Sydney, 2008: I was loitering in a Newtown bar with some friends, shyly sipping my bourbon and coke. One admitted she had worked as an escort before. “..but only when I was young and stupid.” Another nodded, adding “I mean, I’m totally okay with sex work, but it does change you.” She sounded vaguely disapproving. I had no experience at the time, but I thought it was an odd comment. Surely everything you do in life changes you?
Looking back over the past few years, I can certainly appreciate some of the ways I have changed. While there have been highs and lows, I have undeniably become more capable and mature, more free and much happier. Here are some of my most important lessons.
How to spot people who are wasting my time
In escorting, as in life, some people only serve one purpose: to be a drain on your time and energy. They are the prevaricators, the time wasters, the cancellers, the askers of endless questions…the list goes on. Similarly to waiting for a phone call after a first date, there are times when you need to cut your losses and move on. I’ve found I am developing a very fine sense for when people aren’t sincere, whether at work or in my personal life. Life is too short to wait around for the wrong people when you can be spending time with the right ones!
How to say ‘no’ (And how to say ‘yes’)
Saying ‘no’ is one of the most essential parts of being an escort. I find my limits being pushed all the time, mostly by people who simply aren’t mature enough to articulate their needs or be aware of my boundaries.
There are three essential steps to saying no:
- Recognising my limits – this can be as simple as having a list of things I don’t do, but it also means paying attention to my gut feeling when I find myself in a new situation.
- Refusing effectively and appropriately – finding the best way to say no while still respecting my partner and preserving the mood. It means being assertive. It can also mean knowing when to be aggressive and stick up for myself under pressure.
- Saying YES at the right times is crucial. If I can’t say an enthusiastic YES to the things I DO want, I have nothing to put my NOs into perspective. This is one of the best things about assertion – enthusiastic consent brings many freedoms and the power to get what I need from others.
Refusing or giving consent, appropriately and assertively, is incredibly empowering. This skill has extended into other areas of my life, from personal intimate relationships to dealing with the boss in the office.
That everyone is attracted to different types of people
Like everyone else, I grew up thinking that what I saw on TV and in magazines was the universal standard of beauty. I figured that everyone who adhered to that standard was at the top of the pecking order when it came to sexual attractiveness. This caused some anxiety when I started sex work, as I’m not a perfect body type (almost nobody is) and I worried that my success would be determined by that standard of beauty.
What I’ve since learned is that everyone has a place in sex work, because sexual attraction is incredibly diverse. Men find a huge variety of things attractive that aren’t part of the supposed ‘standard’ – big curvy women, red hair, shyness, a domineering personality, tomboys … the list goes on. In turn I’ve found that I can be attracted to a much wider range of people than popular culture would have led me to believe. We all go around thinking that everyone else is only attracted to conventional beauty, and we are the odd ones out! Realistically most of us are seekers of the unusual and the exotic – and one person’s ‘not good enough’ is another person’s ‘gold standard.’
How to trust my gut instinct
This idea might be more familiar to girls than guys, because women are often accustomed to evaluating risk in any situation. I have been aware from a young age that I need to be careful in the street, or at a party, or talking to a male stranger, to make sure I’m not in danger. Sex work takes this ‘sixth sense’ to a whole new level.
When meeting someone new for the first time, you must evaluate them for risk. This can happen as part of the screening process (email and on the phone) and also in person. A common piece of advice I hear from other girls is “trust your gut!” and it’s the most important rule of sex work. If something feels off, it’s best to leave now and lose a client than risk coming to harm. As a result I’m really tuned in to my ‘gut feeling’ in any given situation; I don’t ignore a bad feeling if I get one. This keeps me safe and makes me a much happier person, as I don’t push myself to do anything I feel wary of.
The importance of respecting people who are different to me
Humans are social creatures, and from birth we are deeply entrenched in our own cultures and social structures. Sex work has allowed me to step outside of these boundaries and meet people that I would never have encountered as part of my regular life.
I have met and been intimate with people from lots of different cultures – Indian, European, Middle Eastern, Greek and Italian. I’m also exposed to a range of interests that I’d never had to discuss before, such as gambling, horse racing and football. Probably the biggest eye-opener for me was spending time with average, blue-collar Aussie men; I had previously shunned them as anathema to my lefty-queer lifestyle. I found that we had a lot more in common than I thought, and came to appreciate the dry humour and complicated psychological interior of the ‘average’ Australian. The bottom line is that everyone is individual, and everyone has something to offer regardless of which label you choose to file them under.
Valuing my personality (not just my body)
If you listen to your average anti-sex feminist rant, you might be led to believe that sex workers are reduced to pieces of ‘equipment’ to be used for male pleasure. Let me tell you, they’re way off. Although my imperfect body is certainly appreciated (which is also a boost to my self-esteem), it’s impossible to ignore the value of my personality. The majority of my interactions with clients are psychological, first and foremost. Whether during collaboration on a fantasy, engaging in bedroom negotiations or discussing my clients’ lives and experiences, the way I engage with them is what makes me (and every other sex worker) unique (and keeps people coming back).
In everyday life I don’t think we are encouraged to view our actual selves, our personalities, as being of huge value – it’s more about what we do, or know, or how much we earn. But I have learnt that my way of doing things is unique and valuable.
How to own my sexuality
Let’s face it – once you are out as being a sex worker, you pretty much drop any pretence of being shy or modest – and that’s a great thing. We live in a bullshit sex-negative culture that teaches people that if they aren’t at least a little ashamed about sex, then there is something wrong with them. Taking up an identity as a sex worker means having to discard a lot of that baggage.
“Yeah, I have sex for money and I enjoy it, so what?” Acknowledging myself as a naturally sexual person has been challenging (I imagine it’s hard for everyone, especially for women who have had a whole load of ‘slut-shaming’ dumped on them from birth). Needing to be honest about my profession has forced me to do away with the shame and fear that goes hand-in-hand with hiding your sexual behaviour from others. I wouldn’t say I’m perfect, but I consider it a work in progress!