Honesty is touted as the most important facet of any relationship. Yet many sex workers choose to keep their job a secret from people in their lives – they fear discrimination, rejection, and, at worst, they fear for their safety.
When I began sex work, I told NO ONE. I kept it a secret out of fear – fear that my family and friends would reject me because they wouldn’t understand. And really, how could they possibly understand, when I barely understood my choices myself?
My entry into sex work wasn’t well thought out. I needed money (my life was debt central), and my friend had lent me a copy of Secret Diary of a Call Girl (yes, I’m a cliché). 1 + 1 = 2, and there I was, a few weeks later, doing my first shift at a brothel.
I didn’t take the time to think about the complexities of the choice I was making and how it would change me and my life. All I could think was that I NEEDED money and sex work sounded interesting. I didn’t have that automatic aversion to it that so many people seem to have. I told myself that I would do one shift and if it was horrible, and I hated it, then I could leave and never go back.
So, I went to my day job, with platform heels and lingerie stuffed in my bag under my lunch. At 5pm, I left my day job and drove to the brothel. I dolled myself up in the girls’ room, did my first intro, and got booked straight away. The booking was a blur of adrenaline and nerves, but I got through it, and I was a couple of hundred dollars richer.
Back in the girls’ room, I showered, touched up my makeup and waited for an impending sense of doom to hit me. Everything I’d learnt up until that point had told me that prostitution was BAD. Yet, it seemed fine to me? In fact, it seemed better than some of the one night stands I’d had – at least I got paid for it.
So, I kept going back, night after night, shift after shift, slowly chipping away at that debt and building myself a new life. I felt proud of myself – at last, I was in a position where I was getting financially stable, and I was becoming a badass businesswoman. But at the same time, I felt like I couldn’t share any of that with my family or friends, because having sex for money is BAD, right?
I was confused. Everywhere I looked, I was told sex work was terrible. Suddenly I noticed ‘dirty prostitute’ jokes on all my favourite TV shows and non-stop ‘dead hooker’ news articles. Sex workers were blamed for everything from HIV to cheating husbands and sex trafficking.
I wrestled with myself. Was I a bad person? Was I causing sex trafficking? Good god, I did NOT want to cause sex trafficking. I couldn’t see the link. I was just a person who went to work and made money.
But I kept it a secret.
I got a locker at the brothel, so I could stash my lingerie and heels rather than carrying them around at my day job. I got good at lying to my family and friends about where I was. I explained my new, much more expensive apartment to my boyfriend as the result of a raise at work.
And then one day I cracked.
My boyfriend broke up with me (probably because I had mismatched made-up stories about why I couldn’t see him every night that made no sense). And work felt HARD (it’s hard enough going to an office job through heartbreak, let alone sex work).
I was struggling, and I felt SO alone. I had made great friends at the brothel, but they only knew WORK me, not the REAL me.
And so, with much trepidation, I called my best friend, and through fits of tears, I told her.
Her response? “Oh! So THAT’S why you have cash in your freezer!”
No judgement. No rejection. No discrimination.
My fears were unfounded. All she had for me was love and acceptance.
And so, I moved on with my life as a sex worker. I stood a little bit taller because I knew I was loved AS a sex worker.
Throughout the years I’ve ‘come out’ again and again – to my mum, to my sister, to family members, to a handful of friends. Sometimes it’s gone well; sometimes it hasn’t. But at the end of the day, I feel loved and accepted for who I am.
Yet, there are still many people in my life who have no idea.
I still have that fear – fear of discrimination, fear of rejection, fear for my safety. If I were honest with everyone, it would limit future job opportunities that I have studied so hard for. If I were honest with everyone, it would negatively impact other people in my life.
And so, I continue to live a double life.
Movies make you think that living a double life as an escort is glamorous – swanning through hotel lobbies from one booking to another, before swapping your wig and champagne for a family event, Belle Du Jour style.
Sadly, the reality is a whole lot more tedious and involves a lot of mundane practical considerations. “Did I tell Sally that I am a receptionist or a nanny? I can’t remember?” is a common concern.
And then there is that belief that honesty is the essential part of all relationships. This belief is something I wrestled with for a long time.
Am I false in my friendships with people who don’t know about my work? Am I a bad person because they don’t see the WHOLE me? Would they even want to be friends with me if they knew who I REALLY was? These questions used to run through my mind, again and again.
On more than one occasion, I have told a friend that I am a sex worker only out of GUILT. I felt guilty for not telling them EVERYTHING. I felt like I was lying and that they didn’t deserve that.
Every time I have done this, I’ve regretted it.
Everyone is different, but for me, public knowledge that I am a sex worker could be detrimental to my other career plans outside of the industry. So, each time I told a friend that I was a sex worker because of GUILT, I regretted it because that guilt was automatically replaced with DREAD.
Dread of the unknown. Fear of the flow of information. Even if I trusted that friend, they only needed to tell ONE person (who then tells one other person) for that flow of information to be completely out of my control.
I pondered whether once the essential people in my life knew (my partner, my best friend, my mum), was there really any benefit to telling anyone else? Telling them didn’t assuage my fear. It just intensified fear in another area.
Over the years, I have made peace with the feeling of guilt around not telling. I think honesty is overstated as a pillar of relationships.
As an adult, are you REALLY 100% honest with ANYONE in your life? Do you tell your parents about the intricacies of your sex life? Do you tell your friend that you think the wedding dress she picked is ugly? Do you tell your Professor that you dropped the class because you think they teach the most boring content in the world?
No. You pick and choose what is appropriate for the relationship. You have different people in your life, for different things. You might discuss the Professor’s boring content with your friend, and your friend’s wedding dress with your parents.
Everyone doesn’t have to be EVERYTHING to you.
And that’s where I am with my double life now.
It is simple, straightforward and EASY. I don’t spend time deliberating over whether I’m a bad person or whether I cause sex trafficking (newsflash: I’m not and I don’t). I don’t fret over whether I am a terrible friend because I don’t reveal my whole self to every person in my life.
I just live my life and do my job.
And sure, sometimes, there are TV-worthy moments where I change from my casual university clothes into a dress and heels in the carpark of a 5-star hotel, before downing a glass of champagne and making a few grand.
But mostly, it’s just boring.
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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