I was sitting in the girls’ room in a brothel during a DEAD shift. There hadn’t been any clients for hours, and we were halfheartedly watching a trashy reality tv show, not wanting to commit to a proper movie in case a client did finally arrive.
My friend was sitting on the floor, haphazardly dressed in a combination of lingerie, stockings and sweatpants that you will only see in a brothel. The tv show rolled into an ad break, and she glanced at the other workers and me, and asked, “When do I tell my boyfriend that I’m a hooker?“
We all exchanged glances, knowing there was no good answer to her question.
“You don’t,” said one woman.
This woman was tough. She had five children and worked every single night without fail. She never missed an intro, even if she had to scramble out of another booking with lipstick smudged across her cheek to make it in time. She was the definition of a hard worker.
And, she was married to a man who had no idea that she was a sex worker.
Instead, she dressed in high vis clothing every afternoon at 4pm and kissed her husband and her five children goodbye. Her husband thought she was a nighttime roadworks operator. And, every evening at midnight, when she finished her shift at the brothel, she redressed in her high vis before heading home.
Her explanation? It was easier not to tell. Her husband wouldn’t understand, and she was doing what she needed to do to keep her family afloat. She had been keeping this up for seven years.
Another girl chimed in, stating that she wouldn’t date someone until she was no longer a sex worker.
“I wouldn’t want to date a guy who thinks this is okay,” she said. This girl was also in a relationship and dressed in corporate clothing each morning because her boyfriend thought she worked as a receptionist in an office. She wasn’t just afraid her boyfriend wouldn’t accept her work, she was scared that if he did accept it, that meant he was a bad person as well.
At the time, I agreed with her. I couldn’t imagine marrying someone who knew this part of my life – what sort of person would THEY have to be to accept THIS?
As we debated the pros and cons of keeping work a secret, another worker piped up.
“I couldn’t NOT tell my partner. Who would want to be with someone who doesn’t accept them for who they are?”
None of us had an answer to that.
The reality is, everyone is going to tell you something different. They’ll tell you how they did it, how their friend did it, or how they think you should do it despite never having lived the experience themselves (lucky them).
Me? I’ve done it in numerous ways.
When I started sex work, I was already dating someone, and I didn’t tell him.
At the time, sex work was a survival choice for me. I was in bucketloads of debt and stealing food from supermarkets because my $300 per week salary barely covered my rent, let alone anything else. My boyfriend’s feelings and the consequences sex work would have in terms of our relationship weren’t even close to a priority for me. I needed money, and I needed it yesterday.
I hid my work from him, and I hid it for so long that I felt like it was an impossible lie to get out of. How could I possibly tell him that I had been lying to him for months? It was a mess.
I never ended up telling him. I was grappling with too many of my own emotions around sex work at the time. Needless to say, that relationship didn’t work out.
I casually dated over the next couple of years. Some of these people knew I was a sex worker, and some didn’t. Some treated me horribly because of my work, and some didn’t. I definitely put up with a lot of comments and behaviour regarding my work that I wouldn’t tolerate for a second now. Though, that’s always easy to say in hindsight.
Then, I met the man who is my partner today. He knew that I was a sex worker from the very beginning, and it hasn’t ever been an issue. Sure, we’ve had our ups and downs (as any relationship does), but my job has never been a concern (nor has his).
He truly understands and values me and my work. He accepts and loves me as an entire person. He knows that I am the person I am today, and the partner I am today, BECAUSE of sex work. He loves me for that, rather than in spite of that.
Having experienced this love and acceptance, I find it difficult to imagine having a partner who was unaware of my work. Sex work has been my primary source of income for my entire adult life, and it has influenced many of my life decisions. Without sex work, I wouldn’t be ME.
I believe everyone deserves this sort of love and acceptance.
But life is complicated. And who am I to say I wouldn’t act, think and feel differently if I was married with five kids and just trying to keep my head above water? We all do what we have to do to survive. There’s no judgement here.
So, while there is no right answer to this dilemma, I want you to keep one thing in mind: Your safety.
Your safety is paramount. You come first.
I have ‘come out’ numerous times, to numerous people during my time as a sex worker. To me, the most important thing to keep in mind is that you can’t control the flow of information. This doesn’t just apply to romantic situations.
You might think you trust Sally enough to tell her that you’re a sex worker, but what happens when Sally tells her husband? Can you really expect a friend to keep a secret from their partner? Sally’s husband only has to get drunk and accidentally tell a friend once, and then you have entirely lost control of who knows what. Next thing you know you walk into your day job and your boss has your escorting website printed out, and suddenly, you don’t have a day job anymore.
Sure, that’s an extreme example. But it’s important to remember that while your personal information is important to YOU, to others, it may just be juicy gossip. You can’t expect Sally’s boyfriend’s friend’s sister to understand the intricacies of sex worker safety. You have to be your own advocate.
So, if privacy is an issue for you, I encourage you to think carefully before you reveal your that you are a sex worker to a potential romantic partner.
There is another aspect to safety that’s worth mentioning: if you feel as though you are at risk of harm from a romantic partner if you disclose your sex worker status, you are NOT obligated to tell them. Your safety comes first, and you should not feel bad for protecting yourself. Do what you need to do. If possible, seek assistance from your local sex worker organisation (google ‘sex work peer organisation’ + your city name).
On the other side of the coin, disclosing that you are a sex worker gives a potential partner a fair and equal opportunity to either proceed or withdraw without feeling deceived.
This a difficult and delicate dance. You want to ensure you know the person well enough to trust them with your private information. BUT you also don’t want to leave it TOO long to tell them. Otherwise, they will feel deceived. How on EARTH do you get this balance right?
There is no right answer.
If privacy and safety aren’t a massive concern for you, you might opt to tell a potential partner before a first date.
If privacy and safety are significant concerns for you, you might prefer to wait much longer to tell a potential partner. In an ideal world, once this person understands WHY you took so long to tell them, they won’t feel deceived.
What I want you to remember is that your job is NOT embarrassing and it is NOT something to be ashamed of. We might envy those who never have to worry about telling someone they like that they are a sex worker. It’s completely normal to dread telling someone, as we are all too familiar with the ignorance that many subscribe to about sex work; “Does that mean I can fuck other people too?” or simply pure disgust at the idea of sex exchanged for money.
It is unlikely that you will go through life as a sex worker without experiencing some sort of discrimination or put-down because of your job. As I said, I’ve dated men in the past who treated me awfully because of my work, and I LET them because I hadn’t truly accepted my job.
If this happens to you, I want you to reality check yourself, as I had to do to myself. You can’t afford the consequences of a relationship with someone who doesn’t accept YOU when there’s room for beautiful relationships with people to whom your job is irrelevant.
I have had friends fall head-over-heels in love with someone who doesn’t know about their job. They live in constant fear of losing that person when that inevitable moment arrives when they have no choice but to tell them. They dodge it. They put it off for as long as possible. By the time the moment comes, they’re crying as if they are confessing something so vile and grotesque about themselves that their tears are riddled with shame.
Worse still, the moment never comes and is instead taken from them. It’s difficult keeping a secret for so long – it only takes one inconsistent story for the whole thing to fall apart. I’ll never forget the day I was doing a brothel shift, and another worker’s boyfriend came into reception and asked for her by her full, real name. When the receptionist entered the girls’ room and asked if we knew anyone by that name, her face contorted in pure horror. She knew that her narrative had been taken away from her, and there was no way to go back.
Typically, in these scenarios, the partner leaves the situation feeling duped. Were the months, or years, of anxiety worth it?
Dating as a sex worker isn’t easy. Many of my sex worker friends who use dating apps tell potential partners they are sex workers before they meet. However, they rarely make it clear on their profiles that they are sex workers, because if they do, they receive endless annoying and creepy messages. Even worse, they get kicked off dating apps, because prostitution is against the T&Cs (even though they use the apps for personal dating, not to solicit work – presumably some loser reports them when they can’t deal with the fact that a badass sex worker doesn’t want to go out with them).
It’s not our fault that sex workers face discrimination. Nor is it fair that our way of earning a living is a dealbreaker for many people. But it is our problem. It becomes our problem when our safety and privacy is compromised, and when we settle for less than desirable partners because we think we don’t deserve any better.
Our responsibility to ourselves is to take control, be prepared, and not put up with anyone who doesn’t deserve our time.
I’ve got you covered with my FREE guide. Click here to download your free copy of ‘Coming Out: A Guide For Sex Workers’.
Photo by Unsplash.
Disclaimer: I cannot, and do not, speak for all sex workers. I speak from my experience of working in a legal brothel and as an independent escort in Australia. Where possible I try to be inclusive. However, I can’t relay every experience of sex work – especially if I haven’t experienced it myself.
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