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Pub: Sydney Morning Herald

Pubdate: 17-Oct-2007

Edition: First

Section: News and Features

Subsection: Opinion

Page: 15

Wordcount: 863

Councils come to grips with oldest profession

Elizabeth Farrelly

You don’t often come across a word like suckatorium in official documents. Actually, the word as found protruding into the etherscape like the proverbial canine gonads was a plural, suckatoria, which may show that Campbelltown is literate as well as hip, or simply that suckatoria, like gonads, come in pairs. No pun intended.

What is a suckatorium exactly? And what might a collection – a flock? A conjugation? A sycophancy? – of suckatoria be doing in Campbelltown?

First, what a suckatorium is not. Not part of the otherwise adventurous Campbelltown Arts Festival, News from Islands. Also not, as you might infer, a nursery school for politicians and corporate execs. Nor is it a new Mark Latham business venture, notwithstanding his “conga line of suck-holes” depiction of the Howard Government that flared briefly over the Australian political desert and may yet prove his sole claim on posterity.

No, a suckatorium is really more Oxford Street than Campbelltown, the (usually gay) equivalent of that unforgettable scene in the film Kandahar, where the doctor must examine his female patients through an eye-sized hole-in-the-wall. In suckatoria the hole is usually larger, sometimes described as ‘fist-sized,’ but in both cases its purpose is to afford physical knowledge without personal intimacy. (Suckatoria are often extreme here, commonly enforcing a vow of silence, or at least of speechlessness).

Such definition is not forthcoming in the official document, however, the infinitely turgid Campbelltown Sex Industry Development Control Plan. There, far from being defined, suckatoria silently offer definition-by-example of what is meant by “sex-on-premises establishment”. Or SOPE.

You laugh? You probably also giggled, then, at recent reports that Hungary’s prostitute-training program is five times oversubscribed. Like, what does the course comprise, exactly, and how do I get an examiner’s ticket? And yet, it’s not so different here except that, since the 1995 reforms, brothels are legal – with development consent.

And, excuse me? That’s not funny, either. How childish to find the idea of official design guidelines for brothels amusing, or the thought of council inspectors enforcing such guidelines. Pathetic to see “sex industry service providers” as different from any other workers. Puerile to see humour in the application of occupational health and safety regulations or key performance indicators for promotion. Infantile to joke about how legalisation makes sexual harassment just a stretching of the job-description. “Whaddya mean, it says you only have to make the tea?” Ridiculous.

And yet it is funny. Partly because sex is inherently ridiculous but mainly because it is, or was through most of human history, naughty. Humour – like romance, like drama, like excitement – needs boundaries. It needs rules, lines, differences, be they social (as in Fawlty Towers), cultural (Borat), gender-based (Tootsie) or moral. As in sex.

This, arguably, is a primary purpose of organised religion. In giving us rules to break it lets us sustain into adulthood a child’s delight in naughtiness. Childish, sure, and deeply, almost definitively human, the urge to transgress is also a constant, renewable source of creative energy.

And the more forbidden the sex – the more illicit, immoral or commercial – the greater the potential excitement, creativity and fun. Remove the prohibition, and most extramarital affairs would end within minutes. To pretend otherwise is like the Police Commissioner, Andrew Scipione, pretending the Chaser’s casual flaunting of APEC security was not funny, when it was clearly the highlight of the week.

For eons, authorities tried to erase prostitution. Now, having failed, they’re concentrating on erasing its naughtiness, instead. No longer, say departmental guidelines, may we use words like “prostitute” and “brothel”. Those old terms imply “prejudice … contempt, and … stigmatisation”. Now we must say “sex worker” and “sex service premises” instead. Try “go back to your sex worker, she can have you!” with a straight face.

And yet between the lines, if not the sheets, the prejudice persists. Brothels, or SOPEs, may not advertise. Any signage must be “discreet and … not draw attention to the use”, which would seem to remove the point, rather.

Home sex-work is fine, a variation on “mixed use”, if it provides clean linen (no bri-nylon), disability access, a discreet waiting area “for clients who arrive without appointment” and is not within coo-ee of a child-care centre, school, park or place of worship. And provided the kids are not home. Strictly school-hours visitors, then, for mummy.

Which is to say, paid-for sex is like walking on red; we will tolerate the fact providing we can’t see it and need not explain it to the children. Providing it is tucked away behind respectable brick veneer.

For which very Victorian hypocrisy we have sacrificed all the romance, the glamour and the naughtiness that ever hung, like a gang of gangly schoolboys, around the perfumed profession. No more red-light districts, doorway doras or saucy neons. Say so long to the charm and frisson of Amsterdam, Hay Street or the Cross. Chances are the only place you’ll ever see suckatorium written down, or up, is in the official document. Just lucky wowserism is still funny.


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