I sat on the cold cement of the train station, holding a piece of crumpled up paper that read, "Spare some change? I don’t want to work in the sex industry."
After the events of the past month, I was determined to do everything in my power not to sell my body for money -– even if that meant begging for change so I could afford a $1.79 hamburger at McDonalds.
This wasn’t the first time I’d sat on the ground with a cup, but it never got any easier and made me wish I had money to buy booze just to work up the nerve to sit there. I had been cut off income support –- a program where the government helps financially support those who have trouble working -– unexpectedly before taking an impromptu life-saving-trip to Vancouver, and soon realized just how far I would venture underneath the bridge of conventionality to support my health and my dreams.
Since being diagnosed with Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder three years ago as a university student with my first apartment and paid internship, I’ve had an array of failed jobs that not only lowered my self-esteem but also worsened my mental health.
I was working toward a position in communications, yet into my 2.5 years of university it became apparent that not only would trying to earn a degree probably kill me, it would be useless when I couldn’t even keep a position as a barista. Dealing with constant fatigue and brain fog, unmanageable anxiety and crying spells and depression to the point of suicidal ideation, I dropped out of school to concentrate on my health.
I found myself staying in my parents’ basement and surviving off welfare cheques while I battled the internal demons from my past.
Not only had my PMDD symptoms worsened since moving back in with the people who had been neglectful and emotionally abusive in childhood, but I developed intense paranoia that they were trying to kill me and that the government was coming after me for misusing the system.
I battled the constant fear of having poison in my food at home and being led away by the police for being there. I felt trapped in the cycle of not having the emotional support I needed at home and not being able to financially support myself to leave. I decided I either needed to kill myself, check into a hospital or take a much-needed trip toward self-healing.
I chose the latter, and in this ultimate state of fight or flight, I purchased a ticket to VanCity, packed a bag full of clothes and a new travel-sized laptop and left without saying goodbye or knowing when I would return. All I knew was I needed to feel safe and the ocean was calling my name. And while I was thinking more along the lines of relaxing walks on the beach and enjoying fresh seafood as part of my recovery, sometimes the journey you’re expecting isn’t the one you need.
With only $30 in my bank account left over from my bus ticket and the passport I'd renewed (a result of my paranoia) I started to panic when my income support didn’t come in. I had been thinking about the prospect of prostitution for years since first watching "The Secret Diary of a Call Girl," and getting paid to have sex seemed like the perfect career option for a mentally ill entrepreneur who would do anything to get out of the welfare system and make it on her own. I was in a desperate situation and the only way I saw getting myself out of it was fantasizing about being a high class escort like Belle de Jour.
So there I was in Vancouver with a fake name and fake email address posted on Craigslist, sifting through letters from men who wanted to pay offensively low prices for even more offensive actions. This included one elderly gentleman who asked me to wear nothing but a peep-show-of-a coat while going for a stroll in the rainy winter, as well as a guy I’m assuming was in his early twenties who wanted a fake girlfriend to hang out with.
Most were businessmen that insisted they were “clean” and “fit” and wanted me to meet at their place. Most were polite in general, but had a sense of urgency and slight disrespect in their tone. After all, there were tons of women to be found online who would take less than they were offering and meet up at the drop of a hat.
But as broke as I was, I couldn’t shake the feeling I was going to become another casualty of Vancouver’s booming escort business.
Sex work wasn’t something I considered quickly. I spent hours Googling "How to be an escort" and researching high class agencies. I had a person in mind for security who I planned to get a share of my earnings and I even talked to ex-sex-workers for advice.
My goal was never to go out to Hastings and jump into somebody’s car. Up until that point I had browsed through the talent section of Craigslist’s "gigs" to find something as quick and safe as possible while I figured out my next move. I answered sketchy modeling jobs and sugar daddy ads, and even sent photos of my bare ass to a complete stranger I never heard from again.
To be fair, it might have been because when he asked me whether I was in it for the modeling or the money, I answered back, “Is that a trick question?”
Meanwhile my bank account was running dry and I still hadn’t received income support for the month. I dined on cans of tuna from the food bank in the house my friend was letting me stay at.
By the time my parents received the letter informing me to reapply for income support and mailed it to me, I couldn’t afford the stamp to mail it back out. I stood embarrassed and in tears outside the post office, working up the nerve to ask someone for change. Finally a man walking by was kind enough to give me a couple bucks with the utmost kindness in his eyes.
Wherever this man is now, I hope he knows he gave me a little more faith in humanity and that his actions were what helped me keep going after what was about to happen next.
A guy I met at a party months before contacted me to let me know he had recently moved to VanCity. Excited to take my mind off my financial woes and have some fun, we met up for drinks and I ended up sleeping on his couch. In the early hours of the morning he let me know I could sleep in his bed without him trying to “molest me,” and I crawled in expecting to fall asleep next to a safe, warm body.
But he kept caressing me, even after I kept telling him to stop. And when I realized in my half-awake haze that he was trying to stick his dick in me, I pushed him away and told him we weren’t going to have sex. I guess his version of a consolation prize was jacking off beside me.
I’ve never felt less like a person in my entire life than in that moment. When he finished and told me I could go now, I waited until I broke through the Vancouver rain to bawl my eyes out, vowing never to put myself in another position where I felt so small.
It was in the moment of lying there beside him I realized no matter how mentally ill I might be or how desperate for money I was, having control over what happened to my body would always be the one thing that kept me sane. I knew then that putting myself in the sex industry would destroy me -– and I used the pen and paper I grabbed from his house to make sure I did everything in my power not to feel like that again.
These days I use Vancouver’s healthy-living atmosphere as inspiration to not only survive but prosper. Being by the ocean and the mountains has caused me to feel a sense of spirituality I’ve never had before, and the array of organic fruits and vegetables has helped immensely in starting a raw vegan lifestyle. I’ve found a personal trainer in exchange for advertising services who not only helps me keep in shape and give my body the endorphins it needs but also provides me with nutrition information that’s helping to heal my body from mental illness.
My fatigue and brain fog is disappearing, my unmanageable anxiety and crying spells are gone and my depression to the point of suicidal ideation is non-existent.
While part of me wishes I had the guts to support myself as a sex worker, and I respect those who choose to be in the industry and feel for those who are forced into it, I’m proud to say I’m finally getting enough freelance work and advertising to be able to start making a living by myself. I have more energy and mental clarity than I have in three years, and although my experience was difficult, it has pushed me to a place where I’m finally growing rather than surviving.