‘I told my date I’m a sex worker’
A FEW years ago, I was sitting in the dressing room of the brothel I worked in at the time.
The busy Friday night shift had begun in earnest, and those workers who weren't already out meeting potential clients were rushing to apply the final touches to their hair and make-up. Next to me, an older worker was relaying her recent experience in the family court. Her ex-husband had, somehow, found out that she had started doing sex work after their separation and was attempting to use her job as evidence that she was an unfit mother to their children.
"That's why you never tell anyone that you do this," she said, her mirror reflection turning to me and meeting my eyes.
"Make your money, work hard, do whatever you need to do, but never make the mistake of telling your friends or your husband or your boyfriend or whoever."
She applied a final streak of liquid eyeliner along the top of her lashes.
"Never tell anyone," she said, now staring at herself. And then she picked up her purse and joined the rest of the girls in the corridor.
Of course, as you can tell, I did not take that advice. I went on to tell many, many people that I was a sex worker.
When I first started working I told a very small handful of friends about my new occupation, so I could be sure that - for safety reasons - I always had someone who knew where I was working, and when.
Later, I 'came out' to just about everyone I knew, and then started writing about my experiences as a worker with my name and face attached: a move that people still take me aside to tell me was the stupidest thing I could ever have chosen to do.
Even now that I'm 'out' and have been for quite some time, I still have to reintroduce myself as a sex worker - most frequently on dating apps.
For a little while, I had it in my profile description: 'sex worker and writer'; but I began to realise it was attracting the kind of men who saw me as little more than a repository system for photos of their penises.
After realising I was seeing more strangers' genitalia than the average urologist, I edited my profile so that it didn't mention work at all, but then found myself having to have 'the conversation' over and over again: the conversation in which a man tells me about his job and then I tell him about mine and he either unmatches me immediately, calls me an assortment of names that I can't print here until I have to block him or assumes that I'm some kind of desperate nymphomaniac sex robot who's turned to online dating so she can help men live out the kinkiest fantasies that they can possibly imagine.
None of these outcomes are, of course, desirable. But it's still a conversation that I have to have before I meet any date in person. I've heard too many horror stories of fellow workers revealing their job to a partner only to be met with anger, abuse, or worse. It might be a frustrating waste of time to explain my work over and over again in messages on a dating app, but it's better than getting all dolled up to meet a date in person and then either sitting through an endless barrage of intrusive and offensive questions over dinner, or simply having them evacuate the dancefloor in disgust before the entrée even arrives.
Sometimes, when I'm having a day in which I feel particularly down, vulnerable, or raw, I do wish that I had never attached my name or face to sex work. It certainly would have made life a lot simpler and my social media would be much more pleasant to scroll through, knowing that fewer people would be driven to call me a wh*re or a sl*t on any given day and emails from strangers would be far less likely to include photos of disembodied penises than they are now.
I could put whatever I want in my dating app profile and rest assured that it would be no more remarkable than anyone else's job and I could confidently say that I'd be having a lot more successful dates than I am currently.
But if I never wrote about sex work, then I'd be missing out on doing something that I really love: processing my thoughts and experiences by writing about them in the hopes that others can relate and maybe even benefit. If I did that without attaching my name or my face, I'd feel like I wasn't being honest with myself, or with other people; and being dishonest with people - especially the people you care about - is not a feeling that I ever want to have again.
Even if I could somehow go back all those years and begin a career in human resources or accounting instead of sex work, I wouldn't. Sex work made me who I am today, and changed me for the better. Every good quality I have has been either forged or refined by doing sex work: the late nights and busy shifts, rushing from room to room with armfuls of towels and purses packed with condoms of all different sizes; the dressing room conversations packed with manic energy and florid dissections of brothel politics with the other workers; the money that remains frustratingly unpredictable but the stilettos that pinch and rub in exactly the same spot, night after night.
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Maybe there is no right time, or right way, to come out to a date about being a sex worker: I'm already out, and this is already who I am. Perhaps I just have to wait, and be patient,
to find someone who is at the right time and place in their life to accept me.
- Kate Iselin is a writer and sex worker. Continue the conversation on Twitter @kateiselin