Yes, You Know a Sex Worker

 PHOTO: LILY LETIGRE (IG: @LILY.LETIGRE)

PHOTO: LILY LETIGRE (IG: @LILY.LETIGRE)

I am friends with sex workers. These people are employees of the sex industry in all forms of tenses: past, present, and future. They are part-time and full-time. They are strippers, escorts, cam models, and masseuses. But the one overarching commonality that they all share, besides the fact that their day (or rather, night) jobs are not the norm, is that they all have a charismatic energy and intelligence that is difficult to pin down. And they’re your neighbors.

The first sex workers I learned of were folks I knew tangentially. They were rumored to be “dancers,” but I “can’t spread it around” - “it” being the rumor that was very obviously true. They were people who alluded to the work they did, the work that occured when kids were in bed, traffic slowed, porch lights came on. The first sex worker I met in-person was someone I had written for in the past - she’s a gerontologist and has her MFA. She’s also a stripper. She told me once that she can nearly always tell when someone is a sex worker - there’s just something about the way they carry themselves. It’s confidence that’s otherworldly, yet it exists in a tangible reality in that these workers are our friends and family members. They are not pr*stitutes (that word, in case you weren’t aware, is considered a slur). They are not sick, either physically or mentally. Their job is, more than likely, harder than yours (no pun intended). They pay taxes - their write-offs may include lingerie and harnesses, but they also include webcams and laptops; which, if you’re a freelancer like many of us, you have probably included on your TurboTax as well.

If it seems like I’m trying to convince queer readers of sex workers’ legitimacy, it’s because I am. Many times, both straight and queer people seem to have differing opinions on certain topics, but they often fall into the same line of thinking regarding sex workers: it’s icky. It’s not a real job. These people are on the fringes of society and undesirable - but why? While my critique is, yes, based on asides I’ve heard from folks identifying as LGBTQ+, it is important nonetheless. Our community is supposedly based on acceptance and not being fearful of the queer - and by “queer,” I mean, “out-of-the-ordinary,” in this case - especially when many of us identify as such. So why do some of us still turn up our noses at a legitimate livelihood?

“I look to the queer and trans communities to help me feel valid, and safe, and sane. But often that’s not what I find when I retreat to these spaces.."

I spoke with two sex workers for this article, mainly because I wanted to answer the above question(s) and also to perpetuate the notion that working in the sex industry is more common than many of us would believe. I spoke with one SW via Facebook Messenger and one over the phone. The Facebook sex worker identifies as a “gay transmasculine person who works independently in the sex industry.” His name is Daphne Soma (identified with permission). He is a freelancer who performs FSSW (Full Service Sex Work), domination, and sugaring, but his main source of income resides in cam and “online work.”

“I definitely feel like I can be 'out-of-step' with the rest of the queer community,” Soma states. “Although I am transmasculine, and typically use he/him pronouns with family and friends, I am not out at work, to any extent. I am nonbinary, and do not have much interest in hormone therapy - so with my body type and facial structure, 'pretending' to be a woman at work both keeps me safe, and probably keeps my income safe.”

Work, in this case, means a “normal” job, not the extraordinary work that Soma does. Soma goes on to say, “The bigger problem, however, can be the queer community. When I face this much adversity, and denial, and inability to accept my trans identity in my everyday life, I look to the queer and trans communities to help me feel valid, and safe, and sane. But often that’s not what I find when I retreat to these spaces - instead I am greeted with vitriol about my chosen 'gender role' (masc), or about my 'nonbinary-ness', or about my refusal to identify with 'queer' as opposed to 'gay' and other terms. Most of the time in the queer community, I'm either vilified as a man, ostracized as a sex worker, accused of 'appropriating' trans-ness, or relegated to 'honorary woman' when a queer friend needs to justify or clarify their relationship with me.”

It sounds exhausting, because it is. Listen, even as as cis LGBTQ+ folk with regular 9-to-5 jobs, we are ostracized. To our brothers and sisters in the sex industry - many of whom are trans - we have it easy. I’m a bisexual cis white woman married to a white cis man. We have a daughter. We are the epitome of passing privilege. Why would I - or anyone, for that matter - in the queer community ever condemn someone who works a job that requires mental, emotional, and physical abilities that I know I don’t possess?

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The second sex worker I talked to lives in San Francisco. He used to own a bakery in Atlanta. Speaking with him over the phone felt like I was talking to a best friend - and I had never “met” him before that day.

“For me, [sex work] was never on my radar in my twenties, or even until a few years ago. I had gotten a few college degrees. I had worked your typical 9-to-5 job. I ran a doggie daycare for about 8 years. I was a pastry chef and owned a wholesale bakery for the last 5 years and folded it last year. I fell into [sex work] on a fluke. I was propositioned by a guy who basically wanted to pay me to have sex with him. I was like, “I don’t know, dude,” but figured I could use the money. It’s not a moral issue for me. He became a regular client, and I grew it from there...there’s a fair amount of younger people in their twenties that only do this, but I’ve met people who are engineers, who work in HR....they’re choreographers. They cut hair. I think it’s some people who do the black-and-white 9-to-5 job thing. Then there’s people who’s out there hustling, making money where they can.”

He also notes that he has expenses like any other freelancing gig - he takes this job seriously, so he pays for a personal trainer, eats healthily, and ensures that if he travels for work, his travel needs are all met and covered. He admits that it sounds like a cool life, but concedes that it’s difficult work, especially if he’s having sex with men who he doesn’t have chemistry with. He works fairly regularly, and if he has sex 4+ times in a day, it can take its toll. He notes that whenever he shares what he does with others, he’ll often hear the feedback of, “Oh, I did that for a time in college or in my twenties.” So again - more common than you think.

In the words of the seminal classic Mean Girls, “Calling someone else fat doesn't make you any skinnier. Calling someone else ugly doesn't make you any prettier. Calling someone else weak doesn't make you any stronger. All you can do in life is try to solve the problem in front of you.” And to add to that, calling a sex worker a pr*stitute or demeaning the work that they do, especially when you’re a member of an already-targeted community, doesn’t make you any better than them. But focusing on what our community was founded on - i.e., love, acceptance, and open-mindness - is what will change the world. Making queerness mainstream and therefore, more acceptable in today’s society is part of our job as privileged queers. Let’s use that privilege for good.

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Anna Jones is a writer and producer currently based in Atlanta. She is the proud owner of digital copywriting agency Girl.Copy and independent film production company Tiny Park Productions. She loves a lot of stuff, but mainly: her husband, kid, and cat, writing and filmmaking, coffee and Diet Coke, millennial pink, sushi, gay stuff, and horror films.