Know My Story is a candid and moving book that was put together by 14 sex workers from Johannesburg and Cape Town, and edited by Dr Susann Huschke. Marie Claire talked to Chaniqua and Keletso, two sex workers who contributed to the book. We asked them about bringing this project to life, their creativity and the South Africa they envision. The book celebrates the lives of remarkably brave people living in a country where sex workers face a struggle for dignity, as society and government continue to marginalise them.

 

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In the book, Chaniqua writes about how difficult life is when you lose both parents. Images created by Chaniqua and Julia Sestier

 

How do you feel now that you have contributed to Know My Story? What are your emotions when you look at the completed book?

Chaniqua: It’s an amazing feeling to see our production completed, but it also feels like we have not done enough because there is still so much to be told. But hopefully, what we have shared will make its way to people’s hearts so that they can understand that people out here are really trying to make a living. Know My Story was about bringing change – changing the way people view sex work.

Keletso: I feel proud that I contributed to Know My Story and I see so many changes in my life since we started this project. I used to doubt myself and regret what I have gone through in life and what I am still going through at the moment, but I now feel proud of myself and the entire team. I am always emotional when reading our completed book and I am also feeling proud because I know what I want in life, and there are reasons that I am who I am today, other people out there just judge us without knowing who we are as sex workers, and our dreams – just like everyone else. I have faith and believe that if they take time to read our book it will change their attitude towards us.

Will you continue writing, drawing and telling your stories?

Chaniqua: I felt that writing brings out the best in us. I never thought that I could be the writer of my own life, but being part of this project has taught me that I can sit down and write down the experiences that I have gone through. It is an amazing feeling to do that, to create the story of my life. I will keep writing because there is still so much to tell.

Keletso: Yes, I will continue writing, creating and drawing my stories because writing about myself and the things I am going through when doing business and in my personal life is part of me letting go of the pain I carry, and it helps me not think about what other people think of me.

 

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Keletso, who was severely abused while married, writes about the horrors faced by individuals when communities do nothing when they see violence. Photograph by Dr Susann Huschke

When you think of South Africa in the future, are you hopeful? What kind of country do you think it will be? Do you think attitudes towards sex work will ever change in South Africa?

Chaniqua: There is hope, yes, that things will change. You look at where we come from and where we are now. So much has changed. For example, the possibility of changing from one sex to another, the rights of transgender people, and then there is also same-sex marriages. So hopefully the government will also see the need for decriminalisation of sex work because at the end of the day, we are mothers and sisters to our families, and we are going through a struggle to make a better living for our families.

Keletso: South Africa, our country, has never been fair to us because sex work is criminalised. We are hoping that our government will take time and listen to our stories as sex workers so that people will stop this attitude towards us.

If you could say anything to another sex worker, who is perhaps feeling scared and isolated, what would your advice be?

Chaniqua: Don’t be scared. This is how we are making a living and let’s hold hands together and stand strong. We might all be in different parts of the industry, but in the end it’s all about making a living that we struggle to make – for the people who we love and care for.

Keletso: To sex workers who are still scared to come out and to the ones who have been isolated, I just want to let them know: nothing about us without us! Let’s stick together, fight for our rights, as we are human beings just like everyone else out there. Let’s be proud of ourselves. Life is too short to stay in the dark! I know we are the lights of our children and working hard for them to have a better future.

Know My Story is available as a digital book that you can read for free at Issuu.com.