The intersection of sex work and poverty is something most people don’t consider when they are lobbing insults at women like me for our cash links or OnlyFans accounts. Our work is undervalued and racism prevents us from charging as much as white women. I’m almost certain I will join the ranks of several of my foremothers and die penniless and unrecognized. I’m writing this on a $25 wireless keyboard laid on top of my laptop, a bandaid to deal with the loss of my Enter/Backspace key functions. My oven is broken. One of my teeth is broken. I am missing several, but none in noticeable places yet. My greatest fear is succumbing to a preventable illness or dental disease. I am shying away from being seen these days, mortified by the possibility of losing my smile before the age of forty. Camming is a chore that comes with a side of too much misogynoir. I’m over it, but unfortunately I still need to make a living.
I strongly considered hitting the streets. Pulled out my cheetah print coat and a velvet dress, looked for my garter and a boxcutter. I’m smarter than I used to be, quicker too. I’ll avoid penetration and focus on $50 blow jobs. You can’t be charging exorbitant prices when you’re blowing someone on the street where anyone could run upon ya. Thus far I have avoided the street, but only thanks to the kindness of strangers and the occasional odd job. But every day housing insecurity and bills are on my mind. Avoiding promoting myself because of fear of shadowbanning. Killing ideas of posting an ad. Fuck a FOSTA, fuck a SESTA.
Sex work is becoming more visible but is still in the category of underground or illicit employment because of rampant misogyny, moral police and actual police. Law enforcement be terrifying. The South Side is riddled with them. They think of themselves like harmless antibodies, but their presence alone is malignant, threatening. Una muerte roja. Most sex workers of color are part of the working poor, the impoverished. So many of us have slipped down the rungs during this post-Recession economy. Lower and middle class Black Americans were able to cling to Obama’s promises of change as exceptionalism, supreme charisma and post-racial rhetoric propelled him not once, but twice into Presidency. How the fuck can we still be struggling when the likes of Jay Z and Obama have achieved such greatness? How are we not staying in the house and lining up our duckets, picking the linings of our pockets and sofas for change to put in the bank to put into bitcoin?
People often approach me like I’m unintelligent or obstinate — like, “You’re poor, don’t you know you have to sacrifice?” I’m almost 30 and I’ve been poor my whole life. Sacrifice is my middle name. Vanilla middle class Black women are the most annoying. I distinctly remember a Black woman (who was my mutual on Twitter) telling me that she might be able to help and then launching into an inquiry about what I was planning to do with my son, was I willing to send him to school, why don’t I? And even though this person followed me, and most likely knew that I was homeschooling, I answered: No, he is homeschooled. Twice. She didn’t bother responding, so I’m assuming that her help was conditional. Instead of addressing my actual question where I had directly stated what my needs were, this was what I was met with.
So many things I want are considered luxuries, especially for Black women: homeschooling, flexible work, staying/working at/from home. Am I not deserving of the same choices and dignity as a non-black/white woman? And if I am, why are my choices considered unrealistic or illegitimate? Why is it assumed that I, as a poor Black mother, am unaware of what sacrifice means/entails? I pivot, Lean-style, as necessary. But I think to many, I don’t know how to sacrifice like a real poor person. I don’t know how to let go of my personal values, my “dreams,” my desires and ambitions. I don’t yield enough. I don’t “make sense.”
When I post my cash links or employment information I am bombarded with insults and unsolicited advice. As a sex worker who struggles to make ends meet it becomes a conundrum: How much more should I sacrifice? How much more can I yield? How much mental/emotional damage can I shoulder? There is very little empathy offered to mothers like me: sex workers, poor, non-professional. Because I continue to be poor and to be adamant about homeschooling & flexible work I am typed as lazy, stubborn, and unserious about getting out of poverty. Because I continue to be poor and to have (what y’all consider unrealistic) standards of living for myself & my child, I’m maligned as a freeloader. If it’s not that I’m undeserving of these basic things, it’s that I’m willfully poor. Meaning: I won’t do what needs to be done. Poor people are not allowed to have high standards without a provision for sacrifice. Particularly when one decides to shirk specific norms (such as daycare, public school or structured full time employment) those things are considered luxuries — not rights.
I’m poor and have decided that the life I desire is not a luxury, that homeschooling and flexible work are necessary for my and my child’s quality of life, and I will not willingly accept anything less.
I don’t want to make a habit of sacrifice.