Sometimes I wonder how I got to a point in life where it's normal for me to have sex with a person I'm crushing on before I can work up the guts to ask them out for a coffee. The last time I had a romantic partner who wasn't also a sex worker, I struggled to find the words to explain how exactly this fit into our polyamorous dynamic: that there's people who I like, who I've been sexual with before, who I might be sexual with again, but at the same time we wouldn't exactly qualify as lovers.
I've had some assume that this is evidence my job has cheapened sex to me, made it impersonal and devoid of intimacy. I wish I could show these people the joy and softness I am sometimes able to touch, through my work: the time I dissolved into laughter with my elderly client, who had previously thought he was not able to orgasm anymore; the look on the face of another client, a closeted trans woman, as I turned her to face a full length mirror in the resplendent lace dress I'd picked for her. It was like ten tonnes of weight had been lifted off her shoulders. How could anything so beautiful be profaned by the fact that money was exchanged?
My job is simultaneously something I feel confined to, unable to access many “regular” channels of work because of multiple disabilities, and a place where my spirit sometimes feels ecstatic, free to explore erotic being in ways many only dream of. When I take off my sky-high heels and slip back into my baggy hoodie and men's work boots, I feel at peace with the multiple genders I embody in a way I haven't had access to outside of sex work. The high-femme attire I wear for work can be something playful, a costume I cast off at the end of the day rather than one I don because of social expectations.
None of this negates the economic uncertainty, the well-founded fear of violence, the stigma that forces me into living a double life. Our desires do not exist in a vacuum, and the precarious and liminal space I occupy in society is part of what determines who, and how, I love. I tend to shy away from potential partners who are not also sex workers, afraid of what stereotypes might sleep, deeply nested somewhere in their subconscious, waiting to come to the surface during an argument. Or worse, during an intimate exchange, when it becomes apparent that they do not believe I deserve consent.
The safest I have felt, with my clothes off and my guard down, is with other sex workers. When the camera has stopped rolling, and we melt into each other, her hand brushing the hair off my forehead, the two of us laughing with all the deeply human awkwardness we are normally so skilled at hiding beneath the polish of performance. When lovers show me my own value, that becomes assimilated into my inner strength, my sense of self. I let it push out all the negative things I've internalized. Queer sex is how I unmake and re-make myself. Queer sex is part of how I build new worlds of possibility.
It might sound simpler than it is, to one not privy to the often exasperating confusion of signaling and blurred boundaries between queer sex workers. I make my living off the fact that people desire me, but part of me still cannot be convinced that I am desirable. No matter how overt the flirtations I receive, I am still held back by the internalized queerphobia that makes me feel like I am a predator if I make the first move with another woman or trans person. The fact that we both sell sexual services adds another layer of confusion. After all, what if her affection, her comments under my pictures, are all just marketing?
I'm looking at her Twitter the next day, my heart melancholy as I scroll past her candid selfies in the mirror of the incall. I start typing the message to her, the one we all know so well, and hating myself for it as I do. Instead of being honest about my feelings, I ask if maybe she'd want to film again some time. You know, for business.
My work, in so many ways, is about helping people break down the internal barriers that keep them from pleasure, from exploration, from self-actualization. Maybe some day soon I'll be capable of believing that I, too, deserve those things.
Maybe some day soon I'll have the guts to ask if she'd want to hang out some time, with our clothes on.