Is This the World's Worst Job? An Inside Look at the Life of a Sex Worker
I started because I was underemployed and underpaid. I needed fast money. I wanted my own apartment. I was having a lot of sex anyway. I started because I am drawn to the taboo. I was able to start because I was in active addiction, mixing alcohol and prescription drugs to numb out a deep and persistent ache, one of those existential things.
The combination of excess ethanol and benzodiazepines with a malnourished corpus left me vulnerable to blackouts; I often found myself slowly waking in precarious situations with men (and sometimes women), situations where I was technically conscious but not coherent, situations you could possibly classify as rape, but situations where nonetheless I had made my choice and was being used by some random guy(s). This kept happening, and it kept happening for years. I figured, if I “love” sex so much, if I have no money, and if I continue to subject myself to these situations, why not make some cash off the suckers? I decided I was no longer free game. I started because I was desperate, debauched, and mad at the world. I was mad at myself. I started out of self-loathing.
When I tell people, usually the first reaction is that they think I’m joking.
“No, you’re not.”
I cock my head and smile wryly, brow furrowed.
“Are you serious?”
“Yes, dead serious.”
I’m quite likely one of the last people who should be out hooking.
They ask me if I like it.
I tell them that I hate working and can’t wait to quit.
“Then why don’t you quit?”
“To pay my rent.”
I don’t mention that it’s hard to quit the money once you start to make it. But making fast money is never easy; that’s why it comes fast.
I’m an Escort, technically, or a Call Girl, or my favourite in nomenclature (and a term used widely in the community for its ambiguity), a Service Provider. The reason I’m called an “Escort” and not a “Hooker” is because I joined an agency and don’t walk the street. That’s the difference. Not much.
I was still drunk when I decided to go through with it. I didn’t know anyone in the industry, so went at it blindly though not with complete stupidity. I did some research on a web forum for strippers and sex workers, looking for an agency that was recommended by the girls. Most of the forums (herein, “the boards”) are created by and for men to rate and describe the women they buy. The agencies are just holding cells for the people that work for them.*
Girls move around frequently, because of clashes with owners, because of monetary discrepancies, because of drug habits, because they are worn out, and because new girls almost always get a high volume of calls.
There are tiers of hookerdom. Being with an agency is a couple notches below the invisible hookers: those yacht girls, fashion models, and celebutantes that are shuffled off by their handlers, or savvy enough to shuffle themselves. If one hires a girl from an agency, he might feel more “upscale” than calling someone from the back pages of free urban weeklies (and legit, these ads are what keep free weeklies afloat; ads do not run cheap, so you best believe the sex industry is in no lull); maybe he feels he’s getting a cleaner, more intelligent, classier dame than someone with a free post on craigslist, or than a streetwalker. This is not necessarily the case. Someone joining an agency is based on how they want to market themselves, and how much work they want to put into their branding. Just like there are different types of prostitutes, there are different types of clients, agencies, and even girls. The taxonomies of sex.
I live two lives, and one is not more “real” than the other. In my first life, I have a nice family and a burgeoning career in the arts. I love that work, but it is scarce, competitive, time-consuming, and underpaid. In pursuit of dreams, in order to sustain these kinds of careers, most of the low-to-middle class creatives that I know hold second or third jobs. So compartmentalizing is not the trouble; it’s the stigma that weighs you down. When a family member comes to my home, I hide all the stilettos and slinky dresses and fur lined coats. I hide a lot of the things I bought that I could not have paid for otherwise. I lie and say that I work at a friend’s restaurant.
I keep my lives as separate as I can, and I have to, because one is against the law…sort of. In Ontario, there are legal loopholes that allow escort agencies to exist (though less is the case with massage parlours). Loopholes like if you are not inviting someone into your own home to pay for a sexual service, you’re technically good to go. Basically, you’re required to keep it in a private space owned by a disparate party, and prepped to know what to say: “It was a gift for my time and company.” In short, research your rights.
I am often asked how much tax-free income I really make. This factor is also a point of contention for any potential sex-worker when deciding whether to go independent or with an agency. An agency charges more, but they do all the hustle and the screening (if there is any) for this, they take a large cut, on average, forty-three percent. Indies might charge less, allowing for increased call volume and hold of all their earnings, but risk a “lower class” clientele and a higher risk of legal complications: The driver and the Madame will be in more trouble than any girl.
Am I still working? Yes, but with significantly reduced hours. I work less, because it’s dangerous for my mental and spiritual wellbeing. I keep working because of the debts I’ve incurred since starting the job, and because my creative labour doesn’t fully cover my rent and bills.
Do I make a lot of money? I used to, but it’s not cheap to be a prostitute; besides all the goods and supplies you need to buy, the money comes so quickly that you get used to it. I (and many others) go on shopping binges to alleviate stress, to reward ourselves for labor we detest, to escape ourselves, our reality. After rent, I spent most of my escort earnings on clothes, make-up, and post-session boozing. Effectively, hooking was making me more broke than before.
Could I handle it? Not really. Do I recommend it? To no one, ever. In this industry, you fall apart or numb away. My face turned hard; I don’t recognize my own reflection. And now, I have a Hooker Jaw -- terse, hard and guarded.
*I don’t know if there are agencies for men, but from what I’ve gathered, most male prostitutes - -at least in Toronto -- find work via backpage ads, craigslist, or on the street. They are significantly less protected than the women who are significantly unprotected and with or without (literal) agency. It’s super harsh for dude and trans workers. Also, I have never encountered or heard of any agency that sets up men with female clients.