Thirty years ago I migrated from Nova Scotia to BC.
You see, I had worked as an escort in Halifax after working for a catering company, as a hotel chamber maid, as a roofer, and in a health spa.
I remember making $4 – $5 / hour which was not enough to live on, so I started working massage and escort to cover the bills.
Escorting was good money until I fell, while going on an outcall, and dislocated my shoulder.
One of my regular customers offered to help me by “fronting” me some LSD to sell so I could pay my bills. 25,000 hits to be exact.
I managed to sell most of it before a “friend” who was battling addiction reported me to Crime Stoppers for the reward.
would pay $2000 in those days for reports resulting in arrest (which
was, coincidentally, the price of an ounce of cocaine).
We had been out to see Metallica on their “And Justice for All” Tour.
were staying at my house for the weekend, so I decided to stay at my
boyfriend’s house to create an extra bed for someone to sleep in at my
I came home the next morning to see if people wanted to go out for breakfast.
Everyone was gone….My LSD was gone…the apartment was upside down as if there had been a fight.
I was so mad. I thought one of my friends had taken it.
I sat down in my usual spot on the couch to think, and looked down at the table…..RCMP business card….oh crap…..
I called the number on the card and spoke to police who said, “You can either come down here or we will come and get you.”
So, I packed my toothbrush and surrendered to police.
soon as I arrived, I claimed the drugs and made a statement stating
that none of my friends were involved and the drugs were solely my
I can tell you my friends were really happy to see me. Some who had been our guests for the weekend were really scared.
I saw the charges through and was sentenced to 6 months in prison.
I was released from prison, there were still no livable wages and I was
facing numerous failing industries, job markets, and general economic
collapse in the Maritimes.
Many of my fellow east coasters left during that time. It was a large migration of people all fleeing economic hardship.
We all migrated west trying to find ways to create better lives for ourselves, our families, and our communities back home.
My friend and I set out on Highway 1 outside of my hometown, Dartmouth.
Her dad dropped us off and I remember him saying “See you at dinner!”
He didn’t think we were actually going to hitchhike across Canada.
It was a long and dangerous journey. Over 6100 kilometers.
remember that one of the first rides we got was from a guy who was
returning to Ontario to face a murder charge. He was nice enough but
needless to say, we had our guards up.
He took us all the way to Toronto, where we got stuck for a week living in shelters and trying to work on street.
was brutal, we did not know the town or where sex workers were working.
We got into a taxi and asked the driver to take us where the sex
He dropped us off on the “low-track” where clients proceeded to offer me $10 – $20 dollars for service.
My friend was acting as security as I got into cars with clients and tried to make some money for us to eat and find a room.
We met a rock n’ roller type guy who generously offered to let us stay at his place in Kensington Market.
didn’t know before going there that there was a garbage strike on in
Toronto and that Kensington was a large fresh produce market.
I remember cockroaches and rotting vegetables all over the streets.
owners were simply throwing food waste into the middle of the street
where cars and trucks were driving over it turning it into mulch.
It was a heat wave and as anyone will tell you about summer in Toronto, so humid it was almost unbearable. The smell….I will never forget the smell….
It wasn’t the best night of sleep as the man who offered us a place to stay expected sex in return for his charity.
had to watch my friend provide service to this man almost the entire
night. So much for his good will and us getting some rest. We knew we
couldn’t stay there again.
The next day we went to welfare and
applied for emergency checks. We also secured beds in emergency shelter
so we wouldn’t have the same problems we had had the night before.
While we waited for the money to come through, we decided we would go to the beach on Lake Ontario.
needed to bathe and clean ourselves up, so coming from the “City of
Lakes,” we immediately thought this would be a good idea. There are 110
lakes in my home town.
Well, we had no idea the state of Lake Ontario.
There was nothing alive in the lake. I mean nothing. Small pieces of algae floating sporadically…that’s it.
We noticed that there was also a smell in the air but ignored it and jumped into the water. It was cool and we felt refreshed.
We realized after leaving that we could still smell something. What was the smell? Where was it coming from?
It was us! I smelled like the lake for 3 days even after showering in the emergency shelter!
After six weeks of travel, we finally made it across the Prairies, the Rocky Mountains, and arrived in Vancouver.
We only knew two people in Vancouver. Once again, sex was expected and sleep ever elusive.
We had to move out if we were going to get some rest.
first went to welfare and once again applied for emergency money. I
then went out to work on the street and once again asked a cab driver to
take me to where the sex workers were.
He took me to downtown Vancouver, Richards and Nelson Streets.
I could see other sex workers, they were dressed up beautifully. Wigs, stilettos, some in bikinis.
I picked a corner which had no one standing on it and began to meet clients.
It was good pay, $100 to $300 dollars depending on the kind of service.
of the clients were asking me if I was trans. I was a bit
confused….then I realized I was standing in the wrong section of the
I moved over and was immediately greeted by another sex worker. She was friendly and wanted me to meet her “man.”
She told me we could share him. She said she would be the “wife” and I could be the “wife in law.”
had been involved with some pimps in my home town but now that I was in
Vancouver I felt nervous about this, so I decided to change strolls to
avoid interactions with them.
The next night I went to the “mid-track” located on Quebec Street and Main Street between 7th Ave and 2nd Ave.
There were sex workers living in a hotel there called the “City Centre.” My friend and I also took a room there.
It was convenient for clients we picked up on the street and we finally had a safe space for sleeping.
The room cost $60 a night, which, if you think about it, was highway robbery.
The hotel owners knew we were all desperate in one way or another and the rooms were actually our homes. $1800.00 / month in 1990 for one room.
The police would come periodically and “sweep” the hotel, knocking on everyone’s doors and asking for ID.
They kicked people out who had too many in one room or who did not have ID.
I had lost everything including my ID when I had to leave my possessions hidden in a bush while I visited a client in his car.
Another client felt bad for me and used his ID to book a room for me to live in.
When the police came to once again sweep the hotel, the room was not in my name.
had no ID, so I was kicked out and forced to walk the street til
morning when I could find a place to sleep in a park during the day.
I washed my hair and bathed in a Burger King bathroom so I could go back to work at night.
I found paid lockers at the Main Street Train Station so the few remaining possessions I had were safe at least while I worked.
During this time I met other sex workers and learned about their pimp families.
operated as a “renegade” and stayed under the radar of the pimps for a
while by buying beers and smoking joints with the workers who had pimps.
I was caught by the pimp family known as “North Preston’s Finest” and
was moved into a townhouse complex where they had two houses.
in the Buy and Sell newspaper and the Burnaby News were a new way to
contact clients and so the clients began visiting us in the houses.
I witnessed terrible pimp violence against my friends.
remember the pimps surrounding a woman who had tried to flee and
cutting her hair off in front of the rest of us as a warning.
was allowed to shower and go to sleep in the house where I lived and I
was tasked with preventing her escape. I was told that I would be held
responsible if she was to get away.
came down in the middle of the night with her possessions and was
trying to leave. I begged her not to. I begged her to wait until they
took us out to the street to work the next evening.
She stayed. She stayed and protected me from repercussions at the hands of the pimps.
I remember my friend getting angry at her pimp and him beating her with an iron fire poker in front of us.
I remember another friend being
punched so hard by her pimp in the face that it knocked her right out of
her shoes and her wig. She was unconscious for at least 10 minutes but
never went to the hospital.
I started using hard drugs to cope with all of the violence I was experiencing and witnessing. I used crack and heroine.
first I smoked but eventually began intravenous use…a reflection I
believe of the self harm I was experiencing as a result of the PTSD
which I was accumulating.
It was also during this time when I met “he who shall not be named and who is responsible for the case of the missing women.”
I jumped into the car with him after my friend said she did not want to go with him. I looked back and she looked scared.
He took me to the spot I frequently used to visit clients in cars.
asked me if I had change for $100 bill and as I was looking in my boot
for the money he ambushed me. He assaulted and raped me.
He was delusional in a way, he offered to drive me back to the corner as if everything was normal.
I took my chance and dove out of the car being careful to memorize the license plate.
I tried to report him on three separate occasions to no avail.
The police were not interested in violence against sex workers.
They told us that if we didn’t want to get raped, we should not come there to work.
Then, I escaped my pimp.
He found me working on street, caught me and beat me. He hit me so hard in the face I fell over a fence backwards.
I got away that night but now had to fear him finding me again.
Then a kind of miracle occurred.
I had met an outlaw biker as a client during my time with the pimps. He had become my regular.
We would go out together riding his bike, going to parties and shows. He was an amazing man and made me feel safe.
When he went to the pimp house to see me and I wasn’t there, he left. He then returned with another man.
This man had a notebook and gun. They demanded to know where I was.
When the pimps didn’t know, they demanded to know any place I might go.
then went to every place I had ever taken the biker and questioned
people there in the same way they had questioned the pimps.
eventually found me and confirmed that I was alright only after scaring
the shit out of the pimps and almost everyone I knew.
This had a lasting impact.
No pimp ever messed with me again and my new Vancouver friends were careful in how they dealt with me.
This man, this biker….had saved my life…for no reason…for no money…simply because he liked me.
I am still friends with him now.
There is so much of this time which I have not included here. So many friends I lost to murder, overdose and disease.
was a daily occurrence. People were always ready to take advantage of
us. The police were not interested in helping us. The community wanted
to get rid of us.
I believe it is because of these experiences I can empathize with international migrant sex workers.
in a place where you don’t know anyone and don’t know how the sex
industry works locally. Being far removed from your family and support
Having no one to trust and not speaking the language. Facing exploitation at every turn.
I know the kind of courage it takes to migrate.
I wake up everyday I remember. I may be poor. I may struggle to get
ahead…. but I am a long way from where I was when I arrived in this
I have built networks and friendships and a life here so far from my home.
I have been incredibly lucky.
I remain steadfast in my support of migrant sex workers and ending the vulnerabilities they face when they come here.
There can be friction between migrant and locally born sex workers over many things.
We need to remember the challenges migrants face and their strength to endure it and even thrive.
We need to support each other, where ever we are from.
We are all sex workers.
Together we can make our lives safer.
We need to do better, for all of our sake’s.
About the Author
Susan is a 32 year sex working
veteran and 16 years sex workers rights advocate. She has worked with
government and police towards safer communities for sex working people.
has appeared in the media over 400 times and has given evidence or
testified to 2 Supreme Court cases, the Commission of Inquiry on missing
and murdered women, the City of Vancouver Task Force and the
Parliamentary Sub Committee on prostitution.
She continues to
work towards safety and equality for sex workers in Canada via
complaints to the office of the commissioner of lobbyists and has
submitted many briefs to government committees working on these issues.
an extension of her “flesh trade work,” Susan also owns a small meat
market with her partner in Vancouver where she continues to work as a
sex worker upstairs where she lives.
Calabria Meat Market has
been a 7 year passion for Susan and she enjoys supporting small local
growers and promoting sustainable food security.
Sometimes I had new clients who would call a few times before they would actually book a date. This was common with newbies and clients who had had bad experiences in the past – usually they had been rejected at the door for reasons of race or physical appearance or they had been robbed. Often, these calls would make me nervous too as I was worried that they were trying to get a sense of my safety precautions in order to rob or do harm to me. But sometimes, I was completely surprised when I ultimately learned the real reason why they were taking their time to check me out before booking a visit.
One occasion really sticks out in my
mind, and, more than 10 years later, my experience with this client
continues to have a profound impact on me.
He was a
young man I’ll call James. The first time he called, he told me right
away that he just wanted to chat about my services and that he wouldn’t
be booking me right away. These types of calls often annoyed me as they
would ask increasingly more detailed questions about what services I
offered as their breathing became faster and louder – in short, they
were utter time-wasters!
But James didn’t sound like that. I
could tell immediately that he was very nervous as his voice was shaking
and he wanted to know whether I had worked with clients who were
physically disfigured before.
To be honest, this was the first time I had been asked this
question and I gently asked what the nature of his disfigurement was. He
explained that he had severe scars from burns and skin grafts that
covered 40% of his body.
The physical appearance of my clients had never presented a problem
for me before so I told him that what actually matters to me is how my
clients treat me and that they are happy with my services. James told me
he would call me back the following week once his payday came and would
book an appointment then.
He called back three weeks later and
provided more context about his fears. He had been rejected by a sex
worker and girls he was dating in the past even when he explained about
his scars. I’ll be honest and say that the fact that he’d been
previously rejected by a sex worker did cause me a bit of concern as I
thought that his disfigurement must be fairly extreme.
But, by this time, we had spent about 30 minutes talking during our
two calls and he sounded very sweet. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings
and encouraged him to come and see me and promised that no matter what,
I wouldn’t reject him. James still wasn’t ready to book me but called 3
days later and set up a date for that evening.
James arrived at
my apartment and I was pleasantly surprised to open the door to a nice
looking young man of 26. He wore a crisp dress shirt and chinos and the
only mark I could see on him was what I recognized as a skin graft on
his neck that disappeared under the collar of his shirt.
I offered him a drink and he asked for water and we sat on my couch
to chat. I asked him what he did for a living and we made small-talk
about his job. I could see that he was very nervous still. When he made
eye contact, he immediately looked away and blushed which I found
completely adorable. Eventually I suggested we go to the bedroom.
there, I moved close to him and started to unbutton his shirt at which
point he suddenly stiffened and asked if we could turn the lights out. I
explained that I could dim them quite low but that I was not
comfortable with full darkness for my own safety. I again assured him
that he should relax and try not to worry about his body, that I would
take things slow and that he could stop me at any time. Eventually, I
took his shirt off.
Starting at his neck, the burn scars and
skin grafts covered his shoulder and upper arm to his elbow, most of one
side of his chest and all the way down across one thigh and buttock. He
stared at the floor while I undressed him and started to shake. The
whole time I softly told him to relax, that it would be okay.
we were sitting naked on the bed and I could see that there were tears
in his eyes. My heart ached for him. I held his hands in mine and asked
him to tell me how he had been burned.
He quietly told me that when he was 14 years old, his family home
caught fire. He and his parents made it out but once on the front lawn,
he realized that his 7 year old sister wasn’t with them and his parents
were too overcome by smoke inhalation to go back in the house. He ran
back in to save his sister by lowering her out her window to their
father. Her bedroom curtains caught fire and wrapped around him as he
struggled to get out the window. By this time, there were tears in my eyes.
I had no idea what those scars would feel like under my hands and against my body but I was determined to touch this young man and was surprised to find that the skin grafts and scars were velvety soft and slightly rippled.
There was nothing disgusting or revolting about them at all. He was an inexperienced lover and it was over in a very short time but I broke my own rules about not kissing my clients on the mouth because I found the experience so sweet.
He continued to see me every few
weeks for about 18 months. During that time he told me about dating
situations where young women had reacted in terrible ways to the sight
of his scars, even though he had told them why he had them. I wanted to
find those girls and slap them. I encouraged him to keep trying – that
one day he would find the right woman.
And then one day he did.
He showed up at my door and explained that, while he would still pay me,
he simply wanted to come see me one last time to say goodbye and to say
thank you for, as he put it, giving him his confidence back. For
convincing him that he wasn’t disgusting or disfigured.
While I was sorry that I wouldn’t be seeing him any more – I had
grown quite fond of him, you see – I was happy that he had found a woman
who loved him for the hero he was, scars and all.
About the Author
Porth was born in Vancouver and completed an undergraduate degree at
SFU in 1986. After years working in university administration, Kerry
worked in the sex trade for four years leaving her with a lasting
passion for improving the human rights of sex workers. After exiting the
sex trade in 2004 and embarking on recovery from substance dependence,
Kerry was the Executive Director for PACE (Providing Alternatives,
Counselling & Education) Society in Vancouver’s down town east side
from 2006 to 2012. A passionate human rights activist, Kerry is a
well-respected educator who regularly lectures at colleges and
universities about the sex trade. Currently, Kerry currently works as a
community developer with Living in Community, a project that addresses
issues related to sex work in Vancouver and is lead researcher on an SFU
project on sex work governance. She is also the chair of the board for
Pivot Legal Society.
of the most painful things that I have to deal with as a sex worker is
the ridiculous notion that sex workers don’t have the right to say no or
set limits on sexual activity. This idea has been around for a long
time (hello patriarchy!) and is by no means limited to sex working
women, but sex workers do tend to be the ones that bear the brunt of
this terrifying assumption.
I was contemplating entering the sex industry in my twenties after
leaving an abusive first marriage, I was viscerally aware of both the
fact that I would be at greater risk of sexual violence, even murder, on
account of my profession. Not only that, but I would face greater
barriers to justice than a non-sex-working woman reporting a violent
crime. Choosing between poverty and increased risk of violence is an
impossible choice, but it is one that people make every day. It’s the
choice I made when I first started escorting.
the sex industry was, for the most part, a positive decision for me
personally. I loved the freedom that came with the money. As someone who
had worked in primarily low-wage, low-job-security jobs before becoming
an escort, it was a revelation to earn a good living. I still remember
how good it felt to walk into that art supply store after my first
couple weeks working at an agency and paying cash for an easel, a pack
of canvas, and a set of quality brushes. I finally had money to spend to
nurture my creativity. I will always feel proud of myself for clawing
my way out of poverty and investing in myself. And it felt good to be
good at my job. Although I was, at times, a good waitress, I never felt
like a great waitress. When I started escorting, I got so much positive
feedback from clients that I had no doubt in my mind I was good at my
2017, a client I had seen before decided to rape me. The experience was
agonizingly painful. Afterwards, I struggled in many ways. I am
healing, but I continue to struggle as well. The rape was extremely
traumatic and left me with PTSD. My life, which had been going really
well, became a nightmare roller coaster of panic attacks, flashbacks,
numbness, and chronic pain. I was furious. This man felt free to violate
my clearly stated boundaries because he has been taught by the greater
culture that women who do sex work don’t deserve to set boundaries. Or
perhaps he’s just a violent misogynist who would treat any woman that
way. Whatever the case may be, he chose to prioritize his desire to get
his own way in bed over my right to decide what happens to my own body.
is an important human rights issue, but it’s one that doesn’t get
enough attention. Even within the #MeToo movement, you see people saying
that sex workers don’t get to have their me too moment because our work
renders us incapable of being sexually violated. Comments like this are
extremely disheartening to me. They suggest that I, on account of my
profession, am not fully human. That I don’t experience the consequences
of sexual assault because I have a lot of sex, or something.
assure you, sexual violence is every bit as devastating to the mind,
body and spirits of sex workers as it is to anyone else. It could even
be argued that it impacts us more greatly, as we perform erotic
labor, and as freelancers, we can’t always take time off when we need
the assault, I was able to perform erotic labour with ease and often
enjoyment. After, navigating PTSD and not wanting to be touched while
trying to keep the business that I’d built afloat, was so difficult.
chose to make a police report, and this case is currently making its
way through the Canadian legal system (I refuse to call it a justice
system until I see evidence that it actually serves the interests of the
most vulnerable members of our society). I have to be mindful not to
write anything specific to the case until after the trial in December. I
can, however, discuss how the rape has impacted my life, and call for
better treatment for sex workers.
thrives in the shadows. The laws that put sex workers outside the
protections of the law make us easier targets for violent abusers. I can
tell you right now that we are not punching bags for misogynists. It is
not fair or lawful to expect anyone to endure the torture of rape on
the job; however, we are expected to bear that burden in silence. There
has been a culture of silence and tacit tolerance towards sexual
misconduct, sexual assault and rape, for far too long. I refuse to bear
it any longer. No one should have to choose between being sexually
violated or going hungry. No one should have their consensual sexual
expression used to justify sexual violence against them. These are basic
human rights that should be obvious. The fact that they are not obvious
to enough people is why the MeToo movement is needed. Just remember:
Sex workers deserve to have our human rights respected as much as anyone
else. Our lives matter. Our safety matters. Our health and well-being
matters. Full stop.
By Annie Temple
Before I had kids of my own, I noticed something about my
colleagues kids. And not just other strippers, but my friends in the
escort business too. By and large, their kids were kind, considerate,
helpful, and seemed to be incredibly well-adjusted as teenagers.
till that point, I believed that all teenagers were a headache to their
parents. Teens and strife went hand-in-hand. No parent could avoid the
dreaded teen years. They were a fact of life.
Apparently, I was wrong. In front of my face, were several examples of chill teens raised by sex industry workers.
Was there a correlation? How did this happen?
wisdom would have us believe that sex industry workers are terrible
parents who routinely jeopardize their childrens’ safety by bringing
“perverts” around, leaving them to raise themselves, and setting an
example of depravity.
Social wisdom is INCORRECT.
of sex workers that I know are more likely to be level-headed, socially
aware, critical thinkers. Rather than putting their parents through a
lot of grief, they are strong allies of their parents. Gutsy, confident,
young people who speak their minds and care about others.
impressed. I made it a hobby to notice similarities in parenting styles
among the parents of these stellar teens. I asked myself, what about
their environment? How and why would their environment differ from a
typical square parented home?
As a youth, I was far from chill. I
fought daily with my mother, felt depressed and alone a lot of the
time, and made bad decisions around boys and money. I wanted to learn
how my colleagues had raised their kids so I could apply their
techniques when I raised children of my own, in hopes that my kids
wouldn’t have the same experiences I had.
I am happy to report
that the following tricks are tried and true. I’ve built my parenting
styles around the ones listed below and my kids are as chill as you can
In Real-Time: Whore Stigma and Motherhood
Ironically, while I was writing this article, I posted this Facebook status (seen below) and experienced the same stigma I am trying to dispel.
A few hours after posting, while I made dinner for my family, my 15-year-old daughter appeared in the kitchen. “Check your Facebook, Mom,” she said. “I hope you’re not mad but I told off someone on your page because she insulted you.” The woman who “insulted me” posted this:
My daughter, upon seeing the above post, jumped to my defense providing a perfect example of how a sex industry worker (me) has raised a confident, socially-aware teen who defends rather than attacks her mom. I couldn’t be more proud. Here is my daughter’s response:
The proof is in the pudding. The following ten reasons sex industry workers are great parents could be said of parents with square jobs too. However, I rarely see square parents using these techniques.
Any parent can follow these tips to build better relationships with their children. Certainly, not all sex industry workers are terrific parents, but most of them truly are. And for good reason, as you will see below.
Ten Reasons Sex Workers Are Great Parents
#10. We have more money.
Like everyone who works, sex industry workers do it for the money. The money isn’t always great but it’s better than most of us would earn at other jobs. And sometimes it truly is great.
we are self-employed, we can choose to work more when needed to pay for
extra curricular activities, financially support our kids passions,
keep them in food and clothes, and manage extra costs as they crop up
for field trips, bus passes, and other typical costs.
parents who rely on social assistance live in the worst kind of poverty
you can imagine. Social assistance does not cover the most minimal,
essential requirements – such as healthy food and weather-appropriate
Similarly, working a full-time job at $25/hour, after
paying for childcare, travel costs (transit, parking, gas, car
insurance), and other work-related costs such as business-wear is
equivalent to being on social assistance…except that you don’t get to
raise your own kids.
The financial rewards of sex work are appreciated by all members of the family.
#9. We have more time.
Because we make more money in less hours, we have more time for our kids. Time that other parents spend catching up on housework or winding down from work, we can spend helping with homework, playing games, going shopping, and otherwise being present in our children’s lives.
self-employed also allows us to schedule work around our kids needs.
For instance, we can choose to work only when the kids are at school, or
we can work nights while our spouses work days eliminating the need for
If our kids have special needs, we can work around
their appointments. We can choose to work during a time that would be
least stressful for our children. For instance, we could make sure we’re
home every night to put our kids to bed or make sure we’re home every
morning to see our kids off to school.
Sex worker parents have the gift of more time with their kids.
#8. We respect boundaries.
If there’s one thing that sex workers know about, it’s boundaries. A distinct part of our work is knowing our boundaries and enforcing them.
We have to set our price, lay down the rules of engagement, explicitly state our guidelines, and penalize those who attempt to cross our boundaries.
Because our work is sexualized, the crossing of boundaries can get very personal depending on the infraction.
Sex industry work sensitizes us to the importance of self-determination. We demand our right to provide sexual services, while also demanding our right to set boundaries.
We also recognize that boundaries differ from person to person. Our children are persons. They also have boundaries, whether they are physical, verbal, or mental. They have a right to privacy. They have a right to stand up for themselves.
In fact, as sex industry workers who are also parents, we most definitely have taught our children to advocate for themselves.
It’s a wonderful skill we acquire, to set and respect boundaries, and we want to make good and damn sure our children are also skilled at standing up for their rights.
#7. We are compassionate and non-judgmental.
Of course we are! We know firsthand what it is like to be stigmatized, criminalized, and discriminated against.
For sex industry workers, stigma is a fact of life. Even so, it still astonishes me after spending a lot of time among colleagues to be faced with standard social dogma.
It’s easy to forget we are looked down upon so intensely when we’ve been among our people.
I shouldn’t be surprised when stigma slaps me in the face again and again. Yet, I am surprised. Every time. Why am I surprised? Because I am a whole lot of things…really great, wonderful things.
I am the same as everyone else except for what I do for work and some of the cultural traits that go along with it (like speaking my mind).
Being the subject of deeply entrenched stigma and discrimination enables us to recognize it when it’s directed at others.
When most parents simply jump on the judgmental bandwagon, sex industry workers often do the opposite. We are more likely to express concern for the person who is being judged. We might even defend them.
What we are teaching our children in these moments is that we shouldn’t make assumptions or generalizations. Too many false assumptions and generalizations have been made about us. We don’t want to fall into the same judgmental patterns that have hurt us.
Through our example and our defense of others who may be deemed “deviant,” our children learn that it is not their place to judge. And when it comes down to it, they know that we won’t judge them either.
#6. We set an entrepreneurial example.
One of the most common personality traits among sex industry workers is the entrepreneurial spirit.
Having an entrepreneurial spirit means being a self-driven, risk-taking, resourceful, creative, business owner.
I find there are two kinds of workers in our world. People who are happier in a secure job with a dependable paycheque and people who prefer to work for themselves.
Sex industry workers, for the most part, prefer to work for ourselves. Otherwise, we might not have gotten into the industry in the first place.
I dare say that most sex industry workers aren’t very good with authority figures. (Or maybe that’s just me.)
I have a desire to create my own destiny. Putting up with condescending, controlling, or otherwise micro-managing managers is not part of the destiny I want to create.
You might think that a parent who sets the example of going to a good job day-in and day-out who receives a dependable paycheque and says things like “In the real world, you just have to work with horrible people sometimes, so get used to it,” is a better role model for children than I am.
But I disagree. I believe that having such a defeatist attitude limits your child. In my adult life, I have not had to just “get used to” working with horrible people. Hell no! If I am working with horrible people, I am finding another job or dumping that person as a client or doing whatever I have to do to stop working with horrible people.
We all tell our kids, “you can do anything you want to do.” Telling them they have no choice in certain matters, like putting up with horrible co-workers, is sending mixed messages.
Conversely, setting an entrepreneurial example inspires children to shoot for the stars.
When our children become adults and run into a financial crisis, they won’t cry in their beers while they look for new jobs. Our children will build their own businesses while they look for new jobs. The new jobs might even be turned down if their businesses are thriving.
I’m not saying a dependable job isn’t a wonderful thing, and I know many sex industry workers who’ve found their places in rewarding square jobs post retirement (myself included).
I’m saying that entrepreneurs live the philosophy of building your dreams, which is a wonderful example for children to have. And sex workers are entrepreneurs.
#5. We have a different definition of success.
When most people think of success, they think of prestige, financial wealth, and political power. But sex workers know that success is not measured by how high you are on the social ladder.
After all, sex workers are “lower classed” citizens by most social standards due to stigma and criminalization. But we are living a life we have created for ourselves – one that makes us happy.
In the sex industry, we may have really hit the big-time. We might even meet some of those more square ideals of success among our own people.
The thing is, we had to piss a lot of people off to get here. It’s not fun having your parents disown you or your best friend break up with you.
Being a sex worker opens us up to a lot of criticism from our loved ones on top of all the discrimination we experience from strangers.
Many people wouldn’t be able to go against their families.
Unsurprisingly, most sex workers don’t tell their parents what they do for a living. But they still do it. Amidst the fabrications and double-life, sex industry workers still choose this work.
So why do we choose it?
I will tell you why we choose it. It is because our definition of success is “happiness.”
Oh sure, sex work is a job and I promise it’s not always fun and wonderful. But what we get out of our work is what makes us happy.
Having learned from experience that sometimes you need to break from the “road most travelled” to find happiness, we are much more likely to support our children in their pursuits.
We are not under the illusion that you must graduate from highschool and earn a university degree to be successful. Most of us have those degrees yet did not find success through them.
No, success is not about academics or sports. It is about an individual’s passions, interests, and talents.
If stripping was the best job I ever had and I went against everyone to do it, then who am I to stand in the way of my child’s happiness when he chooses something I don’t approve of?
Sex workers know this to be true: You don’t have to be accepted to be happy. But it’s nice to be accepted too. (Just ask our kids.)
#4. We can laugh at life’s little blips.
Shit happens. If I became devastated by every little blip I experienced in the sex industry – like the time I went on stage without doing a cookie check to learn later that I had a massive piece of toilet paper stuck to my crotch (and how it glowed brightly under black lights) or the time I banged my head on a speaker – I would have to hide away for an eternity.
Sex work is intimate. It is personal. Ass zits and cellulite are there for the world to see when you’re on stage.
sex worker I know has stories of “life’s little blips” when things
didn’t go according to plan. Invariably, they are the funniest stories
we have and we can only share them with each other because square folks
just don’t get it.
First, they don’t know how we can stand being naked in front of other people, then they don’t know how we can laugh off our most human moments, which cannot be avoided when working in the sex industry.
But laugh them off we can. And we do. Sex workers know that you’ve got to be able to laugh at yourself. My first time up on stage, no one showed me how to shave… And the rest is herstory, very funny herstory.
So, when our kids hit those inevitable bumps in the road, we can teach them how to deal with devastation…or we could laugh it off as one of “life’s little blips.”
When choosing between taking things too seriously or too lightly, go with lightly. It will bring more laughter into your life. Your children’s laughter. A most beautiful sound, I know.
#3. We tell it like it is.
If you want something sugar-coated, don’t ask a sex industry worker. We are recipients of brutal honesty and we give it as good as we get it.
A sex industry worker will tell you if your clothes make you look fat. A sex industry worker will tell you if you have something in your teeth, or toilet paper stuck to your shoe, or sequins missing on your underwear.
Want an honest opinion? Ask a sex industry worker.
I actually think this is one of the reasons men see sex workers. It must be refreshing to know exactly what a person is thinking because we tell you straight out.
We will tell you straight out that we did not invite you to sit down and you’d better move along before we do something about it. We will also tell you straight out how to be a good lover, that is, if you’ve asked and we feel moved to share it with you.
Our candid way of speaking doesn’t end at “the strip club doors” (or other sex industry workspace). It is a part of our culture, and I think that most of us were this way before we even got into the industry. It takes an open kind of person to do this work.
Consequently, when it comes to our children, we are likewise candid.
There’s no beating around the bush. The penis goes into the vagina but the outer part is the labia; other girls only call you a slut because they’re jealous; and don’t sit in front of that computer too long or you’ll get pudgy and pale.
My kids appreciate the direct approach. They don’t always want me to talk so openly about sex. But too bad for them! “Sex” is not a dirty word. I repeated the word “sex” until I’d undone the conditioning my kids received in our sexually repressed society.
The result is that my children ask me questions I would never have asked my parents.
They share their ups and downs with me, never fearing that I will judge or criticize them. This is the relationship I wanted to build and being a sex industry worker prepared me for it.
Whatever the values of individual sex workers, you can be sure they’ve passed them onto their children. We tell them what’s up, and in return, they tell us what’s up. The fun part is when we are getting schooled by them.
#2. We are excellent communicators.
Not only are we charismatic, endearing, and incredible conversationalists, but we are also very good at getting our message across. Only sex workers can tell a person to “go fuck yourself” in such a way that the person feels honoured as he walks away.
communication abilities don’t get left at work. We bring them home. We
use our skills to make our kids feel listened to, valued, and understood
while also “getting” why we cannot always give them what they want.
are also very good at de-escalating conflict. Part of being great at
communication is recognizing subtle changes in a person’s body language
or tone of voice. Being aware of moments of sensitivity enables us to
“talk them down” and avoid potential blowouts with co-workers and
clients. Likewise with our children.
Being in the sex work
business makes no subject taboo. Kids learn pretty quickly what they can
and can’t talk about around their parents. If their parents are sex
workers, they learn that there is nothing they can’t talk about around
Knowing that anything goes conversation-wise gives
kids permission to talk about whatever pops into their heads. When we
talk to our kids about the things that are on their minds, we offer them
context. They will refer to this context when faced with applicable
situations in the future.
Finally, being a sex worker and having
either imagined or experienced explaining what we do for a living to our
parents, we know what it’s like to fear the telling of it. When our
children come to us with “unpleasant” news, we do not freak out. We
don’t want them to fear talking to us. Our kids know they can talk to us
Communication is key in any relationship and sex workers kick ass at communicating.
#1. We give unconditional love.
If you’ve ever been rejected by a parent, you know what unconditional love really is.
One thing it is not is rejection.
Sex workers I’ve talked to about this agree with me that they would never want their child to feel the way we felt when our parents rejected us for becoming sex workers.
I knew my mom would be upset but I held onto a memory from childhood when my mother told me that she would love me forever no matter what. Even if I was a murderer? I asked. “I would visit you every day in jail,” she replied.
Apparently being a murderer is better than being a sex industry worker.
When my mom learned I was a stripper, she yelled at me, cried at me, accused me of doing it to hurt her, threw in my face the most painful moments of my life, and finished with, “I don’t know you anymore.”
And that was that. She didn’t know me anymore. She didn’t call. She didn’t visit.
She would speak civilly to me when I called her, but she made no effort to keep me in her life. If I was going to run a business that she didn’t approve of, then I was as good as dead to her. Worse, because she would have mourned me had I died.
That was not a little blip in my life. I was devastated. Almost 20 years later, I can still conjure up those old feelings of betrayal.
My mother and I reconciled and now she says she is proud of my sex industry activism, but the pain will never truly go away. I will never truly trust my mother’s love ever again.
I knew when I became pregnant with my first child that my number one priority would be to make sure she never felt rejected by me in her life. Never. No matter what.
Because you know what? People make mistakes. And sometimes those mistakes aren’t even mistakes, they are just perceived as mistakes by those doing the judging.
Becoming a stripper was not a mistake for me. My life has been positively enriched by the experiences I’ve had and people I’ve met in the sex industry. Some are friendships that will last a lifetime.
I’m not perfect. Although stripping was not a mistake, I do make mistakes. My children have said to me in moments of despair, “I feel like you don’t love me.”
Those words are like pushing a button in my soul. I want my children to know without a doubt that my love is unconditional.
Those words light a fire under my ass to give my love more abundantly, apologize for actions that would make them feel that way, and remind them that my feelings for them will never change. No matter what they do in life. Murderer or stripper.
Sex industry workers have learned what unconditional love is.
It is love that embraces you even when you’ve let your loved ones down. It is love that lets you know that you can choose your own path, make your own mistakes, and shake the very foundations on which your relationship is built – and it will still be there, strong as ever, embracing and accepting you.
I’ve probably missed some other fabulous reasons why sex industry workers are great parents and I hope you will share your thoughts in the comments below. But mainly, I want to leave you with this:
The whore stigma that casts sex industry workers as bad parents is an intensely false and deeply damaging stigma that impacts sex industry workers and their children to their detriment.
We know there is much to be feared by others knowing what we do.
Abusive spouses win custody cases. Narrow-minded parents cancel playdates. Children are apprehended by social services. And all for the simple reason that our work involves nudity and for some of us, touching.
Nurses’ jobs involve nudity and touching, but they are not assumed because of their jobs to be bad parents.
Some people would never know what it’s like to be touched if it wasn’t for sex industry workers.
Some people would not be able to feed their children if not for sex industry jobs.
So you see…Sex work is work. Our business is your pleasure. We want rights, not rescue. And all the other slogans we’ve created to educate the masses.
who stands alongside adult sex workers and allies across Canada in the
fight for rights, respect and a safe work environment for people in the
sex industry, I’m vehemently opposed to human trafficking.Nobody of any age or nationality should ever be forced, coerced, beaten or exploited into doing any work they don’t want to do.
that said, the Ontario government’s recent news release about the $72
million it will invest in anti-trafficking measures raised a whole lot
of red flags for me.
With so much emotion and so few facts around trafficking in Canada,
I read between the lines of that news release and see nothing but more police efforts targeting non-trafficked people in the sex industry.
hasn’t always been like this. Canadians used to understand that adults
who choose to sell sexual services aren’t necessarily being trafficked,
and that it’s important to make the distinction.
Presumably the Ontario taxpayers putting up $72 million of their
hard-earned income expect to see that money spent on preventing and
prosecuting actual cases of trafficking, not on targeting adults who
choose to work in the sex industry.
But things changed in recent
years after the influential anti-sexwork movement seized on the concept
of trafficking as a means to force governments to take action against
consensual sex work.
Things got even muddier when police departments started counting
crimes of living off the avails of prostitution as
“trafficking-related,” boosting what scant statistics exist as a way to
make a public case for funding anti-trafficking initiatives.
Using much rhetoric and scant evidence,
the anti-sexwork movement has produced countless reports, web sites and
“fact” sheets that essentially position sex trafficking and sex work as
the same thing.
And never mind if sex workers say otherwise. “Victims” are presumed to be so controlled by whoever is trafficking them that their consent counts for nothing.
“In many cases of trafficking for the purposes of
sexual exploitation,” writes the Ontario government, “trafficked persons
may develop ‘trauma bonds’ with their traffickers, and may not view
themselves as victims. As such, human trafficking is believed to be a
vastly underreported crime.”
On the surface, the paragraph is vague enough to be true. But
when it’s put out there with no evidence or statistics to back it up,
it’s also vague enough to justify just about any action by the state if
it can somehow be construed as necessary to stop trafficking – which in
turn has become broad enough in its definition to single out adult sex
work for much more police attention.
Think about what that means
for sex workers, who not only have a very tense relationship with police
at the best of times because of the way their work is viewed, but in
many instances count police among those who have traumatized and abused
Think about what it means for a whole class of workers to
be denied agency just like that, deemed so deluded by their trauma that
their actual, lived experiences of working in the sex industry mean
is a term coined 20 or so years ago by U.S. self-help author Patrick
Carnes to describe exploitive relationships. Like the Stockholm
syndrome, it gets used to explain why some people continue staying with
an abusive spouse, bad boss, incestuous family member and so on, even
when they’re being harmed by the toxic relationship.
situations exist, of course. But what the anti-sex work movement has
done is usurp these terms as a way of shutting sex workers out of any
public discussion around their own industry if they don’t like the
direction of the conversation. “Too traumatized to be listened to, and the poor things don’t even know it.”How convenient.
discussions around trafficking are deliberately emotional, not factual.
I really had to work hard to find any clear information when I was
looking for the facts around trafficking in Canada for this piece. The
best stats turned out to be in the latest U.S. Department of State’s country-by-country report (2015).
report tells us that in 2014, Canadian police charged 121 people with
some kind of trafficking offence, and 22 sex traffickers were convicted
that same year. (And here’s something noteworthy: Of those
22 convictions, only eight actually went under trafficking laws. The
other 14 were sex-work crimes, which have apparently now been rolled
into “trafficking” statistics.)
If there’s a crisis
of human trafficking in Canada, you’d never know it by the statistics.
Both the trafficking-related charges and convictions in 2014 were less
than in 2013. Just to put things in perspective, police reported 1.8 million crimes in Canada in 2014, of which trafficking accounted for .0004 per cent.
think we should be following the lead of the U.S. in giving trafficking
the profile it deserves. But consider the U.S. stats in that same
report: 208 federal human trafficking prosecutions between fiscal year
October 2013- 2014, and 335 people charged. That’s out of 11.2 million
arrests that year.
So when the Ontario government says it has 65
per cent of Canada’s trafficking cases, we should remember they’re
talking about 40 offenders, and even then the majority are just the
normal sex-work statistics around people convicted of living off the
Yes, any case of trafficking is too many. But what we’re hearing these days is people making a case for why the adult sex industry ought to be considered trafficking.
We are witnessing an active campaign to ignore the recommendations of the highest court in the land,
and to affirm through further criminalization and emotional hyperbole
that an entire class of Canadian worker must be denied human, civil and
work rights so that the good and righteous can continue to hate what
they do for a living.
Activities of the adult sex industry are being redefined as trafficking. Safe escort agencies are closing down and people are working alone more, because the laws prevent them from working together.
Pressured by their clients, who since 2014 have newly been declared
criminals, workers are seeking out even more discreet work places,
increasing their vulnerability.
Is this really what we wanted? Have we spent all these years anguishing about Robert
Pickton and the Highway of Tears and Canada’s thousands of missing
aboriginal women, only to walk straight into this emotional, uninformed
and harmful campaign to deny sex workers even more rights,
self-determination and inclusion?
Does it mean nothing
that that Amnesty International, the World Health Organization and the
United Nations have all endorsed decriminalizing the adult sex industry?
Do we think we know better?
We shed crocodile tears for all the “victims” and then set about making life even worse for sex workers. The hypocrisy sickens me.
want to stress again that I stand united with Canadians against human
trafficking. But I’ve been fortunate enough to walk alongside sex
workers for 20 years now, and denying basic human rights and work safety
to them is no way to do that.
Let’s go root out trafficking where it’s actually happening, and end this punitive, moralizing practice of trying to silence and harm the very people we’ve supposedly set out to help.
Paterson is a former journalist and communications strategist in
Victoria, B.C., and a past executive director of a non-profit run by and
for people with experience in sex work, Peers Victoria.
Paterson is a writer, editor and communications strategist with 27
years of experience writing for and managing B.C. daily newspapers. She
currently does communications work in Canada and Central America for
non-profits whose efforts centre around social justice, whether for sex
workers, people with disabilities, children with complex health needs,
or women farmers in Nicaragua.
Jody is a past executive director
of the grassroots sex worker support organization Peers Victoria, in
Victoria, B.C. She continues to work with and support Peers Victoria on a
number of fronts, including as a representative for Peers on the
Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform.
By Annie TempleSWERF stands for Sex Worker Exclusionary Radical Feminist. You know her. She calls herself a feminist and her life work revolves around eliminating sex work jobs.
She thinks men should all be ashamed for being men (naturally visual beings).
The name explains itself, but it is interesting to note that the SWERF mentality IS slowly dying like causes steeped in hatred usually do.
How To Identify If You Are a SWERF
Perhaps you are wondering if YOU are a
SWERF. Perhaps you hang around with people in the rescue industry, or
you have a good friend who has been saying a lot of things about
“prostituted women” lately.
Perhaps you have been CALLED a SWERF
and you’re wondering if it is true, and you really are a SWERF. Well,
I’m here to tell you how to identify if you are, indeed, a SWERF.
You are a SWERF if you call yourself a “feminist” AND you:
Say that all sex workers are victims.
Insist on calling sex workers “prostituted women” even though sex workers have asked you not to
Refuse to call sex workers “sex workers.”
Ignore the fact that men and transgender people are sex workers too.
Consider men to be oppressing women when they pay for adult consensual sex.
Blame female sex workers who serve male clients for “perpetuating
rape.” In other words, “slut shaming.” In other words, misrepresenting
consensual sex between heterosexual adults as rape.
Hate women who show their bodies to men (especially for money).
Hate women who were born with male genitalia (You are also known as TERF – Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist).
Think that women who work in sex work have no agency, cannot think for themselves, nor speak for themselves.
Think that women who work in sex work are weak and oppressed despite
that many sex workers cite feeling empowered and having control in
their work as top reasons for choosing sex work.
Have a job in which your income depends upon fundraising dollars and
grant applications based on fudged figures and junk science that you
use to paint sex workers as trafficking victims in need of rescue. (You
work in the *Rescue Industry.*)
Oppress (silence / ignore / demean / deny agency to) women in the name of feminism.
Think that you do not do any of the things above, but you still
consider sex work to be paid rape and you champion the cause to
eliminate sex work, even if it means sex workers are eliminated in the
process. (My apologies to non-SWERFs for being so blunt, but I get a bit
angry on this subject.)
After reading the above list, if you realize that you are indeed a SWERF, here is what I suggest.
Go to a mirror. Look at yourself. Take a good, long look. Point into the mirror so that you are pointing straight at yourself and sing (to this tune): “STOP in the name of love. Before you stay a SWERF. Think it o-o-over. Think it o-o-over.”(Full lyrics at the bottom of this post.)
The above exercise will: a) bring joy and love into your life; b) help you to lighten up a little (you don’t have to be a militant man-destroyer all the time); and c) allow you to use that brilliant mind of yours to recognize that there is a very good reason for the phrase “Nothing about us without us.
“You are ethically obliged to let sex workers determine what they need and get it for themselves. Once you realize this, you will begin your transformation from SWERF to ally.
We can teach you what you need to know. But first you gotta resign from the SWERF camp.
Your SWERF friends might suddenly reject you and everything you stand for. If that happens, you will know from experience how their hate oppresses people. Fortunately, your conscience will be clear because you will no longer be one of the oppressors.
“Stop! In The Name Of Love” (Before you stay a SWERF)
Lady, Lady I’m aware of where you go Holding protest signs outside my door I watch you walk down the street Chanting that I am a piece of meat But this time before you plug your ears Leaving me silenced and hurt (Think it over) Haven’t you now learned the truth? (Think it over) I don’t need to speak through you.
Stop! In the name of love Before you stay a SWERF Stop! In the name of love Before you stay a SWERF Think it over Think it over
You say you stand For human rights So why do you Ignore my voice? I’m not trying to steal your boyfriend I just want to pay my mortgage But this time before you spout the lies And use your governmental ties (Think it over) I know what is best for me. (Think it over) Why don’t you go save the bees?
Stop! In the name of love Before you stay a SWERF Stop! In the name of love Before you stay a SWERF Think it over Think it over
I’ve tried so hard, hard to be patient Hoping you’d stop this exploitation Religious right and you are together Don’t be an oppressive fool forever
Stop! In the name of love Before you stay a SWERF Stop! In the name of love Before you stay a SWERF Stop! In the name of love Before you stay a SWERF
Lady, think it over Think it over, lady Ooh, think it over lady…
What do you think? Did I cover all things SWERF? What am I missing? Please share your comments below.
(Trigger Warning: stigma, discrimination, slut shaming, bullying, sexual harassment.)
In the sex industry, there is no such thing as a taboo subject. In the square world, political correctness rules the day.
In the sex industry, oddity and originality are special talents. In the square world, uniqueness is vilified.
In the sex industry, sexuality is fluid and celebrated. In the square world, sexuality is shamed and criminalized.
In the sex industry, women make just as much money as men, if not more. In the square world, women fight to be part of the old boy’s club.
The Cultural Divide
I became an adult entertainer at the age of 23 – almost half my life ago.
Since then, I have left and returned to the industry many times.
left for pregnancy, university, a boyfriend. I left so I could put my
kids to bed at night. I left to be a Support Worker; a Marketing
Manager; a Project Coordinator.
But I always returned…because the adult entertainment industry is good to me. Whenever
I’ve been in trouble, it was adult industry people who helped me –
usually by giving me jobs. And thanks to those jobs, I have never been
I have never been desperate, but I have been terrified.
Terrified to square up in the “real world.” Terrified to say or do the wrong thing. Terrified for good reason!
Because once you’ve worked in adult entertainment, the real world is a scary place. It is a place of walls and shame.
Coming from a world of candidness and exposure, culture shock is inevitable.
We may live in the same neighbourhoods and shop in the same grocery stores.
Our kids go to the same schools and play in the same leagues.
But adult entertainers and “civilians” (square folks) live in two completely different worlds.
Squaring up is no easy feat, for many reasons.
The following are ten culture shock challenges I’ve experienced while attempting to leave the sex industry.
Ten “Culture Shock” Challenges I’ve Faced Squaring Up
1. Terrifying anxiety
When my oldest daughter was a baby, I found that exotic dancing wasn’t ideal for me.
I wanted to be home every night to put my baby to bed, but strip clubs are busiest at night. Some are only open in the evenings.
So, I made a goal to get a square 9-5 job.
I did a bunch of assessments and signed up to get my Public Relations diploma.
It was a two year program and I was approved for funding that covered all my expenses except during summer break between the second and third semesters.
Instructors gave us leads on jobs in the Public Relations industry for rookies…er, I mean students…over the summer.
I applied for these square jobs and hoped for a 9-5 position that would pay enough for me to make ends meet over the summer.
In the meantime, I booked a few weeks of stripping. The rent wouldn’t pay itself, after all.
My first week back dancing, I got called for an interview. The office address they gave me was in Richmond.
This was perfect, as I was working nearby at the Fraser Arms in Marpole.
The DJ and other dancers cooperated with me enthusiastically to change the schedule, so I could go to the interview between shows.
But as my day progressed, I developed more and more anxiety.
Every face in the audience was the face of the man who might interview me.
Was he sitting right here in the club? Had he seen me on stage? Would that help or hinder my chances of getting a job?
Would I even want a job from a man who’d seen me dance? How might he use it against me?
I worried I had too much makeup on.
The interviewee before me, a girl from my class, had been late. So my interview was pushed back. I worried I wouldn’t make it back in time for my next show. (They fine us for that.)
By the time I got into the interview, I was a hot mess.
Needless to say, I didn’t get that job. They hired the girl who was late for her interview instead.
The worst part is that I’d worried for nothing.
The interviewer was not a customer from the audience. It was a woman who probably thought I was wearing too much makeup.
Oh well. Her loss.
2. Holes in my resume
I’m lucky because I worked in square jobs for years before I became a stripper.
I’d been a waitress, sandwich artist, newspaper folder, drive thru cashier, fast food counter person, leather jacket saleswoman, laser tag manager, among other things.
Many dancers I’ve known didn’t work in any other jobs before dancing. That definitely adds to culture shock when trying to square up.
Still, there were long gaps in my resume every time I decided to go straight.
And each time I was faced with a decision – to include my exotic dance background on my resume or fudge my timeline a little.
When I graduated with my Public Relations diploma, I became a “Consultant” in all my resume gaps.
I included many of my assignments from school in my portfolio which enabled me to list The Kidney Foundation and other reputable organizations as clients.
Instructors from my courses hired me for small contracts to write press releases, articles, and pitch media outlets on stories.
I began using my training to advocate for sex industry workers rights.
My website, The Naked Truth, was already well established.
But now the media was contacting me regularly for interviews.
Once again, the adult entertainment industry saved me.
It gave me skills and experience beyond what I could have gotten as a rookie in a square job.
when I applied for a job at a non-profit organization that serves
foster children, I decided to keep my sex industry experience on the
With a little bit of imagination, I was able to make my work history look very impressive.
All the gaps were filled with “Media Consultant” work. I was good to go.
If only the Executive Director who interviewed me wasn’t so cunning.
She asked very good questions testing my knowledge and abilities.
But she didn’t want general answers. She wanted true life examples.
Well, my heart started racing as I realized I was cornered.
I had to come up with a lie fast or admit my sex work experience. I took a deep breath and spilled the beans…
“I used to be an exotic dancer which led to doing advocacy for sex industry workers…”
All my best examples came from my advocacy work for which I had never been paid a cent.
At the end of the interview, she told me she’d call in a few days and let me know if I was hired. I walked out having no idea what she thought of me.
But a few days later…she hired me.
Peeler power for the win!
3. Getting caught
I wasn’t trying to hide my sex industry work experience.
I’d appeared on a talk show using my stage name, but my face was clear as day. I was me.
Everything was going great at my internship at a local university.
After getting my diploma, I was hired for a six month contract.
All of my new co-workers assured me that I’d get hired on permanently.
“They always hire the people they like,” I was told.
But everything changed when a woman from administration saw a re-run of the talk show I appeared on.
She spread the news to all the university staff.
Then she waited two days before she approached me, which I can only imagine was on the advice of a compassionate coworker.
I barely knew her. We said hi as we passed each other’s desks, but that’s about it.
“Did you used to be a stripper?” she asked innocently.
My heart jumped but I had no shame. “Yes,” I replied, wondering how this would play out.
“I saw you last night on the Fanny Kiefer Show,” she said.
didn’t know how to respond, so I smiled and nodded while she exclaimed
how she thought it was me but my stage name had confused her.
When she left my desk, I went outside for air. Tears prickled my eyes. I knew this was not good. My ho senses were tingling.
Sure enough, the temperature at work dropped considerably.
People who previously smiled and chatted with me became cold and wouldn’t look me in the eye.
They walked right past me, pretending not to see me. No more lunch invitations. I was an outcast.
There were no more assurances that I would be hired on permanently.
Now people said things like, “Well, I know they’re scaling back due to budget concerns.”
boss, who knew I was a former stripper and that I’d appeared on the
talk show because I’d had to book time off work to do it, had no idea
that I’d become the butt of everyone’s joke until one day the joke
I’d worked from home for a few days due to sickness and had just returned that morning.
was working on an article at my cubicle when my boss approached my
desk. He was about to tell me something when he noticed my name plate.
was a plastic, re-usable name plate. My boss had simply printed my name
and position onto a piece of paper and slid it into the slot.
while I was away, someone had tampered with it. It no longer said
“Media and Public Relations.” It now said: Media and Pubic Relations.
boss was flustered. He said someone must have changed it as a joke. But
no one ever came forward laughing about the name plate joke.
No one said sorry. No one ever mentioned it to me.
I was caught, my past exposed. Someone decided that my experience as a stripper made me deserving of ridicule.
I don’t know why it hurt so much. Why should I care?
I know I’m a kind and caring person with a lot to offer any company I work for.
And yet, I was broken up about it.
In retrospect, I’m glad they didn’t hire me after my contract ended.
Those people were assholes and the job itself was extremely boring.
But my boss was awesome. He couldn’t hire me permanently so he sent me contract work whenever possible.
That was the beginning of my paid consulting career. And he was a great work reference for my future endeavors.
I still have that name plate to remind me that no matter how “normal” adult entertainment culture is to me, I’m still an outcast in the real world.
4. I don’t take any shit
How do people get on in life without telling assholes off?!
I really struggle with this.
In the adult entertainment industry, I can tell anyone off that I want anytime.
My co-workers, my agents, even my customers.
If they cross the line, I can stand up for myself without being fired.
my agents off might result in a few weeks without work, but generally
it’s a good thing because it shows them I’m not their bitch.
Fast forward to civilian life and here I must bite my tongue.
unprofessional to tell a colleague off no matter how ignorant she is
and I’ll lose my job for standing up to a boss or customer.
In the real world, it takes so much effort for me to NOT stand up for myself, that I will usually end up in tears. It’s gotta come out one way or another.
became so used to having the freedom to defend myself in the workplace
that swallowing my retort in the square world is painful.
I’ve taken to studying how my civilian coworkers do it.
Some of them cry, like me. Some of them say they just let it bounce off them.
But when I try that, it bounces off me and wants to punch the rude prick in the face.
doing my best and I think I’m getting the swing of it, but I have to
say this is one of those culture shock issues that I struggle with
It’s also the reason I’ve changed jobs a lot.
someone is treating me in a way that I am barely stifling a reaction,
it’s time for a new job. I don’t want to burn any bridges, after all.
And I know it’s just a matter of time before I say what I really think. *shrugs*
5. Ostracizing my children
What happens when you cross a stripper and a mother? You get an ostracized child!
There were a few last minute cancellations, then no more playdates.
We moved and were given another chance at a new school.
So, I taught my children about stigma and stereotyping.
I told them they could talk about the stripper pole in the house or about my experience in the adult entertainment industry if they wanted – but there might be consequences if they do.
“Your friends might tell their parents; and then their parents might say you can’t be friends.”
My kids have thus far been very mature about the whole thing.
They, like me, think the close-mindedness of most civilians is laughable and ignorant.
For the most part, my children don’t mention the sex industry to their friends.
But there have been instances where someone is trash-talking strippers that my kids felt obliged to defend the industry.
My kids know I am a loving, responsible mother.
I am present. I am health conscious. I listen to them and I teach them life skills. I am the most important person in the world to them.
Other people’s misguided beliefs don’t change how my children see me.
There will always be a few who cannot get beyond the idea that I am a pervert and low-life.
But most people accept me and my children.
The ones that don’t…well, they aren’t the kind of people we want in our lives anyhow.
6. Potty Mouth
Whoops, I dropped the F bomb. Whoops, I did it again.
Uh oh, I said cock instead of penis. Doh, I shouldn’t be talking about penises.
Shit, I shouldn’t have joked about that guy’s bulge. That bum sex joke was probably not appropriate either.
Shit, I need to stop saying shit!
Surprisingly, I find that most of the civilians I meet feel just as suffocated by real world expectations and the unspoken rules of the moral majority as I do.
Most civilians would love to be able to talk freely without censure. They’d like to be their true selves without apology.
They’d be thrilled to tell people off when it is deserved and hold nothing back when discussing a topic they are passionate about.
But they do hold back because being frank and forthright is not socially acceptable in the real world.
Certain topics are an absolute no-no.
No sex talk. No bodily fluids talk. No talking about your wage. No religion, politics, or activism talk. Sex jokes can land you in deep trouble.
Tip-toe around all that shit if you want to be safe.
As a person coming from an open, honest culture like the sex industry – I have a very hard time behaving in a socially acceptable manner.
It is a constant effort to stop myself before I speak.
Adult entertainment is one of those mind-blowing cultures that has the power to erase all previously held beliefs.
That’s why sex industry workers are usually critical thinkers. We’ve learned that not everything we’re told is true.
Like the stereotype of the weak, degraded sex worker, for instance…say what?!
Every sex worker I know is a strong, empowered, determined entrepreneur.
Or the stereotype that all sex workers are drug addicts…WRONG AGAIN.
But if someone were to tell me a stereotype that all sex workers have potty mouths…
…well, I can’t really argue with that. In our culture, the F word is a most common adjective.
7. Sexual Harassment
There are two scenarios for this particular culture shock challenge.
The one where I am sexually harassed and the one where I am accused of sexual harassment.
Both occasions occurred during my time in college studying for my Public Relations Diploma.
Many of the courses I took were combined classes of PR students and Journalism students. I made friends with some of the budding journalists, including one woman who asked if she could write an article about my PR efforts for sex worker rights for the college paper.
Around this time, I was still hiding my real name in the media.
I went by my stage name, Annie Temple, for this and many other interviews I participated in.
few weeks before the interview came out in the college paper, I met the
head of Marketing for the college at an event I attended through my
My boss introduced me as a student in the PR program.
The Marketing dude from my college was very polite but dismissive. I shrugged my shoulders and went on with my life.
The schmuck didn’t remember my real name, but he remembered my face.
When he picked up the college newspaper a couple weeks later to see my smiling face inside the front page, he recognized me.
He emailed me.
I got excited. I didn’t want my diploma to lead nowhere – or straight back to dancing, for that matter.
The point of going to school was to find a 9-5 job so I could put my kids to bed at night.
I painstakingly fixed up my resume. The jerkass kept the ruse up a little longer with some emails going back and forth.
Finally, I suspected he was yanking my chain.
Sure enough, when I confronted him there was no position available.
I guess he thought he could get off on some email exchanges by using his position and power to lure me in.
I guess he thought I was an easy target because I was a stripper.
I guess he was right.
My complaint to the college wasn’t taken seriously at all.
They told me the emails seemed harmless and innocent. They didn’t consider his behaviour inappropriate.
didn’t pursue it, even though I wasn’t the first or only woman he’d
sexually harassed at the school. I learned of at least two others.
The guy was a douchebag but I didn’t have the energy to be skewered as a sexual deviant in a hopeless fight with the college.
The sexual harassment challenge also works in the opposite direction. Only, in my case, it really was harmless and innocent.
In my culture it’s okay to tell a women that her boobs look fabulous in her low-cut shirt.
In the real world, at college, I found out the hard way that’s a no-no.
I can’t describe the shame and humiliation I felt when I was pulled into an instructor’s office and told my comment was sexually inappropriate.
I considered myself a feminist.
How could I be a sexual harasser of women too?
I feel the need here to say that this particular instructor was guilty of some pretty serious inappropriate behaviour herself.
She was having a relationship with one of the students in our class. A student who didn’t like me. The same student who overheard my comment and reported me to the self-same instructor.
The woman whose boobs I complimented said she wasn’t offended at all.
But whether I deserved a sexual harassment warning or not, this experience is an extreme example of the culture shock I have experienced leaving the adult entertainment industry.
Boobs are a favourite topic in my culture. In the real world, boobs are totally off limits.
8. Low Pay
The biggest reason we find it difficult to leave the adult entertainment industry and also the biggest reason we often go back is because of the money.
It’s not just better pay than most square jobs. It’s also more money in less hours.
More flexibility. We can take time off when we want. We can take working vacations almost anywhere in the world. If I need money today, I can pick up work tonight. If I need money this week, I can pick up work tomorrow.
remember that summer between semesters when I got turned down for the
square job in Public Relations, I decided to try waitressing for the
That lasted less than a week. The hourly pay was minimum wage. The tips were negligible.
I had to pour ketchup from one bottle into another every shift.
That job sucked the life out of me. I felt like I had sold my soul.
I was the Slop Slut. At least, that’s how I felt. It was degrading.
The other staff weren’t very friendly. I didn’t like taking orders. I certainly didn’t like slopping ketchup into bottles.
After adding up numbers for the few shifts I’d worked, I realized I wouldn’t be able to afford rent and groceries.
Needless to say, I quit and went back to dancing. And I breathed a huge sigh of relief. I was home.
9. Expert “Flirt”
I make eye contact when I talk to people. I know exactly when to break out my secret weapon: a big, broad, twinkling smile.
I laugh at the right moments. Talk conspiratorially. I make people feel like they are interesting and funny – and they usually are.
People shine most when they are focused on in a caring and interested way. I am an expert at making people shine.
In the sex industry, all customers are equal. It doesn’t matter who is better looking or what kind of job they do.
If they are respectful and financially attentive, they get our respect and attention.
Habits are hard to break. In the real world, we (adult entertainers) don’t cease being masterful conversationalists.
We don’t cease treating people equally regardless of their quirks and eccentricities.
But I’ve come to learn that in the square world, my behaviour is considered flirting.
I am indiscriminate with my “flirting.” It does not matter your gender. I am “flirting” with you.
I’m not trying to pick you up. I have no ulterior motives.
In fact, in my culture (of adult entertainment), we are much more up front if we are trying to pick someone up.
We come right out and say “You’re sexy. What are you doing later?”
Not so in the real world. Here, I am considered to be flirting if I feign interest in any way.
Being nice can even be considered flirting.
You can see how this becomes a problem for those of us coming from the sex industry.
In the square world, being forthright and confident makes me an expert flirt. And there is a lot of silent pressure to “tone it down.”
But why should I? This is me. I am an outgoing person who enjoys seeing people’s true selves shine through. What is so wrong with that?
As Marianne Williamson famously said:
is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not
feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We
were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not
just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
The moral of this story is: Be like sex workers. Go ahead, you have my permission. 😉
am a confident, happy woman who likes to dress nice and look good. I
guess that makes me a slut because, in the square world, women often
Maybe it’s something about the way I carry myself. I do have good posture.
It could also be my candidness. I don’t generally volunteer the information unless it is relevant to the discussion at hand.
But I decided a long time ago that I wouldn’t allow stigma to shame me into a double life.
For that reason, I make a point of not hiding my experience in the adult entertainment industry.
And for the most part, this works for me. People accept me and treat me the same as if they did not know.
But sometimes…and when it happens, it’s a woman 99% of the time…sometimes, my sex industry work experience makes me the enemy.
They call themselves victims of the patriarchy but they blame me for their victimization.
They trash-talk me. They accuse me of diminishing women’s rights and perpetuating rape culture.
They do all of this because they are insecure about their own bodies and they want to make me as ashamed as they are.
They are miserable and they want confident, happy, self-secure women to be miserable too.
I feel sorry for them because they can’t see their own beauty. They don’t own and wield their power for good.
Their lovers suffer for their insecurities. They think we should all hide our bodies like good little girls.
This is the dichotomy of “bad girls” vs “good girls.” Guess which one I am.
It happened to me at a square job a few years back.
A woman I was in regular communication with because of our respective roles slut-shamed me behind my back.
I didn’t find out about it until a couple weeks later.
All that time I had been my usual outgoing and friendly self with her. She had been sweet as pie to my face.
This woman’s trash-talking about me didn’t threaten my job. But it hurt none-the-less.
It reminded me that I was an outcast trying to fit into a rigid, judgmental world.
It reminded me that #cultureshock isn’t just something you experience when you immerse yourself in a new culture.
It continues to surprise you even when you think you’ve got it all figured out.
People wonder why we usually go back to adult entertainment many times throughout our lives.
It is for the money, but it’s also because no one else understands us.
We can be ourselves with each other – no worries about our potty mouths or whether our colleagues think we’re hitting on their lovers.
Adult entertainers are also great conversationalists.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve really connected with someone, only to find out later that they are a current or former sex worker.
I’ve learned to trust my ho-dar. It hasn’t been wrong yet.
These are my people. We share a wickedly, awesome culture. And the square world better watch out…because we’re infiltrating.
But seriously, I know where I belong.
The culture that lives in my heart is the sex industry culture, because despite our fake names, it is here that I have found the most authentic people.
No matter how much time I spend pretending to be a civilian in the real world, I will always be a whore in my heart.
And proud of it.
I’ve been back in the biz doing massages now for almost year and it’s wonderful to be home again. xoxo
About the Author
Annie Temple has been a sex worker and activist since 1997, but she’s been a rebel all her life. In 2000, she founded The Naked Truth to support other entertainers by reducing isolation, educating about health and safety, sharing information about gigs, challenging stereotypes, teaching etiquette to customers, and organizing in-person events for charity and to promote ethical businesses in the industry.
New B.C. Centre for Disease Control policy names “sex workers” for risk of HIV transmission
At the same time that federal Justice Minister, David Lametti—at a national symposium on HIV criminalization in Toronto organized by the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network—was announcing his Liberal Party platform for a new HIV law should they get re-elected this fall, David Bennett Hynd was being arrested and held in custody by police in Vancouver.
Hynd’s crime? Failing to comply with orders to take his HIV medications, conditions imposed by B.C. public health authorities to prevent the possibility of HIV transmission to others.
On June 14, a parliamentary report on the issue of HIV non-disclosure was released. The Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights recommended creating a new law to prosecute for “intent to transmit,” and “actual transmission of infectious diseases,” including but not limited to HIV. “Failure to disclose HIV status” where there is no risk of HIV transmission would no longer be prosecuted as aggravated sexual assault as it had been in the past.
On June 14, following a tip from the public, David Bennett Hynd was arrested and spent the weekend in police custody awaiting his court appearance on June 17.
Policy procedure: “People with HIV/AIDS who may pose a risk of harm to others”
In June 2017, the B.C. Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) released guidelines for Medical Health Officers that outline procedures to follow, within the legal powers vested in them by the B.C. Public Health Act.
It was as if those procedures were tailored to address the specific
challenges presented by someone like David Bennett Hynd: what to do if
someone deemed to pose a risk of HIV transmission to the public refuses
to take HIV treatment medications?
step-by-step policy became the basis of Hynd’s 24 court-imposed
probation conditions. The Probation Order creates an escalating scale of
HIV treatment surveillance and viral load testing, with the penultimate
result of the patient being compelled to attend the designated clinic
at a designated time on a daily basis to be observed by clinic staff
taking his daily medication.
most significant to the HIV community, we also have no idea why Hynd is
refusing medical treatment for HIV. First and foremost, HIV treatment
should be about maintaining good health and well-being.
HIV-positive folks are not undetectable, and some of our discourse runs
the risk of demonizing them for the same virus we all have. There’s
nothing sinister or predatory about going off meds,” Alex Cheves writes
in The Body.
Under the B.C. Public Health Act and
similar acts in other provinces and territories, medical health
officers possess the power to detain, test, treat and quarantine any
person who is deemed to threaten the public health, within carefully
defined rules. Nevertheless, some have said that this case is an
“anomaly” that is “unprecedented.”
The ultimate public health penalty: arrest and forced treatment
to the House of Commons’ Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights
report: “The committee strongly believes that the use of criminal law
to deal with HIV non-disclosure must be circumscribed immediately and
that HIV must be treated as a public health issue.”
end the epidemic, the committee is of the view that barriers
undermining the public health objectives of HIV prevention, testing and
treatment need to be removed.”
question is, could a punitive approach, such as using the courts to
enforce Medical Health Officer orders to maintain HIV treatment, be a
barrier that undermines public health HIV prevention, testing and
When Hynd pleaded guilty to charges under the B.C. Public Health Act for failing to comply with Medical Health Officer orders,
he was given a suspended sentence, with probation orders to maintain
HIV treatment and get viral load tests. When Hynd continually failed to
show up for his clinical appointments, his name and his photo, along
with his HIV-positive status, were released to the media. A week later,
Hynd was arrested, charged with probation violation under the B.C. Offences Act, and held in custody. As a result, Hynd has two charges on a criminal record. If he is found guilty under the B.C. Offences Act, Hynd could face a $2,000 fine or six months in prison, or both.
Hynd was the first person B.C. health officials had to take to court to
compel to seek HIV treatment. “In general, people with HIV do not pose a
risk to the public,” Dr. Harding told the CBC. So why did the B.C.
Centre for Disease Control create whole new policy guidelines to deal
causing physical harm, including negligence, are already crimes under
the federal Criminal Code whether it be in an infectious disease context
or not. Do HIV-positive people who stop taking medications belong in
prison? If it rarely happens, does that make it fine to use provincial
criminal charges to compel HIV treatment? Is this not an excessive use
to Medical Health Officer Dr. Gustafson, charges were sworn under
provincial health legislation designed to protect public health as
opposed to the Criminal Code. “Criminal prosecution is not appropriate
for HIV,” she said. “It’s not appropriate for communicable
diseases—period. It’s not appropriate; it’s not effective,” Dr. Gustafson told the CBC.
of the worst outcomes of taking this step is that the public mistakenly
gets the impression that something like this can happen to them either
easily or that there isn’t due process or fairness or ethics.”
I asked Cheryl Overs, senior research fellow at the Michael Kirby
Centre for Public Health and Human Rights in Melbourne, for a comment,
she had this to say:
find it interesting the doctor says criminal law isn’t appropriate. We
agree with that. However, health regulations—like all administrative
laws—are complex and can have just as many teeth.
administrative law [like B.C.’s health legislation] has lower standards
of evidence, proof and judgment, and offers little opportunity for a
defence. Crucially, administrative law is not open to the same level of
scrutiny as criminal law, unless appealed to judicial review.
In other words, offices can be more dangerous than courtrooms.
Implications for sex workers
The 2017 B.C. Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) guidelines for Medical Health Officers explicitly states that “exchanging goods or money for sex”
(along with anonymous sex in bathhouses and group sharing of needles)
is considered a setting and context for high risk of HIV transmission.
According to the guidelines, physicians who learn or suspect that a
patient may be engaging in behaviour considered high risk, have reason
to report that this person may pose a risk of HIV transmission to
others. Based on these reports, the Medical Health Officer can compel
individuals to be tested for HIV. Testing positive for STIs is also used
as evidence of having posed a risk of HIV transmission to others.
In addition, “sex workers”
appear as the only example of persons who may have HIV who may pose a
risk to the larger community, and thus non-compliant sex workers are
vulnerable to having their name, a description and HIV status published
in the media by public health authorities, police and courts as has
happened in the past. (Read, “HIV Hooker A Dilemma for Court,” The Province, June 23, 1996.)
are harmful assumptions rooted in ignorance and steeped in prejudice.
In fact, a sex worker study conducted in Victoria (n=201 adult sex
workers aged ≥ 18 years, including 160 female, 36 male and 5 transgender
individuals) has shown that condom use with clients among sex workers
exceeds 90%, indicating that professional sexual services are performed
safely in an occupational setting. (BCCDC’s Estimation of Key Population
Size: Final Report, 2016 p. 13)
public health statements that centre sexual services as a vector for
HIV transmission contribute to the fact that 29% of sex workers fear
being judged by doctors? A 2014 Working Paper by Celia Benoitet al from
the Canadian Institutes for Health Research also reported that 40% of
sex workers said their health-care needs were not met in the prior year
compared with about 12% of the general population. Could prejudicial
assumptions about providing sexual services be barriers to public health
goals for STI and HIV prevention and discourage sex workers from
accessing sexual health services?
2017 BCCDC Guidelines for Medical Health Officers outlines the steps
Medical Health Officers can use to legally compel sex workers to test
and be treated for HIV. Sex workers need to be made fully aware of
Medical Health Officer’s powers under the Public Health Act,
before ever disclosing any personal information about providing sexual
services. (For highlights from the BCCDC policy, see page 10: “Powers Under Public Health Act to Contain Risk of HIV Transmission.”)
Hynd’s case, where court actions were used to compel HIV treatment, has
been called a legal precedent by Medical Health Officers. It
demonstrates how courts are to be used to prevent risk of HIV
transmission by compelling HIV treatment under B.C.’s Public Health Act.
Anytime anyone gets arrested in a non-criminal context there should be
some form of inquiry and review of the case, resulting in a report that
the accused can access and publish if they so desire. And, an appeal
process to an independent jury.