When I entered the world of sex work almost three years ago, I had been fired from yet another waitressing job for reasons related to my drinking. A friend invited me to do a play that was for and by sex workers to benefit the Sex Workers Project, which “provides client-centered legal and social services to individuals who engage in sex work.”
It paid, so I said yes.
I loved the fast pace, changing clientele, and quick money of waiting tables. Booze and drugs were always present. Most of my jobs allowed us to drink on the job; just not the way I drank on the job. The last job I waitressed I would be sober for a few weeks or months, then a particularly difficult customer would lead me to drinking half-empty wine glasses as I carried them to the dish pit. I was fired because, as the nursery rhyme goes: When she was good, she was very, very good. But when she was bad, she was horrid.
I went to rehearsals for the play and met the other women. Mostly they were artists with the time to pursue it, in grad school with the money to pay for it, and one had just purchased a home in Detroit. They were free to sit in a park and discuss Mae West at 2 p.m. on a Tuesday. Society had led me to believe that sex work of any kind would steal my soul in some way, would take something from me I could never get back, and would only hurt my struggle for sobriety. That is a lie.
I always thought I would be an excellent sex worker — it’s a job women are trained for from adolescence: sexy emotional laborer. These skills may be especially honed in women who struggle with addiction and alcoholism. As a tech in my first rehab reflected, “Women stay out longer. They have the golden box.”
The women I met doing the play encouraged me and taught me everything they knew as I worked towards my goal of gathering the courage to try it out. Then later, they allowed me to text them every time I went to meet a client with his name and my location as I developed my sense for red flags. It’s a mentorship program, there is no other way.
I learned quickly that if I did coke with a client I was screwed. It was impossible to maintain boundaries, or my mind. Each time I did this, not only was there a scarily unlimited amount of drugs, but at some point the client would stop paying me for my time. Those were the only sessions I ever had that made me feel what society says sex work should make you feel: incomprehensible demoralization.
And there were many times in those early days when a client offered me a drink and I took it, hoping to seem normal. And then I went home and drank. Within a few months I realized I couldn’t drink or use around these men. When I was using, I didn’t require verification, I couldn’t maintain boundaries, and I couldn’t retain control of the situation. One of my mentors told me if I went on like this I would die or get arrested. I stopped everything but weed, and then I stopped everything.
Life got better. And then I experienced all the benefits to recovery sex work can offer.
I had more money, and a lot of that panic was gone. I could clothe myself properly, I knew my rent would be paid, I was able to travel. Drugs and drink are a poor man’s vacation. I had the time to meditate, to go to lots of meetings, to join a yoga studio, to read and study anything I wanted that I thought could help.
And it was empowering — the idea that someone would pay to be around me when I had spent my life feeling worthless changed my self-perception forever.
Eventually I saw how even weed had clouded my judgement in sex work and thus in life. I went to see a client I had previously seen several times stoned. He was a huge pain in the ass — always sending the Uber to the wrong location, ordering “food” that was just a pile of sodas when I was starving, never having the money right, forgetting his ATM password. It took me to show up completely clear-minded to realize that he was provoking me so that I would yell at him. On yet another walk to the ATM, he asked, “Why do you still have to go to so many AA classes?” I didn’t even remember telling him that, but people babble when they’re high. I asked him not to mention it again, and that they weren’t classes.
“I knew it! You hate me!” He shouted into the Brooklyn night. He pulled all the same stunts he always did that night, but this time, I didn’t want to deal with it. The beauty of escorting is that it isn’t prostitution. I am paid for my time only, and legally, I never have to sleep with anyone unless I want to. And that night I did not want to. I grabbed my things and made for the door after he said something gross about having the funds to keep me there for several days. “Your AA classes aren’t going to make you a better person!” He shouted at my retreating form.
Wrong again, Jack…
Find out just how wrong he was and more about how the author’s sobriety benefited from sex work in the original article Sex Work Made Recovery Possible for Me at The Fix.