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Book Review: Nothing But My Body by Tilly Lawless

Nothing But My Body is a refreshing take on sex work that isn’t used for shock value or a dark or traumatic character arc to add flavor to a story.

Author, Tilly Lawless draws on her experiences as a queer sex worker in Sydney to deliver an unabashedly honest novel. These are the kind of stories we should be consuming; written by the people they are written about. It provides a perspective that people otherwise wouldn’t be exposed to.

The unnamed main character is likeable and surprisingly relatable. She is a simple, but not narrow-minded girl from regional NSW who moved to the big smoke. The backdrop of sex work gave it enough spice to not have to warrant an overly complex plot or character arc. The reader has space to breathe and soak up the concepts without the need for excessive scene setting. It is simultaneously intricate and interesting while also being an easy and effortless read. The yearning and unrequited love are things that every reader with a heart can relate to.

The casual references to sex, drugs, and other spicy topics read like the conversations we have with people who care about us and don’t bring shame upon the mere mention of those topics. They arise naturally, without taboo, in a way I think they would in a perfect world. Maybe the mere subject matter is provocative enough for some readers, however the literary voice is of such caliber that I implore conservative readers to try and sit through this without feeling like they’re among friends.  

A pivotal moment, for me, was where a client is talking as if the main character is dirty and trying to tell her how to do her job and be hygienic. The dialogue in the scene genuinely perpetuates shame placed on the sex industry. The fact that he is paying for sex despite how dirty he thinks sex workers are says more about him than her work does about her. The author’s ability to evoke such responses in readers is impressive. For every guy that uses sex workers and demeans them, there is someone who is making money from their hypocrisy. Some of them even writing about it thus owning the narrative and exposing the other side of the perpetuators of misplaced shame. It makes you wonder why we don’t see the money makers differently. Their work provides an outlet for those mens’ shame and self-loathing and allows them to walk out of the door richer and never likely seeing those men again. And those guys have to live with themselves every damn day. That brings me so much joy. I never thought that I would read a book written about a sex worker and feel empowered.
Maybe more conservative readers wouldn’t find it as refreshing as I did. Perhaps the shock value will emanate for readers from different backgrounds. Regardless of your perspective going in, I dare you to read it without at least finding the character likeable.