This month we welcome Saint Agatha to our column pages to write about sex and work, and everything in between. Welcome aboard, St. A! —ed.
Time has never made any sense to me. Or rather, I am told the way I describe my experience of time does not add up. I am so disconnected from any common meter that I remain in disbelief of that sort of containment.
I think this is what makes me a good whore.
When I consider my work, I think about strings of many moments—self-timed photographs, waxing my cunt on a schedule, texting clients, doctors’ appointments. When I describe my work, I speak in hours—my hourly rate, the hall of hour-long VIP rooms, the hour at which my friend should expect me to text to confirm I am still alive. We all want to know what we can get in an hour. They ask: what will we do? I ask: how much is an hour worth to you, knowing so well that the labor entering into question could never be contained within a single hour, and no truth of worth will ever cohere?
Some weeks, my body feels it has been doing sex work for ten years. It has only, by definition of waged work, been three. In her book Caliban and the Witch, Silvia Federici writes, “The body has been for women in capitalist society what the factory has been for male waged workers: the primary ground for their exploitation and resistance.” I can only reconcile this confused feeling of labor-endured when I let go of linear time and the idea that we ever hold a job that has a discrete beginning and end.
The work is never done in a body separate than the one I spend my life within. When a client responds to an ad, the sex, the seduction, the emotional labor I have done for most of my life becomes intrinsic to capital. Prostitution is the most obvious, basic work in the history of exchanging commodities. I have a visceral understanding of the use-value, or the want-satisfying power, of my service. Capitalism takes this value and makes it into just work—an abstract labor force that needs to be managed.
The whores, the strippers, the dommes: we present a fathomless threat when we rise as an invisible class, for our work is both essential to society and continuously pushed to the margins. This work is crucial for many men you know, and is crucial to their deepest, most comforting secrets. A secret for the unloading of secrets, a service uncontainable. Our struggle is against stigma, that which keeps us in shrouded territories we all see, yet not everyone recognizes. Our liberation will not be reached through a permanent position within capital to then be exploited in more efficient ways. I do not want to be legalized. The work-regulating role of the state will always include policing workers on and off the job, and prosecuting criminal activity in all aspects of workers’ lives. The more legitimized my labor becomes by the state and capital, the more I am forced to work. I want an end to criminalization, an end to work, an end to capitalism.
I am a sex worker primarily because of this position against work. The very word “work” disgusts me in an immediate way, like “police” or “prison.” The police are an organized gang who rape prostitutes and murder people of color, who raid strip clubs and tell us we have no right to decency. Policing is most successful in its lack of boundaries, as it lurks in the strip club dressing room, in the security cameras, and as we act in fear, separating ourselves from the street hookers just a few blocks away in order to maintain a false sense of security.
Work is a class signifier people are asking you to disclose when they lazily ask, “What do you do?” My answer is fucking. My work is correspondence, conversation, drying tears, blow jobs, slow movements under red light, asking the right questions, and grasping for answers that lead us only forward. My work is to extend possibilities. My work is a way to support and reproduce the rest of my life, which is identical to so many other lives, though the means are not valued or recognized as this elusive concept “work.” Sex work positions me at times without a boss, with a schedule I dictate based off of my needs, with more money than I thought I could ever amass, with hours that feel like my own, unmanaged. The longer I do this work, the more I opt out of all other work. My lawyer client warns me about the gap in my resume. This is not an admittance of no future: if I believe in the resilience and ability of anyone to survive, to transform, to exist in a new plane, it is the hooker. Rather, this is a cementing of refusal. For each hooker who dies at the hands of unrestrained misogyny or is imprisoned by the beaming spotlight of state violence, we continue to solidify our place here even if only for an hour a week. This is not a glamorization of desperation, but rather an assurance that all work in capitalism is desperate. Each time the state threatens me with regulations I feel more desperate to do my work, before I am in prison or back washing dishes, back in school, back in a position of evaluating what am I good at, how else I have worth.
A lot of ho advisors warn not to bring up a customer’s profession, because work is what we are all trying to escape through entertainment. But work is my favorite topic to discuss with clients. I have intimate access to a range of workers, professionals, and aristocracy which grounds me in the shared delusion that is capitalism becoming vice is a relentless confrontation. I field the information of everything a person believes themselves to have, then find what they are lacking. I am paid to make up for that lack, to seductively assess whether I will be resocializing tendencies rooted in masculinity and alienation, or creatively avoiding grabbing hands and a violent vitality that is easier to understand in certain moments than anything else in the world. I am not a therapist; I am instead one of the few willing to step into the black hole manifested by a lack of therapy. Tactfully, fueled by genuine interest, caffeine, and my need to reach some sort of understanding for how this market value will be determined, my client and I begin to exchange the absurdity of the worlds running parallel to the hour we have agreed to share—because my customer knows as well as I do that work never stops.
Sex work positions me at times without a boss, with a schedule I dictate based off of my needs, with more money than I thought I could ever amass, with hours that feel like my own, unmanaged.
The tricking hour is every hour. It is when I walk to some businessman’s hotel room with the sun looming over the casino and palm trees after a ten hour shift at the strip club. It is at four in the afternoon as I meet my regular while he escapes his contracting job. It’s whenever the doctor hits me up for a video chat in between his shifts. It is the hour when things slow down, and we get more intimate than we believe ourselves physically or mentally capable. We encounter one another in the negative space of capitalism’s schedule, the margins of standard time. The vulnerabilities of the world become heightened: the vomit washing away on Bourbon street, the desires hidden from your partner, my aching body nude and only as anonymous as the client is sane.
The way to help sex workers is to decriminalize the work responsible for releasing the tension of this brutal society which imprisons and murders our most prolific providers. Leave us alone. Sex work is at once a refusal and what is always there when the world refuses us. In an essay entitled “No” Anne Boyer writes, “a refusalist poet’s ‘against’ is an agile and capacious ‘for.’” The meaning, sound, and rhythm of my work simultaneously pulls me deep into my body while heightening my consciousness in an outward vigilance. I go back for the money, I stay in the life when options fall short. I am a whore because it aligns with my desire to refuse and reorder the world.
I am the glitter that distracts from the mold, the double-sided tape holding together the nuclear family, an emotional laborer with whom you have no shared investment other than the joy of sex and not being caught. Some days I am the last stripper to leave the club into the blaring sun and heavy air, crying with the roaring loneliness of the entire world. It is no longer the night before and it is absolutely not the next day. I feel purposeful in the work I have done; I feel right to have been paid; I question the dignity of a labor which is hidden away until strategic for city officials to shut it down. I fall asleep in my bed and am awoken, some hours later, by messages from friends, from clients, from lovers.
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illustrations HAPPY BURBECK