When people ask me how I got into sex work, I say it just happened. To be honest, sex work scared the s**t out of me. My sexuality and confidence were a mess from trauma, and the idea that they were suddenly to become my main source of income seemed ludicrous. But I was desperate.
I’d love to say I donned my latex body suit, 6-inch Pleaser platforms and crisp, sharp riding crop all in the name of sexual freedom, feminism or just generally being a badass. The fact is, I entered my career as a dominatrix with sheer terror.
I do have a lot of privileges in this society (I’m white, cisgendered, able-bodied, etc.), but I was finding it hard to hold down a job because of my immigrant status and mental health. I was living paycheck to paycheck, in a windowless room far off the L train in Brooklyn. My panic attacks came as often as the rats in my kitchen (frequently).
My life was vibrant with queer parties and provocative art projects, but it was lacking purpose and direction. Sex work gave me that direction. In fact, it changed my entire life.
I couldn’t fathom the roadblocks sex work would create in my future, but I was finally able to free myself from the anxiety of my credit card getting declined while trying to buy food.
I moved to Manhattan, could afford health care, and was finally financially stable. And despite the fact that most of my nights were spent waiting around in a dungeon to stamp on some guy’s balls for a couple of hours, I actually became a lot happier.
I was now an independent contractor setting my work hours and limits, and I had full control of my career. I started to view myself in a powerful, attractive light that I never had before.
But after a few years, this light started to fade. I experienced sex worker burnout, a term used to describe the emotional and physical exhaustion and stress from overwork in the sex industry. The job itself was difficult at times, but it wasn’t necessarily the work or the clients that left me feeling this way. The feelings of isolation and loneliness from how I was perceived and treated by others really got to me.
I became an almost unreal character to other people. To them, my job defined who I was, and I didn’t feel respected as a nuanced individual. I was either perceived as dumb for using my body to make money, immoral for having such a profession, or a novelty, like a clown at a party.
All of that, combined with the fear of being arrested, hurt or killed, left me feeling trapped.
I started to browse hiring websites to look for a job that could help me get out. It was finally a horrific act of sexual violence perpetrated on me by a police officer that made me call it quits completely.
Around this time, I began dating Nick. His life had been difficult as well. His father had been killed in prison after being wrongfully incarcerated, and Nick was left to pick up the pieces. He was one of those independent genius types. He hadn’t gone to college, but he had taught himself everything from computer engineering to business management, and he had climbed the ladder in New York’s tech industry. He was gentle, rational and a megababe.
The beginning of our relationship was a beautiful train wreck of new relationship energy and a deep post-sex work depression. It turns out when you’ve built your self-esteem off of being a dominatrix who gets paid to have men worship her, adapting to more “normal” circumstances takes some time.
This slump was exaggerated by “friends” dropping out of my life — I was less interesting to them now and I could no longer afford to pick up the check. I also felt rejected by many of my sex worker friends, like I’d committed the ultimate sin by jumping ship.
I started looking for a new job to refocus my life and my finances. But no matter where I applied, even at “feminist” sex stores or progressive establishments, I was rejected. No matter how I arranged my resume, highlighting my business degree or more than eight years of management experience, whorephobia followed me.
I had friends who guaranteed me I could get a job at their place of employment, only for them to come back later saying their manager saw my previous job as a “liability.” When I did get an interview, I quickly realized my interviewers simply didn’t understand what my previous work was. A audible gasp came from a person interviewing me as I explained what a dominatrix is, while another simply ended the conversation on the spot. I found it infuriating that in a society that constantly tells sex workers they need to get a “real” job, nobody would actually give me a chance.
“As a society, we’re obsessed with sex workers, yet we don’t treat them as humans. We hijack their aesthetic, use their services and imitate their work, yet we don’t give them the respect they deserve.”
As my savings dwindled and all of my applications were rejected, Nick started to encourage me to examine what would truly make me happy and motivated. I liked helping people, I was intrigued by sexuality, and I had firsthand experience with our culture’s issues surrounding sex and shame. I longed for a career where I could empower more people to feel good about sex. One where I could redefine myself as someone who had learned from her experience as a sex worker and was determined to challenge the shame the world had put upon her.
That’s why we created Wild Flower, which merged a space for sexual learning with resources and products to support that within a nonbinary, queer-focused, inclusive environment.
It seemed overwhelming at first. But with a few hundred dollars, hours spent creating educational videos and giant papier-mâché diagrams, a website built and designed by Nick, and a passion to help ourselves and others, Wild Flower emerged and flourished. It has grown to not only support us financially, but also to reflect the essence of who I am and what I see as the purpose of my life. We hope to show people that you don’t have to be perfect or rich to find success.
Running the day-to-day operations of a sex toy business actually turned out to be more similar to my work as a domme than I thought it would be. The level of self-management and self-motivation is very much the same, I work with many of the same tools and toys, and I exercise similar compassion as I continue to help others with their sexual needs.
I also struggle with a lot of the same aspects ― not overworking myself, maintaining my boundaries and avoiding getting too emotionally involved in my work. However, I refer to a skill or piece of knowledge I acquired during my time as a sex worker every day, and I am grateful for that.
I would certainly not be as confident and charismatic if I didn’t have the experience of fulfilling strangers’ sexual fantasies only moments after having met them. I am also grateful that my work now reaches more people and that I get to work with my partner in work and life, Nick.
As an immigrant who has no family support, wealth or connections, I believe my vulnerability and determination has been the reason for my success. I am also very lucky. If I hadn’t had the support from Nick and access to a few hundred dollars in credit, Wild Flower would not exist. I don’t think I would either.
My situation is not typical. Many sex workers, especially those who are transgender and/or people of color, are subject to even worse discrimination and treatment if they chose to leave the industry. As a society, we’re obsessed with sex workers, yet we don’t treat them as humans. We hijack their aesthetic, use their services and imitate their work, yet don’t give them the respect they deserve. We need to do better.
By decreasing stigma around sex work and eliminating whorephobia, we create more options for sex workers, increase their safety, give them more agency over their careers, and treat them with the humanity they deserve.
Some labels seem to carry a weight with them that diminishes all other elements of a person — like immigrant, survivor and, especially, sex worker. I hope to change that notion by showing that while all those things describe me, I am so much more.