I definitely have “daddy issues” — and “mommy issues” and “uncle issues” and “grandmother issues.” As a sex worker, the “daddy issues” trope is particularly stigmatizing because some of us do come from what traditional society would deem “broken” homes, where we’ve been failed by the masculine role models in our lives.
What may come as a surprise, though, is that the catalyst for our familial trauma and isolation often results from family members’ discovery of our sex work — and/or gender identity, sexual orientation, etc — not the other way around.
In January of this year, I formally severed ties with the vast majority of my blood family.
Growing up, I always felt a disconnect between my family and I. I never felt supported, protected, or defended, and while this forged a resilience and self-reliance in me that I now cherish, it also left me looking for that parental guidance and validation from others. The horse trainer I was employed by as a teenager, my academic advisor, and my friends’ parents among them.
Once in college, I spent a literal decade actively trying to involve my family in my authentic life as a queer polyamorous woman and a sex worker. Encouraging them to ask me questions about my work and identity, providing them with educational resources, and introducing them to a variety of friends, coworkers and partners from my communities. Alas, in the end they chose denial, judgment and ignorance over a relationship with me. I truly felt my hand was forced.
To be honest, the severance was easier to execute than I’d anticipated, particularly on an emotional level. I credit this to the strength of the community around me, my ease at translating feelings into language, and the fact that in my mind, I’d never really been without family. I’m a dominatrix, and some of my clients have been acting as my surrogate parents ever since I picked up the trade.
I doubt I would have survived my journey into adulthood without them.
Sex Work & Stigma
While I’m profoundly in love with all of the sex work I do — professional domination, porn, and stripping, mostly — many folks out in the world aren’t as keen on it. There’s much more misinformation than information flying around out there about sex workers, and the stigma from that misinformation does irreparable harm to our community. Common stereotypes about the industry include:
- That all sex workers are coerced non-consensually into their work,
- That we all have uncontrollable drug habits,
- That we’re only doing “this kind” of work because we don’t have what it takes to hold down a “real job”, and, of course,
- That we all have “daddy issues”.
These assumptions are not only insulting, but they dehumanize us by reducing us to mere victims or criminals in the eyes of mainstream society. We are a population to either be fixed, feared, or eradicated, and we’re constantly left out of dialogues about what’s “best” for us.
In this culture of persistent hostility towards people like me, my clients have actually been there for me in ways my parents never have. I would define being a good parent as providing comfort, basic needs (food, shelter, etc), healing, encouragement, behavior modeling, as well as unconditional love and support. My clients have been continual fountains of inspiration, gratitude, positivity, and hope — both financial and otherwise.
For example —
One of my clients hooked me up with legal counsel when I was in the midst of a past landlord dispute and fronted the bill for the initial appointment.
One of my clients sent me 1k so that I could cover the medical costs of a dog I’d recently rescued without having to surrender her to a kill shelter.
One of my clients recommends all of my articles to his friends. Often after we session together the boys’ club collectively takes me out to lunch, and we sit around excitedly unpacking the various concepts and questions my latest piece brought up for them.
When I got invited to lecture on consent at Harvard last year, I told one of my clients first. He insisted I send him the Powerpoint I’d put together, and raves about it to this day.
While I marched in the streets of Berkeley and San Francisco protesting white supremacy and fascism, my clients were the ones texting me to make sure I was alright, all the while championing my activism.
My clients call me when their sons and daughters come out as queer and they want my advice on how to be the best parent they can be. They check in on me when they know I’m having car trouble, and offer their own cars for me to borrow while mine is in the shop. They cut out articles from newspapers and magazines that they think I’d like and save them for me. They come to my live workshops, panels, and events. They inquire with me when they see me post about a hardship on social media, and they take great care to never abuse our channels of communication. Their boundaries are superb because they know that I wouldn’t tolerate anything less, and they value our relationship too much to risk it.
Get Your Surrogacy On
What I’ve come to learn from all of this is that we all have “daddy issues”. Whether we’re sex workers or not, we all are given opportunities to cultivate surrogate families — surrogate parents — throughout our lives, and many of us are better for it.
As a sex worker, I get a unique opportunity to work through my own hang-ups with my older male clients — whilst getting paid, no less! Whether I’m being quite literal and flailing my client until he’s crying during a Daddy-Daughter revenge roleplay, or whether I’m tearing up over a fancy dinner that a client just took me out to because of how proud he is of my work, this surrogacy has succeeded in facilitating my long term mental health, personal growth, and career success.
These relationships are nothing if not complex, and sex workers should have an introspective sense of self, safety, and one’s emotional boundaries before utilizing relationships with clients for this dual purpose. Sex workers also run the risk of the client perceiving the relationship to be more personal than transactional as some point — thus causing them to protest payment for future services — and many sex workers prefer to skirt that chance and find surrogate dynamics elsewhere (perhaps cultivating them among peers and lovers in the kink community!). Trust me, I don’t blame them for it. Yet I see so many of us with heavy, wounded hearts — clients and providers alike — and I wish that opportunities for a deeper level of support didn’t so often go unmined.
While it’s true that not everyone in the sex industry will have the same experience — or be positioned to develop these relationships with their clients — at least for me, building strategic, intentional, informed, consensual relationships with said surrogates has been the difference between life or death, success or failure, and improvement or decline.