I Ain’t Saying She’s A Gold Digger: Sex Work, Money, And Upward Mobility
By Margot St. Vincent
There are few things that make the patriarchy feel as pungent and in-your-face as working in the sex industry.
There’s a book, have you heard of it? It’s called Jane Sexes it Up: True Confessions of Feminist Desire. I read it in college, when I was obsessing about Marilyn Chamber’s Behind the Green Door, and Linda Lovelace and Deepthroat and all of the books she (poorly) wrote after. So I can’t be certain that I would find the book politically solid these days. However! The anthology made a huge impact on my young self, mostly because of an essay called, “My Mother Was a High-Femme Whore.”
Remember in Clueless, when Cher realizes she’s in love? “OH MY GOD!” Inner Cher thinks, in a montage of flashbacks, “I LOVE JOSH!” I felt similarly when I read this essay —
“OH MY GOD,” Inner Margot thought, in a flash of sweaty bedroom scenes, times when I’ve gotten off on being wanted, and yes, at times using sex to subvert systems of power within patriarchy (masters tools, masters house, etc) — “I’M A HIGH FEMME WHORE!”
I was grappling with my fiercely insatiable sex drive at the time, and my newfound baby feminism, which to me, had been a smorgasbord of leftover 70’s anti-femininity, and the war on pornography. I was also dealing with coming into my own body after being brutally sexually assaulted by a family friend. I was also living abroad, and fucking a whole lot of people.
I love porn. I am obviously discerning — I don’t love it holistically — and I recognize that there are many troubling lines of consent/non-consent that I, a sex worker who is not in the porn industry myself, can’t understand fully, can’t grasp enough to form wholly educated opinions on. But I am a voyeur. I love seeing people contorted in pleasure. So I guess instead of saying I Love Porn, I should say, I get off on seeing other people get off.
I don’t believe that all porn is anti-feminist, just like I don’t believe that sex work inherently degrades women, just like I don’t believe purple eyeliner is a sin of patriarchy. In 2012, I was living in a Very Progressive Place in the Pacific Northwest. This is all in caps because the whiteness of said place made a homogeneity that made the term ‘progressive’ mean ‘static’ — no challenge to the Boomer norms of liberalism, which excluded working class, queer, gay ass people, and sex workers. I went to a screening of Miss Representation, because, let’s be real, Geena Davis, right?
After, there was a Q&A. A woman in adventure sandals and peppery hair and a fleece vest took the mic.
“I just don’t get it,” she sounded genuinely confused. “How can Geena Davis talk about being a feminist, while wearing so much makeup?”
I completely face palmed, a gesture that did not go unnoticed by the panel presenting the movie.
“Yes, you?” A woman in front tersely motioned me to the mic.
“I just . . . don’t think women are the mother fucking problem,” I said. I lewdly caressed the shaft of the mic stand before leaving the performance hall.
As a high femme whore, I live in the airport of identity. I am a shape-shifter. I interface with the rich and discreetly famous, without being in their ranks. I stay in luxury hotels and eat expensively and sometimes get pretty gifts and lovely vacations. I am given allowances, and worshipped, sometimes in the form of lavishing upon me the tools to write regularly and without worry, and sometimes by having my whole tiny foot stuck into a person’s mouth.
I know it is — for some — controversial to say this, but I like being a call girl. It is the best paying job I’ve ever had. My strong abilities to be empathetic and kind to a spectrum of people, my tendency to be a barometer for emotional temperatures in the room, and to locate and diffuse situations with aplomb and grace, make me very good at my job.
And though I have had, pre-hooking, relatively little interface with wealth in my own life (I grew up working class), I derive a lot of satisfaction from beautiful hotels, linens that are kind to my body after a long night of work, clothes that fit beautifully, and feeling financially cared for.
When I described it to a friend once — she said that it was like I was getting to experience being a trust fund baby, albeit intermittently. And that isn’t a perfect analogy, but it did strike a sensible chord.
There is, of course, a complicated inner landscape that comes along with that. Recently, I went to a dinner where I ate a meal that cost as much as my rent — me, myself. It was a spectacular meal, so good I felt like I had orgasmed multiple times by the arrival of dessert. Yet I couldn’t help but think about the fact that my Depression-Era grandparents have never had access to such luxury in their entire lives — and even more, didn’t want it.
Is there something wrong with me, that I should want to play rich once in awhile?
I have a happy life, jobs outside of escorting that are satisfying and pleasurable to me. My work as a call girl only helps me to have savings, to pay into retirement, to get my shitty car the proper care it needs once in awhile. It allows me to donate to my friends when they are sick or not able to afford rent, to turn someone’s phone back on, to pay family debt. In essence, it allows me access to a financial world I never thought possible for myself.
And yet — it is still an airport. I am still wildly aware of the commodification of my own body, and how I manipulate that to, in my mind, fuck the system. I am still aware that I am not actually upwardly mobile, because my work has an expiration date. I am not in an industry with any kind of support or job security, and when it is gone, it will never be as high-paying again.
I’m cool with that. And actually, despite the fact that I am still learning how to have these conversations about class and airport-ing with non-industry people, I don’t feel consumed with guilt for enjoying shit that is expensive. I know it is temporary. I know it is being bankrolled by someone else, and will not ever belong to me. And I think that only patriarchy (and the internalized misogyny it embeds in other women, even) posits women and hookers as gold-diggers or shallow because they want to have access to luxury goods.
After all, I know the rules — the sex trade is still a man’s world. Men are still the conduit through which luxury and privilege is possible. And though I am a hooker with extreme amounts of privilege (white, able-bodied, thin, working as an escort as opposed to on the street, etc. etc. etc.) I am still working with the feeding tube of a more highly-privileged system — and one that stigmatized and illegitimatizes the work I do, to boot.
Here, I’m proposing that discussions on class in relation to sex work must rely on a total deconstruction of the ways we currently talk about class. This is to say, that because sex work is so stigmatized and, well, illegal, it often doesn’t fall within the preview of traditional work. There are no rules, no templates, for monitoring how the currency comes and goes, the exchange rate, the frequency, and the shelf life.
And while I don’t have the metric for a new way to talk about mobility within the industry, I do want to propose that conversations be nuanced, and outdated ideas of femininity and whore-phobia (which largely seek to cut down and further oppress women/transfeminine workers) be tossed to the curb.