By Sydney Benjamin
Six months ago, a man stopped me in Grand Central to read my palm. He told me to remember the month November. Among a list of events, he assured me that November would change my life. “It will happen, and you will think of me,” he said.
Six months later, and I just so happen to admit my truth to my family, my friends, and the world. I’m a fairly honest person, but I had this one secret that I never intended to share; however, it sort of just fell into place. I mean, I can’t discount the years of holding this secret, and the months spent even considering the thought of sharing it. No, I didn’t kill someone. I actually did nothing bad, at all. Nothing hurtful to myself, nothing hurtful to my family. Contrarily, my life, and everyone around me, were better for it. I was independent and genuinely happy. I was learning, I was growing, and I was present. I was present for myself as well as my family. I had set up my life in a perfectly reasonable way. I was a stripper. And now everyone knows.
In my immediate family, I know I’m the rock. I’m the glue that holds everyone together. I’m the only one who asks for nothing, who offers level-headed advice, who seamlessly obtained a degree within four years, always had a job, have been in a monogamous relationship, yet the minute I was labeled as a “stripper,” I became a “disappointment,” I was seen as “disrespecting myself,” and I was an “embarrassment.” To my family, I’ve never been wrong. When it comes to working, I was the overachiever. Funny how I was doing sex work this entire time and I was the same person, right? The minute the confession is made, none of that matters. If your family member tells you they love you, but in the same breath tells you that you’re a disappointment, then do they really love you? I don’t really know.
I think sex workers are heroes. In the most isolating of jobs, we show up to be healers and victims of judgment all at once. We offer a fantasy that can’t be given anywhere else. We can fix marriages, we can build beautiful relationships, and offer guidance. We constantly take the shit end of the stick and give everything we can at a rate of $20/song. We are entrepreneurs, self-made and self-built, mostly because we have little to no support from our families. A lot of the times, our closest friends are even disapproving, and push us away. But—I still wonder, why, sex work? What makes being a sales associate any better or safer? What about a teacher, a waiter, a singer, a therapist, any better? What makes an unpaid internship better? Why are sex workers constantly attacked? And why is this the only job that workers face so much collective isolation?
It’s been four days since I told my family I was a stripper, and I’ve never been told I was a disappointment this many times. I’ve never had to defend, what seems like, all of my life choices, until now. This is why I wanted to keep this a secret. I felt so shamed by the world that I wanted to keep quiet. Women are conditioned from the minute they are put in school that they are nothing but sexualized beings, BUT they must abide by rules of the patriarchy. Beginning from the day they are told they aren’t allowed to have holes in their jeans and expose their shoulders at school because it may distract their male counterparts, they are reassured that their bodies distract men from success. Just one generation ago, women couldn’t even be honest with their sexual desires and admit that they sought pleasure from sex. A woman’s sexuality was dictated by a man. In fact, women never really had the “right” to feel sexy however they wanted, because if they did, a lot more people would have been proud of me for my honesty, my hard work, and my selflessness. It’s really fucking sad that all kinds of sex workers are chastised by society. Thanks to SESTA/FOSTA, there is not even a #stripper hashtag on social media. If I told you that my closest and most altruistic friends were sex workers, would you believe me now? It’s not that I don’t understand why sex workers are looked down upon, it’s that women are still second-class and can’t really choose what they do with their bodies, and that’s the truth.
To all independent women, sex worker or non-sex worker, I am proud of you, and I’m so sorry if you haven’t heard that in a while. Keep your hustle up, you goddess. You’re a living angel changing lives, even if the world tells you otherwise. Please keep going and finding your own happiness. It’s okay be honest with your truth.
Photos by Erika Flynn