When I put my first ad on Eros in early 2002, I did it in a “test city” on the advice of my mentor. Her advice was sound: if I discovered escort work wasn’t for me, I would not adversely affect my life where I actually lived. That test city was enough to convince me I’d found my perfect career. In fact, my first client was enough to convince me. I returned to Dallas and tangled with Eros on changing my ad to Dallas. During the week or so of lag-time, I completed my one huge task.
I showed my face and had no reason not to show my face (my mentor showed her face as well). Dallas is only a 2hr drive from where I grew up, where my mother still lived. I’d already done enough online research and enough talking with my mentor to know that my mother could either hear it from me or hear it from someone else. I decided to show her some respect. She would hear it from me.
There really wasn’t much planning once I made up my mind. I re-read the section of Working where Dolores French writes a coming-out letter to her mother. I chose the day and time. I called my sister first, to break the ice. She and I had a good chat. She was supportive then and she is now. She’s always been amused and ready to listen to my adventures (she’s even done some Eros-surfing herself!). She has never been drawn to any aspect of sex work but neither does she have a problem that I’ve always been drawn to it. Nature vs nurture, anyone?
I hung up the phone, pulled up my mom’s number and dialed. After greetings, there was a little hemming and hawing. She’s my mom, she knew something was up. I finally just told her, “Mom, I’m going to work as an escort. Here in Dallas. I’m going to have pictures online and show my face. I wanted you to know.”
The first thing she said (and I fully expected it), “I’m so disappointed.” She made a few gallows-humour jokes. I assured her I was charging more than the average rate (true in 2002 Dallas) and that I had a mentor who had taught me about screening. I didn’t go out late at night to see clients and most of them would come to me, anyway. I wasn’t going to call myself Bubbles. My memory fades but I believe it was short conversation, despite my pounding heart. I put down the phone. It was done.
She was the only one I cared about having this conversation with. I’d told everyone close to me about my decision. I lost a good stripper friend of mine. At first she was fine with my lifestyle change, then she left me a voicemail saying she couldn’t support it and I never heard from her again. But my mom was The Big One. She would not have changed my mind either but…she mattered.
I gave her respect by being honest. I gave her power if someone in our small community recognized me and came to her about it. I had armed her. (A very few people there know, most don’t. I imagine most would not be very surprised if they did know.)
I am free. I will never have to live a double-life with the people who know me best.* No one can ever possibly dangle the Sword of Outing over my head. Cops or angry boyfriends can call my mom all they want. She does not care about the opinion of those bothering or hurting her daughter.
My mom later mailed me two long letters expressing her disappointment and her struggle with my choice. I was 26 and fully an adult. Her only fault may’ve been raising an independent cuss of a daughter who questioned the status quo a little too much. I didn’t venture to East Texas to see her again till a few months after the phone call and letters. She was pleased that I’d put on weight (apparently she felt I was way too skinny during my stripping years) and looked well-rested and happy. I got no more talk of disappointment.
As long as I am happy with the life I’ve chosen and as long as it treats me well, she accepts my decision. We do not discuss my work and rarely discuss my books. As long as I look well-rested, well-fed and happy — then she accepts me being the captain of my soul.
Being an escort hasn’t changed who I am. I still have all the same stupid habits and fears I did as a child, the same thought patterns, the same quirks. I’ve only become more polished and focused. I like to think something has been added along the way. It’s likely she would agree nothing has been subtracted. Some mothers have to accept their daughters live best as free beings. It’s their nature.
What I hadn’t recognized was the opportunity for massive drama I thoughtlessly threw away that day in 2002. Why didn’t my mother tell me I could’ve milked this for everything it was worth? I could’ve made newspaper headlines and set blogs ablaze first by being anonymous and then being horribly outed. She could’ve had Movie of the Week moments of revelation, tears and lots of screaming. After all, the worst possible thing a girl can do is have sex outside of marriage and charge money for it!
Every mother has an operatic diva inside her just begging for the chance to disown her flesh and blood! Prostitution is the perfect opportunity! And it would’ve given me oh-so-many scrapes and close-calls and heart-pounding moments as I worry that she’ll Figure It Out while I’m Lying My Ass Off and we have a totally superficial relationship though I spill every gory detail online to the entire world (with Tantalizing Clues) while she probably wonders why her daughter drifts away from her and what she’s done so wrong and I agonize over every Mother’s Day and…
It’s not that big a deal. I make it so not a big deal that apparently people forget I’m out to my friends/family. It’s a boring fact of my life. My small family continually reminds me that escort work is the least-interesting thing about me. I’d have better watched some movies and read some books if I want a place at the table (though now I get to relate travel stories — whew!).
It’s easy to be out. So very easy. Just say it. It’s a quick way of finding out who truly has your back. It’s a lot like anything in life; the bigger the deal you make of it the more they’ll react. Once it’s done, it’s done. It’s something you’ll never have to do again in your life.
It’s also a great personal achievement to have. Anytime you meet with a difficult situation, you can just remind yourself, “I told my mother I’m a sex worker. This is nothing compared to that!”
That being said, I don’t out myself to everyone I meet. It’s generally not necessary to the functioning of my life. Most of the time I don’t have my activist hat on and don’t feel like answering stupid questions or putting up with stupid shit. So I give a bland, boring response about what I do (why is everyone so concerned about how someone makes their money anyway?). I try to avoid the subject of my travel too, though it doesn’t fly so well when I’m actually in another country and am obviously not a local. If I hide that I’m a sex worker, it’s because I’m attempting to avoid needless complications. When there is a chance the person will become meaningful to my life, they get to know. If they can’t handle it, they will not be a part of my life. It’s that simple.
I’m boring because I lack the drama queen gene. That, and a total lack of understanding of how to create great publicity for myself. If you ever think you’re going to parlay your escort career into something else — don’t come out just yet. Wait until it reaches Movie of the Week proportions. More bang for the emotional buck, you know.
coming out day
I say all this because I want to encourage others to come out. I always have encouraged other sex workers on a private level. But I have longed for a national sex worker coming out day since I was stripping. Because if society starts realizing just how many sex workers are out there, things will change. Sex workers are sitting across from you at the dinner table right now. They’re on your speed dial. They’re in your family photos.
Coming out is not the drama people like to make it out to be. It really isn’t. One thing I have noticed is that blue-collar sex workers and their families generally don’t seem to have much issue with it. The white-collar/ bourgeois sex workers and their families have such issues! It’s because the sex workers themselves have issues with it and can’t imagine their families reacting any differently. I often wonder why high-end escorts who charge thousands and are considered at the top of the game can’t tell their families. What, exactly, are they ashamed of? And if they’re so ashamed, where does that leave the lower and mid-range girls? (I’m about to veer off into the Valley of Whore Stigma and the Hierarchy, so I’ll stop here.)
There are exceptions. A family who will take away the child of a single mother. A father who is a cop. I don’t blame these sex workers for keeping it under wraps. The majority? There’s no real reason. Coming out really can be as boring as I make it out to be. Then you can turn your energy to something else, something more meaningful than keeping up a web of lies for your loved ones. Or take up some new hobbies instead of self-creating histrionics because you consider sex work the most interesting thing about you and can’t bear to lose that dramatic edge.
My mother is not a progressive thinker by any stretch. There was a reason I was nervous about telling her and why I chickened out with a phone call instead of a face-to-face meeting. But I am her child. I don’t harm people. I am happy with my life choices. I respect her. I take care of my body and health (the life she gave me). I haven’t turned into someone she doesn’t recognize and never will. In time, I will move on and pursue another career.
It is really that simple.
It is really that boring.
I learned the hard way the value of being out. I was in a relationship for four years in which his family did not know (until I appeared on The O’Reilly Factor). We spent a lot of time interacting with his family. I was beyond stifled. Not being able to be honest about myself meant that my mouth was sealed on so many things. I could not know too much, I could not have certain opinions, I certainly could not have had certain experiences and how exactly did I end up with so much free time and money? It was completely unnatural for me. After all, my own mother was okay with it, why was I letting this group of non-related people curb my personal freedom?
The freedom of being out has a price (I’ve lost more than one friend and more than one romantic relationship). I’ll continue to pay that price my entire life because I refuse to recant. I’m willing to pay the price because freedom is a lot more my natural state than being boxed in, stifled, pretending to be someone I am not. The rewards are far greater than the cost of people who cannot see the person behind the stereotype.