One of my mom’s favorite sayings was, “Tell me who your friends are and I will tell you who you are.” She was adamant that I chose my friends wisely. And, she was right for doing so. In fact, I would go as far to say that you have to be selective in who you choose to interact with at all times.
One thing I’ve learned from the sex industry is that you can put a twist to her saying and it’s still rather telling-
Tell me who you are and I will tell you who your friends are not.
Although being in the business is only one aspect of my life, it’s still a part of my identity and that puts me in a category of people that are often generalized against. I have to be extremely cautious of who I consider a friend. At the end of the day, my friends are my bloodline, they are my support system and family.
As a sex worker, I’ve lost friends by exposing my secret life and being associated with the stigma of the industry. It’s the idea that sex workers are opportunists, that they’re conniving and selfish, dirty and unstable. And, to be frank, I believe the friends I lost were ignorant to my true character.
The first time I saw the judging eyes of society was when I was 19. I was living alone in a small one-bedroom apartment and just starting out in life. I found myself in a position where the first of the month was quickly approaching and I did not have the money in my pocket to keep my apartment. With a weak educational background, no financial support from my family, limited experience in the workforce, and an abused, ridiculously small ego, I fervently believed that I had little choice but to use my sexuality to make money. So, I danced at a club to pay my rent, and I will never forget the reaction I got.
I admit that I was naive for thinking that I wasn’t going to lose anything by stripping. In my mind, the only risks were in the club where grabby, drunk men who would try to get away with breaking house rules (I mean, one man did idiotically try to insert a filthy dollar bill directly into my vagina), but I never would have imagined that people who already knew me rather well were going to think less of me for stripping. When I nonchalantly told a friend of mine that I was dancing, word spread like wildfire and the next thing I knew, some of my so-called “friends” didn’t want to talk to me anymore.
It really did break my heart to know that I did nothing to hurt other people, that I was trying to keep a roof over my head, that this was the only way I knew how to come up with money without doing anything illegal, yet people didn’t care what my reasons were. The mere act of taking my clothes off for money deemed me unworthy of their presence.
History has a tendency to repeat itself and only three months ago, after investing my life savings on a startup one year prior, I decided to work at a BDSM dungeon because it gave me the flexibility and potentially high payout to be able to support myself while I pursued personal endeavors. As a responsible adult who had already proven her character, I didn’t think much would happen when I told a friend of 10 years about what I was doing. Well, it turns out that some people believe that working in the BDSM world equates to a lack of morals. Despite all the good things I did in the 10 years we were friends, my involvement with BDSM, made me a person with, in his exact words, “no integrity.” (Completely irrelevant but interesting: This was also a man who was asking me for sex tips on how he could spice things up in bed with his wife. Imagine what she would have thought about that conversation!)
I don’t hate people for not understanding my life decisions. I’m mature enough to know that I’ve chosen this path and I’ve assessed the benefits and disadvantages of walking it. I believe that most people want to succeed and they pursue what they want based on what they think is best for them. For me, I don’t see any other way to make ends meet, I’ve tried many alternatives and this is the way that I see myself being happy in the end. People think I do what I do because I don’t have respect for myself but I do it because I do have respect for myself, and this is a way out of a life that I refuse to settle for.
To say a sex worker is a person with no integrity, however, is unacceptable. Are there sex workers out there with questionable ethics? Absolutely! But, this doesn’t mean that all of us do not have a soul. Sex work is exactly what it sounds like it is, it’s work. And the term sex worker is just a title. Like other people who have jobs, we are not all the same. I’m sure that there are investment bankers out on Wall Street that are not corrupt, that there are attorneys who sincerely advocate truth and justice, and on the contrary, doctors who are ill-intentioned, and teachers who take advantage of our youth.
If your ignorance keeps you from being able to think that you and I are on the same level from a moral standpoint, then say whatever you need to say to make yourself feel big and mighty, I’m sure it helps you sleep better at night.
I’m a sex worker. And, if that makes anyone think he or she is better than me, then that person, to say the least, is certainly not my friend.