This is one of many True Story interviews with people who have experienced interesting/challenging/amazing things. This is the story of Kitty and her job as a sex worker. I realize some Yes and Yes readers might be uncomfortable with this interview. As always polite, respectful, articulate dissension is welcome. Inflammatory, unkind comments are not.
Tell us about yourself!
I’m a 27 year old queer feminist, originally from Massachusetts, now splitting my time between San Francisco, CA and London, UK. Every time I fly from SF to London or vice versa, it makes me feel like a time traveler, as I’m gaining or losing most of the day. It can be a bit surreal! For fun, I help run a sexy arty party
, do activist work (and blog about it
), go to lectures on critical sexology
, and run the Ladies High Tea and Pornography Society
. You could say that I’m an instigator.
What lead to your decision to become a sex worker?
I was always fascinated by sexuality- not just my own, but rather, how other people related to their bodies sexually, what they were interested in, what pushed their buttons. While I studied psychology and sex therapy, it was sexual anthropology that really spoke to me. I didn’t like how psychology, as an area of study, catalogued and treated “non-normative” sexualities. I wasn’t brought up to be ashamed of my fantasies and didn’t want to tell other people they ought to be either!
Personally I saw sex work as an opportunity to be a hands on sex therapist, actively working with people to explore their bodies. I tend to work with people who have disabilities or trauma histories, but I also get couples who are curious about threesomes, women curious about same-sex desire, and people who want to explore a fetish or a fantasy but unsure how to go about it.
How does one start being a sex worker?
There’s lots of ways to get into sex work, some with more agency than others. Craigslist was a common way back in the day, as it was free to advertise and you didn’t need to be with an escorting agency, though the sorts of clients you got from there varied in quality. I read a lot about sex work before diving in more regularly- memoirs like Rent Girl
and Real Live Nude Girl
, discourse like Sex Work
or Not For Sale
, and guides to escorting like In Good Company
. I also read on what it took to be a good client
, which helped me understand and have compassion for where my clients were coming from
When I really started considering sex work my primary source of income, rather than use Craigslist, I created my own website, and my own blog. I get a fair amount of work through that. I also advertise on a website that’s more UK focused called Adultwork. Since I’ve been on TV and done interviews, I get some clients just from liking how I talk about sex work and clients!
Are you part of a brothel or are you a ‘freelancer’?
When I first started as a professional Dominatrix I worked in a house, but I hated it. The woman in charge obviously resented the men who came in (and they were always men) and didn’t particularly enjoy working in the world of sex work- she just saw it as a means of making fast, untaxed money. That didn’t sit well with me, as I had and have a genuine affection and admiration for my clients. It’s not easy to confess your sexual desires to a lover, much less a stranger!
So I stayed for a month before striking out on my own, first as a professional Domme, then expanding to include sex and sexual exploration as well. As an independent I could set my own prices, decide when I wanted to work, where, and with whom, and could set my own limits about what I wanted to do, safer sex precautions, and how I wanted to advertise myself. When I worked at the house, I couldn’t run a scene the way I wanted, I had to follow the house technique, which seemed cold and callous to me. Not only that, but if I had a client who said something sexist, racist, or homophobic, I had to be quiet about it. Now, I can challenge my clients on the way they think about sex and help them reframe their fantasies in ways that are more affirming and positive.
Have you ever had any experiences that made you fear for your safety?
Strangely, the more intimate sexually the encounter was, the safer I’ve felt. I used to do fetish modeling, and the semi-pro photographers looking to boost their portfolios tended to be very grabby and flirtatious in a way that was uncomfortable. I occasionally had guys who would try to push me to make an erotic massage into a sexual encounter. As a professional Domme and escort, though, I’ve not tended to have issues with feeling unsafe. I think the longer I’ve been doing it, the more clearly I’ve been able to communicate my boundaries, which has led to them being respected.
If I still did sex work in the US, I would be scared for my safety, but not because of the clients, per se. Because many types of sex work are illegal, you are unable to report to the police if you have an out-of-control client, because as a sex worker you will be the one arrested. Not only that, but the police themselves have been known to abuse sex workers. And lets not forget that serial killers tend to attack sex workers because there’s the attitude that no one will notice or care. That creates a really unsafe environment… not just for sex workers, but for women in general (not to take away that some sex workers are also gay men, transpeople, people of colour, working class, and other minorities that put them at some risk).
Working in the UK is a different world entirely. It’s not perfect, but at least here, as an independent sex worker working indoors, I can call the cops if I have a problem! I feel a lot safer- I can communicate my boundaries over the phone without fear of arrest, which leads to a safer session where everyone is on the same page.
What steps do you take to stay safe?
Health-wise, I always always always use safer sex. I stay up to date on what the risks are around oral without a condom or a dental dam, sex toys and transmission, the best condoms out there, the newest and highest quality lubricants. I also get tested every three months or so, as does my primary partner. I also use body-safe lubrication that doesn’t contain glycerin or parabens, and silicone sex toys that are sterilizable.
Emotionally is a little more difficult and less clear cut. I limit the number of clients I see per week to three, so that I have a clear head and time to process in between them. I save some of my money when I can so I can coast for a couple of weeks without working if I feel like I’m burning out. I go to a monthly brunch to talk to other queer sex workers about work, which helps me not feel isolated. I’m out about my work with my friends and family, so I don’t feel like I’m holding a big secret from anyone. I make sure to get enough me-time- not just treating myself with manicures, which I see also as part of work, but doing things like traveling, going to museums, and spending time with friends. Blogging is also a huge outlet for me!
Physically, well, I’m a larger lady and know how to protect myself in a fight. I took karate for years! I make sure that anything I wear to work is not just sexy but also practical if I need to run or kick (no stilettos for me), and I never keep my credit cards or other cash on me when I see a client. The space I work out of is also pretty safe, as there’s people around if I need them.
Do the people in your life know that you’re a sex worker?
Definitely yes. I’m very lucky, in that I live in liberal areas, have supportive parents, a lover who accepts my work, and friends who are open-minded. I made the decision to be out about my work when I started, partially because of safer sex negotiation, and partially because my privilege allows me to challenge ideas of what a sex worker is like. My parents initially were a bit concerned, of course, because they knew about the legal and health risks- but we talked a lot about how I work, and they feel a lot more comfortable now. As they’ve said, how could they not be proud of a daughter doing what she loves, supporting herself, and having time for her other interests?
Do you see yourself doing this forever?
In one way or another, yes, I imagine I will be doing sex work or discussing my experiences with sex work. I may focus on one area or another at different times- for example, as I get older I may focus more on the kinky side of things, or on teaching classes in safer sex for sex workers. I’m also interested in going into law, perhaps as an advisor for governmental figures trying to work out how to make life safer for sex workers, queers, and other minorities.
Is sex work legal where you live?
In the UK, there’s multiple things relating to sex work that are illegal- mainly things relating to street sex work (kerb crawling, soliciting on the street, advertising in phone boxes). It’s also illegal to control someone sexually for gain- in practice, this means that pimping is illegal, which includes being a madam at an escort agency, and also more than one working person being in a building at a time. Two working girls cannot work from the same flat technically, for example. Finally it’s illegal to sleep with a trafficked sex worker, whether the client knows they’re trafficked or not- doing so is legally considered rape.
So, what I do as an independent sex worker, working from my own space and doing outcalls, where I don’t pay anything to anyone else and I decide who I see and when, is legal. As I said above, I have worked illegally in the US before, but prefer working in London where the legality makes it somewhat safer.
What are the biggest misconceptions about sex workers?
There’s a ton of misconceptions. Tons. Some people think I must love sex, some think I must hate it- it’s more complex than that. I enjoy sex, but am not a nymphomaniac or frigid outside of work- I have a pretty normal sex drive, and the sex I have at work is pretty similar to the sex I have at home! Of course many people expect sex workers to be slim, and I’m plus sized and curvy- there’s not a particular type you have to be to be a sex worker, there’s interest in all sorts of people! And, of course, I’m not a drug addict and wasn’t abused as a child- I did well in university (I was a card carrying honor student even) and am pretty well-adjusted as an individual.
But I’d say one of the biggest and saddest is the idea that sex workers can’t have a relationship. So many tv/movie tropes focus on this idea of “I am a sex worker, I cannot love” or “I must choose between being a sex worker or being in love”. It’s just untrue. It’s not always easy to have a relationship, granted, but is it ever? My partner and I talk a lot about my work and we negotiate in ways that work for us.
What are the biggest benefits of your job? The biggest drawbacks?
The biggest drawback would be that it’s next to impossible for me to have a bad day. If I complain about a difficult client, or rant about the patriarchy controlling female sexuality, I’m told I should quit my job. Everyone has bad days and annoying people they work with, though, and people get frustrated at living in a patriarchy without being told they should quit working as an accountant or in IT! At the same time, if I say how much I love my job, people get the impression all sex workers love their work or hate it. Again, it’s more complex than that. Communicating that complexity is a constant process, and just admitting I’m a sex worker is a form of activism- important, but also exhausting!
The biggest benefit is how much I’ve learned about people. I’ve gained a lot of compassion through doing sex work, and I feel like I’ve learned a lot about what people desire and how they communicate about it. I’ve definitely learned to appreciate my lover more, his willingness to learn and explore. And especially, I’ve learned about how to communicate my own wants and needs. I wouldn’t say sex work is the place to discover yourself, sexually, but it’s not been a bad place to hone my interpersonal skills.
The best thing I’ve learned? I can be a sex worker in a way that’s healthy for me, be loved by a wonderful boyfriend, have a supportive family, and lots of awesome friends. I want to make sure, as much as I can, that every sex worker has an experience that’s as privileged.