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On Survival

(Photo by Flickr user Nasrul Ekram)
(Photo by Flickr user Nasrul Ekram)

Last month, I woke up to the news that a friend of mine had overdosed and died.

I’d never met her, but I’d known her for almost 15 years online. We’d found each other back in the days of Livejournal, back when it was a shock to my system just to be able to read the writing of another heroin-using sex worker like me. I read everything about us I could get my hands on back then, even tabloid trash or Narcotics Anonymous literature.

Reading someone writing about her life, our lives, in the first person—daring to construct her identity as more than a punchline or a cautionary tale—was revelatory. People talk about the value of “representation,” but there’s no way to describe what knowing she was out there like I was meant to me when I was 22.

I could always talk to her about all the things I couldn’t discuss with my straight friends: lazy dealers, asshole cops, and the constant grind of working enough to keep ahead of withdrawal. Later, when we both got on methadone maintenance, we groused to each other about the unique blend of bureaucracy and condescension we found at the clinics. She’d always keep me up to date on the latest drug war fiasco, and we could be candid to each other about our rage in response.

I’m still not sure what happened to her. She could have been a victim of all the fentanyl floating around the country mixed in the heroin supply. I know she hadn’t used dope in a while. Keeping her kid was too important to her. Her tolerance must have been low.

But I can’t shake the suspicion that her death wasn’t entirely accidental. Like many of us, she was incredibly harm-reduction savvy. She could have taught a class on overdose prevention. I don’t think she killed herself. But I’m not sure she was trying her hardest to stay alive.

And who could blame her if she stopped making that monumental effort to survive, for a moment?

I have to tell myself everyday that despite all evidence to the contrary, I’m worth something, even if I am a walking worst-case scenario to most people. Even if by every rubric of mainstream success, I’ve gone way off course. Even if living like I do is not only criminalized, but reviled.

But sometimes, it’s difficult to believe that message when you and your small circle of movement friends are its only source.

I Think I Just Figured Out SlutWalk

By Man Alive! on flickr

It was Sunday night at the club where I dance, near the end of my shift, when my friend and bartender introduced me to five of her childhood friends. They were all male of course; she’s such a tomboy that I wouldn’t expect anything else. I politely did my rounds, shook hands and made introductions. Hello, Wes, friend since kindergarten. Hi, Brian, friend since sixth grade. How is Arizona? Welcome to Portland, Oregon. My bartender pulled me aside quickly and whispered in my ear how she had brought them here to see me dance. “I told them all, ‘You’re gonna fall in love with this girl Elle.’” I was flattered and thanked her and squeezed her hand as I continued onto the small stage.

The rack was full. There were three young women who looked like newbies, the owner and his date, and the bartender’s male friends at the end of the row. Velvet Underground’s “Venus in Furs” began.

I’ve danced to that song dozens of times, and I allowed the beat and lyrics to direct my movements and maintained eye contact with each member of my audience as the dancing would allow. The truth is, I was exhausted. Money had been horrible that evening and I was simply relieved to be nearly finished for the night.

I’m The Sex Worker Who Was Outed As Hugo Schwyzer’s Sexting Partner

This post was removed at the author’s request.

How You Can Tell That Your New, Perfect, Accepting Partner Isn’t All That Accepting (Or Perfect)

That worshipful look we hope they’re directing towards you.

You’ve met that new person, and boy, are they different! They aren’t an unemployed boyfriend living off of your lap-dance money or a girlfriend making snide remarks about you supporting the patriarchy. They’re different from the partners assuming you’re always down to fuck or the ones constantly asking how much you make. No. This new person is so enlightened. They get it! They’ve got some neoliberal politics, are woke as fuck, and they told you on the first date that they are 100% a sex worker ally.

Clearly, they are perfect.

Until they aren’t. Because as many sex workers can tell you, it’s often the open minded, polyamorous, sex positive folks who will smash your heart the most. It’s harder to see coming from them, though, because unlike the usual whorephobic partner, their red flags tend to be a lot less obvious until hindsight kicks in.

I’m here to share my dating history with you and let you know about some warning signs you should look out for in your new and improved sweetheart.

1) They won’t hear a bad word about Moulin Rouge (or other anti-sex worker media)
I use Moulin Rouge as an example because I have literally been brought to tears by two ex-girlfriends who refused to admit how problematic it was, but this can apply to any tragic hooker media. Do they view everything else they watch through a feminist lens only to tell you to “just enjoy it” when you mention not wanting to see dead sex workers? That’s a problem.

If your SO laughs about having problematic faves but doesn’t see violence against sex workers as a problem, then that person is a problem. They’re not seeing fictional sex workers as people, and if they don’t see the fictional ones as people, I guarantee there’s at least a small part of them that doesn’t see you as a person either.

2) You can only have good days
It’s perfectly fine to be annoyed by your job! It’s total bullshit that our capitalist society forces people to give up years of their lives being unhappy in a workplace that devalues them. Especially when people are just trudging along, trying to make ends meet as cost of living soars!

Except when it comes to you. You’re a healer. Your work is so important. You provide this amazing service that everyone really needs to respect. WHAT DO YOU MEAN A CLIENT CALLED YOU A BITCH?

Does your partner expect you to console them after a long day at the office but act distant when you talk about time wasters? Have they maybe flat-out said, “I prefer to only hear about work when it’s good’?

That’s not support. That’s someone with a glamorized view of sex work who wants to leech cool points out of their association with you. Having a porn star girlfriend is really neat, until you have to hear about unsafe shoots. It’s so cool dating a stripper, until she tells you about a guy smacking her ass so hard she had him kicked out.

See, if you’re on top of everything and always flush with cash and 100% job satisfied, then they are too. They get to live vicariously through all the pros of the job without having to think of any of the cons. Bonus: the partners who only look for the best case scenario in your work are often also the ones who will tell you how much they wish they could be a sex worker. They’re the ones who might even ask you for an in, but who will never take the plunge and actually do it. As long as you keep up their dream job fantasy, they never have to deal with the reality that they’d never cut it as a whore.

Selling Sex Sort of Ruined My Life—All The More Reason I Support Sex Worker Rights

Do I have a target on my head?

When I first came out in print as a sex worker, it was pretty much decided by everyone that I was an idiot. That, or an opportunist and/or an attention whore—a fact one feminist blog called “disgusting.” In the comments sections of articles I have written, it is widely accepted that no one would pay to have sex with me and that I ought to shut the fuck up. I am frequently accused of making it all up. I’ve been insulted and undermined in every way and yet, amidst the hate mail, the most damaging criticism I’ve ever received came not from a New York Post reader or even a radical feminist (although I got hate mail from them, too) but from another advocate, a sex worker, someone I knew.

“Hi Melissa:

I hope you’re well. I read your Salon.com article. I appreciate that you’re sharing your story and advocating for sex workers’ rights. And I sympathize with your struggles.

I want to share a concern with you. In this article you make a statement about sex work, particularly prostitution being work that relies on dishonesty. In [an article published on Huffington Post] you similarly made a statement that the industry is “soul bankrupting.”

I can see how this may have been true for you, but it’s certainly not the case for all of us. For someone who is out of the business I can see how these statements would seem harmless. But for those of us still working, these are exactly the concepts that we’re trying hard to dismantle—the idea that we are somehow emotionally or intellectually compromised because we do this work.

I would never ask you not to speak your own truth. But I do think it would be helpful if these statements were framed in such a way that it’s clear this was only your experience, and not broad-sweeping truths about the business. Many of us come to this work honestly and operate from a place of truth and compassion. We deserve respect for this work. It’s problematic for an “expert” to portray us as liars with bankrupted souls. It’s especially hurtful when a colleague who presents herself as a dedicated advocate takes this stance.

Respectfully,

[redacted]