Today I am talking to Ingrid, my best friend. Ingrid is not a sex worker, but she definitely knows more tricks of the trade than most civilians. Ingrid and I met in high school and became attached at the hip in our late teens. We’ve been through a lot of life together, and she was the first person I told that I was a sex worker. She puts up with my incessant bitching about clients, she’s helped me pick out final photos for shoots, and she’s been my safety check-in person when my partner is away. She has been an absolute rock for me, both in sex work and in life.
Ingrid and I had talked about SO much, including:
Amelia: Do you want to introduce yourself a little bit?
Ingrid: Sure. So, I don’t work in the sex work industry at all. I have no connection to it other than through you.
Ingrid: I know, so boring. But we’ve known each other since we were teenagers, way before you did sex work.
Amelia: Actually, I posted on Twitter and asked if anybody had questions for you, and somebody asked if you’d ever considered being a sex worker. I’m kind of jumping ahead of the questions already.
Ingrid: Yeah, so I have thought about it for monetary reasons. I guess I was just romanticising what you do and the money aspect of it, to be honest, and not thinking about whether it was suited to me. And then I’ve just been like, actually, no, it’s not suited to me at all. I hate having sex in general, so sex work probably isn’t the best job for me [laughs]. So yeah, for sure, I have considered it, but I was definitely romanticising it.
Amelia: Okay, so I guess I wanted to talk to you because, as you know, you’ve been one of my biggest supports while I’ve been doing sex work. But I also feel like it’s kind of weird because we never really talk about it. I don’t know, maybe we used to talk about it more when I started. I honestly can’t remember. But it’s not really a big conversation topic for us anymore.
Ingrid: Yeah, I don’t think we’ve spoken about it in a long time in terms of like, “I’m a sex worker, how do you feel about that?” We don’t really do that. When you first started, I think it was a little taboo to talk about our feelings about it, to be honest.
Amelia: Yeah, I agree. Like, I got the idea of doing sex work after you lent me a copy of Secret Diary of a Call Girl. That’s when the idea first popped into my mind. Do you remember that? Have I ever told you that?
Ingrid: You never told me that! And I don’t remember lending you the book. I remember having the book, and I remember watching the show. I mean, it totally makes sense that I would have done that, but I don’t remember it.
Amelia: Yeah, you gave it to me! It’s so funny that you don’t remember that. So, before I started working in the industry, you’d watched Secret Diary of a Call Girl, but do you remember if you had any other thoughts or options about the industry?
Ingrid: I definitely didn’t think about it much. It wasn’t a big part of my life at all. My only exposure was the media’s portrayal of sex work. I didn’t use the term sex worker if I referred to a sex worker; I would say prostitute or, you know, something else derogatory, I’m sure. I definitely had preconceived notions, even with the Secret Diary of a Call Girl stuff. Like, my perception of the industry was very much like drugs on the street. You know, the whole complete stereotype. When I watched Secret Diary of a Call Girl, I just thought that was a fantasy land. I thought the actual industry was just completely horrible. Secret Diary of a Call Girl was entirely fiction in my brain, even though I knew to some extent it was based on a real story.
Amelia: That’s hilarious. Whereas I was watching Secret Diary of a Call Girl being like, “That sounds great, I’m going to do that.” [laughs]
Ingrid: Yeah, I never thought that girls would work from home. I just didn’t know that was a thing. It just seemed totally not real to me.
Amelia: That’s so funny. When I started working privately and doing incalls from home, one of my very first clients asked me about the apartment because it was obvious that I lived there because I had all my stuff there. And he was like, “Oh my gosh, it’s just like Secret Diary of a Call Girl!” And I remember being so proud of that! [laughs]
Ingrid: He was probably imagining they’d be backing music when he hopped out of the shower, and it’d be all glamorous! [laughs]
Amelia: Yeah, it wasn’t glamorous! [laughs] But I remember us talking about sex work a bit when I first started because you were the first person I told. Do you remember the phone call where I called you and told you?
Ingrid: Vividly. It’s burnt into my brain.
Amelia: Oh, great. Excellent. I love that. Tell us a bit about that because I remember it being pretty hideous. You were very supportive despite my distressed state. I guess for the readers, I’ll just say that I was in a bit of a crisis when I came out to Ingrid as a sex worker. She was kind enough to respond with support, despite the fact that I was babbling and crying on the phone.
Ingrid: Yes, so you called me, and I remember you immediately started crying. So, I already knew what you were going to say. Well, I shouldn’t say I already knew because you hadn’t confirmed that you were a sex worker, but I had a suspicion. I was like 95% sure at this point, and I was kind of just waiting for you to tell me. So, yeah, when you called, and you were crying like, “I have something to tell you, and I don’t think that you’re going to feel the same way about me after I tell you. I’m really scared that you’re going to not think the same things about me after I tell you this.” In my head, I was just like, “Oh, okay, she’s going to tell me she’s a sex worker now.”
Amelia: So, you were one step ahead.
Ingrid: Yeah, I think that’s where that calm reaction came from because I had already had the conversation with you in my head.
Amelia: Okay, so how did you piece it together? I thought I was being discreet at the time, but I was probably a bit dumb.
Ingrid: Okay, thinking back, I’ll say that I’m not proud. I invaded your privacy to confirm my own suspicions. I would never do that today – like never ever. Okay, let me explain properly – I was housesitting for you while you were away. I didn’t think you were a sex worker at this point, but I thought something was off because you had moved from a tiny little shitty apartment to a gorgeous apartment in a brand-new building on your own. And we were like, 20 years old at this point. So that was really weird.
Amelia: And my story was that I was a babysitter! That doesn’t even make sense.
Ingrid: Yeah, and I remember asking you for clarification on that. Like, “You’re earning this much money as a babysitter?” And you were like, “Yeah!” [laughs] So, I had an inkling at that point. I just thought that something was weird, but I didn’t know how to ask without being rude. Anyway, I was housesitting for you, and I opened up your washing machine to do some washing. There were red satin sheets in the washing machine. And I hate to generalise but like… [laughs]
Amelia: [laughs] Okay, like, even if you are a sex worker, who the fuck has red satin sheets anyway? Like, why did I buy those?
Ingrid: I mean, I definitely didn’t immediately go, “She’s a sex worker,” but I definitely thought it was weird. So, later I opened a cupboard, and there were multiple sex toys just sitting there. In a modern world, that’s definitely not an indicator that someone is a sex worker, but I was like, “That’s weird.” So, these things were bouncing around my brain. Then I went to get some food, and I opened the freezer, and I was like, “Sweet, there’s ice cream!” Then I opened it, and there were wads of cash in the ice cream container. And I remember messaging you and being like, “Why is there money in your freezer?” [laughs]
Amelia: [laughs] What did I say?!
Ingrid: I think you just said you got paid in cash for babysitting. Which I guess kind of made sense but, at the same time, with the sheets and the sex toys…
Amelia: And moving from the crappy apartment to a really nice apartment… And I remember I was buying lots of expensive shit at the time…
Ingrid: Yeah, you just seemed like you were doing really, really well financially – better than any high-paid babysitter should ever be doing. I just I couldn’t compute it all into my brain. Nothing was adding up at this point. And then this is the part I’m not proud of… So, I went through your diary.
Amelia: Like an agenda diary?
Ingrid: Yeah, like a planner.
Amelia: Did I have appointments written down?
Ingrid: Yeah, you had appointments in there. But you weren’t cryptic about it. So, to be fair, I didn’t go through drawers and stuff to find the diary. You left it sitting on your desk. And it wasn’t like you’d just written down a name. There was a time, a name, a phone number and then like “wear black lingerie.” [laughs] So, there were details in there specific to the appointment. And I was like, “OH.” It clicked together at that point. I was like, “There’s no other explanation for all of these things.”
Amelia: Okay, so did you freak out?
Ingrid: I did. I freaked out because I couldn’t talk to anyone. Because what if I was wrong? And not even just that, but I knew that I shouldn’t be sharing it with others at that point. So, I went on an online forum.
Amelia: [laughs] Okay, wait what?!
Ingrid: I know! [laughs] I went on an anonymous forum, and I typed in all of the clues I had found, and then I was like, “Is my friend a sex worker?”
Amelia: So, what was the response? [laughs]
Ingrid: “Yes.” [laughs]
Amelia: I just feel bad for putting you through this much anxiety over it.
Ingrid: Yeah, it seemed really huge at the time. It doesn’t anymore, obviously. But at the time, I was freaking out. We were so close and spent so much time together; it felt like a huge thing for me not to know. It made sense why you wouldn’t tell me, but it still seemed huge. So, from that point, I think it took about a month for you to tell me. Which doesn’t seem like a long time, but at the time, it was like agony. I was just waiting.
Amelia: I can’t imagine how stressful it would have been for you. I don’t know, was it stressful for you?
Ingrid: It wasn’t so much stressful. It was more just like, anxious, maybe?
Amelia: What were you concerned about? Safety?
Ingrid: I was definitely concerned about your safety, first and foremost, but also, I only had those preconceived notions that I was talking about before. So, I just generally thought it wasn’t a good thing for you to be doing. I was a bit scared for you, and I didn’t really know how to process that.
Amelia: I mean, that makes sense, right? All your ideas about it were based on what you had seen in the media. So, of course, you would have those thoughts and feelings, but I feel like my experience with you has always been overwhelmingly positive. I’ve never felt an ounce of judgement from you. So how did you manage that? How did you come to terms with it?
Ingrid: I mean, I definitely feel okay about it now, but there were a couple of years where I don’t think I did feel okay about it. And I don’t think it was a judgement, like, I never thought that you were a bad person or anything like that. I think I was worried about the industry, and I didn’t understand it. And yeah, I was also worried because I remember in those first couple of years, you introduced me to a couple of boyfriends that were also involved in the industry.
Amelia: Oh yeah, and one of them was a fucking asshole.
Ingrid: Yeah, and that was not long after you had first told me that you were doing sex work. I was definitely concerned about that relationship more than anything because the whole situation seemed not good. I think I was really terrified, but I don’t know if I really told you that?
Amelia: I mean, I could tell that you thought he was an asshole, but you were kind of like, “you do you”.
Ingrid: Yeah, I think I could see that you were very distressed about that whole situation. And I was very worried that I would make that more distressing by making you feel like you weren’t going to receive love from me. And overarchingly, I have always loved you, and I didn’t want you to get that mixed up with anything. But I didn’t know how to express that without making you feel bad.
Amelia: Yeah, well, it was so freaking complicated. I don’t think either of us had the language at the time to have a conversation about it without getting upset at each other.
Ingrid: Yeah, and thinking back on it, we were both so incredibly young.
Amelia: Oh my gosh, we were so young. Yeah. Okay, so it took you a couple of years to feel more okay about me being a sex worker?
Ingrid: Yeah, I think a couple of years. Which I think was when you started to feel okay with being a sex worker? Because I think it took a long time for you to be okay with what you did.
Amelia: Yeah, I had lots of internalised stigma going on. I actually even remember having the thought of, “Oh, my god, am I contributing to sex trafficking?” I was just really mixed up about it. As you said, we were so young, and I just hadn’t made sense of it. And my choice to enter the industry wasn’t well thought out. It was just like, “Fuck, I’m really struggling with money,” and it seemed like a good idea to solve that problem. I hadn’t thought about it further than that. And then I was a couple of years into the industry, and I was like, “Oh, fuck, what does this mean? What does this say about me? I’ve had these couple of shitty relationships with guys who think I’m a piece of crap, how is this all going to work?” So yeah, I think you’re right. It took me a couple years to feel okay about it, for sure.
Ingrid: Yeah, I think as you started to feel better about it with yourself, I began to feel a lot less anxious for you.
Amelia: Yeah, I mean, I don’t feel like I appreciated how hard that must have been for you. I don’t think there’s a way for me to express how much I appreciate your support. Especially because at the start, I wasn’t necessarily making the smartest decisions, but you just made sure I was okay, and you didn’t judge me and just loved me anyway. I think that’s pretty cool.
Ingrid: Thank you. I don’t know, I’ve always loved you and supported you, but there’s definitely been a lot of times where I’ve had to step back and ask myself, “Am I being a good friend?” I’ve been worried that I’m not showing you the support that I want to. Because, you know, I have had judgements and internalised automatic responses, and I’ve had to step back and be like, “I need to get this under control.” So, I’m glad you felt supported the whole time, because I have always supported you, but you know-
Amelia: -but you’re also a human being who lives in the world. And I mean, nobody comes out of the womb with perfect, accepting opinions.
Amelia: I think you’ve done a fucking amazing job. That’s my opinion. So, you feel like you began to feel more comfortable when I was showing I was more comfortable with it?
Ingrid: Yes, and after a couple of years, I think we’d had enough discourse about it that I had a better understanding of what sex work is. And there was just evidence that you were coping better. I think you were having less like, little breakdowns. You weren’t grappling as much with your identity as a sex worker.
Amelia: Yeah. I feel like it might have been different if I’d been in a much better space when I told you? If I had sat down and had a proper conversation with you about it, rather than calling you when I was in crisis? Because that can’t have been a great introduction to your understanding of the industry.
Ingrid: Yeah, but I do think that you needed me when you were in crisis. That was definitely important.
Amelia: And I appreciate you being there. But I wonder if it would have been different if I had come to you in a more relaxed way?
Ingrid: Yeah, if you had come to me in a level way, I probably would have been less concerned and probably have come around to it sooner.
Amelia: I think that makes perfect sense. I think it would be weird if you weren’t concerned after that phone call. From my memory, it was pretty stressful, and you managed to be supportive anyway.
Ingrid: I will touch on that quickly because it felt very easy to be supportive a lot of the time. At first, I was really worried that I would touch a nerve and really upset you. I was anxious about hurting you by saying the wrong thing. But every time I asked a question, you were incredibly supportive in responding to me in a kind way that was like, “Oh, of course, you don’t know about that!” You wouldn’t give me blunt answers that I’d have to go off and Google – you’d give me very comprehensive answers.
Amelia: Can you think of an example?
Ingrid: Yeah, so I’d ask things about the brothel. You know, trying to learn more and gauge what it was like because I had no idea. So, I would ask questions like, “How many nights do you work a week?” and you would just be so forthcoming. You were so open and honest. You’d be like, “Oh, I work this many nights. And also, I go in at this time, and then I do this and, you know, do health checks and get down and inspect the dude’s bits, and there is always security around.” You would just like, overshare, I think because you could sense I was concerned and trying to gauge what was going on.
Amelia: Yeah, and I was probably just excited to share because I hadn’t talked to anyone about it before. I was probably just like, “Oh my god, somebody cares!”
Ingrid: And it was interesting to me, outside of being concerned about you. It was interesting to learn that information anyway, but it made me feel a lot better to know about what you were doing.
Amelia: Yeah, I remember my partner saying that as well when we started dating. He knew a bit about the industry, but I remember him saying he always felt so much better when I would tell him everything. He would be like, “Oh, how was work?” And I would be like, “Yeah, I had four bookings, they were all good. Sat around for a bit, watched some TV with the girls,” and I’d send him Snapchats while I was at work. He would feel better because then there’s no room for imagination. He started to realise that it’s pretty mundane. Or if something bad did happen, just being like, “I had a pretty shit night, a client was really rude to me”. And he’s like, “Okay, that’s what a shit night looks like,” rather than letting his imagination run wild.
Ingrid: Yeah, it helps.
Amelia: I know some people are scared to share more details with their partner or family or friends because they are worried about their reaction. But you found it better knowing more info?
Ingrid: Yeah, because I think if you’ve had no exposure to the sex industry, all you have are those media-based understandings. The average person just doesn’t know anything about it. They just don’t. And if someone says to you, “I am a sex worker,” or even if they say, “I work in a brothel,” or, “I work as private escort,” that’s a tangent that someone can go down with their imagination because they have no way to construct what that means. And that can be scary when you’re basing your imagination on stereotypes rather than reality. But I can also understand as a sex worker how daunting it would be to tell someone so much information about yourself.
Amelia: Yeah, and I feel like one of the narratives I hear from sex workers is feeling annoyed that they have to educate people. Which I understand, but I don’t know if I necessarily agree with that. I don’t actually think there’s that much information available that’s an accurate depiction of what it’s like to be a sex worker. I’ve read a hell of a lot of books and watched so many documentaries about sex workers. I would say like, 2% are accurate to my experience as a sex worker. So, I understand the annoyance of having to explain it to people. It can be exhausting. But at the same time, I could have refused to explain it to you and then you wouldn’t have had the opportunity to be supportive. You needed that information from me to form your understanding of sex work. And when you were given the information, you were like, “Okay, wait, that’s fine. It sounds okay to me.”
Ingrid: Yeah, I can completely agree with that. I can understand that educating people on your specific life in the sex industry would be so draining. And also, this was like 10 years ago, so I’m assuming that there are more resources out there now. But at the time, my research was really all over the place. I had no idea. There was nothing for me to read that wasn’t glamorised and fictional. Yeah, there was like one or two books written by some high-class escorts, which I’m sure were somewhat indicative of their life, but it didn’t seem very real or relevant.
Amelia: Yeah, but I think that’s the thing… Even if you say to somebody, “I work in a brothel,” that means something different for everyone. Working in a brothel in a criminalised state – like South Australia – is very different to working in Sydney where it’s closer to decriminalisation. I’ve had vastly different experiences at the different brothels I’ve worked at as well. Saying, “I work in a brothel” doesn’t actually give you any information about what it’s like for that person. It doesn’t really mean anything.
Ingrid: Yeah, there’s so many different types of sex work. I think it’s important to give some context – as much as you’re comfortable with – just so that people can fill in the blanks and better understand you.
Amelia: Do you have any advice for family or friends who might be struggling with the fact that their loved one is a sex worker?
Ingrid: I don’t know. I think each person will struggle with it differently. I think the most important part is that you have to separate your prejudices from the person. You’re going to have preconceived notions and prejudices, but if you’re willing to listen, and if you love the person enough, then you can try and re-learn. I think the most important thing is to remember that the person you knew yesterday before they told you about sex work is still the same person here today. They are the same person. Sex work is just a job. It doesn’t mean that the person is different. It might influence parts of their life, but you have to separate the person from the job. I think that is really difficult to do initially, because it feels like a huge thing.
Amelia: I guess one of the big things that I think people struggle with when they find out that someone is a sex worker is that they feel as though they’ve been lied to, and they find that hard to get over. How did you manage that? And do you have thoughts about that for other people?
Ingrid: This is really tricky because I could understand why you lied. And lied is a stupid word because I don’t think that you were really lying. You know, it was a necessity thing. I could understand why you didn’t tell me, but I remember you had a boyfriend when you started working who didn’t know, and I grappled more with how you could lie to him. Definitely more so than how you could not tell me. But yeah, that is probably going to be one of the biggest hurdles for most people because it brings up a trust thing. But I think it’s also an easy thing to fall back on. When you’re confused about all of your other emotions about someone being a sex worker, I think the easiest fallback is, “Oh, but I’m not upset about them being a sex worker; I’m upset that they lied to me.”
Amelia: I’ve actually never thought of that before. I think that’s such a good point.
Ingrid: Yeah, people don’t want to say, “I’m upset because I think you’re a bad person because you’re a sex worker,” because it’s hard to face your own prejudice. It’s easier to say you’re upset about being told a lie.
Amelia: Yeah. This is something I’ve really grappled with, actually. I can understand feeling deceived by someone not telling you they are a sex worker. But at the same time – and maybe this is selfishness on my part, I don’t know – I feel that if you don’t understand why someone wouldn’t tell you, then maybe you don’t understand the difficulties that sex workers face in terms of stigma and discrimination and criminalisation, and the way that impacts their lives, you know?
Ingrid: Yeah, I think it’s a lack of education, for sure. I don’t want to be like, “I’m the best ally in the world,” but at the time, I did understand why you didn’t tell me. But I can acknowledge that not everyone will.
Amelia: Yeah, it’s being able to hold those two things in mind – it can be really hurtful that somebody you’re close with didn’t share something that’s a big part of their life with you, but at the same time, being a sex worker means you face a lot of discrimination and stigma, and sometimes that hiding your job is the safest option or feels like the safest option. I feel like we kind of covered this, but do you have any other advice for sex workers who are worried about telling friends and family? Other than maybe like, not telling them when you’re in the middle of a crisis! [laughs]
Ingrid: I mean, yeah, if you’re going through a crisis, and it’s too late, and there’s no level-headed time to tell someone, and you are really struggling, then just pick the person who you think will be best able to support you at that moment. Again, I don’t want to be like, “I’m the best ally,” but I think at the time, I was probably the safest person for you to tell.
Amelia: Well, you were my closest friend, and we’d been through so much together in the couple of years before that. I think I was just like, “Ah, even if she thinks I’m a crappy person, she’ll still love me.” I kind of knew that even if you didn’t approve, or you thought it was a fucking terrible idea, that you would still be there for me at that moment.
Ingrid: Yeah. So, I think it’s important that if you’re in crisis mode, then tell someone that you believe can love and support you at that moment, regardless of their opinions. And know that there may be a bad reaction, but they will love you and help you through the crisis. But definitely, if you can, try to tell them in a level moment and plan it out. Take some time to think about it, and make sure that it’s really what you want to do.
Amelia: Yeah, when I told my mum, I’d thought about it for six months, or maybe even a year. I had planned the conversation in my head. I had my dot points of like, “I know you probably like have some thoughts and feelings about what being a sex worker might be like, but I want you to know, for me, it’s this particular way. I feel safe and secure. I’ve really thought about the risks versus the reward, and I’m happy with my choice.” And she was kind of just like, “Yeah, okay, well, that makes sense. I do have some feelings about it, but those are my own feelings, and I’m not going to put them on you. It sounds like it’s a good choice for you, and you’ve obviously thought it out. You’re a smart girl, I trust you.” Like, I think that’s the ideal scenario, right?
Ingrid: Yeah, that’s the ideal scenario. Obviously, it’s not always going to happen.
Amelia: I mean, I’ve done lots of ones that aren’t like that. That’s my one success story. I’ll take it.
Ingrid: But yeah, even if you can aim for somewhere in the middle. I think being like, “I’m going to tell you something, and I want you to listen to the full explanation first.” I guess if you say I’m a sex worker and then let them immediately jumped to conclusions without any extra information, that’s probably not ideal.
Amelia: Yeah, not at all. I kind of wish we had this chat, like, five years ago.
Ingrid: Yeah, I mean, I think it’s probably good that we have had this chat now. I mean, yeah, I was totally fine with what you did five years ago. But I feel like I’ve learnt so much in 10 years and in five years. I don’t think I was really ready to have this chat five years ago.
Amelia: Yeah, that’s true. I feel like we’re both in very different places than we were 10 years ago or five years ago.
Ingrid: Yeah, we are.
Amelia: And thank you for taking the time to talk to me for the blog. I’m sure the readers will appreciate your perspective – I know I do.