I have spent the past year and a half actively working on eradicating my shame and guilt over sex work. About lying to the people I love. About engaging in behaviors that I knew would disappoint people who care for and respect me. About possibly sabotaging my chances of a happy, stable relationship or a serious career. All things that I have spent an incredible amount of energy trying to dispel in my friends, or even strangers. And one talk with my step-dad last night made it feel like all that work had been in vain.
I should preface this by saying I have an extremely supportive and loving family. We’re incredibly close, and my parents have gone to great lengths to make sure I am as happy and healthy as I can be. They’ve made sacrifices that I had no way of comprehending through the years to make sure I had the best of opportunities and resources available to me. I also know that as my father much of his political sensibilities are complicated by a desire to protect me and a tendency to still think of me as the blonde toddler who said “Hi” to everything and refused to share food. There’s a rational part of me that understand his harshness comes out of a deep love that I can only begin to comprehend, but it still fucking hurts. Some of the times I have felt the lowest and unhappiest about myself have been because of feeling inadequate for not being a good enough daughter in one way or another.
My step-dad googled me as a result of a conversation about internet presence, and found my old Model Mayhem page. We spent most of yesterday playing phone tag, and when we finally got a chance to talk it was 9:30 (12:30 east coast time). And it did not go very well. I have since deleted that page, but mostly because I haven’t been using it for a while, and if I need photos for some reason I have close contacts to go through. Not to mention I agree with him that if future employers google my name and come up with that it might not be the best thing for me. But the pictures in this post are some of the ones that were featured on that portfolio.
He told me that he thought I was smarter and more progressive than that, that women in chains was not a progressive image, and that he hoped I was paid thousands of dollars to demean myself like that, though he doubts it. He told me I had bad judgment. He informed me I was engaging in dangerous and stupid behavior – and he doesn’t want to read about me turning up dead in the newspaper. That he was not in a position where he could tell me what to do, but that he was saddened and disappointed by my decisions. That people would not respect me and these images would undermine my career.
He also told me that he loves me, and still thinks I’m a good person.
And all of a sudden all that shame and hurt came washing back over me. I spent about 2 hours last night crying and feeling like I was un-loveable, un-respectable, and generally useless as a person. I started lamenting my past experiences, and wishing I could have a more normal, wholesome, and vanilla kind of life. I simultaneously felt like I was going to be a failure in my day-career in more mainstream non-profit life for my dedication to SWOP and like I was going to be a failure in SWOP for not having gotten past my negative feelings towards sex work. Or even that eventually my relationship with my partner is going to suffer because no reasonable or respectable person could love someone who refuses to cut ties to the sex industry.
I KNOW it’s irrational. I know that none of that is actually true. I know that I do good work, that I’m learning how to do better work, and that SWOP-LA is making a difference in people’s lives. I know in my heart that I have done nothing wrong, and that I have no reason to be ashamed of who I am. Because I liked being a sex worker. And I liked the modeling I did. There was a part of me that felt fulfilled and happy with the work I was doing.
I rarely, if ever, modeled for money. I modeled because I thought it was fun. Because it feels glamorous to get all dolled up and pose under lights. And because I’m vain. I like having pictures of myself where I look damn good. I like having pictures that show off my body when I’m in what I consider good shape for myself. I like making pictures that are interesting, and compelling in some way. I didn’t actually consider my modeling hobby as work, let alone sex work, but rather as something I was personally interested in.
The slut-shaming and whore-shaming is constant. It’s in popular media. It’s on feminist blogs. It’s in casual conversations. It’s in Q&A sessions. It’s fucking everywhere. And while most days it inspires anger and more motivation to fight it, some days I feel like I just break under the pressure.
And there’s a part of me that knows that my parents will inevitably find out about my work with SWOP, and consequently my past as an escort. While I’ve been trying to prepare myself, I’m still pretty terrified.
But it also showed me, more than ever, how important the community building aspect of sex work activism is. That it is crucial to come together and support each other in these moments. To prove to one another and the world that we are in fact, worthy of love and respect. And that there are in fact partners, relatives, employers, friends, colleagues, and strangers, who do love and respect us. That we can love and respect ourselves (even if we struggle to at times). That a background in kink, sex work, promiscuity, or even just sexy pictures, is fine. And when we have moments when it seems like too much, or too scary, or hopeless, we know others have gone through the same, and worse. We are not alone. We don’t have to be isolated.
And I fervently hope that the upcoming generation of our daughters, nieces, sisters, and cousins never have to feel as fucking small or worthless as I did last night.
I’m ending on this image because it was taken by one of my best friends, and is still one of my favorite shoots we ever did. And my hair looks awesome.