My (Sex Work) Story: One Step on My Journey to Bi Queer Gender Fluidity
Never Alone Stories
Em (she/they) is a professional and an artist, who is learning about and navigating their bi queer gender fluidity.
They always have a number of creative and academic projects on the go, and always try to give their all to and support those in their community.
This is her story of a recent journey into sex work.
Show me the asshole whose mid-twenties are not a complete and total mess. Potent, frenetic, plucky, quotable, and vibrant, yes, maybe, but an undeniable mess.
I was twenty-five or twenty-six; I was coming off of a catastrophic burn-out that warranted a multi-month medical leave and a career shift.
My partner and I had opened up our relationship, and I had begun to date (at this time, I was not out and so was still only seeing cismen). And I decided, to supplement my new, lower-income, to just try out full-service sex work.
My feminism had developed to a point where I was finally able to slough off third-wave feminist opinions of sex work.
i.e. the SWERF belief that sex workers play into and further oppressive patriarchal misogynist agendas, which is bullshit
And the idea of trying it out was exhilarating and affirming. A couple of friends and acquaintances of mine were sex workers. I started with some respectful consultation and research on what to expect, how to begin, etiquette, and safety practices.
I applied to an agency with a friend, and we were hired.
Photoshoot, bio, fake name, and I was live. Lucienne had arrived.
Disclaimer and addendum: I was and am a white, femme-presenting, able-bodied, broke, but financially secure settler. Living and working with no dependents on stolen and unceded ancestral territories of the Musqueam, Tsleil Wateuth, and Coast Salish Peoples.
This means that my sex-work experience is inherently privileged and had a much stronger likelihood of safety and success. My sex work practice was indoors. I worked for an agency, so the clients were vetted and consistent, and my whereabouts were monitored.
I would not become unhomed/homeless if I weren’t able to do sex work. My sexuality and body had not been racialized and rendered as exploitable and disposable by centuries of anti-Black, anti-Indigenous, anti-immigrant state policy and culture.
This is a crucial understanding when receiving my story.
Long story short: sex work was just fine. It was a job. There were parts of it I excelled at, areas I needed to improve, aspects I deeply enjoyed, and things that I disliked. I made myself available a couple of times a week, and I also explored sugar daddies through Seeking Arrangements on the side under the name Remi (I still am in contact with one today, and would be seeing him if not for COVID-19!).
I never felt in danger, I did have to navigate toxic masculinity and misogynist behaviours. I also had, and facilitated, extremely caring and even healing sexual experiences. I made enough money to buoy my finances, pay for laser eye surgery in cash, and fund a really beautiful trip with my partner for his birthday.
Overall, I was on fire, working, creating art (did I mention I have an active art practice?), exercising (sometimes twice a day), dating, fucking, loving, laughing, living.
The issues started when I realized I wanted to cut my hair and that I may be queer. In that order.
Polyamory gave me room to question my heteronormativity, which gave way to challenging my gender identity and presentation.
I came to understand that
- I was not straight, by a longshot
- I was no longer comfortable with stereotypical or traditional cishetero presentation and labels.
I had been itching to chop off my shoulder-blade length hair anyway, so I tried shortening it to a chin-length bob to butch myself up a little. This was satisfying, but only for a bit. My agency told me that I couldn’t cut my hair any shorter else I disappoint and dissuade clients. I began to resent the feminine, frilly, lingerie I had invested in.
I struggled to navigate and negotiate between my expanded and less feminine gender identity and my heteronormative hyper-femme place of work.
I felt compromised, closeted, reactive. In hindsight, I did not have the language, tools, or community to challenge the sex work parameters I was engaged in.
With more awareness of LGBTQQIA2S+ drag things, sex workers and community, I may have had the knowledge, empowerment, and courage to strike out on my own as a bisexual, gender fluid sex worker. I could have sported a shaved head and neon and holographic PVC femme masc outfits, never wore heels or shaved my armpits and legs… Whoever came to me would come for me.
Obviously, this is not how it went.
A combination of gender dysphoria, polyamorous dating, an increased workload at my day job on top of sex work, a couple of fine art shows, etc., triggered a resurgence of severe burn-out symptoms.
My mental and physical health declined, and after a little over a year in the biz, I quit sex work.
It was so… formative. It had become part of me. And I worried, did it make me interesting?
Was I leaving something I was actually really good at?
Was I pissed that I, once again, couldn’t do it all?
Would I have to accept that I have limits?
I keep losing things, and I keep changing and making changes… so, who the fuck am I now?
Do I even like or respect this person?
Hence, a timely and due mourning period, grieving my Self, mental health, work ethic, and capacity, led to a chapter of radical reassessment and healing.
I’m happy and relieved to say that this gave way to a genuinely bright (if cautious) life with a decent amount of upward and outward momentum.
Since my mid-twenties, I have shaved my head, played with and regrown my hair, done a lot of therapy, come out publicly as a bi queer gender fluid person, acknowledged that I have an anxiety disorder and OCD and went on an SSRI (with success), developed a loving polycule, started a Masters of Education program, and held down my day job, among other things.
I am now 30. And I still miss sex work. I feel little regrets.
If I had discovered myself and come out earlier, would I have created and maintained a queered sex work practice?
If I had better-understood self-care and wellness, would I have been able to organize my priorities, so that sex work felt possible?
If, if, if… ultimately, everything unfolded as it did, and everything is fine. I am profoundly and systematically lucky. I still navigate a poignant and deep frustration that I cannot do and be everything that I find compelling.
I can only maximize my Self and endeavours and life to a point. Every container has a threshold, even if flexible and semi-permeable. I’m accepting this and trying to help others recognize and do the same.
One of the morals of the story is that sex work is or can be an occupation like any other.
It can flow into your life and right back out of it, as so many jobs, hobbies, practices, interests do. It can do damage. It can be stimulating and satisfying; you can desire it, roll your eyes at it, dream about it.
Another moral is, you genuinely cannot do it all. You have to pick and choose priorities and trust me, something is always dropped, and sometimes it’s your basket (Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, anyone?).
A third is that queering any experience, profession, structure, approach, or consideration is a worthwhile exercise that often yields vulnerability and authenticity. And maybe the last one is that it is never, ever too late to come into yourself and bloom — you’re on time, and you are glorious.
I am day-glo gender fucked sex worker royalty named Salt Lick, BL@SSphemy, or Meat Cute in an alternate dimension...
In this one, I am me, this, Em, Pem, Remi, Lucienne, boy-sister, dough girl, artist, scholar, leader, friend, lover, queer, and whoever I am and whatever I am doing is enough.