When I tell people about escorting, I sometimes get told, “I don’t think I could do that.” People often cite a reason that has to do with self-restraint. They don’t feel that they could stand without engaging, or resist getting angry, or even resist hurting a protester.
Yes, it can take a lot of self-control and inner strength to hold back responses to the protesters. They are very skilled in finding just the right words, just the right comments, to get escorts to respond. The things that they say can range from surprising to absurd to infuriating. It takes strength to not call out their illogical fallacies, to not voice a pro-choice perspective to counter their anti-choice perspective, or to not respond to a personal attack.
In addition to what we hear, we also see a lot of things that make it hard to stay quiet. We see protesters harassing clients and their companions, we see protesters bringing young children with them to the sidewalk, and we see graphic visual displays mounted on posterboard. The things we hear and the things we see can tap all the inner resources we have. Sometimes it feels like an oddly adult version of the game that kids often play called “not touching you, not touching you!” In this game, one child gets all up in another child’s face and taunts them, with the goal to get the other child to respond.
Silence can be exhausting.
I have also heard people express frustration at silence, and I think it is because they see it as a form of non-response. Why not sing a peaceful song, to counter the endless “Ave Maria” from the protesters, or to drown out their yelling and preaching? Why are we just STANDING there, why don’t we do something? Why are we letting them get away with this? Why are we doing nothing?
Silence can be frustrating.
But I have also come to realize that there is strength *in* silence. This seemingly small shift in perspective has changed how I view my role on the sidewalk. When I realized my silence on the sidewalk was empowering me to stand strong for clients, it suddenly became easier to keep my mouth shut and keep my stare distant.
I realized that as an escort, I am not standing on the sidewalk to represent my pro-choice values or any other values, nor am I there to provide a reality-check to protesters (as much as they may need one). My job on the sidewalk is to provide space for clients to be empowered as they walk to the clinic doors. Responding to protesters creates noise. Singing, regardless of it being from protesters or escorts, creates noise. By staying silent, the volume is kept down, providing a quieter environment for clients to walk through.
Silence is also strengthening to me when I am just standing on the front lines without any clients around. The protesters want nothing more than to control the conversation, and they are astonishingly good at finding words that provoke angry and intense feelings. Their goal is to engage, to start an argument, to raise both emotions and the general sidewalk volume. But when I stay silent, I control the conversation.
Silence is not doing nothing.
Yelling at the protesters, holding up pro-choice signs, or engaging in our own chants might (on the surface) appear to be doing something, but not when I remember that my primary job on the sidewalk is to provide space for client empowerment. My job is to foster a sidewalk environment that is calm, peaceful, and quiet.
I cannot control what the protesters do. But I can control my reactions to what they do. And when I react by standing silent (instead of thinking about it as not reacting), I am doing my job.
Silence is an active choice that I make.
This shift in perspective doesn’t mean it is perfectly easy for me to stay silent. I sometimes respond to the protesters in my mind. It helps when I realize that their ranting would continue almost exactly the same if I said my response out loud (in other words, my responses would not change their dialogue!). If something they say really gets on my nerves, I have found it helpful to lean over and whisper about it to another escort. I also know that I always have the option to step away for as long as I need. I do not want to imply that escorting is an easy walk in the park!
I also cannot speak for all escorts, as there are some escorts who are able to successfully talk to the protesters without voices and emotions escalating. This is only my perspective. But for me, silence does not sap my strength. Rather, I have found strength in silence.