Thursday, June 27, 2013

Sex Workers Are Entrepeneurs, Not Criminals

I'm about to do something very unwise. However, I feel that talking about this and bringing attention to this issue is much more important than my personal safety. You may think me irresponsible; I'd like to think that, should any repercussions occur for me due to this post, it's OK because I'm willing to take one for the team in order to draw attention to the travesty that is the criminalization of sex work in the United States. We are one of the few countries that still arrests, prosecutes, jails and otherwise penalizes sex workers and their clients. It is a well known fact that criminalization of sex work harms those who choose it as a profession. Not just by saddling them with a criminal record, fines and jail/ probation time- the reasons why criminalization compromises the safety of sex workers are numerous, from making it impossible to report and seek justice for sexual assault or violence, to tying the hands of sex workers when it comes to negotiation of boundaries prior to sex acts, to (in some states) making it unsafe to carry/ use condoms since they can be used as evidence against a sex worker, thus increasing their risk of contracting HIV or other sexually transmitted infections.

I'm not really interested in arguing issues of safety today, though, because I think these issues are pretty obvious. The reason I am writing this today is that a rash of prostitution busts in the Denver area recently http://kdvr.com/2013/06/17/22-denver-area-women-arrested-in-prostitution-investigation/ has scared the crap out of me and my community. I was not targeted, and I'm not sure why. The women who were targeted are just like me: independent, "high-class," advertise on the Internet. I don't know any of the individuals personally, but I believe a lot of them were white and cis-gendered. It has traditionally been one of the great tragedies of the Internet-era sex worker that this sort of sex worker is protected by her privilege. So while many of us fight for the rights of every sex worker, regardless of race/ gender/ class/ business model, we also (perhaps naively) tend to think that law enforcement doesn't want to waste their time and resources on our ilk. In reality, none of us are protected and this fact makes it extremely hard for us to run a business. Which brings me to what I would like to talk about: the fact that sex workers are running a business. Sex workers are entrepreneurs, and what does America have left going for it if not it's strong, entrepreneurial spirit? And yet, sex workers are being punished and having their safety compromised because they have figured out a way to make money that does not fit into the societal norm. I truly believe that to be the crux of the issue for why sex work is still criminalized in the US.We criminalize sex in this country while simultaneously patting a lot of white collar criminals on the back for there ingenuity. Brilliant.

I want to share my story as a way of demystifying why someone might choose to do this type of work. I think being open and honest about my work and telling the world that I feel I have nothing to be ashamed of is probably one of the more powerful tools of activism that I have available to me right now. I don't expect to change the hearts and minds of everyone reading this, but I do expect many people to accept the fact that this sort of work is not criminal. It is honest, hard work; and all of us who choose to do it have a myriad of good reasons for having chosen it. Not just high-class, independent courtesans like myself, either; street workers, brothel and agency workers, hustlers, those with drug dependencies, young, old, white, black, other POCs, cis-gendered, trans, privileged and not- we're all just trying to survive. Because seriously, have you tried finding and keeping a decent paying job in this economy?

It's a little ironic that I should bring up the whole finding and keeping a job in the current economy issue, as I did have a decent paying job when I chose to become a sex worker. I was making just under 40K a year, with health insurance, 401K and 2 weeks paid vacation. And I was starving for independence. When I started working for that company I got to choose the hours I would come in and they were still in start-up company mode; drinking during the lunch hour was not an uncommon or even frowned upon activity, as were midday naps on the clock. Having previously worked my ass off in mostly retail jobs for no more than $9 an hour, I thought that by making the jump to white-collar desk jockeying I had finally found the sort of job I could work indefinitely.

Now, before any of you baby boomers or other hard-working (entitled assholes) individuals reading this rush to label me as a lazy millennial, I am just going to briefly out myself as both physically and mentally "disabled." I hate to even use the term disabled, which is why I gave it quotations, because frankly nothing I deal with is all that bad. I can hold down a job, and in fact have never been fired from one, but it is extremely difficult for me. I frequently need to take days off because of migraines or menstrual issues or, you know, because I need a day to get my mental wellness back in order. And there is absolutely no sympathy for those types of needs out in the American rat race.

Every year I was with that company the noose tightened and there was less freedom for me to be who I was, and less sympathy for any of the ailments I may be dealing with on any particular day. More and more rules were handed down from HR. I had to come in at 8am sharp every morning instead of making my own schedule. I had to begin clocking in and out. My vacation time was shortened from 3 weeks to 2. The price I paid for health insurance went up every year. I was no longer working for this company on terms I could agree with, and the term "wage slavery" was one I bandied about freely. That may seem like a severe term to use when my situation was not that bad, but you have to understand that I absolutely felt enslaved. 40 or more hours a week signed over to this company, on their terms, left me very little time for myself. I was going nuts, and I was using all my sick time to try and cope with that fact.

I spent the last 2 years I was with that company looking for a situation I thought would work better for me, and nothing was presenting itself. It was highly unlikely that I would be hired anywhere else; my experience in my one and only white-collar job was simply not enough to get me into any other similar white-collar jobs. I also lack a college education and my only vocational training is in sewing, which usually can only get me minimum wage factory work. Going back to retail or any other barely above minimum wage work was out of the question, since that sort of work was actually much worse for me mentally and physically. Plus, every other job I could find that I might be eligible for just seemed worse. The salaries were less, the benefits worse, the expectations for  how I dress or when I show up much higher. I was trapped in this system, and beaten down by it, and all I could think is there is no way I can keep doing this for the next 30-40 years. I've barely made it through the last 10!

It was at this point, when I felt I had exhausted all other possibilities, that I met some sex workers during a trip to San Francisco. That was when it finally clicked for me. I truly love sex and I'm at least OK at having it. I am good at maintaining multiple relationships and making others feel loved and cared for. In reality, sex and love are the only things I'm good at (and writing I guess, but no one makes money with that anymore). While I was actually working in the sex industry by working for a porn company, I was using Microsoft Excel and not my body or heart or soul. It was time for me to go independent, and to work with my strengths rather than try to get by on my weaknesses.

I had always thought you had to be desperate to choose sex worker because that is the story that society fed me. And yet I saw these happy, healthy, smart and beautiful sex workers in San Francisco who had made an informed decision to choose this type of work and who were doing it on their own, without a pimp or an agency. They were just as happy with their work as I had always wanted to be, and I realized you didn't have to be desperate. In many ways I was desperate to break out of wage slavery, but mostly I just wanted to work my own hours and make my own decisions and have time to be me. Sex work has allowed me to do that. It has allowed me to finally be happy with my work. I am not only living the type of lifestyle that feels most comfortable to me; I am using my openness and knowledge of sexuality to help others to shed some of the shame they've been dealing with surrounding their sexuality. Seriously, you want to tell me that this is a fucking crime? To be happy with my work? To have independence and freedom? To help and heal others?

I run as legitimate of a business as I can. I do this full time, it's my only business, and I pay taxes on it. I don't lie about what I'm doing to anyone; all my friends and family know, as well as any acquaintances and pretty much the entire Internet (and therefore the NSA!). I don't think there's anything wrong with a sex worker choosing to run their business without paying taxes or in secrecy, but I choose to be as honest about it as I can be. Because I want people to take me, and my business, seriously. And I can afford to take the risks involved. I have nothing left to lose.

This is not meant to admonish anyone who happily works 40 hours a week in any sort of job. Nor is it meant to say that my reasons are the only valid reasons for someone to choose sex work. Nor is it meant to sweep some of the dangers or risks inherent in sex work under the rug. This is just my story; one of the millions of stories of someone who is just trying to survive in this economy the best way she knows how. So go ahead, come arrest me. Fine me for enjoying life. Jail and punish me for choosing my own path. Bring. It. On.

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