The emotional labor required to tend to men and their struggles has me working more hours than I’m actually getting paid for.
Being a hooker is rarely anything like Pretty Woman, even though I’ve definitely had the fantasy client who took me shopping for clothes (sans shoulder pads). In fact, being a hooker is rarely like anything you see on television, or in movie theaters, or read about.
The only time I can remember seeing something even remotely similar to my own experience of sex work was in 2007, when I went to see Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (which is a fabulously depressing Philip Seymour Hoffman movie that I enjoy a good deal, but would never recommend for a first date, which I was on at the time). Marisa Tomei plays a somewhat tired-looking escort who has been working with several members of the same family for years. She’s upfront about her boundaries, but mostly, she’s deeply, deeply tired.
Talking about sex work is complicated in the way that talking about any kind of industry is complicated. I can only speak to my own experience, which is as a full-service, high-end worker, mostly in the sugaring but also in the escorting smorgasboard of the biz. So when I talk about what I’m talking about here, I’m speaking to that experience, and noting my own privilege: that sex work isn’t what I do as my only source of income, that I’m cisgendered and mostly able-bodied and white-passing (even though I’m not white). That I’m thin, and though I’m not mainstream attractive, I have a kind of silent film star quality that allows me to find a niche with business men who like their ladies from a bygone era.
Talking about sex work is complicated in the way that talking about any kind of industry is complicated.
I’m queer and I’m married and I have a supportive partner who supports my work, in all capacities, as long as I’m keeping us both safe. I keep my overhead low, and I make enough money through my other jobs to cover it, so I can be picky about what clients I take on. And usually, that means that I only take on one at a time. Not everyone is even a fraction as privileged as I am in this regard.
What I will speak to with some authority (as it’s a topic much discussed in my sex worker community and our various online forums), is the burnout cycle of all kinds of work (including work that isn’t full service, like camming or phone sex operation, etc). It ebbs and flows, and every worker has a different way of dealing with it — some by hustling super hard so they can then take a good deal of time off (which is actually my MO in my freelance work across the board), some by using sex work to supplement other jobs, some by switching back and forth between full service work and work that is a little less impact.
Over the last few years, I’ve been sugaring (which is basically making “arrangements” with people for a mutually beneficial relationship, and usually requires an allowance and a set amount of meetings per month) to supplement my other work. I enjoyed it a good deal at first, mostly because I was really lucky to find a generous and supportive client who required very little of me, time-wise, was a lovely conversationalist, and with whom I had a genuine, if not high-chemistry, connection. We worked well together for about a year before we transitioned into being friends who occasionally lunch. The ending was a perfect one: the arrangement had merely run its course.
My second client wasn’t as wonderful — the chemistry was there, the allowance was higher, but his demands on my time were greater, and in the end, he treated me like a piece of property and violated some strict boundaries I have in place to protect myself. That arrangement lasted about two and a half months. In between sugaring, I’d take on the occasional passing-through client, some clients who could only meet occasionally, with whom, though we were mutually respectful, the relationship was strictly transactional.
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After the last sugaring client I had — the one who got a little jealous-boyfriend-y — I found myself extremely tired of arrangements. Because arrangements are based on the pretense of the “girlfriend/mistress” experience and are often ongoing, the emotional labor required to tend to men and their struggles has me working more hours than I’m actually getting paid for — getting texts that interrupt my private life, dealing with their personal crises that arise at times that are actually quite inconvenient for me (and, frankly, above my pay scale), catering to their changing schedules, and balancing the delicate act of receiving money for services, yet not actually talking directly about receiving money for said services.
Don’t get me wrong — sugaring can be really, really great. When you find a dream client whom you don’t find obnoxious, who has a separate personal life from your shared connection, who respects your boundaries, who is upfront about logistics — this is sugaring at its best. But often times, sugaring can be manipulated into something that does a disservice to the Sugar Baby (a terrible name, but that’s what we’re called in the biz). Clients will often offer to take us on fancy trips, pay for hotels and meals as a way of compensation, invite us to have “experiences” rather than a hike in allowance.
Don’t get me wrong — sugaring can be really, really great.
But what’s not considered here is that a trip with a client is all work, and likely not work that is fairly compensated. A meal and a nice hotel are things the client is doing as much for himself, maybe more, than for you. Plus, experiences don’t fix the busted heater in my apartment, or pay my health insurance, or allow me to have equity of my own. In short, and I know I’ve said this before, but these sorts of negotiations create systems that force workers to rely on their clients as conduits to upward mobility and financial growth — whereas straight up cash gives workers the autonomy to provide for themselves and even, maybe, have a savings account, or an IRA (good god, what a concept).
I recently started working with a client I have a phenomenal dynamic with. And though we’re working through some stuff related to kink/fantasy vs. reality, it’s overall a healing dynamic that makes me feel in control in ways I haven’t with sugaring — it is both transactional, and based on domination, but still rooted in real care. And I’m taking a cue from my other whore friends and community, and phasing into another, more low-impact form of sex work until the cycle hits again and I can stop being so damn tired of being a paid girlfriend.