image by Lydia Flores
The Monotony of Sex Work
A sex worker friend and I were having a conversation about things out in the world that we instantly associate with work. She looked at me a little bit funny when I said my first thought was “Dr. Phil”.
I have spent so many hours waiting around in dead day shifts in dingy brothels watching “Dr. Phil” or “Dr. Oz” or any of those bloody daytime shows that I’ll think they’ll always remind me of sex work. I have enough funny stories as the next person, but today I want to talk about monotony.
I think of the boredom of that same interaction every time the phone rings: the inevitable paraphrase of “I’ve never been with a woman like you before”, of explaining for the twelve-hundredth-time the same things they could have read in the damn ad, of trying to make sure they get that they have to actually book a time and show up and that they’ve read my rates, of being on guard for the familiar signs that someone is wasting my time, of being talked down to because my body can’t do things that a post-transition trans woman’s body is unlikely to do easily.
I think of how often those bookings follow the same script. My clientele don’t want emotional labour in the form of anything resembling normal social interaction: they want emotional labour in the form of subtle reassurance that whatever it is that they particularly want to do with somebody else’s penis makes them not gay. I am so beyond bored of having to reassure men that they’re not gay for being attracted to women, usually based on what they’ve seen in a type of porn directed at and made for straight men. I am so tired of convincing them that the high-drama crisis of sexuality playing out in their mind at that particular moment is basically the same as every other client who ever came before them and doesn’t necessarily make them anything. I am not the world’s best conversationalist, but having to put in serious effort to get more than the barest of small talk out of men who are so totally preoccupied with freaking out that that they’re attracted toyou is so utterly fucking boring. I am over having to regurgitate an emotional ego-massage that never gets any deeper than “am I gaaaaaaaay?”
I think of the regular anxiety that comes with not knowing when you’ll next have money coming in because your city is in recession and that is driving workers into the industry as fast as it is driving paying clients out of it. I think of the panic of watching the pantry and the fridge get barer and barer in the bad weeks, and of the anxiety of the judgment calls you have to make when you get the client equivalent of dregs in those situations, not even “is this someone I want to see?” or “is this person going to be a dick?” but “is there even money at the end of dealing with this particular load of bullshit?”
I think of how civilians who think of themselves as “sex positive” or “sex negative” never comprehend this side of the industry. Whether they think we’re having a lot of enthusiastic, empowering sex, or whether they think we’ve got clients lined up around the block while we’re visibly unenthusiastic, these things are so far from the reality. Quitting brothel work when that side of the industry went to hell at least gave me the sweet, sweet blessing of never, ever having to watch Dr. Phil again, but that still involves way too much time on social media or on Netflix waiting for clients, and that when they do come they will more often than not be about as monotonous.
This is the side of sex work that doesn’t make for glamorous dramatisations or pity porn or the entire badly-written-former-sex-worker-memoir genre but it is as much a part of it. There will always be the funny stories and the gross stories and the irrepressible sisterhood with other workers but fuck, I expect I will always remember the fucking monotony too.
Sarah is a trans sex worker who blogs at evolvingmatter.tumblr.com.