Over the years, I have written extensively about my own experience as a sex worker. I worked in the sex industry throughout my time as a heroin addict, but quit around the same time I got sober. I was initially drawn to the idea of sex work because I could not bear the thought of poverty. Also, having been an unfortunately frumpy teenager, the idea of men actually paying to look at me was intoxicating and addictive. Even though I have entertained the idea of going back to that line of work (especially when I’ve struggled financially) I reached a point where I felt like I could no longer, in good conscience, do so. A large part of this is because I have a daughter.
My dear friend, Violet, has made a different choice. She chose to return to the sex industry after getting sober to improve her child’s life. Violet and I met when we were 16 at the Perpich Center for Arts Education in Golden Valley, MN. We lived together on and off throughout our early 20s, and have remained friends for almost 15 years. I decided that WHOLE BEAST RAG would be the perfect vehicle to share her story.
GC | When did you start working in the sex industry?
Violet | I was 19 years old when I had my first experience with sex work, with trading one's body for money. I think the motives I had for doing so were fairly atypical—I wasn't yet involved with hard drugs, had a job and a comfortable place to live. What happened was this: I had already been contemplating sex work for a few months before I did what I did. I had been waitressing for about a year at that point, and hated it. I had a strong hunch that I would find sex work to be about equally degrading as serving, but for far more money and far less work. I was determined to see if I could psychologically handle it.
The catalyst came when a close friend of mine asked me to go on a road trip to California with her—having grown up in Minnesota and done almost no traveling, I had always been desperate to see the ocean, and after searching out my options in the back pages of the City Pages (this was before most of these things were arranged via the internet), I found a man who claimed to work for an East Coast porn company who offered me $400 to make a porno. I had no idea if that was a fair price or not but I figured it would be enough to get to the Pacific and back.
The actual experience of having sex on camera for money was fairly uneventful for me at the time—I was numb to it somehow, which led me to believe that I could in fact handle this sort of thing. Which I was wrong about. What was upsetting even at the time was that, being a naïve teenager with no experience, I didn't ask for the money first; it was sitting on a chair in the apartment where this took place, but not actually in my possession. When the time came for me to leave he handed me half of it and an explanation that because he hadn't been able to get a cum shot, he didn't owe me the full amount. The reason he had not been able to was that he couldn't control himself and came early, but that, he said, was irrelevant-he suggested that I come back the next day to earn the rest of my money, which I at least had the sense not to do.
So while I did feel upset about being, essentially, robbed, the actual sexual experience left little impression on me at the time. I have looked back on it over and over in the years since, and wondered what it says about who I am—like I said, I didn't have the excuse of a drug problem or of a child to provide for. I have wondered often if it started me on some sort of self-fulfilling prophecy.
GC | Do you currently work in the sex industry?
Violet | I can, I do. I spend the vast majority of my time taking care of my child and constantly bouncing between basking in our freedom and rejoicing in the fact that I have been able to put a roof over his head, and panicking over where the next dollar will come from.
GC | When you can, what do you do?
Violet | I am employed at a strip club, though I very rarely am able to get in to work. I have however been involved in two very strange "arrangements" in the recent past—one that involved being brutalized and degraded beyond my wildest nightmares, and receiving almost no money for it, and one that involved a very lonely old man paying me outrageous sums of money just to eat dinner with him and hold hands. Two very different ends of the same spectrum.
GC | How has your experience as a sex worker influenced your experience as a mother; as a sexual being; as a woman?
Violet | experience as a mother has been greatly improved as a result of sex work I have done—if I hadn't been able to find that work, my child would not have a home. Sex work has enabled me to buy formula and diapers and pay rent that I literally would not have had the ability to do otherwise. I feel empowered that I have been able to pull us out of complete destitution, regardless of how I had to do so. I would do absolutely anything for my child—it is a stereotype that women involved in sex work do so to feed their children, to provide a life for their children, but I have found that a pretty large majority of the women I've met personally do what they do for precisely that reason.
As a sexual being, it is hard to quantify; after my last long-term relationship ended, I realized the extent to which I allow my sexuality to be determined by my partner. How much of that has to do with the fact that that is exactly what sex work requires and how much has to do with the low self-esteem I've always had, how much has to do with my socialization as a woman in America, how much it has to do with sexual trauma—that is hard to say.
As a woman, I feel that I am incredibly negatively judged by both men and women. I feel that with the vast majority of people, as soon as they hear about any of my experiences selling myself, in any situation, for any reason, they basically judge me to be a non-person, worthless, trashy.
GC | How has your experience as a sex worker affected your relationship with men; with women?
Violet | With men it is complicated, and like I explained previously, I honestly am not really sure myself how much of my damaged sexuality can be ascribed to any specific thing. With women, it has made me intensely aware of the social hierarchy women create amongst themselves. There must always be someone lower.
GC | What advice would you give to any women considering entering the sex industry?
Violet | Not to give any non-essential information about yourself to anyone, client or co-worker, male or female. Ever. To do everything possible to be safe. To guard your heart--if there is no one else, be the only person in the world not to judge yourself.