Cate is something of a renaissance sex worker; she’s currently employed as a pro-domme at a fetish house but has held numerous interesting jobs in the adult industry. Each week, she shares her stories in Harlotry.
Being both a writer and a sex worker is hard.
It’s not a question of time, nor is it a question of money; it’s really a question of discretion. My work requires so much secrecy. I keep secrets for my safety, for my co-workers’ safety, and for the protection of the men who pay us. I don’t write under my real name because I don’t want to incur the wrath of the law. I can never be entirely truthful because so much of what I do is at least legally dubious, if not downright illegal. Saying too much could absolutely ruin my co-workers, my clients, and even myself.
I wish this wasn’t true. Telling true stories of the ho life to a wide audience and showing that sex workers are not the flamingos stock photos portray us as, but are actually real people who stand on two legs and have normal lives is one of the things that will gradually bring us greater acceptance. Being unable to speak openly and freely does no favors for us.
As a sex worker, I am constantly forced to lie. I tell little lies to clients about how busy I am (there are no slow days for me, every day is jam-packed with sessions) how I have made my passion my profession (I totally get off on what I do, always and no matter how unpleasant the client is. Payment is just a formality) and big lies to people like my boyfriend’s family (I write a sex column for a women’s website, nothing they’d be interested in, their son/brother/nephew isn’t dating a whore).
Even here, where I am so naked, I tell lies. I change names and dates and little details. I change just enough in the story of my arrest that my writing can’t be traced back to me, so clients won’t stumble on it by accident and find out why we were closed for a few days, and competitors won’t find a reason to diss us to the sexual service-buying men of my city, “Oh, Dolorous Delights? Yeah, that place just got raided; it’s burned down. Come here instead.”
I want to tell my clients all about my arrest and ask them to please use their power to help decriminalize my profession, to donate to SWOP, to lobby for me and mine, to run the world the way they ought to run it, but I can’t risk scaring them away by telling them the place got raided and they might be in danger.
All my life my father told me, “money is power” but now, when I’m making more money than I ever have before, I have just as much power as I did when I was a child. The fact that I am so impotent and unable to act even through the men who give me my money and my supposed power is deeply, deeply frustrating. The only money that holds any kind of power is legally obtained money. Whore money, unless you have more of it than I do, brings you nothing but infuriatingly helpless rage. Sure, I can buy pretty much whatever I want, but who cares about that when you can’t speak openly about what you do? Nice things are not the same as freedom.
It is terrible to write nonfiction and have to fictionalize it, not just for my own safety, but also for that of my co-hookers. It’s also terrible that while I have to worry about my safety and that of my co-hookers, the worst thing that could happen to my clients is public mocking and possibly a loss of position. The worst that could happen to us is that, with enough arrests, we could spend time in jail and possibly even be put on a list of registered sex offenders, and there is nothing at all we can do about it. We all have money–I’m not even the top earner at my dungeon–but none of us have much power, and what little power we do have is decreased and diluted by the fact that we all are forced to lie through our teeth, not just to clients who want to hear about a fantasy girl rather than a real one, but to most of the people we encounter on a regular basis. Even I lie or remain silent when I don’t want to, and I have no problem telling pretty much anyone who asks what I do for a living.
I don’t like lying and I’m not good at it. The little dishonesties eat at me. I’d prefer to tell the truth and weather the abuse of people who refuse to understand my profession than lie and say, “Oh, I’m an administrative consultant,” or “Yes, I’m a sex therapist specializing in paraphilia,” or even, “Oh yes, I write a sexuality column for a ladyblog.” I want to tell everyone who asks what I do that I’m a whore, not for the cool points or shock value, but so they might gradually see that it’s a job like any other, that’s it’s okay to say “Oh, I’m a sex worker” when people ask, “So, what do you do?” at nice parties.
Lying, even about little things, like names of locations or other details, feels like a betrayal. I am not what I do, but what I do has had such a profound effect on who I am that to deny it and pretend it doesn’t exist is like denying not only a part of myself, but also denying my people. I want to tell everything exactly how it is, but I can’t. I want to talk in detail about each and every one of the women I work with; Daphne is this way and I love her for these reasons, Stephanie is this way and I love her for these other reasons, Angela is that way and I love her for her reasons, Sadie is another way and this is why I love her, this is why Severine is wonderful and this is why I love her, Maria is great because of this, this, and this, here is why I admire Cecilia as much as I admire my own mother. I want to show people that they aren’t just fantasy creatures, but I can’t say any of that, because it would involve too much reality and anyone who knew would be able to figure out exactly where I work, what house was raided, and who I am.
The dubious legality of our work makes it impossible to ever portray ourselves entirely as real people, as long as we are criminals we will always be girl-shaped specters lurking in the shadows and telling true stories obscured with lies, exaggerations, and understatements.
As long as we’re outlaws we can’t ever be completely human, and that offends every one of my somewhat twisted sensibilities.