GUEST POST: I was a beneficiary for three years before I became a sex worker. It was a hard decision but not one I regret.
Note from Sarah: This is the first in a series of guest posts I will be publishing from different people over the next few weeks. The following words are completely their own, although I helped as editor. The comments section is closed to protect myself and the author. Please respect the author if you are responding in other forums.
Trigger warning: This post contains frank discussion of sex work.
I was a beneficiary for three years before I became a sex worker. It was a hard decision but not one I regret.
The government gave me just enough to pay rent and buy food. Bank fees were beyond my budget. Debt was insurmountable. Being a beneficiary terrified me. National relentlessly shoehorned changes through parliament that seemed to have little rationale beyond making life harder for people like me. I never knew when the rug would be pulled out from under my feet again. I was dependent on a government that made no attempt to hide that it despised me.
Comparatively, being a sex worker makes me feel safe. Put on some lingerie, meet my client, take off my clothes. Get paid. Those rules aren’t about to change.
Extracting how I feel from the way society views my work is an ongoing battle, but I’m happier than I’ve ever been. Even on the worst days, with the worst clients, it’s less degrading and dehumanising than being on a benefit. I provide a service, and even though many people don’t respect that service, I’ll take jokes about “hookers” over public debate on my right to a tolerable lifestyle any day.
I’m privileged to live in New Zealand where the legality of sex work allows it to be regulated. I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to do. I don’t have to do anyone I don’t want to do. I’m also lucky in that I work for an agency, where my boss ensures I’m not sleeping with anyone drunk, high, or aggressive. Not everyone is so lucky, and many parlours have a reputation for not only serving people who are drunk, but getting their girls drunk or high at work. Technically, what they do is illegal, but because of the dubious history and reputation of sex work, nothing changes.
The men I see are a mixed bag, but for the most part, my experiences with them have been pleasant enough. I feel more uncomfortable walking down the street in a short skirt than I do meeting a client in nothing but knickers and high heels.
There are downsides to prostitution. I usually make at least double what I was entitled to from the benefit, but I’m technically a contractor, so some weeks I make nothing. Being an escort is less about sex than sitting around waiting for the phone to ring.
Lying is the worst. I hate keeping my work a secret, especially when it’s something I’m not ashamed of. I lie because I couldn’t bear the look on my parents’ face if they found out.
I love my job though, and that makes up for the rough weeks. The best things about being a sex worker are:
- The money
- The jokes (“Being a prostitute is hard work”; “Back to the old grind tomorrow!”)
- The work stories.
- Flexible work hours. I can’t handle schedules well because of health concerns, which is why I was on a benefit and why a regular job wasn’t feasible for me. If I can’t make it in to work now, my boss will just tell clients I’m unavailable, and I’ll pick up another shift some other time.
I still experience moments where my life seems surreal. Sometimes I look in the mirror, and I don’t know who’s looking back. The work me or the real me? I’m amazed that this is my life now, and I can’t stop wondering what a younger version of myself would think.
I used to believe that sex workers were objectifying themselves and making it easier for men to do the same. Now I understand that a woman’s body is her own. Prostitutes, porn stars, strippers, and other sex workers aren’t perpetuating misogyny. If anything, we’re exploiting a system that’s stacked against us.
If you have something you’d like to share, please see the information on guest posts.