Why is sex work not a legitimate career option?
I didn’t grow up wanting to be a sex worker. The first thing I wanted to be was a geologist because I liked collecting pretty rocks until I was rudely informed that this was not what geologists d0. I traded my shiny rocks for dusty ones and decided I was to be an archaeologist – uncovering ancient treasures like Indiana Jones! My brothers teased me and discouraged me: ‘everything that needs to be discovered already has been!’ They were wrong but I was too young to know any better.
I’d been writing for as long as I can remember, and I would see the stories I concocted in vivid detail – if only I could share what I was seeing with everyone else! I thought I could be a writer and the school psychologist organised a scholarship to transfer me to an art school. My mother refused, on grounds that taking public transport alone to get to a new school put me in danger of rape or kidnapping. I was to stay close to home instead.
That didn’t discourage me; my goals expanded instead. I wanted to be a director of film. I’d make AMV’s with Windows with my favourite video games and songs – all I needed was to learn how to do things professional and I’d be set. In year 10 my school decided I was to take on an VCE elective for extra-curriculum to keep me busy. I was ahead of everyone in class and, in my boredom, turned rude, troublesome and unruly.
There weren’t many options. In fact, my school didn’t have enough students for a wide curriculum, which severely limited a student’s ability to obtain higher education (since some degrees require pre-requisite classes). Aligned with my goals, I chose multi-media class, thinking this would be a good fit for me. But a teacher pulled me aside and discouraged me. He warned me I would get nothing from this class and I was better suited to study law (probably because all I did was argue about how shit everything was). He was one of the few teachers I liked, so I agreed, and I went on to get the highest grades as the youngest student.
Once that was over, it came crunch time. What did I want to be? I had to apply for courses in university. I still wanted to be a film director, but I felt inadequate. Many more kids could navigate the arts with such precision, I felt inferior and as though that boat passed. But I was good at law? While I didn’t get the grades to enter the course I applied for – my teacher sent in a letter explaining my mitigating circumstances and I was accepted with a scholarship.
University life was drastically different from the life I knew. I went from the smartest kid in class to the stupidest. I didn’t talk the same as everyone else – I had a wog accent and I said words wrong, things like: ‘hey youse guys!’ Everyone else was supported by their families, I was supporting mine. I went into sex work, put my legal name on paper to obtain my SWA, while I investigated what other career options would be available to me in a few years’ time.
I found the one: the career I wanted. I was to work in government as a federal agent. I needed something to match my intellect – I was a good problem solver – there was enough action to keep me occupied, I had no doubt I was able. Then, like always, I was informed that this wouldn’t be possible.
‘Because you’ve worked as a sex worker.’
‘So? I worked legally to support myself.’
‘Exactly. It’ll come up in the background check.’
‘But there’s nothing wrong with being a sex worker, they can’t discriminate me on that basis.’
‘No, they can’t, but they will find another reason to, to cover it up.’
I was infuriated, all this study for a job that’s impossible to obtain. Then I was outed by an ex at my civilian job and that traumatised by the event, I vowed never to work for anyone. I’d save myself from being humiliated and treated so badly again.
Which left me with one career… Why couldn’t sex work be my career? Everything else seemed to fail me, no matter how hard I tried. I felt out of options and frustrated – I was ready for a career. I wanted to work hard. I was good at sex work; the people were interesting and it paid well. Isn’t that a good enough reason to start any other career? And if I wanted to learn something, I could just learn it – I had more of a time allowance and funds to do this. A career in sex work would mean all other options are open to me – I was, after all, forever tainted for tipping my toes in the industry. So why not dive. And why not dive well?
I was 20 years old when I chose sex work as my career and I did as well as I always imagined I would in any career. I was the top of my game. A good portion of my earlier years was spent being asked: ‘what are you working for’ or ‘what do you want to do?’ and I would go on about my studies and my goals.
But now? I hate being asked that question. Why isn’t being a sex worker good enough? I have everything that I need – my job is literally to create, and indulge, in pleasure. And I understand, sex work is often a steppingstone or a bolster for people’s other goals and careers, and the industry is risky to your wellbeing. By wellbeing I mean stigma and discrimination. This can boggle your sense of identity and cause trouble in the mind, but after 10 years, I think I’ve overcome all the internalised stigma. I’m okay with who, or what, I am.
I’ve had friends who wanted to enter the industry and I’ve forbidden them – not because I think the work is unsafe or they can’t do it – but because of the real-life ripple effects to your careers or studies, relationships, life prospects and mental health (from stigma). I don’t want anyone put out the way I was – not for a stint and an injection of cash. It’s just not worth it unless you must. The risk outweighs the benefits.
But it’s silly to assume workers don’t know the risk or aren’t willing to work with them. And assuming most sex workers are at peace (as much as possible) with the stigma that comes with the job, why shouldn’t they have a career in sex work? Why can’t they make pleasure their playground? Why can’t they make a sustainable business and brand that could carry them to the end of their days? There’s just not a logical explanation as to why they can’t, if that’s what they want, and so the real question becomes: why can’t we accept sex work as a legitimate career? I’ve yet to hear a proper explanation.