Updated: Mar 16, 2021
Firstly, hello. Well done for making it here, it shows that you care about the people in your life and you're willing to put whatever prejudice you have behind you. That's the first step.
Sex workers have it hard, I mean everybody hates us. You hear it in Family Guy, American Dad, through the mouths of male and female comedians on Netflix Specials. We get it. Stigma affects you too. It's not uncommon for someone to deal with prejudice as a result of being associated with a sex worker, whether it's a family relationship or romantically.
But whatever judgement you are afraid of, trust me when I say it is 100% worse for actual workers. I write this as a woman who has worked in the industry for seven years, as someone who no longer works because the stigma near damn killed me. What do you do when everybody has a problem with the way you make money?
You hide. Sex workers are actors. Both emotionally and physically. We lie in our 'vanilla' lives to family and friends and experience a guilt complex because of that. We lie to our clients, while consistently revealing personal aspects about ourselves (because companionship is a part of the job).
The only place we can truly be ourselves, is around other sex workers. But when stigmatisation internalises, we are isolated. How do we know if someone else is a sex worker when we don't have the confidence to out ourselves?
First and foremost, outing yourself is a privilege. It is likely that you will be more accepted by society if you are a stripper rather than a full-service sex worker, this comes in tiers (it's called the Whorearchy, we can go into this in another post). But no matter what service you engage in, you will experience prejudice.
So, if you can't afford to lose your vanilla job, lose your family and friends - you keep quiet. Never blame a sex worker for keeping it secret. Repeat after me. NEVER BLAME A SEX WORKER FOR KEEPING IT SECRET.
Of course, not all family and friends will be judgmental. And I'm guessing that's why you're here, to learn. Amongst myself and peers we have this saying - "if they react badly it tells you more about them than yourself, and they're clearly not the kind of people you want in your life".
Yet, still - friends have no idea of my past. None. I can scream sexual liberation, and feminism should be sex worker inclusive from the rooftops, but I still can't speak to my friends. I hope that gives you enough of a gauge on the severity of 'outing' yourself.
So how should you react?
1. Don't be shocked. Listen.
2. Don't assume that they are being forced, ask about their safety.
3. Make sure they have meticulous screening strategies and are working on a service
provider appropriate website (stay away from dating websites, always get an address and phone number and check the feedback).
4. Understand why they want to do it, be neutral and open.
5. Read Revolting Prostitutes by Juno Mac and Molly Smith. https://www.versobooks.com/books/3039-revolting-prostituteshttps://www.versobooks.com/books/3039-revolting-prostitutes
6. Don't tell family and friends without their permission. The result could be horrific, there is just no way to gauge. Always assume that people will judge, no matter how 'nice' they are.
7. Support them always. Educate yourself - it won't disgust you if you do your research. Society has labelled us 'othered' different from other 'normal' people and therefore associates us with drug addiction and poor sexual health. This contributes to the process in which stigma is generated. It's all bullshit. The industry is so nuanced, don't blanket assume
the position of workers.
8. If your person wants to eventually open up to friends and family, build the foundation for them. Bring up conversations to do with sex work and feminism. This is a perfect chance to share your research and make an actual difference! Don’t talk shit behind their back.
9. Don't convince them to stop. Just because you're not okay with it, doesn't mean that they aren't. I've had people literally pleading me to stop, it just meant I started lying to them and built complex guilt and resentment.
10. Know that whatever decisions they have made do not affect their 'value' or 'worth'. We live in a society writhed with double standards, check them. Society is so obsessed with sexuality, but only toward women. People see it threatening to the 'moral compass' of society, but that 'moral compass' has always been oppressive. Why conform to a system that is outdated and exclusive?
And lastly, love them profusely. They will need it.
We're currently crowdfunding for a devised theatre project created by sex workers. We want to use theatre and tell our stories to fight against societal stigma and increase the representation of our community. This can only be possible with your help, view our Crowdfunder campaign here.