Last week, I wrote about human trafficking and the subtle misconceptions that can wreck us, and it quickly became my top-read post. I am amazed and overwhelmed by your generous responses, as so many of you spoke out your own stories, admirable standards, and challenges. I am so thankful for your truth-telling, and maybe I should title this post instead, “Look at all these Real Men and Women!!!” since it’s clear you are a very fine bunch indeed!
As I read and learned from your responses, I realized how powerful righting these toxic misconceptions by speaking the truth can be. And on this note I’d like to tell one more story…
Truth in the Grotesque
There is a mystery embedded in the heart of the red light district. It appeared anonymously, in the middle of the night, unnoticed: an artist stealing into the red light district at midnight not to take pleasure for himself but to tell a simple but unspoken truth.
One morning, the dawning light over the red light district revealed new artwork in its streets. A bronze statue, the naked torso of a woman, held in the hand of a man, and both anchored to each other by the same circle of chains.
The statue was solidly embedded into the cobblestones of the church square of the the ancient and abandoned Oude Kerk or “Old Church,” a 14th century cathedral that now marks the heart of the red light district. Aren’t we all cathedrals in ruins? Sanctuaries vaulted to heaven yet crumbling at the cornerstone?
When the public discovered the statue, the city council set out to remove it, fearing it would offend the sex workers. But the sex workers said, No! Keep it. They went to the city council themselves and insisted that the statue stay in their square, where the cathedral and the red light district meet.
I don’t know that I ever heard their reason expressed for keeping the statue, and I don’t know how many prostitutes kept or left their work as a result. But I think this much is clear…something in the statue struck a chord in them. Somehow, these women saw themselves in this bronze reflection and said, Yes, this is it. Trading skin with strangers, the woman becomes faceless. The man becomes a disembodied, groping hand. Whole souls are fragmented into only a muscle, a body part, a limb. And it is impossible to tell who is in bondage to whom.
I wonder if the prostitutes, instead of feeling offense, felt honored that someone had spoken truth about their reality. It is not beautiful, it is not desirable, but there is dignity is truth-telling, even in our darkest districts.
Truth Dispelling Darkness
As we talk about prostitution, pornography, what a woman is worth, and what we are all worth as brothers and sisters in this cosmos, I think the first thing we can do is become truth-tellers.
Let’s not make the grotesque sleek and sophisticated. Let’s reject the pretense that pornographers and strip clubs treat women categorically differently than human traffickers, and that we can compartmentalize our private sexual choices from the rest of our lives.
Sexual empowerment is a euphemism, a word so much human wreckage is hidden behind. But even prostitutes want to be told the truth. And if we want to lead the way to healing, to open up avenues of redemption, the bitter truth must first be told.
How have you observed truth-telling–even in the grotesque–to be redemptive?