belongs to some excellent ancestors of mine who left me a certain sum of money” (Woolf, V., 1930). Woolf was motivated by her love for writing, her desire to break free from the norm’s “Angel in the House”.

They also have jobs of completely opposite natures. Virginia Woolf wants to become a writer, she starts out by writing the reviews of other literature. Woolf said “Writing was a reputable and harmless occupation. The family peace was not broken by the scratching of a pen” (Woolf, V., 1930). Writing is an honorable job. Hamilton on his part becomes a sex worker. He becomes a transgender and becomes a full sex worker, all because of his search for money. Sex work is to the detriment of the population, “If I had a place like this in my neighborhood, I don‘t think I’d be happy about it either” (Harris, M., 2010).

Conclusion

Nowadays, things are not as tough for women as they were in Woolf’s time, but as she said, it is still a battle that every woman must face. Men are not above women, they are equal, so it is very necessary to continue being concerned about the acceptance of this truth in society. Jamie Lee Hamilton was just a product of his environment; he could not support all the peer and family pressure. His plea for sex workers is only good as long as it is not for the freedom of prostitution. Prostitution is wrong and can never be right, no matter the reasons for it. It is thus not necessary to be concerned about it.

References

Harris, M. (2010). The Unrepentant Whore. The Broadview Anthology of Expository Prose. Broadview press, 2nd Edition, 2011.

Woolf, V. (1930). The Unrepentant Whore. The Broadview Anthology of Expository Prose. Broadview press, 2nd Edition, 2011.

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