Sex Work as Activist Niche

[This text was originally published in AREA Chicago #8 in May 2009]

I chose to major in dance in college and then dropped out in less than a year. Neither were very wise moves—at first glance—financially speaking. Especially in these times, we are encouraged to make very pragmatic and job-oriented choices about our lines of study and our work. The skills that we develop as artists, poets, lovers, parents, and so on usually go unrecognized in the capitalist framework of specialization, yet they often greatly aid us in our ability to find or create work for ourselves. Our ability to relate to each other, and especially to experience and give pleasure (sometimes called charisma), are perhaps some of the most powerful tools that we can wield in surviving in the current social framework.

Right now it could be said that I am a sex-worker, though I think of myself as half sex-worker. I give erotic or “sensual” massages mostly to gay men. I am somewhere between a massage therapist and a sex-worker. Needless to say, I did not go to school to learn this. If asked to name my education or to write a resume for this work, I would acknowledge the following: the sex-positive queer culture that I had graciously discovered at the end of my adolescence; my early training as a musician which taught me the foundations of sensuality and pleasure; my years as a swimmer and dancer, which in addition to sensuality taught me movement and strength; my yoga practice, which has taught me flexibility, openness, and presence of mind; and my mother, from whom I inherited deep empathy, openness, and relational skills (thanks for aiding my career in sex work mom!). Typically those activities are seen as hobbies, as extra-curricular activities, or as professions in themselves. But we do not all want to be specialists. I did not want to be a professional masseur, musician, dancer, sex-worker or yoga teacher. Nor do I want to be a professional erotic masseur. It is a way that I have found to combine my unspecialized abilities to create my own specialization, for the time being, with the tools at hand (no pun intended).

I am paid well to give pleasure and relief. The same way our disembodying, disconnecting and work-obsessed capitalist culture creates demand for and drives up the price of illegal substances, it has equally created a high price for sex, touch, and sexual expression. I have found a way to work with bodies, sexual energy, pleasure, and healing in a positive way and to still profit from it, which I consider a great achievement in this age of commodified sex and marketing. I have been consistently comfortable and safe with all of my clients, have never felt threatened, and have been able to set my boundaries where I want them. As with many socially-conscious health workers, the wage I receive allows me to offer bodywork to others who could not normally afford it, and to commit the bulk of my time to other unpaid organizing work.

Our ability to make a living is certainly limited by our class status, our location, our access to resources, and the myriad circumstances of our lives. However, our abilities to synthesize, compose, create, and imagine—abstract and therefore undervalued skills in our current context—help us to an inordinate degree in overcoming the limitations of an unjust economy.◊


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