The Whorearchy, Covid, and Community Solidarity

Written by Daisy, an Atlanta-based SWer

This past year and a half has offered some stark reflections on our fragility as a species, and specifically us as a community of sex workers. Money can disappear quick with the threat of COVID-19 weighing heavily on clients decision to book, our platforms that we rely on for income and exposure get ripped out from under us as civilians continue to co-opt and bastardize our culture, and at the shittiest end of the shit stick, members of our own community resort to opportunistic feeding on their own kind.

Myself, along with several other FSSWs I know or keep up with, have gotten hit with this stick at least once in the last 18 months. College educated, physically and industry privileged workers using us and what few resources we have to offer for their own singular benefit before taking the mask off and revealing their true, ugly intentions. While that tale is nothing new whatsoever, it hurts differently this time around given the compounded traumas we're having to navigate just to survive. In a time where so many of us are struggling to not fall flat, I try my best to have a serious look at the ways in which I've personally upheld capitalistic ideals given my privileges and marginalizations within the industry. I try to examine the ways other workers have used their status and privilege to try to do me harm. I hold space for de-centering the value of the dollar and create an oppurtunity for myself to peer into the true implications that wealth and success within sex work carry and I ask myself; what place does vulturistic classism have in our community? What degree of responsibility do favored workers have to uplift and protect those less fortunate than themselves? 

Sex work exists in its own sphere entirely, and yet still heavily relies on societal standards of attraction and social favor to determine who floats to the top and who will sink to the bottom. White, skinny/slim, cis or cis benefitting, charming, and socially adept workers are given the option to indulge resplendently in the glitz and glamor the lifestyle has to offer first and foremost and the benefits trickle downhill as they feast. POC sex workers, trans women workers, addicts, visibly scarred or disabled workers, chubby or fat workers, financially disadvantaged workers, etc. have to take what scraps we can get and do our best to cope with the inevitable periods of hunger. It gets frustrating time and time again to be gently chided and told "charge what you're worth!" by fellow community members when my clients would insist on haggling with me as though my body were a flea market composed of flesh. "You're not very pretty, I don't know who you think would pay $____ for you." "$____ is a bit of a high ask for what you offer, will you at least do bbfs?" At times I found myself lowering my prices, my standards, my limits for the benefit of being able to pay my bills and take care of my needs. I never had much time to take care of the toll doing so would take on me before I had to worry about booking my next gig.

It's an uphill battle to continually have to justify what we DO charge to clients whilst having to dually justify why we cannot charge more to workers who do not understand the sheer necessity driving our choices. It's a privilege to be able to turn down money because the stipulations don't align with your desires or boundaries. It's a privilege to be selective about clientele. It's even more frustrating to see the burden of invasive clients and ridiculous asks they pose being placed on "inexperienced workers who don't know better than to give in" rather than addressing the real beast in the bushes; capitalism. That which divides us, classes us, and rates our assumed value based on our ability to produce and be productive in a cishet dominated market. It impacts all sex workers in differing degrees but the fact that our community bears the brunt of classist ideology is something I wish would be touched on more readily, more openly within our circles.

In that sense, I feel some social isolation was good for me. It forced me to step into my own realm more and re-evaluate how highly I upheld aspects of hustle/money culture in my work life and how shallow and stressful my personal life became when I allowed that kind of thinking to consume my day to day thoughts. My worth became directly equated to the money I was making and COVID-19 destroying my income made me have to consider parts of me that were treasurable and precious regardless of how many stacks I'd make, if any at all. While losing touch with the social aspects of community sucked, it gave me an opportunity to focus less on performing for others and more on acting authentically under my own terms. Being broke and housing insecure took a drastic toll on my mental and physical health that the ability to express my transness outside the scope of male opinion slowly but surely replenished. Not having to worry about getting shamed for body hair, binding, my stretch marks or back rolls was like letting the rip cord go and feeling myself float after falling and falling for what felt like ages. Gaining the ability to have meaningful and non-dissociative intimate interactions with my partners and friends was a freeing kind of terror. I knew it meant I was drifting away from the values and coping mechanisms that made me an excellent hooker and I feared for my ability to remain active in the industry, yet I saw myself gain access to parts of my body and soul I'd had to cut ties with for so long in order to work free of immediate emotional debt. It gave me time to think about what I wanted to do within the industry outside of being a provider. I want to educate, I want to create mutual aid spaces that center outdoor and full service workers, I want to expand on the depths of my own personal intimate connections. I want to do more with the knowledge and gifts of perseverance I've been given.

This is a big part of the reason that, while I was making gradual moves away from sex work, I found such respite in spaces created for us, by us. A former stripper turned clothing entrepreneur and an Australian brothel worker-run meme account where I'd come to for laughter and joy, to see my experiences as an illegal FSSW in America reflected in shitposts and screenshotted twitter threads. Therapy services run by former industry professionals who sought to uplift and help assist in healing such a long neglected community of people. Seeing the range of possibilities with skills developed as a sex worker made me less afraid to let go of a part of myself that I had become so unhealthily bonded with out of necessity. I felt empowered to set firm boundaries for myself and had to look on anxiously as the dead skin shed from my vessel. Clients who were dangerous all along and only now could I see it, a predatory roommate who understood I was a pushover and worked the angle but could not keep the wool over my eyes, the toxic habit of couching my feelings in favor of minimizing the space my presence takes up is slowly but surely morphing into prioritizing being heard and considered. Losing my favorability and having to confront my people pleasing tendencies as well as putting myself in positions where I cannot avoid conflict and have to express my boundaries firmly caused so much stress. Such a drastic shift in my perspective was terrifying, but it delivered a sort of calm clarity I haven't really felt before. I know where I am now, I know I'm going at a slow enough pace to be able to figure out where I'll need to be later on, I accept myself in between those points and am committed to giving myself grace and kindness no matter what.

Despite that, life outside the industry is weird. There's 2 mirrors, a reflection of my cravings for substances and instability in one, and a sleep schedule, partners and friends I love, a dog to look after, and a full time job in the other. I work with fish and aquatic life for a living these days and am often reminded of having one foot planted firmly in both worlds. I have to remember which way and how hard the door shuts when coworkers joke about their "work wives" and "slut tendencies". I remember I cannot share my stories and tall tales of rich clients leaving suite bathrooms covered in piss and wet towels and $75 johns leaving the Super 8 in better condition than when we came in. I can't express my pride in having written this article, I can't recommend they read it. I can't reveal my other mirror to them as they know me as a version {government name} and that kind of boring security feels so attractive at this point in my life. 

Goodbye now is not a forever goodbye necessarily. The golden benefit of my experiences is the takeaway knowledge I can carry with me always. It sits on my shoulders, guiding me through love and sex, conflict and safety. I'm persuasive and nifty, I'm perseverant, I'm determined, and I'm grateful most of all. I know how much more difficult things could be for me and I know how much better they could be and I'm learning to be comfortable in the space I'm in now. I'm navigating a path that feels strange and slightly foreign to me and I'm enjoying the journey. And should I ever get lost, there's always a john's wallet to sucker into being my compass. I know where my vinyl is if I need it, I keep it stored under my bed. I don't wear it much these days, but I still clean and shine it consistently. My own little interactive art museum featuring preserved artifacts that are all my own. Relics of an era of big bucks and survival, friendships and foes, fighting for my right to exist in peace, and the beauty of community and learning how to be. 

For now, catching cichlids and tending to lizards sounds pretty good to me.

Leave a comment