I have always been fiercely protective of sex workers. The way that so many people talk about sex workers as if they are subhuman has always sent me into a rage. In my teens, I knew many ex-and-current sex workers, most of them street hookers. When I was eighteen and living eight to a room in a seedy hotel in Victoria, I used to walk around the street late at night, usually after a big fight with my boyfriend. I got to know the ladies of the night, and I counted them among my friends.
There was one woman, Brandy, who usually worked the street next to the motel where I lived. One night, my boyfriend and I had a big fight and I stormed out to walk off my explosive anger. I passed Brandy, nodding a brief hello. “Excuse me,” she said. “Do you have a condom?”
“I don’t have any with me, but I live in there,” I said, pointing at the dilapidated motel. “I have lots of condoms in my room. If you wait here, I’ll get you some.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah, no biggie. I’ll be right back.”
I remember feeling quite smug as I marched past my boyfriend without a word, grabbed a handful of condoms and walked out the door. Let him wonder what I was up to. Of course, nothing else would have happened back then. I had not yet challenged the concept of monogamy at that point.
I came back to Brandy’s corner and handed her the condoms. She thanked me and complained about her night. She told me that she did not like what she was doing, but that she needed the money. I told her that if she ever needed more condoms, or anything else, she knew where I lived.
After I talked to her, I felt very sad. Although I have had a hard time fully embracing my sexuality, I have always had a sense that sex was sacred. To see someone in a position like that really bothered me. After that, I made sure to go to the free clinic and get extra condoms for her and anyone else who needed them. Sometimes a church group would help my friends and I out with food, and I would hand bananas and condoms out on the street. Even with how broke I was at the time, I did not turn to sex work myself, although I must admit that I considered it.
I had internalized all these negative ideas about sex work. And, let’s face it, sex work is not always pretty. Many people in the industry are treated very badly. Of course, it is worth mentioning that people make a big deal out of sex workers being exploited, but the conversation about minimum wage workers being exploited and worked to the bone only to live in poverty, is rarely discussed. Having worked the minimum wage jobs prior to escorting, I can tell you without a doubt that working in fast food or an assembly line factory environment was, for me, much more demoralizing and soul-crushing.
I find that, overwhelmingly, the clients I have had as an escort have been very polite, considerate and decent people. This is why I get angry now when I hear people talking about people who pay for sex as if they are all degenerates and perverts who don’t respect women. Sadly, a lot of this rhetoric comes from feminists. I have always supported women’s rights, but now, I feel isolated from the feminist community at times. Instead of my work being considered a skilled trade, it is drawn up in political, divisive language. The fact that I take money for sex is imbued with politics. Am I an ’empowered’ woman (god, I hate that overused word), or am I an exploited, degraded victim practicing self-objectification? I do not want to identify myself with either polarity. Life does not work that way. We are all complex people living in an imperfect world. Although I am very strong and I feel a great sense of satisfaction from my work, I have had nights where I went home feeling drained, sad, more like a well-used chew toy than a third wave feminist empowered whore. Other nights, I have had to stop myself from laughing while seeing a client, because I can’t believe how lucky I am to get paid for THIS.
I think the most important part of creating dialogue about sex work is being honest. There are fantastic things about this work, and there are things that are not so great. Telling our stories is powerful.