While it wasn’t always entirely true, I said for years that I did sex work because I loved the money. And sure, that was part of it, but it wasn’t just the money – it was the sexuality, the freedom of living in a social void somewhat free of external judgments, the open schedule, the overall decadence of it all. Still, the money was a really good place to start, when it came to reasons why you’d want to be a sex worker. Cause it sure is a hell of a lot of money.
Now that I don’t have that money anymore and I’m “retired” (though as Melissa Petro once said, albeit in reference to the negative stereotypes around sex work, once a prostitute, always a whore), the money I would use to go shopping for clothing or for paying my rent in cash or for taking a cab everywhere, it’s gone, and the reasons why that money was so important to me have come boiling up to the surface. It was, in many ways, the cushion that kept me safe from my own angry feelings about how sex work separated me from my own life: how much it hurt to know that my job came with a solitary rage about how I would be treated for being a sex worker, by worlds both big and small.
As much as my friends and family tried to support me, no one liked 100% that I was a professional dominatrix. I could feel it in the small ways they moved around the topic, carefully navigating the emotional potholes that would have upset either them or me. If I was sensitive to emotional shifts before being a dominatrix, I could certainly detect them after years of observing people in their most intimate settings. The truth was, I was defensive of myself before I became a dominatrix, and even more defensive after I had been one for five years. I had a good reason to be, then. I worked an illegal job that people judged me for having. And to put it to the point, I judged myself for having.
Being “open,” too, certainly had its price, it made me wish I were a better liar. People wouldn’t date me, friends would minimize the validity of my job in comparison to theirs, my mother would worry about me constantly. And for my own part, I started to believe all the asides and disapproving moments and silent questionings. I would joke about how hundreds of dollars is the only way people would deal with these scumbags, even though I liked most of my clients. I didn’t feel entitled to complain about bad days because, well, if I hated it so much, why didn’t I just quit? I pretended I wasn’t sexually interested in what I did in session and would refuse to bring s&m into my bedroom, for fear that the boundary lines would bleed and my own internalized hatred of myself and my job would be revealed to everyone. I needed that distance to ensure myself that while sex work said something about someone, it wasn’t saying that about me specifically. Because I believed what was whispered, because I too was whispering it back to myself.
That was the worst part: I didn’t even want to stand behind myself in my decision to be a sex worker. How could I expect others to stand behind me? This, for me, is the crux of sex worker rights issues. We can’t even stand tall in our declaration of ourselves as sex workers. We have to use false names, conceal our real identities, hope and pray that Grandma doesn’t read blogs and our teachers don’t watch our porn. We have to save that “real” piece of ourselves for the day that we quit our sordid life and come back from the dark side. And the more transparent peoples’ lives become on the web, the more we have to worry. We also have to wish for a “better life” for ourselves beyond our education or our current skillset, because inevitably, the life we have isn’t good enough. Not good enough for everyone else, anyway. If we’re not downtrodden street workers, if we’re just middle class whores making it work – we have no excuse. The pressure of the lies, both internal and external, are psychological terrorizing in its purest form. What saddens me the most is that I am the driver of that car, more than anyone, and I can barely stand next to my sisters and brothers without fear and shame, enough for us all, but more than enough for myself.
The money was what I hide all my anger and resentment and internalized stigma behind. Because the money was the only thing that didn’t have judgment preassigned to it. I could make it do whatever I wanted it to, I was in control of how I saw it and what it could do for me. The money could make me feel pretty, successful, posh. It gave me a sense that I was doing something right. It gave me a sense that I had value. And there was so much of it, there was plenty of room to store all my problems in between its layers. And those layers were there, when I felt I was sacrificing too much and I couldn’t take it anymore. The layers were there when I needed to hide, from myself and from the rest of world.
Now that they’re gone, all those feelings still remain, with exposed ends. I’m still angry at the world for judging me so harshly, while still being aware that it was a judgment I set myself up for. I don’t know if anyone could have judged me as harshly as I judged myself, for flipping off the world and expecting it to give me a hug in return. And the worst of it is, I still struggle daily not to judge the other sex workers in my own life. I struggle to hear their stories without judging them for telling too little or telling too much, for taking a stand or for staying silent, for denouncing their former sex work or for glamorizing it. Sex work is such a solitary profession in that way, separating people who would otherwise stand in solidarity with one another. For my part, it taught me how hard it is to even stand in solidarity with oneself.