Broke Thoughts: I'm Considering Going Back into the Sex Industry

“Broke” is a relative term. Certainly, I could have a lot less. I could have not just paid my bills. I could have not just gotten my hair colored -- at Bumble and Bumble, no less.

Nov 29, 2012 at 11:00am | Leave a comment

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Do you like my hair color? It cost the equivalent of nine hours of teaching, 12 hours of freelance writing or 15 minutes giving head.

So, I’m thinking of going back into sex work. 

Don’t worry, I’m not going to do it. 

I’ve just been thinking about it. A lot. And I think it’s only fair, since this is the case, that I write about it. Little Miss I-found-sex work-to-be-“physically demanding, emotionally taxing and spiritually bankrupting”-and-I-was-“not suited for a profession that relie{s} on dishonesty”-and-“when society turns your back on you, you turn your back on society. It takes courage, humility, and strength to turn back around.”

Some days, I just want to say fuck it. Not care what people think. Do what feels good. Do what I know how to do to survive. Some days, I do not think there is anything noble about doing what’s right -- not that sex work is wrong, but I know it’s wrong for me. To the very core of me, I know this to be true. Some days, I want to unknow this.  

Some days -- like when my rent is due and I've got less than $400 to my name (not enough to pay my rent), and I've got no work because the subways and servers are down, and I’m in a battle with my ex over the apartment we’ve shared for the past five plus years, the cheapest apartment in Manhattan that I can't afford -- and rather than mourning the loss of that relationship, we are bickering over who will get custody of the dog, and it’s suddenly winter and I don't own a proper coat or boots, and then the coffeemaker breaks, and the world is literally crumbling around us, and Mitt Romney just might be elected president -- selling sex sounds like a reasonable solution to at least some of it.

That was a couple weeks ago. Then I got paid. And Obama won. 

Now, a week or so later, the fuzzy right-in-the-world feeling of that political victory has trickled away. And so has that paycheck.

Money -- just to be clear -- is not only factor that motivates my thinking. How seriously I am considering sex work is directly proportional to a number of factors, including: 

  • How lonely I am
  • Time spent with other sex workers who enjoy their jobs (this, ironically, is a major trigger for me)
  • Positive memories of what I enjoyed about sex work, including but not limited to the money
  • How apt I am at conveniently forgetting all the bad stuff
  • Understanding my participation in the sex industry as something other than a moral failure
  • Believing I have resources today that I didn’t then, including feeling a part of a community that would not judge me
  • The extent to which the memory of the shame I felt when confronted by people who could not/did not want to understand my choice has faded
  • Thinking I am tougher than I am (I am really not tough)
  • Ability to suspend concern for my own physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual well being

That last one is probably one that, for most people, would make the decision a no-brainer. For me -- and a lot of other people, too, I suppose -- the biggest determinate factor has less to do with how risky it is and more to do with how broke I feel.

This week, I feel pretty damn broke. 

“Broke” is a relative term. Certainly, I could have a lot less. I could have not just paid my bills. I could have not just gotten my hair colored -- at Bumble and Bumble, no less.

If I were really broke, I suppose I could stop working for so little and sometimes for free and get a “real” job -- suspend my dreams of writing and teaching other people to write and work 40 plus hours in an office, for example (if I could find such a job) or else I could accept a gig on top of all my other gigs. Work as a cater waiter. Bartend.

I could be overdrawing my account, as I sometimes inadvertently do, instead of sitting on a balance of nine whole dollars until the next time I get paid (who knows when that will be -- such is the life of a freelancer). I could not have the credit card that I could always use as a last resort.

Yes, I could have a lot less -- or, and this is my point: I could have a lot more. Thousands of dollars in a matter of hours -- I oft find myself thinking -- for doing something that, at worst, at the time felt "not so bad." I am definitely not asking for pity. I am simply pointing out the reality that I am reminded of in moments like these -- the reality that, for some people -- including me, at the time that I did it -- sex work is a completely rational choice. 

It’s a rational choice for my friend Kat, who has two young kids and possibly a drug habit, and who -- at 30-something years old -- is earning her first degree. Or Latisha, who’s got two degrees (one of them from Columbia) and a ton of talent as a writer, and who works as often as they’ll let her at a place equivalent to Starbucks because it’s the only job she can find, and still can’t make ends meet. She makes so little that she qualifies for welfare, which she also collects, and I have learned that if she doesn’t respond to my text it may be because she didn’t receive it because her phone’s been cut off. 

Maybe it doesn’t affect them the way it affected me. Or maybe how it affects them is beside the point. For some people, it doesn’t matter how “spiritually bankrupting” they find sex work, it’s what they’ve got to do at the end of the month in addition to whatever other spiritually bankrupting work they do (cleaning toilets, flipping hamburgers, answering phones). For me, I would rather sell my ass than work for an inadequate hourly wage doing something I find completely meaningless. 

“I would rather sell my ass,” I was just saying to a friend the other day, “than do a lot of things--” including teach ESL, which was my friend’s not-unthoughtful suggestion to solving my money woes.  

I don’t want to teach ESL. I don’t want to work in food service. I would rather sell sex.

But, then, I don’t really want to do that either, and -- at least for today -- I don’t have to. For today, I would rather be broke and skip a meal, or -- if necessary, debt -- and write, and stay in contact with my truth.

And right in this moment, in recognizing the privilege in having that choice, suddenly, I feel less broke. 

My friends tell me that things will turn around and this may be true, things may turn around for me because I am highly educated and exceptionally resourceful, but things don't turn around for most working poor people -- and it is worth underscoring that I am only as educated as I am because of sex work, and that sex work in the past has been an example of my resourcefulness.

I don't sell sex for a lot of reasons -- the best of them being that the humiliation of being on another newspaper under another hooker headline would be too much to bear. Most people, of course, don’t have to worry about this. If I wasn’t me, I would probably do it, I sometimes find myself thinking -- which is sort of how I got into sex work in the first place: by allowing myself to believe that I was someone I’m not. 

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