19 Mar Sex Work & Me – The Beginning
I’ll always remember the smell of brothels, how it seeps into my skin and my wig and my work bag. Cigarette smoke and sweet perfume. The smell of cocks and the taste of strong coffee. The sticky plastic of the couches and how my ass sweats and sticks to them as I wait in the lounge. The triumphant feeling of money between my fingers. The blur of bookings and waiting and calculating.
People always used to ask how I first got into the industry.
The judgement was always there. That insinuation that I had “fallen from grace”; lowered myself willingly into what they saw as a pit of hedonism and debauchery.
Besides being offended by the assumption that sex work is somehow lesser than any other job on the planet, the “how” and “why” always bored me intensely. It was never important. Capitalism forces us all to make choices – mine were no more startling than anyone else’s.
“The story of how I got into the industry is the most boring one, yet it’s always the one I’m asked to recount time after time.”
In fact, the story of how I got into the industry is the most boring one, yet it’s always the one I’m asked to recount time after time.
I was a smart kid, who grew into a smart adult. I’m no genius, but I know what I’m good at and I know where I stand. I read voraciously. Growing up, I scraped my knees on the trees in my neighbourhood. I explored and dreamed and loved. I learned empathy and hid a torch under my covers so that I could binge-read into the night. My childhood was a loved one, and I was taught to be resilient and kind, and always to give.
People expect all sex workers to lay their traumatic backstory open for your perusal and thrill. And I do have trauma. Lots do. But sex workers are asked to display their trauma as though it’s the “reason” for us working the jobs we do. Nobody asked me when I was working at a cafe earning less than the minimum wage and putting up with misogyny and harassment with a smile on my face for fear of being fired. That was desperation. This is freedom.
Like any other job, there are people for whom this industry was a last resort – something they’re doing to make ends meet until something better comes along. Some sex workers hate going to work. Sometimes I do too. But I also hated working an office job, so maybe it’s just work.
“There are people for whom this industry was a last resort – something they’re doing to make ends meet until something better comes along.”
I hear that those in other, more socially acceptable jobs also experience the same feelings. Who knew.
As I grew up, I took pleasure in learning my own body. I learned what it took to give myself an orgasm as quickly and efficiently as possible. I was never interested in having many partners, doubtful that anyone could please me as well as I could myself. If they couldn’t give me an orgasm, what was the point? I was chubby, acne ridden, and incredibly anxious. Although both were perfectly normal for my age, thanks to a mix of fatphobia and body shame I grew up feeling disgusting and ashamed of my own body. I spent hours picking at my skin until it swelled and bled, and then covered every mirror in my house so that I couldn’t see the body I wanted so badly to be free of.
I threw myself once more into reading and writing, both as an escape, a passion and to remind myself that I had worth. I prized – and still do – my mind and personality over anything physical. Who I am is not my body, but my body is part of who I am.
I threw myself into fantasy lands, where women were kind and cool and mysterious. I could pretend to be like them – powerful beyond question. I loved historical fiction and adored diving into online forums where I could bond with likeminded people. Although I now look on that persona with no small amount of embarrassment I still have a fondness for that desperate, kind-hearted teenager. I carry her with me, and I let her know that I’m okay now.
As I grew up, my relationship with my body only grew more complex. I carried a shame with me that I did not deserve to have.
In the end, sex work wasn’t the “fix”, but it helped. God, it helped. Suddenly I found power within not just my mind but my body too. I discovered a woman who was unapologetically sexual and empowered by that sexuality. I felt more like myself than I had felt in years.
That’s what I want to tell people, when they ask me “how” with accusation in their voices. I want to tell them about the moments in the girls room when I find family in women I’ve known for a week. I want to tell them about the people who save up their entire week’s earnings just to see me. I want to tell them about the tears I’ve had shed on my arms, on my chest, by men who didn’t know where else to look for the salvation they needed. I have been a church, a god, a saviour, an angel. I have been a torturer, a a penance, a thorn in their side. I have been every role that a woman can be, that is to say; all of them.
In the end I give them the tired response I give everyone. That I got into this job because I was curious. That I went into an interview and started work the next day.
I told you. It’s boring.
The truth is that I’m living the life I have wanted for a while. The truth is I published a book, strengthened my support network, and have the time and the freedom now to live. I spend time with my partner, and my dog. I read again. I’m travelling. Exploring. Learning. I became the kind, cool, smart, kickass woman I used to admire. My job is only one small, insignificant part of that. But we live in a world where, unless you’re the 1%, your job occupies at least 80% of your life. So if you can, you make it a good one. I’m not interested in making a career out of turning up to the office five days a week. The truth is I want to live.
I found a job that lets me do just that.