“Then he mailed me eight different kinds of stockings! This job is so weird, but kiiiiiiiind of awesome.”
I was sitting at Rudy’s, chowing down on some french fries and catching up with my dear friend Danielle. Danielle and I had met when we were working as domestic violence advocates; we had spent over a year and a half on the same small team of people working in a small shelter.
Our friendship started going beyond work when we both joined a roller derby team together. We spent several days a week sweating and skating together in addition to sacrificing our sanity in social services. She became more than a mere coworker; I considered her a dear friend.
She shook her head at me disapprovingly.
“Can you believe this is what we’re doing for our rent these days?”
“Um,” I responded, “what does that mean?”
“I just know so many sex workers and it just seems really crazy to me that we have to do that kind of stuff to pay our bills now. Like, this is what the recession has driven us to.”
“Er, prostitution is called ‘the world’s oldest profession’ for a reason. This isn’t exactly a sudden, new thing.”
I was starting to get annoyed at her patronizing attitude and her use of “we” when clearly it was me, not her, that she was talking about. This wasn’t the first time Danielle had responded disdainfully to my job, and it was starting to get old. Real old.
If you asked her, she’d insist that she has no problem with it; that people are entitled to do what they want. She’d tell you, as she told me, that she believes in women making their own choices, and that engaging in sex work is a person’s prerogative. In spite of her insistence, though, it was very clear that she had some unmistakably negative opinions on the matter.
I recently wrote about why folks need to avoid co-opting the stories of their sex worker friends and let sex workers tell their own stories . I said it there, but it’s important to say here too:
“I don’t give a shit how progressive you think your friend may or may not be; this actually has little bearing on whether or not their perspective is colored by the stigma against sex workers….You just don’t know [what the response will be], and it cannot be predicted—not even by those of us who are in the industry and have this conversation all the time.”
Danielle is a perfect example of someone reacting the opposite way that even I, someone who knew her, would expect. She is a self-identified feminist who advocates for sexually exploited youth, domestic violence survivors, and promotes body positive ideals. She is as progressive as it gets…
Or so I thought.
Right around when we had this conversation, I was feeling a little sensitive to the backlash against sex workers. I had recently experienced a brush with the sex worker stigma in a way that shot straight through to my insecurities.
Upon finding out about my job, my partner had a friend of his tell him that it would be a “big mistake” to get involved with “someone like me”.
Dating while being a sex worker is hard enough. Kitty Stryker recently talked about what it is like to be a sex worker in love. When Sabrina Morgan put a call out for sex workers and their partners to share their perspectives on dating a sex worker/dating as a sex worker, both my partner and I answered. I had decided early on in my experience as a sex worker that I did not want to deal with being dishonest about my job, especially since it was having such a huge impact on my perspective.
I had seen the results of some of my coworkers trying to keep that news on the down-low. I didn’t want to go through the process that I had seen so many of them go through: They’d break the news after four or five dates only to be dumped. One of my fellow dommes, in particular, told me after one gentleman caller broke it off with her, “I just feel like a big ol’ pervert, you know? I feel like I’m some kind of freak.” That perfectly embodies how I felt when I heard what my partner’s friend said about me and our relationship.
Although I had been completely upfront with my partner from the get-go, and we had talked about how okay he is with what I do, the moment I heard that he had been told that being in a relationship with a sex worker was going to come back to bite him, I worried that maybe he secretly thought the same thing. What if he suddenly rejected me? What if he, as one of the few people I dated who managed to avoid both fetishizing, objectifying, and vilifying me, decided I was not worthwhile after all?
The comment his friend made hit a soft spot, touching on one of the things I was most afraid of. After all, it is common for folks to think sex workers are little more than trash. What if the person I was falling in love with, on some level, felt the same way?
Those little comments, from the sideways passive aggression from the friend who swears she really supports whatever decision I make while making it known that even though she supports me she could never debase herself like that, to the blatant rejection and insults that get thrown at sex workers on the regular, deliver a papercut sting. It may be a small slice, but it stings nonetheless. Despite the self-confidence and assuredness I possess, being told that I am not worth anything over and over again still fucking hurts.
The friend of my partner and I talked things out one on one, and resolved the conflict. She apologized for her statements, and she, my partner, and I resolved the conflict that the statements originated from. We haven’t talked much about sex work together since that conversation. I don’t know her perspective on it as a whole, but that’s okay. We had a good conversation that worked out those things, amongst others, and I am glad that I can now consider this intelligent, funny person (who my partner clearly cares for) a part of my network.
As for Danielle, we no longer speak. After that conversation, I slowly withdrew from our friendship. The final straw was when she threw a party for a friend at a strip club, and advertised it on Facebook with some tacky line about how “Destiny’s college education won’t pay for itself.”
After that, I de-friended her without notice (I generally follow Captain Awkward’s Laws of Social Media). She emailed me once asking what happened, and when I explained to her that her attitude toward sex workers was not something I could handle, she never responded. We haven’t spoken since.
Do not doubt that I would love to change the world and somehow be a component in the dismantling of the stigma against sex workers, but it is not my job to personally explore that with every person that reacts poorly to my decision to be a sex worker (an out sex worker, at that).
That doesn’t mean that I need to tolerate the perspective or the nasty comments directed at both me and my community that cross my path; it means that I am not personally responsible for disassembling the flawed perspectives of others. It isn’t my responsibility to do the work for them.
In the meantime, I will keep telling my story, supporting my fellow sex workers, and surrounding myself with people who give me all that I am asking for: a little respect.
Tizzy Wall is the Playpen Report’s petite spitfire sex-worker, here to talk about queerdom, sex work, and other kinktastic wonders. Take a peek into her big, lovely brain on both Tumblr and Twitter, or like her on Facebook. Have specific questions, topic requests, or need advice on your kinky sex issues? Email her !