It’s never easy to stand up and talk in front of a group of people.
Questions run through your mind -who are they? what do they already know? why do they want to hear you speak? how will they deal with what you say? what will they think?
Despite being well familiar with the ins and outs of power point and having stood in front of many different audiences, it never gets easy. The butterflies are there and the old tip to bite the end of my tongue rings loud in the final seconds before standing up and speaking out. My last presentation on Wednesday 23rd November was one of the toughest I have delivered.
We were invited to take Inside Outside to Belfast for the 23rd Regional sexual health conference. Plans had been underway for a while and Katie was due to speak, to get up on that platform and bravely share her story of Inside Outside – what it had done for her, what she had learned and gained form the whole journey. We talked about preparing for this and was she sure she wanted to stand up? She was sure and this was a big step for her.
Sadly, when we started to post and mention #insideoutsidebelfast on social media, a few ripples started. Murmurs that some people were not happy for us to be there, that we were not welcome, that Belfast was “done” with us, that we would be stopped. A lot went on in the background (the telling of that would require a mammoth post) and we had to take the difficult decision to not put Katie on the stage. We couldn’t guarantee it would be safe for her and that her identity could be protected. If there were people “unhappy” at Inside Outside being there, how could we put Katie in an awkward position? How could we ask her put herself in a vulnerable position with little control, no choice on what people posted on social media and not in a position to consent to her image possibly being used.
She wasn’t to get her 10 minutes in the spotlight, her place at the top table and space on the panel.
I was gutted for her. How unfair. To come to a decision to bravely stand up and share her story and then for that choice to be taken from her because of others “unhappiness” that Inside Outside had the audacity to think that people in Northern Ireland might want to hear from them. Those rumbles, grumbles and threats only served to silence a woman who has not spoken in public before. A stark reminder of how hard it is for women inside and outside the sex industry to have a voice. How easily they have been and can continue be silenced.
To make sure she had a voice and presence – we worked together on an input that I would read and share on her behalf. It felt strange to be up there speaking and sharing Katie’s own thoughts and reflections when it should have been her.
Here are her words.
“Hi, I am Katie
I am in my early twenties.
I was inside the sex industry in Scotland for 4 years. I started in indoors prostitution through brothels and saunas. I recently exited the sex industry and have no desire to go back.
Life isn’t always as it seems.
My journey has not been one of a posh silver spooned girl. I have been hurt & broken to a point I couldn’t recognise the person looking back at me. I’ve been through physical and mental abuse from those I trusted, trusted with my life. I’ve been used and abused.
People now look at me like I can’t handle myself, how wrong they’d be.
I may not be proud of the things I have done and the paths I have walked. There have definitely been detours or scenic routes in my life. Many scenes I do not want to see again but recently I have learnt to look at my story in a whole new light!
As I continue to move forward in my journey, there is continuous changing factors. People coming, people going, moving on, falling backwards. Making memories and reminiscing. I’ve learnt it doesn’t matter if a person has been in your life for 5 years or 5 minutes, the most real ones are those that show loyalty when it counts. They’re the people I need in my life, they’re the ones that push me to better my life. Not those who are sitting waiting for me to fall back into my old ways.
It’s true if anyone had told me the reality of this lifestyle, I would have searched every other option. But would I have really believed them?
When I was inside the sex industry – It was basically like living two lives.
You have your work life and your family, friends, partners think you do something else. You have to keep up this fake act.
Something could have happened at work and they would have no idea why you were so upset. They wouldn’t understand and you can’t come out and tell them. No. You just wouldn’t.
There was times that you want to like, just scream and tell them and then they maybe they would understand why you are, like, you are. But then at the same time, it’s not worth it. It’s hard to keep them separate but you must.
My support worker told me about Inside Outside.
I thought it sounded different and quite interesting, something I would like to be involved in. I wanted to take part as I always like to try new things and learn new skills along the way. I thought it would be an interesting project to be part of. I can say now I underestimated how powerful it would actually be.
I worked with Linda for my interview. It was a bit of a weird one for me as mentally and emotionally i was in a very fragile place around that time. I had been so close to pulling out and cancelling the whole thing. I’m so happy i carried on with it.
It was pretty scary telling my story. It makes it more real when you hear yourself say it out loud. Having the digital recorder there it made me think more about what I was saying and how I was saying it. I’m not all that sure how I decided what to tell. I guess I told the stuff in a slightly more PG version. I don’t think I would take back anything that I said, No.
After the interview I got the transcript. Oh that transcript… Wow how odd reading every word the ums & ehhs. And so so long. I read through it and decided what I wanted to share / not share. I didn’t want anything in it that would identify me or mean that people could recognise me.
My photo ideas came quite naturally to me. They were forever changing though. I got quite into the project from then on. I started taking pictures in my everyday life and surroundings that represent parts of my story and editing them to my liking.It was hard to narrow down to the ones I was actually going to use in the project.I really enjoyed it. Expressing myself and telling a story through pictures.
The project was launched in Holyrood.
Going there to it was so incredibly nerve racking and terrifying but amazing. I ran to the parliament all stressed that I was going to be late to see my own photos, in we go through all the security. We walked down the long glass corridor to a huge smile and cuddle from Linda.
Seeing all the ladies photo’s and hearing their individual stories had me holding back tears (we all were) relating to parts of them all. That is such a memorable and important day for me.
I got my copy of the book that day – it is beautiful! My story takes up A LOT of pages! I am so proud of it and to be in it.
When the exhibition opened in Dundee – I went to the launch night. It was so emotional! I remember listening to Linda speak, it was very moving and and at a few moments during it I could feel myself tearing up! hoping no one would notice. So moving! Quite surreal actually, no one there knowing who I am and that my pictures are on that wall. My story is in that book you’re going to read.
Seeing my work on tour… hmmm I don’t know if that’s actually hit home yet!
Following it all on social media is crazy. I don’t know what other way to describe it. . I had no idea how many people would read it and be touched by it. It’s still surreal but amazing to see how many people have been following and all so interested in the project and where it is going. Getting feedback on my pictures that someone else actually liked them was amazing. I am so proud and humbled to see it all.
I’ve kept writing blogs because I really enjoy it, it’s a release for me, a place to escape. For people following the project and those supporting it to see we’re real, we don’t just disappear after you read our stories. Our stories are still playing out.
I felt the idea of the women telling their stories could be very eye opening to both those inside and outside of the sex industry as everyone story is different. I think the idea of getting women to tell their stories in such an individual way and using our minds to create something so beautiful that is going to reach so many people is amazing. We shouldn’t be ashamed of our stories- they’re our stories. They have made us who we are. What we are involved may not be others reality but it is ours and millions of other women and men around the world.
There is so much more to my story than what is there in that interview and in my chapter in the book. Example – What swings and roundabouts my life had been through to get me to the point that that was my only option. About the ups and downs of really working, the amazing people I met, how in a weird warped way I’m thankful that I’ve been through it all cause realistically if I hadn’t Ii wouldn’t be the person I am now or where I am now.
I have learnt quite a lot about myself throughout the course of this project so far which I didn’t expect to.
I learnt I actually like taking pictures and editing, that I’m arty. That I’m stronger than I thought I was, after going over my story realising how much I have dealt with and overcome and to the fact I’m still here I’m still standing still doing something positive.
I truly believe if it was not for the project I would not be where I am today I got a new beginning, a positive future and a new outlook from the project and I cannot be more thankful.
I would like to see more projects like this reaching more women and for them not to be scared of getting involved, that you never know it may open doors for their exit out of the industry if that is what they want for themselves. For more women to know that Inside Outside is a safe place with so much support that they can tell their stories.
For them to know not everyone judges.”
Thank you Katie.
From the kind feedback we have received from those who attended- it seems that Belfast wasn’t done with us after all, many were very happy to see and hear from Inside Outside, we were very welcome and have already been invited back. A heartening response to remind us that those who shout loudest don’t always have the ears of all they think they do. Sometimes when those with the least power get the chance to speak, people do sit up and listen.
Yet again – thanks to Katie for her speech and to Natasha, Levi, Natalia, Wendy, Joanne and Sarah Jane for their photos and words.