Someone You Know is a Sex Worker… (It’s me!)

by Natalie on October 24, 2011 · 6 comments

in Activism

St. James Infirmary, the famed San Francisco clinic that specifically serves sex workers and their families, kicked off their new ad campaign this past week. After working (unsuccessfully) to advertise the clinic on billboards, the campaign found a home on the San Francisco Muni. Through November 11, 50 SF Muni buses will display their posters, with the tagline “Someone you know is a sex worker.”

(It’s true, by the way. It’s funny how many times, when I’ve shyly come clean about my deep, dirty secret career, the reaction has been not just apathy or curiosity, but a “me too.”)

CBS Outdoor and Clear Channel Outdoor both rejected St. James as a billboard advertiser. According to an article in the Bay Citizen, Clear Channel was concerned about the rejected billboards’ conformity to “the standards of the local community”—which makes it all the more delightful that the ads were picked up by the public bus system. Meanwhile, CBS Outdoor senior account executive, Barbara Haux (whose last name I very sincerely hope is pronounced “ho”), found the term “sex worker” to not be family-friendly enough. Perhaps “Someone you know is a Haux” would have been more palatable? had a similar problem finding a host for their billboard this month—check out Furry Girl’s analysis of the unpredictable moral compass of advertising companies.

The posters portray the diversity of the San Francisco sex worker community, in terms of age, gender and race. And unlike the Turn Off the Blue Light poster campaign in Ireland, the St. James posters don’t feature women that look suspiciously like stock photo models (we love you, TOTBL, but c’mon). I also appreciate how the public-bus-friendly St. James campaign doesn’t seek to sensationalize or titillate—though I can’t say I dislike the strategies other sex worker rights poster campaigns have used in the past.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Jessie Nicole October 24, 2011 at 1:14 pm

“(It’s true, by the way. It’s funny how many times, when I’ve shyly come clean about my deep, dirty secret career, the reaction has been not just apathy or curiosity, but a “me too.”)”

Ditto! I thought it was just my social circle! Good to know that happens to other people as well. It used to make me rather sad because we could have been working together and helping each other through some of the challenges and lessons instead of muddling through on our own… but I’m mostly grateful that we can start working on rebuilding our relationships out of respect and camaraderie where before there was secrecy and alienation.

On a related note – have you seen this campaign by Stepping Stone in Canada? Seems like around the world everyone’s jumping on poster campaigns. I’d love to see an archive or gallery started!


Charlotte Shane October 25, 2011 at 12:00 am

I had a guy do the “me too” thing once and it was so awesome. We were out with a group of friends at a bar and he sort-of pulled me over and started telling about how he used to work. I was really touched and it made me feel so close to/protective of him though we didn’t know each other very well before then. I got the impression it was something he’d never been able to talk about with many people because the quality of the confession felt even more intimate than usual… I hope it was cathartic for him.


Caitlyn October 25, 2011 at 4:56 pm

I too would like to know how you brought it up and shared your secret. Two years into this work, I can count on one hand how many people I’ve told and now I can count how many of them are still my friend on one finger. The reaction has been “I thought you were better than that” and ultimately “I can no longer be your friend.” I find it surprising because I always thought I had extremely liberal, sex-positive friends.


Catherine October 25, 2011 at 7:07 pm

I’m pretty open about being a stripper. As for illegal/grey-area-illegal jobs, I can see why people would want to be more secretive. Anyway, more times than I would have expected, I’ll have someone respond to my “confession” with either a story about how they tried sex work once, or used to do it regularly, or seriously considered it, or had a sister/roommate/girlfriend who did it. I don’t know, maybe I’ve developed a sixth sense for figuring out who’s a safe person to talk to. Or maybe I’m such a bitch that people are hesitant to tell me what they really think about it!

I have hardly any friends these days who are financially comfortable without being a sex worker (or drug dealer), and I feel guilty sometimes when people are like, “Wow, you are such a financially successful freelance writer, how do you make it work out?” And then I feel really bad, because meanwhile maybe they’re trying to establish some challenging career for themselves and I seem to do it soooo effortlessly. So it’s often during one of those conversations that I confess how I actually make money. In that context it always seems to make a lot of sense to the person I’m speaking to; even if they’d never do it themselves, they can see why someone would.


andi November 9, 2011 at 1:46 am

omg i know 4 of the people pictured in that ad. one of them since i was 18, and i didn’t know she was a sex worker! rad!


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