So you’ve met a sex worker. Maybe someone has recently “come out” to you, maybe you met a sex worker at a party, maybe a friend or lover has just told you about their sex work or maybe you’re a social worker and one of your clients is a sex worker. You might not be sure how to react, you might have some questions or concerns or you might not have an issue and want to let the person know. Maybe you have seen the Shit they say to sex workers video and the Shit they say to strippers video and you don’t want to be a cliché. This post will help guide you through those first few moments after someone tells you they are a sex worker. Take note because you never know when you are talking to a hooker.
First of all, stay calm. If the idea of sex work shocks, excites or upsets you, just relax. Don’t say something dumb in the heat of the moment. Give yourself a moment to compose yourself and consider this post before you open your mouth. If you are not at all shocked or concerned either way, then feel free to act normally.
Take a moment now to think about every stereo type you can imagine relating to sex workers. Think of the pretty woman, and the bodies in dumpsters on Law and Order, of high-class call girls, and desperate drug dependant street workers, about sex slaves, pimps and dangerous clients about sex workers childhoods, their reasons for working, their lifestyle. Every stereotypical image you can think of and then some.
I want you to understand that every single time we tell someone that we are a sex worker, we do so knowing the person we tell may have one or all of these assumptions about sex workers. When we tell someone we are a sex worker we risk having them instantly apply and compare any or all of those stereotypes to us. Imagine how we might feel when we disclose our job to you, or anyone. If its hard for you, it’s hard for us.
Its important that we see that our job doesn’t change anything for you. That you don’t presume anything about us just because we are sex workers. That you don’t judge us. If you want to respond in ways that demonstrate this, here are some hints from my personal perspective:
1. Just because I tell you about my job, doesn’t mean I have told everyone else. Please don’t parade me around the party expecting me to play the role of happy hooker for the amusement of all your friends.
2. Our job is not inherently violent, it is not an accepted part of our job, and many of us work our entire careers without experiencing workplace violence. Some of us have experienced violence at work, but it’s polite to wait for appropriate safe and supportive spaces before bringing up sensitive past events. What I’m trying to say is when I tell you I am a sex worker, don’t let the first or second or even third question be ‘so, how often do you get hit’.
3. Sex work doesn’t always include penis and vagina penetration. Sex work can be anythingand everything related to sex. Massage with a happy ending, stripping, bondage and discipline services or any number of things. Dont presume you know about the service I provide unless I tell you.
4. Don’t presume anything about my sexuality, my sexual boundaries, my sex drive or my sexual preferences. The sex I do for work is work and is not necessarily related to the sex I do for pleasure. Me being a sex worker doesn’t preclude me from also being in a monogamous relationship, or being celibate, or dating, or being fussy, or being promiscuous or being gay, or being sexually adventurous or being shy in the bedroom. All on my own terms. And just because I sell sex at work, doesn’t mean I’m always working or that I will sell it outside of work, and it doesn’t mean I’ll fuck you. But it doesn’t mean I wont either.
5. No it’s not OK to ask me if I was abused as a child, If my dad loved me, if I have any self-esteem, or what I spend my money on. All I did is tell what job I do, not ask for a psychological/financial assessment. My relationship with my parents is hardly relevant, I can bore you with my childhood stories some other time when we all start talking about childhood and daddy issues. My bills and finances are none of your business and my personal stuff is my personal stuff. Right now I’m trying to tell you about my job, and I am judging your reaction. These questions show me you are looking for reasons and needing an explanation or excuse. Your questions may seem innocent and harmless but have a look at your assumptions behind them or at the least remember the stereotypes that i deal with and understand how it makes me feel when you respond to my disclosure with questions like that.
6. If you have known other sex workers, feel free to tell me about it, particularly if you hold those sex workers in high regard. I don’t need to hear about your ex who was a hooker who you hate or about some hooker you saw in a movie who was hot. Dont bunch us together or pretend you know anything about me just because you once knew a hooker. If you are telling me about another sex worker you know, make sure its because it is ether relevant to the conversation in some other way or because you are trying to reassure me that my job is no issue and I am welcome in your group. But don’t break someone’s confidentiality. Dont point out the other hooker at the party or tell me that Dave’s girlfriend is a stripper. That’s not cool and you just made me wish I never told you.
7. Dont feel sorry for me, ask me about other jobs I could be doing, ask me what my goals are in life, offer to help me with a resume or lecture me about my future. If I need help in career planning or employment pathways I will ask. If, by the way, I do want to consider other options outside the sex industry, dont presume it’s because I hate the sex industry and am ready to repent.
8. Dont tell me if you think its hot that I’m a hooker or I’ll charge you by the hour. Its my job, I’m not at work. If you were talking to me as a hooker, you’d be paying me by the hour. In my personal life I like people who like me even when I’m not a hooker.
9. Dont compare me to other sex workers, either positively or negatively. You don’t make me feel good by telling me I’m smarter than other hookers, or that at least I don’t work off the street. You might think you are giving me a compliment, but it’s very backhanded. Not to mention, what if I do work from the street, or have worked from the street. Your judgements are showing again.
10. Dont ask me about the intricacies of my work unless its necessary or I give you permission to ask. It’s like a doctor doesn’t want to start looking at everyone’s skin irritations and swollen glands when they are at a BBQ. Also when you ask me if my clients are gross or dirty, or if I kiss, or how often I get tested, or how many clients i fuck in a shift, I know your making those judgements about me. Why else do you want to know about the attractiveness of my clients or how many of them I have sex with? You’re being grossed out and it’s offensive.
11. Dont tell me you couldn’t do it. Yes you could, you just choose not too. I’m not superhuman, I wasnt born with a whore gene. I find it insulting when someone thinks there is something inherently different about me. I would rather not work as a plumber cleaning shitty sewage pipes, but I COULD do it. Obviously.
Now, obviously there will be times when some of these questions feel relevent to you. For example if you are in a sexual monogamous relationship with someone, their sexual practices at work, especially their safe sex practices, may be important to you. I am not saying you have no rights to ask those questions, I am saying it’s probably not a good time to ask those questions at the time of disclosure. I am suggesting that you listen, trust, show your non judgement first. Then at a different time when you have had time to consider what you really need to know and for what reasons you can have that conversation. Be clear though, that your insecurities or concerns or lack of awareness are usually your issues. We may be willing to help you work through them, but it’s important you own it.
If you want to ensure that people feel comfortable and safe enough around you to disclose their sex work status, or share stories or information about their work, there are some things you can do to help make that more possible.
1. When you hear stories about sex workers anywhere ever, speak up! Show your support. You never know who around you might do or might have done sex work. Maybe it’s them telling you the story, testing the waters, checking your reaction before telling you about their own sex work.
2. When someone discloses let them know that you are cool about their job and then follow their lead. How you do this will depend on your relationship if you just met someone at a party “ok, cool, im a teacher/nurse/student/etc” should do the trick. If its your partner “ok, thanks for telling me, i love you/ I really like you/ I support you/etc” and then let them make the next move. If you don’t get all your questions answered right then and there, it’s ok. By providing a safe space you are increasing the likelihood of getting the information you want.
3. Try saying something positive. Like “it’s great you have a job that fits around your studying/parenting/other interests or responsibilities” and just see what they say. You are all of a sudden giving us permission to talk about our job both the positive and the negative. You have shown us in one sentence that you hold no judgements. In fact I really really recommend you try saying this to someone when they tell you they are a sex worker. Let me know how it goes.
Of course all of this only applies to those that have any desire to have the person in their life in any capacity in the future and for those who want the person disclosing to feel safe in their presence and those who wish to behave appropriately and respectfully. You may have some concerns or some feelings about the issue and that is ok, you may even be unsure about your feelings. But there is plenty of time to work through any whorephobia you may have lurking later. If you are willing.
However if you have a big problem with sex work or sex workers and you have a severe reaction to the disclosure it might be best if you quietly leave the room without making a scene. Try to say as little as possible so as to not incriminate yourself any further. I just told you what my job is, not that I’m about to murder someone. I don’t need to explain myself. I don’t need your permission. I don’t need your judgement. I have heard it all before and I was expecting this. If you stick around and show me how you really feel either purposefully or inadvertently, I will react in one of two ways 1. I’ll answer your questions say what you need to hear, respond in the ways i need to get your approval and make it stop or I’ll defend myself, stand my ground, put you in your place. And you don’t want to be put in your place by an angry hooker. for real.
After all of this, if your still looking for something to say let me suggest “can I get you a drink?”