I recently had a realization about my work after returning from an international trip with one of my sugar daddies. I was only gone for four days, but I felt like I had just spent a month with one of the worst bosses from one of my straight jobs. I was a ball of stress after coming back and needed a week of self-care, copious amounts of cannabis, and many hugs from my lovers in order to recover…oh, and an entire therapy session dedicated to deconstructing the experience. During all this reflection, I realized that my favorite moments from the trip all involved having sex with this man, who is thirty-four years my senior and can only sometimes get an erection. Every other part of the trip, the parts spent providing companionship, left me wanting to roll my eyes hard enough to give me a headache for days. The flight back, where I was forced to sit next to him and entertain him for eight or so hours while also dealing with raging cranky PMS demons, should have earned me an Academy Award. (Or at least a Golden Globe nomination.)
As far as rich and powerful old dudes go, this guy isn’t so bad. He tries to do good, though in my opinion he usually falls short. He is philanthropic, he is liberal, and he considers himself a feminist ally. But like most rich, powerful, liberal-leaning, old, white, philanthropic, self-proclaimed feminist males, he has way too much privilege to actually be a good person. He’s “not like other clients,” but in fact he is pretty much like every other client I have. He’s the type I seem to attract. The sort who is looking for a comparatively young, pretty, outspoken feminist badass to bust his balls…just a little bit. It is very important to him that I am always my most authentic self around him; that I don’t wear makeup unless I want to and that I always share my true opinions about his behavior. Of course, that’s only as long as my “true” opinions are mostly validating, with a smattering of criticism here and there to “keep it real.” He’s never said that in so many words, but I think we all know how it works.
Whenever I travel with him, I always feel a sharp contrast between the upper class lifestyle he leads and the middle class lifestyle I am used to leading. Being his traveling companion is discombobulating because I am a member of the luxury service industry he is exploiting (despite his best intentions), but I am also his partner in that exploitation. I am utilizing his wealth in order to live like him, and thus on the surface I must pretend to enjoy all the luxuries we enjoy together. I must perform capitalism in order to provide the service I’m implicitly selling him. But I empathize more with the numerous maids and waiters and chefs and cashiers and bellboys and masseurs and the other sex/service workers he hires to facilitate his vacation. This performance of consumption without criticism is emotionally exhausting for me, probably the most emotionally exhausting work I have ever done.
Sex work has always been my primary tool in convincing myself that I can do this capitalism thing. I’ve done various forms of sex work for almost 14 years now, and each time I’ve done it, it was in order to make the most money for the least amount of effort. I’ve been doing full service escorting and sugaring for about two and a half years at this point, and I’m proud to announce that 2014 was the year I became financially successful beyond my wildest ambitions. Sex work was the only path I saw toward upward mobility for myself. I was raised lower-middle class. I always had everything I needed but not necessarily everything I wanted. My parents couldn’t afford to send me to college, and I had too many mental wellness issues as a teenager to concentrate on school and be considered scholarship material. I entered the workforce immediately after high school and had a number of straight jobs, but I’ve always made the most money with sex work. It’s really the only thing I’ve ever felt good at. Thankfully, it seems others agree that I’m good at this work, and thus I’m doing quite well. I am a capitalist all-star, albeit a non-traditional one. But we all know how much actual capitalists love an underdog like me.
In an ironic turn, my attempt at tricking myself into enjoying capitalism through sex work has backfired spectacularly by forcing me to witness how deeply capitalism poisons the hearts of those who benefit from it the most.
I suppose that this crisis I’m having stems from the fear that I may become just as corrupt as my rich clients. I don’t kid myself into thinking I will ever achieve the same level of wealth as any of my benefactors, but by enabling them and their system of economic oppression, I feel as though I am heading down the same road. In comparison to other sex workers, I am highly privileged. There’s a sense that I’m seeking just as much validation that I’m doing the “right” things with my money from my peers (by writing this piece, for example) as my clients seek from me. I realize my constant need to wrestle with this instead of just being able to be thankful and enjoy the spoils of my efforts is itself very bourgeois.
The fact is that I don’t want to drop out of capitalism, not totally. I love shopping, I love health care, I love expensive food. I love my high-rise apartment and all the cute Ikea furnishings I’ve filled it with. I love all these things bought with money from sex work, money I never could have imagined myself obtaining without it.
I wouldn’t say I love my lifestyle—clearly I’m having some major issues with it. But I’m a lot more comfortable than I have ever been, so I should love it. The problem is that I’m forced to participate in a system I wholeheartedly disagree with in order to be this comfortable. And that’s making me uncomfortable, because I believe everyone, no matter hard they work, or who they are, has an absolute right to the same economic advantages I’m enjoying.
Ultimately, I know that I alone can’t do much to change this economic system I was born to. I know my critical view of it is only beginning to scratch the surface of what can be said, and my existential angst over it is not useful to anyone, especially myself. However, I think sex workers are in a unique position to give voice to some of the largest problems with capitalism and the classism that results from it, since many of us come from, or currently reside on, the lower side of the class spectrum, and many of our clients reside on the higher side. Perhaps my contribution to the conversation on capitalism will be less as someone who has solved all my own issues around it, and more as someone who can point out the issues we all have with it.
Tits and Sass invites readers to send us their own pieces on sex work as participation in capitalism at firstname.lastname@example.org