Ireland is a country that has undergone rapid social change in the past five years. In 2015, a nation that only decriminalised homosexuality in 1993, was the first in Europe to legalise same-sex marriage by referendum. In 2018, there was another seismic shift via referendum; most citizens voted to legalise abortion, overturning harsh, pro-life laws introduced in 1983.
Taryn De Vere, a sex-positive artist, from Australia, lives in one of the most conservative parts of Ireland. Co. Donegal, where she has lived since 2004, was the only county in Ireland to vote no to legalising abortion. It’s not a likely setting for an artist creating items such as jizz brooches, penis earrings and masks for sex workers. She has been “making and creating for as long as I can remember.” In September 2019, she set up an online shop due to people offering to buy her work.
Taryn has faced judgement for the kind of art she creates.
“I live in an isolated part of the county, and I do my socialising across the border in Derry. I have been targeted by the Irish alt-right due to my ideas and products, but they’re such a shower of fools that I don’t pay them much heed.”
Despite these threats, she is optimistic about how recent policy changes have created “the new Ireland” which is “much more open to my ideas and products.”
“It’s such a stark difference to when I first came to Ireland in the late 90’s, I was so shocked then by how conservative people my age were – now everyone I know is a raging leftie.”
One area of law which is still highly contentious in Ireland is sex work. Sex work is legal in Ireland, but since March 2017 it has been an offence to buy sex. Taryn is strongly opposed to Ireland’s current laws.
“Ireland’s sex worker laws are appalling, there’s been a 92% increase in violent crimes against sex workers since they were introduced – which is exactly what sex workers said would happen, but the Minister for Justice at the time, Frances Fitzgerald wouldn’t listen. We have the dreaded Nordic model. We need to follow New Zealand’s lead and create a safe environment for people who want to or need to do sex work. Sex work still has a lot of stigma attached to it, unfortunately.”
During the current spread of coronavirus, more sex workers are working in camming. It was a concern for those sex workers who need to keep their identity hidden, which led to Taryn creating masks.
“My friend Lucy Smyth runs Ugly Mugs, an app that helps sex workers to stay safe, and she contacted me to ask me would I be interested in making some masks for sex workers. I bought in a load of materials and wore masks around the house for hours to make sure they wouldn’t be itchy or uncomfortable, I wanted to make sure they would be right for the people wearing them.”
For Taryn, being a single mum of 5 children “means I don’t have as much time to do aspects of my business that need attention.”
Taryn has found there is little support available from the government, in rural Ireland, for small businesses.
“I haven’t got a marketing plan, and I’ve not had any outside help or support at all in running my business. I remember contacting the local enterprise centre to ask them what supports they had for me and being told that before I could access any supports, I’d have to attend an information morning at a place an hour away. At the time I didn’t have a car, and there’s no public transport here, so I couldn’t go.”
“It can be very stressful because if I don’t sell things, I can’t feed my kids. If it weren’t just me, I wouldn’t feel as stressed, but there’s a lot of pressure when you parent alone.”