Shooting the Breeze – Part 4 – Life in the Red Light

Red lightSuzie is an incredibly vivacious and engaging person, with an enviable zest for life. She was proffered to me in a package of three childhood friends when I was in my early 20s and I still view this trio as a treasured gift.

Upon meeting Suz you can’t help but be absorbed by her wonderful enthusiasm for whatever the topic of conversation may be. Let her loose at any kind of gathering and Suz will soon be amassing a cult following hanging onto each of her energised accounts.

People like Suz create interesting lives for themselves and her career choice of a social worker is a clear indication of this. Her early career involved working inside the walls of maximum security prisons with sex offenders. Turning the idea of putting the fox in the hen house on its head, as a young woman fitting the profile of the victim of many of these offenders, this role cut close to the bone and she realised it was time to move on.

Never shy of a challenge, Suz’s work later took her to the streets of Sydney’s Kings Cross as an ethnographer, mixing with the likes of drug addicts, sex workers and drug addicted sex workers as she conducted research for her PhD.

Beneath the sleaze of arguably Australia’s best known red-light district she found that many of these people shared a sense of community. It was a place where people could fraternise and it certainly beat the dull alternative of staying at home. While we might be quick to judge others on their life choices, we are all fundamentally the same and crave acceptance, understanding and love.

When I think about Suz and the ease at which she mingles in a social setting, it makes complete sense to me that she could approach a stranger on the street and ask them if they would be willing to share their often confronting stories for the purpose of research.

With this realisation, I felt slightly foolish that I asked her how she stopped herself from judging these people as she spoke to them. This is straightforward to me now, she would simply absorb herself in the moment as she would in any other circumstance. In Suz’s words, it is a matter of staying focused on the courage it has taken for them to sit with a complete stranger and share intimate stories and often painful truths. “If you stay with them in that space then judgement doesn’t come into it,” she explained.

While the average person may view sex workers as inferior human beings, Suz points out that one of the main misconceptions is that they don’t have the same dreams and desires as everyone else. She also made it clear that they are not completely irrational and “when you sit down and explore it, the decisions they make are perfectly logical in the context they find themselves,” she said.

She continued that not all sex workers are victims, some are engaged with supportive workplaces and enjoy the work they do. However, the women she came to know in Kings Cross were drug users first before accessing sex work as a means of survival, which was quite a different experience.

She is frank when I moot the possibility that anyone could find themselves in this situation. She has no doubt that given a certain set of circumstances we can make mistakes and that when explored, all decisions make sense in their own context, even if they are ultimately damaging.

Suz is not one to spend time pondering the ‘what ifs’, particularly when it comes to her own family. While she may contemplate the possibility that her children could make decisions that could be harmful, she tends to focus on the strengths they demonstrate and how these make them resilient, rather than worry about something that hasn’t happened yet. “I don’t think that I can control what they choose to do in their life ultimately, but I can provide them with love, security and boundaries, which everyone needs.”

While this research may provide interesting fodder for the likes of me, Suz’s work has also enhanced her enjoyment of life. “I have never felt too weighed down by the stories of others and generally have hope and optimism about the ability of other people to change if they want to. My work has made me a better person, friend, partner and mother,” she reflected.


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