Toronto premium escort Madison Winter (www.madisonwinterto.com) is renowned for her beauty, brains, and business sense.
She is a success story (my words, not hers) who is willing to share her story and personal experiences with the Naked Truth’s blog.
Peter Berton: How did you get in escorting, and why?
As many people know, before escorting I worked full time in corporate
asset management. At the time, while I loved aspects of what I did such
as creating relationships, networking, and sales, I didn’t love other
aspects; like the long hours, fluorescent lights/cubicle environment,
and everyone’s favourite — office politics. It didn’t even occur to
me that escorting, or the world of companionship, even existed until
stumbling across movies and TV programs including Sugar Babies and
Secret Diary of a Call Girl. I’ve always lived alone and, for the
most part, enjoyed the single girl lifestyle. While most of the media
portrayals of escorts are sad and relatively dark, that wasn’t how I
perceived it. Watching these shows all I saw was financial freedom,
independence, and sexy adventures. As it turns out, I was correct. Almost
immediately upon dabbling in the industry, I quit my job, built a
professional website, hired a stellar accountant, and never looked
Peter Berton: What your first escort experience was like?
Winter: I still know and keep in contact with my very first client! He
is a soft-spoken, quite good looking (in my opinion), mid-forties gent
with an Australian accent. The physical and emotional attraction was
mutual, and it didn’t feel like “work” in any sense. This particular
client was familiar with seeing escorts — he was always conscious of
the time, my boundaries, and made an effort to be considerate and
respectful. We both immediately clicked and spent numerous wonderful
dates together. I’m extremely lucky in the sense that he set a standard. I had no idea men could be so lovely.
Peter Berton: How has your career evolved over time?
Evolve it has! In numerous ways, I’ve had to adapt to the varying
supply/demand of my time. I’ve learned of peak and not-so-peak calendar
periods, and make an attempt to structure time off around that. Additionally,
altering my rate structure and fees relatively regularly has helped me
to mitigate demand and balance it with my own personal burnout. When
I began my career, I met with most clientele for short durations; an
hour here, an hour there. Often at times, I saw numerous clients a day. As
I get older, I’m learning that I can’t accept every request, and have
to structurally organize downtime in my calendar. Now, I strategically
promote dates of longer durations and focus on the quality of our
interaction, rather than the quantity of clientele.
Peter Berton: What you have learned about marketing/protecting yourself in the escort industry?
Madison Winter: I take a relatively unusual approach to marketing in the sense that I’m completely transparent online. I
utilize social media almost to an extreme and post almost everything
that occurs in my daily life, on numerous platforms. I’m always
conscious not to reveal details that would put my safety at risk, but
still maintain a relatively open-book marketing policy. It’s time-consuming, but it’s free, and I believe brings in a more suitable client for me. When
I first began my career, I truly believed that respect from my peers
and clients would come if I appeared to be a “luxury” provider. The
jury’s still out on what that means, but essentially, I’d organize
photoshoots wearing beautiful dresses, designer shoes, and try to appear
more ethereal and feminine. Over time, and after many mismatched
dates where I couldn’t meet the expectations I’d set about myself, I
learned to market myself more truthfully. Now, I refer to myself as the “girl next door.” I’m into rock music. I’m into ripped jeans. I’m probably going to curse. I became unapologetic and honest about the kind of girl you’d be meeting, and it worked.
Peter Berton: What are your thoughts on current client attitudes and trends; including the impact of cybersex on client behaviours?
Madison Winter: You know, I have mixed feelings about this one. On
one hand, I see trends towards longer engagements, more social
interaction and relationship-based dates, and on the other, I see a rise
in porn’s influence in PSE style requests, particularly from the
younger clientele. Over the course of my career, and my friends’
careers, we’ve seen a shift from single hour bookings to multi-day
bookings where we truly connect with our date and establish this long
term relationship. I can’t help but wonder if that’s due to our branding
and the growth that’s occurred within it over the years — or because
client attitudes are shifting. Simultaneously, sexual content is everywhere. It’s in our media, and for free on just about any platform imaginable. I
find that some clients — in my experience the men under 35 — seem to
visit with a preconceived screenplay for specifically how the date’s
going to go down. They’ll arrive with a checklist, and it’s more about
the sexual act and agenda than the entirety of the experience. I
don’t believe one is good and the other is inherently bad, or
vice-versa; but it seems to come at both extremes. I suppose as a
provider, it’s our job to either become a chameleon and cater to both,
or choose whichever niche you enjoy most.
Peter Berton: What are your words of wisdom for other SPs (especially newbies), and your plans for the future?
Madison Winter: This is going to sound cliche, and super bumper-stickeresque, but please — BE YOURSELF. That
is the single most valuable piece of advice I could give any fellow
provider. It’s the thing that revamped and revitalized my business. Too
often, we compare ourselves with others; especially given the rise of
marketing and interaction on social media. However, it’s easy to forget
that we all have different strengths, weaknesses, things that we enjoy
and don’t enjoy. There is no ‘right’ way to escort. The industry is
vast and complex. So market yourself AS yourself (to the extent of your
comfort, of course) and choose a clientele and business plan that suits
your personality. It’s the easiest way, I’ve found, to enjoy your work more and reduce emotional burnout.
About the Author
of the NakedTruth.ca award for Favourite Adult Journalist, Peter Berton
has written for Adult Video News, Klixxx, XBIZ, Xtra, and YNOT.com. He
likes to interview sex workers to tap into their vast knowledge about
human nature, business marketing, work/life balance and succeeding as
Labour provides readers with fascinating insights into the real life of
a male sex worker, the pantheon of sexual tastes they serve – and some
unique adventures that are eye-opening and
I have long
been impressed by Devon Delacroix’s work, and regret the ending of Hard
Labour. (There is nothing else quite like it on the web, as far as I
know.) So I took a chance and contacted Devon if he would talk with us
at NakedTruth.ca … and he did!
Peter Berton: Please tell us a bit about yourself, and why/how you became a male escort.
I’d never really considered entering the sex business before I started.
And it wasn’t something I thought would last. As I detail in one of my
earliest columns “The Beginning” (https://www.dailyxtra.com/hard-labour-3-65600)
I’d already been working as a writer for several years and had finally
managed to get to the point where I could make ends meet each month. But
in the years since grad school, I’d racked up some credit card debt,
mainly when I didn’t have enough cash to buy groceries. I’d found out
that a friend of my ex (a forty-something silver-haired daddy) was a
Prior to this, I’d assumed male sex workers
all looked like Chippendales, so it wasn’t something I thought I’d be
able to do. But I figured if he was doing it, maybe there was space for a
scruffy, lanky guy-next-door type like me. I decided to try it for a
few months and, to my surprise, I found that I actually liked it. I’ve
been at it almost fifteen years now and have no immediate plans to quit.
Peter Berton: How did your ‘Hard Labour’ come to be?
I was already a regular contributor at Xtra (mostly writing arts and
entertainment stories). I’d been thinking of writing about sex work for a
while, but wasn’t sure what format to follow.
Initially, I was a bit apprehensive about doing first person stories. Would people actually want to read another whore diary?
approached the editor at the time and asked if he might be interested
in a couple of columns on the topic. He was incredibly open-minded and
supportive, giving me total freedom to do whatever I wanted, and the
format just gradually emerged.
Peter Berton: How did writing this column change you, and what did you learn from doing it?
It was exciting to have the chance to write something more narrative,
since nearly all of my previous writing work leaned more towards
reportage. I think the big discovery was that there was actually an
interest in the subjects I was discussing.
Before I started the
column, I’d spent some time scouring the internet, trying to find other
guys writing about sex work. With the exception of a few rarely updated
blogs, there just wasn’t much else out there, so it seemed like the
column was potentially filling a void.
One of the things that’s
been interesting is that, in terms of reader responses I’ve received,
I’ve never had anyone who identified themselves as an escort approach me
about the column. I’m actually kind of curious what other escorts think
of it, whether it parallels their experiences in any way, and if it’s
inspired any of them to share their own stories.
Peter Berton: What are the misconceptions about being a male escort that you were trying to dispel with your column?
Devon Delacroix: I don’t know that I was trying to dispel misconceptions, as much just share my own experiences.
definitely had certain ideas of what a “typical” male escort looked
like before I started working. But now I know there’s really no such
thing. We run the gamut from barely-legal twinks to sixty-something
daddy bears. In my case, I think I do break certain escort stereotypes
in that I’m pretty well educated (having just completed a second masters
degree and preparing to start my PhD) and that I’m the furthest thing
from a party boy you can imagine (you’re much more likely to find me in
yoga class than a nightclub).
I think maybe the biggest
misconception people have about sex work is that they don’t think they
know anyone who’s a sex worker. A lot of us are closeted or
semi-closeted about our activities, because we don’t necessarily want
our friends, relatives, or employers (because many of us have a second
career) to know what we’re doing. No matter who you are, I can virtually
guarantee that you know someone who’s turned tricks, whether or not
they’ve told you.
Peter Berton: How has your perception of your clients changed over the years?
Delacroix: I can’t say that the way I perceive my clients has changed
much, though my clients definitely have. When I started out I was in my
mid-twenties and nearly all of my clients were significantly older,
mid-fifties and up. Now, in my late thirties, I probably have an equal
number of clients who are younger than I am, including some guys who are
nineteen or twenty.
I would also say that I’ve become a bit
sharper over time, more able to judge what people like and which clients
to avoid. Part of that may just be sexual maturity. As you have more
sex and more sexual partners, you just get better at it.
Peter Berton: Why did you stop writing Hard Labour? And are you still in the business?
After four years, it felt like the right time to step back and make
some space for other folks who wanted to share their stories. I’m not
sure what my immediate steps are writing-wise, though I’ve received a
couple of arts council grants in the last year to work on a book.
still working as an escort with no immediate plan to stop. When I
started, I figured I’d do it for a few months to get my Visa bill under
control. I decided to stick with it as long as I enjoyed it and I’m
still enjoying it. I don’t know if I’ll make it to fifty, but you never
About the Author
of the NakedTruth.ca award for Favourite Adult Journalist, Peter Berton
has written for Adult Video News, Klixxx, XBIZ, Xtra, and YNOT.com. He
likes to interview sex workers to tap into their vast knowledge about
human nature, business marketing, work/life balance and succeeding as
Jelena Vermilion (https://isis-intrepid.com/about)
is a sex worker, award-winning adult actress, political activist, and
MtF transsexual; and not in that particular order. In fact, it is
impossible to decide what comes first, because Jelena fuses all of her
qualities into her being, while doing the every best to achieve
happiness, personal fulfilment, and social justice for all sex workers.
Chances are you’ve seen or heard her on CBC, dispelling sex worker stereotypes and standing up for the community’s rights:
I’ll start by saying I have never identified as a boy, but rather it
took me a long time to identify how I felt as being of a trans female
identity. I exhibited gender variance very early on in my adolescence,
and I started to articulate this as being a gender anomaly in my
Peter Berton: What your transition has been like?
I started hormone replacement therapy when I was 17 years of age. First
I ordered the medication illicitly online and then spoke with my
(former) physician about getting a prescription.
physical attributes of my transition have been pretty smooth sailing.
It is the interpersonal and social consequences of being a loud-and-out
trans woman which has had more of a negative effect.
I no longer speak to my father, for example. He disowned me when I disclosed that I have done sex work.
Peter Berton: Why did you get into the adult industry; both escorting and acting?
I started escorting in 2013 when I became homeless, and I was scouted
via my escorting ads, which lead to me accepting employment in the porn
did well and was well-received, and so I continued on that path
(pornography) for as long as it was a viable income source. I got into
the adult industry because it is a pragmatic choice among many, and it
offers me flexibility that other kinds of employment do not.
Peter Berton: How do you conduct your escort business, to protect yourself and your health?
I operate very particularly. When a client contacts me, I will respond
with an introductory text which explains in summary what I offer, my
rates, et cetera. I then would have dialogue with the prospective client
in order to determine if we’d be a good fit as far as compatibility of
desires are concerned.
booking a client, I will send him limited information about my location
and I will then provide the final details when the client is near
(within view) of my residence. I protect myself by using a pseudonym, by
disclosing information in a graduated fashion, and by responding to
cues from clients which may signal the possibility of a lack of safety. I
use my better judgement and leverage my charm to mitigate conflicts.
I have not been a victim of violence in this work, since I started in 2013.
Peter Berton: Please tell us about your political activism.
I am pretty politically active. I volunteer with transgender youth, I
do public speaking engagements explaining barriers to healthcare — and
specifically the medication PrEP – for transgender, incarcerated,
sex-working, and African/Carribean/Black women populations.
do direct action labour organizing with the Industrial Workers of the
World. I provide consultation to the Ontario TransPulse study main
researchers as a sex work expert. I testified in 2018 in a human
trafficking case ,which was a constitutional challenge to out current
prostitution laws in Canada. This is a handful of what I’m involved
Many trans-attracted clients see trans sex workers as fetish objects to
be exploited, rather than people to be respected. How does this affect
Jelena Vermilion: I think that often times, trans women are exploited and objectified by trans-attracted men.
is common to hear about men who lie to trans women in order to access
her body, and then he will ghost her or discontinue spending time with
her. This can include convincing the woman that he wants a legitimate
relationship with her, often leading her to sleep with him as she sees
it as an emotional investment rather than a business transaction.
I will acknowledge that trans-attracted men do face stigma in society, I
often observe (and have personally experienced several times) instances
where the innate gender power dynamics are exploited by the man in
order for him to gain access to her body, no matter how temporary. This
is very sad as it makes us as trans women feel and seem disposable as
human beings and as prospective partners.
At the same time, you have to deal with them worrying about ‘being
gay’; even though they are the ones seeking their first trans
experience! It sounds like a no-win situation.
As an escort, I am often the one facilitating these exploratory
experiences for trans-attracted men. Many of them fear they are gay
because they want to go down on me, they may beg me to top them, and/or
they want to have anal sex with me.
one way or another, I represent transgressive pleasures to them. This
at times can feel isolating as it can highlight my social subjugation as
almost a sort of avatar of a person; as someone who can’t find a
legitimate partner of their own. At other times, it can elicit feelings
of emotional distress, dysphoria, and resentment within myself. When
clients try to coerce me to top them, I feel incredibly uncomfortable,
Peter Berton: And yet you fight on.
Jelena Vermilion: Yes.
of my favourite quotes comes from by Nicholas Klein: “First they ignore
you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”
now, I’m not focussed on winning, but living instead. I want a partner
of my own, and I think I step closer to my personal goals each day.
About the Author Winner
of the NakedTruth.ca award for Favourite Adult Journalist, Peter Berton
has written for Adult Video News, Klixxx, XBIZ, Xtra, and YNOT.com. He
likes to interview sex workers to tap into their vast knowledge about
human nature, business marketing, work/life balance and succeeding as
What is it really like to be a sex worker? What kinds of decisions do you make? The 20 Questions Sex Worker Empathy Game gives everyone an opportunity to walk a mile in the stilettos of sex workers.
This interactive activity is intended to trigger your empathy and common sense when it comes to understanding sex workers’ lives. It can also be a lot of fun.
may use the game as a thinking exercise, a short writing activity, or a
larger project, depending on your needs or the needs of your group.
Alternatively, sex workers can use this activity to refine their business plans and become more focused in their work.
Answer each question as if you are a sex worker. You can create a
history in your mind, if you like, but for the purposes of this
exercise, the only requirement is to answer the following questions from
the perspective of being a sex worker.
#1. What kind of sex worker are you? (You may participate in more than one area of the industry. Some sex workers do.)
Escort / Hustler (you go to your clients at their homes, hotels, or other venues)
In-call for an employer* (you work in one steady place of business either alone or with others)
Independent (usually in your own home but you may also do out-call aka escort work)
Massage Parlour Worker (you give seductive massages usually with a “happy ending”)
Stripper / Exotic Dancer (you undress seductively to music on a stage)
VIP Dancer (you undress seductively in private booths at the stripclub for one customer at at time usually)
Dominatrix / Dom** (you dress in black leather and order your slave around; some have sex with their clients but many do not)
Adult film actor (you are paid to have sex on film; some adult film actors only have sex with their real-life partners)
Webcam worker (you talk and behave sexually on live video)
There are many other areas of the industry that you may choose as well.
are sometimes referred to as pimps and madames. However, in our
industry, pimp is usually used to describe a male engaging in sexual
**Known among sex industry workers to often be the
choice of lawyers and doctors who want to be dominated into submission
once in awhile after wielding all their power at work.
#3. What are your boundaries? What are you absolutely unwilling to do in your chosen area? All sex workers have their own boundaries and they are
diverse. What one sex worker of the same genre does, another may not.
Each individual sets their own boundaries.
are some boundaries that sex workers may maintain. By no means are the
following boundaries “the norm” although some may be highly practiced by
the majority of sex workers.
Striptease Artist / Exotic Dancer
No touching or one-way touching only (one-way means the dancer touches the client but the client does not touch the dancer)
No filming of shows
Will not share real name
Will not meet customers outside the strip club
Escorts / Full Service Sex Workers
No calls from private numbers
Some require their clients to shower in advance, and they even wash their clients as part of their service.
Not full service (sex is not offered)
Will not do urination or fecal fetishes
Requires clients to be tied up at all times
Works out of own dungeon only
Won’t do rough sex
Reserves the right to turn down sexual partners during filming
Sex on scene with real-life partners only
No sharing of toys without proper cleaning between shots
There are many more boundaries in each category and many other genre
/ categories too. These are just a sample to help get you thinking
about what you are comfortable with. Sex workers are often asked to
cross their boundaries. Having them set firmly in their minds makes it
easier to stick to them and avoid regrets later.
#4. Where do you work? Possibilities:
Your own home
Film studio for adult films or webcam
Dungeon (your own or one you rent?)
In-call Location (Brothel)
Out-call (Go to the clients)
#5. How and where do you find your customers?
Internet chat rooms
Advertising on review boards (websites where customers share reviews about sex workers)
Advertising in adult sections of classifieds
Sitting in the strip club
Through an agent
Through an employer
Through your friends in the industry
Your own website
Through social media
#6. How open about your work are you with family and friends?
Do you tell anyone at all? Do you have family and friends who would
still love and accept you, even if they don’t accept what you do? What
would happen if your parents found out?
#7. Do you have a square job at the same time?
Are you working both in the sex industry and in a regular
occupation that does not carry stigma? For instance, I knew an exotic
dancer who traveled and worked as a dancer during the summer and was a
teacher at an elementary school during the school year.
#8. What are the laws in your city / country?
How will they affect how you run your business? Is there a way to
get around the laws and work legally? If so, how safe is it to work in
this way? Would it keep you safer from predators to break the laws and
run your business in contradiction to some or all of the laws? Are your
customers breaking the law by accessing your services? If so, how do you
#9. What will you call yourself?
Many sex workers prefer to use a “stage” or “working” name. What would yours be?
#10. What kinds of services will you need to hire others to perform?
Book keeper / accountant
Make-up / Hair Artists
#11. What kinds of equipment and supplies do you need?
Phone / Internet / Computer
#12. How do you protect yourself from predators posing as clients?
Don’t take calls from private numbers
Assess client and leave if you get a bad feeling
Have a coworker, employer, or friend know where you are and how long you are expected to be there
Check in with someone at the beginning, middle (if needed), and end of a session
Carry pepper spray
Carry a body alarm
Learn self-defense strategies and practices
Learn de-escalation techniques
Ensure private information cannot be obtained through websites and internet providers
Focus on keeping regular, respectful clients
Tie clients up the minute they enter
Share information with other sex workers to warn them about predators, such as the predator’s phone number and description
#13. Does your significant other support your work in the sex industry?
The money can be really great and many (if not most) sex workers
love their jobs. Although they are seen as jobs by sex industry workers;
sometimes our partners don’t see it the same way. How does your partner
feel about it?
#14. Are you a part of sex worker community groups on social media or through face-to-face get togethers?
Do you engage in sex worker rights rallies and events? Do you send
letters to the editor of newspapers standing up for sex worker rights?
Are you very private and only secretly meet with other sex workers who
you trust not to betray you? Are you completely isolated from other sex
industry members? How do you engage with and represent your community of
sex industry workers?
#15. What do you do to prevent and deal with burn-out?
Working in the sex industry can be emotionally exhausting as many
customers and clients are lonely or have experienced trauma. Many sex
workers feel like therapists. The constant need to be “on” is also very
On top of that, the stigma we face and the fear of being outed or
arrested can put a lot of strain on us. Like other workers in stressful
jobs, sex workers must learn to cope with an industry that is sometimes
very demanding physically and/or emotionally. What are your coping
Take frequent breaks
Go on frequent holidays
Spend time with friends
Go out dancing
Call someone to debrief after a difficult session
Pamper yourself with a shopping trip or a visit to the spa
Eat healthy and take supplements
#16. Are you willing to travel for work?
Some agents and employers require you to do some travelling, such
as exotic dancers working in different cities or escorts with wealthy,
traveling clients. You may not be able to travel if you have a side job
or business, children or other dependents, health issues that make
travel difficult or impossible, school to attend…or other reason. How
about you? Are you willing to travel?
#17. Will you take courses or lessons?
Some sex shops offer oral sex lessons. You can purchase pole dance
lessons inmost cities. Erotic massage programs will even give you a
certificate. Will you take lessons or will you wing it?
#18. What are your strengths?
Do you have a sexy voice? Are you good at building websites? Are
you good at conversation or making others feel valued? How can you use
your strengths in your work as a sex worker?
#19. What do you charge?
Rates vary depending on location, area of the industry, services
offered, and more. Strippers earn anywhere from $50/show to $150 or more
on stage. Selling private dances for $40 or more each can be very
lucrative too. Many escorts and dommes charge between $100 and $500 /
hour. To find out what others in your area of the industry earn might
take a little research. If possible, ask another worker what you should
be charging in your specialty area.
#20. How much do you want to earn each month from your sex work business? How much will you have to work to earn that?
Figure out a budget. Don’t forget you have overhead costs too:
costumes, equipment, supplies, travel costs, etc. Each year, you will
need to do self-employment taxes, so you will need to keep all your
receipts. Sorry, tampons aren’t covered, even though many women in this
industry can’t work without them. But you can write off tanning,
make-up, costumes, shoes, music, props, and more. Of course, you can
also write off all the stuff square business people write off, like
office expenses, gas, car lease, dining out, etc.
You have now come to the end of the 20 Questions Sex Worker Empathy Game! So, there you have it. Now you know what it’s like to be a sex worker. What do you think? Ask yourself the following questions to measure your empathy following the game.
Do you think you have an idea now what it’s like to walk a mile in a sex worker’s stilettos?
Should sex workers’ clients be criminalized?
Should sex workers be required to have licenses (with further requirements that you may not meet?)?
As a sex worker, do you feel it is necessary to be subject to mandatory STI testing or is that a violation of YOUR rights?
Would you say that being a sex worker requires creativity, business sense, and organizational skills?
What about customer service skills, phone skills, and conversational skills?
Which parts of the sex industry business would YOU enjoy the most?
The travel? The money? The freedom of owning and running your own
business? The control over your own work? The ability to go back to
school? The ability to be more present for your children?
What do you think are the biggest reasons sex industry workers get into this work?
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.