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On Performing Capitalism

Does your client look like this? (Trade Union Magazine, 1925, via Wikimedia)
Does your client look like this? (Trade Union Magazine, 1925, via Wikimedia)

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.

( "Capitalism Kills Love" by Flickr user buridan)
( “Capitalism Kills Love” by Flickr user buridan)

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 info@titsandsass.com 


  1. you seem to know the score. he (presumably) does too. nobody in this dance needs to offer an apology or feel guilt. this piece gets uncomfortably close to perpetuating the stereotype of sex work as exploitation. if you’re that unhappy interacting with this guy, it’s kind of incumbent on you to change the situation. nice stereotype in the cartoon!

    • This comment comes irritatingly close to classist crap like “Change jobs then!” or “Get an education!” If what you mean is that there might be ways to empower ourselves as workers and teachers, great. Give an example of what you mean by “change things.”

      • haha ‘rich’. ‘dude’. ‘centre-left’. I’m totally cool with how the author makes her living and how the awful awful rich man spends his money. It’s the sjw-capitalism-is-oppressive crowd that seems to have their jimmies rustled.

      • I hope you are not including me in that group. I was in no way offended. To the contrary, I thought what Nell had to say was excellent.

    • If I had a dollar for every time I heard a dude maintain he’s not responsible for perpetuating the status quo (further perpetuating it while doing so, of course!)…

  2. So you are an egalitarian capitalist? I have never had a problem with the idea of someone filling multiple potentially conflicting roles. It is entirely appropriate that someone who opposes climate change should also travel by car or plane and heat their house. As long as you are doing something to make things better for the less affluent 90% of humanity then you are part of the solution rather than the problem.

    If you want to read about it I suggest Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty and
    The Bottom Billion by Paul Collier.

    If you have some time or money to spare then check out the Center for Voting and Democracy at
    http://www.fairvote.org/ . Changing the voting system changes everything.

    Also remember that indulging an old guy who doesn’t get all that hard anymore can be a noble activity that makes the world a happier place. Maybe you could persuade him to take you on a Sierra Club outing. It would be good for his health and the contrast between rich and poor would not be so painful. http://content.sierraclub.org/outings/

    If you use some of what your profitable work gives you to compensate for a few others who don’t know and don’t care then you are doing all that can be asked. Be good to yourself.

  3. We all live within the capitalist system, but we are not all at peace with it. It is still possible to speak up for changes and to retain our sense of values while too many others consider only prices or costs.

    The exchange of services for compensation is not inherently evil and if the people you interact with are potentially benevolent as the client appears to be, positive change may result. Even if the change is small; some progress is better than none.

  4. If your sugar daddy were a dictator, you being his second (or third) companion “on the side”., what would be different? Nothing. Sorry, too much hot air.

  5. “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.”

    I took issue with this line. This is one of the sad truths of capitalism: there just aren’t enough resources in the world right now for everybody to have those same benefits you have.

    If you’re looking for a way not to feel shitty about benefiting from capitalism, I would recommend looking into Giving What We Can: https://www.givingwhatwecan.org/ (or other effective altruism charities). I don’t know you and don’t know if you already do this, but the number I keep hearing is 10% of one’s income to say you’ve “done your part” and can stop feeling that guilt.

    • This is one of the sad truths of capitalism: there just aren’t enough resources in the world right now for everybody to have those same benefits you have.

      No, the sad truth of capitalism is that it does a very good job at providing people with options, and products, and services, **after** you have managed to make sure everyone has clean water, safe food, some place to sleep, a decent education, and are actually capable of deciding if they would rather clean rooms for a living, or sit in an office and boss a thousand other people around. What capitalism absolutely fucking sucks at is ***providing*** all those things that you need, *before* it starts providing all the stuff people would like to have.

      This is where the problem comes up, and lies at the absolute heart of the culture war we have been fighting since clear back when children where used to run machines is factories. One side, which sadly, to some degree, means dang near anyone who is a CEO, or a business owner, regardless of how philanthropic they try to be, is fundamentally unwilling to trade money that they don’t need, and can’t ever hope to spend themselves, in a thousand life times, to make sure that everyone, not just most, or some, or those who we think are not cheating, or we bother to acknowledge are below poverty levels, or otherwise even attempt to help. The other side… is everyone that had to drop out of school, couldn’t get a student loan, lost a home, lost a job, or had one of a million other things go wrong, not the least of which being having a government filled with idiots that actually try to argue that minimum wage laws are a bad thing, and “too high”, just to list one idiocy they parrot, which makes it a near certainty that **most** of us will never, ever, have to worry about “burdensome taxes, which might make me wait an extra year to buy my new yacht, or prevent me from funneling the million dollar I wanted to into a foreign bank account this month!!”

      In fact, most of us will be lucky, thanks to this fundamental incapacity of pure capitalism to provide the “minimum” required for everyone to have the choice, whether or not they decide to take it, to actually buy any of the stuff capitalism provides, to ever even see most of those choices.

      And, of course, when things go wrong, it makes way more sense to bail out a few dozen banks, and let thousands of people lose their homes, for example, than to use that same money to hand, as my father kind of commented, every single living person over 18, in the country, nearly 10,000 dollars cash – which most of them could have saved their homes with. This is the stupid anti-logic of the system – always think of the idiots screwing up everything first, because, without them, supposedly, you don’t have an economy, while with them… you merely have one where everyone else is robbed blind, then called lazy and stupid, for having had their wallet stolen.

      And, so the war goes on, with one side arguing, rightly, “If everyone had a level playing field to start with, everyone would be doing better, including your precious businesses.”, while the other side babbles, wrongly, “But, but… giving my worst employees just a mere 5 cents more, never mind nearly $10 more per hour would mean I couldn’t rake in a $10 million dollar salary, while those damn lazy people are making a whopping $15k a year, maybe, if I don’t cut their hours. That’s more than enough, right?!?”

      At what point do the delusions of these people start qualifying as a mental disorder, or.. at the very least, incompetence, exactly?

  6. I also attract these clients. I had one who said he “loved” my politics and when I asked him if the new left made him hard he was like I’m a leftist- but I’m not into redistribution or raising taxes, what’s the new left? And so to make myself laugh, I described trickle down economics, and he was like, yes, yes, that’s what I believe! And my mean laugh made me happy. When it is a farce, I feel like you have permission to act like it.


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