NOVEMBER 30, 2018

How old are you?

30. I just turned 30.

Where are you from originally?

Originally Ohio. I’ve lived in Ohio, Chicago, New Orleans…

How long have you been here?

Permanently? About four years. I lived here a couple times before that but not for real.

What brought you here?

I was living in Chicago and there was that polar vortex. I had lived here before I turned 18 and was here for about a year and kept trying to move back but it never worked out. And then a good friend of mine at the time died so I came down here for the memorial and then, even under weird circumstances, everything came into place for me to stay.

Why are you still here?

I feel really rooted here. It feels very much like home. I really like the sense of community. It’s easy living in a way. 

How do you refer to your work?

I say sex worker.

Why that distinction over other terminologies?

Because it is a widely accepted term for referring to our work both inside and out of the industry.

How did you get started?

I met this woman at a queer gathering a very long time ago. I have been in the industry for a decade. She told me I was really pretty and that I should get into sex work. I had always thought about but never really knew how. This was when Craigslist Adult was still around—R.I.P.—and I left this gathering and was like, “Yeah! Maybe I should try that,” and went home and went on Craigslist Adult gigs. My first experience was one of those fortune-esque porn focused websites that was coming out. It was shock rock, weird for the sake of being weird. They were trying to make viral pornographic content before going viral was a thing. The ad was like, “We’re looking for open-minded people for an artsy, erotic scene involving plungers and masks or something.” Sounds fucking weird, I’m in. I’m in Dayton, Ohio in the sketchiest fucking motel I’ve ever been to in my life and they introduce me to my co-star and he’s this like 80-year guy who’s in a wheelchair. I’m there, I’m nineteen years old and realized that they just wanted someone to be weird and I am naked and throwing ham on this guy’s body from across the room like Frisbees. And then they’re like, “Take it even further!” So I’m eating the ham and rubbing it on this guy’s body and they fucking loved it and were like, “Amazing, this is fucking perfect!” (Laughter) And then in a stroke of genius, the old guy wheels himself around the room saying “Meals on Wheels, Meals on Wheels…” That was my first experience in sex work. I left the motel and these weird guys sitting in a limo rolled down the window and handed me an envelope full of a couple hundred bucks. And then I just did weird shit like that for a while and then moved to Chicago and in art school, everyone has weird connections.

Do you like it?

About as much as I like any other job because I don’t really like jobs. I am a sex worker against work but that’s more of a commentary on capitalism than my job itself. I do like my job. I have been in the industry for a decade and I have no plans of stopping anytime soon. This weird thing has happened with sex worker activism where the focus has been on how empowering the job is and that has dominated the narrative. It’s cool and I support that but I also feel like it does a lot of harm to people for whom it’s just a job. I don’t think that people who work at McDonald’s are expected to think their job is empowering and they’re healing people and it’s so important for them to be doing that work. People are worried about human trafficking but no one’s worried about labor trafficking which is far more prevalent that human trafficking actually is, but I digress. Overall, I like my job, I just feel neutral about it. It’s a job and it’s fine.

When you were growing up, do you remember being told or taught anything about what is was to be a girl and that expectations that came with that?

Definitely. I’d be shocked if anyone said no to that. I have come from a long lineage of tough ass bitches—very independent, loud, unapologetic women and I learned a lot from that. But then at the same time, I also learned from and was informed by societal shit like everyone else.

How does being treated in a sexist way make you feel?

Shitty and powerless.

Do you always notice when people are acting in a sexist way?

Yes. Always.

Can you recall any specific instances of experiencing sexist behavior against you that may have stuck with you?

Uh, all the time. There are too many. They’re probably all filed away something in a folder marked A-Z. I don’t know. Something that really gets on my nerves is men who don’t fucking listen to me. You are not listening to the words that are coming out of my mouth. That’s the shit that drives me up the fucking wall.

What’s the best part about being a sex worker?

The flexibility is really nice. I get to choose my own hours, I am my own boss and I get to set my boundaries. I get to decide how much money I make and under what terms. Also getting people to buy you fancy shit that you would never buy for yourself is pretty great. That’s a nice perk. Like most people, I struggle with mental health stuff and being a weirdo millennial and don’t like the capitalist dream or working a 9-5 I don’t give a shit about just to be able to afford my rent.

What’s the hardest part?

The risk is hard. FOSTA and SESTA hasn’t even set in yet. It has been signed into law but doesn’t officially go into effect until January. I’m watching my entire business that I have put so much money and time into building just getting ripped out from under me. That’s really scary. All things considered, I am extremely privileged in this industry. I am white-passing, I am conventionally attractive. I have a lot of things going for me and I still have to worry if a client is going to pay me, respect my boundaries, if they’re a cop, if I’m going to go to jail.

Can you talk about what the different experiences are for white sex workers versus sex workers of color?

I can’t speak too much on it because I get to operate in the world of sex work as a white woman. That is an immense privilege for me. I can theorize about what it is like to be a sex worker of color but really I have no idea. It’s way fucking harder. The shit I have to deal with is nothing compared to what they do. Getting fetishized for their race, being at higher risk of arrest and people not respecting their boundaries, not being able to charge as much money as their white colleagues and if they are an undocumented person, deportation. This is what systemic racism does, it’s pervasive and punctures through every single industry. If you add to that someone being trans or gender non-conforming or being fat or disabled makes it exponentially harder in this industry. High-end sex workers are going to be fine through this FOSTA/SESTA shit. Even most middle-class sex workers will be fine. I will struggle but I will be fine. People who already have to deal with mistreatment in the industry will be the ones to deal with these new measures the most. It’s fucking scary. I have an easier time getting clients because I look white.

What do you think the biggest misconception of the industry is as a whole?

HUMAN. TRAFFICKING. It sounds complicated to say that human trafficking is the bane of my existence but what I mean is that the entire rhetoric around this human trafficking fearmongering is the bane of my existence. No one seems to care about labor trafficking which is actual trafficking that is happening all of the fucking time every day. This whole “human trafficking” narrative is bullshit. Nobody wants to imagine a white child in a cage and that’s the image that people are putting out there as if this is happening all of the time. But based on the actual numbers statistically speaking, human trafficking happens far, far, far, far, less than anyone thinks it does or makes it out to be. All of this savior shit that they’re claiming is to protect us is really just damning all of us and making it so much harder and infinitely more dangerous to be a sex worker.

Other stuff is simple shit like all sex workers being damaged and sad and rape and assault survivors and drug-addled and disease-ridden. How do I dismantle all of this? I think it’s funny that people think all sex workers are survivors of something or are damaged because it’s not necessarily untrue, but it has more to do with the fact that most women are survivors of assault and rape and it is a female-dominated industry.

It’s not that the correlation is wrong, it’s that the analysis of the correlation is wrong.

Exactly. And nobody asks bartenders if their drug-addled! The stigma I have had a hard time with in terms of my private life and dating is the assumption that I am diseased or am at a higher risk of transmitting STIs. Most of the people I know that are slutty for free don’t use condoms and don’t use preventative sexual health measures when sex workers do all the time because it would be incredibly bad for business if we did not.

Is there anything else that you’d like to add?

People need to do the work dismantle their preconceived notions about what sex work is and about who is a sex worker. I got outed by a coworker at this vanilla job I’m working right now. She outed me to everybody at work in what is debatably a malicious way. She says it wasn’t, I think it was. I’m out, my whole family knows, anybody that knows me in any capacity knows that I’m a sex worker. I don’t want to hide that at all but it was surprisingly upsetting to have someone do it on my behalf. I am not embarrassed by it but what if you were gay and somebody went behind your back and outed you [not on your terms]? 

What I do want people to know is that FOSTA and SESTA are really fucking scary and it’s not just scary for sex workers. The worst part about is that the fucking government just crept in on you and made it so that they can surveil everything you’re fucking doing and so that they can censor the internet and it’s going to open the door for some mega-scary shit down the road. We are the canaries in the coal mine. Nobody wants to see babies in cages being sold into sex slavery so we’re going to monitor what people do on the internet. If we can just save one white baby, then it’s all ok. It’s really fucking scary and people are going to die and already dying because of FOSTA and SESTA. When we are in the open, when we’re on the internet, when we have paper trails of advertisements and avenues for screening clients, that’s when we’re safe. When we don’t have that, we are at a way higher risk. THAT is how human trafficking happens. When you can’t see what’s going on behind your screen, that is how scary shit happens. Right after FOSTA/SESTA, twelve to fifteen sites went down overnight and every sex worker I know was running around like a chicken with their head cut off. It was terrifying. In that week, my inbox and my phone and my email was flooded with messages from pimps asking me what I was going to do now and how I was going to make money. Do you have kids? How are you going to provide for them? Can you feed yourself? Don’t you want protection? Nobody cares. Problem solved. No more sex work ever. This is the oldest industry in existence, it’s not going anywhere and all you did was make it a hell of a lot scarier for everyone involved. 

When those measures were passed earlier this year, there was a lot of talk about it in the headlines and different news outlets. Now that it is out of the headlines, how much harder has it become to fight back against it?

We’re just fucked. I think there is no more fighting. It’s going to be scary for a while. I screen all my clients. I need to know their name, their legal info, their job, I need to know every fucking thing. It’s harder to book an appointment with me than it is to get an apartment. But a lot of the channels I use to screen those clients are going down. That’s the scariest fucking part to me. I’m not even advertising right now. It’s out of the headlines so if you aren’t a sex worker, everyone has kind of forgotten about it. 

Do you think there will ever be a time in our lives where we might see more of an acceptance, either socially or legally, of sex work?

Since I’ve started, I have seen way more talk about it and acceptance of it in my own social circles and in a mainstream way. I have seen popular tv shows use the term ‘sex worker’ instead of ‘hooker’ or ‘prostitute’. That’s really cool. I think it’s coming up in everyday conversation now. I would like to say yes, I think it will be decriminalized but I felt that way before I had heard of FOSTA and SESTA so who knows? We made like seven steps forward and 800 steps back so I don’t know. All my fingers are crossed.