Working While Pregnant Is About Survival

by Jay St. James on April 26, 2017 · 6 comments

in Blond Leading the Blind, Silly Media Coverage, This Time, It's Personal

(Photo by Pierre Galin via Flickr)

Yes, I saw the coverage earlier this month on pregnant Nevada brothel worker Summer Sebastian blogging about enjoying a few months at work at the Bunny Ranch while her (former) millionaire partner watches their beautiful twins at home.

No, I didn’t get the promised message of empowerment and normalization or a real heart-to-heart on what it’s like to be a mother and a sex worker.

This woman lives in a fantasy world where she’s the personal star of her own little reality show. She has safeguards, privileges, incentives, and motivations that even the most successful of us more marginalized sex workers lack.

I’m not going to applaud her for working full-service during her pregnancy and sharing it with the world, because she isn’t sharing it for me.

We don’t even need to talk about any risks posed to her baby because, let’s be real, she has the security of open access to medical care, stable housing and food, security personnel protecting her at her legal brothel, virtually no risk of being blackmailed or arrested, andmost invaluable to every pregnant personshe has a solid system of support in other workers. Sex work is lonely and isolating by nature and having a tribe physically present is a vital resource that we should all have access to.

This woman has access to literally anything in the world that a pregnant hooker could ever need.  

Including a platform.

When you get a chance to make a statement which will be amplified by sites like Vice, Huff Po, The Daily Dot, and Cosmopolitan, and you claim to truly care about making life better for “all workers,” you should focus on all workers and mention the issues that most affect them. To quote feminist favorite Audre Lourde, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”

Pregnancy is harder in the U.S. than any other developed nation in the world, and our maternal and infant mortality rates reflect that. We don’t have national maternity leave and we don’t have nationwide maternity health care.

What we do have is a society in which men routinely gaze at and objectify women as whores in our daily life. But when we become pregnant, they aren’t able to rationalize their lust for us with our changing bodies and our roles as mothers. Of course, since emotional labor is assigned to femmes to provide, allowing men to escape their share of it, our society makes this quandary the pregnant person’s issue to resolve. The Mother Madonna Complex is very real. I don’t know how many men I’ve fucked who truly LOVE their wives but just couldn’t do that….with “the baby in the middle.”

Westerners aren’t conditioned to view femmes as full people instead of an assortment of roles fulfilling male desires. So a woman who’s sexy and pregnant is a mind fuck to them, and as a sex worker, she attracts a small, unique clientele.

During my pregnancies (five between 1998 and 2013), I worked as a stripper and felt the sting of being too niche. I got offers for $50 blow jobs and walked off the stage with less than that per set. My pregnancy didn’t come with images of lily-white virginity and purity. I’m black and that relegates me to “baby mama” territoryI’m not a sacred vessel or a magical womb. I’m a cum dumpster to be filled for your delight, pregnant or not.

I’ve also worked as a cam girl while pregnant. I found a few men that were genuinely in awe of my new-found roundness, but most of the fetishists I spoke to were less than kind with their words. They made it clear that my belly and what was inside it was their real interest, not me. Online, you don’t have the luxury of stopping to screen each person that enters your room. With anyone able to peek in at any moment, you can’t just interact with the respectful clientsyou work for anyone with a dollar.  You get used to phrases like “does your baby like it when I fuck you?” and worse.

I wish that these were isolated events, maybe unique to me because of my race and perceived class, but I can tell you from my decades of experience working full-service, dancing, and camming while pregnant and talking with other workers that it’s the norm, not the exception, for most.

No, I didn’t feel empowered and validated as a mom and (former) pregnant sex worker.

My life as a mom and a sex worker doesn’t look like Summer Sebastian’s. Even when I had the security of a well-off white husband, the most I’ve ever had in a personal bank account is $20-30 thousand dollars that I spent years saving, only to go through it in about ten months.

These are buns in an oven!

I carry the sole financial responsibility for my children, my own health, and the life of my unborn baby. $20k doesn’t afford you the type of security needed to comfortably enjoy life as a pregnant sex worker with the medical costs associated with being an uninsured and criminalized spoonie.

Disposable diapers alone are $200-300 a month.

I have to make financial decisions at work knowing I don’t have the safety net of steady advertising, steady business, or a former millionaire spouse at home.

While most women in the U.S. take six weeks or less off for maternity leave, you can assume most sex workers are back at some form of work before then. That’s obviously not enough time to establish a solid nursing schedule between growth spurts and production fluctuations.

I put my first child on formula despite the fact they clearly weren’t tolerating it because I had to be back to work at three weeks. Faced with having to slow my supply down so I didn’t spray someone who’s not a fetishist or timing my pumping around appointments and sets, risking ruining all my business if I ever started unexpectedly leaking breast milk, saving my one steady source of income won out over giving my child the best nutrition. I wasn’t privileged enough to be able to make the optimal decision at the time. Let’s be realistic about the changes that happen to your body post-deliveryI was lucky to even still have a body worth marketing in the first year after childbirth.

My life as a sex worker mom consists of juggling three special needs kids around to appointments. Hustling $600 more before the end of the month so they can get new swimsuits and I can pay the rent on time without asking for a week’s extension. Running a vacation fundraiser where I sneak kids’ backpacks on my Amazon wishlist amidst all my domme and fetish wants. Asking the 17-year-old to juggle two toddlers for an hour after school so I can make this last minute appointment across town, because I really need the money to find a new doctor that won’t refuse me healthcare because they feel my job is “too risky” for me to benefit from basic good health.

These are just the tip of the iceberg of issues that pregnant sex workers need to talk about.

There are 1000 barriers that pregnant sex workers face, and reducing working while pregnant to having better orgasms and receiving cute baby gifts is the peak of classist white feminism.

When you get the chance to be quoted in a HuffPo article and you actually want to “empower” pregnant sex workers or make it “safer” for those of us that don’t work at a legal brothel with an owner who might value employees beyond a quick run, or have our partners watching our kids while we clock in and out at set predictable and safe times, you should speak about the things that most affect us.

Centering yourself on our backs as an enactor of social change with no knowledge of how our lives actually operate only serves to further illustrate to onlookers why you’re doing it “right” and we’re doing it “wrong.”

It doesn’t make it safer for usit makes it more dangerous for us when people believe we can all choose our customers, attracting the best and most respectful ones, and always have proper childcare and a safe place to work. It increases the stigma against all workers when we don’t meet the standard of pregnant whoring the right way because we don’t have the same access, resources, and support.

Yeah sure, pregnant people need to be empowered to own their sexuality, and some might still choose sex work even with all the support and resources in the world. But to think that centering a young, cis, white, privileged, and clearly clueless woman is going to bring about any positive change for the majority of workers who are undoubtedly more marginalized, you would have to ignore the countless lessons from history demonstrating that when white women want rights, they attempt to separate themselves from others and add more respectability to their cause. They are not allies for the marginalized.

Shying away from real issues and writing whitewashed blog posts quoted in cute fluff pieces which give Dennis Hof good PR is not empowering activism.

It’s just another another feel-good moment for white women like Summer Sebastian, who want to feel as if they’ve done something cool and edgy which sets them apart from their equally cool pussy-hat-wearing comrades.

Please stop letting clueless, privileged white women believe they are the bearers of social change.  At no point in history have the respectability politics of well-off white women granted permission to be transgressive translated into safety, security, or freedom for black, brown, trans, and other marginalized groups of women.

In fact, it just leads to further stigma against those of us who have been doing this work the “wrong way” for decades before Summer Sebastian decided to write a blog post on the Bunny Ranch site.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Barb Herrera April 26, 2017 at 12:44 pm

This is such a wonderful response to that HuffPost piece… thank you so much for taking the time to respond with a REAL working experience.

Really, really beautiful writing.

Thank you. Lots.

Reply

Barb Herrera April 26, 2017 at 12:49 pm

Editing Note (glad you’re moderating!)

In this line: “Yeah sure, pregnant people need to be empowered to own their sexuality, and some might still choose sex work even with all the support and resources in the word.”

the word “word,” needs an “L” to make it world.

I am the editor from hell, please forgive my pointing this out if it annoys you.

Again, REALLY love your writing.

Reply

h April 27, 2017 at 6:16 pm

Thank you for such a great, great on point piece!
n thanks tits and sass again for being a platform where i read articles and its like yessss this is all the things i was vaguely feeling but couldn’t really explain half as well but yes this is why i feel frustrated and yes this is what i want to read instead.

this irritating genre of touristy journalist writers to sex work, or the genre of sex workers using media pieces as odd advertising pitches in ways that set themselves apart from other workers or other women or other people is doing my head in – i don’t know if its growing somehow, but either way its so frustrating… the lack of accountability to their wider community, the lack of lived experiences to even know how much out of depth/out of touch with most sex workers they are,
and the lack of stigma, discrimination, criminalisation and other bullshit in their life to actually realise just how much their experience is only one experience- and to speak as if thats a universal experience or to leave out others experiences (or at least not write with any awareness of other sex workers experiences) just feels bleh

I’m just glad to see this article… coz i really flipped out at a similar article the other day …on Vice about a gender fluid sex worker which just felt so out of touch with any gender fluid or gender queer or trans sex workers I’ve ever met /worked with …and i felt like for fucks sake if people want to write about how the hardest issues they face is choosing nail polish for the week, or if they want to write how sex work is empowering for their sexuality all power to them… but this article just helped me crystallise my thoughts better in a way… in that its about platform and responsibility to community and taking that seriously…like these other people, they could go write about that stuff all day on their blog and i don’t care, I’m happy for them…but we only have so many spaces per period of time in the media…even if media is obsessed with sensationalistic sex work…its like that was still a slot on sex work…and its been filled with another vacuous piece devoid of any real politics, devoid of any real demands of change for the shit that is affecting the overwhelming majority of sex workers… and glamourising it in another weird way that i can’t help but feel like gives other aspiring journalists an idea for something to do for a week so they have a new hot take article for their next column …

anyway just wanted to post and send lots of love + respect for your writing, your sex working and yr parenting and yr surviving under such a shit system that doesn’t make it fucking easy to do any one of those things, let alone all of them at once!
>from a junkie whore

Reply

AP April 28, 2017 at 9:43 am

On the other hand, there is this anti-sex-work (and pro-abolitionist) propaganda piece:

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/prostitution-pregnancy-pornography-exploitation-consent-a7697536.html

Reply

sarah m May 4, 2017 at 8:42 pm

Holy hell, is the original blog post ever obnoxious! What a load of bullshit. Thank you for this excellent critique of the racial and class privilege it takes to pen garbage like that.

“Shying away from real issues and writing whitewashed blog posts quoted in cute fluff pieces which give Dennis Hof good PR is not empowering activism.”

I think this hits the nail right on the head. This wasn’t activism; it was advertising. Hof et al have clued in to the fact that there’s a market for “activist” sex workers… As long as that “activism” makes men feel good and doesn’t impose on their entitlements by demanding decent working conditions, labour rights, fair pay and safety.

“A woman’s right to choose… to be a prostitute while pregnant!” is the sort of tone-deaf, antifeminist slogan that seems to just be begging for backlash so Hof can have a lucrative pity party with the MRAs over how maligned and censored he is by the evil feminists, even though all he’s doing is letting the woman choose her choice.

Reply

agnes May 6, 2017 at 9:40 am

stop using ‘femmes’ to refer to women and woman-aligned nb people. as if women who aren’t feminine aren’t objectified.

Reply

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