Though sex workers usually have stage names which are different from those our mothers gave us (or burdened us with, as the case may be), those of us who are activists often have another name. Ayna is a Seattle sex worker, but that’s not the name on her advertising; you’ll see why when you read this essay. It struck me as timely given that when I reminded readers of my bisexuality by announcing my lesbian relationship with Jae, at least one reader felt repelled enough to voice his disapproval; I’m sure there are clients who would react in much the same way.
I have a good twin. Although we are not related we are similar enough in style, looks and interest that people often get us confused. We are both writers who are short, curvy, bespectacled, curly-haired, queer gamer girls who laugh out loud and spill beer everywhere. I want her hair; not in some weird hirsute Freudian way, but in a lusty “Rebel Girl” way.
I envy and covet her side shave immensely; side shaves in Seattle are code for queerness. I become sexually aware in a repressed state adjacent to Washington, so my nascent entrances into queer culture were formed with hidden meanings and slow looks. My brain goes into Sherlock mode when checking women out – key ring check, side shave check, reusable tote from co-op check – Code Level Purple – flirt is a go. I still tend to to seek out queer symbols and codes in order to safety flirt with other women, and I envy her side shave because I have long, healthy, flowing, dark, curly hair. I want her side shave so when I go into the queer spaces which have been my home for so long, I feel like I belong.
I envy my friend’s side shave because she has a job were it is okay to be openly queer, and even though I love doing sex work, it is one of the last places a female-identified person cannot be openly queer. I still have to pass as a non-queer person to the majority of my white, male, mid-40s customer base; I can’t freak out the normal majority. Plus, men love my hair; they caress it, run their fingers through it, seek me out because of it. I give good hair. We are socially groomed to believe that long hair is the same thing as feminine, and in the type of sex work I do (mid tier escort), the equation is feminine = attractive = money. A non-sex worker has more freedom in doing what she wants with her body in the world place whereas sex workers do not. A sex worker’s image, in order to gain the most money from the most clients, must be built, maintained and curated for the gratification of the normative male gaze; if I were to change my hair to a “queer” style (such as a side shave) I would lose money, since I would lose the male gaze. I would be seen as a “feminist” (heaven forbid), not the (semi) complacent sex bunny that the majority of my clients open their wallets for.
I often ask for two hours notice before seeing visitors to my place; I let people believe this is so I can get ready. But since I wear very little makeup and routinely clean my house, the “getting ready” part takes thirty minutes; what takes the rest of the time is what I call the “Queer Roundup”. Allison Moon’s Girl Sex 101 quickly hid under the couch, flyers from Insert Coin (a fabulous queer dance party), tossed in the kitchen drawer, “Fuck Your Patriarchal Bullshit” pillow thrown in the closet. I have to literally “straighten” my place up. If my queerness is seen, my femininity/straightness is called into question; the idea that a femme presenting person can be queer is a bit beyond the scope of most people. If there is any question that I am enjoying myself or am off the center mark for bisexual providers (bi enough to do duos for male pleasure, but not enough to actually seek women out), then not only is my sexuality under scrutiny, my business ethics are as well. This scrutiny comes into play via social mores built by hobby boards/escort review boards.
Escort review boards prize the idea of the “authentic” GFE (Girl Friend Experience); there is a constant conversation/argument about who and what is or isn’t. Rumors abound of lesbian sex workers and how awful they are by lying to men for money; they are bogeyman stories to scare sex workers into behaving in an acceptable manner. Men like to believe that sex workers are all natural nymphs and would fuck them regardless of money; this frees them from class guilt, the stigma of paying for sex and other emotions that might accompany seeing a sex worker. And this happy lie is fed to them in sex worker ad content, promotion and branding. They believe in this lie so intensely that it becomes cultural truth. While we accept that sex workers exist outside of cultural norms, they can not exist outside of client-created normative ideals; if I have a client over to my house and it is is covered in rainbow stickers and Queer Liberation posters, and Feeldoes are drying in the dish drain, this happy lie becomes an ugly truth. And if there’s one thing that the majority of “hobbyists” don’t like, it’s the truth.