So, I’m a sex worker. I make amateur pornography and sell it on the internet. I’m also an artist, a housewife, and dabbler in random things I find interesting. I make art and sell it under my legal name, and some of the art is themed around sex work. Now I’m not actually really “out” in that I never sat down and said “Hello I’m a sex worker”, but I slip sex work into my biographies and wonder if anyone notices. One of those biographies is on my art store, where I sell that aforementioned art about sex work.
Today I discovered that a sex worker found this artwork and said they had a problem with civilians profiting from making art with sex work themes. It would have taken them two clicks to find my biography that said I was a sex worker on the store page, but they didn’t bother to look, instead they levelled their accusation at me in a space where I exist solely using my legal name. I responded to let them know that I am indeed a sex worker and hopefully that will be the last of it, though I am filled with fear that they will demand proof of my work therefore connecting my sex work name and my legal name.
Above and beyond this issue of outing, it bothered me that someone can see an artwork about sex work and assume a civilian did it, that there is no way a sex worker could be making and selling art. The sex workers I know are talented people with varied skills in a wide range of fields, and it would never occur to me to doubt one of them could be an artist, or a singer, or a writer, or any other “vanilla, civilian” identity. It hurt for someone to assume that because I made art I couldn’t possibly also be a sex worker and having part of my identity erased felt invalidating.
It brings to mind the fact many of us will block people we believe are civilians, when ultimately we have no way of knowing if they are or aren’t. A friend of mine reminded me that her main tumblr was a “civilian” blog, and that her sex work blog was a side blog. She is not out on her main tumblr but follows many sex workers and knows when she “likes” posts it will show up from her “civilian” main blog. She knows this means some sex workers may decide she’s a civilian and block her, but she is not in a position to connect her legal name to her work.
This makes me wonder how many sex workers we’re excluding in our communities because they can’t risk coming out on their own blogs, in the view of their real-life friends. I feel terrible that scores of sex workers are unable to join our community because we’re inadvertently excluding them. We want to be safe, and they want to be safe, and in the process people are getting tossed out like the baby in the bath water.
Being a sex worker means that we are always weighing up the choices we make, especially on the internet. How much we reveal, how close we are to our legal names, talking about sex work using our legal names. Each decision we make may end up with us being outed against our will, and I’m sure most of us don’t expect to be outed by other sex workers… but that is nearly what happened to me today. A sex worker didn’t believe that I could be an artist and a sex worker, and it may lead to a connection being made between my two names. It is scary that a finger-pointing sex worker who assumed I was a civilian could possibly demand proof of my sex working identity. Hell, even writing this may lead people to my legal name. It is just one of the many risks I take as a sex worker.
The moral of my story is that sex workers can be artists (or whatever the fuck else we want to be), but also that sex workers can also be the thing we fear the most. Sex workers can invalidate other sex workers, they can out other sex workers, and they can exclude other sex workers from their spaces. Sex workers can also be fatphobic, homophobic, transphobic, ableist, and generally shitty people. An awful lesson to learn, but learn I have… for better or worse.