Image of $100 bills strewn with handcuffsThere’s a common assumption that all sex workers are very rich or very poor. You hear about poor, put-upon street workers or ballin’ out of control escorts and dominatrices. Neither of these is the norm, in my experience. Most of us are comfortably middle class.

Granted, we do achieve that coveted dying privilege earlier in life than many of our peers, but it doesn’t change the fact that we mostly live pretty normal lives. The thing that sex work does give us, though, is great money management skills. The thing about sex work is that one week you can take home multiple thousands of dollars, but the next week you can make nothing at all.

This means a few things.
Firstly, it means you have to grow some budgeting and self-control skills. You can’t go out and buy a pair of Louboutins or a fur coat or whatever on a week you made three grand, because who knows what the hell you’ll be making the next week. You have to save, for taxes, rainy days, and dry spells. It may be tempting to look at all the zeros in your bank account and decide you can afford to splurge on something ridiculous, but it isn’t a good idea to make a habit of it because you don’t know when you’re going to need those zeros to survive.

Secondly, and most importantly, it means that one absolutely can not tie earnings to self worth or self perception.

(Photo: Shutterstock)

It’s an easy trap to fall into, “Holy shit I can make this much money by just putting a guy over my lap and spanking him?” “Hot damn, I can make this much by lying on my back with my legs in the air? I’m the greatest!”

These things are true, to an extent. Yeah, it’s pretty cool to be able to make money off things most people do for free (or are too grossed out to even entertain) but you can’t let it dictate your worth. In sex work, you are objectifying and commoditizing yourself. You are a product, and your job is to sell that product. This is true for most sales jobs, and almost all client-centered jobs, it’s just slightly more intimate in sex work.

This gets complicated, though, at least for women, as so much of our social worth is already tied to our sexuality and sexual desirability. When our material, monetary worth, and even our basic survival also becomes attached to that desirability, it becomes very easy to slide from highs of “Look at all the people who want me so badly that they are willing to pay really stupidly large amounts of money to do stuff with me!” to brutal lows of “I’m fat and ugly and no-one wants me. I may as well just head over to Cermak and Kedzie and suck dick for two dollars or a crack rock.” This may just be because I have my own personal issues with body image and mood swings, but I’m pretty sure I’m not the only girl who experiences this.

It’s difficult to strike a happy medium between understanding that the product of you has a monetary value and separating your actual self from your self-as-a-product. We’re all selling ourselves, but in sex work you are renting access to your sexuality, your body, your sense of humor, the way you laugh, lots of very personal things. Although I’m a fetish worker and not an escort, I still have to offer a girlfriend experience to some extent. I have to make my clients feel loved, cared for, and respected for the duration of the time I spend with them. That requires giving them small pieces of myself to hold onto, but the self I give them is my self-as-a-product, not my true self. This doesn’t mean their experience is less genuine, or that Mistress Charlotte is so very removed from me, Cate, it just means that I am constantly choosing how much to give and how much to hold back for myself.

It’s necessary to treat money the same way, and because of this, my sense of self and my ability to make money can become tangled and confusing. When I do well, I’m happy and feel good about myself, when I do poorly I beat myself up and assume there’s something wrong with me. It’s unhealthy, but I do it anyway, telling myself over and over that my behavior is unhealthy.

I’m not completely sure how much of this comes from my own neuroses, and how much of it comes from some socially enforced belief that my sexuality is the be-all and end-all of my worth, a belief that I know, in my heart of hearts, to be completely false, but that still manages to worm its way into my head every so often.

I’d mentioned last week that I have not been happy, and that when I am most depressed, I try to lose myself in my work as much as possible. The problem is that lately there has not usually been enough work to truly lose myself in. As the days get colder and darker, men retreat into their families. I know this, my industry, like any industry, has an ebb and flow and the winter is the slow, dark time, but it doesn’t change the tone of my self-doubt very much.

It would be cool to be able to throw aside socially constructed ideas of what makes me a worthwhile human. It would be cool to not even think about this stuff, but I grew up, like every young American girl did, surrounded by messages that told me to be sexy, but not too sexy and smart, but not intimidatingly smart (because intimidation isn’t sexy) before I ever chose a profession that capitalizes on my sexiness. They’re in my brain, probably forever, and the best I can do is keep dissecting my feelings and figuring out where they come from so they don’t grow out of control.