Reading in the Shade

Sex Work vs. Bills vs. Empowerment

I do sex work. It is a job I have. It doesn’t empower me, but I am not exploited. Now I know people automatically think that because I am sex worker I must either be a 14 year old trafficking victim in a brothel or a high end escort in Manhattan. In reality, I’m neither. I am just a person who happens to be in real poverty and sells sexual services to pay bills. I could go into my chronic health conditions, how I’ve battled depression, how scheduling is practically impossible as a single parent, how I don’t have a degree… all the reasons I can’t just get a regular 9-5 job and make my bills. But truth is, none of that matters. I need money, just like everyone else. Why I’ve chosen one job over another isn’t’ anyone’s business.

What you need to know is that I do sex work because I am in an economic situation where I have to make money. I am not empowered, and I personally will never be empowered through sex work. I know people think that sex work isn’t valid if I’m not “empowered”, but what the fuck does that rhetoric even mean? I am not empowered as a human and sex work has fuck-all to do with that. I am not empowered because I am not white, or male, or hetero, or wealthy, or healthy. Sex work will NEVER empower me as a person because I live in a world that was created to strip power from me. I will not feel empowered in any job I work because sexism, racism, and lgtbq harassment are ever present around me.  People opposed to sex work like to say “we don’t make choices in a vacuum” and they are absolutely right. We don’t make choices in a vacuum because no matter what choice I make, I will pretty near the bottom of the privileges list, and never be empowered on a socially recognizable scale. Don’t blame the sex industry for that. Lay the blame where it belongs- oppressive power structures that deny the humanity of people based on race, gender, and sexuality.

I worked plenty of straight jobs, but I never felt that I was in an “empowering” climate. Sexual harassment, racism, and bi antagonism were a part of every job. Even though I was being the proverbial good girl, working regular jobs, and getting promoted and making money, I still had to deal with micro aggressions in the workplace. Employers telling me how well I spoke for being a colored. People touching my hair. Touching my butt. Telling me to smile and offering to fuck me into a better mood. Asking if I would put on a show with female partners. That was not empowering to me, but nobody has questioned if being a waitress, retail employee, secretary, customer service rep, or teacher was a “real job” because of course, we all know those things are real jobs.

So yes, I will say it again- I am not empowered and I sell sexual services for money. But that doesn’t mean I need or want rescue. I’m not a trafficking victim, nor am I a victim of the industry. I don’t have an abusive pimp like you see in the movies. I have never been locked up against my will in an illegal brothel full of sex slaves. If I am victim of anything, it’s a shitty economic system that gauges your value based on how much you can produce, and deciding you do not deserve basic human needs if you don’t produce enough. Even though I can’t work a steady full time job, I still need money, so I had to find something to make some money, and that something happened to be sex work. A lot of times my job isn’t fun. It’s rarely something I would consider empowering. And that’s where people on the left side of things need to better. let’s acknowledge sex work is real work, and not just because some people find it empowering. sometimes, sex work is just the best fit based on personal circumstances.


Fellow sex workers and allies- I’m looking at you on this one.

We’ve have a surge of blonde bombshell sex kitten escorts, post-secondary degree students, and sugar babies bragging about how “empowered” they are. They fuck senators and judges, and make a few grand a night and only 3 days a week. Those women might very be empowered. Hell, if they are feeling good about themselves, and feeling empowered, I am happy for them.

But I am not one of them, and I am not alone. I am poor. I am black. Latina. Sometimes I work in dangerous neighborhoods. Sometimes I can’t afford to say no to clients or certain sex acts. I am not empowered, but I am still a sex worker, and my life still has worth and my work is still work.

I know the sex workers as whole tried to push back against the exploited down trodden victim image swerfs and abolitionists played up. Suddenly every sex worker was an empowered white woman with a college degree who had a world full of other options. I get it. I understand why it happened. For a while I even fell into it myself, thinking I was a bad sex worker and not showing solidarity if I ever mentioned that I’d probably leave if I had other options. But I’m over that- and you should be too. We need to be real about who sex workers are and what we look like. Representation matters. Visibility matters. All of our stories matter. Not just high end workers and porn stars, but survival based workers, Trans sex workers, p.o.c. sex workers, street based sex workers, sex workers in illegal apartment brothels. Because we are all doing legitimate work. Work that deserves to be valued as work. Work that does not negate our humanity or right to safety.

So please remember we don’t need to be empowered to have worth. We don’t need to have access to a free world full of other choices to make our current choices valid. We don’t have to love our jobs. We don’t want to be saved and rescued. We aren’t obligated to help you fulfill some weird savior fantasy.

All we want basic human dignity and respect, and we’ve deserved that whether or not or jobs make us feel empowered, and whether or not you approve of what we do.

-Phoenix Calida

#sexworkiswork #respectsexworkers #notyourrescueproject


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6 thoughts on “Sex Work vs. Bills vs. Empowerment

  1. Pingback: Sex Work vs. Bills vs. Empowerment | Lean in to Joy with Boneweaver

  2. Hi, this was an amazing piece! A friend and I run a queer feminist blog in Sweden, where we post translations of texts about sex work, as well as publish our own texts. Would it be permissable to translate this text and republish it? Giving full credit to the source, of course. Thank you in advance and thank you for sharing this text!

    The Queer Feminist Oasis


  3. Pingback: Sexarbete kontra Räkningar kontra Självförverkligande – Den Queerfeministiska Oasen

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